Bodh Gaya – The Buddhist Theme Park

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There are four places which are important and the ultimate pilgrimages for Buddhists. There is his birthplace which is Lumbini in Nepal, his death place at Kushinigar, India, his first sermon at Sarnath, Varanasi (more about this in later blog) and the place where he sat under a tree for a bit, as steady as a tampon, before attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in the lawless state of Bihar. (lawless today that is). The exact spot where he did this is now a shrine to Buddhists and spiritual seekers worldwide wanting to visit the tree where he battled off Mara. It of course is not the original tree but a descendant of it, but the spot is still the spot.

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Scholars have often debated what Mara is. It is commonly known as a demon who came to tempt Buddha back into worldly attachments, copied some 500 years later by Bible writers when their own version of Mara, S*tan, similarly tempted Jesus in the wilderness. The difference in these stories is that the Buddhist one is known and understood to be symbolic. Well the spot at Bodh Gaya is where that all happened though I think Mara was not the worst thing for Mr B, it must have been the mosquitoes because they seem to like it here better than anywhere else in India. One can only assume that the Buddha, when he eventually got up, was rather spotty.

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It’s not an easy place to get to, Bodh Gaya. We had to grab an internal flight to Patna which at first experience reminded me of Philip Pullman’s description of Hell in ‘His Dark Materials’. We stayed overnight at one of Patna’s better hotels – comparable to a bad Travelodge that has been taken over by a biker gang. We were on the top floor but luckily we were still able to hear, as if it was happening in the en-siute bathroom, the Indian rave going on in the function room three floors below. And this was a Wednesday!

Leaving in the morning, we tested our patience at the railway station to try to get a train to Gaya, 5 hours away. We had two hours to wait and became a curiosity to all other travellers because one guy could speak English and wanted to know everything about us.  Our answers were translated to the 600 people circling us at a distance of 6 inches. When the train came in, some kids ran in and jumped on to seats and said they were for us – and a pleasurable journey was had.
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Once at Gaya though, things got a bit scary. We needed to find a tuk tuk to take us the remaining 12 miles to Bodh Gaya itself and it was then that three young lads, doing a credible impression of a pack of hyenas, began stalking Alison, right on her tail. I nodded to my son James that we have a problem and we turned and faced them off. I gave them my best show of teeth and emitted a little growl and they backed off. This was noticed by approximately 10,000 other locals and then I remembered, from all the travel guides, that the state of Bihar should be avoided, if at all possible. I have learned, in my life, three tactics to ward off violence – the most drastic and risky being an actual teeth bearing growl. The other two are to either suddenly become very gay and very camp (people say I’m *too* good at this) or to cock one’s head, point randomly into the sky and begin slobbering. It is my experience that guys don’t generally hit you if you adopt one of these.

However, this incident marred our arrival into Bodh Gaya – which was met by a guy riding alongside our tuk tuk on a motorbike offering accommodation for only £3.50 a room per night. In exhaustion we instructed the tt driver to follow him and so began what would turn out to be the worst sleep or more accurately wake I’ve ever had. Apart from the room being bereft of air conditioning – just a wobbly ceiling fan -our bedrooms were a meeting place, if not the meeting place for mosquitoes, the likes of which I’ve never seen, the new mattresses were bedecked with plastic sheets, so when the power goes out, which is about every hour, the ceiling fan stops, the 90 degree heat mingles with the plastic sheet and the mozzies come out to play, and as there is no power,  you can only hear them, and hear them everywhere – and when the power does eventually come back on you catch yourself in the mirror, soaked with sweat doing a wonderful impersonation of a lunatic with rickets repeating words like ‘for fucks sake’ and ‘bastard’s at an unacceptable volume.

The next morning, bleary eyed, wandering around the town it becomes very obvious that Bodh Gaya is a Buddhist theme park. Each country has it’s own monastery, even China, vying to be the most impressive.

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It was so much like the Epcot Centre only with added cows and stray dogs. The Tibetans are currently constructing one which rivals a football stadium.

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We visited several and marveled at the architecture and artifacts, we visited the Big Buddha statue before going to the Mahabodhi Temple, where the tree is.

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Security was tight as there had been a bomb explode not too long ago but once inside the grounds, it was all very impressive. Shoes off, we headed for the tree. Fenced off, overhanging a courtyard in front of the temple, there it was, or there the spot was, and we sat with many others contemplating the significance of the spot and watching monks trying to out-monk each other with the best meditation posture, and then it happened – a gust of wind! And so began the best entertainment so far.  Each gust dislodged a few leaves, and fortuitously one fell near my feet, but looking up, I witnessed Buddhist mayhem. When the leaves came to the ground the monks didn’t actually fight, but ‘withdrew’, when another had beaten them to a leaf.  It was akin to a rock idol throwing plectrums into a crowd.  One tattooed Burmese monk had a whole bag.
I think they were learning about attachment.

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There was also a meditation garden which you had to pay admission to enter if you didn’t intend to meditate but it was free if you were to meditate or, I guess, pretend to. The irony of this was not lost on me.

