Rose-coloured Glasses

2014.02.04_rosy copyTo look at life through “rose-coloured glasses” means to see things as better than they really are, or to think that things are more pleasant than they actually are. It has a negative connotation, as if the person with the rose-coloured glasses is avoiding an unpleasant reality. However, I actually think that we all need a bit more rose-tinting in our outlook on life.

At dawn this morning I took my dogs for a walk, relishing the cool morning air, bracing for another scorcher of a day. And as the sun rose, everything was suddenly bathed with deep pink light – the trees glowed pink, the black fur of the dogs reflected pink highlights, the leaves on the hot dry earth shone pink, my skin had a rosy glow. Everything was awash in warm surreal pink. It was as if I was looking at the whole world through rose-coloured glasses – and it was just so intensely beautiful. Yet it was real; there wasn’t anything unpleasant that was being avoided or a reality that was being ignored. Instead, I was bearing witness to a spectacular show put on by Nature and I was fully immersed in a world of ‘pinkness’. Not only was I seeing everything as rosy, I felt that I could smell, taste, feel and hear PINK.¬†And I just laughed because it made me feel so happy! I laughed in the way that child spontaneously laughs – with joyful delight in a sudden magical moment.

The pink light, though, was fleeting. As quickly as it appeared, it disappeared and the world of familiar green trees, black dogs and grey sand returned. But what didn’t disappear was the sense of awe and euphoria I felt, which stayed with me. I remained in a rosy glow, as I continued with the humdrum of doing my daily chores, still seeing the world not as actually bathed in pink, but as being imbued with some new quality. After experiencing the intense sensual immersion of the dawn, I became aware of the colours of everything I was engaging with – everything seemed edged with a radiant glow. Of course, my everyday world was in no way changed in itself; instead, it was the keen awareness I now seemed to have of the way light reflected off the surface of things and into my eye. In the aftermath of the pinkness, everything seemed more vibrant and alive.

I believe that a spiritual path is an engagement with beauty; spiritual practice is an awakening to beauty. In our media-driven bracing-for-the-next-crisis world it becomes harder to connect to the profound and awe-filled beauty that is all around us, waiting to be experienced at any moment. After all, I think it is significant that the Buddha experienced his awakening whilst outside, sitting under a beautiful tree. As well as encouraging you to take a walk at dawn and experience this awakening of the day in its glorious light and birdsong, I think we should all try wearing rose-coloured glasses more often, not to escape the unpleasant realities of life, but to see into its beauty and hold that in our hearts so that as we do confront head-on the difficulties of living, we can do so with images of beauty in our minds. Even in the midst of the fray, we can experience joy by simply remembering to ‘see’ what is also present that is uplifting. So, today I am sending you all blessings bathed in pink and a wish for you to awaken to beauty and to see the rosy glow in the world around you – look up from the computer, look out the window – what do you see?

Dreaming Chamber by Karen Casey

Today I’d just like to share with you a beautiful artwork from the Australian Indigenous artist Karen Casey. I was introduced to the video by my lecturer at uni in the unit Art and Spirituality that I am taking this semester. I found it haunting, mesmerising and totally engaging as a meditation. Water is used in all spiritual traditions as a way of initiation as well as a way of healing and cleansing. Many of the spiritual practices that I have been engaged in have involved water: standing under waterfalls, immersion in icy streams, sprinkling water that has been ritually blessed over the altar and over fellow pilgrims, drinking from natural springs along mountain pilgrimage paths, and ritually bathing for purification before my initiation ceremonies. And as a baby I was baptised with water, as is the religious custom in all Christian and Jewish traditions of initiation and purification. Yesterday I was watching the rain as it ran off the corrugations of the roof into a bed of nasturtiums (the ones you see in the photo at the top of this page in fact). And as the drops fell, they landed one at a time upon the broad leaves as if the water was playing a tune as it struck each of the leaves – the music of nature. It was very beautiful and quite hypnotic as I began to really hear the mystical melody of the raindrops singing. This video artwork by Karen Casey brought to mind many such instances of being in water and being with water. How does it resonate with you? Please share your thoughts.

Eat a ducky, Muss!

“Who’s Muss? And why do Japanese people eat so many ducks?” my five-year-old son asked me when we first went to Japan. On sight of my puzzled face he continued, “Well every time Japanese people start to eat, that’s what they say – eat a ducky muss.”

