Peace is Not Boring

by Khentrul Jamphel Lodro Rinpoche

Khentrul Jamphel Lodro Rinpoche

I am fortunate to travel and meet with many interesting people. One subject I often discuss with those I meet is our common wish for greater peace and harmony in our lives.  It seems like a rather obvious statement to make – who wouldn’t want to be happy and be free from conflict?

I am surprised though, that while some claim that they seek peace in their lives there are others who tell me they prefer the challenges, without which they feel life would be boring. They tell me conflict gives their lives meaning. I have found this view to be so prevalent that I think it would be beneficial to take a moment and reflect on whether this statement is true or not.

Many regard peace as being a state of relaxation or a calmness. It is often understood in a relative way, as being absent of action, that which is present when we are not engaged with something else. It is still, quiet and non-confrontative. In other words, even though it feels nice, if you were to spend all your time in this sort of peaceful stupor, you’d end up either asleep or very bored.

I feel this understanding of peace is limited and misses a fundamental point. Peace is not something that you do. It is something that you are. It is your primordial nature. That nature is not a mere absence of doing, but instead an essence of bliss that pervades each and every moment of our existence.  The experience of such bliss is not boring, but is in fact invigorating, rejuvenating and inspiring.

Most importantly though, such blissful peace means that no matter what situation you may find yourself in, there is no reason to suffer. You can be living a fully engaged life, working with people and helping them in whatever way you can, and at no point do you ever need to feel sorrow, anxiety, fear or depression. Who needs confusion and anger? None of this is necessary for you to live a meaningful life.

In the Kalachakra tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, reality is non-dualistic in nature and cannot be defined by relative terms of ‘this’ or ‘that’. Within the infinite sphere of reality, all qualities exist in co-emergence, free from limitation. While we may temporarily experience only a tiny fraction of our true nature, Buddhists believe we each have the innate capacity to reveal its complete and perfect truth. We call this capacity “buddha-nature”.

Buddha-nature binds us together as a single universal family. Rich or poor, big or small, male or female—no matter who you may be, we all possess buddha-nature. Regardless of the spiritual path that you have chosen to follow, if that path is rooted in this deeper truth it will provide the means to reveal an aspect of your inner true nature.

Recognizing that some paths are more suited to specific types of minds, there is no need for us to take extreme positions that hold one path as superior. Instead, we endeavor to cultivate an attitude of mutual respect toward one another, an attitude that values the diversity expressed within our societies. This unbiased view will allow us to create conditions where peace and harmony can thrive.

In the root text of the Kalachakra Tantra, there are prophecies of a golden age of peace and harmony. This period, it is taught, will arise when humanity reaches a tipping point in our global consciousness; learning to harness the infinite potential we each hold and making the experience of our deeper truth a priority in our lives and in society.

In the root text of the Kalachakra Tantra, there are prophecies of a golden age of peace and harmony. This period, it is taught, will arise when humanity reaches a tipping point in our global consciousness; learning to harness the infinite potential we each hold and making the experience of our deeper truth a priority in our lives and in society. At such a time, not only will we come to know the profound peace that lies within each of us, but our actions will naturally express peace.

 When we train the mind through the practice of meditation, we learn to relax the body while maintain a lucid state of awareness. A tiny taste of bliss begins to grow becoming stronger and stronger.

An effective technique to develop this skill is to lie flat with the head slightly raised on a pillow. Let the arms rest naturally to the sides so that your shoulders drop down. Legs should lay relaxed.  With the eyes closed, become aware of the breath flowing in and out. With each out breath, relax the body, releasing all tension. Then, with each in-breath, arouse the mind slightly by paying attention to the sensations in the body. Alternate like this for however long you like. Exhaling, relax. Inhaling, paying attention. It is the combination of the two—relaxed but vividly aware—that will help us find the balance we need.

Something as simple as watching one’s breath can become the doorway to a much deeper sense of peace. As you come to connect with aspects of your buddha-nature, that nature begins to permeate more and more of your experience. When you are just starting to train, you will find the peace of mind will eventually carry over into the periods between sessions. This begins a process of bringing harmony into every aspect of your life.

These two—peace and harmony—are ultimately inseparable. We each have the ability to make such a practice a personal priority. We create the cause for peace to arise in our mind and when we know true peace we interact harmoniously with others and help them discover peace in their own experience. In this way, the world will change one mind at a time.

Reflections on Village Life in Uganda or The Inner Dimensions of Climate Change

by Robert Kugonza

“When I try to reflect on the meaning of the Inner Dimensions of Climate Change what comes to mind are the things that are not seen, that are not the most talked about or thought of by our leaders and people. There is something more quiet and under the surface that needs to be brought into the light. Mother Earth is definitely grieving and in her grieving she reacts or retaliates to show us this grief. The floods we see today in places where they never used to occur. Droughts are lasting longer than in the past. Our forefathers — my parents, would tell us exactly the day, in a year, in a month when the rains would come and believe me they would come. Everyone prepared their seeds for planting and the next day everyone would be ready and out in their gardens sowing. I have seen the change in my lifetime. I remember the forests where we once walked to gather dry branches for the fire or the clear running river where we would go to fetch water. I will never forget the sense of community in the sharing of harvests with everyone in the village, where no one would go without squash or pumpkins. There was a harmony that existed in the community that is no longer present.” ~ Robert Kugonza, Uganda

Delegate to COP22 Marrakech, Inner Dimensions of Climate Change gathering

Green hills of Uganda

We were in touch with Robert recently and he wrote us more about life in the village. 