That evening on the street we met some lovely teenagers who spoke good English who walked with us for an hour or so and couldn’t grasp that most English people can’t stand cricket. They asked me to buy them a football and I did and they are now facebook friends (Hi guys!)
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But it was time to arrange transport to get to Varanasi – the jewel in India’s crown and on inquiring I was whisked away on the back of a motorbike to a man who knows a man who can – and Varanasi is a whole new story

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all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

and for other Yoga and Buddhist related posts as well as general randomness see
kevollier.com/

The Karma of Gay Abandon

Before this India trip a neighbour informed me that he’d never get on to a bus in India where the driver believes in reincarnation. I recalled this statement less than one hour in.

The day had started with a tad of tension which as the day and night went by descended further.
We’d taken a taxi from McLeod Ganj down to Dharmasala bus station where we were to pick up the 14 hour overnight deluxe coach to Rishikesh. 
Leaving McLeod was slightly throat aching, reminiscent of those past holidays where you say goodbye to a place where a great time was had.

We had an hour to spare at the station and the first thing I did was to go to the ticket office and pointlessly ask what platform our coach was to depart from. They never tell you unless waving their hand in a dismissive manner is a signal.

The small station shop was selling pop and water and so I went to get some refreshments and it was then that I made the mistake I never thought I’d make. As I removed my wallet a small kid of about 4 years old ran over with his hand outstretched. He found me in a moment of compassion, having just been surrounded by Buddhist monks for 4 days, and as the note was out, I gave it to him – 50 rupees (50p). Before I’d had time to put my wallet away an army of very small children surrounded me, hung to my legs, gripped my shirt and made me the amusement of the whole station and so I took them to meet my family and we all started repeating the word ‘No’ verbatim with accompanying head shakes, that, on reflection, may have made us look like an odd cult.

The families they were with were camped out on the station floor and only admonished their child beggars when they went back empty handed it seemed. Amongst all this, a beautiful puppy was looking for safety from the kids who were doing their very best to terrorise it. It chose well in picking under our chairs to take refuge and he was loved and cuddled and how I wished we could take him with us.

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I was taken away from this puppy reverie by an elderly member of staff telling me that our bus was in. I turned to follow his pointing finger and then turned back to explain that we actually have a deluxe coach and this isn’t our bus. He assured me in a rather vengeful manner that it was our bus, so I showed him our ticket and he brushed it off and said ‘your bus’.  As the bus to Rishikesh was to leave in less than 10 minutes I went back to the ticket office ‘allowing’ three people to barge in front, before spreading myself across the ticket window. I carefully explained that we have a deluxe coach. He replied, whilst pointing at the same vehicle the other guy had and said ‘your bus, deluxe’. I had to assume that this wasn’t his first day and he’d know what a deluxe bus looked like but on this occasion he was mistaken. He replied to this suggestion, and rather too gleefully for my liking, ‘deluxe, deluxe, only bus to Rishikesh until tomorrow’. I had to accept that as the bus route and the destination and the time of departure all matched that on the ticket that I’d booked 3 months previously, that this was indeed our 14 hour overnight bus. I informed the other two members of my family of this and I think the exact words my son used were ‘you fucked up this time dad’ – and he was right.

This was the sort of bus that was running, woefully, in Manchester in the fifties.  Air con was supplied by the windows that had an automatic slide mechanism which worked by them sliding forwards only to slam shut on every brake of the bus and to slide backwards and slam open on every acceleration, which essentially means 20 times a minute.  The seats were very, very shiny, and they weren’t leather or plastic, and as the bus began to move it shook as if it had square wheels. It shook as if every nut and bolt was hanging on by a thread. I felt my first measure of total discomfort before it had even left the bus station and had resigned myself to the fact that sleep would not be something that would occur.

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The actual ‘deluxe coach’

We were then told that the beggar children had got hold of the puppy and had thrown it violently down a set of stairs. The sadness this filled me with made me angry as it must have surely died and the thought that went through my mind was that the beggars had virtually guaranteed their rebirth as a dog in India.

My mood was jolted sideways when the driver, a maniac even by Indian standards, having dared to do 007 manoeuvres on very winding mountain roads, with infinite drops, hit the brakes, and skidded across the highway narrowly missing wiping out an ambulance on an emergency call. Once we’d all removed our heads from the very, very shiny headrests in front we consoled ourselves that had he hit it, we would have at least got instant medical attention, had the crew survived themselves. This was 15 minutes into the 14 hour journey. We were later joined on the bus as dusk fell by several large families of mosquitos taking advantage of the automatic windows.

But there’s only one thing you can do in a situation like this.
Switch off your mind, relax and float down stream.

At the halfway stage the driver stopped at a roadside ‘restaurant’ where we got talking to our fellow passengers all of whom were Indian. One guy said he does this journey, 10 hours from Dharmasala to his drop off point,  twice a week to commute to work –a return journey I might add! After staring at him speechless for a long unbelieving while I asked if all the drivers are as bad as this one and I was reliably informed that they are not and ‘this one is crazy, the worst driver I’ve known’.

Lucky us.

 

all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

see also

‘I am not a Buddhist….’ https://kevollier.com/2014/06/14/i-am-not-a-buddhist/

‘In Search of Gandhi’ https://kevollier.com/2014/04/14/north-india-in-23-days-day-2-in-search-of-gandhi-part-1/

I am not a Buddhist – McLeod Ganj

following on from https://kevollier.com/2014/05/10/delhi-to-mcleod-ganj/

‘I am not a Buddhist’ were words I heard myself uttering at the end of our three day stay in the home of the Dalai Lama – the town of Mcleod Ganj not the big man’s house itself of course.

