Friday, 1 December 2017


Practicing Buddhists undertake to abide by a number of precepts.  Lay Buddhists have five, ordained members of the Triratna Buddhist Order have ten and Buddhist monks have many more.  However, the first universal precept is, ‘I undertake to abstain from taking life’.  Now, as there is no Buddhist pope sending out edicts on what is right and what is wrong, it is up to each individual Buddhist to interpret this precept and decide to what degree it should be applied.  The religious group known as Jains, take this to extraordinary extremes.  They sweep the ground in front of them as they walk to avoid accidentally stepping on any insects.  They also wear veils over their faces so they will not accidentally breath in any insects.

The Buddha consistently taught us to seek ‘the middle way’ between extremes.  He decreed that animals should not be slaughtered to feed him but when he stood in the villages with his alms bowl, he accepted whatever was given and this may have included meat.  His view was that to refuse a gift was to deny the giver the merit that comes from generosity.  Although the overwhelming majority of Triratna order members do not eat meat or fish, you could no more say that all Buddhists are vegetarian than you could say all vegetarians are Buddhists.  The Dalai Lama was once a vegan but following a severe bout of jaundice, he began eating meat on the advice of doctors, whilst still advocating vegetarianism.

My personal interpretation of the second precept is that as far as I am able, I avoid killing harmless bugs.  I don’t kill spiders but I would take measures to clear an infestation of ants in the kitchen.  I don’t want mice in the house but I hate to use mouse traps, so we have an electrical device that sends out a signal to make mice uncomfortable and less inclined to take up residence. I would not hesitate to use the most powerful anti-nit treatment if, in the unlikely event they were that desperate to find somewhere to live.  I am one of the fortunate few who seldom get bitten by mosquitoes but if I saw one feeding on my arm, I wouldn’t hesitate to swat it.  

Because of this precept, I gave up eating meat.  You could argue that no animal is slaughtered for my particular benefit, but I don’t accept that premise.  Someone has to do the killing and by doing so there is a danger that they will become hardened to the suffering of their victims, and this would have a powerful karmic effect.  I try to avoid eating fish although as I now live in Spain, I either have to eat fish or go without.  I also have to confess that from time to time I eat traditional fish and chips, albeit rather guiltily.

The world is changing and it is predicted that as the population of this planet swells it is going to become increasingly difficult to continue to feed everyone with animal protein.  Some say that in the future we will derive our protein from insects specially bred for the purpose, whilst others say that we would be perfectly able to feed the entire population of Mother Earth if we ate the vegetable protein we currently feed to sheep, cattle and pigs.

We experienced CJD in beef, an influenza epidemic created by poultry, salmonella poisoning in eggs and massive outbreaks of swine fever and foot and mouth disease, all due to intensive farming methods.  It seems to me that nature is telling us something and we really should take notice.  I am not suggesting that the entire population will become vegetarian sometime soon, but as we become more aware of the suffering inflicted on animals in order to provide us with affordable animal protein we will demand improvements to their welfare and perhaps eat a little less meat.  As we learn more about depleting fish stocks, we may also be encouraged to eat less fish. 

A few years ago lived surrounded by fields full of cattle.  From my bedroom window I would see them grazing peacefully with their suckling calves.  Human beings are the only creatures to demand that we should drink milk throughout their entire adult lives, so in order that we should have the milk rather than the calves, the male calves are taken away to be slaughtered and the young cows are taken off to eventually become milking cattle.  The moment the cows are separated from their calves they become distressed and start calling for them.  Their calls become increasingly desperate, even through the night and frequently one or two will force their way out of the field and run up and down the lane, bellowing for their young.  This goes on for at least a week until they calm down.  Eventually they will be put to the bull, and the whole process starts again. I found this upsetting and consequently moved slightly towards veganism by cutting cow’s milk from my diet.  To my shame, I still eat cheese as it seems currently beyond food scientists to invent an acceptable alternative.  We eat eggs but never from the supermarket.  Fortunately we have friends who keep chickens and allow them to joyfully run about freely.

