11 November 2019

Perennial Wisdom

What is the truth? From as early as I can remember, this question had a prominent place in my mind and directed my seeking. Is there a universal truth that underlies all religions, or is there an exclusive version of truth that is unique to one particular religion or teacher?

Perennial Wisdom takes the view that while religions differ in many ways, at their heart is a common wisdom that unites rather than divides. So this week we investigate this Perennial Wisdom and how it informs my own life and work, but first

    Thought for the day

      It is essential to know what real devotion is. 
      It is not mindless adoration; 
      It is not abdication of your responsibility to yourself, 
      Nor indiscriminately following of another’s personality or whim. 
      Real devotion is an unbroken receptivity to the truth. 
      Real devotion is rooted in an awed and reverent gratitude, 
      But one that is lucid, grounded, and intelligent.

                      Sogyal Rinpoche

Some years back I had the good fortune to be with that wonderful Christian mystic and scholar, Fr Bede Griffiths. On asking him directly about the truth, he held up his hand and pointed to the fingers.

When you look at the fingertips, they are all very separate and function in different ways” he said.

However, if you follow them down, they are all come back to and are united by the same hand. The truth, and the religions that espouse them are the same. Each religion looks somewhat different on the surface and functions in different ways, but when you delve into the heart of each religion, you find they all share the same common truth.

Fr Bede has been one of my heroes for a long time. 

The archetypal “wise old man”, he came into my life after growing up in the Anglican tradition, finding its basic teachings did not explain the complexity and trauma of my early life, and then launching off into exploring philosophy, metaphysics, the Hindu tradition, the Theosophical Society, Zen, and finally Buddhism.

In Buddhism I found the most uncompromising devotion to pursuing truth, especially in the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and my long-term teacher Sogyal Rinpoche. 

And yet this is a very particular pathway into the truth. For me it works very well personally, yet many these days are seeking truth through other traditions, many are seeking a more secular version of the truth and its expression.

And as I grow older and benefit from all the teachings and study I have done, as I mature in my own practice a little, I find myself increasingly interested in helping a broad audience. So I am incredibly respectful and grateful to Sogyal Rinpoche for having taught me so much, and now, given he has died, will remain personally involved with his organisation Rigpa and help there when I can. I am planning to continue to study and practice through that tradition, and to enjoy getting together with the incredible array of extra-ordinary people that make up that organisation.

However, in my public life, I find myself compellingly drawn to take the Perennial Wisdom to a wider audience wherever possible. Perennial Wisdom is like religion without borders. It takes the view that all religious traditions do have their origin in a single source. It is a unifying force for good.

Aldous Huxley, author of the book The Perennial Philosophy, popularized this notion in his own day and wrote that the basis of Perennial Wisdom (or Philosophy as he called it) as found in all the mystic branches of the religions of the world, can be summarised as follows…
There is a Godhead or Ground, which is the unmanifested principle of all manifestation.

That the Ground is transcendent and immanent.

That it is possible for human beings to love, know and, to become actually identified with the Ground.

That to achieve this unitive knowledge, to realize this supreme identity, is the final end and purpose of human existence.

That there is a Law or Dharma, which must be obeyed, a Tao or Way, which must be followed, if men are to achieve their final end.

More recently, Rabbi Rami Shapiro put it beautifully when he wrote...

The term “perennial philosophy” refers to a fourfold realization: 

1.  There is only one Reality (call it, among other names, God, Mother, Tao, Allah, Dharmakaya, Brahman, or Great Spirit) that is the source and substance of all creation.

2. That while each of us is a manifestation of this Reality, most of us identify with something much smaller, that is, our culturally conditioned individual ego.

3. That this identification with the smaller self gives rise to needless anxiety, unnecessary suffering, and cross-cultural competition and violence.

4. That peace, compassion, and justice naturally replace anxiety, needless suffering, competition, and violence when we realize our true nature as a manifestation of this singular Reality. 

The great sages and mystics of every civilization throughout human history have taught these truths in the language of their time and culture. 

