Reflections on a non existent blue rose on a tangent to Helen Keller

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non existant blue rose

I have been meditating on a non existent natural blue rose

It doesn’t exist because it would be hard to see against the preponderantly green leaves of nature. This hasn’t stopped gardeners from trying to breed a blue rose. There is the genetically modified blue carnation. True, there is the blue Gentin with pointers visibleto bees  in ultraviolet light,

Gardeners have spread flowers across the continents designing their land for painterly effect of colour, texture and composition. In nature, flowers are purely sexual: reproducing, competing and spreading their seed. Bees see more red and butterflies red and yellow and honeyeater[1] birds want dripping nectar, often in deep tubes, on strong stems. Night flyers are attracted to pale strongly scented flowers. The lemon scented jasmine dead looking by day comes alive at night. Pygmy or honey possums may forage from the strong stemmed gravillea. Millions of pollen grains are needed when cast randomly to the wind.

How does this relate to meditation?

What appears beautiful to us is not what the bee or butterfly sees. There is more to a flower than meets the eye. There is more yo be observed than our common sensory input reveals.

We have all heard of blind people gifted with increased hearing or sense of touch. Some meditations help us reduce our sensory distractions.

But what if we had no choice? Then I remembered Helen Keller and a story told by Osho.

helen kellerI read Helen Keller (1880 – 1968)  in high School and was struck by her beautiful descriptions of nature[2]. From “the anguish and horror  … bowed down by the twofold weight of blindness and deafness,” Helen became a highly cultured mystic in the Hermetic-Platonic tradition.

At age nineteen months, Helen was diagnosed with “acute congestion of the stomach and brain” and left her blind and deaf from high fever.

“A Phantom in a No-World” is how she later described her five years of complete isolation. “Like a ship in a dense fog, groping its way without compass or sounding-line’, she lived in ‘a conscious time of nothingness. I did not know that I knew aught or that I lived or acted. I had neither will nor intellect. . . I had no power of thought.”

Most of us think with pictures and words. Asked not to think of s pink elephant, we do.

Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, was a former teacher of the deaf, whose eife couldnot hear. He encouraged the Keller to the Perkins Institution for the Blind, who recommended  a half-blind twenty-one year old  Irish woman named Annie Sullivan.

They first met on March 3, 1887.

“My teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, had been with me nearly a month, and she had taught me the names of a number of objects. She put them into my hand, spelled their names on her fingers and helped me to form the letters; but I had not the faintest idea what I was doing. I do not know what I thought. I have only a tactile memory of my fingers going through those motions and changing from one position to another.

“One day she handed me a cup and spelled the word. Then she poured some liquid into the cup and formed the letters w-a-t-e-r. She says I looked puzzled and persisted in confusing the two words, spelling cup for water and water for cup. Finally I became angry because Miss Sullivan kept repeating the words over and over again.

“In despair she led me out to the ivy-covered pumphouse and made me hold the cup under the spout while she pumped. With her other hand she spelled w-a-t-e-r emphatically. I stood still, my whole body’s attention fixed on the motions of her fingers as the cool stream flowed over my hand. All at once there was a strange stir within me–a misty consciousness, a sense of something remembered. It was as if I had come back to life after being dead!”

“I was like an unconscious clod of earth. There was nothing in me except the instinct to eat and drink and sleep. My days were a blank without past, present, or future, without hope or anticipation, without interest or joy.”

More than merely physical–that it was an awakening to mental realms.

Now I see it was my mental awakening. I think it was an experience somewhat in the nature of a revelation. I showed immediately in many ways that a great change had taken place in me. I wanted to learn the name of every object I touched, and before night I had mastered thirty words. Nothingness was blotted out! I felt joyous, strong, equal to my limitations! Delicious sensations rippled through me, and sweet, strange things that were locked up in my heart began to sing.”

“When the sun of consciousness first shone upon me, behold a miracle! The stock of my young life that had perished, now steeped in the waters of knowledge, grew again, budded again, was sweet again with the blossoms of childhood. Down in the depths of my being I cried, “It is good to be alive!” I held out two trembling hands to life, and in vain would silence impose dumbness upon me henceforth.

“That first revelation was worth all those years I had spent in dark, soundless imprisonment. That word “water” dropped into my mind like the sun in a frozen winter world.

“The world to which I awoke was still mysterious; but there were hope and love and God in it, and nothing else mattered. Is it not possible that our entrance into heaven may be like this experience of mine?”

Few will ever experience as deep a life affirming self realisation. Without preconceived notions, Helen could experience a break through to meaning mediated through touch and smell. Her regeneration from a living death to humanity, grasping what religious sages describe as a change from “death” to life.

What lesson can we learn from this story?

With only touch and smell, Helen learned about new-born life when Annie had her hold an egg in her hand so that she could feel the baby chick ‘chip-chipping’ its way out through the shell.

Of her teacher, Helen wrote:

“Poetry and music were her allies. In her fingers words rang, rippled, danced, buzzed, and hummed. She made every word vibrant to my mind–she would not let the silence about me be silent. She kept in my thought the perceptive, audible, and other qualities of every object I could touch. She brought me into sensory contact with everything we could reach or feel–sunlit summer calm, the quivering of soap bubbles in the light, the songs of birds, the fury of storms, the noises of insects, the murmur of trees, voices loved or disliked, familiar fireside vibrations, the rustling of silk, the creaking of a door, and the blood pulsing in my veins.”

Teaching Charlie Chaplin the manual alphabet

Teaching Charlie Chaplin the manual alphabet

We are told our brain makes neural connections. relationship between the human sensorium and the power of the human mind Similarly, Helens new life seems to me made by her ability to make connections through touch and smell to form meaning with her outer environment. In some esoteric traditions the senses are similarly mixed: the Jews “saw the voices” from Mount Sinai, the famous Rabbi Akiva claims the experience.   A more secular suggests we created god from multiple and mixed senses, while mediators may believe increased perception is a divine gateway.

When asked how she taught Helen abstract ideas like gladness, goodness, love, and beauty, Annie Sullivan replied  “It isn’t the word,but the capacity to experience the sensation that counts. The word love she learned as other children do, — by its association with caresses.”

As Helen herself said:

“My fingers cannot, of course, get the impression of a large whole at a glance; but I feel the parts and my mind puts them together. I move around my house, touching object after object in order, before I can form an idea of the entire house… It is not a complete conception, but a collection of object-impressions which, as they come to me, are disconnected and isolated. But my mind is full of associations, sensations, theories, and with them it constructs the house. The process reminds me of the building of Solomon’s temple, where was neither saw, nor hammer, nor any tool heard while the stones were being laid one upon the other.”

“Touch cannot bridge distance,-it is fit only for the contact of surfaces,-but thought leaps the chasm. For this reason I am able to use words descriptive of objects distant from my senses. I have felt the rondure of the infant’s tender form. I can apply this perception to the landscape and to the far-off hills.”

Smell is, for her, “the fallen angel” of the senses:

“Touch sensations are permanent and definite. Odors deviate and are fugitive, changing in their shades, degrees, and location. There is something else in odor which gives me a sense of distance. I should call it horizon–the line where odor and fancy meet at the farthest limit of scent. Smell gives me more idea than touch or taste of the manner in which sight and hearing probably discharge their functions. Touch seems to reside in the object touched, because there us a contact of surfaces. In smell there is no notion of relievo, and odor seems to reside not in the object smelt, but in the organ. Since I smell a tree at a distance, it is comprehensible to me that a person sees it without touching it.”

So Helen learned to “listen’ to a tree. And to imagine beauty as a form of goodness.

Rather intriguingly a Dr Tilney tested her sensitivity, and found her not any more sensitive than the average human. When spun on a chair she could only tell by the feeling of air on her face.

“The great difference exists in her use of the senses by the development of her brain”  he concluded, long before we could test for neuro-plasticity. We are left with ambiguous speculations.

“I understand how scarlet can differ from crimson because I know that the smell of an orange is not the smell of a grapefruit. I can also conceive that colors have shades, and guess what shades are. In smell and taste, there are varieties not broad enough to be fundamental, so I call them shades.” – Helen Keller

At worst, she was criticised for literary flourish using the word colour in ways that to sighted people would not make sense.

“Philosophy constantly points out the untrustworthiness of the five senses and the important work of reason which corrects the errors of sight and reveals its illusions.”

Helen Kellers life suggests there i more to reality than sense perception. Our mind creates our reality. For positivists to lose part of perception was to lose part of reality is lost.

