This is how I remember my meeting with Jack Niland.
The whole story is a fairy tail and as such, it took place in quite difficult circumstances for both of us. But first we need to roll up in time, because the story starts in 1977.
I was 16 years old and I was living in the streets of Paris. Not exactly sleeping in the streets because with my crazy and violent boyfriend, we were “buskers”, singing, dancing and playing guitar in the metro for our livelihood. We made each day just enough to pay for a cheap hotel room and for food. I used to be a professional dancer before that when I was 13 years old in a Russian dance company; but at some point, I left home with that bad guy much older than me.
One day, in our aimless wandering around the streets of Paris, I bought a book among many different pocket editions in promotion for only 1 franc on the table of a book shop. That choice changed my life forever: It was Cutting through spiritual materialism by Chogyam Trungpa.
“…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.
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.”
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.
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 (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.
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.
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
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.
When you realize it’s black Friday
You are at home doing homework and your pencil snaps so you go to sharpen it but your electric sharpener is broken and the next day is BLACK FRIDAY!!!!waiting and watching the commercials and for once excited for the violence to start.Checking the clock every 5 minutes and you purposely get there a day early so you don’t miss a chance to fill your garage with products you won’t even use, but why not miss the chance of super cheap items.At Costco in the dark by the door with lots of people in line behind you just trying to get a flat inch TV for half the price .BOOM!!!! You check your watch and it’s 7:00 the time that costco opens and you are soooo close you can almost feel it and later when you are so close to a new samsung printer, but the women next to you rolls over your foot with a shopping cart and you drop to the floor.You see a light and you realize it’s the end but you gain enough courage to get back up and grab the last TV.Then you go get the bag of tomatoes and then get a new pair of socks,water bottles and a new bed frame,but the time you get to the cash you pay the $50 but the cashier does not give you you change .Your are trying to rush out of there because you promised yourself to get to sephora by 8:00.Finally you say KEEP THE CHANGE so you get to sephora and go home.Your sitting on the couch just before bed and you can’t stop obsessing over the new bed sheets you got for $5.You know your gonna have to wait another 365 days till next black Friday but it’s worth it.
Written when Mia Evans was 11
Interested in art, music, math, writing, science and environmental issues. Mia also loves playing on her ice hockey team and aspires to one day be a doctor. Attends school in Toronto. This was the result of a school project.
Today we cannot do, behave, or think the same way as we did yesterday about tomorrow. Today is truly the first day of the rest of our lives. Yesterday’s actions, habits and strategies will not work the way they work before COV-19. The world is at war with this virus and I’m sure that we will unite together and prevail as we have in the past.
But not all is hopeless. Everything, or almost everything has a purpose, and although it may be difficult to see what good can come from something as awful as this we need to learn to adapt, change and resolve to overcome this situation.
Out of every problem is an opportunity to adapt, change and improve our life.
For those of us who are confined to home and have the ability to connect with the outside world through the internet, this gives us an opportunity to tidy up our environment … time to organize our closets, basements, files, hard drives, our thoughts, and our analogue world, exercising at home, walking outside, laughing, singing, learning, talking, writing, communicating with each other.
We have the tools, the apps, the ways and means to improve our lives whilst going through this transition.
This too will pass.
We also need to help those less fortunate by creating lines of communication between friends and family.
We need to pray, meditate, exercise stay healthy and strong and overcome fear.
Now is the time for us all to find creative ways to improve our future together, to stop being affected by world media manipulation and focus on our family and friends, locally and abroad.
We have to be grateful for every second of every minute of everyday for all we have and more importantly the things we don’t have that we don’t need.
For years, now, my lovely wife and I have become good-will ambassadors, determined not to wait for bad things to happen and to appreciate the good things we have in our lives that we so easily take for granted. Things like clean water in our taps, fresh air, food in our cupboards and shelves on stores.
