Articles

The Practical Buddhist: Coming Home

Summer Days on the Allotment

Photo: Yeshe Dorje

“…Just had one of those cuppa teas I didn’t want to end!”… A past statement by a friend echoed in my mind as I quenched my thirst. The temperature has gone up by ten degrees since seven o’clock this morning. Every movement seems an effort, it’s hot, it’s humid, it’s June. I’ve seen three butterflies, a comma, a large (or small) cabbage white and a Red Admiral (or was it a Peacock… too fleeting, too sweltry, for a second opinion?). The second cup of tea is waiting for me as I write this. This humidity brings on an unquenchable thirst. I’m sitting in the shade of a climbing Solanum, busy with bumblebees; the grass below strewn with purple petals. The white clover in the grass path smells divine; the pigeons seem to pick about amongst it, but I’m not sure what they are actually eating!

It’s the sort of weather which makes your skin itch…sweat, insects, pollen, pollution, who could put a finger on it? It’s a sign of ‘good growing weather’ anyway, when the soil yields its softer, tenderer growth. The rogue, self-seeded opium poppies, some pale mauve, some red, seem to flourish in this heat; the rosemary appears to have grown another four inches in as many days. The aroma of the crushed, spiky leaves lessens the weight of this sickly sultriness.

The pond irises, purple, and yellow flag are setting seed; foxgloves are swaying elegantly, in a timeless way, amongst the foliage. Sweet peas are heady with their enticing scent, and the “Special Anniversary” dark pink rose has over fifteen buds of burgeoning promised glory. Mostly, in my days here, on the allotment, I’ve learnt that, to view the whole experience of growing flowers, fruit and vegetables, you have to open up all your senses to get the optimum benefit of being here. It is not enough, for me, to merely sow seeds and reap the harvest. As a gardener, you have to be aware of a multiplicity of rewards, to be sure of overriding any ‘failures’. If you can imagine each activity as a kind of ‘sensory immersion’, the positives outweigh the negatives.

This late afternoon, I am going to uncover and pick the red and white currants. It will take some time. How is it that the berries remain cool and clammy as you pick them when the ambient temperature is so much higher? I am in fruit heaven; the white currants are showing their peachy coloured seeds through translucent skin, and the strings of most exquisite pearly red currants outshine any jewels. As well as being time-consuming and back breaking, this job is not without its anxieties. What if I accidentally knocked the bowls of berries into the bare soil? I have to put that thought right out of my mind! There are countless endorsements for this activity and I can be creative in preventing these problems. As I unfold the ‘kneeling stool’, a dear friend has given me, and securely nestle the bowls, where they can’t spill their contents, I confidently focus on the task in hand and the bowls soon begin to fill. Time passes, my own thoughts and surrounding sensory delights keeping me company.

Above me in the pear tree, a blackbird warbles its celebratory song. There is a degree of symbiosis here; surely he will pick up some tasty morsels after I have finished here, this evening? He is keeping me entertained during my endeavours and reassuring me that I have a rich diversity of life all around me, here, in my special place of buzzard skies. I glance up at the other fruit trees, the welcome shade now advancing. The pigeons have already eaten most of my magnificent Morello cherries, even before they are ripe! I have to cover my broccoli and peas against these birds. ‘Foxy’ is not doing his job fast enough!

What was I saying?…

Now, late evening, a rattle of at least ten magpies begins, a warning exchange, back and forth, from one side of the allotment field to the other, a predatory mammal is on the prowl. Is it the short-haired Oriental cat from the neighbouring road, or …?

The magpie commotion increases, they rattle, squawk and high-pitched squeal, flying up and grouping together and perching on fences and trees, as  birds begin ‘mobbing’ an area across the field towards Jack’s plot. I see the tail end of a fox disappear into some bushes. Excited to get a better glimpse, I rise from my fruit-picking job, and get on to the grassy verge. I turn a corner onto the big main path and scan the length of its possible route…nothing… but then… an almighty pandemonium takes me by surprise! Coming from the opposite direction, this time, now, nearer my plot, magpies beginning again, squawking, and squealing, fussing and minding something else’s business, but this time more urgent, building, crying, yawping, more intensely and with a climax to a persistent screech! I shudder, but not from cold, you understand?

Not wanting to find a bloodied corpse, I wait. I give sufficient time for a predator to retreat and escape. A fleeting moment, and I look across towards Rob’s plot and see that splendid, perfect, picture-book, white and orange face, alert, head erect, eyes directed towards me from inside the fruit cage…Wow! Such beauty, such power, such horror! Murder…taking place within metres of my space…such mixed feelings… Earlier, having tried, hopelessly, to free a pigeon from its enclosed food paradise, by leaving the door open, and now, minutes later after being sidetracked from my job, I venture towards the pen, finding nothing but a flurry of feathers.  I had done my best, but how do you entice a wild bird away from its free pickings? I had left a branch of red currants outside the cage, so that it might ‘just walk out’, but why would the bird have cause to leave a bountiful cage full of fruit? Oh, dear!