YES, the village indeed,  where harmony still has a place, where care, concern and love for one another still exist. Where respect for elders and good regard for the young ones are values in practice. Where you witness real passion and love in those greeting you. Where even with challenges of poverty, reduced forest cover and climate change and lesser food productivity, people still share the little they have. Where no view is obstructed by walls or enclosures, where sounds and vision travel freely, interaction is easy, even from a reasonable distance without mobile phones people will still call each other – the organic way. The birds sing, the roosters crow and the gentle rustle of the cow, her moos blending with the bleating of the goats and sheep. What harmonized music of nature you can hear.

Visiting with wise elders

Our village is a place where Mother Earth has the liberty to show all the mothered, her ability to love, to care, to provide and to sustain. But increasingly, the new generations do not know how to care for her in return. Unfortunately each passing day, especially for the young ones, they become more intoxicated and fall for the illusion of so called ‘development and modernity’, ways that are not in tandem with living harmoniously with Nature.  It saddens me and my heart bleeds seeing these trends of development and the people who are heartless in their treatment of nature and each other. All of these conditions led me to choose the name for my organization; Friends with Environment in Development (FED). Our focus and passion through FED is to making the local, regional, national and the world realize that the elders in local communities who are still with us are an incredible and incomparable rich resource.  They hold the richness of unlimited knowledge that this young generation needs to tap into before these elders depart. The elders hold a knowledge not between walls and exclusive of others, but a knowledge unlimited. They hold the wisdom of how to live in harmony with Nature – our Mother the Earth, and the knowledge of how to live with one another accommodatingly.  

To learn more of the work of Robert Kuganza or Friends with Environment in Development, you can write to him here: kugonzarobert@gmail.com

Ready for the Rains

Riddhi Shah, educator, organizer and Earth steward

GPIW meets with many young ecologists and activists out in the field restoring the damage we have collectively done to nature. It can be emotionally difficult at times for the individual and one must often draw on inner reserves of spiritual strength to continue.

Riddhi Shah wrote to us recently, exhausted and feeling defeated at the disparity she saw in one drought stricken area of India where temperatures of 45C left three villages facing severe water shortages. ‘It was stressful and exhausting trying to bring attention to local authorities’ and urging corporate leaders to put their spare money in these places. She pressed on seeking to find the local business leaders who understand the gravity and urgency of the situation, knowing that children drinking water from contaminated wells are in grave danger.

“People just don’t understand the gravity of the situation.”

Upon returning to the villages, Riddhi met with the village heads in the district. She also assembled the younger members of those communities. Since she wrote to us a month ago disheartened by what she saw, she has worked hard to understand the situation, the cultural sensitivities and now has organized a ‘super-active’ group of villagers who are working on a model project. The project aims to increase the ground water retention and raise the water table.

Men, women and children are spending every free minute digging swales, trenches, ditches and channels to collect and store rain water. It has brought together the whole community who are now planting new trees and caring for the ones that are there. A local prosperous land owner who manages a vineyard took notice of these efforts and has offered to lend support in some way. Riddhi has invited corporations to help and now has a pledge of $25,000 to support the project.

We thought you would like this story of how one young woman helped to mobilize a rural community to bring back their life giving water and forest cover again. Across the world young people are engaging in Earth repair and restoration and there are many opportunities for each us to seek them out and assist them. Commitment and devotion can bring about real change.

As part of the Inner Dimensions of Climate Change Program GPIW will be sharing more stories about young people restoring the natural world.

Sacred Soil

by Shephali Patel

aya-okawa-241362-unsplash
Photo: Aya Okawa

The Birth of Soil

Soil is born from the cycle of life and death. Soil is about 50% air and water, 45% minerals, and 5% organic matter. Soil mineral is formed from the wearing of bedrock that is birthed from core of the earth. This weathering takes thousands of years and much of our present day agricultural soils are more than 10,000 years old. But before there was an Earth, there was just universe.

The universe was originally composed primarily of the lighter atomic elements hydrogen and helium. The rest of the heavier elements, including carbon and oxygen, were fused in the hearts of the giant floating nuclear reactors we call stars. When a massive star is dying, it becomes hotter and hotter; its pressure-fueled expansion culminating in a violent explosion, a supernova. These massive explosions blow the heavier elements in the star’s core out into space, where they are incorporated into the formation of other planets, moons, and stars. The minerals within and on the earth come from stars that died when the universe was young. All living matter on Earth is composed of this ancient debris. And stars are still dying and exploding. Every year, 40,000 tons of cosmic dust rains down upon us, erasing all validity of human-conceived borders. This cosmic dust settles everywhere, particularly in our soil. The chemical elements in the cosmic dust are taken up by plants, which are then eaten by us. Our bodies are constantly being rebuilt and nourished by dying stars.

The Life of Soil

Soil is a living entity. It is composed of a thin skin over the surface of the earth called the pedosphere. The pedosphere exists as the interface of:

  • lithosphere (Earth crust and upper mantle)
  • atmosphere (air in and above soil)
  • hydrosphere (water below, in, and above soil)
  • biosphere (living organisms)

The pedosphere can exist only when there is dynamic interconnection among all forms of life and its supporting mediums. Soil, the pedosphere, is a revolving sphere at the heart of interlaced cycles of life.