That’s purely my personal viewpoint, but I would bring out the heavy artillery to tackle nits but think twice before stamping on a spider, look for alternatives to trapping mice and consider eating a little less meat.  But please don’t cook bacon when I am around, even after over 25 years as a vegetarian, the smell of bacon frying still makes my mouth water.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The Second Precept

I recently gave this talk as part of a series on the Five Precepts at a Tuesday drop-in group:

When we considered the first precept: abstention from killing living beings, it quickly became apparent that this extended beyond not committing murder and led to many other ethical considerations. Similarly, the second precept is not constrained to simply undertaking not to steal. But before we broaden the context, let’s look at the most obvious implication of this precept.

Many years ago I used to be an RAF Policeman. During my training I had to learn the definition of stealing: ‘A person steals who takes and carries away any article capable of being stolen, with the intent at such time of taking, to permanently deprive the owner thereof.’

Intent is obviously important. If a friend visits your home and leaves their umbrella behind, you have obviously not stolen it. You intend to take it back to them but simply don’t get round to it. That’s not stealing, that’s procrastination. You friend doesn’t contact you and ask for it back so they don’t seem to miss it and meanwhile, you find it quite useful to have an umbrella so you now regard it as yours. You now have the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the umbrella. That’s stealing.

To take something from another person against their wishes is also an act of extreme egotism. The taker believes their need to possess an object is more important than the owner’s rights to their property. Taking the not given on a lesser scale can also be found closer to home. For example, failing to repay loans from friends and family within the agreed time limit.
Borrowing books that we fail to return once they are read is a common way to take that which is not given.

How many of us have added that little extra to our expenses claims? My favourite justification is, “Well I know I’m bound to have forgotten to claim something so I am entitled to add a bit to compensate”. Obviously I am no saint in these matters. I work from home and my company pays for any postage charges I incur. I used to mail out a great deal so I have a system whereby I can purchase credit from Royal Mail and print off stamps on my computer. These costs are claimed from my employer. Over the last 9 months, I have been mailing out much less but as I live miles away from the nearest Post Office, I have been known to print off stamps using my company’s credit for my personal mail. Once again, there is always justification, “They don’t realise how much extra time I work that I don’t get paid for…” Generosity is supposed to be the positive aspect of the Second Precept yet I use it to justify taking the not given.

Sadly we live in a society where moral judgements are often based on what we can get away with. Imagine what you would do if your employer made and error and paid you twice or you were reimbursed twice for a product you bought over the internet and returned because it was not suitable for use, Both these things have happened to me in the past 12 months. So, don’t be too quick to say, “Oh I never steal so this precept is easy”. Are we all as scrupulously honest as we like to think we are?

There are many other ways the not given can be taken and these are not so obvious. You wake up in the morning. You meditate. The sun is shining and you feel great. You are light on your feet, you look in the mirror when you clean your teeth and you see a happy person. Then your partner or someone at work or a person on the till in the supermarket, for whatever reason, is having a really bad day. They interact negatively with you and quite deliberately bring you down. They have deprived you of your good humour and spoilt your nice day. They have taken something from you that you were enjoying and you wished to keep.

More examples: you have had a row or a dispute of some kind. You are hurt and angry. You have a good friend who you know will understand and be sympathetic to the bruising you have been submitted to. So you call them on the phone. They answer, but they mention that they are just leaving go to the cinema. You ignore this and continue to pour your troubles down the line. Your friend is sympathetic but it is obvious from their voice that this is not the best time. You pretend you haven’t picked up this signal and continue to impose yourself. You are taking the not given.

Denying someone the space to hold their own views and opinions is another way we can take the not given. Parents can so easily do this to their children – usually with the best motives but it is a sensitive bit of tight-rope walking. You may want them to follow you into the family business, observe the same religion, vote the same way. You want them accept your point of view but do you want them to think for themselves, or do you want to remove any options to ensure that they will think like you?


