Darkness and Light ~ by Karen Richards

The Dew on the Grass team has taken a break, during the month of August. Now, as a rather overcast summer turns into a spectacularly beautiful Autumn, it is back with another post, on the dual themes of Darkness and Light.


On rereading Chris Yeomans’s July post, in which she explores her sense of being “a terrestrial, and part of this creation”, leading to a realisation of having “no separate existence”, I was reminded of my own experience of Oneness, which occurred in a dream not long after I had begun practicing meditation some years ago. Although the circumstances and background ‘scenery’ are different in these two accounts, I believe that what they point to is the same. See what you think.

I sit in an empty space, with no sense of material substance around me. There is no light and no darkness, either. Simply, there is an endless absence of anything. As I sit in this emptiness, I suddenly become aware of myself as a separate being and I panic.

After some time in a state of sheer terror, I begin to steady my breathing, calm myself, and settle back into meditation, but this time I am meditating as an act of will in full acceptance of what appears to be empty, grey nonexistence. The premise of my acceptance is that if all that exists is the mind of meditation, then I will meditate for eternity, be content with that, and want nothing more. As I sit with this newly found acceptance, something miraculous happens; the hitherto empty space fills with light – it shimmers with a brightness akin to stars and mirrors but are not stars and mirrors but something unique and I am in joyful awe.

To some, this account may sound ‘off the wall’, but when I awoke, the next morning, a change had occurred. I was still me, with all my own biology, opinions, and difficulties of daily life. I still had all the attributes of a quite separate human being and at the same time, I knew with certainty that I was not separate from anything in the Universe.

Knowing this transforms the way we view the world. It does not make us immune to suffering, our own or other people’s, if anything, as we soften up and develop awareness, we feel it all the more, but we begin to understand the heart of it and the compassion within it. And this makes all the difference.




The Gift ~ part of the ‘Where I Sit’ series ~ by Karen Richards

This week, as part of our “Where I Sit” series, Karen Richards takes us with her on her ‘Respite Day”, which she sees as a gift.

It is respite day. Not a whole day, but my son and daughter-in-law come and look after my husband for a few hours so that I can get a break.

I head off in the car, free to choose where the tyres tread, unsure of my destination. In my rucksack is my laptop and a notebook and pen, a gift from a friend. Its virgin pages have been calling for some time. I have the need to write and walk. I will do both.

Still unsure of where I will end up, I have a thought, and pull up in a lay-by to check my purse. It’s there. My National Trust card. Half an hour later, I arrive at Attingham Park.; several acres of sprawling fields and woodland, with the River Severn running through them.

It is still only 9.30 am and already the carpark is filling up with vehicles, from which emerge couples and families and, from almost all it seems, a dog. It is buzzing. Is this really where I want to be? I think so.

I head for the coffee shop; the walking will come later, but for now, I will write. I buy a large mug of coffee – the price of a seat at a table, and a welcome pick-me-up. A sip and then I flip up the screen of my laptop and open up a document that I have been working on for some time.

It doesn’t take long to slip into the zone. All around me, people drink and eat and talk but I am cocooned in a cave of creativity, and an hour and a half passes, almost imperceptibly;  just the thread of thought that flows through my mind, my fingers, the tapping of the keyboard and other people’s conversations, like swarms of half-muted bees about my being. They are reassuring. I am alone in my industry and yet not alone. It is a good place to be.

Time for a walk.

I head off, through fields of deer, along the side of the river, and then another choice: the shorter but busier route or the longer one, through a wooded wilderness. I opt for the latter. As I walk, all thoughts of what I was writing slowly diminish. Other thoughts push their way in and then exit just as quickly. I become aware of my feet, how they move, how they connect to the earth. It is warm but every so often, a shower of rain. A breeze picks up, rustling branches and the grasses along the path. Occasionally, people pass by me and we exchange a word or a nod of acknowledgment and then walk on.

An expanding awareness of my surroundings draws me into a thicket, where I am alone, except for the birds and the breeze and that sublime odour of wetted leaves and decomposing wood. I press my back against a tree trunk and let my body relax. A joy springs up and I am grateful for this time, this place.

And then a prompting to move on. Don’t stay, keep moving. Soon, I meet the river again, and three carefully honed and placed logs, invite me to sit. I meditate.



