Reviews

RETURNING TO SILENCE: ZOOM RETREAT WITH DÓNAL CREEDON

Photo: Yeshe Dorje

31 December 2021 – 7 January 2022

There is something in the title that Dónal chose for this retreat that only became clear as it progressed: we are to return to silence as our natural state. This silence has been obscured: we have been diverted from it by the noise and bustle of the world and, more fundamentally, by an error of perspective.  But it is possible to find it again. This perception formed a kind of ground bass to the seven days we spent together meditating on the theme.

We were deeply grateful to Dónal for engaging once again with a retreat through Zoom, due to the pandemic still raging throughout the world. The pros and cons of using Zoom are finely balanced. On the negative side, there are the technical hitches that inevitably beset all those participating, including Dónal himself; there is the distancing effect of working through the screen rather than face-to-face and the impossibility of engaging with other participants in a meaningful way; and there is the fact that participants are still having to deal with the intrusive every day, still having to keep the ship afloat in terms of family and professional commitments. The real test of the retreat is therefore how adequately one maintains mindfulness in the storm when one is not ‘on the cushion’, literally or figuratively.

On the other hand, there is the undoubted plus of having participants gathered together from many parts of the world – in this case uniting Ireland with the UK and mainland Europe, but also Southern Africa, in centres where Dónal has been in the habit over the years of conducting physical retreats. The result was that there were over ninety retreatants present in virtual form for some sessions, coming from many different spiritual traditions or none at all.

The daily schedule was similar to that to which we have become accustomed: early morning silent meditation, then a teaching session followed by another meditation session. In the afternoon there were three more meditation sessions, sometimes with a teaching element, or Question and Answer, with the final session of the day given over to silent loving-kindness meditation. The breadth of possibilities this afforded was chosen deliberately by Dónal, reluctant to impose specifically Buddhist forms on the retreat, given the varied backgrounds of the participants. So no Chenrezig, for instance.

This breadth, in fact, reflects Dónal’s own background as he outlined his own spiritual journey from his initial discovery, as a young man still feeling his way, of Krishnamurti’s teachings, with which he still engages, to Tibetan Buddhism and long retreats in Samye Ling, leading to the discovery of many ‘sublime teachers’  such as Ringu Tulku Rinpoche and Thrangu Rinpoche being prominent and with whom he follows with loving attention. But concurrently, he spent several years as Resident Buddhist Scholar at the Krishnamurti Centre in Varanasi, India, refining his knowledge of that teacher’s work and influence.

His itinerary is charted in the study he published in 2017, (The Main of Light: Common Ground and Dividing Lines in the Teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti and Buddhism in which the two main aspects of his spiritual path illuminate each other with a rare intensity.

On the first morning of this Zoom retreat, Dónal outlined the principles that should guide our meditation. We should bear in mind the traditional approach of the lamas, who emphasised listening with the correct motivation: the noble bodhisattva motivation, at its most basic, reposing on the wish that all beings be happy and free from suffering. This was crucial, he said, whether we felt that the teacher was talking sense or nonsense: we listen with this motivation, and analyse afterwards. The traditional approach includes study, retreat and meditation on the words of great Dharma figures of the past and the present. This is the way of complexity.

There is also, however, the direct path of the yogis, Mahamudra and Dzogchen. In this approach, there is no need for intensive study of texts and teachings: the study involved is that of the mind itself. Simple, but not easy, Dónal emphasised. Outlining the approach, he went through the various stages involved:

  • The body should be firm like a mountain

  • The mind like space

  • The breath free like the wind.

Then again:

  • Rest naturally, without altering

  • Don’t follow thoughts about the past or the future

  • Don’t invite thoughts

  • Trust, don’t doubt the mind’s capacity for spontaneous wisdom

This should be done, at the beginning at least, for very short periods: using the breath as support, counting up to three breaths, resting / not resting, but with total attention. This sounds easy enough, but the meditator needs to discover for him- or herself what this means.

In subsequent teaching sessions, Dónal turned his attention to the sufferings endured by all beings in the world. What is their cause? The Dharma identifies some of these; craving is one basic one, defined here as the movement of the mind in the dualistic situation in which we find ourselves. The solution to the problem is always somewhere else, ‘out there’, in the future. But this is just self-delusion, the condition of conflict and sorrow in the world, both personal and on a global scale.

This craving in its turn is based on ignorance, ignorance of the way the world works and how our minds function. In a fascinating teaching, Dónal compared the interpretation of the self in Western and Buddhist traditions. Using the Western developmental model of the child, he demonstrated that in this way of thinking, an individual has to develop a firm sense of self to be whole and to function adequately. According to the American psychotherapist Jack Engler [See interview with Jack Engler] the self is the organising principle of the psyche, and a lack of a sense of self leads to mental illness. ‘You have to be somebody before you can be nobody’, as Dónal put it.

