Sunday, 14 December 2014

"And now, in the leaping of this fish, how wonderfully, laughingly clear everything becomes!" — Exploring Advent with Henry Bugbee (3)

Winslow Homer, "Leaping Trout" (1889)
When Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) met Henry Bugbee (1915-1999) in August 1955 Heidegger asked him ,“What occasion prompts philosophical reflection?” Bugbee replied: “Could the sound of a fish leaping at a fly at dawn suffice?” (recounted in Ed Mooney's Introduction to The Inward Morning).


From “The Inward Morning” by Henry Bugbee (University of Georgia Press, 1999, p. 86-87)

Saturday July 11 (1953)

I recall mornings, at the crack of dawn, on the Gualala River when we would walk up along one or another of the long gravel bars. As we approached the water in the gathering light, we sometimes perceived all up and down the length of a pool, such as Miner’s Bend, the breaking and swirling of a fresh run of steelhead trout. The day before there may have been only occasional fish showing, the vestigial fish, darkened from having already spent some days in fresh water. But on this morning the lower river is alive with new, silvery trout, fresh from the sea. On such a morning as this there is a temptation to dissipate one's attention over too many fish and too much water; one makes a cast above where a broad back has just shown. But even as the drift begins there is a resounding smack on the smooth surface twenty feet upstream. Then two swirls appear forty feet below. Meanwhile your partner clear down at the tail of the slick is backing out of the river, his rod nodding in sweeping arcs, and a gleaming ten-pounder ascends from the water almost into the branches of that overhanging pine on the bank opposite him. It is a glorious thing to know the pool is alive with these glancing, diving, finning fish. But at such moments it is well to make an offering in one's heart to the still hour in the redwoods ascending into the sky; and to fish in one place, for one fish at a time. On such mornings, too, one may even catch nothing at all. It takes many, many days to learn of what may and may not be in the river, Let us wade right in and keep fishing where we are, with our fingertips touching the trembling line. It is just in the moment of the leap we both feel and see, when the trout is instantly born, entire, from the flowing river, that reality is knowingly defined.
          Now the river is the unborn, and the sudden fish is just the newborn — whole, entire, complete, individual, and universal, The fisherman may learn that each instant is pregnant with the miracle of the new-born fish, and fishing in the river may become a knowing of each fish even before it is born. As he fishes the ever-flowing current, it teaches him of the fish even before it is born, just in so far as this alert fishing involves *“abiding in no-abode”, or  the “unattached mind”. If one is steeped in the flowing river and sensitized through the trembling line, one anticipates the new-born fish at every moment. The line tautens and with all swiftness, the fish is there, sure enough! And now, in the leaping of this fish, how wonderfully, laughingly clear everything becomes! If eventually one lands it, and kneels beside its silvery form at the water’s edge, on the fringe of the gravel bar, if one receives this fish as purely as the river flows, everything is momently given, and the very trees become eloquent where they stand.

* For the use of these phrases see e.g. Suzuki, D. T., Living by Zen, London, Rider and Co., 1950, pp. 66-67

And from Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians (4:11)

“. . . study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.” 



One way of interpreting what Advent is all about is to say that John the Baptist seems to have been encouraging his hearers to prepare and develop in the wilderness some kind of patient, disciplined practice so as to open themselves up, in an actively receptive way, to the creative possibility that something new was soon to enter the world. In the Christian tradition this something new came, of course, to celebrated on Christmas Day in the myth of “the Christ-child”.

But today, of course, we need not take this myth literally because we have come to feel the gift of the “Christ-child” may come in many forms both sacred and secular, Christian and non-Christian, and though, at times, it may come in the form of a new-born boy or girl, it may also come to us in the form of a new and creative idea, insight or, as you have already heard today, in the silvery form of a fish. In each case, we know that it is this gift when brings about in us a change of heart which transforms in positive and creative ways the manner in which we look at the things of life and, therefore, how we live and move and have our being-in-the-world.

Over the past three weeks I have been trying to suggest that this gift is only going to be come unto us in so far as we can learn from an insight of the philosopher Henry Bugbee found in his Inward Morning: A Philosophical Exploration in Journal Form that:

“Philosophy is not a making of a home for the mind out of reality. It is more like learning to leave things be: restoration in the wilderness, here and now” (Inward Morning, p. 155).

To which he immediately adds on the following day,

“By ‘leaving things be’ I do not mean inaction. I mean respecting things, being still in the presence of things, letting them speak” (ibid. p. 155).

This insight allowed me to introduce to you the idea of “patiency”, something which we develop through what Bugbee calls “a meditation of place” that is an immersion in, and reconnection with, wilderness and the wild. Patiency, remember, is not simply an “act of being patient” that a person may (or may not) display, but rather an ongoing, inner disposition which continually comes to guide their way of being-in-the-world.

I also introduced you to the associated idea of “Gelassenheit”, a word valued by both the thirteenth-century mystic Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) and the twentieth-century philosopher, Martin Heidegger (1889–1976). As Bret W. Davis notes, this word, in its traditional usage anyway, “conveys a sense of ‘calm composure’, especially and originally that which accompanies an existential or religious experience of letting-go, being-let, and letting-be” (in “Country Path Conversations” p. xi).