The gifted notebook calls from my rucksack and I reach in and take it from its little bag. It is quite beautiful, with its cover of purple and pattern of sea creatures in turquoise, orange and yellow. As I open it, a previously unseen card falls from between the pages. The beautiful head of a Kanzeon* on one side and a message from the giver, on the other. I am moved to tears.

I look up. People, children and dogs cross over the river, via a bridge. Someone asks me the way to the deer park and I point, with some scant instructions and a nod. Time to move on. It is idyllic here but an inner prompting calls time.

As I walk, I realise that I have joined the main path and it becomes quite crowded. A children’s playground is to my right and to my left, small clearings where benches have been placed. I begin to take photographs of these sitting places – lots of them! All are thoughtfully positioned to give rest to weary walkers. I sit on some but not for long. I need to eat.

Returning to the coffee shop, I order lunch and take a long slow drink of water. I chat to the waiters and smile at the children of a family, across the way, all restless to be somewhere else other than sitting at a table.


Out in the courtyard, a choir begins to sing contemporary songs. People stop to listen. For a short time, so do I but it feels like it is time to head home, where I am greeted by cheerful voices and a hot drink. Stepping out for a while makes it easier to step back in. This is my life. It is good. It is the place where I sit. It is a gift.

* Kanzeon (Japanese), also known as Avalokitesvara (Sanskrit) or Kuan Yin (Chinese), is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, in Buddhism.







One Ripe Strawberry by Karen Richards

This week, under the theme of Wiki -What I Know (or don’t know) Is – Karen Richards recounts an ancient tale about a Buddhist monk and a strawberry and what the story means to her.

A friend once told me a story about a Buddhist monk who, in ancient times, was chased to the edge of a cliff, by bandits. At the very moment that the monk fell, he spotted a  wild strawberry, growing from the cliff face. He reached out, plucked it, and smiling to himself, ate it. “Ah, what a delicious strawberry,” he said. Then fell to his death.

When I first heard this story, my initial response was one of awe at a strawberry growing out of a rock face. Arguably though, this is not the meaning that either the author or indeed the teller of the story was pointing to!

Indeed, it is an interesting tale and, unpicking it a little, one which has layers of possible meaning. Perhaps, if a snapshot of the falling monk, picking the ripe strawberry, were to be circulated on social media today, for instance, it might have the caption, ” Eat the strawberry while you can, life is short!”, in the style of many such parables attributed to different celebrities and commentators from Keanu Reeves to the Buddha, himself. To relax and enjoy all that life has to offer is not bad advice but I’m fairly sure that that isn’t what is being pointed to, either.

Then, there is the possibility that the story is about ‘being in the moment’. For although, when the monk fell from the cliff there was the potential for his physical death, as he saw, plucked, and then ate the strawberry, he was still very much alive. These were the moments before his death; the death moment was yet to come.  Expanding a little further, even as we approach the end of our lives, when death seems all-consuming and inevitable, each moment is a moment unique to itself, and is as bright as the strawberry, a jewel shining in the outwardly barren and desolate rock face.

To quote Eckhart Tolle, in his book “Oneness with All Life”,

“Time is seen as the endless succession of moments, some ‘good’, some ‘bad’ – yet, if you look more closely, that is to say, through your own immediate experience, you find that there are not many moments at all. You discover that there is only ever this moment. Life (and death) is always now”

Yet, even this profound explanation is not quite ‘it’ for me. Initial responses, though sometimes seeming superficial, often hold what is true for us at the time that we hear a teaching,  a line of scripture, see a piece of art, read a poem, or get some friendly advice. So, going back to my more visceral reaction to the complete awesomeness of a strawberry growing on a mountainside, it feels to me that the strawberry, with its bright burgeoning potentiality, encapsulates that which lies both within and beyond all concept of now, then or maybes. It is the eternal nature of all things, the universe itself; ripe and shining. I like to think that this is what the monk saw in that strawberry and that is why he took the time to appreciate and consume* it.


It had been “a bit of a day”. My husband, recently discharged home from hospital, was “all at sea”. Impatient with himself for not being able to do the things he wanted to do, hot and bothered by the June heatwave, frustrated by failing eyesight and gradual hearing loss, his mood was low. For my part, my usual patience was wearing thin. Moment by moment, trying to fix things that could not be fixed – our voices, flowing back from one to another, sounded tetchy. Each time we spoke, we missed each other’s meaning by a mile.

