Spirituality and Nature

Clarence House

Clarence House

A few weeks ago I attended a spiritual drumming class in the glade round the back of Clarence House. The class was very enjoyable and the setting led me to think about spirituality and nature.

“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” – Buddha.

It is said the first Zen sermon was given by Buddha, silently. As he simply held a white flower in his hand, the onlooking monks bar one were confused at what Buddha was trying to communicate.  The monk who understood smiled. Zen gardens are intended to imitate the inner essence of nature, an aid to meditation on the meaning of life. Japanese researchers claim the subconscious mind is sensitive to a subtle association of between the rocks in these gardens.
Many cultures have ‘sacred groves.’  In Genesis, 21.33, it says,’Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there the name of God.’  In druidry, sacred groves are seen as places to reconnect with divine essence in nature. This is an example of animism, the belief that non-human entities like animals, plants, stones etc. contain a spiritual essence. In India, sacred groves are also used to protect biological resources, to provide sanctuaries for flora and fauna, especially medicinal herbs.  They are also used to provide oxygen and deep ground water reserves.

Clarence House

Clarence House


Sources and bodies of water are also considered sacred in many religions.  In the Hindu festivals Durga Puja and Ganseh Chaturthi, thousands of devotees immerse themselves in water to influence a deity.  Baptism is far from being just a Christian practice.  It is also practiced in Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Islam, Baha’i, Shinto, Taoism and Rastafarianism.  Being in harmony with nature is central to Rastafarianism.  This is an African influence.  Traditionally, African religions embrace the ebb and tide, waxing and waning of the moon, rain and drought.  These phenomenas are seen as natural rhythms.  Perhaps these rhythms are expressed in African drumming, which can uplift the ‘spirit.’

Sufi poet Rumi often referred to nature – “raise your words, not voice.  It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”  Of God, Rumi wrote, “a mountain keeps an echo deep inside.  That’s how I hold your voice.”  To man, he said, “but listen to me.  For one moment quit being sad.  Hear blessings dropping their blossoms around you.”

Along with its gardens, poetry in Zen also reveres nature with its haikus, very short poems that capture a moment.  Zen paintings literally makes human beings look very small compared to nature.  This is sometimes seen as ‘nature mysticism,’ when man is held in awe by the divinity he sees in nature.

One famous Zen master by the name of Dogon Zenji said, “when we pick up a lettuce leaf or a carrot, or engage in relationships, each moment and interaction is the body of the Buddha.”  Perhaps this can be compared to one of Christ’s sayings in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, “cleave the wood, I am there; lift up the stone, and you shall find me there.”

By Daniel Tavet

Spiritual drumming

Rhythm section

Rhythm section

A nature and beer adventure led our trio on an unexpected, spiritual journey to sound health.

Our jaunt’s initial goal, on this hot summer morning, appeared straightforward enough…. to re-discover Houghley Gyll, LS13. A few false starts later, from our point of departure on Bramley’s main drag, we stumbled across the green snicket that is the Gyll. We sat there a while allowing the stillness and cool of its shady trees to replenish us. Feeling refreshed we mosied down via Amen Corner to Kirkstall. It is said that Amen Corner got it’s name from medieval times, it being the last point across the half-mile distance from Kirkstall Abbey, when the communal affirmations of the monks was still audible. Nowadays you’d do well to utter a silent prayer as you walk over it since there is only one very narrow footpath on the cramped u bend road bridge, the canal is a sheer drop from the bridge’s low rise stone wall.

We took heed of a Whyther Lane billboard’s admonition to ‘go fun yourself’, and went to a nearby riverside inn. On inquiring what snacks were available, we were informed there had been a rush on the smoked duck, and fancy cheeses. Plain sort of folk by nature we  content ourselves with much simpler fayre as accomapaniment to our pints, a bag of roast peanuts. We had the pub garden completely to ourselves, the river’s slow hypnotic eddy lulled us.

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An occasional train scuttled passed but did not drown out our discussions, which included whether or not psychiatric diagnosis was useful in the overall wellbeing of those so labelled.

Hollybush farm’s gable end was just visible above the shrubs. It triggered the story of it’s heyday as a rhubarb farm, when at early dawn it’s produce was bundled aboard a cargo train, which stopped nearby at the former station. The rhubarb, a highly valued  ‘fruit’, was destined for the Ritz Hotel, in London. Toffs seemingly liked their crumble, possibly after pheasant or smoked duck!

About to depart our separate ways, one among us, bound for a spirituality group drumming circle, invited we two ‘lost souls’ of LS13 to join them. People with mental and emotional sensitivities often find making spontaneous decisions hard, and also doing several activities in one day, taxing. This was true for all present, but on this occasion, bonhomie, the sun’s warmth, and possibly the effect of the beer led to the invite being enthusiastically pounced upon.

