Dechen

The main female character in “Windhorse Warrior,” the historical novel to be released in 2018, is a Tibetan woman named Dechen.  The name means ‘great happiness’ and, of course, she brings great happiness to all the people who know her.

Educated outside of Tibet in Darjeeling, India at a Catholic school and going on to study in America, she returns to her home town in Kham to discover she no longer fits in.  Among her troubles when she returns is her father’s wish for her to marry a local young man.  She finds few people she can relate to and eventually returns to Kalimpong, near where she went to school, where her uncle, Palden Rinpoche, is a much loved spiritual teacher.  With her uncle’s encouragement, Dechen begins to study her spiritual heritage, something she had neglected during her many years as a scholar in Western schools.

You will have to read the novel to find out the rest of the story but I wanted to introduce you to someone who inspired the character of Dechen.  Below are two short videos that feature Dolma, a Tibetan woman who runs a motel in Bamei, Kham.

The first video is about our visit there to see her:

 

Below Dolma sings a song called “White Crane, Lend Me Your Wings.”  It is from a poem written by the Sixth Dalai Lama to say where he would be reincarnated.  It goes “White crane, white crane; lend me your wings.  I won’t fly far. I’ll return from Lithang.”

 

Dechen’s singing is an important part of the story.  She becomes a ‘drungma’ or shamanic bard who sings and recites from the epic poem about King Gesar of Ling.

For a synopsis of Windhorse Warrior see the previous post.

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Windhorse Warrior

The synopsis for a manuscript I have completed is below:

Windhorse Warrior

by Richard Friedericks

wangdu_horse1 film

One sweltering summer morning in Shanghai, China in 1947,  a young student named Chuang Wei Ming discovers his girlfriend taking part in a communist protest march against the Nationalists.  He watches horrified as she is murdered by a squad of Nationalist soldiers.  Her martyrdom nudges him to find out about her passion for communism.

Three years later Chuang volunteers to take communism to Tibet.  Coincidentally assigned to Lithang on the Eastern Tibetan Plateau, he finds the Tibetan relatives of his Shanghai girlfriend.  He persuades the family to turn over their ancestral land to the farmers working on their land.  Together they form a successful cooperative that captures the imagination of several surrounding communities.  The Chinese Communist Party is not appreciative of Chuang’s methods which honors the will of the local people and upholds their traditional culture and religion.  Management of the cooperative is, instead, given to Tenzin, a young Tibetan eager to do the will of the Party.

Chuang turns his attention to another community and meets a lama with a dream of reviving the ‘enlightened society’ of the legendary King Gesar.  Chuang jumps at the chance to use the lama’s clout with the people to further his own mission.  But Chuang’s ideals are challenged by the lama’s apprentice Dechen, the twin sister of his Shanghai girlfriend.  As their relationship develops, Dechen’s ideas, rooted in Tibetan Buddhism, enrich Chuang’s understanding of a truly enlightened society and help him to recognize the spiritual purpose of life.

Tenzin, who wants to marry Dechen, is jealous of Chuang and has him arrested for kidnapping Dechen.  Chuang’s rescue leads to injuries that nearly kill him.  During his convalescence he enters the world of King Gesar through a shamanic trance.  When he recovers, Chuang is able to recite the story of Gesar which marks him as a fully integrated member of Tibetan culture.  Chuang, Dechen and the lama now implement a plan to promote an enlightened society through spiritual renewal, social reforms and non-violent resistance to the Party’s dictatorial control of the people.

Deng, the local Commander of the People’s Liberation Army and Communist Party representative, issues an ultimatum: the people must voluntarily choose the ‘Red Road’ of Communism or the ‘Black Road’ will result.  Chuang suggests another road; the Golden Way of an enlightened society.  In keeping with the legend of King Gesar, a horse race is proposed to which Commander Deng agrees.  The winner will choose which road the people will follow and marry Dechen.  Deng believes he can rig the race in Tenzin’s favor and impose the Red Road.  But Chuang enters the race in disguise and wins.  His mission and dreams fulfilled, Chuang takes Dechen’s hand and together they invite the people to unite and walk the Golden Way to an enlightened society that honors spiritual as well as material abundance.

Tenzin, recovering from defeat and pressured to please Commander Deng, takes aim at Chuang with a pistol.  Dechen is shot instead and dies in Chuang’s arms just as her sister died in Shanghai.

___________________

I am currently seeking a publisher.  The manuscript is 120,000 words with maps, character list and translations of Tibetan words.

Gorkha

The next phase of our eleven full days in Nepal between May 8 – May 18 started on the morning of Sunday, May 10. It began with the arrival of a van hired from Nepal Sanctuary Treks at Ron and Cheryl’s in Bhukuntole near the British School. After expressing our gratitude to Ron and Cheryl we went to Kalimati and picked up the other three people of our original group (Lisa, Knight, Heather Knight, and Chris Butler) and the four other’s who had decided to join us – a paramedic from South Africa, two EMT’s from Texas, and a volunteer firefighter from Virginia.

On our drive out of the Kathmandu valley, David decided to call Becky Paris, a friend from our time in Pokhara when he was in primary school. Becky is now an anesthesiologist/trainer at Tansen Hospital. David asked her what she knew of NGOs involved in Gorkha district and she suggested we look up World Vision, as they had been assigned that district. Gurkha is not too far off the road to Pokhara so we decided to take the detour and see if we could make a connection right away with World Vision.

