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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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.

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)

Change is on the Way

Last Saturday I went to Central, the Financial District in Hong Kong, to see if the rumored ‘Occupy Hong Kong’ event was going to happen. The Podium outside the HK Exchange was crowded with people and banners of all kinds. It was a surprising turn-out. Here is the video I made, with one of my student’s interviewing skills:

The main point addressed by those we talked to was the huge imbalance in resources and power. The rich 1% of the population make the rules with the expectation that the 99% will obey and serve them. This is the system of democracy promoted by the US that is no longer acceptable.

Hong Kong is the global center of banking and finance. Wall Street is the symbol, but its all happening here in Hong Kong. As my former student Michael Suen says, “Hong Kong both reaps the rewards and suffers the consequences of the free market mechanism the most. Remember that it has the greatest income gap among all developed economies. That’s the 99% vs. 1% disparity at its most evident (or you might even say absurd). Most importantly, at least for me, is to acknowledge how deeply systemic and complex the crisis is, and to recognize the limits of our understanding. It’s my generation’s responsibility to disentangle the problems, bit by bit. Because, after all, it’s our future.”

From the perspective of developmental stages, this “occupy everywhere” movement represents a dis-enthrallment with Modernism and a global shift into Post-Modern values. Human rights, justice, equality, recognition that everyone deserves a living wage, and other social causes are gaining acceptance. Corporate greed, mismanagement of investments, politics and law-making by-the-rich and for-the-rich must end.

If you know your world history, this should be a deja vu! Isn’t this exactly what the American Revolution was all about? And the French Revolution? Wasn’t the issue taking power from despotic monarchs who owned everything and made all the rules? Wasn’t democracy supposed to be for-the-people, by-the-people? What happened? When did we give our rights away? When did they steal us blind? When did we fall asleep?

Two hundred plus years ago the revolution, the shift in power, was between the Traditional world and the Modern world. Now the Modern worldview is on the way out. It needs to go because the few at the top have managed to funnel all the wealth and power away from the people. The world is owned by the wealthy few and manipulated by the politicians the wealthy put into office with their stolen money.

I’m not convinced this move from Modern to Post-Modern is going to solve our problems. Rather, I see it as a necessary intermediate step. The changes we all really want to see can only come about when we make the global shift from Post-Modern to Integral. There are not enough people who see things from the Integral perspective yet, but that’s the stage we need to get to for the world to finally find a better balance.

The Post-Modern stage is still externally oriented; it is still ego-driven. Its primary concern is ‘choice freedom.’ This kind of freedom, as Thomas Merton points out, is all about having the means to do what I want, go where I want, say what I want, buy what I want – all dictated by cultural conditioning and hidden agendas of the lower self (Bourgeault, Wisdom Way of Knowing). From the stand point of spiritual teachings, only the fruits of transformation bring real happiness, freedom, justice, and free will.

The Integral stage, by openly promoting spiritual transformation,  looks like it is a few decades away. In the meantime we will have to suffer through the transition from Modern to Post-Modern. When people begin to see through the issues of Post-Modernism and become dis-enthralled with it, they will be ready for the spiritual transformation to the Integral stage. This stage is a recognition that we are evolving into kosmo-centric persons; persons with the creativity and insights necessary for saving civilization from self-destruction. Let’s hope for all of our sakes that we can bring about the Integral change more quickly.

Sichuan Earthquake 2008

My friend Gao Li Qiang runs Tibetan Trekking Company out of Chengdu, Sichuan in China. I have been traveling with him in Western Sichuan (Eastern Tibet or Kham) for five years. We take high school students and expose them to the culture, landscape and people of this fabulous part of the world.

This year he’s had two blows to his business. First of all, the protests in many parts of Tibet and around the world for more autonomy for Tibetans in China shut down his tour business at least until after the Olympics in Beijing. The second blow came on May 12 with the massive earthquake in the foothills between Chengdu and the Tibetan plateau.

