Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Image result for house in the sky book 
The book which has been occupying my interest over the holidays is a autobiographical piece called A House in the Sky. The author is a Canadian writer, Amanda Lindhout, who was very much in the news a few years ago when she was kidnapped and held for ransom for over a year by some petty bandits in Somalia. The book covers her early life in part, but the majority is a description of her time in captivity.

Her writing style is crisp and straightforward, with comments and imagery that complements the story, without turning it into a literary exercise. The writing is never a distraction from the events which are gripping, terrifying and, at times shocking. One could not say whether she was always as insightful and honest as the character presented in the book. My guess is the experience cultivated this self-awareness far beyond the levels anyone would expect in normal life.

The story is fascinating at a number of levels. For an understanding of the tragic political and social environment of Africa her narrative describes, in detail, the horror and desperation experienced by the people of Somalia, which can easily stand in for most of the other struggling nations of that continent. As a travel book, this is, no doubt, a cautionary tale for those who would set off with romance in their minds and little understanding of the current political situation in their destinations. What moved me very much in the reading has been her spiritual journey. From someone who, like most Western travellers, lacks much of a commitment to any religious tradition, we witness the writer coming to terms with all of the most crucial religious issues in human life. She investigates Islam, partly as a survival strategy, and learns how she can respect much of the mainstream message. She clearly understands the distortions that rule her captors' minds, but this does not deny her an understanding of civilians outside of her prison. She describes a number of incidents that relate somewhat or considerably to practices of both mindfulness and broader meditation. Some of the moments of insight and strength represent familiar experiences for long time meditators. Her description of near death awareness and a profound compassion for her captors situations are among the most moving of the entire book. All in all, a highly recommended read. Apparently, and not surprisingly, there is a film adaptation on the way. There are also several disturbing news video of Lindhout, from that time, on YouTube.

in the Dharma,

Friday, December 18, 2015


We recently completed our December reflection which was intended to look back at the past year and consider the ways in which we have contributed to our respective purposes. We are now shifting into looking ahead, looking into the coming year through the lens of our purposes. I will comment on that each week for the next month or so, until we arrive at our workshop in late January.

This process brought me back to a book which I read several years ago and am finding as valuable now as it was then. The book is called "The Power of Purpose; Find Meaning, Live Longer, Better" by the American writer Richard J Leider. I highly recommend this book since it is written so clearly and contains many personally moving stories from the authors experience. One section that I would like to highlight here is what Leider calls purpose myths. He lists lists four common myths that we believe about purpose and does his best to dispel them.

Myth 1: to have purpose means I must do something completely original
Reality: Can you think of anything that is totally new. The paradox of purpose is that, in order to address new solutions, we must first familiarize ourselves with the ideas of others to form a base for launching our own ideas.
Myth 2: only a few special people have true purpose in their lives.
Reality: This is the most commonly rationalized of all myths. There is no denying that often we have relied on others to solve many of our problems however, being a novice is often an asset because we aren't hemmed in by traditional views. It's the passion to make a difference that counts most so we must carefully tend our passion
Myth 3: true purpose comes as inspiration or revelation until that time comes I must I might as well keep plotting ahead
Reality: this “pop-in” motivation theory would have us believe that new directions are flashes of brilliance which descends on the lucky few. Inspiration in fact, comes to those who seek it. First we must begin, then purpose moments appear.
Myth 4: purpose is nice but impractical. I need money!
Reality: Many times we become so caught in day-to-day survival that we lose sight of what were doing. Our activity becomes a false end in itself rather than a means to an end. People often say: "how on earth can you expect me to find the time?" For most of us time is indeed the biggest barrier. But waiting until we have the time is as futile as trying to save money by putting away what we don't happen to spend. The only way to commit time to purpose is to steal it from some other activity. This is what the power of purpose is all about – aligning our energies around true priorities

Understanding how we become trapped in these myths is an important step to preparing ourselves to build a life designed to fulfill our personal purpose.

in the Dharma,
Innen, doshu 

Monday, November 30, 2015


Here is the Life Cycle exercise, with directions below

 For the Life Cycle exercise, we begin by selecting the appropriate time frame, which in this case is checking the Past box and the duration of one year.