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We dropped our backpacks into the Pink House Hotel, had a hearty breakfast of Mango Lassi, Chocolate and Banana pancakes and a Tulsi Tea and then went off to discover the town. After just 100 yards I was approached by a woman with a baby who told me that she didn’t want money, just food, for her starving child. How could one possibly refuse? –  so I was led back the way I’d come, to a shop. It was at this time I realised that I’d become part of a scam I hadn’t come across before. The shopkeeper was well prepared for me as I assume the woman must do this as many times a day as she can get away with. The choice offered was rice or/and milk and I decided to pay my dumb dues and pick rice – at 400 rupees a bag which I later found was about 350 rupees too much. I guess that she gets a small commission and the shop owner, Mr Robin Bastard, gets the rest. I left muttering inner ffs’s and started back up the road only to met by another woman and a baby. I couldn’t tell if it was the same woman and baby and I entertained the prospect that today might actually be groundhog day. This time I said No. I learn fast.

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Apart from gangs of babies clutched by women, McLeod is brimming with purple robed Buddhist monks and nuns and a hefty mix of dreadlocked Ohm wearers who fill the many groovy cafes and funky restaurants.

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Most of the population are Tibetan non-monk refugees fleeing the on-going Obama and Cameron ignored  atrocities of the Chinese which has been on-going since 1960 when the first refugees came and still do to this day.

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Tibetans outnumber the Indians by at least 5 to 1

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All of the buildings are built in Tibetan style which include the residence of the Dalai, the Tibetan Childrens Village, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute and hundreds more. I wasn’t sure about the Astrological one as I’m a Virgo and it’s a known Virgo trait not to believe in Astrology. There is the Library of Tibetan Works and countless yoga and meditation centres. It was in Mcleod Ganj that I discovered what I assume must be a Tibetan delicacy – French Toast. Everywhere does it and they all compete for taste. This is not Eggy bread, this is French Toast – the names don’t even sound similar.

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What surprised me here was being in a restaurant and monks ordering chicken. I was always under the impression that sentient beings weren’t supposed to be eaten and apparently the Buddha himself died choking on pork which might have been his very last lesson on the pitfalls of eating a fellow sentient. But more than that, from what I understand, a monk dons his robes to renounce the world, but I didn’t encounter one who wasn’t holding a smartphone or an ipad where, rather than renounce the world, you can access all of it, 24/7 which makes becoming a monk bloody easy in my opinion.

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I always wonder what Christ would think, if he came back, and allegedly he’s supposed to, of all the churches built in his name, each one with his murder hanging from every arch and alter and I do wonder what Buddha would think of all the golden statues of him, some small with holes in his head to hold joss sticks, some so big to rival a cathedral.
At least the Buddhists don’t have his everlasting image as a guy trying to cough up some bacon, so he got a better deal than Jesus.
And where does it say that to understand the teachings of the big B one has to shave one’s heads or don robes or prostate?
It doesn’t.
The philosophy and teachings of a tuned in being, once again, have been lost or side stepped into a religion of ritual – yet another case of fingers pointing at the moon.

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The Dalai Lama was in residence when we were there, though I think he was having a lie-in and indeed the temples are certainly very  impressive – as buildings and as symbols of devotion, and all of it with the majestic and mystical snowy peaks of the Himalayas as a back drop. It is a magical town.

Delhi to McLeod Ganj

Of all the things to excite you in Delhi there is one ‘must do’. At around 5pm take a taxi across the breadth of the city, a journey of about an hour and then get a tuk tuk back and in that 2 hours, apart from having what may well be the most thrilling journey you will ever take and, if you survive, you will know Delhi.

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Our crazy ride let us off at the ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminal) at Kashmiri Gate and our coach to McLeod Ganj, a trip of 12 hours, was due to depart at 8.06pm. You simply have to trust that your bus will come in at the stand that it is supposed to come in on and that you will board it at the time printed on the ticket, but for all the world, until two minutes before it arrives, you are convinced, along with the other westerners that have gathered with faces of stark confusion that there is no bus for you. The chaos and noise and organised insanity teaches one to either lie on the floor kicking and screaming or to let go. It was a toss up for a while which one I’d end up doing.

The overnight Deluxe Volvo AC coach had seats that virtually recline horizontally, but on the downside there is no toilet on board so you’re in trouble if you’ve been keeping up your water levels and not thought to wear a diaper. They do stop though approximately every 3 hours at a remote chai stand with a loo. And these loos are the stuff of museums as you likely have never seen loos like these before. And it befuddled me that the dirtiest, most grotesque toilets have a guy outside demanding a payment for using it. I’m not sure what it is he does but evidence suggested that after every so many customers have relieved themselves, he goes in with a brush and spreads shit everywhere.

Another downside is that these deluxe coaches are so air conditioned that Eskimos refuse to use them as they are not used to such low temperatures. At one stop, the driver was forced to open the luggage hold so that passengers could don all of the clothing they’d brought for their whole trip, including bobble hats.