The River Granta on the way to Grantchester last week
Now, all these thoughts and themes were in play last week when I took myself off for a lovely, long walk over to Grantchester and Byron’s Pool along the course of the river Granta through the meadows. Along the way I passed a couple of people out fishing and, on the way back, I took myself into the Green Man to drink a lovely pint of porter before a warming open fire and engage in conversation with the hospitable landlord, Josh.  

The mix of these thoughts and themes along with the walking, fishing and the pint in a warm hostelry, put me in mind of Izaak Walton’s (c.1594-1683) book, “The Compleat Angler”, first published in 1653 and which, astonishing to relate, is still the most frequently reprinted book in the English language after the Bible. I discovered and fell in love with this book very early on in my life. Here’s how and why.

I was born in 1965 at home in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire and, at the age of five, we moved just five miles further north to Ware both of which lie on the River Lea. I loved this river for many reasons. One was the brief refreshing pause we made every weekday on the bridge across the river as we walked to and from school; the sight always seemed to me to be splendid and well worth a small boy’s attention. There were often many boats and swans to see and I was endlessly fascinated by the flash of sunlight as it suddenly caught the underside of a turning fish. It was just like looking down into a night sky and the experienced mirrored the wonder I felt when seeing an unexpected shooting star.

I’m sure this early “upside-down” experience (with the river becoming as-if the sky) was one of the reasons I so readily connected just a few years later with the author Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) who wrote the following memorable words (in his book Walden):

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one.”

Thoreau’s mention of “time” and “eternity” brings me to another important reason why I loved the River Lea. It was so obviously a place of rest and calm repose where one could spend a quiet moment contemplating both “time” and “eternity” in the midst of a very busy town and in the pressured hustle and bustle that came with going to new and much bigger school. I remember at times desperately wanting to be down there walking meditatively by the slow moving waters in the presence of the patient, waiting fishermen who never seemed in any rush to do anything other than “respecting things” and “being still in the presence of things, letting them speak.” I felt much as did Izaak Walton who says of the Fishermen Apostles in his book “The Compleat Angler“:

Izaak Walton window in
Winchester Cathedral
“. . . that the hearts of such men by nature were fitted for contemplation and quietnesse; men of mild, and sweet, and peaceable spirits, as indeed most Angler’s are” ("The Compleat Angler", ed. Marjorie Swann, p, 37).

Observing all this helped me see for the first time something that Heidegger movingly speaks of in his “Memorial Address” for the composer Conradin Kreutzer, namely, that man’s own special, essential nature is “that he is a meditative being” and that one of the greatest tasks we have in our fast-moving technological age is that of “keeping meditative thinking alive” (Discourse on Thinking p. 56).

Just before we left Ware in 1975 for the creeks and marshes of coastal Essex I remember discovering Walton’s book on my parents’ shelves. I immediately fell in love with it for two simple reasons.

The first was that it contained some lovely engravings of the fish I could seeing from the bridge. Even as a precocious ten-year old reader I clearly could not properly comprehend what this book was “all about” and so the pictures were very important. This reason for loving the book should not be wholly dismissed for even Walton himself says in his preface to the reader:

The trout (p. 63)
“. . . let me add . . ., that he that likes not the book should like the excellent picture of the Trout, and some of the other fish” (ibid. p. 5)

The second reason was that the book itself begins on the self-same stretch of river over which I walked and paused by every day. On it’s opening page the fisherman, “Piscator”, tells two men he has just met walking by the river that he has stretched his legs up Tottenham Hill to overtake them, “hoping your business may occasion you towards Ware whether I am going this fine, fresh May morning.” One of them, a hunter, “Venator”, replies, “Sir, I for my part shall almost answer your hopes, for my purpose is to drink my mornings draught at the Thatcht House in Hodsden” (ibid. p. 17).

Because of this living, local connection, the book, from the first, felt to me to be somehow an integral part of who I was and would become. Again, this was the first time something that Heidegger movingly speaks about in his “Memorial Address” impacted upon me. There he says: “It is enough if we dwell on what lies close and meditate on what is closest; upon which concerns us, each one of us, here and now; here on this patch of home ground; now, in the present hour of history”. He goes on to express the thought that this helps us to “grow thoughtful and ask: does not the flourishing of any genuine work depend upon its roots in a native soil?” (Discourse on Thinking, p. 47). For “native soil” here we may also read “native river”.

I would not, of course, been able properly to articulate any of this at the time but it is significant, I think, that the book stayed on my shelf and never made it back downstairs into the living room. I have it with me still and, looking back upon all this, it seems not unreasonable to say that “The Compleat Angler” was the entry point for me into thinking about the importance of patiency, letting-go (gellasenheit) and local place. Naturally, it also helped me shape my own walking “meditations of place” and my eventual practise of both philosophy and theology.

But the question remains here, what is the chief lesson I have learnt both from fishing myself or, as has most often been the case, learning from those who fish?