Arriving at the venue, Leeds MIND’s, Clarence House, we were ushered into it’s temple like glade or copse.

Since the centre’s inception many wishes for peace of mind have been uttered here, and these seem to linger, permeating it’s atmosphere of contemplation.

We joined a friendly group of around half a dozen other people. The facilitator, Marion, told us how she had came to drumming as a hobby more by coincidence than design. Marion also explained the origins and materials of the impressively tall ‘ethnic’ drums. In addition other percussion instruments were available for us to choose. To heighten the already existing spiritual intent and atmosphere, candles were lit, and incense passed so that we could smell which blend might best suit our mood. We chose Nag Champya, this was also lit. One regular member of the group explained Nag in India means snake. It’s easy to see why it has this name, because as the stick smoulders, its thin shaft of smoke slithers, then hangs heavily, motionless before ascending slowly toward the leaf dappled sky above in moksha. Nag Champya is a mix of sandalwood and frangipani, and has a chypre/sweet perfume which emits an overwhelmingly heady scent. It is often used in ashrams.to promote an out of body experience which enables those present to  be transported away from their material concerns.

Among the rhythms we played were Sufi and Ghanaian, we weren’t sure if the Sufi rhythms were what accompany the whirling dervish dances, but they were infectious. Since the rhythms were complex Marion broke the patterns into smaller  sections, as we mastered one we gradually progressed enough to also improvise, playing by ear and feeling. We were also encouraged to “give it some welly”,…. very therapeutic for pent up emotions. On this occasion the drumming rhythms helped to breakdown inhibitions. Drumming to invoke spiritual states of mind has a long history.

Despite  the enjoyment of the whole day, poignancy mingled with the spiritual awareness of some present, who found themselves remembering  former MIND members who had previously shared this space, even helping to plan the garden and pond, and who have since prematurely left ‘this mortal coil’. Thoughts especially of the Michael, the drummer of the former music group Sound Health.

The Leeds Mind, Sprituality group is part of the Wellbeing Service at Clarence House and is open to members of MIND. The group is held every Monday between 2-3.p.m. If you are interested, contact details can be found here

Daniel Tavet, and Sue Margaret




A Deeper Beauty: Buddhist reflections on everyday life – a book review

What keeps me well is well, reading, although at age 49, I go for the easy reading styles of various writers. In my late teens and 20s I could read any time of day rapidly, but now certainly not at night.

There is much in this book to inspire many of us in what can be the drearier, tiresome, boring, darker sides of our lives.

Buddhism is about hard work, to change ourselves, because only we want to, it is not really romantic meditation making us up-float of somewhere to escape.
I find only non-Buddhists tend to romanticise Buddhism in this way, for Buddhists we are Mandelic: having long ago realised that grinding the stubborn boulders and barriers in our minds of fear, hate, passions and ignorance, into a softer path of forward travel – and with a lightening load – is the coalface, the real thing. There is much joy and sunshine, and calm plateaus if we do the work of meditation. The path to end mental suffering is neither grim or cynical or romantic, it is in between: real compassion with joy.
The best Buddhists in my view are totally real about their downfalls, groundhog days, about the grim suffering of their lives, yet also manifest a clear joy, a vision of liberation walked step by step; who also share their joys, often non verbally. They are real and appeal to the heart, often with humour, vitality, wit, joy and a solid kind of realness. This too, is Paramananda’s style.

So I’m going to take extracts and let you get a flavour of his practice of compassion, his practice of loving kindness, with all the trails and trials, ‘boring’ bits and joys:

I found Paramananda’s A Deeper Beauty: Buddhist reflections on everyday life, clear, human and inspiring.

He has written a popular guide to meditation Change your Mind. Paramanada was born John Wilson in North London in 1955. From an early age he was curious about Eastern ideas, but it was not until the age of 23, after the death of his father, that his interest in Buddhism was aroused. At the same time, the focus of his life shifted from the world of politics, in which he had been active, to more spiritual concerns.

During his twenties Paramananda worked as a Psychiatric Social Worker.
He has also been involved in various types of voluntary work, including the Samaritans, drug detox, and more recently in a hospice.

In 1983 he came into contact with the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order and 2 years later was ordained into the Order itself. Since then he has been teaching meditation and Buddhism full-time. He sees as powerful tools for both individual and social change, and believes that service to the community is a vital aspect of practice. From 1993 to 2001 he lived in California where he was chairman of the San Francisco Buddhist Centre. He now lives in North London where he continues with his teaching and writing.


I have been walking a while
on the frozen Swedish fields
and I have seen no one.

In other parts of the world
people are born, live and die.
In a constant human crush.

To be visible all the time – to live
in a swarm of eyes –
surely that leaves its mark on the face.
Futures overladen with clay.

