Category Archives: buddhism

Winter Renga

img_2959Feathers in the Basket

 

Through my sunglasses

the world’s turned copper and blue

a wild year’s last roar

 

flotsam of ice washed up

in the ash trees’ shadow

 

dotted along the verges

domes of fine earth

lifting my mood

 

shredded honesty

mooncatchers

 

mirrored swans

harmony

on surface tension

 

make time for what matters

the cover of John’s notebook

 

amid the canter of horses

I see my father again

blurred by years of warm sunshine

 

when your mind goes blank

enjoy the silence

 

Hotbank, Harnham, Holy Island

Whin Sill outcropping

still resonant volcanic flow

 

her cello

stays at home

 

at the Blacksmith’s

ordering tea in Italian

swearing in English

 

the rabbit managed ten holes

during my absence

 

so much of our days

is this – hands opening

and closing

 

grey meets white

a line carefully not drawn

 

would you cut the wood?

would you chop the wood?

would you burn the wood?

 

feathers in the basket

flightless

 

a mouthful of mint

like swallowing

the moon

 

imagine Kusala conservatory

full of scented hyacinths

 

Nanna always said

the days get longer

by the stride of the cock

 

two months’ news fast

relief for the heart.

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A genius loci renga

at Harnham Buddhist Monastery

on 28th December 2016.

 

Participants:

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

Eileen Ridley

Christine Taylor

Happy Birthday Buddha!

 

planted in plastic tubes   hope   coming into leaf

broom   nothing but an explosion of custard yellow

yachts in full sail   the swans glide   2 white  5 grey

Rufus on my mobile    another Happy Birthday!

 

vetch   lady’s smock    kingcup    campion (pink & white)

swallows glance low    little origami planes

may blossom still balled tight    star clusters    dreaming

keeping my mouth shut to avoid inhaling insects

 

 

dressed in white   the Thai women   busy with flowers and candles

sky full of itself    a great canopy of cloud

spiked willow catkins    more animal than plant

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our small bouquets   offerings   raffia tied

the monks lead our procession  –  five shades of saffron

a dandelion clock says it’s time    yes    now

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Dear Lake

IMG_0587an ache in the day the way bones ache where they were broken

is it enough to say rosehip? my shadow walking?

grubby necks under water the swans are two fat pillows floating

not a lonely place – a lonely month – back-to-back faces

I try to find a corner round a lake which has none

wind engraves its secret formula on your gunmetal surface

the sort of weather broom is built for – waxed rumours of leaves

an eyeful of fieldfares cast loose in the implacable sky

IMG_0589I want to be more here and less here in a finger-click

this bench dedicated to a child who died after ten years in the world

so cold a flask of coffee can’t warm me

swan wings working like an engine trying to ignite

slowly I feel the real in my finger ends

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what should be done by one who’s skilled in goodness and knows the way to peace

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Your Origami Life

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Last year ended with my travels in Turkey, where one of the many highlights was a hot air balloon ride as the sun rose above the astonishingly beautiful valleys of Cappadocia.

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Back in the North, the new year began as usual for me at Harnham Buddhist Monastery.  Yesterday a group of us gathered there for one of our occasional renga sessions.  In the chilly winter conservatory we saw the light fade as we worked our way through a new schema, with the additional rigour of conforming to the traditional 5-7-5 and 7-7 syllable count throughout.  After five hours of finger-tapping and head-scratching, the odd spat of wrangling, we’d created this seasonal renga catching the year as it turns.

IMG_0195May 2016 be peaceful and fruitful for us all.

*

Your Origami Life

Hungry now, the jaws
of winter are snap-snapping –
the upstart year prey

a row of unruly ash
gesture to the rain-washed sky

jackdaws crowd the field
sodden silent monitors
a message in black

as if the moon were patched silk
shredded honesty, falling

across Bolam Lake
a raft of male goosander
white bodies, hooked beaks

you didn’t need to say it
but what a difference it made

will this be the year
she sorts through those old boxes
clears her path of dust?

we are all responsible
and me more than anyone

pruned raspberry canes
twigs, bits, dry in the greenhouse
ready for burning

so how many paper folds
in your origami life?

telephone cable
insulated conductor
sways to wild weather

bullfinches chase their redness
through my thicket of slow thought

sweet, sharp, dangerous
licking honey off the knife –
well, that’s how it looked

the lilt of a saxophone
curling towards the ceiling

in the quiet morning
we pass windblown oak and pine
part sawn, cleared quickly

Forties, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher
storm force 12 rarely forecast

here in old tough grass
waiting for the miracle
of winter snowdrops

every day the sun climbing
higher above layered cloud.

