Wednesday, May 18, 2005


I'm excited to be going to my daughter Claire's school next Monday to talk to her (6th grade) social studies class about my travels . . . they had learned about India as part of their studies and both Bob Peterson (her teacher) and I thought it would be fun to recount some tales and answer questions.

Beginning to plan what we'll talk about, I thought the greeting "namaste" would be interesting to discuss a bit. It is used by Hindus and Buddhists alike, and is commonly heard throughout India. I'd been told it's a greeting that carries a recognition and honoring of the soul and/or spirit in one another. And that was all i really knew about it, except that it seems to really "open" a coming together with someone else in a way that "hi, how are you doing?" doesn't.

Wanting to learn more about the origin of "namaste" I went online and came upon a website with an article copyrighted by the Himalayan Academy . . . authored by "Jai Maharaj," who is listed as a Vedic Astrologer, the article is titled "Namaste! How Is It Pronounced? What Does It Mean?

Understanding that it represents a combination of both viewpoint and fact, I found the article interesting and clearly written. I include it here:


Namaste! How Is It Pronounced? What Does It Mean?

For, Hindu(s), of course, the greeting of choice is "Namaste," the two hands pressed together and held near the heart with the head gently bowed as one says, "Namaste." Thus it is both a spoken greeting and a gesture, a Mantr(a) and a Mudr(a).

Commonly written "Namaste", it is pronounced as "Namastay" with the first two a's as the first a in "America" and the ay as in "stay", but with the t pronounced soft with the area just behind the tip of the tongue pressing against the upper-front teeth with no air passing (as the t in "tamasha").

The prayerful hand position is a Mudr(a) called Anjali, from the root Anj, "to adorn, honor, celebrate or anoint." The hands held in union signify the oneness of an apparently dual cosmos, the bringing together of spirit and matter, or the self meeting the Self. It has been said that the right hand represents the higher nature or that which is divine in us, while the left hand represents the lower, worldly nature.

In Sanskrit "Namas" means, "bow, obeisance, reverential salutation." It comes from the root Nam, which carries meanings of bending, bowing, humbly submitting and becoming silent. "Te" means "to you." Thus "namaste" means "I bow to you." the act of greeting is called "Namaskaram," "Namaskara" and "Namaskar" in the varied languages of the subcontinent.

Namaste has become a veritable icon of what is Bharatiye. (i.e., "Indian" -- mw) Indeed, there must be a Bharatiye law which requires every travel brochure, calendar and poster to include an image of someone with palms pressed together, conveying to the world Bharat's hospitality, spirituality and graceful consciousness. You knew all that, of course, but perhaps you did not know that there can be subtle ways of enhancing the gesture, as in the West one might shake another's hand too strongly to impress and overpower them or too briefly, indicating the withholding of genuine welcome.

In the case of Namaste, a deeper veneration is sometimes expressed by bringing the fingers of the clasped palms to the forehead, where they touch the brow, the site of the mystic Third Eye. A third form of namaste brings the palms completely above the head, a gesture said to focus consciousness in the subtle space just above the Brahma-randhra, the aperture in the Crown Chakr(a). This form is so full of reverence it is reserved for the Almighty and the holiest of Sat Guru(s). It is always interesting, often revealing and occasionally enlightening to muse about the everyday cultural traits and habits each nation and community evolves, for in the little things our big ideas about Life find direct and personal expression.

In the West we are outgoing, forceful, externalized. We are told by Ma Bell to "reach out and touch somebody." We are unabashedly acquisitive, defining our progress in life by how much we have -- how much wealth, influence, stored up knowledge, status or whatever. Every culture exhibits these traits to some extent, but in the East Mother is there to remind us, "Reach in and touch the Self." Here in the East we are taught to be more introspective, more concerned with the quality of things than their quantity, more attuned with the interior dimension of life.

So, there you have it, the whole of Eastern and Western culture summed up in the handshake which reaches out horizontally to greet another, and Namaste, which reaches in vertically to acknowledge that, in truth, there is no other.

As a test of how these two greetings differ, imagine you are magically confronted with the Divine. The Paramatma, Almighty, walks up to you on the street. What do you do? Reach out to shake His hand? Probably not. Though suitable between man and man, it's an unseemly expression between man and Paramatma. We never shake hands with Paramatma. I mean, what if your palms are sweating?

So you namaste instead. The reason it feels natural to namaste before Paramatma is that it is, in its very essence, a spiritual gesture, not a worldly one. By a handshake we acknowledge our equality with others. We reveal our humanity. We convey how strong we are, how nervous, how aggressive or passive. There is bold physicality to it.

For these and other reasons, Popes never shake hands. Kings never shake hands. Even mothers don't shake hands with their own children. Namaste is cosmically different. Kings do namaste, Sat Guru(s) namaste and mothers namaste to their own family. We all namaste before the Almighty, a holy man or even a holy place. The namaste gesture bespeaks our inner valuing of the sacredness of all. It betokens our intuition that all souls are divine, in their essence. It reminds us in quite a graphic manner, and with insistent repetition, that we can see Paramatma everywhere and in every human being we meet.

