On Criticising Others

Criticising OthersIt is very easy to be critical of others, particularly when they are out of earshot. It is, however, valuable to also look for their strengths, as you gain nothing by only criticising others imperfections.

In fact, it is helpful to take a step back, for just a moment each day, and try to consider the feelings and positive qualities of those of whom you are critical.

Another Year

Balloons For Another YearYet again,  today is the anniversary of my blog, and there’s been a post of some description each and every day.

As it says in the About it is the story of my path to enlightenment, but it also logs the past four years highs and lows of life.

I would like to think that you can see the progress, gradual though it may be, that I have made since last September.

It’s a fascinating journey as many of you know, and everyone’s is different. I would really like to thank all the people who have left comments on here or on Facebook or Twitter, they are all greatly appreciated and very often show that we are all learning as we go along.

When I wrote the first post, I was determined to keep it up. Whilst I cannot, hand on heart, say that there haven’t been days when I’ve though ‘Oh bum, it’s late, I’m tired and I still haven’t written today’s post’ but I have always made the effort.

As with my practice, it’s the routine of it that makes the difference. It’s the discipline needed to keep going that adds to the progress through the practice, so when you feel like giving up on something, don’t !!!

Barring fire, pestilence or flood, I’ll still be here, blogging away this time next year, and I hope that you are all still reading the posts too.

The World According To Woollard

William WollardOn the day my employers announced yet another proposed company acquisition, I felt the need to get a balanced view of all this capitalism. So I turned to a very trusted source of wisdom, that of one of the great Buddhist authors, William Woollard.

Today I have been listening to chapter 15 of his book, Buddhism and the Science of Happiness, as recorded and published, in podcast format, by another pair of amazing Nichiren Buddhists, Jason and Karen Jarrett of abuddhistpodcast.com fame.

Chapter 15, entitled The Wealth Delusion, explains that although incomes and personal wealth have increased significantly in the past fifty to sixty years, people have not become proportionally happier as a result. On the contrary, with the tendency for people to measure their own self worth, as well as that of others, by what they earn or the things they possess, there has been a gradual trend to become less and less satisfied with our lot.

William has been a part of my life since his days on television, as a presenter of fantastic programs like Tomorrows World and Top Gear. Back then he wasn’t a Buddhist, but Buddhism has had a profound and lasting effect upon him and the people around him.

If you get the chance, take a tour of Jason and Karen’s website, and download some or all of William’s readings. They are freely available and well worth listening to. In fact listening to the podcasts was really the reason I became a Nichiren Buddhist myself, so another heartfelt thank you to The Jarretts for all the hard work they put into the site, and a massive thank you to William for taking the time to write the book, and then record his wisdom, so that the rest of us may profit from the lessons he has learned over the years.

A Pain In The Purbecks

In The SaddleFour of us set off from Wimborne this morning on a fifty mile bimble around Dorset.

Now cycling in a group is fun, we work for each other and try, where possible, to warn the others about the frequent and numerous potholes along the way.

If you ride a bike on UK roads, you’ll know how lovely it can be to find yourself on a stretch of nice smooth new tarmac. The lumps and bumps of our older repaired roads really can rattle your bones, so the new surface is a real treat.

Life is like that too. It’s the lumps and bumps of everyday life that make you realise just how comfortable the smooth untroubled times are. But without the rough times, we would never recognise the comparison and enjoy the easier times all the more.

We all know that as we move through life, it is impossible to stay on the smooth untroubled path. The bumpy times are a simple fact, just as they are out on the road. So when they come along, just be determined, hold on tight, keep pedalling and look forward to the smoother times ahead.

Here’s a record of how we did today … Click Here

Such A Sad Day

My DadToday is one of those days that none of us look forward to, because as I post this, it is exactly twelve years, almost to the minute, since my Dad passed on.

The day is made all the more strange, because the 27th of September had always been a special day, it was also his mother’s, my Nan’s, birthday.

Just another one of those coincidences that life turns up occasionally.

On that day, 12 years ago, we knew that Dad wasn’t well. He’d suffered from Angina since his early sixties, but that was under control, as were his cholesterol levels. But he had had a silly little accident, dropped a heavy wooden box on his shin, and the resulting wound refused to heal.

Because he was forced to rest the leg, he stopped going out for walks and could usually be found sitting reading, or sleeping, in his chair in the lounge. He started to put on a bit of weight and whenever he did venture out, would have to stop occasionally to draw breath.

But that wasn’t really why he was in hospital that day. He had gone, the day before, to have some routine tests. During the tests they noticed that he had a rather swollen belly, and asked him a bit about it.