We arrived in Gorkha around two in the afternoon. I had called my friend Kiran Shrestha in Pokhara. He’s a Rotarian with connections. He called Nakul Thapa, the President of the the Gorkha Rotary Club, who met us when we arrived in town. We asked him if he knew where World Vision was in Gorkha but he had no idea. Wondering what to do next we saw several UN vehicles drive by and enter the Gorkha Inn which had been set up as their headquarters in the district. We made our way toward the Inn with the intention of finding out what was going on and how we might fit in. As we reached the entrance, Nakul recognized a man in a vehicle exiting the Gorkha Inn parking lot. After a brief conversation between Nakul and the man in the car, he stepped out and introduced himself as Dr. Joshi of WHO. I introduced our group as firefighters and paramedics.

Dr. Joshi recommended that we follow him up to the Gorkha District Health Office. When we arrived he invited us in and asked what kind of work we might be able to do. After explaining our skills which included treating injuries and building temporary shelters, he suggested we might be able to help construct temporary shelters in which local health workers could continue seeing patients. We thought this was an excellent idea and a perfect fit for our abilities.

I was impressed that Dr. Joshi opened up his laptop and brought up the same UN coordinating website that Ron has shown me the night before. He began looking at the health cluster pages to see which villages had health posts that had been destroyed in the earthquake. He found two that were fairly close and we could possibly complete in the few days were had to offer. Dr. Joshi spoke with us in English, but I occasionally spoke Nepali with his staff members. I explained that I’d learned Nepali as a child in Tansen and that my father, Dr. Carl Friedericks, had started the hospital there. This, I’m sure added to our credibility and their willingness to give us an assignment.

We left the District Health Office with assignments to build two temporary village health centers. We were given two letters introducing us to each VDC (Village Development Committee). The two areas were Gankhu VDC (population about 3000) and one for Mirkot VDC (population about 6000). One of the letters was for the health worker in charge of the VDC Health Centre. The other letter was for the Secretary of the VDC, an appointed administrator and representative of the Government. The letters authorized us and instructed the local officials to allow us to operate in the village area.

Authorization letter from Gorkha District Health Office

Authorization letter from Gorkha District Health Office

IMG_3877 - 2015-05-10 at 19-53-49The road to Gankhu was unfinished but passable, we were told, but even so our driver was unwilling to take his van on it. The road to Mirkot was even worse. We decided to go to Gankhu first; it was a smaller place and easier to get to. If we were successful there, and we had enough time, we would go on to Mirkot.

 

IMG_3868 - 2015-05-10 at 18-38-07We asked Nakul Thapa, the Gorkha District Rotarian, to help us find transportation to Gankhu. He found us a small bus which we hired for the journey. It was a hair raising journey!  Chris Butler admitted he made a mistake sitting at the front of the bus as it careened down the hill from Gorkha, swinging off the single lane tarmac on the outside to pass a bus or truck laboring uphill. He said, “I run into burning buildings, but this scares the sh*t out of me!”

Despite hiring the entire bus, we picked up passengers along the way. They turned out to be family members of the owner of the bus returning to their village after the earthquake had frightened them away. We were happy to share our bus as we ventured deeper into the hills and submitted to the same environment and risks everyone in Nepal was facing.IMG_3874 - 2015-05-10 at 18-40-28 This family had lost their house, but were returning to the village to pick up the pieces and continue. Besides two young boys, there was a new born baby girl. David began talking with the young mother and shared his own family pictures with her. Chris later commented on how gorgeous this woman was.

When we arrived the Nayasanghu, the main village of Gankhu VDC on the new motor road, I showed the letters to a shopkeeper who informed us that the health worker had returned to Gorkha for the night but would return the next morning. The letter, however, immediately gave us credibility among the townspeople. My fluency with the language was also immediately noted and appreciated. Feeling welcomed, I said we would consult with the health worker about a location for a temporary health center and we would like to camp somewhere for a few days. Our bags and totes containing medical supplies were unloaded from the bus and we were taken to the school yard where we pitched camp.

Nayasanghu School, Gankhu, Ward 5

Nayasanghu School, Gankhu, Ward 5

The school was very close to the old health center so we thought it was a good location. We could also treat people who would show up when word got out that we had medical supplies. The District Health Office also authorized us to treat patients with injuries and had given us forms to use to help with district-wide data collection.

IMG_3910 - 2015-05-10 at 20-12-17

Collapsed classroom walls.

The outer structure of the school buildings, at first glance, looked okay. But looking closer we saw that several interior walls had collapsed and parts of exterior walls bulged or had collapsed. They were all too dangerous to enter. During April and May schools in Nepal are on summer holiday. Annual exams are in March followed by a two month break. But school was due to begin again by the end of May or early June. No temporary shelters had been built for classes in this village and we wondered where teachers and students would be meeting. Hopefully another group like ours would be assigned to set up temporary classrooms in the school yard.

Village children came to see what was going on when we set up camp in their school yard. Though all of them were living in make-shift structures, usually under a tarp, they were all clean, well dressed and happy. They enjoyed playing football (soccer) and being curious children. Several practiced their English with us and one boy was even able to act as translator when people showed up for treatment.

Playing football with village children.

David and Chris playing football with village boys at our camp in their school yard.

It was evening by the time we settled in. Still gripped by jet lag and several days of travel we were in our tents and asleep by about 8:30. It was hot and it didn’t cool down much at night. We never knew exactly how hot it was but we guessed it was around 95 degrees F.

 

Sindhupalchowk

Chaku village in Sindhupalchowk We arrived in Kathmandu on Wednesday night, May 7, just before 9:00 local time. It was 11:30 before we got our baggage and walked out of Tribhuvan International Airport. We were met by CRI and taken to a Christian guest house for the night. All of us slept in the same room. Beds were comfortable and it was wonderful to stretch out after more than 20 hours in three different aircraft. The fan rattled badly but David found a way to fix it. It was very hot; we needed that fan! The Internet didn’t work but we wanted sleep!

