Tuesday 1 October 2019


Image result for the end of the world is nigh


Over 2,600 years ago in an area we now call Tibet, a wandering monk was attracting so much attention that people were traveling hundreds of miles to hear what he had to say.

His message was simple.  Firstly he taught that everything without exception, was impermanent.  Absolutely everything must change.  

Secondly he taught that everything that exists, does so in dependence upon certain conditions.  For example, your cup of morning tea is dependent upon the leaves of a bush in a far-away country.  The leaf needs to be processed, shipped to the UK, plunged into boiling water and poured into a cup.  If any of those conditions cease to exist for any reason, your morning cuppa will vanish.

Finally he taught that when the conditions that caused something to arise, cease to be, so will that which arose.  This teaching has become known as “dependent origination”.

Our planet came into existence in dependence upon very finely balanced conditions.  These perfect conditions gave rise to the development of dinosaurs.  However, when the exact conditions that supported dinosaurs ceased to exist, they could no longer survive and became extinct.

However, new, finely balanced conditions arose and encouraged the development of homo sapiens and we spread rapidly throughout the planet.  However, we are now destroying those finely balanced conditions.   If the conditions we depend upon cease to exist, it is a simple fact that our species will also cease to exist.

It is a simple truth that was recognised by this monk and his followers thousands of years ago.  They were so struck by his simple but stunning truth, they called him Buddha, “one who is awakened” 

Sadly many world leaders fail to understand the stark fact that our species faces extinction unless something is done right now to preserve the conditions upon which our survival depends.

The crazy man that carried the banner saying “The End of the Word is Nigh” may not seem quite so crazy now.

Monday 8 October 2018


Having just had a birthday, I am now 78 years old.  That means that I have one more birthday before my 70's become my 80's.  I watch TV, listen to the radio and read the Sunday papers and inevitably there is mention of some celebrity or other who has just died aged between 75 and 85.  There is no escaping the fact that this particular lifetime is nearing its close.

Does this worry me?  I would be lying if I said no.  I am fairly philosophical about dying but I have a fear of suffering.  The idea of a stroke fills me with terror.  Every time I get a niggling pain somewhere I think to myself "Is this it?"

Sadly I had a reminder of the impermanence of life when my dear old dog Donut became terminally ill.  He began vomiting and was reluctant to go out for walks.  He lived for our twice daily walks and would bounce with glee when I reached for his harness and lead. The vet said it was likely something he ate and suggested chamomile tea.  He hated chamomile tea and the vomiting continued, so we went back to the vet.  He continued to recommend the tea and suggested I squirt it into his mouth through a syringe .  Donut got worse so I decided on a second opinion and took him to another vet.  He immediately took blood samples and kept him in over night. 

When we went back to the vet the next morning there was very bad news.  He was suffering fro chronic kidney failure.  They were going to keep him in over the weekend with continuing treatment but he warned us not to be too hopeful.  On Monday morning he was obviously very ill and distressed.  The vet said there was nothing further they could do other than put him gently to sleep.

I couldn't believe how distressed I became and my wife and I hugged each other as we bawled our eyes out.  He was just a scruffy old dog who we had got from the Animal Rescue Centre in Mahon.  We had had him for just 2 years but my bond with him was so strong and even now, over 6 months later I still feel sad and miss him.

As a Buddhist I am often asked if I believe in reincarnation or re-birth.  I try to give a sensible answer but I don't know what happens when you die any more than anyone else.  All I have are some gut feelings and I have written about this elsewhere in this blog.  I believe our karma plays a part and although I couldn't give a cogent explanation I have a gut feeling that there is more.  If we all felt this way it would probably make us more determined than ever to save our planet from destruction.  If we knew that there was no escape, that would couldn't walk away from our responsibilities because we are going to keep coming back .  Will I meet up with my old friends on 'the other side'?  It would be nice to think so but I doubt it.  But we must try to leave this lifetime as carefully as we can knowing we have may have a lot of sorting out to do in our next lifetime.