In Buddhism, on the contrary, it is craving that creates the self, and that leads therefore to many problems of the mind. For Buddhism, the self is not solid, it is a process rather than an entity, and its construction can be defined as a verb rather than a noun. Dónal evoked the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus at this point, for whom all is flow. You never step twice into the same river. This apprehension leads to a great openness, an optimistic perspective that we are capable of change, that we are not stuck in a rigid state from which we cannot escape. The Buddha’s teachings are thus not just about suffering, but rather about the solution to suffering.

To understand this, we need to understand the nature of craving, based as it is on a fundamental split, between me and the object craved for, a dualism so fundamental that we seldom question it. And yet it is fundamentally flawed, an error to be corrected, as Thrangu Rinpoche has ably demonstrated. It is only a step to seeing thought itself as the main problem. This somewhat revolutionary idea is put forward by figures such as Krishnamurti, an inspirational but controversial figure, and the physicist David Bohm, as against our usual perception of thought being one of the glories of the human mind. Dónal ably summarised the problems created by thought:

  • Thought fragments, divides what is undivided. Take the Irish Border, for example, that border is created by the human mind, but has no real existence, in spite of its potential over the decades to create human misery.

  • According to Krishnamurthi, thought is always in the past and, being bound by the past, cannot meet the present.

  • (Related to this point): thought thinks it is free and independent, but in fact it operates in the past, in memory, resembling a computer programme.

  • Thought operates through labelling, shortcuts that have no validity in fact: we say “I’m Irish”, “she’s Russian”, but these statements are meaningless, mere labels created by humans.

  • The mind regards the images it creates as objective reality, but they are in fact mere projections of thought. We try to fix these images, of ourselves and others, but in the end, our world is created by thought.

On the other hand, true wisdom, prajna (knowing deeply, deep perception), realises that what comes up in our minds – its very confusion – is the material of meditation, and beyond rational thought. We should not look on thought as a problem, however: it has a limited function, creating chaos only when it tries to go beyond this. Thought thinks it knows, whereas knowing in the deepest sense belongs to a different realm altogether, accessible only through vipassana, insight. The true nature of thought is dharmakaya, the ultimate truth of things, emptiness. But this is not in fact how we experience things, and the meditator needs to start not with ‘non-duality’, but with ‘me and my thoughts’.

These perceptions help to elucidate another topic to which Dónal gave his attention and which causes problems to Westerners: the ‘accumulation of merit’, as presented in the Diamond Sutra. There is the tendency in the West to interpret this process as a balance-sheet mentality (and therefore to reject it uncomprehendingly), whereas the accumulation of merit does not belong to the realm of cause and effect, operating in a realm that is beyond these. It nevertheless enriches our body-mind in the field of time and becoming. A positive thought or action always leaves its mark, and a compassionate act creates something for the person performing the act, however small or insignificant. In the same way, offerings to the Buddha and to sublime beings create karmic connections with these beings by opening us up to what they represent.

Reflections of this kind brought out in the course of the retreat, and under Dónal’s expert and compassionate guidance, the significance of the title, ‘Returning to Silence’. By paying attention to what is happening, while it is happening, we learn bit by bit to still the chatter of our minds and listen – truly listen – to the sacred silence that is already there within us, that is not dependent on the outer environment, not just an absence of sound.

It is impossible in a limited review to do justice to the richness and depth of the material presented during this short retreat. But we are deeply grateful to Dónal for sharing his wisdom and experience, and giving us the confidence to believe in our natural access to the silence within.

Pat Little

Saint-Geniès de Malgoires, France

20/01/2022

Photo: Yeshe Dorje

Thank you to Pat Little for submitting an engrossing account of Dónal’s retreat. (Ed)

NIRVANA, THE WATERFALL: Shunryu Suzuki

“Our life and death are the same thing.  When we realize this fact, we have no fear of death anymore, nor actual difficulty in our life.”

I went to Yosemite National Park, and I saw some huge waterfalls.   The highest one there is 1,340 feet high, and from it the water comes down like a curtain thrown from the top of the mountain.  It does not seem to come down swiftly, as you might expect; it seems to come down very slowly because of the distance.  And the water does not come down as one stream, but is separated into many tiny streams.  From a distance it looks like a curtain.  And I thought it must be a very difficult experience for each drop of water to come down from the top of such a high mountain.  It takes time, you know, a long time, for the water finally to reach the bottom of the waterfall.  And it seems to me that our human life may be like this.  We have many difficult experiences in our life.  But at the same time, I thought, the water was not originally separated, but was one whole river.  Only when it is separated does it have some difficulty in falling.  It is as if the water does not have any feeling when it is one whole river.  Only when separated into many drops can it begin to have or to express some feeing.  When we see one whole river we do not feel the living activity of the water.  Feeling ourselves and the water in this way, we cannot use it in just material ways.  It is a living thing.