I want to share this experience … sadness, guilt, acceptance, the sheer drama of it all… with a fellow gardener, but now, at after nine o’clock at night, I am here alone. Closing the door of the fruit cage, I return to my plot, finishing my task and packing up my things, ready to go home, recent events raw and alive in my brain, jostling for recognition. How do you wind down for the evening after such consternation? Senses alert, adrenaline pumping and craving a friend’s comforting voice, I resign myself to ‘just dealing with it’… it is the way of Nature, after all!

As I leave, carrying my two large bowls of red and white hard-earned treasure, I glance down between the compost bin and the runner beans. There, angelic, magical and defiant, sits a jaunty collection of grey-brown bonneted toadstools, cosy in their company.

Ianthe Pickles
Lives in Liverpool
Worked for 37 years as a full-time Primary and later Secondary/Special School teacher and college tutor.
“Writing (especially poetry) was often a release during emotional and turbulent times in the 1980s working in an area of severe deprivation and unemployment in Liverpool. 
When life gets out of control, writing can often help it make sense.”

Mindful Heroes – stories of journeys that changed lives

 

Mindfulness is well recognised as an effective way to deal with the challenges of modern life. So many people have experienced for themselves the power of allowing things to get better by not making them worse. But hopefully the story doesn’t end there. Might the mindfulness journey also prove to be an expression of a deeper imperative that compels us to search for meaning and purpose?

The book “Mindful Heroes – stories of journeys that changed lives” makes the connection between the Hero’s Journey and the inner journeys of people who study and practice mindfulness. Chapters in the book are based on the post graduate research projects from the MSc in Mindfulness Studies at the University of Aberdeen. The authors set out on the path of mindfulness and went on a journey that would change their world. These 26 men and women from 10 countries creatively applied mindfulness to a variety of settings across Education, Health, Business, Sport, Creative Arts and Community work. Having experienced for themselves the benefits of mindful awareness, compassion and insight, they wanted to share what they had discovered with others.

As I write this overview of our project for “Many Roads”, my aspiration is that whatever path you may be travelling, you will find encouragement and inspiration for your own journey. Now more than ever, our world needs mindful heroes.

The Archetypal Hero’s Journey
In “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Joseph Campbell reveals the recurring themes at the heart of myths, legends, parables, folklore, drama and literature. There was no collaboration and yet similar patterns appear in the stories of so many different cultures throughout the ages. In modern terminology, the story of the Hero’s Journey went viral. The archetypal narrative is brought to life in movies such as: The Matrix, Star Wars, The Queen’s Gambit, Harry Potter and Kung Fu Panda.

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”    Joseph Campbell

The Hero’s Journey captures our imagination and resonates with our deepest aspirations: it is a metaphor for the quest to discover our human potential. Perhaps as meditators we should not be surprised to find the landscape of our inner journeys reflected in the timeless mirror of mythology.

Stories help us to make sense of the world; we absorb wisdom through stories, metaphor, poetry. They touch the parts that concepts cannot reach.

“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth – penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming.  Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”  Joseph Campbell

There are endless variations, but the basic plot remains quite simple:

  1. DEPARTURE: leaving the normal world and entering strange new territory.
  2. DESCENT: encountering obstacles and receiving help.
  3. INITIATION: facing challenges and finding freedom.
  4. RETURN: coming home and being able to help others.

 The Journey of Mindful Heroes

If you are reading this article in “Many Roads” it probably means you are on a quest….

As well as learning more about our book “Mindful Heroes – stories of journeys that changed lives”, you may wish to pause from time to time and reflect on your own experiences.

How would it be to see your inner journey as a manifestation of a universal story?

Departure

Can you remember what first prompted you to set out in search of sustainable happiness and freedom from suffering? For many people, the journey begins in response to a crisis that shakes the foundations of the world they know. For others they can no longer ignore the feeling that, although things may be going well, there must be more to life than this.

How did your inner journey begin?

Mindfulness involves letting go of our habitual way of relating to the world. We recognise it is an impossible struggle to make the outer world conform to our expectations and preferences.

The Hero sets of on a journey to resolve a crisis or because, although everything is sort of OK, there’s a feeling something is not quite right.

  • In the film “The Matrix”, Morpheus says to Neo: “What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad”.
  • In the Netflix series “Queen’s Gambit”, Beth Harmon’s life is turned upside down as she finds herself alone and confused in the unfamiliar and frightening orphanage.

The mindfulness journey begins when we eventually realise that instead of giving all our attention and energy to external appearances, it is time to get to know the unexplored world of our own mind.

 Descent
As the decision is made to set out on a quest, unexpected signposts may appear in the form of books, insights and chance encounters. Looking back on your inner journey, can you bring to mind the friends, guides and mysterious coincidences encouraging you to walk the path into the unknown?

What help did you receive to navigate your inner world?

Compassion for oneself and others is required when we look within and see ourselves as we are rather than as we feel we are supposed to be. Although we walk our own path, we can be guided by the wisdom of those who know the way.

The Hero enters unfamiliar territory and encounters daunting challenges. Mentors appear to teach the skills needed in this new reality where different rules apply.

  • In the Star Wars films, after Luke Skywalker and Rey must leave their everyday world behind, they meet Jedi masters who introduce them to the Force and a different way of being.
  • Harry Potter grew up in the mundane world of “muggles” before his education at Hogwarts prepares him for the challenges that he must face.

