URTHONA Buddhist arts journal covers all aspects of contemporary and traditional arts from a Western Buddhist perspective. It is published annually in a high quality, 68 page,  glossy magazine format, and is beautifully designed.

To subscribe to the current issue, or purchase back issues go to the URTHONA SHOP page above.

This site contains selected essays and material from back issues. See page listings to right.

Urthona – the landscape: Our guardian spirits are the romantic and revolutionary writers of early 19th century London – Blake, Hazlitt and Coleridge – and the Zen poets of Japan who were similarly drawn to the open, outer reaches of mind and culture.  Our founding inspiration came from the Western Buddhist teacher Sangharakshita who has always seen the arts as a key means of spiritual transformation in the contemporary world. Here you will find essays on the arts as a means of rousing the imagination and communicating a sense of the sacred in ways that are relevant to the 21st century. More about our vision in ABOUT URTHONA above.

Scroll down this page for URTHONA editor’s blog: in depth and  insightful commentary on art, life and culture.

CURRENT ISSUE NO 31: The Art and Craft of Story Telling. Explore what this most ancient and fundamental art means to us now.

To buy your copy go to URTHONA SHOP page – on menu at top of page.

Explore some of the master narratives of European culture in fresh, insightful ways. Here you will find an interview with one of our master storytellers Kevin Crossley Holland, a piece on one of the most important stories in Western culture, the Quest for the Holy Grail, and an account of the story behind Jung’s Red Book by the acclaimed writer on art, education and imagination, Peter Abbs.

But what is storytelling really? And what has it to do with the quest for an authentic spirituality in the 21st century? Many contemporary Dharma teachers talk about ‘dropping the ego’s stories’. But what do they really mean? Do they mean us to turn off our imagination and become like a rock or a dry planet – surely not. Philip Pullman (whose new book of versions of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm is reviewed in this issue) says: ‘After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.’ The point, surely, is that telling stories about who we are and where we are going, about our meaning and purpose, is not simply a function of the egoistic aspect of the mind (though no doubt it often is). In fact it is something much more fundamental than that. Stories are the primary way in which the imagination orientates the sum total of our available psychic energy towards one goal or another.

* Interview with master story teller Kevin Crossley-Holland. Kevin answers some in depth questions about the art and craft of story telling. Who better to explore this than one of our best loved story tellers? He has published many books of traditional folk tales, and is the author of the acclaimed Arthur Trilogy. He says: ‘Like Icelandic Sagas, folk tales move from A to Z without digression. They deal in actions not feelings. So it follows that the proper language for retelling a tale should be simple and forthright…’

Kevin Crossley_Holland

Kevin Crossley-Holland

* An introduction to Jung’s Red Book, the mystical source of all of his ideas. Around the autumn of 1913 Carl Jung experienced a prolonged period of outer isolation and inner disorientation… He question all that he had achieved in his professional life, and was uncertain what lay before him. During this profound breakdown a visionary world arose before him, in which characters from the Bible, Greek Myth and the Gnostic treatises become figures of intense living power. From this arose the Red Book, a large volume that he filled with accounts of his visions in medieval scrip, and a series of remarkable mythical illustrations. Here the noted writer on art and myth, Peter Abbs explores how this book became the source of all of Jung’s later work as a psychologist.

The Philemon page from Jung's 'Red Book'

The Philemon page from Jung’s ‘Red Book’

* The Wonderful graphics and book illustrations of Stefanie (Ine) Grewe. AA Lammermoor_Contract

* Quest for the Holy Grail – the romance becomes a quest for vision and transformation. Ratnagarbha looks at the oldest and most psychologically acute account of the quest for the Holy Grail by Chretien De Troyes. What has this ancient story to offer us now? AA Grail- Dante Gabriel Rossetti - The Damsel of the Grail

*The greatest story ever told, Dharmavadana on the wonders of Homer’s ‘Iliad’ AA Master piece

* Plus poetry from Mimi Khalvati and many others, news, reviews of the music of Meg Hutchinson and a new book of poems in tribute to William Stafford, the collected poems of Geoffrey Hill, a new biography of Tove Jannson and much more.

Meg Hutchinson's new album 'Beyond That' available from www.meghutchinson.com

Meg Hutchinson’s new album ‘Beyond That’ available from http://www.meghutchinson.com

Discipleship – an idea worth ressurecting?

