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Ma 2017 New Years Letter

And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.
Therefore we thank Thee for our little light, that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who hast moved us to building, to finding, to forming at the ends of our fingers and beams of our eyes.
And when we have built an altar to the Invisible Light, we may set thereon the little lights for which our bodily vision is made.
And we thank Thee that darkness reminds us of light.
O Light Invisible, we give Thee thanks for Thy great glory!

TS Eliot from Choruses from the Rock

Greetings dear ones,

On 24th December, Sadananda and I kindled the menorah for the first night of Hanukkah. As the flame burned down, we set out in the biting cold to celebrate the lighting of the Christ Candle at First United Methodist Church. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." Not for forty years has the first night of Hanukkah occurred on Christmas Eve as it has done in 2016, bringing together the rededication of the Jerusalem temple with the birth of the miraculous babe in Bethlehem. Both stories offer hope and renewal in a time of darkness and oppression.

When my parents were young children, clouds of darkness were gathering over a Europe already shattered by the horrific war in which their fathers fought. They were fourteen years old when the Second World War broke out. Six years later, seventy million had died in battle, bombing, starvation and genocide. Even as a young medical student, thirty years later, I walked each day past a bombed out London church. Yet, in the face of the horrors of war, the resilience of the human spirit reasserted itself. The ending of the war brought a determination to create a more peaceful world and more just and open societies. The UN was born on 24 October 1945. In 1949 came the Geneva Conventions, seeking to limit the atrocities of war and promote basic humanitarian values. The great ideal of the Enlightenment, liberal democracy, began to spread across Europe and become a normative political ideology. And on 25 March 1957 the Treaties of Rome were signed, laying the foundation stone of the European Union, based on the values of human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights--hard-won lessons for a Europe grappling with the legacy of two appalling wars.

Today, many of us in the United States and Western Europe take liberal democracy and the rule of law for granted as our inalienable birthright. Others of us-- African Americans, Native Americans, LGBTQ, religious minorities as well as refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, shine light on the gap between these ideals and their implementation in daily life. None of us are truly free or equal until all of us enjoy these inalienable rights in full measure.

A new year, 2017, is taking birth in a world shaped by the ideals of the Enlightenment. And again, just as in my parents' childhood, dark clouds are gathering with the rise of far-right populism and authoritarianism. Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is leading his nation away from promised democratization to escalating authoritarianism. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has cheerfully compared himself to Hitler, saying he would be "happy to slaughter" 3 million addicts. Urged on by far right populist Nigel Farage, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, isolating itself from the great project of the Four Freedoms. And the election of self-described populist Donald Trump has energized America's white supremacists as well as Europe's extreme nationalist parties. With the appointment of Steven Bannon of Breitbart News as Trump's chief strategist, the far right is ready to enter the mainstream.

According to Jan-Werner Muller, "populists always, at heart, reject pluralism, and claim to be the exclusive and moral representatives of "the people" and their interests. It is therefore, above all, a moralistic imagination of politics... Once in office, they tend to describe the opposition as illegitimate, immoral and "enemies of the people" -- this polarization is a key element of what populism thrives on. Just like Chávez and Maduro said those who voted against him were infiltrators and traitors, Donald Trump referred to "millions of illegal voters" who explain why he lost the popular vote."

"It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness." This quotation, attributed to sources as disparate as Confucius, Eleanor Roosevelt and a Unitarian minister, shines forth as a flame to clarify our confusion and warm us as we shiver in anxiety. We are the ones who can brighten the gloom and avert impending catastrophe. We can't take freedom, equality, liberty and justice for all and the rule of law for granted--and perhaps we never could. The checks and balances offered in our constitution can be removed at the stroke of a pen. We the people are the only real checks and balances. Are we ready to arise for justice like the Standing Rock water protectors and the Black Lives Matter activists? When we see minorities assailed, are we ready to stand with them? Are we willing to allow the Geneva Conventions become a dead letter as hospitals are bombed and civilians starved in Syria--or will we call the governments of the world to account? Are we willing to allow all the humanitarian gains of the last seventy years to wither along with the hopes of unwanted refugees shivering in tents--or will we advocate for them?