Extract from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Shunryu Suzuki: buddhaspace.blogspot.com

 

Online Book Shop

 

Online book shop has now reopened

Bodhicharya Publications would like to wish everyone very best wishes for the Iron Ox Year we have entered. We hope you have been enjoying the wealth of online teachings and recordings offered by the Ringu Tulku Archive.

In addition, we are happy to confirm our online shop is once again fully open for purchasing Rinpoche’s books. We have the full Heart Wisdom series and Lazy Lama series available, as well as a compilation book of stories.

With topics that range from ‘Dealing with Emotions‘ to Emptiness and Interdependence (in ‘Like Dreams and Clouds’) and ‘Meeting Challenges,’ hopefully there is something to inspire everyone.

There is also a book of short teachings designed to be read one a day (‘Journey from Head to Heart‘) and books on Kindness, Compassion and Bodhicitta (‘Radiance of the Heart,’ and the little Lazy Lama book looking at ‘Loving-Kindness’).

Hope these teachings can help you through these challenging times.

You can visit the Bodhicharya Online Bookshop here.

Online book shop

Review: The Dalai Lama’s Cat

David Michie, The Dalaï Lama’s Cat: A Novel. Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States: Hay House, 2012.

For Elizabeth, who introduced me to HHC

A cat’s-eye view of the bodhisattva (bodhicatva) path, this wise and witty novel follows the progress of a Himalayan kitten, snatched from the jaws of death in a New Delhi slum where, as the runt of the litter, she is about to be consigned to the rubbish-heap. She is rescued by two young attendants of the Dalai Lama, stuck in a traffic jam while returning to his Indian home from a trip to the United States. The ensuing tale is one ‘not so much of rags to riches as trash to temple’.

We have the usual disclaimer on the book’s copyright page, about any resemblance to persons living or deceased being ‘strictly coincidental’. But the interest of the novel is precisely such a resemblance, which comes to be seen as the kitten’s good karma. Stunningly beautiful with her long, luscious white fur and her sapphire eyes – Mrs Trinci, the Dalai Lama’s favourite cook (she of the ‘operatic temperament’), calls her simply ‘The Most Beautiful Creature That Ever Lived’) – she is adopted by His Holiness, in whose beneficent presence the whole novel bathes.

The first-person narrative from the perspective of the kitten allows us to chart her spiritual progress from the inside, her gradual recognition of her spiritual limitations (gluttony, which nearly gets the better of her, being the chief one, as well as a certain understandable vanity) and her efforts to overcome them.

The question of what to call the cat looms large early on, and is never resolved in any hard-and-fast way. Her karmic link with the Dalai Lama makes ‘His Holiness’s Cat’ (abbreviated to ‘HHC’) an obvious and lasting one. But she is also ‘Rinpoche’ by association with His Holiness, while he himself favours ‘Snow Lion’. Mrs Trinci adds ‘Tesorino’ and ‘cara Mia’ to ‘The Most Beautiful Creature That Ever Lived’. The only name rejected by HHC herself as being thoroughly undignified is ‘Mousie-Tung’, bestowed on her by one of His Holiness’s attendants.

The Dharma teachings which are the essence of the novel are conveyed in the main informally, through His Holiness’s conversation with his many visitors, mostly distinguished in worldly terms (although Thich Nhat Hanh makes a brief appearance), seeking enlightenment at the feet of one of the world’s greatest spiritual leaders. In the earlier pages these tend to be brief and unelaborated, with the narrative taking precedence, but as the kitten becomes a cat and her understanding of such matters develops, they become teachings of some range and complexity. They are thus an important structuring device to the novel. As befits the central concept of the equal potential for enlightenment of all beings, we feel no surprise or artificiality at the idea of a cat having access to these fundamental teachings.

In spite of the deep seriousness of this subject-matter, the narrative never becomes solemn, the cat’s perspective ensures that other characters are introduced with a fitting sense of irony. One of the chief of these is Franc, of Café Franc, a ‘Tibetan Buddhist theme-park’, according to our feline observer, Franc himself being where ‘Metropolitan chic meets Buddhist mystique’. Franc, with his Om (single) earring, blessing-strings, his tight black clothing, his shaven head and his French bulldog, is a cat-hater, until he discovers HHC’s link with the Dalai Lama, which he turns into a selling-point for patrons of the café. HHC, for her part, is only too happy to adopt the vantage-point of the magazine-rack ‘between Vanity Fair and Vogue’, as she awaits the copious meals Franc bestows on her.