This is the positive counterpart of the second precept. You could almost say it is the antidote.

You can give in obvious ways; make a standing order to Amnesty International or the Bristol Buddhist Centre; sponsor a friend who is riding from Lands End to John O’Groats to raise money for a favourite charity. You can buy a copy of Big Issue, telling the vendor to keep the change. If you have had an enjoyable Tuesday evening at the Centre, you could put a little bonus in the Dana Bowl. But this is to imply that generosity is always about giving money.

You can also put in a few extra hours at work, even though you know that you won’t get paid for it but recognise it will make life easier for others. You could offer the book your friend wishes to borrow and tell them, “It’s a great book, don’t give it back, pass it on to someone else”. You may be a little broke and not have much to put in the Dana Bowl but you are happy to give a little time to stay behind and wash the cups at the end of the evening.

When your friend rings just as you are going out of the door, don’t allow them to impose but recognise that this is something they need to talk about and promise them you will call them later – then ensure that you do.

Sometimes giving generously can cost nothing at all. More years ago than I wish to remember, I was being trained as a salesman for J Lyons, Tea & Coffee Division. I was to practice my salesmanship in the field whilst being observed by the Training Manager, a grey haired Scotsman who had been in the business for many years. I was calling on hard-nosed supermarket managers in South London. The morning had not gone well and I had taken a bit of bruising. We stopped for lunch and in spite of the Training Manager’s gentle encouragement I was beginning to feel quite low. As we parked and walked to the next store, we both needed a pee break. We came to one of those Victorian conveniences set underground. As we descended the steps there was a long brass rail which gleamed like gold. Similarly, all the brass fittings in the toilets were freshly polished. The attendant sat in a small room reading Sporting Life. On the way out, the Training Manager put his head round the door.
“Are you the guy that polishes all this brass-work?”
The man looked up and nodded.
“It must take you hours – I’ve never seen a toilet look so sparkling”
The man’s face broke out in a broad smile, “Oh, thanks a lot”
As we ascended the stairs I said, “What was all that about?”
“Oh nothing really, it’s a rotten job so I just gave the guy a nice day”.

To summarise; there are as many ways to give generously as there are ways to take that which is not given. Find a little time to look inwards; see if you recognise ways that you may sometimes take that which is not given but perhaps have never recognised before. You may even spot ways that you can act with generosity that you have never previously considered.

“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”
Jackson Brown



Buddhists believe that all actions have consequences.  Positive actions have positive consequences and negative actions have negative consequences.  So we may say that Harvey Weinstein’s current predicament is the karmic consequence of his many negative actions both recent and historic.

Firstly, it is important to establish that karma is not a form of punishment meted out by some powerful deity, neither is it fate or destiny.  Our actions are often likened to seeds that are planted in the present but harvested in the future.  This future may be just minutes away or it may be many years before our actions mature into consequences.  However, this may be a little simplistic.

Karma is not a general law of causation but it is the way our deliberate actions shape our relationships with other people and affect the world we live in.  It is our intention, the deliberate wilful action that creates Karma.  

So in this case, it seems undeniable that Harvey Weinstein’s actions were aimed deliberately at satisfying his sexual urges with little or no consideration to how other parties were affected or damaged by them.  But what of all those who, because of the power wielded by him, were coerced into being complicit or remaining silent?  

These were deliberate actions albeit taken under duress.  They could have spoken out but chose not to out of fear of reprisals or damage to their own careers.  It could be that their actions were partially responsible for fostering the continued belief among some that sexual harassment was acceptable.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017


There’s a widely held misconception that we don’t experience the four seasons here in the Balearic Islands.  The transitions may be very different in appearance to those experienced in the UK, but we still enjoy spring, summer, autumn and winter.  

Spring is notable for its profusion of wild flowers.  No daffodils or bluebells but spring is around the corner when there is a sudden explosion of bright yellow flowers that seem to happen overnight.  They pop up everywhere, every nook and cranny, every crack in a wall or pavement will be filled with them.  When the sun bounces off the carpet of yellow blooms it is dazzling and you have to look away.  Then just as suddenly they are gone to be followed by oxide daisies and a proliferation of wild orchids including the fascinating bee orchid, mimicking female bees to trick males into mating and thereby pollinate them.

