Our Summer Retreat Day

On Sunday we held our West Wight Sangha Summer retreat day. For those of you who couldn’t make it I thought I’d post the supportive materials that we used.

We had a recorded talk and guided meditation by Akincano Marc Weber on the Brahmavihāras.

DOWNLOAD        (Right click and “Save link as….”)
There were two readings, the first was, The Hawk in the Rain by Ted Hughes.


‘This water droplet, charity of the air,
Out of the watched blue immensity –
(Where, where are the angels?) out of the draft in the door,
The Tuscarora, the cloud, the cup of tea,
The sweating victor and the decaying dead bird –
This droplet has travelled far and studied hard.
Now clings on the cream paint of our kitchen wall.
Aged eye! This without heart-head-nerve lens
Which saw the first and earth-centring jewel
Spark upon darkness, behemoth bulk and lumber
Out of the instant flash, and man’s hand
Hoist him upright, still hangs clear and round.
‘Having studied a journey in the high
Cathedralled brain, the mole’s ear, the fish’s ice,
The abattoir of the tiger’s artery,
The slum of the dog’s bowel, and there is no place
His bright look has not bettered, and problem none
But he has brought it to solution.
‘Venerable elder! Let us learn of you.
Read us a lesson, a plain lesson how
Experience was worn or made you anew,
That on this humble kitchen wall hang now,
O dew that condensed of the breath of the Word
On the mirror of the syllable of the Word.’
So he spoke aloud, grandly, then stood
For an answer, knowing his own nature
Droplet-kin, sisters and brothers of lymph and blood,
Listened for himself to speak for the drop’s self.
This droplet was clear simple water still.
It no more responded than the hour-old child
Does to finger-toy or coy baby-talk,
But who lies long, long and frowningly
Unconscious under the shock of its own quick
After that first alone-in-creation cry
When into the mesh of sense, out of the dark,
Blundered the world-shouldering monstrous ‘I’.

The second was, Why We Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Suffering
By Thich Nhat Hanh.

We should not be afraid of suffering. We should be afraid of only one thing, and that is not knowing how to deal with our suffering. Handling our suffering is an art. If we know how to suffer, we suffer much less, and we’re no longer afraid of being overwhelmed by the suffering inside. The energy of mindfulness helps us recognise, acknowledge, and embrace the presence of the suffering, which can already bring some calm and relief.

When a painful feeling comes up, we often try to suppress it. We don’t feel comfortable when our suffering surfaces, and we want to push it back down or cover it up. But as a mindfulness practitioner, we allow the suffering to surface so we can clearly identify it and embrace it. This will bring transformation and relief. The first thing we have to do is accept the mud in ourselves. When we recognise and accept our difficult feelings and emotions, we begin to feel more at peace. When we see that mud is something that can help us grow, we become less afraid of it.

When we are suffering, we invite another energy from the depths of our consciousness to come up: the energy of mindfulness. Mindfulness has the capacity to embrace our suffering. It says, Hello, my dear pain. This is the practice of recognising suffering. Hello, my pain. I know you are there, and I will take care of you. You don’t need to be afraid.

Now in our mind-consciousness there are two energies: the energy of mindfulness and the energy of suffering. The work of mindfulness is first to recognise and then to embrace the suffering with gentleness and compassion. You make use of your mindful breathing to do this. As you breathe in, you say silently, Hello, my pain. As you breathe out, you say, I am here for you. Our breathing contains within it the energy of our pain, so as we breathe with gentleness and compassion, we are also embracing our pain with gentleness and compassion.

When suffering comes up, we have to be present for it. We shouldn’t run away from it or cover it up with consumption, distraction, or diversion. We should simply recognise it and embrace it, like a mother lovingly embracing a crying baby in her arms. The mother is mindfulness, and the crying baby is suffering. The mother has the energy of gentleness and love. When the baby is embraced by the mother, it feels comforted and immediately suffers less, even though the mother does not yet know exactly what the problem is. Just the fact that the mother is embracing the baby is enough to help the baby suffer less. We don’t need to know where the suffering is coming from. We just need to embrace it, and that already brings some relief. As our suffering begins to calm down, we know we will get through it.

When we go home to ourselves with the energy of mindfulness, we’re no longer afraid of being overwhelmed by the energy of suffering. Mindfulness gives us the strength to look deeply and gives rise to understanding and compassion.


West Wight Sangha’s Summer Meditation Retreat

Hi Everyone,

It is now just one week until West Wight Sangha’s Summer Meditation Retreat!

We still have plenty of spaces left so there’s room for everyone!

The retreat runs from 10 o’clock on the morning of Sunday the 16th of July to four o’clock in the afternoon.

