Sunday, March 11, 2007


radioshenyen feb 2007 south korea

(leaving the western island and heading down to the south coast.)

----- "scrambled telegram" -----

( ... its the middle of the twenty-first century and he's three and a half years old. he's a good kid - the kind parents pray for: quiet, self-contained, undemanding, always able to entertain himself... sometimes his seriousness has a dopey edge to it that makes you want to reach out and touch him. that kind of kid.
but at night lately he's been talking in his sleep, asking for someone - 'nigga junior' and 'mad mike' it sounds like... she thinks its maybe someone he's been listening to on the world receiver that's always plugged into the ear of his dragon hat, some rap artist or dj program, though when she searches on the net she cant find anything. he's so undemanding and she would love to find something by these two guys and give them to him, some mp3 file or something, as a little surprise. but when she tries - softly, indirectly - to get a little more information from him over breakfast he just looks at her like she's talking about something that doesnt exist.
and then a few weeks later it stops. his life continues and so does hers. of the gift that never was there will be endless traces but no trace. there will just be no nigga junior or mad mike accompanying him through this life... )
incheon bus station. a six hour bus journey down to yeosu, my first trip alone in korea.
i buy a ticket using sign language and something written on a scrap of paper by the abbot as he said goodbye, then wait at the bus-stand with a cup of coffee in my hand, visible-invisible like everyone else. and i say to myself: i dont need a history. its beautiful, just the way it is. i want to talk on the phone with my wife and kids, walk into a bookshop and find a book containing maps of the ocean floor and essays by derrida, eno, cage, hillman, cixous. impossible things like that.
in yeosu my friend has everything organised. she's gathered together a group of westerners who are interested in studying buddhism with me twice a week, found a place to teach them in, and a temple for me to stay in for the duration. she even offers to fly me down from seoul but i decline, explaining that the six hour bus journey is a treat not a hassle: i love the feeling of sitting comfortable and quiet (we are not talking india), gazing out of the window while feeling the dynamism of the body moving through beautiful straight lines. sunlight reflecting off buildings and the warmth inside the bus making it feel like spring at the end of winter. stretching one's legs occasionally like an astronaut on the lunar surface of motorway rest-stop car parks. headphones on for the first time in six weeks. i want to have the kind of wild intelligence that is deeply satisfied with little things like this (the same two cds in my machine for months on end - but what titles! - "heidegger's children" and "structures from silence"), while being deeply dissatisfied with all forms of limited perception.
at the motorway rest stop a dvd stall plays music. its wonderful the way some sweet, unrepeatable, nameless song can come from nowhere and make you realise something incredible, like 'your relationship's over' or 'your whole life has been one long act of cowardice'... the way it tells you this in some gentle non-judgmental way, in a three minute shower of beauty that leaves you smiling, repentant and ready to start again. and of course you never do, which is why new songs always appear ...
for ten days i'm alone on jiri-san, korea's holiest mountain, meditating and walking in the silent spaciousness of traditional architecture and pristine forest. but at night its party time: chocolate biscuits, coffee, and geshe michael teaching the diamond cutter sutra, how everything is impermanent and how even the buddhist teachings will one day disappear. and i realise that the only way to not lose touch with them is to disappear with them, the way buddhas do: disappearing into reality. but i'm not there yet, so naturally i worry about that little kid in the middle of the twenty-first century reciting his scrambled telegram from a past life, and my own wife and kids, cooking and skateboarding in the realms of pure possibility, waiting for someone to invent something called the telephone. i am full of love and i have no time.
in a couple of weeks my korea visit comes to an end and i catch the overnight ferry to japan to do the shikoku pilgrimage: a 1200 km journey around the island visiting 88 temples. for practically all modern japanese its a six day bus tour, but on foot, old style, it'll take about 60 days. and i'll be doing it very old style: not knowing where i'll be sleeping each night or even where my next meal is coming from. and if you ask me why i'll just say 'i dont know'. but all my life, whenever i close my eyes, there's been a buddhist monk walking through just such a landscape - walking endlessly, alone, in silence, a silence that i call faith. ever since i first saw him i've wanted to walk like that. and so for the first time in my life my imaginary world and my real world will coincide. a gap in the universe.
in a dream recently the mulamadhyamikakarika (a text by the second century visionary monk nagarjuna) wins a prestigious contemporary art award. i'm reading about it in an art magazine - a long article, with 'photographs', that i gaze at with such joy. the photographs are amazing - you know, dream photographs of something 'impossible' and therefore impossibly beautiful. and i realise that i want nagarjuna to appear in all my future lives. i realise that i will have to do something karmically potent to make this happen. i dont know what it is but i will work on it in shikoku, rap it out beneath the sky and the stars night after night, with a vending machine coffee in my hand. one of the nice things about japan is that you can come across a vending machine even in the middle of nowhere. nobody vandalises them. in japan everyone has this minimum level of knowledge which understands that being able to imagine some stranger having a can of coffee in the middle of nowhere is worth more than a pocket bulging with 500 yen coins and 1000 yen bills. this is the kind of knowledge that can save the world. its the kind of knowledge poetry was meant for. its what i'm looking for and what i'll find. and when i do i'm going to walk right through its invisible boundaries and come out the other side.
till next time,

Sunday, January 14, 2007

radio shenyen january 2007 south korea

(two days in seoul, then back to the meditation centre on an island on the west coast)

"to watch him at work is to see him delve into almost invisible specifics..."

the world is full of gaps. meditation teaches you to find them between your thoughts, pure conduct teaches you to find them in your world. and its entirely up to you whether you step through them or not. you're on your own. this mysterious world, this unrepeatable, disappearing life. you're on your own and you're among companions.

on the seoul metro i jump over the exit turnstyle when my ticket doesnt work. i was on my own and i was among companions. the robes of a buddhist monk are a gap in the universe. we walk up a hill, past some enormous building project - i think its going to be a particle accelerator site masquerading as an apartment block - through a beautiful old village perched on the hillside and, up further, onto the rocky scarp. two shamans are there, performing a ritual, sitting on a large flat rock with their backs to ten million people. they are on their own and they are among companions. their chanting merges with the construction sounds - in fact they are constructions sounds of a different kind. they are playing with time and space. they are beautiful the way anyone living a strangely natural life is beautiful. and they seem to bless the rest of the day, as prisons, galleries, military checkpoints, museums and temples present images of concentrated spaciousness within a time-frame that becomes uncannilly slowed down.

in seodaemon prison memorial museum tiny (six inch) holographic ghosts re-enact an assassination on the stage of a wooden model of the prison, behind a glass window. their bodies of light, graceful movements, electronic voices and gentle appearances and disappearances are breathtakingly beautiful, despite the tragic story being told (of thirty five years of japanese colonial brutality).

in a contemporary gallery a show by last year's gwangju biennale prizewinner michael joo includes images of a hyena feasting quietly on the carcass of a deer, an inuit man having a seisure, diagrams of an ecosystem, and the artist walking along a long straight road, occasionally disappearing and re-appearing through a gap created in the editing. it is a wonderful room - a gap - and reminds me of who i am, where i'm going.

and back to the meditation centre... blue skies over the snowy hills, icicles in the branches of small bushes. my day begins at 3.40 with a knock at my door and a cup of green tea from the sweet vietnamese monk opposite who speaks neither english nor korean and just smiles all the time. its always difficult getting up for the morning chanting session but once i'm on my meditation cushion i'm wide awake and always resist the temptation to return to bed in the free hour before breakfast (which is at six) , preferring to stay in the now empty hall for another couple of sittings. everyone here is very relaxed - the abbot keeps taking us on sight-seeing trips or to the local spa - and the conditions are not at all spartan. there's a good library, underfloor heating (i can dry my clothes on the floor of my room - try doing that at tushita!), and good food cooked by a korean mamma who knows the importance of cooking with love. we are now in the middle of the month of children's camps - five days of tea ceremony, formal eating practice, meditation and walks. some of the kids are models of silent resignation towards the rigour of the shedule, others make hilarious faces whenever some 'outrage' is announced (such as having to drink the water and eat the kimchi that they've just used to wash their bowls with during the formal eating practice). yet its amazing to see how focussed they are during the tea cermony test on the last day - even (and especially) the wild ones.

in the meditation hall at night the soft light above the altar leaves some of the darkness intact. i sit facing the wall, and the one metre of floor between me and the wall is the most beautiful thing. when you realise that sitting in meditation - in the dark, alone in some room - is actually a means for making yourself available to the universe, beyond the limits of your rationale, it is no longer difficult to do. and this is how i sit: with the knowledge of my approaching death and with gratitude for being able to be here in the first place, with time enough to express this 'impossible' gratitude. i dream of becoming the kind of person who can make people aware of just how 'expensive' it is - how rare and difficult and mysterious it is - to be here in this world, spending even just a few moments looking at some beautiful landscape or person or text. the goodness we collected over many lifetimes just to be able to afford a few seconds of human life.

what happens next - in february - i dont really know. but i just keep surrendering any anxious thought as it arises. i tell myself its just my life, it's unrepeatable and it's disappearing, it is eternal and it will never come back, and i sit within this mystery - the mystery of this feeling of plenitude and wistfulness.

and in any case what happens to me isnt important. what's important is what happens to you as you read about what happens to me (or anything else you are reading). it is language that is important, not biography. "language, the axe that breaks te frozen sea inside you." (kafka)

till next time,

Saturday, November 25, 2006

oct - nov 2006 wat pathailuampon, thailand

"Sometimes I see something so moving I know i'm not supposed to linger. See it and leave. If you stay too long you wear out the wordless shock. Love it and trust it and leave."