If we learn to face our personal challenges and obstacles without trying to escape, we get to know ourselves better. We become aware of our weaknesses: we also discover our hidden strengths.

Initiation
Insights often happen when least expected. Have you ever discovered a solution to a problem when you were not really thinking about it? Have you had a creative idea that, as soon as it appeared, seemed completely obvious?

What happens when you get out of your own way?

Insight reveals itself in the moment of Aha! It is not a matter of learning new information: we suddenly recognise what we always knew.

The Hero faces a seemingly impossible challenge or goes to a secret place to confronts his/her deepest fears. There is a transformative experience: a symbolic death of the old self and a rebirth into a self beyond self.

  • In the cartoon movie, Kung Fu Panda was desperate to find the secret ingredient. He thought he had to become the Dragon Warrior when all he needed to do was accept that to become himself would be more than enough.

There is no need for any of us to add something special. We don’t need to pretend to be who we think we are supposed to be. Letting go of striving to live up to a preconceived ideal reveals potential beyond what was imagined.

 Return
Although the inner journey may well begin as a wish to escape from our own problems, a greater purpose emerges as what we learn on the way enables us to contribute to the well-being of others.

How will you share the treasures you have discovered?

Wisdom enables us to realise that, because everything changes, anything is possible. With this glimpse of freedom, a wish to help others arises naturally.

The Hero returns with the ability to resolve the issue that instigated the quest in the first place. In some stories he/she brings back a solution: riches, magical powers, healing elixir. It can also be that the situation is not the same as it was before simply because it is now seen in a different light.

  • At the end of the film the Matrix, no longer trapped in the fabricated illusion, Neo becomes the master of both worlds and can effortlessly accomplish effective action.
  • The cyclical nature of the journey is expressed by TS Eliot in the Four Quartets: “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”.

As one adventure comes to an end the next one begins. The challenge is to face whatever situation arises without trying to escape; to come home and find a way to apply what we have learnt on the journey.

“Seeing the gap between what I do and who I am get smaller and smaller” Terry Barrett

A Secular Path for a Spiritual Journey?
My own meditation practice has been supported and guided for many years by the Buddhist view of the world.  It could be argued that ultimately the very notion of following a path is an illusion and perhaps a hindrance.  However, in my experience, living within the metaphor of being on a journey has helped me to not get lost, to not give up when difficulties appear and not get too carried away when things go well.

I first started to relate the qualities of mind that are discovered on the mindfulness journey to the phases of the Hero’s Journey when teaching post graduate students at the University of Aberdeen on the MSc in Mindfulness Studies. I wondered whether this approach could provide a context for learning and practicing meditation within a secular perspective; a treasure map that serves to maintain a sense of direction and encourages personal exploration of what is happening right now.

My intention was to offer the Hero’s Journey as a non-religious pathway for discovering human potential and awakening compassionate action. However, I fully appreciate the irony of how the Buddha’s life story follows this archetypal trajectory and embodies the true spirit of the Hero’s Journey.

The Heart and Science of Mindfulness
The impact of mindfulness has been evaluated through an ever-increasing body of research which has contributed to our understanding of this ancient discipline of doing almost nothing. As people learn more about the benefits of mindfulness, they become open to the possibility of achieving more by doing less. In science we trust.

Studying what can be measured may help people to make a secular leap of faith and engage with the practice mindfulness. However, although it may not be apparent when setting out on the mindfulness journey, as the stories of our Mindful Heroes show, it is not unusual for the quest to reveal a spiritual dimension.

“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.  When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open doors to you.  I say follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” Joseph Campbell

Looking back on your own journey, who could have predicted the chance meetings and assistance that would come your way when least expected? Who would have thought that the strength and wisdom we are all seeking was already within us from the beginning? Is it even possible for anyone to have a glimpse of inner freedom and not feel compassion and want to help others?

This is the Mindful Hero’s Journey. Viewing the path we travel from this perspective reminds us there is a mystery that we do not control. It reassures us that although we may feel separate, we are connected. It encourages us to continue our personal exploration, knowing that the treasure we find will inevitably be for the greater good.

Mindful Heroes – Sharing the Treasure
 I helped to create the book “Mindful Heroes – stories of journeys that changed lives” with my fellow editors Terry Barrett and Graeme Nixon. Our purpose was to inspire and encourage people interested in mindfulness as they continue their lifelong quest to develop mindfulness and compassion. The 26 authors who contributed to this project kindly offered to donate the royalties from the book to the Everyone Project which supports people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in mindfulness courses

www.everyoneproject.org

What Next?
I hope you have enjoyed this introduction to the Journey of Mindful Heroes. If you would like to share your experiences and/or reflections, I would love to hear from you.

If you would like to know more know more about workshops and conference presentations by the editors and authors of the book, please do get in touch.

Click here to see a full list of the inspiring chapters and the various fields in which mindfulness has been applied as Mindful Heroes have found creative ways to share the treasures they discovered on their mindfulness journeys.

“Mindful Heroes – stories of journeys that changed lives”

available in paperback (UK only) and as an eBook (worldwide).