The low voices rise and fall
as they divide up
heaven, shadows, grains of sand.

I have to be myself
ten minutes every morning,
ten minutes every night,
and nothing to be done

we all line up to ask each other for help.



‘Solitude 2’, Tomas Transtromer (translator: Robert Bly).

Sitting in my London flat on rainy summers day, trying to figure out what to say in this introduction, I pull from my shelf one of my favourite anthologies of poetry. I open the book at random and find the above verses, which I cannot remember reading before. It seems as good a place as any to begin. I am particularly struck by the image of a man walking alone across frozen fields – and the 10 minutes the poet takes every morning and evening to be by himself. It reminds me of meditation, time taken to be more fully with oneself.

This book has developed put of nearly 20 years of attempting to convey the meaning I sometimes in Buddhist practice, in particular in meditation. I say ‘sometimes’ because the truth is I often lose the thread of that practice. ‘Being’ a Buddhist meditation teacher has not insulated me from the confusion and periodic despair of life. Despite what follows, I do not always manage to be mindful or even simply kind. I am in some sense a constant failure. Nevertheless, I do feel that over the years I have made some kind of small progress and I have become at least a little clearer about what is important to me.

If this book has a central theme it is the need to be ourselves, the relationship between this need and living in the world with others, and how to become more fully into the experience of being ourselves in such a way that this strengthened sense of ourselves finds positive relationship with others and with the world at large. This in lives that are increasingly full of activity that it often feels as though we are being pulled away from ourselves, pulled further and further away from ourselves, pulled further and further away, from a sense of who we are. Finding ourselves adrift in our lives with no sense of purpose beyond getting through each day with as much pleasure and as little pain as possible.

Perhaps I should say from the outset that I simply do not supply any definitive answers to the ills of modern life. I hope that on the whole I avoid telling you what you should or should not do. I hope that I raise points and issues that are worth taking a little time to reflect upon. Most importantly I hope that you, the reader, will be in some small way encouraged in your life. Despite the awful mess that we so often seem to make, on a personal and global level, there is something extraordinary about being here at all, and I hope that, like me, you will feel you would like to make the most of the magic of your life.

I have occasionally used terms not often found in most books written from a Buddhist perspective; for example, I refer to the ‘soul’ in several places. If you know even a little about Buddhism you will know that it strongly rejects the eternalism implied by such a term. However I employ it because for me it has a richness of texture that no other English terms seem to convey; it implies something that cannot be fully expressed in the language of science and logic. I use it, then, poetically in order to convey that we as human beings are more than the sum total of our biological and environmental conditioning. I use poetry for the same reason.

So while, with the help of my editor, I have attempted to be as clear as possible, the book is suggestive rather than prescriptive, in that I have attempted to capture the ‘atmosphere’ of what Buddhist practice means to me. In the appendix I have outlined the meditation practices I refer in the text, in case you are not familiar with them, although there is no substitute for learning from a teacher, and with others.

Within the Buddhist tradition there has always been a strong emphasis on individual experience, and it is in this spirit that the book should be read, by which I mean don’t take my word but judge what I have to say ion the light of your own exp; some it might ring true while some of it might not. Either way, I hope it encourages you to look afresh at your own practice- whatever that might be. In his poem ‘St Francis and the Sow’, Gathay Kinnell writes

the bud
stands for all things
even for those things that don’t flower,
everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;

meditation is a form of self-blessing that leads us deeper into our own heart, and in so doing reveals a door of beauty in the world around us.

From a CD cover case, from Johnny Solstice

It seems to me relevant:

”Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves ”who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of the universe. Playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel small around you. We are meant to shine as children do. We were born to manifest the glory of the universe within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously allows others to. As we are liberated from our own fear, we liberate others.”

Nelson Mandela

You can order
A Deeper Beauty: Buddhist reflections on everyday life and
& Change your Mind
through Tri Ratna Buddhist Order, Telephone 0113 244 5256
Leeds Buddhist Centre,
4th Floor, Bridge House email: enquiries@leedsbuddhistcentre.org
Hunslet Road web: http://www.leedsbuddhistcentre.org
Leeds LS10 1JN.

Near the Adelphi Pub; Tetley Art Gallery & Cafe

There are 2 beginners 10-week courses for medititors:
Mondays, 5.15 – 6.15pm
Wednesdays 12.45 – 1.30pm

or through http://www.amazon.com/seconds


A Friendly Competition for a New Logo?

In the meantime..


I attach the first of many sunflower photographs, this one from my allotment in Parkside. Beestonistan.

I do not know if the Sunflower (Helios) is any more native to the United Kingdom, but it some how feels much more appropriate.

I’m getting very fit from digging, sowing, weeding and planting on my allotment, and carrying 2 sacks of Gypsy horse manure from the waste ground that was a school, to my home.