A few years ago whilst visiting in Florida, where the public were tense and worried about issues like ‘black lives matter’, I saw a Sheriff sitting in his squad car outside a Walmart. We cautiously approached the car and I asked the sheriff if he would help me fulfill a New Year’s resolution. He looked at me cautiously and I continued by telling him that I had resolved to never pass a first responder without thanking them for being here. The change in attitude and gratitude was palpable.
We’ve being doing it ever since wherever we go with bus drivers, baristas and checkout workers in supermarkets, everyone we come in contact. It is important for us to be kind and complimentary to all we interact with and meet, especially first responders who are on the front line.
Try it. It can save someone’s day and bring them back from fear, doubt and uncertainty that we all have.
First Thought : Best Thought.
Wherever I am, wherever I go, there are many roads to choose from. And sometimes, one of them is the best.
We are experiencing an amazing moment in history, a time to sit and meditate. In a country under national containment because of a world pandemic, many of us are staying home without any prospects about what is about to happen next. Probably, we have often missed the right moment to sit and to meditate with the thought that we don’t have time; but nowadays, the situation is one of full-time retreat for millions of individuals on earth.
Mother Nature needs a break from the non-ending frenzy of activities of human beings, always stirring the 4 elements. Even though people have much more time at home, it seems difficult to welcome this unusual descent into our deepest selves which is now offered to millions of us. Here is a dramatic but also great opportunity to work on our spiritual health as individuals and as a community. Day by day, humanity, scattered in many places, is sharing similar states of uncertainty and fear since Covit19 leads the show. Continue reading
I thought it would be fitting at this time of year to remember Lama Tsering Paljor, a personable friend who passed away 6-years ago. It didn’t take long in his company to realise what a genuine and heart-warming person he was.
In 2012 Donal Creedon led a one month retreat in BMC in Sikkim. He taught from Tsele Natsok Rangdrol’s Lamp of Mahamudra, not an easy text by any means. In order to retain some sort of equilibrium to the teachings which often left me confused with the complicated techniques propounded, I often found solace and balance in talking to the resident monk.
I’m not sure how old Lama La was; he had that youthful appearance, which many Tibetans have, and a calm deportment that affected all who came in contact with him. His easy manner of speech and his openness with others put them immediately at ease, and one felt that they were in the company of an exceptional individual.
During his time in retreat in Pharphing near Kathmandu in Nepal, he told me of his practice of tummo and how he wore three sets of wet robes consecutively and dried them with the heat of his own body. This he performed in the winter. He also joined me in qigong, together with others early in the morning after performing his ritual offerings at the fire house on the roof of the gompa. We also enjoyed watching a film about Milarepa on the laptop and he would explain each part of the story to me, especially the power of his sorcery and his later tutelage under Marpa.
Lama Paljor also liked to demonstrate his skills in singing and dancing and once led an extended session of chanting the mantra om mani peme hum in the shrine room.
In his little kitchen at the top of the building, he made chai and offered sweets. These times provided welcome moments of relaxation. Lama La was a gentle man and enjoyed our company. He showed us his photographs and it was surprising to see him stand out with his long hair and beard while the others had shaved heads.
To us, the first knowledge of his problems came about half-way through the retreat. Lama La was experiencing a burning sensation in his chest and decided that he wanted to seek medical advice. My wife and I took him to consult a homeopathic practitioner in Gangtok and he was prescribed various ‘remedies’, but to no avail. He was later diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was not good.
Lama Tsering Paljor passed away at 7 pm on 15 October, 2014.
However, he was able to travel back to Tibet and passed away amongst his family and friends.
Lama Paljor will be remembered fondly by all who met him and he will live on in their thoughts.
[See Annie Dibble’s article published in Bodhicharya Ireland, Remembering Lama Tsering Paljor.]
First published in Many Roads, October 24, 2014
One day you will express four words. And these four words will set you free. The words are: This Is My Truth. You will speak, write, sing, dance, laugh, act on, remember, celebrate, feel, dream, and live these words in endless ways.
