News Roundup

Here is a round up of some the events that have been happening recently.On the first weekend of the New Year BBC Berkshire asked me to appear on two of their programmes. On the Saturday I took part in a morning programe where a reporter travelled around chosen venues which are linked with clues. I was happy to take part in this although it was a bit more hi – energy than my daily routine normally demands of me.

On the Sunday I was interviewed on their Faith programme about New Year Resolutuions. Although not a conversation or debate I was followed as part of the same section by a Humanist. I would like to thank BBC Berkshire for their continued interest in the Priory, as I have appeared quite regularly over the past two years.

The New Year Retreat went very well, with 4 people staying over for the retreat + one other for one night. This meant there was a good turnout for the New Year Ceremony with others coming for the evening. As well as those dropping in for a day it made for a very good way to make the transition from one year to the next.I have recently become the group monk for both Milton Keynes and London Groups. I hope and intend to visit them regularly from now on and part of the this wish is to make the Priory a sort of hub for the South again as it once was. I look forward very much to linking up with these two groups and supporting them in their practice the best way I can.

Look out for more weekend drop in retreats this year as they are proving popular. I am currently looking into finding ways of increasing the provision of staying over here a more viable option.

Friday afternoons are proving to be one of the most popular group events we do here. When possible I am putting on 1/2 Day Retreats on these days approximately once a month. They will be from 1.30 to 5.00. Look out for these on the calender.

Best wishes to you all as 2019 truly gets under way. The Priory doors are always open to those who truly seek to practice and explore the Way.


Seasons greetings

Seasons greetings to you all. Thank you for your support over the past year and for visiting the website. With best wishes for the season and for your continuing practice which brings untold benefits to all beings. I hope you and yours have an enjoyable Festive period.

The donkey in the well

One day a farmer’s donkey fell into the well. It began crying out, crying out for help. The farmer tried all he coulkd to work out how to retrieve the poor animal. He finally thought that as the animal was old, and the well needed covering up as it was dry he would kill two birds with one stone.

He went to get get help from his neighbours and they all started shovelling in earth to bury the donkey and fill the well.

What happened next surprised everyone. As the earth was shovelled in and started to cover the the beast, it calmy just shook the earth from it’s back and stepped on to the growing pile. As the farmers shovelled and the pile grew the donkey kept shaking off the dirt and stood atop the mound of earth. Eventually of course the earth and therefore the resiliant donkey rose to the top and easily stepped out of the well and trotted off.

There are two things here. First, unintentional consequences. The farmer wasn’t exactly acting in the best interest of the donkey. He misunderstood the role of cause and effect in the sense that he thought to solve his problem he couldn’t see beyond an action that came from a fixed point. The point being a sense of the permanent self.

The other thing here is that although starting out, so to speak, from a false position, asthe scene plays out we can adjust and learn. In other words see what is happening and then shovel with the intention of releasing the donkey.

One of the joys of training and being in training is to see how quickly we can see where something has gone off. ‘Normally’ when clashes happen or differences of opinion come up we can carry these around and stew for a long time. A very long time. In practicing we come to a much quicker realisation of where we are and can shift and move to be in line sooner. The joy is in not carrying the suffering but knowing to, and knowing how, to put it down.

The other element of the story is to see that whatever life throws at us we can literally shake it off and rise above it. We can feel weighed down and covered over by our emotions and feelings. It can all seem too much and in doing so fail to see that we are allowing outside conditions to drive us. The donkey was wise and saw that here was an opportunity. The intention behind the shovelling is immaterial to us turning our life around. The act of doing harm has an effect, but it doesn’t have to drive us.

The story doesn’t indicate at what point, if at all, the people saw what was happening and then joined in more positvely, let’s hope that’s case. Even so it still shows that one can work with those who are making life difficult, and when doing so the way appears.

When seen through the eye of compassion the donkey’s response was to see what it needed to do and not get bogged down in anxiety, or revengeful feelings. This shows us that the direct route is simpler and clearer. Compassion for the farmer, compassion for the situation and compassion for oneself.

When one finds oneself in a seemingly impossible position where there is no obvious way out and the world is then burying you alive, think of the donkey.

New Hotei for garden

This weekend a congregation member donated a Hotei for the priory garden.On Sunday afternoon 3 of us spent the time placing the statue and relocating some plants from the front to the rear. Some of these we placed around the Buddha.