We were in contact with each other very soon after the earthquake and he let me know that he and his staff all survived. Later he wrote to say he was over his initial shock and had begun to look for ways he and his staff could be of help to the thousands of victims pouring out of the mountains onto the plains around Chengdu.

Here is his account along with some pictures he took.

Gao Li Qiang – Writing from Sichaun, June 4, 2008

As usual I was working in my office – R1614, a small room located on the 16th floor of Everest Hotel in Chengdu. 2 guides and one operator were across the aisle. There was nothing special about that afternoon, regular work of training, and sales…etc. Suddenly, the desk where I put my laptop began shaking. After several seconds my laptop started to jump up and down; it was like there were magic hands moving it. There was nothing in my head, but I realized danger was coming. I was standing up and yelling the names of my colleagues one by one. We must get out of the building as soon as we can – this is the only idea I had. When all of us gathered together close to the exit to the stairs, we found that we could not move anymore because the building, which we were in, was shaking so strongly that we could not even stand. It was like to take corsair when building was waving back and forth. We could even see gray sky through the windows

At this moment, I noticed we were not the only ones who were stranded on the 16th floor. There were about 15 people including us gathering at the door to the stairs. Because of the strong swaying from this building none of us dared to move. We even thought if there were too many people running together that might enhance the swaying the building to make the building collapse. One girl or maybe two were crying. One person said loudly “stop, stop, stop! No moving!” All of us were hand in hand trying to keep ourselves from falling down and I was telling my colleagues: “We’ll be fine, we’ll be fine”, even though I really did not know if we would survive or not. I had no idea how long it might last. One person suddenly yelled, “Run”! Then everyone started to run down to the ground from 16th floor.

On the first few floors on our way down, the stairs were clear. Nothing was on them. But then we found socks, broken heals, shoes and even shirts all over the stairway. Fortunately, all of us were running one by one down from 16th to the ground; there was no jostling and no one fell down. Only one young boy tried to overtake a female colleagues of mine but I stopped him and he did not push anymore. I clearly remember one sound when we were running down. I can’t forget it. It is the sound of “DE DE DE…” coming from a pair of high heel shoes worn by one of my female colleagues. She ran all the way down to the ground without hurting her feet or ankles and her high heel shoes were completely ok! The cadence of the sound from her high heel shoes when she was running was like a magic power directing us to the ground safely.

The big street in front of Everest hotel had already been filled up scared people. Almost everyone looked up toward to high buildings on both sides of this main street in Chengdu. I knew at least we were safe for the moment. And now we realized that we were the last group of people running out of this building.

Mobile phones did not work and we could not find any ground lines near us. We realized we had lost contact with our family, friends. After making sure that everyone of us was ok, I told my colleagues to go home to make sure their families were ok. I encouraged myself to go back to my office since there were important documents I should to take with me. I ran up the stairs we just came down. It was exhausting but did not dare to slow down. I stop for a few seconds on 10th floor because I wanted to save some energy in case the earthquake came back and I still wanted some energy to be able to run down again. I reached my office and picked up those files, then came back to ground safely. I felt better! Then I ran to the garage to get my car and I drove like crazy through the streets to reach my family as soon as I could.

The streets were full of people and vehicles. Traffic was so bad at that time and the radio did not give us any information of what was going on. There were still songs and useless news playing. After 30 or 40 minutes one radio station started telling us that an earthquake had just happened but it gave no information about where the epicenter was and nothing about how serious it was.

I drove through red lights, crossed the forbidden dual yellow lines…. Anyway I reached my family and took them to the outskirt of Chengdu, where there are no high building. The night of May 12th we stayed in our car listening to the radio. The news finally said it was a 7.8-degree earthquake in Sichuan and there were nearly 400 people who had lost their lives in Chengdu with a very few parts of this city damaged lightly. Two days later the buildings of the school where my mother had worked for over 35 years collapsed during one of the aftershocks. Fortunately no one was hurt because all of the students have been evacuated before it happened.

I thought we would be able to go back to work after few days but it turns out this was just the beginning; the worst was yet to come.