In the morning we were told we were being deployed to Sindhupalchowk. There was no discussion, no suggestion that we might have an idea where our skills would be most useful. As a group we decided to see where this might lead and proceeded to load a couple pickup trucks with our stuff along with some bags of rice and instant noodles (Wai Wai). We went shopping in Patan for more supplies. First stop happened to be near Patan Darbar Square where several ancient structures had colpased. The clean up had begun and we were not allowed in the area. Nearby we were able to buy plastic buckets with lids for the Swayer water filter kits, a couple cooking pots and bowls for ourselves, snacks, oatmeal and coffee. Later we stopped to pick up several more bags of rice. Both trucks were quite full. The last stop before heading out of the Kathmandu valley was to buy SIM cards for our phones that would work in Nepal.

Hannah, a Nepali Christian girl, came with us as a translator for CRI personnel in Sindhupalchowk.  There were also two hired drivers with trucks that belonged to a church in Kathmandu. One truck had “Jesuse Love You” in English across the front windscreen.

David’s Nepali was coming back. It is quite amazing how the mind digs up the words when you’re in context. He did a lot of the negotiating in the shops. It was fun to watch!

As we drove around Kathmandu we noticed that the city was very much back to normal. We saw evidence of collapsed walls along streets, but most had been cleared away. Traffic seemed light. We speculated that many vehicles were outside the valley either taking people out of the valley or were being used to transport relief supplies. Shops were open and many people seemed to be living inside again. People were going to work. As Robert Frost said ‘Life goes on’.

Outside the city, as we drove east, we didn’t see much damage initially. We travelled down to the Sun Kosi River and then north along this river toward Kodari, at the Chinese border. The farther we travelled up the river, the steeper the sides of the valley became and we saw more damage to houses, landslides and boulders hanging precariously.

Ghost town along the road

Ghost town along the road

At 3:00 we reached our destination – Chaku, a series of houses along the road. When we got out of the trucks we had no idea where we were supposed to go or who would meet us. As we stood waiting for phone contact, we noticed that it was basically a ghost town.

Soon a small group of foreigners came up a side road from the rest of the village. They welcomed us as part of the CRI team and showed us where to park the trucks. The houses along the road, they said, had been abandoned. Their owners had returned to villages high up in the mountains because they felt safer up their away from the possibility of landslides in the steep slopes by the river. What many of them found on returning to their villages, however, was that their village homes had collapsed. But on higher ground they could, at least, set up temporary shelter in open ground and they could take care of their animals and fields. Many villagers rented or build houses for shops of some kind along the roads where members of the family could generate cash income. Those who stay back in the villages continued farming and raising animals.

The lower part of Chaku village where the original residents live.

The lower part of Chaku village where the original residents live.

The CRI team of three women and four men had been in the village 5 days. Among them was a nurse, two young EMTs from Texas, a volunteer firefighter from Virginia, and three who called themselves CRI co-leaders. Soon after we unloaded the trucks we had a meeting at the local church, one of the only buildings in reasonably good condition since it had recently been build of concrete and rebar. We heard that they had re-established a water supply for the remaining villagers, the original settlers of the area who had lived here before the motor road had been built. Their settlement was below the road on an extended ridge between two streams.

It soon became clear that the CRI team had not done much and the primary focus of the co-leaders was to work with the pastor of local churches in this and surrounding villages. They were waiting for the pastor of the local church to return from visiting other churches so they could assess needs. We were told we would not be able to visit any other villages unless we were invited by its local church, that the pastor of that church accompanied us and one of the CRI co-leaders also accompanied us. We took this information in silently but we each realized it was going to be difficult finding a way to use the energy we had brought to this place.

After this meeting we newcomers were invited to set up camp in a field next to the one the others were camped in. It was well away from any houses and also away from the danger of landslides and falling boulders. After pitching the tents we walked around the village to assess damaged houses. David and I talked with several local people. Because of our language ability, we immediately established a rapport and learned that the primary need was for a clinic. Even though seriously injured people had been transported out to hospitals by road, others needed dressings changed or had various “routine” complaints. We discovered there was a local pharmacy but no villagers had cash to buy needed medicines. There were no real medical emergencies here any longer. The people would need continuing medical attention the longer they stayed in temporary shelters.

After an aftershock that evening the top corner was even more precarious.

After an aftershock that evening the top corner was even more precarious.

There were several houses posing a critical danger along the street. Walls could collapse at any time. We debated the risks of brining them down completely. We spoke to the owners who were eager for us to do what we could. Standing as they were was of no use to them; they were too dangerous to enter and posed a danger to everyone until they collapsed completely.

We thought we could bring one house down relatively safely. There were no buildings below it but on a closer look we noticed a row of houses was leaning against it. We could not speak with the owners of these building because they had left the village. We could not proceed without their permission.

One thing we were able to do was distribute five Sawyer water filters to family groups camped in open spaces away from the broken buildings. We put a hole in the side of five buckets and fit the filters. When we set them up we made be sure the women knew how to use and clean them.

Demonstrating a Sawyer water filter.

Demonstrating a Sawyer water filter.

That evening after a meal prepared for us by the local church, the three CRI co-leaders called a meeting. This consisted of twenty minutes of singing songs, praying and then sharing what we had done that day. It became clear to us that the leadership really had no idea of what to do; they were completely reliant on the local pastor who was away. During that meeting we were not consulted nor were we encouraged to present any ideas we might have had. We felt frustrated. Later that evening, after discussing amongst ourselves, we met with the co-leaders to ask directly what we would be able to do. We suggested visiting other villages and setting up a medical clinic but these ideas were not encouraged. We were told that since the following day was a Saturday, the day of rest and worship for the local church, we would be required to respect this situation. We would be expected to attend the church service and stay in the village. We would have to wait for the pastor to return. The ineffective leadership frustrated us and we decided to discontinue our relationship with CRI and go with our original intention to work in Gorkha district. We realized CRI really had no track record in Nepal and no real understanding of the culture or situation of the people.