This has been a perennial philosophic debate.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz suggested  “Being, itself, and truth are not known wholly through the senses; for it would not be impossible for a creature to have long and orderly dreams, resembling our life, of such a sort that everything which it thought it perceived through the senses would be but mere appearances. being and of truth is found therefore in the Ego and in the understanding, rather than in the external senses and in perception of external objects.”   Or as Max Plank simplified it “As long as we logically pursue the positivist teaching we must exclude every influence of a sentimental, aesthetic, or ethical character from our minds…””

“With Helen, we have a clear case of someone who thought of herself as having instrumentation, from which an image of reality could be gleaned through the mind; through generating a mental picture which can, potentially, be something completely efficient. She implies that her imagination is more actively engaged as a result of lacking the sense of vision.  The particular burden of vision, as she describes it, is that the sensing person is less clear of the fact that their mind is forming a picture of reality from impressions of instruments. Reality is not being imparted from the eyes to the mind, which is simply a receptacle. Rather, the mind is always working to construct this picture of reality, and perhaps more so when the impressions are not being perceived at the same time, as with an image which can only be built up over time. At least the primacy of the mind’s role may be more clear to the perceiver in this case. She says that she will not claim who generates a more efficient conception, the seer or the blind, who sees through touch, but as her own writings show clearly, this woman who could not see, had a real sense of the power of her own mind, and an efficient conception of reality, which we know because her thoughts can move us and can generate powerful ideas within our own minds.” – Meghan Rouillard

Yet Helen heard more without sound

Helen Keller in India

Helen Keller in India

“Critics delight to tell us what we cannot do. They assume that blindness and deafness sever us completely from the things which the seeing and the hearing enjoy, and hence they assert we have no moral right to talk about beauty, the skies, mountains, the songs of birds, and colors… Some brave doubters have gone so far even as to deny my existence… I throw upon the doubters the burden of proving my non-existence.  When we consider how little has been found out about the mind, is it not amazing that any one should presume to define what one can know or cannot know?  I admit that there are innumerable marvels in the visible universe unguessed by me.  Likewise, O confident critic, there are a myriad sensations perceived by me of which you do not dream…  Certainly the language of the senses is full of contradictions, and my fellows who have five doors to their house are not more surely at home in themselves than I…“

carusokellerOf a soprano she said  “When I read the lips of a woman whose voice is soprano, I note a low tone or a glad tone in the midst of a high, flowing voice.”  When she ‘heard’ Enrico Caruso she was moved to tears.

Sound uses our entire body as a resonator, feeling the touch of a singers powerful voice is not impossible.. Lyndon LaRouche suggested she had a kind of sixth sense which perceives other characteristics beyond the sound of classical music, or helps us know we are part of the human species even if we are blind and deaf.

If  her gift cannot be explained by senses or supersenses, as Dr. Tilney concluded, then  didthe higher power of language help her grasp ideas which bridge single sense impressions and develop them?

Annie Sullivan insisted Helen use complete sentences.

For example, Helen learned the word to think when her teacher Anne Sullivan wrote on her head while she was beading a necklace. But in later in life she could use the word in different contexts.

 “I cannot always distinguish my own thoughts from those I read, because what I read becomes the very substance and texture of my mind,” or,

“Just as the wonder-working mantle of the Nautilus changes the material it absorbs from the water and makes it a part of itself, so the bits and pieces of knowledge one gathers undergo a similar change and become pearls of thought,” or, “Greek is the loveliest language that I know anything about. If it is true that the violin is the most perfect of musical instruments, then Greek is the violin of human thought.”

While we may never know how Helen Keller constructed her thought world, she prove to us the power of the mind to create a reality.

“Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist” wrote Emerson. I suggest it is was true for the Helen Keller.

Given a a copy of Emanuel Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell in raised letters, Helen found in it “a likeness of a God as lovable as the one in my heart.”The same philosopher had informed Abraham Lincoln.

“Its spirituality and idealism appeal to me. It also fosters all kinds of true freedom, places humanity above party, country, race, and it never loses sight of the essence of Jesus’s gospel – the supreme and equal worth of each individual soul. That doctrine is the heart of Christianity.”

While lapsed Catholic Annie Sullivan  differed she said “I can respect your beliefs because you do not use them like a weakling to console yourself for blindness and deafness, but as part of the happiness God wants to create for us all.”

Her advise was “form your views independently. Only keep yourself clear of competitive sects and creeds, and do not get involved in any fanaticism. Always be just and generous to those with whom you differ.”

On another occasion “What we learn from others is of less value than what we teach ourselves!”

She was also a member of the first Humanist Society in America along with Einstein. But It seems that her family were unimpressed by her beliefs and as a young passionate woman her only known suitor was forced away by her mother.

However, was vocal in her opinions, speaking along with Rabindranath Tagore at the New History Society in New York, founded in 1929 to further the Bahai Faith, in the interests of India.”

Newspaper clipping. Helen Keller meets Indian poet and educationalist, Sir Rabindranath Tagore. Caption below photograph reads, "A sage from the Orient meets a famous woman of the Occident. Sir Rabindranath Tagore, eminent Indian poet and educationalist, conversing with Helen Keller, noted blind woman of America, on the problem of India. At the meeting of the New History Society in New York, at which Tagore gave his farewell message to American people, Miss Keller spoke in the interests of India."  Rights: Samuel P. Hayes Research Library, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA

Rights: Samuel P. Hayes Research Library, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA

Helen+Keller+With+Indian+Poet+Tagore+1930

There is a deeper Helen than the legend of a miracle child.

 “Most people know of Helen Keller as a disabled seven year old in the grips of an oblivion of no sight, no sound, rescued by an incredible teacher at a well at the age of seven, brought out of that oblivion through language …and then it disappears from people’s minds.” (Bergmann, 1999, Interview transcript, The Real Helen Keller, Channel FourTelevision).

As depicted in Anne Pughs documentary, The Real Helen Keller for more than forty years after her death, Helen Keller is still known internationally as the little deaf-blind girl, the “miracle child” who triumphed over adversity. It is an image that endures through the Hollywood film “The Miracle Worker” – but Keller never chose that image, and she battled against it all her life. Hidden from the public gaze was the real Helen Keller, a flesh-and-blood woman, writer and radical activist, suffragette and socialist.

sullivankellerNor do they remember that her teacher of 50 years Annie Sullivan was also disabled. Their relationship was mutually supportive.

“It’s ironic, isn’t it, that Annie Sullivan was a person with a disability herself, but is never really remembered that way and when her disability is noted, it’s minimised. It’s reduced to insignificance, she has a little eye trouble, she wears kind of designer sun glasses in The Miracle Worker. But we don’t think of this as in fact two disabled people mutually supporting one another, we think of it as dependent and professional.” (Longmore, 1999) …

“Throughout her life, the validity of her academic and political achievements were questioned by many. She never fully escaped suspicion that she was really the puppet of Annie Sullivan, “speaking and writing lines that are fed to her by Annie’s genius” (Lash, 1980). Deviations from the image, including her political beliefs, were blamed on Annie, even though Helen’s commitment to socialism preceded and exceeded Annie’s. It was partly in answer to these accusations that Helen worked for years to improve the clarity of her speech: if she could speak directly to her critics, instead of through Annie, her only interpreter, then perhaps they would be convinced that her words were her own.”
– Liz Crow Helen Keller: Rethinking the Problematic Icon

There is always more to the rehashed tales of collective memory.

Like gardeners selecting flowers for painterly effect, we like to choose the colours and hues we see of people. We also live colours and hues imposed on us, not of our inner nature.

Then there are those like Helen Keller who live a life true to their nature.

Energy healer Caroline Myss is claimed to have observed  that Helen Keller “was a mystic and was able to hold her hand over a flower and tell you the type of flower it was, and the personality of the flower…..She was able to remember the vibration of every person she met forever, she would simply know who you were and who you are just when you walked into a room and she hasn’t seen you in twenty years.”

This again leads me back to the non existent blue rose. I came to India with a useful reality that no longer worked in my new world. I have also had to reconect my linear singular thinking to a collective and inductive India. It is no where as a comprehensive change as experienced by Helen. She has shown what perseverance can do.

…and What did Helen Keller learn from Nature?

“According to all art, all nature, all coherent human thought, we know that order, proportion, form, are essential elements of beauty. Now order, proportion, and form, are palpable to the touch. But beauty and rhythm are deeper than sense. They are like love and faith. They spring out of a spiritual process only slightly dependent upon sensations. Order, proportion, form, cannot generate in the mind the abstract idea of beauty, unless there is already a soul intelligence to breathe life into the elements.

“Many persons, having perfect eyes, are blind in their perceptions. Many persons, having perfect ears, are emotionally deaf. Yet these are the very ones who dare to set limits to the vision of those who, lacking a sense or two, have will, soul, passion, imagination. Faith is a mockery if it teaches us not that we may construct a world unspeakably more complete and beautiful than the material world. And I, too, may construct my better world, for I am a child of God, an inheritor of a fragment of the Mind that created all worlds.”

 That truth remains indpenedent of our culture or religion.

[1] Of 151 species world over, 73 are found in my native Australia.

[2] For this article I source most detail from Norman D Livergood’s Hellen Keller as Mystic and Helen Keller: Mind over Instrumentation by Meghan Rouillard.

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Will India’s Mars mission inspire Quality India? (Successful abroad – but why aren’t Indians successful at home)

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When India’s .Mars mission successfully reached the red planet, I was impressed. It seemed inconceivable that for a mere 74 million dollars, man reached mars when the 1969 landing of the moon cost $365 million (what is that in todays currency) or the $671 million to launch the Maven satellite.

It showed Indians can excel. Of course, there have been many scientific summits crossed in the subcontinent, and scientist Abdul Kálam became India’s president.

So why do so many Indians excel overseas and not at home?

A study ranked the individuality-conformity of nations ranked India 48th on I-C scale[1] (tied with Panama; Ecuador, 49, Guatemala 50 Pakistan tied with Indonesia at 44) the most Individualistic nations were from 1 to 3, the USA, Australia, the Great Britain with the Netherlands and Canada tied at fourth more collectivist nations.