Sometimes you do something just because a voice tells you you should do it. I decided it was time to go back into the jungle even though the jungle is my least favourite environment, to go back into the Thai monastic setting even though the total language barrier is exhausting and stressful. Something told me it may be a little different this time, but still, I was expecting it to be tough.

And then others start helping. In a small apartment in Osaka a friend covers a wooden go counter in a heap of incense. In the garden of el balcon another friend makes a beautiful confucian writing table, varnished and gold painted, to take with me into the kuti. Other friends write and say hello, good luck. Others think of writing, an accidental sweetness that floats in unexpectedly during a quiet moment at work or on the bus. I dont know where things come from, or what depends on what, so I just appreciate them. Walking barefoot through the village at sunrise begging for food, suddenly a beautiful wind blows and there is only the wind. The sweetest thai pop songs drift out of the farmhouses, unrepeatable and beyond naming. And at night, amazing dreams: the whole world 'almost nothing'.

A tiny village temple. Sometimes just me and the abbot. Sometimes one other monk. But they leave me entirely alone (a go counter covered in incense...) and so for the first time the language barrier, though still exhausting, doesnt demoralise me. The abbot is a gruff, down to earth but kind-hearted man. When he talks (and its more like shouting) I cant tell if he's talking to me, the cats, the chickens or the tv. He virtually lives on the buddha platform next to the statues, with his bed-roll and fan and spittoon and tv. He's old and infirm and it seems like he's just quietly, calmly waiting to die. When his mobile phone rings it plays 'happy birthday'. And its true: your next birthday may be only a few seconds away.

There were times when I thought "if, on my deathbed, I can remember this feeling of walking through the village begging for food, trusting and being supported, I will be ok. Death wont entangle me. I will make it safely through the bardo realm." Everyone is going to need 2 or 3 memories like this for when they die. Some action that combines ritual and abandon, that touches your deepest beliefs and also makes you smile. When you're dying you probably wont have the stability of mind to do focussed spiritual practices, but you will hopefully be able to remember and surrender. It may just be enough.

For three weeks I study only the Diamond Sutra, meditating on quotations from 53 zen commentaries, but after that its time to mix it up, soft logic style: chapter 18 of Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika mixed with essays on film editing and Murakami microworlds; a wonderful children's trilogy ("HIs Dark Materials" by Philip Pullman) packed with witches and scientists, dead souls and angels, parallel worlds and quantum physics and the I Ching, opened up to Dogen Zenji's Fukanzazengi and Tibetan cosmologies; reading essays on Dante and thinking about the Shikoku pilgrimage.

Dorothea Lange: "a camera is an instrument for teaching how to see without a camera." I think the same can be said of Buddhism. It is a religion that teaches how to live without religion, an exquisite piece of technology designed to disappear after setting you free, a therapeutic construct whose only aim is to free us from the entanglements of hallucinated suffering constructs. Neither an object nor a territory, Buddhism is simply a name given to the appeasement of obsessions. Your Buddhist universe begins the moment you see things as impermanent, as conditioned things totally dependent on other conditioned things, and as acts of kindness. And since everything can be seen in these (dissolving, disappearing, kindly) ways - the new testament, nanotechnology, beer in the fridge - anything can be in your Buddhist universe.

And so, every few days, I check up on myself, on the state of my Buddhist universe, using the six flavours of emptiness. I ask myself, as I'm drifting off to sleep in my kuti, "have I been fooled recently by impermanence, by thinking something in my life was permanent when of course it wasnt? ... have i been fooled by the myth of ownership and control? ... by mistaking my personal constructs for objective reality? ..." And so on. Its a great way to drift off to sleep.

I'm writing this in Laos on another visa run. A cheque has just gone into a friend's account in London. A door has just opened into Korea. Murakami: "when you have to choose between something which has form and something which is formless, choose the one without form." Do I winter in Thailand (bucket showers at the temple well in the late afternoon sun)? Or Korea (snowy days, wearing my woollen hat with the Dalai Lama's name inside)? Which one is the one without form?

I'll stop here. Lots of emails to catch up on. Forgive me if I just read them and smile, leaving some of them in that space beyond naming. I'll reply to as many as I can.

with best wishes to everyone,


Saturday, September 09, 2006

radioshenyen dharamkot, india july-august 2006

healthy again after almost three months of minor but continuous illness. walking down the street feeling the animal gentleness of the body as rhythm and energy and quiet awareness... in the desire realm this is about as good as it gets: your body, briefly returned 'as new', before continuing its shuttle towards old age sickness death... but realising also that what i've been calling 'healthy' in india over the last few years is actually just a case of lowered expectations.

in an almost deserted restaurant a girl suddenly stands up from her table, from within her introspectiveness, and walks to the edge of the garden terrace to look out over the valley. but its not just the view that's pulling her: its that same animal gentleness, which i see flow out of her as she takes hold of a tibetan banner fluttering in the wind, holding it taut and still. her arm outstretched, her hand plugged into the universe of touch, her emotions pacified for a few moments.

i didnt really want to come back to india this year - other things pulled me back, teachings i couldnt miss. and as soon as i decided to leave (i'm returning to thailand in a few days) the illness started to disappear. a couple of weeks ago, watching a movie from the west with scenes of cityscapes - neon, subway crowds, bus stops, billboards, etc - i suddenly realise that that's where i want to be. sickness and art giving me the same message: 'go now'. properly handled, hunger can be an amazing compass, a moment by moment attunement to the hidden economy of one's unrepeatable life. i trust it more and more. of course it can also be a red herring. it depends entirely on ourselves: on how much goodness we've collected in the invisible golden hive of our consciousness, how disciplined and sincere we've become. how honest. that beautiful old-fahioned word i find myself using more and more these days: virtue. invisible light.

but you dont want to read about my illness do you? you want to read about the mind of a master film-maker, about the difference between CEOs and CDOs, about how to make the universe respond to your questions, about mobius strips and nagarjuna and what shenyen's actually been up to and where he's going next - yes? ok, let's go...

chris marker, talking about the japanese film-maker akira kurasawa: "... he has tremendous spiritual presence. he lives his life like a master swordsman: he has no time for abstractions. when asked on the film-set why he did something in a certain way he replied: 'i simply make a film the way i want it to be.' ..."
you have to hear that last remark very clearly. he's not saying 'i do what i like.' he's saying: my life is totally conscious, and so everything i do is unrepeatable, immeasurable, perfect. there is no formula involved, no aesthetic that can be 'understood' and repeated. you cant compare it to anything. its my world. its unrepeatable. and truly singular phenomena are, by nature, inexplicable.

we have to live like that if we are to transcend hope and fear and die without regret - my working definition of what it means to call oneself a buddhist. we have to stop listening to all the noise, all the gossip, all the opinion polls and just live totally true to where the heart is. nobody can tell you how to live, how to make that movie. you're on your own. but if you shine within the truth of that, if you relax and actually start living your unrepeatable disappearing life, people will love you, people will want to be around you, people will help you.

i've just finished teaching in a temporary space in dharamkot, the little village outside tushita. seven weeks of teachings and retreats, with a few spells of solitary time scattered through. with the help of a group of friends an empty farmhouse was transformed into a meditation space in half a day and dismantled within two hours of the last retreat ending.

i remember, last year, reading an article about some business guru's recent visit to mumbai, quoting some of the wonderful off-the-wall ideas he offered during his seminar there. one of which was that in the future the heads of companies will be known as CDOs rather than CEOs - Chief Destructive Officer, not Chief Executive Officer - because their job will be to 'destroy' the company before the competition does. and he quoted with approval the example of some company - maybe it was the company that created Netscape Navigator but i cant remember - which burst onto the scene and made 2.5 billion dollars in 18 months before going bust. he said he would rather have this on his CV than something like 'he met his sales targets every quarter for 17 years.' i remember smiling as i read this. i felt i knew exactly what he meant, and how it could translate smoothly into my high-speed/superslow buddhist universe...

for years i have been captivated by a remark of Thich Nhat Hanh's: "there are enough zen centres; what we need now are zen corners..." last year i started thinking in that space but was too busy helping tushita with its teaching schedule to try it out. this year, returning to dharamsala after that nine month wander around the world, i knew it was time to try. of course, the buddhist universe and Netscape Navigator only partially overlap, novice monks and CDOs only partially overlap, but that's ok. i'm a 'translator' in the most open sense of the word...

