Articles

A Rabbi on Holy Isle


I’m a rabbi. I have experienced hundreds of Shabbat celebrations with Jewish communities of all sorts, in synagogue,  at camp, as part of youth groups, leading youth groups, with my family.  So how did it come to be that the most unexpectedly joyful, meaningful and deeply spiritual one I ever experienced was with a Christian-born-and-raised Canadian at a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center on a Scottish island

It is an amazing story.  And though I am a person of words, I am finding it hard to locate the right ones to describe how this transpired.

I write this article/journal entry sitting at the simple desk in my spartan room at the Centre for World Peace, on the Holy Isle, a mystical jut of an island just off the east coast of Arran, which itself is an island off of Scotland’s southwest coast.  This island has been considered holy for centuries. In the 6th century it was the home of a certain St. Molaise, who spent most of his time living in a small cave (which I visited) tucked into the mountainside. The entire island is about 2 miles long and a few hundred yards wide, with a camel-like set of high humps in the center with an apex of about 1200 feet—beautiful views from there. In 1992, the island was purchased by a Tibetan Buddhist organization called the Rokpa Trust. The Holy Isle Project is now directed by a Tibetan Buddhist Lama, named Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, who is committed to ensuring that the island itself, and its programs and retreats, provides a sustainable environment, where individuals of the Buddhist faith, of other faiths, and of no faith, can develop and experience inner peace.  It sounds lofty.  It is.  

I arrived here by plane, then train, transferred to ferry, and finally on to a dinghy.   The travel was interrupted for a day as a result of stormy weather that made the crossing from the bay of Lamlash, on Arran, over to the Holy Isle simply impossible.  As I write this, there is no way of knowing whether weather conditions will permit me to make it back to Arran in order to take dinghy to ferry to train to plane to return to the US.  I am here for a weeklong meditation retreat, combining with elements of Qi Gong (pronounced chi-gung) practice, which is an ancient Chinese/Buddhist approach to movement and life-centering in one’s body, as well as some sessions of shiatsu. 

I chose this retreat and this island somewhat by happenstance. Having dabbled recently in meditation—exclusively in Jewish settings with Jewish teachers and Jewish fellow meditators—and having brought some of that elemental practice to my spiritual work as a rabbi, and even to members of my professional team as we try to add some mindfulness to work that can become mind-numbing, I knew I wanted to immerse in it more deeply. I happened to have this particular week free on my personal, professional and familial calendar.  Add Google to the mix and, voila, I found this meditation retreat that happened to take place over the exact right dates, and in a location whose remote-ness and promise of always-changing Scottish weather drew me in like a magnet. So much of meditation, I am learning, is an acknowledgement and embrace of the ephemeral. Life. Our thoughts and moods.  And, yes, the weather.  Recognize that thought or feeling that is in your mind right this second. Nod to it. Accept it. Look at it. It will be gone before you know it, replaced by  a renewed spiritual landscape, a new emotional sky.

I hesitated before registering.  In a lengthy email exchange with Sue Weston, the leader of this particular retreat, I inquired what it would be like for an observant Jew and rabbi to come to such a retreat. Could I yield to the spiritual and cultural norms and expectations of this location and find the space to carry out my own personal observances? She assured me that my faith, and my personal prayers, would be welcome. And also that Shabbat would be no concern.  There would be no writing or travel at the retreat, or any other activity inherently at odds with my traditional Shabbat observance.  I would easily be able to take part in the retreat’s sessions, say my Shabbat prayers, and have plenty of time to read, rest and recuperate. 

So I signed up, quite reassured, and arrived with an open heart and a sense of burgeoning awe for what I was about to experience.  Nothing prepared me for the island’s beauty. Its rawness. And the liminal feeling of crossing the bay of Lamlash to an island that, in its entirety, is dedicated to serenity, openness, love and spiritual grounding. 

The first few days of the retreat passed momentously in their own right.  The Qi Gong was, and continues to be, revelatory for me. As someone who has struggled with a gimpy lower back for years, some of the exercises and movements were reminiscent of what this osteopath or that massage therapist or this chiropractor had offered me before during previous flare-ups.  But I soon realized I was learning a spiritual choreography. An ancient, grounded body-wisdom that re-integrates the natural awareness of the body we have when we are pre-sentient babies with the actual muddled and stressed and overly cerebral body with which most of us go through our adult lives.  I loved it all instantly. 

And the initial days of meditation brought me to an inner voice and body-based tranquility that cleared mental cobwebs, awakened aches for ways of living my life that had been hovering for years but hadn’t burst to the surface, and inspired my thinking regarding how I could bring some of this work and wisdom back to my community, and my family, and link it to the Jewish faith and tradition that so suffuses our lives.  

The connections between this far-eastern spiritual body-practice and the inherited layers of Jewish living are far more intimate and shared than one might initially think when considering, for instance, how far apart the life and culture of a Tibetan monk are from those of an observant Jew.  Some overlaps and nexuses:  The first Qi Gong move we began to master is called Wild Goose. It is an elaborate and incredibly hard-to-master set of moves, breaths and intentions.  And some of it is done in sweeping arm motions around the body.  Instantly, the move felt familiar, as I realized that how I put my tallit on in the morning, wrapping the woolen cloth around my upper body in a sweeping motion before pausing for a moment of reflection and centeredness and letting it rest on my shoulders, was evocative of this Qi Gong move.  Much of Qi Gong is focused on which “leg” you are in, using the hips, sacrum and pelvis to ground yourself and toggle from right to left and back.  We took hours to master the simplest shift from one leg to the next, and I realized I was ahead of the class because my own shuckling during davvening, which I learned through osmosis rather than from any one teacher. It closely resembles this shifting, through the midsection of the body, using subtle changes in weight and posture to create a dynamic within prayer.  

And then, the bowing.  We Jews have forgotten how to bow. Admit it.  You know that I am right, even if you are fighting back when reading these words.  I watch a Muslim bow, prostrate to the ground, and I am envious.  I go the distance during the Aleynu prayer during the High Holidays, and some in the congregation behind me do the same. But it is a bit ersatz.   We are fully aware that come the end of Yom Kippur we will return to the nearly knee-less and almost certainly waist-less half-gesticulation that constitutes a bow in most Jewish communities.  But in Qi Gong you must bow.  Not to a deity. But to open up your body, activate and release your core, and find ways to pour energetic Qi to as many parts of your body as possible.  These are bows and dips which are simultaneously painful (particularly for someone as non-limber as I) and cathartic. By day three, I could go deeper and breathe into it.  And among a cadre of fellow non-retreaters, not a single one of them Jewish, doing ancient Chinese body-meditation under the auspices of a Tibetan Buddhist holy order, I remembered my Shulhan Arukh, my close reading and study of the traditional code of Jewish law from the 16th century.  I remember how much detail went in to Rabbi Yosef Caro’s explanation of how to bow during prayer in such a way such that the soft material between each vertebra is exposed to the air, curving your back all the way over.  Was he writing with a sense of body-awareness like the spiritualists from the far east?  Or was this merely his translation of talmudic texts that were focused more on obeisance, modesty and utter insignificance relative to the presence of God? I’d like to think a bit of both. By the end of the second day I made a true and binding religious vow to myself never to bow again in prayer without being fully open to the experience.  

As hours passed, I became both more open to the practices and forms I was learning for the first time, and blessings and rituals I had done thousands of time but to which I was now returning as if for the first time.  For instance, for decades I have had the personal religious practice of saying the “asher yatzar” blessing after relieving myself. It began when I was in yeshiva, with a burst of both frumkeit and awareness/gratitude. But for as long as I can remember the prayer has turned into a mumble.  Said quickly and mindlessly on the way to the next meeting or appointment.  With no connection to the very body whose functioning I was supposed to be blessing.  This week, that blessing has become a symphony to me.  Because the meditative and Qi Gong practice is so grounded in the body, I have been reawakened to this blessing’s force.  And as I curve my mouth around the words, n’kavim n’kavim, halulim halulim, naming and thanking God for our openings which stay open and our closings which stay closed, I find myself profoundly connected to my intestines, my bowel, and the very miracle of my body’s healthy functioning.  

