Feargal Sharkey

Ever sit back and wonder about 80s pop stars and how they ever made it? The competition seems so much tougher now - pop stars have to be infinitely more beautiful and polished and thin even to get a look in. Howard Jones could never make it now, nor Rick Astley. Just too damned plain and dull. And Feargal Sharkey! What place is there in 21st Century popular music for a skeletal Irishman with a lank bob and a peculiar line in white soul.
I loved Feargal back in the day. In spite of his now rather obvious plain-ness (when one looks back on previous crushes one is frequently surprised about how humble their appearance actually was!) I thought him incredibly beautiful - I've always had a thing for razor-like cheekbones and prominent jaw-lines, things I just don't possess.
And let's face it, he WAS talented - when I think of all those long, dull summer days listening to A Good Heart....It was almost perfect pop.

The Buddhist Trinity


OK, so I know there are four statues in this picture, but the one at the front shouldn't be there! It is (I Think) a statue of Ksitigarbha (Dia Tang Vuong) that someone has seen fit to include on this small shrine outside the ancestor hall at Kwan Yin Temple, Canley Vale.
The Pure Land Buddhist trinity is made up of Amitabha Buddha (at the centre), Mahāsthāmaprāpta at the viewer's left and Kwan Yin at your right. The trinity is filled with all kinds of symbolic importance, which I just can't recall at the moment. All I know is that Kwan Yin is inextricably linked with Amitabha (she carries an image of him in her headpiece), and that Mahāsthāmaprāpta (try saying that after a few bears) appears almost nowhere else in Buddhist imagery - she is one of the great mysteries of Buddhist worship. She just pops up in this particular trinity and that seems to be her only job.
This is an extremely popular trinity in Buddhist worship, but there are some others that spring to mind and that regularly appear as the main objects of worship in Buddhist temples - Sakyamuni, Kwan Yin and Ksitigarbha; Sakyamuni, Samantabhadra and Manjusri; and Sakyamuni with his two key disciples, Ananda and Mahakasyapa.

Kwan Yin Worship

The one and only time I went to Dalat I spent much of my time seeking out obscure little Buddhist temples in the surrounding hills. I don't much like Dalat, though such an admission is sacrilege to my Vietnamese friends. It's too cold and dirty. But the inhabitants of Dalat, forced, probably, through all that grey, chilly weather and those cold showers, tend to be religious creatures. Dalat has re-invented itself as something of the focus of Zen Buddhist practise in Vietnam, and many notable Saigon monastics have their roots in Dalat.
One day my friends took me to quite a large nunnery on a distant mountain, and as always the sisters kept the place in tip-top shape and running perfectly. The place was filled with elderly nuns fingering their prayer beads, and the main hall rung out with the sounds of the younger nuns chanting the sutras and banging on an enormous fish drum.
A little track behind the main hall led up the mountainside, and when I reached the top I discovered this beautiful little shrine to Kwan Yin. There were women, lay and monastic, there offering their prayers, and my presence caused a great flurry of giggles. I was worried I'd wandered into a woman-only space, but one of the young sisters smiled at me and lit some incense for me to offer.
So here is the Kwan Yin on that isolated Dalat mountaintop, and some of the women who live in devotion to her.
Nam Mo Quan The Am Bo Tat!

Nostalgia #2


Here is a pic of my dear friend Thay Quang Thuc in front of a statue of Kwan Yin at Giac Uyen Temple in Phu Nhuan, Saigon. This pic was taken over 10 years ago, but strangely enough Quang Thuc has come back into my life. He is in Australia at the moment on a holiday, staying at the little Buddhist temple just up the road from me. We are exactly the same age, and many years ago we were great pals. He was a student at Van Hanh Buddhist University, and was so kind to me, taking me all around Saigon on the back of his Honda. Now I have had the opportunity to repay some of that kindness, taking him around some of the Buddhist sights in Sydney - isn't it odd how things turn out - we never know when someone from our past will reappear.
Which is why it pays to be kind to everyone, I guess.
Here is Quang Thuc now - this video was taken just a couple of weeks ago.

The Best of Everything



I have a rather ghastly health problem at the moment which forces me to stay at home and off my feet. It's getting rather desperate, because I'm going overseas in a few days time and I'm hoping against hope that I'll be fine by then.
This enforced home time means I've been watching lots of movies, and this morning I finally watched The Best of Everything.

