Sunday, December 26, 2010

DIARY 134 - And A Merry Christmas Was Had By All















With three folk down and out, the remaining four of us in Abbey House No 1 Community, still managed to lay out a good festive spread. Dressing up the table and ourselves. It was quite an occasion and fun too!


THE MENU :-

Starters - Garlic Mushrooms with lemon tarragon mayonaise & green salad
Main Course -Homemade Nut Roast, all the festive vegetables, Quorn Roast, Yorkshire Puds, Veggie Sausages wrapped in fake bacon, freshly made gravy.
Dessert - Homemade Christmas Pudding with brandy sauce.
Drinks - Grape Schloer or water.














After a brief break to wash up, we prepared a table of nibbles for a few friends who were coming round after 3pm. The fire was lit, and we watched White Christmas, tucking into cheese and biscuits, homemade Christmas Cake & Mince Pies etc etc, until we were all thoroughly stuffed.



WORK IN PROGRESS - Show of Hands - Stage 5+6

I had to abandon the December 18th deadline because of severe back pain exacerbated by the build up of stress as other projects/commitments increasingly demanding my attention. So, after nearly a months enforced break ( bending over a large canvas laid out across a floor did me no favours ) I tentatively renewed work on the Show Of Hands painting. I'm attemping to pace myself, but back strain seems to occur retrospectively hours after I've already done too much, making it hard to monitor in the moment.

I've stopped working on it at home. It needs to be laid out permanently flat from now on. All that rolling up overnight didn't help the 'flaky paint syndrome'. The original PVA I used to stabilise this, was just some old stuff I had lying around, the fresh stuff I bought recently, turned out to be washable. As soon as I put acrylic paint on it a chemical reaction that presumably makes it washable produces a crackling effect in the paint surface. Who knows I might be able to consciously use this effect in the future, but in this project its a bit of a pain. It disappears as soon as I apply a second coat, ( more work ! ) some colours are only thin washes, not solid colour, so a second coat would make them too dark. You can't really see the crackling from a distance, its one of those accidental mistakes I'm just having to learn to live with.

As far as the collecting of hand out lines goes I'm now down to the last few hands. I know who's missing and I'll no doubt get these four over the next few weeks. If not I'll just have to get more creative. I've already had some fun with it, creating squares for the Buddha's hand and for BooBoo - Sundara's dog.

This week I re-painted the border a darker green/grey colour which brought the colours of the hand squares much further forward. The end
effect I'm working for will have a subtle depth effect going on between alternate squares. The new border colour also gives it a more even finish. I've been battling for weeks with little bits of the old terracotta border flaking off and sticking to areas I've freshly painted. Through this process I've discovered that to stabilise the canvas surface I should've not only primed it with waterproof PVA, but slapped layers of white emulsion on it. This would also have produced a smoother painting surface. Too late now of course. This painting has produced lots of such difficulties and learning curves.

I'd estimate I'm about two thirds of the way through. I can see what the future stages of work will be to take me towards the finishing line. If next week is quiet in the warehouse I could make substantial progress. Keeping a weather eye on my back as I go, of course.

Monday, December 20, 2010

FEATURE 68 - These New Puritans

Not that sure about these guys, sometimes their vision and ambition just tips over into a tight arsed pompous pretension. But this track We Want War has such a grand magnificence to its sweep I can't help but find it addictive. Their chosen palette ranges across a broad musical spectrum from Holger Hiller and early Test Department on the arty left wing to Rammstein and Laibach on the slightly uncomfortable echoes of fascism right wing. This video is a suitably enigmatic performance that places itself left of centre.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

TOP TUNES OF 2010

HARD TO PICK JUST ONE SONG FROM 'THE SUBURBS' BUT THIS ONE WILL DO



ONE HELL OF A STRONG SONG SUNG WITH GREAT POIGNANCY



FEET TAPPING EXHILARATION - SHAME THE REST OF THE ALBUM DIDN'T QUITE MATCH IT



MUCH UNDERRATED SONG - THIS ORIGINAL VIDEO IS CRACKING - IT'S THE ALIEN DANCER THAT MAKES IT !