In preparation for the improvements we will be making to the front drive I am transplanting some of the shrubs as they may get lost in the transition. As well as this some of the shrubs that have got overgrown are being thinned out or replaced.

Thank you for the generous donation, it is a splendid addition to the garden.

Alton Retreat booking forms

This the last call for booking into the Alton Retreat November 1st – 4th. The Abbey has asked us to not exceed 10 persons this time around. There are a couple of spaces left if you would like to join us. Please click on the links below to access forms and information. I hope you can join us as it is always a good retreat in peaceful surroundings and we are looked after very well by the monks.

Alton Info Sheet 2018

Alton booking form Nov 2018

‘Dreaming of perfection’.

The Wild White Goose is the diary of Rev. Master Jiyu’s time in Japan. I would like to use the entry for 17th June as a starting point.

Rev. Haijime said something very sad; he said that human beings are really selfish animals, but that they want to dream of perfection. When they speak hatred and evil they are dreaming of perfection. He concluded that I should remember what he said to me when he saw me first, “Be very careful or we will break your heart.”

We can quite easily misunderstand perfection. When seen through the eye of dualism, perfection, or I idea of it, becomes skewed. It’s more what we think it might be. It is seen through our personal prism. We can mistake seeing clearly for our wants and desires. Our sense of perfection can masquerade as a certainty of truth. When we believe that what we see is how it is, that is ‘dreaming of perfection’.

In the general run of things, to help us understand the world and by extension ourselves we turn to relying on on a set of known equations which by their very nature are limited. This leads to a mistaking of perfection for idealism. When we stick with the idealistic point of view and not understand the ever changing nature of the skandhas our hearts can be broken. In Buddhist practice it is said that the first thing to go is idealism. This was certainly in my own case. To hold on can lead to a sort of despair and possibly a distrust of the practice. We want practice and and our lives to play out in a certain way and when this is not the case we can turn away.

In the ‘Goose’ Rev. Master Jiyu goes through one heck of a lot. Her patience was tested to the extreme as was the trust in the Master/ disiple relationship. It is noticeable early on in the diaries that she looks outward, (understanderbly), and blames all sorts of things for the pain she is feeling. Slowly she sees that the cause is not to be found there. This insight doesn’t make it easier, yet she sees the need to look to her self if suffering is to lessen. When we find for ourselves what it is we truly are then we are closer to knowing the perfection that is being alluded to. To ‘speak hatred and evil and dream of perfection‘ is to believe that we are correct, misunderstand impermanance and act as if there is no cause and effect.

In a way I am writing about sincerity. When seen from this aspect the above sentence is clearer. I was once told that it is possible to be too sincere. This left me scratching my head at the time but later events helped me to see the wisdom in this. It can produce a blinkered way of training, which in turn is a closing down. We think and believe we are doing good but really have shut down and haven’t remained open to the possibilty of change. What is the refuge? If we can stay open it can truly reveal itself.

The diary entry and subsequent repeats in italics are from the ‘The Wild White Goose, the diary of a female Zen Priest’, by Rev. Roshi P.T.N.H. Jiyu – Kennett. Shasta Abbey Press.


A dragon for the Buddha

This is the first of an occassional set of Dharma articles which are intended to be short  teachings.

When I was a young monk in the early 2000s I was asked to finish off the side shrines after the re-decoration of the ceremony hall. Part of this was to paint a dragon on an incense stand that stood before the Achalanatha shrine. Having an art background this request involved a mixture of letting go and memory. I came up with a design which I took to Rev. Master Daishin, the Abbot, for discussion. As I was talking to him about the picture and the project I could feel past attachment getting in there and starting to muddy the waters. It was obvious that my sense of self was still mixed up in this. Was it good enough, can I explain myself clearly to him and also, very simply, is it enough. My previous experience of showing paintings in exhibitions was all mixed up in this. I found that I still related to what I did in the monastery in terms of what would it be like hanging in a gallery. To see this of course was invaluable and I was grateful be in a position where it was highlighted. The koan arising in daily life was never more pertinent. As Rev. Master listened to me get all tangled up he could see very clearly my dilemma. In his wise and compassionate way, which as the years rolled on I was to experience again and again, he looked at me and said, ‘ Remember, you are painting a dragon for the Buddha’. This short sentence exploded the whole thing open and the anxiety melted away. If you translate this into your own life and situations see that what we do is not separate to the dharma, To paint a dragon for the Buddha is eating rice and drinking tea. Painting is Dharma and Dharma is painting.