I usually suggest simple, health-oriented New Year's resolutions. This year, I invite you to BE the one you are waiting for. Democracy, the rule of law, pluralism, and international humanitarian law are inherently fragile, for they represent our highest aspirations as a society and international community. If we forsake the dream and vision, they will be no more. Dystopia awaits us if we do not uphold these ideals. And sustaining democracy and humanitarianism requires more than a click on a petition site. Here are some simple tools:

  • Use the Indivisible Guide to borrow strategies from the Tea Party in order to resist the Trump Agenda. Or, if you prefer, use these same strategies to advocate for refugees or push for a just resolution of the war in Syria.
  • Support organizations like the ACLU that are standing up for our civil liberties.
  • Support charities that are helping refugees:
  • Want some weekly action items to help you work on behalf of our democracy and protect minorities? Look at this site.

As TS Eliot said, the darkness reminds us of the light. Instead of despairing or cowering under the covers, we can light our little candles as beacons of hope. If we fail, at least we lived in integrity and sowed seeds of hope for future generations. If we succeed, freedom and democracy will be stronger than ever before.

Wishing you a joyous New Year and peace and prosperity during 2017!

With my love and blessings always

Alakananda Ma


Alakananda Ma December 2013

Child of the dark time

I long for light

Recall the light.

Lights before I came into the world

Cranley Mews menorah kindling

Behind blackout curtains

In the days when London burned

And no church bells rang.

Lights that welcomed me to the world

Sodium lamps glowing on icy streets

Advent candles calling to Emmanuel.

Lights of childhood

Yule log in the hearth

Lantern in tent,

Lamps shining through leaded glass

Pooling on cobblestones,

Sunlight on warm brick wall,

Shafts of light through stained glass windows.

Trinity wharf lighthouse

Illuming London docks

Ipswich harbor lights

Reflected in the Orwell

Ship lights, port red, starboard green.

Lights of faith

Sabbath lights

Lumen Christi shining in dark church

Tiered arati lamps

Circling before Shanta Durga,

Sea of butter lamps at Svyambunath,

Divali lights floating down the Ganges.

Lights of joy and sorrow

Birthday candles, yahrtzeit candles

Kirtan votives, romantic candles,

Wildfire blazing on Bear Peak,

Starlight in the desert,

Firelight by full moon.

Child of the dark time

I seek the light

Light in face, in smile, in eyes

Light of spirit, light of love

Light of lights

Beyond the darkness.

Child of the waning year

I see the light

Hidden in the hearts of all.

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"'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo. 'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

This time has been given to us--and it is a time that calls for great moral courage and clarity of purpose. It is a time when we are asked to resist injustice, resist bigotry, resist the targeting of vulnerable minorities, resist racism in all its forms. It is a time when we must stand up for Mother Earth and all her species, more strongly than we have ever done before. It is a time when we must wake every morning and set our moral compass.

For some of us, it is inevitably a time when we experience a sense of threat. If we are undocumented, we fear deportation. If we are Muslim, we fear being put on a registry. If we are African-American, we fear increased racial profiling. If we are in the LGBTQ community, we fear the loss of marriage equality. If we are women, we fear the erosion of our reproductive rights. If we are rape survivors, we fear the normalization of rape and sexual harassment. If we have come here fleeing an authoritarian regime, we wonder if history is repeating itself. Where now can we go?

For others of us, the threat may be less evident. It is tempting to look on the bright side; after all, it's only four (or eight) years. The People have spoken (sort of, as Hillary won the popular vote). Now we need to give Trump a chance. It is tempting to accommodate, to look the other way, to get on with our own lives. And this is why we need to set our moral compass every single morning as we awaken to a new day. Is racism permissible, because it won't affect us? Are deportations acceptable, if our family won't be deported? Is persecution of a religious minority acceptable, because we don't belong to that minority?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller.

We face, at best, a presidency that could set us back fifty years in terms of civil rights, LGBTQ rights, women's rights and basic human rights. Let us remember how hard-won these rights are. People struggled and died to get us where we are today. And we need to gain much more ground before minorities truly have equal protection under the law.

At worst, we face the erosion of our democracy and its transformation into a Fascist autocracy. American exceptionalism may lead us to think, 'It couldn't happen here.' We have a constitution, a Bill of Rights; we have strong democratic institutions. Yet many, even today, do not experience all of these rights--the right to a speedy trial, for example. Our rights will last as long as we defend them, not just for ourselves but for all segments of society. Our institutions will not protect us--we need to protect them.

