It’s The Shortest Day

The Shortest DayToday is the shortest day of the year, here in the UK, and strangely some may say, it’s my favourite day of the year. Why, I can hear you asking, isn’t the longest day of the year more favoured, all those lovely hours of daylight, and often sunshine too. Well it’s because today marks the nadir of the year in terms of daylight. From now on we get an extra minute or so more light each day, and that’s something to look forward to.

Daisaku Ikeda has some very wise words for these long dark days, and offers a welcome ray of hope …

“Even if today may seem to be a time of total darkness, it will not last forever. The dawn will surely come if you advance, ever forward, without being defeated.

The day will definitely come when you can look back fondly and declare, “I am savouring this happiness because I struggled back then.” It is those who know the bitterness of winter that can savour the true joy of spring.”

~ Daisaku Ikeda

Being Limitless

Being LimitlessWhen we are open and engaged, we experience the greater self. When we are closed off, we are exhibiting our lesser self.

The lesser self is a deluded condition, whilst our greater self is synonymous with our Buddha nature.

To live for the greater self means to recognise the universal principle behind all things and, being awaked in this way, rise above the suffering caused by the awareness of impermanence. A belief in something eternal is needed to enhance our quality of life.

By believing that this world is the be-all and end-all of existence, we will miss out, we will not live a truly profound life. When our viewpoint expands beyond the boundaries of our present existence to include the entire, eternal universe, we can finally live deeply fulfilling lives, unconstrained by our own limited experience.

A Buddhist Perspective Of Death

A Buddhist Perspective Of DeathThe sudden and tragic passing of a local chap, due to a motoring accident, led me to think about how fragile life is, and how we often take it for granted.

It also prompted me to find this well known poem about death, from the Buddhist perspective.

Though we may relinquish our body in this lifetime, we are not gone, nor will we ever be.

For me, it holds a number of consoling thoughts …

This body is not me.
I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born, and I have never died.
Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars, manifestations from my wondrous true mind.
Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass, sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide-and seek.
So laugh with me, hold my hand, let us say good-bye, say good-bye, to meet again soon.
We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

If The Cap Fits …

Nichiren DaishoninWith an increasing feeling of dismay, I see the gap between the have’s and have not’s of this world continually growing.

The very concept of fairness in our societies seems to have been completely forgotten.

With that in mind, I can think of a whole bunch of people who would do well to listen to the following advice …

If you wish to attain Buddhahood, you have only to lower the banner of your arrogance, cast aside the staff of your anger, and devote yourself exclusively to the one vehicle of the Lotus Sutra.

Worldly fame and profit are mere baubles of your present existence, and arrogance and prejudice are ties that will fetter you in a next one.

~ Nichiren Daishonin

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.

Who Knows What The Future Holds?

Smart TechnologyWith 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, a device that can connect us with almost every other person in almost any other place, 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 all the causes for the effects you see in your own life. Make strides to ensure that those causes will produce the effects you desire.

Nature’s Images

I’ve been out cycling with the boys all morning, surrounded by the beautiful nature of The New Forest, just wonderful. So here is a snippet of wisdom from Nichiren Daishonin, about letting go of worldly desires, and a couple of images from the ride …

New Forest Panorama

Now, if you wish to attain Buddhahood, you have only to lower the banner of your arrogance, cast aside the staff of your anger, and devote yourself exclusively to the one vehicle of the Lotus Sutra. Worldly fame and profit are mere baubles of your present existence, and arrogance and prejudice are ties that will fetter you in a next one.

~ Nichiren Daishonin

The Boys At Avon Beach

Missing Mouse

The Wheel Of LifeThe passing of my pet rat Mouse led me to think about a Buddhist poem about death, from the Buddhist viewpoint.

Though we may relinquish our body in this lifetime, we are not gone, nor will we ever be. Animals are no exception to this, they are simply closer to the start of their path than are humans.

We are all animals after all …

This body is not me.
I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born, and I have never died.
Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars, manifestations from my wondrous true mind.
Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass, sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide-and seek.
So laugh with me, hold my hand, let us say good-bye, say good-bye, to meet again soon.
We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

What Does Your Future Hold?

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 forty years ago, that we could all carry a smart 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.

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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