Soil is not just a living body, but also a place. Soil is a physical meeting place for the key processes that support life. It is a physical place where we can experience living interconnection. Within the 50% of air and water and 45% of mineral that comprises soil, lives the 5% of organic matter in various stages of death–living, dead, and very dead. All three are inextricably linked in a biogeochemical process of nutrient and element cycling across land, sea, and air; where everything is transformed, consumed, and shared all at once. The consumption and excretion of the dead frees up nutrients and molecules needed to fuel life. Communication and sharing among plant, microbes, and fungi manages and moves these elements. This is the foundation for all ecosystem health. The process requires such a diversity and density of life that there can be over a billion living organisms in just one teaspoon of soil–only a small fraction of which we have identified. These billion organisms and plant parts are part of the only 20% of organic matter that is alive.

To be able to understand the existence of soil is to understand that so much precision, symbiosis, and harmony goes into supporting just 1% of the solid living earth. That understanding is a call to remembrance– that we are loved like that.

The Death of Soil


With one spray of noxious pesticide, one extra pound of synthetic fertilizer, and another round of unrelenting tillage, we can unintentionally wipe out all future hopes for joy, health, and the tiny friends we have co-evolved with for millennia.

We are loved like that. And there we go, 93% stardust and magic, walking around both alien and native at once, in constant calculation of what belongs. Building walls and guns against what doesn’t. And many times what doesn’t belong are the living beings we don’t understand and can’t see. The grace that moves invisibly through our lives. When we breathe in the soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae, serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain increase. The bacteria makes us feel calm and happy. That pleasing sweet, metallic scent of the earth after it rains is released by soil actinobacteria. Seventy-eight percent of the top 150 prescription drugs in the U.S. and 70% of all new drugs are derived from plants and soil-dwelling microfauna. With one spray of noxious pesticide, one extra pound of synthetic fertilizer, and another round of unrelenting tillage, we can unintentionally wipe out all future hopes for joy, health, and the tiny friends we have co-evolved with for millennia.

Most of the times, what doesn’t belong are living beings we can see and don’t want to understand. Our soil is soaked through with the blood of the wolves that scared us but kept rivers and forests healthy. The soil is glutted with the murdered bodies of entire civilizations of people who knew it first and best. Only to have its insides then persistently gutted to resurrect the dead in their ghostly forms of coal and oil. Scientists say that more carbon resides in the soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined. Soil is all skin, thin and naked, absorbing our sins. Yet, despite the abuse, she is still holding her breath for us while we are stuck in this deranged wetiko dream. But you can’t hold your breath for long, when the air is being stamped out of you. Under that dark skin I can hear a muffled “I can’t breathe” that pushes through the sidewalks and reverberates in the streets.

The Soul of Soil

The soil teaches that we are loved. And also where we fail in loving back. When I first learned to read the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit, I learned to read it in two weeks and by the third week the pages in the brand-new book began to inexplicably disintegrate without being touched, and the book immediately looked like it was over one-hundred years old. The tiny pieces of pages would fall into the ground whenever I picked it up or carried it in my bag. Even tightly wrapped in its cloth covering. Pieces so tiny and thin that they would disappear into the ground and become part of it so that I couldn’t find them again. This is how I first realized that the Word lives in the soil.

Every day I go to the farm and take my familiar position. Kneeling down on one knee, head bowed down to work, I run my fingers through the dirt, combing through its pages. The wisdom of the soil starts with what I can see and then speaks to me about the Mystery that I can’t see with my eyes. Transplanting young plants, I follow their roots as they are embraced and gently clothed in soil. I know that though I cannot see it there is an orbit of bacteria and fungi protecting and communing with the plant. There are thin strands of mycorrhizae with fingers gently wrapped around plant roots, radiating out into all directions to forage for nutrients and relay messages that these roots cannot quite stretch far enough to reach. The unfolding drama of the living attracts more life –nematodes and protozoa, which then attract other nematodes and arthropods, which call out larger invertebrates, etc. Orbits expanding out like ripples in the water. The echo of the infinite taking shape. Beyond the field, the trees sport roots wrapped in mycelium connecting and communicating with the entire forest through an organic internet far more effective, intricate, and complex than our own–making all things whole and together even as they stand separate. I am again reminded that our salvation and spirituality lies in our interconnection. And that I am both whole already and at the same time always in a state of becoming whole by learning how to revere what is holy. The soil is calling for me to reimagine how I pray and love back–together, connected, sharing.

Next to the row of new transplants, an uncovered row of planted seeds looks like a mala unhooked and laid down on the ground. The cultivation of my devotion and awareness has always belonged inside the soil. So does my redemption. When I pull my hands from the dirt, they are stained in life, death, sacrifice, happiness, and healing. The compost is where I begin to take real responsibility for my existence and actions on this planet. I mark my penance with the work of my hands, turning and spinning that garbage until I help make medicine. Help, because it’s not me making anything. I am just learning from the masters; from that 1% of living, moving soil. It is their living and dying and love-making that produces a heat that transforms garbage into black gold. These tiny, unseen, unloved beings possess the power of alchemy. To make it truly medicine for all, the decomposing organic matter has to rest at a continuous temperature of at least 131º F for a minimum of three days at the core of the pile. So, even in this pile of trash and cast-offs, it is deep in the heart that the transformation and healing takes place. I have to make sure every square centimeter gets to spend some time resting in the cocoon of its own heart. Only then can it be applied to the open wounds of the earth and taken in through the open wounds of mouth, eyes, nose, ears, and skin. Composting works hand-in-hand with time. The time it takes to hopefully learn that in order to heal my insides, I have to be able to heal what is outside of me too. And to heal what is outside of me, I need to learn how to heal myself.


Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

The Word follows me inside, embedded into the creases of my fingers. Writing organic matter on the board, scribbling it into my notes, seeing it in books–the words organic matter inevitably morph into OM. All of existence conspired to culminate and begin in OM. In a world where the OM is stripped away what do we have left?

The gift of our lives comes up through the core of the earth and, bursting forth from the core of stars, right into the blazing core of our souls, if we let it. Which means all ground is sacred ground no matter what or where. It is we humans who decide when it is not sacred when we choose to desecrate it. When something is sacred we don’t want to or need to trade it in for a Plan B on Mars or carbon credits. We will protect and sacrifice for this home that is living body, place, teacher, and sanctuary. A temple to pour our love, suffering, gratitude, and remorse into. A place where we learn to breathe together again and slowly open our eyes to all of our gifts and their fundamental nature. That they are grace and miracle and love in a more-than-human world. That they cannot be possessed and that their value increases with how much we cherish them and offer them to others. That our greatest contribution as a species is to humbly know everything as Gift and, with dignity, surrender, and awe to practice upholding “sacredness” so that we are not complicit in stripping away the OM of the world.

It is somehow easier to see that the Mystery lives in everything when you are nose to ground. So I go back outside. I kneel once more, putting hand to ground so that it is soil pressed against soil in prayer. We live in holy times.

This essay was originally printed in Parabola Magazine, Fall 2017

A Return Home: Exile, Friendship and Peace in Kashmir

By Shahnawaz Shah

 

The ambiance of the room grew cozier —  harmonious as we listened to the soft vocals and compositions of Rasa Javedani who had written the fitting words to the melodies that were then sung by Shakeel Shaan and myself.  The audience of old friends grew emotional in the atmosphere and we found it hard to hold back tears.  The song we chose to sing that night was one to express our love for the friends gathered that day, the friends who had left the Kashmir valley three decades back. Today I welcomed them for the first time on their return to their home of Kashmir.

It took twenty-eight years for such an historic reunion to happen. We had spent our teens together, enjoying school and college life and now we had the chance to recollect a time that we remembered as being full of joy, unaware of the divisive atmosphere that was brewing and which we in our innocence could not foresee.

The turmoil that erupted in Kashmir was sudden and spontaneous and with fewer  communication vehicles in those days our group couldn’t contact each other. Unfavorable conditions of the time forced many Kashmiri families (Pundit, Muslim and Sikh) to migrate far from their homes.  It was ten years before we were able to trace one another after this abrupt departure, all that while yearning to reconnect, especially to be together again in the homeland.   The idea to come together was sparked by a phone call and Rajesh Raina and I were determined to make it happen.

shahnawaz & rajesh raina
Enter L to R: Childhood friends, Shahnawaz and Rajesh Raina initiated the reunion. Shahnawaz works in the tourism sector in Kashmir and continues his work in supporting young people in reconciliation and social and environmental work. Rajesh Raina (on right) heads up an important news network of India. a caption

Even now as the situation in Kashmir is still ripe with violence and strife, such simple happenings as the reunion of a group of friends raises hope for others, hope of peace in the valley.  We must be able to imagine peace, to remember what it feels like.

We were inspired by a youth initiative in Kashmir called Ripples. It was an idea that came from the wish to see peace in my valley once again.  We believe that by bringing together those who longed for peace it will awaken the memories of a time when this vast area was the meeting ground of different spiritual traditions and people lived together harmoniously.  We want this feeling to spread.  Along this journey we met with the Global Peace Initiative of Women, a network of peacemakers led by women working for harmony and reconciliation. These women had been organizing and facilitating similar interactions and meetings between divided communities for many years and they took a deep interest in Kashmir after their first visit. It reignited some hope in me and we began to work together, mostly with young people, helping them create spaces of expression for their development. They had grown up amidst tension and conflict and had to know there was another way. We organized programs together with GPIW and invited some of these aspiring youth to come and dialogue with us and ask them what it takes to become true community leaders.

Although there had been many peace efforts by various organizations over the years, we felt our reunion was unique —  at the very least it was an emotional one. Some of those who had migrated were scared to return, imagining their old homeland will feel unfamiliar and the people harsh with them. To their surprise they experienced the same love and affection from their friends in the valley as in the past.  During our days together we visited old favorite places, ate our traditional Kashmiri foods, danced and sang. We sailed on Dal Lake for which Srinagar is famous. When it was time to take leave it was with tearful and moist eyes, visibly expressing the admission of their wrong perception about the reality. The truth is that the majority of the people of Kashmir still keep alive the real Kashmiriyat pluralistic values of simple and harmonious living.