As is now our usual practice we’re looking to evenly balance the morning and afternoon sessions so we’ll be having lunch from 12:30 finishing at 1:30, so it would be nice if you’re only coming for the morning or afternoon to stay or come at half twelve and join everyone for lunch…… usual format of bringing vegetarian food to share. Also feel free to bring any readings that you would like to share.

Please let me know if you intend coming so that I have some idea of the numbers.

We are Ten years Old this Month!

It’s just occurred to me that the original Blogger based West Wight Sangha Website is ten years old this month. Back on Wednesday the 6th of June 2007 I posted our first item………….

I’m launching the “West Wight Sangha” Blog today but it is still very much a work in progress (subtle Buddhist joke). Being a total Blog newbie I am still finding my way through the terminology and trying to fit the “personal” format of a Blog to suit a group. Hopefully this will be a way of either having a “public face” or possibly a private on-line notice board, or both?

This was followed on the 14th with our first proper story!

A Zen Monk on the Isle of Wight

I received this email the other day……….

Dear Stephen,

I’m an English Zen monk, just on my way back from Japan. I’m going to be walking the length of Britain starting on the Isle of Wight at dawn on June 21st. Full information is on the news section of my website, zenways.org. I’d be delighted to meet you and other spiritual friends around that time. Please drop me a note if you’d like to make contact.

Best wishes,


I am now in contact with Daizan Roshi with a view to sorting something out, I will keep everyone posted.

And the rest is history………………….

Daily Mindfulness Exercise

(I’m re-posting this item from last year as an annual reminder to “keep the ball rolling”).

For some time now I have been emailing out regular weekly mindfulness/meditation exercises to the members of the West Wight Sangha and to other friends and associates. At the New Year I introduced an additional Daily Mindfulness Exercise and post a reminder of this with each weeks email.

Quite simply, the exercise is to pick up and dispose of one piece of litter every day.

Obviously this is an environmentally useful activity in its own right and has a number of merits, but how can it be considered a mindfulness exercise?

It is so easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much.

Paying more attention to the present moment – to our own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around us – can improve our mental wellbeing.

This awareness is what we call “mindfulness”. Mindfulness can help us enjoy life more and understand ourselves better. We can take steps to develop it in our own lives but there is one vital element that underpins this kind of mental activity and that is the need to REMEMBER to be mindful.

This is where the use of regular exercises comes in, essentially we commit to carrying out a task, we have a job to do. For the purpose of developing our ability to be mindful these tasks should not be overly complicated and there should be a clear trigger, a predefined set of circumstances, to initiate our focused awareness of the task.

One of our weekly exercises, and one of my favourites, is to notice the colour blue. Sounds simple but you quickly become aware of how rare, especially in the countryside, this colour is. There are two elements here, you can be mindfully looking for the colour blue or your mindfulness is triggered by seeing the colour blue. Just swap litter for blue objects and you can see the benefit of the litter pick exercise.

It’s also a good idea to tell other people what you are doing, people do look and wonder….. so tell them. Here on the Isle of Wight we have a population of 139,000. Even halving this to allow for the too youngs, too olds, too infirmeds and, sadly, the don’t cares still leaves the potential for the best part of 70,000 pieces of litter to be removed from our beautiful island EVERY DAY and every day works out to a staggering TWO AND A HALF MILLION PIECES OF LITTER REMOVED EVERY YEAR. So the more people you can get interested the better.

You can also beef up the remembering element of the exercise by keeping a tally of days missed, it will happen, and making a personal promise to pick up the missed number of pieces of litter the next opportunity you have.

The environmental point of this task is to get us working at creating a cosy home for all of us in this world. After all, the world is our home. Trying to define home as only the space we live in every night only serves to segregate and not unite us. Recognise that our home extends beyond just those physical walls and every ground we walk on, every neighbourhood we walk in, every district we step into, etc. should be considered our home, too.

The problem with litter is that the more there is, the more it generates. If people see litter all over the place, they see no reason why they shouldn’t add to it. Why should they bother to look for a bin when nobody else does? What difference to the general scene would one more sandwich wrapper make?

But think what difference one less wrapper makes and then another one less and another and another……………………

Zen on Freshwater Bay

Spotted this shared photo a friend posted from “Totland and Freshwater Today”. The scene is Freshwater Bay in the West Wight and is very Zen………………..

Creating delicately balanced piles of rocks is a wide spread Buddhist practice. Its origins are unclear but it has been a long term tradition within Korean Buddhism and Japanese Zen.

Some scholars have speculated that the piles are lay peoples emulations of stupas but others point out that stacking the stones is incidental, and it is the coordination, balance and concentration needed to control the mind and body that is the intended outcome.

