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Archive for December, 2008

New Year’s Eve 2008                                        Khajuraho, India

 

         Since our work is rooted in the tantric tradition, Khajuraho was always a prime destination of this pilgrimage.  It is the site of the medieval temples (10th c.) built by the Candela dynasty, people who worshipped the goddess as well as the god and believed that through sexual union, one could achieve moksha (spiritual liberation).  Who can argue with such a belief (and why would you want to?)?

 

         James and I loved Khajuraho and spent 5 days there.  It was a major relief to be out of cities and into the village life.  There are plenty of temples to visit, and so we were able to spend time at various sites – observing, feeling, meditating, and just hanging out.  We also met many interesting people and got their insights into tantra, as it is a tradition still practiced around here, but mostly in the realms of either religious mantra and meditation practice, or tantric magic (sometimes of the black magic variety).  Sexual tantra in modern India is still largely taboo.  So we’ve been learning a lot. 

 

We took about a million pictures, and offer you here a small(!) sampling.  The artistry of the temples was exquisite, and sometimes quite moving.    Enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

 


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Wonder of the World

26 December 2008                                                      Agra, India

         We arrived in Agra on Christmas Eve at midnight (over 3 hours late).  When we stepped off the train, it was like stepping into a Hollywood set.  A thick fog obscured the platforms and put an eerie glow around the lights.  A white-bearded man was chanting “Ay, Ram.”  Women wrapped in saris and men wearing turbans huddled around a fire they’d made.  As we pulled our luggage clackety-clacking along, we passed mounds of people sleeping under wool blankets.   Only one little boy was awake and peeked out at us with his dark brown eyes.  He was wedged between his mom and dad, and his face held the delight of a boy on a camping trip … sleeping there on the train platform.         The night was cold and smelled of smoke and urine, with a hint of incense.  Welcome to Agra.

 

         I awoke at dawn on Christmas morning to the sound of the muzzein calling the faithful to prayer, his voice rolling across the city on the misty morning.  This was followed by the sounds a someone puking in the room next to ours.  Tourist tummy which so far we’ve avoided here in India… 

 

Today, which is Ramses’ birthday, while sitting on the rooftop terrace of our hotel drinking chai and watching the nearby Taj Mahal materialize in the morning fog, I also saw this:  a dog hurriedly crossing the street to avoid a horse-drawn carriage that was passing a camel-drawn carriage that was passing an elephant.  Only in India ….

 

Ramses, I offer you these vignettes from our Indian sojourn, and wish you the very happiest of birthdays!

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Christmas Day                                                                             Agra, India

 

       Shah Jahan built this immense monument in white marble to his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631.  James called it “the 2nd greatest love story in the world”  after ours because, the difference being, “You’re not my possession.”

 

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OUR CHRISTMAS CARD TO YOU

 

            We spent a leisurely Christmas Day at the Taj Mahal, along with several thousand other people, soaking up the beauty.

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Solstice Time

                    

23 December 2008                                                 New Delhi, India

 

                 The sore throat James felt in Bangkok  intensified in the frigid Himalayan air and became a full-fledged cold in the pollution of Delhi.  So James spent his first days in India by taking it easy, nursing his cold.

 

         Shashi, a friend of 18 years, provided the perfect space to just hang out.  By opening his apartment and office to us, we were able to get on our feet in India.  He assigned his “manservant” to us to answer our every need.  The kitchen is Binay’s domain, and it took some convincing to get in there to butter our own bread, for example.  [Otherwise, we would put in our requests and wait].  When it fit with the greater schedule of the office, we were given a driver to take us where we needed.  At the office I became part of the staff’s job description, which is a great help though often mysterious, as I would make requests and wait.  Tea is served all around, then suddenly people rush in and out, and then tea is served all around, and I have a vague feeling things are getting done.  Obviously I’ve got a lot to learn in this culture.  [However, the waiting part is suspiciously similar to when I used to do business in Mexico and Guatemala].

 

         It’s great reconnecting with Shashi and he’s re-initiating his Hindu instruction with me . . . so I’m getting new mantras to practice.  Also, among the parade of people through his office are gurus, spiritual masters, and other interesting types that we’ve been able to meet.

 

         Binay is from a village in Jharkhand, a young man of 19 years.  His purity and hope remind me of my own son.  He dreams of being a teacher, or of having his own tailor shop, but as he says, “I have a problem – I am a poor boy.”  He misses the green trees of his village, the water, the blue skies, the freedom . . . but, he says, his 3 sisters need their dowries, and his father is a poor farmer.  So here he is in the concrete jungle, working as a servant, and grateful for the opportunity.  James and I have a wonderful connection with him.

 

         James’ and my favorite place in Delhi was the Birla House, the home and gardens where Gandhi last lived.  The museum was moving to us both, and at the site where he was assassinated, we were overcome with tears.  A monument sits in a white-rose garden and marks the spot where that Mahatma (“Great Soul”) left his body.  It was all very impressive to us.

 

         Across the street from the grounds of the Birla House is the Defence Academy.   Their entrance has cannons pointed at the place where Gandhi died.  So in a sense, though a sole assassin’s bullet felled the Father of the Indian Nation, India’s military establishment is gunning for his ideas of peace even today.  Supreme irony.

 

         On the solstice we paid our respects at Gandhi’s place, as well as at the shrine of a Muslim saint that Shashi took us to.  Though I got one dirty look from a woman in black jalaba & veil (somehow I left the house without a scarf), the people there accepted us with great sincerity, giving us gifts and offering James many hands getting up and down.  I was there bareheaded and James could not sit properly, and we were obviously Westerners, but the Muslims there really embraced us. 

