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.




Buddha in Glory

We are grateful to Anna Aysea for this entry on our blog, this week – Buddha in Glory, indeed.

Center of all centers, core of cores,
almond self-enclosed, and growing sweet–
all this universe, to the furthest stars
all beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.

Now you feel how nothing clings to you;
your vast shell reaches into endless space,
and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.
Illuminated in your infinite peace,

a billion stars go spinning through the night,
blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead.

– by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Stephen Mitchell

Wooden Shakyamuni, 12th century
Wooden Shakyamuni, 12th century

It is said the poem Buddha in Glory came to Rilke when meditating seated in front of a Buddha statue in the garden.

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.

Master of light

Continuing our theme of Bright, this week, Anna Aysea writes an evocative reflection, which is “inherently intimate, shining with the light of Being that is beyond time.”

Woman reading a letter – Johannes Vermeer, 1663

Light is a central element of his composition, and because of his skill in how to render it, the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer is called the master of light.

In a Vermeer painting, light entering through a window permeates the whole scene, gently illuminating the figure and the objects in the room, making everything almost shine with an inner glow.

Woman Reading a Letter (for a higher resolution please click on the image) depicts a quiet, private moment where a young woman is absorbed in reading a letter in the morning light. All of the colours in the composition are secondary to the radiant lapis lazuli blue of her jacket.  While the objects in the room cast shadows, Vermeer has deliberately omitted the woman’s shadow, creating an ephemeral, atemporal effect, as if the figure and the act of reading are beyond time, in eternity. The luminous blue acts as a portal to draw the attention, giving the viewer a taste of that which is beyond sensory perception, the infinite nature of Being.

Through the mastery of the artist, as the viewer, we transcend the limits of the body, the limits of time and space and are pulled into the stillness, into the emanating timeless tranquillity. We expand and extend into the domestic scene,  dissolving the seeming distance of the subject-object mode of perceiving. There is just the sweet intimacy of Being.

In the eighties, still the era of the Iron Curtain, travelling through Europe, my first acquaintance with a Soviet country was Hungary. I remember the extreme poverty, the other-worldly urban streets, completely devoid of any commercial signage screaming for attention.

One day, trying to find a place to eat in a suburb of Budapest, I ended up in what appeared to be a soup kitchen. It was located in a dilapidated monumental building of former grandeur. In the great hall with ceiling-high windows, people cued up for the counter where workers were dispensing plates of plain boiled beans for a few cents. Waiting in the cue with locals in ragged clothes, there was a serenity to the whole scene emphasized by the soft shuffling of feet. Light was filtering through the dirt-covered windows, clouds of vapour rising from bin-sized pans, myriad dust particles dancing in the beams of light, the worn down wooden floor, the shabby tables and chairs, the toothless old man in front, the scene was like a painting, intimate, timeless, without distinction between the mundane and the sacred.

With the abundance of spring oncoming, why not take inspiration from the master of light? Ultimately all perception is like a Vermeer painting, inherently intimate, shining with the light of Being that is beyond time.

The Brightness of Springtime & Friendship

This week, we continue our theme of ‘Bright’ with an insightful and moving post about the nature of true friendship and the natural world, by Mo Henderson.

Springtime is here, with its brightness unfolding. The yellow daffodils shine on the roadsides and the delicate forget-me-nots peer out amongst the grasses. In our garden colourful, small birds busy themselves, rummaging for nest-building material, including blue tits, wrens, finches and sparrows. The tree buds burst out in various shades from purple to a fine bright green. The evenings are brighter and as the day extends the garden calls to share the natural worlds awakening to lightness and beauty. I find springtime uplifting after the long dark days of winter and love being outside.

The poet Mary Oliver, who had a traumatic and dysfunctional childhood, describes how, amidst the trauma, she would take a walk in the woods amongst the trees and feel ‘saved’ by friendship with the natural world.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

Quote from-‘Wild Geese’ Mary Oliver.

The natural world seems to awaken a sense of belonging. No matter what my own conditions are, while walking with our two dogs Shiny and Chiko in the forest or on the coast I am relaxed and feel at ‘home’ with myself and the surroundings. I observe the dogs as completely living the walk, catching the scent of another animal, sniffing all the aromas of country life and chasing the birds who come close to our path. My guess is they too are totally at home in friendship with the natural world.