These four words will clarify your relationships, illuminate who means what in your life. These four words will steady your soul, and introduce the false you to the true you. In the presence of the true you, the false you will grow insecure, unsure, and begin to fade away. Wounds in you will tenderize, then transform like snow in a warm sky. The healer you are will awaken and stretch its translucent muscles. This Is My Truth will be your ointment, herb, tonic, and ceremony. You will pray This Is My Truth when life’s tide roars against your cliffs and the pain of your tenderness extracts grains from your shore. This Is My Truth will fortify you in the storm. It will be your reassuring rainbow after.
Some misty mornings you will go walking into the woods seeking these four words. And you will find them growing wild in a clearing rimmed with tall, sage trees, and you will kneel in the soft moss of these four words and sun bars will bless your skin as you gently pluck petals from these four words and place them in your mouth. And the softness of their offering will soothe what trembles in you. You will learn to stay in wild meadows where these four words grow, and you will stay even as the world’s unwellness swells around you threatening to erase these four words. And you will chant these four words. And you will chant until they become your native language.
Until these four words rearrange your molecules and juice your atoms with their airy essence. One day, a mountain will rise in the ocean of your soul. And it will be these four words. And This Is My Truth will be your island, your oasis, your paradise. Your power. This Is My Truth will be your mating call. Kindred souls will flock to this song you usher, this aroma that is your atmosphere. And all the family and friends and unfamiliar souls threatened by your four words, and offended, and disappointed, and angered, and left unhinged and unmoored by the blaspheming reality of their own missing four words, all these souls will finally lie down on the soft savanna woven of your four words and they will weep a deep surrender. And their four words, already in them a seed, shall be inspired by your four words and your living of them, and their four words will stir, then sprout, and this great valley of souls will begin a legendary healing. And you will sit and rest your back against an old tree younger than the youngest sun. And you will ease into sacred conversation with all of Creation. And Creation will ask, What is your offering? And your sweetened soul will gather its eons of Love-harvest and it will answer, I shall offer this. This Is My Truth. And Creation will open and receive your offering. And your truth will open and flow profoundly into all things. And your four words will live forever in the breeze, the most subtle dance of pollen and sunlight birthing life, birthing life, birthing all this life.
May 7, 2018
Tashi Deleg House Samye Ling, the oldest Buddhist centre in Scotland. Summer’s end brings a breeze that blows the leaves from the trees. Flurries of light rain precede a heavy, slanting downpour that drenches in 5 minutes the clothes that you wear.
The room we’re staying in has been refurbished with milk chocolate coloured walls and a desk fixed to the wall with a shelf above and on it an expensive silver angle poise lamp. The room is pristine and from the window looks out to the café and the White Esk beyond fed by the swiftly flowing Clerkhill Burn. On the bed I have my own pillow. (There’s something not appealing about using a pillow on which possibly hundreds of heads have lain and dreampt.)
My sleep in deep and full of dreams, none of which I can recall. Woke several times comfortable to the pattering of rain on the window.
My wife is attending the Drupchen Puja, a ten-day meditation retreat but she can do only two days. This gives me time to wander about a bit and take some photographs, some of which I’ll convert to black and white/sepia for interest. I plan to help David in the kitchen this afternoon. He’s the official soup-maker and he knows his stuff. Making soup is a learning process: he has his ‘secrets’ some of which are putting the onions in first and slowly frying in vegetable corn oil; adding herbs towards the end of the cooking; using celery at the beginning.
At 10.30 I still haven’t done my Chi Gong but after a longish very hot shower I feel relaxed and calm.
Last night read Carol Dweck’s ideas about the malleability of mindset.
Whether human qualities are things that can be cultivated or things that are carved in stone…
The expressoion is that in a fixed mindset everything a person does is about the outcome; while the growth mindset will add value to a process despite the success or failure of an outcome.