it started with a ten day retreat that some friends from various courses last year invited me to lead. it went really well - lots of silent sitting all day, and then the magic of the night laced with emptiness teachings, loving-kindness meditations and sweet dedication prayers. and all of this placed within the four powers (refuge, repentance, aspiration and practice) so that the whole day's activity was seen as a purification practice. but the cool thing was watching it all happen from nothing, watching it shine briefly but truly, and watching it disappear without a trace and without regret.

the group was amazingly disciplined and warm - focussed, generous, present. everyone serving in some way to make the place function, and everyone practicing to transform themselves. this was 'community' in the full sense of the word - naturally disciplined, naturally joyful - but within the high-speed/superslow now-you-see-us-now-you-dont ethos of the twentyfirst century (four of them are now on the road to tibet, others leaving soon or already left for korea, italy, israel). once i accepted the invitation to lead the retreat everyone freely, spontaneously adopted some kind of responsibility for making it happen, and everything happened: some wandered the hillside looking for venues, others set up the kitchen and got the food supplies in, arranged the meditation room, organised logistics. an empty farmhouse transformed into a temporary 'zen corner' that felt beautifully established and strong after just a few days. now i know just how possible it is, and just how sweet it can be, with the right people around.

and what we established together became the site for several weeks of open and closed teachings, and a platform for newcomers to encounter the buddhist path. after that opening retreat i continued renting two rooms, teaching in one of them: with old friends in the evenings, and stranger-friends who responded to the posters announcing the presence of 'radio shenyen' and the free teachings available there in the afternoons. all kinds of people came, but then came a group of four students in one day who all felt in harmony with each other and with the space and ended up staying for a month. on the morning of the last day of the last retreat we dismantled the place in two hours, traceless except in the minds of those who passed through it.

and in between the string of teachings and retreats i was able to just be there alone: standing under the stars at night after a day of interconnected teaching sessions; mornings memorising the heart sutra in sanskrit on the rooftop or watching the clouds of mist come rolling up the hillside, silencing everything. most of the time half-undressed by tushita standards but dressed like a king in exile by my own emerging ones, and it felt so natural being outside the institution, semi-invisible, just talking naturally to whoever came to listen, studying alone at night, praying in my own language (and the ones i borrow - pali, sanskrit), doing nightly formal confessions in the thai style with an 'imaginary monk' listening to me (just to get the pattern of call-and-response back into my memory), and listening to music before falling asleep as if it were snow or rain falling in some perfect space...

i didnt have to leave the hillside at all during those seven weeks (fortunately, since i was ill most of the time and too weak to walk up and down the hillside) - marta, the italian girl who watched the entire world cup with me, would bring up everything i needed from town (including students!). and both before and during the spell on the hillside there was so much kindness and support - my begging bowl filled each day by scott and anna, room rent taken care of by anonymous donors, food parcels from tushita, and other gifts large and small.

two years down the road as a monk i now have no choice but to just trust in the workings of karma, to study and meditate and share what i'm thinking with others, to make the decisions that seem right and are calling clear, even if they're a little vague sometimes, even if they stray beyond the limitations of my rationale... and so far its been fine. i feel myself unravelling in the sweetest way, shedding hesitations along the way. some lama said recently that fear itself isnt suffering, its the fear of fear that is suffering. its fascinating watching the boundary of hesitation shift. its directly related to awareness of impermanence, which is directly related to awareness of art, music, mathematics, architecture, sentence structures, the body, emptiness....

i feel myself moving towards a kind of shamata-zen-tantrica vision - a semi-invisible practice focussing on the silence and simplicity of meditation, a non-dual faith, and the wildest, most ruthless worldview in the buddhist universe: nagarjuna's endless destruction of logical limitations. a universe of unfindable objects, unfindable freedom, unfindable truths. unfindable but not unreal. and as everything becomes unfindable what emerges - completely unstated - is a universe of potential miracle and dream. when karma and emptiness merge what emerges is the miracle of your unrepeatable life.

and i can do what i want there - in that unfindable, wild universe - because what i want is buddha-universal. discipline doesn't negate desire - it polishes it, makes it almost invisible, superslow, high-speed. " to live outside the law you have to be honest." - recently i have started to see the truth inside that statement and its the sweetest thing to communicate to people. more and more i find myself teaching pure morality - beautiful conduct - within a universe of unlimited possibility. and by pure morality i dont mean being a nice person, i mean being another kurosawa, answerable to no-one (because you've already announced that you're not going to harm anyone, and what more can people ask of you? can they seriously ask you to make them another dead, formulaic movie? would you seriously respond?), and beautiful conduct in the sense of feeling your unrepeatable, disappearing life and rescuing it in the very moment. if people lived like this they'd see angels. 'unrepeatability' is the language of angels..

zen doesnt talk about the angels - it doesnt talk very much at all - whereas tibetan buddhism talks about them endlessly, but within the baroque intricacies of carefully defined lineages and initiation-connections and complex, unchanging sadhana architectures. but between geshe michael and nagarjuna i feel sure that we can meet them directly, talk to them directly. the 'soft logic' lineage of invisible communities, the lineages of winter branches and three-second conversations, the miracle spaces of saint francis's garden and dante-style childhood sweethearts meeting us there. white convertibles, abandoned cars, white limousines. something between the semi-mythical and the natural next step.

more and more i see buddhist philosophy as a series of mobius strips, creating infinite loops out of seeming dualities: karma and emptiness, pure morality and limitless beauty, precision actions and invisible worlds, the high-speed and the super-slow.

when i'm not talking about the (unfindable) buddhist universe i like to dream, study, meditate. i dont really know how to just chat anymore. i need the right questions to keep me going - or nothing at all. when i stay at el balcon, my friend john just leaves me lying in the hammock on the balcony all day, listening to music, reading art magazines, gazing at the edges of trees. i never feel lost, and so i dont need to be found.

i would like to spend more time with science and art and beautiful things. with neon, subway platforms, electronic voices, supersize posters. in that space which, out of habit, i still refer to as 'the West' but which may actually be anywhere from arizona to iceland to shikoku. a refugee from the tradition (including the tradition of the new), riding the infinite loop of anonymity and plenitude.

i know i'll find it. more and more the universe feels like the internet: 2,400,000 responses in 2.2 seconds. and as ibn arabi said back in the 12th century: "when a question is posed ceremoniously the universe has to respond.".

so i know i'll find it. i'll write again from there.

with love, shenyen
(p.s. you dont know what a mobius strip is? well, take a long strip of paper and glue the ends together to make a loop, with the inside and the outside as two separate, unconnecting loops. that's not a mobius strip. now take another strip of paper and glue the ends together, but before gluing them flip over one of the ends. now you will have one continuous loop that traverses 'both' sides. this is a mobius strip.)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

diamond mountain, arizona, USA, may 2006

i'm just thinking aloud. just standing on a mountain-top talking silently...

... buddhism teaches that this is a broken world and this is a magical world. we have to understand both to make the buddhist path work.

this is a broken world. it works just fine in that loopy way that it does, but all our perceptions about it are fundamentally mistaken at some level, and because of this we wander through a magical mysterious beautiful world crashing into things, seeing all our happiness projects unravel, all the good things in our life wear out and collapse again and again. and then old age, sickness, death.

we think that chocolate comes from the chocolate factory, beauty comes from using beauty products, wealth comes from savings accounts. when relationships start to go wrong - and they always do - we think we have two choices: either reason with the other person or use emotion and threaten/beg/charm them. but both choices are wrong. neither reason nor charm nor threats can create that happy relationship. that happy relationship was made a long, long time ago, and its quality and length were decided then too. some goodness that we did a long, long time ago, but more or less unconsciously, more or less confusedly - which is why it never lasts, why it always wears out - is the cause of this happiness today. trying to scheme to make that happiness last longer is like trying to travel back in time.

this is a broken world, but its also a magical world. and its important to see both sides clearly. and when we learn how reality works we can start to make our own reality with more and more accuracy. to the extent that we understand, we are free ...

in the middle of the arizona desert, one and a half hours from the nearest city, thirty minutes from the nearest place big enough to hold a grocery store. a fine place to build a buddhist university.

this is apache country - on the land next door are the remains of fort bowie, a fort built with the specific aim of catching the apache chief, geronimo. the road leading onto to the land is still called apache pass. stage-coach slaughters happened here. on the ridge where the lamas' next three year retreat hut will be we've been digging foundations once a week, and right beside us is a mountain where geronimo did a vision quest. we did a fire ceremony at the fouindation site a few nights ago, some of us came back down the hill in christine's white convertible, so crowded i ended up sitting up on the back of the car, enoying the night air and the spacious view and laughing each time she forgot i was there and started speeding along suddenly. (and boy, can she drive!) stage-coach memories.

