Saturday, 27 April 2013

A Buddhist-Inspired Life

Photos with inspiring quotations seem increasingly common on Facebook – where, if they didn’t originate, they at least spread rapidly as memes. Amongst the most common seem to be the ‘life happens for a reason’ variety, which to my mind are often rather clichéd and simplistic. Sometimes I simply don’t agree with them! But there are also some wonderful examples, including many quotations attributed to the Buddha or Albert Einstein. I was recently dismayed to learn that some of these attributions are false – but they are still marvellous quotations, whoever said them!

Anyway, then I joined Pinterest, where they also proliferate. Here they have the advantage that their subject matter is more likely to correspond with the user’s interests. In my case, I quickly adopted my friend Toni’s board heading of ‘Buddhist-Inspired Life’, and re-pinning some of her examples as well as others I’d collected from Facebook over the years. And then, a few days ago, I found myself creating my own examples, using my own photographs (some of them taken many years ago) as backgrounds.

So here are my first fifteen, which I thought I’d share with anyone drawn to the themes of my blog. They’re mostly, but not entirely, Buddhist-oriented; a couple are there simply because they’re favourite quotations of mine. Anyway, I hope you like them. And I certainly won’t mind if some of them turn up on Facebook or Pinterest before long; after all, these things are hopeful little memes just begging to be spread! Or just enjoy them here. The main thing is that I hope others are as inspired and comforted by the quotations here as I am.

This beautiful reflection by the Buddha reflects my rather secular approach to Buddhism, and suggests a man who was less concerned with an afterlife or future lives than with living fully, kindly and happily in the here and now.

From a Buddhist point of view, this includes all beings, all life, everywhere. I married the words with a portrait of a fox that I took at the British Wildlife Centre, as they have an added political meaning for me, living in a country whose government wants to repeal the legal ban on ritual hunting and killing of foxes.

This one speaks for itself. One of the things that draws me to Buddhism is its pacifism.

A comforting reflection, stemming from the realisation of impermanence, ‘conditioned arising’, that arises through meditation practice. The photo is an old one of my partner gazing at the afternoon countryside.

Without any thought of an afterlife or supreme being, and arguably no literal meaning of ‘rebirth’ either, The Buddha was full of inspiring and comforting words. This could, after all, be one of the things he meant by ‘rebirth’, anyway!

One of the most beautiful things ever said by the wonderful Tara Brach.

The kind of statement that, for me, provokes an inner sigh of relief, and a sense of true freedom somewhere ahead.

More about the Buddha as Siddattha Gotama, a suffering human being like you or me!

Apparently the words Siddattha spoke as he lay dying, to his devoted attendant Ananda. Humane, deeply wise yet difficult words for all of us as well.

This is one of the reasons why I feel a sense of relief when I compare Buddhism to the Christian religion I grew up with. Instead of a doctrine of original sin, the Buddha taught that we are all born with ‘Buddha nature’ – the innate capacity to become fully enlightened beings. There’s no need to be ‘good enough’ to find our way back to Eden; freedom is already here, if we can learn to care and pay attention to what is.

When I studied counselling, the approach we followed was person-centred, and Rogers was one of my heroes. Looking back, I see similarities to his way of working with clients: humane, compassionate and incredibly attentive. Watching or listening to recordings of his therapy sessions leaves you in no doubt that he was a deeply compassionate and caring man, and the quiet, calm attention he brought to whatever his clients were saying. Remembering now, it’s almost as if he was putting the Buddha’s core teachings directly into practice, in that therapy room.

Lovely! No Son of God, no Anointed One, no new religious leader to worship. Just a man, awake!

What better purpose in life could there be?

Quoted by Tara Brach in ‘Radical Acceptance’, this slightly odd but profound quotation reminds me that the Buddhist perception of impermanence applies to people as well. It’s not just that we die; we are ‘reborn’ again and again, in every moment…

I did this one simply because I find the words so moving. I first heard them, of all places, in an episode of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’, and have never forgotten them – even though I’ve never read Dante’s great poem!

I may not be a ‘Buddhist’ (not yet, anyway), and my meditation practice is sparse and undisciplined. But increasingly, it seems to be a Buddhist-inspired life!


  1. Oh, Michael, I absolutely LOVE. I love the way you shared other's quotes, and then put them into your own feelings & thoughts along with your AMAZING gift as a photographer. For me, today, Pema Chodren's quote spoke to me: "You are the sky. Everything just the weather". THANK YOU.

    1. Thank you, Hippy Chick, for your kind words as always - it's good to know who you are now! :)Yes, it's a wonderful quote, isn't it? And very reassuring; a wonderful way of gaining some kind of equanimity in an emotional or physical storm. It can be so easy to forget, so doing this post has reminded me of these helpful thoughts and practices too.

  2. i feel inspired. this is a fantastic blogpost, michael. i am happy you actually want to see your memes spread around the net because i will be all too happy to share. beautiful photography and inspirational quotes. i very much enjoyed your take on each. oh, and i've always wondered what foxes represent for you. xXOo

    1. Oh, thank you, Alisa! And thank you for sharing my hopeful little wannabe memes! As for foxes: well, I think they are beautiful, intelligent and very resourceful animals. I also love them because they've been so persecuted, and because they share our world with us, cleaning up the mess people leave in the streets. But also, it's something that may sound a bit silly, but... you know the way native American traditions have animal spirit guides? Well, I don't share those beliefs, but I do feel that if I did have a spirit guide, it might somehow be a fox. I don't know why this is. I just feel such an affinity with them!

  3. Michael - These are spectacular and I'm so moved that you used a quote from my book. Your pictures are beautiful, the way you put the wording on is so artistic (I love the font), and the sentiments are inspiring and, as you can guess, very much in tune with how I see life.

    I'm glad you've given permission for us to use some of them!

    1. Thank you so much, Toni, and I'm so glad you liked the way I used your quote. I was actually thinking of you a lot as I made this post, thinking about how some of the quotes (and my own developing understanding of Buddhism) are so similar to what you've said to me privately and in your book. I think our views are similar in many ways, and that's thanks to you for making so much clear to me. Thank you for that - and thank you for sharing as well!

  4. Dear Michael,

    I finally got around to revisiting, and I've pinned quite a few. I hope they do spread like wildfire. They are beautiful and deserve to be seen.

    Love Jane

    1. Thanks so much for sharing my little wannabe memes, Jane! I'm thinking of doing a few more, but humorous this time. :)