Contact Vin Harris vinharris.hkt@gmail.com

Vin Harris
I have studied and practiced meditation for more than 45 years under the guidance of many great Tibetan Buddhist masters.  I have always aspired to follow the example of my main teacher Akong Rinpoche who taught me that it is possible to express spiritual values through practical action. He showed me through his teachings and his actions that there is no need to escape from the world.
As well as establishing a successful business, I have found the time to be a woodworker and a project manager for the construction of the Temple and College at Samye Ling. I was the Executive Producer of an award-winning film about Akong Rinpoche’s remarkable life. I co-founded the charity Hart Knowe Trust with the aim of helping people so that they can help others.
I teach and develop mindfulness training programmes for individuals and organisations in the UK and Europe who appreciate my ability to communicate the subtle meaning and purpose of meditation practice in everyday language.

Hart Knowe Trust

 

Bullying: A New Approach

In almost every school, there are posters and there are assemblies that address a problem that 20% of kids face every day, bullying. Kids who are bullied “are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, lower academic achievement, and dropping out of school.” (Pacer.org) It is these effects that make bullying an important issue that should be discussed more. The problem is not that bullying is not being addressed, it is that there is a more efficient way of addressing it. Although a school’s approach to stopping bullying does have its upsides, a psycho-educational approach could be more effective.

What is the current day approach to stopping bullying? It is called the Law-enforcement approach and it paints bullying as a crime which is not always the case. “By holding education institutions legally responsible for the bullying among students, it pressures them to morph into totalitarian police systems, stripping children of their freedom.”(Kalman) A study from The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program showed that the current approach, when implemented for two years, is only 12% effective. McMaster University held a focus group for kids grade five to eight where “students also report problems with negatively worded anti-bullying messages which flatly told them what not to do.”(Vitelli)  Bullying is inevitable but schools are telling kids that they are entitled to a bully-free life which is not reasonable. The current approach endorses a victim-mindset, so why put time and money into a program to stop something inevitable? That is where the government comes into play.

Continue reading

CREAMY CARROT SOUP

A simple carrot soup which most children enjoy.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
(or half butter, half oil)

1 large onion finely chopped

500g carrots
scrubbed and sliced

4 cups (32 fl oz) vegetable stock
(or water)

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup (8 fl oz) milk

Pinch of grated nutmeg

1/cup (4 fl oz) cream or evaporated milk

 Method
In a large, heavy based saucepan, cook the butter, onon and carrots over low heat, tightly covered, for 15-20 minutes.  Stir now and then.  The vegetables must not brown, but this slow cooking brings out the flavours and makes all the difference to the soup.

Add the stock or water, bring to the boil, then simmer for 30 minutes or until the carrots are quite tender.  Cool slightly, then puree in a blender or food processor, return to heat and season to taste.  Stir in milk, nutmeg, cream or evaporated milk and bring almost to the boil.  Serve with crisp, freshly made croutons.

Note:  If liked, rub the croutons lightly with a cut clove of garlic.

Serves:  5-6

 

Positive News

Words by
Gavin Haines

Pollinators and public art: how one Cornish seaside town is creating a buzz

Like many seaside towns in the UK, St Austell has suffered from changing holiday habits (even before the pandemic) and the decline of the fishing industry. A new arts project aims to reverse its fortunes – and that of the bee,

“People used to call St Austell ‘St Awful’ – we’re trying to make that St Awesome instead.”

Artist Alex Murdin is sharing his ambitions for Whitegold, a cultural regeneration programme, which, under the umbrella of the Austell Project, seeks to rejuvenate the seaside town through art.

Like many coastal UK towns, St Austell has suffered from changing holiday habits, and the decline of fishing and industry. Once world-renowned for its china clay pits, which supplied the potters of Stoke-on-Trent, the quarries began to be abandoned last century and the Cornish town fell on hard times.

However, following the success of cultural regeneration projects in other seaside towns, such as Margate, in Kent, St Austell is now looking to art – specifically ceramics – to spur positive change.

But as Murdin said, it’s not just about “plonking a few sculptures around St Austell and hoping that somehow it transforms the place”. Local people have been invited to play a role in the transformation.

Nowhere is the spirit of collective endeavour more evident than at Biddicks Court (main picture, above), where an uninspiring public space has been transformed by a mural made of 11,000 handmade tiles.

The Garden Route rolls out a colourful carpet for visitors arriving in St Austell by car. Image: James Darling

Some 800 local people helped make the giant mural of a Cornish black bee, which, like St Austell itself, has endured through difficult times.

“The Cornish black bee seems to be quite resistant [to colony collapse disorder],” explained Simeon Featherstone of Parasite Ceramics, the ceramics practice that led the project. “It has shown itself to be plucky so it seemed like a good metaphor.”

As well as celebrating pollinators, the Austell Project has also sought to boost their numbers by planting wildflower meadows along the A391 into St Austell. The so-called Garden Route rolls out a colourful carpet for visitors arriving during the summer, and is the first of its kind in Cornwall.

To read the rest of this article log on to positive new lifestyle. at Positive News

The Teachings of the Buddha

                      Lumbini: Photo Yeshe Dorje.