i step out of classrooms into beautiful desert landscapes. we're in a little basin nestled in the mountains with a vast flat plain visible that stretches across to another mountain range. today i climbed up into the mountains and looked down into an amazing expanse of flatlands, with diamond mountain a tiny speck of a few buildings and huts nestled at the edge of the mountains.

as soon as i arrived here i saw its beauty. there are wonderful winds that refresh the mind but dry out the skin. at night in my yurt the canvas rattles quite dramatically during the stronger gusts and it feels like everything is going to come down, but it never happens. its also rattlesnake and tarantula and black widow country but i havent seen any of them, just the occasional skunk, the occasional songbird, and little rabbits skipping quietly through the desert brush.

i love it in my yurt, and feel so much closer now to the possibility of living in a tipi for an extended period of time, living inside soft citrcular walls which arent walls, just screens that can open up and allow you to see and feel where you really are, and the winds that brought you here

only five weeks but it feels so full. i've made a good connection with the sanskrit alphabet and can now read devanagari script, had a taste of sacred dance from a nepali lineage holder, studied emptiness meditations, enjoyed nights of debate with fellow students, done ACI course 16, and lots of yoga...

i've gazed at the stars in a sky completely open and free of electric light pollution, studied the diamond cutter sutra in my yurt each night and danced for vajrayogini, walked in the night breezes feeling pacified and amazed by the silent gentleness of being here, had some amazing dreams, watched geshe michael give wonderful teachings (one beautiful three minute 'death awareness' meditation that came out of nowhere and rolled along like a page of kerouac took my breath away) while translating a text 'live' to show aspiring translators how its done...

i've even had my first driving lesson, speeding along apache pass in that same white convertible.

and i've studied hard, continuing the task of correcting my totally upside-down mistaken view of the world, letting the logic of how reality works evolve into a magical roller coaster journey through what may start to look like miracle landscapes.

the people here are very committed, very open-hearted. its a good place to be. and geshe michael is trying to take them all the way.

and now this round-the-world trip comes to something like an end - by returning to where it started: thailand. and india. a brief stop at el balcon to see john and his family and then back to dharamsala for a feast of teachings and the world cup. after that i dont know where i go but i worry less and less about such things now. i know how reality works and its up to me to find the faith to live it (and faith is necessary, cos the way it works is so counter-intuitive to our normal perceptions and reactions). here's one presentation of how it works, from (i think) nagarjuna's 'string of precious jewels'

"giving brings us everything we need;
an ethical life brings happiness.
not getting angry or upset
brings us beauty, and joyful effort
grants us grace and authority.
developing concentration brings peace
while meditation brings wisdom and liberation.
compassion achieves all things."

although i dont worry about the future and dont have any clear sense of how its going to unfold my basic intuition still holds: i hope to be settled somewhere by the end of the year for an extended period. no idea where. but simply thinking about the perfect site without worrying about practicalities is sound buddhist logic however, so.... somewhere open like the desert is, but cooler, with some angel to help me. maybe by the sea, and in a tipi. and maybe a teacher will appear who will give me a six month plan for meditation. ok, i'll post it tonight inside a mandala. and let the clock tick away sweetly...

i look forward to seeing old friends again as i pass once more through the familiar landscapes. my greetings to all of you, with best wishes in whatever you are doing, whatever you're dreaming of. and remember: visions of the future dont have to be logical or practical or even particularly believable (lack of faith is, after all, endemic in our cultures and our minds) - they just have to be envisioned sincerely and then watered with some goodness, especially the goodness of trying to understand how reality works. a little karma, a little understanding of emptiness, then sit back and watch...

see you soon,


Sunday, April 09, 2006

broadcast: april 9, 2006--from canada to new mexico

"later on
i went and captured
all the forest deer -
all the objects of the universe..."
- from 'verses for memorisation at the tantric college', by the first panchen lama.

he wakes up in an apartment that has begun to feel like home... his sleeping bag rolled out on the floor in the centre of a large rug, and around him a soft arc of books, art magazines, a simple buddhist altar, CDs, papers, little toys (marvin the martian peering over the 'postcard shoulder' of an angel greeting mary in a renaissance painting), a mini dvd player, photographs, bookwraps and bits of clothing. stripped of furniture, the room shines. for only the second time on this trip - and only the sixth time in the last seven months - he's been in the same place for more than two weeks. when there's time and space to unpack there's time and space for silence. otherwise he has to hop the freight-trains of language all day long. time and space, too, for memorisation. its in this room that he memorises dogen zenji's prayer, 'arousing the mind of enlightenment':

"I vow with all beings, from this life on throughout countless lives, to hear the True Dharma; and upon hearing it no doubt will arise nor will I lack in faith; that upon meeting it I will renounce worldy affairs and maintain the Buddha Dharma; that in doing so the great earth and all living beings together attain the Buddha Way.
Although my past evil karma has greatly accumulated, indeed being the cause and condition of obstacles in practising the Way, may all Buddhas and Ancestors who have attained the Buddha Way be compassionate and free me from karmic effects, allowing me to practice the Way without hindrance. May they share their compassion which fills the boundless universe with the virtue of their enlightenment and teachings.
Buddhas and Ancestors of old were as we; we, in the future, shall be Buddhas and Ancestors. Revering Buddhas And Ancestors we are one Buddha and one Ancestor; awakening Bodhi-mind we are one Bodhi-mind. Extending their compassion freely and unlimitedly, we are able to attain Buddhahood and let go of the attainment. Therefore the chan master Lung-ya said: 'Those who in past lives were not enlightened will now be enlightened. In this life save the body which is the fruit of many lives. Before Buddhas were enlightened they were the same as we. Enlightened people of today are exactly as those of old.'
Quietly explore the farthest reaches of these causes and conditions, as this is the exact transmission of a verified Buddha. Repenting in this way one never fails to receive profound help from all Buddhas and Ancestors. Revealing and disclosing one's lack of faith and practice before the Buddha, the power of this revelation melts away the root of transgressions. This is the pure and simple colour of true practice, of the true mind of faith, of the true body of faith."

sometimes all he has is fiction which which to describe the emergence of a new reality. or rather something that doesnt recognise the dicotomy of fact and fiction, a new kind of writing that allows biographemes to float free, illimitable, discreet, almost nothing. the new language: i you he she.

his journeys are beautiful fractal curves, visible from outer space: to meet his teacher in new york city he leaves india and curves through thailand, japan, sweden, england and canada. to meet him again in the desert he will curve out of new york city back into canada, down into new mexico and then finally into arizona. but i'm sure plants turning to face the sun have the same sense of achievement.

once the buddha was walking across a field accompanied by some gods when he suddenly says: "this would be a good place to build a sanctuary." one of the gods plucks a piece of grass, places it back into the ground, and announces "the sanctuary is built." the buddha smiles.

i know how it is: your body, already broken, yet untouched by human hands. the years of indifference, the lakeside visions, the language that they sold you which didnt work in real life situations... there are parts of the body that still have no name after centuries of looking and touching. there are korean monks who climb up into caves behind huge waterfalls and scream for hours when the pressures of their training get too much. you ride city buses in silence and come home each evening to piles of white envelopes, like last year's snow. i see you everywhere: quiet athlete from an unknown country, standing on the podium of everyday life wearing your gold medal of unanswered questions. your national anthem: sadness. this is more than simply the end of biography, this is the spirituality of fact and fiction. i would like us to walk together in silence, side by side, for precisely one hundred steps. (a quantum angel would do the counting - we would just be the lovers of language walking in the nonlocality of love.) and at the end i would like you to realise that language hasnt even started yet on this planet. then i would like to return to the 14th century. there: now you know how the mind of a soft logic monk works...

a poem by saint john of the cross:


With all humility
I say,

it is God who should ask for forgiveness,
not we, Him.

Someday you will know this.