It is saying, silently, "I see the Deity in us both, and bow before Him or Her. I acknowledge the holiness of even this mundane meeting. I cannot separate that which is spiritual in us from that which is human and ordinary."

And while we are singing the praises of Namaste, it should be observed how efficient a gesture it is in an age of mass communication. A politician, or performer can greet fifty thousand people with a single Namaste, and they can return the honor instantly. In such a situation a handshake is unthinkable and a mere waving of one hand is somehow too frivolous.

There are other, more mystical meanings behind Namaste. The nerve current of the body converge in the feet, the solar plexus and the hands. Psychic energy leaves the body at these junctures. To "ground" that energy and balance the flow of Pran(a) streaming through the nerve system, Yogi(s) cross their legs in the lotus posture, and bring their hands together. The Anjali Mudra acts like a simple Yog(ic) Asan(a), balancing and harmonizing our energies, keeping us centered, inwardly poised and mentally protected. It closes our aura, shielding us psychically. It keeps us from becoming too externalized, thus we remain close to our intuitive nature, our super consciousness.

Here are some insights into Namaste from a number of Hindu(s):

** Namaste elevates one's consciousness, reminding one that all beings, all existence is holy, is the Almighty. It communicates, "I honor or worship the Divinity within you." Also it draws the individual inward for a moment, inspires reflection on the deeper realities, softening the interface between people. It would be difficult or offend or feel animosity toward any one you greet as Paramatma.

** Namaste is a gesture of friendship and kindness, also of thanks or special recognition. Mystically it is called "Namaskara Mudra" in the Agami(c) Pooja, and it centers one's energy within the spine.

**I've heard it means "I salute the Almighty within you." The true Namaste gesture is accompanied by bowing the head and shoulders slightly. This is a gesture that lessens our sense of ego and self-centeredness, requiring some humility to do it well -- whereas shaking hands can be quite an arrogant event.

** Touching the hands together puts you in touch with your center, your soul. Namaste puts you forward as a soul, not an outer personality.

** The gesture has a subtle effect on the aura and nerve system, bringing focused attention and a collection of one's forces, so to speak. It also protects against unnecessary psychic connections which are fostered by shaking hands. This might be called a form of purity also -- protecting one's energies. This form of acknowledgment is so lovely, so graceful. Just look at two people in Namaste and you will see so much human beauty and refinement.

-- Jai Maharaj


So, as of now, I intend to greet the class with a proper, respectful "namaste" and go from there . . . mw

Monday, May 16, 2005

Pop Goes the Bubble (?)

Am back in Yalaha (Fl), and while things sure feel different to me on the inside, they look pretty much the same. Although I greatly enjoyed my time in Dharamsala, when the time came to leave I was not sad to go . . . rode the crowded “deluxe” all-night bus 12 hours south to delhi, suffered a tire blowout as we descended from the Himalayan foothills but after an emergency midnight patchjob we were on our way . . . survived NH1 with nary a problem and pulled into Delhi at 6:15am . . .

Spent the day in 110 degree Delhi and visited the Raj Ghat, the park in which the body of Mahatma Gandhi (as well as other Indian leaders) was cremated (in 1948) . . . at the site of his cremation sits an eternal flame atop a black marble slab, on which are carved Gandhiji’s final words, “Hey Ram”, which he uttered as he crumbled to the ground, fatally wounded by an assassin’s bullets . . . across the street from the Raj Ghat is a little museum in which many of Gandhiji’s personal and historical items are on display . . .

At 12:30am that evening my flight departed India for Paris, where I spent a full day before returning home to USA . . . it was a beautiful cool sunny spring day and Paris was sparkling, it had been 25 years since I was last in Paris and I had forgotten how spaciously beautiful a creation it is . . .

Back home, what I’m most frequently asked about is “culture shock”, i.e., what’s it like being back in the United States after a month in India? . . . the expected answer is, I think, something along the lines of “Although there’s so much poverty over there, life in India and its connection to spirit is so much more “real” and “authentic” than over here,” followed by an admission of bewilderment and a condemnation of our “plastic” Western lifestyle and culture.

The truth is I’m experiencing very little culture shock at all . . . life in India is “real” and “authentic” and, while very different, life is also “real” and “authentic” in Florida as well . . . life is life, i guess . . .

But here's how I feel different: I've returned with a sense of space, feeling very much like an "observer" rather than a “judger” -- seeing and noticing the differences, but not being a part of them . . . living alongside, maintaining neutrality and not being affected in ways that get inside the head and seem to matter (yes, I am aware this probably defines “out-of-touch neurotic”) . . . and this is happening without any effort on my part, it’s just the way it is, the way i am.

India for me was an excellent place to unplug for awhile, it provided a fertile setting for solitude, quietness and insight. There since mid-April, I could have traveled a bit more and stayed longer, but felt ready to come home. There’s much I’ll miss, coming to mind as I write this are the Buddhist prayer stones, prayer wheels, prayer flags . . . in and around Dharamsala they are everywhere, colorful, calling on all the elements in nature, including man, to join in celebration of the One. It has not been easy to find ordinary words to describe all the extraordinary things I’ve seen and experienced.