Growth Mindset v Fixed Mindset
One interesting point she makes is about parents’ attitudes towards children and how their reactions can help develop a growth mindset.
Surprisingly, too much praise and rewards can have a detrimental effect on their development. (I felt this when I was a teacher encouraged to make all students winners.)
From her book, Self Theories (2000):
You have permanent traits and I’m judging them.
You are a developing person and I’m interested in you development.
If you praise a child too much by always telling them that they are intelligent they become wary about doing anything that might change your judgment of them. They might avoid the risk of failing and so inhibit their own development. They may become slaves of praise.
Protecting children from failure has a negative effect on their development. We have to be honest with them; and without criticism, tell them to try again and harder in a non-judgemental way.
Dweck mentions Benjamin Barber who divides the world into learners and non-learners. And Earl Nightingale distinguishes between “river” and “goal” people.
Goal-directed shows they must succeed in reaching a positive outcome no matter how they get there.
River types will throw themselves passionately into an activity, the activity being more important than the outcome whatever it is.
Water as a symbol for types of personality seems appropriate.
I sleep. I wake. The categories of types of personality dissolve in the dawn.
I’m not at all sure how we all in the Bodhicharya Sangha developed the merit to be able to meet Rinpoche in this life – but somehow the good fortune has come to us, each in our own different way, and I think now we just have to see how much further we can clarify our own minds, develop our compassion and so be able to offer something back to others. Continue reading
A conversation with Erlendur Haraldsson: Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Iceland, Reykjavik.
Sitting round a table at the back of a dining hall with several others, Professor Erlendur Haraldsson is explaining his research into reincarnation and the world of the dead and dying.
At the hour of death, people who are about to die have visions, usually about someone whom they have known earlier and have died.
Professor Haraldsson is a psychologist and his theories seem to segue into the field of parapsychology. The appearance of someone at the hour of death acting as a guide into the world of the dying is an experience that is reported in various circumstances when someone is at the point of death.
As evidence of the his phenomenon, he tells of a cross-cultural study and evidence from American doctors and nurses in hospitals as well as in India: Continue reading
When and how did you first discover Buddhism?
Oh heavens! In a conventional sense I would say by accident. I started doing TM in about the early nineties or late eighties. I had a quite stressful job at Bradford Chamber of Commerce; lots of squabbles and small ‘p’ politics, that sort of thing. I got into TM as a totally secular thing. It worked fine. The mantra I used to do – a couple of times a day, twenty minutes – it did what it said on the tin. It was very effective for me. I did it for about a year and then … you gradually get out of these things. So that all finished.
Fast forward to about the early nineties now. I got a phone call from an ex-colleague of mine from the chamber of commerce days. “You used to meditate, didn’t you? It worked for you.”
And I said, “I did.”
She had seen meditation classes advertised in the Bradford Interfaith Centre. She didn’t want to go on her own. Would I go with her? Along I went. It happened to be Buddhist. Having been brought up Roman Catholic, and spending some 5 years in the Middle East as both soldier and civilian, I was pretty much au fait with Christianity and Islam but I knew nothing about Buddhism at all. So, that got me into it. And that was with the New Kadampa Tradition.
Again, I got very interested in that to the point where I became connected to their new Losang Dragpa Centre in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. In the end I bought a derelict cottage which was in the grounds of Dobroyd Castle – the original name of the Centre. Because they’d overstretched themselves with the initial borrowing, the bank made them sell it. I bought it freehold for £35k (the independent surveyor’s valuation) and sold it for £150k a few years late so I made a bit of money on it.
Things I learned while I was travelling in Dharamsala and Bodhgaya about the setup of the NKT in the UK made me think, “Well, perhaps we had to part company.” There was all the dorje shugden thing that you’re familiar with. There was this split with the Dalai Lama and so on. I wasn’t really comfortable with it.