A double-edged question.

The local ruler, called Abhaya, went to Nataputta, a monk who belonged to a community hostile to the Buddha.  Nataputta said to Abhaya: ‘If you were to defeat Gautama, whom they call the Buddha, in public debate, your reputation would be hugely enhanced,’  Abhaya said: ‘How can I defeat Gautama in debate?  His power is too great, and his ability is too vast.’

Nataputta said:  ‘Go to Gautama, and ask him this question:  “Would an enlightened person ever utter words which were disagreeable and unpleasant to others?”   If he replies that an enlightened person would speak in such a way, say to him:  “Then there is no difference between an enlightened  person and an ordinary person;  ordinary people frequently utter words which are disagreeable and unpleasant to others.”  But if he replies that an enlightened person would never speak in such a way, say to him:  “Then you cannot be enlightened; you said that our cousin and enemy Devadutta will suffer for an aeon, and your words made him angry.”‘

Nataputta continued: ‘Thus, when you ask this double-edged question, Gautama will be unable either to spew it out or to swallow it.  It will be as if a piece of barbed iron were stuck in his throat.

Abhaya agreed to this plan; and he immediately went to the Buddha.  He invited him for a meal the following day, with the intention of asking the question afterwards.

Abhayarajakumara Sutta:  Majjhima Nikaya 1.393-395

The Buddha’s principles for speech.

The Buddha came to Abhaya’s palace the following day; and the prince served the Buddha himself, giving him the finest food.  Then after the meal Abhaya asked the Buddha; ‘Would an enlightened person ever utter words which were disagreeable and unpleasant to others?’  The Buddha said, ‘Is not this question double-edged?’  Abhaya exclaimed:  ‘Nataputta and his community are already defeated.’  The Buddha asked: ‘Why do you say that?’  Abhaya told the Buddha that Nataputta had urged him to ask that question, in order to defeat him in debate.

A little boy was lying beside Abhaya, with his head on the ruler’s knee.  The Buddha said:  ‘If that little boy had a stone stuck in his throat, what would you do?’  Abhaya replied: ‘Out of compassion for the boy, I should put my finger down his throat and pull the stone out – even if I drew blood.’

The Buddha said: ‘I never utter falsehood.  If I know something to be true, but nobody would benefit from hearing it, and some would be hurt, I do not utter it.  If I know something to be true, and some would benefit from hearing it, and others would be hurt, I wait for the right time to utter it.  If I know something to be true, but nobody would benefit from hearing it, though some would find it pleasant, I do not utter it.  If I know something to be true, and some would benefit from hearing it, and some would find it pleasant, I utter it.’

Abhayarajakumara Sutta:  Majjhima Nikaya  1.393 – 395

From 366 Readings From Buddhism:  Jaico Publishing House.  Mumbai

 

 

 

 

The Birth of a New World

How can I speak of hope when so many have died? The tragedy is that those who have passed are all the beloved of someone who lives to mourn them. Many innocent lives cut short.

The sun continues to rise. As Francesca Melandri wrote, in A Letter from Italy, “We are witnessing the birth of a new world”. Just what sort of world it is will depend so much on the lessons learned from this and the choices we make – and I mean we the citizens – coming out of it.

Gaia is swinging the pendulum back to the centre. Our beautiful blue planet is a self-regulating organism. This is more than just James Lovelock’s hippy hypothesis. Science has shown it to be true. Our entire evolution depends on her keeping the atmosphere just right for Life. The right amount of oxygen in the air we breathe, the water we drink – life-giving. Filtering the sunlight that plants and algae convert into the food that all animals are dependent on – life-giving. Life has flourished in her mastery of ecochemistry, her juggling of the winds and rains, her influence from the deepest ocean to the frozen tundra.

Continue reading

Byken Matsukawa

Happiness

Personal stories are always interesting, especially when they are within living memory and their veracity hasn’t been eroded through time.  Below is a series of photographs which tells a story about David Russell’s father, Byken Matsukawa, a Japanese national interned in the UK during the second world war.  The photos are preceded by a short biography of David’s life.

Click on each photo to enlarge.

My background

During the First World War my grandparents had moved to Highgate in North London where they ran a guest house; and when my father arrived from Japan in 1915 he stayed in the guest house, met and married my mother in 1920.

I was born in 1934, the youngest of 5 children.  My father did begin to teach me Japanese during the early 1940’s but this was interrupted after Pearl Harbour when my father was interned  for 18 months.  After his release back to the mainland he did not continue with teaching me Japanese.  I therefore neither speak nor read Japanese.

Just before I commenced my National Service in 1953 I changed my surname by deed poll, together with my brother Albert, from Matsukawa to Russell. My father kept his surname. For the record my father became naturalized in 1949 as a British Citizen and died in 1959.

My mother was born in 1901 in Tunbridge Wells to German speaking  parents.  Her full name (wait for it) was Helen Christine Louise Martha Schrader.  She only ever used the name Helen!