As another example, my blessings before and after meals have been revivified.  They, too, I have been saying dutifully for decades. Dutifully, but not always soulfully. It is, admittedly, hard to sustain any spiritual or religious or relational practice at a consistently high level.  But at least for this week, my food-gratitude blessings are alive again.  Some of our meals are taken in noble silence, within which I feel the crunch of each bite, taste the kaleidoscope of each organic green and grain I am consuming, and am a witness to the activity, often so mundane in our culture (even among those who regularly say blessings) and yet so elemental to our being alive and thus worthy of our continued awe: eating.  The meals on Holy Isle are unhurried.  What is important is the food, and the company, whether being shared in conversation or in silent presence.  And because I truly am grateful for the delicious all-vegetarian (and nearly all-vegan), all-natural meals I have been served, with the ingredients nearly all home-grown and home-cultivated on this island, I am experiencing birkat hamazon (which I have been singing to myself in my head, rather than just rushing through nearly inchoate) as a digestif, both a slow eruption of gratitude and one which in some psycho-spiritual-embodied way is actually aiding my digestion and thus the very miraculous process I am blessing.  After one meal I urged myself to conjure the faces of my immediate family as I blessed them in the harahaman section.  When my children’s faces emerged in my mind’s eye, a tear fell upon my cheek. When was the last time an oft-said blessing moved me so much? When did it last move you?  What would your reaction be if someone began to cry when saying birkat hamazon at a communal Shabbat dinner at your synagogue?

But all of what I just described is a mere prelude to the true and unexpected jolt I experienced on Holy Isle.  Let me explain what happened on Shabbat. 

I had planned to mark the beginning (and end) of Shabbat as inconspicuously as possible. I did not want to invade, or proselytize. I was a guest.  My hosts were Tibetan Buddhists.  My peers came for Sue Weston’s Qi Gong and meditation, not Rabbi Kligfeld’s Lecha Dodi.  They are very fire-conscious here, and so I asked if there might be a safe place where I could kindle two lights.  Oh, and might they have some juice for a special blessing?  The on-site director of the retreat center, a humble and gracious Buddhist nun, bowed towards me with her hands clasped at her chest when I made this request.  She thanked me for the opportunity to serve my spiritual needs.  She provided me two tea-lights, each within a little glass bowl, held in place by dry rice grains.  And she procured some sweet cinnamon-pear juice that had been prepared for a previous meal.  She bowed towards me again, and not only gave me permission to use them in the main meeting place—Peace Hall—but also asked if I wouldn’t mind doing my ritual in front of the whole retreat, as well as any part-time and long-term volunteers who make up the working staff of this island.  Sue, the leader of this retreat, thought the idea was fabulous.  I was humbled.  And felt a tiny wince of shame, wondering how many Jewish institutions, and retreat centers and synagogues—including my own—would be so tolerant, and even so proactively gracious and inviting, were visiting Buddhists to request the space and accoutrements to perform their religious practice.  

And this is how it came to be that at about 8:45 on Friday night on Holy Isle, this rabbi who came to meditate as a lay-person became the local teacher and dramaturg of the Friday night seder shabbat to a group of about 50 spiritual seekers in Peace Hall. 

I was not expecting this.  And I said as much as I began to talk, having no idea what I would say. I started with a niggun: the one referred to as Neshama’s Niggun, as it is one of the most beloved of all those written by Neshama Carlebach. (Seeing as how our entire week was focused on the breath and the spirit, I thought it appropriate to offer a tune written by a Neshama.)  And then I had an outer-body experience, watching myself describe the rationale behind all of our well-known, but also well-worn, Friday night rituals.  Waving the hands towards us as the Shabbat candles are kindled, one for zachor, to remember Shabbat, and one for shamor, to observe it; welcoming, inviting and receiving blessing from the Shabbat angels who escort us from services on Friday night and who are the subject/object of Shalom Aleichem; the sweetness of the kiddush juice or wine, including why I was saying a different blessing tonight than I would be had the substance been a grape-based juice or wine rather than the delicious cinnamon-pear juice they provided me; the eshet hayil poem with which I address and praise my wife every week, and then the proffering of a blessing upon the heads of my children, taking the original place of the priests in the desert. 

As I went through this litany, there was absolute silence in the group surrounding me. Not just silence.  Reverence.  I could feel it, palpably.  And then I ended with another niggun, explaining how wordless tune has become so central to modern Jewish practice, and how essentially ecumenical such tunes are.  For, after all, what tradition owns a particularly musical note, or even a string of them? The ones we generally sing sound Jewish to us.  But they aren’t on a categorical level.  They just have ascribed Jewish flavor to us. The one with which I ended is the most recent one I learned from Netanel Goldberg, an extraordinary Israeli composer/spiritualist.

Without my asking or inviting them, this group, none of whom expected any part of this week to be an exposure to Jewish music or ritual, started singing.  Maybe because their hearts and chests and whole bodies had been so opened by meditation and Qi gong, or maybe because non-Jews are a little less reticent to sing when a rabbi starts singing in front of them than many Jews are when being introduced to—gasp!—a new tune (you know who you are…), whatever the reason, they didn’t just sing.  They became an instantaneous choir.  The acoustics in Peace Hall are fabulous. The niggun rose and fell, swelled and waned, and ended on a a thoroughly unrehearsed and yet somehow fully harmonic, chord-like coda.  I use niggun all the time in my work. In the last few years, I believe we have introduced no fewer than 50 new tunes into our musical repertoire at Temple Beth Am. I love singing with my community.  And with my colleagues.  And yet I do not remember a more heart-filling and awakened musical or spiritual moment in my life.  

The moment ended.  People started filing out of Peace Hall, as they had been told (by the nun) that I had my own personal Sabbath prayers to add on to this ritual and they didn’t want to disturb.  Some could not help themselves, and came to me to tell me what this experience was like. I promise no embellishment as I convey what some of them said to me. 

One said she will remember this moment for the rest of her life.  One told me that the last tune, in particular, had helped heal a deeply-held wound in her soul.  Then one of them pointed to a large rock on the table that held the Shabbat candles and kiddush cup and asked the significance of the stone in the Jewish ritual practice.  We all had a cathartic laugh when I told them that the rock just happened to be on the table and I had decided not to move it.  A peer in the retreat suggested I go back to my community saying that I had uncovered an ancient Scottish Jewish rite, that had every Friday night dinner begin with a large, craggy rock smack in the middle of the table.

Eventually the room emptied, and I was left to davven Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv in the waning light, and digest what had just transpired.  This particular set of prayers, which I generally loathe to say by myself, were elevated, uplifted and infused with spirit.  I sang them all out loud, to myself, in Peace Hall.  I sang so full and so loud that at times I wasn’t even sure if my voice were the one making the sound.  And I had my childhood and adolescence, and college years, and the members of both congregations I have served in my rabbinate thus far, and the voices and tunes of countless artists and composers as my minyan as I went through the liturgy.  There, in Peace Hall, on Holy Isle, on an island with Tibetan Buddhists, and a whole sea of non-Jews, I had Nava Tehila from Jerusalem with me.  And Micah Shapiro, a recent graduate of Boston Hebrew College whose tunes for Kabbalat Shabbat have become part of the Beth Am experience.  He was there, as was my partner and cantor, Rabbi Hillary Chorny, as I sang her exquisite composition to Psalm 93.  Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was with me as well, of course. As were the anonymous (at least to me) composers of the traditional Ashkenazi Friday night nusah.  I had feared I would be alone on this isle for Shabbat.  I have never felt so un-alone in my Jewish practice.

If that were the end of the story, dayenu. It certainly would have been enough.  But it was not. 

My mini-Shabbat service, I had learned, had quickly become the topic of conversation and curiosity and awe among this sacred community.  Throughout the rest of the evening and into the next day, I kept hearing how the experience had moved people. I heard it from people who said it to my face, one of whom said she would only come back for Sue Weston’s retreat if Jewish chanting were a formal part of it.  And I heard it from people who were just talking to one another in a different room but within my earshot, explaining that they never understood how spiritual Jewish practice could be. “Do you believe that such love and tenderness is expressed between spouses as Sabbath begins?”  “When he blessed his children, in abstentia, I thought of my own children and tears welled up. I wish we had this in our religion.”  And I also heard it from another small but important subgroup of people who happened to be with me on this island for Shabbat.  

