A Day in the Life of Kulananda


I sometimes don’t sleep very well, so when my alarm goes at 6.10am it’s often with a certain reluctance that I roll over, turn it off and get up. Then it’s down to the kitchen for a cup of rooibos tea and into the shrine-room for 6.30am, where a hardy band of brothers get down to the Going for Refuge and Prostration Practice.

OM AH HUM, To the Best of All Refuges I Go — thump.
OM AH HUM, To the Best of All Refuges I Go — thump.

I love it; it not only wakes me up, it also aligns my day in the right direction.

At 7.30am we’re joined by a few others, salute the shrine, chant the Tiratana Vandana — everyone else kindly accommodating themselves to my tuneless meandering in different keys — and get on with the second sit. After that I collect the papers and the mail (the Independent for me, the Telegraph for Bhante and Subhuti) and it’s off again to the kitchen to prepare breakfast: my favourite meal. I usually make the porridge for us all and eat mine with home-made soya-yoghurt, chopped almonds and an apple. I’ve given up caffeine (too addictive) so it’s two mugs of de-caff for me.

We eat in the conservatory, a beautiful bright space with views out onto the garden. Very occasionally a fox wanders about on the lawn and the bird-life is surprisingly rich and varied for a city garden. Right now the trees still bear the last of their leaves and the garden and the park below it have a green and golden aspect.

All our communal meals are taken in silence and we generally have a good chat afterwards. After breakfast (is it the de-caff?) I’m often taken with a strong sense of my own good fortune. How fine to be sitting in such a place with such people after two hours of spiritual practice and with a morning’s writing beckoning ahead.

By 9.30am at the latest I’m back up in my room for a quick skim of the newspaper and then it’s down to writing. I’ve one strict rule. No disturbances — no phone calls, no visitors — before 1pm. Each day I try to put in a few solid hours of writing, aiming for at least 1,000 words. Right now I’m working on the first draft of a book on the Refuge Tree of the Western Buddhist Order. I get deeply absorbed when I write and I find the whole process intensely satisfying.

At 1 o’clock it’s back down to the conservatory for lunch. If I’m not careful all the pent-up energy of my writing time spills over now and I can get a bit loopy. My friends bear with me. Lunch is not my best time, it’s an interlude, not an occasion.

After lunch I usually run a quick check round the plants in the conservatory. I water whatever is dry, pick off scale, do a bit of pruning, tie-in shoots and generally encourage the plants along. We bought most of these specimens when they were quite small and some are now real giants. The sickle-thorn has shoots at least fifteen feet long and the two scheffleras twelve feet; the calatheas have become truly immense, to say nothing of the jasmine and passion-flower. Yuccas, dracaenas, benjaminas, begonias, ferns, bougainvillaea, pelargoniums, various cacti, a kumquat and even a thriving bodhi-tree — it’s all wonderfully green and lush.

By 2 o’clock at the latest the second half of the day begins. If I have a visitor, perhaps a friend from one of my Centres, we’ll take a stroll in the park and then come back for a chat. Otherwise I check my mail and e-mail and get on with working at all the many different areas of responsibility that I have. This is a time for correspondence and phone calls, keeping up contact people at the centres where I’m president and with personal friends, both in the FWBO and the wider Buddhist world. I also go to meetings, make reports, write up accounts — there are so many different bits and pieces. Bhante often takes a walk in the afternoon and he usually invites one of us to accompany him.

I try to stop work by 5 o’clock. When I can, I like to have a bit of time before dinner to change gear. I rest, listen to music or the news, maybe have a bath. At 6pm it’s back to the conservatory for dinner, where Bhante presides. We wait for him to start before eating and let him open the conversation afterwards. I enjoy the slight formality of that, and Bhante’s presence always enhances my mindfulness. After dinner we sit about the table drinking our coffee and for the next half hour or more we converse. The talk ranges over many fields: the Dharma, the FWBO and the Order, literature, art, current affairs, what we’re currently reading. I’m aware of how deeply privileged I am to be there.

After dinner Bhante returns to his flat (armed with the day’s newspaper) and, after washing-up, the rest of us adjourn to the sitting room for our evening meeting. Those who’ve been away report back and we discuss whatever seems to be relevant — our personal lives, aspects of the Movement, aspects of the community or the College Council. We’re a peripatetic bunch, and although attendance at these meetings varies a great deal, they play a vital part in keeping us all plugged-in with one another. They’re pretty good humoured, these meetings, even though the subjects we discuss can be quite serious at times. After four years of being together we understand each other quite well.

We try to end the meeting by 8pm, and for me the next few hours are given to unwinding. I’ll read a bit (right now I’m looking at a manuscript for Windhorse Publications), listen to music, chat with a friend in the community or on the phone. I try to be in bed by 9.30, happily buried in my current novel before turning the light out at 10.15. Right now I’m reading The Last English King by Julian Rathbone. It’s a gripping, imaginary account of the life and times of a former bodyguard to Harold Godwinson, who lost his eye, life and kingdom at Hastings in 1066.

With luck my sleep won’t be too fractured, but if it is I just read or reflect for a while — after forty years of it I’ve grown accustomed to insomnia.

Originally published in Madhyamavani: Spring 1999 (Birmingham: Madhyamaloka, 1999).

More about Kulananda on FWBO People.