This time has been given to us; and it is a time to awaken soul-force, satyāgraha. Soul-force is a Gandhian concept that has become part of the American psyche through the work of Martin Luther King Jr. The Civil Rights Movement was powered by soul-force.

'Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement 'satyagraha', that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence.'

Gandhi: Satyagraha in South Africa.

'Non-violence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evildoer, but it means putting of one's whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honour, his religion, his soul, and lay the foundation for that empire's fall or its regeneration.'

Excerpt from Gandhi's writings.

We see this soul-force demonstrated today by the Water Protectors who stand in peace and prayer in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Faced with tear gas, mace, rubber bullets, water cannon and LRAD noise bombs, they continue drumming, chanting, praying and standing their ground. The Water Protectors are willing to die to save the Missouri for all our grandchildren. This is satyāgraha.

This time has been given to us. It is a time to use our freedom of speech while we still have it; a time to assert our right to free assembly; a time to defend press freedom as reporters from prestigious media outlets shiver in the cold outside Trump National Golf Club, waiting for scraps of information. It is a time to protect our democratic institutions, not to wait for them to save us. It is a time to uphold the rule of law.

This time has been given to us. It is a time to overcome our fear, thinking of others who have more reason to be afraid. Today we all need to stand in soul-force, ready to defend our cherished freedoms. For so many, these freedoms have yet to become a reality. To allow them to be further weakened would be a catastrophe. As a nationalized citizen, I have taken a vow to defend the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, inner and outer. I pray that you will join me in this endeavour, for this time, a time for soul-force, has been given to us all.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

But if I am only for myself, who am I?

If not now, when?"

Rabbi Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14


Thank you to activist Marty Rosenbluth for calling my attention to the opening quotation from Lord of the Rings.

See also my post Dear Mr. Trump, here's why you are not 'my' president.

Further reading: mostly excerpted from a list compiled by Professor Jeff Colgan of Brown University. Also see his Google Doc on Risk of Democratic Erosion


Donald Trump | by Gage Skidmore Creative Commons

Dear Mr Trump,

You may be surprised to notice that I am not calling you 'President-elect Trump.' The reason is simple. You are not my president elect, nor will you ever be 'my' president. Let me explain why this is so.

First of all, it is not because you lost the popular vote and will become the President of these United States only because of an antiquated institution that some consider a dishonourable relic of the days of slavery. No, Mr Trump, Mr Not-my-president-elect Trump, you would not be my president even if you had garnered an Obama-style landslide.

Nor is my obstinacy based on the fact that you will implement policies such as cutting taxes for the rich--policies that in the past have only led to deepening income inequality. Much as I oppose such policies, they are standard Republican fare and would have been a looming reality even if a different Republican nominee had won the Electoral College.

It is not even because you, who own casinos, beauty pageants and a modelling agency, appear to espouse socially conservative policies so restrictive of women's liberties that they are reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's dystopic novel, The Handmaid's Tale. Your own running mate and many of your former rivals for the nomination espouse similar policies, albeit with less apparent hypocrisy.

Do I refuse to acknowledge you then, because your environmental policies will lead to further escalations of climate change, raising the terrifying prospect that our own grandchildren will have no life, no future, no habitable planet? Grave as these concerns are, frightening as a Trump presidency seems for millions around the world, this situation is not in itself irremediable. It is always possible you could wake up to the urgency of the situation--if in fact you love your children and care about their future. You could become a global leader for positive change--you do not have to be the person who signs our species' death warrant--and that of countless other species.

So why do I stubbornly insist that you are not and never will be my president? My friend, I will never accept that you are my president because your campaign was based on hate. You spoke to those who suffer and gave them someone to blame--the Muslims, the Mexicans, immigrants--the Other. You ridiculed and denigrated women, minorities and disabled people, dismissing basic human decency as 'political correctness.' You have awakened the beast that sleeps within each of us and empowered him to tear apart our communities, our nation and our world.

My friend, we have seen this before. We have seen another man who inspired huge rallies and gave a hungry and humiliated nation a scapegoat for their suffering. My parents lived through those dark times of the rise of Hitler and the Second World War. Their teenage years were filled with bombs and rationing and death. Later, as young adults in the time of peace, they were determined to raise children who would stand up to the next demagogue, the next would-be fascist leader. My parents knew that there was no flaw in the German character that is not shared by each of us around the world. They knew that good people acquiesced to Hitler's increasingly dark policies in order to be proper and respectful citizens. They saw their own politicians seek to appease Hitler in a vain attempt to preserve the status quo. They taught me never to accept or acquiesce to a ruler who spoke words of hate and stirred animosity towards the other.

