Know Thyself

Know Thyself”

A couple of things have arisen for me during lockdown which I wanted to share.

Because there can be a lot of confusion around terminology, I’m not sure how to refer to them. Insights? Realisations? The phrase that fits best for me right now is ‘direct seeing’, where the effect is that of a pair of curtains being pulled apart, allowing sight of something directly and clearly, without impediment. Then the curtains are drawn closed and I’m surrounded by the trappings of normal life again – here’s the chair I’ve just sat down on, here’s the cup of tea, still in my hand.

What I ‘saw’ into was a great fear that I have carried with me all my life. I say ‘saw’ but it felt more like a whole body experience where everything in an instant aligned itself and there was no separation between any aspects of my mind and body. In that moment, my whole life made sense – patterns of behaviour, why things turned out the way they did; how the fear can remain dormant as an underlying condition, informing or determining every decision. (None of this came from the intellect – I’m just using my intellect now to try to describe as closely as I can, my experience).

I felt filled with immense gratitude and relief. As if a deep acknowledgement had taken place. A deep part of me spoke out and told me something about myself. And was heard.

My second instance was again over a cup of tea. I had been ruminating over some slight when suddenly the curtains parted and I ‘saw’ my mind at work: the behaviour I was engaged in at that moment, switched off fear. It was a mechanism at work.

I felt humbled to have seen my mind doing what it thinks is its job. Protecting me. My mind isn’t my enemy after all. I don’t have to keep fighting myself.

I believe that as a result of my particular experience of lockdown, conditions arose that brought about opportunities to ‘see’: enforced isolation plus regular Zoom opportunities to meditate in a formal setting gave me the relaxation and quiet space for shifts to happen.

How has my life changed? I think it is too soon to say much. The consequences need to be lived out and that takes time. I have direct experience of how my mind works in certain circumstances, and knowledge is power. Some things that previously would have upset me no longer seem to: yesterday, a man shouted at me when I pointed out that he and his family were pushing their bikes the wrong way along a one-way (social distancing) pavement. It left no mark on me.

There is more to see.






Teaching from a global pandemic

Teaching from a global pandemic

The global Covid-19 Pandemic, seemed to come from out of the blue, and has created a tidal wave of ceaseless change and deep uncertainty. Many people have, are and will suffer because of the multitude of impacts it has caused, and many around the world have caught the disease and died. Reflecting on what I have learnt from the arising of this situation, I notice how firstly, although this situation is new it is also not new at all. This points to how, I have clung to ideas of permanence and solidity, and while I have had an intellectual understanding about the nature of impermanence and endless change, as well as some experiential understanding of this within my own life, I have still managed to hold on to deluded ideas of permanence. The depth of clinging, resisting and pushing away has been revealed in its rawest form to me. We move through life with many assumptions, such as that tomorrow will be much the same as today, and these assumptions filter into the minutest of details of our lives. We do this to give ourselves some sort of comfort and sense of security, but when suddenly faced with a different reality, we can struggle to deal with the shock and this is because we’ve been pulling the wool over our own eyes all along.

When were we not at risk of disease or death? When was constant change not happening on all levels both within us and within the world? For me, the pandemic brought to the surface deep fears of my own death, and leaving my children behind while they are still dependent on me. I feared my elderly father would catch the virus and die. I feared for the future of my studies and research and that these may have to come to an end as the research trial I am working on was suspended. Certain relationships where there are unresolved long term issues came to mind, in the face of a more imminent ending, how did I want to leave all of this? Have I done enough to ‘clean things up’ within myself and within my life? A voice inside said, “I’m not ready”, but we don’t have control over many of these things, when we or others die, or the events in the wider world. Fear arises particularly in situations where our false sense of having some control is shattered and the current situation has shown me where I have been allowing myself to believe I have some control and how this temporarily alleviates the discomfort of the true reality of things.