Perennial Wisdom therefore takes the view each religion provides the particular group of humanity to which it is relevant and appealing with everything required to observe a common divine reality, and to achieve a state in which one will be able to confirm the universal truth and achieve salvation or spiritual enlightenment. As such, each tradition warrants respect from all, and of itself, benefits from celebrating this common ground and each other’s different expression of this common ground. 

Also, it is possible to teach, learn and practice Perennial Wisdom in its own right, in a way that respects, supports and reinforces any individual religious tradition, as well as providing an accessible option for those seeking a non-religious or secular pathway into their own truth.

So this is what is taking the focus of my attention right now…

28 October 2019

Ian Gawler art show

After all these years my own artworks are to be involved in my first ever exhibition! And also for the first time, my pictures will be offered for sale!

There will be an opening night – Friday 15th November, however, most of the pictures can be purchased now via the internet. Some of the paintings are quite special – like those done during my recovery or are of places where meditation retreats have been held. All are in oil on good quality canvas and most are framed – by me.

So this week, a little on each of the pictures plus their images and a little of my art history, plus news of the meditation workshops Ruth and I will present in Queensland over the next few weeks, but first

           Thought for the week

If we could say it we would. 
What wants to be said is unsayable - and unthinkable too. 
That is why we make music, we dance, we paint and write poetry. 

Language and words are for mundane things 
Like shopping and running a country. 

The arts are a way to impart to each other 
The wordless core of experience: 
They are nothing short of stepping stones 
To the heaven hidden here on earth.

                                 Rashid Maxwell

As a teenager, I always wanted to be a veterinarian – and so it was. Yet the arts always held a special place in my heart. I held great admiration for artists and writers and actually yearned to do both.

At school I was fortunate to be accepted into veterinary science at the end of year 12. However, I was very young and at the school I attended, rather than taking gap years, many boys did a second year 12 – or matriculation as we called it.

So in my second year, I took English Literature and Art. What a delight! Probably my favourite year of study ever. In art we had two professional artists as our teachers… the wonderful Ronald Miller and the quiet, unassuming and highly talented Des Norman (of the Daisy Bates series of paintings).

That year provided a framework of both theory and technique and I struggled through to achieve a fabulous basic pass mark! Since then my art has surfaced in fits and starts. It was taken up seriously for a few years following my cancer diagnosis then relapse.

This first picture was painted

from the veranda of the house

I convalesced in near Melton


Next big influence was Larry LeShan, the real founder of psycho-oncology and author of Cancer as a Turning Point. Met Larry at a conference in the USA and became good friends – a delightful, insightful maverick of a man.

Anyway, Larry challenged me… Said if I did not have half a day to put aside for myself each week I was missing something really important. So I came home and enrolled in the art class my sister Sue was attending. This was with Peter Churcher – a great painter of figures, classically trained and a wonderful teacher.

So these next 3 come from those days…

A still life with grapefruit that I really like :


Another still life, simply named STILL LIFE

And a model from the classes : THE MODEL AT REST

In recent years there was quite a lull in painting up until last year when I joined Anne Esposito's weekly art classes; again with my sister. Anne is a great artist in her own right and an excellent teacher while the group includes many highly talented artists. We will all have works on display and for sale at the exhibition.

So this has led to a series from times spent around Alice Springs, including a picture from a perspective above Hamilton Downs where we held 7 Meditation in the Desert retreats :


is of the last of the 2 famous ghost gums
West of Alice Springs that were
a favourite subject for Albert Namatjira.
Sadly, both are now gone...

– such a beautiful part of the world…


And this one from the Eastern Macdonnell Ranges : GHOST GUM

And of course, Uluru – no longer climbable
and here under an amazing sky as it is so often…


(Note: this one is not framed although it says it is on the website)

Finally, a moment of reflection caught in WA
at the aptly named Green’s Pool.
(Note: this one too is not framed
although it says it is on the website)

All the pictures are featured on my art group's website - LINK HERE 

The photos on the website are good indications, but not always true as you might expect… For most of the pictures above the frames do not appear and there are 2 without frames.

