4.03.2015

One earth, one sky, entirely at peace

John and Mia chanting with others before a walk
 

When our friends John and Mia invited me to join them on a Peace Walk for a nuclear-free future, led by a nun, I immediately thought, yes. It’s not ordinarily something I would be inclined to do by myself. Especially since I know very little about this topic, aside from what has been in the mainstream media about nuclear energy, and the devastating Fukushima tragedy recently. As I was reading about the walk, a friend who knew I had a busy week ahead, wondered if these types of walks actually make an impact? I wasn't sure, but somehow I was certain that I needed to join them while they’re in the Bay Area. Aside from sorting out my schedule for the next day, I tried to mentally prepare myself to walk 17 miles from Oakland to Hayward. 

Early in the morning, when I got to the Intertribal Friendship House, to my surprise the group had just left. As a few others and I caught up with them a van, the first sight of the walkers across the street was extremely moving. Two rows of people, walked in unison, drumming and chanting. Out of the fifty or so people that were there, the first in line were folks with the signs explaining the Peace Walk. The nuns/monks, and the “regulars” drumming and chanting followed this. They were reciting a prayer from the Lotus Sutra: Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō” (One earth, one sky, entirely at peace). Walkers like me who were joining in for a day, trailed at the end.

It felt a little surreal to see this happening with the backdrop of the downtown Oakland neighborhood, where every other store we passed seemed to be a convenience store. Walking by some of the buildings with shattered glass, vandalized walls, and the too often apathetic looking, drunken eyes staring back at us, one had a keen sense that if there was anywhere that a prayer could be useful, it was here. You could see that this energy that the prayers brought was not common on those streets. And yet at the same time it was slowly starting to be welcomed. The teenagers looked on with curiosity, sometimes erupted into cheers, and the drivers that went by sometimes honked in solidarity. It’s hard to forget the tired face of the tall African-American woman waiting at the bus stop. As she saw us coming, her face broke out into a huge smile, nodding her head in full agreement, and sending flying kisses as we walked past her. It was such an authentic and a heart-warming response. Still warms my heart to think of it. 

Peace Walkers led by the tireless Jun-sa
 After Mia kindly gave me a quick lesson on the drumming, I moved up to chant with the others. Once the rhythm took over, my heart felt a deep sense of prayer for the world. As all the voices sang in unison, the prayers were multiplied and flooded the streets with sense of reverence. A few times when I really got into it, almost everything else seemed to come to a standstill, the traffic seemed silent, only the sound of the drums remained. You couldn't help but feel all of humanity in that harmonious beat.  

Jun-san Yasuda, her teacher, and peace pagodas

Jun-san Yasuda, the fearless leader of this initiative is a 66-year-old Japanese Buddhist nun. She is about 4-foot-11 inches, 100 pounds, and nothing short of a force of nature. She has walked cross-country three times. As we pass the Aztec dancers, who were dancing on the street for another event, she ran over and joined them in the dance. Her energy rivals that of a teenager. As we watched the dance, my friend Sri, later shared that he was reminded of this beautiful quote “live so free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” She embodies that deeply. In a very touching moment, the elder from the Aztec group came forward with white sage incense, and blessed every-single-one-of-the-walkers before we moved on. There’s something stirring about an elder from one tribe, embracing another from a completely different tradition, who lives half-way around the world from them.

Jun-san Yasuda, a 66-year-old nun who's walking from SF to NY
Jun-san’s teacher Nichidatsu Fujii, teacher of her Buddhist order, met Gandhi in India in 1931. Fujii was greatly inspired by the meeting and decided to devote his life to promoting non-violence. In 1947, he began constructing Peace Pagodas as shrines to World peace. They were built as a symbol of peace in Japanese cities including Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the atomic bombs took the lives of over 150,000 people. By 2000, eighty Peace Pagodas had been built around the world in Europe, Asia, and the United States. They are a symbol of non-violence dating as far back as 2000 years ago, when Emperor Ashoka of India began erecting these throughout the country.

70 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and 5 years after the Fukushima disaster, Jun-san believes that we must never let such disasters happen again. Carrying this urgent prayer, she and 23 others will walk from San Francisco to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations in New York City. 

Many Native Americans have been present throughout these walks. And I was initially unclear on the connection, but soon realized that many nuclear power plants have historically been built on indigenous lands not just in US, but also in Canada, Australia, South and Central America, Africa, and many others. The areas are rich in uranium, which is the fuel of these power plants. With unemployment rates usually high in many of these communities, it’s cheaper for the plants to find people who are willing to do the dangerous work of mining and processing uranium. As nuclear energy gains mass momentum, we still don’t know what to do with nuclear waste. There’s no solution to it. As we’ve seen in Fukushima, 160,000 people fled their homes because of radioactive contamination. And waste still continues to spill into the ocean. Instead of focusing on other types of energy or actually reducing our own consumption, we’re heading into something that is destroying the planet.