Of course, one learns many obvious practical things along the way, things about rods, reels lines and flies; one learns about the best (or worst) place, season and time to catch this (or that) fish. These are important things and should not be dismissed or forgotten.

But in addition to these technical matters one can also learn something about how to live. As Marjorie Swann says, in her excellent introduction to Oxford University Press’ most recent edition of “The Compleat Angler”, the book presents

“. . . Walton’s deeply felt response to a universal question: How should we live? As a survivor of [the English Civil] war and heartbreak, Walton turned to the natural world for his answer to this question and in the process created one of the most important, formative environmental texts in the English language” ("The Compleat Angler", OUP, 2014, p. x).

For this extraordinary achievement I love, and imagine I will probably always love, Walton. But, as I have walked quietly and thoughtfully by the river he walked and, by now, many others, I have found that his underlying view of God and nature is one I can no longer share with him. When Walton looked at nature, and no matter how beautifully and movingly he writes about what he saw, he felt this revealed the supernatural all-powerful, all-seeing and all-good creator God of Christianity.

Over the years I’ve explored with you many of the reasons why the existence of such a supernatural being has become less and less persuasive to our own age which is increasingly understanding the interconnection, interpenetration and interdependency of all things. We find it hard to live any longer with the old idea of that God and creation are separate things (or realms).

But, as I think our reading eloquently reveals, Bugbee sees in the river something that is much more akin to that seen by Buddhist or Taoist thinkers, something that gestures towards non-dualist ways of understanding the world. I know that for many of us here today (including myself) this more East Asian way of thinking about the divine and the sacred is, today, more congenial and is helping us to envision very different ways of living than were available to our forebears.

Now, here, I’m not going to try and interpret the reading from Bugbee's book we heard at the beginning because I think it is better simply to let it stand before you as it is and for you to form your own response to it. But I hope you agree that, with it's themes of patient, actively receptive waiting and sudden birth of something new, the silvery fish beside which Bugbee kneels in gratitude and wonder, this reading seems highly appropriate for the season of Advent and Christmas. All I ask of you is to consider how Bugbee's story helps us to ask ourselves, "How should we live?"

But what I will do is conclude with a few words from Bugbee that he wrote towards the end of his book which in which he begins to answer this for himself:

"Is it not more accurate to say that we participate in creation than that we create? Is not creation as it touches us in what we do an interlocking of the resources with which we act, an interlocking of them with that which firms and claims them as a province assimilated to incarnation? To participate in creation is to be relieved of undue emphasis or accent placed upon ourselves" (Inward Morning p. 222. Also quoted by Andrew Feenberg in an excellent essay entitled, "Zen Existentialism: Bugbee's Japanese Influence" in Wilderness and the Heart: Henry Bugbee's Philosophy of Place, Presence and Memory, University of Georgia Press, 1999, p. 89).

Bugbee’s fishing story stands for me as a perfect case-study of what patiency is and how, on certain days like Christmas Day, it can deliver up to us extraordinary, incarnational gifts of wonder and gratitude — and that, in the leaping of this fish, or in the birth of a child, the blooming of a flower, the squeaking of a door or the plop of a frog, how wonderfully, laughingly clear everything becomes!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Hoagy CD makes the Sunday Times top 10 Jazz CDs of the year!

One of the great joys of this year has not only been the release of the Chris Ingham Quartet's Hoagy CD (which, much to our surprise and delight, garnered many good reviews) but also experiencing the delight of many appreciative audiences as we've taken Hoagy Carmichael's wonderful music around jazz clubs and theatres.

Well, this Sunday, Clive Davis very kindly included us in the list of the 10 top Jazz CDs of the year (see photo on right).

Chris began this project with no intention for us to record it but simply to put together a good one-off show for the Bury St Edmunds Festival last year. We had such a good time on that date that we all felt it was worth putting the time and effort in to getting it recorded.

Along the way we were all, once again, captivated by Hoagy's truly great songwriting skills. How lucky we are to have people like him show up every now and then in our world.

If you'd like to hear a few samples from the CD and, perhaps, even get a copy yourself just click on the link below. And below that link I've posted a few photos from the soundcheck before our recent appearance at the Bulls Head, Barnes.

Chris Ingham — piano and vocals
Chris Ingham (l.) and Paul Higgs on iPhone (r.)
Chris Ingham
Paul Higgs, now on trumpet!
George Double (our current drummer) and myself on bass

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

"The present day — that is the dwelling of meditative thought" — Henry Bugbee

This Advent I've been exploring how some of Henry Bugbee's thinking might help us move more meaningfully through the season of Advent and Christmas than we might otherwise. My first address can be found HERE and my second HERE. Next week there will be a third and, on Christmas Day, a fourth. (The fourth Sunday of Advent — the week after next — will be a Sunday off for me as the Cambridge congregation will be taking that service themselves.)