On top of this, when getting on the bus, all the seats have been thoughtfully reclined ready and all the lights are off or dimmed to encourage sleep and relaxation on the dark 12 hour sojourn, but then, once moving and as drowsiness sets in the driver puts a film onto the one blurry TV and at full volume to the point that it distorted, and as it was a coach full of westerners the film he chose was in very loud Hindi – which had enough machine gun firing and door bells ringing and shrieking and sirens that thoughts of hijacking the bus rumbled down the aisle.

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As dawn broke, we saw the first enticing glimpses of the snowy peaks of the Himalayas and the coach began it’s ascent on roads, the like of those that Ice Road Truckers would refuse to navigate. The coach made a quick stop at Dharamsala bus station to drop off people who thought Dharmasala was where the Dalai Lama lived, before continuing higher into the mountains, another 10km, to the town where the Dalai Lama actually lives – McLeod Ganj (which we instantly re-named Heaven)

all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

Glastonbury to Delhi

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After our last trip to India in 2012 we decided not to ever again sleep overnight on chairs at Gatwick or any other airport and so we booked in at a nearby Gatwick Hotel which is a 10 minute shuttle from the hotel door to the North Terminal.
The staff here were lovely but for all its neon promise of decadence the room was, in a word, shit. The bed, when one sat up straight in it with one’s back against the wall (there was no headboard besides it being London in the 21st century), rolled away towards the door. The one pillow seemed to be stuffed with itching powder and, as the walls were no thicker than white washed kleenex, it wasn’t at all difficult to hear the thoughts of our young neighbours – neighbours, it turned out, that were on a school trip from Brookside, just 2 miles from Glastonbury.

All flights were on time and once again Emirates proved to be real value for money. Their economy class would match business class on many other airlines. The seats are spaced so that in the event of a crash you would actually be able to get your head on to your knees rather than up against the head rest of the seat in front of you and as I practice Yoga I knew I’d have no trouble in going as far to be able to kiss my arse goodbye if the moment called for it.  This leg of the journey took 6 hours which the three of us whiled away watching movies. There was an hour to kill at Dubai airport which we did in a Costa before getting the connection to Delhi, a trip of 3 hours.

Arriving in Delhi at 2am to the amazing Mudra walled arrivals building everything was going swimmingly until we met the queue for passport control

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We stood in line watching the queue we’d thought about joining diminish at least, I had time to work out, five times faster than ours. After a whole hour and having only 5 people in front of us, we swapped queues. This was a silent protest at the imbecilic official that had converted mild mannered travellers in front of us into potential terrorists. I was particularly anxious as I’d mislaid (turns out, lost) the phone number and address of the small hotel down a side-street that we’d booked and there was supposed to be a driver waiting. Had he gone home, all I knew was the small hotel down a side-street’s name and in the biggest city in India, I knew we could be in trouble and at 3am. We were in 20th position in our new queue but still we went through passport stamping before one other person had moved in the other.

Suffice to say our backpacks were just being loaded onto the Delhi lost persons presumed dead trolley when we arrived and thankfully the wonderful driver from our booked hotel had waited all this time who by now was nonchalantly waving a board with ‘OLLIER’ across it to anyone who would listen. I’d use the word ‘relieved’ to describe his reaction but I might have been mistaken as I think he also had given us up for or wishing we were dead.

At 4am he delivered us to ‘The Tree of Life’ and our second India adventure had begun, this one with our adult son along for the ride – and what a time was about to be had………

all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

Yoga Biking

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As I understand things, all spiritual teachings are taught, essentially, to allow one to strive for one thing, stillness of mind.  Yoga Asanas are there, as just one limb of eight, to prepare the body for meditation so that it can sit as still and as comfortably as possible without having ones legs turn blue so to be able to calm the mind, and along with the other seven limbs, to realise that all is just thought from which arise our attachments and aversions and ultimately the universe we individually live in.

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Television and the media has managed to shepherd us all into a similar pattern of thoughts and thinking and so we all seem to kind of agree on a similar ish universe.   Spiritual teachings however can, at least temporarily, have us experiencing other new and enticing universes, be it a Buddhist one or an Islamic one or Sufi, Hindu, Jesuit, Jain, and so on, until we are ready to drop that too and to simply be.  In the meantime whilst we are travelling on our own long yellow brick road to our inner wizard, terrible wars are being fought, insanely, because different collectives of people are holding on tightly, very tightly, to the universe that they think they live in, a universe based in religion, a religion that they insist is the only true one. The truth is that the world is squabbling and killing over who has the best imaginary friend.

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Meditation, I am told, is simply a way to let go, to not hold on to anything.

The Tibetan word for meditation “Gom” means “to become familiar with one’s Self” which is different, well slightly different to self familiarity that happens around puberty. The later more grown up familiarity is encouraged for training the mind to understand states that are rewarding such as concentration, compassion, correct understanding, patience, humility, perseverance, awareness and mindfulness.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be done sat in lotus imitating Buddha or Ramakrishna.  It is accepted nowadays that posture is not really that important. Buddha could just as well have sat on a chair and got boomshanka’d but, like most yogis of the day,  he was a wandering sadhu and chairs were not lying around in fields and under enlightening trees. Sitting in lotus is another case of us human types imitating. We no longer dress up as Batman or play air guitar – well not in public at least – but if Buddha got through by sitting cross legged then we seem to think that’s the way for us all, but where does this end?

