There is hope
There is hope down on the old farm...
there is hope in the past
the heart wood
and the history
there is hope in the future
in the swallows return
and in what we can learn
There is hope to be found
In food rising out of the ground
There is hope, life goes on
There is hope in past and future
Yet in the present there is more hope still
There is hope in love and care
As there is hope in the air
In fact there is always hope
If we look in the right place
There is always hope
In the light and the space
Which remain forever the same
There is hope just in hope
In the heart there can always be hope
In the light and space of the heart
Which may remain forever the same
(And, believe me if you will,
This is not just a hippy mind game!)
Of course the monastery isn’t always like this but this is perhaps the kind of thing that we wish, in our dreams, could happen:
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we can begin...
Once upon a time...when he finally decided to go to the monastery it was the beginning of winter and the frost over the fields was sparkling in the low sun. A few people in the village he knew had met the monks, some of the kids had been to the monastery with school, and they all said they seemed like nice people so he wasn’t so nervous any more. He was excited and tingled a little bit all over, in fact, as the cold north wind swept across his face.
As he walked over the rise and saw the monastery house below he was immediately struck by the peace of the place. He hadn’t expected to feel anything special, his excitement steadied and opened a little. The first person he met was a man carrying a plank of wood from the barn towards the house. He offered a helping hand and found the ground first of all and himself in the door of the monastery second, all before he quite realised where he was. One of the monks was there and took his end of the plank as he walked in.
The monk said ‘thanks,’ and smiled. He felt a kind of stillness and stood looking around, not knowing what to say or even, momentarily, what to think.
The room was like an ordinary sitting room only there were no chairs, just mats on the floor, and a small shrine at the far end. The monk and the man were in the middle of constructing a wooden frame by the fireplace, he guessed for the firewood. He passed a hammer to the monk, who smiled again, more broadly this time. The monk and the man were both English and joked around with each other. Other times they were quiet but the quiet wasn’t awkward. This seemed important to him and somehow beautiful in a way he did not quite understand, a bit like looking at abstract art. The silence seemed strong and cool, like dark blue against yellow.
He found himself joining in with the work but not saying much. When work was done for the morning the monk invited him to stay for lunch and to his surprise he quickly accepted. Three Thai ladies were arriving with some food for the monks and he went to say hello. They were very smiling and chatty and took over in the kitchen. They did not seem to expect him to do anything, even to listen to what they were saying and he drifted back into the main room and sat at the back. This all felt different, he thought, yet at the same time seemed very normal, natural. It was just as though he was travelling abroad to an exotic place in a big bus-shaped house. Or was it a big house-shaped bus? There was something about this place that seemed to make something special out of the ordinary and something ordinary out of the special.
The other monks arrived and there was some ceremony around the meal but the man, who turned out to be staying at the monastery, told him he did not need to join so he just watched the people as they bowed and chanted blessings and so on. Looking on, it was all very gracious as if there were a little bit of silence and space in and around everything. He was a bit surprised to find out that the monk he had met already was the Abbot.
Everyone shared in the food. As he relaxed, life started feeling strangely more meaningful, in a more playful kind of way. He tried bowing for the first time and knocked his head gently on the floor by accident. One of the Thais giggled. She was pretty but he didn’t feel embarrassed, he was trying his best. ‘Trying my best not trying too bloody hard like usual,’ he thought to himself. It was fun to follow along and at the same time respectful. Something relaxed in his right shoulder which had been holding on a long time. He found himself freer to move his head and started looking again around the room. There were all kinds of possible new meanings lurking there in the subtle soft and elegant taste of the East...he was set to dreaming a little…
After the meal the monk came to talk to the visitors and he joined the group, relaxing in his armchair. Everyone sat on the floor. He didn’t quite know what to do with his legs, which suddenly felt rather long and stiff. He shuffled about and tried to follow the conversation. The monk seemed to know the visitors well, enquiring how they were and their families and they talked a little about meditation. There was a very friendly, family atmosphere. He felt a bit like the big kid of the class.