On the night of May 12th a lot of taxies went to Dujiang, the irrigation town next to the mountains, to help transport injured people to hospitals in Chengdu. More and more injured people were brought to Chengdu and the situation was getting worse. The epicenter was confirmed at Wenchuan but quite soon another very bad damaged place was discovered – Beichuan. And after a couple more hours Yingxiu, Qinchuan, Mianzu, Jiangyou, Hanwang… were also found to be very badly damaged also. Everything happened so suddenly.

Millions of people needed to be helped and hundreds of thousands people were buried under collapsed buildings; they needed food, water, medical supplies, tents, mattresses, blankets – they need everything for living.

I contacted some friends of mine and few guides who were available to assist me in doing something. We found that the number of people who need help is huge. The area damaged by the earthquake is enormous. I felt we were such a small group that we could only do a few things. The people we can help would be so few but we still felt we should so something.

Here is some of what we saw:

This is the road leading to Mianzu township. This is outskirt of the small town. There were many army trucks parking on both sides of the roads.

This is the first collapsed building I saw in Mianzu. 80% or even more buildings of Mianzu township will have to be tore down. The earthquake did not make them into rubble but the structure of those building is too unsafe.

This is the front of the first collapsed apartment block. We do not know how many casualties.

Two students walking by the rubble of houses. This is just few kilometers from Mianzu township.

We arrived in Guangji Township and saw one Business – room of China Mobile. This is a 7 story building; the ground floor is filled with the rest of the building.

This is the place where the local government is located. The roof of the building is gone and the building is dangerous. Local official all work in the blue tent. This is also the place we unloaded the goods we brought from Chengdu.

I went to talk to this refugee but he reacted very slowly.

A group soldier of the PLA are waiting as a big forklift takes trash away so they can try to find people who may be still buried in the rubble.

The “X” shape gap means the building is no longer useful. The giant hole at the center of this “X” type seems that it wanted to tell us something.

At one village, we found there is one house with its front door looking okay but when we turn around the rest of the house was totally gone.

There is nothing left but rubble. The villagers told me that they spent all their money to build a new house a few months ago; they just bought a new TV and a washing machine. Now there is nothing left.

This is the dinning table; they cook their food by the garlic field.

This is their “new house”. It is quite hot at noon. I went in to see what it was like but the hot air just kick me out. The temperature should be over 40 degrees C (104 F).

This is their harvested garlic beside the fallen house.

I can imagine that this was once a beautiful location. The home is surrounded by green trees with plenty of fresh air, but now there are only two doors left.

The villagers we met told me it may take 4 years or longer for them to recover.

This two story building looks ok but cannot be used anymore. The horrible fracture from its bottom right to the top makes it very unstable.

The refugees’ temporary place to sleep.

Earthquake has destroyed the water supply system. The local villagers have to get water delivered by the PLA.

This is one fall down door, we still can see its shape

It is like typical Chinese sign of two red lanterns hanging on the two side of the front door, this family might be rich before this strike from earthquake.

This wardrobe is still there – but who knows where the owner is?

Just one door still standing up, the blue & green tents of the background are the place where the villagers sleep now.

Even after such a terrible disaster the washing still gets done! I admire this lady very much.

An injured old man rests. He is surrounded by all that he has left now.

Here’s another one of the tough ladies I respect very much. This small workshop provided basic mechanical services to local villagers. The earthquake destroyed most of the shop; only some really old machine remain. In her eyes I did not see any sadness or anger – just awesome peace. She was working really hard and trying to save some parts of this machine.

The remains of a building.

This is a typical village home in the China countryside. The family slept on the second floor and first floor was for business. This family was rich and happy, but it’s all gone, taken away by the earthquake.

The market of Zundao, all down.

One street of Zundao County. Houses by the street had collapsed.

A lady was sitting there with her daughter who has a psychological problem. The old lady is quite worried about her daughter and was trying to find any help she could. She talked to us about her daughter but there was nothing I could do to help. The only thing I can do was to hear what she had to say. I truly wish she and her daughter will be able to make it through.