A STUNNING TUNE BEAUTIFULLY SUNG - I'M STILL CAPTIVATED BY THIS WOMAN'S VOICE



MOODY MAGNIFICENCE FROM THE SWEDISH TREE SHAMAN



I CHALLENGE ANYONE NOT TO TAP YOUR FEET OR GET UP AND DANCE WHEN THIS IS ON



ADDICTIVE SONG PERFORMED WITH A LIFE AFFIRMING ZEAL, WHICH REMAINS TOUCHING



CLASSIC GAGA SONG GRAFTED ONTO THIS HOMAGE TO TARANTINO - IT COULD ONLY BE DOWN HILL FROM HERE ON - AND IT WAS



WINNING THIS YEARS MUSICAL MINIMALISM AWARD



PLUS AN OLD ONE I'M STILL FOND OF FROM THE FIRST COCTEAU TWINS ALBUM - FILLED WITH SHIMMERS OF MAGIC AND DARK FOREBODING

FEATURE 67 - The Late Great Captain Beefheart

Monday, December 06, 2010

FEATURE 66 - Jeremy Hunt rhymes with.....

Somewhat disbelieving that I heard what I thought I'd heard on the Today programme. But yes, the venerable Naughtie did indeed accidentally exchange the C from Culture Secretary with the H of Hunt. Laugh, I nearly wet my crotch with spilt coffee.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

FEATURE 65 - Kraftwerk - Autobahn

Seriously surreal - this is the original animated film created for Autobahn by two British animators- quite odd in a 'what are they trying to say with this' sort of way, and probably very much of its time too perhaps, well its just been given it to the BFI Archive.

Friday, December 03, 2010

FEATURE 64 - Miranda

Oh great great joy, now Miranda is back on the BEEB. The first series was such an innocent pleasure, cheesy in a good way, old fashioned whilst being ever so knowing, all those pratfalls, slapstick, farce and confessionals to the audience, not to mention the winks! You think - I'm too old to be laughing at this sort of stuff - just before you splutter half chewed mini Cheddar's onto your carpet at the 'nude fondue' line. It's also good to laugh because it's genuinely witty, not rude, unpleasant, or littered with so called edgy cringe inducing humour (i.e more expletives than adjectives ) She's pure unadulterated genius - Hurrah for Monday nights!!


Monday, November 29, 2010

WORK IN PROGRESS - Show of Hands - Stage 4

After a whole weekends work
its moved on considerable, the final form its going to have is almost fixed now. Still a lot of 'colouring in' to be done between now and the 18th December when it ideally should be finished.
















Saturday, November 27, 2010

WORK IN PROGRESS - Show of Hands - Stage 3

Well,things progress slowly but surely. But it is pretty clear to me now what the real size and scale of this project is, its huge. A lot of intense work will have to take place if it's to be finished by the 17th Dec. Still not certain I will be able to do it. This anxiety has made me bring it home with me, to work on it over the weekend, hopefully to push it on more significantly.




Because painting time during the week is precious, I've not been able to complete collecting hand outlines this week. I do however have the majority, 80 out of a possible 107ish. Only 27 more to go! Though using the recycled packaging for the canvas was a good idea, its not proving that stable a surface. It takes the paint but only as a skin that tends to flake off in places where the textile is creased or uneven. I've base coated it in polyurethane varnish, followed by PVA Glue, the latter usually fixes most things, but not 100% here. Too late, I've realised I should have fully coated the canvas with PVA first, before applying the primer. But that said it is manageable. It means every time I move it some surface will come off that I'll have to re-paint later. So moving has to be kept to a minimum. In the meantime I'll just keep slapping on layers of PVA until it holds.

The 'colouring in' is going well, and looks good too. Because I'm painting something five and a half by one and a half metres, I went for the cheapest student range of acrylics I could afford. In terms of time this has probable not been a cost effective choice. My colourways were worked out in artists quality acrylic, which covered well,and gave good density in one coat, whereas the student quality takes a couple of coats to cover and achieve a moderate density. I've doubled my workload by making this choice. However, my outlay on paint would have more than doubled otherwise.

Considering I've never painted something of quite this size before, I actually think I'm doing really well.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

CD REVIEW - Brian Eno/Small Craft On A Milky Sea

It's quite a while since I've been excited by the stuff that Eno's released over recent decades. Either he's released more ambience into the world than it either needs, cares for, or can take, or its the well modulated, smooth, sonically controlled songs of Another Day On Earth. Though these have been pleasant additions to the lexicon, they elict no cigars for innovation. Only in his collaborative work, has there ever been some sense of exploration. But this has always been so, from Roxy through Talking Heads, Bowie and U2 on. Working with other peoples ideas in conjunction with his own appears to loosens the creative reins of control, where something random and often magically unexpected happens.