Email: theartistsgroup1@gmail.com

If you are local enough and would like to attend the art show, it includes works from the art group I am involved with. There will be an opening on Friday 15th November at 5pm, and then more showing Saturday 16th from 10am to 2pm. For more details of the exhibition, including the venue, or to attend the opening, please email Info@insighthealth.com.au.

If you have questions re any of the works, please do direct those to me via Info@insighthealth.com.au. as well.

Hope to see many of you at the exhibition – this is quite a buzz for me… Something quite different

Plus news of our coming events...

16 October 2019

Meditation and the two types of stillness

“At times in my meditation, I do experience moments of stillness, but I am not sure what type it is. Can you explain?” This request came up while Ruth and I were leading a day workshop in Adelaide last weekend based upon my new book Blue Sky Mind. It seems many readers find the explanation of the two types of stillness helpful – stillness of the Active Mind, and stillness of the Still Mind; but then are not sure what it is they are experiencing.

Also, if the experience is of the Active Mind – as is common - how to move on to the more profound and transformative stillness of the Still Mind?

Classically, the metaphor of the blue sky being like the Still Mind and the clouds being like the Active Mind has helped many, but this week, it feels useful to share an excerpt from Blue Sky Mind that explains a new metaphor that is helping many, but first

     Thought for the day  

       Sit like a mountain

       Heart like the ocean

       Mind like the sky

                  Sogyal Rinpoche

The sky and cloud metaphor is a very useful one; but maybe for even more clarity we can use a new metaphor : carriages on a train. To elaborate, if a super-fast Bullet train were to fly past us, it may well be we would be unable to notice any gaps between the carriages.

However, if we were close enough to see the carriages of a long train making its way slowly past us, it would be fairly easy to notice the individual carriages and the gaps between them.

In the gaps between the carriages there is a space, and this space is in line with the carriages.

Carriage, space, carriage, space, and so on.

This space is quite finite and it is between the carriages; it is defined by the carriages, it is in close relationship with the carriages.

But now, if we look through the space between the carriages, we may well get the sense that there is much more space on the other side of the carriages. That space is not so dependent upon the carriages. The carriages may come and go, but our sense of that space will not change.

This more ‘distant’ space, is not affected by the train passing by. This more distant space was there before the train came, is there as the train passes by, and it will remain after the train has gone from view. And to be even more complete, there is a space in front of the train as well. And behind it. There is space between us and the train, as well as beyond the train.
Clearly, this space of which we are talking is all pervasive.

This is definitely worth reflecting upon a little until you really understand it; better still, take it in, experience it.

At first in our meditation when we start to notice the gaps between our thoughts it is most often like with the carriages; we are noticing the gap between the thoughts; the stillness between the thoughts. In this gap is what we could call the stillness of the Active Mind.

Now we must be clear. Any experience we have of the stillness of the Active Mind is quite useful. It is deeply peaceful, deeply regenerative. However, during the experience of this particular version of stillness we often have a limited sense of awareness. We can come out of the experience unclear about what happened.

After experiencing some time in the gap between their thoughts, people often say to me things like ‘I am not sure if I was awake or asleep. It did not feel like sleep, but I am not sure what it was’.

Often too, our perception of time becomes distorted in this state. Normally our perception of time is dependent on movement. However, if we are still and there is no movement, then we can be there for a few moments and it can feel like a long time. On another occasion it may feel as if we have been still for many minutes but when we check the clock, it was but a few brief moments.

Most people relate to this version of stillness – the stillness of the Active Mind - as pleasant and comforting, but rather dull and indistinct; a bit like a sleepy version of meditation. But again, to be clear, from the point of view of stress management, coming into our natural balance and the inner peace we have been speaking of along with healing, this state is actually quite useful.

But we do need to be clear that this stillness of the Active Mind is not the deeper state of stillness we have been discussing as the stillness of the Still Mind.

Using our original metaphor once again, the stillness of the Active Mind relates to the clouds; the stillness of the Still Mind has more to do with our experience of ‘the sky’.

However, all thoughts do actually exist within the context of the still mind, just as clouds exist within the context of the sky.

Clouds are dependent upon the sky, and only come into existence because the spaciousness of the sky makes them possible.

