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Chöd with a straight bat

(For clarity – the picture of the chödpa is just one I found on the net. I don’t know who it is, or whose the picture is.)

Soglio. Almost impossible to find on the map, and, as you can see, even the signpost has fallen on very hard times. But it’s this track-junction that is relevant to my story, rather than Soglio itself.

Saturday was one of those winter’s days one likes. Quite cool, but bright, warm sunshine and no wind. I decided to take the car up to this junction and park it – you’ll see that there is enough room to pull off the road to the left of the sign. It’s only five minutes in the car from home. Read more

New Year’s sky

OK, it’s actually the fourth of January. I’m putting the picture here so that if anyone is really, really interested they can click through to see the full-size picture in which Mercury is visible as well as Venus and the sliver of 29th-day-of-the-lunar-month moon. The rather obvious moral of the picture is that although the …

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Auspicious coincidence

I believe in miracles. Sort of. I can’t manage to give much
credence to most of what is claimed for miracles. I suppose that somewhere,
somewhen, there could be or could have been some great magician who could make
things levitate, pull gold out of the air, cure terminal cancer and predict
next week’s lottery numbers. But I don’t expect to meet her.

What, however, I can envision is that, out of the
innumerable ways things could fall out, the reason they fall out *this* way is
not as blindly mechanical as the mechanists would have us believe.

Like the feather that fell into my hands just as I was receiving the
lung for the Yuthog Nyingtig preliminaries
, for which there was a
convoluted, “normal” explanation, I today received a dry, falling oak
leaf. Wow!

It has been a beautiful winter’s morning: cold but not
bitter, dry, quiet, with clear blue skies and a bright, low sun. I went for a
walk up the hill. Not far from the top I sat down on a sun-warmed stone, as I
have been memorising a few lines of chant. I want to be able to recite the
lines at a good speed, without great effort, and with clear focus on the
meaning. That’s a fairly normal procedure in Buddhist practice. Having got far
enough that I don’t need to read these particular lines off paper, my idea was
to recite them a few times just to get more familiar.

So far, so good.

I didn’t notice any wind, but there must have been a stirring in the air above the ground, because exactly as I completed the lines for the first time, there was a loud rustling behind me as one of the oak trees decided that the moment had arrived to shed a few hundred leaves. The one above came into my hands on its way down.

So, ok, I was amongst hundreds of trees on a dry winter
morning. They were likely to shed leaves anyway. Thousands, if not millions,
must have fallen in those woods this morning. But at that moment? This leaf? In
my hands?

It would have happened anyway. But it didn’t have to. I’ll
take it as an auspicious coincidence.

Beyond religion…

I recently read someone expressing the yearning to be free of all religious groups and labels. Ironically enough, this yearning has been an important thread in the whole fabric of Buddhism since the beginning. Even the first grouping around the Buddha himself was to some extent a rejection of the hierarchy, hereditary privilege and religious stranglehold of the Brahmins.

The thread continues through the great mahasiddhas of India, and pops up in the quirky Zen people who are fond of saying that if you meet the Buddha on the road you should kill him. (It’s okay, I know they don’t mean it literally.)

So it’s a fine thing, and if somebody innately has the insight, moral strength, independence and courage to sit in a lonely spot looking at the true nature of their mind for years on end without support from friends or teachers, then I take my hat off to her. (Or him.)

It does, however, run the risk of being simplistic. (I use the word “simplistic” correctly, by the way.) I myself am a Buddhist, and this is a perfectly reasonable statement, just as it is perfectly reasonable to say that I am male, English, politically socialist, that I like curry, and so on.

The problem, it seems to me, is not with labels such as “Buddhist” or “curry-lover”, but it is with the way we have a tendency to use and understand these labels.

People (I’m thinking of adolescent males in particular) who first come across the teachings on emptiness and are swept away by them, can be tempted to play games, denying that there is a coffee mug on my desk, because there is no mug, no desk and no coffee in “reality”. I once even came across someone who was so impressed by the teachings of “no-self” that he refused to use first-person pronouns and possessives, in the belief that this would train him away from believing in his “me”. It was, of course, ludicrous, unhelpful, and made him look like an idiot.


  • outwardly a Buddhist (hopefully with some discipline),
  • inwardly a tireless bodhisattva of endless compassion,
  • secretly a yogi revelling in the equal taste of samsara and nirvana and
  • ultimately knowing the clear light beyond all concepts, systems and labels

– that seems to me a much more profound ideal than the ideal of simply being free of religion. Oddly enough, I suspect that it’s more practical, too.


Facebook and “Contemporary Buddhism”

Mani stones

For some while I have been an “administrator” of a facebook group, now called “Contemporary Buddhism” though it started life as “Open Buddhism”.

In its early days it was, while allegedly set up for all sorts of open and potentially critical thinking, fuelled by the need to let off steam and face up to the scandals brought on Buddhism by Sogyal Lakar. The appalling behaviour of others like Trungpa, Mipham, Santarakshita and others. Read more

Crossover: Guru Rinpoche and the House of the Rising Sun

Now and again I hear a bit of devotional music, with Tibetan roots or, for that matter, Indian roots (I’m talking kirtan here), but using some Western elements to good effect. My own musical roots are, of course, western, with a strong element of blues and folk, so I was inspired to put Guru Rinpoche’s most famous praise (the “Seven Lines”) and the best-known version of his mantra (Om Ah Hung Benza Guru Pema Siddhi Hung) to the arrangement I’ve used for the House of the Rising Sun.

I’m not sure how well this works at all, so this is just a first attempt. My pronunciation may be very poor, as well. So I put it out here now to see what sort of reaction it might bring.

I hope you enjoy it. If you see the singalong scope, I could do one with more (many more?) repetitions of the mantra.

It’s here!

Guru Rinpoche
Guru Rinpoche

Yuthok Nyingtig and Chöd

Living as I now do in the rural centre/north of Italy has many benefits. I have  recently, for instance, set up a lhakhang (shrine room, if you will). It is perhaps more reminiscent of a cave than a mountain-top hermitage, but it is cosy, and it is a place where I can ring bells, bang drums and make somewhat trumpeting sounds without disturbing anybody!

All the same, I do sometimes miss having a community of other practitioners to meet from time to time or even practice together on occasion. So it was particularly nice to find out how kind, serious, and welcoming the people associated with Sorig Khang are here.

I was able to attend a few days teaching, just outside Pisa, on the chöd practice that is part of the “preliminaries” or “foundations” of the Yuthok Nyingtig cycle of teaching. Most of the other students there had done this particular practice “merely” as a quick chant as part of their regular foundation practice, but the idea here was to approach it with proper melodies, drums, bells and kangling (“leg-trumpet”). And possibly with a bit of dance, too!
One might be tempted to think that this is simple, and in one sense it is, but getting it right is truly quite an art.

The teacher was Dr Tenzin Yangdon, who was not only patient enough to take us through our first steps in the details we were trying to learn, but, as a person, was also a wonderful example. The sense of genuine compassion and devotion that shone from her was almost palpable. I had not myself previously received the “lung” (reading transmission) for these preliminaries, and was very happy that Tenzin was able to give me that. The ceremony was simple, but powerful, and I’m very happy to be able to say that she is now one of my lamas.

Learning the chöd from the Yuthok Nyingtig with Dr Tenzin Yangdon and dog


Smile with Dr Tenzin
Smile with Dr Tenzin