The Life Cycle exercise display is divided into eight boxes. It takes the form of three on top, three on the bottom, and two in the middle. The three on the top represents the inner aspect of our life: body, mind and spirit. The two on the bottom represents the external aspects of our life: intimates, community and world. The boxes for knowledge and insight represent the bridging between inner and outer.

Body, mind and spirit are self-explanatory. Knowledge refers more to acquired learning. Insight might be seen as identical with intuition or instinct. In the bottom row, intimates refers to those people who are our most immediate sources of personal and emotional support [ family and closest friends]. Community is deliberately meant to be vague so that it can include community of neighbourhood, groups such as churches or other informal collectivities. The box for world is even more vague and is open to your interpretation, so it can include the larger community, the natural world, the nation or the planet.

The main question that we're asking with each one of these boxes for this exercise is "In what ways have I contributed to this aspect of my life?". You will find it easy for some boxes and more difficult for others. That is precisely the purpose of the exercise, namely to indicate areas of your life where you may be paying less attention than is called for. The point is to view your life as a whole and to recognize that all eight boxes need your attention.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Recent vacation was an entirely Christian Catholic experience. It's almost a traveller's cliché to pass every day inside yet another church, chapel, monastery or convent . From previous travel experience Europe these Portuguese churches seemed like minor variations on church architecture seen elsewhere, everywhere. The artwork and  statuary would always be beautiful but not really unique .

Then without warning we would find we would find ourselves in places like Remedios where there lies a small but celebrated church at the top of the hill overlooking the town. For some reason the interior of this particular church struck me as especially moving. It may have been the presence of one or two older women on their knees but I think it was rather the simplicity of the interior. This church had no specialty corners or alleys or aisles. It was no cathedral. It was simply one room with a magnificent statue at the front depicting a mother and child.

There was nothing about Portugal that suggested a Buddhist presence, no posters or advertisements that I could see. I did check online for active groups, and there are less than 10 groups in the whole country according to a major European Buddhist directory. These groups seemed equally divided between the usual Tibetan, they Pasanda, end then communities. And is in communities is in Zen . The search I did of population data shows that the percentage of Portuguese population who would self-described as Buddhist is roughly the same as in Canada, that is about .5% or about 50,000 people. Given the tremendous difference in population this represents a small number of actual practitioners. With the serious drainage of population through emigration, these numbers will only decline.

There are very few Buddhist texts in Portuguese. Most of them are created by the Buddhist centres in Brazil (which has a significant Japanese presence). Unfortunately these are in Brazilian Portuguese a version of the language with major differences from Portugal. There is some effort to translate a few books, but in general they have very little access to the majority of any sect literature.

Monday, November 02, 2015



Since we relocated back to the town of Renfrew, we have been developing a new practice space in the lower level of the house. This has gone through a number of iterations, and we are proud to have the final version complete and open for practice. The central point of the practice space is of course the altar or butsu-dan, and that is focused on our temple Buddha, Amitabha. Sharing the altar is Quan Yin, one of the two traditional manifestations of Amitabha. The other altar figure is Jizo, who we have selected instead of the usual Seishi, because that bodhisattva has always been of special importance to our community. Our altar is located on the western wall, as is appropriate for this Buddha who is traditionally located in that direction, based on the association with his Western Pure Land.

The walls of our space are finished with burlap which gives it a warm and welcoming feel. Before entering the formal practice space participants will pass through a genkan, or foyer. In the foyer one will find images of Amitabha, Quan Yin, Seishi, Jizo and Kokuzo. The connection with the foyer allows us to perform circum-ambulation or walking practice in an extended space, and it allows us to perform the Earth and Sky Energy Series (EASE) of movements which we perform at the opening of every session.

Adjacent to the spaces is the Red Maple office which includes our extensive collection of Dharma literature which participants may borrow from for their personal study.

