“Thoughts” on Our Environments

We’ve recently had a crop of new postings on the “Thought for the Day” page of our Audio Section and, in the broadest of ways, they have all been related to our environment, both in terms of the outer natural world and our inner mental world.

Our first “Thought” back in January was by Vishvapani and spoke of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate change activist. Then there were no more Buddhist Thoughts until the 11th of May when Vishvapani this time addressed the issue of so many species going extinct and the loss of biodiversity. On the 18th of May, in his talk for Vesak, Vishvapani spoke of the story of Kisagotami as a model for how we might respond to others’ mental health struggles. And on the 22nd we featured a piece by Professor Tina Beattie because of the reference to picking up and disposing of just one piece of litter a day as in our Daily Mindfulness Exercise.

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Hacking Happiness

In case you missed it when it first came out, there is still time to catch Existential Cool – Buddhism and the Art of Acceptance, which is part of the Radio 4 series Hacking Happiness.

Sounds, the new radio version of the BBC iPlayer, does not provide as many podcasts as before so you need to listen direct at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b0b9z64f

Forget self-actualisation, does true happiness, Nirvana, come from dissolving the self? 

This episode was recorded on location at Plum Village Buddhist Monastery near Bordeaux, France, set up by Thich Nhat Hahn, the monk who persuaded Martin Luther King to oppose the Vietnam War. We meet the Brothers and Sisters of Plum Village including Sister True Dedication, Brother Phap Ung and Sister Trenian and, at the Happy Farm, we meet Brother Simon.

A Phrase That I Liked

On this morning’s Today program on Radio 4, Nick Robinson was interviewing Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health, on the draft Brexit deal.  When Mr Hancock tried to pull the conversation round to the future trade arrangements with the EU Robinson said: “We’ll come to the future in a second.”

Philosophical presentism is the view that neither the future nor the past exist. In some versions of presentism, this view is extended to timeless objects or ideas (such as numbers). According to presentism, events and entities that are wholly past or wholly future do not exist at all.

To live in the present moment is the basic foundation of Buddhism.

“Being in the moment is just another way of saying that we are aware of what is going on in our experience, that we are not just being angry (or whatever) but are aware that we are angry and are aware that we can choose to be otherwise…………

Of course a lot of the time when we are not being in the moment, we are literally thinking about the past or present. We might be dwelling on the past – brooding about some past hurt. Or we may be fantasizing about a future in which we have won the lottery and are living out our lives in some imagined paradise, or daydreaming about being with the perfect partner.

Often these fantasized pasts and futures are not even real possibilities, but simply fantasies of how things might be or of how we would have liked them to have been. And as with all unmindful activity, we have no awareness that this fantasizing is pointless. All that it does is reinforce unhelpful emotional tendencies that can never truly enrich our lives.”

Bodhipaksa

Something Understood

Last Sunday one of our Sangha members recommended this week’s offering on the BBC Radio 4 program, “Something Understood”. The piece is “Cultivating Kindness”, by Suryagupta Dharmacharini, Chair of the London Buddhist Centre. In this episode, Suryagupta explores the Metta Bhavana meditation practice – the technique for the cultivation of kindness created by the Buddha.

Unfortunately, this program is not available as a podcast so here is the link to it on the iPlayer, but hurry, it is only available until the end of the month.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/play/b0blgj7k

There are some great tracks featured; Hurt by Johnny Cash, No Love Dying by Gregory Porter, Stand By Me by Tracy Chapman, A Love Supreme, Pt. I – Acknowledgement by John Coltrane and also readings from works by Achaan Chah, Dostoyevsky, Ryokan, Rumi, The Buddha and others.

I’ve just posted Vishvapani’s “Thought for the Day” from Friday onto our Audio Section.

This is the first talk from Vishvapani since the 14th of May which is a little curious. In the past Vishvapani has usually offered a “Thought” on the occasion of Vesak, the celebration of the Buddha’s birth, awakening and death which are all considered to have occurred on the first full moon of May which this year fell on the 29th.

Now he’s missed a couple of Vesaks over the years and there could be any number of reasons that he’s missed this one, but that is not my point, why are there no other Buddhists who can provide a “thought” on such an important occasion?