My hands are now thickening up their palm skin, the winters writers hands are transforming, as everything is transforming, we are all free therefore, do you see?


Last year Tez took a wonderful picture of a Chestnut Brown Horse, on the ole school site, now demolished, of Matthew Murray High School.

Please send in your fave pictures folks, and what do you think to a suggested new logo for leedswellbeingblog?

Finally, did you know that half the flowers in our English gardens are not native? They are species, collected, mostly by Victorian Gardeners, and Botanists, around the time of the British Empire, (1750- 1945 roughly).

Gardening is good for the soul, it works off normal neurotic anxiety, worry, gives light and heart to living, and these sunflowers each had a pile of horse manure at their base, plenty of water and sunshine.

Horse shit to Sunflowers is my English version of the old Muddy Waters to Lotuses, symbolising cleansing and purification, settling down to pellucidity the truth that shines through all things, when we become Enlightened.

Milan Buddha Ghosh




Litter-picking; The Dharma Enhancing Life and rescuing the intestines of the earth, the fruits of ‘mundane’ practice

”Sees not the faults of the world” Sutra of Wei Lang


Perfect view, bhikkus, if it is helped by five things, has a lib of mind as its fruit… Perfect view is helped by virtue, by wide learning, by discussion, by tranquillity and insight.

Why shouldn’t you feel personally inspired when taking the rubbish out [or picking it up, not just your own litter, but others out of joyful compassion]? Like many Mahayana sutras, this relates to how bodhisattvas behave, practice, live. Yet it describes their response as aesthetic and appreciative rather than utilitarian. Taking up a bit of reality here or some work there, Bodhisattvas will surround it with beauty – which is why they are so effective – and why taking out the rubbish will be inspiring.

Litter-picking & The Dharma
Enhancing Life and rescuing the intestines of the earth, the fruits of ‘mundane’ practice

Milan Ghosh February 2010

I lost a 15-page article on this subject, it took weeks to write, now it’s litter, mere rubbish, gone, gone, gone. How tiresome, so here we go again, writing it all again. Here is a shortened reincarnation of that rubbish article (GROAN!).

I litter pick because ”I don’t like litter”,
People ask me why I litter-pick, mostly there are friendly eyes watching, mostly friendly questions, or tone of voice, but a few fools, ask why sarcastically. And even call me names such as ”Weirdo” ,”He’s ‘mad”’ etc. It’s their loss. Those who are content have no wish to harm. But one can’t teach a fool. I am only wise fool, picking up litter daily on my way wherever I go, in town in Holbeck, near Elland Road where I live, wherever I go e.g. Chapeltown and Harehills,

Why don’t I like litter?
Well it’s an eyesore unnecessary contagious, so I try to reverse this negative contagion, making the negative downward stream flow backwards uphill to the positive open heart. And, yes, there really is no such thing as a small act of kindness in what can be a cruel world – I think of the world now more like Samsara-Nirvana, full of skilful people as well as the ‘negative’. The wider context cultivates a certain type of emptiness in which negative consequences, are less, then eradicated, ignorance and unwholesome actions are no more. I can meditate on this when litter-picking.

It’s decadent. Most of us could do better and just practice patient love for the world, others and ourselves included, because litter degrades us. Surely we can be patient, forbear time and trouble until we get to a litter bin or home before we drop it where it belongs.

Because its about recycling

Because it generates friendship affection and community. Picking up litter creates new friends, from strangers. People sometimes give money, which I used to refuse; but it was blind to refuse such goodwill – simple metta.

Because it’s just the right thing to do. Litter is an eyesore, it pollutes water, kills wildlife; I even pick up bottles tops and splintered plastic forks on the road; otherwise if I don’t it would add to the billions of sea creatures killed by swallowing plastic fragments.

The Hierarchy of Litter-Picking -Firstly there’s the dangerous items; ahimsa; looking after all living things, the master harms no living thing.

Electrical waste contains flame retardants theo-bromates that contaminate groundwater, and the food chain and will damage nerves and brains.

Glass is bagged up and double bagged, from ‘witches knickers’, plaggy bags caught in trees, or on the ground, but not tied up, so as to prevent it bursting and littering again, and also to make easy depositing into local bottle banks. Energy, economy and balanced effort are manifest.

Dog poo is now often so dry and hollow, by rapid dehydration in a warmer climate, that I simply kick it into the gutter. Kids and adults can fall on it harming themselves, spreading worms and other diseases. I wash my trainers with some bleach in the machine every 2 days, and go Indian: only place them on the doormat, nowhere else. If people are repulsed by my shit-kicking, then I take the opportunity to educate them, with the above practices. It’s been easy to get more frequent street cleaning in our increasingly dense city, and dog warden patrols. Simply ask your local councillor; go to http://www.leeds.gov.uk. It’s a top issue along with street safety.