And then, as the day was closing and I had helped him back into his bed, I stepped out into my backyard in the fading light of evening, and there I saw it. That, which only a few hours ago had still been green in parts, was now a fat red strawberry, in the shape of a heart. I instantly remembered the story of the monk on the clifftop.

It was a beautiful fruit, full of brightness; complete of itself. I took my phone and photographed it before gently plucking it from its stem. I took it indoors and, collecting a small knife from the kitchen en route, I went into my husband’s room. He was still awake. I held up the strawberry and he smiled. Then, taking the knife, I split it down the middle and gave him half.

He took it from me. “You shared it with me!” he said, before eating it.

“Yes”, I said “Good night!”


* Consume, in this sense, is to hear the Dharma.




April is (not)the Cruellest Month ~ reflections on TS Eliot’s The Wasteland ~ by Karen Richards

In our final post, on the theme of Bright, Karen Richards reflects on why she does not share the view of TS Eliot when he claims that “April is the Cruellest Month” in his poem, The Wasteland.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Thomas Stern Eliot

Eliot’s opening lines of The Wasteland have been ruminating in my mind, recently. It is April and, as suggested in the poem, the life that has been slumbering below ground, and on bush and tree, have stirred with the ‘spring rain’ and life, that was out of sight, during the winter months, is well and truly visible, again.

The statement, ‘April is the cruellest month’ has had literary commentators discussing its meaning, for decades. When I first read it, back in my English A level days, I took it to mean that April is full of promise, with lighter days, buds and fruit blossoms, camellias in full bloom and cheerful daffodils and tulips but that it doesn’t always deliver the brightness that we have been craving, with its rainstorms and cold winds, as in our present April.

This is as good an interpretation as any, although it is generally accepted that, written in 1922, it is essentially a poem about the spiritual state of Europe, where people prefer to be asleep to their spiritual nature, to live their ‘little life with dried tubers’, enjoying the winter, which ‘kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow’ because they don’t have to take spiritual responsibility for themselves. If this is Elliot’s true meaning, I find it rather harsh and judgemental. I see people taking responsibility and revealing their True hearts, all the time.

If you enjoy poetry, particularly the art of poetry, it is well worth reading The Wasteland in its entirety, if you have never done so – though I suggest you do it with your feet up, a mug of brew and an open mind. It is technically brilliant, though strewn with puritanical judgements, which reflects Eliot’s tortured state of mind, during its writing, following the breakdown of his marriage and committal of his wife to a mental institution.

So, why is this poem in my mind right now, apart from it being April, of course? And why has it dominated my thoughts, whenever I have come to write on this month’s theme of Bright? Perhaps, because there are times when the world, nations and individual people appear to live in perpetual winter and it can seem like we are existing in the Wasteland, where compassion, love and wisdom have been buried deep beneath the ‘forgetful snow’. Times when all seems lost and there is no hope. Or times when there is hope but we haven’t the physical capacity to fulfil our heartfelt dreams. The world is in such a state as this, right now, don’t you think?

Yet lilacs do breed ‘out of the dead land’. Lotus blossoms flower because their roots are nourished by the mud into which their roots are secured. And when we are personally in despair, the simple act of looking up at the sky can change our viewpoint, both physically and spiritually. If you have never tried this, it is highly recommended. In winter or in spring, our spiritual ‘blossoming’ is in our own control. So, I am sceptical of Eliot’s Wasteland imagery and, great though the poem may be, I find its bleak despondency and moral judgement not to my taste.

Because for every dark night of the soul, there is a bright awakening. For every dark winter, there is a spring. And, come to think of it, whatever the weather, April is not the cruellest month, at all, merely a state of light and darkness, of warmth and cold. The bright nature of things revealed.

Transcript of a eulogy, for the late Rev Master Saido Kennaway

Following on from our tribute to Rev. Master Saido Kennaway,  this week, we are publishing the transcript of the eulogy spoken at his funeral, by Karen Richards. At the end of the post, is the youtube link to his funeral, which was held at Telford Crematorium, on Saturday the 18th of March.