Franc himself is brought round to some degree of understanding by the Dalai Lama himself, in a contact over Franc’s dog and Kyi Kyi, a Lhassa Apso rescued by His Holiness. The latter immediately penetrates Franc’s façade, and sends him off for teachings to Geshe Wangpo of Namgyal Monastery. Little by little, the Buddhist trappings fall away, the self-cherishing is muted, and a more genuine, happier Franc materialises, but not before the reader has been treated to some basic Buddhist teachings.

HHC herself grows in understanding, gaining insight into her inadequacies, evoking her ‘poor meditation skills, [her] habitual negative mental thoughts’, her fretting at the fact that her ‘impeccable breeding’ as a pedigree Himalayan cat remains undocumented. This new understanding does not prevent ordinary feline passions being satisfied, and an encounter with a large male tabby from the slums of Dharamsala leads inevitably, towards the end of the novel, to the announcement of a forthcoming litter, to the delight of His Holiness.

Thus, the happiness of all beings is fully recognised, and the lightness of touch with which the teaching is conveyed is maintained throughout.

An engaging and thought-provoking read.

About the Author:  Pat Little is a member of Bodhicharya Ireland and the Dublin Kagyu Samye Dzong. She has a keen interest in ecological matters, notably the Sowa Rigpa Medicine Garden which Ringu Tulku Rinpoche is developing in his Sikkim Retreat Centre, where she worked for a brief spell in 2009

 

 

 

 

A Journey With Buddha’s Daughters.

saffron

Buddhism developed varying traditions as it took root in different cultures around the world. In some of those cultures, the role of women in Buddhism – as nuns and as lay practitioners – has been minimised or even subsumed entirely under that of monks. Even though the Buddha himself, when asked by his student Ananda, said “Yes of course women could become enlightened”,  these ongoing cultural traditions can make it very difficult for women to progress along the path and, crucially for practitioners looking for real inspiration, this also makes it very difficult to find out anything about them.

Any book focusing on Buddhist nuns would necessarily have to at least touch on this issue, and The Saffron Road: A Journey with Buddha’s Daughters does it very well. But this is not a political text. It is really more of an adventure. Toomey travels the world and talks to dozens of Buddhist nuns – women of all ages, from all walks of life, and from countries with long-standing Buddhist traditions as well as countries where Buddhism has been more recently established, e.g. England, France, and America. Her main aim is to get an idea of what motivated each of them to become a nun and what keeps them going, and their reasons are as varied as their dress. She interviews nuns from the Vajrayana, Theravada, and Zen traditions, giving the reader a real feel for each one, and an understanding of the cultures where they thrive.

You get some idea of the scale of this project when Toomey explains here and there about making appointments months in advance, being asked to attend week-long courses so that she might better understand a tradition, and taking part in the daily schedule of prayers and meditation. She finds herself slightly lost in an untended wood looking for an unmarked, isolated retreat, wandering through the oldest part of San Francisco, driving through the rolling hills of the Dumfries countryside, and practising zazenin Japan – where, by the way, the first ordained Buddhist was a young woman. The Saffron Road is very much like a travel narrative: once you’re finished, you not only feel you know more about Buddhist nuns, and Buddhism, but more about the world.

Toomey, as an experienced international journalist, has the perfect touch when it comes to knowing how long to spend with each person, and – critically – what kinds of questions to ask. Some nuns have had difficult experiences in their lives, and Toomey is very careful not to pry. But she brings out their excitement and devotion, and as stories of Buddhist women are still relatively thin on the ground, this makes The Saffron Road an invaluable contribution to the Buddhist experience. You don’t have to be a woman to enjoy this book – you could argue, in fact, that missing half of humanity’s experience with Buddhism doesn’t do anyone any favours, male or female. Like the wings of a bird, Wisdom and Compassion need each other to really fly.

GWEN

Dr Gwen Enstam is Project Developer for The Association for Scottish Literary Studies. She is the editor of the online magazine The Bottle Imp.

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Gwen has made her home in Edinburgh.  An interesting interview of Dr Gwen Enstam can be found on Books From Scotland.