When nations see themselves in terms of their inner feelings (“I am patient, easy going, kind” they will sacrifice to the group good, even strongly loyal, but demand their own needs are l bound to fewer groups distinctions, have shallower relationships that may end. Collectivist nations see themselves as “I am a daughter, a nurse, an Indian”) with interdependent cooperative relationship, see strong in out group distinctions, are far more adept at reading body language and interpersonal clues seeking group harmony ad long term relationships.

Or as the old joke goes “You can tell Indian crabs because while crabs will climb out of a jar, Indian crabs will get back in.”

All cultures have a Pavlovian reflex to seek group approval. It seems more pronounced in the large communal population that we are quick to condemn non conformists. Unless that nonconformity leads to wealth or power.

Indians do seem to be gifted with a heritage of inductive logic, an intuitive grasp that seems to elude some of our more addictively minded Western contemporaries.

Perhaps its the meditation? Or is it the need to take a street smart hunch to get ahead homed by years of reading the subtle clues of community. Reading body language and expression is a fine Indian art, less developed   by more verbal nations who take you by your word alone.

Indians lead Microsoft and internet technology . Unfortunately, Indian born Nobel prize laureate scientists Hargobind Khurana, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar  and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan were no longer Indian citizens when they gained success.

“We are all human beings, and our nationality is simply an accident of birth” Ramakrishnan said.

Sadly “Indian” successes abroad have little to do with the fact that they are Indian. They succeed because they abandoned India.

India’s policy of exclusion that holds us back?  India forbids joint citizenship, so to get ahead you become a foreign national. Or is it because the history of caste exclusion?

Go to a repairman and there will be plenty of promises but little performed, unless it can be put off onto somebody else.

Or is it the culture of mediocrity that discourages achievement?

Perhaps it is by escaping the social confines of the group, moving to USA, Britain or Australia, where innovation is rewarded, their gifts now shine. Many will not succeed  of course: I have seen many arrive expecting the Pan Indian network to land them a career. Misplaced nostalgia does not work.

Where personal effort and innovation counts, the hard work to simply get by in India, may find results for those seeking solutions. Colonial Britain wrongly criticized Indians as lazy, failing to realise the lazy Indian simply did not want to work for something that meant nothing to him.  The new Industries nations incentivise solutions. Where oversees there is personal reward – in India family  nepotism may swipe your profit.

I hope the successful mars mission inspires us to prove we can do it home in India. There have been great Indian successes when industries broke away from the mould. Let’s build the infrastructure to keep leaders where India needs them.

[1] Hofstede’s national scale 1980 study ranked 117,000 employees of a multinational corporation in 40 countries, that was expanded in 1983 to 50 nations. (Colleen Ward, Stephen Bochner and Adrian Furnham, The Psychology of culture shock, Routledge, 2001, Philadelphia.)

How I was Energized by Dates and Mangoes

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Several shops around mosques in Hydrabad with variety of dates for Ramadan –Photo: Mohd Yousuf

Several shops around mosques in Hydrabad with variety of dates for Ramadan –Photo: Mohd Yousuf

One of my favourite discoveries in India is Ayurveda. The other is dates: khajoor. Dates in market boxes, seemingly from all over the world. not the plastic wrapped rarities I found my Australian supermarlet. Of course I also knew of Ayurveda before coming to Bharat, I had studied it extensively. Yet, seeing it used first hand in the tribe or amongst skilled professionals excites me.

I have never been the hyper energetic type, so finding foods that help add zing and balance my Pita disposition is always welcome.

Here are a few Ayurvedic recommendations for fatigue. Of course, to on the energy boosting list is khajoor. I’m a fan of the date recipe below, and I love the mango cure.

Self observation: The power of prevention. Unusual mental or physical exertion, lack of sleep, can make you tired. So can  lazing around. A short walk or a little exercise may be all that i needed.

However, fatigue may be caused by anemia, low gastric fire, and a weak liver.

For fatigue caused by physical exertion, drinking fresh orange juice with a pinch of rock salt gives a quick boost. Add 10 drops of lime juice to help the body cool down.

Drinking Ginseng or ashvaganda tea twice a day may help.

For anaemia eat eating iron-rich foods and blood builders such as pomegranate juice, grapes and/or grape juice, beets and beetroot juice, carrot juice or the herbs abrak bhamsa or loha bhamsa. Also check out the date recipe below. Right nostril breathing (Surya Pranayama) stimulates the liver, which plays an important role in building the blood.

Fatigue induced by Epstein-Barr virus is treated as a Pita disorder and a pita pacifying diet is recommended. Meanwhile, to strengthen the liver mix together:

Shatavari 5 parts
Bala 4 parts
Vidari 3 parts
Kama dudha ¼ part

Take ½ tsp of this mixture with 1 tsp shatavari ghee 2 or 3 times a day.

When agni (the digestive fire) is low, digestion will be sluggish, bringing the energy level down.

To raise agni chop or grate a little fresh ginger, add a few drops of lime juice and a pinch of salt, and chew it before meals.

It is best to avoid cold or iced drinks, as they reduce agni and impede effective digestion. Instead, take small sips of warm water while eating.

Or take 200mg tablets of chitrah-adivati tablet twice a day, after lunch or dinner.

Any stretching yoga postures include will help kindle agni. Alternate nostril breathing can also help.

Dates and Mangoes help build strength and energy

Dates

Soak 10 dates in a quart of ghee with 1 tsp of ginger,  1/8 tsp cardomon ad a pinch of saffron. Covr and keep warm for two weeks.

Then eat 1 date daily! Besides tasting delicious, Dr Vasant Lad[1] assures us it helps anemia, sexual debility and Chronic fatigue.

For a quick Date pick me up soak five dates in a glass of water over night, then puree the contents in a blender next morning. Just make sure you remove the date pits before you blend the mixture.

Mangoes

For increased vitality eat one ripe mangoe daily and an hour or so later drink 1 cup of warm milk with a teaspoon of added ghee .

Another variation is to drink 1 cup of fresh mango juice followed an hour later by ½ cup of warm milk with a pinch or cardamom, a pinch of nutmeg and 1 teaspoon of ghee.

Sit back, drink, enjoy and feel the zing.

[1] Vasant Lad, B.A.M.S., M.A.Sc., is the founder and director of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, NM. His excellent books include The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies and also Ayurvedic Perspectives on Selected Pathologies.

 

The day I walked into Union Carbide ….

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Whatever you see creates it’s echo within you, and in some deep sense you become like that which you see.”
Osho Hidden Mysteries

For two years I avoided Union Carbide. True, when I first arrived in Bhopal the accommodation building was pointed out from the road. Another time with a Swiss tourist in the car, it was pointed out as we wizzed down new Brahmpur Bridge Road.

I had walked Bhopal’s old city before ever realising how close I was to the fenced off site.

You know it is there but no one really talks about it. Just as bodies are dissolved on a pyre, the still toxic site remains permeating Bhopal’s collective soul.

For the few protests I sense a general malaise.  Protests allow  a sense of action. They show that people can do something – a something that meant everything stayed the same.  But the eros of protest rarely brings lasting change.

13416bhopalhorrorIn a recent visit to Australia, the Uranium sales  contract signed by Prime Ministers Modi and Abbott, inspired many Australian friends to ask me “Is it safe? Look what happened in Bhopal.”

Perhaps the legal decisions of previous governments (Both in  India and the USA) will bind Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Couhan. But I hope the upcoming 30th anniversary will be a plat form for social and business reform. The hubris of scientific progress has often been used to minimize industrial safety.  Double dealing of admitting liability in USA and not in India where some people want blood.

The Bhopal Municipal Corporation site claims 2000 died the night of December 2/3 in a city of then 800,000 and 8,000 since.

“The leak was caused by a series of mechanical and human errors. A portion of the safety equipment at the plant had been non-operational for four months and the rest failed. When the plant finally sounded an alarm–an hour after the toxic cloud had escaped–much of the harm had already been done.
The city health officials had not been informed of the toxicity of the chemicals used at the Union Carbide factory. There were no emergency plans or procedures in place and no knowledge of how to deal with the poisonous cloud.”

 

2014-09-21 14.42.17resSo two years later I find myself crossing the crumbling damp earth to a painted brick fence . Behind the white blocks  that encircle the site shantis are leaning. Washing hangs from branches into the property.

The monsoon is past but the sun has already left a sting on my face and exposed hands. The soil is soaked and rutted, wet and crumbled.

On a chalky patch of white a sitting  sari-d woman is pounding  the ground. Nearby three naked youths pull themselves from a long concrete water tank near bye. Towelled and dressed, they offer (more like foce me) to take my picture for piase, money.

Union Carbide Hole

There is a clear breach in the wall, half filled in by layered rocks.

But I feel an intruder. The world needs to experience Bhopal and to learn from this disaster. The thought of Toxic tourism feels an unwelcome intrusion. And tourists do have a reputation of destroying the landscape and  solemnity of the places they wish to see.
The terms ecotourism or cultural tourism seem oxymorons. Tourists are seen as culturally ignorant, Tourism often changes the very thing come to see. Frustrated sceptics feel justified in describing Social Justice tourism as “self righteous arrogance”, “hypocritical” and “ironic”.