His work with Fripp having long ago reached an impasse, it was only on Drawn from Life with Peter Schwalm, (2001) that we last saw Eno really make a concerted attempt at breaking out of his neat oblique process. It surprises me that this process, allegedly so experimental and changeable, can end up producing a body of recent work so uniformly consistent in character. Perhaps he has indeed become defined, if not confined, within his own working process and created his own musical category - Enoesque




Small Craft on a Milky Sea, however, does frequently gouge new grooves into his undoubtedly broad range of recordings. Maybe this comes from the 'improvisatory' nature of the source material. On 'Horse','2 Forms of Anger,Flint March' 'Paleosonic' and 'Dust Shuffle' we hear an Eno I thought had almost become extinct, one with sharp, aggressive, harsh, even discordant edges. Music one might even cut oneself on, or find difficult listening. To someone brought up on 'No Pussyfooting' oh what great joy it is to hear these tracks!




Yes, there are still plenty of the recumbent, languid landscapes, as on 'Emerald and Lime' and the rather beautiful title track 'Small Craft on a Milky Sea, but these are rather contained, refined examples of the form he created. The album moves through a range of film like moods, suggestive of reflection, apprehension, transcendence, anger or fearfulness, in equal measure. Just when you've relaxed into a dreamy imaginary sunset, there comes an exultant storm of energy. Producing one of his most satisfying albums for quite some time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

POEM - Can I Help?

CAN I HELP?

I sit and listen
often for eons
as some doctor
would attend a patient
ready to speak
that apposite thing
to pin it correctly
wherever it truly
belongs
I wait
and wait, perhaps
it's this
perhaps
not, or not now,
perhaps, maybe
there is no clue
perhaps, no answer
that on hearing
will crystallise
or freeze mud
nothing is ever said
like an
un-flawed diamond
perfectly
which is
oddly disconcerting
as if all life
or at least mine
were to depend on it
for ease of purpose
I lift a crook hand
point its arthritic finger
at the moon
and sigh
like a sack butt
at the impossibility
of really knowing


Dh Vidyavajra
written 24/10/2010

WORK IN PROGRESS - Show of Hands - Stages 1 + 2

I've started work on an artwork/hanging, which will include all the hand outlines of everyone in the business I work for. I hope it will be an enjoyable collective process to be part of, and conclude by creating a unifying visual image for Windhorse

THE FIRST STAGE
Has been preparing the canvas, painting it white, and putting PVA Glue on the edges to stop them fraying further. The canvas is made from eight flattened out product packaging, this is made from a woven synthetic fabric that was wrapped around some jute rugs we sell

THE SECOND STAGE
I drew out a grid of 108 squares into which the hands will be eventually be drawn, and painting the surrounding border a terracotta red.





I'm currently working out the basic background pattern that will go behind the hands, and the colours I'm going to use. This week I start harvesting the hand outlines, which no doubt will be a unique event in itself.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

WHAT WAS THAT? ~ No 1

THE PLACE ~ In Cambridge Central Library

WHO ~ A man with two young children. one looks up to his Father and asks:~

 ' Dad, what are those books called where nothing happens in them, and they help you relax?'

.

Friday, November 12, 2010

DIARY 133 - There is a light and it never goes out

This has not been a sleep friendly week. Opposite our bedroom window in Abbey House is the back entrance to a Homeless Access Clinic. Since the arrival of Autumn and denuded trees, there is nothing between us and 'them'. So at night there is a light, supposed to be activated by motion, that turns off after twenty seconds, though this week,once on, its stayed on all night. It's a very very bright lamp, shining like a perpetual new dawn, or a prison camp searchlight trained onto our windows, lest we should escape into the land of slumber.

The consequence for me is, that even if I do manage to get to sleep, I wake two hours later thinking its morning, and a return to sleep eludes me. On one of the two nights when the light didn't illuminate the entire Western world, the area had a power cut that set off a burglar alarm in a building near by. This proceeded to tweet disconsolately all night. So I've tried wearing an eye mask ( hot, sweaty and uncomfortable after a while ) or ear plugs. Neither of which provides a fully comfortable solution I'm afraid.

As the week has progressed I've gradually become internally more grumpy, on edge, and easily irritated by inconsequential things. On Thursday I was picking in the warehouse and found negative views of others taking me over, really getting into grinding on old axes. I tried my best to temper it, but it has to be said not always effectively. Sad to have to acknowledge that my practice has yet to reach some areas, though I guess I should give myself credit for at least noticing. But today on my ninth day of sleep deprivation, I do understand why its such an effective tool for torturers. Your will does get increasingly sapped of resolve, as physically it gets harder to hold your life together. So this Saturday, finding a blackout blanket, to hell with the expense, is a priority. I feel as though I'm faltering on some sort of mental and physical precipice. that I don't want to fall over.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

FEATURE - Bellowhead - New York Girls

As a Morris Dancer of old, this music just makes me want to get up and shake a leg around in gay abandon.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

DIARY 132 - Put an aura on it

I've been occupied, whenever the times been available, with a number of projects at work that I've been making slow but painstaking progress with. Rather than get frustrated by this snail like pace, or lack of substantial stretches of work time, I've been utilising to the full whatever time emerges, however short. I've found that I enjoy everything I do, to a greater degree because I'm no longer seeing my other work as obstacles to doing 'what I really want to be doing'. I see life is a sequence of moments, and what to do with them arises directly from the conditions surrounding me. Any moment has its own momentum, its necessity and prime purpose, I have to learn to listen to, and most of all respond to it.