When the visitors returned to the kitchen he found himself alone with the monk. They exchanged a few simple words, nice day wasn’t it…but he was dying to ask something. He told the monk about the guardian of the forest that he had believed in since he was a child.
‘You are a man now. Now you are the guardian of the forest,’ said the monk, much to his surprise. He had not expected to be challenged like this but the monk was smiling very broadly.
‘Don’t you believe in such things? Does the guardian not exist? he asked.’
‘Keep looking and one day maybe you will see for yourself,’’ said the monk.
Again he was surprised, this time inside. He realised that the guardian of the forest was still just a childish figure in his mind in some way, a bit like Santa Claus and he thought of his grandfather who had told him about the guardian when he was a little boy. He had never really questioned what his grandfather had said and to carry on doing what he had been shown, to bow his head as he entered the forest, had just added a bit of magic to his love of the forest which he didn’t think about so much. He had never wanted to think so much about it, that seemed to spoil the magic. But the way the monk was speaking was not just about thinking or imagining but really looking for himself.
He didn’t quite know what to say. One of the Thai ladies appeared and offered to take his plate to the washing-up and he instead followed her into the kitchen to lend a hand. The ladies had to leave quite quickly and he found himself alone in the house. He was relieved to have a chance to really arrive and reflect on the morning.
Something seemed to be opening up inside which had been contracted a long time. He realised he didn’t have to believe or not believe in anything, not in spirits or parties or chocolate or anything. Snow started falling slowly and gently outside in big flakes. The white of the snow seemed so fresh pure and bright. Right there in the moment he felt he could make a fresh start and look again at the world with the wonder of a child that he had somehow lost in all his doubts and worries. He had entered into a very precious state of mind, called in Buddhism, ‘Beginner’s Mind.’ a state of mind with some faith but no knowledge, just open and enquiring.
He decide to go for a walk in the forest...
to the guardian of the forest he spoke with respect
asking for permission to enter
just as his grandfather had told him when he was a small child
to the spirit of the forest he listened
through the wind in the trees, the creaking branches
and the spirit and the guardian seemed to speak to him through his feelings
coming from without or within he could not tell and it didn’t seem to matter
now as he was older and wiser than in his youth
the guardian and the spirit seemed to be coming ever closer
‘are they not actually in the same voice?’
he asked himself
‘surely they are the same’ he thought
the creaking of the branches seemed to speak to him of caution
but there was something deeper
he sat to meditate for the first time
beneath the great pine in the centre of the forest
very deep down in his spirit
far deeper than he could imagine
the voice of the spirit was beginning to express
in the brightness of his heart
the deeper meaning and truth of the forest
and the meaning was the protector, the guardian
for the meaning was itself protected
this truth was the deepest truth of nature itself
and was the eternal life of the forest
this was how through humble respect
he had begun to find nature’s greatest reward
for himself and for the forest
the promise of an eternal life through truth
and through complete surrender
Now he had really arrived in the monastery...just in time to go home again for a little supper...after all it was Christmas time and granny was coming...
I offer this for your reflection
It was Christmas time in the village. There was something about all the rituals of Christmas that seemed a little empty to him this year.
‘What can I give Aunty so and so, I haven’t seen her since last year.’
It was also to be his first Christmas without his grandfather, smoking his pipe and telling stories of ships in far away places with a glint in his eye. He would miss him so much.
Wrapping up all the socks for the people he hardly knew at all he regretted all the times he had rushed along with his head down and not even saying hello.
‘And I wasn’t really so busy,’ he thought. I just didn’t know what to say. ‘Oh dear, oh dear..’ he muttered to himself.
Actually there were so many things he hadn’t said, about his sadness over his grandfather. There were so many other things he did not know where to start. Sometimes he thought something was going to burst inside.
And then what was he going to say at the parties he didn’t really want to go to...oh dear, oh dear...he remembered the last one where the only relief he found from all the noise was in the toilet..he had stood there taking a pee and wondering why he was there at all…
Most sadly of all, perhaps, he didn’t realise that other people felt the same as him and that even the confident extroverts of the group liked his quiet presence.