So it’s nice to be home, and to test the cloistered virtue of what I’ve gained -- and lost -- during my time in India. Perhaps it's only in the busy life of community, children, friends and loved ones, with the constant trials and tribulations of everyday life, that I’ll learn if the seeming gold of my “progress” is as pure and acid-proof as it feels.

The luminous Himalaya is Nature at its most dramatically powerful and beautiful, and while it is true that Nature is the mother of every man and woman aspiring towards truth, peace and happiness, the child that wants to sit forever in his/her mother’s lap will never become an adult. To grow, one must return to the "regular" after times in the "wondrous." Over and over, if needed.

I think I’m one of those people who need to use the wild and lonely places of nature as temporary retreats. (Many of you know of my love of northern California -- the deep rugged canyons, fog, big trees, vibrant colors/scents and dramatic ocean shore -- wild country that first taught me how nature can both heal and empower if one is open.)

In addition to its deep, multi-colored spirit and culture, India provided its own “nature” places to nurture me. With eyes, ears and heart open, I tried to place myself in situations that invited absorbtion and learning. And I've now returned to the “active life”, bringing back to share whatever insights, wisdom, broad vision, peace and strength might have gotten in and “stuck.”

I believe such going “back and forth” helps create a balanced life; the social life then expresses the spiritual life, the inner will influence the outer and both will be better for the change. This coordination of spirit and matter can hurt no one, and only benefit those who experience it.

So, after a month in india i'm back in florida, feeling as though i'm armed with spirit. I’m appreciating the place I’ve chosen to be my home, the wonderful people I know and love, and the things (both pleasant and not so) that are happening. And, perhaps most importantly, by being home I’ve learned the following: that it’s not by abandoning what we think are false environments that we make our highest progress, but by abandoning false thoughts.


About halfway through my trip, I received an email from my friend Art Granoff in Petaluma (Ca) . . . as is his style, it was short and to the point, and it basically asked/challenged, “ok, now that you’re seeing and doing what you are, what have you learned and how will it change things when you get back home?”

Art, we've had some great talks and I look forward to having this one and hearing your ideas . . . I’d like to think that if changes have occurred they won't be temporary, that they’ll surface during the course of everyday activities, and we'll see, perhaps they'll even be accessible for easy discussion.

That’s “if” changes have occurred, and i enjoy the notion that, being the brunt of some cosmic joke, while i'm feeling infused with "juice" i haven't *really* learned a thing . . . which brings me to a wonderful passage from Hermann Hesse’s Narcissis and Goldmund that I think bursts the bubble best . . .

“O, how incomprehensible everything was, and actually sad, although it was so beautiful. One knew nothing. One lived and ran about the earth and rode through forests, and certain things looked so challenging and promising and nostalgic: a star in the evening, a blue harebell, a reed-green pond, the eye of a person or a cow. And sometimes it seemed that something never seen yet long desired was about to happen, that a veil would drop from it all; but then it passed, nothing happened, the riddle remained unsolved, the secret spell unbroken, and in the end one grew old and looked cunning . . . or wise . . . and still one knew nothing, perhaps, was still waiting and listening.”

Sunday, May 08, 2005

the brothers

{sun. may 8: joy to all the moms, sons/daughters of moms, mothers/fathers of moms, husbands of moms, friends of moms, future moms, foster moms, those who wish they were moms, etc.}

One of the reasons I opted to spend so much time in Dharamsala, rather than continuing on to the Himalayan Garhwal, was because i really enjoy the opportunities travel provides for enrichment (both self and others). In order for those opportunities to happen, human contact usually needs to develop beyond acquaintance to friendship, and that takes time. You can't really get to know and understand others when you're whistle-stopping through locations, no matter how beautiful or sacred. (This is especially true when language and culture are so foreign.) So I decided to stay for eight days here and put down some "traveler's roots."

I've been fortunate to get to know several people here; some are fellow travelers, the others are "locals." Of the latter group is a Tibetan who goes by the name of Singhi. We genuinely enjoy each other's company, I've eaten at his home, we trust each other, we have become friends. We enjoy talking of our lives, and constantly ask each other questions. One day over tea he told me his story, and then, when i told him i had worked in publishing back in the states, he asked if I could let others know.

I think every Tibetan here has a story similar to Singhi's to tell, if not about themselves then about their mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, etc. All the Tibetans I've met, in Darjeeling, Nepal and here in Dharamsala are refugees from their homeland.

It took a couple of days to get the following written and we couldn't have done it without the Tibetan-English dictionary we constantly referred to. Begun on Thursday, Singhi and I finished it over dinner last night. We had help from both his brother and another friend who lives in their crowded apartment. We consulted a Tibetan map to trace places and routes. We examined PRC prison release papers, Tibetan refugee identification papers and their special "refugee" Indian passports. The process provided an opportunity for Singhi and his brother Chime Lobsang to relive the past, and we shared some very solemn moments . . . yet at other times found ourselves laughing at our sillinesses. They were excited to be doing this. As might be expected, there were also some tears.

Singhi has approved the following in the form you'll read it. He is extremely proud to be making a written public statement that others will read, and it is his wish that whoever reads his words share them with friends and family. This could have been much longer than it is. We've tried to keep the words his as much as possible.