A saint could explain.

he's reading a novel by richard powers, 'the time of our singing': an endlessly emerging description of the beauties of singing and music set against a wider history of twentieth century america. sex, riots, relativity theory, your mom trapped in a burning building - all seen in terms of music, seen as music, not as metaphor but as a newly translated natural language. he writes: "i could send you the chapter titles alone, or an occasional sentence or open-ended paragraph, on postcards sent once a month for three years, and you wouldnt feel distant from me:
"december 1961", "my brother's face", "easter 1939", "my brother as the student prince", "my brother as hansel", "in trutina", "a tempo", "december 1964", "my brother as aeneas", "bist du bei mir", "my brother as orpheus" ... "he feeds off his sister's instruction, the seed that will form his lifelong taste for the small and the light..." "misunderstandings seemed always to leave the harmed one strong enough to comfort the harmer..." "in his line, people keep studying until they die. and maybe even night school, after that..." "he spends his days in feverish activity. he listens to the radio. he took walks, or sat motionless at the music library at columbia. he was trying to race backwards by standing still. a decade later , he'd tell an interviewer that those were the months that turned him into an adult singer. 'i learnt more about how to sing by keeping silent for half a year than i ever learnt from any teacher.' except the teacher from whom he learned even silence..." "she floats into the next lesson beatific. she crosses the room and kisses him on the forehead, in neither forgiveness nor apology. just life in its inexplicable fullness..."
i've only made it through half the book and now its time to move on, but i know it will re-appear one day in another country, like everything else does..."

he's moving through people's lives so fast it feels like time travel. he has five days on average for a place to become home, for the distance between the door and the window to travel back through time, touch childhood and return, 'confirmed', before having to start again in a new place. he grows up overnight in his three day old neighbourhoods and he owns the streets outside his 'home' in the simplest way he knows: a dreamy appreciation. a quiet, unexpectant amazement wrapped in a certain interiority. but in the midst of all this he is nurturing his buddhist universe. he's reading nagarjuna, st teresa, "the fabric of the cosmos", "the time of our singing". buying songs off the internet to offer to the buddhas. a gardener tending his garden, imagining tantra, re-imagining tantra, always arriving.

two weeks ago i was invited to stay a few days at grail springs, a spa in northern ontario, to teach a little and in return enjoy the amazing hospitality of the place: snowshoeing through silent forests and listening to the sound of a stream permeating through a semi-acoustic blanket of snow, enjoying saunas and hot tubs under the stars, mud wraps and massage treatments from the sweetest angels, and amazing raw food dishes by a visiting californian chef. slept in a bed with so many mattresses i had to climb up into it. forget to draw the curtains and wake up looking out over a frozen lake that was just beginning to melt. the owner is a woman with a deep faith in the legend of the holy grail and its fundamental credo of 'i serve'. she wants her guests to have more than just a wonderful time, she wants them to have time itself, now and for evermore... it was wonderful to be there and now its already gone, disappearing at the speed of light. somebody talks about michael ondaatje's 'billy the kid' and then i fly diagonally across the continent to find a guidebook to new mexico on the coffee table of my next apartment, and on one of the pages a picture of billy the kid. "maybe i should re-read 'billy the kid'? maybe billy the kid will help me to understand geshe michael, st teresa, neils bohr?" ... i think i'm finally beginning to understand what the 'homeless' life means. right now i'm in the midst of a high speed spin through five or six different places in two weeks before arriving at diamond mountain. from there, another high speed spin back into and through india. dont imagine i'll have computer access in the desert... so... until next time...

much love.


broadcast: march 2006--canada

i'm back in kitchener-waterloo with a month to spend before heading back into the states and down to diamond mountain university for the spring semester. my first night back i'm sleeping beneath the fake tiger skin rug again and this time dreaming clearly of tigers and bears and black-red hearts. second night back i'm hanging out in a bar ("jane bond"!) with meaghan and her friends and one of her friends offers me an apartment for the duration of my stay here, with kitchen bathroom etc. not only that she provides me with artists materials to play with (she knows where i'm coming from - attended one of the talks last month) and a larder full of food, including biscuits from ikea. her partner is a philosophy professor and he has friends who love english football, so that may manifest along the way too. from the balcony i overlook a snowcovered cemetery and watch squirrels hop the intersections between the trees and the rooftops. a mini dvd-player with a three inch screen appears along with more kung fu episodes to watch. prayers and meditation each morning, prayers and mandala offerings each night and, in between, artforum, 'the time of our singing', nagarjuna, minimalism.

back in the slower pace of k-w i'm also finally able to check out the web site that has just surfaced on the net, expressing concerns about the way geshe michael is teaching. it was quite a powerful experience to read, having just returned from the high energy tenderness of being immersed in his community during his new york teachings. its not a tacky site - its polite but very critical - but they dont say who they are unfortunately (just vague sketches meant to underscore the credibility of the various critics), which detracts a little from the gravity of their stance. the site is

however, given that quite a few people who receive shenyenradio have studied with me and/or know how deeply i admire geshe michael, i feel its my duty to point out the website and also to try and express how i have incorporated the experience into my own trajectory.

i read it through from beginning to end - it took a while and it was almost all critical, and as i said, coming after the immense sweetness of being within his community in new york it was quite a shock, but after digesting it i actually feel clearer about why i am going to diamond mountain and what i'm expecting from there, and clearer about how to go there. i realised, in the aftershock of reading the site from beginning to end, that i had slipped into thinking about geshe michael very one-dimensionally, very selfishly - purely in terms of whether or not he was going to become 'my' teacher (my my my my my wonderful teacher for wonderful wonderful wonderful me). now i realise that i need to think about him in a total way - as a prospective lifelong teacher, as the wonderful heart-teacher of the last five years that he already is and, last but not least, as a potential casualty of our high-pressured world's hunger for celebrity-gurus, a sweet shining but crashing soul... if you love someone in this world its your duty to imagine the possibility of them crashing, even as you love them with faith.

... actually i had been thinking in this space often over the last two years, ever since i returned to dharamsala in 2004 and encountered several times among people there a dismissal of who he was and where he was going, but the new york experience had been so sweet that i had recently let go of that side of the picture. but as i said, for most of the last two years my mind has stayed open to the possibility, even as i lapped up recording after recording with joy and faith, that he may indeed be spiralling out of control the way people around me kept telling me he was. just because i had no feeling in my own mind that he might be crashing doesnt mean it was impossible. my love for him doesnt have to preclude the challenge - the beautiful wild challenge - of imagining him totally crashing while at the same time feeling the joy in what he is trying to do continually deepen inside me. i dont have to close my eyes to that or any other possibility.

i know he is controversial. the whole of buddhist history is littered with controversial teachers - we love it when its in the distant past, in the accepted hagiographies of characters safely mummified within the centuries and the pages, but when it happens with real people from our own time - and a westerner too! - we find it hard to accept. we lap up the 'marpa milarepa' soap opera from the 16th century with a lazy isolated pseudo-faith, smiling lazily at milarepa's tortures knowing how the story ends, but we cant accept even the tiniest challenge to the pre-conceived version of our own world and identity from a liviing breathing teacher in the 21st century.

and i know teachers can crash - especially here in the hyper-electric late-twentieth century western lands. its happened many times before, both to westerners and tibetans. its part of the energy of the situation, of trying to wrestle with the whole energy pattern of a powerful and crazy culture and transform it into something pure, something visionary. it is not easy.

so within these two parameters my job is to remain open, disciplined, attentive, unfearful. to walk in the dark in my best clothes.

in spring 2004 i had the chance to go to toronto and attend the kalachakra given by the dalai lama, and from there maybe meet up with geshe michael for the first time, and - who knows? - maybe even ordain with him.. or go to india and do the six month buddhist logic and debate course. two wonderful choices and i was totally stuck about which to choose. my friend matt did a divination for me and the result was india, so off i went. at the time i didnt know that three months later i would be ordaining with the dalai lama, and when i first arrived in india i remember feeling a bit sad about missing the toronto option. but when the chance to ordain with the dalai lama came up and i took it, and the new path that opened up immediately felt so clear and true, i felt so glad. and then, from my new position as a monk ordained by the dalai lama, i had a realisation: i thought "even if geshe michael crashes, i can be a witness of all the good he did beforehand, i can say to the world that this guy was the one who woke me up and made me want to go all the way, and i can say it as a monk within the dalai lama's lineage not as someone already immersed in geshe michael's community." this, i think, is the kind of open, clear-eyed love for a teacher i want to develop: to be deeply thankful for the teachings they give me while at the same time able to keep my balance and thankfulness even should they fall. "i love you when you arrive, i love you when you leave." and of course i can only have the teachers that my karma can 'afford', (and how many in this world have the karma to have perfect lifelong teachers in the room next to them day after day, year after year?)... so love has to be generous, even when the loved one is crashing - actually, especially when the loved one is crashing...

so, expecting nothing, blaming nothing and no-one in my world, i am able to learn from whatever teachers come my way. if they shine like a star i can try and learn from them how to do that, and if they crash, consumed by hubris, i can learn what that is like too - a thunderous close-up lesson in darkness! and i know one thing: in my millions of future lives i am bound to crash myself many times, so that will be a valuable lesson to learn, a valuable lesson to receive, should it manifest.

the fact is though, i really dont know what the 'true situation' is - all i know is my own deep love and joy in what he is trying to do. and i take responsibility for this joy and faith. i personally feel safe in ways i cannot describe - partially because i have deep faith in the buddhist teachings on karma, that nothing and no-one is to blame for anything in my world, and partially because of the trust i feel in my own motivation. but i feel its my duty to inform everyone who has encountered geshe michael through me that he is being strongly doubted, and to remind them that we have to reach our own decisions and take responsibility for our own decisions as we move through this fantastic mysterious world, this unrepeatable, endless world. for my part, i will continue to present my own encounters with geshe michael and his community as openly and accurately as i can.

