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.
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 following is an excerpt from Elisabeth Mattis Namgyel’s book The Power of an Open Question
“With All Our Might”
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.
[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.
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 Adventure – A 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)
On this black robe
the dust of incense
from Here Now (2013)
From the group retreats, we get
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)
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?
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.
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
Each in our so-called easy chair, we enjoy the magnificent sunsets.
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:
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.
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 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.
Thank you for supporting this work through buying Rinpoche’s books – we hope you enjoy them.
We are very happy to announce the publication of Ringu Tulku’s latest Heart Wisdom book:
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.
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.
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.
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a Welsh philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic and political activist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.
Illustrations by Bradley Trevor Greive in his new book, (In Praise of Idleness. sourced from The Guardian.)
Outside my window is a sweet pea plant. Today, suddenly it seems, there are only seven flowers, the rest having turned into pods. Maeve expresses this process of change in one of her Summer haiku:
my sweet pea flowers
In these few lines there is a dynamism that paradoxically captures a frozen moment, a reciprocal dance of time and motion. Maeve explains it concisely in her blog:
Many haiku practitioners say that writing haiku helps to keep them anchored in the present moment…
In her latest edition of poetry, A Train Hurtles West, Maeve has captured moments in her life and with imagery invested with tenderness, painted a world consisting of the memories of her mother and father, the seasons and the power of inevitable change, intimate moments in her life and contrasting settings.
Maeve’s mastery of the Haiku form is evident in this collection of verse. Read the words slowly and mindfully; they are a gentle reminder that we are all on that train.
Q1: What’s the significance of the title of your latest collection of poetry?
A1: A Train Hurtles West comes from the title haiku which is also part of the title sequence of the book. The full haiku is a short one-liner: ‘mother dying a train hurtles west’, and the sequence contains haiku I wrote in the few months before and after her death in October 2014. I live in Dublin, in an apartment over the train line heading south and west towards Cork, Limerick and Galway, so I can literally see and hear all the trains as they go by.
I also like the open-ness of the idea of heading west which could have as many interpretations as readers. Traditionally it means dying or being destroyed or lost, which chimes with my mother’s passing away, but in Ireland everyone loves heading west of the Shannon, so it’s probably got more positive connotations here, as I’m sure it has in other countries also. Of course the gold rush in the US also involved people heading west.
Q2: How does “death” affect your writing?
I guess bereavement is an experience to draw from in relation to poems and haiku. Of course it is more intense (at times) than other experiences, so possibly more dramatic and more ‘inspirational’. I’ve heard quite a few stories about poets who only started to write after the death of a parent. I had been writing for fifteen years before the death of my father, the first person I lost who was very close to me. There is a sequence called Father’s Death Day in my first collection of haiku, Initial Response (2011, Alba Publishing) which has haiku written around the time of my Dad’s death in 2010. That book is out of print but now available to read or download free in the Haiku Foundation’s Digital Library.
Q3: What brought you to Buddhism?
I had an interest in Buddhism as a young woman, but it was many more years before I became one. I suppose, like lots of others, I was searching for answers. I liked the fact that Buddhism was a non-theistic faith, also the notion of Buddha-nature, which is pretty much the opposite of the Catholic doctrine of original sin (I was raised a Catholic).
I took refuge five years ago, in the Kagyu tradition. It coincided with my mother’s dementia diagnosis, and I found my dharma very helpful in dealing with that process, with its emphasis on impermanence and acceptance. I also like its stress on pacifism and welcome having an ethical code by which to live my life, one which values compassion above success or materialism.
I’ve aimed to explore the dharma gradually, at my own pace, and that has worked for me so far. I enjoy attending talks and pujas, and am a member of a dharma book club. I’m lucky enough to live near the Kagyu centre in Dublin. I’ve also attended Ringu Tulku’s Summercamp in Portugal for the last three summers, and love connecting with teachings, practices and other sangha members in that way. He is a very wise and inspiring teacher, with a great sense of humour.
Q4: In your sequence Portugal and Galicia, as elsewhere, you have captured the essence of an experience. Does meditation help you formulate ideas about experiences?