Given this, as I was out walking this Monday out to Grantchester, Byron's Pool and back, it was natural that Bugbee's words were very much with me. On the return walk to Cambridge I stopped at the Green Man, Grantchester, to warm up in front of an open fire and to drink a pint of warming porter. Splendid. As I sat there I took great pleasure in re-reading Bugbee's Preface to his book "The Inward Morning". The following two paragraphs come from that and, in my meditative mood, they very much resonated with me:

"As I would put it now, the guidance of meditation, of the themes received in meditation, is the fundamental feature of the work [i.e. The Inward Morning]; and the themes of meditation live a life of their own, perhaps wiser than one knows in their advent and departure, in the things they gather to themselves as relevant to their formation, in the memories with which they visit one and establish their own concrete meaning. It was my work to attend upon such themes, in the very rhythm of daily life; to follow them where they might lead; not to put them off when they came to me, not to bid them stay beyond their actual departure and not to try to make more of them than I presently could.
          The present day — that is the dwelling of meditative thought. Consequently this work is in journal form. Not because it is a philosophical notebook or diary; it is neither of these. It is basically a work which required to be done within the day, from the actual human stance which the day might afford, whatever the day might bring" (The Inward Morning, p. 10).

Something of what the day brought me can be glimpsed in the following photos from Monday's walk . . .

The garden at the Orchard Tea Rooms sans tea drinkers too cold!
In the Green Man with a pint of porter and Henry Bugbee's book

Sunday, 7 December 2014

"For while all things were in quiet silence" . . . Exploring Advent with Henry Bugbee 2

Advent Star
Readings: Mark 1:1-8

From a sermon by Meister Eckhart (1260-1327)

Dum medium silentium tenerent omnia et nox in suo cursu medium iter haberet etc. 
(“For while all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of her course, etc.”)
Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-15

Here in time we make holiday because the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature. St Augustine says this birth is always happening. But if it happens not in me what does it profit me? What matters is that it shall happen in me.

           We intend therefore to speak of this birth as taking place in us: as being consummated in the virtuous soul; for it is the perfect soul that God speaks his Word. What I shall say is true only of the perfect man, of him who has walked and is still walking the way of God; not of the natural undisciplined man who is entirely remote from and unconscious of this birth.
          There is a saying of the wise man: “When all things lay in the midst of silence then leapt there down into me from on high, from the royal throne, a secret word.”

Sermon No. 1 in Meister Ecckhart (vol. 1) Franz Pfeiffer, trans C. de. B. Evans, Watkins 1949, p. 3

After these beautiful words by Eckhart on a text from the Wisdom of Solomon I think it is worth printing a slightly longer extract of the passage as it appears in the Authorised Version. The immediate context of the passage is the plagues in Egypt. I hope this may act as an important reminder always to read around the texts your preacher — including the current one — is using. Make what you will (good and ill) of Eckhart’s decision to stop quoting Solomon’s words where he did. Eckhart might be distorting Solomon’s words, but then again, he might not . . .

For while all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, thine almighty word leapt down from heaven, out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of warre into the midst of a land of destruction, and it brought thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword, and standing up filled all things with death, and it touched the heaven, but it stood upon the earth. Then suddenly visions of horrible dreams troubled them sore, and terrours came upon them unlooked for. And one thrown here, another there half dead, showed the cause of his death (18:14-18).


To begin our Advent meditations last week I introduced you to Henry Bugbee’s thought that “Philosophy is not a making of a home for the mind out of reality. It is more like learning to leave things be: restoration in the wilderness, here and now” (Inward Morning, p. 155). 

Along with this I introduced the idea of “patiency” in Bugbee’s thinking which is connected intimately with wilderness and the wild. All these themes are, of course, key in the the season of Advent, a season which focusses on patient preparation in the wilderness so as to open oneself up, in an actively receptive way, to the possibility that something new is soon to enter the world. This something new is, of course, expressed and symbolised in the Christian myth as “the Christ-child”.

I realise that the word “patiency” was, itself, not uniformly liked but, as I indicated at the time, I think it is the right word because it is trying to get at, not simply “the act of being patient” that a person may (or may not) display, but rather at certain ongoing inner disposition which continually can come to guide their way of being-in-the-world.

During the conversation immediately after the address I indicated that floating around in the background of what I had been talking about was a German word, that word was “Gelassenheit”, often translated into (philosophical) English as “releasement”. The word has a very long and important history in German religious and philosophical thought and Heidegger particularly picked up on its use by the great thirteenth-century mystic Meister Eckhart (1260-1327).

So, for example, Eckhart had faith that when the soul has “left” (gelassen) all willing behind it becomes open to God, that is to say, the divine and the sacred — the “more than”. Having let go of merely creaturely things, the soul can now allow God be God. So Ekchart can write:

“Where the creature ends, there God begins to be. Now God desires nothing more of you than that you go out of yourself according to creaturely mode of being and let God be God in you” (Q,180,32-4/Bl.,127).