but one thing i am radiantly clear about - the geshe michael i will connect with will be different from the geshe michael perceived by the critics on that website. the buddhist teachings tell me clearly that i will always and everywhere perceive my own world - the marriage of karma and emptiness. or as we chant in the thai temples: "i am the product of my karma, born of my karma, the heir of my karma, abide supported by my karma, whatever karma i create, for good or for ill, of that i will be the heir..." all i've ever wanted is for geshe michael to succeed in his wild, sweet vision of what is possible for a human being on this planet, at this time, out of thankfulness for the teachings i have received from him. even though i dont have the knowledge to judge his vision from some objective (?) or higher perspective and so cannot comment on the controversies that surround him. all i can say is that, controversies aside, this vision of his touches all the essential points of my understanding of the buddhist path, and the deeper patterns of my emerging faith in the buddha-dharma. it doesnt even matter if he succeeds but i miss out on being a part of it; and if he fails that's ok too. i will perceive and experience whatever i have the karma to perceive and experience. there is no fixed 'geshe michael' or 'shenyen' or 'world'. but whether he is shining from within an oceanic plenitude and a wild sweet holy transformation, or shining because he is on fire and spiraling for just a few more seconds through an empty sky, my job (one of them, anyway) remains the same: to never forget who helped me and when, who spoke to me and when, who invited me and when - invited me to try in my own way to shine.

the last six weeks over here in north america have been so amazing. so much more than i ever anticipated has already happened. and i'm really looking forward to going to diamond mountain with this wide-open non-judgmental gaze, this loving gaze that sees beauty but doesnt demand that it lasts or stays the same (i, too, dont last or stay the same...) whoever geshe michael is and is not, i will always appreciate him, and smile when i think of him. if you want a spiritual teacher in your life you must be totally open and totally unsentimental at the same time. and a hundred other qualities too. the radiance of discipline and an endless openness to the mystery.

so, till next time,


broadcast: last days march 2006--NYC

he says "if you have any sense at all of being a caterpillar about to turn into a butterfly you should protect this feeling and nurture it..."

the teachings go later and later, i'm exhausted but very happy. two a.m. train back to brooklyn, amazing soft-edged 'unstressed' rap music coming from high up in a tower-block, a heavy but gentle locomotive rhythm, everyone in the party chanting or maybe its just the record, i'll never know. in the street a young black woman pirrouettes awkwardly across the road in a wheelchair. spanish rap coming out of dusty beat-up old cars with broken suspension, young black guys asking if i'm a monk, smiling with admiration, and then telling me about life in brooklyn. and right now, in the apple shop again, a charming looking 'bad' guy puts rap on the computer next to mine and starts doing a kind of hands-on healing kind of dance in front of the screen. and its always 'right now' here...

some nights i get back to my room and there are new paintings on the wall - rufus has been in and doing some work. its so sweet to live in such a space, and it feels like a kind of echo from the future telling me that the sleep project will naturally come to realisation one day...

he talks about love. there are three kinds of love we need to develop, each one higher than the last. he starts talking about the lady who runs the little ice-cream counter at the gasoline station in bowie, arizona, the nearest place to diamond mountain university, a tiny place in the middle of nowhere. the first level of love is to think, like, 'i hope she doesnt hurt herself while she's serving me...' and the second is to realise that she is giving three minutes of her valuable, irreplaceable time, three minutes that are taking her closer to her death and can never be replaced, to serve me ice cream. like, she gets maybe four dollars an hour but really you cant put a price on it, you cant put a price on a few minutes of life, its immeasurable... and then the third level, which is to think that my whole world is a projection of my karma, and if i had been kinder in a previous lifetime i wouldnt see her standing here now in this sun-baked metal box in the middle of nowhere, she's here and not in paradise because i havent done the work yet of seeing my whole world and everyone in it as a paradise inhabited by angels.

buddhism is about doing that work. on the one hand its very delicate and mysterious (understanding reality and the emptyness-openness-unfinished nature of all phenomena) and on the other its very simple and clear (karma: be kind to everyone, be generous and open towards every situation)...

i'm in the islamic wing of the metropolitan museum in front of a turkish miniature painting entitled: "after accidentally killing a youth, a king tries to make amends to the bereaved mother by offering her either his own head cut off or a bowl filled with gold" its a fantastic logic. everything is immeasurable and yet we have to act, we have to make amends, we have to offer something... so the way to keep the immeasurability open is to make a double offer and let the other choose. a fantastic logic, with space for generosity and imagination, the extreme and the simple.

also in the met, i suddenly encounter a huge hall with a reconstructed fragment of an egyptian temple installed in it - amazing in itself, but pushed into even more amazing spaces by the presence of an entire wall of windows overlooking a snow covered central park that sings 'quotation' over the whole scene. and finally in the medieval room, walking past suits of armor and suddenly laughing as i realise how secure and protected i feel in my robes.

a psychologist talking about happiness, about how after spending nearly forty years studying happiness he doesnt have a definition of it. the nearest he has is to say that it is a state of mind where one is not wanting to be doing something different from what one is actually doing at that time. this is a beautiful definition - it places mindfulness as the key to happiness, within a world entirely chosen by oneself. within this high-speed disappearing life, this moment by moment disappearing life, what do you want to do? what do you really want to do?

and then turning it around through all 360 degrees of your world, so that it includes what everyone else wants to do too. or as they say everytime i enter a shop here: "how can i help you sir?"

got to dash now, leave this sweet high tech store for the last time. back to canada in a few days time. geshe michael's community just keeps pushing me further down the road towards what i want but wont approach: i've been offered a yurt to live in at diamond mountain for the next semester (it took them a mere three minutes to overcome my vagueness!) so i'm going to go back in on a three month visa waver in a month's time, and from there return to india for some teachings that geshe michael is going to translate for (in kullu, june 24th - july 7th). i keep wondering "when will it end?", but also i'm starting to train myself to stop thinking such thoughts. for the sake of the ice cream woman in bowie, arizona, and all the people around me in my own world, i have to stop thinking any kind of negativity that will delay the transformation. could talk for hours more on this, and i will, one day.

till next time,

with much love


broadcast FEB 27th 2006--NYC

she shows a rose to a young girl and asks: "is it beautiful?"
she places the rose behind her back and asks: "is it still beautiful?"
"yes, it is."
"beauty is in the mind, not in the rose. and that's what i paint."

in this city you tend to bounce as you walk, and you tend to walk through walls - one minute you're sitting in a supersize starbucks in downtown manhattan (to my left, a young black guy is watching a kung fu movie on his mini-laptop, making beautiful 'still' gestures with his hands - like blessings - and i can tell he's smiling; to my right three girls wearing different shades of pink hats... i keep getting caught by the rhythm of the editing of the kung fu movie, reading it as patterns of information with open references - the pattern emergence that combines the rhythm of brushstokes, attention spans, and market share in the career path of an emerging artist... a history of manhattan land price shifts over the last thirty years... or models of lost words incurred when translating from japanese into english. i'm trying to read nagarjuna - and succeeding - but suddenly listening to marvin gaye's "what's going on?" for the first time in years) and then you're on the midnight train to brooklyn and walking through windswept streets of rubbish, past the huge tower blocks of the bushwick projects before slipping into the artists' lofts building where i'm staying. on the subway a gentle oldish black guy sings great soft-edge soul songs accompanying himself on a keyboard, in the train a seriously hyped up guy talks to himself before answering his phone and mouthing off at the caller, back in the loft a neighbour explains how his state of the art figure-modeling program works. crazy guys in cafes rant to themselves about how 'you shouldna shot him man, you shouldna shot him...' and in galleries artists talk about the beauty of the mind. i'm everywhere.

on a train an old black woman puts away her bible into a carrier bag carrying the words "forever 21." she is vajrayogini. and just as she passes through my world, so i pass through others' worlds. i walk through other people's worlds, partially dissolving with each stroll along the sidewalk. i dont have to speak to speak anymore - i just walk: one more hallucinatory sight-line, one more absolutely perfect three-second edit manifesting in other people's lives, in this city made up entirely of such things.

on the seat behind me a young girl sings a beautiful funny excited song over and over - "new york, new york, new york CITY!" her mom gets a little embarassed and asks her to stop but a guy sitting nearby starts to talk about the song with her. she made it up herself, dreamt it in fact, and so she has to sing it. high up on a building a poster shows a suitcase covered in flowers and beneath it a tagline which cant be read properly cos its first portion is cut off by the edge of the roof. they are advertising forgetfulness, the impossibility of getting complete messages in this city. this is an important message to receive and not everyone receives it. and then later that night, returning from geshe michael and christie-la's teachings the daughter of another student tells me sleepily i read a book about you... there's no need to try and 'understand reality', you just have to enjoy being real, the whole crazy dreaminess of the thing.

i'm writing this message on a computer in apple's superstore in manhattan. there are no internet cafes here - everyone has their own computer and the cafes provide ports to plug into the internet - so i have to imagine buying a computer in order to write to you. to write, you have to pretend to be imagining buying something. and i like it like that - for now, in this precise moment of this journey's trajectory, its a way to be a soft logic monk. a way to be.


