A Responsible Source?

Ripples In A PondIt appears that there are now over three hundred people following my blog, so I need to think even more carefully about the things I post.

Each topic will be, however small, a source for potential change in those who read it.

One of the principles of Nichiren Buddhism is that of the Oneness of Self and the Environment.

If you drop a pebble, no matter how small, into a pond, the ripples spread out in all directions and interact with everything in their path.

This principle states that there is a connection between the person and others around him or her. It is therefore clear that changes in our life-state, the way we relate or react to others and changes due to our Practice will affect those whose lives we interact with.

Some of these affects are very obvious. If we walk around with a happy demeanour, we find that people are more likely to be pleasant towards us. If, on the other hand, we walk around in a bad mood, with a scowl on our face, we find that people are less friendly and may try to avoid us completely.

Ok, so no rocket science there then, but there are more subtle ways in which changes can be felt. In my own case, my Practice has allowed me to stabilise my life-state, generally I am now more often in the higher Worlds than lower ones. The result of that is that I am better placed to create value, for myself and those around me.

My Practice has changed me and those changes are affecting others. That’s why it is so important for me to ensure that as these changes take place, my Wisdom, Courage and Compassion increases too, so I can make sure the changes are all good ones.

Testing Our Progress

Beach Huts At Hengistbury HeadThose of you who have followed my blog for a while will have seen posts about my cycling exploits over the past few years.

Just the same way we test the progress of our Buddhist practice, I have been monitoring my progress in cycling terms.

In some ways, comparing my training times is an easier process. Am I completing the distance more quickly, is my heart rate lower for the same effort, so many metrics to compare. But testing the progress of my practice is more obvious to me day to day.

Almost a year ago to the day, I rode to Hengistbury Head and back, a journey that really caused me a whole world of pain. So much so, that I blogged about the experience. Today I repeated the journey with ease, I even raced, and beat, a bunch of lads who were waiting at the closed Poole bridge on the way home.

The difference? Last year, I was so much less fit. This year, I have been putting my heart and soul into my training. Today’s trip pushed my monthly training distance over the 900km mark, and that has made a huge difference.

When we put all our effort into something, be that training, or our Buddhist practice, we see the results. My cycling effort is backed up by lists and lists of figures and statistics. My effort in Buddhist practice terms shows up in my self awareness, my life-energy and life-state and I can feel the progress each and every day.

And there is an added bonus. The fitter I get, the higher my life-state, the more I chant, the higher my life-energy and the fitter I can get … the ultimate positive spiral !!!

Making The Most Of Our Opportunities

Thunder Over The SeaI was really looking forward to getting out on the bike today, the first time in a few days.

So you can imagine my disappointment when the weather caused a rethink.

Thunder, lightening and heavy rain are not the best for a trip out over one of the highest points around here.

Every day we have highs and lows, wins and losses, good things happen, bad things happen, every single day.

Problems are an everyday reality, they are part of life and ignoring them will never make them go away.

So focus on what’s good, what’s going right, enjoy that brief spell of sunshine on an otherwise rainy day. Smile, laugh when you can, and always focus on the positives. Make the most of every minute, you will never have the opportunity to use that minute again, so don’t waste it.

Make causes today, to make tomorrow better and never give in to the inevitable resistance that you feel when you are nearing your goal.

Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, never fear the truth, use the Wisdom , Courage and Compassion, we all possess, to help others to be positive, it will increase your own life-energy as you encourage them to increase theirs.

I waited for the rain to pass, the skies lightened and although the wind still blew as strongly as ever, it dried the ground. So by mid afternoon I was up atop The Purbecks, looking back over Poole and Bournemouth, being blown sideways by a strong easterly gale.

In fact, if anything, the wind helped my progress. Unusually, coming from the east, the wind was at my back for the ride up to the top of the high ground. The rain stayed away and my journey was made all the more enjoyable by the discovery that I had beaten my previous best time by some margin. Poison into medicine if ever I saw it.

Memories Of A Sad Day

My DadToday is one of those anniversaries that none of us look forward to. As I post this, it is exactly eleven 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 of those coincidences that life turns up occasionally.

On that day, 11 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, 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 still miss you Dad, it’s a pity you never got to see the Jaguar.