Rev. Saidō Kennaway
Rev. Saidō Kennaway

I knew Rev Saido for over forty years, as a teacher, fellow Trustee of Telford Buddhist Priory and as a friend, not only to me, my husband David and our family but to the whole Telford Community. Some memories of him stand out like polaroid photographs, with little details still sharp. In others, there is just the sense of a person who truly knew what it meant to be human.

He once explained the process of entering the monastery as a postulant. The trainee stands at the gate, head shaved, new robes on and asks to be let in. He or she is left there for some time, with their alms bowl in hand, as a test of their resolve to train in monastic life. At the end of their wait, they are asked on three occasions, why they wish to enter the monastery. David Kennaway’s answer was. “I wish to live with integrity”. I was impressed by that answer because it struck me that he wasn’t asking for anything. He wasn’t asking for shelter from the world or Enlightenment or anything for himself. Rather he wanted to take an honest look at himself and take responsibility for his life. This pledge, his pledge, has affected us all.

I first met him in the early 1980s. at a weekend retreat held at the home of the late Vajira Bailey, in Bearwood, Birmingham. I was not attending the retreat, myself, but dropping off David my husband. I had made a cake, with dried fruit in it, which, to my horror, had all sunk to the bottom of the tin, during baking. I was prepared to drop David off and duck out as quickly as I could but when she saw the cake, Vajira insisted that I give it to the monks, in person.

She invited me into a room, where R M Daishin and Rev Saido were seated, eating their supper at the table. They made an immediate impression on me – one of those polaroid moments that you never forget. I was introduced, we exchanged a few words, I placed the cake on the table, and left.

At the end of the weekend, I returned to pick up David, this time waiting in the car, outside. As we drove off, I asked how it had all gone. Good, apparently and oh, the monk sent a message for you, “Tell your wife she makes good cake”.

Now, that cake would not have won any prizes, but, the message was a kindness, pointing towards the offering rather than the cake itself and that first meeting set the course for the rest of my life.

We met, on many occasions, in the years that followed, particularly in his role as Lay Ministry Advisor. However, It was when, in the year 2000, when he came to be prior, of Telford Buddhist Priory, that I got to know him well and had the good fortune to learn from him. He had chosen Telford, in part, because it was centrally situated to the places he needed to get to, to continue his work for Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Organisation, and for his work for the Network of Buddhist Organisations, as well as his work as the Order’s European Advisor.

He loved the priory building itself and saw it as a great treasure, with its large garden and garage big enough to become a workshop for projects, its light and airy mediation room and the kitchen’s in-built, deep fat fryer, which he soon became very skilful at using. So he introduced a ’Chips and Chat’ evening into the schedule. Those chips were very, very good.

Alongside the usual schedule, Rev. Saido introduced sangha walks, days out, gardening days and canal trips. These events brought our community together so that we weren’t merely ships that passed on a meditation night but true Dharma friends and we thrived on it.

He liked to do things a bit differently, not too differently, just enough to point beyond the outward form and would often comment, “I’m probably a heretic!” And chuckle, to himself. For instance, he liked the altar to be full and burgeoning, more in the Malay style than the Japanese Zen, which is much simpler. And he didn’t care to be called a Master, though he surely was a Master.

He rarely gave formal talks. Rather, his practice was to teach by example and by bringing the Dharma into group conversations. When he did give a talk it would usually involve diagrams or unusual teaching aids, such as Newton’s cradle to teach the Law of Karma.
Mostly, Rev Saido’s teaching came through his actions, the way he lived his life, his sense of humour and direct way of speaking and his willingness to talk one to one with someone about their difficulties, for as long as it took to help them.

He was also a practical and creative person who would make or fix things, rather than throw them away – and sometimes he didn’t fix things and still didn’t throw them away. Like the time he offered to fix my indoor water feature. He took it apart, decided it was beyond him and then left me with a pile of bits.

The garage was his happy place, where he could be creative and in which, over a period of time, he made his beloved Stupa, which now stands outside the French Windows of Telford Buddhist Priory and into which his ashes will be interred.