Let me go back a bit. When I had started to sing Shalom Aleichem in Peace Hall, I swore I heard some light singing of the tune, and the words, in the background. But how could that be?  When I said the “boreh pri ha’etz” over the pear juice, I almost certainly heard an unbidden “amen,” sung in tune.  And by the time I got to the second half of the longer kiddush paragraph, I heard two distinct and clear voices joining in with “ki vanu vaharta, v’otanu kidashta mikol ha’amim…”  Among the volunteers on the island and those here for just a getaway but not part of our retreat, were two Jews.  They had not previously identified themselves to me, despite my very obvious Jew-y kippah that I had been wearing all week.  But they were there.  Seeking. Searching.  Still, clearly, tune-connected to the religion and people of their origin, but on this island precisely because the Judaism they had fled had never filled their spirits adequately enough to keep them in the game, as it were. I found it a bittersweet irony that they “came out” as Jews, to me and to the rest of the group, by uttering the words of the kiddush that are some of the hardest words to say with a full and non-guilty heart when experiencing beautiful shared spirituality with non-Jews: “For God chose us, and sanctified us, among all the peoples…”  

Over the course of Shabbat, I spoke at length to these two Jews, both from Britain.  One thanked me for exposing the beauty and sweetness of Judaism in an era, and continent, of what she called rampant anti-Semitism, thus perhaps creating some subtle ambassadors as those on this retreat would go back to their homes and might speak about the nice Jew that they met and the nice rituals he led.  The other spoke about the pain of never feeling alive or soul-connected in her Jewish life and education.  She grew up in a pretty Jewish part of London.  She knew the words and the prayers. And she said hearing the kiddush was a surge of comforting nostalgia for her. But just that.  Maybe a hint of what spiritual power there could be in Judaism, but which she had never imbibed.  It was hard for her to believe that Judaism and Jewish practice, and particularly traditional Jewish observance could be non-fanatical, embodied, nourishing, intellectually honest, both particular in form and yet universal in aspiration.  Had she experienced all of that, she told me, she might never have felt the need to escape to Holy Isle. I told her that I did experience those very parts of Judaism, and try to teach, model and embody them, and I still came to Holy Isle to learn even more ways to animate the Judaism that I love so dearly, but which I know suffers through moribund stretches that call for re-awakening.

As the chatter about the Friday night experience in Peace Hall rose throughout Shabbat morning, there was a swell of curiosity and interest in more Jewish singing. What a nutty phenomenon: You had people who came to a Buddhist meditation and Qi Gong retreat for spiritual healing and centering clamoring for a Jewish rabbi to offer them more niggun sessions.  And it wasn’t taking away from the spiritual thrust of the retreat, or the place. It was purely additive.

By mid afternoon, the host Buddhist nun and Sue Weston both came to me, knowing that I would need to end my Sabbath with another short ritual later that night, and asked again whether the entire island could be invited to join.  I told them I would be honored, and asked what they thought if we met about 45 minutes before the time for Havdalah for an extended, fully ecumenical, wordless and contentless niggun circle.  Formal programming on the island ends at 8:30.  Havdalah was set for 9:45.  Meeting together in Peace Hall at 9 would not interfere with any of the retreat’s or the island’s volunteers’ normal activities. They were delighted with the idea. 

Aspects of this whole dynamic led to some moments that were both sweetly comical (sometimes to me, sometimes to others as well) and also painful (only to me).  Some examples.  I was struck by the incongruity of my finding a way to make tea on Shabbat afternoon at a Buddhist retreat center using a kli shlishi (“third vessel”), which is how many observant Jews make tea on Shabbat in such a way that does not, according to halakha/Jewish law, violate the obligation of cooking raw food.  I will always linger on the “who would have imagined it?” moment when a Buddhist nun asked whether leaning two birthday candles together would be sufficient for Havdalah.  Those were sweet.  And some painful and internally awkward moments as well.  For instance, how do I tell this loving and embracing Buddhist nun what my texts really tell me to say when she innocuously and generously asks whether she can take the extinguished tea-lights thad had served as Shabbat candles and add them to the devotional space in their Buddhist prayer room? By strange coincidence, my regular and rhythmic study of Talmud has me studying, right now, the tractate Avodah Zarah, dealing with the prohibitions of idolatry and of dealings with idolaters.  On that very day, I was studying the section that discussed how far away from idolaters’ holidays one must refrain from doing business with them, lest they use something they purchased from you in their practice or even bless you in gratitude in the name of their God(s). I do understand why the Talmud wrote those laws and restrictions. And I am not even convinced that the rabbis, if they really knew enough of Buddhist thought, would have considered practicing Buddhists to be idolaters. But that is sophistry.  At the core, I felt that my own tradition, in the midst of it being as welcomed and blessed as could be possible in another religious tradition’s holy place, was shouting out some of its xenophobia and blatant judgment of others’ religious forms.  When the nun did indeed ask me that question, I told her I would be honored. I do feel it was the right decision, even if there may be texts that question whether extinguished Shabbat candles ought to end up part of a Buddhist rite.  

And my very Shabbat prayers, which as I have said before were so awakened and alive for me, also caught me in some harsh ways.  Here I was, relishing in the rest of Shabbat, and utterly grateful for the womb of tranquility being offered to me by a community of non-Jews, hearing my mouth say these words from the Shabbat morning amidahv’lo n’atto adonai eloheynu l’goyei ha’aratzot.  “God, you did not give Shabbat to the nations of the world. Nor did our King bequeath it to idol-worshippers.  The uncircumcised will not dwell in its restful embrace.”  I believe that on some level. I believe that our Shabbat has unique qualities and characters to it. But it felt insulting, and inaccurate, to utter those words amidst a community of very holy people experiencing a very holy and restful Shabbat though they never uttered a single Hebrew prayer nor had taken upon them the yoke of the Jewish commandments. I felt guilty uttering those words just feet away from people without whose open and embracing hearts this Jew would never have experienced Shabbat’s rest this weekend.  

I said the Shabbat afternoon prayers right after a particularly meaningful meditation. My heart and soul were alive and open, and I thought of the wisdom of the Mishnah in tractate Brakhot, where it says that the early pious ones would meditate for a full hour before they would recite their prayers. (Nowadays in shuls if weekday prayer is not fully complete within an hour, someone’s job could be on the line).  I recited the Shabbat minhservice more awake to the meaning of the words than I have in a long time. That was mostly a blessing.  But it came with a wince as well, as when I uttered the self-referential words “mi k’amkha yisrael? Who is like your people Israel?” they sounded jingoistic to my ears.  What makes us so special?  And the following words in the liturgy took on a different contour than what I imagine is their original intent. “Goy ehad ba’aretz.  One nation upon the earth.”  The plain meaning is that we, Israel, are the singular nation on this planet.  This time, the words echoed for me as a prayer that, even with our disparate forms, languages, liturgies, rites and belief systems, the human community is—could be—one nation upon the earth. And religious communities could and should be leading the charge to that messianic possibility, rather than reinforcing only those boundaries that keep us separate.

If my afternoon of prayers and interactions included some internal hiccups, the end of Shabbat was all glory. All sweetness.  Some version of this experience, of course, is repeated and indulged in by Jewish communities—particularly at camp and at youth group retreats—all over the world. Who doesn’t like Havdalah?  But something made this Havdalah different than all other.  First, we sat in a circle in Peace Hall and we sang. I reinforced the two niggunim I had sung the previous night.  Then I introduced them to Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s “Rova Niggun,” one of his simplest yet least-known tunes.  They picked it up in a second and the room exploded with musical meaning. After that, I taught them Zusha’s “East Shtetl Niggun.”  Google it. It is out there, and wacky, and wonderful.  I think it was this group’s favorite.  I threw in a few more before teaching them the niggun I learned for Havdalah when I was at Yeshivat Hamivtar in 1994, and have been using and teaching ever since. (If my rebbes in yeshiva knew I was teaching their tune to non-Jews at a Buddhist retreat center on Holy Isle…!?).  They mastered the tune quickly. We sang it fast and energetic, and then slow and elegiac.  I explained how the rituals, and music, of Havdalah are caught in liminality, grateful for the Shabbat we just experienced and yet sad to release our extra soul, not to meet it again until the following Shabbat. I was singing, and explaining, not to proselytize.   Or to convert.  Or to make people more religious. Or to grow my community. But just to share my love and my spirit, and the sweetness of our notes.  Maybe the very absence of pressure or missionary posturing contributed to people’s openness to the notes, and the feeling, of the entire service.  I can’t explain the exact pathways, But this Havdalah was triumphant. And transcendent.  When we ended I did the simplest thing that Jewish camp counselors and youth leaders learn: grab hands and make a circle. For some reason, this tipped this group over the top. They simple sunk in to the embodied nature of a simple grasp of the hands.  Someone started a squeeze and sent it around the room. It wasn’t me, but I felt it come my way and I sent it to the next person.  When we were done, we were breathless and breath-full at the same time.  

And as a result of this unexpected weekend, there is now a group of 45-50 people, mostly British, but some Canadian, German, Polish, Brazilian, of all ages. Of all sizes.  Some seekers. Some in pain. Some committed meditators.  Some who had never met a Jew. All of whom who now know of Shlomo Carlebach, and why we look at our fingernails during Havdalah.  A group of people who are incredibly touched that a Jewish husband turns and praises his wife when Shabbat begins, and who are humming Zusha’s East Shtetl Niggun to themselves as they go about their work on the Holy Isle.  We have a collection of folks, mostly of originally Christian heritage but now on a search for deeper peace and meaning, who, before being serendipitously cloistered on this island with a rabbi from LA had never experienced a specifically Jewish moment, who now understood something that professional Jews like myself spend their time, and careers, trying to get Jews of all ages to understand and embrace: and that is that there is tremendous organic and embodied power to Jewish forms, rituals, music and ways.  One told me she felt it to be a true privilege to hear the sounds and be witness to the rituals of the Jewish Sabbath.  They understand this organic Jewish spirit so well that they want more of it.