So you see, my friend, all my life I have been preparing to have the fearlessness to stand up to a leader such as yourself. Please don't misunderstand me. I wish you well, and I wish only the best for your supporters and those who voted for you. I understand that your rise to power is a symptom, not the problem. I know that we all desire the same thing--happiness, but we do not always know the best way to attain it. I understand that sometimes we make the fatal mistake of pursuing our own happiness at other's expense. And when we do so it creates misery for ourselves as well as others.

But, my friend, as your sincere well-wisher, as one who has pledged to defend the spirit of our constitution against all enemies, inner and outer, I will stand against the rhetoric of hate, I will stand against the 'othering' of minorities, I will fight for our liberties, for justice, for true equality, with my pen, with my voice, with my firm conviction. I will not appease nor acquiesce; I will not consent to the normalization of hate. You may be duly elected, but you will never be 'my' president.

We are all refugees

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Source: creative commons

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vistaed hopes I sped;

And shot, precipitated,

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

We are all refugees. At first, as Francis Thompson so eloquently describes, we are refugees from the Hound of Heaven, fleeing into the duality of hopes and fears from the ruthless compassion of the light of truth, from "those strong Feet that follow, follow after."

Later, when we realize what a cruel dictator our 'I illusion' is, we become another kind of refugee, taking refuge in the truth, as Trungpa Rinpoche, himself a Tibetan refugee, describes.

By taking refuge, in some sense we become homeless refugees. Taking refuge does not mean saying that we are helpless and then handing all our problems over to somebody or something else. There will be no refugee rations, nor all kinds of security and dedicated help. The point of becoming a refugee is to give up our attachment to basic security. We have to give up our sense of home ground, which is illusory anyway. We might have a sense of home ground as where we were born and the way we look, but we don't actually have any home, fundamentally speaking. There is actually no solid basis of security in one's life. And because we don't have any home ground, we are lost souls, so to speak. Basically we are completely lost and confused.

Yet even though we are refugees--whether refugees from truth or refugees from illusion, we live in some kind of comfort and convenience. We take it for granted that we will have food, shelter, light, heat, transportation--even internet. Six years ago, the people of Syria also took these things for granted. In fact, they enjoyed some of the best cuisine in the Arab world. Today, middle class Syrians are crossing the Aegean in rubber dinghies, sleeping in flimsy tents in Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonian border, or living without jobs, education, dignity or hope in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

We are all refugees. And if we live secure today, who can tell what will happen tomorrow? We are all refugees. Some of us, myself included, have parents, grandparents or great-grandparents who themselves fled persecution for the safety of a distant and unknown land. There, they had to start life over again in a foreign language and with different customs.

We are all refugees, yet today some of us have more than others--more comfort, more safety, more security, more rights. If our rights and freedoms have meaning to us, how can we deny them to others, the desperate refugees from a war-torn land? If our spirituality means anything to us, how can we ignore those who are cold and hungry? The refugees come to challenge us to live up to the ideals of liberty and equality that we profess as the basis of Western society. To turn our backs on them is to betray our deepest-held ideals. To close our borders, our doors, our hearts to them is to refuse the challenge they bring--a call on our compassion, a cry for our human caring, a reminder of the transitory nature of our life as pilgrims and strangers in this world--for truly, we are all refugees.

You shall neither mistreat a stranger, nor oppress him: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 22:21

Refugees at Mecedonian Border.jpg

Refugees wait to cross into Macedonia at the Greek border station of Idomeni. Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP

Let Love Trump Hate

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The year is 1932.The up-and-coming leader, Adolph Hitler, is drawing crowds, inflaming passions and inciting violence with his demagoguery and anti-Semitism. In the streets and meeting halls of the Weimar Republic, Hitler's Brownshirts clash with Communists and Socialists. Soon the republic will collapse into a totalitarian dicatatorship, a war-machine will be built, and European Jewry will be destroyed as war engulfs the world.

Twenty years later, I was born into a country of postwar austerity, bombsites and burgeoning hope for a brighter future. I was also born into an extended family who had lost many members in the Holocaust. My parents and grandparents lived though cataclysmic events fuelled by hatred and division. In so many ways, their story is my own. My ancestors are alive in me. Events of recent days have stirred this generational trauma that lies always just beneath the surface of my psyche. As I wrote on my Facebook page--my fascism alarm has sounded. It seems I was not alone in this, for the post got more likes, shares and comments than even the cute photo of baby deer in our backyard.