These past months, however, his health began to fail him, and, on the official day of the Buddha’s Parinirvana, in the Buddhist calendar, he got his cancer diagnosis. And, it was The Festival of the Buddha’s Parinirvana, held at Telford Buddhist Priory, that came to be the last ceremony he ever officiated at. He was frail and wobbly on his feet but he still did full bows and would not accept a chair to sit on for the duration of the ceremony, when one was offered. I knew in my heart that this would be the last time that he would be our celebrant. I stood close by, in case he should fall and, in so doing, I noticed a sizeable hole in one of his white socks. I thought about offering to mend it but I knew it wasn’t necessary, not because he wouldn’t wear them again, that I surely knew, rather, just like that cake, all those years ago, it was his offering that mattered.

When it got too much, Rev Kanshin, to whom we are eternally grateful, came to help him and we did what we could.

For those of us fortunate enough to be around him during those final weeks, we witnessed a person still giving everything he could. He took care of as much business as his body would allow. He meditated through the pain and called those around him Bodhisattvas.

One cold Saturday morning, Rev Kanshin and I set out to rearrange the garage a bit, so that we could move some furniture out of the common room, into there, to make space for Rev Saido’s bed.

I was shocked that Rev Saido came to help us because he seemed so ill and frail. I urged him not to come out in the cold but he insisted, “I can still point!” he said and point he did.

There were remnants of his personal projects everywhere and we were instructed to relocate them and not to damage anything. At one point, I picked up a little bundle of what I thought was misplaced recycling – two margarine cartons and a yoghurt pot and I asked if I should put them out in the recycling bag. He looked at me and said, “No, those can be used again” We stood in silence for a moment, looking at each other. He had been busy for days, signing off on legal papers and letting go of his worldly responsibilities, but there, in that cold garage, it seemed to me that letting go of these simple, cherished objects, which perhaps no one else but he would value in quite the same way, was the greater challenge. He almost crumbled at that moment and so did I. Then, accepting what needed to be done, he said, softly, “Yes, OK” and let me take them away.

Reverend Saido, Thank you for your life of training and dedicated work for us all. We are so very grateful for it. You did indeed fulfil your first intention, to live your life with integrity.


Lapis Blue ~ by Karen Richards ~ part of the Blue series

For the next few weeks, Dew on the Grass is featuring writing and artwork around the theme of the colour Blue. To kick things off, we have a short post by Karen Richards who writes about lapis lazuli and its associations with healing.

The blue of lapis lazuli is intensely deep and often contains gold-coloured flecks of pyrite, giving the impression of faint stars in a darkening sky (1). Lapis lazuli has been associated with medicine for centuries and, in the ancient world, was thought to have mystical and healing power, especially the ability to reduce inflammation. In Vajrayana Buddhism, the deep blue colour of lapis is thought to have a purifying and strengthening effect on those who visualise it.  It is not surprising, therefore, that lapis lazuli was incorporated into the iconography depicting the Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaguru, also known as The Healing or Medicine Buddha.

All very apt, when we consider that the colour blue also has associations with the NHS, and so it’s fitting perhaps that, at the beginning of two days of strike action by NHS medical staff, in pursuit of better pay, conditions and improved patient safety that we should give a hat tip to the service.

According to  Raoul Birnbaum, in his book The Healing Buddha (2), medical healing was seen as important to the Buddha who, in His wisdom, saw that a strong body was conducive to a strong meditative practice. Further, it is said that He directed the early monks to tend to those who were sick as part of their practice. So, whilst the Medicine Buddha points towards the healing of spiritual afflictions – the three poisons of greed, hatred and delusion – he also represents the healing of the physical body.

Some years ago, now, my husband had his lower left leg amputated because of an infection. During this time of acute illness, he was drawn to Birnbaum’s book and kept it by him to study. He also developed a love of lapis lazuli. So, on his 60th birthday, I sought out a piece of the semi-precious stone, finally settling on the piece, below.

I found it in a crystal shop, in the town of Ironbridge, and I was intrigued by its shape, which looked uncannily like a foot or boot. My husband loved it. For him, it represented the foot that he had lost and he found strength and comfort in it. He still keeps it by him, ready to hold should he feels the need.

For those who are in physical and mental suffering, alongside the medical treatments of the modern world, getting to know a little about The Healing Buddha and the associated semi-precious stone, lapis lazuli, may bring a different healing dimension.