Came back from my journey. A friend of mine was coming up to Samye Ling for Christmas/New Year. This was in 2007, I think, and I came up with her. Ken Holmes was the course teacher. I was very impressed. All though my experience so far had been with Gulugpa Tradition’s teachings, it wasn’t a subject that was new to me….….but all the lineage stuff is the same or similar in the Kagyu Lineage. But he was a really, really good teacher. So that’s what kept me coming to Samye Ling and finally prompted me to move here when I retired.
What was your first impression of Samye Ling?
Samye Ling, this was much more established than what I’d been used to. The usual friendly atmosphere, but being a bit long in the tooth I knew that, if humankind is involved, it’s not all sweetness and light. But it was very positive. Put it that way.
What made you decide to come here to stay?
I’ve got family connections but I’m free, single: my family’s down in England in various places. I was retiring…past retirement age so I thought, “Why not settle near Samye Ling?”
How did you come across the property that you decided to renovate?
Again, from a conventional point of view, by accident. On the last half day of the Samye Ling 2012/13 Christmas/New Year course, three of us went for a walk and we wandered up to Garwald; a mile and a half up a forestry track. We met someone who was known as Irish Tony living in a cottage, part of what could be described as a little hamlet – all owned by Samye Ling, as we subsequently discovered. We had what was quite a surreal conversation with him. Within about 20 minutes, the couple that I was with, and me, decided we would like to renovate a row of derelict barns; they would use two thirds of the row as a family home, and I would use the other third as a single person’s dwelling.
We rushed back to Samye ling and breathlessly related all this to the Abbot’s Assistant, Ani Lhamo. She said, “Well put it in writing”, which we did. That’s how it all started.
What was your very first action concerning the property?
A couple of days after arriving home, I received a phone call from the couple saying that they’d had second thoughts and decided to back out. They lived on the south coast of England and didn’t want to move so far away from friends and family.
Through Ani Lhamo I organised an official interview with Lama Yeshe (Abbot) to get permission for the build, which happened in February 2013.
To be honest, when I went in to see Lama Yeshe with my kata in hand, because of the enormity of the original row of barns project, I was half hoping he would say “No”. I felt it would probably be too much for me, both physically and financially. Lama Yeshe is a very wise old guy. He pointed me in the direction of the site where I’ve subsequently built. That’s how it got going.
How long did it take to finish the project?
From moving up there with a motorhome in April 2013, I moved in three years later in May. So, it was basically three years. That’s everything. That was to get the planning permission sorted, get the building warrant, get hold of an architect and then literally do the work. During this time, I lived in the motorhome.
As a rough estimate, how much would you say was your expenditure?
It’s hard to give you a straight answer. I must sound like a very bad accountant. It was difficult because I had some savings when I came up and I thought I’d have that stretched to the limit. But as I paid my way month after month some of it came out of my pension income so I wasn’t exhausting my savings so quickly. I’d discounted any sort of income when I planned the job. So, putting all things together I think it was about £65k. That’s everything…fitting it out, kitchen, decorating, furniture, etc, the lot. That’s not just the bricks, mortar and so on.
What happens to the property now?
I have a lease agreement with Samye Ling which gives me that piece of land and the house until I die and then it is bequeathed to Samye Ling which was the original intention; that’s what made it a good idea for me at the beginning.
Is there still an opportunity for others to develop a property in Garwald?
Yes, there is. There are three barns which, at the moment have bits and pieces stored in them. I was going to say derelict barns, but they are watertight presently and in fact, we’ve just renewed the guttering on them. The exterior is usable and they would make good single-person living properties with an open-plan living area downstairs and a sort of a mezzanine type bedroom. So, there are three options there. And there’s also that long row of derelict barns which I was talking about earlier. So, there’s plenty of options to do what I did.
What advice would you give to someone who in interested in developing a barn?