The existence of the sky allows for the natural expression of the clouds, but the sky is not affected by the clouds.

The sky is not changed or affected by the clouds; it is not stained or scarred by any particular clouds.

So it is with our own mind. The Still Mind provides the conditions in which thoughts can arise, be experienced, and pass on by. But the Still Mind is not affected by thoughts. It retains its natural qualities whatever type of thoughts we generate. Good thoughts, easy — stable Still Mind. Tough, destructive thoughts — just like a bad storm, blue sky unaffected, stable Still Mind.

So when we experience the stillness of the Active Mind, we remain on the level of our thoughts and emotions. We can experience some respite, even a deep sense of clarity and calmness; but in the fundamental sense, there will be no profound change in us. We are still in the domain of the Active Mind.

However, when we do manage to catch a glimpse of the stillness of the Still Mind, we transcend the Active Mind. Our whole perspective will change, our way of seeing the world will transform and we will View the world in quite a different way.


Blue Sky Mind is available through the Foundation’s website and most other outlets.

If your local bookseller is not stocking it as yet, please do ask…

30 September 2019

Go retro – one simple solution to thwart climate change

Are you old enough to remember simpler times? Maybe you have watched films or TV shows from the 50s and 60s. No plastic, less stuff, less people. And yet we all managed quite nicely. These days so much plastic and stuff. So much we can learn from back then, so here is a delightful tale, but first

         Thought for the day

   I was sitting on a hilltop looking 
   At the endlessly expanding horizon under the blue sky …
   A bliss began to permeate my body and mind. 
   I didn’t know that my eyes welled up with tears. 
   I bent down to kiss this earth. 
   This is a magic land, a sacred pureland…

                 Chen Xiaodong
   freelance Buddhist writer based in Shanghai

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the much older lady that she should bring

her own grocery bags, because plastic bags are not good for the environment.

The woman apologized to the young girl and explained,

"We didn't have this 'green thing' back in my earlier days."

The young clerk responded,

"That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations."

The older lady said that she was right our generation did not have the "green thing" in its day. The older lady went on to explain: Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But we did not have the "green thing" back in our day.

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things.

Most memorable besides household garbage bags was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our school books. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.

But, too bad we did not do the "green thing" back then. We walked up stairs because we did not have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and did not climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We did not have the "green thing" in our day.

Back then we washed the baby's nappies because we did not have the throw away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right; we did not have the "green thing" back in our day. 
Back then we had one TV, or radio, in the house - not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.

In the kitchen we blended and stirred by hand because we did not have electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we did not fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power.

We exercised by working so we did not need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right; we did not have the "green thing" back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.

We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blade in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we did not have the "green thing" back then.

Back then, people took the tram or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service in the family's $45,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the "green thing."

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we did not need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But it is sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we did not have the "green thing" back then?

Of course, my older generation poisoned rivers and streams, created havoc with DDT, lead based paints and many other environmental disasters. So while we have made good progress in some areas, and there is much more needed in many, maybe we can learn from going retro in others...

18 September 2019

Toxic tide - marine plastic pollution and what to do

In 2016, a Senate Committee released "Toxic tide: the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia". This report contains alarming concerns about the impact of plastics found in abundance in our environment and provides suggestions. So this week we reproduce details to complete our 3 part series on plastic pollution, but first

            Thought for the day

     Power without love is reckless and abusive, 
     And love without power is sentimental and anemic. 
     Power at its best 
     Is love implementing the demands of justice, 
     And justice at its best 
     Is power correcting everything that stands against love.

                            Martin Luther King Jnr 

One generation ago, plastics were not part of our daily lives. Cloth, boxes or paper bags were used for shopping and there were no plastics for storing food in the fridges. Now it is part of our daily lives even for single-use packaging of food! The problem is global and widespread.

Go to Asia and places such as Bali and experience swimming in one of their beaches with plastic debris floating in the water and brushing up against your skin. 

It is not a pleasant experience!

The World Economic Forum warn plastics are increasingly being used across economies in sectors ranging from packaging to construction, transportation, healthcare and electronics. 