West Wight Sangha Review of 2016

Well it’s heading for the end of December and time for our review of the year again…………………

Right at the start of the year we featured a post on the Fear of Emigrants which was bit ahead of the wave back in January; how that changed!

Later that month we ran a piece on the latest exploits of John and Nicole in “More from The Travelling Buddhists” and showed some of their amazing photos………….

At the end of the month came the sad news of David Bowie’s death and we featured some shots of the location where his close family scattered his ashes following a Buddhist ceremony on the Indonesian island of Bali.

February the 13th marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Malthus. Malthus was the father of
Malthusianism, which contends that the Earth cannot support unchecked population growth.

Although Buddhism does not direct people to give birth, or suggest how many children they have, if any. Buddhist leaders are acutely aware of issues related to overpopulation. The Dalai Lama stated, back in 2008 that if the population grows beyond 6 billion, this will cause great difficulty – (the world population is now approaching 7.5 billion). Therefore, he says, family planning is necessary.

In March we asked Which Country is the Most Generous? With a surprising result!

Later in the month we featured Some Buddhist Poems for World Poetry Day. Here’s one from Vijaya Samarawickama…………..

This day is a special day, it is yours.
Yesterday slipped away, it cannot be filled anymore with meaning.
About tomorrow nothing is known.
But this day, today, is yours, make use of it.
Today you can make someone happy.
Today you can help another.
This day is a special day, it is yours.

At the end of the month we discussed How Things Come Together in a sequence of coincidents revolving around a Dharma talk, a book and a debate between Stephen Batchelor and Ajahn Brahmali.

Beginnings and endings.

April started with the exciting news that here on the island a New Buddhist Group was Starting in Ryde!

Sadly we finished the month with a report of the death of Dennis Sibley who was one of the original pioneers involved with bringing Buddhism to the Isle of Wight.

In may we reported that a Christian group was protesting that the Canon Chancellor of York Minster, the Revd Canon Dr Chris Collingwood supported by Fr. Patrick Kundo Eastman Roshi, a Roman Catholic priest and Zen master, have introduced Zen Buddhist zazen meditation sessions. They are now a regular fixture, listed among the Minster’s main “spiritual” activities.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the pressure group Christian Concern, said: “Buddhism contrasts sharply with Christian teaching about God. The two are incompatible. To try to mix them is deceptive and dishonours Jesus Christ.”

“It is sobering that last year a Canon of this same cathedral blessed the city’s ‘Pride’ march. The Church of England must take decisive action to deal with this radical agenda.”

We ended May with an item which is as topical now as it was then – the state of our charities.

At our Sangha meeting we discussed charitable giving. The subject came up in relation to revelations that 32 UK charity bosses were paid over £200,000 last year.

In June we introduced our Daily Mindfulness Exercise.
Quite simply, the exercise is to pick up and dispose of one piece of litter every day.


This was closely followed by the news that Christianity could be cured!

The Disciple Shoppe Bible Bookstore in Emporia, Kansas USA put this quote in their window: “The best cure for Christianity is reading the Bible.” (The quote is apparently by Mark Twain).

Things did not end there however.

“Jack” commented,

“Pretty poor taste poking fun at Christians who you know will turn the other cheek. Would you be equally enthusiastic to criticise Islam I wonder? If so I dare you!!!”

I replied,

“It’s not me poking the fun, most of this seems to be self inflicted. As for Islam, read our previous post The “Crime” of NOT believing in the Non-Existent. If that’s not worth a Fatwa I don’t know what is. 

For a bit of balance try Je Suis Charlie – a Buddhist Perspective.”

At the beginning of July I posted “Fireworks, Fear and Our Fellow Beings“, calling attention to the distress caused to animals by the large and frequent firework displays that start at that time of year and go on to point out an alternative………………..

We all have Buddha nature, but with some people it shows more. The following delightful story about Bernhardt Wichmann III is from the New York Times, read it HERE………..

Talking About Buddha Nature this example is a homegrown one from the streets of London………………

On the 8th of August we reported on Leonard Cohen’s Goodbye to Marianne………………..

Little did we know then…………

We then had the pleasure of announcing news of the UK’s first ever nunnery for fully ordained Buddhist nuns and a teaching tour of Britain by Ajahn Brahm!


24th of August – A Quote That I Like

Now here’s a quote that I like despite it referencing a supposedly all powerful faith construct or god.

This one is by Abdu’l-Bahá whose father, Bahá’u’lláh, founded the Bahá’í Faith.

Sometimes I want to ask “God” why He allows poverty, famine, and injustice when He could do something about it, but I’m afraid he might just ask me the same question.
Not only was Italy struck by an earthquake on Wednesday the 24th but central Myanmar was also shaken by a powerful quake which killed at least three people two of whom were children, and damaged scores of centuries-old Buddhist pagodas around the ancient capital of Bagan.


