Which Way?

Karen Richards

At a recent meeting, the Dew on the Grass team asked the question of ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of our website?’. We quickly came back with the answer, ‘To express what Buddhist training means to us in our everyday lives.

So, as one year closes and another begins, I thought I would share a feature of my personal altar that I am especially fond of. This little figurine came from a playset that one of my daughters had for Christmas circa 1990. The other bits of the set got lost or were passed onto other children, over the years but I laid claim to this one.

At the time I claimed her, she resembled me in some ways. I used to have a purple cardigan that looked a bit like the one she is wearing. I still had colour in my hair, too! More characteristically, is the position she is holding. One arm outstretched, open-handed and the other to her forehead; looking, searching – which way?

For many years, she was placed by the front door on a small window ledge but the advent of grandchildren meant that she often got knocked over or got drawn into a game and I would find her abandoned under a table. Of course, she was meant to be played with but to me, she had become a reminder to always keep an open heart, to accept what comes in life and to keep asking the question, ‘Which way?’.

We wish you all a peaceful and joyous 2020!

Dancing in the Dark

Karen Richards

It is the shortest day of the year and I am sitting in my conservatory, looking out across my garden. The rain pounds against the roof; a deep, primaeval sound. We are set for more storms and floods in the west of Britain and yet across the world, down under, the Bush is ablaze.

I have the naive thought – if only Britain’s rain could put out Australia’s fires and short phrases of the Scripture of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisatva pop up in my mind – ‘the fiery pit’; ‘when rain in torrents pour’….

I become still and into my awareness comes the young couple who live next door. Only days ago they lost a baby; a much-longed-for child born dead. I lift my eyes across the yard, past the shed to their back door and silently transfer merit.

The news had shocked me to my core. ‘If there’s anything I can do’, I said and then anxious not to leave the words empty of meaning, took in parcels, put away their dustbin, offered to shop. I had knocked the door sheepishly, not wanting to intrude but the pale face that greeted me said ‘It’s s ***t’ and I nodded in agreement. We hugged in a swaying embrace on the doorstep and I joined her in her chant of expletives – a sort of song and dance of solidarity in sorrow.

‘Have coffee with me’, she said. So I did. I hoped it helped her. I know it helped me.

‘In all the world, in all the quarters, There is not a place where Kanzeon does not go’*

I’m still again. The garden is starting to take on its twilight shades and I notice, on the windowsill, a spare set of fairy lights, left over from my festive house decorating. It would be nice to put them up around the shed, I think. They will sway and twinkle in the long, wet and windy night ahead and I will remember, what the Ancients knew, that even in the stormiest of times, compassion is still dancing in the dark.

  • The Scripture of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisatva from The Liturgy of The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives

A Quiet Voice in a Noisy World

Karen Richards

The world is very noisy, right now. Competing voices vie for your attention, your allegiance and your vote. Cheers of celebration resound from the victorious. Deep groans of despair emerge from the defeated. Shrieks of jingoism juxtaposed with cries of betrayal can be heard on all sides. Even if you are reading this in a place other than the UK, there will be similar chants, tussles and rumblings. It’s easy to get caught in the noise – trapped by it. It can be addictive, like a drug. I know – I’ve been there.

As a society, we seem to be most attracted to those who speak loudest. Not just in politics but in life generally. Wild gesticulations excite us. Rousing speech moves us to action and to acceptance of action done in our name. I have seen it in the workplace as well as the wider world. It can be difficult for those of us who have a quieter voice to be heard.

How can the ‘quiet voice people’ have any influence in a world gone mad for noise? I don’t have all the answers but I do know they can have an impact on those around them. In meetings, I have often looked to the silent colleague at the table to speak, once those who bluster have piped down, and found they have the most useful thing to say. And I was shocked when a friend asked me to come to her husband’s funeral, a man I didn’t really know. I queried why, as she had numerous colleagues, friends and family who knew the couple well, to support her, did she want me there. She replied, ‘I need to feel your quiet presence in the room’. I was, of course, pleased to go and both humbled and in awe that she sensed and valued something that was helpful, by virtue of the absence of something else – unnecessary noise.

In an age when personality, celebrity image and clever sound bites seem to ‘get the job done’, it feels even more important to listen carefully to the ‘sound of silence’. In Buddhist practice, we nurture this daily but I am always encouraged to learn that it is not just those of us who meditate as part of our training who tap into this universal pot of gold. I am attaching a piece from Brain Pickings that illustrates this point. May we all know the joy of silence and then let silence roar!

https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/09/08/the-sound-of-silence-goldsaito-kuo/