This increasing use is reflected in the rate of increase in global plastic production: in 1964, 15 million tonnes of plastics were produced, in 2014 that had increased to 311 million tonnes. According to the World Economic Forum, plastics production is expected to double again in 20 years, and to almost quadruple by 2050.

In summary, the Senate report raises serious concerns and highlights the following points:2
There is an alarming production and use of plastics worldwide. 
The vast majority of plastics is non-biodegradable and can persist in the environment for hundreds of years.
Majority of marine-based pollution comes from land, originating from urban and industrial waste sites, sewage outlets, stormwater and litter discarded by recreational users of our coasts and marine waterways.
A major national study led by CSIRO, documented the state of marine plastic debris in Australia and its negative impact on marine wildlife.  The study suggests most marine plastic debris in the Australian region is domestic and correlates with increase in local population, urbanisation and human activity. 

Stormwater drainage is a significant contributor of plastic debris in the marine environment which often delivers directly to coastal areas, or via catchment runoff into coastal areas. 

Other sources include: urban litter, garbage from shipping and abandoned fishing gear from local, national and international fishing operations.

Marine plastic pollution in Australian waters can also originate from international sources with ocean currents transporting plastic debris over long distances. According to the World Economic Forum’s best available data, Asia accounts for more than 80% of the total leakage of plastic into the ocean.  CSIRO also note that China and Indonesia are significant sources of plastic pollution.4
Due to their light weight, plastics are readily transported by wind and water.
National and international studies demonstrate significant quantities of hard plastics, plastic water bottles and packaging litter found in our coastal and river waterways such as Sydney Harbour and Port Phillip Bay. 2, 
Plastic debris found in the marine environment is either larger debris (macroplastic) or small particles (microplastic) i.e. tiny plastic fragments, fibres and granules of less than 5 mms in size from intentionally produced items, inherent by-products of other products or activities, emitted through accident or unintentional spill or macroplastic degradation.

Substantial human voluntary hours such as Clean Up Australia and BeachPatrol are expended on collecting record numbers of plastic littering on coast and land. 

The cost of removing litter by local and state Government is enormous. 

For example, the Victorian Government in 2012–13 spent $80 million in removing litter, including the removal of over 7,800 tonnes of litter from Melbourne waterways.2

CSIRO report highlights the cost of littering to local government is substantial.4
There are international efforts to address the global concern of plastic debris and pollution. At present this issue is addressed on a state by state level in Australia, yet the problem is not a boundary issue and the Senate recommends it be addressed on a National level.2
The Senate committee received considerable evidence on the impact of plastic pollution on marine fauna and flora from leading Australian academics, government agencies and community organisations. The evidence indicates that plastic debris affects marine life through ingestion, entanglement, the transport i.e. plastic acting as a medium and bioaccumulation of harmful chemicals.2
Plastic ingestion is well documented in a large range of marine species, shorebirds and seabirds - small plastics look similar in appearance to prey for marine animals. The Senate also received evidence in relation to ingestion of plastics by turtles, seabirds, cetaceans (e.g. dolphins and whales), corals and zooplankton.2
Marine plastic pollution also acts as both a transport medium for accumulated chemicals present in seawater, and is a source of toxic chemicals such as pesticides (e.g. DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls and endocrine-active substances).2 These substances are well known to be bio-accumulative and impact marine and human health. 1, Many toxic chemicals are fat soluble, lasting decades in the environment where they undergo biomagnification (tissue concentrations increase) as they pass up the food chain.1
The effects of plastics on human life e.g. ingestion of plastics through consumption of marine life, is not well recognised or studied, and warrants further research in view of the growing contamination of plastics in the environment.

In summary, the Senate has made a number of recommendations to address the problems of plastics.2 

Every effort should be made at the State, National and International level to help raise community awareness of the problems of plastics on the environment. 

This includes a reduction in the production of plastics by industry and finding alternative options and the need and use of plastics by communities, e.g. one use plastic products. Additionally, the community and government should prohibit the supply of plastics where suitable options are available, e.g. shopping bags made of plastics, and for improved discarding and recycling programs of all types of plastics.