The dictionary says that a disciple is ‘the follower of the doctrines of a teacher or school of thought’. But this doesn’t really convey the experiential flavour of that ancient institution. In days gone by, when you took up a trade or a course of study in guild, church or university, you were apprenticed to a master. You followed their teaching in craft, curriculum or philosophy closely. No doubt you were aware that as a human being they were far from perfect, but you knew that your future success in life depended on learning as much from the master as possible in a very broad sense. This aspect of education and human development is something we have largely lost in the modern world. In the Buddhist movement I am part of we are taking some steps to reinstate this ancient tradition, in ways that suit these times. I think we have a long way to go. Not everyone likes the idea. This may be because the second, religious, meaning of the word ‘a follower of Christ’ has been widely used by analogy in our times to apply to the often gullible devotees of eastern or new age gurus. This usage tends to imply a complete self surrender to the teacher on the part of the disciple. The result is that the more ‘secular’ meaning, of being a follower of someone’s teaching, which only implies a reasonable human respect for the teacher, has been drowned in the colourful, melodramatic history of religious and esoteric cults over the last hundred years or so. Think of the Golden Dawn, Madam Blavatsky, Rajneesh – all had their so called disciples – but how much did these followers really learn?

However, turning back much further we can remember that Socrates had disciples who learned nothing more than how little they truly knew. Plotinus, in careful, measured discourses, unlocked the secrets of the ascent of the soul to the absolute to his disciples in ancient Rome.This is true discipleship, much closer to the original pre-biblical meaning of the Latin term discipulus, which simply means a student of someone’s teaching. It can be used in the context of a particular discipline, or more broadly with regard to a teacher of the ‘art of life’. For if you realize you have more to learn, that your heart is not fully matured, then surely you will be a disciple of something or someone? In the sphere of the arts the term also gets used in that traditional but non-religious manner. For example: in saying that Yeats was a disciple of Pound I mean that he learned from him poetically (as did many poets of that generation) not that Yeats slavishly followed everything Pound did. Which is just as well in the circumstances. Yeats flirted a bit with far right fascist views but never joined up.In fact, the free thinking Yeats could never have been a disciple in the strongly religious sense – he didn’t last long as a follower of Madam Blavatsky – but there was much discipleship in his life, towards Plato and Plotinus, Keats and Shelley and, in an  esoteric/imaginative sense, towards the ‘sages in god’s holy fire’ of Byzantium itself.

Another important consideration is that discipleship is a heart-process of different levels. As a Buddhist my fundamental discipleship is towards the Buddha. But I may have a human Buddhist teacher, less fundamental but still important, who is my guide and interpreter of the Buddhist path. Likewise, in the field of poetry, I may look up to powerful exemplars like Yeats who embody the path of the poet, and then in my local class with the Poetry Society, have teachers who are closer to my level but still have much to teach.

Not that discipleship of any kind is likely to be plain sailing these days. Powerful forces of self defining individualism going back to the Reformation refuse to fit in with the idea of discipleship. So one becomes more aware of these forces if one tries to think in that way. Perhaps it would helpful to think in terms of a ‘spiritual apprenticeship’ to one’s chosen teacher. In any case, discipleship for us has to be an ongoing process, not a once for all signing up. And here again one can learn from the example of poetry. If I read a poet and find their vision of the world is compelling, well I am that poet’s disciple. I have learned something, modified who I am in some small but significant way.

London launch of Urthona 31 – the art and craft of storytelling

London launch of Urthona 31 – the art and craft of storytelling


will be launched at the new West London Buddhist Centre

45a Porchester Road,  London W2 5DP

Saturday 7th February 2015 7 – 9 pm   (Optional meditation 6.00 – 6.45 pm)

with readings by Urthona 31 poets

Mimi Khalvati,  Chris Hardy, Vishvantara, Natacha Bryan,  Mandy Sutter and Vidyakaya,  with Malcolm Stern reading the poems of his daughter Wendy.  Plus music from Bodhilila and Vishvantara


Entrance free – donations invited

Cantos for a Post Modern age: Mark Tredinnick

Just posted to our literature pages: a review of Mark Tredinnick’s, Bluewren Cantos (Pitt Street Poetry) by Colin Pink

Colin Pink says:

“Tredinnick’s poetry combines the personal, the spiritual and the natural worlds into one intricate web of meaning. There’s a richness to his work that resonates from bringing these perspectives together. One might say, rubbing them together creates the friction that ignites these poems into a pure and memorable flame.:

Read the full review here: TREDINNICK REVIEW

Mark Tredinnick

Mark Tredinnick

Geoffrey Hill: Broken Hierarchies (collected poems 1952-2012)

Hill reading in Leeds last year

Hill reading in Leeds last year


Any would-be reviewer of this large volume is in danger of falling into abashed silence. What can one say about the life’s work of the person who is without doubt England’s greatest living poet, the only authentic carrier of the torch lit by Pound and Eliot? I imagine that those who first held the collected poems of Yeats in their hands must have felt the same way. As Yeats was the brilliant last, late flowering of the entire Romantic tradition in poetry, the same might be said of Hill as regards the hieratic high modernism of Pound and Eliot. The title suggests this strongly. ‘Broken Hierarchies’ immediately suggests Eliot’s sense of our culture as a ‘heap of broken images’ and the project of poetry to both lament and rework that which can be rescued from the past. Hill has always said that his muse is history, and here it is at once plain that his actual, visceral sense of the past: of the history of Europe and its many races, of England’s history and of his own in the West Midlands, is much more of a real presence that in either of the founders of modernism. In fact Joyce might be a closer point of comparison, if anyone.


This volume contains a good deal of work not previously published, and contains what Hill calls ‘the definitive forms’ of previously published work. I don’t see evidence of the kind of wholesale rewriting that Auden, for example, indulged in, but several new sections have been added to ‘Hymn to Our Lady of Chartres’. In that poem also some strange ejaculations at the beginning of two stanzas (Eia!) have been removed. A reference to Hill’s socialist thinker / catholic convert Parisian hero Peguy has been exiled from the original central section of the poem, set in the cathedral itself, to the more discursive ‘foothills’ of the extended sequence. As Peguy famously never went to Church after his conversion this is perhaps appropriate. The replacements for these are harmless, if not especially revealing.


Nevertheless, the ‘Hymn to our Lady’, is now even more radiantly concerned with grace and it’s shadows:


… visible, invisible,

powers, presences, in and beyond the blue

glass, radiantly occluded sion, pour

festal light at the feet of the new poor,

scavengers upon grace…


…. Across France the great west

windows are full of the sun’s holocaust,

the dying blazons of eternity.

secured in mazy lead and bevelled stone.

(from sections 6 and 7)


This incidentally gives the lie to any notion of Hill as being parochially English. This poem is about the vexed heritage of Gothic piety in France, while referring forwards to the outrages of the 20th century and the continued poverty of the 21st, as France’s legions of ‘new poor’ seek comfort by visiting the vast edifice of Chartres. Who but Hill could couple faith in eternity and a brooding sense of its opposite, in one felicitous oxymoronic phrase?


Yet indeed, who else could so simply and vividly evoke the clotted reality of an ordinary English churchyard, its changing weathers, then turn it into a meditation on the nature of appearances:


Sage-green though olive to oxidized copper,

the rainward stone tower-face. Gaveyard

blossom comes off in handfuls; the lilac

turned overnight a rough tobacco brown.

Every few minutes the drizzle shakes

itself like a dog…


My question, since I am a paid retainer,

is whether the appearances, the astonishments,

stand in their own keepings finally,

or are annulled through the changed measures of light.

Imagination freakish, dashing every way,

defers annulment.


‘In Ipsley Church Lane 2’, from Without Title.


I will leave you, before retiring to silence (and yet Hill is a poet who makes you want to muck in with, indeed to love, the act of writing) with one of his most personal lyrics, from the famous ‘Merican Hymns’. This short evocation of this grandmother’s life, is a chant, a classical lay, and yet astonishing in its visceral faithfulness to the actual conditions of her life; it reminds me of the late, great Seamus Heaney, who knew well the blacksmith’s den, and who would have loved the riddled, brooding reference to the letters of Ruskin to British workers on social change, with their invocation of the moral value of labour and the three transforming powers of fortitude (clavis, the key of Ulysses), destiny (clavus, the nail of Lysergus) and force (clava, the club of Hercules:


Brooding on the eighth letter of Flors Clavigera,

I speak this in memory of my Grandmother, whose

childhood and prime womanhood were spent in the

nailer’s darg.


The Nailshop stood back of our cottage, by the fold.

It reeked stale mineral sweat. Sparks had furred its

low roof. In dawn light the troughed water

floated a samson-bloom of dust.