This year however, spring suddenly became summer without warning.  Half way through May we were enjoying the warmth of early season’s sunshine when suddenly temperatures soared into the low 30’s, and it stayed that way all through June with high levels of humidity.  June became July heralding killer temperatures way off the scale, reaching the low 40’s in several places. 
We took showers several times a day but it was futile, just toweling off was enough to get the sweat flowing again and sleep was almost impossible.   

August was unbearably hot and humid, we could hardly remember the last time it rained. Then on the very last day of the month the rain came.  Temperatures plummeted as the skies clouded over and at last the garden hose was redundant.  

Yesterday the thunder rumbled and skies turned slate grey.  Strong winds heralded more rain and it   I remembered many years ago when we were running a country bar/restaurant in August and at 6.30 in the morning a storm broke the drought.  In an instant the gutters were overflowing with rain, water streaming off the roof to create a waterfall .  I leapt out of bed, grabbed a bar of soap and stood naked under the gushing water, filling the patio with suds. I had never felt so alive.
was delicious.

This morning the grey skies are gone as have all the puddles.  The breeze is still quite perky but the temperature was up in the low teens when I exercised our dog at 8.00 but quickly climbing to a manageable 28⁰ by midday.  The humidity has gone and the air is crisp.  Hopefully, in spite of this sudden shift from Summer to Autumn, we will have a few weeks of this wonderful weather before the winter chill arrives.

Friday, 1 September 2017


Four years ago my wife and I left the UK to live in Menorca.  The reason for us emigrating was threefold.  Firstly, financial.  Now retired on a very basic state pension, rent and council taxes would be much lower there - an important consideration.  Secondly, we had family in Menorca; my wife’s son’s family lived there with our two grandsons.  Finally, it was the year of the big floods in the Somerset levels.  Luckily we lived high on a hill, safe from the floods but for months and months we looked out over the saturated levels hating the grey, leaden skies and desperate for some sunshine.

We knew the island well, in fact some 20 years earlier we had lived there for a few years struggling to make a living as artists and interior decorators.  Having failed, we returned to the UK but continued to take our holidays there.  We owned a primitive ‘casita’ literally ‘small house’.  It had running water, flush toilet, a fair sized plot of land, but no electricity.  We couldn’t afford to install solar but we enjoyed summer evenings by candlelight.  We always looked forward to our annual holiday in Menorca visiting friends and family.  When we landed at Mahon airport we felt the stresses of day to day life in the UK immediately begin to fade away.  After a couple of weeks laying in a hammock or swimming in the sea, we were totally relaxed and ready to face the world once more.

But now we live here – our pensions converted to Euros and paid directly into our local bank.  At first everything was rosy.  Sterling was probably over valued as we were receiving over 1.40 to the pound and with a single client left over from my freelance days adding to our income, we felt that we had made the right choice.  

Then came the referendum.  Even before the results were known, sterling was already on the move downwards and it continues.  Now not far short of one for one, we have definitely felt the pinch.  My stepson lost his job with a local nightclub and unable to find alternative work, took his wife and children back to the UK where work was plentiful.  We missed them terribly and this combined with our diminishing income began to create stress.  In the past we would counter this with a short holiday in Menorca – but now we lived here and there was no escape.

This reminded me of the piece I wrote on this blog a few years ago about the Wordly Winds I read it through again and remembered how much I enjoyed leading classes at the Bristol Buddhist Centre and also the pleasure in writing these notes afterwards.  So I have decided to revive it – maybe not writing as regularly as I did when I lived in the UK, but just now and then.  Quite what I will write about and who I will write it for, I am not sure.  

Maybe just some very brief notes from a retired Accidental Buddhist living on a very small Mediterranean island.

(pictured is Calas Fons at Es Castell)