If Christ had been hung from a gallows, rather than crucified on a cross, Christians would today undoubtedly be wearing nooses around their necks, albeit small ones on a pretty chain – but I digress.  So it’s surely not really about posture,  you can do walking meditation, standing meditation, kneeling meditation –  it’s about stillness  – specifically stillness of mind and recently I discovered a forced yoga if you will, about 3 minutes after driving off on a recently required, not been on one for 28 years, motorbike.

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Materially, It’s a great bike, the result, some say, well a lot say to be honest, of a ‘mid life crisis’ though I simply fail to see where there is any crisis happening, I’m having a great time – It does just under 80 to the gallon and it will hit 110 mph (apparently) with road tax at only £37 per year. So, by comparison to cars, it’s very ecological and economical and shockingly, to me, extremely meditative. (oh yeah and a lotta lotta fun)

From moving off you are forced into
1/ letting go of any fear immediately and
2/ having an instant and perpetual lesson in both awareness and mindfulness – and you can’t do any of these if you are not totally focused and full to the brim of concentration.

The roads are clogged nowadays more than ever and the Highways Department consider two-wheel riders approximately not at all. The manhole covers are very rarely level with the road surface, any utility works undertaken are then resurfaced by what can only be the local playgroup. Farmers, bless them, do try to help by adding a layer of mud wherever possible and councils love to decorate them with rumble strips and speed humps.  This is before you encounter any other actual road users , so from the off you are ‘in the zone’ and to understand or at least second guess other drivers you must have a full tankard of both empathy, and to discourage you from giving the finger, compassion.

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one must stay alert at all times

Distraction is limited, unlike being in a cocoon vehicle because it’s very difficult and extremely messy to eat or drink on a bike and you simply cannot hear a word on the mobile phone and texting is particularly trying and turning around to see what the kids are doing would be very illegal. You are simply there. On the bike, there is, no mortgage, no debt, not even a family,  just you and the space around you most commonly referred to as ‘the moment’ though you can never know that you’re in the moment because you’re in it.  I concur with film star and Ducati rider Ryan Reynolds who recently said, “I love the fact that on a motorcycle, riding is the only thing you’re doing”.  Although I’d add saying ‘yippee’ in quite a high voice within the confines of the helmet.
I imagine  surfers have the same feeling of oneness and yippee, except the only obstacles they have to look out for are passing turds. The organisation ‘Surfers Against Sewage’ isn’t in existence for nothing dude.

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And to yoga class – it’s the only way to travel.

And all the time the wheels are moving, you are naggingly, very wide awake aware of the biggest one of all – impermanence but all the time holding an inner smile and something that might be called loveOr maybe delusion

The Human Test

The UK has on its streets, in every town and city, Big Issue sellers. The Big Issue offers people who are homeless the opportunity to earn their own money; a livelihood.  The Big Issue Foundation offers vendors the opportunity of a life. They work tirelessly alongside the vendors to help them deal with the issues that have caused their homelessness or have developed as a result of hitting the streets.

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The way we can experience the feeling of shame (if buying clothes from Primark hasn’t ignited a conscience) is to realise that those people selling that Big Issue, as mentioned in another post, could very, very easily be your mum, dad, brother, sister, son, daughter, grandchild or of course even you – and the way the world is going currently, that is a possibility. Knowing that and then walking past a seller should, if of course you are human ignite that spark of shame and prove you are not an alien. What reasons do people possibly delude themselves with to justify walking past?

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“Never look down on someone unless you are helping them up. As you go about your daily life please do stop and say hello to a vendor, buy a magazine” ~The Big Issue Foundation.  – besides, it’s a bloody good *weekly* read!

Margaret Thatcher – teacher of Compassion

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Margaret Thatcher is dead.

The resulting vitriol that has welcomed and celebrated her death is jaw dropping, and even for me, unexpected. The ‘Ding dong, the witch is dead’ song from the Wizard of Oz is at number three in the UK music charts and there are parties, and some say riots, planned for this Wednesday when the biggest funeral in UK history takes place. Even Princess Di didn’t get such state attention but Princess Di was loved by most unlike Thatcher who has been called the ‘marmite politician’ by a member of the church but like Diana she has also left behind children. Children that are having to witness the hatred directed towards their mum from what seems like half of England and most of Wales and Scotland.

I wasn’t a fan, I never voted for her but that’s the point –  the people of the UK did vote for her, in our established democracy, and three times! She wasn’t a dictator, she was elected and probably by one or two members of each family burning her effigy. So why are the people of the UK now in such a hateful frame of mind directed at a dead woman who their fellow country folk voted for on three occasions?  Apart from how she was at the forefront of policies, supported by parliament mind, I think there was lot of people who just couldn’t stand the pursed lips, the terrible hair and the fact that she reminded just about everybody of their mother-in-law.

Margaret Thatcher's death divides opinion across the UK

One of the best life lessons I’ve ever been given was, whenever possible,  to see every person, depending on their age and sex, as if they are your mum or your dad or brother, sister, son or daughter or grandkids or maybe the weird uncle or the batty aunt or your best mate. If people, when walking past a Big Issue seller spared this thought – that the person stood there in all weathers, could easily be, with a change of circumstances, one of your relatives – it could of course even be you (and it’s only conceited thinking that banishes that possibility – especially as our economies teeter) then maybe not so many would walk past that Big Issue seller.