‘Mercian Hymns’ XXV, page







Editor’s Blog – thoughts on art, life and everything

In memory and celebration: Seamus Heaney

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Seamus Heaney died on August 30th this year at the age of 74 after a short illness – he had taken a fall outside a Dublin restaurant. Physically he had been weaker since a stroke in 2006, but his last collection Human Chain (2010) showed no dimmunition in his powers of sensitivity and reflection. It was described by Ruth Pardell, poet and judge of the Forward Prize, as ‘a collection of painful, honest and delicately weighted poems… a wonderful and humane achievement’ (Human Chain was the first of his collections to win that prize – perhaps the only major poetry award he had not so far received.)

His previous collection District and Circle (2006) likewise contained several intensely moving poems with an elegiac mood. It was characteristic of the man, loved by so many – poets, writers and millions of others around the world – to have been preparing us, and himself, for his expected departure, with down to earth images of both mortality and on going life.

For example in ‘The Blackbird of Glanmore’ the poet finds the bird:

On the grass when I arrive,

Filling the stillness with life,

But ready to scare off

At the very first wrong move.

In the ivy when I leave.


It’s you, Blackbird, I love.


And this reminds him of the little brother lost in a traffic accident when he was only just out of the nest himself:

And I think of one gone to him,

A little stillness dancer –

Haunter-son, lost brother –

Cavorting through the yard,

So glad to see me home,


My homesick first term over.


But although the blackbird portended death to neighbours who were sensetive to such things ‘I’ve never liked yon bird’ , for the poet he is both sentinel of death and emissary of life. The poem closes:

Hedge-hop, I am absolute

For you, your ready talkback,

Your each stand-offish comeback,

Your picky, nervy goldbeak –

On the grass when I arrive,


In the ivy when I leave.


A blackbird, hopping on the grass, then half-hidden in the ivy ­– two very homely images. There would be few in the northern hemisphere at least to whom they would not be instantly recognisable. And yet from them has been crafted both a celebration of the life force and an elegy for all that may be lost. What other poet of the 20th century could have done such a thing? We have lost a writer and a man who is irreplaceable. In the late summer the newspapers were filled with stories of his acts of generosity towards fellow poets and his untiring service to literature in general.

Many remarked on how fame had not touched him, how he remained to the end exceptionally approachable, gregarious, courteous and convivial, but never crude in his speech. As Colm Toibin remarked ‘he preferred shadow to light; the half-said, careful, ambiguous remark to the big statement, he liked the slow smile rather than the easy laugh.’

Similar qualities, of course, could be discovered in the poetry. He leaves a body of work which, while deeply rooted in particular places and times, especially the rural County Derry of his childhood, seemed to speak a universal language. His was a language of loved things and loved places, and indeed of a deep amour with language itself. Who can forget her, once they have read of the ‘girl from Derry garve’? The lyric, in truth, is a love poem to the name of her home, the way its two syllables fall and slide off the tongue:

And the name, a lost potent mask,

Recalled the river’s long swerve,

A kingfisher’s blue bolt at dusk

This land of slow, winding rivers and endless mossy bogs, was, of course, also a land divided.  In his Nobel address Heaney talked of the poet’s struggle in the face of history, and provided a clue as to how he himself engaged with the schisms and violence of his homeland: ‘What will always be to poetry’s credit is the power to persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it.’ In all of his work, poetry, translations and the rich collection  of lectures and essays that he leaves behind, Heaney was always a poet of the ‘rightness’ that is to be found in this world. In his very best poems he puts the endstop firmly there, yet simultaneously opens up a sense that ‘this world’ is in truth unlimited. This is from ‘Squarings’ in the collection  Seeing Things:

And after the commanded journey, what?

Nothing magnificent, nothing unknown.

A gazing out from far away, alone.


And it is not particular at all,

Just old truth dawning: there is no next time round.

Un-roofed scope. Knowledge-freshening wind.

Editor’s Blog – notes from an English village

A summer evening in Granchester


There have been times when I well might have passed and the ending have come–

Points in my path when the dark might have stolen on me, artless, unrueing…

Thomas Hardy, ‘In Tenebris’

Granchester Meadows - a grey and cheerless dusk which Hardy would have appreciated.

Granchester Meadows – a grey and cheerless dusk which Hardy would have appreciated.