Yours in the Dharma,
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu

Saturday, October 24, 2015


We now have the first of our bi-monthly podcasts available for listening and download. The first of these are the September and October Dharma talks on the Visualization Sutra. 
Coming months will offer you the ongoing series which explores scripture and the associated mandala. Each month we will also post the text of that talk for those who would like to follow along that way. Older talks can be requested from Red Maple.

Once we have that series in place we will begin to upload audio versions of some of the more pertinent topics in our older Ask the Religion Experts series. That was a weekly newspaper column which we participated in along with a half dozen representatives from other religious traditions. The topics varied, some were of the moment, some had longer-term relevance. It is that second group which we will reproduce as talks.

If we are able to strong-arm some other friends of Red Maple, we will add some other talks related to mindfulness or Buddhist commentary. If you have topics to recommend or would like to deliver some of these recordings, please contact Ray.

Our podcasts are available here:

ps. Special thanks to Podcast-master Dave O. who has coached me through some hiccups with the software.

Yours in the Dharma,
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu

Friday, October 09, 2015


I regularly get articles from mainstream Buddhist magazines. The latest one showed the lamentable state of Dharma dialogue in the West. Supposedly reputable senior teachers describing what qualifies Dharma practitioners as Buddhists. It took the form of "if you accept this...and if you don't accept this..." then you are either in the club or out.

The dharma was taught to free us from the dukkha which characterizes our lives, not to invite us to sign up from some specialness. Surely our Shakyamuni did not "launch" a religious movement with membership and screening processes. The dharma does not have any Platinum Memberships.

I understand that our traditions describe certain people/actions which will have terrible consequences - trying to murder a Buddha, for example.  Nonetheless, how many sutras proclaim the potency of calling out to various Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, no matter what or when, and they assure our future Buddhahood.

It is sad when we are more concerned about being "Buddhists" than realizing the Dharma through our thoughts and actions.  


Saturday, September 26, 2015


When we read about the earliest period of teaching, whether this be the Buddha himself or numerous other teachers, it should not surprise us to realize that teaching and practice happened principally in the outdoors. Yet when we look at practice environments and practice opportunities in the modern period, such outdoor practice has an aura of exoticism, as if it were reserved for the most elite of mystics. There are many reasons for this slanted view of outdoor practice, some of them from with in Buddhist history, some are inherited from the anti-nature philosophies of the modern West.

Beginning in October, we will be designating half of our practices as indoor and half as outdoor. Further, because we will be out of doors half of the time, we will give extra emphasis to walking on those outdoor practice sessions. This means that the first Saturday and the first Thursday of each month will be structured around outdoor practice. The Saturday morning practice will align itself with our sunrise orientation, and so we will base those practice sessions at the covered platform outside of the museum next to the hydroelectric Falls. The walk to this location allows us to cross the celebrated swinging bridge, both coming and going. That practice location also means we are practising against the gentle sounds of the waterfall.

For our evening practices, on the first Thursday of each month, we will likewise align that practice with the sunset and Amitabha practice, including the visualizations that are occupying us this year. We have a couple of potential sites where we can do this practice and over coming months, we will choose the one which allows for the best reviews of the setting sun.

Practitioners will no doubt appreciate that we place ourselves at the mercy of the weather, which in certain seasons can be quite inhospitable. We will attend to the weather and give preference to times when we are not exposed to extremes of cold, snow or heavy rain. All those who attend these practice sessions are provided with a waterproof mat, and a cushion to sit on. Each person should ensure they have sufficient warm and/or weatherproof clothing.

Yours in the Dharma,
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu

Sunday, September 13, 2015


I recently had the pleasure of speaking for the wedding of our sangha friend, Jiho. Here is the text I spoke.

