The greatest gift of all

In 13th century Japan, a low caste priest, Nichiren, who was exiled to a desolate snow covered island in the deepest winter after surviving a beheading ordered by the ruler due to a fortuitous arrival of a comet, wrote to a poor fisherman, Abutsu, who brought him some gifts of food-

Now the entire body of Abutsu Shonin is composed of the five universal elements of earth, water, fire, wind and ku…Therefore, Abutsu-bo is the Treasure Tower itself, and the Treasure Tower is Abutsu-bo himself. No other knowledge is purposeful…You may think you offered gifts to the Treasure Tower of Taho Buddha, but that is not so. You offered them to yourself. You, yourself, are a true Buddha who possesses the three enlightened properties.

I have often thought of these lines, particularly during this Christmas.  For many years, I have been receiving some terrible gifts or none at all.  While gift giving is part of the celebration of many religions, particularly Christmas, it can also be wasteful if you have received something that is not needed.  So many of these gifts ended up being regifted or sent to charity shops, which was probably not intended by the giver.  Also, at the time when everyone is receiving gifts, if you don’t receive them, it can be hurtful.  This year, I decided to do something I’ve never done before- give a gift to myself.  I realised I had never actually thought myself worthy of receiving a useful gifts. I also thought of some unkind ways in which I had dealt with givers of ‘useless’ or terrible gifts.  I also would buy lovely expensive gifts for others, and ask others not to give me anything- thereby creating a miserable and peculiar martyr syndrome which was ‘I love receiving good presents but I don’t really deserve any’.  Reflecting on this past history made me see how I had made myself less likely to receive good gifts- the ones that William Morris would described as beautiful and useful.

So I selected the most opulent gift bag I had kept intending to give to someone else as usual. In it I placed my best dark chocolates which I had again bought to give to someone else.  I also put in the bag, a lovely Christmas card which I had kept for someone else. You may think this is strange, but for me keeping the best things for others was perfectly normal!


Yesterday during Christmas, I had the surprise of my life when I received the most beautiful and useful gifts ever!  I also received the most cards ever.  Although, by now I wouldn’t have cared about the gifts, they also revealed to me that if you don’t care or nurture yourself,  you will not receive that back from the environment.  Truly, you don’t give gifts to others, you give to yourself.  How you treat yourself is how others treat you.


what creativity means to you and you


Last week I attended an art workshop. Using materials and techniques I would not otherwise use, I created couple of large drawings.  Although my instinct is to go back to what I was doing before, yet by doing something different, I feel I have extended my creative limits.  I was like a child at this workshop, trying colours such as black and white spray paint and stencils- which I have not used before. I used calligraphic pens and rulers too- some new things for me.

Perhaps these things are not new to you.  The point that I am making is to try new things whenever you get a chance. Not only does it extend your repertoire but also tells you why you like what you do.  So now I realise why I paint the way I do- for instance, I like telling stories through my work so I use found objects, newspaper cuttings, cards and photographs.  This is one of my paintings below. It is called ‘Looking, Watching, Seeing’ about fear told through different events that happened in 1976-77.


Creativity is the only thing that is a relationship between you and you.  Everything else is a relationship between you and someone else- and that relationship can be good or bad, depending upon you and another.  However, the relationship between you and you is only dependent upon one person- you.  It is the gift you give to yourself.  Whether your work is liked or you became rich through it, depends upon the relationship between you and someone else (the viewer/patron) but that is not in your gift.  It is beyond your control.  Your creativity is your gift to yourself, regardless of external gifts. So always gift yourself!

taking on fear

Flame of the forest Spirit 2014

This week, my first ever art show opened and it will be on for three months.  It may have been something vaguely I wanted to do and I really hadn’t thought much about it.  Then I heard an inspiring talk given by a blind artist and realised how I ‘understood’ her art and her techniques for painting.  I got talking to the person who organised this show and suddenly she turned to me and said, ‘Why don’t you exhibit your work? We have a three month vacant slot here.’  I was deeply reluctant at first.  My reaction was- ‘what if people don’t like it? what if people laugh at the work?  what if people don’t get it?’ etc etc.

I was full of fear.  But having thought about how much I was going to regret not taking this opportunity, I said yes eventually.  Then I also decided to paint new work and re-worked some of the originals. I realised I had changed- I had taken on fear and won.  Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

You can always learn from mistakes, but what if you’ve actually never made a mistake (as if that is possible!)? Life is all about making mistakes, learning from them.

Having now done, I am in a daze- people have written many kind words about my work. One said, “I have just been to have a look and the art looks amazing. You are very talented!”

Many people helped out, working on Saturday at 8-00 am working solidly for four hours to hang the pictures- none of them got paid to do this.  Someone who helped out with the hanging commented,”Just to let you all know that the pictures are all hung safely and, personally, think the corridor looks great…..several people have already admired them…..”

What can I say, I am speechless with gratitude!  If my art moves and inspires people, even though technically it might not be amazing- it is perfect for me and them. It is my gift to the world.  By taking on fear and leaving aside regrets, we can only become more creative and live true to our hearts. It doesn’t matter if I get any more compliments or not, or even if I get some nasty comments- I have won!  As Marianne Williamson says in her book, A Return to Love, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Amazing Grace

Since the few days, I have been thinking about ‘grace’, being ‘gracious’ and being ‘graceful’.  It is quality which is not talked about much, except in reference to movement or dancing.  I am talking about grace as a way of life.  Grace is about being polite, about being accepting of others and of being kind.  I have been thinking about how to bring grace into my life and these are the things I thought of-

1. Time and space– one needs to have time and space, gaps in schedule, peace and reflection to have grace.  People who are always rushing, bustling off or are abrupt are not graceful.  Therefore always keep a little space in your life in order to be graceful.