I've recently made a lectern. Now that may not sound ground breaking to you, but it is for me. As the son of a joiner,I've got an inbuilt familial inferiority complex,a view that my dexterity is cack-handed when it comes to constructing things from solid matter. I've a tendency to be hyper critical of my own efforts in this area. But frankly, I think I'll have to drop this aspect of my poor self-view. The result actually impressed even me, was quite well made, and garnered more than a few positive compliments. I'm becoming more and more aware of a tendency to raise my own criticisms of my work, in response to other people's praise. Yes, its my theme for 2010 raising its head once more, that old praise and blame stuff. As the critical words trip off the tongue to flatten the praise with deadening ease, I'm hearing myself internally groaning and screaming, STOP, SAY NO MORE !!! But alas tis always too late by then.

One of my aims with all my project work is to try raising the spiritual bar, by improving the aesthetics of shrine spaces, to uplift and, yes, amaze people with how differently they could see their work environment. During the Summer I took one rather dull corner of a corridor, where a standing rupa stood rather neglected in the shadows. After re-painting the walls a lighter colour, I improvised a plinth, that,spurred on by my triumph as a lectern maker, I might produce a better mark 2 version of. After that I drew a large circle on the wall to be the guiding outer edge for an aura. This aura was formed from a circle of thin strips cut from silver mirror card. These were stuck on the wall with double-sided tape. In the middle I placed a large convex mirror, adapted from a disused shop security mirror. The rupa originally a dark metal standing Shakyamuni, I swapped for a wood carved Kuan Yin, that has always been meant to be looking down on you with kindness. Kuan Yin bears a bit of a Virgin Mary archetype, so it did inevitable ruffle a few sensitive Ex-Catholic feathers. But, once again I've had very appreciative feedback.

This has rather emboldened me to attempt larger wall drawing/painting projects around my
workplace. I posted a feature earlier in the year about the wall paintings of Sol Le Witt, and my ambitions certainly want to head in that direction. Each time I do a wall decoration I learn more about what the work process entails. I have to be constantly on the look out for potential pitfalls ahead. However, my own small scale artwork has given me the experience and the confidence in my own creative process, plus the execution skills for these larger works. I've just never drawn or painted on walls before, so I don't, as yet, know what to beware of, the short cuts or techniques that solve particular problems. I'm very much learning on the job. I'm beginning also to appreciate that my previous artwork is ideal to be executed on a much larger canvas than I've normally attempted.

This week I finished another aura. This time around a wooden standing figure of Shakyamuni from Bali. The preparation for this, the careful detailed drawing out particularly utilised my technical drawing skills. Deciding with what sort of paint or pen to draw it out with, and knowing when to stop embellishing it, are all things I've encountered in my own work. My ideas have always to be held provisionally, waiting to see what the completion of each stage suggests to me. Sometimes I need to change tack, drop one idea, adapt another. The geometry of the final piece has its own suggestion of depth to it, so an idea to stick bronze metallic beads looked wrong once I started applying them. It confused,not enhanced, the simple illusion of depth. So I dropped that idea.

The design of the warehouse office spaces has always been
minimalistic,about large expanses of unadorned colour. It's sparseness has always felt to me a bit forced and unnecessary. Introducing designs into this needs to be done carefully, and with a degree of decorative restraint. Something too baroque would just look incongruous and out of keeping. So far I think I've been able to tread this line OK.

FEATURE 63 - The Smiths Project No 3

I'm sorry, soooooo sorry, but I'm posting yet another Smiths Project recording, not just because I'm finding this woman's work addictive, but because its beyond superlatives.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

FEATURE 63 - Murakami in Versaille

Equally as baroque and bonkers as Versaille itself, this is a strange marriage with Murakami's manga inspired sculpture, but in most cases it does undoubtedly work. The right wing French must abhor this exhibition.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

POEM - New Sheets

NEW SHEETS

Here I am
propped up
on affected red satin pillows
I feel like cheap lingerie
un-ironed,
and hence creased
as if stuffed
into a back trouser pocket.