My name is Ngawang Singhi, I am 28 years old and live in Dharamsala, India. I was born in Tibet. My brother’s name is Chime Lobsang, he is 27 years old. Although we come from different parents, we have known each other since we were small children, and consider ourselves to be brothers. My mother died during my childbirth.

I was born in Dagyab, and when I was 10 years old I entered the Buddhist monastery in Chamdo. My brother Chime Lobsang also joined the same monastery when he was 10.

In 1994, my brother, myself and three other monks wrote a letter that we displayed on the walls of the Chamdo monastery. In the letter we said that we wanted the Chinese to leave Tibet, and that we wished upon His Holiness the Dalai Lama a long life.

In reaction, the Chinese police hunted through the monastery searching for those who wrote the letter. When no one spoke, they could not find those who were responsible.

In 1995 we were moved to another monastery, the Magon Monastery in Dagyab. A high lama who had been in Germany, Lobden Sherap, recruited monks to come to this new monastery, in hopes that the monastery could be built up.

In 1996 there was great pressure between the Chinese Government and the Tibetan people. This was related to the Chinese kidnapping and "detaining for his safety" of the new Panchen Lama, who had been formally announced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. The Chinese then replaced this real Panchen Lama with another of their choosing, one who would be loyal to the Chinese efforts in Tibet. This created great tension and the Chinese police announced that there could be no photographs of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or the real Panchen Lama in anyone’s possession, with a penalty of 20 years in prison for offenders. {note: the tension still exists, the proper Panchen Lama, second most sacred figure in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama, has not been heard from since his disappearance (as a six year-old) in 1995, the Tibetan people, knowing the Chinese government intends to use their replacement as the voice of Tibetan Buddhism when the Dalai Lama eventually passes on, remain furious -- mw.}

In the monastery we had a committee, and we talked of uprising, but did not. Instead, four people wrote a letter saying that we did not think it was proper to obey the Chinese order and that we urged everyone to speak up for Tibet's freedom. We were monks, we had decided to spend our lives with our Buddhist beliefs and then teaching them to others. How could the Chinese say that what was born in our hearts, and our ancestor's hearts, was criminal? The letters were stuck to the walls of the monastery in the middle of the night for all to read.

The Chinese were very angry, and the chief Chinese police came to our monastery and each monk was ordered to complete a form, writing his name, his father’s name, his place of birth and other information. The Chinese police then compared the writing on these forms with the writing on the letters, and with the help of spies in the monastery, they identified and accused five monks of writing the letters. My brother and I were among them.

On October 6, 1996, we were put into the Dagyab prison by the Chinese police. We were tortured and beaten and were shocked with electrical wires. Then we were sent to the large prison in Chamdo where we were kept in solitary confinement for four months, handcuffed and legcuffed. We were repeatedly beaten with clubs, but when we taken to the office and asked by the Chinese police who wrote the letters and who supported us, and who gave us money, each of us said it was only "I" who did it and that I received no help.

The Chinese continued to beat us, with thick sticks and poles and stones, sometimes until we became unconsciousness. Then they would throw buckets of cold water on us to awaken us so that they could beat us some more. They were full of brutal punishment. Still, our response was "it was me, nobody else." This continued for four months.

After four months we were allowed to be removed from solitary jail and were taken outside to pick up large rocks and stones from the prison farm. It was at this time that my brother and I were each sentenced to three years in Chinese prison.

As prisoners, we were assigned the task of cleaning the Chinese police toilets. It was filthy work designed to make us feel broken, and as dirty as we became we were not allowed to wash ourselves. The food we were given to eat was also dirty, and even though it was very cold, we were never given any meat to eat. Most of the time we were given boiled cabbage, the cabbage was the ones that were not good enough to be sold in market. There were bugs (cockroaches) crawling in our food. We all grew sick. And this treatment was not just for us, all prisoners, even the old ones, were treated in the same manner.

As political prisoners, my brother and I were held in cells in which we were each alone. I became very ill, I had pains in my body and could not control my urine and it was very difficult for me to walk. There was urine and feces all over the floor in my cell, there was no toilet provided.

On January 15, 1998, seven prisoners, including my brother and I, were sent to a new prison. The food was better but the work was harder. We did heavy labor, cut wood, sifted sand and soil and planted trees. Everyday we began work at 7:00am and worked until 9:00pm. After work we were forced to watch Chinese political broadcasts on television and then at 10:00pm the police would blow a whistle and the prison lights were turned out. We were told by the Chinese that Buddhism was "not peace" and we were not allowed to pray in any manner. We were not allowed to talk or whisper, there were Chinese police hiding behind the doors to try to catch us if we did.

I continued to be very ill, there was much wrong inside of me. My brother and other prisoners would always ask the police to check on me, to put me in the hospital. They were beaten when they asked, but they did not stop asking. One day I did get to the hospital. At the hospital I was told I could be treated with medicine if I payed 3,000 yen in advance of any treatments. I did not have any money.

The Chinese police allowed my brother, accompanied by a police, to go out of the prison and beg for money for my medicine. He did get the money from the Tibetan community.