Loaded for the return journey.

Loaded for the return journey.

The next morning we packed and loaded up a truck. Our exodus sparked three others to leave, too. The two Texans and the Virginian who had come with the CRI team were as frustrated as we were. Besides setting up the water supply system and helping people remove belongings out of the rubble of their houses, these young people had done nothing for five days. They wanted to join our group.

I called Tulsi Gyawali, my travel agent friend in Kathmandu with Nepal Sanctuary Treks, to send a van to meet us in Barabese, about an hour’s drive down the valley. There were too many of us to go in the pick up truck so it made two trips to Barabese. Our original group went first then it returned for the Texans and Virginian.

We all arrived in Kathmandu in the late afternoon. David and I went to our friend’s place while the rest went to an Air B&B that Heather Knight arranged. Ron Hess and Cheryl Groff, our friends from my childhood at Woodstock School in India, live in a very nice, strong house that had survived every earthquake and tremor so far without a crack. We felt safe and they fed us a great meal. After showing David around our old neighborhood in Sanepa, Ron showed me the UN coordination website that list every village area in the effected areas. Each cluster group oversees health or shelter or food distribution. NGOs are assigned to operate in different districts. In effect, it showed that the UN had taken over the job of coordinating relief and rebuilding efforts by working with the Government of Nepal. We later had first hand experience of this process.

What we learned from this experience was that working with NGOs that had little or not track record in the country was both ineffective and inappropriate. It is important to connect with established NGOs such as World Vision, Mercy Corps, Save the Children. Making contact with the government also gives legitimacy at the local level to your presence in rural areas. From what we observed, CRI wanted to work only through the Nepali Church.

Nepal Earthquake Response

It is now a week after the 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal. The Indian subcontinent is said to have moved 10 feet northward. Parts of Nepal rose 3 feet while Mt. Everest is 1 inch lower. Kathmandu moved 10 feet south and rose 3 feet. The Indian subcontinent continues to collide with Eurasia. It is sliding under and raising up the Tibetan plateau. The 2008 Sichuan earthquake was a related event.  A 9 on the Ritcher scale had/has been predicted. The last ‘big one’ in Nepal was 1934. There is an 80 cycle; a blink of an eye for Gaia.

That’s the geophysics. In the biosphere, though the loss of life and property is colossal, it could have been much worse. Taking place at midday on a Saturday was most fortunate. People were not in offices and schools. Most people were able to get out of their homes and shops in the cities and towns. Christians, however, were crowded in churches. There are reports of congregations trapped in collapsed buildings. In the countryside, it is a different story. Like the epicenter at Barpak, Gorkha District, most villages effected are on the sides of high mountains. Many an entire village was whipped away by landslides; roads were taken out or covered over, streams dammed. Grazing cattle were killed by falling rocks or collapsing makeshift shelters of stone. Spring rains have brought misery at night, muddy roads, and more danger of landslides and swollen rivers but there is a positive side to the extra heavy rains this year. It is usually very dry, dusty and hot in May and early June. Temperatures are lower, water tanks are not empty and reservoirs have not dried up. This year the planting season has been extended.

Though the situation is not as bleak as originally expected, there are still many people suffering. They are sleeping without proper shelter, many are injured and food is scarce. In situations like this it is the poor who are affected most. The homes of the rich are stronger and still standing. Many people in Nepal recognize this and have begun sharing what they have with their neighbors and are organizing teams to take temporary shelter and food to villages outside Kathmandu. It is wonderful to see this happening.

I will be going to Nepal this Tuesday, May 5, with four firefighters from Portland, OR.  Our son, David, is one of them. He has a heart for Nepal, as I do. He lived there as a child from age 4 until he was 14. Suzanne and I went to Nepal in 1981. David was 4 years old, his brother Ethan was just 2. A year later our daughter Elizabeth was born in Pokhara. We lived in Pokhara for six years and for four years in Kathmandu until 1991.

In Pokhara, 1983 - Elizabeth 1, Ethan 4, David 6.

In Pokhara, 1983 – Elizabeth 1, Ethan 4, David 6.

I have a much longer history with Nepal. I first went there in 1954. I was seven. My father, Dr. Carl Friedericks, started a hospital in Tansen, Palpa District to the south of Pokhara, at the invitation of the Governor of Palpa and the Government of Nepal. The hospital is still running and is very busy now as one of the destinations for helicopters to take the most seriously injured people from remote villages. It is crowded with hundreds of patients. Please see Dr. Rebecca MacAteer’s blog about her involvement. She is currently one of the doctors in Tansen.

My work in Nepal between 1981 and 1991 was to create health education media of all kinds to raise awareness about medical treatment for leprosy and a variety of community health and development issues. Since 2009, as a media teacher at Hong Kong International School, I have taken groups of high school students to Pokhara yearly to build awareness of Nepal and it’s needs. In this way I have kept up my involvement with Nepali people and my language skills.

The goal of our small group of firefighters and me, the Nepali language interpreter, is to take relief supplies and go to Pokhara. Once there we will connect with the Rotary Club of Pokhara Annapurna through my friend Kiran Lal Shrestha. The club is organizing 1500 “bucket packs” to send to villagers in need. They have also arranged for Kolkata Rotary in India to supply 1500 “shelter boxes” which the Indian Army is delivering to the Nepal border. Then the Nepal Army is transporting them from the border to villages in the high mountains. Kiran will help us connect with groups going into the mountains with these supplies. We will offer help in setting up shelters, distributing food, and treating injuries.