Not of Judaism, per se.  They don’t want bar mitzvahs and lulavs.  Rather, they want the spiritual force that gushes forth from so many of our traditions, but which have been diluted by over-intellectualization, disconnect from the body, poor education, lack of commitment and raw ennui.  How do we get our shuls, and those within them and those who would never set foot in them, to rediscover this path?  If we cannot take them all to Holy Isle, how do we bring some of what Holy Isle stands for, and enables, to our established communities?  How do we re-open Jews to the treasure of their inheritance?  How do we take seriously our role as caretakers of the tradition and refuse to permit the rabbinate and cantorate to be mostly page-calling, stage-directing and expertise-exhibiting when services are on? How do we meet the needs of those who do fill the pews and who are not necessarily interested in having their familiar Judaism be broken down so it can be re-embodied and re-spiritualized…while also meeting the needs and wishes of the Jews who will never find home and retreat in Judaism unless that very surgery takes place?  How do we serve what we sense the universe needs from our Judaism and Jewish practice? Which is introducing soulfulness and an open heart, and gratitude, and connection to our bodies and, in the safest of ways, even to others’ bodies as we continue to cherish, observe and also reawaken the unique forms that make up Jewish practice and observance.

The retreat is not yet over.  As of writing this, there will be at least two more niggun sessions.  One was requested by a few who asked, almost with temerity, whether I would be comfortable if they recorded some of these tunes so that they could bring them back to their lives and families and communities. Would I be OK?  Can you imagine it?  Church groups in Wales singing the East Shtetl niggun?  A choir director in southern England using Calrebach’s Rova niggun as a warm-up for their practice? It is too wonderful to consider.  So that recording session will take place, with a room full of singing voices and iPhones set to capture the tunes.  And Sue has formally asked me to use niggun to end the retreat itself. As someone who puts an enormous amount of time into how I begin and end sessions that I lead, I am honored and touched to think that what I brought to this experience was sufficiently powerful that Sue, a master presenter and teacher, who I am sure planned exactly how she intended to close the experience, has considered that there would be no better way to end this week together than with my leading some singing.  I plan, at that closing session, to introduce words for the first time into our group singing. Not liturgical ones. That would violate the covenant we are all sharing.  But I do think that concluding with Od yavo shalom aleynu, v’al kulam would be most appropriate.  Indeed, let peace come upon not only us, but upon everyone.

I will, weather permitting, leave this island in a few days.  I will take away more that can be named.  Certainly, a re-attachment to the words of our prayers that become re-ignited in my consciousness.  Including those words said so early on a morning weekday or Shabbat service that sanctuaries are usually still empty by then, and which are usually raced through by those who are there: barukh she’amar v’haya olam: Blessed be the One who spoke, and there was a world.  Our words, like God’s in Genesis, can create worlds.  And sew worlds and people together.  Beyond words, I will leave Holy Isle with a renewed commitment to embodied religious life.  In Sue Weston’s words, to outrageous vitality and perkiness, and to being unashamed at having those stances be reflected in my Jewishness, in my rabbinate, in my soul.  Will we Jews permit ourselves to be ecstatic? Can we fully live in our bodies as we live our Judaism?  Can we accept our hands and feet and heart and chest and pelvis and ears and toes as instruments of our divine work?  I aim to try.  I aim to try to say “yes” to the nun’s extraordinary offer that I come back and lead a chanting retreat on this Holy Isle, and I hope that perhaps some from my community may join me if it comes to fruition.  I aim to accept the wonder that as this group of non-Jews became open to the spiritual power of Judaism and Jewish music, they re-opened me to my own embodied inheritance.  

I recited the Aleynu prayer many times this week.  I bowed deeply at the appropriate words.  But towards the end, in the paragraph almost always said silently in Jewish communities, a few words got caught in my throat.  Yakiru v’yed’u kol yoshvei tevel.  All the inhabitants of the earth will recognize and know.  Ki l’kha tikhra kol berekh.  That to You will bow every knee.  Tishava kol lashon.  That to you will swear every tongue.  L’fanekha adonai eloheinu yikhr’eu v’yipolu.  That before You, our God, all will prostrate, and all will bend.  All that bending before the Divine light.  And all that knowing the divine goodness. And all that committing to making that awareness be a spark for acceptance and beauty in the world. And all that permitting our entire bodies and beings be part of our religious practice.  All of that? It is happening, here, on Holy Isle.  This prayer has Jews being so very concerned that all the peoples of the world will learn this pose, this awareness, this craft. It is worth aspiring to. But when it comes to bowing. And awareness of God’s presence.  And fully embodying religious life…can we work on ourselves first?

Adam Kligfeld is senior rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles.

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SATURDAY MORNING

On Saturday morning I was on the coach early to get to Brighton in time to hear Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche teach on Santideva’s 9th chapter. It was just after 6am. I pulled out my new dharma book The 6 Perfections by Dale Wright (an excellent book) and tried to read the section on tolerance. It was early and my eyes hadn’t woken up. Blurry font. Unfocused mind. Easily distracted.

About 10 minutes into the journey, we were at the last main coach stop before leaving Oxford for London. A young woman got on. She expected the driver to accept card payments – only had £5 in cash. The nearest ATM was a long walk away. I asked if she was going to Victoria in which case she could withdraw £10 when we got there. We sat down and out of nowhere out of my mouth said the words: Keep the money. She wanted to repay me. All I thought was, I don’t own the money, the Government does – all I’m doing is moving it around.

The question of ownership shifted in a big way after reading a short excerpt by Daniel Dennett. It was from a philosophy text reader when I belatedly started university in my mid‑30s. My take on Daniel Dennett’s view on ownership is this: Your possessions stretch as far your mind. So, if you’re at a friend’s place and are handed a plate is the plate yours or your friend’s? The pens at work where you sit each day, are they yours? Well, they’re your employer’s. So when I sat down on the bus and thought, It’s not my money, it’s the Government’s, that’s where I was coming from. Continue reading

HELLO FROM GOA

 

Hello from Goa, land of blue skies, sunshine and palm trees swaying in the balmy breeze. But lest you think that Liz and I are living the languid life of lotus eaters (okay, occasionally…) we are of course as trumped and brexited as the rest of you – but in true Indian style.

Luckily we weren’t here in November when the demonetisation policy kicked in overnight. It caused mayhem and chaos and is still not fully resolved. Basically there is still a shortage of bank notes as they scrapped the 1,000 rupee note and replaced it with a 2,000 note. That’s now £25 quid in UK money with the current crap exchange rate and if you try and pay with it few shops have change to give you or they want plastic money instead. Yes, they are trying to move to a cashless economy where hundreds of millions don’t even have a bank account or their own mobile phone. There are still unreported riots and violence and the poor have no money to pay for fruit, vegetables or milk. Unemployment has risen. Nobody can afford to buy locally built Hero motorcycles, for example, so they’ve had to close the factories. Continue reading

PEAS AND PANIR CURRY केराउको र पनिरको करी

Ingredients

2 cups Panir (tofu) cubes
2 cups peas
4 tomatoes (medium) chopped
2 onions finely chopped
2.5 cm ginger piece
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon chilli powder (optional)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
2 cardamoms (black) ailaichi
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons oil/ghui
2 cups of water
Coriander leaves chopped

Process

Fry panir cubes till golden. Remove and drain out. Grind ginger, garlic, turmeric and cumin seeds and make a paste. Heat oil, and add cardamom and bay leaves. Fry onion till golden. Add the paste and salt and again fry. Add peas and tomatoes. Again fry for a few minutes. Add water. Cover and cook till peas become tender. Add fried panir cubes and again cover for 2 minutes. Add mixed spices and garnish with green coriander leaves. Serve hot with bread or rice.

bon appetit

Source:  Joys of Nepalese Cooking , Indra Mahapuria

MINT CHUTNEY – पुदिना को अचार

Mint leaves are not used for making chutney in Kathmandu Valley where they grow wild, but they are generally used in the Terai region of Nepal.

