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 obtaining Buddhahood.

– Daisaku Ikeda

Food For Thought

Food For ThoughtA splendid time was had by all at the Thai Restaurant in the old town in Poole tonight. This was much to my relief, as we were all there on my recommendation, although I have to admit it was a pretty safe bet, the food, service, setting, everything is always first class.

Obviously, with Jill’s mobility issues, it was also a good choice, very close to the hotel, no hills or steps, apart from the one at the front door, almost perfect. But the physical attributes of the restaurant weren’t the only consideration.

Jill also suffers from a marked lack of taste. No, she doesn’t wear strange colour combinations, like psychedelic blouses with a flamingo pink feather boa, she just cannot taste much of the food she eats.

It serves to remind us, that the world out there, is only made manifest to us because our senses link it to our inner consciousness. Take away those links, be that sight, hearing, touch, or in Jill’s case taste, and the reality is altered.

So to make up for the dulled nature of her taste senses, she tends to eat more spicy food, and hence the choice of a Thai restaurant. It is interesting however, that she can tell whether a tea or coffee tastes nice or not, so there is a neurological element to the problem.

This all lead us to wondering whether there is a taste equivalent to colour blindness, flavour blindness if you will, where the taste of food is different for each individual. There is a degree of evidence that supports this. Some people love really hot curries, me being one of them, others cannot stand anything hotter than a korma.

Suffice to say, not only did we have a very nice meal and a very enjoyable evening, but Jill also enjoyed having some tasty food, and we stretched the boundaries of science a little by discovering taste blindness. All in all a great night out.

So Very True

Hit the nail on the headWith my current struggle with The Dark Passenger continuing, this quotation from Daisaku Ikeda hit the proverbial nail squarely on the head …

In Nichiren Buddhism, attaining enlightenment is not about embarking on some inconceivably long journey to become a resplendent, godlike Buddha; it is about accomplishing a transformation in the depths of one’s being.

In other words, it is not a matter of practicing in order to scale the highest summit of enlightenment at some point in the distant future. Rather, it is a constant, moment-to-moment, inner struggle between revealing our innate Dharma nature, or allowing ourselves to be ruled by our fundamental darkness and delusion.

– Daisaku Ikeda

10 Years, And It Still Hurts Like Hell

My DadToday is one of those anniversaries that I really don’t look forward to. As I write this, it is exactly ten years, almost to the minute, since my Dad passed on. Strange, because the 27th of September had always been a special day, it was also his mother’s, my Nan’s, birthday.

On that day, 10 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 waxworks 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, but 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 miss you Dad, it’s a pity you never got to see the Jaguar.

Trying Not To Listen

My Dark PassengerThe Dark Passenger is being rather vocal at the moment. My decision to deal with the current situation by letting things lie is giving him plenty of scope to come up with all manner of unhelpful thoughts.

I’m giving him as good as I’m getting, but the chap is just so very inventive. Last night he had the brilliant idea of putting a song in my head, and now I just can’t stop humming, whistling or singing it.

What is more annoying, is that it’s probably one of my favourite songs, and very, very well known.

Remember this? …

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence

If things don’t improve, I may have to arrange an appointment to see Cecilia, though on second thoughts, remembering her lyrics, I can’t see it helping much. Back to the chanting me thinks.

Steady As You Go

Steady As You GoWhen you find yourself in a situation where there is nothing you can do that will help, what should you do? Well if there really is nothing you can do, even after you have chanted yourself silly trying to find something, you must do nothing.

Now if you are anything like me, that is a very tall order indeed. I have to work very hard on my self discipline and use copious amounts of wisdom, courage and compassion, to just sit on my metaphorical hands and leave things alone.

But Time really is a wondrous element. At times it goes by at the speed of light, at others it moves with all the pace of a growing Oak tree. When I am in a difficult situation, but not allowing myself to try to fix things, I’m in a world of Oak trees, forests of them.

But just as the little acorn grows into the majestic Oak tree, the situation gradually starts to unfold. As it changes, almost imperceptibly at first, different options also become apparent. And like a pot, rotating on a potter’s wheel, I am eventually able to see even the knottiest challenge from all 360 degrees.