In these times, peaceful walks like these become a symbol of people’s voice. When nuns and monks who consciously try to live peaceful lives, leave the comfort of their monasteries and hit the streets, it’s a calling to take a close look at where we might be off. As noon approached, we all gathered into a circle on a patch of cool grass near Starbucks. Someone brought out a few packages of bread, few sliced tomatoes and spinach, along with a few jars of peanut butter, as well as jam. One of the Native American elders, Wounded Knee took a little bit of food on a plate and brought it to the center of the circle and offered a small prayer filled with gratitude. Everyone took a much-needed break to sit, stretch, fill their bellies. As people were eating, Mia pointed out that the monks and nuns always wait until everyone has taken the food before taking any, even though they work the hardest. And sometimes, like today there wasn’t that much left. This struck a deep chord. After walking for ten miles, I was famished. It’s hard to imagine how they’re feeling after continuously living in this way. I was so moved to make lunch for everyone the next day. During that break, I texted my friend Audrey to see if she would be up for helping cook for 35-40 people.  Within seconds she texted saying she was in. As I bid goodbye to all the new friends who were staying at a church for the night, I hit the grocery store.

A friend and I make lunch for the walkers the next day
Audrey, Nipun and I had a grand time the next morning whipping up a nutritious meal. As we coordinated with Amy, who was planning the walk route for the day, she asked us to show up near a highway underpass. There weren’t too many places for a group to sit, so we set up a buffet in the trunk of my car. As they all came up, they gathered in a circle around the car and offered a prayer. Audrey later told me she was almost in tears from their sincere prayers. I was glad I wasn’t the only one touched so deeply by them. It made me happy to see the monks and nuns not wait around because the food was plenty.

Going back to my friends understandable concern: will this walk make an impact? A group of people peacefully walking and spreading their message, made a bigger impact on me than anything I could have ever read in the news. People that are not necessarily “against” but “for.” They’re standing for peace. They’re standing for better quality of life for all of earth’s inhabitants. They’re standing for making global decisions from a space of love and not greed. They’re standing for taking responsibility for how we treat the planet. How can I not stand with those people who are doing so much on behalf of all of us? Their very existence is making as impact.




4.02.2015

Infallible Hope

Gujarat, India (2005)


As if
the 
night 
could
detain
the rays 
of the 
sun 
and
command 
them 
never 
to show 
up
at your
doorstep
again.

3.29.2015

Finding Wholeness In Our Imperfections

There’s a feeling you get right before it rains. The clouds gather up, the sky turns gray, and you can practically smell the earthy scent in the air. Something deep inside of you knows the rain is coming. 

I’ve been having that feeling in the pit of my stomach, about writing. Things have been incubating for a while -- thoughts, ideas, reflections. Things that simply can’t be shared in 140 characters or less. Things that can’t be scrolled through on Facebook to people who may, or may not actually know you well enough to understand your perspectives. Things that need a slowing-down, not only on the part of the writer, but also the serendipitous reader who stumbles across this small blog, in this great big world of ours.

This blog that hasn’t been updated for two years. It was certainly not for the lack of things to share (and my apologies to all the new email subscribers, you’re probably wondering who this is right now :). Somehow there’s always been a small part of me that believed that writing and reflecting is a luxury. And I should focus on doing more important things that need to get done. I'm slowly learning that life constantly needs to, not just be examined at every level, but also shared, when possible. It is something that requires more courage and honesty than I can probably muster up most of the time. 

Made even more beautiful after breaking

A part of me is becoming more aware of the collective story that we're creating as a people, as citizens of the world, and especially as women -- and becoming more conscious of the impact its creating on the next generation. To see myself as a thread in the larger tapestry and taking responsibility, not just for my own little piece of the thread, but also for other threads around me, requires a deeper commitment to the truth than if I was fending just for myself. 

It also requires a getting over my own self, and my own insecurities. Whether they’re about not being a good writer or having something complete and worthwhile to share.  If anything I’ve learned at reaching the big 4-0 (I know!) is that I am always going to be a work-in-progress. And that is okay. In my twenties, I liked to believe that I would have reached some state of semi-permanent enlightenment by this age. (lol) But alas, I know that I will constantly just be “arriving,” in life, so I’ve learned to become a little more comfortable on the journey.

A beautiful Japanese phrase, “wabi-sabi,” sums this up elegantly. Wabi-sabi is the understanding that when things are imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, instead of taking away from their beauty, they actually enhance it.

3.25.2013

Of Ashrams, Mountains, and Seemingly Ordinary People


It seems that all the sacred places left in the world can only be reached on foot; such is the case with this one. Coming together from different parts of the world for a few days, the six of us walk silently, one after another. Two-kilometer trek up the rocky trail of the Arunachala mountain feels harder than it should. I walk behind Jayeshbhai on the clay-colored rocks, a close friend and a mentor. Silence starts to wash over me, preparing the mind to step into something sacred.