In the Sufi spirit of friendship, the lyrics to the songs were intended to evoke the love and affection in our hearts… “oh friends your place and your glimpses are in our eyes always and your space is always here,  which you have to fill by coming back to your homeland!

These feelings lingered as everyone left. They left knowing that the Kashmir of their youth had not died and there was hope for a future without violence and fear.

group of friends

 

A Prayer for the Children of the World

Protect the children, new born pups, the young shoots –  every form of budding life!
Baby's Hands

Beloved Great Grandmother, the Ancestral, please help the children, new born pups, the young shoots — every form of budding life!

Beloved Great Grandmother, the Ancestral from whose womb we all are born, whose fragrant silver hair falls long and thick.  When I reach to touch it I feel Your timeless hands caressing me as well, here, where I am, always between Your big warm arms … where I know You listen to me and so I speak to You. I have none of Your powers but, like anyone else, I can be the one to call on You and ask for help:

Beloved Great Grandmother, the Ancestral, please help the children, new born pups, the young shoots — every form of budding life!

I feel within me their birth and the joy of life that they bring I also feel the pain of those many who suffer … because of us, human beings. Upon this generous mother planet we have to be guardians in service to Life but it is not so yet; alone, even if I see the tears of others and mine, I am not yet able to do so much.

For this I ask You:

Beloved Great Grandmother, the Ancestral, please help the children, new born pups, the young shoots — every form of budding life!

On this beautiful mother planet are too many children, pups, seedlings, who have no protection or food or pure water — don’t have what they need to grow healthy; but even if it were only one who suffered, it would still be too many.  All life deserves protection; and even if it were only one, I pray that they can have the comfort of love, nourishment and protection from all visible or invisible dangers:

Beloved Grand and Ancestral Grandmother, please help all children, all new born pups, the young shoots — every form of budding life!

We humans have lost our common sense and have moved away from wisdom but with your help, oldest Grandma, we may come to remember what our every cell knows about love.

May we soon mature to the time when we are able, like You, to care for all forms of life, care for one another, to protect and honor the Earth with dignity and human respect for every being of Nature and for the Water, and for the Air and Fire and Space. May our thoughts, words and acts be peaceful and loving towards everyone and everything…

 EMAHO !

(Prayer by Doju Freire at the request of M. Marstrand)

 

 

 

Who is the True Guru?

by Dena Merriam

It was difficult to watch and remain silent as recent news in India has shown us how our popular culture and the media has come to use the word “ guru” with great frivolity, at the detriment to all of us.  To reduce India’s great spiritual traditions by casting shadows on this word is a disservice to seekers everywhere.  Even in spiritual circles, all too many today seek to become a guru.  It would do us well to reflect on the meaning of the word and the responsibilities it entails.  The root meaning of “guru” is to lead from darkness to light; in other words, one who has the ability to lead the student to full awakening to one’s true nature.   A person may have spiritual attainment and still not have the ability to lead the student to self-realization.  A guru is one who can take on the karma of a student if that will help the student advance; a feat not many are able or willing to undertake!  The guru can even take on collective karma to relieve world suffering.  The only goal of the guru is to awaken those still lost in pain and ignorance.  There is no other motive – not building an institution, not amassing followers and a big bank account – there is no “I” left to desire any of it.

As long as there is any ego seeking to be adored, how can one be a true guru?  As long as there is any action that strays from Dharma, how can one be a true guru?  The best way to help society develop its discrimination is for the public voices, including the media, to distinguish through its choice of words as to who is the true guru, and who is rather a charismatic public figure, an entertainer, mind trainer, etc.  

It is sad to see anyone take advantage of people’s material deprivations, their hopes and  disappointments in life, but it is extremely important to clearly distinguish such figures from those who provide true spiritual guidance.

 Let us not stand silently by when the word that has been applied to the greatest among us for millennia is now being so debased.

 

How Many Souls Did You Make Happy?

Ladakhi School girls at Mahabodhi Center
Ladakhi school children at Mahabodi Intl. Meditation Center              photo: Hiromi Niimi

 

It was more than 30 years ago that Swami Nirvanananda, an Italian student of agriculture and music, traveled to Puri, India, after having read the book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramahansa Yogananda. A book that transformed his life’s direction with Guru Yogananda Paramahansa serving as an inspiration and inner teacher. In India he met Father Marian, a survivor of the Nazi death camp of Dachau, who had started a village for lepers. Touched by the work of Father Marian and all that he witnessed in India, Swami followed his heart and embarked on a project to build a school for the children of the lepers’ families; even if the children were themselves healthy, they were not allowed to attend a normal school. This was the beginning of the Beatrix School and a life long journey that continues to this day – a journey of bringing education, simple needs and food to thousands of children in need through his Shanti Puri Friends Foundation

Following the completion of his first school, it was not long before more and more children asked to attend the Beatrix School – there was such a need and none of the children in the area had access to schooling. They were well aware that even a basic education offered them the chance at a decent life. After a few years a larger school was constructed that could take children from kindergarten up to the tenth class. Currently more than 900 children are studying there. Beyond academics, the schools are also rooted in spiritual principles with the children beginning each day with half an hour of yoga and meditation. This program of bringing in silence and movement had an immediate impact on the children, bringing a clarity that enhanced their learning abilities. The benefits extended through to their families and on into the whole community.

