bell ringing!

After Amsterdam I headed to Southampton to stay with Kim and to visit the Sangha there. I found out that Southampton Sangha consists of a small but very committed bunch of people, very few of whom live in Southampton! In fact I spent most of my time in Winchester, which is about 10 miles away and some of the Sangha regularly have a 40 or 50 minute drive to get them to the centre. The first evening I met with the women and we had a very animated an wide-ranging discussion. Some of them had not seen a Dharmacharini before so my main function was to just to prove the existence of women in the order! On the second night most of the Sangha packed themselves into the shrineroom to explore the practice of reflection and idea of allowing the dharma to shine a light on our whole lives and experience. They are a great Sangha and are very welcoming and pleased to have visitors if you are ever heading that way.

The two things that stay in my mind are both to do with Winchester Cathedral, I was staying just a few minutes walk from there. One was that I got to go bell ringing, I wasn’t actually allowed to ring a bell as that is a serious business, but I was invited into the secret and fascinating world of bell ringers, a world I didn’t know existed. The experience started with climbing the tower, but to get to the tower travelled the length of the cathedral, but high up on a little path along the wall, my slight fear of heights was added to by it being dark and being organ practice time. Someone was playing the organ like they were possessed, and I loved it, it was the perfect setting for a horror movie. Then up into the bell ringer’s world. Winchester has lots of bells, maybe 15, so people come from all over to ring and tonight they were doing a 12 bell, which is very complicated. Think complex mathematics meets computer programming and you get nearer to the ‘art’ of bell ringing than if you think about it in terms of music. Anyway I can’t go into all the details here, but if you know a ringer (and I’m sure some do it in secret) do see if you can get an invite.

The other thing that has stayed in my mind is the windows of Winchester cathedral. During the civil war the cathedral was attacked, a lot of the statues were ruined and the stained glass windows were smashed. The people of Winchester so loved their cathedral that after these attacks they went and collected up all the broken glass from the windows and took it home with them for safe keeping. Years later they wanted to replace the windows so every one bought the bags and boxes of broken glass back to the cathedral. Obviously there was no way of redoing the jigsaw of glass to recreate the pictures that were part of the original design, instead all the glass was put back in a random fashion. The result is an amazing massive abstract stained glass window. I found this strangely moving, though beautiful in itself the real beauty now lay in knowing that all these pieces of glass had been careful wrapped and stored under people’s beds and in their cupboards all those years ago.

Next stop Bristol for a weekend on the Yogacara.

usa, road trip

first stop amsterdam

i am now 'on the road', first stop was amsterdam. it is always great to be there as i have quite a few close friends that live in holland. my friend annemieke vacates her lovely apartment in old bit of town and gives me the key, though this time she stayed too for a while so we got to hang out which i enjoyed. i was there to do a couple of things at the buddhist centre and then to stay on for terry and moksagandhi's wedding, in between i went to stay with my good friend manigarbha near utrecht.

i was pleased with how my first weekend on the yogacara went, i feel the more i reflect on it the more simply i am able to talk about it. i had an email from sudarshini the other day which i think hit the nail on the head when she said that though the teachings are elusive the effect of reflecting on them is amazing. it seems to me that these teachings are a way of seeing the world that really effects and opens up our experience. they definitely bring about a different quality of mindfulness, almost an intimacy, with everything around us. feels like the beginning of an exploration for me, and i can see how helpful it is going to be to keep coming back to this theme and to explore it with others.

then the wedding. padmadharini came for the weekend, as did vidyalila, so that was a treat. then various people descended on amsterdam from the uk and the rest of holland. it was a beautiful day and after a simple and very personal ceremony we all got to go on a canal boat around the city with someone singing old amsterdam songs accompanied by the accordion. i loved it. then back to the cafe for 'turns', which included lots of sing-alongs, then chatting and dancing the night away. it was the perfect wedding really and felt like a celebration of love and friendship and family.

next stop, southampton, winchester and bristol.

Not so communicative

Thought I would just say a bit about what I am up to in case anyone out there was wondering. I do feel rather that I have disappeared, temporarily, into the mountains. I haven’t felt all that communicative and am rather more out of touch than I used to be with what is going on in the world. I am making the most of this opportunity as I will be emerging, all being well, in March and from then until the end of October I have a pretty full schedule of retreats, weekends and events all around Europe. Feels like a slightly scary thought given that these days I hardly see a soul, oh well I’ve always enjoyed extremes.

So I am here in the mountains alone for the moment as Padmadharini is in San Francisco for about 5 weeks. Life is pretty simple, I do some study, at the moment I am reading or re-reading Nagao’s ‘Madhyamika and Yogacara’ which is one of those desert island books that you could imagine reading over and over (an you still wouldn’t understand it). This kind of study for me has two bits to it, or maybe three, it is about understanding the concepts but also about somehow translating them into experience, into my own experience but also try to communicate the same thing but less conceptually. I have this image of ‘lighting up’ concepts. It’s like when you go to see a film the director has ideas to communicate but he or she literally ‘lights them up’ so that you feel you are being shown something rather than told something. I guess my on going desire is to be able to do something close to this with the dharma. Also that lighting up may be through language, but a more creative use of language.