September started with a group of us braving the overcast and blustery conditions on the Duver for the annual Buddhist picnic.


We then featured a story of how “China’s Tech-Savvy, Burned-Out and Spiritually Adrift, are Turning to Buddhism


On the 21st we celebrated the United Nations International Day of Peace with a not so well known fact about the Peace Bell…………


October started with me quoting one of my favourite columnists in the Isle of wight County Press, Charlotte Hofton. I doubt she realised how “Buddhist” her article was.

That week she produced this excellent piece on compassion and its “near enemy” pity in the form of a utilitarian, fix anything that’s “wrong” with people and the world, approach.

It all centred around a gig by Eddie Izzard………………….


In the middle of the month we reported on three courses being run on the island by Buddhist friends on mindfulness and Buddhism.

Mindfulness Courses on the Isle of Wight

Foundation Course in Tibetan Buddhism


I finished the month with a cartoon and a quote that I liked

November the 11th was Armistice day, Leonard Cohen died early that morning……………………..

In the middle of the month we posted a piece on the development of Western Buddhism and the danger of it becoming “watered down”. One point made was that the Secular Buddhism UK branch had disbanded with some of its members then forming the Middle Way Society which states that it is “independent of Buddhism”.

This lead to a series of comments and further related posts bringing us to the middle of December!

The first was from a long term “digital” friend A.W. (Jack) Kennedy who runs the Bowerchalke Buddhist Meditation Group over in Wiltshire on the Dorset, Hampshire border.

You can read Jack’s detailed and invaluable contribution to the discussion HERE.

Hot on the heels of Jack’s comment came one from the chair of the Middle Way Society, Robert M. Ellis, he was not a happy bunny…………
My original post about the danger of the Buddha’s teachings being “watered down” as the West absorbed them was prompted by an article in Lions Roar entitled “We’ve Been Here All Along,” by Funie Hsu who complains about the cultural appropriation of Buddhism by Westerners who she feels sideline Eastern “native” Buddhists. This article produced a number of responses one of the best of which was the one from Ajahn Amaro, abbot of Amaravati which we featured in the post “Western Buddhism (Watered Down?) Cont.


In the middle of December came the wonderful story of how nine year old island boy Paddy Cotton got his parents to use the money that they had put aside for his Christmas presents to buy coal for the Isle of Wight Bus Shelter for the homeless instead.


We end the year with yet another “watering down” story, this time about the demise of Buddhist Geeks.

“We’ve been teaching for several years. Recently we decided that the direction we wanted to take our teaching was outside of the Buddhist framework, so it just made sense to start a new project that reflected that,” says Vince Horn as he announced the closure of the Dharma pod-casting site.
Wishing all our readers a happy end to the year and our sincere hopes for a safe, peaceful and secure 2017.

Fireworks, Fear and Our Fellow Beings

The West Wight Sangha is located in Totland near to the Needles which were recently voted one of the most naturally stunning UK landmarks. The Needles and their adjoining headland form one side of Alum bay, home to the Needles Pleasure Park which is shortly to commence it’s season of ‘Music and Magic in the Skies’ evenings, described as a pyromusical extravaganza every Thursday night from the end of July to the end of August. In short, fireworks apparently with even more added noise.

In the past I’ve enjoyed these displays myself and don’t want to be a killjoy about them but seeing the sheer terror they induce in our now elderly dog I dread this time of year. It used to be that there were a spate of fireworks around Bonfire Night (traditional British Catholic burning celebration) and that would be it, with the exception of the Cowes Week fireworks, until next year. Now it seems that any excuse, celebratory or just commercial, is enough to justify more explosions and more petrified animals.

The explosions caused by fireworks are known to cause some domestic pets heart problems, nausea, tremors, debilitating fears and dizziness. We all know that animals have far more sensitive hearing than us so it’s not surprising that firework displays can leave pets severely stressed.

To add to the misery, Blackgang Chine (the UK’s oldest amusement park) which is the other end of the Military Road from us is also having massive fireworks displays over the same period – only theirs are on Wednesday nights to spread the fear around!

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The people of the town of Collecchio in the province of Parma in Italy are doing something about it. The local government has introduced new legislation forcing citizens to use silent fireworks as a way of respecting the animals and reducing the stress caused them.

The fireworks are made by Setti Fireworks and produce a spectacular light show but without the deafening sounds normally associated with a firework display. They design their fireworks to fit the venue and the event that they will be used for.

I won’t hold my breath waiting for the Isle of Wight Council to enact a similar regulation.