broadcast canada - usa feb 2006: semi-mythical

"it was semi-mythical. it was the

natural next step. it would never

happen. it was happening now..."


i'm here in north america - small cities circling toronto in ontario, canada - the first definite step towards geshe michael...

and its happening so fast, so beautiful - "first of all let's change the landscape..." and whoosh, its snow everywhere...

the magic of 'empty' cities... my image of north america is so strange: everyone i meet is either a yoga teacher or dharma practitioner or kung fu student or monk or composer... people walk to work along disused railway tracks, some restaurants have meditation halls attached to them, and there are things i can name but not explain: my first ever quantum-mala for example, given to me by a student at the university...

the days usually begin with a visit to some delicious but inexpensive resataurant, and after that anything can happen - a visit to a university to receive a massage in a high tech chair that emits subsonic sound (the first in canada and open to the public for one day only) followed by a visit to an institute for theoretical physics to just hang out there and maybe get into conversation with one of the 'long term guests' as they are sweetly labelled on the residential board... as it happened it was friday and they were already gone, but the building was lovely to look at, exquisitely simple and complex, and touched by playfulness - an arts program that included some cutting edge contemporary musicians (including a superstring quartet!) and brief synopses of future lectures of beautiful complexity and modesty. i think i'll just write a soft logic letter to them when i get the time. there have been lots of yoga sessions with wonderful teachers. i've also given a talk at a high school and a dharma centre, enjoyed a three hour childhood memory marathon watching episodes of david carradine's 'kung fu' on dvd, had long conversations about 'organised sound' with jascha, watched soccer matches in matt's place or sat in on long car journeys with him to pick up world-wandering nuns with the car full of playful magical conversation about dakinis...

and i'm happy to say that the first opportunity to teach buddhist philosophy and worldview with a soft logic feel has been given me at meaghan's yoga centre, where i was able to teach accompanied by silent cds and teddy bears. (people asked "why the cuddly toy?" and i told them of an idea i came across recently that struck me deeply, about not trusting altars which are disturbed by the presence of a cuddly toy...) it went very well, and jascha - the sound man who set up his laptop to play ambient songs at random intervals to open up the teaching spaces and give people time to reflect and dream - managed to make me a cd of silence and songs for use in mandala offerings - which i used for the first time at the national ballet school while waiting for a friend to finish her ballet class; little nine year old ballerinas looking on curiously before going into their classes.

seriously, everyday feels like this. everyone is smiling or laughing or just being totally cool, passing me on to the next person, the next floor, the next opportunity for something sweet to happen, driving me ten hour round trips to get a cheaper flight to new york.

i feel like i've stepped into a wonderful mandala where everyone is quietly pushing me through my usual 'drunken astronaut' vagueness into the heart of geshe michael's community. they even packed me off to new york city (with a yoga mat strapped over my shoulder: i feel just like david carradine!) for seventeen days of teachings instead of the three i was intending to do....

new york city

my goodness! it just gets deeper and deeper... i cant believe this is the new york city i've heard so much about - its much more relaxed than i ever expected. but again, that's the magic of 'empty' cities... i'm surrounded by geshe michael students each morning and each evening, and every time i go into a 'subway' sandwich shop tibetan monks and refugees appear behind the counter and we talk about dharamsala.

every morning its off to the three jewels centre for tibetan heart yoga classes, then my sandwich, then a run around galleries. gazing in awe at the skyscrapers, cruising on the gentle buzz of the streets... it feels like home here, like i've lived here before. and then comes the evening - what i've been dreaming of for years: wonderful teachings by geshe michael and christie-la. the atmosphere is electric, sweet. and new york orchestrates things so fast and close and accurate: you step off the manhattan sidewalk into a little india of chanting at the jivamukti yoga centre where the teachings are being held. everyone is happy and open within the buld up to the teachings. and then finally in they come, geshe-la leading his consort christie-la by the hand (it is a part of their practice to never be more than ten metres apart from each other) and onto the stage for three hours of such heartfelt teachings. there are amazing images etched in my mind, pure blessings of seeing beyond limited conventional reality - its hard to explain. i'm talking about seeing with love and seeing love.

and i finally got the chance to say hello to him and ask for his blessing. he placed his head against mine for a few minutes and held my hands. that was all i needed. my faith is such that i now know i can continue on my way, beyond the limitations of my own rationale, trusting in the radiance of my own path, this soft logic path into a natural, semi-invisible, 21st century buddhism. he's so busy, so in demand, and i dont know when i will get the chance to talk to him again. but i trust more in the emergence of things than in the planning of things now.

everyone who has made this trip possible - and the list of credits flows out into infinity of course - i want to thank right now. i can start at some sweet arbitrary place - lets choose that sweet magical place of tushita in dharamsala, cos it was there, while teaching the various courses there last year, that i ended every course that i helped to teach with my appreciation of geshe michael's teachings and announced my plan to go to america one day and meet him, and so many people made prayers for me to make it happen. and then there are all the people who have helped me on this long crazy journey out of the himalayan foothills to new york city - via japan, thailand, sweden, england and canada! - people who have given me places to stay, paid for tickets, given me teaching opportunities (it felt so much more energised being here in america and teaching at the same time) - i cant name you all and its wrong to try in a way: silence is the only reality. but i just want you all to know what you've done for me, so that hopefully you can smile beyond the limitations of your own rationale and begin to sense that the world is an open, playable place.

i'm running out of time and internet access is hard here, believe it or not (everyone has their own computer i guess, so no cafes like in india) but i will write when i can.
now for some more new york....


Broadcast: 4 Feb 2006

"You have to remember that he is a writer: that is, someone who loses their words precisely..."
- from an obituary for Jacques Derrida, by Judith Butler

In dharamsala a young tibetan boy walks in front of me with a backpack bearing the words "down & out". At a bus stand in north-east thailand another boy's t-shirt bears the incredibly powerful yet limitlessly open phrase "we are". and now the sweet language chaos of japan - `tough military`, `bard jail` and the wonderful `never stop exploding` which resolved itself a few minutes later into `never stop exploring` ...

"If you take your deepest questions into the core of your being, into your very blood and marrow, one day, quite naturally, you will understand the connection between thought and action. I am not speaking of discursive thought, but of taking your deepest questions into your very soul, of engaging your emotions, your dreams, and all of your experiences, the things most difficult to express in words and concepts..." (Thich Nhat Hanh - 'Fragrant Palm Leaves')

for many years, whenever i close my eyes, there has been a fourteenth century zen monk walking in my imagination. I say 'fourteenth century' but that's just my way of naming him: what i really mean is something immeasurable and precise. I dont know whether he is past, present or future. I dont even know whether he is 'me' or not, which in itself is the most beautiful thing. He's always walking, he never speaks, and i love him so much. For me this is what 'koan' means.

got to keep this short - in japan and moving fast - tomorrow off to zen temple - but here:s an essay (attached below) i wrote for cornerhouse, the art gallery i worked at 20 years ago and celebrating its 20th anniversary.

hope you enjoy.


broadcast dec 2005 jan 2006--UK Impossible


"Meditative, and predominantly a writer, everything for him begins by being 'impossible'... "
on the underground i pass through a station called 'temple' and suddenly there is a wonderful moment of cognitive dissonance. i see some tibetan monks in a poster for a mobile phone company and it just looks like a picture of tibetan monks (i dont 'read' it in any way), not some brief, sparkling manifestation of the West's endlessly churning image-repertoire. a truck drives past with 'diamond cutter' on the side and its like the emptiness teachings are as ubiquitous as, say, plumbing.

my eyes are so tired from being able to read all the signs. and all the signs are so mundane, so exhaustedly clever or charming or sincere or brash. i'm missing the walk from tushita to the stupas...

why is it possible to sit on the beach for hours listening to the unending sound of the waves, engrossed and energised, yet two minutes on the london underground is enough to make you want to vomit? because the rhythm of the assault on the underground is relentlessly monotonous - every poster is precisely 32cms by 19cms (or whatever) and each one the exact same distance apart. as brian eno once put it in relation to the same problem with computers: "there's no 'africa' in computers".