Ingredients
1 cup of green mint leaves
2 small garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoonful of chili powder or 1/2 green chili
1 teaspoonful of salt
2 tablespoons of mustard oil
1/2 teaspoonful of fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoonful of turmeric
Juice of one or two lemons

Process
Grind mint leaves and garlic in a mortar.  Add salt and chilis.  Squeeze one or two lemons for juice.   Heat the mustard oil in a small frying pan and fry the fenugreek seed till they become black.  Add the turmeric and turn with a spoon.  Now add the mint and garlic mixture.

Time required 10- 15 minutes

THE RINGU TULKU ARCHIVE

 

Launching The Ringu Tulku Archive

By wangdu on Aug 29, 2017 05:13 pm

Dear Friends,

It is with great pleasure that we announce the launch of The Ringu Tulku Archive.

This website will become a repository for all of the teachings given by Venerable Ringu Tulku Rinpoche that have been recorded since January 1990 when, at the invitation of students and friends, he first began to travel in the West. He has given countless teachings during that time, on all levels and on all kinds of topics, according to whatever is requested and whoever is listening. The range of topics is immense and varied, interesting for newcomers to Dharma as well as long term students. Rinpoche’s command of the English language means the teachings are given and received with incredible ease – as if, he often says, “I’m chatting with friends while on my holidays”. Even repeated requests for the same topic are responded to with a wonderful freshness and delivered as if for the first time. He has said that what we are receiving through these Dharma teachings is very, very rare and there are actually very few places in the world, even in Tibet, that this level of instruction is given.

What an extraordinary opportunity.

The majority of those teachings were recorded and we are currently uploading them to the new Archive website. We have uploaded almost all recordings received since 2011, and we are now beginning to work on the previous years’ which will take us to prior 2008. As well as this, the website also includes recordings from Rinpoche’s future teaching tours as they happen, which means that as a member you will be able to listen to those while Rinpoche travels and teaches around the globe.

The next stage will be to make it possible for individual members & Dharma Centres to upload recorded teachings. We hope that this will fill in any missing teachings and also offer opportunities to upgrade any low quality recordings.

Rinpoche doesn’t charge for his teachings and all initial development costs have been generously funded by Bodhicharya Publications. However, storing and making such a body of material available in a secure and professional way requires a paid delivery system. Each time a video or audio file is accessed by you, we pay for that delivery. Therefore a membership charge will be essential to the survival of the website: an annual membership fee will allow you access to the full archive of teachings and courses – with the exception of certain restricted teachings for which you must apply for permissions. Please see more information in the About section.

As a member you can also become involved by giving feedback through listening, informing us of any technical errors, and also providing a synopsis to summarise the content of a teaching.

Given the preciousness of what we are storing and delivering, we think it’s worth it and we hope you do too.

Finally, it is Rinpoche’s wish that as time goes on this website will become a key portal where he will be able to both communicate with his students and also deliver and curate longer courses for different levels of study and stages along the path. We hope that in the near future our Courses section will come alive with an array of rich and diverse teachings for student members of any level and experience to follow.

It is our wish that this website becomes an invaluable resource for many people and that the benefits for all beings will be vast and far reaching.

You can visit The Ringu Tulku Archive here: https://bodhicharya.org/teachings

Paul O’Connor
Webmaster & Project Coordinator

Copyright © 2017 Bodhicharya

 

LIVING AND DYING IN PEACE

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REACHING OUT TO ANIMALS AND ALL CONSCIOUS LIFE

 In ANIMALS by Lyse Lauren08/07/20170 Comments

Reaching out to animals and all sentient, how would this change our world? If everyone understood that all beings, whether animal, insect, bird, plant or even mineral, are sentient and therefore conscious, how would this change the way we interact with them? If we understood and began to appreciate all living beings as sacred and intelligent, what impact would this have on us, and all the other living forms with whom we co-exist on this planet? The mind boggles…


I remember as a child that one day my mother asked me to go over to the neighbours house to find out if they were at home. At that time we were living in Nelson, a small town in the north of the South Island of New Zealand. Our neighbours were a husband and wife and their two children with whom we young ones often played of an evening. They had not long moved to Nelson and being so near by, our family had instantly warmed to these new arrivals.

I ventured over the side fence and made my way up the staircase to the front door. Their tabby cat was sitting on the doorstep imbibing the warm noon sunshine. I was already acquainted with her and so gave her a nod as i climbed past to ring the doorbell. I pushed the button a few times but there was no response from within and so, without thinking, I sat down next to the venerable puss and asked her where the family had gone. She looked up at me, made a little feline squeak and we amicably bumped heads and then sat a while in companionable silence.

After some time I slowly got up and made my way back over the fence to tell my mother that the family were, at that minute, away somewhere. When I entered the house a chorus of giggling and squeals of laughter greeted me. Evidently, my mum and sisters had been watching my encounter with the neighbours cat through the back bedroom window which directly overlooked the neighbours staircase. They had overheard our conversation.

For some reason they found it inexpressibly silly and funny that I should have been sitting there verbally interacting with a cat! I found it equally silly and funny that they did not understand that one could. I was sometimes reminded of that incident whenever family members would begin to recount stories and memories of our childhood days, yet, from then until now, I still do not see what they could possibly have found so strange or amusing.

All life that is sentient, is therefore conscious! 

It is incredibly important for us to take this statement seriously and give it the consideration that it deserves. Day after day we can witness around us acts of callousness and cruelty of which most people are not even aware. They are not aware because they simply do not acknowledge that other life forms are sentient and therefore feel and respond to energy, moods and pain, just as we do. This is an extremely crucial point to understand if we are ever to come into greater harmony with all other life forms with whom we share this world. The various forms of sentient life may not speak our language but there is a place where understanding can occur naturally no matter what the outer form may be.

Many who own so called pets become conscious of this truth by necessity of close association and yet somehow they often continue to exclude other forms of life. If we can ever begin to question our assumptions and reactions towards all living beings we would quickly be forced to change many long held beliefs. If we want to allow the extra ordinary bio diversity of life on our planet to continue to, not only exist but thrive, then a shift must take place in our perception.

At the moment human beings predominantly have the supremely arrogant view that everything in nature, be it animal, plant or mineral, exists for their use and convenience alone. How primitive and barbaric is this view?Thankfully this is beginning to change, there is something of an awakening in the consciousness of a growing number of people. It is not yet widespread, but it is a beginning. Many of the so-called primitive societies understood and lived by the natural laws of respectful and sustainable co-existence. But in recent human history most of these intuitive qualities have been lost and forgotten.

Awareness does not discriminate between forms. It is the inherent nature of all sentient life, how ever and where ever it may appear…

What we begin to see now, even though it is in a very nascent stage, is something of a quiet opening and awakening. At this time it is just a few people who are paving the way in inter species communication, but their work is sending out ripples, which in time will have a profound impact on the way we view the living world around us. However, each and every one of us can help to accelerate this process through our every day small deeds and by changing the way we think. Then like a shift in the tide, almost imperceptibly but slowly with a gathering momentum it can begin to catch on and start challenging old and previously unquestioned beliefs.

There will come a time when we will look back on current accepted norms and behaviours and be amazed that we could live in such a barbaric and unaware world such as we have been living in for so long. It would seem that the more, so-called advanced today’s societies think themselves to be, the more unaware and brutal they actually are.

When ingrained beliefs begin to under-go a shift, when we begin to become aware of who and what we really are, we can not help but start to notice that this same beingness which is in us, also pervades everything else. Everything includes everything, animals, plants, insects, and the planet on which we live, move and have our being. Interconnectedness is vaster and more thoroughly integrating than our mind can ever really comprehend or grasp, therefore we need to move beyond mind in order to begin to really get a sense of the underlying reality out of which all of life arises. The implications of such a shift in awareness are truly immense.

An appreciation of the unity and sacredness of all life is integral to awakening to our own awareness.

Awakened beings have long understood the interconnectedness and inherent divinity in all sentient life forms. From the Buddha, to Ramana Maharshi, and countless others besides, great sages have communicated with animals in such a natural way which is completely respectful of who and what really exists. For them this truth is a living reality, not something to be questioned or doubted, their experience which moves from the heart in an ever fresh exuberance of being, is a timeless and constant affirmation of unity in diversity.

We are all sacred drops
from the same sacred ocean of life.

Those who stayed near Ramana Maharshi and who were honoured to witness his many exchanges and relationships with animals, birds, and at times also the plant life, took it all quite for granted. The animals simply became a part of the life of the ashram. The Maharshi treated them all as his own children, showing them the same care and respect that he bestowed upon all the people who were drawn to be near him.

A Jnani can differentiate between the different forms of life, but to him all are inherently divine.