We are being sponsored by Crisis Relief International (CRI) and we have been raising funds through Firefighters For Nepal Fund. Please donate to either of these groups.

I will do my best, given access to the Internet, power for charging devices, and time, to keep you aware of what is happening while we are in Nepal.

Shiva’s Dice Game with Parvati

This story is from Richard Smoley’s The Dice Game of Shiva:


Shiva/Parvati

One day the embraces of the Hindu god Shiva and his consort, Parvati, who have spent eternity rapt in lovemaking, are interrupted by a sinister yogi named Narada. Narada says he can show them something that is even more delightful than love. It is a game of dice – an ancestor of today’s Parcheesi.

Intrigued by his offer, the divine couple begin to play. Each of them cheats as much as possible, but no matter how long they play, the outcome is always the same: Shiva loses and Parvati wins. Shiva may have the advantage for a round or two, but he can never win a game.

At one point Shiva is ahead; he has won a couple of Parvati’s jewels, enraging her to the point of refusing to play. Noticing that the angrier she grows, the more beautiful she becomes, he coaxes her into continuing. Parvati agrees to play if Shiva will wager his chief attributes: his trident, the crescent moon, and a pair of earrings.

Of course Shiva plays and loses. He refuses to accept this fact; after all, he is Shiva, the lord of the universe. “No living being can overcome me,” he tells her. She replies, “No living being can overcome you, it’s true – except me.” Out of spite she leaves him. She takes not only the trident and the crescent moon and the earrings but the pair of snakes that encircled his neck. She even takes his last item of clothing – his loincloth – leaving him completely naked.

Shiva is not troubled by this outcome. He withdraws to the wilderness and leads the life of an ascetic, free from the preoccupations of the world, meditating in solitary peace. Parvati, on the other hand, suddenly feels lonely and frustrated without him. Intent on winning him back, she takes the form of a lovely tribeswoman (an untouchable in the Hindu caste system) with red lips, a graceful neck, and magnificent full breasts. She is so beautiful that even the bees in the forest are overcome with desire.

Shiva's DesireShiva, roused from his meditation by the noise of the bees, sees Parvati in the guise of the tribeswoman and is overcome with desire for her. Coquettishly she says, “I am looking for a husband who is omniscient, who is free and fulfills all needs, who is free of mutations and is the lord of the worlds.”

Shiva says, “I am that one.”

Parvati replies, “You shouldn’t talk to me that way. I happen to know that you have a wife who won your devotion by many austerities, and you left her in a flash. Besides, you are an ascetic, living free of duality.”

“Even so, I want you.”

Parvati says that he must ask permission of her father, Himalaya, the lord of the mountain range. Shiva approaches him, but Himalaya says, “This is not right. You should not be asking me. You are the one who gives everything in all the worlds.”

At this point Narada reappears and tells Shiva, “Listen. Infatuation with women always leads to mockery.”

“You’re right,” Shiva replies. “I have been a fool.” And Shiva withdraws to a remote part of the the universe where even yogis cannot go.

At this point Narada convinces Parvati and Himalaya to implore Shiva to return, and they do so by praising him lavishly. Mollified, Shiva comes back, and he and Parvati resume their reign in unity.

Shiva-Parvati

Rather than a morality tale about avoiding greed and lust, it is necessary to dig deeper than conventional thinking to discover the meaning of this story about Shiva and Parvati. The Dice Game of Shiva, Richard SmoleyAs Smoley explains in the rest of the book, Shiva represents purusha, the Hindu term for the cosmic, universal Self, and represents that part of our being which is the constant observer, witness to all that we experience. His lover and partner is Parvati, the goddess who represents all that is experienced. She is prakriti or samsara; she is also the shakti or energy of the universe in all its dualistic aspects.

Myths are an anthropomorphic way of explaining truths about reality. The story begins with Shiva and Parvati rapt in everlasting, oblivious unity. Their unity represents the eternal unity of all Being before, during, and after the existence of all universes. The sudden introduction of Narada into their sphere seems odd at first but this makes sense if Narada represents something like the first hint of objective awareness, an awareness of each other as separate beings and the flickering of desire of Lover for Beloved.

Narada proceeds to separate them further by introducing a game of dice, a game that represents the game of life itself. The desire between Shiva and Parvati continues, of course, but it is playful while they both cheat as much as they can. Eventually Shiva manages to win a few of Parvati’s jewels. This angers Parvati but the more angry she gets, the more beautiful she becomes and Shiva’s desire for her increases. She wants to quit the game but Shiva coaxes her to continue.

Parvati agrees to keep playing if Shiva will wager his trident, the crescent moon he wears in his hair and a pair of earrings. This is where some can be led astray in their interpretation of the story. These are Shiva’s attributes rather than his material possessions. Parvati is completely caught up in the game and manages to literally strip Shiva of everything. All Shiva is left with is himself, his pure being. Now the complete separation of Shiva from Parvati, of purusha and prakriti is achieved; they are caught up a dualistic worldview and regard themselves as separated. This separation is represented by Shiva going off, unconcernedly, to the wilderness. Free of prakriti, he is able to meditate without distraction. This is the image we have of the traditional hermetic yogi; to escape the world and meditate in a cave high in the mountains somewhere. This is the classic image of Shiva, the ascetic yogi who meditates blissfully awareness only of his own being. He turns away from Parvati, prakriti – the entire created universe.

But Parvati is not enjoying her own freedom. She realizes too late what has happened; she had focused her attention on what she could win rather than on Shiva himself. Suddenly she finds no joy in life without Shiva. She is depressed, distraught. This is our own condition. We are creatures caught up in the dice game of existence. We are unhappy even though we win the game and enjoy the spoils.