All of this has showed me, starkly, exactly where I am clinging, where I am invested in things too heavily or in unhelpful ways. The lockdown situation dramatically changed my living situation, with my older daughter returning home from university, my younger daughter home schooling and myself and my husband both working from home. The pressures and tensions that arose from this situation, also showed me where, until now, I have been pushing away and clinging on in certain ways, for example by avoiding certain things I don’t really want to face up to and distracting myself from these with seemingly harmless forms, but distracting myself nonetheless and again not facing things exactly as they are.

As we emerged from lockdown, we were faced with and still are faced with, more and more subtle choices. We hear multiple voices and opinions on what we should or can do. But we are left with the ultimate choice, we hold the wheel for ourselves over what is good to do. I realise on a deep level, that I do not trust myself enough, and at times when I feel something is right, I doubt myself. I also blame myself for many things, and I have seen that this doubt and blame has been an insidious and damaging force, causing suffering to myself and others as it has influenced my actions and behaviours, probably throughout most of my life. As I continue to train, I know I need to be vigilant in watching out for this within myself, and each time to put it down, at the same time without judging it and to trust that within myself that is true.

The urgency of our current situation, and the undeniable effect of change and uncertainty, draw me nearer to the fact that we do not have time to waste with ‘this and that’. We will die, and when I die, I want to know in my heart that I have trained to the best of my ability, with the tools I have been given in this body, in this lifetime, to clean up my own karma. I have always taken training seriously, and my wish to train is a deep and sincere wish. However, I have at times let myself off the hook too easily and I feel now that I must also work hard on this, not to push myself beyond my limits, but to remember that each moment counts, and there is no time to lose because in each moment, we are dying. In the Buddha’s final teaching he told us “Practice the good teachings with a diligent heart for there is no time to lose… do not doze off and let your eyes close lest you allow your whole life to pass in vain without realization”.

I realise that it is not enough to know that the sun is behind the clouds, we need to keep blowing those clouds away. We need to be willing to be disturbed by the truth, and sit firmly grounded within the rough waves that batter our shores. Allow ourselves to feel the deep fear, see where it is rooted. What is it that is afraid of dying? What is it that sits with uncertainty and fears change? We need to keep asking these questions and continue to dissolve the self.

Finally, I also realise more acutely, the power of being part of the sangha and the deep refuge that we can take there. But also, that here there is also clinging. I have lived with a sense that Reading Buddhist Priory and Throssel Hole Abbey are permanent fixtures, will always be there to be relied upon. Having been unable to sit at the priory or visit Throssel for six months now, I realise too, that the reliance on these being there are also clinging. What will I do, if those things are no longer there in the future? I also realise more than ever that refuge in the sangha is not one way, it’s not lay people like me seeking refuge in the monastic community or local prior, but that we as lay people need to take the greatest of care of the pillars of the temple, our monks. My sense of gratitude for the lives and training of the monastic sangha is deeper than ever, without whose training, the teaching would not be passed to me, so that I may be able to realise the truth.

Holly Baker

New articles by lay members

In Food for the Heart I have included two articles by lay members in response to my request for dharma surrounding their experiences of lockdown and the virus. Hopefully there may be more to come. Please feel free to pen something yourself for consideration.

Online Introductory sessions

I have been giving individual Introductory sessions up to now which I will continue with, but now I would like to offer group meetings for those of you who are interested. These will start on Saturday September 12th. They will be start at 9.30am and finish no later than 11.00am. If you are looking for an Introduction to meditation and Buddhism,(especially during these times), then please contact me on and I will send you the contact codes for Zoom. These will run once a month until I can safely open the Priory to guests.

Latest news

Hello everyone. I have been giving out information etc. about my response to Covid-19 in the newsletter so the website has been a bit quiet of late.

There are a couple things I would like to let you know of on tyhough. Firstly I am not receiving emails through info@readingbuddhistpriory at the moment due to unknown technical reasons. I am trying to get it sorted. So if you have been trying to reach me in the last week I apologise but please email me on

I am looking into running Introductory sessions via Zoom and how best to do that. I will try to get this up and running soon. There are areas which maybe problematical but I will see what I can do. At least I can get you started even if it is not quite what I would do in person. In the meantime I would recommend going onto the Throssel Buddhist Abbey website and watcching their DVD download on meditation and how to utilise it in your life called ‘Zen Meditation’ and also the book ‘Sitting Buddha’ which is an excellent primer on the practise of Soto Zen.