For John D. Caputo this indicates that for Eckhart:

“The soul with Gelassenheit has become, to use one of Eckhart’s simple but illustrative comparisons, like a good vessel; it is closed on the bottom — to creatures [or creaturely things] — and open on the top — to God (Q,227,35-228,1/Serm., 148). It has become an empty receptacle (Q.114,24-7/Cl.,122), i.e., a receiving place, for the birth of the Son.” (John D. Caputo, The Mystical Element in Heidegger's Thought, Fordham University Press, 1986, p.121)

With these thoughts in mind I want to say that to develop patiency, this disposition of active receptiveness, is something like to make a soul with Gelassenheit which lets the new idea, thought or insight to be born in and among us.

It is perhaps no surprise that this word has been, and still is, much used by various Anabaptist groups such as the Amish, and whether they are German or English speaking communities. Indeed on a current Amish website you can read the following:

“Gelassenheit carries many meanings—self-surrender, submission, yielding to the will of God and to others, contentment, and a calm spirit. Most important, Gelassenheit is the opposite of bold individualism that promotes self-interest at every turn.”

As a great admirer in many, many ways of the Anabaptists (after all remember that our own Polish forbears, the Socinians, were also part of this sixteenth-century radical Reformation movement) it is something of this attitude that last week I was trying to encourage in us, we who so clearly live in a “Black Friday” age increasingly obsessed with an individualism that promotes self-interest.

Now, although when he wrote the words we considered last week Bugbee didn’t know first-hand Heidegger’s work he did, at the time, know Meister Eckhart’s writings very well. Bugbee was also deeply influenced by the great Zen teacher D. T. Suzuki whom he had met and spent time with whilst Bugbee was teaching at Harvard.

(By the way, Suzuki came up towards the end of this week’s edition of Melvyn Bragg’s “In Our Time” on the subject of Zen. I thoroughly recommend listening to it.)

Now, Suzuki was closely connected with the Kyoto School and the key figures in that most certainly were influenced by both Eckhart and Heidegger. The Kyoto School is the name given to the early twentieth-century Japanese philosophical movement centred at Kyoto University that engaged deeply with western philosophy and religious ideas and which began to use them to help reformulate their own, distinctive East Asian religious and moral insights. Given that many of us here feel a great attraction to Eastern philosophy even as we remain intimately related to the liberal Christian tradition, it seems well worth briefly introducing you to a insight from the founder of this school, Tanabe Hajime (1885-1962) that is related to the things we began to explore last week.

Tanabe Hajime (1885-1962)
As the horrors of the Second World War increasingly became apparent, Hajime began to ask himself whether he had really behaved and taught as he should have. He had to admit he had not. Here is how he speaks of this:

“. . . as the tensions of World War II grew ever more fierce and with it the regulation of thinking, weak-willed as I was, I found myself unable to resist and could not but yield to some degree to the prevalent mood, which is a shame deeper than I can bear. The already blind militarism had led so many of our graduates precipitously to the battlefields; among the fallen were more than ten from philosophy, for which I feel the height of responsibility and remorse. I can only lower my head and earnestly lament my sin” (Source Wikipedia).

This recognition caused him considerable distress and he came to the conclusion that a real solution to this was not something in his power. He tells us,

“At that moment something astonishing happened. In the midst of my distress I let go and surrendered myself humbly to my own inability. I was suddenly brought to new insight! My penitent confession — metanoiesis (zange 懺悔) — unexpectedly threw me back on my own interiority and away from things external. There was no longer any question of my teaching and correcting others under the circumstances — I who could not deliver myself to do the correct thing" (quoted in Michael McGhee: Transformations of the Mind - Philosophy as Spiritual Practice CUP 2000, p.11).

Metanoiesis, what on earth is that?” I hear you ask. Well, it is derived from a Greek word (μετανόησις) meaning “conversion” or “repentance”. In this season of patient preparation in the wilderness one of the things we have been encouraged to do for two millennia is to repent, turn our lives around in preparation for something new to enter the world —  something John the Baptist was encouraging in our first reading.

The Japanese word Hajime uses for repentance is zange 懺悔. To this he began to add the word “dō” 道 (path or way). Most of you will know this latter word through it’s use in the name “Judo” (柔道), the modern martial art and Olympic sport created in Japan in 1882. The name is made up of two Japanese words, “jū”, meaning “gentle” and “dō” meaning, as you have just heard, path or way -- Judo means, then, "the gentle-way". Many of you will also know the word “dō” with its Chinese pronunciation “Tao” (Dao). So Hajime offers us “zangedo”, a path or way of turning one’s self-around, repenting, of letting go, of developing patiency. It seems to me not unreasonable to say that he seems to be encouraging nothing less than the discipline of making a soul with Gelassenheit.

Writing about Hajime's moment of repentance the British philosopher Michael McGhee emphasised it was not so much that Hajime “decided that he should do one thing or the other: the point is that he no longer had to make a decision.” Indeed, as Hajime says, in this state, “It is no longer I who pursue philosophy, but rather zange (metanoiesis) that thinks through me” (ibid. p. 11).

The crucial point to grasp here is that Hajime’s new insight comes only after he had let go and his insight did not come because of his “self-power” (jiriki) but because of an “Other-power” (tariki). Again Hajime notes:

“This Other-power brings about a conversion in me that heads along a path hitherto unknown to me . . . This is what I am calling metanoetics, the philosophy of Other-power” (ibid. p. 11).