Organic waste food some salvageable, sealed in cans. Other organic waste decaying papers and food; I concentrate it in one pile each time I pass; take off the paths, concrete areas, into gardens, worms and other creatures too. Incidentally I rescue worms during the rain wherever I am passing off the paths and onto grass areas in parks. Man has created this obstruction for them and when its drier they die, so I rescue them.

Plastic: bottle tops, fragments, bags. metal cans are ripped open and sharp so I bag them up first, then deal only with the non-damaged ones. I put the metal cans into local green bins, even though, since the bin men’s strike 3 years ago, they throw recyclables to landfill, and do not use use the contamination tape, or their own system. Please email your local councillor, or write to him or her if you have problems with recycling street cleansing or litter.

There’s cannabis found dumped often with identifying materials such as clothes and personal papers, serial and batch numbers of goods such as PCs, by the allotment cul-de-sac. yards and by the allotment.  Give up drugs yourself, help others do so, have a lucid happy mind, and a more peaceful community. It is a complete myth that if a drug dealer is shopped to the police another immediately springs up. Buddhists have said this defeatism, but they do not report the dealers themselves to Crimestoppers 0800 55511 Dob in a Dealer or the police, do not observe the effect, do not speak from a ground of action, or practice. It would be at least twice as bad round here for drugs and all their effects, and it has been 5 times worse at least with their conduit gang who use the 2 motorway slip roads into South Leeds as an entry route. So I do not now take offence at such ignorant defeatism- I carry on content to make a difference.

For me my own life is not so important, and I am no longer suicidal – everyone’s life is worthy. So for little me the practice of fearlessness, courage and vajra is down to earth, inspired by a certain variety of Asian Buddhist such as Thich Nhat Hanh, and the good people of Chapeltown LS7 where I was bred. Initially it bred many good tings such as reggae and open-heartedness, but also violence, prostitution and money madness.
For me the dharma is not primarily intellectual, that is what I call a conceptual straitjacket, aka prapaunchya. I do aspire to read more, but I wish no longer for ordination, only to create a local community freer of drugs, crime and black-market greed, as well as lost souls. To provide what’s needed and wanted: community peace without too much thinking. Not to boast; however to let off steam in this difficult, but easier task.

I have noticed that some vegetarians, even vegans find leather so convenient they buy it for gloves shoes and other uses (related to this: a survey showed 1 in 7 vegetarians cheat and eat meat occasionally). I do not judge this unskilfulness in any way; firstly because we are all hypocrites until enlightenment, second part of the advice on the path, is to not judge anyone or anything in any way; to let yourself, see absolute reality. In my view the skilled teachers are always kind and appropriate to the trainees karma-personality; otherwise learners may not learn. See the Dalai Lamas book recommended below in References.

To help people, I suggest they only use leather shoes, boots, gloves picked up from the street, such as shoes, clothes, gloves especially useful for DIY jobs and gardening. Wash in a washing machine with a drop of bleach ensures germs are killed, but gloves, boots and shoes will not be blanched. And in this way no new demand is created by buying leather; reclamation, to my mind is a deep respect for the animals that have died to create it. Its also good environmental practice. They can be washed 2 or 3 times in a machine; soap powder has 5 percent bleach in it, so let go of ultra hygiene and mental comfort of uncleanliness.

I welcome your views; you can copy them to the LBC website, and forward them simultaneously to milanholbecksetan@yahoo.com.

I can provide reclaimed a/ litter-picked leather, and other strong gloves on request
c/o my 0787 168 9799, home or LBC; others can also take on this voluntary role.

It’s all about learning to live well with out metta, to see it as less difficult not as a daily task of trying to be loving and kind to others. The practice of loving kindness, not apathy or fighting battles is a challenge, however if we persist through consulting anyone not just Buddhists who are obviously more advanced in such down to earth love and community we shall progress.

This article is deliberately not over cognitive though I do think deeply; the fruits of litter-picking are abundance generosity, friendship, community, gratitude, compassionate love, rising above blame and praise; ethics: just ‘doing the right thing’ – to name a few.

Feedback is always welcome electronic or not. Environ-mental new ideas and practices for a better world are welcome too; thank you for your time and trouble.
If you feel fear, feel the infinite too, talk to friends, do it litter-picking – and anything wholesome too. Do not let self-consciousness, or being judged by others stop you meditating , contemplating reflecting, other practices or doing the right thing. ”Love yourself, always, today now and tomorrow….” the Buddha said in The Dammapada…”

The Dalai Lama The Power of Compassion Thorsons 1981: for discussion on Interdependence and emptiness correcting unskilful habits

The Novice Thich Nhat Hanh. In a general sense he displays diligence, joy, fearlessness, courage inspiration and compassion beyond belief. It is not directly related to environmental issues, but the transcendence he demonstrates removes neurotic thinking, and transforms and translates easily, often without words, into inspiration. You just know what your next step is.

