Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Yesterday I finished re-reading Moving Against the Stream, the most recent memoirs of Sangharakshita, the founder of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order / Triratna, the Buddhist movement of which I am a part. In this book Sangharakshita describes his return to the West in the early sixties after two decades of living and practising in the East. The situation in the small world of British Buddhism at that time was quite different to that of the present, and I marvel and rejoice in the fact that Sangharakshita not only managed to survive those very difficult times, but also managed to found a new Buddhist movement that quickly grew and spread throughout not just Britain and the West, but throughout the world.

At school I don't remember ever having actually read a book from cover to cover, I simply couldn't see the point. It wasn't until about the age of twenty, having been working for five years on the roads, asphalting, mixing concrete and laying kerbstones, that I read short biographies of John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, and soon discovered the books by the adventurer Thor Heyerdal, who became an early hero for me. I soon devoured all of his books, and thereby thankfully developed a broader perspective on life.

Later I studied philosophy and politics and therefore read quite a lot in these fields, although I rarely really found much inspiration or enthusiasm for these topics. A couple of names I remember from this time, of people whose writings really spoke to me, are Bertrand Russell, who was another great hero for me, and Jean-Paul Satre. I also dabbled with Kafka and Dostoevsky.

Having discovered the teachings of the Buddha in the early nineties, I am always happy to bury myself in Dharma books, especially primary sources, from the Buddhist canon, and books by Sangharakshita, of which there are many.

Nowadays, on account of my teaching English, I also get the chance to read modern novels with my students, which is something I never really got into before. Over the past four years we have read a very broad range of books, from The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole to Hanif Kureishi's Something to Tell You. Currently we are reading In the Kitchen, a novel by Monica Ali, though we have only just begun and it is therefore too early to comment.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I went for a leisurely 9,5 KM run this morning along the canal. There were fewer people around than on Sunday, when it was rather too crowded. Below is a map of my route.

Friday, April 23, 2010

During the last couple of weeks, to complement my running, I've visited McFit four times, including my introductory session, working out on the diverse fitness machines and dutifully following my 'personal training plan' (which doesn't seem to differ very much from Satyasthira's plan). A couple of days following my first session, I had a bit of tingling in some of my chest and leg muscles, not quite stiffness, but I was aware that my muscles had been active. So far I've enjoyed the newness of the situation. It is a very different world from anything I've known, and the body-builders, busy with the weights and frequently checking their contours in the mirrors, has a kind of fascination. We'll see where it all leads, though I certainly have no thoughts of becoming a Mr. Universe contestant myself. There is a very funny clip from a Mr. Universe contest here.

This weekend I will be joining Vidyagita from Essen as representatives of the FWBO at the AGM of the German Buddhist Union, which is taking place at the Rigpa centre here in Berlin.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Getting used to Triratna

Last week on Wednesday, the 42nd anniversary of the founding of the Western Buddhist Order, members of the Order in Berlin celebrated a short ceremony marking the change of the name of the Order to the Triratna Buddhist Order, or in German Buddhistische Orden Triratna.

Triratna is Sanskrit and means the Three Jewels, the three jewels being the Buddha, the Dharma, the teaching of the Buddha, and the Sangha, or spirtual community. It is to these three things to which Buddhists go for refuge, therefore signifying the three most significant values for all Buddhists, around which they orientate their lives. More about the name change can be found here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I am currently enjoying a bit of a love affair with the music of Shostakovich, and in fact music generally. Music has always played a significant role in my life, from the early days of the Beatles (the first record I owned was 'She Loves You', given to me for my sixth birthday) through the 'underground' music of the Edgar Broughton Band, the straight rock of Free, back to the roots with the Blues, and later enjoying Frank Zappa's very humorous inventiveness. I started playing guitar while still at school and later played in various bands, and even spent several months supporting myself by playing the banjo on the streets of Norwich. I came to a late discovery of orchestral and classical music, after years of being a staunch Philistine, but it is barely possible not to be learn to appreciate classical music and the arts generally when living in Berlin, where there is so much on offer. I have even begun trying to learn a little bit of music theory.

I have come to recognise how really moving music can be. I'm frequently moved to tears these days by the power of music, not always in a sentimental way (though I suspect there is an element of this sometimes, when for example I am moved by the 'old songs of the sixties'). A couple of years ago I was privileged to receive a free ticket to see a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and it seemed to me that everyone in the concert hall was weeping. Now it is Shostakovich that is moving me and I feel I am beginning to appreciate what Sangharakashita means when he says that the arts can be a means of assisting spiritual growth and development. It's just so difficult to express it in words, which is of course why the arts exist. As an artist friend once said, quoting a former teacher of his, if you can put it into words, well you don't need to paint it.

And the piece that has me completely overwhelmed at the moment, and which I have decided should be the music to be played at my funeral is Shostakovich's Prelude and Fugue in D minor.

Monday, April 12, 2010

To McFit

My regular training has continued since Easter with relatively short and slow runs of 6 to 8 km every couple of days, recovering from the half marathon and leading up to the preparations for the 25 km on 9th May. This afternoon I have a trial appointment at McFit, a fitness centre which I hope to join and incorporate some strength training my programme. Why McFit? Well it is very cheap in comparison to most of the other fitness centres (although you have to pay extra for the showers), and they're open 24 hours a day.

In Berlin, the Scots have a bit of a reputation, and there are several businesses that call themselves 'McSomething' to indicate that they offer cheap goods and services, including McPaper (stationary) and MacGeiz (which translates as MacStingy and sells household goods).

Here is a picture of me at the end of the half marathon last month:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Summer Running Plans

According to my book, based on my half marathon performance I should be aiming for a 3:30 marathon in September, but I think I'll be following a plan for 3:45, which seems much more realistic and sensible. In the end I'll be happy to finish at all.

In the meantime I have the Big 25 in five weeks lined up, which starts and finishes in the Olympic stadium, and which I'd planned to run last year but was ill on the day, and four weeks after that I'll participate in the Potsdam half marathon. The twelve week marathon training plan begins at the start of July, after a four week period of recuperation. On August 31st I'll take part in the City Night 10km along Ku'damm, which begins as the sun goes down. It is reported to have a great party atmosphere, but also attracts top athletes. So the run up to my marathon attempt is taking shape.