In a desperate attempt to regain Shiva’s loving attention, Parvati takes the form of a beguiling tribeswoman who is so beautiful the bees of the forest are aroused. Shiva is distracted from his meditation by the buzzing of the bees. He opens his eyes and sees the beautiful woman and immediately wants her.  Because Shiva sits in a cave in the wilderness, he is not entirely removed from the world. The world can still distract him as indicated by the bees and the beautiful tribeswoman. Separation from Parvati is actually incomplete; escape from duality is not fully achieved.

Shiva cannot disagree with the tribeswoman’s description of his true nature. When Shiva acknowledges her flattery, she chides him and tells him he’s a liar and a cheat since he has a wife whom he left to live as an ascetic. But Shiva is not dissuaded; he still wants her. Parvati, as the tribeswoman, tells Shiva he must ask her father, Himalaya, for permission to marry her.

When Shiva, filled with desire for the tribeswoman, approaches Himalaya, the man of the mountain ranges reminds Shiva who he is. Shiva is Lord of the Universe, after all, and can do as he pleases.

At this point Narada, perhaps realizing the trouble he’s caused, enters the story once again. What he says does indeed sound very moralistic. “Infatuation with women always leads to mockery.” In the context of the rest of the story it serves to remind Shiva that he’s been distracted from the state of non-duality. And Shiva’s response is exactly to this point. He agrees with Narada and withdraws once again. This time he doesn’t go to a cave in the wilderness but “to a remote part of the the universe where even yogis cannot go.” It must be a place far removed from any hint of duality; a place where he successfully achieves true non-duality.

The rest of the story is very short but it is key. It is important to understand it clearly because it indicates the way to true happiness. Narada convinces Parvati and Himalaya to praise Shiva “lavishly.” Parvati and Himalaya, representing the entire created universe, turn their undivided attention toward Shiva in an outpouring of positive thoughts, activities, longings and desire. This corresponds with the Hindu form of religious devotion called bhakti yoga. It is the anthropomorphic way of saying that all of creation, prakriti, lovingly acknowledges the source and center, purusha; of saying that duality emerges from and is sustained in non-duality.

Shiva acknowledges this inseparability of source and creation and returns to Parvati. They reign again in unity but this time they are not rapt in oblivion. Now they are seated side by side representing the enlightened state of being. The game of dice is over, each of them accepts the other, needs the other. Shiva takes his rightful place in the universe with Parvati while Shiva is her within-ness, the aware-ness of every part of the universe from the smallest quantum particle to the largest galaxy. She is finally fulfilled and happy because she accepts and enjoys his sustaining love. Shiva likewise does not remove himself from her devoted adorations. There is no more seeking because there is no separation, no distancing. Lover and Beloved are one. Observer and observed are one. Experiencer and experienced are one. Awareness and object of awareness are one in constant bliss.

She is an ever-changing, all-powerful vortex of energy. He is her center point, her lover and beholder within every vortex spinning the illusion we call matter; he is the conscious center of every vortex! Our own happiness, our enlightenment, depends of a clear understanding and experience of this dynamic. We find fulfillment when we experience the fluctuations of duality from the perspective of permanent non-dual awareness.

Does Meditation have a Goal?

What are we dealing with in meditation and what is the ‘goal’?

The goal of meditation is happiness. What we are dealing with are the obstacles we buy into that prevent us from finding happiness. Actually, there is a very thin film separating us from happiness but we seldom pierce it to experience the bliss described by mystics of all religious traditions.

Through identification with thoughts and feelings, with the constructs of the ego, we shield ourselves from the happiness we so desperately want. We believe this constantly changing, insubstantial person formed by our interaction with other constantly changing, insubstantial people is where we will find happiness. We believe that this person I have become and will continue becoming is the real me and that other people are just as real as I am.

Trungpa

Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who came to the West in the 1960’s, describes the defenses we put up to resist finding our true happiness.

“Consciousness consists of emotions and irregular thought patterns, all of which taken together form the different fantasy worlds with which we occupy ourselves. These fantasy worlds are referred to in the scriptures as the “six realms”. The emotions are the highlights of ego, the generals of ego’s army; subconscious thought, day-dreams and other thoughts connect one highlight to another. So thoughts form ego’s army and are constantly in motion, constantly busy. Our thoughts are neurotic in the sense that they are irregular, changing direction all the time and overlapping one another. We continually jump from one thought to the next, from spiritual thoughts to sexual fantasies to money matters to domestic thoughts and so on. The whole development of the five skandhas –ignorance/form, feeling, impulse/perception, concept and consciousness–is an attempt on our part to shield ourselves from the truth of our insubstantiality.”

Trungpa describes our situation further:

airplane-above-the-clouds-hd-wallpaper-placecom-a-e-ibackgroundz

“When we fly in an airplane above the clouds, we realize that the sun is always shining even when it is cloudy and rainy below. In the same way, when we cease to hold on to our identity, our ego, we begin to see that the nonexistence of ego is a powerful, real, and indestructible state of being. We realize that, like the sun, it is a continuous situation which does not wax or wane. That state of being is called vajra nature.”

Like rising above the clouds into the brightness of sunshine there are people who have ‘parted the veil’ or ‘pierced the film’ into that realm of happiness, that state of everlasting bliss. Trungpa calls it our vajra (diamond) nature because it is our indestructible, eternal nature. It is always there above the cloud-covering of our thoughts and emotions. The surprisingly few people who have experienced their vajra nature, also called Buddha nature or Christ consciousness, belong to every religious tradition; there are the Christian mystics, Hindu mahayogis, Buddhist bodhisattvas, Moslem sufis, realized souls, and enlightened beings of every part of the world and every age.