Achalanatha and distraction

This article is a version of the talk that was recently given by myself after the Achalanatha Festival.

Achalanatha has various  attributes. There is the sword, for cutting through delusion, a lasso which represents the Buddhist Precepts and a chain which ties him to the rock upon which he is standing. His body is blue and of course he stands admidst the roaring flames which don’t touch the body. All these things help show us elements of faith and if called upon allow us to work with that which comes to us.

Distraction seems to be at the top of many peoples agendas today. We can see the modern digital social network joined up world as a potential source of dissatisfaction. It has many benefits but also can pose just as many ,if not more, potential harmful aspects. This can be very helpful in starting to see how the mind jumps around and tries to grab what is always just out of reach. This isn’t new of course but does have the potential to throw us around a lot more if we allow it to. This is the nub. Allow it to.

What if we can be fully focused all the time? Is that even preferable? What response does that bring forth? If this being in the moment is forced, is seen as an ideal it can become hard and unyielding. Just being aware though can have a softer more pliant expression which is less self conscious.

Take the scenario of your phone beeping and pinging regularly with alerts. When it does that and catch us unawares what should we do, what do we do? Do we find ourselves jolted out of where we are and responding immediately? The sound of the alert is no different to the sound of anxiety in our heads. A sudden thought which grabs us and we are off in that direction leaving the place we have just been in. Like being ambushed and carried away. We are probably all familiar with something along those lines. As in meditation we are free not to respond, to not follow that movement away. When a thought arises in zazen do we say ourselves ‘I must get this’ or do we allow ourselves a moment to settle and come from a different space and place. It may be that it is good to respond yet that fraction of a moment when we can go in one direction or another is what I’m pointing to. So here we have Achalanatha not leaving his sitting place. The sitting place does not restrict movement yet it is the residing place of the non-dual. I am speaking of awareness of body and mind. This what cuts through tenacious attachments of body and mind

Much teaching is about following. When the bell rings follow. Is there a difference here. It seems to be saying the same thing, doesn’t it? Watch the difference though when we respond with the heart rather than a panicked head response. Looking here we can see that one  thing leads into another having its own own place. The other mode is  a pushing out of one thing and a levering in of another. We now start to see than when we are distracted, or more pointedly,  distracting ourselves, we don’t have to be run around in maybe the way we feel weare led to. If we sit down and watch the telly and it is good to do, that is different to hiding away in it with the hope that our problems are hidden for awhile.This adds to our uneasiness because we are turning away and not towards. Life is put on hold and that is unsustainable. Achalanatha shows how we can be in the flames one pointedly and not be burned. The flames ‘which have been created by clinging to name and form, -a self identity, – the five skandas and the six senses, – and the eight distractions‘. So we attach to a false sense of what and who we are. Identifying with what we see as a solid self rather than an everchanging amalgalm of thoughts and feelings. When we make the movement to turn towards we see that we have  what we need to climb Mount Sumeru. The Buddha sitting atop the altar is not separate from us. We bow to the altar because we are giving up ourselves and not denying the potential we have.

If any human being prone to entertaining despair, – beset by hopelessness, the person should meditate on the ever vigilante One, – and thus learn to stay rooted in the present moment’

The sections in italics are from ‘ In Praise of Achalanatha ‘, which part of the OBC liturgy, and was sung at the Achalanatha Fesival.






What is a Festival?

You may have seen on the calender a Festival and wondered what it is. We have just held the Achalanatha Festival here at the Priory. This is just one of many Festivals that are spread throughout the year. They may celebrate significant moments in the Buddha’s life, a particular Bodhisattva or maybe one of the teachers that are significant within our tradition. It is a wonderful way for the sangha to come together and look into the many aspects of our practice that have brought us to this moment.

The Festivals are held on Sundays and are always followed by a dharma talk which will expand on what the Festival of that day is pointing to. If you would like to explore this aspect of Buddhist training and have been instructed in our practice there is no need to book in but just come along and explore for yourself.