It is cooler now and the meadows have lost the smouldering Tuscan gleam they had last week. As if to reinforce the changed mood the farmers have been around and mowed flat the long grasses and the dry thistles that baffled even the tough lips of the Redpoll herd. No doubt this will lead to fresher and sweeter leaves to eat for the cattle as the summer days shorten to Autumn. For the moment however, it is a somewhat dreary sight. Last night at dusk there was a grey wash over the sky as I walked out into the meadows. It was one of those summer evenings which are nonchalantly non-descript – the air was warm and thick with the sweet peppery smell of newly mowed hay, and a few a slightly darker rags of cloud banded the uniform grey above. I wandered down to the river – silent except for the occasional delicious plop of a fish briefly sampling the air then deciding there was nothing of interest and descending back to the depths. A moorhen shrieked somewhere in the far distance. In the other direction towards the village the occasional flair of laughter from of a courting couple, otherwise all the revellers departed. I stopped for a moment at one of my favourite spots where the path, close to the river, plunges into a hedge and goes over a small wooden bridge. Here there is a dark space of cattle-scumbled earth underneath the hawthorn bushes and the shadow-grey willows. The word tenebrous might have been coined for such a space on such an evening at this. It is a Thomas Hardy kind of word, and this is a good evening to think of his poetry. To think of how his lovelorn victims of fate are melded with the landscape way in which we cannot be. To be born and to toil, to get sick and worn out in a landscape and yet to see its beauty. It was his art to create characters of whom these qualities would be believable.  There are lilies in the river but the leaves are disheveled and blotched and mostly underwater. Tight yellow buds emerge here and there like stars just above the water, but I do not think they are going to come to anything. I hope that those lovers will have happy lives. There are so many bright and beautiful and talented people here in Cambridge – so many pressures to succeed so much that could go wrong. Although our growing in the grain of the land has gone, of course the basic human hopes and fears remain. We have lost that background of diurnal completeness, both its harshness and its dignity; but surely now it is easier to make a new start and repair your mistakes in a way that Jude could not. I would like to think so anyway. And look, there is a family of swans with five teenage goslings clustering around the parents. They seem in the absence of watchers to have abandoned their customary starched grace. These are swans off-duty, they paddle here and there, with their offspring, in the companionable silence that Yeats observed. The goslings make small, sharp ‘cleeping’ noises – calling to each other and their parents, as if they were still too young to be more than a stones-throw from mum and dad. Well, they must soon burst into the responsibility of all that white finery. I wonder if they will stay close or go far. It would be good to have five more swans on this stretch of the river. I wish them well, then turn for home through the soft grey dusk.

Editor’s Blog – thoughts on art, life and everything

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In Praise of Clifton

What’s your favourite cityscape of these islands? And what time of year is it best viewed?

Perhaps Edinburgh during those quiet off days between Christmas and Hogmanay, days that slink quietly down frozen alleyways into a smirr of broken bottles and stale cigarette smoke. Days where the gaunt tenements of the old town stab remorselessly into the unheeding violet air of dusk at three in the afternoon. Where even the Royal Mile seems eerily quiet and stones of the castle have a strange kind of dark phosphorescence about them as the light fades.  Or perhaps Kings Parade, Cambridge, on a damp misty afternoon in early November, as the light fades?

However, for sheer charm and elegance, I would nominate Clifton, the old Georgian quarter of Bristol – in the spring. Here there is that astonishing Georgian elegance combined with a certain grittiness. The youthful, vivacity of Bristol proper is never far away, and this combined with the grandeur and scale of the Gorge combine to make this a place where small scale vistas of vernacular charm suddenly open out into the epic and the elemental.

Get up early, on clear day in May and saunter down a street terraced with palatial houses of grey-gold stone – their rooms almost twice the height of those in a modern dwelling. Turn off down a sunken alley, with walls of crumbly deep red stone, and gaze at the blade sharp stripes of light on the flags at your feet. Above, perhaps will be a Forsythia or a Mimosa pouring living yellow flames over the wall from some hidden garden.


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The Beech trees are just coming into leaf. The burnished dark pewter of their trunks setting off the fresh coppery coils of the new leaves. Behind and above these great trees, and of the same venerable age, the curving line of one of the great old terraces – so magnificent as to be beyond human endeavour it almost seems. I climb a zigzagging flight of stone steps with black iron balustrades to reach those enchanted levels.  If the terrace is grey gold from the rear, the grandest like the Royal York Terrace, are painted dazzling white at the front. As up stroll along those worn paving stones, in the sharp fresh early morning sun, it seems as if these must be dwellings for gods. One is surprised to see through the huge casement windows old ladies taking tea, or men in shorts popping out the post box.

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