But I am not a tourist. I rent on the other side of town.

I am not seeking to satisfy morbid curiosity. People ask me about the disaster as if I should know as the 30th anniversary approached.

Emails to MPtourism and anyone else I can think of have been ignored.  One website claims permission can be granted in 24 hours, but no organisation matching the claim was found.  I approached the police at the Collectorate Office. I am given an address but that’s a dead end too.

Talk of tours has upset some locals, but one of my Bowen Therapy clients, a former UC employee is frustrated there is so much myth and exaggeration about the disaster in the hope of making money. I am not so sure.

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I had followed my nose past the Taj ul Masjid without a map, bought an icecream opposite the Chingari Rehabilitation Clinic  and knowing I must be close recognised the fence line almost by accident.

No, I am not a tourist!

bhopalgastraegedy_victimss

I understand, the locals expressed concern about opening the site to tourists for the 30th anniversary.

However we spend more on tourism than on eating, so disliking tourists is a bit like disliking who we are who we have become our culture and who we stand for.

It’s like resigning to what is and saying we can never do better.

Bhopal is sadly the premier example for Toxic Tourism.  India and the world have not learned the lessons. In US toxic “human sacrifice zones” shock even locals by the nearness to homes playgrounds and schools.

I do not wish to discredit the beauty of Bhopal or to make a clown of human suffering.

I do want people to see what is hidden and denied. A life worlds apart that is right next door.

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But If Duponte can creatively advertise “better living through chemistry” or GE claim “We bring the good life” why is it wrong to use creativity to remind people of hidden and denied toxicity? World over, such tours reveal how close toxic industries are to residents

Bhopal is a beautiful city. This is the beauty I want people to see. Yet to inspire change, perhaps we need to evoke the ugly sensibilities of our world.

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An appearance rust and brick like any other forgotten factory is before me.

Amongst the rusted frames, life is mixed with death and new growth. Greenery isa graphic symbol of renewal in a scarred and contaminated landscape. I sense life from death.

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But unlike Hiroshima or the Twin towers there is no iconography of memory. Yes, outside ruth watermans memorial captures despair but is barely noticed. Some laugh at it: “What is that supposed to mean?”

https://www.facebook.com/urban.photo.rhizome

source: facebook.com/urban.photo.rhizome

Urban Photo Rhizome Bhopal 2011

In 2011 The Urban Rhizome Photo project rebelliously showed that may Bhopali’s do not want to be defined by the tragedy.  This shadow boxing with the past reminds us that environmental disasters carry a universal burden.  Bhopal may have been a local tragedy but intricate links question our entire global society.

Union Carbide may be a local phenomenon but it’s response must be global.  Landscapes are not just rock and tree scapes but memories evinced from our past. Healing is therefore an ongoing and constant renegotiation of individual and collective meaning we as a society give to this tragedy.

Unfortunately, the survivors have become an ongoing subjects in the collective experiment of industrial failures.

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Images haunt. There is a whole mythology built on this fact: Cezanne painting till his eyes bled, Wordsworth wandering the Lake Country hills in an impassioned daze. … ‘It is like being alive twice.’ Images are not quite ideas, they are stiller than that, with less implication outside themselves. And they are not myth, they do not have that explanatory power; they are nearer to pure story. Nor are they always metaphors; they do not say this is that, they say this is. … Some feeling in the arrest of the image that what perishes and what lasts forever have been brought into conjunction, and accompanying that sensation is a feeling of release from the self. …Only the moment is eternal.”
—“Images,” an essay in Twentieth Century Pleasures (Ecco, 1984) by Robert Hass

As I look at the green shrubbery pushing through rust and concrete I am reminded that India is a land of images.:Images that link us to its myths.

How will the night of the gas be remembered? How can we explain the larger implications of industrialisation?

More than just words are required. In Tantra it is taught that we enhance our senses and evoke our inner mantra. So what emotive experience  -what feeling – could move people to action? There are so many conflicting memories to interpret and rehabilitate.

How do we recognise contemporary needs with conflicting painful past and remember  Bhopal’s beautiful palaces and not just a disaster?

What legacy will lesson balance public memory with the marginalised, equity with ecology?

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The images of this mantra of death are as tactile as a poem that brings up the sensations of the past and present. But it is too easy to see life like fragments of ghazzals rather than appreciate the beauty – or pain – of the poem.

The recent movie recreation “Bhopal: a prayer for rain” has again projected history across the movie screen of the mind.

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But in the silence of metal and concrete I hear a mantra in my mind.   Mantras  reminds us of the power of silence and reflection and meaning and how, like life, springs from the humus of death.

Bhopal must mean something for the world or the rusting hulk will become just an industrial product another. It’s mantra must be of  industry, ecology and decontamination.

As I left I turned down the main road. The front gate to Union Carbide land was wide open.

It is up to us to determine by what songs  future generations will remember December 1984.

Workers repackaging the toxic waste atthe Union Carbide factory in Bhopal.— Photo: A.M. Faruqui

Workers repackaging the toxic waste atthe Union Carbide factory in Bhopal.— Photo: A.M. Faruqui

Injured during Raahgiri Day!!

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raahgiri2Injured during Raahgiri Day!! A frisbie thrown with all the power of youth connected with the bridge of my nose at close range.  Just a minor cut – but t was funny. The poor little grill looked a little uncertian, the father quickly smiled reassuringly as did I . But boy it hurt!

Never mind, festivals should be fun. They are great for sponsors, educational and even an inspiration.

Good festivals rise from the community and express the scale depth and gravity of shared experience: from artists and communities mainstream and minority.

India loves it’s vast community spirit. A vibrant spirit, which occasionally can suffocate individual expression. In the close of parks we can sing nd dance together, while simultaneously expressing our uniqueness.

Raahgiri Day reminds us that cities are more than structures. They are living , breathing organisms of whole communities working and playing together.

Raahgiri day promotes good health in a uniquely Indian way. It groves up the music and engages the senses with dance, meditation, yoga, storytelling friends old and new jostling and friction of bodies  It  offer us alternative food experiences.

raah giri bhopal (82res)The ideas behind the festival – celebration, identity, community – usually remain free-floating concepts given life by the shard but different perspectives of different groups. Festivals can be the bridges through which we connect to each other. Again and again, and in ever-evolving ways.

But sometimes a festival is not about connecting or reaching out, but turning inward in some sense. For example, worldwide Diwali attracts people neither Indian or Asian. Yet the festival provides a public face for a community as well as a focal point for organizing community resources and energies. This in itself builds community; even if it is based away from its Indic home.

When I first I first saw street poster I neither knew what to expect or that it was a weekly event. I  saw another dated a week earlier, guessed I must have made a mistake.

I soon discovered that Bhopal, like Gurgeon before it, is determined to get people out of cars and evxercising on the streets. Delightfully, the whole atmosphere charged the city blessed with so much greenery.

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Cauldering off a section of road for a No Vehicle Sunday to promote exercise and eco-friendly living gives fellow pedestrians (raahgir) somewhere safe to walk.  But not a sedentary walk, Vishal fitness Plant turned the street into an outdoor gym, writhing to the crowd to Bollywood rhythms,

stuntbhopal

Source: raahgiridays.com

When I first visited Raahgiri Day in Bhopal, in October the theme was Clean India-Green India. Saplings were offered to plant and people could donate old clothes and toys as Diwali gifts for the under privileged. The local government promoted new projects and environmentally friendly cab pooling, or safety messages.

The name ‘Raahgiri Day’ has been coined using two words, ‘Raah’  and ‘Giri.’ ‘Raah’  means a path to reach a goal, and ‘Giri’ comes from ‘Gandhigiri,’ which is a colloquial expression popularised by the 2006 Hindi film, Lage Raho Munna Bhai,   to refer to the tenets of Gandhism.

The idea started in 1976, Bogata Columbia. Ciclovia or closing specific streets to automobiles exclusively for cyclists and pedestrians changed the lives residents of 2 million residents then spread internationally.

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First the very Indian Raahgiri Day took off from Gurgeon. Every Sunday, for a fixed time period, a street or road is kept closed for all motor transport then opened exclusively for walking, jogging, cycling, skating, and exercising. In Bhopal a 2 kilometer stretch is closed off from the Van Vihar National Park (Bhopal zoo) past the the Boat Club to the Bharat Bhavan.

raahbhol

Source: raahgiridays.com

More than just exercise, Rahgiri Day showcases conservation and innovation. It was awarded the Parivartan Sustainability Leadership Awards 2014 by Sustainability Outlook. In Bhopal I know many who hurt by the Bhopal disaster proudly support organic alternatives.  It also allows local government to ensure community messages are seen by the public.

Raahgiri day reveals our need for a vibrant life that dances in good health, community and individuality.

raahgiribho

Source: raahgiridays.com

Aussie doc gets Raahgiri therapy, is how the newspaper described me.

Yes I made The Times of India, but I’m not a doctor.

“He read about it and took a morning BRTS bus to reach location. Brain Sullivan is a Bowen therapist (a hands-on therapy to heal pains, where a practitioner uses thumbs and fingers to gently move muscles and tissues). “It is quite an experience. Hustle bustle of chaotic traffic often gets to me. This is fun and a joy altogether,” he said.”