After the success of the Beatrix School, Swami opened other schools near Puri, in India. One at a fishermen’s village, and three other schools in more remote areas of Orissa. Those schools are solely for girls, being the most disadvantaged among the children. One school was built to offer handicapped girls an education alongside much needed physical therapy and rehabilitation. Another school was created to give shelter and educate homeless girls who had been living on the street. With nurturance and care a human being can flourish. Many of these girls are now married, have become mothers themselves and living normal lives.

In 2016 Swami Nirvananada joined GPIW and members of the Contemplative Alliance on a ten day journey to Ladakh in Kashmir. On a three day visit to the Mahabodhi Center, Swami was moved by the many children and elderly that Bhikkhu Sangasena, a Buddhist monk, was caring for there. The Mahabodhi community was in need of housing for more girls to be able to attend school and this prompted Swami Nirvanananda to send support for the construction of a hostel for two hundred additional girls who would not  otherwise have the chance to be schooled, many of them living in remote villages in Ladakh.

It’s remarkable that all this work could be accomplished by chanting devotional music all over the world. For more than 30 years Swami has been traveling across the globe, sharing his songs of love and devotion with many while collecting donations for these schools. He was gifted with a beautiful voice for a reason — and an ability to write melodies that move the soul. He might sing in English, Italian, German or Sanskrit but the real language that comes through is that of love.

Some may think that the measure of a life is: “How much did you love?” But truly the only question is: “How many souls did you make happy?” We are responsible for spreading joy and peace in this world becoming the humble instruments of Divine Will. ~ Swami Nirvanananda

Swami Nirvanananda 1

 

Simplicity

IMG_3716

by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee & Hilary Hart

SPIRITUAL ECOLOGY:

THE PRACTICE OF SIMPLICITY

The ceaseless demands of today’s world so easily fill up our days. With our smart phones and computer screens we often remain caught on the surface of our lives, amidst the noise and chatter that continually distract us, that stops us from being rooted in our true nature. Unaware we are drowned deeper and deeper in a culture of soulless materialism. There is a vital need to return to simplicity, to create an inner and outer space that allows for a real connection to what is sacred.

In response I find it more and more important to have outer activities that can connect us to what is more natural and help us live in relationship to the deep root of our being, and in an awareness of the moment which alone can give real meaning to our everyday existence. Over the years I have developed a number of simple practices that bring together action and a quality of mindfulness, or deepening awareness, that can nourish our lives in hidden ways. These activities, like mindful walking, cooking with love and attention, can reconnect us with the web of life, our natural interconnection with life in its beauty and wonder. They can help us “declutter” our outer life and instead become rooted in what is simple and real. One of these practices, which combines action with mindfulness, is simplicity.

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings
in the world.

 Lao Tsu

Simplicity

The boat people of Southeast Asia, the Moken, have few possessions. They can only carry what they need in their small boats. They also have no word in their language for “worry.” But when the tsunami came, they were attentive and watchful of the water; they saw the sea first come high on the beach and then recede far out. They remembered their stories, their myths of what happens to the seas, and so took their boats into deep water and survived the tsunami. The local fishermen did not survive; their boats were destroyed. They did not watch, they were not attentive.17

How can we be fully attentive when our lives are cluttered with so many possessions, so many attachments, so many desires? Will we have time to remember the stories, to watch and move our little boat to deeper waters? Or will we be like the local fisherman, inattentive to the need of the moment, sunk by the tsunami of materialism? We live in a culture in which we are constantly bombarded, our attention distracted, no longer just by the “ten thousand things” of the ancient world, but by ten million things. Everything is demanding our attention, wanting us to consume, to buy, to spend our money and our time. And we do not even know the depths and subtleties of this web of consumerism, its powers of deception.

How can we create a space of clarity, of attentiveness? How can we return to what is essential? How can we remember what really matters, what gives meaning and substance to our daily lives? How can we return to a simplicity of life that honors the simplicity of our essential nature, that gives space for the sacred?

First, we have to acknowledge that our whole culture is caught in the grip of unnecessary desires and recognize the poison of accumulation for what it is. We are conditioned and pressured to want more and more—this is the myth of continual economic progress. This myth has become a monster destroying our ecosystem, taking our money and our life energy. It has polluted our consciousness with its slogans and jingles, designed to distort, to manipulate. And we do not even know the power of its dark magic, how much it has us in its grip, feeding us false promises of a better life, assuring us that “things go better” with the purchase of a product. It has saturated every corner of our culture. We are pressured to consume packaged food and even packaged spirituality. We no longer know the ingredients of our lives.

Second, we have to have the strength to say “no.” To go against this toxic flow, to resist the power of its empty promises and the corporations behind them, we have to regain an essential simplicity, return to what we need rather than what we think we want. Only then can we begin to hear the music of life, be attentive to the inner and outer need of the Earth. Only then can we become alive with what is sacred and true.

Third, we have to learn to discriminate, to clear our inner and outer clutter. In the classical love story of Eros and Psyche, one of Psyche’s almost impossible tasks is to sort a huge pile of seeds. Like Psyche, we have to sort the many things in our life; we have to make conscious what is of value, what we really need.18 Discrimination is never an easy task. But as Psyche is aided in her task by some willing ants, we too have help, in the form of an instinctual wisdom, a quiet quality, that is present to us if we are paying attention. And it becomes easier after time and practice. As we clear more space in our inner and outer lives, we become more attuned to what is necessary, more aware of the deceptions and false promises of unnecessary “stuff.” We see more clearly how our possessions take more than just space, they also take our attention.