 

 

A han-kasen renga
at Harnham Buddhist Monastery
on 2nd January 2016.

Participants:
Ajahn Abhinando
John Bower
Holly Clay
Linda France
Geoff Jackson
Linda Kent
Eileen Ridley
Tim Rubidge
Christine Taylor

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The Edge of Summer

photo

The Edge of Summer

Housed in the heart

of the sycamore

we’re recycling its green

*

loosening ties

to the ground below

*

a power tool

not a woodpecker

drills unseen

*

axis and rotation

halfway to full

*

all that buried life

bramble and dock

swelling spores

*

but how to write good verses

without a pot of oolong?

*

in the still air

flycatchers

dance their frenetic jizz

*

through the canopy

greying clouds and a chill

*

when this ash grows

past that sycamore

would you speak of win and lose?

*

fistfuls of Burnlaw berries

that never reach the bowl

*

our perimeter

protected with flames

and burnt sandalwood

*

oh to be a jaguar

slumbering in these boughs!

*

bark as skin

and like all skin

its own fragrance

*

on a cooler evening

easier to dream of woodsmoke

*

worry – a temptress

worry – a truthteller

impossible to say in the dark

*

caught in the lake

the bounce of borrowed light

*

to grow roots

or go and reinvent yourself –

the weight of choice

*

the spread of heather – August

woven purple into the hills

*

while there’s still light

we move inside

for warmth

*

the edge of summer

in reddening rowan.

 

Treehouse Renga

at Burnlaw,

22nd August 2015.

 

photo 2 

 Participants:

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Holly Clay

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

Linda Kent

Anne Marron

Tim Rubidge

photo 3

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Climate Change

It’s clearly in the air.  Today I listened to an interesting programme on Radio 4 – Beyond Belief, about the Papal Encyclical on the Environment and Climate Change.  You can listen again here.

I’d already read this comment from Bhikkhu Bodhi:

Pope Francis reminds us that climate change poses not only a policy challenge but also a call to the moral conscience. If we continue to burn fossil fuels to empower unbridled economic growth, the biosphere will be destabilized, resulting in unimaginable devastation, the deaths of many millions, failed states, and social chaos. Shifting to clean and renewable energy can reverse this trend, opening pathways to a steady-state economy that uplifts living standards for all. One way leads deeper into a culture of death; the other leads to a new culture of life. As climate change accelerates, the choice before us is becoming starker, and the need to choose wisely grows ever more urgent.

More from him here.

Then this popped in my inbox.  I can’t go as I’ll be away on retreat but if you’re down that way, it might be worth taking a look and supporting them.  There’s no more pressing issue.

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And this eery poem by Alice Oswald from The Guardian:

Vertigo

May I shuffle forward and tell you the two minute life of rain

Starting right now lips open and lidless-cold all-seeing gaze

When something not yet anything changes its mind like me

And begins to fall

In the small hours

And the light is still a flying carpet

Only a little white between worlds like an eye opening after an operation

No turning back

each drop is a snap decision

A suicide from the tower-block of heaven

And for the next ten seconds

The rain stares at the ground

Sees me stirring here

As if sculpted in porridge

Sees the garden in the green of its mind already drinking

And the grass lengthening

Stalls …

Maybe a thousand feet above me

A kind of yellowness or levity

Like those tiny alterations that brush the legs of swimmers

Lifts the rain a little to the left

No more than a flash of free-will

Until the clouds close their options and the whole melancholy air surrenders to pure fear and … falls

And I who live in the basement

one level down from the world

with my eyes to the insects with my ears to the roots listening

I feel them in my bones these dead straight lines

Coming closer and closer to my core

This is the sound this is the very floor

Where Grief and his Wife are living looking up

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Winter Renga

photo 4Yesterday we had one of our winter rengas up at Harnham Buddhist Monastery.  Just a small group this time, but the renga unfolded over the course of the afternoon as usual.  We decided to ring the changes by creating the schema with verses inspired by the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, another one of the lists Buddhism is fond of, interspersed between the traditional season, moon and love verses, with some left open.

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment are Mindfulness (sati), Investigation (dhamma vicaya), Energy (viriya), Joy or Rapture (pti), Tranquillity (passadhi), Concentration (samadhi) and Equanimity (upekkha).  You may or may not spot these verses but it was interesting to notice this renga naturally seemed to lean towards the light, suitable for our theme and for the season.

Warm wishes for a light-filled and kind 2015.