The same goes for Thatcher. She may once have been a leader with an iron will that the rich applauded and the workers threw eggs at but for a vast amount of years she’s been an old lady, a grandma who became frail and died. It was someone’s mum. One didn’t have to like her but to dance in the streets? Even Bin Laden wasn’t given so much attention.

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Surely we need to understand, and with teeth gritted if need be, to be able at least to attempt to practice compassion and it seems to me that the British public have never been give such a national opportunity to do both.

Compassion is our friend.

The opposite of compassion is cruelty and to a lesser degree, pity. Pity being when we’re sorry for someone whereas compassion is to be sorry with someone. It’s feeling the suffering as if you are that person. Of course I’m not  referring to Thatcher herself as she’s gone but I am referring to those she left behind – her children and grandchildren.

We can, albeit at the risk of heart wrenching brevity, become the grandchild who has not only lost it’s grandma but then witnesses the folk of this country that she governed morphing into over-sized munchkins, spitting malevolence as if that’s to be applauded and respected, although possibly feared and therefore ignored.

To be able to shape shift into each mind and body of those affected in a quantum leap sort of way will likely and involuntarily ignite our compassion immediately and if it doesn’t at least you’ll be blessed with the shocking knowledge, if you say that Thatcher had no compassion herself, of what that feels like.

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Five Lads on the Isle of Arran

The day before ‘the lads’ went over to the Buddhist car free Holy Isle for a few days of reflection – (as previously blogged at https://kevollier.com/2012/10/06/buddhists-peace-and-yoga-turrets/ ) we partook in our annual get together hike – something we’ve been doing now for twenty years and this year and on that day we all hiked through the mountains of Arran and it was on a day that was the hottest Scotland had witnessed since the days of William Wallace.  Something that should have taken reasonable preparation but unfortunately the only preparation had been arriving off the Ardrossan to Brodick ferry the day earlier and hiking off the jetty the full 100 metres to The Douglas beer garden.

Goat Fell

just off the ferry, Goat Fell ahead – the Douglas left

The sun had literally come out, (for the first time in 83 years on Arran if a later hired taxi driver was to be believed), as soon as the ferry docked.
And there is no better combination than four men (free of all the shackles of modern life for five days) the sun and amazing scenery for one to be drawn to a nearby, and quite frankly, begging, beer garden.

The Famous Five of 2012

It was some pints and a couple of ferry arrivals later that we were joined for a few hours by an old friend from Glastonbury who had since moved back to his native Glasgow.  So we now had a Scotsman and his bagpipes.  At some point we remembered that the next day we were supposed to climb Goat Fell, Arran’s highest peak, and we vaguely agreed on a route that we might take.  We drank up, eventually, and wandered over to the beach to be treated to some bagpiping.  This I remember.  We all felt very Scottish watching a piper pipe away the ferry back to Ardrossan and we all agreed that Mel Gibson was indeed correct to sack Carlisle and we then all imagined what it must have been like to have marched with Wallace that amazing distance from the Highlands to Carlisle and with no shops on the way and all the time wearing an itchy skirt and no underpants, walking through waist-high thistles in the most midge infested landscape on Earth.  No wonder they were annoyed.

Craig McFarlane Bagpipes Arran

And then someone went to the off licence and introduced us to a Scottish delicacy that ironically is brewed in Devon known as Buckfast Tonic Wine (Toxic more like)  and that is approximately where I lost my memory until the next morning.

Bagpiper Craig got the last ferry to the mainland, I wore a hat for the rest of the evening and then went missing at midnight but where to I have no recollection but I did find the hotel – the Ormidale, in a copse and managed to awake hotel staff at 4am enquiring where my room might be and was subsequently helped into bed.

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Me – apparently – totally hatted

I was enlightened with this information at the breakfast table by staff who were so nonchalant about it, that it seemed as if someone does this sort of thing quite regularly and possibly on a nightly basis.

Ormidale

The Ormidale

I managed to eat a full Scottish breakfast and get 200 metres into the hike before the hangover kicked in. It was 80 plus degrees and not even a whimsy of a breeze was to be had as we started the slow climb through the beauty that is Glen Rosa. We all had a bottle of water each which we sipped at, as it quickly became evident that one small bottle of water wouldn’t be enough. It is here that you have to understand that we are not advisors to Ray Mears or Bear Grylls though I’m sure we have a much better time and don’t have to wear make up  (It’s still a choice). It was quite a busy path as we mingled with day trippers from the ferry as well as local teenage lads, who were heading for a natural rock plunge pool. Something I imagine that only happens on very hot sunny days – so that would be once in a lifetime.

Kev Ollier Glen Rosa

into Glen Rosa

One of our party is terrified of heights and another was already out of water. A debate ensued, considering the temperature, about whether to go up Goat Fell, turn back or take another route. The one terrified of heights wasn’t intending to ever go up it, ‘if it looked steep’ and the one without the water was determined to.  Neil and I were not bothered either way but certainly wouldn’t be turning back so we strolled onwards and upwards towards’ The Saddle’ where we would decide a definite plan of action.