I was given oxygen and medicine, and was still not allowed to speak to anyone as there was always a guard at my bed. For the first week I was unconscious. After one and one-half months I began to feel a little better, and I was sent back to my prison cell. I then had to work everyday even though I was barely healthy enough to be put out of the hospital.

On October 7, 1999 my brother and I were released from prison. As political prisoners, the Chinese police ordered us to ask permission if we wanted to go anyplace away from town, and permission would only be granted to visit family members. We were also ordered never to go to any monastery, and never to speak to any groups. Police in our area were alerted to watch us at all times.

So even though we were not in prison, our big problem was that we could not go anywhere. We decided that we needed to leave Tibet, our home country, to escape from the Chinese.

We received permission to visit a hospital for my bad health in Lhasa and we went there. We then began our escape. We paid 1,000 yen for papers that allowed us to travel on a bus from Lhasa to Shigatse. In Shigatse we secretly boarded a truck along with 27 other people who were also seeking escape, and went to Saga. From Saga, the 29 of us walked into the Himalaya. Our group had monks, old people and children. It was December and very, very cold in the mountains. It was windy and there was much snow. We had very little to keep us warm and some us had ice on our eyes. Some of our group lost toes to frostbite, but my brother and I were fortunate and did not. After 25 days of walking, on January 6, 2000, we reached Nepal.

After seven days in Nepal, we were put on a bus and sent to Dharamsala in India. We were received here, and everyone wanted to know about those we were in prison with. It seemed everyone knew people in Chinese prisons in Tibet.

In Dharamsala, we spent four months in the Tibetan Refugee Center. We met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who greets all new refugees from Tibet, and were sent to school to learn English and other skills. My brother was sick and left school. I was also still sick but stayed in school for four years. There is a policy among Tibetans here that if one is not in school, one needs to be working.

Today, my brother is a chef in a restaurant here. I am working by teaching foreigners visitors to Dharamsala about Tibetan cooking. I am still sick, my situation with my body is not so good. But it is better this year than it was last year. We both take medicine to try to combat the sickness we still reserve from Chinese prison.

We cannot contact anyone in Tibet because it would cause them great trouble with the Chinese government. We are very sad not to be able to speak to our families in Tibet.

It makes us angry to see how the Chinese try to make the tourist places in Tibet look good. People cannot see what is really happening in Tibet without seeing it through the eyes the Chinese have put in place.

We are not afraid of the Chinese because we will never go back to Tibet as long as it is ruled by the Chinese.

Please, whoever reads this, please try to seek out the truth and pay attention to the situation in Tibet and what is happening to the Tibetan people. Please do not listen to what the Chinese government says because it is not true.

And please understand as you read this, there are many Tibetans being tortured and punished in Chinese prisons for no reason other than because they love their home and religion. And also please remember that there are tonight Tibetans walking through the snow in the high mountains to India and Nepal trying to be free.

-- Ngawang Singhi, Dharamsala, India. May 8, 2005

{note: singhi is in the process of getting an email address . . . i will add it to his letter when he gets it, if in the meantime you'd like to contact him, pls. send email to me at, put "singhi" in the subject field, i will print it out and mail it to him. -- mw}

Saturday, May 07, 2005

left behind

Goodbye can be hard, especially when it carries the air of finality, and i thought this was going to be tough.


The rings were made by a craftswoman in Port Townsend, Washington back in 1990 or 1991 (I believe her name was Kathy Jenks). Amy had accompanied me on a business trip to Seattle and we went to the Olympic Penninsula after the business (a trade show) ended. I had been to Port Townsend before, knew it to be quaint and romantic, and looked forward to being there with Amy.

We admired a ring in a little jewelry shop, and unknown to me, she circled back and ordered two of them to be made. A combination of gold and silver, handcrafted, with little etchings of sea birds, they became our wedding rings.

As many of you know, Amy and my marriage was never a strong one, and ended in divorce last year. For me, the divorce came quickly on the heels of two emotional setbacks, the loss of my job/career in the bust, and the passing of my mother. The breakup of the marriage and family was difficult, i was already hurting, and it knocked me down emotionally for quite awhile.

But night turns to day and, if we're paying attention, healing occurs. Suffering *can* lead to grace, family and friends lend love and support, people enter our lives and show us that true love really is possible (!!), and we emerge stronger. And while the pain and disappointment of past events remains, over time the hurt comes less often and doesn't reach as deeply.

I brought my wedding ring with me to india, knowing that somewhere along the way I would find the proper place to leave it behind, representing to me some kind of symbolic end of the marriage. Although the marriage officially ended in court last year, to me the rings transcended the legalities, and as long as i had the ring in my possession i felt there was still some unfinished "closure" business to be done.

So the ring has been on my mind. I first thought about droping it in the Ganges at Varanasi, but the water was too dirty. I also thought about leaving it somewhere along the trek into the Nepal Himalaya, but just did not find a place or time that seemed right.

Today I woke early and after puja at the Buddhist temple, walked up the ridge to the peaceful little town of Bhagsunag. It is a place I've frequently gone to while in Dharamshala, far from the "scene" it is very quiet and beautiful. Many people go there to practice yoga.