Originally published in Many Roads for Bodhicharya

Let Girls Be Boys

 

The current debate on transgender rights seems to have gone from, “let’s take transgender issues seriously” to “let boys be girls”.  Grace Dent in her article of the same name (Independent 14.11.17) gives some of the breezy reasons about why the Church of England, the government and the entertainment industry is obsessed with gender.  This debate, it seems to me, is going from promoting more tolerance, to promoting more guilt and shame.  The argument goes that those of us born with a penis ought to be ashamed of that fact. Men are the world’s problem.  We men should seriously consider getting in touch with our feminine side – whatever that means – and taking the process to its logical solution.

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Rinpoche’s Teaching Schedule 2018

Photo taken at Tso Pema, November 2017 by Tsunma Karma Wangmo.

Below is the Latest Travel Schedule for Ringu Tulku Rinpoche. If you have any questions about any of the events listed, please contact each group/venue directly using the contact details below.

Please note that Rinpoche’s programme may be changed at any stage, but we will do our best to keep the schedule here up to date. More announcements may be made on the Home page.

All teachings will be given in English and translated into the language of the country.

 

contact each group/venue directly using the contact details below.

Please note that Rinpoche’s programme may be changed at any stage, but we will do our best to keep the schedule here up to date. More announcements may be made on the Home page.

All teachings will be given in English and translated into the language of the country.

 

 


  • June 11, 2018 – June 12, 2018
    Norway – Oslo
    Location: Karma Tashi Ling, Bjørnåsveien 124, 1272 Oslo, Norway
  • August 8, 2018 – August 12, 2018
    Spain – Huesca
    Location: Dag Shang Kagyu Buddhist Center, Calle Única, s/n, 22430 Panillo, Huesca, Spain
    www.dskpanillo.org
    reservas@dskpanillo.org
  • August 17, 2018 – August 19, 2018
    Austria – Gutenstein
    Location: Maitreya Institut, Blättertal 9, 2770 Gutenstein, Austria
    http://www.maitreya.at
    info@maitreya.at
  • August 29, 2018 – August 29, 2018
    Holland – Hantum
    Location: Karma Deleg Chö Phel Ling, Stoepawei 4, 9147 BG Hantum, Netherlands

    http://www.karmakagyu.nl

    info @karmakagyu.nl

  • September 3, 2018 – September 5, 2018
    Slovenia – Ljubljana
    Location: Parinama center, Cesta na Brdo 85, 1000 Ljubljana Organizer: Palpung Yeše Chöling Slovenia

The Main of Light

Dónal Creedon, The Main of Light: Common Ground and Dividing Lines in the Teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti and Buddhism. 2017, Dónal Creedon, 143 p. Printed in Poland by Amazon Fulfilment, Poland Sp. z o.o, Wroclav

This work is the fruit of Dónal Creedon’s many years of study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism, and of his long-standing engagement with the teachings of J. Krishnamurti. He has spent many years in intensive retreat, and currently leads retreats in Europe and South Africa as well as India. He was also resident Buddhist scholar at the Krishnamurti Centre in Varanasi for a number of years, and it was during this period that the present work was conceived and executed in draft. Many readers will know him personally through these retreats, and The Main of Light will focus and give added depth to their experience of his methods.

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NEW LAZY LAMA BOOK – LOVING KINDNESS

by on MARCH 3, 2017 in NEWS, PUBLICATIONS.


In this seventh booklet in the Lazy Lama series, Ringu Tulku looks at how we all need love and asks us to consider the benefits of generating loving kindness for each other. Rinpoche shares with us an Indian saying;

‘ When the trees support each other then we have houses and cities, when human beings support each other we have society, we have civilization.’

So, the whole of society, of civilization, survives by supporting and helping each other. But how can we, as imperfect human beings, offer even an ‘imperfect’ love, and is that enough? Yes, says Rinpoche, we can and should start from where we are. We can offer loving kindness, help and support for each other now, while aspiring towards an ideal unconditional love. Rinpoche encourages us, in these seemingly simple and concise teachings, to develop the courage of a hero dedicated to love, and to find our true brave heart.

It is available to pre-order now in the Book Shop

THE POWER OF AN OPEN QUESTION

The following is an excerpt from Elisabeth Mattis Namgyel’s book The Power of an Open Question 

the-power-of-an-open-question-cover

 

“With All Our Might”
Chapter 12

Surely, if the human condition could be fixed, the Buddha would have fixed it long ago. I’m sure Mother Theresa or Mahatma Gandhi would have cracked the code. And certainly the Dalai Lama would see to it that something was done. The staggering beauty of the efforts of history’s great luminaries, both past and present, is that despite knowing the unfixable nature of things, they did everything thing they could to serve others. In fact, they tried with all their might.