Thursday 25 January 2018



Mindfulness is simply paying attention in a special way, non-judgementally and in the present moment.  In the Mindfulness of Breathing meditation the focus is the breath, but it could be almost anything.  You could be mindful of a flower or the flame of a candle.  This morning I discovered that it can also be the mindfulness of walking a dog.

This Mindfulness of Dog Walking doesn’t take place on a deserted beach or on a cross country ramble, but just an ambling walk around town.  Dogs love routine and although I have always tried to avoid becoming a creature of habit, since we came to live here and particularly since we adopted a scruffy dog, I have come to enjoy the routine of our regular walks.  This morning I decided to pay attention to every aspect of our walk around the small town of Alaior in Menorca.

The walk was fairly typical.  We left the house at just before 8.30 in the morning and as usual turned right.  This takes us to a large plot of weed covered land where Donut the dog can do his business.  Although it is off the pavement, I always make a point of using a poo-bag – something the locals are rather lax about.  At this time of day parents are taking their children to the adjacent school.  There is quite a large population of Muslims in our town and the number of hijabs tends to grow every year.  The women all seem to be frightened of dogs and pull their children close to them as they pass.  They also avoid eye contact so whilst the locals always give you a cheery “bon dia” they always remain silent.  I wonder if they are forbidden to speak to strangers, particularly men.

We run into other dog walkers, nod and exchange ‘bon dias’ whilst the dogs sniff each other’s bottoms.  I don’t know if there has been research into what dogs learn about each other from these encounters.  It is obviously very important to them. Most nose to nose meetings are friendly with much tail wagging but occasionally, for no obvious reason, they can react with a growl.  So whatever information is being exchanged it seems essential to scent mark every tree and lamp post in the neighbourhood.  I like to refer to it as  sending and receiving ‘pee-mail’.

We head towards the centre of town, enter the square and take a seat outside one of the coffee shop.  The Spanish love their coffee but unlike Costa and Starbucks; they serve coffee in sensible sized cups not giant pint-sized mugs of weak coffee topped with 2 inches of foamed milk and sold at extortionate prices.  I have come to love my early morning café-con-leché together with a freshly baked croissant shared strictly 50/50 with my dog.  

The winter is the peak time for citrus fruits.  Everywhere you look orange trees are laden with fruit. Consequently a popular alternative to coffee is delicious, freshly squeezed orange juice.  The oranges are enormous and far juicier than anything you would find in a British supermarket.  They are also extremely sweet but seemingly not sweet enough for Spanish tastes as they are always served with sachets of sugar.

The town used to have many traditional bakers but most of them have closed.  Mainly because all the local supermarkets sell freshly baked bread so cheaply. The bread is baked on the premises but there are no bakers needing dough and baking in traditional wood fired ovens; the dough is produced elsewhere and delivered daily to the supermarkets who cook it in electric ovens with pre-set baking times.  Usually these baguettes and pans are slightly over baked for our English pallets so bizarrely we buy our bread in the petrol station.  They also have dough delivered but the pointy ended pans they produce are whiter and more to our taste.  Our regular morning purchase of bread at the petrol station has become so routine that they see us coming and it is already on the counter waiting for me as I open the door.  Each pan costs just 95 centimos, about 75p.  Brilliant value but I feel slightly guilty for not supporting the few remaining traditional bakers.

We pass one of the depots where the supermarkets’ dough is produced and where they make many types of cakes and pastries.  The smell as we pass by is unbelievably mouth-watering. We have come to know Tollo, one of the bakers.  He must start work incredibly early in the morning and around 8.30 he emerges covered in flour and heads to the nearest bar for a much needed cup of strong coffee.  He is a strikingly handsome man.  Aged about 40, very personable, with a full jet-black beard, he looks like a character from an old Spanish movie and must surely make a few women’s hearts flutter.  He speaks excellent English and we always exchange a few brief words before he hurries back to tend his ovens.  How he copes with the extreme heat in July and August goodness only knows.

The circuit has taken just under an hour and now leads us back home where Donut will be fed and we will start our day.  Naturally, as the seasons change, so do some of the rituals of our walks but it remains a charming way to begin the day.

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