There's a waterfall in the hills above Bhagsunag and I went to the water this morning with the intention of throwing the ring into the deep pool that's been formed at the bottom of the water's highest fall.

It was a long hot uphill walk, and it was heavy with purpose. For two years I'd wondered what to do with the ring, not having done anything because nothing seemed right. I knew this morning the time had come. I no longer wanted the ring in my possession. For much of the walk i was lost in thoughts/memories.

After arriving at the waterfall's pool, i sat on a rock and, after reflection, pulled the ring from my pocket. but i decided the water was too turbulent, there was too much "crash" and noise . . . so i put the ring back and hiked further downstream. (I had worn this ring for a long time, it symbolized people and events that had been very dear and significant, and i wanted to find the best place for it to rest.)

Before long I came upon a calm pool of water, with water both flowing in over a rock ledge and then down and out through some crevices . . . it was a calm, clear, serene pool with just a little bit of water movement, the sun glistened in its gentle ripples . . . it looked and felt right. I kneeled over and removed a few submerged rocks from along the edge of the pool, pulled the ring from my pocket, gave it a little kiss, and placed it in the water. I then replaced the rocks around it, got up and walked away.

I thought this was going to be some kind of very emotional "goodbye" but truth is it was simple and easy and just felt good. There was no "heavy" attached to it. I guess sometimes the things we imagine will be hopelessly difficult happen easily because the time is right.

I don't know what's happened to the other ring, the one in Amy's possession . . . but there's something cleansing in the knowledge that my half of our pair of wedding rings -- forged in a little town on the Olympic Penninsula, symbolizing dreams that just weren't to be -- has been securely tucked away at the bottom of a cold running stream in the spectacularly beautiful Himalaya of northern India.

I think when I am home and remember that ring, my thoughts will, for the first time in a long while, be accompanied by the beginnings of a smile.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

hua hu ching

while travelling in india, one is presented with opportunities to experience and learn of many religious practices and spiritual beliefs. in the short time i've been here i've visited sacred sites, temples, monasteries, etc. and learned from practitioners of islam, hinduism, buddism and sikhism . . .

all, with the exception of islam, represent "eastern thought" . . . i used to lump islam in with those other "mysterious" eastern philosophies but, having learned, now consider islam to be "western" (i.e., of the same ilk as christianity and judaism) for three reasons: (1) it believes in a single life, followed by heaven and hell, (2) it teaches that god is opposed by evil, by satan, who tempts and destroys sinners by causing disobedience to god's laws) and (3) like christianity and judaism, muslims believe their religion is the one and only true religion, and that non-believers are spiritually condemned (tho i believe judaism is much more tolerant on the condemnation issue).

each religion has it's major scriptures: Hinduism/Vedas, Islam/Koran, Christianity/Bible, Sikhism/AdiGranth, Judaism/Torah, Buddhism/Dhammapada, etc. (it would be interesting to do an accessible comparitive study!)

yesterday, from two different sources (and media -- one electronic, the other verbal) i heard mention of the Hua Hu Ching . . . the hua hu ching (pronounced wah hoo jing) represents the unknown teachings of lao tzu, the founder of "taoism" which began in china more than 2,500 years ago . . . lao tzu's tao-te-ching or "book of reason" is taoism's major scripture, and, containing less than 5,000 words is probably the shortest of any religion's major scriptural texts. There are estimated to be more than 50 million "taoists" in the world today, mostly in china and asia (louise's daughter alli, who is 12, thinks taoism "makes alot of sense").

the tao-te-ching is one of the world's most cherished books, it has been translated into many languages and is widely quoted. but few westerners are aware of the existence of the hua hu ching, which was banned in china and exists today due to the taoist tradition of oral transmissions from master to student.

i first learned of the hua hu ching a while back when i read through a copy of kimock's, which then led to each of us comparing some of our favorite verses (the book contains 81 verses) .

the hua hu ching communicates messages of deep understanding, clarity and wisdom, and as i was packing for my trip it was one of the two books i brought along with me (the other being a guidebook to india) . . . so it was noteworthy yesterday to have it "pop-up" twice . . . taking that as a sign to be acted upon, i'm sharing here a verse (52) that i enjoy . . .

Do you think you can clear your mind by sitting constantly in silent meditation?
This makes your mind narrow, not clear.
Integral awareness is fluid and adaptable, present in all places and at all times.
That is true meditation

Who can attain clarity and simplicity by avoiding the world?
The Tao is clear and simple, and it doesn't avoid the world:

Why not simply honor your parents,
love your children,
help your brothers and sisters,
be faithful to your friends,
care for your mate with devotion,
complete your work cooperatively and joyfully,
assume responsibility for problems,
practice virtue without first demanding it of others,
understand the highest truths yet retain an ordinary manner?

That would be true clarity, true simplicity, true mastery.


i have seen a few versions of the translated hua hu ching and believe the most "accessible" is the brian walker version that is published in softcover from HarperSanFrancisco. it's a simple little book that is profound in its teachings and is beautiful to be read alone and/or shared with someone you love.