As I'm sure many of us know it is so often the case that at these crucial moments of letting go the necessary space and conditions are created for something Other, something new and saving to come over the horizons of our limited thoughts and enter into our frame of reference in a fashion that, on further reflection, enables us to make use of it — i.e. to have our ways of thinking and acting in the world irreversibly changed.

Traditionally in the West, of course, this Other-power (tariki) has been called God and, in the Christmas myth this Other-power is first seen in the tiny figure of a new-born child, Jesus, whose name is also Emmanuel, God with us. Although, personally, I am not completely averse to calling this Other-power (tariki) God, the term Other-power might usefully be employed by those of us who continue struggle with traditional, supernatural theistic concepts of God.

But notice something else too, which is that although Hajime’s new insight is not in his own self-power (jiriki) the Other-power (tariki) which comes to him, could only come in so far as he could exercise enough self-power (jiriki) truly to acknowledge this and to practise accordingly. In other words Hajime is saying, as have so many of the great spiritual teachers of humankind including John the Baptist, Jesus, Meister Eckhart, Heidegger, Bugbee, the Buddha and Suzuki, that we have to practice a discipline of letting go if we are ever to develop patiency, Gelassenheit and experience God first-hand.

This season before Christmas is, in Christian thought anyway, a very good time during which we can particularly concentrate on this matter. But the question remains, what practical thing is in our self-power that we can do to help us develop patiency or Gelassenheit and so come encounter this "Other-power"? Last week I told you my own preferred way of doing this through mindfulness meditation and also through a related practice that Bugbee called “a meditation of place” (Inward Morning p. 139). His words bear repeating from last week because they are so important:

Henry Bugbee (1915-1999)
“During my years of graduate study before the war I studied philosophy in the classroom and at a desk, but my philosophy took shape mainly on foot. It was truly peripatetic, engendered not merely while walking, but through walking that was essentially a meditation of the place. And the balance in which I weighed ideas I was studying was always that established in the experience of walking in the place. I weighed everything by the measure of the silent presence of things, clarified by racing clouds, clarified by the cry of hawks, waters of manifold voice, and consolidated in the act of taking steps, each step a meditation steeped in reality” (The Inward Morning, p. 139).

What both Bugbee and Hajime are strongly suggesting to us is that we must find ways to use what is in our self-power to allow this mysterious, life-giving and even divine and sacred Other-power to emerge into view. The promise of all this is simple — when we let go properly, with patiency and Gelassenheit in our soul, we create the right conditions which allows a new way forward, a new idea or insight to be born in our world.

The end claim is that we are then able to understand that self-power and Other-power are not to be thought of a separate things but, in fact, intimately related and interpenetrating parts of an extraordinary, mysterious, flowing and creative whole that one may call Nature or God, God or Nature. We come to see, as Bugbee suggests:

"Is it not more accurate to say that we participate in creation than that we create? Is not creation as it touches us in what we do an interlocking of the resources with which we act, an interlocking of them with that which firms and claims them as a province assimilated to incarnation? To participate in creation is to be relieved of undue emphasis or accent placed upon ourselves" (Inward Morning, p. 222. Also quoted by Andrew Feenberg in an excellent essay entitled, "Zen Existentialism: Bugbee's Japanese Influence" in Wilderness and the Heart: Henry Bugbee's Philosophy of Place, Presence and Memory, University of Georgia Press, 1999, p. 89)

So my Advent message to you today is simple — it is no more or less than that which John the Baptist, Jesus, Buddha, Meister Eckhart, Heidegger, Bugbee, Suzuki and Hajime have given in their own times and places:  Repent and develop patiency and Gellasenheit, for a better way of being in the world is always-already at hand.


NB: A very good general introduction to the Kyoto School has been written by Robert E. Carter called: The Kyoto School: An Introduction.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Wilderness as Patiency — Exploring Advent with Henry Bugbee 1

Leaves and bark in the Botanic Garden
Readings: Matthew 3:1-3

From: The Inward Morning: A Philosophical Reflection in Journal Form (University of Georgia Press, 1999, pp. 154-155) by Henry Bugbee

Thursday, August 20 (1954)
I have dwelt on the idea of unconditional concern in the hope of positioning ourselves for philosophical reflection. It has seemed to me that we are unable to think in terms of finality and necessity except as our actual mode of concern in the act of reflection be unconditional. It is not an attitude which we adopt or deliberately acquire. But it is an attitude to which we may be recalled; it may reawaken in us and bring us to ourselves. And there are things one may read, such as we have from Kant or Spinoza; there are things one may hear, certain music — it may be; there are men who live again in remembered deeds of theirs which revisit one as true; one may be struck clean by sunlight over a patch of lawn, by clouds running free before the wind, by the massive presence of rock. What untold hosts of voices there are which call upon one and summon him to reawakening. He remembers, and is himself once again, moving cleanly on his way. Some measure of simplicity again informs the steps he takes; he becomes content to be himself and finds fragrance in the air. He may eat his food in peace. He does not wish to obviate tomorrow’s work. He is willing to consider: not to suppose a case, but take the case that is. He becomes patient. Things invite him to adequate himself to their infinity. The passage of time is now not robbery or show; it is the meaning of the present ever completing itself. It is enough to participate in this, to be at home in the unknown.
          Philosophy is not a making of a home for the mind out of reality. It is more like learning to leave things be: restoration in the wilderness, here and now.