The ‘Mischief’ Chapter in The Dhammapada: the Sayings of the Buddha Thomas Byrom Random House 1976

I, of course, also recommend Sangharakshita’s version of The Dhammapada, Windhorse. (Personally I do not like the lack of rhythm and rhyme, for I know this device helps people retain and understand the dhamma. However it is said it is a more accurate translation, and one can indeed see it is, so I read the two together.)

Also another good translation is E.K. Eswaran’s The Dhammapada, out of print, but there is a copy in the LBC Library; particularly useful is the long introduction explaining the culture and background to the Buddha’s sayings.

If anyone is keen enough to find spare copies, donate or buy them from amazon.com/seconds, I would be happy to organise the sharing and study between friends of not just this translation but all in fact, perhaps through LBC. We shall see

Please email milanholbeckestan@yahoo.com


The Novice – a book review


A review of The Novice, by Thich Nath Hanh by Milan Buddha ‘Mad ‘ Ghosh.

“To continue the path to Enlightenment Kinh must suffer false accusations, physical hardship and public demolition without complaint, with absolute grace, astounding compassion and unwavering resolve. The Novice perseveres in the face of every challenge, ultimately Kinh Tam’s moving fate will transform lives and offer hope to us all.”

so says the review on the back cover. I found it to be one of those books that I couldn’t put down.. it was in plain English, and spoke to the heart, yet used the understanding of intellect too.

Kinh is a woman who dearly desires enlightenment, but in her part of Asia it is indeed a man’s world, and even the Buddhist establishment in monasteries is sexist, despite Buddha Shakyamunni’s welcoming an order of nuns. So she decides to cross dress as a man, shaves her head, and to behave like one. How she manages the lack of privacy in such a male environment is astounding. She is brave indeed just to do this.

Continue reading

For better mental health –cultivate friendship.

What keeps me well… (continued)

My true individual friend Nigel……….

ImageMy mate Nigel!

He’s a true individual who has insight about self-improvement self help and the spiritual. We talk about this range of subjects, but mostly apply our practice improving our lives, as we both believe psychological insight can be spiritual insight, applied to make us and all around us happy.

We also practice ‘ordinary’ friendship, lending and borrowing money, being reliable, mutual listening  and support, telling the truth to each other, even when its uncomfortable, not arguing destructively however; why argue when you can persuade, after all?

What I like about Nigel is he’s very bright, in terms of  language, business development –  google ”A Crazy Cure” for a possible cure for any problem physical or mental. He’s also honest and reliable, though not always right and he can admit that. He’s got more into the beauty of silence, from which we can all let emerge profound insights about the reality of our denied nay even repressed selves, and the absolute wonderful reality truth, which if we even taste it is noble, exalted, energy giving, inspiring, uplifting, wonderful yet not manic. We share food, he lets me use his fridge freezer saving me money, in return I help him via small loans, he always pays back, as a true friend should.

Our friendship, like all friendships, in reality is never perfect, but it is OK, and nourishing, because we are good guys; with a meditation-al contemplative mind, it and everything else is perfect imperfection, ‘enlightened’ in small sense, and joyful.

For  an improved mental health we all need friends, a friend in need is a friend indeed. Furthermore, friends can enhance our happiness, insight and love for ourselves, themselves, and the world. This is my definition of spiritual friendship, it also enhances joy and compassion.

For better mental health –cultivate friendship.  J Milan Ghosh. September 2013

Environ-Mental Gardening


The picture above shows Milan on his allotment. Within walking distance of Dewsbury Road, he grows spinach, rhubarb, potatoes, sprouts, cabbage, apples, pears, cherries, sunflower seeds (for the birds), cardoon (a Malaysian ornamental flower). I went there with him a few weeks ago, and asked him about it.

He told me about growing up on Spencer Place in the heart of Chapeltown, and being encouraged to garden by a neighbour. Now he reckons his allotment gives him the chance to get away from noisy neighbours, and in the warm weather he’s been coming here to:

‘soak up the sunset, exercise, breathe deeply and enjoy the company of generous, sharing gardening neighbours’

– who are ‘fellows in that vocational hobby’, and share their seeds and manure (well, not their manure). Milan is a practitioner of Buddhism, and it’s easy to see how this influences his gardening. He says his allotment is

‘therapeutic, good for anxiety and a good kind of contemplation or introspection. I call it environ-mental gardening. I use a fork rather than a spade so I don’t kill things. I get fresh food but it’s not just about gardening. I think you should always try something new and be unpredictable against your own habits. There is only the moment, the past is history and all barriers are bridges’.

So having an allotment will not only help feed your mind and body, but could also shave a few lifetimes off your journey to enlightenment. Could it be fun too?