Besides working in England and Scotland, I was also employed in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon over the period 1961 to 1966 and again in Lebanon between 1968 to 1971. In Iraq I was a lecturer in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Baghdad – I was there for eight months and witnessed a very bloody revolution and the overthrow of General Quassim to be replaced by a new government under the Baath Party and Sadam Hussein. Between 1961 and 1966 I was a lecturer in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the prestigious American University of Beirut before returning to the UK. Between late 1968 and May 1971 I went back as a consultant to a Jordanian construction firm with offices in Amaan, Jordan and Beirut, Lebanon and my job was to liaise with NEC of Japan who were the suppliers of the equipment for building a ground satellite communication system in Amaan, Jordan. I was also involved in visiting many countries in the Middle East including Iraq, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates for the company who were seeking other contracts.

Within the UK my early employment was with Cable & Wireless Ltd .  I was seconded to the old GPO Research Station at Dollis Hill, London, working on the design of a new Transatlantic Cable system CANTAT 2 which was installed between Oban and Newfoundland.  I was in Oban to witness the opening in 1960.

I then moved to Decca Radar where I was involved with the design of a new computerised radar system to be used in Air Traffic Control. After returning to the UK in 1971 I taught at both Middlesex University and Plymouth University before taking up my post in Scotland in 1976 as HM Inspector of Schools (Further and Higher Education ) where I had responsibility as a national specialist for all courses in Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

I am now retired and live in Edinburgh with my wife, Lena.

**************************************************

My Father

Family members within Jyo-en-Ji Temple

My father (Byken or Bai-ken Matsukawa was born in 1890 in the Jyo-en-ji Temple in Hirakata (located half way between Osaka and Kyoto) to the then Chief Priest of the Temple (Bai-jun Matsukawa).  The temple was established in 1495 and has been in the family since that time.  My father had an elder brother (Bai-en) who died at the age of 22 in 1902.  By tradition the eldest son of the Chief Priest would automatically follow in the steps of his father and become Chief Priest.  He wrestled with his own conscience for many years before finally deciding against staying in Japan and decided to leave for the UK in 1915 at the age of 25.  He had already left the temple and had studied science, had excellent knowledge of the English language and worked and developed a short-hand system within the Imperial Diet.

 

Byken Matsukawa editor of the Nichiei Shinshi.

He arrived in England by ship in 1915.  He established the first Japanese News Agency in the UK called Eastern Press which had its offices in Chancery Lane, London very close to Fleet Street.  Through this Agency he was able to receive news from Japan and deliver it to the Japanese community in the UK.  One of his early tasks was to attend and report on the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War 1.  In 1925 he became the editor of the Nichi-Ei-Shinshi newspaper which continued right up to 1939.  In 1936 he began to teach Japanese language and literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).  My father had a great command of the English language and through his passionate interest in the sciences he did a great deal of translation of scientific works from Japanese to English both for the UK government and top blue chip commercial firms in the UK.  It is true to say that he became probably the best known translator of Japanese scientific literature in the UK in the later years of his life.

 

A photograph of my father teaching Army, RAF and Naval Officers who were involved in interrogating Japanese prisoners of war.

My father still had Japanese citizenship at the outbreak of World War 2 and Pearl Harbour and he was interned at the Isle of Man for 18 months between 1941 and 1943. During his internment the UK Government continued to call on his services as a translator, something with which he was happy to oblige.  On his release he returned to duties at SOAS as part of a special training course for UK armed services officers who interrogated Japanese prisoners of war and translated captured Japanese documents.  My father was finally naturalised as a British citizen in 1949

 The Matsukawa family circa 1937

 

 

 

My father continued his work at SOAS until 1955 when he retired, but continued his translation work right up to his death in 1959 when he succumbed to leukaemia.

 

 

A poem my father wrote. Tanka poetry refers to a Japanese 31-syllable poem, traditionally written as a single, unbroken line. The word “tanka” translates to “short song.” Similar to haiku poetry, tanka poems have specific syllable requirements. They also use many literary devices, including personificationmetaphors, and similes to allow ample visualization.  The poem was written only a few days before my father died as a Thank You for the kindness shown to him as a foreigner.

My father playing the violin circa 1905-10

My father and unknown boy.

Postcard from my father to my grandmother circa 1915.

Prayer of Samantabhadra

Bodhicharya Winter Teaching 2020 – LIVE Teaching

Prayer of Samantabhadra (Kunzang Mönlam)


14th – 21st December 2020

Daily at 2:30pm (GMT/UTC)


Rinpoche has very kindly accepted our request to give a teaching on the ‘Prayer of Samantabhadra (Kunzang Mönlam)’.

This direct and important text is not only an aspiration prayer, but also a very profound teaching and an introduction to the Dzogchen approach. The popular and well-known prayer is especially recommended to be recited during special times like earthquakes, eclipses and solstices, utilising such times as an opportunity for liberation.

The eight day Winter Teaching will start on Monday 14th December on a solar eclipse, and end on Winter solstice on Monday 21st, when we will recite the prayer together.

During this week of teachings Rinpoche will go through the text and also provide us some background and perspective. There will be one session each day at 2.30 pm UTC (GMT). The sessions will be on Zoom and the recordings will become available for registered participants.

The root text is available in different translations in English and other languages, for instance, here at Lotsawa House.