This brave and happy couple, Liz and Cam, have kindly asked me to offer some words to this ceremony as a representative of the religious side to this occasion. The first thing to notice about this is that these two acknowledge and value the place of religion in their lives and the significance of this marriage. They agree that, while their individual accomplishments, their material prosperity and their interactions with friends and family enrich their lives, these are not the whole picture.
Every living, growing thing, including a marriage, is grounded in the material, in the day-to-day and the sloppy, messy nourishment of the earth. Equally, this same living thing relies on the insubstantial warmth and heat of the light and air. In my tradition, we teach that religious truth is the interplay between the messiness of this earthly experience and the brilliance of the timeless. For any marriage to thrive and succeed, it needs to attend to all the messes of day-to-day life. There will be jobs to attend, floors to sweep and tears to wipe away. And it needs to look to the symbolic - an anniversary, a daily good-bye kiss and the necessity of dreams shared and dared.
When we consider a marriage as a religious event, we do not bind it to a weekly morning’s service, to following the urgings of any book or to an anxious expectation of some coming reward. Religion is about the sharing of meaning-filled action for what my tradition calls “the benefit of all beings”. As in religion, so in marriage, we are called to strive to make an on-going commitment of selfless service. Marriage like religious life calls us to be our best for another, to contribute to their growth and fulfilment.
May I join all of you gathered here today to wish Liz and Cam many years of such meaning-filled action, such service and the satisfaction which flows from it. Like the living-growing thing I mentioned earlier, let us wish their union thrives and blossoms, season after season.

Sunday, September 06, 2015


Some really thought provoking writing in the latest Buddha-dharma-Fall Issue Online

I've been reading some stuff lately on the rise of Buddhist monk militancy in Sri Lanka. It began early in the 20th century and was part of the anti-colonial movement lead by Walpola Rahula and others. Tragically the militancy is now growing beyond the historical Sinhala-Tamil conflict into anti-Christian and, even more, anti-Muslim activism

The Rise of Militant Monks
by Michael Jerryson


Buddhists Betray the Teachings — Jack Kornfield on the anti-Muslim violence in Burma
by Jack Kornfield| July 14, 2014


Be sure to read the debate in the Comments Section of the Kornfield article. Its really interesting. Fair criticism of Kornfield's viewpoint as a white American.

Yours in the Dharma,                          
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu   

Sunday, August 30, 2015


Innen at a shinto temple near Kyoto, 2013
Since joining the Tendai family, Red Maple has established itself as the home for Tendai-shu in the Ottawa Valley and in Canada. We have sponsored 5 individuals in completing jukai (refuge taking). In 2013, Innen was invited to attend the international Tendai Symposium in Kyoto, Japan. Along with leaders from sanghas around the world, he presented the growth of Tendai Canada to the leaders of Tendai in Japan. He has participated in several conferences and seminars in Canada and the USA.

Our zendo in the Old Schoolhouse served us for years until 2014, when Judy and Ray decided to sell the property. Because we were attracting a good deal of interest from our neighbouring community of Pembroke, we decided to join with Ray’s business project, Red Maple Mindful Living and his Padakun-Whole Person Walking project in setting up the Red Maple Centre for Mindful Living in a building in Pembroke’s east end. At this site we held weekly practice sessions and several retreat events.

With Ray and Judy’s decision to settle in Renfrew, we were presented with the opportunity to return to Renfrew again. Over the summer of 2015 we closed the Pembroke centre and re-established our presence in Renfrew. We begin our 2015-16 season with a new zendo and weekly practice sessions. We have already held our first successful retreat and are growing and learning with an active and dedicated sangha.


As we move into 2016 we continue to be the single permanent presence for authentic Dharma in the Upper Ottawa Valley and rural Eastern Ontario. We have spun off the KAPPS Walking group, two new mindfulness training programs and are launching our Bluebox Walking campaign ( see http://blueboxwalking.blogspot.ca/). Innen is about to begin a year-long study program on the Visualization Sutra and its companion Taimadera Mandala. He is further preparing to present a new online fiction project called Dharma for A Dying World.

Yours in the Dharma,                           
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu   

Friday, August 21, 2015


The next stage in our development as a community of practice was our affiliation with the profound and authoritative tradition of Japanese Tendai, which, like our very own Red Maple style is known as the “harmonious way”, ekayana. After a few distant communications, Innen made the first of many trips from Ottawa Valley to the Berkshires in northern New York, to participate in training events with members from similar groups in New York, California, Colorado and even Denmark.