1. Information and introductory photograph by Wikipedia

2. The Healing Buddha by Raoul Birnbaum ISBN 0 09 142451 8 First published in Great Britain in 1980


Log in the Stream ~ by Mo Henderson ~ part of the Unexpected Visitor theme

Continuing our theme of The Unexpected Guest, we offer you a poem, written by Mo Henderson. Suggest reading it, and then reading it again more slowly.  It has ‘hidden depths’.

Log in the Stream

Grounded, movement flowing around this half-submerged body,
neither within nor without.
Water gradually changing my shape,
until eventually, the earth beneath loosens its grasp,
free to go, what path to take?

My coat of moss entangles with passing unexpected visitors,
appearing and disappearing, familiar old fellows.
Once standing tall together,
in the distant bright green meadows.

Never fearing, trusting, as the waterfall is heard.
Suddenly a free fall then a rising in the lake.
Ever-changing forms, just as leaves grow from the root,
end and beginning return to the source,
what next will becoming make?

Mo Henderson

Changing our Minds ~ by Karen Richards ~ part of the An Unexpected Visitor series

Continuing our theme of An Unexpected Visitor, Karen Richards reviews the book Changing our Minds, by Naomi Fisher.

My unexpected guest is a book; a very unexpected one!

When we review a book on Dew on the Grass, at its heart there is usually a spiritual teaching. Although this book is scientific ( in that it looks at the psychology of learning) and secular (in the sense that there is no mention of the religious life, in the conventional sense) it has turned around a fixed view of mine, facilitating a change of heart as well as a change of mind.

Two months ago, my eldest daughter decided to de-register her youngest child from school. My granddaughter has always found the environment of school challenging, despite achieving well academically. Likewise, my youngest daughter also made the decision to withdraw her son from state education, for similar reasons. Both children appeared quite traumatised by the system. Home education eventually became inevitable.

As a retired teacher, who taught in the state system, in some capacity or other, for over thirty years, I was eager to help, especially as both daughters have to work. But educating at home is not the same as educating in school, which I soon found out. Sitting at a desk, trying to follow a lesson and complete written tasks, for large parts of the day, is a challenge, even for the most compliant and engaged child but, as a classroom teacher, I had taken it for granted that the learning environment that I had created in my classroom, was the best that was possible for the young people in front of me.

Enter Changing Our Minds, by Naomi Fisher. Fisher is a clinical psychologist who specialises in autism and also works with children who have suffered trauma. She also home-educated her own children. Along with others, she has completed extensive research into how children learn and she makes a very compelling argument that for many, school is not ‘IT’.

In her opening chapter, she writes:

Most of us cannot imagine how a child can become educated if they don’t go to school, we don’t really consider the alternatives. We try different schools or more support at school. We take the child to be assessed for disorders and pay for therapists, all in the hope that we can get the help they need to get them through school. Leaving the school system altogether is usually portrayed as a disaster, it’s called ‘dropping out’ and nothing good comes of that.

Fisher then goes on to explain, in clinical detail, how school can create trauma for the child who does not fit the mould; for whom the social model of school, which is a top-down, ‘you must learn this’ one, can actually stultify learning and leave the student demotivated and disengaged. She argues for a more self-directed, autonomous design of education, either in a *Free school or in the home, where children can learn in their own way, at their own pace, following their own interests, if not passions.

267 pages later and I get it. I reflect upon my teaching career and remember those young people for whom school was not the right way for them but was actually a source of great trauma and suffering. Of course, not every parent has the wherewithal to home-educate, or to pay someone else to do this for them. It is important not to swing into setting up an ideal, which cannot be obtained. For many, school is the best fit, for others, it is the only option.

But I have found it useful, not only to reflect upon my own professional practice but on how we can get stuck in ways of thinking about all sorts of things, without questioning or reviewing from time to time, by asking two important questions. “Is this really the best that I can do?” and if not, “What needs to change?”

*A Free School is a democratically run school where the students have a high degree of autonomy and self-direction in their own learning, such as the Sudbury School https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudbury_school


An Unexpected Visitor ~ by Chris Yeomans

This month, Dew on the Grass features writing and artwork based on the theme of “An Unexpected Visitor”. Our first piece is by Chris Yeomans and in it, she explores ways in which we are conditioned in our reactions to situations and how the practice of Buddhism throws light on this, leading to a change in our responses.


https://i0.wp.com/www.snobsknobs.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Visitors-Brass-Door-Bell-76mm.jpg?resize=357%2C358&ssl=1The doorbell rings and the dog rushes headlong from one end of the house to the other, barking frenetically. A man and a woman with a leaflet. ‘The Watch Tower.’ Jehovah’s Witnesses.