The Winter Teaching is open for all and given freely.

Without Bodhichitta even the highest teachings will not benefit us and can even harm us. Rinpoche often recommends that we study the Bodhicharyavatara. This famous Mahayana text by Shantideva on the Bodhisattva’s way of life and the Six Paramitas is taught by Rinpoche as an ongoing course here in the Ringu Tulku Teachings Archive.

Study and Practice of the Bodhicharyavatara will lay a good foundation for those who wish to participate in the Winter Teaching.


Please visit the Archive to Register and find out more.

THE UNIVERSAL WAY OF AVALOKITESVAR BODHISATTVA

AVALOKITESVAR SHRINE
A Place to Pray to and Meditate on the Grace and Great Compassion of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva 

The Universal Way of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva- A

Public Domain   Translation of Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra

Preface

The Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva Chapter of the Lotus Sutra is perhaps one of the most efficacious Dharma Doors ever spoken by the Buddha. Regular recitation of this Sutra can dispel all disasters and help the cultivator build a strong foundational affinity with Avalokitesvara, a Bodhisattva able to uproot all types of suffering, no matter how severe or how strange, be it physical, spiritual and or psychological. Anyone who is able to build a foundation with Avalokitesvara (by reciting his Name or this Sutra) shall be forever remembered by the Bodhisattva, who will respond by granting all wishes (be they spoken or secret) and eliminating all of the cultivator’s misfortunes, flaws, problems and obstacles— either covertly or openly.

Thus, the purpose of this translation is to serve as a easily recited and understood edition of the Avalokitesvara Chapter for all to use in their daily practice. A public domain text to be freely printed and shared without any restriction.
Brian Chung,
March 2020

The Universal Way of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva

The Bodhisattva of Boundless Will arose from his seat, bared his right shoulder, turned towards the Buddha with joined palms and asked: “World Honored One, we yearn to know why the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, He Who Hears and Heeds the Sounds of the World, is titled thus?”
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MUSHROOMS – च्याउ

Ingredients
1 cup of mushrooms
4 teaspoons mustard or vegetable oil
1 medium onion
2 garlic cloves
2.5 cm piece of ginger
1/2 teaspoon chili (optional)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seed
salt to taste

Process
Wash the mushrooms 2 or 3 times.  Break into small pieces by hand.  Mix turmeric rubbing with the hands and allow to stand for at least 10 minutes.  

Heat the oil and fry the fenugreek seeds till they jump and become brown.  Add the mushrooms after squeezing out the turmeric.  Add salt and fry again.  Add the ground spices and some water so as to let it become a paste.  Cook with a little more quantity of water if needed.

Serve hot and dry.

 Joys of Nepalese Cooking:  Indra Majapuria

SPINACH PAKODA पालक पाकोडा

Ingredients
2 cups of the leaves of spinach

1 cup of gram flour (besan)
2 green chillis chopped or 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder (optional)
1 large onion finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
pinch of asafoetida (hing)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of water or as required
Oil for deep frying

Process
Wash and clean the spinach leaves well.  Cut thickly or use they are.  Mix all the ingredients in gram flour and beat well.  It will become a thick paste.  Mix the spinach leaves.  Beat again.  Add more water if needed.

Heat the oil in frying pan until smoke starts to come.  To make the pakoda crispy, mix a tablespoon of the heated oil in the gram flour.  Fry small balls in the oil until they become light brown.  Adjust the heat accordingly.

Serve hot with a tomato and chili sauce.

Serves
3-4 persons.

IN SEARCH OF MEDICINE, BEYOND CLOUDS

In NATURAL MEDICINE by Kate Roddick

I felt on top of the world, with my letter of introduction to the Dalai Lama, in my pocket, close to my heart, we tickeled tocked, tickeled tocked, into the train station at Patankot. The mist had fallen onto the paddy fields, and plains left to right of the old sleeper train, in the misty morning and my heart seemed to be gently pounding to the anticipation of just getting out onto the platform. I had shared a four tier bunk carriage with two nuns and a very large Indian lady whom was coming up from Old Delhi to take the mountain air and by pure chance to also visit a Tibetan Doctor.

After a little bartering with the mini bus driver, the four of us alighted with a lot of luggage as I had with me two trunks , which I had brought all the way over from Nepal. One trunk was my kitchen things, the other personal items. We were on our way up the two hour drive to Dharamsala, Northern India, in Himachal Pradesh. Dharamsala is a small hill station known as Little Tibet and the home and residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

 

I was to get used to this route in the years to come, but this was the first time I had gone over the Sutlej bridge, and it was by habit, that my travel companions told me, that one was to take tea and puris in the little tea house just after the river before we climb the foothills towards the Kangra Valley. The fields around the farmsteads were bright yellow mustard and the wheat fields a beautiful comparison of green. Ahead was the powerful beauty of the Dhauladhar range, snow peaked splashed by the morning sun. We were getting close to our destination, and everyone started to show signs of excitement. The nuns chatting at half a dozen- reminiscing stories of His Holiness’s annual teachings this time last year. As we approached Lower Dharamsala we passed the Tibet College of Tibetan Medicine, the Menzi Khang. And my heart missed a beat with the anticipation of learning there.