"what the modern movie lacks is beauty: the beauty of the wind moving through the trees." (do you want to try and put an approximate date on that quote? i'll tell you at the end..)
attended a weekend of teachings by sogyal rimpoche a few weeks ago. as he passed by me on the way to the teaching seat he asked me where i was from and i immediately replied 'liverpool and dharamsala', which got smiles from the audience.

he's preparing his entire worldwide community for a three year retreat beginning this july - most will do it more 'in spirit' than in the traditional isolated way, remaining at home and simplifying their life as well as they can. but its interesting to see it happening. another confirmation from the world around me that what we do over the next few years is very important: that a window of opportunity, an energy pattern for the entire planet, is going to be in place for a while and we must use it. you have to do what your conscience is telling you to do, not what your hopes and fears are telling you to do. you have to be ruthless - ie totally clear and gentle - beyond all hope and fear.

you dont need to stress, you just need to very gently decide not to waste any more time. you dont necessarilly have to 'get things done' - a lot of the work actually consists of dreaming. you may look lost, confused, vague, lazy - that's ok. so long as you are honest and gentle and totally ruthless.

have been back in england for a month now and i'm glad to say that wearing robes here hasnt been difficult (though my mum wouldnt let me go out the house in kirkby (liverpool), fearing for what the hooligans would do to me). london especially feels totally natural, probably because of it being such a cosmopolitan city.

strangers talk to me. there are six billion of them. they come and go, beyond biography, so clean. so fast, so gentle. i walk on the heath, or around the tate, sometimes with no sense of where i am. "like the bird in Kafka (she says) searching for its cage, not in order to imprison itself but to feel its caginess along with its freedom..."
gertrude stein: "i write for myself and strangers."

i practice for myself and strangers.

i've seen most of my friends and family, although i feel like i hardly spoke to anyone (even writing this has been unusually difficult). but its enough just to see them and to let the micro-perceptions flood through. i knew i had to come back 'home' at some point, and having done it i can feel inside that it's done, even if i cant say what it is that's been done. so much happens at a subterraenian level nowadays. sometimes i feel like i'm sleepwalking while all the time feeling totally attuned to something hidden and approaching. and i've learnt to be ruthless enough to stay in that space of not-knowing without worrying. i could almost say that i'm resigned to not having my friends around me for long periods of time - that i'm prepared (and preparing) to meet them again in 200 years time, not next month. i imagine a future where friends dont exist, just the plenitude of love and awareness, sufficiency and creativity. like in the sufi dance: "i love you when you arrive, i love you when you leave".

off to canada tomorrow (feb 3) and then new york and maybe further afield - to meet geshe michael at long last and to just enjoy the feeling of the ground moving beneath my feet. after that i really dont know - i cant see where i'm going to be three months down the line anymore - all i know is my intuition is saying to try and be 'in place' by the end of the year, somewhere i can settle and study and slow down deeply and begin to find my own voice and rhythm in that deep, slowed down space. i'll be happy to teach a la tushita 2005 within that scenario, but right now i dont know how its going to evolve. an obvious solution would be to go back to asia - thailand or india or maybe nepal - find a dharma centre where i can teach a little and go deeper into the meditation spaces, or (like in thailand) just disappear into my kuti and leave the teaching side alone for a while. but i'm sure there are other options too, waiting to announce themselves as my distracted head tumbles an extra 4 or 5 degrees left or right. i just have to stay loose and focussed and keep taking the interesting options, keep imagining the sweeter scenarios - optimism and imagination as a discipline.

talking of which (ie the interesting options, the sweeter scenarios), its great to have 'artforum' back on the floor of my room, read and re-read and semi-destroyed. every issue is a fantastic journey into the sweeter options of enlightened subjectivity: rirkrit tiravanija, a thai artist making wooden simulacra of gallery spaces in which he has temporarilly set up home (in one of them a voice-recording of sci-fi writer bruce sterling says "imagine living in an art gallery. no don't even imagine it. its unimaginable.")... a new art school in LA teaching free classes in a 'disappearing' classroom on top of a mountain... paul chan, a korean artist projecting onto the floor of a darkened room black sillouettes of objects tumbling through space (people, bicycles, even a train)... someone designing a town for ghosts to live in, and an imaginary island off bermuda with its own imagined bird (she's even created sound recordings of the bird's song)... maybe i should find a studio, not a kuti - become the first yogi to live on nettle soup and artforum. a cave in india "sponsored by sony, artforum and liverpool fc"... of course, i wouldnt last five minutes!

but maybe five minutes would be long enough.
till next time,


ps the quote is from around 1920

broadcast dec 2005--stockholm

"Your stories leave the grooves of storytelling and become sheer discovery of speech at its end, in its last inscribed, audible moments..." (Edmond Jabes)

wandering the streets of stockholm feeling lost and at peace. this sweet feeling of realising that i have absolutely no reason to be here, or anywhere. which means my mind is free just to look and see. "i have nothing to say and i am saying it." besides, i dont really need reasons anymore. i'm just here. the mid-day sun just covers the rooftops. its dark at 3.30 pm.

if honesty is important to you, just stop explaining yourself. dont burn any bridges, just assume that they dont exist. be there for other people, but not for other people's fears. and whatever happens in your life, blame no-one and nothing, not even yourself. "to live outside the law you have to be honest."

this feeling called 'europe', this corner of a room where i sleep and meditate.

little green orange red lights dotted around me: telephones, cable tv, electric toothbrush, laptop. and snow on the rooftops opposite, like a quotation from some twelfth century christian mystic. writing at the computer (how old-fashioned that word is now) and listening to bjork's voice, layered, bleeping, shimmeringly and silently emotional. on the laptop screen a japanese girl lies on a bare wooden floor, covered by a song playlist window and this textbox, like two quilts. just being back in these kind of electronic quotational emotional disappearing spaces is incredibly powerful. tanya's house is beautifully saturated with these kind of spaces.

voices without bodies: the only furniture that some people understand now. computer playlists, podcasts, dropped songs, skype recordings. the 'chocolate hand-grenade' of the mobile phone. "mind-made objects." where we are there is only 'this' and 'this' and 'this'. a world falling apart electronically, gracefully.

lying on his deathbed writing to a friend, heidegger wondered "whether and how, in the age of a uniform technological world civilisation, there can still be such a thing as home." i love questions like this - love all the questions i hear heidegger asking - and i hope to wander through england asking questions like this, in the company of old friends and alone, out of sheer joy.

tonight, london.

braodcast nov/dec 2005--nice family

"...'What's this look like to you, Martial?' Fontaine asked his lawyer, Martial Matitse, of Matitse Rapelego Njembo, whose premises consisted of three notebooks and an antique Chinese bicycle..."

(from 'All Tomorrow's Parties' by William Gibson)
"You look like a rap singer from a nice family."
('Kafka On The Shore', Haruki Murakami)

two weeks hanging out with john and his family at el balcon: playing monsters with may and the puppies, losing crucial rallies in marathon badminton sessions due to my tendency to get carried away doing the accompanying 'televised commentary', morning meditations and studying nagarjuna at night, and eating big ... trying to think through the next step of my outward spiral from tushita but then realising it cant be 'thought through', it can only be 'stepped'...

bus to bangkok. endless gunfire on the tv screen. a hundred years ago the same journey would've taken ten days but accompanied by birdsong. which is best? both are best.
sitting in the foyer of my guest house watching a guy gently hand-slap his goodbyes to his friends. and then, while putting on an impossibly bulky back-pack, slapping the palms of one more friend. the things we carry, and the goodbyes...

the opposite of india, the guest houses and shops in thailand are nearly all run by women, their children sometimes sit in their laps or walk over to the refrigerator and take out a can of coke which they drink with a delightful seriousness, the way men who are uncomplicated and happy drink from cans of beer.

listening to songs i dont know and will probably never hear again, feeling light and clean. after so long in monasteries its great to be moving through these kind of spaces again. "all the lonely people." and the origins of language.

the city is like television: an amazing invention but used in such a trivial manner. its possible to enjoy the radiance of the details - a man selling helium-filled balloons walks slowly through the neon-alcohol-streetmarket frenzy of kaosan and then stops for a moment to carefully untangle the strings of the floating balloons; a girl comes out of a 7/11 store with such a beautiful look in her eyes - but i know something more is required of us...

Nagarjuna, talking about the benefits of giving ( ), compares giving to rescuing valuables from a house on fire. the 'house on fire' is one's body, one's life, and the 'valuables' represent not one's possessions but the opportunity to cultivate blessings through giving whatever one is able to give - a giving which, if done purely, will outlive the inevitable destruction of one's present body and wealth. this is a fantastic image for a dance piece, i think. combining generosity and the emptiness teachings (give it all away and protect it forever; create your future worlds - future, i.e worlds you cannot yet see touch hear etc - simply by letting go within this one), awareness of death and the openness of the gift.
(and while searching for a specific nagarjuna text on the internet i came across a site by a woman who was into S&M and who's reading list included several deep-end buddhist philosophers, including a long passage about nagarjuna. its a strange world...)

the body, burning like a candle, shining, disappearing. perhaps transcending death, perhaps not. if you have the right teachings... by 'teachings' i dont mean somebody else's possessions, somebody else's words, i mean the vibration that unlocks your own mind. i mean nobody's anything.

a book entitled 'How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found'...

a phrase in 'Mother of the Buddhas': "...disappearing into reality..."

thinking of arranging the music and books in my room (next time i have one) into two categories: written/composed before 1961 and written/composed 1961 onwards. it's best to understand yourself through simple intuitive gestures, without closure. your biography, for instance, could be anything that makes you smile, anything that makes you think. like those quotes at the top of the page do for me. you dont have to own your biography, it's enough just to think it, imagine it, smilingly...

flying to stockholm tonight.