Monthly Archives: April 2014

Week 17

Three months ago when I was relatively new to this unusual medical condition that I now have to manage, I thought that semi retirement or more was pretty definitely on the cards and I prepared myself for that. I certainly thought that by now I would be doing much less than what I am. Although I am still sometimes disappointed to feel so tired and below par and have to remind myself that I am not as well as once I was, I’m still doing all right and I appear to be getting better. By Friday and Saturday this week I was pretty done in but I’d had a busy few days and a good time and squeezed in much more than I would ever have managed a few weeks ago.

Monday was relatively quiet but on Tuesday I was off to Gartree and Stocken prisons. For these two I have to leave at around two o’clock in the afternoon and I get back soon after nine at night. Both are enjoyable groups and the drive, especially at this time of the year as we begin to enjoy the long, light evenings, is a pleasant one.

On Wednesday morning I was interviewed on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire local radio about the Coventry woman who was arrested and deported from Sri Lanka for having a tattoo of the Buddha on her shoulder. Of course i said it was a bit over the top of the Sri Lankans but it gave me an opportunity to speak about respect and what I call the growing culture of disrespect, and our concern at the way the Image of the Buddha and the word Buddha itself are so often misused and abused.

Wednesday afternoon and evening again involved me with two prisons but with the first there was a difference. Some prisoners manage to make something of their sentence and seize the opportunities to address their offending behaviour and improve themselves, not only by practising Buddhism and meditation, but with education. Some, even manage a degree with the Open University. And that, I may say, is a considerable achievement because prisons are generally far from being ideal places in which to study. And for some the path to that degree has had to begin with fairly basic studies that most of us have taken for granted but which they for some reason have missed out on. So, on Wednesday at the invitation of a chap I’ve been seeing for a few years now I went to Grendon Prison to attend his Graduation ceremony. He had gained a BSc in something to do with Pure Maths. I can’t remember the details because it was all a bit beyond me. It was marvellous to see him in his gown and to hear his short speech, which carried a powerful message, because he spoke about how in another prison, some years ago, he had been inspired by someone who had talked about lifelong learning. Academic learning was what was meant but the idea that you should keep on learning resonates with me because I go on all the time about the need to keep on growing and never to stop, with the understanding that everything is teaching us.

On Thursday I was off again to another two prisons. Well, officially they’re now one, HMP Isle of Wight, but actually they’re two separate sites, Parkhurst and Albany, and they were both amongst the first prisons I ever visited back in the summer of 1977. People think it’s a long way to go and it is a long day but I always say it’s a pleasant drive and then a little cruise on the Solent. The weather was good and I had an enjoyable time with both groups.

On the way back we called at my parents’ grave. My father died fourteen years ago and my mother seven years ago and on Thursday my mother would have been a hundred, while my father’s hundredth birthday was a week before on Thursday the 17th. As my mother used to say, ‘I’m not a cemetery person.’ But I thought that for their hundredth anniversary I ought to take some flowers and tidy up the grave a bit, so that’s what I did.

And that was the week that was!

The Queen’s Birthday

It was the Queen’s eighty-eighth birthday last Monday and I felt I’d like to pay a tribute, particularly for her part in bringing peace to the relationship between this country and Ireland.

After centuries of violence and discord between England and Ireland and between Republicans and Loyalists in Northern Ireland, three years ago the Queen went to Ireland. There she paid her respects at the memorial to those killed in the independence movement and to the amazement of her listeners, at the formal banquet in her honour she took the trouble to open her address with a sentence and greeting in Irish. And then this year she not only welcomed the current President of Ireland to Windsor but also shook hands with a man who is believed to have been seriously implicated in the IRA’s campaign of violence against this country. A campaign that murdered her own second cousin and uncle to her husband.

There comes a time when the hating has to stop. As the Buddha said, ‘Hating doesn’t stop with hating, hating stops with not hating.’

Songkran 2014

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Songkran, the Thai, Burmese, Cambodian and Sri Lankan New Year was celebrated at The Forest Hermitage (Wat Pah SantiDhamma) on Sunday, April 13th. And the day before in Nottingham at Khun Yod’s YodSiam Restaurant.

The 13th dawned bright and sunny and we had a marvellous day with an impressive and international turnout of people from all over the country. Yod and Nid had flown in specially from Thailand, first to host the Songran at their restaurant the day before and then to be with us on the 13th. And Khun Peter not only organised most of the food but also most generously provided a coach from London.

As I had the day before in Nottingham, in my talk I explained that the bathing of the Buddha Rupa, the monks and elders and then of each other was really meant to be a sign of respect and I emphasised the importance of respect. After all, without respect there can be no harmony in society and our individual ability to learn, to grow and to develop is seriously impeded.

As always, people were very generous and as well as various supplies and food for the day, £3,177.82 was collected and offered. The day before at Yod Siam another £605 was raised. For that and all the hard work of preparation and cleaning up afterwards, Anumodana.

I doubt whether my powers of description can possibly do the day justice and so I’d rather refer you to this video.

Admitting to a Mistake.

Any day now I ought to tweet a reminder about our Songkran next Sunday, which reminds me that last time I tweeted a reminder about an event here I made a mistake. For several days no one commented, or perhaps even noticed, that I’d given the wrong date by a whole month, until one of our neighbours kindly sent me a text pointing out my error. Now I could have tried to cover it up and perhaps even suggested it was a teaching and demanded to know why everyone had been so unobservant and unaware and why it had taken so long for anyone to notice. Covering up and not admitting to errors is what small minded people often do but a long time ago I learnt how a big man handles a mistake.

It was when I was a young actor and in my second year at the National Theatre. I was really excited when the legendary Sir Tyrone Guthrie joined the company to direct two productions and I was cast, albeit in a small way, in one of them, in Volpone. I remember one day I was in the rehearsal room, I suppose waiting to get to a scene I was in, and idly watching Guthrie work with the two actors playing Volpone and Mosca. It soon became apparent that there was some difficulty with the scene they were rehearsing and that Colin (Volpone) and Frank (Mosca) were cautiously trying to suggest that it was Guthrie’s interpretation that was at fault. Now remember, Sir Tyrone Guthrie was one of the great men of the theatre, a director of immense experience and international renown, and he had already been responsible for umpteen productions of Volpone and these two were trying to tell him that he’d got it wrong! Imagine. Suddenly, Guthrie caught on to what they were trying to tell him, stared at the text and without missing a beat exploded, ‘Good God! You’re absolutely right. Change it!’

That’s how to do it. That’s how to admit to a mistake.