Another project that I have on the go is learning CSS, which is the ‘language’ that you design websites in. I seem to have got that hang of html enough to have made my very simple website, I enjoyed it so much that I thought I would like to learn a bit more so I am in the process of learning CSS and of redesigning my website with it. It is like a rollercoaster of despair and euphoria! I’m so happy when I do a bit and it works, then again I miss out a comma and spend the best part of the evening looking for it!

Most days I am down at the house for 4 or 5 hours. My friend Manigarbha has been here visiting for two weeks and we spend quite a bit of that time clearing ‘la acequia’ which is an irrigation channel that runs across our land. It was covered in a mass of brambles, cut down trees and spiky little bushes, in all about 10ft wide and going right across the land. We now have enough material for a bonfire the size of the house though I am waiting for Padmadharini to come back and organise the permission. If you have a fire with out permission a helicopter is likely to drop a tonne of water on you and then charge you for the favour. Now I am onto the steps. There are some stone steps running up the outside of the house, which I have uncovered, and am now repairing and pointing to help keep water out of the building. I love doing that kind of work but do get overwhelmed by how much there is to do.

Then there is learning Spanish, which is going very slowly, it is hard to imagine ever being able to actually have a conversation. But I am trying to be patient and enjoy the process rather than panic about how long it might take. I did listen to a bit of a Spanish Sci-Fi play on the radio and had a vague sense of what was going on!

Something that I am really enjoying is reading, I’ve never read so much, I guess that is what happens when you have no TV/radio/internet/friends! I’ve just finished this book called ‘The Rest is Noise’ by Alex Ross it is a history of classical music in the 20th cen, a subject that I know hardly anything about. I have downloaded bits from various composers and am enjoying exploring some of them. I am now reading a biog of Crass, a punk band that I used to love, and it seems to start where Alex Ross leaves off, with people like Steve Reich and John Cage. I was laughing out loud last night when the author of the Crass book referred to their vocals as ‘Tourettian’! Luckily I have a stack of books here waiting to be read and in a way that seems like the biggest luxury of being here.

I can’t say I have much ‘going on’. An image of me at the moment would be of sitting in a chair, smoking a pipe, staring into the distance (I haven’t actually been smoking a pipe, only metaphorically) no particular thoughts about the past, or the future. Yet somewhere deep down I guess there is a pondering going on. I’m definitely pondering, but I couldn’t tell you what I am pondering.

Anyway I don’t know if anyone looks at this journal, but I thought I would just explain my absence. I guess it will come to life when I do and when I am more ‘out and about’.
  • Current Mood
    thoughtful thoughtful

yogacara seminar

Whilst on my travels I went to Birmingham for a seminar on the Yogacara with Saramati and Sagaramati. I found it fascinating. We were studying the Sandinirmocana sutra and the Mahayana-samgraha early Yogacara texts, both by Asanga. One of the best things about the seminar was getting a better understanding of the whole historical context of the Yogacara, which may not sound that thrilling but really it was… lots of pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Something about understanding what led up to this particular phase of Buddhism and then how it influenced what followed. In a sense that is how we understand anything, is it not? I remember on retreat at Tiratanaloka that we sometimes watched the ‘early days of the movement’ videos and I think that really helped people to understand how the movement is now, by seeing how it came to be that way. It is the same with people, I know that sometimes I’ve heard people’s life story and I suddenly understand how and why they are how they are!

The focus of the seminar was the Alaya, it was subtitled ‘the Buddhist unconscious’, and we had to imagine that when these teaching were being unfolded there was no such concept as ‘the unconscious’. The big question for Buddhists at that time was how to account for continuity if there is no thing that continues over time. So if there is no self then what is the point of practice? What is the point of, say, practicing the precepts if there is nothing that ‘holds’ the effect of that practice? One of the things that I find interesting about the Yogacara is that it does provide an explanation for how it is that practice works. As Saramati was keen on saying, “how is it that my positive actions don’t bare fruit in your life?” What is it that causes us to ‘hang together’ as it were? Well I am still digesting it all and will try to write something soon as it does really help me take things deeper. For now I’ll leave you with a little quote from the seminar that I have been pondering - “everything exists in the alaya as results and the alaya exists in everything as causes”.
beloved ibook


I’ve been gone a while. Firstly because my computer died, yes completely dead. It was about a month before I could get it fixed in the apple shop in Brum whilst on a Yogacara seminar at the Dharmapala College. I have to say it was rather like having a leg drop off (though if my leg really were to drop off I’m sure I wouldn’t think that way). Still it is all fixed now and would have cost nearly £600 had it not been under warranty, phew.
Anyway a looking forward to my livejournal being a bit more live!
  • Current Music
    lots of spanish catter

the birds!

For as long as I can remember I have been mildly phobic about birds, I say mildly as I have seen programmes of people with full blown phobias that are much more severe. My worst fear is to be trapped inside a room with a bird, not surprisingly my mum tells me that when I was little there was a big blackbird trapped in our house going berserk and though I have no conscious memory of it I guess that is where the fear comes from. Anyway it is no big problem, I just give the pigeons a wide berth when in London and on the whole birds are probably more scared of me than I am of them!