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Writing for me is certainly an act of service, a form of activism, a way to awaken hearts--but it is also a journey to innate wisdom. When the events of the world I live in leave me frightened, devastated or frustrated, I turn to my blog. I know I'm not the only one feeling this way, and hope readers will journey with me from fear to courage, from despair to hope, from darkness to light.

As we consider Trump's demagoguery and incitement, his Islamophobia and denigration of Mexicans, African-Americans, women, people with disabilities and so on; as we grapple with the hatred and prejudice expressed within the group mind at Trump rallies, we can best approach the challenge by by applying the principles of prajna and upaya.

Applying prajna refers to the way we work with our own minds. If we hate and detest Donald Trump, we're really activating our inner Trump. If we despise and look down upon those who support Trump, we are becoming the very thing we dislike in others. "I cannot tolerate intolerance," as the famous saying goes. As Trump goads us, the Bernie people, the people, the Black Lives Matter people, the 'liberals' or (astonishingly enough), the 'far Left', claiming that we are 'bad people', let's not fall into the trap of deciding 'Trump people' are 'bad people.'

Hitler and his Brownshirts became what they were due to causes and conditions. While some of these causes arose from their own childhood experiences, there were many systemic causes and conditions rooted in the unjust Treaty of Versailles and the hunger and humiliation the German people were experiencing. Meanwhile,the doctrine of anti-Semitism provided a conveniently vulnerable and defenceless scapegoat for the anger of a defeated nation.

In the same way, karmic conditions gave Trump, the rich kid raised to be 'a king and a killer,' an insatiable thirst for fame, wealth and power. And the anger he rouses in his largely working class following arises from many causes embedded in our society. Trump's message of 'making America great again' (whatever that means), making America 'win' again, may appeal to people who lack a sense of worth and significance because they are always at the bottom of the pile. His bigotry gives voice to feelings many have not dared to express until now. Finally there is a target for life's dissatisfactions--undocumented immigrants, Muslims, Leftists, African-Americans, President Obama and so on. These 'bad people' should be taken from our midst to keep us safe, just as the Jews were taken from the midst of German society.

When I hear Trump speak or watch clips of the way protestors are treated at his rallies, naturally feelings of horror, disgust and aversion arise. Still, I don't want to hate Trump or despise his supporters, for given the right set of circumstances--that could be me. So I gently repeat, "May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you have ease of wellbeing", sending the energy of loving-kindness to these fellow sentient beings.

First we apply prajna and work with our own minds, so that when we come to bring upaya, skilful means, into our work in the world, we don't approach the challenge full of our own fear and aversion. Now we must meet the challenge with courage and integrity. Complacency, acquiescence, the collusion of silence--these behaviours will allow bigotry to go unchecked and our society to be divided. At first many thought Hitler was just a funny little man. Why bother to stand up to such a preposterous demagogue? And initially many of us hoped that if we ignored Trump, refusing to give him the attention he sought, the problem would go away--but it hasn't. When Pope Francis took the extraordinary step of interfering in our country's internal affairs by speaking out against Trump, he was offering us a powerful lesson. The man or woman of spirit is a voice for the voiceless.

Who will speak for our undocumented immigrants, who have no vote and no official voice, if I don't? Who will speak for the beleaguered Muslim minority? Who will speak for us, the so called Far Left, if we don't speak out for ourselves? While Mitt Romney, Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton have all raised their voices to condemn Trump's bigotry and "political arson,' we can't leave this to politicians. Each one of us needs to rise our voices loudly and insistently and make it clear that the politics of hate and division has no place in our society.

Let courage trump fear

Let unity trump division

Let peace trump violence

Let love trump hate.


In the political ferment of student life in Seventies Britain, a Socialist was someone who quoted Das Kapital like a Baptist quoted the Bible. The rest of us were a bit scared of both, Socialists and Evangelicals. At the time, it scarcely occurred to me that the caring society I was so proud of, the NHS I was training to work in, were major Socialist achievements.

Then the Eighties rolled around, bringing Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Compassion became countercultural and the mandate for selfishness replaced the call to caring. New words began to enter our vocabulary--'trickle down economics' for example. But as an immigrant to the US during the Reagan era, I never noticed anything trickling down to me.