Feeling this sense of mutual friendship and belonging with the natural world is not the same spontaneous process between human beings. In my experience, getting to know someone takes time before feeling able to simply be ‘me’. These days people, in general, appear to have many ‘acquaintances’ but only a very few real friendships, if any. Getting to know someone well is often a slow process and observation of intentions needs wise discernment. There are some, regardless of conscious or unconscious intention, who seek friendship for self-gain, or, use flattery to mimic friendship. These types of half-lies and half-truths can fall away when one is fortunate enough to be mutually nourished by genuine friendship.

“a friend is a person with whom [one] may be sincere, genuine friendship extends its rewards beyond the personal realm and becomes the civilisational glue that holds humanity together. Friendship produces between us a partnership in all our interests. There is no such thing as good or bad fortune for the individual; we live in common. And no one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbour if you would live for yourself”

Seneca, a Roman philosopher, in his magnificent letter ‘On True and False Friendship’

The natural world appears to have no hidden agenda, no purpose but to be as it is, perhaps this is why we often feel a sense of belonging as we mirror and accept both the brightness and harshness of all nature’s expressions, like Buddha in the Flower Sermon, who silently held up the flower to signify the nature of things as they are (suchness).

In ancient Celtic understanding, true friendship is seen as without mask or pretension. In true friendship you can speak with honesty and integrity from your mind/heart, it is an act of recognition, of belonging and this sense of belonging awakens a deep and special unconditional relationship. In the Celtic tradition, this is called ‘anam cara’ or ‘soul friend’.

“With the anam cara you could share your inner-most self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam cara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.” The Celtic understanding did not set limitations of space or time on the soul. There is no cage for the soul. The soul is a divine light that flows into you and into your Other. This art of belonging awakened and fostered a deep and special companionship”.

Anam Cara
John O’Donahue

Love of nature brings a brightness which embraces presence and belonging. It is so easy to see and accept the brightness and unconditional relationship with nature, including our beloved animals. Seeing the light that shines in other human beings needs much trust and faith, can we see it in everyone and more importantly can we see it beyond our own shadows?

The natural world with all its beauty and harshness offers so much opportunity to know what unconditional friendship means. I think being vigilant and on guard with those we choose to be with is sensible, however, perhaps the half-truths and half-lies that some often use to sustain relationships are unnecessary, silence can show truth and kindness, sharing trust and loyalty with all those we meet in our lives can be a foundation for change in ourself and others. This way, like an old and dear friend, the wholesome art of love and care may help us meet our own true nature and be at ‘home” wherever we are.


Mo Henderson

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.


Reverend Saidō Kennaway – Tribute

Rev. Saidō Kennaway
Rev. Saidō Kennaway

Dear friends, Like many in our community, we are saddened by the sudden death on the 3rd of March of Rev. Saidō Kennaway, our beloved friend and teacher and the prior of Telford Buddhist Priory. Today it is Rev. Saidō’s 73rd birthday and we like to take the opportunity to pay tribute and express our gratitude.

The greatest teaching of Rev. Saidō has been by example. He was the embodiment of kindness, compassion, generosity and wisdom in all his dealings with others, regardless of status or rank. His lightheartedness and quite joy was infectious. Speaking to him would always lighten your mood, even if your burdens remained. Rev. Saidō was a truly humble human being. He deserves recognition for everything he has done for the Throssel and Telford community, for the sangha at large, for his interfaith work as committee member of the Network of Buddhist Organisations and for his work during many decades with Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy.

Dear Rev. Saidō, our heartfelt gratitude and thank you for the light of wisdom you’ve shared,  the difference you have made for so many of us and for the inspiring example you have set in our community and in the world at large. The soft spoken voice, the chuckle, the twinkle in the eye, it will be much missed and held in loving memory.

“When we think sincerely we find that birth and death are cyclic as are cold and heat”   – From the Buddhist funeral ceremony

A small anecdote about Rev Saidō I will always remember. My first stay at Throssel Abbey was as a teenager in the early eighties. One afternoon, I had collected my dried laundry in a basked, before I could process it any further in the old laundry room, I left it there as I apparently needed to do some other errand first. Upon my return, someone had used the same basked – baskets being in short supply – to collect wet laundry out of the washing machine to free it up for the next load.  As I stood for a moment looking at the basked with the mix of wet and dry laundry, wondering what to do, I heard the monk, also present in the laundry room, say: “Oh dear! I am sorry!” He quickly came over to remove the wet stuff out of the basked to prevent my dry laundry getting damp. I remember being quite surprised that, first of all, this monk would notice and get the situation without me having said anything, then he would actually apologize to me, a foreigner and a youngster, and he would make the effort to correct the situation. The small interaction seems insignificant but to be attuned and accountable, to be decent and kind without there being onlookers, without a spotlight, and regardless of rank or status, is the hallmark of true empathy and humbleness. My young self may not have been able to articulate all this but I understood and it left a lasting impression.