Mind Control

Mind ControlIt may seem perfectly acceptable to put ourselves and our own wishes first, to simply follow the dictates of our emotions and cravings, but the truth is that there is very little that is more unreliable than our own mind.

Life doesn’t always run like clockwork and things will not necessarily turn out as we hope or plan. Consequently, Nichiren frequently stressed: “You should become the master of your mind, not let your mind master you.”

We must not allow ourselves to be ruled by a self-centred mind. Rather, we have to discipline our mind and gain mastery over it. So often these days we are confronted by the ‘mind over matter’ attitude, ‘I don’t mind and you don’t matter’.

Always try to see a situation from the others perspective. You may find that the view from their side of the table is rather different than your own, and it may well illuminate facets that you had overlooked.

What Does The Future Hold For You?

Smart Phones Getting SmarterWith technology becoming smarter, at an ever increasing rate, it is difficult to see where it will take us in the coming decade or two. Who would have imagined, even thirty years ago, that we could all carry a smartphone in our pocket or on our wrist, a device that can connect us with other people and places, anywhere on the planet?

In Buddhist terms, the causes we make today, will shape our future life and lives, as Sensei points out:

What will the future be like? No one knows the answer to that question. All we know is that the effects that will appear in the future are all contained in the causes that are made in the present.

The important thing, therefore, is that we stand up and take action to achieve great objectives without allowing ourselves to be distracted or discouraged by immediate difficulties.

Be aware of your own responsibilities. You create the causes for the effects you see in your own life. Make strides to ensure that these causes will produce the effects you desire.

Go On, Just Do It !!!

Nice Cycling PosterAs I whizz around on my bike each day, it’s easy to forget that I am in my late fifties.

I don’t feel any older than I did forty years ago, in fact, my stamina is far better now than it was then.

I know that I have been fortunate enough to avoid serious illness, but maybe all this exercise is the cause of that.

Daisaku Ikeda, in his daily encouragement, sees things slightly differently, but the principles are very much the same …

In the twinkling of an eye we grow old. Our physical strength wanes and we begin to suffer various aches and pains.

We practice Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism so that instead of sinking into feelings of sadness, loneliness and regret, we can greet old age with an inner richness and maturity as round and complete as a ripe, golden fruit of autumn.

Faith exists so that we can welcome, smiling and without regrets, an old age that is like a breath-taking sunset whose dazzling rays colour heaven and earth in majestic hues.

So if, like a few of my friends, you are thinking ‘I should really be doing more to stay fit, to look after this aging body, but I just don’t have time … maybe tomorrow’ don’t put it off another day. It’s not all about Buddhist Practice, though I do chant, in time to my breathing, as I cycle my way to wherever.

Here in the South, we are enjoying a welcome extension to the summer, but it won’t last. They are promising rain for the weekend, so get your bike out, get your running shoes on, get into those speedos (ok, maybe not), but whatever you decide to do, get out in the fresh air, stretch those legs, fill those lungs and make the causes for a longer, fitter, happier life.

If you haven’t done any exercise for a while, maybe you should go and talk to your doctor before going nuts and doing some lasting damage. A little WCC goes a long way.

The Freedom To Fly

Freeing The Caged BirdWe can all be guilty of trying to hold things, or people, too close to us. This may be for a number of reasons, fear of losing them probably being the most common. With possessions we may only cause ourselves problems, but with people, the act of holding them close, may actually have the effect of pushing them away. We must learn to give people the freedom to grow, to learn, to blossom and the chance to be themselves, otherwise we may lose them forever.

Nichiren writes: “Myoho-renge-kyo is the Buddha nature of all living beings…. The Buddha nature that all these beings possess is called by the name Myoho-renge-kyo” (wnd, 131). Regarding how to manifest one’s innate Buddha nature, Nichiren explains: “When we revere Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion, the Buddha nature within us is summoned forth and manifested by our chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This is what is meant by ‘Buddha.’ To illustrate, when a caged bird sings, birds who are flying in the sky are thereby summoned and gather around, and when the birds flying in the sky gather around, the bird in the cage strives to get out. When with our mouths we chant the Mystic Law, our Buddha nature, being summoned, will invariably emerge” (wnd, 887).