There are many things about Advent, at least in it’s full blown Christian theological form, that we here are going to find unpersuasive and uncongenial. But, nevertheless, in the season there is an important theme that can, I think, still speak usefully and powerfully to us. It is the theme of patient waiting.

The value of exploring this struck me forcibly this week for two reasons. The first was that our church chairman and newsletter editor, Andrew Bethune, needed a few seasonally related words from me for the newsletter and something written by the German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from his prison cell to his fiancée on December 13th 1943, immediately came back into my mind:

“Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespectful hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them. Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting — that is of hopefully doing without — will never experience the full blessedness of fulfilment.”

The second reason the theme of patient waiting pressed upon me was occasioned by witnessing, from a distance, the relatively new phenomenon for us in the UK of “Black Friday”. As most of you will know it is a commercial “event” imported from the USA when goods are heavily discounted. You will all have seen or heard reports on the extraordinary disturbances, almost mini-riots, as shoppers fought over various items on sale. We saw here many examples of a singular lack of patient waiting.

Anyway, I’m sure you can see why the theme of patience pressed in upon me. The season of Advent is, of course, understood by Christians as a period of preparation in which the faithful wait patiently for the appearance of something new and fulfilling, namely, nothing less than the kingdom of heaven and the Messiah himself, the chosen one of God, the Christ-child, “Emmanuel” or “God with us”.

But, as I intimated at the beginning, left in the realm of traditional Christian thought the apparent theological implications of Advent (and then Christmas) are likely to be, shall we say, unpersuasive and uncongenial. The idea that God once actually came down from heaven in the form of a child, re-ascended to heaven after the crucifixion from whence he is judging the living and the dead before returning again some bright but apparently somewhat more apocalyptic morn, seems to us today vanishingly unlikely to be true.

Cue some more patient waiting . . .

Henry Bugbee
I was in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden last week — some of you will have seen on the blog the set of B&W photos I took on this occasion. As is often the case as I walked at one point my mind turned towards the particularly vexing question of what on earth I might say to you all on Advent Sunday that was of any interest at anyone — including me (after all, this is the fourteenth time I've gone through the season with you). In this kind of situation I find it’s best not to respond to the problem by becoming overly active but, instead, to engage in a bit of mindfulness, to stop and let go of my thoughts and not to suppose any kind of case but, as Bugbee suggests, take the case as is. I try to take time to notice my breathing, to relax my body and then, as I continue to walk, slowly becoming mindful of the sounds, smells, sights all around me, the birds and conversation, the smell of damp grass and leaves, the bright colours of the few remaining leaves and their contrast with whites, browns and blacks of the bare branches. It has been my experience that is precisely in these moments of letting go and patient waiting — something over which I do have some control — that something else, new and unexpected, freely enters the world as a graceful gift and helps my thinking and living on its way.
As I quietly walked, letting go and being patiently mindful, what came over the horizon and disclosed itself to me as something that might be worth talking about with you was an experience that the American philosopher, Henry Bugbee, noticed.

What was this experience? Well, to get a sense of it I need to begin by noting Bugbee’s take on patience is found in the context of our receptivity and response to nature — to the sublime attraction that all of us have felt when we have taken time to consider or encounter the natural world. Bugbee’s thinking is very rich and detailed here and I can’t go into all the detail I would like to but, in outline, he thought that one of the best ways of being made receptive to nature’s call is through the kind of walking which he called “a meditation of place” (Inward Morning p. 139). Bugbee writes:

“During my years of graduate study before the war I studied philosophy in the classroom and at a desk, but my philosophy took shape mainly on foot. It was truly peripatetic, engendered not merely while walking, but through walking that was essentially a meditation of the place. And the balance in which I weighed ideas I was studying was always that established in the experience of walking in the place. I weighed everything by the measure of the silent presence of things, clarified by racing clouds, clarified by the cry of hawks, waters of manifold voice, and consolidated in the act of taking steps, each step a meditation steeped in reality” (The Inward Morning, p. 139).

Daniel W. Conway, writing about this passage, says:

“Walking is not [therefore] merely a calisthenic propaedeutic to the heroic labors of philosophizing. Rather, walking functions as the engine of immersion, which enables him to take the phenomenological measure of the wild he temporarily inhabits" (Wilderness and the Heart: Henry Bugbee's Philosophy of Place, Presence and Memory, ed. Edward F. Mooney, University of Georgia Press, 1999, p. 6).