Following numerous bends of the trail the view opens up to display the whole city of Trivunamalai, with four temples symmetrically built in the middle of the town. Jayeshbhai and I pause to take in the grand view. As we try to catch our breath on this quiet January afternoon, we hear someone coming from the opposite side. An older grey-haired American woman appears walking very slowly down the jagged rocks with the help of a younger white woman on her right, and a local man on the left. Each step seems to bring her body a lot of agony as her feet shake to find the ground beneath them. But there is a vast smile on her face, which is half-covered with the oversized black glasses.

Ramana Maharishi (an Indian saint)
We both stop in admiration of the spirit of this lady, who has obviously made it to the cave and coming back. Jayeshbhai spontaneously touches her feet and instructs me to also “get her blessings.” As per the Indian custom, I follow suit. The younger woman tells her to touch our heads, and guides her hands. Her grin widens and I feel the touch of her hands in my hair. We chat for a bit and ask if there is anything we can do to help. All three assure us that they are fine and will slowly reach the bottom of the path. Renewed with energy, we slowly move forward in awe of such a dedicated western disciple of Ramana Maharishi.

On finally reaching the cave, a sense of stillness comes over me as I enter. Sitting among dozen others cross-legged on the floor, the eyes adjust to the dark. Lit by a single candle I can make out the small inner room with a shiva lingam in the center. Ramana Maharishi's teaching can be summed-up in three words, he asked his disciples to focus on the inquiry, “Who am I?” As I meditate, the mind comes to a complete stop, the thoughts seem few and far between. Probably a half hour passes before I open my eyes, feeling guilty for taking my time. The mind nudges me to go outside, so others can come and meditate.

Path up the Arunachal mountain where Ramana Maharishi lived
The walk down is filled with peace and awe, as the sun starts to set across the mountain. As we get near the bottom, I’m touched to see the older American lady again making her way down. I now learn that her name is Renee, who is now resting on a rock with Rajesh – still smiling as wide as ever. Jayeshbhai and I fill in Anarben on our meeting walking up the mountain. We sit down beside her bombarding her with questions. After learning that she has walked this path eight times during this trip, and is eighty-three years old, we find out that she has been a devotee of Ramana Maharishi for over thirty years. All because of a dream she once had. She has never met him even once. Such is her devotion.

Back in California, as I think of Renee and the tranquility so visible on her face, one word keeps coming to my mind – reverence. Reverence for trusting the mysteries of life. Reverence for following a deep inner calling. Reverence for sacred mountains, and seemingly ordinary people that remind me to keep looking deeper. 

3.16.2013

The Secret of Happiness

A beautiful story that I love from “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho:


A merchant sent his son to learn the Secret of Happiness from the wisest of men. The young man wandered through the desert for forty days until he reached a beautiful castle at the top of a mountain. There lived the sage that the young man was looking for.

However, instead of finding a holy man, our hero entered a room and saw a great deal of activity; merchants coming and going, people chatting in the corners, a small orchestra playing sweet melodies, and there was a table laden with the most delectable dishes of that part of the world.
The wise man talked to everybody, and the young man had to wait for two hours until it was time for his audience.
With considerable patience, the Sage listened attentively to the reason for the boy’s visit, but told him that at that moment he did not have the time to explain to him the Secret of Happiness.
He suggested that the young man take a stroll around his palace and come back in two hours’ time. “However, I want to ask you a favor,” he added, handling the boy a teaspoon, in which he poured two drops of oil. “While you walk, carry this spoon and don’t let the oil spill.”
The young man began to climb up and down the palace staircases, always keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. At the end of two hours he returned to the presence of the wise man.
“So,” asked the sage, “did you see the Persian tapestries hanging in my dining room? Did you see the garden that the Master of Gardeners took ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?” Embarrassed, the young man confessed that he had seen nothing. His only concern was not to spill the drops of oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.
“So, go back and see the wonders of my world,” said the wise man. “You can’t trust a man if you don’t know his house." Now more at ease, the young man took the spoon and strolled again through the palace, this time paying attention to all the works of art that hung from the ceiling and walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around the palace, the delicacy of the flowers, the taste with which each work of art was placed in its niche. Returning to the sage, he reported in detail all that he had seen.
“But where are the two drops of oil that I entrusted to you?” asked the sage.
Looking down at the spoon, the young man realized that he had spilled the oil.
“Well, that is the only advice I have to give you,” said the sage of sages. “The Secret of Happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon."

3.14.2013

Daffodils in Our Shoes


"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anais Nin

Woke up to find that the bright buds had bloomed speedily overnight. Bringing with them a splash of sunshine into the family room on an otherwise foggy morning. Thank you to the anonymous kindness bandits that left daffodils in all of our shoes during meditation last night. You know who you are. :-)

May you continue to blossom and bring sunshine in people’s hearts wherever you go.