The going did get a bit tough as it was so hot and I’d perspired the last drop of Buckfast and was now seriously in need of water. We’d followed a stream all the way up the Glen and we decided we were now high enough to drink straight from the stream. Refreshed by Gaia we continued on and the path veered away from the stream for the first time that day and we suddenly realised that we now had this amazing valley to ourselves. Soon though Robin fell ill with what we expected was heat exhaustion and I was asked to get water for him but as the path had now veered about 100 metres from the river it meant I had to traipse through waist-high thistles in shorts disturbing plagues of sleeping, dusk awaiting midges and then scramble down a gorse cliff, over rocks and hang on by one arm whilst plunging the other into a mini waterfall and then having to make the return journey whereupon I disturbed more midges or maybe the same ones only now  more aggravated at a double intrusion. On my bedraggled and sweaty reunion with the lads Robin said he would have to go back to which I said something on the lines of, ‘I don’t bloody think so’. We had no mobile reception so we couldn’t call a helicopter rescue and we were alone but only a couple of hundred metres from the Saddle which was the half way point and for all we know there might actually be a tree over the other side that could afford us some shade as there were none the way we’d come.

We were climbing the last steep bit when some walkers appeared coming our way from over the Saddle. I smiled at this. There were two couples who on traversing the peak came upon us, me topless, legs torn by thistles with my shirt over my head (think Lawrence of Arabia), with a guy who looked as if he’d barely survived a Cessna plane crash in a desert with only mirages for comfort to be confronted by Phil concerned at how steep the other side was. One of the women didn’t help one iota when she said, ‘that’s so dangerous, be careful, you might die’ which was rubber stamped by her friend. I actually saw Phil turn grey.

The Saddle however was worth it. The views were immense and the wind that hit over the top was so cooling.

Robin Whitlock The Saddle to Glen Rosa Arran

Looking past Robin back to Glen Rosa from The Saddle

Kev Ollier The Saddle to Glen Sannox

and looking down into the future, Glen Sannox

We took rest and convinced Phil to keep going. I volunteered to go first so if he fell I’d break his fall.
And it was steep. It wasn’t even a footpath but a scramble. It says so on the map apparently and it’s one of the most notorious on Arran but it actually did get the adrenalin going as we had no ropes and it was indeed touch and go dangerous – the one slip and you’re dead dangerous – not even a halfway house of an injury – just dead, ex-parrot death.

Kev Ollier Scramble Glen Sannox

The scramble…

Glen Sannox

…and breathe

Suffice to say we got down, we walked the few more miles to Sannox and stopped at the hotel on the beach for an Arran single malt – to celebrate being alive and a large glass of iced sparkling water – bliss. We caught the next packed bus (they’re not often) back the 7 miles or so to Brodick to discover that I’d left my phone on the Sannox hotel lawn and there are no more buses today. Hence where the taxi driver came in….

Valentine message from the Buddha

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
The Discourse on Loving Kindness.
What should be done by one who’s skilled in wholesomeness
To gain the state of peacefulness is this:
One must be able, upright, straight and not proud,
Easy to speak to, mild and well content,
Easily satisfied and not caught up
In too much bustle, and frugal in one’s ways,
 With senses calmed, intelligent, not bold,
Not being covetous when with other folk,
Abstaining from the ways that wise ones blame,
And this the thought that one should always hold:
“May beings all live happily and safely
And may their hearts rejoice with themselves.
Whatever there may be with breath of life,
Whether they be frail or very strong,
Without exception, be they long or short
Or middle-sized, or be they big or small
Or thick, or visible, or invisible,
Or whether they dwell far or they dwell near,
Those that are here, those seeking to exist–
May beings all rejoice within themselves.
Let no one bring about another’s ruin
And not despise in any way or place,
Let them not wish each other any ill
From provocation or enmity.”
Just as a mother at the risk of life
Loves and protects her child, her only child,
So one should cultivate this boundless love
To all that live in the whole universe
Extending from a consciousness sublime
Upward and downward across the world
Untroubled, free from hate and enmity,
And while one stands and while one walks and sits
Or one lies down still free from drowsiness
One should be intent on this mindfulness–
This is divine abiding here they say.
But when one lives quite free from any view,
And greed for sensual desires expelled,
One surely comes no more to any womb.
The Buddhas’s words
Sutta Nipata

A Night with Thich Nhat Hanh

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It was March of last year, you know, that week in 2012 when the sun came out and it was ‘unseasonably hot’ and we were promised hosepipe bans and droughts, that we were lucky enough to have front row seats at the Southbank Centre in London for the ‘Cooling the Flames’ talk by Thich Nhat Hanh.  I say lucky but the word lucky to me is almost a non-word like ‘normal’ and even ‘average’ only works with regards to weights and measures. Show me an average person or a normal day or something that’s ‘lucky’. Lucky suggests that it came from nowhere. I prefer in all instances to use ‘blessed’ instead – so anyway we had front row seats.

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It was a wonderful evening, though it did go on a bit but at least we got first hand training in patience by default. Leaving the building at the end I picked up the leaflet, ‘Cooling the flames – Five Mindfulness Trainings’ before exiting into the paradox of the trendy south bank of London on a barmy night. Lots of people mindfully or maybe not so mindfully getting inebriated. It was straight into the car, which we’d parked on-site, and then a 3 hour drive back to Somerset.