Over the past year or so I’ve very much enjoyed reading the blog of the Reluctant Gardener by local writer Mandy Sutter. Mandy is well known in Leeds writing circles and she’ll be reading from her first novel Stretching It at Waterstones on 25th September. Her gardening blog is very funny and chronicles the writer trying to help her dad with his allotment. If you want a good laugh and a slightly surreal low down on the inner life of having an allotment have a look at it.

So how do you go about getting an allotment?

I spoke to Judy Turley, the Secretary of Leeds & District Allotment Gardeners Federation, ‘the voice for allotment and leisure gardeners in the greater Leeds area’. see their website at http://www.ldgf.org.uk/

Judy shared Milan’s enthusiasm for allotment gardening. She said:

‘having an allotment is just fabulous – it gets you away from the rat race, and it’s an oasis in the middle of a busy city’.

There are 97 allotment sites in and around Leeds, and you can find out about a site near you at http://www.ldgf.org.uk/index.php/members or through the council’s Parks and Countryside Department by ringing 0113 3367427. The waiting times vary considerably – you might wait for several years in some areas, and get one next week in others, according to Judy. The cost for 2012/13 is £37 per annum for a full plot, or £18.50 for a half plot.

However, according to Milan, there are other options – if you know someone who can’t manage their own garden,  you could ask them could you share the produce, whether flowers, fruit or vegetables, for doing the tillage, with them, or if they are too old or disabled, for them.

Landshare is a way to share land, someone has land they can’t manage; someone needs some, and the usage and terms are negotiated between the two.”

In Leeds Urban Harvest also organises volunteers to pick fruit, give tree owners a share and distribute the rest to community groups in Leeds. This is just the right time of year to get involved. They’ve teamed up this season with All Hallows in Burley, and “now have a great kitchen for juicing, space for sharing and lots of friendly faces too.”

Finally, Milan made an offer you surely can’t refuse if you like cherries:

“If anyone wants any Cherry Trees, your standard Morello variety, with large purple black shiny fruits, then please call me 0772 2301 002, after 6pm is best, then we can arrange a visit to Parkside Allotment. All I ask in return is a donation, however small or large, to Leeds Buddhist Centre. I will pass on the cash, and get you a receipt if you leave your email address.”

need someone to talk to?

Some years ago in a television documentary I watched David Smail, a former psychologist, speak about the nature of depression. David suggested that counselling or therapy might for some, be the only place they receive emotional comfort. I  found his acknowledgement of this comforting in itself as I’ve been drawn to the comfort talking therapy can bring. It has been a way of telling my story, at times I have felt ‘addicted’ to its comfort , David acknowledges this can be an outcome.

As a child there were times the adults who cared for me,  for a variety of reasons, were unavailable to me emotionally. In later life this led me in moments of distress for a quest to be heard. Though I mostly found sufficient resilience  to be my own  counsellor, listening to my inner voice, and this calmed me, at other times that voice became muffled, jumbled and distorted. On occasion this has transferred to my ability to do practical things, I got overwhelmed, confused, the simple tasks of daily life seemed very hard. During these times my experience of counselling or therapy has been predominantly helpful,  it has ‘held’ me, the process hasn’t always been comfortable or benign, there are many practitioners, former practitioners and clients of therapy/counselling who will attest to this.

Jeffrey Masson, former analyst, in his book ‘Against Therapy’ reveals that he is one such renegade; Dr.Dorothy Rowe, former psychologist, said of therapy, something along the lines of, “all therapy works, but not all therapy works completely”. Ken Wilber and John Rowan view differing  therapies as working on different levels of consciousness, for example they consider seeing a transpersonal therapist could be inappropriate if you have little or no awareness of this level of perception, by level I didn’t understand it as a superior awareness,  just different to ‘everyday’ consciousness. Fancy and mystifying terms, and buzz words abound in the therapeutic community, just as much as they do in other circles, but woe betide if in some therapies you question the theory behind it. Depending on the skill or the orientation of the practitioner this might be interpreted as symptomatic of your ‘problems’.

I have both self referred and requested professional referral to all kinds of practitioners, mostly it aided me regain some calm and it has helped me to become more fully the person I wish to be, but at times I’ve found it almost abusive. It can be a space, either in one to one, or groups where a power imbalance exists and is misused.

My quest in finding “someone to talk to…..a new hiding place”..(Dylan), has involved sharing with friends, or even casual acquaintances along the way. It has helped as they listen to parts of my story, and I try in turn to listen to theirs. Having someone reasonably capable of ‘walking’ alongside you as you relate your story, either  in bite size pieces or big chunks can be reassuring, if that is a friend, someone you trust and who has the capacity, well and good. You may be fortunate to get a professional listener who views themselves as a ‘co-experimenter’, as some Personal Construct Psychologists describe their role, but even then these processes can unleash things that are hard to contain.