2. Be expansive– Think big, even magnanimously of others, even if they have done you wrong.  Do not go into their level, forgive and let go.  Imagine yourself as a big hearted person, not grasping, not wanting approval from anyone but yourself.

3. Be generous– Take time to listen to someone without telling them all about yourself at the same time.  Give generously, even if that person may have been mean to you.  Imagine the universe as a benevolent entity, always kind, always giving.  Even if you  give and do not receive back from that person, you will get a gift from someone else.  If you can’t give or buy presents, give your precious gift of time or your creativity, draw or write something for someone.

4. Do not boast– Your qualities and achievements will come to light without your needing to shout about it.  It is much more effective and powerful when another person comes to know of them through other means than you- it is very powerful! No one likes boasters.

5. Finally, always be polite, even if you are provoked- I find this quite difficult sometimes.  Just the other day, someone wrote a very rude email to me and my first reaction was to answer them back rudely. I am glad I didn’t and I continued to be expansive and generous in my thoughts about them. I have just received very good news about a piece of writing I did some years ago.  This news was totally unexpected.  I have risen above this person’s demeaning email through the good recommendation I have had about my work.

the law of cause and effect

How often do we think we are at the butt of something unfair done to us by someone?  I used to be like that until I realised the ‘law of cause and effect’ works in life as well as physics.  I realised how cunningly this ‘life law’ operates. I realised one can fool society, fool the legal system but not this universal law.

My big lesson came when I was dropping off my son to school enroute to work.  I was using a taxi for this as I needed to get to work quickly after that.  I got out at the school and took my son inside.  Upon return, I found an argument going on.  It appeared that my taxi had been reversing and while doing so, had come very close to a school child cycling on the pavement.  The mother was shouting angrily while the driver kept saying that she should not have let her son be so close to the road.  I apologised profusely to the mother and then went on my way.  Later on, I complained about the driver to the taxi company and told them that this driver was not good.

Four weeks later, I was walking home with my son when I nearly got knocked over by a child, rushing around in his bike.  I recognised the boy immediately.  The mother was on the mobile phone while the boy was cycling in the school grounds where one is not allowed to do so.  My son laughed when he saw my shocked face and said, ‘Mummy, did not you not know that he is always rushing around, hitting other people?’  At that moment, I also felt guilty for having complained about the taxi driver.  While the mother was quick to blame the taxi driver, she saw nothing wrong in what her son was doing.  She failed to take responsibility for her own actions.  Heaven forbid that in the earlier incident, nothing had happened to the boy.  Yet, it struck me how the mother had failed to see ’cause and effect’ and learn from the earlier incident.

After this, I started noticing more and more, the causal law at work.  People dropping cigarette stubs on the pavement, then getting splashed by a car; someone bring rude to others and then someone else being unreasonably rude back to them;  cheating on the benefits system and then losing their jobs or money, etc.  All these people without fail would complain, ‘What have I done to deserve this?’  I also saw the reverse of this: people smiling at each other, being polite to someone  and then getting an unexpected gift or something else that made them happy.  It was so easy and direct- the lesson being that if you are good and do good, then goodness comes back to you in one way or the other.

This has made me less liable to complain and has given me more contentment.  I have stopped ‘expecting’ from people too. Sometimes the law of cause and effect is not direct. So I may give something to someone but I may find an unexpected gift coming from someone else.  When we accept the law of causality, we stop becoming victims- we know we can change so easily.  In our web of life, we are all interconnected and what ever we do, has a reaction.  So let us always do good.

Work and Play

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.

 L P Jacks
Lawrence Pearsall Jacks (October 9, 1860 – February 17, 1955), was an English educator, philosopher, and Unitarian minister who was also an ardent fan of militarism.  Militarism is not my cup of tea but I have been intrigued by this quote which is attributed to his 1932 book “Education through Recreation”.  At first I thought this quote was about mixing work and pleasure- a kind of multi-tasking very welcome in this age of home-working and hot-desking.
However, I am not a multi-tasker as I have discovered through the years, most spectacularly when I set the kitchen on fire!  I work best when I concentrate on one thing and I have found that I can actually do more by doing one thing at a time.  Nichiren Buddhism talks about viewing your work as your Buddhist practice, i.e. the same concentration and philosophical frame you apply to your religious practice, can be applied to your work too.  There can be no difference to your frame of mind when pursuing either creative or spiritual development.  So I have tried to apply over the last few months are these ideas-
  • Concentrate– I don’t even now play music when I am creating.  The relationship at that moment is between my soul and my art and nothing comes in between.  That way, I can do my best whether it is creating or even tidying up.  I seem to notice small details and vibes when I do one thing at a time.
  • Finish-I used to always go back several times to embellish a bit more or to regret something that I had worked on.  Now once I finish, I finish, knowing that I have given it my best.  No regrets!  Life is too short for that.
  • Savour– Appreciate that gift you have whether it is a lovely cake you have baked or the peaceful baby or an amazing piece of work!  Life is full of joy and you have the great gift of revealing that joy- appreciate and savour your creativity!