(Hustle and bustle? I never use those words: I did say I was surprised by the level of obesity in Bhopal compared to other paces I had lived in, so exercise was good. I did lament the traffic, however I came by bus, but not the BRTS bus route). I simply enjoyed the local art student’s work as they explored a typical Raahgiri Sunday.

raah giri bhopal (65)

Raahgiri Day is a wonderful relief.

I love cycling and walking but my first bike ride after arriving in India saw y back wheel bent by an impatient driver.

Every year 1.5 lakh die in Indian traffic accidents:, 20% in towns and cities of which 70% are cyclists and pedestrians. About 6 lac people die annually on account of air pollution and transportation accounts for 1/4th of these pollutants  Another 4 lakh die o lifestyle diseases caused by a sedentary lifestyle.

The founders of Raahgiri day realized 5000 Gurgoan people, primarily cyclists and pedestrians die. Rather than hope to peruade the authorities to act, they made a change themselves. Beginning on Novemeber 17, 2013, over 300,000 people joined in forcing the original 4.5 kilometre route to expand to 22 kilometres in 22 weeks.

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I admit I am sceptical of India’s Bourgeoisie  Environmentalism:  It may see charity in helping the poor, but screeches to stop when you are asked to quit your car and use a bus: Buses are seen for the  common folk. Money still means wasteful and polluting entitlement for the rising middle class.

However, a study of 185 people revealed that after enjoying a car free morning in Gurgeon 28% said that they had bought cycles after experiencing cycling on Raahgiri day, and a significant 87% people said that they now cycle/walk to cover shorter distances. 2) At the Raahgiri loop, there were 5 road fatalities from Jan-Oct, 2013. But from Nov 2013 onwards (since Raahgiri started), there have been 0. Also 2500 reflective tapes have been installed on cycles of LIG people like maids & labourers, & on cycle rickshaws, to make them visible & safe at night. 3) Impact on environment: The noise pollution level on Raahgiri Day is 18% lesser than on weekdays and 2% lesser than on non-Raahgiri Sundays. . While the air pollution level on Raahgiri day is 49% lesser than on weekdays and 24% lesser than on non-Raahgiri Sundays.

The lesson? Give people the infra structure and people will walk or cycle.

Hopefully, the same good results can spread across a new Clean and Green India.

safetyindia

About time! Finally the government agrees passengers should wear a seat belt.

 

Love and compassion win

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Back in Australia, the day before the Sydney Siege I was on the train to Brisbane. I was dressed in a white kurta as I was meeting Indian friends that evening. For four years I have enjoyed Hindu and Muslim hospitality and feel more comfortable in Indian rather than western clothes.

I am not – nor ever will be – a Muslim. Still, my coloured kurtas from India were in the wash so I chose the last one available: White silk. With Australia’s upgraded terrorist alert it has raised some, but rare, comment. Am I a Muslim? Or gay and wearing a dress?
Most people don’t look twice.

A woman, newly arrived to Australia soon sat opposite me with her two excited boys. She was from Pakistan happy about the order and peace of Australia, and also very concerned that people would label her a terrorist. Her husband was working in Western Queensland soon to take a new position in Tasmania.  We talked about India and Pakistan and she assured me most Pakistani’s wanted peace to simply get on with life. I spoke of Pakistani’s who I knew had lived happily in australia for twenty years.

gandhiromastreetAs it was the first time she had taken an Australian train, I helped her find the Roma Street Parklands were she would meet friends, I wanted to find the newly install statue of Mahatma Gandhi.

I wished her “Salaam alaikum” as I departed. “Wa Alaikum Salaam” she replied surprised.

Then of course there was the tragic siege of next day.

I am not a “bleeding heart liberal” but four years in India taught me that the narrow – at times 3 word slogan  – politics of fear rarely shows the other side of the world correctly. No society – or media – seems able to keep its audience long enough to  tell the whole truth.

So when I was told of the siege it came from a man convinced terrorism will turn governments on religion and bring on Armageddon.

“Jihadi’s have taken over a Sydney shop.  They’ ll slit some throats.“

I was not sure whether he said “they had “ or “they will”. Nor had I heard the news: I didn’t know anything. But he was smiling, abroad smile as if he were waiting for divine approval.

I felt sick: this is a tragedy.

“Did the news say they had cut people’s throats?” I asked surprising myself by my calm reaction. This well meaning man, who has extended generosity to me in hardship,  is prone to repeating the exaggeration of fellow industrial labourers.

“Well, they hung a jihadi flag  in a window”  He began to walk away a little chastened. One thing I have learned from India is stick to facts and don’t believe stories.  I have asked him only to tell me news that is backed up by evidence. I don’t listen to gossip.

“It’s nothing to be happy about” I said.

“I’m not. it’s just the news” he retorted.

“Your smiling! It’s a tragedy.” He immediately stopped. I think a little shocked at himself. We have had a few very quiet balanced discussions since.

What is it that allows us to assume the worst of a whole group of people. The majority of the worlds billion Muslims would never think of murdering for religion, why do so many immediately assume a person in a white kurta with a beard is a terrorist? Do we label all Christians Klu Klux Clan? Have we forgotten that more people died in war last century in Christian lands than anywhere else?

I think that even if a media article is balanced, most people only look at the lead photo, headline and maybe the first sentence. Sensational headlines and photos sell papers.

We had debated this theme many times before using my neighbours Christian heritage as a starting point.  He called watching news events “staying awake”. But I keep coming back to Psalm 15 and the Sermon on the Mount. “Pray for your enemies and pray for those persecuting you”. Hating someone is the same as murder. Staying awake  seems to me to be a spiritual condition of being the person who God would want in his tent (as Psalm 15 describes it) who is blameless, righteous, “    who speaks the truth from their heart” does not slander, doesn’t wrong others, “casts no slur on others” who sticks to his vows even at a loss to himself.

While I will not describe myself in Christian terms, I recognise much of his Sermon paraphrases Rabbi  Hillel’s compassionate Judaism  The Sermon on the Mount inspired Gandhian non violence. Also, many Indians of the Advaita tradition describe Jesus as a bhakti yogi: a teacher of love propounding the essence of Sanatana dharma (divine occupation)  that precedes and is above religious form.

The religion of love: the religion of no religion.

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear” is how Hindi friends quote from the Gita. Christianity also says there is no fear in love.

Sadly, the Sydney siege had a tragic end that witnessed an act of heroism.  Dealing with fanaticism will require hard choices. history reminds us as economies crumble the politics of fear thrives.

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However, I was heartened by wonderful news: “Inspired by the Twitter hashtag “I’ll ride with you“, some commuters heading into the city for work on Tuesday gave their support to Muslims who might feel vulnerable amid concerns about a blowback after the hostage drama.”

My faith in Australia is restored.

As my Indian born Brisbane based friend Vikas Rana wrote on Facebook:

I am so impressed by the amazing spirit of Australians.

After the Lindt Cafe event, Australians are coming together to show their support to the Muslim Australians via ‪#‎illRidewithYou‬ that means No such events can shake us and we will NOT make hatred part of our culture !!

And that’s how it should be.

It is only the minority of Australians, (like the minority of Muslims) who give the community a bad name. Even if one radical conservative  claimed hashtag was a leftwing conspiracy to label Australians racist, the power of compassion proved the exact opposite.

That people of all faiths are basically good is the mantra the Dalai Lama has repeated for years.

Even my fundamentalist friend was impressed.

Ina few days, instead of Christmas carol’s, perhaps people should remember Jesus sermon: “Happy are the peace makers, for they will be called Son’s of God.”

The Abominable Delusion of Himalayan Maya?

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yeti

Have you ever been fascinated by the yeti? Or perhaps, like me, you fell in love with the movie Lost Horizon and the story of Shangri La.

Shangri-la from James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon evokes Tibetan legend, perhaps Nghe-Beyul Khembalung or Shambala.

But did you know that the word yeti has another Sanskrit root?

The word yeti is misused for “snowman.” It is a Sanskrit word which means a renunciate, an austere person, and is the name of a group of renunciate sadhus who belong to one of the orders of Shankaracharya.
– Swami Rama

From childhood. Swami Rama lived and studied in the Himalayas for decades explains that the Sherpa’s who know the mountains well take the willing and paying westerners to find their Lost Horizon,  “but they have no knowledge of the spiritual tradition of any part of the Himalayas.”

From Darjeeling and Sikkim expeditions have chased the yeti with no result.

The Swami never aw a yeti either, but heard many elders tell of the snowman to eager grandchildren.

“ Shangrila does not exist in reality. The myth of Shangrila is based on the existence of two ancient cave monasteries hidden in the Himalayas. These caves are described in our traditional scriptures and have a long heritage of meditation and spiritual practices. One is situated on the Mount of Kinchinjunga at the height of 14,000 feet and the other, where I lived, is in the deep Himalayas on the borders of Tibet and Garhwal. This cave monastery accommodates many practitioners comfortably. It is situated at a height between 11,500 and 12,000 feet above sea level. Very few people have been to this place. This monastery still exists, and there are many Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Sandhya Bhasha manuscripts preserved there.”

So what is the yeti?

Maya and perhaps the rare white bears: Swami Rama had a pet bear and saw how the footprint could look ‘human.’