Personally I love the old Taoist ways, the ways of the hermits whose spirituality and nature were blended together, their poems a flock of wild geese crossing high in the sky. They lived an essential simplicity that speaks to my soul: their possessions one robe and one bowl, the decoration of their mountain hut “the moon at the window.” I have tried to recapture this simplicity in my life, but today we seem to need so many things just to get by. Again and again I have tried to empty my room, especially when I was younger. But family life demanded more and more possessions—many more than needed by a hermit in a hut—though my children would still complain that I threw out too many things.

So over the years I have tried instead to keep an inner simplicity, an empty space in as many moments of the day as is possible. Now I am getting older, once again I feel the tug of this other landscape, a longing for a small cottage and rain-swept hills—maybe the beautiful and bleak Scottish highlands I knew as a child. But my life remains full, though more with people than possessions. So I keep this simplicity as an inner secret, an emptiness that I crave.

Still I have to be careful. I use modern technology: a computer, the Internet, and I love listening to music on an iPod. All around me I feel consumerism and its dark web of desires that so easily entangles us, more than we realize. And often it is not enough to clear out the physical clutter in our homes; we need also to bring a simplicity to how we spend our time, how we use our attention—to be mindful in how we live.

The practice of meditation and mindfulness can clear the clutter of our minds. A few trips to the goodwill or charity store can clear the clutter from our homes. And then continual attention is needed so that the currents of accumulation do not fill the empty space we have created.

And beyond the clutter of thoughts and things, we also have to watch that we are not caught in constant activity, our culture’s emphasis on endless “doing” rather than “being.” We need space in order to watch, to listen, to walk, to breathe—to be present. The Tao Te Ching teaches the value of not doing:

Less and less is done until nothing is done,

When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

Through a quality of emptiness we can access a deeper rhythm than the surface jangle of constant activity. We used to be held by the rhythms of the seasons and the soil. Now we have to struggle to return to a rhythm and a space that are not toxic with consumption, that belong to the seasons of the sacred, where life still flows true to its essential nature. Simplicity, patience, and compassion can guide and keep us inwardly aligned. Gradually we can once again listen to the Earth, to Her wisdom and beauty; we can feel the beating of both Her heart and ours. We can feel again the deep belonging that allows us to be present in every moment, not as a practice but a simple state of being. We can remember why we are here.

Simplicity PRACTICE

Simplicity is the essence of life. The word itself comes from the Latin simplex, meaning uncompounded or composed of a single part. Simple things reflect this essential nature, which belongs to everything in creation. When we honor the simple things of life, we bring ourselves back to this oneness, our true Home.

All the practices in this book are a return to simplicity. Breathing, walking, growing food, cooking … these are the “chop wood, carry water” of our day. If we honor what is essential in our lives, we connect with the life force that runs free of the dramas of our individual and collective psyche. Here we are connected and responsive.

Begin by giving extra attention to your simple daily activities, like rising from bed and putting two feet on the floor. Pause there. You are awake; you are alive. Take note of how you feel in your body, and how your feet touch the floor. Be aware as you move towards the bathroom, towards the kitchen and the coffee or tea. Be grateful for water in the sink, for oranges that made your juice, for milk in your tea. Drink slowly. Appreciate your food. Appreciate your family, the sun coming in the window, the beauty you see in your partner or children. Simplicity reveals itself through slowness, in quiet moments when you can see, feel, taste, touch. Take time during the day to stop rushing. Move through the day with respect and openness.

Take an honest inventory of your life. Look at the things you have that take up time and psychic space. Look at your activities and commitments. What of these things do you actually need? Which are habits and entanglements that take up space and weigh you down? Which reflect your real values, feed your soul, touch you with love? Do you need or just want that new thing, that new activity, that has caught your eye? For a short time, try going without some of the things of your life. Maybe you don’t need them after all.

Let nature teach you. In nature, we are students of simplicity. The way a tree grows towards the sun, the way a cat stretches beside the fire, the way the seasons come round again and again without fail, can teach the simplicity of what is. The essential nature of our own lives—the cycle of birth, death, suffering and joy, and even liberation—also reflects this simplicity. We might make our lives complicated by how we relate to these—fighting death, avoiding suffering, searching for freedom and happiness—but that is our superimposed experience, not what is. Look for ways to attune to the natural simplicity of life that underlies the complications of our human experience.

Bring yourself back again and again to what is simple, to what does not change over time, to what shines steady through the fog. Ask yourself, do we need more than these things? Do we need more than the beauty of a crab apple tree in spring, a warm house in the winter, the way water sounds flowing through a stream, a cup of tea with friends? Do we need more in our lives than love?

Practicing simplicity doesn’t mean giving away all our things, quitting our demanding jobs, and moving to a mountain hut or living off the grid. It simply means being very honest about what we value within our lives, what sustains us, brings us joy and meaning, and devoting ourselves to those activities, people, or things. While we might end up having fewer possessions or changing some of our habits, simplicity compels a return, not a rejection—a seeing through and within, rather than looking somewhere else. When we live from a place of simplicity we naturally find we need less, and instead are more open to life.