Within a year, Innen was confident that there was sufficient compatibility for Red Maple that he requested he be trained for formal ordination as a Tendai priest. This required his attendance at three summer training programs or gyo, the formal preparation for Tendai priesthood. This he completed in the summer of 2010, returning back to Renfrew County to transform Red Maple into the first Tendai Sangha in Canada.

Innen, doshu at his ordination

Over the next two years five other individuals from Red Maple received jukai or refuge vows, joining Innen as formal members of the international community of Tendai. One of these became the first-ever refuge taker within the Tendai tradition to receive jukai in Canada. In the practice space in the old schoolhouse just outside of Renfrew, we revised our altar so that it reflected the formal style used in Tendai service. We harmonized our practice schedule, chanting guide and practices so that our practice continued the forms established 1200 years ago in Japan.

During this same time, Innen was invited to become the Buddhist commentator for the weekly  Ask the Religion Experts column featured in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper. Every week for nearly 4 years he would join representatives from a dozen other religious traditions and comment on specific questions related to religious life. 

It was also during this time that Innen completed the writing and publication of Walk like a Mountain: the Handbook of Buddhist Walking Meditation, the first book to document the dozen or more walking practices from various Buddhist traditions.

The positive energy of this time for Red Maple inspired two new groups to form. The first was The Flowing Rivers practice group in Ottawa which functioned for two years; the other was the White Birch practice group in Halifax which is still functioning. 

Next: The Present Moment

Yours in the Dharma,                           
Innen, doshu               
om namo amida butsu   


Saturday, August 15, 2015


In the mid-2000's we made the decision to re-locate further up the Ottawa Valley into the area just outside of the Town of Renfrew. In the spring of 2005 we set up our practice space in an L-shaped room attached to an old log school house, Ray and Judy’s new home. We continued the same forms of practice and non-affiliation. At the same time, Ray was developing a more active promotion of mindfulness training in his social work, through the Change Your Mind program he had first developed in Lanark. 

This interconnection of practice environments worked in both directions. It gave those interested in Buddhist meditation a well-developed practice instruction program. For some of those who were learning about meditation in a secular environment this would be their entry point into Dharma study. This was a challenge to the group in Carleton Place. Those people tried for a year to maintain their practice but with the moving-away of some key people and the desire to participate more in the “home” base, the Carleton Place group shut down.
This was an exciting and rich time with the introduction of some instructional series and themed retreats. The schoolhouse proved to be a wonderful location, with peaceful walks down to Hurds Lake, several ponds at the entry, magnificent flower and veggie gardens and countless birds singing to us during practice times. All of us grew as practitioners and as a group. We began to feel the need for greater connection with a larger Dharma tradition to give us more guidance and depth. As he had a few years earlier, Ray began searching for a compatible relationship with a more established tradition.

Yours in the Dharma,                          
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu

Sunday, August 09, 2015


In this month of anniversary of the founding of our Red Maple Sangha, I offer some historical reflections on our origins

As with many insights, once I determined that I would establish a local practice community, it immediately seemed to be correct has to follow. Deciding not to affiliate with a distant group felt like stepping into a dark room, literally a leap of faith. I knew that there were other groups operating independently, but there was no instruction manual, no step-by-step program which would direct me into a guarantee of success.
Back in my home county, I began to discuss with a few individuals with whom I had practised was a possibility of an ongoing group. Initially, we decided on a monthly discussion/study format. Because we were intending to be a Buddhist group, not simply a meditation group, it seemed that raising people's understanding of Buddhist teaching was an important place to start. This was the beginning of The Turning Wheel Buddhist Study Group and, once a month, we were meeting on Sunday evenings in a small church space in Almonte.

For the following year, we explored the basics of Buddhadharma - the Four Noble Truths, The Eight Steps to Satisfaction, some history of the Buddha and Buddhism and an introduction to Buddhist art. Very soon we made the decision that we needed to venture more directly in Buddhist practice. Most of the group were former participants from mindfulness courses, so this was not a huge leap.