The changes which can be initiated by humans in their interaction and effect upon the different kingdoms of life, begin in our mind and thinking. When the energy of the heart is enabled to speak through the mind anything becomes possible. This is not mushy, sentimental talk, but truth based on a profound and inherent law in nature that always moves towards harmony and balance. As in all things, we are inevitably drawn back to the one and central tenet, the inherent divinity within all sentient lifeTo find out who and what we really are is so vital in reclaiming our true inheritance and in recognising that all living beings have an equal claim in this same inexhaustible spring of life. However we, as human beings, hold a unique position and responsibility within the kingdoms of nature. We have the capacity to know who and what we really are to live  and let live by this truth.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lyse Lauren

LYSE LAUREN

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Having attended Australian International Conservatorium of Music, Lyse is a student of three outstanding masters of recent times: Dilgo Khyentse, Tulku Urgyen and Chatral Rinpoches. She facilitates groups and individuals in meditation retreats, while writing books as well as articles for Ever Here Now website. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author.

Photos provided by the author.

[This article was sourced in LEVEKUNST art of life]

Thanks to the author for permission to publish.

SUMMER CAMP PORTUGAL 2017

Casa da Torre near Vila Verde

Using the deity as meditation practice, in particular White Tara, was the topic for this years summer camp held for the 6th time in northern Portugal. The venue was once again Casa da Torre near Vila Verde, and the delightful Portuguese sangha were as welcoming as ever. It is always lovely to meet so many now familiar faces after twelve years of Bodhicharya Summer camp retreats here and in France since 2006. The warm weather and fresh vegetarian food laid the ground for a spiritually nourishing week with Ringu Tulku Rinpoche.

Rinpoche told us that White Tara was the first sadhana taught by the Buddha: in India, where White Tara was already a common practice, she was known as Saraswati and associated with healing and long life. The great yogi-saint, Atisha Dipankara, felt he was guided by White Tara and believed himself to have been saved by her, and when he was invited to re-introduce Buddhism to Tibet from India, he brought this practice with him. Gampopa later inherited the practice and passed on the sadhana to the first Karmapa, Dusom Khyenpa. Since then White Tara has been regarded as an important bodhisattva in the Tibetan school of Vajrayana Buddhism and this particular sadhana has been recited throughout the entire Karmapa lineage until today.

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JOURNEY TO ASSAM: GUWAHATI PART 2

Sign in Haflong, Guwahati

There’s something wonderfully hedonistic about an alarm that goes off at 5am and you lie in bed for another hour in that half dream-like state.  This is India; and lateness is a fine art that requires a last minute scrabbling for the prize – a seat on the bus or train; meeting a friend in a chaotic, busy city; frantically looking for an internet hotspot at the airport to confirm a flight.

So my wife is off to the train station.  One hour late!  Not that it matters.  She’s meeting her brother and his wife and a sister coming on the Delhi express which is two hours late.

Today is chilly and misty.  We’re in Guwahati, the capital of the state of Assam in the north east of India.  The flat has been lent to us by Sadhana, a childhood friend of my wife’s.  Sadhana heads a team in the precisely named DIRECTORATE OF WELFARE AND SCHEDULED CASTES and lives with her husband on the other side of the city.

Sadhana outside her office

I spend some time relaxing and reading India in Slow Motion by Mark Tully, the BBC correspondent for India.  Someone described his broadcasts as sounding as if he were speaking from a phone box in the middle of a busy city with the hum of traffic and horns sounding in the background.  The chapter I’m reading is about Sufism, Islamic mysticism expressed in dance and rituals.  A pity there is the split now amongst so many adherents of the religion.

My wife brings the family back from the station and they quickly settle in to the spare room, a rather dark and dank affair as it hasn’t been lived in for some time.

Time to go for a wander in the town, we leave the house and board a bus which takes us to the outskirts of the city.  Walking around, we come across the Science Museum, surprisingly neat and tidy with lots of experiments for the the kids to play with inside the building.  Nothing really sophisticated is there but the attempt to engage children in scientific practice is well thought-out.

Outside is a medicinal, aromatic herbal garden with all kinds of plants in neat beds.  Signposts indicate their Latin and local names as well as their efficacy for treating various ailments.  Doubt is cast when I see that some are purported to cure leprosy and cancer, though who knows what truths lurk in local lore.

We aim to return before we leave, yet knowing that road leads on to road we doubt that we will ever come back.

 

 

 

JOURNEY TO ASSAM: PART 1

 

Day dawns.  Early morning standing in the doorway of the little courtyard of Shinji Butt. Outside, pigs are grunting about in the mud.  A little boy squats and defecates while a multi-teated sow waits behind for him to finish.  A goat, wearing a yellow sweater, its front legs inserted into the arms, munches grass at the side of the road.

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the lodge, embers from the previous night’s celebrations, set into a square bed of sand with a parapet of bricks around the edges, still smoulder and glow red in the middle of the open yard.

The fog of the previous day has cleared, revealing cold edges and carved roundels on the lintel at the entrance to the shrine room.  Staff move around, here and there, lightly brushing the paving with a besom, clearing the corners of cobwebs that glisten in the grey, morning light.

Slowly, we leave the temple and make our way to Maha Bodhi for our morning perambulation around the walkway bordering the quadrant in which is set the main temple area.

Clearly, in my head, is the sound of the Japanese monk, Ryosho Shimiza, playing his ancient sho with its bamboo pipes standing erect.  He follows spider-like notation penned in meditative harmonies that have strange, other-worldly dischords.

The instrument is blown and sucked; the disparity in the harmonies sends shivers down the spine – dissonant , flowing, pensive sounds.

In the evening, we sleep well and waken the next day to a bright, clear and crisp morning.

Around midday we leave Bodh Gaya in a hired car for Patna.  The journey through dusty Bihari towns and villages takes 3 hours.  Our journey will continue from Patna to Guwahati, the capital of Assam state in the north east.

Alighting from the car with our baggage, we are suddenly in the chaotic traffic circle in front of the entrance to the station. We enter the concourse and walk around the various families and individuals camping on the floor of the reception hall.  Those who are awake stare at us as we make our way to the waiting room

 

As in all of India, real information is very difficult to come by and we know the train is late, but by how much we don’t know.

We find our way to the ladies’ waiting room.  One old lady is making a fuss about there being men in the room although they are obviously with their families – wives and children.  I have to leave.  But the general waiting room has an air of depression that overwhelms.  The bright overhead lights, the resigned hunched postures of the waiting passengers, the smell of vomit from a corner where someone has thrown up is overpowering and sends me back to the ladies’ waiting room from which I had been ejected.

By 12 midnight, according to the electronic notice board, the train will be at least 4 hours late, an increase of 2 hours on the last bulletin.

A descent down the worn stairs, past a beggar wearing shorts to  show off his chronic leukodema:  the poor guy is a sickly white except for brown panda eyes; and on to a “help desk” where my wife has already been and where she was told, “No rooms available”.

I try to get a room.  At the help desk, the clerk and his assistants speak no English.  I get passed from one to another and every time I start to communicate with them about getting a room somewhere in the station, they all cast their eyes down and giggle.  Eventually, I manage to communicate and I’m given a room, number 4 somewhere along from the waiting rooms upstairs.

I pay the Rs 780 (about £9) and a coolie in regulation maroon uniform takes us along a dark passageway past a restaurant that is closed and we come to a door with a padlock. We leave our bags and progress, feeling exhausted, to a dark alcove in which there is a raised deck.  A peon is asleep on a raised, concrete platform.  He peers at us from under a blanket.

We waken him and he rubs his eyes and gives us the key for the padlock.  We return to the door, open it and enter a large square room that could double for a multiple occupancy prison cell in Saudi Arabia or Syria with a palette and mattress in the middle of the room.  Using our own sheets on the thin, lumpy mattress to lessen the chances of being bitten by bugs, we flop down and sleep a dreamless sleep with the fluorescent light blazing above our heads.

As we can’t hear the announcements from the tannoy every hour or so, I have to traipse downstairs to check the bulletin board for any hint of the arrival of our train; and it’s back to a short nap in our torture chamber, the lower wall splashed red from the expectorant release of pan disconcertingly the colour of old blood.

At 4 am the board still states our train will arrive at 2 am.

Standing outside, I suddenly I hear that the train is arriving at the station.  The coolie has failed to wake us to take us to the train and the peon is fast asleep again under his blanket.

I waken my wife and send her downstairs to fetch the coolie while I pack and pile our luggage outside the door.

THE TRAIN IS NOW ARRIVING AT PLATFORM 2, I hear over the tannoy.  It’s the North East Express to Guwahati.

Just then, my wife arrives with the coolie looking guilty.  We shake the peon awake and shove the door key at him then rush downstairs, the coolie carrying our bags on his head.

Across a pedestrian bridge we go, weaving in and out of the crowds.  My wife is running ahead. The train has come in from Delhi and we have only about 10 minutes to find our carriage and get our bags on the train – and there is a really, really long train of carriages.