What I find more interesting is that birds have become such a symbol of fear for me. Every time I am facing something frightening in my life I seem to have dreams of birds and generally, as the years go by, I handle the fear more calmly and panic less! A recent dream has been of a bird landing in my hair and becoming tangled, and it takes all my efforts to just not panic.

So here we are living at the top of this tower and living with us, that is on the roof, are around 200 pigeons! I can hear them all scraping across the roof, scrambling about on the skylights and some time flying at the windows! Every now and then they all take off together with a great beating of wings… a few minutes later they will all swoop down again and land on the roof. I

n a way it is my worst nightmare but actually it feels like quite a good symbol of the fear that comes from uprooting and finding myself in a country where I only know one other person, don’t speak the language and am about to try to support myself by living on dana! I don’t experience much of that fear very consciously but I do find myself tuning into it as I sit meditating in this bird land at the top of the tower.

week one

Been here a week now and the time seems to fly by. Something about Spain means that the days are more unpredictable than I am used to, not that tiratanaloka was all that predictable. Here you wander into town and bump into someone and they suggest going for a drink… right then, not tomorrow, not next week, then as you are sitting on the pavement other people wander by and join you before you know it lunch becomes afternoon, becomes evening. There isn’t much forward planning, no getting out of diaries and I’ve yet to bump into someone who was in a hurry to get anywhere!

We basically spent the week getting ourselves set up at home and spending time with various people that Padmadharini knows from her time at Akasavana. The week also overlapped with Amarasraddha and ratnadharini being here so it was nice to have a bit of my Tiratanaloka world here in Spain during the transition. Me and Pd seem to get along ever so well with the only challenge so far being that the apartment we are living in is basically one big room so we really have to synchronise what we are doing and it is harder and takes more discipline for us each to get on with our own thing.

Tomorrow we start working on the house, though we are still aiting for planning permission for the extension we are going to work on the old bit with Howard. So I expect to be learning rendering, yesosing (which is like plastering but rougher) and tiling all in the next couple of weeks. There is so much to learn, how to harvest the olives and take care of the trees for a start, it is a bumper crop this year and then figuring out what to grow in the way of fruit trees and vegetables. Also my biggest problem is going to be not speaking the language which I think will become more and more frustrating. Still I have started learning a Spanish Christmas song with the intention of mastering it by Christmas!

I’m enjoying exploring the old town and have posted some pictures on flickr, it is a wabi sabi paradise (if that is not too much of a contradiction!).

only one glass a night

a horse festival!

Our first morning in spain, a Sunday morning, we wake up to the sound of drums and assume it is Carmen’s son playing his drum and bass. It turns out to be the band practicing for that morning’s horse parade! There is always some parade or festival going on, especially on a Sunday, I guess with all the shops shut they still have real entertainment here.
  • Current Music
    the sound of trucks

in the tower

Hola! We arrived in Valderrobres after a little road trip across France which was fairly uneventful. We had started out thinking we would take the non toll roads and spent a pleasant few hours meandering through pretty French villages (they are into their garden ornaments aren’t they?) we then realised that we were getting nowhere fast, so took ourselves on to the toll roads which were dull, expensive and much quicker. It felt good to cross the boarder into Spain, where the temperature went up, the price of petrol down, and the coffee tasted much better. While the roads were bumpier there was not a garden ornament in sight!

We arrived Saturday evening, in time to unpack a few essentials and have a chat with Howard who’s a friend, the builder of our house and our current semi landlord (in that he lives with Carmen some of the time). It is one of Carmen’s apartments that we are staying in, she lives in a 13th cen tower which is the oldest building in Valderrobres, older even than the castle. It is just 5 mins walk into town and if you walk out the other way you get to our house. She is renting it to us at a very good price, I guess as a favour, they are like that the Spanish they have a strong sense of community and family and are good at looking after one another.

So all has worked out really well accommodation wise. Then the other good news is that the blue Cafe has wifi and so has another bar in town which we have yet to try out. Our plan had been to try and set up some kind of internet connection trough mobile phone type technology which would have been complicated and slow but wifi in town takes the pressure off so that we can look into a few alternatives.

I guess so far it feels a little like being on holiday, except we have spent our time in phone shops and sorting out other practical things. I think there will come a point where I realise that I am not going home! Meanwhile I now know how to order the coffees and buy bread…. Must get on with the Spanish lessons.

Hasta luego Xx

beloved ibook

silent light

if you don't mind your movies slow and beautiful then i would really recommend this one. it is about a mennonite community in mexico and the ethical dilemma of a husband and father who falls in love with another women in the community. i've always thought that if i wasn't a buddhist then my second choice would be to be to join the russian orthodox, i love the icons and the idea of kissing them, now i'm thinking being a mennonite would be high on the list! plus they have great taste in interiors. one of the best films i've seen in ages... though don't watch when you are sleepy.