 

From my many years of dedicating the solstice to world peace, I found it fitting that we should celebrate this one affirming our connectedness among diverse people.  At the Muslim shrine, we made offerings of rose petals, and I prayed for peace between Pakistan and India, who are both rattling sabers at the moment.  At Gandhi’s place, James and I both felt the power of peace as it was embodied by one man.   It is a power that has changed the world.

 

 

 

           

              

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Himalayan High

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Ka Ka Ka Ka Kathmandu

 

Full Moon in Nepal

 

         Our time in Nepal was brief but it slid into the realm of the timeless.  I still haven’t integrated into words what we experienced there.  But I can say a few things:

 

         Kathmandu is more polluted by far than Bangkok – unbelievable!  We found an oasis of sorts in the Mustang Holiday Inn (no relation to the American one, that’s for sure!), that was somewhat hidden from the incessant horn honking and diesel smoke-spewing traffic.  With that as our base, we ventured into places where we could breathe.

 

         The tantric temples of Nepal are what attracted us, and it was amazing to me to be sitting in temples full of symbolism that I understood:  the 6-pointed star, the gods and goddesses, the shiva linga, the yoni platforms, etc.   In some of the places I really felt the power.  That’s what I’m still integrating.

 

         We went to be in a Tibetan Buddhist place, and that felt both familiar and exotic.  I often directed my prayers toward Tibet, thanking it for holding the sacred tradition that is now out in the world, and asking for its release from suffering under the Chinese.

 

         We met up with artists from a Tibetan school of painting in Bhaktapur, and James and they had a real meeting of the minds and hearts.  They toured us through the school, which is run by a Tibetan lama, and we marveled at the thankas they painted.  They also very much appreciated James’ paintings, and our work.

 

         There were plenty of Hindu temples and shrines, too, which also felt familiar as I could name the divine characters and many of the scenes.

 

         A strange thing about the many Nepalese we met was the very deep connections that we forged.  Perhaps it is because this country has only been open to the outside world for less than 60 years, and they haven’t become jaded to foreigners.   I noticed that when we said goodbye to new friends, I would get a lump in my throat and linger at the farewell, just like old friends.  I noticed they, too, would look back and wave after we had parted.   

 

         We even had a meeting with a yogic master who teaches Eastern tantra (breathing, mantra, visualization) – a spirited discussion that collected a crowd around us.  I think people were taken aback that we were arguing with the master, but it was a respectful exchange that we all felt better for.  And the master, Dr. Chandra, is a high guy – no doubt about it.  His eyes emanated light.  It was a true honor to meet him.

 

         James has repeated often that he feels privileged to be in Nepal.  Closed for all these centuries . . . and here we are meeting people, visiting the temples, beholding the Himalayas.

 

 

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Banged up Bangkok

Friday, 12 December 2008                                                        Bangkok, Thailand

 

         While cities hold the great commercial and cultural treasures of a society, I think their basic premise is anti-life.  Nowhere does the veneer of pretty civilization run thinner than in Third World cities.

 

         In Bangkok, traffic is a snarl.  Our tuk-tuk driver turned his engine off 3 times as we inched down one block.  He, like many people, wore a gauze mask, given that the air pollution is so thick , you can see it looking down the avenue.  James and I both got sore throats.

 

         Thankfully, the waterways which crisscross the city do not smell of sewage, though all manner of garbage floats in them. 

 

         Cities most certainly take a human toll.  I love the little bowing ritual that accompanies saying “thank you”;  here, however, is the first I’ve experienced some people not meeting my eyes.  The first time it happened, it shocked me.  What does the city do to the soul that makes one turn away from another human being?

 

         The Buddhist temples offer a sanctuary from the din and struggle of the metropolis.  Inside their large grounds, not only do the temple buildings and meditation halls provide quiet, but the grounds of big trees, flowers, large artificial waterfalls, pools, and statuary allow the city-weary populace to rest.  And the people use them – they’re full of children playing or studying, old people sitting, people strolling.  In Thailand every male must put some time in as a monk – from one day to a lifetime – and many teenage boys do a year.  The orange and saffron-robed monks are everywhere and universally revered; in fact, since they can have but minimal possessions, they move through the world on the good graces and donations of others.  And wherever they are, they are busy – teaching, healing, officiating.  Without their work, it seems to me that Bangkok – and Thai society – could break down.

 

         Bangkok makes me think about the basic nonsustainability of huge cities.  New urbanism with walkable lifestyles offers a solution.  Mass transit, park spaces and greenbelts, and converting suburbs into village formats would all help.  What if we shifted from a monetary economy to a resource-based economy, and people could do what they love instead of selling their souls here in this pit of steel  and asphalt?  What if cities took direction from The Venus Project?  [no relation!]

 

         Our first night in Bangkok this trip, we took a taxi from the train station to our hotel (a fancy high rise happy to give us half-price rooms coz of the drop in tourism).  As we drove through the city, I watched the urbanscape from my back seat window.  I saw a dark, small man passed out, his face planted on the cold sidewalk.  Drunk, I suppose.  But the image haunted me.  A man of the hill tribes, squashed under the death-dealing weight of anti-life urbanism.  Perhaps it was the only rational response possible for an Earth-centered person, to drink himself into oblivion, for certainly all his signposts of reality had been knocked down and paved over in the concrete jungle.  Most everybody else adapts, of course.  But when we’re at the point of wearing face masks to be able to breathe, how sane is that?

 

         One thing I know for sure:  fossil fuels belong in the ground.  When we moved them into the air and the water, we began committing slow suicide.  I hope that the new, cleaner technologies get established before we complete our kamikaze dive with petroleum.


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