Someone advised me against the process some years ago as we had both read ‘Against Therapy’ and I was awaiting an appointment for a  therapy ‘suitability’ assessment. In part the course of therapy that followed, left me with an emotional whoosh of feelings and little way of stemming their flow. It was a ‘breakdown’ possibly a breakup/breakthrough of the then current untenable situation I was in just  prior to it. I  ‘fell into the hands of psychiatry’ with the resulting medication and electro-convulsive therapy. I’m sure the therapist did not expect that as an outcome, neither did I. Most likely I would align myself with the Post Psychiatry movement because similarly to them I think medication can help distressed people, but the commercial interests which are behind  it, makes an over reliance on it suspect.

I would not want my experience to discourage anyone from engaging with counselling/therapy if they are drawn to it. It can be a courageous step to discovering what your distress is about. Like many things it takes time to adjust to the process, but trusting your feelings about the counsellor or the theory they use is important, becoming informed about the different approaches can help, part of my recovery came from the wisdom I gleaned from books about the process, and also from song and poetry.

Stanislov Grof refers to some forms of apparent mental illness of ease as spiritual emergence, he does however distinguish between this and  spiritual emergency and what he terms ‘real’ mental illness……I’m not sure about these distinctions, though I would describe some aspects of my breakdown as spiritual.

Sam Keen refers to tapping into anger that has been turned inward ….inrage/depression once accessed, acknowledged and released becoming ….out rage, for a time a torrent or flood engulfing someone or anything  that  gets in it’s path, no matter how significant their role has been in the person’s life story., …..it.gushes muddied for some time……until the water runs clearer,….possibly channeled in a different way.

Despite my reservations,and experiences…….why am I willing to engage yet again ,with the process? I ‘ve had an appointment this week. Something happened recently which sent me into that confusing emotional spin, I made the appointment to tell another piece of my story, and because I’d had some  autonomy in choosing, where, when, how long, it might be, it seemed the safest place to test the water, for telling the next installment. The time gap between making the appointment and its arrival, had been space to regain some equilibrium and therefore I felt some apprehension about attending, ….should I cancel? Though nervous I kept the appointment. The waiting area was such a warm welcoming space, in it was an original black leaded fire range, complete with it’s oven! One of my family homes had a similar range……I felt relaxed with the memories it elicited of the family events enacted in the glow and warmth of the open coal fire….the ‘counselling’ went well, and I was given a choice of possible ways of working…..flexible follow ups with the same person seemed the most appealing on this occasion.

Writing a blog has also been partly therapeutic, another way of telling bits of my story and is my voice on wellbeing.

Sue Margaret

* details of the fireplace image by the National Trust


Heritage Open Days – Leeds

The free National Heritage Open Days events take place annually over a four day period usually in September, a variety of institutions open their doors to the public, it’s impossible to get to them all during this short time so last Sunday I settled for just a couple.

St.Bartholomew’s church in Armley, a well known landmark on the Leeds skyline, the exterior of which has always struck me as  dark and imposing, but stepping into it  I saw a surprisingly beautiful interior, sunlight through the stained glass windows beamed across the vaulted ceiling and the Schultse organ which is of a  particularly impressive design and proportion.


A service had just commenced therefore it wasn’t appropriate to take my own  photographs, I sat a while enjoying the mixture of smells; polished wood pews, that slightly churchy dampness, melting candle wax, the myrrh incense with its mist hanging heavily in the chancel. Listening to the singing I contemplated if the sermon or bible  readings had any relevance to my spiritual needs.

My next destination was the Makkah Masjid Mosque in Burley/Hyde Park area, set among rows of red brick back to back houses, this exotic edifice with its bright multi coloured brickwork, domed roof and minarets gives a hint of  what may be inside,


sure enough the interior is flooded with light from the roof , crystal chandelier reflections and the numerous windows of the large circular, furniture free room, its sumptuous bright blue and gold carpets, highlight its main use for sujud prayers, they were not in session, just a few visitors were listening to a talk about Islam, a view from a rear window, with the spire of Wrangthorne, St Augustine of Hippo, Church on the horizon seemed to link the importance of the two buildings to the community.

Religious tradition is often relevant to mental well being and many people find comfort  congregating with others in ritual and prayer in their places of worship, I guess that’s why the buildings intrigue me, however I choose to find my spiritual renewal outside religious confines.

Wandering towards Woodhouse Moor I noted that other citadel of community gatherings, Hyde Park Cinema, it’s doors were open for tours of the building, pausing to preview it’s up coming programme, I considered the powerful role of  film and media in maintaining or challenging our cultural, religious  viewpoints and traditions, thankfully this cinema offers alternatives to Hollywood film representations.