“The story of the snowmen is as ancient as the human mind’s ability to fantasize. In the deep snows, one’s vision becomes blurred and white bears, which are rarely seen in the mountains, are mistaken for snowmen from the distance. These bears live high in the mountains and steal the food of expeditioners.

They leave long footprints which are similar to those of human beings.”

US TV host Josh Gates displays 'Yeti' footprints in Kathmandu November 30, 2007.

US TV host Josh Gates displays ‘Yeti’ footprints in Kathmandu November 30, 2007.

The human mind remains under the influence of delusion until ignorance is completely dispelled. If there is no clarity of mind, the data that is gathered together from the external world is not perceived in a coordinated manner, and the clouded mind conceives a false vision. This is one of the modifications of the mind, like fancy, fantasy, symbol, and ideas. Maya is cosmic illusion, and avidya is individual ignorance which comes from a lack of knowledge about objects and their nature; it is also an illusion.

The story of Bigfoot is based on the belief of a fantasy and discoordinated perception. When a bear runs fast in the snow, climbs upwards or runs downwards, the size of the foot of the bear looks very large.

When I had a pet bear, I myself was surprised to see the big footprint it created. It is usually large and similar to a human foot.
– Swami Rama

Intriguingly, American television channel host Josh Gates displayed what is believed to be ‘Yeti’ footprints to the media in Kathmandu November 30, 2007. The U.S.-based television channel investigating the existence of the legendary Yeti in Nepal has found footprints similar to those said to be that of the abominable snowman. The team of nine producers from Destination Truth, armed with infrared cameras, spent a week in the icy Khumbu region where Mount Everest is located and found the footprints on the bank of Manju river at a height of 2,850 meters (9,350 feet).

Other British scientists tested the DNA of hairs from two unidentified animals claimed to be yeti. One shot 40 years o, from Ladakh, west of the Himalayas in north India and from a bamboo forest in Bhutan. The tests revealed that the unidentified animal, was in fact a subspecies of the brown bear.

OK – not Swami Rama’s pet white bear, but close.

Maybe I’m biased, but I prefer Swami Rama’s answer”

Alas! the world, under the influence of illusion, is still searching for the shadows and the large foot. I call it “Himalayan maya.”  I was born and lived in these mountains and I have nothing to say to those who are delighted to believe in these myths and who are still searching for something which never existed. God help those misguided souls. These are not the footprints of snowmen or yetis, but of delusion.
– Swami Rama

Greed or forced conversion? Mahmud and Aurengzeb are not the future

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Prime Minister Nehru described India as a palimpsest, a manuscript page, either from a scroll or book, its text scraped or washed clean to be reused. Arcehoeollogists find the text is never quiet removed, the past remains to be examined. India, a land of four main racial types, and innumerable migrant cultures has allowed the ‘prajas’ or the common people more or less remained peaceful. Meanwhile Raja’s and Nawabs periodically fought against each other in the military sport of kings.

At times invaders came to wipe the slate clean, or at least that is how many see India’s British and Muslim past.

Sadly the story that  Medieval India was peaceful before Muslims arrived “at the point of a sword” ignores that for centuries previous Muslims had made many diverse inroads into India settling as mostly peaceful traders.

Atrocities occurred, but India’s future success on taking responsibility for the present. India will not grow if it continues to blame former Mughal or British rulers.

Unfortunately, Nationalism is rewriting history to help promote Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra.A review of Muslim and Christian websites reveal other religions are equally able to fall in the same trap. However, the size of Hindu population could result in discouraging the essential questioning required by historians seeking to learn from history o make a better India.


Greed or conversion?

Souce: Urduseek.com

Souce: Urduseek.com

We cannot deny Mahmudh attacked the Somnath but it was with the help of Hindu generals who equally enjoyed looting. Mahmud, with the help of a Hindu king Anandapal, also  destroyed the Muslim town of Multan and every mosque within it.

The ruthless ferocity of the Somnath attack remains scarred in public memory:  50,000 Hindu troops died, it is said that the Shiva lingam was destroyed by Mahmud himself, and 6.5 tons of gold, and the famous, intricately carved, temple doors were looted.
“The communalist interpretation portrays Mahmud as someone who harbored a special hatred for Hindus, but there is nothing he did to Hindus that he did not also do to Muslims, especially Muslims he considered to be heretical.’

As Guru Golwalkar wrote[1] “it was the Hindu blood of our blood, flesh of our flesh, soul of our soul, who stood in the vanguard of Mahmud’s army. These are facts of history…”
Perhaps cleric at times pressure d some Muslim rulers, but I suggest temple destructions were driven by more  Machiavellian motives , to quote, Jayanti Alam , than forced conversions, balancing political and financial powers and plundering of gold and precious gems.

Then, as now, political decisions often involve many other pressures often forgotten to history. Temples were destroyed by Muslim and Hindu alike for for the wealth within them.

Period historians often want their rulers to appear saintly and evout, when greed was a bigger motive.

auragnzeb2 (1)Consider Aurangzeb: He razed the Vishwanath temple of Kashi, but  he also gave ‘jagir’ to the Jangambari temple in the same city.  Aurengzeb extensively destroyed many temple and yet built a Ram temple at Chitrakoot, paid for  ‘ghee’ ensuring the  earthen lamps at Ujjaini’s Mahakal temple remained lit perpetually, donated ‘Jagirs’  to the Allahabad’s Someshwarnath temple, the Umananda temple at Guwahati, Dattatreya Gurumandirat Mohanpur  in Maharashtra, the Dantadhavan mandir at Ayodhya, Nageshwara  and to temples at Junagadh, Gaya and Mount Abu. He had also donated to Shatrunjay Jain temple at Ahmedabad and to some gurdwaras[2].

Muslim legend claims he was gifted with being able to speak to dead Saints and destroyed as false the Muslim shrines of saints who did not answer his call.  He also executed Sufi Said Sarmad who supported Prince Dara Shikoh as heir to the throne. Perhaps then, Aurengzeb’’s motives mixed were greed and power with displays of religiosity, or even a genuine attempt to seek the divine.

Even today  Mafioso and war lords are extremely religious,  because they believe only god can understand why they are compelled to violence! But it is not faith that drives them.

The religion of power has been drawn Indian rulers of all religions to simultaneously exploit and at times support their peoples.

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Peace after Babri?

More recently, the agitation t rebuild Ayodhya’s Ram temple ‘further polarised India. The Ramayana, which has many versions, inspired many nationalist symbols during the Independence struggle. Sita was the model for Gandhi’s non violent struggle, and claimed “a devotee of Tulasidas from my childhood and have, therefore, always worshipped God as Rama[3].”

So the believed birthplace of Rama is very close to the heart of many Hindus.

More recently, swirls and  swastikas discovered beneath the ruined Babri mosque, suggest a Hindu, Jain or Buddhist structure preceded it. Contrary to media hype this does not prove  this is the birthplace of Rama, god or not. That question is beyond scientific ability to prove.

I remember that as a foreigner I was advised to stay indoors as Babri  Masjid court case was decided. There was less reaction than many feared. A few people pelted a bus nearby.   But as a  lover of archaeology I was bemused by claims that Rams birth place had been discovered.

When questioned by journalist Christopher Kremmer[4], archaeologist Dr Swarajya Prakash Gupta author of the ASI report Ayodhya 2002-03 clearly the researcher believed the 50 plus pillar bases discovered proved the Babri mosque was built directly on top of a pre existing Hindu temple placed behind a hall supported by 84 pillars.   Gupta exhibited a malencholic love of his work, but also a fiery love of his religious tradition. The professor, in a weaker moment, argued you cannot prove scientifically Muhummad visited heaven from Jerusalem, or Jesus was born of a virgin. True, it is beyond the realm of science, as it is to prove where Rama was born.

However, archaeologists of all persuasions can give into politics. In Israel skeletons at Masada were proclaimed remains of freedom fighters against Rome, but why were they buried with pig bones? Meanwhile archaeologists bemoan flushed out artefacts from cleaning activities in the temple mount, beneath the Dome of the Rock unable to be excavated.

I believe the Hindu tradition is strong and vibrant enough without needing to politicize the past by bending history into a narrative of us versus them.

During the Independence struggle, Indian versus Invader had a strong political pull. Will it help now? War with Pakistan perhaps fuels, is used to fuel, fear.  As world economies decline history predict s the rise of fear based politics.

babripeace

But why dismantle a centuries old mosque?

As journalist Praful Bidwari wrote “Can the vandalism of the past justify revenge driven-vandalism today?[5]”  ’The claim of peaceful Hindu coexistence would be better served by building a new temple beside the Babri mosque instead.

Sadly political euphoria took over.  Bidwari asks if destroying monuments to avenge the past is akin to the Taliban’s destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas.
We must remember that in Ayodhya over a hundred Buddhist Viharas and 10 Hindu mandirs remained un-destroyed. This suggests there was there more to the temple destruction than Muslim intolerance. It also reminds us that Ayodhya was not just the holy place of the Ram bhaktís[6].

While Hinduism has been remarkably tolerant, it is wrong to deny Brahmin antagonism against Buddhism at times.