Here I am
folded around my imperfections
like paper loves stone
tucked in, I cough and sneeze
fart and fidget
my foot kicking out
from under the duvet
in a bid for freedom
never quite achieved.


VIDYAVAJRA
23/10/2010

FILM REVIEW - Born Into This



This documentary Born Into This, tells Charles Bukowski's lifestory mostly via the filmed record of the great man speaking. Of all modern poets and novelists, Bukowski exploited the subject matter of his own life to the full. All his flaws and virtues are on show, and we are not spared his occasional unpalatable excess, his compulsive drink fueled behaviour. The violent, self-destructiveness and womanising, that was often misinterpreted as unrepentant misogyny, when it really was an expression of his sensitivity and sentimentality, to a feeling of being unloved or rejected. He didn't have to live up to his wild drinking and debauched image because that was how he often was. The discomfort of the almost daily childhood beatings from his Father,and his Mother's complicity in it, appears to have turned him into the archetypal non-conformist for the late sixties. Many of his fans live off this stance voyeuristically. He,however, lived an extraordinarily plain and ordinary working mans life, whilst continuing to write. He spent years working as a carrier for the Post Office, until his growing fame suddenly made it possible in mid-life to make a living from his prolific output.



There is a quality to his writing, sometimes swaggering, sometimes so frank about his own moral turpitude it is shocking, yet there is a huge warm human heart beating in broken voiced sympathy underneath it. He describes the effect of living on the low life edges of West Hollywood, its humiliations and the corrosiveness of this suffering on the human spirit. This is where Bukowski's writing frequently transcends the specifics of his own experience, and gives voice to something with more universal resonance. His poetry is never wilfully obscure or filled with literary references, a style best exemplified by Elliot, a fellow American, but someone who could not be further away from Buckowski. Elliot was part of the literary establishment, that was the cultural authority for the middle class intelligentsia. In Bukowski we hear the genuine voice of the American working underclass, simple, direct and unaffected.



Saturday, October 23, 2010

FEATURE 62 - The Smiths Project 2

Here's another good one from Ms Whaley - why oh why oh why doesn't someone sign up this woman forthwith?


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

FEATURE 61 - The Smith's Project

It's a brave person who attempts a cover version of any classic song, but The Smith's Project, AKA Janice Whaley, is attempting to cover every single Smith's song ever recorded, by the end of this year. This version of Reel Around The Fountain makes something beautifully Gothic,choral and transcendent out of Morrisey's maudlin melancholia.


Saturday, October 09, 2010

FEATURE 60 - Nigella's Back !!!

Here she is making a Peanut Butter Cheesecake pretending she really does stuff her face with it dressed in a black silk dressing gown in the middle of the night.... inner thigh wibble indeed !!!!

DIARY 131 - Nothing more than feelings

A contemporary psychological mantra for when we are alienated from ourselves and loose our emotional bearings is to 'trust in your feelings, your feelings do not lie.' Without any other source of guidance or ethical compass, from cultural, political or religious credos, we are left floundering, wondering what's best to do. Sometimes we are left to make judgements based on feelings isolated from all social constraints, or clear understanding of what the issues really are. Perpetrators of all sort of major and minor human tragedies, no doubt felt justified by their feelings in the heat of the moment.

In a recent article in the weekend Guardian Magazine a woman recalled how it was she became convinced she'd been sexually abused by her father, doing so on nothing more than her feelings, and the then contemporary enthusiasm amongst feminism for 'recovered memory syndrome' that coloured, if not distorted her perceptions. This caused her to cease all contact with her 'abusive' father. Her own persistent doubts about the validity of her accusations eventually led her to a regretful restoration of contact many years later.

Feelings aren't all bad, they also can inspire, uplift and transform us, but they are fickle masters, they can also cause us to loose perspective and the rational coolness to help us make considered or fair judgements. Feelings, however, are very compelling, they have an ardor and conviction to them. They cause us to love and hate, in unbalanced and frequently unfair measure. Both lovers and murderers do rash, ill considered things. Feelings can propel us towards actions without pause to consider the consequences or potential for future regret. Feelings alone are unreliable mentors for what is the right thing to do, let alone what maybe the ethical, skillful or wholesome thing to do.