Temple Grandin is an expert in animal behavior and has deep insight into animal mind. She attributes this understanding to having been born severely autistic. She has observed that some patterns of animal behavior resemble the mental, emotional, and physical patterns she and others with autism experience. She is well known for having designed stockyard and slaughterhouse facilities that reduce fear and stress in cattle. A radio interviewer recently asked her, “Why bother creating more humane conditions for animals that are about to be slaughtered anyway?” Ms. Grandin replied, “Why else, but to reduce their suffering.”

Whatever we can do to serve others, at any moment, in any situation, is the practice of bodhi, or awakening. Service awakens in us a natural generosity, not a calculated response that weighs the pros and cons and decides whether it’s worth the effort. It is a matter of the heart. We see a need and naturally move toward it. Shantideva, in The Way of the Bodhisattva, says that if our hair were on fire we would be obsessed with putting it out. In the same way, the process of awakening through service is the obsession of a bodhisattva.

Big Aspirations

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KEN JONES

Beyond Mindfulness 

[Alba Publishing, 2015, 236pp ISBN: 978-1-910185-15-5 5 ¾”x 8 ¼” paperback £10/US$15/€14]

I met Ken Jones, and his wife Noragh, on a number of occasions over the last fifteen years or so, at Haiku Ireland and other haiku-related events in Dublin. He was an acquaintance whose talent and wisdom I admired greatly, and, like many others, I miss not having both on stream anymore. However, we are fortunate that he did write and publish so prolifically and this final book, along with his posthumous collection of haibun, Gone Away (also from Alba), are his parting gifts to us.

gone-away

In some ways, Jones acts as devil’s advocate in the eleven talks and essays on Buddhism which comprise the majority of this volume, a number of which can be found on his website www.kenjoneszen.com. Starting with the book’s title, he challenges our preconceptions about Buddhism in a way that shows a typically fierce and independent intelligence. This sandal-on-the-cheek approach makes us sit up and listen. The first section, How to Do Everyday Buddhism, ‘provides a foundation and introduction for other essays and papers’ and summarises many of Jones’s thoughts on matters such as spiritual materialism, suchness, the practice of emotional awareness and kindness, also the sometimes controversial area of Buddhist ethics and morals. He expands on these topics (and more) in the eight talks which follow and which form the bulk of the book.

The effectiveness in Jones’s arguments partly lies in the fact that they are informed by a deep and wide knowledge of spiritual literature in general, and Buddhist texts and teachers in particular. Ample, relevant quotes punctuate and contextualise his observations in every chapter, from 13th Century Zen Master Dogen (about whose teachings the tenth section of the book is devoted) to contemporary Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön who has popularised dharma-related teachings in recent years. One of his key opinions, that mindfulness – while worthwhile as a practice is itself – is ‘Buddhism lite’, is well-argued and convincing. His assertion that mindfulness is ‘a technique, devoid of the profound ethical concerns of authentic Buddhism’ is hard to refute.

There are times, however, when Jones’s bias as a socially engaged Buddhist is evident, for example when he claims that Buddhism has ‘traditionally been confined to individual existential concerns’ rather than exercising itself in opposing authority (later in the book he describes himself as a ‘Buddhist Bolshevik’). While I admire his desire to marry life as a meditator with life as an activist in the pursuit of equality, I would argue that the latter is not necessarily the main role or function of a Buddhist. Furthermore, the former premise is suspect in that the Buddhist tradition of the sangha, or community of practitioners, is strong and ancient, as is the importance of its role in supporting individual dharma practice. Indeed, the Sangha is one of the ‘three jewels of refuge’ in Buddhism, along with the Buddha and the Dharma. However, the valuable insights Jones provides throughout the book more than compensate for this inclination.

Of course the principles of impermanence and acceptance are also prominent in Buddhist philosophy. Jones embraces these with dignity and humour, no more so than in his writings about ageing (‘the supreme challenge of our life…it is our self-identity which is challenged’) and dying. And so he offers us Ageing, The Great AdventureA Buddhist Guide which forms the eleventh section of this book. What Jones describes as ‘the existential option’, the alternative to either railing against old age or wallowing in its vicissitudes, is to practise awareness, to examine all pains, thoughts and emotions as they arise, and to learn from them. This is best achieved, he argues, through meditation. He also encourages us to both embody and celebrate older age. In relation to death itself, Jones argues that how we have lived is more important than how we die, ‘over which we may very well have little or no control’.