Some  Buddhist temples were destroyed or converted to Hindu use. Vivekananda claimed the Jagannath temple of Puri was built on Buddhist ruins[7]. We can list other Hindu wrongs through out History: Jaina temples destroyed by the Shaivites in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra. Parmar king Su bhat Barman, Kashmir k ing Shriharsha, Chola king Rajendra and various o hers like Shashanka, Pushyamitra Shunga,  Mahendra Barman and Pula-keshi II, destroyed Jaina and Buddhist temples to prove their power1.

wearealindian

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

The greatness of past Hindu civilization, with its scientific discoveries, are reinforced in the concrete and marble slabs of Delhi’s very beautiful Akshardham monument in Delhi. Rather than agree with the “The Hindu’s did everything, but the Muslims stole the credit”’ view of history, I suggest Islam better used and spread earlier Hindu science, much as Rome built from, and added too, the sciences of Ancient Greece.

As India weakened from within many shrines were forgotten over time, to be rediscovered by the British, Sanchi, Ajunta, Ellora were all over grown and forgotten. Even the Taj Mahal gardens declined as Mughul wealth shrunk.

Nationalism is like erotic love: the moments of passion can quickly die into indifference. At times, those who proclaim their heritage can as quickly misuse money for temple maintenance, or corruptly neglect their shrines.

The great civilization of India does not need exaggeration or misinformation to prove its worth. Reformers like Gandhi or Vivekananda recognized that Brahmin Hindu’s need to be reformed and corruption removed. However, they had also preserved the tradition as the Hindu world declined.

Rulers throughout history have had only one religion, the religion of power and domination.

Sanatana Dharma is  timeless, even if some of the many differing details may disagree with archeology.  Let science discover cold hard facts because transcendent truths will still remain. People will always be seeking meaning that transcends the religious formalism.

To quote the Rama devotee, Mahatma Gandhi,

“ I myself have been a devotee of Tulasidas from my childhood and have, therefore, always worshipped God as Rama. But I know that if, beginning with Omkar, one goes through the entire gamut of God’s names current in all climes, all countries and languages, the result is the same. He and His aw are one. To observe His law is, therefore, the best form of worship2.

india calling-religious unity

[1]  The ‘Organiser’, January4 , 1950 quoted by Jayanti Alam see 2

[2]  ‘Bigots’ and ‘Fanatics’,  Jayanti Alam Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 39, No. 14/15 (Apr. 3-16, 2004), pp. 1463-1464 URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4414860 .Accessed: 26/11/2014 00:57

[3] “Mind of Mahatma Gandhi” 24-3-1946, p56

[4] Christopher Kremmer, Inhaling the Mahatma, pp. 287-295, Harper Perennial, 2010, Sydney.

[5] Praful Bidwari, ‘No Voodoo archaeology, please’, Rediff.com 26 March 2003, p.239.

[6] One counter view by Ambedkar scholar Balwant Singh Charvak, in his book Ayodhya Kiski?Na Ram Ki, Na Babar Ki (‘Whose Ayodhya? Neither Ram’s Nor Babar’s’ suggests the site was once a Buddhist temple.

[7]  Swami Vivekananda, ‘The Sages of India’ , The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 3, p264, Advaita Ashram, Calcutta

The love letter of creation: Turn on, tune in and take responsibility

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tagore

This post continues the theme Touching the earth: Himalayas and the first chakra.

Connected to the earth, we are reminded to look beyond our conditioned experience and to delve beneath the question “What are we afraid of?”

In Sardhana, Tagore reminds us that all creation is a love letter if only we would heed its message:

The Vaishnava religion has boldly declared that God has bound himself to man, and in that consists the greatest glory of human existence. In the spell of the wonderful rhythm of the finite he fetters himself at every step, and thus gives his love out in music in his most perfect lyrics of beauty. Beauty is his wooing of our heart; it can have no other purpose. It tells us everywhere that the display of power is not the ultimate meaning of creation; wherever there is a bit of colour, a note of song, a grace of form, there comes the call for our love. Hunger compels us to obey its behests, but hunger is not the last word for a man. There have been men who have deliberately defied its commands to show that the human soul is not to be led by the pressure of wants and threat of pain. In fact, to live the life of man we have to resist its demands every day, the least of us as well as the greatest.

But, on the other hand, there is a beauty in the world which never insults our freedom, never raises even its little finger to make us acknowledge its sovereignty. We can absolutely ignore it and suffer no penalty in consequence. It is a call to us, but not a command. It seeks for love in us, and love can never be had by compulsion.

Compulsion is not indeed the final appeal to man, but joy is. Any joy is everywhere; it is in the earth’s green covering of grass; in the blue serenity of the sky; in the reckless exuberance of spring; in the severe abstinence of grey winter; in the living flesh that animates our bodily frame; in the perfect poise of the human figure, noble and upright; in living; in the exercise of all our powers; in the acquisition of knowledge; in fighting evils; in dying for gains we never can share. Joy is there everywhere; it is superfluous, unnecessary; nay, it very often contradicts the most peremptory behests of necessity. It exists to show that the bonds of law can only be explained by love; they are like body and soul.

Joy is the realisation of the truth of oneness, the oneness of our soul with the world and of the world-soul with the supreme lover.

How we interpret that message reflects the waters of our soul. As the proverbs express it  ‘As in water face corresponds with face, so the heart of a man with [that of] a man.’ (Pr 27:19).

The message may be of love, but how do we face files challenges?

Do we see challenge as opportunity or do we blame?

The first chakra asks us to seek the groundedness of our being. We are questioned with survival and asked to question “What am I afraid of?” as if some past karma has obstructed a river and its flow pools around the challenge. Of course, we have different experiences depending on our level of realisation. We may be asked to consider our relationship to our roots, our family and how we survive, including our view of money.

The pressure of our modern world demands quick solutions, it is easy to blame others or circumstance. To blame is to stop searching.

When we blame we empower the condemned to control our life. We are no longer looking at our self as a mirror of existence.

Science has made great progress in understanding the world out there, but forgotten what is within. We face a tremendous loss of soul, and disillusionment with the dream that happiness is economic progress.

Modern life has made us wanderers outside of our gates, an ever recreated world, a landscape without memory, detached from the soil, rootless, away from the land, unable lay at rest in the soil of home, to find the smell of home  or to hear the ocean of our childhood in a conch shell.

We risk reinventing our life as if recasting ourselves in a videogame.

In our throw away society we are asked to never be content for long, but to want more. We are told ‘there is not enough and never going to be enough and I must grab my bit before anything runs out.’  The shamans of the past however, believed that ‘the earth provides, its resources renew each year and that produce must be shared amongst all or the people will die’.

We honour those who take the most. This does not mean a person of wealth does not contribute, in fact wealth can come as right reward for contribution.

The business world claims what you want build and to grow you measure.

herman DalyWe are so disconnected from the earth that pollution is accounted as economic gain. According to former World Bank economist Herman Daly the earth was accounted in the developed world as as a business in liquidation.

“Pollution shows up three times in the Gross Domestic Product account as a gain: once when the factory produces it as a by-product of some­thing useful, secondly when the nation spends billions cleaning up the mess and thirdly in the extra costs of health care and environ­mental recovery! (Source Resurgence magazine). So if you feel you are getting poorer even though the papers are telling you the gross wealth is going up every year, that is one explanation.” –Leo Rutherford, The Way of the Shaman

Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada

Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada

In India, I am constantly reminded to get out of my Westernised logical head and to live.

Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada made a similar point in 1928[1]:

Do not try to discover the nature of truth by the exercise of your imagination. Do not endeavor to attain the truth through experience of this world. Do not manufacture truth in order to satisfy your erring inclinations, or hastily accept anything for the reason that it satisfies such inclinations. Do not regard as truth anything that has been “built up” or has the support of a majority of people like yourself, nor as untruth anything that is rejected by the overwhelming majority.

According to the scriptures there will be found hardly one in a crore of human beings who really worships the truth. What is proclaimed by the united voices of all the people of this world as truth may turn out to be false. Therefore, cease to confront the truth in a challenging mood.

The truth is not brought into existence by such arrogance. One has to approach the truth in the spirit of absolute submission. It is necessary to listen to truth. Truth is self-revealing, and only when it is pleased to reveal itself can its actual nature be known to us, and not otherwise.

osho

Are We listening?

Touching the earth remind us of the bigger picture. We are taken from our stories. For there is no fear in love.  Most people are afraid of themselves and so latch onto god.

Touch the earth and we remember that if we have love then we do not need to fear others because centre ourselves first in the divine universal circumference of reality.

Osho declared of many believers:

‘Out of fear people believe in god – they don’t search for him. People become superstitious. One can be a Christian, a Hindu, a Mohammedan, but these are not religious people at all. They are just afraid people, in a kind of paranoia; they cling to any belief, to any consolation.
But god is not a belief and god is not a consolation. God is neither Hindu nor Mohammedan nor Christian; god is not even a person. God is this whole existence: this-ness is god, such-ness is god.’

While many would deny Osho’s claim god is devoid of personality, (and I feel many believe without fear), few would narrow him to our finite experience.

God is not a label, for we must keep seeking. By touching the earth we are reminded of the tranquility of wholeness without fear.

‘How to know this totality that surrounds you, that is within you and without you? With fear it is not possible: in fear one starts shrinking. It is possible only when one starts expanding; then one can have contact with existence. That can happen only if you have found something immortal in yourself; then there is no fear. All meditations lead to it.