I've been concerned over recent months with the strength and frequent irrationality of my own feelings. Their intensity can be an extremely compelling, and an often misleading prompt to action. They have a self-righteous urgency to them, appealing for a response, for an action to be taken to resolve or dissipate the feeling. I've often taken the strength of my feelings as an infallible measure of there importance. In reality, I am just feeling quite strongly about this or that issue, and though this may indeed be an understandable response, it may not be a right nor true one. Most peoples psychology is a messy mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, no matter how 'sorted' their surface appearance maybe. So it might be unwise to put full trust in our feelings, as the rectitude of our motivations is so frequently soiled. Magnitude of feeling alone is never a good enough measure for what has value, meaning or place in the wider scheme of things.

I may, if I'm lucky have got my feeling responses in
proportion, but mostly I'll be struggling to keep it in anything like a reasonable perspective. I'm liable in such unguarded moments to make bad judgements on the back of this feeling alone, and not be easily dissuaded otherwise. I can remember those instances when I've felt like throwing in the towel over something, and took the first available opportunity to do so. I'm not prone much to regret, what's done is done, but nevertheless I have made decisions in the past that I might not do quite so speedily now. Rank dissatisfaction has led me around by my nose, by the strength of its stench alone. If we perceive our feelings as some sort of divine omniscient messengers from our unconscious, they will undoubtedly mislead us. For is this bright descending angel I'm seeing a golden or a fallen one ? Is this urgent feeling a talisman, an oracle, or a self-deceiving trick?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

DIARY 130 - In dust and out of the frame
















Though it's been ten days since my return from The Mythic Context retreat at Padmaloka, I'm still carrying around its consequences. Both this, and the previous 'insight' retreat, have stirred up a lot that I'm still accustoming myself too. The Mythic Context, was high octane with devotional practices, prostrations twice a day, a series of very punchy Pujas and prompting pep talks from Padmavajra. I found myself so hyped up by it all, I got used to minimal amounts of sleep, 2 -4 hours on average. On a retreat that's OK, but if that happened off retreat I'd be dead in the water within days.

There were Ordinations during it, so we did Confession Pujas on the nights prior to the Private and the Public Ordinations. I felt my ethical failings acutely,and my confessional list steadily grew longer. My precept transgressions were largely various manifestations of ill-will - petty irritations, dismissive thoughts, long cultivated resentments, grudges, dislikes and smoldering disrespect - highly coloured by egoistic self-righteousness and the over-sensitive patterning of my psyche. I'd also been reading Stephen Batchelor's translation of Shantideva's Bodhicaryavatara, which clearly and concisely points an accusing finger at our essential self-centredness, which just further stirred my ethical pot.

Some Bodhicaryavatara translations tend to over egg the grotesque and lurid elements of Shantideva's frank oratorical style, dressing it up as some sort of medieval zombie melodrama. Batchelor manages to retain more of his essential humanity and hence Shantideva seems a more personal approachable character. Finding myself less provoked and distracted by horrific imagery, it allowed the pinpoint accuracy of Shantideva's ethical compass to strike deeper. One section becoming a new guiding beacon - his urgent imperative to guard and value ones virtue above all else

'When the fire of hatred spreads to whatever my mind is attached to, I should immediately get rid of it for fear of my merit being burned ' - ' Just as men will guard their eyes when great danger and turmoil occur, likewise, I shall never be swayed by the disturbances within my mind,'

If all else fails, then one should become 'a block of wood' to whatever is disturbing ones peace, empathy or equanimity. I saw that I subtly let myself off the hook, overlooking those seemingly minor slights or failings that are nonetheless invidious and damaging. I'm much less inclined to tolerate them since I got back, but as ever its dependent on remaining alert, aware and vigilant.

Another idea, that appears also to have caught my imagination, arose from re-reading Uchiyama Roshi's commentary on Dogen's - Instructions to the Zen Cook. I've always been impressed by the down to earth common sense nature of Uchiyama's commentary. This time it was his closing comments in his chapter on Direction & Goal.







' Much too often we go about our lives holding on to some future goal without thinking about our present direction, or about the direction of our lives as a whole. When we stop projecting goals and hopes in the future, and refuse to be led around by them, yet work to clarify our lives, that is, the direction of the present, then we will discover an alive and dynamic practice.'

As someone who can be 'led around by, and suffer as a result of, the fantasies about who or what I might become in some imagined future, I know what he's pointing to here is a lesson I need to learn. I often experience strong internal turmoil, when the needs and desires of the present become opposed to the desires and needs of future goals. The conflicting pulls manifest in indecision, not knowing what to do with my energy and time eventually wearing me out, the only release being to switch off and in some way vegetate. To allow myself to be motivated and take direction from the needs of the immediate present situation, seems one way out of these existential gridlocks. During the week I've been reflecting on what taking your direction from the present situation actually means. What would it look or feel like, this alive dynamic practice?