In fact, what they say is “itadakimasu,” which means “I humbly receive” with the implication in this humility of offering gratitude for the meal. This is very similar to the traditional grace before meals that is familiar to many readers, “For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful.” As a practicing Buddhist, awareness is centred not on the food itself, but on the generosity of the person who has taken the time to prepare it. This appreciation extends to the person who bought the food, who packaged the food, who drove the delivery truck, who grew the food – and even to the earth, the water and the sunshine that nurtured the food. In this way, “I humbly receive” reflects the awareness of a profound connection in that moment to all the living beings and components of the universe that made this meal before me possible.

This deep awareness and appreciation can also challenge the ideas that we may cling to as our fixed beliefs, such that if the dish that I am being offered by another person contains meat or fish, and I am a vegetarian, then I am tempted to politely but firmly reject the offering, based on my personal beliefs. However, I feel that it is much more important to recognise the gift of the offering from this person who has gone to the trouble of feeding me, rather than focus on my own likes and dislikes. This is one of the principle reasons why Buddhists cannot be said to be strictly vegetarian – when collecting alms of food, in times gone by, monks and nuns would gratefully accept whatever was offered and this was an important part of their training. So whilst I have the freedom of choice when I make my own food, my own preferences are overruled by the need to open up to the generosity being offered by another person. Acknowledging generosity with gratitude is more important that having narrow fixed views. When confronted by the limitations of our own beliefs, there is no way to expand our spirit – our hearts cannot reach out and embrace kindness if we are chained in our minds by our fixed ideas.

And this receiving with gratitude does not just apply to food: When you hear a bird singing – receive the sound with gratitude; when you smell a flower – receive its scent with gratitude; when you feel the sunshine on your body – receive its gift of warmth with gratitude. It is a rewarding spiritual practice to try and be aware all the time and to be open to these offerings. In this way, you can open up all your senses to receive the gifts being offered all around you, in every moment, filling your life with unexpected blessings. In this way, being “humble” doesn’t mean grovelling subservience or feeling inferior in some way, but instead it is quite the opposite: grateful awareness opens us up to receive so many wonderful gifts that will make our lives filled with joy. Really! Try it!

Cooking up a stink


Vertumnus by Giuseppe Arcimbaldo (1527-1593)

To meat or not to meat… Is that the question?
(With apologies to Shakespeare!)

Even though the Buddha ate meat and the Dalai Lama has said that he eats meat, people generally assume that to be a Buddhist you also need to be a vegetarian. But this is a misunderstanding of one key aspect of the Buddhist approach to food and eating. Before I go on, if you would like to read a balanced and informed article about the Buddhist ethics of eating meat I highly recommend Bhante Sujato’s blog entry “Why Buddhists should be vegetarian”. Bhante is a well-respected Australian Theravadin monk who writes in down-to-earth way and the many many comments in response to his writing are also very interesting and shows that this is a really heated topic!

So I won’t go into the pros and cons of vegetarianism, instead I want to share with you what I learned this week whilst translating material about shojin-ryori (Japanese Buddhist cuisine) from a Japanese book written by a Shingon Buddhist priest from Mt Koya (where I was ordained). This follows on from my entry “Cooking up a Spiritual Storm”.

In shojin cooking, as well as the absence of meat, there are no ingredients that have a strong smell such as onions and garlic. From an aesthetic point of view, this is because those strong flavours overwhelm the delicacy of the cuisine. But there is also another reason that relates to spiritual practice. The word that is given as the opposite of shojin, is namagusa, which literally means “the rank smell of raw flesh” but also refers to any “bad smell”. It is also used in the same way in English when we are suspicious or disgusted, when we say “That’s fishy!” or “That stinks!”

Interestingly, this is the word that is also used to describe a Buddhist monk or nun who has broken their vows, so it also has the meaning of losing the way in one’s spiritual practice. In fact, the word namagusa appears in a very early Buddhist sacred text called the Nipata Sutta, which was written in response to asking the Buddha about whether to eat meat or not. However, the Buddha deflects the question and instead says that this concept of “stinking food” applies not only to what we put in our mouths but what we put in our minds and consequently display in our actions. If we fill our minds with harmful or malicious thoughts or unjust criticism and then speak badly of others, engage in lying or arrogant boasting or gossip – these thoughts and actions are like eating poison that harm not only those we denigrate but also ourselves.

So the discussion of what food we eat can be distracting to the real purpose of spiritual practice. If we continuously practice being mindful of what we are thinking and how our thoughts impact our actions, which in turn affect those around us, then we will also be mindful of how we nourish our bodies because if we look deeply into ourselves, ultimately we can find no separation between our mind and our body. In fact, in Japanese the word kokoro means mind and heart and feelings and thoughts (it also means warmth, love and compassion!) So if we focus on mindfulness in what we feed our minds, then what we feed our bodies will be a natural consequence of this awareness. This is the root meaning of namagusa.