A2: I would say that meditation and mindfulness practices help to keep me in the moment (or yank me back there). Haiku are more about sensations than ideas, so being in the moment helps you to increase awareness and concentrate on the senses, resulting in what we call ‘haiku moments’, some of which result in haiku. It’s no accident that the tradition of haiku poetry is partly rooted in Zen Buddhism, or that many of the old Japanese haiku masters were also Buddhist monks and nuns, or practitioners at least.
Q5: Your haiku is not in the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic structure. Does it matter?
Since English is a very different language to Japanese, the 5-7-5 structure does not have to be adhered to. I’m told the English syllable packs more in than the Japanese onji, or word section, so 10-14 syllables are considered the equivalent in English-language haiku to the Japanese 17.
Q6: Does the Irish tradition of poetry – Yeats, Heaney, Colum – influence you at all?
It probably influences my longer-form poetry more than my shorter-form poetry (O’Sullivan’s first longer-form poetry collection, Vocal Chords, was published by Alba Publishing in 2014). No Irish poet can avoid the shadows of Yeats, Kavanagh, Hartnett, Heaney et al, or the influences of the living greats such as Longley, Mahon, Boland, Kinsella, Montague, Ní Dhomhnaill and others. We’re a nation of poets who have to find our own individual voices while embracing those wonderful influences.
Maeve O’Sullivan’s new collection of haiku poetry, A Train Hurtles West, is available from the publisher, Alba Publishing (firstname.lastname@example.org). 30% of profits go to Ringu Tulku Rinpoche’s charity Rigul Trust (www.rigultrust.org). You can find Maeve on Twitter (@maeveos). Her blog post Why Haiku? is available here: bogmanscannon
Taming the Tiger by Akong Tulku Rinpoche
By taking these teachings to heart, we may re-educate ourselves to develop more compassion and understanding. Thus the value and usefulness of our lives will increase. (pp.84-5)
The first thing you see when you pick up a copy of Taming the Tiger is the cover. On the cover – as you might expect – is a tiger. And this is a very special tiger: not only is he a beautiful line drawing by Tai Situpa Rinpoche, he is also a very contented tiger, sitting calmly and with gentle dignity under a tree. He even seems to smile a bit in that way cats have. Continue reading
Night Boat is the story of Ekaku Hakuin, one of the most influential monks in the history of Zen Buddhism. It recreates his life from early childhood in a small Japanese village through a lifetime of adventures, both physical and spiritual. And Spence spends as much time in the beautiful landscape of Japan – using Mt Fuji as a touchstone throughout – as he does in the landscape of the mind.
The historical Ekaku revived the practice of Zen from a period of lethargy and stagnation, and in Night Boat, Spence recreates not just a questing monk and later, charismatic abbot, but also a man determined to pursue his true calling despite the obstacles that Zen’s debased reputation presents. Ekaku struggles against nature, his mind, the failings of his own body, and even the sarcasm of his best teachers who believe Zen has been ruined for good, but the adventure carries on because Ekaku is steadfast in his belief that there is more to learn, and more to conquer – more to put right. Ekaku shares many of his adventures with other characters in Night Boat: first and throughout there is his family, and there are plenty of great sages, fellow monks and, later, students (male and female), along with friends and neighbours, and even a brief flirtation with romance – all vividly drawn and relatable (if not necessarily likeable!). Continue reading
I first met Elisabeth Fraser at a meeting in the Theosophical Society in great King Street in Edinburgh. What the meeting was about and who the speaker was I can’t recall clearly. Perhaps what was said was uninteresting but more likely unintelligible. But what I do remember clearly is that I was seated next to a tall, brown bookcase full of esoteric writings about religion and folklore, the latter mainly about fairies and the supernatural; and as the talk was droning on I noticed a set of books on a shelf. Having read many of his works in the past, the books were by Krishnamurti, I pulled one from the shelf. Immediately, Elisabeth turned to me and whispered, “I’m a follower of Krishnamurti. We used to go down to Brockwood Park to hear his talks every year.”
What impressed me about Elisabeth Continue reading