The use of Zoom I feel has been a great success in helping people feel connected and for me to carry on teaching and providing the usual meditation and services. If you would like to join in and are already used to the practice please contact me and I will give you the neccessary paswords and ID.


A Talk by Rev. Seck Kim Seng

I read this out to the last Sunday Group before closing. I have carried a photocopy of this with me for many years and thought this was a good time to revisit it. Thank you to the OBC Journal for allowing me to share. I will just publish it complete.

During Rev. Seck Kim Seng’s visit to Shasta Abbey in 1974, he presented Rev. Roshi Jiyu – Kennett and the community with a beautiful Chinese calligraphy which he had lettered especially for us. What follows here is a slightly edited version of his explanation, originally appearing in the Journal of November 1974. – ed.

I would like to tell you directly and personally what I have written. These first four characters are your name, Zen Mission Society (the former name of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives). When Hui – Neng wanted to speak, he said to all the people, “You are very learned men.” Next I have written that I am going back to Malaysia and am leaving this as a reminder of my visit. The following column is a sentence from the smaller Sukhavati – Vyuha. Anyone who comes to the Pure Land is a very holy man. I came to see you because I wanted to know if you were holy men as in the Pure Land.

The next two columns are from the Hui – Neng Sutra. Before he gave the speech, Hui – Neng said, “Everyone has the Buddha Nature. This Buddha Nature is the seed of enlightenment and is naturally pure. If you make good use of the Buddha Nature, you can reach Buddhahood directly.” This means that we can all, everyone, become Buddha. The idea that all men have the Buddha Nature like Buddha is very important. Our Buddha Nature is pure; when we simply make good use of our Buddha Nature, then we can reach Buddhahood very easily.

The next two columns are from the Pari Nirvana Sutra. Shakyamuni was asked by a disciple, “While you are alive, you are our teacher, but when you enter Nirvana, who will teach us?” Shakyamuni answered, “When I enter into Nirvana, the Precepts are your teacher.” The Precepts are like a rule fixed by Shayamuni. They allow us to do or not to do, and are our guide in learning mindfulness. Everyone must follow the Precepts as their teacher, everyone must study the Sutras. The disciple asked again, “Shakyamuni, when you are alive, we follow you; if you go there, we go with you; if you stay here, we stay with you. But after you enter Nirvana, where are we to stay?” Shakyamuni said, “Remember the Four Plain Beads (also called the Four Views), that is, 1) the body is impure (i.e. has no substance, its Real Substance being the Buddha Nature which appears in all things); 2) sensation results in suffering; 3) mind is impermanent; and 4) things have no nature of their own.” The first means, do not dwell on your body; stay in mindfulness. Those who think I love my body” assume that they own their body. Then everything they do is infected with greed and hate. If you understand that the body is impure, then there is nothing for you to love.

The second is that sensation is the cause of suffering. That is why, in the Hui-Neng Sutra, Hui-Neng says that two is not the Buddha’s teaching. The teaching of the Buddha is only one. You only receive sensation when you are attached to the body. This body is made up of six organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch, perceptions), and six senses (consciousness of each sense). For instance, the quality of the ear is sound: the ear is the organ; the sense is you hearing or taking notice. Suppose the sound is there and my ear is here. If I do not pay attention, perhaps taking great interest in you, then although the sound comes to my ear, I do not hear – because the consciousness is not directed to the sound.

These six organs, six qualities, six senses make up eighteen realms. From the time you get up in the morning to when you go to bed, at any moment, you cannot do anything without these eighteen realms. Ordinary people make two judgements: good and bad. Suppose I overhear you speaking well of me; then I am happy. If you speak badly of me, I get angry. If I visit you and you welcome me, then I feel very good; but if I go to your house and you are rude to me, I do not feel liked. If you are kind to me, then in the future I will welcome you to my house. If you are rude to me, then I may be rude to you and will not welcome you. Thus these two things, good and bad, dominate ordinary people.