And this calm approach does not go un-noticed. The calmer you can remain, the less chance there is that you will inflame the situation. As we mentioned a couple of days ago, because you remain calm, your environment will remain calm too. Now that has to be a beneficial life-state for everyone concerned.

To borrow a quote from today’s SGI-UK Facebook page:

Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life, and continue chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, no matter what happens. How could this be anything other than the boundless joy of the Law?


Ouch, This Hurts

Saddle SoreIf you ride a bike on the roads around Britain you’ll know how lovely it is to find yourself on a stretch of nice new smooth 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 very much 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 when they appear.

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.

If The Shoe Fits

Old Shoes - Not Jill's BTWAfter spending a very pleasant lunchtime with Bumble and her Mum at The Cricketers, we all adjourned to Jill’s apartment where a footwear based fashion show ensued. Not that it really was a fashion show, more a case of B helping her Mum to appraise the collection of shoes that had been lurking in the wardrobe.

Having walking difficulties, it is imperative that Jill has shoes that help, rather than hinder her progress. So form and function are of much higher importance than fashion, though she did have a rather natty pair of maroon suede ankle boots.

As with so many things in life, a comfortable fit is very important. With shoes it’s all to do with size, width, sole and heel. With relationships it’s more to do with how characters and characteristics mould and match.

In both cases it can be all a matter of time. New shoes can be exactly the right size and fit, but give them time, a short running-in period, and they will become moulded perfectly to your feet. Likewise, as a relationship grows over time, the characters and characteristics of those concerned can also change to fit perfectly, given a degree of wisdom, courage and compassion.

Another perfect example of the law of the oneness of self and the environment.

A Piggin’ Dilemma

PiggiesIt’s been a beautiful day, blues skies and bright sunshine, although the breeze had a little autumn nip to it. Because the weather forecast has been warning that it will all change tomorrow, we decided to take a trip out to the Frome Valley farm shop at Frampton Cotterell.

It would be a lie to say that I am a vegetarian, but I don’t eat a lot of meat these days. But as Bumble has been suffering from a lack of iron, we went to the farm shop to buy some ‘happy’ lamb’s liver. I say ‘happy’ because the butchers in the farm shop know exactly where their meat comes from, and more importantly, that is has been reared in an ethical and humane way.

As we arrived, we could see that there were a lot of people feeding scraps to the pigs who live in the enclosure next to the shop. But as we got out of the car, we could smell the unmistakable aroma of frying bacon. There are few things that smell quite as nice as bacon in the pan, but it did seem a bit sad when you could see the parents and siblings, the relatives of the rashers that were sizzling away.

Now I’m not saying that we should stop meat production, or that it is unethical to rear animals for food, but seeing the livestock rooting in the mud, whilst smelling the results of their slaughter being fried so close by, I did wonder whether they associated the smell with their recently missing relative.

Pigs are pretty intelligent animals, by all accounts, and although they clearly happy to wallow and root around in the mud of their nice little field, I really hope they are unaware of their ultimate fate. If not, I doubt that ‘happy’ would be the right word to use.

Changing Tack

Changing TackDealing with the ever changing aspects of life is a little like sailing a yacht in a squally breeze. There are external influences that push and pull on the direction of our path. Our role as skipper of our own craft, is to deal with the challenges that those influences bring, whilst trying to steer in the direction we want our lives to go.

The similarity to sailing is most evident when you compare the way a yacht has to sail across the wind, in a direction as close to, but rarely directly towards, the desired goal. So there has to be a degree of compromise in order to make progress towards that goal.

Life is exactly the same. It is pretty rare to find, that the influences on our lives, push or pull us directly towards our goals. The old adage of ‘two steps forward and one step back’ is often very accurate. A little progress in the right direction is often followed by a period of consolidation, during which we may even find that we have slipped back a little.

It is good to remember that, as illustrated in The Buddha, Geoff and Me, resistance is not only inevitable, and a measure of our progress, but is essential for some processes to work at all.

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