And finally, the haibun. Jones became an early champion of this form, which combines prose and haiku, and he also put his own distinctive stamp on it, calling his haibun ‘haiku stories’. The selection here, in Literary Zen: Haiku and Haibun, the twelfth and final section of the book, includes nine in which Zen retreats are the subjects, and ten inspired by his experience of prostate cancer, the illness that eventually took his life in August 2015. These are mostly taken from five previous collections of haibun, with a few others previously unpublished. The retreat haibun are divided into those written on solitary retreats and those on group retreats, some of which were led by Jones. My own preference is for those from the solitary retreats. There is something pure about his engagement with the natural world, and with the everyday indoor tasks of washing, dining and, in this case, reading and meditating, all conducted alone. But the group retreats also yield clear and contemplative prose, haiku and senryu. And so, Jones gives us this:

Later, in fading light, I wander up onto the hill. Shoulders hunched, searching as usual for something too shy to show itself. Hands tighten on the rust of an iron gate.

Warmed by the setting sun

my skinny shadow

stretching across a field

from The Grey Stone (2002)

and

On this black robe

the dust of incense

silent thunder

from Here Now (2013)

From the group retreats, we get

Hazy moon

the rusty weathervane

clanks and groans

A brief, broken sleep, spilling vivid dreams, and leaving a metallic taste beneath the tongue. The hour before dawn, lit by one large candle. One by one the black robed figures file in.

from Putting Legs on a Snake (2004)

and

Thunder and lightning at dawn

the light within the dark

of the Great Way

from Hard Up (2014)

In the final ten poignant haibun, severally entitled Ageing towards Death, Jones writes with wry humour and a lack of sentimentality about his ‘long drawn out’ illness and approach to death. Though the initial diagnosis of cancer was made in 2001, it only becomes imminently terminal in early 2015. At the early diagnosis stage, Jones writes:

Home for more tests. The radiology unit has an air of carnival. What shall we play for you?

Bone scan

the length

of a Brandenburg Concerto

from The Spirit Level, 2001

Some years later and the disease is taking hold. Yet Jones takes time to immerse himself in the natural world, and to practise the general and emotional awareness that he has advocated in the earlier sections of the book.

Weeping

for the blackbird

singing his love

from Going Nowhere, 2006

His love for his wife is evident in some of the haibun:

‘A better place to die’, she says, turning her face away. And so, day by day and arm in arm, we promenade our love, as wave follows wave.

A red fishing boat

cutting its white wake

through our winter morning

and later:

Each in our so-called easy chair, we enjoy the magnificent sunsets.

Some day

I’ll await a sunset such as this

and share its graceful exit

from A Change of Address (2014)

In the haibun Ready to Cast Off (2014), Jones tackles the indisputable yet unpredictable end which lies ahead for all of us, and how lucky we are to have Jones to blaze such a trail for us:

My Death

my unfamiliar

feral beast

In this and other haikai in the final section of the book, he continues the time-honoured Asian tradition in which both haiku poets and Zen monks have penned their own jisei, or death poem. This provides an appropriate end to a volume which addresses the two components of Zen Buddhism and haibun.

This book is for Buddhists and non-Buddhists, haijin and non-haijin alike, any reader should be enriched by Jones’s erudition and literary talent.

 

IMG_0829

Maeve O’Sullivan (@writefromwithin)

 This review was first published in the quarterly (hard copy) journal of the British Haiku Society,

Blithe Spirit, Volume 26, No. 2 (May 2016).

In early August 2015, I got the news of Ken Jones’ death while sitting in the tea room of Casa da Campo, the Portuguese venue for the Bodhicharya Summercamp. He and I, though different in many ways, shared a publisher, a passion for haiku & its related forms and a commitment to the Dharma, quite a lot to have in common! I was naturally saddened by the news.

Later that year, the then editor of Blithe Spirit, the journal of the British Haiku Society, David  Serjeant, knowing of my interest in Buddhism, asked me to write an extended review of Ken’s last book, Beyond Mindfulness, which he had held in his hand and approved not long before his death. I agreed. It was a strange experience to critique a book whose author wouldn’t get to read the review! It appeared in the journal in May 2016.

Earlier this month, sitting at the same table in the same tea room at Casa da Campo at the start of this year’s Summercamp, Albert Harris told me that Many Roads might be moving towards being review-based. I mentioned the recent one I’d written and he expressed an interest in republishing it on the site. I emailed David Serjeant straight away to ask his permission and he granted it by return. Later I realised that these conversations, and the agreement to republish the review, had all taken place on the day before Ken’s first anniversary on Tuesday 2ndAugust 2016. Coincidence?  Perhaps but I prefer to think that the wily old pilgrim fox had a hand in it!

Maeve O’Sullivan, 12th August 2016

Bodhicharya Publications Update

bodhi

Bodhicharya Publications are very happy to let the wider Bodhicharya community know about our latest developments, following our AGM last month:

  • We have sold around 4000 books in the last two years. These are sales of all Rinpoche’s books that we publish, which are currently: 6 Lazy Lama Series books; 7 Heart Wisdom Series books; 1 book of stories.