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

himalayan dreamin'

Most of us in the West consider dreams to be "unreal" as opposed to the occurences of "real" waking life.

But Eastern philosophy teaches that dreams hold great potential for the spiritual journey, that there is nothing more real than the dream, and that normal waking life is nothing more than a "different" dream. And that all experience, waking and dreaming, has an energetic basis (known in the west by its sanskrit word "prana").

There are many different kinds of channels in the body; from anatomy we know the "grosser" ones (blood vessels, lymph circulation, the digestive system, the nervous system network, etc). There are also channels, such as those recognized by acupressure and acupuncture that are conduits for differnet forms of prana. Dreams, i believe, represent the channels for an even subtler psychic energy . . . these channels can't be located in the physical dimension but we can become aware of them. These "dream" channels conduct energy that underlies both wisdom and emotion (negative emotion in the form of "nightmares").

I'm writing about this because for the past two nights i've had dreams of extraordinary nature, unlike any i've ever had before. last night, in fact, was stunning and woke me wide awake at 2:30am. without going into detail, i've been dreaming about things oriental: people, language, places, names, energies. Emotions "dreamt" have been the fear one feels when prey (of chinese soldiers, oddly enough in the apartment in which i lived as a child), comfort, serenity and puzzlement. These dreams have all been lucid and vivid, with the feel not of the "surreal" but of the "real." And they carry with them a sense of familiarity that makes the knowledge they come from deep within inescapable.

Sitting here the next day writing about these dreams, and guessing about what they are and represent seems silly now, once conscious we really do separate from that which occurs when we're asleep, and it (the sleep happenings) seem almost irrelevant. But last night at 2:30, as i sat in front of my window, overlooking the rootops of mcleod ganj, the dreams i had just had were not only relevant, they seemed very important. So, reflecting on the peace and serenity outside my window (and in that space where it all seemed "graspable"), i tried to determine from where the energies that created these dreams might have originated. And it was a very small leap to the clear insight that i was dreaming the results of being here, and inviting the energies that dwell here into my heart . . . and what had happened was the internal circuits that channel this energy had met the challenge of the overload of these new energies by widening, and allowing it all to flow.

I remember years ago, in nyc, having the realization that although we couldn't see what was in the air, the air was completely filled with "things" . . . radio waves, tv waves, x-rays, high-frequency sound waves, radar waves, microwaves, alien ufo transmissions, etc. . . . you get the picture, in our western world the sky is blue, the air seems clear, but it's filled with "things" that just need the proper "receiving equipment" to be detected. (No doubt these "things" are not very healthy, but that's another issue.)

Well, the Himalaya generally, and this Dharamshala/McleodGang ridgetop, I believe, have lots and lots of energies in the air . . . not radio or tv or some other "electro-magnetical-cyber-nucleo-blahblah" waves, but spiritual energies of ancient traditions, love, geological awe, awareness, compassion, buddhist logic, horror, inspiration, insight, etc. And to be here, and having one's heart open to all that as much as possible, turns one into a "receptor" of these energies. And you visit the gompas and monasteries and temples, and read the books, and turn the prayer wheels, and listen to the monks' chants, and breathe the air, and absorb the natural beauty, and you naturally open and then you *really* start receiving the energies, which, once inside, begin to swirl, merging with what's already there, "spicing" it most favorably, and you begin to feel and act and think differently. And with all this going on inside, way down deep, much more than you're aware of, when you sleep it manifests, travels along the channels and emerges as dreams. (perhaps all this is what is referred to as spiritual growth, i wouldn't pretend to know . . . )

So, these unusual dreams, vibrant indicators there's subconscious action afoot, have begun coming in the night, and last night startled my awakened conscious. Containing pleasant and not so pleasant images and sensations, i know they are as much a part of me as anything.

So perhaps India's (and the Himalaya in particular) gift to me has been two-fold: (1) directing me to a series of places (agra, sarnath, varanasi, darjeeling) where i was able to absorb the energy, and then to here, the "tipping point", where the energies finally overflowed the brim and began oozing into my dreams, and (2) allowing me to open enough to allow all (maybe there's more coming?) the resident energies to penetrate and merge with my current knowledges and emotions. And now it feels like (in the case of the proverbial open barn door), it's too late to turn back. Guess i'll just have to see where this all goes from here, secure in the knowledge that it *is* going somewhere.

This is what i was thinking and feeling as i sat at my window at 2:30 this morning. It felt good, like everything had been moving toward that moment, that insight. Having that odd quality of being both exciting and serene, it brought on a sense of real peace. After I went back asleep, there were no more dreams.