It turned out that he had been having a bit of trouble with his ‘plumbing’ and actually had a very distended bladder. They used ultrasound to take a look inside, and decided that they should drain it using a catheter.

Now my Dad was a rather private and quite shy man, always kept himself to himself, and would have been most uncomfortable with this procedure. Not only that, but he was never one for staying away from home, even if it meant driving long hours to be in his own bed that night.

So when they told him that he had to remain in the hospital overnight, just as a precaution, so they could keep their eye on him, he would have been put under further stress. Whether it was as a result of this stress, or maybe the fact that having been drained of five litres of urine allowed his organs to settle into unfamiliar positions, we will never know, but that evening he had his first heart attack.

The medical staff made him comfortable and although it was worrying, when my Mom rang to tell us, we all felt he was in exactly the right place to be looked after and to recover. We talked about coming up to see him at the weekend and left it at that.

I don’t think I had even mentioned the new Jaguar I had picked up that day, but I was looking forward to showing Dad the car, he always loved Jags, though he’d never owned one. But driving to work the next morning, I was unaware that everything was going to change that day.

My mobile rang at about 9:30am, I was in the office, suited and booted as usual, it was my Mom. She was clearly upset, and told me that Dad had had a second, more serious heart attack a couple of hours earlier, and that I should come up to Sutton if I could. It’s a journey of about 100 miles, and I set off at once.

You can do an awful lot of thinking during a journey of that length. I wasn’t chanting back then, though I was a practicing Buddhist. Even the journey was strange. To start with, I was driving this brand new car, all shiny and bright, and trying to get there as fast as possible whilst still trying to break it in gently.

As I came off the M42 at Curdworth, I decided to take the back road to Bassetts Pole and come into Sutton from the North, to avoid any congestion. Big mistake, it was the Ryder Cup, being played at The Belfry, and I drove straight into all the hullaballoo.

A very nice Policewoman stopped me at a checkpoint. Understandably, wearing a sharp suit and driving a brand new Jag, she mistook me for one of the players, or an official, definitely somebody connected to the golf. I explained the situation, that I was rushing to get to the hospital, that my Dad was very ill, she asked me to wait.

I was sandwiched between two pairs of Police motorcycles and we set off at pace. The two riders in front went ahead to clear the route, stop the traffic at islands, lights etc. while the two at the rear leapfrogged at each junction and went ahead to continue the process.

I have never driven so fast on a public road, they were amazing, and we reached the hospital in double quick time. One officer took my keys and told me to go to find my Dad while he parked the car. After it was all over, I wrote a letter to the Chief Constable, thanking them for their help.

I rushed to Intensive Care, where I found Mom sitting in an ante-room. She was looking very worried, but was pleased to see me, we talked about what was happening. Then a doctor came in, asked us to sit down, and gave us an update. I asked whether I could go and see my Dad, I had a heavy cold and didn’t want to make things worse. The doctor explained that I couldn’t make it any worse and ushered me into the room.

My Dad was covered in wires and pipes. A respirator, heart monitor and all manner of machines were gathered around the bed. He was unconscious, and the nurse explained that he had been sedated to stop him from suffering any pain. We sat with him for a while, just watching his chest moving up and down as the machine kept him breathing.

The nurse asked us to go back to the ante-room and told us that the doctor would be in to talk to us shortly. When it came, the doctor’s message was short and to the point, and although he spoke very quietly and calmly, there was no easy way to say it. My Dad was being kept alive by the machines, the damage to his heart was too severe for him to recover, and they asked us whether they could turn the machines off.

I don’t really remember what was said, but they went away to turn off the apparatus, to remove the wires and pipes and to clean Dad up a little. We just sat and waited. When they were ready, we went back into the room, the machines were gone and Dad was lying motionless on the bed.

I say it was Dad. But actually I remember thinking it looked like a waxwork model of him. The total absence of life had changed everything. It looked like my Dad, but it wasn’t my Dad, something very essential was missing.

We took a little while to say our goodbyes, the staff were very kind and looked after us, but their jobs were done. I don’t remember whether I cried, I don’t remember Mom crying, we just looked after each other.

I do remember walking down a long, long corridor towards the hospital entrance. There were people laughing, whistling, running about. Life was going on as usual. But my Dad had just died, what were they thinking?

But slowly the truth becomes clear. We are all part of the Universe, all connected through the universal life-force, and when we die, the Universe continues, life continues, the Wheel of Life continues to roll inexorably on.

So September the 27th is a day I hate to remember, but it is a day I shall never forget. My Buddhist faith has put a different slant on the events of that day. I know that my Dad is back, somewhere, leading his new life. Knowing that takes some of the pain of losing him away, and for that I am very grateful.

I love you and still miss you Dad, it’s a pity you never got to see the Jaguar.