My mother, a woman of decided views, hated them, and I realise that my deeply hostile reaction to them comes directly from my childhood. I do feel hostile towards them, but I reflect that actually I know next to nothing about them, and my views and reactions are based purely on learned behaviour which I have never questioned. I look up what they stand for, and realise that there is almost no common ground between us and that much of what they believe and practise is alien to my own beliefs and practices. But I didn’t know that when my opinions and reactions were formed.

Years ago, I would have told them, forcefully, to go away, and I would have shut the door in their faces. More recently I have resorted to telling them that I am a Buddhist and have no interest in what they have to say. More recently still, I think that perhaps it would be a good plan at least to try to model the basics of the practice, and I speak more gently, explain that I am a Buddhist and suggest that they are wasting their time. Sometimes they react as if they have seen the devil incarnate. Perhaps for them, it seems so.

All of which has led me to look at my beliefs and opinions and to realise just how much has come to me from my mother, even if only in such a way that I am instinctively opposed to something that she would have supported. Like the Conservative Party. Very few of my critical and judgemental beliefs are based on any extensive knowledge.

That is one of the things that allowed me to become involved with Buddhism. Somehow early on I was either told or read that it was permitted, even encouraged, not to blindly accept what anyone said about the practice. That the true way was to try it for myself, to open myself to experience and to see where it led me. In other words, to accept nothing unless it seemed to be true to my own experience or in some other experiential way to have truth in it.

Of course, this way, the whole business becomes subject to the person that is me and so is refracted through my individual body/mind. There can be no other way. But I have also learned that what is true for me in the way in which my beliefs are formed, must also be true for others because of the way in which their beliefs are formed. So, if another’s beliefs differ from my own, I am more inclined to let it be and to remind myself that that person cannot really help the way they think and feel any more than I can. Each of us has a different body/mind, a different education, a different culture, a different pre-disposition.

Sometimes it’s hard. There are certain beliefs that I continue to think are simply wrong. Particularly if they seem to me to do harm to others. But at the very least I can be more tolerant and more understanding that the holders of these beliefs come from a different place and are as much victims of their own brains as I am.

But I still won’t be reading ‘The Watch Tower’ any time soon.

Waiting: Not Waiting-Just flow ~ part of the ‘What Are You Waiting For?’ feauture ~ by Karen Richards

Continuing our theme of “What Are You Waiting For?”, this week Karen Richards recounts a personal experience of the teaching that comes from “waiting”.

Many years ago, whilst walking in the Northumberland countryside with a monk friend, she told me the story of when, as a novice monk, she had been given the task of picking up a senior monk from the railway station. The train was late, with no confirmed time of arrival, leaving her waiting on the platform. She described the thoughts and emotions she felt: anxiety, uncertainty, irritation, and boredom. But then, a quiet voice in her mind said “You know how to wait” and she was able to let go of the frustration she was feeling and just be still.

As a carer to someone who finds movement difficult, I often have to wait for him to complete basic actions that most people take for granted. – to stand, to sit, to walk across the room, to take off socks – before I can help him with the next task.  It requires patience on both our parts. Sometimes patience comes naturally, sometimes it does not.

There have been times when, just like the novice monk, on the platform at the station, I have felt anxiety and impatience in that waiting space between the beginning of an action and its completion but the quiet statement that she spoke to herself, and which she shared so generously with me, “You know how to wait” has echoed down the years and has become a personal mantra that, when spoken gently and without self-judgement, reveals a vast openness within and engenders great love and compassion for the husband that I care for, for myself, for our difficulties and the difficulties of others. It is possible, at this point to understand where the anxiety and impatience come from – a sense of loss in my case – and things can be seen more clearly for what they are.

This change in viewpoint also has the effect of dissolving the concept of “waiting” altogether, as one moment, whether it be a moment of action or inaction, follows on in one continuous flow. I am grateful to that wise monk for her teaching and in awe of the process that is Buddhist training.


Dew on the Grass
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