In Nichiren’s metaphor, our innate Buddha nature, whose name is Nam myoho renge kyo, is a bird trapped in the cage of ignorance. In other words, our deluded minds create this cage that imprisons our Buddha nature. But when we chant Nam myoho renge kyo to the Gohonzon, which expresses Nichiren’s enlightened life and the potential of all people, our dormant Buddha nature becomes activated.

The singing of the caged bird is our chanting, and the birds flying in the sky are the Buddha nature in our environment, particularly as it is expressed in the Gohonzon. Through our chanting, the Buddha nature within our lives and the Buddha nature inherent in the universe begin their dynamic interaction.

For Nichiren’s metaphor to work, however, it is necessary for the caged bird to recognize the birds in the sky as being its own kind. In other words, when we pray to the Gohonzon, rather than thinking of it as an external power or deity, we must think of it as the mirror image of our own Buddha nature. If the caged bird thinks of itself as an elephant, it is unlikely to give the slightest thought to flying.

Nichiren Buddhism clarifies that the teaching of the Buddha nature is a teaching of faith and practice. All people have it, but not many can believe in it. Furthermore, some of those who believe in their Buddha nature may not practice to manifest it, erroneously thinking-I’m already a Buddha, so I don’t have to do anything. One’s faith in the Buddha nature must be expressed in one’s actions to manifest it.

Those who see the universal Buddha nature of oneself and others, and work to awaken it in all people are already Buddhas, for such actions belong to none other than a Buddha. As we cultivate our inherent Buddha nature through our conviction and actions to manifest it no matter our circumstances, we begin to see it and experience it. In our everyday lives, seeing may be believing. But in the world of Buddhism, believing in the Buddha nature is the first step toward seeing it.

(from Living Buddhism – February 2005)

So That’s That For Another Week

That's All FolksLet’s just think back to Friday evening. The anticipation of a couple of days away from the office, maybe big plans, maybe just looking forward to the chance to recharge the batteries.

But where is that time now? Of course you can remember what you got up to, at least most of it I hope, but it’s time that has gone and you can never get it back.

It’s just a simple example of the unending passage of time, something we take so much for granted we often fail to remember how important it is. Because, although we have all the time in world through the process of reincarnation, to waste a single second it is to lack Wisdom.

If there is something you have been meaning to do, someone you intended to phone, but keep putting it off for any reason you can lay your hands on, you might have found the world of Tranquillity. It’s maybe not the worst of the Lower Worlds (Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Tranquillity, Heaven) but can mean that you lack the life-energy to drive you get things done.

Get chanting, raise your life-energy and hence your life-state, after all, the weekend is over for another week.

What A Let Down

Only Flat At The BottomSo the highlight of today was meant to be a gentle social cycle with friends over near Winchester. That’s not quite the way things worked out. Having made my way over there with my bike in bits, and having reassembled it ready for the ride, I was raring to go.

There are some beautiful back lanes around Alresford, obviously the reason that there are so many cyclists about. Rolling hills, farms, sheep, horses, even a pack of lamas, though not of the Buddhist persuasion. Beautiful countryside, and nice soft weather too.

All was going well, we were about half way around the 12k route, nothing too strenuous as one of the friends is doing the Round The Isle of Wight charity cycle tomorrow, then a minor setback.

My bike was feeling a bit strange, rather less roll and a bit more rock, and looking down I found to my dismay, that my back tyre was as flat as a pancake. Now 6km is not far on a bike, even with the odd hill to make it interesting, but 6km on a bike with a flat back tyre is a challenge.

Now I don’t know whether you have ever tried to cycle, standing up, leant over the front wheel, in order to take as much weight of the back tyre as possible, but it’s hard work. Try doing it for 10 metres, now try doing it for a kilometre, tough eh?

Now try doing it for 6km, up and down some not insignificant hills, with a certain degree of amused banter aimed in your direction, that is a proper challenge. They say that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I’m sure that is right, but just at this moment, sitting here, with two legs that feel like they’ve been under a road roller, it’s rather hard to agree with the sentiment.

But I’ve got a new inner tube, all ready to fix the wheel, and I’m looking forward to a ride over to the pier and back tomorrow, just to shake the aches and pains out of these poor old legs.

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