On Grabbing A Bargain?

Boxing Day SalesNearly everyone I know has been rushing out to the Boxing Day sales today, determined to grab that ‘must have’ bargain.

But is it a ‘must have’, is it even a ‘bargain’, is it, really?

All over Christmas, at every commercial break, we get bombarded with ‘Bargain Offers’ for buy now, pay later ‘Must Haves’ … Rubbish.

Happiness stems from who you are, and not from what you own. That nice new iPad Mini 3 or iPhone 6 that you have been showing off, will very soon be yesterdays toy, and the next big ‘must have’ thing will come along to take its place.

Look around you, see how much you really have, family, friends and all manner of comforts in life. You don’t need that ‘must have’ gizmo, and if it really were such a ‘bargain’, why would the company be selling it at that price? Because they are just ripping you off by a little less than before.

Retail therapy is only therapy for the companies selling the goods. Tell me, honestly, that you have never been out, bought a ‘bargain’, and regretted it, maybe even before you got home. Think before you spend that hard earned cash, think even harder before you pay with your credit card or take a loan. Do you really need it?

Just Another Day … Almost

Just Another Birthday Birthdays are funny things aren’t they When you are little, they are the best thing next to Christmas, you count down the days and they take ages to arrive.

Then you become a teenager and your life changes almost overnight. Shortly after, one day you are a child, the next you are an adult, and so it goes on.

Certain birthdays are real milestones in life. 18, 21, 30, 40, 50, 65, the list goes on. However, 60 isn’t on any list that I subscribe to, so today was really just another day, albeit a very nice one. The last twelve months have been life changing for me, my strengthening faith in Nichiren Buddhism being one of the most important aspects of that.

But now it’s nearly over, and tomorrow will literally be just another day. So it is only left for me to thank all my family and friends for the presents, the cards and the nice greetings on Facebook and the like. I am grateful that I have chalked up another year. When you see the news, every day there are many, many people who don’t. So I should really be most thankful for my good fortune, life in all it’s glory, should never be taken for granted.

Digging In The Past

George Ernest White - Signup Papers - 23/09/1914With the 100th anniversary of The Great War being commemorated all around the country, if not the World, it was amazing to find my Grandfather’s sign-up papers recently. George Ernest White, my mother’s father, joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry regiment on 2nd of September 1914. His enrolment marked the start of a European wide and terrifying journey.

My maternal grandfather died of tuberculosis shortly after I was born, so although we met, I have no recollection of him. He was a respected jeweller, working in the jewellery quarter in Birmingham from the early 1900’s.

Although he survived WWI, he did not come out of the conflict unscathed, being gassed, shot and shelled during his time in Gallipoli, Egypt and France. He was also a machine gunner, the most hated of all roles. Soldiers on both sides of the trenches, performing this role were shot if caught, so devastating was the trail of death they left behind them.

It is difficult to condone the actions of our ancestors, living as we do in an era of comparative peace, but I imagine they did what they were told and had little or no choice in the roles they were given during their service.

I feel no pride for what my grandfather did, nor do I condemn him for his actions. Many lives were lost during the conflicts of the first and second world wars, and what should be condemned, is that those lives were lost largely in vain. We have truly not learned the lessons of human conflict.

I am hoping to discover more about George Ernest’s exploits during the 1914-18 campaigns. We have snippets of his history, but it will be very enlightening to follow his progress through the geography and battles that left so many lying in war cemeteries all over the Europe.

On Taking Responsibility

On Taking ResponsibilitySometimes we find ourselves in difficult or disappointing circumstances, and might believe that they are not of our making. The laws of Karma are universal, we get what we deserve, so whether we recognise the causes or not, the effects speak for themselves.

We might feel sorry for ourselves, we may think it’s unfair, but we make the causes for the effects we experience day in, day out.

Now you may be saying that it’s destiny, fate, or coincidence, but that simply means you are delegating responsibility for your life to chance or a mystical figure whose existence can never be proven.

Why do we allow ourselves to be fooled? When we know the reason for events, we accept the situation and move on. When we don’t know, or remember why something has happened, we waft it away with airy fairy excuses, like fate or God’s will.