Meditation allows us to penetrate deeper and deeper into one’s own being. And one has to go on digging till one has arrived at the source of nectar.”

It is there. All that one needs to do is: one has to learn how to turn off the mind, how to stop the inner talk, the continuous talk, how to stop the inner chattering, how to get off the mind.

And the moment you get off the mind, great energy is released. Such tremendous energy is released that one is simply turned on. No psychedelic can do that, no intoxicant can do that. You are simply aflame with such vital force that it seems impossible that it can belong to you. It seems so huge, enormous, that you cannot believe that this is yours. It is yours. It is just as each atom carries infinite energy. Once it explodes then we will know what energy it has. If an atom of matter has so much energy, how much more has the atom of being, the atom of life, the atom of consciousness?

In contrast the mind dissipates and leaks our energy. It must be turned off to release this cosmic explosion of experiencing the greatness of our universe. Then we are no longer victims of its limiting delusions.

You are turned on to a new reality, absolutely unknown to you, of immense vitality, of tremendous power. It is a great explosion, and only in that explosion does one come to know who one is, being is revealed.
-Osho “Turn On, Tune In and Drop the Lot”

The title of Osho’s talk was reminiscent of Hippy slogan from the 60’s. ‘Turn on, tune in, drop out.’

Socially, the hippy ideal didn’t work then because it denied personal responsibility. Osho’s point though remains. There is great power when we escape the confines of our mind and experience the greatness of reality.

Let us us this power chanting a new mantra:

‘Turn on, tune in and take responsibility for yourself, your life and your home – Mother Earth.’

Let us work together for our brothers and sisters in our global community. Dropping out is no longer a responsible option. It is incumbent on each of us who awakens to work for the good of all and the healing of the Earth.

[1] Harmonist 25.230, March 1928.

Touching the earth: Himalayas and the first chakra

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Himalayas_landsat_7

US National Aeronautics and Space Administration Landsat-7 imagery of Himalayas Mountain Range

“Make sure that every day, you place your hands in the earth where you live and give thanks to it.”
– Patricia Damery

Imagine life as a tree. A seed is planted in the soil. It grows, rooted in the earth and seeking the sun. Seeds need to survive,

Seeds have adapted to grow in the wild, and not your fertilized soil and potting mix. Many survive the gut of animals before germinating, others wait years in the desert for water. The Hakea or Banksia serrata  of Australia need fire to germinate.

But they all need water to soften the husk and activate proteins, starch, hemicellulose and pectins absorbed by the process of imbibation and. eventually the germ within sprouts in search of light, called photomorphogenesis.

I see life, in its material and spiritual forms as a tree. Subject to the law of the farm, fruitage require patience. Rooted in the soil of the heart, we both draw sustenance from above and below, from above and below, from within and without.

Like growing a seed, the journey can be tough.

When I consider the Himalayas I am reminded of my rootedness both to this earth, by the first chakra, that can grow into more lofty goals.

It seems to me that the first step in a spiritual journey is to connect to the earth and to appreciate what is.

It is said the first chakra connect us to the earth. The animists may see God in all things, whereas the Buddha, found that everything was not God, characterized by impermanence, suffering and not-self, part of an endless cycle of dependent origination.

St Francis walked with the animals, Jesus fasted in the wilderness with wild beasts, which is why I considered

“Understanding impermanence is important not simply for our practice of the Dharma but also in our daily lives. How often do friendships deteriorate and end because one of the two persons involved fails to notice that his or her friend’s attitudes and interests have changed? How often do marriages fail because one or both parties fail to take into account the fact that the other partner has changed?

It is because we lock ourselves into fixed, artificial, unchanging ideas of the characters and personalities of our friends and relatives that we fail to develop our relations with them appropriately and hence often fail to understand one another.”

-Buddhist teacher Peter Della Santina.

When we “get out of our heads” and be open to experience.

All cultures speak of a golden age of Edenic beauty lost to us. In the Biblical story Adam, a word meaning man, hides after the primal sin.

He is asked “Where are you?” by God. The question is not geographic, but of existence. It asks an aswer to all our life. It is a question both natural and threatening. It places us at the nexus between where we have come from and where we are going.

Some of us avoid it in the distraction of achievement.   Or in Adams case, to seek to know what we need not know – at least not yet.

For at first we must connect and appreciate what is if we are to answer the question ‘Where a I? Where am I going? What I am doing?”

Swami-RamaForgive me if, for lack of ability, I allow my thoughts to be expressed by Swami Rama. For the Swami was touched by the earth. He saw sundhya, the twilight in between sacred in worship, as the kiss of the sun on the earth, the union of right or left energy channels, when ‘day weds night’.

For me, the Himalayas are my spiritual parents and living there was like living in the lap of a mother. She brought me up in her natural environment and inspired me to live a particular style of life. Once when I was fourteen years old, an unknown sage blessed me and gave me a leaf of bhoja patra, the paper made of bark on which the ancient scriptures were written. On it he inscribed, “Let the world be little with you. Let you be on the path of spirituality.”

The love I received from the sages is like the perennial snows which form the silvery glaciers of the Himalayas and then melt into thousands of streams. When love became the lord of my life, I became quite fearless and traveled from one cave to another, crossing streams and mountain passes surrounded by snow blanketed peaks. In all conditions I was cheerful, searching for the hidden sages who preferred to remain unknown. Every breath of my life was enriched with spiritual experiences which may be difficult for many others to comprehend.

That gentle and amiable sage of the Himalayas had only one entrancing theme: love—for nature, love—for creatures, and love—for the Whole. The Himalayan sages taught me the gospel of nature. Then I started listening to the music coming from the blooming flowers, from the songs of the birds, and even from the smallest blade of grass and thorn of the bush. In everything lives the evidence of the beautiful. If one does not learn to listen to the music of nature and appreciate her beauty, then that which impels man to seek love at its fountain may be lost in the remotest antiquity. Do you need psychological analysis to discover in nature the source of so much happiness, of so many songs, dreams, and beauties? This gospel of nature speaks its parables from the glacial streams, the valleys laden with lilies, the forests covered with flowers, and the light of stars. This gospel reveals that emphatic knowledge through which one learns truth and beholds the good in all its majesty and glory.

When one learns to hear the music of nature and appreciate her beauty, then his soul moves in harmony with its entire environment. His every movement and every sound will surely then find its due place in human society. The mind of man should be trained to love nature before he looks through the corridor of his life. Then a revelation comes peeping through with the dawn. The pain and miseries of life disappear with the darkness and the mist when the sun rises. Mortality finds its way in the awareness of immortality. Then a mortal being suffers no more from the pangs and sorrows which death seems to shower upon him. Death has for ages been a constant source of misery, but at death man learns to become one with the infinite and the eternal.

When one learns to appreciate fully the profundity of nature in its simplicity, then thoughts flow spontaneously in response to the appeals of his delicate senses when they come in contact with nature. This soul-vibrating experience, in its full harmony with the perfect orchestra of melodies and echos, reflects from the sound of the ripples of the Ganges, the gushing of the winds, the rustling of leaves, and the roar of thundering clouds. The light of the self is revealed and all the obstacles are removed. He ascends the top of the mountain, where he perceives the vast horizon. In the depth of silence is hidden the source of love. The eye of faith alone can unveil and see the illumination of that love. This music resounds in my ears and has become the song of my life.

This discovery of the sages binds the whole of humanity in the harmony of the cosmos. Sages are the sources from which mankind receives knowledge and wisdom to behold the light, truth, and beauty which show the path of freedom and happiness to all. They make humanity aware of the mere shadows and vain illusions of this world. With their eyes the unity of the entire universe is best seen.

“The truth is hidden by a golden disc. O Lord! Help us in unveiling so that we can see the truth.” The gospel of love as taught by the Himalayan sages makes the whole universe aware of the fountainhead of light, life, and beauty.

Who could not be impressed as the Himalayas blend red at the setting sun? Few of us will ever experience the serene calm of morning loved by those mountain mediators.

Source: everestbasecamptrekguide.com

Source: everestbasecamptrekguide.com

But the first chakra is more than just a connection to the dust of the earth, it connects us to the groundedness of our being.

What is there message for us? Do we see the clouds as water in a cloud or  ‘the calligraphy of god in the sky’(Pierre Chardin)? Or can we see both and enjoy the meaning we give life in this moment?

Is ours a dead universe that accidently gave birth to life or is it alive?

Our neurology forbids us from seeing life in neutral terms. In everything we give life personal meaning that colours our experience.

Touching the earth centres us. We are more able to disengage the stories of blame and justification of our pettiness. We step back and can experience the wholeness of our purpose including its shadows.

In the mountains Swami Rama heard the lyrics of mountain girls that have been immortalised in classical rhythms. He was the clouds as a divine message to the beloved.

Why don”t we hear it?

In the Eden story Adam becomes aware he is hiding from divinity. Similarly we must be aware that we are hiding from divinity within, even if we do not know we are hiding.

A yogi may find solace by facing his inner demons in a cave but for most of us the pursuit of the spirit is found wanting and illusory. We look without, perhaps seeking the centre of our being in the wholeness of existence.

But what is The love letter of creation? I offer a few hints ext article.