  • Our largest investment of profits, made this year, has gone into creating a new online web archive which will give members access to all Rinpoche’s teachings in recorded format. This large scale project is very much still in progress but you will be the first to hear when it is ready….

  • We also made a donation to Rigul Trust of £1500 from profits made.

  • We published two new titles over the last 12 months: “Parables from the Heart,” a collection of Rinpoche’s stories, edited by Patricia Little, with Mary Heneghan. And “Being Pure: The Practice of Vajrasattva,” compiled and edited by Mary Heneghan.

  • All our titles remain on sale from the Bodhicharya website Book Shop and Amazon.

Thank you for supporting this work through buying Rinpoche’s books – we hope you enjoy them.

 

by on JULY 29, 2016 in NEWS, PUBLICATIONS.

Being Pure

Being pure

We are very happy to announce the publication of Ringu Tulku’s latest Heart Wisdom book:

Being Pure: The Practice of Vajrasattva.

This book contains his teachings on the practice of Vajrasattva, including first Taking Refuge; and explores in some depth what it means to ‘be pure,’ to ‘purify’ or to ‘realise Vajrasattva.’ These teachings were originally given at Bodhicharya Meditation Centre in Sikkim, so contain some of the essence of how these concepts can be explored more deeply in the spaciousness of retreat.

The book also presents the root text by His Holiness 17th Karmapa, which Rinpoche’s teaching is a commentary on. And incorporates calligraphies of Vajrasattva’s mantras byTashi Mannox and an image of Vajrasattva by Salga. Compiled and edited by Mary Heneghan, with layout and design by Paul O’Connor.

It is available now to pre-order in the Book Shop.

All of Rinpoche’s other books published by Bodhicharya Publications, can also be ordered from the Bodhicharya Publications Book Shop.

The Saffron Road: A Journey with Buddha’s Daughters

saffron

Buddhism developed varying traditions as it took root in different cultures around the world. In some of those cultures, the role of women in Buddhism – as nuns and as lay practitioners – has been minimised or even subsumed entirely under that of monks. Even though the Buddha himself, when asked by his student Ananda, said “Yes of course women could become enlightened”,  these ongoing cultural traditions can make it very difficult for women to progress along the path and, crucially for practitioners looking for real inspiration, this also makes it very difficult to find out anything about them.

Any book focusing on Buddhist nuns would necessarily have to at least touch on this issue, and The Saffron Road: A Journey with Buddha’s Daughters does it very well. But this is not a political text. It is really more of an adventure. Toomey travels the world and talks to dozens of Buddhist nuns – women of all ages, from all walks of life, and from countries with long-standing Buddhist traditions as well as countries where Buddhism has been more recently established, e.g. England, France, and America. Her main aim is to get an idea of what motivated each of them to become a nun and what keeps them going, and their reasons are as varied as their dress. She interviews nuns from the Vajrayana, Theravada, and Zen traditions, giving the reader a real feel for each one, and an understanding of the cultures where they thrive.

You get some idea of the scale of this project when Toomey explains here and there about making appointments months in advance, being asked to attend week-long courses so that she might better understand a tradition, and taking part in the daily schedule of prayers and meditation. She finds herself slightly lost in an untended wood looking for an unmarked, isolated retreat, wandering through the oldest part of San Francisco, driving through the rolling hills of the Dumfries countryside, and practising zazen in Japan – where, by the way, the first ordained Buddhist was a young woman. The Saffron Road is very much like a travel narrative: once you’re finished, you not only feel you know more about Buddhist nuns, and Buddhism, but more about the world.

Toomey, as an experienced international journalist, has the perfect touch when it comes to knowing how long to spend with each person, and – critically – what kinds of questions to ask. Some nuns have had difficult experiences in their lives, and Toomey is very careful not to pry. But she brings out their excitement and devotion, and as stories of Buddhist women are still relatively thin on the ground, this makes The Saffron Road an invaluable contribution to the Buddhist experience. You don’t have to be a woman to enjoy this book – you could argue, in fact, that missing half of humanity’s experience with Buddhism doesn’t do anyone any favours, male or female. Like the wings of a bird, Wisdom and Compassion need each other to really fly.

GWEN

Dr Gwen Enstam is Project Developer for The Association for Scottish Literary Studies. She is the editor of the online magazine The Bottle Imp.

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Gwen has made her home in Edinburgh.  An interesting interview of Dr Gwen Enstam can be found on Books From Scotland.

 

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