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HONEY MORE EFFECTIVE THAN OVER THE COUNTER MEDICINES…

Image: Alexander Mils

The following extract concerning the increased use of antibiotics for the treatment of colds and associated ailments is from the magazine Positive News.

Honey could offer more effective treatment for some respiratory infections than prescription medicines, according to a study

The pharmaceutical industry has developed a host of treatments for sore throats, blocked noses and coughs, but a study suggests snuffling patients could get more relief from honey than antibiotics and over-the-counter medicines.

Physicians from Oxford University’s Medical School and Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences analysed existing data to evaluate the effectiveness of honey in treating illnesses that affect the nose, sinuses, pharynx or larynx.

Such maladies are referred to as upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs), and include laryngitis and tonsillitis, as well as common colds.

Words by
Gavin Haines
The full article can be read at Honey more effective

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRATITUDE FOR THE PLANTS

The more I work with the plants, the more I become eternally grateful for what they give to us. They have an uncanny knack of being in exactly the right place and the right time when you need them. It’s hardly surprising that the Cherokee’s have this Creation belief:

“Each tree, shrub and herb, down even to the grasses, agreed to furnish a remedy for some one of the diseases named, and each said: “I shall appear to help man when he calls upon me in his need”.”

This could not be more true. As I get older, and hopefully a little wiser, I am learning to trust the plants implicitly. The depth of healing they can bring to a patient is often phenomenal and I am often full of awe. As I am becoming, in Stephen Buhner’s words “vegetalista” they appear, as if summoned on a whisper or a prayer in our lives, quietly but insistently making themselves obvious in subtle yet insistent silence.

It’s hard to explain this, certainly scientifically, without sounding bonkers. I spend a huge amount of time reading and researching, and yet I find that it is meditation that provides the clarity. When the plants present themselves they sometimes surprise me. I’ll say “Oh, it’s you!” and on reflection “Oh of course!!” as I realise the why.

Recently the forgotten herbs have started to make their presence felt. Humble weeds and meadow plants whose use has been lost to the passage of time. With climate change and overcrowding diseases are changing. My research area is Lyme disease. The tick bourne bacteria Borrelia, Bartonella, Babesia, Rickettsia, Erlichia, the viruses and molds. As the number of people infected becomes clearer, now that there is more ‘official’ recognition (a NICE pathway and 11 WHO medical categories for it), the plants appear too. A new John Hopkins lab study demonstrates the bactericidal power in vitro of Cryptolepis, black walnut, Japanese knotweed and co., herbs that Stephen Buhner and Julie McIntyre have been working with in over a decade of pioneering work with Lyme. The experience and trust coming before the laboratory proof provides vindication.

So Marsh Woundwort who found me four years ago is, I find, the closest thing I’ve known to an ‘anti-anaphylactic’ herb, quick acting and powerful in allergies and flares. In cases of Lyme and lupus flares and in chronic gut reactions I have watched her calm skin, gut, kidneys and tissues.

Now Mouse-Ear Hawkweed is calling. Before WWII he was a specific for brucellosis. A disease that mainly cattle had, that could be transmitted to humans, caused by the Brucella bacteria. Well it turns out now that Brucella and Bartonella are siblings on the tree of life. Well who’d have thought?

In Scotland, Japanese knotweed is an invasive species with a ‘bad boy’ reputation. A lot of resource goes into spraying poisons to kill it. Yet if people would take the time to dig it and dry it, I would buy every single rhizome. It is a herb par excellence for Lyme, killing Borrelia and alleviating the crippling joint pain that goes with it.

This morning, as I write, the sun is gently coming up on a new day. The meadow outside my window is in full bloom with hogweed, loosestrife, dock, nettle – a jumble of plants each one with a gift. As the countryside around me is slowly concreted over in the name of development, I watch their habitat disappear. And yet it is the weeds, determined to keep popping up – whatever obstacles we humans unthinkingly place in their path – that offer us healing now. And I am humbly grateful for their presence in our lives.

I recently read one of Stephen Harris Buhner’s essays and would like to include this quote that resonated:

“Plants are also highly responsive to the needs of their community. As I go into in depth in my book The Lost Language of Plants they sense when any member of their ecosystem is ill and begin producing the needed compounds. If other plants are ill, they send those compounds through mycelial networks to reach the plants who need them. If it is any of the multitude of animals in the region, they send out chemical cues through their stomata, letting those animals (who are far more attuned to their body wisdom than we are) know the location of the medicines they need.”

The full essay can be read at https://www.stephenharrodbuhner.com/articles/

I recently read one of Stephen Harris Buhner’s essays and would like to include this quote that resonated:

“Plants are also highly responsive to the needs of their community. As I go into in depth in my book The Lost Language of Plants they sense when any member of their ecosystem is ill and begin producing the needed compounds. If other plants are ill, they send those compounds through mycelial networks to reach the plants who need them. If it is any of the multitude of animals in the region, they send out chemical cues through their stomata, letting those animals (who are far more attuned to their body wisdom than we are) know the location of the medicines they need.”

The full essay can be read at https://www.stephenharrodbuhner.com/articles/