As he cast his mind around the little village he yearned emotionally for the sense of a wider family but he couldn’t seem to find it. He straightened himself up to somehow show that he didn’t need anyone. The truth was that his pride was such that he couldn’t really feel that he needed anyone though he surely did. But then he didn’t really know the shopkeepers or anyone, he was always in a bit of a rush, wasn’t he?
He put his coat on and headed for the shop not quite knowing why he was going. The thought of chocolate popped up from nowhere and thankfully, it seemed, took him onto automatic. But as he walked along even this could not overcome his sense of despair. He sat on the bench at the bus stop. He needed to stop and reflect, he was feeling emotionally a little overwhelmed. Much to his dismay people started to gather to wait for the bus. He hardly knew the people and didn’t know what to say but he felt embarrassed to walk away.
‘It is not very usual for someone to be sitting there, never mind someone in such an emotional state,’ he thought. He was worried that he would make others feel awkward and tried to think how he could look in order not to bother anybody. He realised he had his phone in his pocket. He took it out and disappeared behind the little screen. He pretended to be busy with something, he was good at that. The bus arrived. A young girl looked at him questioningly as she got on the bus and left him sat there. There was only one bus that came through the village. He knew he had been exposed as a mere pedestrian. And she was pretty, he found himself suddenly wanting to look good and that made it all even worse. He was hoping she could not see that he was unhappy and managed an awkward smile. But it was too late, she had already boarded the bus. He felt lonely and forlorn. Life suddenly felt rather meaningless.
‘Surely there must be more to life than all this,’ he thought, holding his head in his hands.
He decided to take a walk and headed away from the village and the people straight for the forest. Approaching the forest he loved so much he bowed his head to the guardians of the forest before he entered as was his custom. Usually this felt a natural thing to do, today it felt very awkward, he just felt awkward all over. But the forest had been so much part of his life from when he was very young, he soon found himself leaving the village behind in his mind and relaxing, losing himself and feeling at one with the scene around him as he found his way along the path. When he reached his favourite spot, carpeted in moss, where the pines towered over him, so straight and true he found himself bowing his head again, almost as if in prayer. Showing respect, lessening himself in this way, made the forest all the grander and this grandeur served as his welcome in return.
Suddenly, walking through the trees they seemed to him like the wider family he wished for, silent as they were there was nothing awkward. His silence felt accepted and he somehow returned home inside to a place he knew so well. If only he could find this same feeling from the people around him, he thought.
All this was the reason he was to seek refuge at the local Buddhist monastery, many years later, wishing so much that he had had the courage to go there many years before. For there he was to find the same silence and the sense of a wider, accepting family he had always been looking for. He was to meet a monk who was still often not quite sure what to say to people but had learned to love them anyway. And gradually he was to find a whole new identity and way of being in the world that had something new to say and to offer to his dear village.
And they would all live happily ever after...
I offer this for your reflection
The greater mind creates matter and matter creates mind. This is the cycle of birth and rebirth where the mind is bound to matter. Nothing arises out of nothing.
But nothing, or emptiness, can arise out of something, through Dhamma. In fact an eternal, blissful emptiness can arise out of everything. This is the goal, the transcendent.
Thus the transcendent is not the Creator of the world. The world of truth, of Dhamma, creates the transcendent which, aware of itself, becomes stable within itself. This is liberation.
I offer this for your reflection
To live in the present is not to be magically redeemed from time but to find our free will. This we can then use to escape time.
Time is the world, time is stress. There is no way just to escape the stress of the world there is only a way to escape the world, this is to escape time.
Two worlds meet in man, mind and matter, mind and body. Through realising Dhamma these two worlds are separated, the empty mind becoming detached as we let go of the body. This is escaping the world.
We let go of the body when we see its limits, at the same time finding compassion, become truly human. It is human beings, not Gods, that realise the Dhamma.