During the retreat on the 22nd September it was the anniversary of Dogen's death. I marked this by performing a Shobogenzo Puja, with five other folk from the retreat. At the end I was quite profoundly moved, as if I'd shared something with others that was of immense value, not just to me, but to all humanity. My enduring enthusiasm for Dogen is connected with my name - Vidya - which is an aesthetic sense, or knowledge, of the true nature of reality. The originality of Dogen's writing aside, it is this aesthetic sense of the true nature of reality that he communicates through all his writing. This is what I most revere and value about Dogen. One verse from this Shobogenzo Puja that I adapted and compiled, connects with, and communicates the spirit at least behind, taking your direction from the present situation - to do so without exerting force and with ones whole being.

Do not consider this with your mind, nor put it into words,
let go your own body and your own mind
then without exerting force, or expending further thought,
throw your whole being into the house of the Buddha

Saturday, October 02, 2010

POEM - How Things Are

HOW THINGS ARE

If you flip a leaf
like a glossy green penny
it has both a dark
and a light side

The dark is dark
because its been exposed only to the light
and
the light is light
because its been exposed only to the dark

In their true nature
pinned to branches
as burnished tin medals
they glitter on a tree
in the gentle strobe
of a modest breeze

Until they're shed
falling
as ticker tape
to welcome you back
from the moon.


Dh Vidyavajra
19/09/2010

Sunday, September 05, 2010

FEATURE - Laura Marling - I speak because I can

Really loving hearing this album on Spotify over and over again. Becoming as a consequence quite besotted with Laura Marling's voice, for me it has husky echoes of Elizabeth Fraser from the Cocteau Twins in its fractured phrasing. This is the title track that has a quite simple beauty to it, that I find quite stunning.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

FEATURE 58 - Rumspringa

This series of four episodes on Channel 4 was titled Amish- The world's squarest teenagers, which itself was a bit of a bias and cruel slant. It misrepresented the reality of the programmes content. They weren't even all teenagers, most were in their early twenties. 'Rumspringa' is a time in a young Amish's life when they are allowed to go out and experience the world, before deciding to fully commit themselves to the Amish way of life. They spent four weeks here in the UK. Each week with a different social group of society, ranging from an inner city black family to an aristocratic one. This often brought, not only the Amish, but their hosts up short. For a moment they had to rethink and check out how they behave, what they believe, and why. The hosts often expressed a certain yearning and envy of the Amish's lives, whilst simultaneously not wanting to give up what liberty they had. They wanted the result without any effort or renunciation.













I was consistently impressed by the Amish teenagers open heartedness. Even when their beliefs told them their new friends behaviour was sinful, their response was kindly,concerned and compassionate. They wanted to protect them from any bad consequence they saw in what they were doing. Though they might have seemed to us, too tightly constrained by their Amish upbringing and the Bible, I saw a lot of unaffected, natural simplicity, few needs, and a sort of contentedness born from this, and their beliefs and convictions. Some possessed an unusual degree of spiritual depth combined with a realistic earthiness. By contrast the openness and liberality or the permissive lifestyles of their hosts, didn't always seem to make them any more rounded or mature as individuals. At times they just seemed naive and shallow, chasing the illusive butterfly of individual fulfillment. Sometimes what we Westerners spend our lives doing is mad, or at the very least incoherent. Whilst I wouldn't want to take on their Christian beliefs, I could see that the Amish lifestyle embodied some of the positive consequences of cultivating stillness, simplicity and contentment.

DIARY 129 - Inhabiting a Godless Universe

So, Stephen Hawkings has brought down from the mountains of scientific authority, a new tablet of cosmic belief. The world evolved without any help from God, Gods or Goddesses, but by the power of gravity. An idea which, even to my inexpert eyes, seems a trifle feeble, an incomplete and hence unconvincing philosophy. None the less, I can see the many colours of theism already scurrying around for a way to refute his assertion.

Richard Dawkin's espousal of evolution in recent years, has been met with some nifty pseudo-scientific verbal footwork by Christian fundamentalists. The term 'intelligent design' is a neat phrase, your sympathies rise without you ever having to know whether it really hangs together as a philosophy. If you were to seek out a spokesperson to champion atheism, Dawkins would probably not be your first choice. Like the humanist Ludovic Kennedy before him, Dawkins has as cantankerous persona, often teetering on the verge of apoplexy. The veracity or not of his argument to one side, Dawkins presents his beliefs in a teacherlymanner, that is as self-satisfied, and smugly patronising as any street evangelist, and equally toe-curling. One can be forgiven for thinking when he refers to believers in God, that he's not talking about fellow members of his own human race, but some sort of sub-species that must be systematically eradicated. I can feel myself wanting to rushing to the defence of the theistic underdog, to protect them from the unfortunate fascistic triumphalism of his scientific orthodoxy. This does atheism as a belief system a disservice, making it no better or worse than its theistic cousins.