L

x

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Half Moon Plantation

*

Facing north

frost on the roof tiles

another short day

*

the flock’s breath

rises beyond the hedge

*

all our words

flow past

riverine, brackish, Anglo-Saxon

*

we walk in the dark

to the Half Moon Plantation

*

wait!

there are more of us

than I counted

*

Bulgarian Daniel asks

of Pali in English

*

even though the details

don’t matter

all there are are details

*

chisel marks in stone

how much arch is air?

*

startled grey heron

struggling upward

such awkward beauty

*

the last miles in mist and then

to climb out of them

*

he gave up

deciphering nature

orchid, begonia, geranium

*

the gift of green tea

much more than its flavor

*

a hut under attack

splinters, blood and excrement

left by an obstinate crow

*

no words come

success

*

after breakfast

they discuss

fire extinguishers and assembly points

*

food for the lion

longevity for the gazelle

*

borrowed light

does not warm you

but shows the way home

*

on the shore of the lake, gorse

bright yellow in December

*

to hold on like Philae

saving energy

getting closer to the sun

*

close your eyes

collect the sparks.

§

A ‘Seven Factors of Enlightenment Renga’

at Harnham Buddhist Monastery

on Saturday 27th December 2014.

 

for Peter Angelucci and Melanie Cook

 

 

Participants:

 

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

photo 2

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Midsummer Renga

 

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The Unlit Stove

 

 

At midsummer’s tipping point –

the translation of green

into fruit, seed

 

a canopy of sycamore

over the swings at Burnlaw

 

light tread of hooves

muzzling

for favourite grasses

 

a round hole

in the roof of the temple

 

so much depends

upon a black hen

running after its chick

 

the broken hose

left her drenched, laughing

 

baskets of petals

gathered, infused

to scent small wrists

 

a rust-winged moth

on our mullioned window

 

practise patience

wait for a spark

from the unlit stove

 

what wisdom

will the shamans reveal tonight?

 

tracking love’s origin

from eyes to hands

throat to heart

 

copper in the veg patch

shock tactics for slugs

 

restless dog, biting

going round in circles

we are all dying

 

shallows at the jetty

a mirror for the tree house

 

who is she?

head on the table

tilted forward

 

the kite’s tail trembles

an orange wish in the blue

 

enter Puck

who steals

the moon

 

held in each leaf

a gleaming bead

 

the growl of haymaking

nudges the curlews

onward

 

apples fattening

on the orchard trees.

 

 

 

 

 

A genius loci renga

at Burnlaw

on 28th June 2014.

 

 

 

Participants:

 

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Holly Clay

Linda France

Linda Kent

Eileen Ridley

Christine Taylor

 

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Poetry & Zen

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Meditation is not just a rest or retreat from the turmoil of the stream or the impurity of the world. It is a way of being the stream, so that one can be at home in both the white water and the eddies. Meditation may take one out of the world, but it also puts one totally into it. Poems are a bit like this too. The experience of a poem gives both distance and involvement: one is closer and farther at the same time.

Traditions of deliberate attention to consciousness, and of making poems, are as old as humankind. Meditation looks inward, poetry holds forth. One is private, the other is out in the world. One enters the moment, the other shares it. But in practice it is never entirely clear which is doing which. In any case, we do know that in spite of the contemporary public perception of meditation and poetry as special, exotic, and difficult, they are both as old and as common as grass. The one goes back to essential moments of stillness and deep inwardness, and the other to the fundamental impulse of expression and presentation.

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I started writing poetry in my adolescence, to give voice to some powerful experiences that I had while doing snowpeak mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest. At first I wrote “directly as I felt.” Then I discovered the work of Robinson Jeffers and D.H. Lawrence. Aha, I thought, there is more to poetry. I became aware of poetry as a craft—a matter of working with materials and tools—that has a history, with different applications and strategies all over the world over tens of thousands of years. I came to understand poetry as a furthering of language. (Language is not something you learn in school, it is a world you’re born into. It is part of the wildness of Mind. You master your home tongue without conscious effort by the age of five. Language with its sinuous syntax is not unlike the thermal dynamics of weather systems, or energy exchanges in the food chain—completely natural and vital, part of what and who we are. Poetry is the leap off of [or into] that.)

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I think I had come to understand something about play: to be truly serious you have to play. That’s on the side of poetry, and of meditation, too. In fact, play is essential to everything we do—working on cars, cooking, raising children, running corporations—and poetry is nothing special. Language is no big deal. Mind is no big deal. Meaning or no-meaning, it’s perfectly okay. We take what’s given us, with gratitude.