Funeral service for Rev. Saidō will be held on Saturday 18th March at 09:30 am, Telford Crematorium. There will be a Live Cast broadcast during the Funeral. Further information also on Jademountains



This week, we begin a series of posts on the theme of Bright. Here, Chris Yeomans explains how the adjustment of bodily postures, helps us to maintain a bright mind, even in the midst of grief.

There often occurs in the teaching the injunction to ‘sit with a bright mind’ and I find myself wondering what we can do to help ourselves to embrace this.  And this is particularly relevant at a time when we are all feeling such sadness that we have, this week, lost a great teacher and a friend with the death of a dear monk of our Order.  How to be bright and sad at the same time without devaluing our mourning?

What I have found helpful is to remind myself that body and mind are one and indivisible.  If we relax the muscles of our face, we can manage a small smile.  If we open our eyes a little wider, perhaps lift our eyebrows, then we do indeed feel brighter.  It helps to ‘walk tall’ or, on the bench, to sit tall.  And to feel an openness in the chest and back, which enables our mind to be more accepting.  These are all little things which I was also taught to do when fighting sleep during the meditation and which I have found really do help.

In my experience, this does not diminish the sadness.  But it allows me to hold it, as it were, in the circle of my arms, with a lightness and a tenderness that no longer pulls me down.

Brightness is a part of our practice and we can look for those things that help us, both in ourselves and in the world around us.


In our latest feature on the theme of Blue, Anna Aysea explores the origins of the colour blue, the language used to describe it and how our perception of it has developed over time.

Blue pigment
Blue pigment

There is more to blue than meets the eye. Apparently, the colour blue did not exist for our ancestors. Researchers analyzed ancient texts from all over the world, the Hebrew Bible, the Quran, and ancient Chinese, Hindu, and Inuit languages. All major languages seem to show the same development regarding colour: words for black and white appear first as indicators for dark and light, then the word for red as an indicator for danger, then words for green and yellow, the word for blue is the last to appear in the language. In ancient texts, black and white are mentioned the most, to a lesser degree red is mentioned, then green and yellow, researchers found no mention of blue, not once. The word for blue appears only after the invention of blue synthetic dye by the Egyptians about 5000 years ago. Our ancestors did not see blue as a separate colour but as a shade of green.

The reason that there was no word for blue in ancient times is because blue pigment does not exist in nature. You may ask: “Well, what about the ocean, the blue sky, blueberries, my blue hydrangeas, my blue eyes? The blueish colour of less than ten percent of flowers is caused by a natural modification of a red pigment, which is also responsible for the colour of blueberries. The pigments of indigo or woad are variations of violet. The blue of the sky, the ocean and blue eyes are the result of how light is refracted. This is also true for the vivid blue of exotic birds or butterflies. The microscopic structure of the feathers or wings is such that it refracts the light in a way that the surface appears blue.

Lapis lazuli and the ultramarine made from it is the exception as a true blue pigment in nature. The fact that the pigment is so rare may be the reason why lapis lazuli is associated with healing, wisdom and compassion in Buddhist teaching. Also, plants thrive best under blue light. Afghanistan being the major source of Lapis lazuli, the pigment was mostly used in the east in Buddhist and Mughal art for centuries. Its diffusion in Europe began during the Crusades in medieval times, but its rarity and cost meant that it could be afforded for the creation of artworks only for the most wealthy. Hence blue is the colour of royalty.

The ephemeral nature of the colour blue is in fact true for all colours. According to modern science, colour is the way light is absorbed, reflected and scattered by a surface, colour does not exist as such but is an interpretation of a wavelength by the sensory apparatus. In other words, colour is what reality looks like when it is filtered and interpreted by the body-mind. Sense perceptions are not reality but an image, like the map, is not the territory but a representation of it. I am reminded of the Scripture of Great Wisdom which also dismisses sense perceptions as reality:

… in this pure there is no … eye, – ear, – nose, – tongue, – body, – mind; No form, – no tastes, – sound, – colour, touch or objects…

The world is real, but it is not what it appears to be based on eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Form, taste, sound, colour, touch or objects are images, are representations, not reality. Mistaking the image for the territory is entering the world of illusion. Without that erroneous belief, there is beauty and joy in the play of the senses, in the radiant, glorious blue of ultramarine as one of the myriad faces of the one reality.

Dew on the Grass
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