I offer this for your reflection
It was summer and he was staying at his cabin for a well-deserved rest from work. It was a beautiful morning to sit on the verandah. To the south was an open view of the forested hills. To the north the verandah was enclosed by windows offering a view of the forest behind through the glass. Drinking his morning coffee and looking through the windows at the beautiful forest he felt peaceful and happy. He played around smiling at his reflection in the window. If he focussed just right his reflection looked like his spirit floating out there in the forest.
For a moment he lost himself in the scene:
‘The peaceful mind is just like this window,’ he thought, ‘it is both an opening to the world and a mirror in which we see ourselves.’ Suddenly he felt as light as air. He had completely disappeared into the scene around him.
Continuing to gaze at his reflection, his mind silent and open, his feelings were somehow projected onto his image as it returned his gaze. The space of his mind became very peaceful and still as his feelings naturally sought refuge in the forest’s leafy hiding places, gathering together like a flock of birds in the fading summer ready to depart.
‘Are my feelings not happy in the forest?’ he wondered. ‘
‘Why are they still restless?’
He sat at the window the whole afternoon, enchanted. Gradually as the light changed, his reflection disappeared. The sky behind him was reflected in the window and a view of the forest appeared above him where the roof over the verandah shaded the windows.
Now the forest looked like heaven and he found that he didn’t miss himself at-all.
‘The forest is ever more beautiful when the ghosts of our minds take flight,’ he thought.
‘And our empty mind is free to roam the sky of our hearts, open and bright.’
‘Such is true love,’ he thought.
There have been so many instances throughout history of religion going astray that it is understandable that people turn away from religion toward a freer spirituality. What can be lost in this transition, however, is the sense of something timeless that comes from a long history or tradition and the social cohesion this creates. The prayers, rites and rituals can have their place and yet for a religion to remain alive the true meaning of such acts must be borne continually in mind.
This is part of the work of religion that keeps it pure. The temptation these days is to turn our backs on religion rather than taking our part in maintaining this purity, but then we end up on a lonely journey. Rather than entering into the positive karmic stream of a group, we are isolated. In my own case I vastly under-estimated the potential of such group karma – the karma of a culture or tradition. I took for granted much of the positive karma of my own culture, karma that created a degree of social justice and welfare. The system was so anonymous it was hard for the benevolence of the society to really touch the heart. Religion can serve to make this bridge between the personal and the universal, defining our relationship to the whole in a skilful way.
Then our religion will not be a source of conflict but of peace; not a source of empty solace but a real refuge.
It’s never too late to be kind to the world
it’s never too late to love
a true love
is a simple life
cherishing all beings
with a heart like the sky
it’s never too late to love
for our own sake
it’s never too late
for goodness sake
it’s never too late
even if it’s too late to save the world
it’s never too late to be kind to the world
it’s never too late to love
and if we can let go
and go with the flow
we will always be able to love
This is part 5 of the "Nature Series".
1. A walk in nature
2. Finding our place in nature
3. Hello nature
4. Our goodbye nature
5. It's never too late to love the world
6. True love for the world
My mother asked me the other day for the email address of an old friend of the family that we had been out of touch with for some time. Turns out that my Mum, bless her heart, is trying to contact everyone that she has some kind of unfinished business with just in case she dies. This would be a very common practice amongst those who believe in rebirth and hence that our karma with others could follow us into our next life – yet this can be a very important thing for all of us to do. It is by resolving, as best we can, whatever hangs over us from the past that we can be at peace in the face of death. We could also say that this is another way such a threat can take our lives in a good direction, motivating us to get things resolved and lighten our load.
Of course there will be things that are difficult to resolve. We could have regrets toward people who have died, for example, so we can only do our best – yet just our wholesome intention can be enough for us to find peace and let go.
Too far one way and we can think that the mind is independent. Too far the other way and we think the mind is dependent, bound up with reality. If we find the middle we find dependent origination: we see that the mind, although dependent, is something completely new. The mind is dependent but not bound up to the material world. The mind and the world exist in parallel.
I offer this for your reflection