The remains of an old local alcohol factory.

A farmer was trying to find some stuff in his house.

Beyond the rubble are the mountains: the footprint of the earthquake are clearly visible on their steep slopes! Landslides have blocked the rivers and created lakes that could overflow and wash the dams away. This would create flash floods downstream.

Local villagers clean up the small streets in the village and try to get their life back in order. These two men are helped each other try to make their lives easier and better.

Though these people may gossip and they might even making loud noises when they chew their food, they are human beings like you and me. Look at them working hard to make the best of their terrible situation!

Beer is one of my favorite drinks, I never realized an empty bottle of beer could be used in this way. After May 12th it has become my “Alarm”. I erect them like this in the corner of my sleeping room. I’ll do this for a long time from now on. After I went to the areas destroyed by the earthquake, I understand we are not fast enough to run ahead of an earthquake. When we feel the earthquake it is already to late. Only luck & the Blessings of Buddha can save us!

I must say what we have suffered is nothing to compare with those who live in the places like Beichuan, Mianyang…etc, that were completely destroyed by the earthquake. We are so lucky; we have our family, I can use the Internet, I can drink beer, I can play Frisbee with my wife in the yard in front of Ikea.

I hope Buddha bless us forever.

“Old Tibet no Shangri-La”

An article appeared in The Atlanta Journal Constitution written by a Taiwanese student, Chi-Wen Yao, at University of Georgia. It is called “Old Tibet no Shangri-La” and points out, rightly, that old Tibet was a theocratic feudal system that abused human rights. The monasteries were the owners of huge tracts of land and owned the peasants more or less as slaves.

He’s right. There were terrible abuses and no one wants to return to a system like that. But he is misguided if he believes that returning to rule under the Dalai Lama means a return to that old system. As a young man the Dalai Lama already saw how terrible the system had become. He wanted to reform it, and, given the chance, I’m sure he would have moved Tibet toward democracy. He even considered some communist ideals as an option for a positive impact on Tibetan society and hoped that Mao would help him make those reforms. But that’s when he was a teenager! When the People’s Liberation Army came to Kham and Amdo to liberate the people from that oppressive system, they came with a complete disregard for ALL cultural and religious values, brushing aside the good with the bad. The only saw one way, the Han Chinese communist way.

Chi-Wen is right about supporting a new, democratic Tibet but he’s wrong in his assumptions that a return to lamaism will return Tibet to the dark ages. What the Dalai Lama has proven to the world, through his years of activism for his people and his repeated call for non-violence and discussion between Tibetans and Chinese, is that an autonomous Tibet will be different. The Tibetan community in exile have also seen the world and are used to free, democratic societies. If they are allowed to return to their homes in Tibet they would not want to live in the dark ages again for sure! In fact, the Tibetans living under Chinese rule now are much more aware of democratic freedoms and would not want to return to the dark ages either! Where does Chi-Wen get this notion anyway?

Learning 2.0 Conference, Shanghai, 2007/09/14-16

Reflecting on this conference seems an appropriate way to start blogging. This is my first post and I feel like its taking a big step. The conference was about Web 2.0 tools and the changing face of education in the 21st century.

A key understanding for me was that these tools are not necessarily a good fit for schools – but as Will Richardson says – they are a good fit for learning. If teachers want to use these tools with students they need to be completely familiar with them and passionate about the learning the teacher can personally do by using them. Only an infectious use of these tools by teachers will make it possible for a teacher to understand how to implement them in the school setting.

Or rather – a teacher who uses and models these tools will encourage students to start using them – for their own personal learning, beyond the classroom.The teacher who is transparent is his/her learning, who allows students to read their blogs, shares their RSS feeds and flickr images, and encourages them to use del.icio.us will model learning 2.0. A vibrant learning community that extends beyond the classroom should be the norm.

You can see what the conference was about and even revisit each session to read the notes taken by those who attended by going here. I attended a couple sessions with Alan November and another with Will Richardson. My own session is here.