(this was hard to write and no doubt hard to read, thanks for hangin' in)

hugs, mark

Monday, May 02, 2005

the road to dharamshala

in india, those travelling to points north from delhi invariably spend time on the pride and joy of the indian highway network, "national highway number one" (nh1) . . . for accuarcy sake it ought to be named national killer number one (nk1) . . . i'm told that four to seven fatal accidents occur everyday -- that's right, a minimum of four -- on the stretch i travelled from delhi to ambala, which is no wonder because everyone is driving at (their own) breakneck speed, the road is narrow, has no shoulders, is two-way, has numerous dug-up construction zones and is shared by (in order of the speed of which they travel) trucks, busses, cars, vans, motorcycles, motorscooters, mopeds, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, bicycle-rickshaws, buffalo-drawn wagons, mule/donkey-drawn wagons, pedestrians, buffalos, monkeys, cows, dogs and small children . . . all travelling on the same narrow paved strip, those motor-powered using beep-beep horns in lieu of turning signals, attention divided by events on the road and the moveable bazaar of roadside stands and attractions, going at their own speeds, in their own directions, and in that most wonderful of indian ways, (seemingly) oblivious to every other traveller.

I travelled on this road, most of which was paved, for about eight hours before turning onto smaller roads for the four-hour climb into the mountains to dharamshala. i was not driving, but was the passenger in the backseat of a small hired car.

The road travels through three distinctly different indian states, the first being the heavily hindu state of haryana (in which delhi is located) and then through the sikh-dominated state of punjab. haryana was heavily agricultural, with wheat and rice being primary crops. punjab is the "richest" of all indian states, and this was evident by the many industrial parks, and cleaner, more fertile countryside. the third state, himachal pradesh, which is where dharamshala is located, is the state in which one transitions from the plains to the high snowy peaks.

The road took us through Panipat, famous for it's three battles, Karnal (named after karan, the disowned son of queen kunti in the mahabharata), then through Kurukshetra, where the sermon of the gita was delivered by lord krishna to teach arjuna about 'selfless' action prior to the battle between he and his cousins. so nh1 travels through some of india's most spiritual, mystical and historically violent areas.

But on the day i was on the road it seemed the scene of battle had shifted to the highway itself, where the only rule that applied was "might is right" and it's the truck drivers that consider themselves the "might" aka the masters of the road. the name of the game is "overtaking" (as in passing in usa), and that's all the drivers do, is overtake the travelers in front of them, almost always veering into the oncoming traffic to do it . . . oddly enough, after about an hour, you no longer care what's happening, you try not to look, you just put confidence in your driver, try to relax, enjoy the scenery and (for those who really do believe in the divine) try to sleep (which i did).

It was remarkable how quickly things changed once we crossed the border in the punjab, and after we paid the 800 rupeee ($20) state road tax . . . clearly we were in a region of india, that although still part of the plains, was very different in terms quality of everyday life, but this whole "upscaling" phenomena turned ridiculous when we stopped for tea in the city of Chandigarh.

Chandigarh is unlike any place in India, in fact, it looks with small exceptions as though it belongs on the outskirts of (my dear beloved) orlando . . . it is suburban, orderly, fairly modern, landscaped, road-signed, strip-mall'ed and prosperous. No beggars. No animals in the streets. Just western-dressed people driving to western-looking stores in a western looking town.

The reason (for Chandigarh's cosmo/suburban design) is that it is a planned town. With the capital of Punjab dangerously close to kashmir/pakistan, in the late 1940's the state government decided that Punjab needed a capital city that was safely closer to the state's center, so this site was chosen . . . and an american town planner, in conjunction with a polish architect, was brought in to design and build the city. In the project's very early days the architect died in a plane crash and the city planner subsequently withdrew, so the famous swiss architect Le Corbusier was appointed to take over the project, which he completed . . . so the city is divided into various utilitarian sectors, and rather than being in any way an indian city, looks like something my son john would build with 60,000 legos and a half-million small plastic trees/bushes/toy cars.


i'm writing this from a little town called "mcleod ganj" which is up on the ridgetop overlooking dharamshala. this is where the dalai lama's complex is, including temples, monastery, library, etc. mcleod ganj ("mcleod" was a british officer here during the occupation, "ganj" means market) is a combination of buddhist, kashmiri and eurpoean dhama-bum influences (vastly mostly tibetan buddhist, it's estimated there are more than 4,000 of them living in this small town).

i've been here for three days now and am enjoying it . . . beautiful, it is perched on a ridgetop, not far from the snowline, surrounded by thick green fir and rhohodendron forests and dwarfed by the great snowy, himalayan mountain wall called Dhauladhar (where wander the legendary sheepherdesses the "Gaddi maidens") . . . it is culturally unlike much of india, called "little lhasa in india" by those clever tourbook writers . . . and while a little funky in town, it is a short walk to some of the most beautiful and peaceful places i've ever been to . . . it's a place in which "heart space" is never more than a few minutes away . . . and chance encounters with monks, tibetan "officials" and other interesting folks happen frequently . . . and yes, there's tibetan restaurants serving those delicious momo's (on wed, two days from now, am planning to take a class in "tibetan momo making") . . . and oh yeah, have become a "devotee" of hot water with lemon, fresh ginger and honey . . .

i've decided i'm going to remain here until the trip back to delhi (yep, nh1) and flight home. (i was going to go the garhwal himalaya region, but that will just have to wait until the next time . . . uhh, louise sweetie, pack the car, we're going on a long road trip . . . )

will soon write more about dharamshala, the tibetan buddhists, hhdl (who is in town) and whichever of the 100 interesting, potentially life-changing things one encounters each day on this unique himalayan ridge-top pops into my head.