Atheism appears then, to not to make you any more tolerant, kind or understanding of different views, than its theistic opponents. Which makes one realise that the sins attributed to organised religions, are really just common human responses of insecurity, defensiveness, righteousness and potency finding an external focus for there worst expression. We misplace, and fail to take full responsibility for this when we single out organised religions alone, for damning opprobrium. Humankind tends towards holding beliefs, whether religious, political or cultural, with rigid inflexibility, that lurches toward cruel compulsion when ever it meets non compliance. We don't necessarily avoid or negate this outcome by disavowing religious, political, or cultural affiliations, whether organised or not.














Hawkings is a completely different kettle of fish to Dawkins, a compassionate man, who is probably the most influential theoretical physicist and cosmologist of his generation, Dawkins, by comparison, seems a mere reformulator of established theory. Hawkings being chronically disabled, easily wins hands down the public's sympathy. For obvious reasons not an eloquent speaker, we do, however, seem to be prepared to listen to him, as he's an effective explainer of the dense complexity of theoretical physics. If he has achieved anything, its that he has brought back a cosmic dimension to our view of ourselves and our place in the universe. But his assertions, like any others, shouldn't be automatically approved, and passed unchecked.

Singling out gravity as a progenitor of the universe, as a substitute for a deity, just isn't as yet going to convince anyone. From the perspective of Prattiya Samutpada (the conditioned arising of all phenomena) gravity undoubtedly is a major conditioning factor without which all matter and life would not cohere. As it is, we are still left with the unanswerable question - where that gravity itself originates from? Perhaps if we live in a creatorless, Godless Universe, we can't continue looking to conditioning phenomena for an answer. At some point we have to posit 'something' that is unconditioned, is conditionless, which the theists may still say is God anyway, and so will not resolve this issue. Whether God or gravity is attributed the role as creator of the world we live in, we are still left with the sense of a flawed philosophy, partial and incomplete views that fails to fully match the distinct shape of Reality. This is where an Enlightened perspective would be essential.

The Buddha's perspective was that this whole question of the origins of the universe, and by implication the existence, or not, of a creator God, was an imponderable one. A question that doesn't necessarily get resolved, or become clearer by repeatedly being asked, is of dubious value. There appears to be no irrefutable answer that will conclusively silence everyone on this matter. So expending further intellectual energy on it is not the best use of our valuable finite lifetime.















Such imponderable questions distract us from dealing with more urgent issues, the tangible origins of our suffering; our desire for immortality, satisfaction, and self fulfillment. Suffering is the existential ground of human experience, it doesn't vanish because there is, or is not, a creator God. If anything a creator God makes the theological rationale behind suffering more convoluted, disingenuous, fidgety, and hence unconvincing. It is hard for humans to take full responsibility, to grasp that we suffer because we live our lives out of sync with basic universal principles, those the Buddha said were dependent on Conditioned Arising - the Three Laksanas - impermanence - unsatisfactoriness - and the insubstantiality of our conceptions of a fixed self. These have nothing to do with gravity, and everything to do with the fluctuations, the changeable streams and giddy fits of Universal Reality.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

POEM - Wise Words

Wise Words
dedicated to Prajna Paramita


What would wise words be?

Direct, but circumspect words
clear, like well cut diamonds
beautiful smooth and precise
with kind threads
sewn into every accent
and punctuation mark

Lovingly robust words
well fed and etched
with copperplate and curlicues
for additional ornament
and swirl

Words uttered
then placed on the ear
with consummate care
like an Ace on top
of a house of cards.

And how would they be heard?

In heart stopping awe
at the fulfillment
of an antique dream

Swollen with gratitude
as when a prolonged hunger
is finally satisfied

As an invitation
arriving unexpectedly
would strike you dumb



Written
By Vidyavajra
17/08/2010

POEM - I do not see death


I Do Not See Death



I do not see death
he is someone who for now
I can blithely ignore

I do not see death
its not in my nature
or daily horoscope

I do not see death,
though I sense his pulse
through hardened veins

I do not see death
yet sometimes he's so close
I could make him tea

I do not see death
though he confirmed me
as a friend on Facebook

I do not see death
because I wear dark shades
in bed at midnight

I do not see death
this wide and happy face
hides an altogether grimmer grin

I do not see death
I do not see
I do not
I do
I
!



Written
By Vidyavajra
14/08/2010