Just in time, the coolie finds our carriage about halfway along the platform, and we settle into our sleeping quarters.

On the way to Assam, our train is delayed again and we don’t reach our destination till past midnight the following night…altogether a 33 hour journey from Gaya to Guwahati.

 

A friend has booked us into the Surya Hotel but the place seems locked up for the night.  Raju, our friend, phones the hotel and eventually a young boy opens the hotel door and takes us up to our room.

After the filth on the train, the room sparkles.  At last, we have a shower and sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIFE AND DEATH

We Buddhists talk about death a lot.

For me, that’s the main attraction – there’s no shying away from the truth in Buddhism. I’ve always known death. I’ve always said that Life is death and death is life. When I was 14 months old, my sister was born terminally ill and died 18 months later. In 4th grade, my father underwent major surgery which he again underwent in 6th grade. I guess he’d had symptoms for a couple of years. Maybe he didn’t want to imagine himself unwell. Who knows? In any case, he did what men so often do and didn’t go to the doctor. He died at 46 when I was 13. If he’d have gone to the doctor earlier, he would have lived longer.

The way I see it, my father wasn’t one for facing facts. For whatever reason, for some people the truth is too hard to bear. Maybe we’re all like that – it’s just a matter of extent. Maybe that’s what the Buddha is teaching us. Maybe he’s teaching us that we need to face the truth. We can’t see what we can’t bear to see. How do we see what we can’t bear to see?

The story of my sister’s death isn’t as simple as it seems. The story of my father’s death isn’t as simple as it seems. For anyone who’s experienced these types of things, it’s never as simple and straightforward as we like to imagine. We like to create edges around things, fill in the contents and label them. We like to see what’s inside our jars, put a lid on and write what’s inside. We read the jar label imagining the flavours and textures. But it’s completely different when you live and breathe it. It’s a bit like a reading a book. If you’ve lived it it’s completely different to getting a theoretical perspective. For us Buddhists, we read books about death – about bardo, life, death, books like The Tibetan Book of the Dead. But death from the inside looking out isn’t like a book describing something. It’s too close. It’s not orderly. It’s not contained. It’s visceral.

I need to go back a bit so you understand where I’m coming from. Let me start with my sister.

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TECHNOLITERACY

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I first felt the onslaught of the digital tsunami in my engineering days.  My job as an apprentice toolmaker was to set up capstan lathes in a small factory in Glasgow that made bespoke accouterments for submarines:  salinometers, micro-valves and custom tools for cutting gears.  Crockets was the name of the company.

After two years of working there, the management decided to invest in machines that could be monitored by one man from a centrally situated hub and my skills quickly became redundant, along with about 10% of the factory’s workforce.

 

It was the sixties and the journey from analogue to digital had begun.

In 1981, after many years of working on a BBC computer and inking exam papers on a Banda machine for third-world use, I was in Toronto where I was helping to build a sauna with some Polish students in the district of Pape.  The house was a late 19th century French colonial structure.  The sauna was annexed to a bedroom on the top floor, the middle and ground sections providing living space and a kitchen respectively.  In the basement was a service workshop for Apple computers, the first in the country I was told.

Tom and his wife Trudy, the owners of the house, left me in charge while they went for a two-week vacation to Tobago.  I was to sign myself in and out of the place, cook my food in the kitchen, and was allowed to’play’ on the computers in the basement.

I don’t know how you feel about packman and on-screen table tennis, but don’t get involved, ever, with shooting alien craft out of the sky as they drop to earth in ever-increasing numbers accompanied by a repetative, digital soundtrack. I spent 16 or more hours a day at the screen and walked about the house zapping everything in sight in my line of vision accompanied by an auditorially tintinnabulated internal screeching of extra-terrestrial craft landing from the ceilings of the house.

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Nowadays, while driving, I think of how my father would have wondered at the technology used in cars these days.  For as far as I can remember he drove a new car every year until he died in 1972.  These included Vauxhall, Singer, MG, Morris Oxford, Triumph, Humber, Austin, and various other models.  (I also wonder how Leonardo da Vinci would react to television, helicopters and aeroplanes, and, well, just about anything in the modern world.)

Now, microprocessors in cars regulate the windows and the engine with on-board diagnostics.  The engine control unit, for example, is one of the many seeming miracles of vehicle technological developments.  It balances the mixture of air and fuel that passes through the catalytic converter to remove pollutants from the car exhaust.  And what would my father think of me speaking to someone on my hands free iPhone then switching to a GPS navigation system which can forecast my time of arrival at a destination by the shortest and least cumbersome route in real time?

Now, I have an old and redundant SLR Pentax in my cupboard with a detachable 185 mm lens, replaced with a Nikon digital camera, a Cassio compact camera and an iPhone on which I can access What’s App, Viber, Face Time, send and receive texts and tweets, send an Instagram,  listen to music on wireless digital headphones on Deezer or Sound Cloud, enter appointments in my calendar with one click, find the arrival of a bus near my home or anywhere in the country, carry plane, train, bus and theatre tickets in my digital wallet, make use of predictive text which suggests words I might wish to insert in a text field, predictions based on the context of other words in the message and the first letter typed…and take a pretty good photo with a selfie stick that someone gave me.

As for the future. Well, here are some of my predictions.  I was told by an 86 year old mathematician who used to work in Ferrantis developing electronics for the defence industry that most of the guesses below have been or are in progress.  Excuse the layman’s vocabulary:

• Inter-dermal gossamer implants containing personal  information     such as passports, medical records and current terrestrial location
• Geo drones for the delivery of online-purchased goods.
• Holographic, omni-directional media systems for home use
• Rolls of highway applied to super-Velcro surfaces
• Predictive Assessed Profiles (PAP) of criminal behaviour – think Tom Cruise’s Minority Report
• Smart wrist bands that send real time diverse health uploads to a central astro-physical diagnostic hub enabling packets of advice on activities and diet
• Organic/biological prosthetics
• Neo-plastic neuron implants in designated inter modal pathways to facilitate the amelioration of harmful habits such as smoking and alcohol addiction
• Inter-spatial organic plateaus for the production and delivery of food to stations on earth
• Genetic applications of advantageous features in mammals applied to humans, such as amphibiotic gills, eidetic tableau memory platforms and stereoscopic vision.
• Biological, inter-gender robots with legalised human partner-paired capabilities  (This is happening now cf Martina Rothblatt)
• And, of course, international exospheric battlement stations stocking nuclear payloads

In a billion years, let’s imagine that we’re still around, the difference between human appearances now and then would be as different as the forms evolved by bacteria and a monkey.

I read that somewhere.

Technologically, well, that’s beyond all our present understanding.

 

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SWEET CORN PUDDING मकैको खीर

In Nepal, several types of pudding are prepared.  One popular kind of pudding is that made from fresh corn.

Ingredients
1 cup of fresh corn

4 cups of milk
1 cup of sugar (honey can be used as a substitute)
1/2 cup of dried fruit
1/2 teaspoon of cardamon
2 tablespoons of grated coconut

Process
Boil the milk on a low heat.  stir frequently till it boils down to only 3 cups.  Add the corn and continue heating till it thickens and the corn is tender.  More milk can be added if required.  Add the sugar or honey and the fruit.  Heat for a few minutes more.  When cook, serve in small bowls.  Top the with cardamon and coconut.

Serves 6 persons

bon appetit

Source:  Joys of Nepalese Cooking (S. Devi, Lashkar (Gwalior), India)

HARRIET TUBMAN

 A story of overcoming fear in your workplace, and in your heart. Excerpted from Jaiya John’s new book of healing, Your Caring Heart: Renewal for Helping Professionals and Systems. Online where books are sold.

Harriet Tubman was a baaad woman. She didn’t play. One story I appreciate telling about her (creatively adapted, of course) is a story of leadership. So, the story goes that Harriet and her people had been discussing for some time the idea of breaking away from their plantation and finding freedom. Now, freedom can be a very frightening idea to a slave. Sure enough, as the designated night approached in which the group would escape the plantation, the people began to voice their concerns. Their fears.

Many of these people were menfolk, and Harriet being a woman, was used to the challenges of being a female leader. Folks started in with fear talk: “Now, Harriet, this freedom thing of yours sounds great in theory, but I don’t know if it is realistic. Look at our life. We have so much to deal with. So many bad things could go wrong. I don’t know if we have time for this freedom thing. I need to get back to my work or Massa gon’ whup me good. I can’t afford to lose my job. How much work is this freedom thing going to require?”