America was full of surprises, not all of them good. For example, apparently there were only two political parties, and as far as I could see, both of them would fit into Britain's Conservative party. Liberal was a term of insult rather than the political party my parents supported, and Socialism was apparently synonymous with Communism. Universal healthcare was regarded with suspicion by those who most would benefit from it and 'Welfare' was a despised term rather than the proud achievement of health and housing for all.

It was while I was working to start a food Coop in Boulder that someone called me a lefty for the first time--and they didn't mean it kindly. I had never been called a lefty before for any other reason than being left handed! Meanwhile, I had begun to appreciate that everything I respected in a society-- 'each for all and all for each,' compassion and care for all, the Welfare State, was encompassed in the term Democratic Socialism.

As I watch Britain's Conservative Party dismantle all I admired and loved about my homeland--the place where my family lives--as I listen to America's right wing rhetoric growing increasingly strident, I've realized that, even though I'm very different from those orthodox Marxists I found so funny years ago, I am actually a Socialist. The Neoliberal economics of continuous growth on a finite planet are leading us towards a devastating endpoint. Already sixty-two billionaires own more that 3.5 billion poor people. The economics of caring and sharing may be a left turn--but they represent a turn away from certain destruction.

Thanks to Social media, people of compassion and integrity are getting an opportunity to be heard as never before within the political arena. Of course, the corporate media don't like them, giving them the smear treatment or worse still, the silent treatment. But Jeremy Corbyn is now leader of Britain's Labour Party and Bernie Sanders has become, despite all odds, a realistic candidate for President of the United States. Let's give all the support we can to those who stand up for a Caring Society.


Palestinians wait to get through at checkpoint at the separation wall in Bethlehem [file photo], (Photo:

A separation wall encircles

Birthplace of Prince of Peace

I want to write a poem about it

But I can't find the words.

It ought to be a rap

That's not my style.

How far is it to Bethlehem?

Today, much too far.

Would they let the shepherds through the checkpoint?

Or foreign dignitaries bearing gifts?

How far is it to Bethlehem?

My favourite childhood carol

Choked by teargas, drowned by gunfire

I ought to write a poem

But I'll never have the words

To speak this tragedy, express this travesty.

I was just a young teenager during the six-day war. Unquestioningly, I supported Israel. I believed what my grandmother said--we had to have our own country, because during the Holocaust no country would accept us. At fifteen, I didn't think in great depth about whose country Israel was before Jews got there, or what was happening to the previous residents. After all, Jews were profoundly ethical people--Grandpa told me that every month when we visited. If Israel was a Jewish state, surely everything would be done in an ethical way.

In the nearly fifty years since that war, I've had time to grow up, time to study Middle Eastern history. My unquestioning support of Israel is long gone. To say I'm 'pro-Palestinian' would be a misnomer. True peace activists hold a non-partisan stance. It's not that I'm pro-Palestinian--it's simply that I've come to understand that all true religion, including Judaism, calls on us to protect the poor, the weak and the defenceless, to be a voice for the voiceless and speak for peace and kindness. So how can I support the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, the blockade of Gaza, the killing of civilians, the imprisonment of children, the demolition of homes as an act of collective punishment? The Hebrew prophets call us to stand on the side of the oppressed, and that's where I stand.

In the last weeks that my late mother still had the power of speech, she reminded me of a moment of profound awakening. After my first year of paid work as a junior doctor, I spent my accumulated salary on taking my parents to the Holy Land--Israel and the West Bank. There we saw refugees living behind barbed wire. We talked to Palestinians who shared their grief and frustration with us. We awoke, the three of us, my parents and I, to the Palestinian cause. Looking back, I can see that in one of my final conversations with Mum, she was reminding me to keep holding that torch, once she and my father were no longer there. Injustice is being perpetrated every day in our names--the names of those who lost family in the Holocaust. With my parents gone, I'm left to say, 'not in my name!'

Israel and Palestine--a topic I tend to avoid in this blog, because so many of my friends and supporters will be angered by these words. I'm sorry, dear friends, I don't want to hurt or offend, but my mother's memory calls me to speak out. Walls don't bring safety, guns don't bring peace and I can't trade someone else's rights for my security. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1: 17). Having nowhere else to go but social media to fulfil this call of the Hebrew prophets, here I am.


Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, on his way to celebrate a mass in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity, believed by many to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Image: Osservatore Romano, ho/Associated Press

 Mum Alak Sada.jpg

Greetings dear ones,

Of many events that took place for us this year, from a pilgrimage to Tunisia to an unprecedented expansion of Alandi Gurukula, by far the most momentous was the death, on 15th October, of my beloved mother, aged ninety. I'll be dedicating this year's letter to her legacy.

On 5th July 1948, Britain's NHS (National Health Service) was born. The world's first publicly funded single-payer universal healthcare system officially started when Health Secretary Aneurin "Nye" Bevan opened Trafford General Hospital in Manchester. At the time, my mother, then Joyce Board, was a medical student at London's Royal Free Hospital. She was to spend her entire working life as an NHS doctor, and at the end of her life was cared for lovingly by NHS Wales.


Nye Bevan opens Trafford General Hospital

Joyce's personal legacy is inseparable from the vision of healthcare as a right, free to all at the point of use--a vision to which she dedicated her life. As a poor child growing up on Skipton Street, a South London slum, Mum became aware early in life of the challenges poverty brings. She vividly described the day she accompanied her father, a lab technician at Bart's Hospital, to a Christmas party at a doctor's house. When the little girl asked to wash her hands, she was brought into a beautiful bathroom with a claw foot tub. It was a far cry from the toilet she shared with several other families, and the tin tub brought out for a weekly bath. Immediately, little Joycey decided that she too would become a doctor and have a lovely bathroom! And despite poverty, the Great Depression and the ravages and dislocations of the Second World War, the young Cockney girl fulfilled her ambition.

The birth of the NHS paved the way for Mum to have a future quite different than that of doctors of previous generations. Instead of running a business and receiving payments from patients, Joyce was paid by the government as a public servant, free to provide care to all, regardless of ability to pay. Soon the NHS was to train generations of doctors and nurses who believed in healthcare as a right and found their greatest satisfaction in providing quality care on the basis of need.

In December 1951, two and a half years after the birth of the NHS, I was born in a small town in the Midlands as a member of the first generation entitled to receive cradle-to-grave care from the new healthcare system. In fact Mum, Dad and I all spent our first Christmas in St Mary's Hospital, Dad sick with brucellosis, Mum recovering from the birth and I, a tiny premature baby, in an incubator. I wonder how our little family would have survived without the NHS! A few months later, Mum was back at work as junior partner in general practice. However, she soon saw that the life of a GP was not optimal for a wife and mother--and began to shape her career within the NHS' nascent public health system. This started with infant welfare clinics and soon blossomed into care of children with special needs. Joyce would pay a home visit, assess the child and assign the needed services. Most of her work was among mining families in rural Nottinghamshire. The poverty of these families made a lasting impression. " The woman of the house makes her husband a bacon sandwich to take down the mine. She gives the children bacon rind sandwiches and she herself takes a bit of bread and wipes it around the frying pan for a taste of bacon," she told me.

Meanwhile, as I attended primary school in Melton Mowbray and Mum cared for the needs of children in the community, universal healthcare was slowly beginning to spread around the world, coming to Sweden in 1955, Iceland in 1956, Denmark and Japan in 1961 and Saskatchewan, Canada in 1962. The revolutionary vision of healthcare as a right, afforded to each on the basis of need rather than wealth, was beginning to become the norm rather than the exception.

In 1966, I announced to my parents that I had decided to become a doctor. Of course, Mum was delighted. A few years later I began my training at Bart's Hospital--the same place where my late grandfather had been a lab technician. London's diversity was thrilling to me and played out in unique ways within the fabric of the NHS. The hospital porters were, almost without exception, Sikh. On my midwifery rotation at Hackney hospital I also noticed that Italians did the cooking and catering, the senior nurses were Irish, the student nurses Philipina or Malaysian and the midwives Jamaican. Meanwhile, many of the resident doctors were Bengalis or Palestinians. Our different cultures and accents enlivened the workplace and everyone seemed cheerful and at home amid this 'London soup.'

Even more thrilling was the opportunity to provide the finest care to the homeless residents of the City of London. This came into clear focus during my Casualty (ER or A&E) rotation at Bart's. The police would bring in an elderly tramp found injured, coughing or comatose. Nothing delighted me more than to see the old man clean, warm and comfortable in a hospital bed, having his pneumonia or TB treated by world-renowned doctors. And then, since we were not allowed to discharge an elderly person to the streets, the social worker had to find housing for him!