On Thought for the Day the majority of contributors are Christian, although there are regular Muslim and Jewish contributors and occasional Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.

The BBC allocates the number of slots roughly in line with the proportion of each affiliation according to the latest census (2011). So, in terms of faith background, 78% of presenters were Christians, 8% Jews, 4% Muslims, 4% Sikhs, 3% Hindus and 2% Buddhists. Relative to the 2001 census of the population of the UK, and excluding those with no religious affiliation or none stated, Christians were under-represented as presenters (93% being their expected share, given Thought for the Day’s current brief).

By contrast, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists were over-represented in leading Thought for the Day, with the representation of Muslims nearly right in terms of the census (although their numbers have increased considerably since that time).

So, we are not going to get many slots, in fact from when I started posting “Thoughts for the Day” back in 2010 Vishvapani has averaged 8 talks a year but, coming back to my point, it is only ever Vishvapani who supplies a Buddhist Thought for the Day, surely the BBC can find another Buddhist or two to take up the slack and provide some variety of presentation.

A Bit of Controversy?

Some of you may have heard the story a few days ago of Engineers dowsing for water using L or Y-shaped divining rods. Their use came to light when a couple called out engineers from the Severn Trent water company to their home in the Midlands.
They were so astonished to see a technician use dowsing rods to locate the mains pipe that they contacted their daughter Sally Le Page, an Oxford University scientist. She contacted Severn Trent, who confirmed their technicians still use the method.

Now many of you who have attended some of our recent Meditation Retreat Days will have had a go at divining. I have been interested in the subject for a number of years and introduced a “sampling session” to the retreat days as a demonstration that we can be mindful and aware of very subtle influences in our environment. I give brief instructions as to how to correctly hold the rods (we use 30 inch braising rods with 6 inches bent at a right angle to form the handle) and how to walk slowly and attentively.

The would be diviner is then given a direction to walk and started on their way, no additional instructions, no clues and no prompts just advice on grip and walking speed. Everyone gets some sort of reaction and at the same points.

I first came across dowsing when a colleague brought a pair of rods into work. I hadn’t a clue as to what they were so asked. He sheepishly replied that he had to put up some shelves and wanted to know if there was any wiring in the wall where he had to drill.

As I was looking very strangely at him he gave them to me, showed me how to hold them and told me to just walk across the office. I took about five steps and the rods swung violently across each other almost pointing directly back at me. In total bemusement I asked, “what the hell happened there”. He told me to look at my feet, it was a modern office block and all the cabling was routed through underfloor trunking – I was standing directly on top of a section.

I asked my friend how he discovered dowsing and his story was almost identical to that of Ms Le Page’s parents. Two chaps from the Gas Board turned up after he had reported a drop in the gas pressure to his property, they said that they had a problem with their gas detector so they were going to use divining rods as they always used to in the past but begged my friend not to mention it to “management”. The rods were used, a single hole was dug and the leak fixed.

Now I’m not going to make any claims for dowsing other than to say, that in my experience, the vast majority of people that try dowsing succeed in detecting something. This may be because we detect subtle clues from our environment but that is my point, we can be mindful of those usually ignored parts of our field of awareness.

Just out of interest if you Google Ms Le Page, unlike most such searches the hits keep on going, I got to page 15 before Google started to go off piste and started referencing other le pages, you will also get acres of pictures on an image search.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that General Electric has launched a “creator-in-residence” program, tapping 22-year-old British biologist and Oxford PhD candidate Sally Le Page as its first face. Le Page, who first gained a YouTube following with her self-produced videos, made a video a week for GE throughout June 2015, tackling subjects like the science behind movie magic and the relationship between humans and machines. One of Le Page’s most popular GE videos focused on Chappie, a science fiction film. The video, which kicks off with Le Page asking, “When am I going to have a robot best friend?” includes an interview with the project leader of GE’s robotics program and a visit to the company’s Global Research Centre.

Could Ms Le page’s parents’ much publicised outrage be anything to do with actually publicising their already much promoted daughter and was her response part of her continued quest for ever higher celebrity status re her considerable social media presence?