Think carefully. It might not be for everybody. You might not want to do it the way I did. Apart from the exterior stonework, I virtually did all of the rest of it myself. Luckily, I’m reasonably fit. I don’t have a building background but gradually accumulated a wealth of experience. So, I was able to do that – and I had a really good architect. If you’re the sort of person who sees self-build as a project management situation it would cost a bit more than it did me. But it would still be doable.
Physically what would they do? Would they go and meet Lama Yeshe first?
I would advise anyone to do what I did. See someone in authority in Samye Ling. The people I’m thinking of are Ani Lhamo or Lodro Dorje. Probably, they’d point you in the right direction. I’m assuming that it would then be the same process as I experienced. An interview with Lama Yeshe or Katin Lama perhaps and get permission to do it.
Did you have to take out some kind of insurance for this job?
Yes, I did. I took out building insurance…a conventional self-build policy. I got the details from my neighbour Steve Kent, the only other person who’s done this at Garwald and he built his house about six or seven years before I arrived. And I used the same insurance company as him. It wasn’t too expensive. I took out eighteen months of cover and renewed it as necessary.
As far as the facilities were concerned, did you have any problem with electricity or anything else?
No more problems than anybody else in a remote area. In fact, the infrastructure, the lines up the valley have been refurbished very recently. Whereas, we used to get power cuts every week it’s a reasonably rare occurrence now. To be honest, Scottish Power were brilliant with me. I submitted a plan to have electricity on to the property which had meters put into one of the barns temporarily. I had to move somebody else’s meter which was serving another place about a quarter of a mile away up the valley. I made my application. When the surveyor came, he was very, very helpful and he said, “Look you can do this temporarily much more simply than putting it in this barn.” And that helped me a lot. I’ve got a standard meter box which was literally stood temporarily on a couple of cement blocks and is now embedded in the finished wall.
Did you have any problem getting materials up there?
No, I didn’t actually. I had accounts with Keyline and Jewson, nationally known builder’s merchants, and various other organisations. Samye Ling regularly use them. The Garwald track is not the best in the world but passable. I got to know the delivery guys and it worked extremely well. There was hardly ever a weather situation when they couldn’t deliver up there.
I’ve absolutely no regrets and I’m really pleased with what I’ve done and I’ve been living in it now for eighteen months.
Tea or coffee?
Tea. A preference by taste is coffee but it scours me out.
TV or radio?
A bit of both. I like radio 4 but I like BBC television.
Meat or veg?
A bit of both but very little of the first. Once a week perhaps.
Folk or rock?
Well, given my hearing disability, probably folk.
White bread or brown?
Bath or shower?
Shower. I haven’t got a bath.
Rain or snow?
Snow for the aesthetics.
Dogs or cats?
Summer or winter?
That’s difficult. Spring.
Zips or buttons?
Phones or mobiles?
Cycling round the world or building a home?
[Laughs] With hindsight, I think cycling round the world was easier. It wouldn’t seem like that in people’s minds but it was more straightforward.
This summer I went swimming,
This summer I might have drowned
But I held my breath and I kicked my feet
And I moved my arms around,
I moved my arms around.
Loudon Wainwright 111 “Swimming Song”
Greatness in Small Things
After contracting polio as a baby it was deemed, thankfully, that swimming would be good therapy for me. So I learnt to swim and by the time I was eighteen months old I was splashing freely in pools, rivers and in the sea. It was and is a wonderful thing to feel fully mobile and free of gravity. It feels good to be able to let go of my cumbersome caliper and move swiftly and easily through the water. Ever since childhood I have swum regularly and now at the ripe old age of 58 I swim three times a week. I taught all four of my daughters to swim and I realise now that through swimming we have all learned a great deal about life from the art of keeping afloat in the water.
Hello from Goa, land of blue skies, sunshine and palm trees swaying in the balmy breeze. But lest you think that Liz and I are living the languid life of lotus eaters (okay, occasionally…) we are of course as trumped and brexited as the rest of you – but in true Indian style.