Through meditation we learn to see how insubstantial our thoughts and emotions really are. By practicing the simple action of letting go, of returning to the experience of being in the present moment without drifting along with the programs of the ego, we prepare and make ourselves available for the experience of happiness. And, as the mystics have repeatedly discovered, it is possible to not only glimpse but to enter into and even constantly maintain the experience of happiness. What they have discovered is love; that happiness is to love and to experience love.

If it is love, something we already know gives us happiness, then why don’t we practice love? Why do we allow our egos to confuse and cloud our lives? Why can’t we love and be in love all the time? Good question!

So, meditate and find out; ask the question, live the answer. Love all!

The Nine Stages of Mental Development

Shamatha, which means calm, is the practice of meditation to develop the ability to focus the mind in single-pointed concentration. This is practiced as a pre-requisite for mindfulness or insight meditations. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition this practices is described as a nine stage progression beautifully depicted in this thangka showing a monk chasing and finally capturing an elephant. 9-stages-samatha-meditation The elephant is being led by a monkey. The monkey represents distractions. How well we know this scenario! This is ordinary mind or conventional mind mired in the Babylon Matrix (Jonathan Zap). But through study of the writings of Wisdom Teachers and mediation practice, the monk is able to capture and subdue the elephant. Gradually both the monkey and the elephant turn white representing the meditator’s ability to maintain the power of concentration.

Stages three and four represents the meditator’s ability to fix and hold his or her concentration steady. The meditator has lassoed the elephant and gradually the monkey, elephant and even a rabbit turn and look at the meditator to indicate that distractions acknowledge who is in charge.

In stages five and six the meditator begins to lead the elephant and the monkey of distraction follows the mind rather than leading it. The mind is controlled; the meditator uses a goad to discipline the elephant. The rabbit disappears and the mind is finally pacified.

In the seventh stage the monkey leaves the elephant and stands behind the meditator and pays homage.  In stage eight the meditator is in complete control. Single-pointed concentration is achieved.

The ninth is the stage of mental absorption. Perfect equanimity is found and the path has ended. The elephant rests beside the meditator who sits at ease. Now out of the meditator’s heart streams a rainbow like ray.

Stages ten and eleven represent crossing over into mental bliss. The meditator rides the elephant along the rainbow path into the perfection of the transcendent realm and returns bearing the sword of Wisdom. Samsara’s root is severed by the union of shamatha and vipashyana or insight meditation with emptiness as the object of contemplation. Aware of pure awareness, the meditator is now equipped with Compassion and Wisdom to guide others on the path to enlightenment. Ox Herding In the Chinese Chan (Zen) tradition this concept is illustrated through the Ten Ox Herding images by Master Kakuan in 12th Century China. There is a similar progression to the pictures to depict levels of realization.

The meditator (1) searches for the ox, (2) sees the tracks and follows them until (3) the ox is discovered in its hiding place. Once the ox is captured (4), the meditator is able to lead (5) and (6) then ride it back home. (7) Once home, the meditator achieves perfect concentration in non-duality (8). The next step, according to the Chan tradition is to realize the underlying, unshakeable unity of the cosmos (9); there is no separation between created (samsara) and uncreated reality (nirvana). Once realized, (10) the meditator returns to the marketplace. His Compassion compels him to help others on the path to enlightenment by offering his Wisdom.

The difference between the Tibetan and Chan illustrations reflects the cultural orientations of each rather than significant differences in the path or outcome. The Tibetan thangka, a sacred painting on cloth, is colorful and highly mythological while the Chan has an earthy pastoral flavor. Of course, there are no elephants in Tibet – nor in China – but Tibetan Buddhism was highly influenced by Indian culture. The Ox Herding pictures on the other hand demonstrate the Chinese orientation to nature beautifully and simply represented in ink drawings.

Both of these are examples of sacred or visionary art created for the purpose of teaching or clarifying the path of spiritual development. (See previous post: The Mission of Art.) Sacred art is purposeful and often uses high levels of logic as it in these illustrations. At the same time it is visionary and uses archetypal images from the realm of myth. Sacred art at its best is a union of logos and mythos.

The Mission of Art

In the forward to Alex Grey’s book The Mission of Art Ken Wilber writes, “In a world gone postmodern, bereft of meaning and value, cut loose on a sea of irony and indifference, Alex is taking a stunning stand: there is a God, there is Spirit, there is a transcendental ground and goal of human development and unfolding. Higher realities are available to us – that is the message of Alex Grey’s art and words in this book.”

THEOLOGUE WEB FULL

In a recent TEDx Talk in Maui, Hawaii, Alex Grey outlined his artistic and spiritual journey. The message that comes through both the book and this talk is that the true artist’s role is to remind us of the existence of Spirit. He says

The painter channels the creative force into the artefact and this artefact then becomes a battery ready to zap a viewer into a new way of seeing the world. (Grey, TEDx Maui)

Alex_Grey_Painting

Alex Grey unapologetically aligns himself with a long line of sacred or religious artists, a lineage that was thoroughly broken during the modern era and continues to flounder in what is being called the postmodern era. But Grey has, almost single-handedly, rescued art from its ego-centric, materialistic foray into meaninglessness, irony and indifference and reintroduced visionary art into contemporary culture.

Visonary art matters because visionary art is the most direct contact we have with the divine. And all sacred art and religious traditions are founded on this mystic state. Now the best currently available technology for sharing the mystic experience is a well crafted artistic rendering by an eye witness. (Grey, TEDx Maui)

A visionary artist becomes an eye witness through direct experience of the divine as a result of mystical experiences. There are many ways in which the artist can have mystical experiences – from a low intensity awakening like being overwhelmed with the beauty of the natural world to a high intensity awakening such as an experience of unity through meditation. It is because of these intense experiences an artist knows how to see rather than merely look.