Get On With Life

Don't Just Sit ThereA life that is lived without purpose or focus, the kind in which one never discovers the reason why one was born, is joyless and lacklustre. To simply live, eat, sleep and die without any real sense of purpose, surely represents a life pervaded by the life-state of Tranquillity or Animality.

On the other hand, to do, to create or to contribute something that benefits others, society or ourselves and to dedicate ourselves for as long as we live, to that challenge, is a life of true satisfaction, and more importantly, a life of value.

To live life with purpose through Buddhist principles is a humanistic and meritorious way to live, so don’t just sit there, get on with life !!!

What Is …

What Is PoetryRemember the scene in the movie Dead Poets Society, where Mr Keating is introducing the concept of poetry to the class?

He cites from the fictional weighty tome “Understanding Poetry”, by Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D. which tries to describe a formula for evaluating poetry in pseudo-scientific terms:

To fully understand poetry, we must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme and figures of speech, then ask two questions:

1) How artfully has the objective of the poem been rendered and

2) How important is that objective?

Question 1 rates the poem’s perfection; Question 2 rates its importance. And once these questions have been answered, determining the poem’s greatness becomes a relatively simple matter.

If the poem’s score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of a graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness.

A sonnet by Byron might score high on the vertical but only average on the horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally and vertically, yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the poem to be truly great. As you proceed through the poetry in this book, practice this rating method. As your ability to evaluate poems in this matter grows, so will, so will your enjoyment and understanding of poetry.

Of course Mr Keating tears the theory to shreds and encourages the boys to rip the whole section out of the book, an action that comes back to haunt him later in the film.

But what is poetry, what is love? Certainly it appears to have a slightly different meaning to each and every one of us.

Here are my thoughts on poetry:

What is poetry?

What is poetry?
A simple question
But I think you’ll find
That the meaning is different
To each person asked
And it’s more of a state of one’s mind

What is poetry?
A stupid question
When asked out of the blue
‘Cos the meaning is different
So what’s this thing to me
May be that thing to you

What is poetry?
A searching question
‘Cos it holds our passions and fears
It can capture just an instant
And at any time later
Remind us of joy or tears

What is poetry?
What a question

You decide …

So what is love? I don’t think I’m even going to try to quantify or qualify that one.

The Angry Poet

An Angry ManSometimes, when anger wells up inside us, an outburst can actually do more harm than good.

But when it’s wrapped in poetry, the power is conserved but the harshness is somehow diluted, allowing the message to get through without causing an aggressive backlash.

Here’s a poem that encapsulates some of the anger I feel about climate change …

 

Mr Angry

My practice is that of a Buddhist
For practice makes perfect they say
So why do I still get so angry
When resources are frittered away?

The Earth has a finite collection
Of minerals, water and air
So why are we all quite so blasé?
It’s almost like nobody cares

They hoover the bed of the oceans
Till every fish has been caught
Then they freeze ‘em till prices go mental
‘Cos profit’s their first and last thought

They cut down the trees in the forests
The lungs of the world it’s been said
To make palm oil for everyone’s cookies
Pretty soon Planet Earth will be dead

We marched in the sun at the seaside
In the hope that somebody would hear
Our demands that our leaders take action
To reverse all the climate change fears

But I fear for my grandchildren’s future
On a planet we all have sucked dry
They will never ever forgive us
When they find we’ve condemned them to die

Richard Blake © 2014

On Good Friends

Good FriendsWhat Buddhism terms ‘good friends’, are sincere, honest people without a trace of deceit, who guide others toward the correct path, toward good. It also refers to people who lend their assistance or support to us so that we can practice Buddhism with full assurance.

If you become close to a person who makes you feel “that person is always glowing and animated” or “When I’m with that person I feel strong and secure,” then your faith will naturally deepen, and you will develop bountiful wisdom. In carrying out this Buddhist practice, encountering good friends is the key to attaining Buddhahood.

- Daisaku Ikeda

The Road Not Taken

The Road Not TakenAt times it is all too easy to be led by your heart, hoping that the happiness you gain will offset the unhappiness of others. On the other hand, the unhappiness you may cause to others could easily put a dark cloud over your own feelings, not just for the immediate future, but for eternity.

In the end, the final decision may not even be in the individuals own hands, making it doubly difficult. We are all keen to having our destiny under our own control, so relinquishing it to someone else just adds to the feelings of angst.

My gut feeling, and my Buddhist teaching tell me that, in general, we should sacrifice our own feelings so that others do not have to, but time will tell how it is resolved.

Mulling it all over and over in my mind, knowing that whichever way things turn out, we will never know whether it was for the best, reminded me of the poem by Robert Frost.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

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