Taken together Bugbee’s words and Conway’s comments feel to me like a very good expression of what is so often going on when I’m walking in the Botanic Garden (or anywhere else for that matter) and working on something that I might bring before you on a Sunday morning. But, although this kind of walking clearly immerses a person in nature this immersion is only half the story. What needs immediately to follow is a response. Now, the way I have set it out may, at first, make it seem as if the patient waiting theme I want to talk about today is going to be found in the apparently passive, quiet patient and meditative walk whilst my response is going to be something else, something involving my active agency — some other kind of obvious doing. But that’s not quite right in this context because, as Conway notes, Bugbee wants to encourage in us a kind of response that might initially appear contradictory, namely, to engage in “an active receptiveness”. Conway goes on to say that this “suggests a condition we might call patiency, whereby the sauntering philosopher, having received the call of the wild, now invites wilderness to express itself through him” (Wilderness and the Heart, p. 12).

With the idea of patiency we have now arrived at the real theme of my address today. Patiency is the word which describes a certain kind of active response that Bugbee is encouraging us to engage in — it's not just an activity reserved for so-called professional philosophers. I’m bringing it up now, not only because I think it is obviously relevant in the season of Advent, but because I feel it may well be the most important, central activity a church such as this should be encouraging all the year round. In brief, Bugbee feels, as you heard in our reading, that:

“Philosophy is not a making of a home for the mind out of reality. It is more like learning to leave things be: restoration in the wilderness, here and now” (Inward Morning, p. 155).

I clearly now need to add a word or two about the wilderness which is, of course, also an Advent theme, for as you know John the Baptist does his waiting for Christ in the wilderness. What is the wilderness, the wild or wildness for Bugbee? It seems that the wild is Nature itself in all its endless movements in and through all things; it is something like natura naturans, nature naturing. For Spinoza, whom Bugbee admired, natura naturans  may also be thought of as God — Deus sive natura, God is nature, nature is God.

Conway notes that for Bugbee patiency restores to a person this wildness that is nature naturing and it is this that helps a person see not only the ultimate unconditional value of all individual things but also the falsity of the idea that somehow we as humans have some kind of privileged status within the natural world. Indeed, Conway goes so far as to suggest that for Bugbee wilderness is patiency (Wilderness and the Heart, p. 13) and, by extension, this must mean patiency is also wilderness.

Patiency helps us gain a “sense of communion” with all things and also to experience “a concrete understanding of reality and our togetherness in reality” (Inward Morning, p. 123). Patiency helps us experience the many and the one, the one and the many.

To reintroduce a clearly Advent and Christmas thought, I want to say that patiency helps us see something that our final Advent hymn, written by the Unitarian minister Don Wayne Vaughn, speaks about, namely that that for which we are waiting with active receptiveness — given in the Christian myth the name “the Christ-child” — is, in truth patiently to develop the ability to see the divine in everything as it is and that, “with each new life, all life anew will start”. Together all this should help us see that all things, birds, trees, you me, flowers, rivers, mountains, nails and squeaky doors really are all in this together.

This insight, when fully internalised and lived daily has, of course, profound implications for our religion, philosophy, politics and commerce.

But we simply cannot get to see and experience all this if we are charging about in a frenzy of activity. Which thought brings me to a close today because it seems to me that, at this very early moment in our species’ history, religion really should be spending most of its time and energy in encouraging patiency. For too long religion has acted as if it knew the secrets of all time and space and has encouraged in us a destructive frenzy of intrusive activity far more unseemly and violent than anything we saw on Black Friday. Surely we need to learn how to leave things be and to do this in an actively receptive way that helps us move together gently and supportively with the whole of nature.

I think Bugbee's words about philosophy bear repeating but with reference also to religion. Religion, like philosophy, "is not the making of a home for the mind out of reality. It is more like learning to leave things be: restoration in the wilderness, here and now."

I wish you all a wild and patient Advent.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

A gig with Tina May and the Chris Ingham Trio at the Hoste in Burnham Market, Thursday 27 Nov, 6.30pm–10.30pm

Tina May and Chris Ingham
I'm playing bass for Tina May with the Chris Ingham Trio at the Hoste in Burnham Market, Thursday 27 Nov, 6.30pm–10.30pm

Tina is a wonderful singer and, as the publicity for the gig says "her enthusiasm for the creative invention of jazz combined with her all embracing, engaging and joyful personality, make her one of the UK’s most in demand jazz artists both here and across the world."

The trio is made up of Chris Ingham (piano), George Double (drums) and myself on bass. We were chuffed a couple of years ago to have the saxophonist Art Themen say that playing with us was like “being driven around in a Rolls-Royce”.

Tickets and further details available at the following link:

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A (mostly) black and white couple of days in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden

One of my favourite books of the last ten years has been Robert Pogue Harrison's Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition (University of Chicago Press, 2008). As the publisher's blurb makes clear:

"Humans have long turned to gardens—both real and imaginary—for sanctuary from the frenzy and tumult that surrounds them."

Well, for that sanctuary — after a week of frenzy and particularly unpleasant tumult  I took myself, as I so often do, down to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.  Here are a few photos from the last couple of days, all but two in black and white. The healing and restorative power of gardens is, truly, astonishing and for it (both the power and the garden) I am hugely grateful.