No wonder that once the art of seeing is lost, Meaning is lost, and all life seems ever more meaningless: ‘They know not what they do, for they do not see what they look at.’ (Frederick Franck)

There are three sets of eyes with which we perceive. Our conventional mindset, in what Jonathan Zap calls the “Babylon Matrix,” requires us to limit our vision to our physical eyes and to the eyes of reason. With our physical eyes we obviously look at objects in the outer realm. With the eyes of reason we see the symbolic in order to make conceptual relationships. This is the extent of most modern and postmodern artistic vision. Art is either ultra realistic or abstract to the point of individually assigned meaning.

Alex_Grey-Psychic_Energy_Sy

The third way of seeing, the way of seeing with the mystic eye of contemplation, or the third eye, sees the transcendent. This way of seeing, used by visionary artists, is not encouraged in contemporary culture or in art schools because the modern and postmodern mindset denies the existence of, and therefore the possibility of seeing, divine beauty. But the visionary artist sees with all three eyes.

Artists need to be able to see on each level in order to bring technical beauty, archetypal beauty, and spiritual beauty to their work. (Grey, The Mission of Art, p.73)

Visionary art is responsible for redeeming culture; for reminding us of our connection with the source of life. Sacred art, from the earliest cave paintings to the great cathedrals, has pointed in this direction because, as Grey says, we are the creative force of the universe.

Art is an echo of the creative force that birthed the galaxies. Creativity is the way that the cosmos evolves and communicates with itself. The great uplifting of humanity beyond its self destruction is the redemptive mission of art. (Grey, TEDx Maui)

Belief or Practice

Bowl

A Tibetan Singing Bowl

From the Spiritual Practices class blog of September 8, 2013:

“It’s not about right belief; it’s about right practice.” – Cynthia Bourgeault

Doing rather than just believing; and, in the context of spiritual practices, doing something the right way has its correlation with playing tennis. I can believe that practicing tennis will improve my game, but only by actually doing it over and over again do I really improve. And a belief – such as wearing a lucky t-shirt – may not be the reason I win a game whereas learning to change my backhand swing could make a big difference. Even a right belief, like believing in my tennis trainer’s advice, isn’t really enough to help me win the game; I need to really practice the new swing until it comes naturally in my game.

Related to the two words in the quote above are two that we have looked at in class – soteriological and sophiological. If a way of thinking is soteriological, it acknowledges that we are all sinful and that we need to be saved from our unfortunate condition – usually by a Savior who is outside of ourselves. We believe in a Savior and through this belief we are saved. This is right belief; believe the right things while the only practice is usually trying to be ‘good.’

If we are sophiological, we believe in the possibility of transformation; rather than being sinful people we are ignorant of our true identity. This transformation requires doing something, practicing a way of changing our mistaken identification with our lower nature so that we awaken to our true inner nature. This approach to life suggests that there are others who have become transformed by the recovery of their true identity and they can show us how to do as they were able to do. The path they describe requires right spiritual practices such as meditation.

Whether we are Christian or not most of us are familiar with an image or idea of the Kingdom of Heaven. We know that Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven. But what did it really mean to him?

Wisdom Jesus

We have been led to believe (soteriologically) that the Kingdom of Heaven is place you go when you die – if you have been good! What Jesus said was the Kingdom of Heaven is ‘within or among you’ (that it is here) and it is ‘at hand’ (that it is now). This implies that the Kingdom of Heaven is something like a “quality or dimension of experience accessible to you right in the moment. You don’t die into it; you awaken into it”. (Wisdom Jesus, C. Bourgeault, p 30)

This more sophiological interpretation of Jesus’ declaration suggests that the Kingdom of Heaven is a state of consciousness rather than a place you go; it is a place you ‘come from’ as in state of mind/heart. Jesus used the Kingdom of Heaven as a metaphor for ‘non dual consciousness’ or ‘unitive consciousness;’ an awareness that sees no separation between God and humans, nor between you and me. Instead it sees that we are all one. It sees the underlying unity beyond our ego-driven separation-mentality. It transcends. It is the result of spiritual transformation or as Jesus said, of being ‘born again.’

We have learned that through a practice of mindfulness we can develop a state of mind that is spacious and ’empty’ – and rings like a Tibetan ‘singing’ bowl in the analogy I demonstrated in class. As you will recall, the bowl represents your life. It is beautifully crafter and designed to ring true. If you stuff it full with ‘the things of this world,’ it only makes a dull thud when struck. But if you develop a state of mind that is spacious, that does not cling to the ‘things’ of your life, there is plenty of room inside the bowl – like Dr. Who’s Tardis – and it will ring true.

tardisThe ‘things’ in your life remain, but you ‘hold’ them within a spaciousness that allows your true identity to ring forth. This is achieved by practicing being in the present moment and observing the contents of our hearts and minds rather than identifying with them and letting them carry us away from our true selves. In this way we begin to see, to identify with the underlying unity of all things. We begin to transcend our ordinary consciousness and transform our minds and hearts; we develop the capacity for compassion (see R. Davidson) as we begin to see others ‘as ourselves’ (meaning literally, the same Being as myself, no separation).

Whether we are religious or not, all of us have many beliefs that we don’t put into practice. We may believe that being involved in service activities will help change the world, or being environmentally aware will reverse global warming but how often do we actually practice these good intentions? Perhaps it is because we don’t have a practice that generates the capacity for compassion – for seeing someone as my own self in the sense that we are the same universal Being.

One thing we probably all agree to believe is that we need a more compassionately oriented world. That will come from individual people developing the capacity for compassion and selflessness. We want to create ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’ on earth but we can’t do that by believing in it, we need to do it by practicing it – by entering the state of non-dual consciousness that Wisdom Teachers, like Jesus, have always prescribed. We need a practice of mindfulness that transforms our consciousness so we can help others transform their consciousness, too.