Luckily we weren’t here in November when the demonetisation policy kicked in overnight. It caused mayhem and chaos and is still not fully resolved. Basically there is still a shortage of bank notes as they scrapped the 1,000 rupee note and replaced it with a 2,000 note. That’s now £25 quid in UK money with the current crap exchange rate and if you try and pay with it few shops have change to give you or they want plastic money instead. Yes, they are trying to move to a cashless economy where hundreds of millions don’t even have a bank account or their own mobile phone. There are still unreported riots and violence and the poor have no money to pay for fruit, vegetables or milk. Unemployment has risen. Nobody can afford to buy locally built Hero motorcycles, for example, so they’ve had to close the factories. Continue reading
Each morning you wake and begin your inner story about the day ahead. Much of this story is a repetition of the thousands of stories you have spu in your life. What if you could birth a new story, completely untouched by your old stories? Would it take you somewhere you have not been before? The beautiful thing about you is that you are a storyteller. The challenging part is that we are not immune to our old stories or those others tell.
Bless you for being a storyteller. May your heart’s desires write the fresh new script for your mind to direct and your behaviour to act out. May the performance be so moving that you decide to write a new play each morning. The seats are sure to be filled with patrons like Healing, Wonder, Discovery, and Renewal. The sellout streak will never end. And friends will wonder how they can get a phenomenal life like yours.
From Fresh Peace: Daily Blossoming of the Soul by Jaiya John
‘Live and let die’, a reflection on the summer camp
Summer Camp 2018:
I had my first experience of the Bodhicharya summer camp this August. It was a life changing experience in many ways. The theme of the camp was ‘Bardos’, which translates to transitions. Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, who I’ll refer to as Rinpoche from now delivered the teachings in a remarkable way. Rinpoche wanted to focus on death and dying, and managed to deliver his message via some core Buddhist concepts and philosophies, making this an open and accessible summer camp. I didn’t have much experience of Rinpoche directly until this week, and what I saw was a very relaxed, informal and benevolent human being. The way he managed to intertwine simple messages in his teachings was exemplary, messages such as ‘you prepare for death by what you do now’, and ‘the only possessions you really have are moments’. These little messages hammered home the hardest, and what is so great about them is that they are so accessible for everyone. Okay, so I don’t mean ‘Live and let die’ in the
I decided to take refuge as the week went on. I knew most of what this meant and what it involved, but Rinpoche gave us a lovely introduction to this and the Bodhisattva vows to really cement the process together. The whole session of taking refuge was enlightening and cleansing. Even though I had been practicing meditation and Buddhism for a few years, this really made me feel like I was properly on the path. The deep meaning and beautiful words of the refuge and Bodhisattva prayers gave meaning and light to the path. Going through the refuge process made me truly understand and think about the words in the prayers we say every time we begin our practice.
Rinpoche handed me a card with my Tibetan name, Sonam Gyatso, which means ocean of merit. Rinpoche didn’t specifically choose this for me, and he said not to read too much into this, which I agree with. I do like the name though, and I think it can also serve as a specific reminder to oneself about their own dharma path. To me it serves as a reminder that we must all go to the efforts of gaining merit through our positive actions in order to traverse the path to enlightenment.
My week was characterised by uncertainty and impermanence. As a fledgling to the Bodhicharya circles, I was learning a lot and was faced with lots of new and exciting challenges. My uncertainty usually changed to confidence through practice which demonstrated the power of impermanence, a key tenet to the Bardo philosophy, about transition and change. Everything changes.
Jay Rao is a member of the Bodhicharya London sangha, and lives in Watford, UK. He started meditating sporadically to improve his well being, and stumbled upon the London sangha after work one day, who helped him to improve his practice. Jay was born in Pondicherry, India, a multi-cultural and spiritual town with a blend of Tamil and French heritage. He moved to Lancashire at the age of four and his family settled in Sale, Cheshire at the age of ten. He is interested in world history, economic development and Buddhism and manages urban regeneration projects for Watford Council.