The poet in us can be seen at both the beginning and the end of a life. Everybody knows a child can come up with a rhyme, a song, a poem that will delight us. At the same time, the old priest on his deathbed will write a poem, his last act. The most refined and accomplished people will express their deepest understanding in a poem—and the absolute beginner will not hesitate to try to express a transient transcendent moment. There is no sure way to predict which poem will be better than the other.

Poetry is democratic, Zen is elite. No! Zen is democratic, poetry is is elite. Which is it? Everybody can do zazen, but only a few do poetry. Everybody can do poetry but only a few can really do zazen. Poetry (and the literary world) has sometimes been perceived as dangerous to the spirit career, but also poems have been called upon to express the most delicate and profound spiritual understanding.

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Beyond wild. This can indeed include language. Poetry is how language experiences itself. It’s not that the deepest spiritual insights cannot be expressed in words (they can, in fact) but that words cannot be expressed in words. So our poems are full of real presences. “Save a ghost,” you might be asked by your teacher—or an owl, or a rainforest, or a demon. Walking that through and then putting a poem to it is a step on the way toward realization. But the path has many switchbacks and a spiritual journey is strewn with almost as many land mines as a poet’s path. Let us all be careful (and loose as a goose) together.

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Spending time with your own mind is humbling and broadening. One finds that there’s no one in charge, and is reminded that no thought lasts for long. The marks of the Buddhist teachings are impermanence, no-self, the inevitability of suffering, interconnectedness, emptiness, the vastness of mind, and the provision of a Way to realization. An accomplished poem, like an exemplary life, is a brief presentation, a uniqueness in the oneness, a complete expression, and a kind gift exchange in the mind-energy webs.

Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder lives in the northern Sierra Nevada and practices in the Linji Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist tradition.  Pulitzer prize-winning poet and essayist, his most recent book is Practice of the Wild (North Point Press).

An extract from the Introduction to Beneath a Single Moon: Legacies of Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry. Edited by Kent Johnson and Craig Paulenich (Shambhala Publications).

The first image is a detail from Felicity Aylieff’s Lotus Flowers (2006) at the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead, and the second and third are from Akio Suzuki’s wonderful show at the Globe Gallery, Newcastle, part of this year’s AV Festival.  The fourth and fifth are Alstromerias and a reclining Buddha on my window sills at home.

 

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Perfection

photoA renga from Harnham Buddhist Monastery yesterday; the genius loci schema adapted to incorporate the Ten Perfections (paramis – positive qualities to cultivate as part of the Buddhist path – generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, resolve, kindness, equanimity).  Ajahn Sucitto calls them ‘ways to cross life’s floods’:

The parami take spiritual practice into areas of our lives where we get confused, are subject to social pressure and are often strongly influenced by stress or stress-forming assumptions.  Providing alternative ways to orient the mind in the stream of daily events, the ‘perfections’ can derail obstructive inner activities and leave the mind clear .  Cultivating parami means you get to steer your life out of the floods.

Tomorrow night we’ll gather for our ritual of Forgiveness and Aspiration – the best way I know to begin a new year.  The New Moon, traditionally a good time for setting fresh intentions, falls on 31st so this year our usually rather arbitrary ‘new’ beginning should have added resonance.  May you have a peaceful and clear crossing of the threshold at the dark of the moon.

Getting Used To Darkness

Brief blue scatterings

lighten the limbo

at the end of the year

*

cold gates clunking

mark the way in

*

the open water

receives sun, breeze

and a lone swan

*
getting used to darkness

I know you are there

*

how even the body relaxes

when you enter a house

full of good people

*

Emma watched the pull

to text back many times

*

fear’s sour taste –

not having

not being enough

*

we sit with the impossibility

of nothing

*

these walls built from stone

out of the fields

they now enclose

*

two gardeners

on their hands and knees

*

the bleached tree guards

stake out a promise

of soft glade and birdsong

*

crossed fingers behind your back

won’t do it

*
spines on cacti

fine and scarlet

beneath dim light

*

grant me a spider’s skill

her slow spun wheel

*

he listened

with complete attention

to the difficult guest

*

geese graze tight-in

amongst the Cheviot ewes

*

dark clouds

arced glow

rippling at the shore

*

a rumour of snowdrops

instead of first snow

*

the young oak

have yet to learn

to shed their leaf

*

two hundred kilos of salt

awaiting the weather.

 

A genius loci/parami renga

at Harnham Buddhist Monastery

on 29th December, 2013.

 

 

Participants:

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Chandra Candiani

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

Linda Kent

Eileen Ridley

Tim Rubidge

Christine Taylor

 photo 2

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