I’ve been through the mill at various times in life. Failed relationships, jobs losses, illness and  even death in the family. More than enough to make me feel, at times, that enough is enough. But when I sit and think things through, at the bottom of every disaster, there is, at least in part, a cause of my own making.

So I have to be the first to hold my hand up, I’m culpable, in part at the very least, and my chanting, prayer and meditation are the tools I use to put things right.

You might be sitting there thinking this doesn’t apply in your case, but you are wrong. You are where you are at this very second, as a result of all the decisions and actions you have taken up to this moment. Accept your responsibility and start making your own causes to get the effects you would like to see. If you don’t, you have nobody else to blame if things refuse to improve.

Be That Drop Of Sunshine

Be The Sunshine

Life has it’s ups and downs, as we all know. Little things can make friends and family members unhappy or even depressed, so make it your job to make them feel better.

There are so many people, so many lives on this planet, too numerous, in fact, to count.

From this great multitude, we wondrously find ourselves together with those in our families, as parents and children, as brothers and sisters, as husbands and wives.

If we do not live joyfully and cheerfully with whom we share this profound bond, what is life for?

Should the atmosphere at home be sombre, you can be that drop of ‘sunshine’. By being a shining presence, you can cast the light of hope on your mother, father, children and indeed all of your family and friends.

Just Keeping On

Just Keeping On - Ever UpwardsIf you allow the passing of time to let you forget the lofty vows of your youth, you stand to block the source of your own boundless good fortune and sever the roots of limitless prosperity for your family and loved ones as well.

Please never let this happen. Only by remaining steadfast to the vows we have made in our youth can we shine as true victors in life.

~ Daisaku Ikeda

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.

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)

Gohonzon Central

The GohonzonHaving my Practice at the very core of my life, as my Honzon, as my anchor, is a very liberating state of affairs. As the focus of that Practice is my Gohonzon, making it the absolute centre and the pivot, around which my whole life revolves.

Of course, the centre of many people’s lives are their partners, their children, their families and that is perfectly acceptable, but does mean that their anchor is not fixed, it is ever changing. These changes can be a major source of unhappiness. How often have we seen the elderly couple, totally devoted to each other, that when one of them dies, the other goes soon after.

Having Buddhism and my Practice as my Honzon doesn’t mean that my family or friends mean any less to me, but it does mean that as situations change, as problems arise, my anchor remains firm and I can cope with those challenges all the better.

Maybe that’s not for everyone and it does take a conscious effort to make the change. But for me the effort is repaid many, many times over by the feeling of constancy and stability in my life. As with many things in life, that constancy also affects others in a positive way, ripples of stability benefitting everyone around me.

Happy Birthday Dad

Happy Birthday DadToday would have been my Dad’s 88th birthday.

This photograph of him hangs on the wall next to my desk at home, and I look at it often and remember him with great fondness and love.

He wasn’t a religious man, only going to church for weddings and the like, though he always supported my Mom in her church activities.

As a boy, I remember him as always being at work. Back then, it was quite common for people to work on Saturdays too, and as a printer, he was always busy.

My Mom was definitely his Honzon. If ever she went away for the day, she would leave him a packed lunch, an apple cut into quarters and maybe a cheese sandwich, just to make sure he ate something. He was a bit lost whenever she wasn’t around.

His one big love in life, apart from his family, was printing. Our house was always full of books and paper and print samples, and if he was ever given a book as a present, he was far more interested in who had printed it than what it was about.

In later years, he had a passion for free pistol shooting, he kept meticulous sets of figures of his scores, and used to compile the tables of scores for the club to which he belonged. He was very angry when the Government brought in stricter gun laws, and he was unable to keep his much cherished guns. He always felt that they were punishing the innocent for the sins of the guilty.

Sadly he spent the last couple of years of his life in the World of Tranquillity. He had a heart condition that meant he didn’t have the life-energy to get out and do very much. He still read quite a lot and watched sport on TV, but he slept a lot more.

You were a great Dad, and, in your own quiet way, a great man. You were Wise, Courageous and Compassionate in so many ways, though maybe I didn’t always appreciate it at the time. I pray for you every morning and evening during Gongyo, and although I know you are back here with us somewhere, I miss you a great deal.

Happy Birthday Dad.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

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