Don’t be afraid of simplicity. It can feel stark and empty because it is free of psychological complexity and the coverings of accumulated need and desire. But our attention and our genuine response—awe, gratitude, appreciation, and respect—help transform that starkness into the richest of human experiences.

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  1. Before the 2005 tsunami that caused so much loss of life, the nomadic Moken sailors who live among the islands in the Andaman Sea, off Myanmar (Burma), recognized the signs of the coming disaster in the dolphins and other fish suddenly swimming to deeper water. So they too took their boats further from the shore and rode out the waves, unlike the Burmese fishermen who were not attentive to the signs of nature but stayed close to shore where they perished as their boats were wrecked by the tsunami. The Moken said of the Burmese fishermen, “They were collecting squid, they were not looking at anything. They saw nothing, they looked at nothing. They don’t know how to look.”
  2. In this love story of classical mythology, Aphrodite gives Psyche a series of seemingly impossible tasks. In She: Understanding Feminine Psychology, Robert Johnson gives a simple and profound interpretation of this story in relation to feminine psychology.

 Adapted from Spiritual Ecology: 10 Practices to Reawaken the Sacred in Everyday Life. www.spiritualecology.org © 2017 The Golden Sufi Center, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee & Hilary Hart.

 Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is a spiritual teacher and author, Hilary Hart is an author with a focus on women and feminine consciousness.

 

 

 

A Saint Named Bob

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There are saints who walk among us and we don’t even know them. Perhaps they choose their anonymity, working without the fanfare and distraction that prominence and fame can bring. They are often disguised, hidden as ordinary persons, working quietly in places of need. Every tradition has them. Here I will tell you about one of the lesser-known saints, a former Jesuit monk named Bob who had spent the last 37 years of his life in Cambodia.

Bob ended up in Cambodia on a whim and a bet, made whilst sharing a cold beer with a fellow Jesuit brother.  They had been watching a news report on the refugee camps in Cambodia. Under the cruel regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s almost a third of Cambodia’s people were killed or died, and camps were now burgeoning with the traumatized survivors of the darkest period in Cambodian history. These two young monks, who were also trained as health care workers, looked at one another and one said to the other, “Wanna bet we can be there within a week?”

The rest of the story I heard from Bob himself. In order to meet him, we were told, we had to send a hand-written letter to a post office box in Bangkok. Bob had no phone, and he didn’t use a computer. He lived in Cambodia but would walk to Thailand to fetch his mail, which meant that our letter might not reach him for months. He used the money he saved on bus or train fare to buy soap for prisoners in Phnom Penh’s prisons where he sometimes served as a translator. Our desire and curiosity to meet him intensified.

Bob worked in the refugee camps for years among starved and weakened survivors of torture and forced labor. Over years he tended to thousands who had TB, mysterious fevers and infections, all made worse by the heat and moisture of a tropical jungle and a people who were hungry and full of sorrow. Many had lost limbs from the land mines that lay buried in fields throughout the country. He worked himself to exhaustion, and even got the shit kicked out of him by Thai soldiers on Valentine’s Day, he chuckled once.

Bob eventually left the despair of those camps and decided to stay on in Cambodia to come to know the people of this land better. He moved in with a family of rice farmers. He lived as they did, planting rice, barefoot in the water paddies, sleeping on straw mats, eating simply and very little. “Not an easy life,” he told me.

A year later, Bob met one of Cambodia’s great Buddhist monks, Maha Ghosananda. A deep friendship of mutual respect developed and they came up with a tender-hearted idea. They would lead a walk for peace throughout the countryside announcing to villagers that peace had finally come. These walks, often attracting hundreds or even thousands, began to take place annually. Healing was needed, and bearing witness to the suffering of a people can help them to heal.

Years later, his monk’s cloak and Jesuit way of life long faded away, he was left only with the grief and love that burns away any outer identification, the experiences in life that melt away the last remnants of pride or self-centeredness. He is humble. He also loves to laugh and has a sharp wit and a wild, kind sense of humor. In a recent letter, he wrote that he needed funds for some monks to put a roof on their library. He added a PS: “Bank robbers welcome, we can be discreet”!

He still hangs out with the Buddhist monks, volunteering at a monastic university in a northern province. He teaches them English, but mostly he does the cleaning. The school can’t afford a janitor, he says.

Bob is no longer interested in religion. He wears a t-shirt, simple cotton pants, and the flip-flops, a size too small, of a wandering ascetic. The Sufi poetry of Rumi is what he reads, or he sits in silence, which is his preferred mode of communicating. There is something about his eyes. So much has been stripped away, that only the empty space in his big heart is present, making room for a mystical love to move freely to where it is needed.

His tall and slender frame, fair skinned and hair burnt blond by the Cambodian sun, can still be seen walking along the roads of Cambodia. He carries a simple bag with all his possessions slung over his bony shoulders. Now in his sixties, he sometimes accepts a ride. He told me a truck picked him up one day.  The overjoyed driver was close to tears. “Remember me? You gave me some soap when I was a kid back in the camps.” 

 By Marianne Marstrand. Originally published by Creator at WeWork

(Some of you have asked how to send a contribution to Bob for him to pass on to people in need in Cambodia  – if you wish to do that please write us at info@gpiw.org. Very little goes a long way there.)

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