But the Buddha is like a mirror. Whether something is good or bad, all is one. If you are good, I know you are good, but I do not feel happy; if you are bad, I know you are bad, but I do not feel angry. That means that the Buddha is very pure in mind. The Buddha is free of these two reactions because to Him it is all the same. That is why in Buddhism you do not think in nterms of what you will receive. Instead, be like a mirror. Shakyamuni Buddha is our model of a pure mind. The Budda’s action is based on knowing the good and the bad without reacting blindly. Remember that after Shakyamuni Buddha enters Nirvana, the teaching is everywhere you are, and you will be happy.

The next column says that in Buddhism there are two types of trainees: Arhat and Bodhisattva. The Arhat studies the Four Noble Truths: suffering, its cause, the end, and the way of suffering. The cause of suffering is in the past; our present suffering is the result of the past. We know the suffering. We have suffering because we have a body, because we have come to be reborn. And why are we reborn? Because of our past actions. But if we know the cause, we can stop the result. That is why knowing the cause leads to no rebirth, or Arhat Nirvana. The Four Noble Truths teach you to be released from rebirth via the Eightfold Path: correct understanding, correct thought, correct speech, correct action, correct livelihood, correct effort, correct mindfulness and correct concentration. If you follow this path, you will stop rebirth and enter Arhat Nirvana, but not Boidhisattva Nirvana.

Nirvana is of three kinds: 1) Arhat, 2) Bodhisattva, 3) Buddha (complete). Now the Arhat meditates, taking care of his various duties, doing no evil to others. But he does not do good; simply not doing evil is not the same as doing good. If a thief no longer steals, you cannot say he is a good man, just that he is not a bad man. To be a good man, then you must have charity and generosity. An Arhat is neither good nor bad. If you want to know Buddha, you must do good, you must be charitable.

In order to do good, the Bodhisattva will follow the Six Paramitas: charity, love, morality, energy, meditation, wisdom. That means you go among people who are ill with the six kinds of sickness. You are like a doctor using the Six Paramitas to cure their illness:

Greed – charity (generosity)

Hatred – love

Desires (lying, stealing, etc.) – morality

Laziness – energy

Confusion – meditation

Ignorance – wisdom

Like a doctor, you benefit others and progress up the ten stages of a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva progresses in his training as a doctor does until he graduates. Arhatship is like grade school from which one progreesses to university (Bodhisattva) until one becomes Buddha.

The next column means I want all of you to become Bodhisattvas. For a Bodhisattva, the most important Paramita is generosity. There are three kinds of gifts: 1) money, 2) life, 3) teaching. Money is not so meritorious; life is more so; teaching is the greatest. You must give teaching to others by spreading the teaching of the Buddha every day. The Six Paramitas are our occupation and duty. To teach, to cook and wash are our daily tasks.

I speak in broken English but I want you to understand that it is from heart to heart. Tomorrow I go back to Malaysia. love you all and hope you will become Buddha.

Rev. Master Jiyu being ordained by Rev. Seck Kim Seng


Sitting together with Priory closed

With the Priory closed thoughts have gone toward how we can sit together. Below is a list of times when I will be sitting and you can, if you wish, join me. I hope this is of help.

6.30am – 7.00am Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri

7.30pm – 8.00pm Tues, Thurs, Saturday

Wednesday evening 7.30pm – 8.00pm / 10 mins walking / 8.10pm – 8.40pm

Friday afternoon 2.00pm – 2.30pm / 10 mins walk / 2.40pm – 3.10pm


Priory closed

As of Monday evening  the 16th the Priory is closed.This is due to the Governments latest advice and direction. Although this move has become necessary it is still with regret that I have had to make it. I will endeavour to replace the usual sessions and events with some sort of remote contact. This could include zoom or skype meetings or set meditation periods which we can all join in with. I will keep you updated.