What a brilliant movie! Stylish, sleek and completely absorbing, it tells the ultimate 1950s horror story of what happens to young ladies when they choose careers over marriages. It was based on a trashy novel by Rona Jaffe, who had been responsible for that most trashy of all novels and films, Peyton Place. Obviously Hollywood thought it was onto a good thing, because they brought the glorious Hope Lange in to star in this one too, as well as scooping the pool by engaging the services of one certain Joan Crawford! Joan camps it up like crazy as a wizened and loveless career lady made bitter by the years - "You and your horse-faced wife can just go to hell!" - and Miss Lange herself slides toward the upper end of the camp-o-meter as her outfits become increasingly fabulous and her career more and more demanding.
Really, this is a brilliant film, faultlessly constructed and brilliantly directed by the much overlooked Jean Negulesco. It is sassy and beautifully designed and scripted and a museum piece of mid-twentieth century American social history.
A must-see.

Kwan Yin Talk

An Invitation

Kwan Yin
Bodhisattva of Compassion
A talk by Walter Mason

An exploration of popular devotion to Kwan Yin,
the Buddhist "Goddess of Mercy"
Friday, 11 April 2008, 7.45pm
Swedenborg Association
First floor, 1 Avon Rd, North Ryde, NSW 2113
Ph: (02) 9888 1066

Nostalgia #1


A blast from the past, gentle readers!
The handsome young chap in the photo is yours truly, posing on the terrace of Tinh Xa Trung Tam in Phu Nhuan, Ho Chi Minh City sometime circa 1996!
Tinh Xa Trung Tam is a fascinating place, being one of the central monasteries for the indigenous Vietnamese monastic order, the Tang Gia Khat Si. I say 'one of' because after the death of the founder-master, Minh Dang Quang, in the 1950s, the order soon split along doctrinal lines, and in TPHCM there are several khat si (mendicant) monasteries which claim to be the 'Central Monastery'. Each of them represents the seat of one of the original disciples of Minh Dang Quang - almost every one of them established their own lineage and order, though all are ostensibly united beneath the teachings of the Master.
The Indigenous Mendicant Order is a fascinating experiment in Buddhist syncretism, and one day I hope to write a book about it (should be a mammoth seller!). Minh Dang Quang was a half Khmer, half Viet man who dreamed of repairing the Theravada and Mahayana division in Buddhism, and went about doing so, based on his own knowledge of both schools gained through his ethnic and racial blend. In Southern Vietnam, the TGKS represents around 20% of all Buddhists, though monastics from the more traditional schools look askance at this indigenous form. Their main criticism is that Minh Dang Quang translated the sutras into a rhyming form of everyday Viet language, making them easy for lay people to remember. The traditionalists, however, claim that these translations are lacking in depth and authenticity, and in some places are outright incorrect.
The TGKS monastics are easily recognised by their bright yellow robes and their practise of public begging. For the most part their theology is mainstream Pure Land Buddhism (hence the presence of this huge statue of Kwan Yin), but they insist that monastics follow the stricter Theravada Vinaya (i.e. the rules by which monks and nuns must live). It's a fascinating blend, and the only place in the modern world where such an amalgamation is practised.

Kwan Yin




Probably my first real introduction to Buddhism was through the popular devotion to Kwan Yin I witnessed while travelling through Vietnam and Taiwan. One comes across her image everywhere in those countries, and I soon found myself fascinated by her and all of the qualities she manifested. To my, at that time ignorant, mind she reminded me of all the very best in popular Marian worship and the very sight of a statue of Kwan Yin stirred up all of my own mystical and spiritual instincts.

In Vietnam she is worshipped as 'The Gentle Mother', and during the Ullambana festival she is revered and celebrated. There are popular shrines to her scattered throughout the country, many of them credited with miraculous powers.

One of my favourite places in the world is the ugly little port city of Keelung in Taiwan, just a short train ride away from Taipei. I've spent many hours there climbing all over the holy mountain there dedicated to Kwan Yin, and featuring at its peak one of those enormous Disney-esque statues of the Bodhisattva, replete with gift shop and vegetarian restaurant.


Right near my house is a beautiful Kwan Yin temple built by Indo-Chinese boat people to thank the Goddess for protecting them on the high seas while they were refugees. I go there whenever I can and offer my prayers to the Great Compassionate Kwan Yin.


December in Pictures

Meditation with Jim and Thang


















Summer Garden

Cuddling Mimi














Re-arranging my statues!
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