Buddhism, along with Yoga has always vibrated with me, as new agers might say. The past has found me on a working retreat with my partner at Samye Ling in Scotland,

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on a contemplative weekend with ‘the lads’ on Holy Isle

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and visiting Osel Ling in the Sierra Nevada in Spain several times

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and I am Ayya Khema’s greatest fan (which I know is a paradoxical, oxymoronic thing to say)

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but until this morning I hadn’t read that leaflet that I picked up that evening nearly a year ago and presently, having read it, am positively calmer in the inner regions as a result than I have been for more than quite some time – so without further ado – may it talk to you too……   🙂

The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

Reverence For Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.
True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.


True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.
Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

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The British Buddhist Holy Isle.

On the 18th April 1992 Buddhist Lama Yeshe Rinpoche bought a whole island off the coast from the Island of Arran which in turn is off the coast of Scotland. It is called Holy Isle and must not be visited, indeed given the widest possible birth, if you can’t cope with peace, beauty, tranquility and serenity.
The island came into Buddhist hands via a devout catholic no less, Mrs Kay Morris, who owned Holy Isle and had been ‘instructed by Mother Mary in a dream’ to pass Holy Isle to Lama Yeshe to be used for peace and meditation. See –  http://www.holyisland.org/

We went there this year as the second part of the annual ‘lads walk’.  We’d spent the first part, a couple of days, walking the wilds of Arran getting sunburned and heat stroke as we’d managed to marry our trip with the hottest weather Scotland has had since Dodo’s were a menace to outdoor chip eaters.

Arrival on Arran


There was only four of us this year and one of us, a freelance writer, was writing an article on our visit for Kindred Spirit magazine. It was the third day of our trip that we caught the small ferry over to this car free paradise. The plus with Holy Isle is that nobody is playing at being Buddhist. There was some disappointment by one of our group as he’d genuinely expected that our boat, on landing, would be met by a line of purple cloaked, bald blokes ringing bells and welcoming us on to their island. I wondered if he also thought they would be saying Aloha and passing garlands of thistles around our necks.
The resident Buddhists are simply average people of all ages who are trying to follow a peaceful existence via the teachings of Buddha. This, in other words, is not a pretentious new age centre.

The main building

The island consists of a main building which houses the dormitories, library, kitchen and dining room. There is no TV room, no amusement arcade or gym because like the world over they’re not really necessary. Behind this there is another building where the courses are held and at the far end of the island, about half a mile away, was a not for visitors retreat centre where twelve women are currently on a three year, three month, three day retreat. They were 18 months in to it at the time of our visit in May 2012.  The disappointed friend drew looks, accompanied by frowning eyebrows, when he inquired if this was voluntary on their part, obviously having decided to himself that we were on some sort of unwelcoming Zen Alcatraz.
In the hillside above the retreat centre there was a couple of eco-lodges for people on a lifetime retreat and once the resident has passed on the lodge also gets passed on to the next person on the waiting list.

The retreat building

The lifetime retreat lodges and the home of Lama Yeshe when he visits.

There is a also a wonderful cafe/shop on the grass beach which caters for visitors and helps fund the island and sells lots of mediation bowls which everyone seemed to try out and I imagine were there as some special meditative training test for the shop assistant.
Above the cafe was a meditation room which I visited at several ungodly hours to spend time, cross legged, cutting off the blood flow to my feet. I didn’t take my reading glasses into these meditations and was put on the spot when given a 2 inch thick set of cards to be able to recite the Chenrezig prayer, which was written in writing so small that I had no choice but to mumble along in a low Buddhisty sounding, throaty tone so as not to be exposed and glared at.

The Holy Isle passenger terminal looking towards Arran


Before meditation one morning as the sun was just up, around 5am as it happens, I decided to practice some yoga outdoors. There was a time when 5am was when I’d think of getting off home from a party and not heading for seclusion to do a yoga practice. I found a lovely spot by the sea edge looking across to Arran. I stripped down to my underpants because 1/ it was already hot and more importantly, 2/ I was alone – and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) and by the time I’d reached my first downward facing dog I realised I was not at all alone. I was joined by an ever expanding cloud of wee midges and these midges were not at all Buddhist and brought on what I can only describe as yoga turrets and a quick desertion of my practice as I ran back to the meditation hall with my new friends in hot, biting pursuit.

In the main building one could help oneself to free teas and coffees 24/7 and the food, three meals a day that are included in your £28 a night stay, was gorgeous vegan fayre. We all occasionally chipped in washing and wiping dishes and very quickly became part of the community  and after only three days it was as if we’d never lived anywhere else.

On Holy Isle, you are not expected to go to meditation or to do anything particularly. You are simply free to be. It is relaxation personified and still quite a secret.

Peaced out. Last night on the island. Arran in the background

On returning to Arran the next day with it’s one bus every two hours, seemed akin to being dropped into Manhattan on Christmas Eve. It took a while for the peace to dissolve back into distraction which suffice to say most of it eventually did – except for a small part that now sits there still – I guess, waiting for me.

There are currently plans to put a power plant on Arran which the Buddhist community fear will spoil the tranquility of Holy Isle causing noise, pollution and smoke.
see – http://tinyurl.com/9a387jd