Does this litany of fear talk sound familiar to you? If so, it is because, bless us all, the slave is alive and well in our society and work. It is a spirit of self-oppression that burrows deep into people and groups, rendering their idea of reality as one of impending doom.

 Harriet listened respectfully to her people. But Harriet knew fear. It was in the nature of being a slave. In fact, her people harvested fear more than they harvested cotton or other crops. It was fear that they brought home to their slave quarters. Fear that they ate together for dinner. Beds of fear that they slept on. Dreams of fear in the night. Fear was their sunrise, their clothing, their daily industry. So, Harriet, she knew fear. And she would not let it get in the way of freedom. On a night absent of moonlight, Harriet gathered her people down by the riverbank. The murmuring water would be their chaplain for this freedom service. The people were now terrified. They risked death, dismemberment, whippings, dogs tearing at their flesh. They risked disappointing their overseers and their masters. They risked losing their precious jobs as house slaves, for few wanted the backbreaking life of a field slave. They risked being sold. This entire river of fears was now pushing up their throats, coming out as angry resistance to freedom.

 Harriet wasn’t sweet. She was fire. A woman, slave, nurse, social worker, leader, healer in those times had to be fire. She used hers. Lifting her sawed-off shotgun, she pointed it directly at the men challenging her leadership. Harriet said these words: “I understand, my people, the ferocity of your fears. But we have been slaves far too long. We have lost the taste for freedom. But here, under cover of this black night, I’m fixin’ to make an executive decision. Those who choose to stay in this life of suffering may do so. Otherwise, whoever wants to have freedom sing in their bones and dreams tonight, follow me. Tonight, my people, we fixin’ to be free.”

 In every group of human beings who care deeply to do this healing work, in the right way and spirit, there must be those, of any title, willing to walk the group through their long night of fear into the astounding daybreak of freedom. There is no other way than directly through our fear. We should do this now, good souls, before we further lose the taste of freedom.

 

INSPIRATION

“But what is self Love?” she asked.

And Love answered:

“When your sacredness becomes your deepest song.”

Dr. Jaiya John has served organizations, agencies, schools, and initiatives globally for many years. He is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer, consultant, book author, poet, spoken word artist, and youth mentor. Jaiya is the founder of Soul Water Rising, a global human mission that has donated thousands of Jaiya’s books in support of social healing, and offers scholarships to displaced and vulnerable youth. He is a former professor of social psychology at Howard University, has authored numerous books, and has addressed over half a million professionals, parents, and youth worldwide. Jaiya is a National Science Foundation fellow, and holds a doctorate degree in social psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. As an undergraduate, he attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and studied Tibetan Holistic Medicine through independent research with Tibetan doctors in Nepal.

Soul Water Rising  |  jaiya@soulwater.org  |  soulwater.org

Game Changing

 Somehow 2016 feels like a game-changer. The fatigue of decades of political non-speak and spin has taken its toll this year with Brexit and Trump. The social scientists at work were wondering what they’d missed in their analyses of the political ailments that returned us to Germany in the 1930s when the news of the Austrian election where almost half the population voted for an outright Fascist. How did that happen? we asked and yet it’s been a long time coming.

So what’s in stall for 2017?

I live a very simple and calm life which has been fantastic for my Buddhist practice. At an external level, not much changes between one day and the next, one week and the next. I make breakfast, do Pilates, meditate, go to work, come home, cook dinner, read, go to bed. It’s pretty much the same thing day in, day out. The weekends are mugs and mugs of freshly brewed loose-leaf tea while pottering about the house. The amazing thing about having a repetitive life is that I have the space to develop my practice, to reflect, to read – it feels very 1980s. Simple and comforting.

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A Buddhist acquaintance recently said that 30 years ago she made the decision to lead a full life after her father’s death in her late teens. The conversation triggered a contemplation about what it means to live a full life, especially as I lead such a quiet life. Given the opportunities and options available today, the idea of doing lots and lots of things as a definition of leading a full life feels like I’m in a huge banquet hall with tables and tables in every direction with varieties of cuisines and courses of all descriptions. There’s no way to taste everything and I’m unsure about where to go? what to choose? how much to have? I’m overwhelmed by the possibilities and feel uncertain to step in any direction. None feel particularly meaningful and the consumption feels both unethical and unsatisfactory. Why choose 1 way instead of another? It doesn’t matter which way I go, I’ll always miss out on more than I could ever taste. And besides, what will all that tasting give? A chronic insatiability of what I haven’t yet had, questioning what other options are available and regret about which decisions I made. I feel saturated and overwhelmed by it all.

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In response, I’ve pulled back from the world, restricted my options, reduced what I look at. One of the decisions has been to focus on the good news on the internet and to avoid the rest because the bad stuff is really bad, e.g. the situation in Syria is bad enough and yet Russia is in cahoots – Putin looks like a parasitic monster feeding on the underbelly of greed. In addition, I get the feeling that much of what’s news is propaganda. Is ‘the news’ a form of consumption to feel bad as much as shopping is a type of consumption to feel good? It’s as if the society is obsessed by consuming in any form without understanding the assault on the soul. My body and mind feel triggered and pulled in all directions as it seeks my attention, emotion and purchase.

And so the question remains – What does it mean to lead a full life? After much cogitation, I’ve decided that leading a fuller life is to lead a stiller life – to notice both the beauty and the pain by pausing and doing less: The sunrise is beautiful. Syria is a mess. Fascism is rising. The rose is stunning. People are lonely. People are happy. There are hurts. There is forgiveness. And then there’s the wonderfully kitch and the inspiring.

For me, it seems that to lead a full life is to lead a life with the full gamut of emotions, responses, reactions – to intimately engage with whatever arises: The funny, the bland, the hate, the love, the sorrow, the drudgery, the appalling, the wonder and the joy. As for 2017, my hope is that it will be a new job at better pay, meaningful friendships, connection to a charity, deeper understanding of Buddhism and plenty of wonder and joy.

May you also have a year that is full of wonder and joy – and full life in whatever form that takes.

About the author Wendy Nash.
Wendy is Australian and has been living in Oxford, UK, for the past 3 years. She has been following Buddhism since 2003, took refuge with the Buddha in 2008 and in 2014 realised that although she had everything she wanted (good relationships, health and job) she was still unhappy – that’s when her practice really came into its own. She has been dedicated to the White Tara group in Oxford since 2014.

She thinks that life is better with a vase of flowers nearby and mugs of teapot tea. 

Glesca

Rouken Glen Boathouse, Glasgow

I had a great childhood just outside of the city, Glasgow that is!  Not like the city I grew up in, no it’s now a fabulous bustling town and something to be proud of if you are a Glaswegian…

I lived in Orchard Park which is between Giffnock and Thornliebank.  Behind “oor hoose” was a farm.  It was owned by farmer Stirling.  He and his wifie had two sets of twins, one set boys and the other girls.  I remember the old farm kitchen.  It had a huge wooden table (at least it seemed huge then) which was worn down in the middle where there was always an uncut loaf, I think we called it a plain loaf!  A huge dish of homemade jam took up residence on one corner of the table and likewise on another corner was delicious homemade butter,  the wooden butter pat still in it.  Of course these three ingredients made great “jellie pieces.”  Up the circular staircase from the kitchen was the family`s best lounge.  Glass cabinets held their treasures….

I went on the tractor and round the fields with the farmer.  I helped to milk the cows, feed the pigs and collect eggs.  Wonderful memories of a wonderful time.

I was probably about 15 years old when the farm was knocked down and a function hall was built, not nearly as much fun but necessary they said.

I lived in a cul-de-sac at number six and my friend at number 12.  Her father had an amazing  gardens full of beautiful blooms of all the colours of the rainbow.  He fed the plants with horse dung which he collected from the droppings of horses which came through our street and into the fields.  For me as a child I found this disgusting!!!

We as children had so much freedom.  Off we went on our bikes and weren’t seen again till lunch time.  After lunch we were off again.  We went to Rouken Glen up hills and down vales.  Exploring the woods, picking bluebells by their hundreds,  jumping the burn etc…  What great memories.  So sad that our children and grandchildren are so restricted and don’t have much freedom.  One wonders if the goings on were the same in the old days but with no media to frighten people off..

I left school at 16 and took up hairdressing as my career.  My parents had to pay £300.00 for my apprenticeship.  It was such a lot of money for them to find.  However it gave me the ability to do something which I used for many years both here and abroad and best of all I loved `doing hair`.

When I became twenty one, three girlfriends and I decided to go and work in Gibraltar for a year. We all left our jobs and booked flights.  What an exciting time that was.  We were ahead of our time because if you weren’t married and by that age you certainly didn’t leave home!  The neighbour speaking to my mum over the fence said “Was she thon way” is that’s why she has gone away…

Anastasia Romei