While I studied medicine in London, Joyce was ascending to the top of her career, reaching the level of Senior Consultant in the new specialty of Community Medicine. Much as she enjoyed her professional success, the most important thing for her was the opportunity to help shape a caring society, ensuring the provision of quality services for special needs children and their families as well as for other vulnerable populations. Mum still remembered the 'bad old days' before the welfare state and took great pride in being part of the creation of a society based on the premise, 'Each for all and all for each.' Her chosen specialty led her to look beyond the confines of hospital care to the larger issues confronting the county, the nation and the world as whole. Britain's 'care for all' promise meant that everyone--the young, the sick, the elderly, the homeless, the disabled, as well as addicts--must be provided the opportunity to receive the needed services.

As the decades rolled on, Mum went from being a provider to a recipient of services. In the last months of her life, she received outstanding care from NHS Wales. I sat with her during an in-depth visit from the District Nurse, to determine what services and support she might need while ageing at home. Soon after, Joyce suffered a stroke. The EMT who arrived with his ambulance, very promptly despite the rural setting, made a careful assessment. Mum reached hospital quickly and was immediately taken for a CT scan. Thereafter, she got outstanding care in the Acute Stroke Unit at Bronglais Hospital. Not only was the care timely and compassionate, there were no worries or concerns about 'what is your insurance,' no copays or deductibles, no lingering bills to burden the family. Universal healthcare, free at the point of need--Joyce Hudis dedicated her life to it and benefited from it when she herself needed help.

In the US we feel uneasy about universal healthcare. After all, 'each for all and all for each,' is a Socialist concept--and until recently Socialism was a dirty word akin to Communism. Now that an avowed 'democratic Socialist', Bernie Sanders, is seeking nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate, perhaps we can break that taboo. I've lived in a country that had universal healthcare in an integrated health system and I've lived in one that doesn't. If there is a benefit to not having universal healthcare, I've yet to discover it. But this I do know. If, in the dying years of the British Empire, a nation with great poverty and a rigid social class system could reinvent itself in few brief years, out of the rubble of war, into a welfare state with universal cradle-to-grave healthcare--it can be done. It has been done and it can be done. All it takes is the will to care. Healthcare is a right; let no one deprive us of it. As neo-liberalism rushes toward its inevitable end of oligarchy and corpocracy, it's time to seek sustainability in a new approach.

Each for all and all for each,

A fresh new song is in the air.

All for each and each for all,

For a world of sharing and caring.

Since I wrote the Caring Community Song in spring, many remarkable developments have taken place in the sociopolitical sphere, and most have arisen from the grassroots. Not only has Bernie emerged as a potential presidential nominee--Jeremy Corbyn has become leader of Britain's Labour party, Justin Trudeau has become Canada's Prime Minister and Podemos has made a great showing in Spain's elections. The people demand the fall of the oligarchy! The people demand true social democracy! We are glimpsing the power we have if we stand together and call for caring community.

For a tear-jerking glimpse of Britain's NHS, listen to this beautiful rendition by the NHS choir.

Wishing you a joyous New Year and peace and prosperity during 2016!

With my love and blessings always

Alakananda Ma

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It's a historic moment. After over twenty years of talking, wrangling and inaction, world leaders have signed a legally-binding climate deal--even agreeing that ultimately warming should be limited to 1.5'C, rather than the previously-discussed 2'C.

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We've all been fighting for this for years--and of course, it isn't what we asked for. As we knew going into the talks, current pledges by nations will bring us to a catastrophic 2.7-3.5'C. The document also says that we need to reach net zero carbon emissions in the second half of the century, whereas the UN's own climate science panel is much more specific, saying we must to get there by 2070.

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There's climate science and there's climate politics. Climate politics means striking a deal that oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia will sign. We knew this all along. COP21 won't save the world--but it will send a message. The message to global financial markets is loud and clear--the fossil fuels era is coming to an end. Put your money elsewhere. The oil still in the ground is worth billions of dollars only if there's a market for it. No market, no profit. Instead, investors will be looking to renewables and the low carbon economy, spurring increased development and implementation of green energy, electric vehicles and so on.

Meanwhile, Mother Nature is speaking loudly and clearly. Record floods in Chennai, record floods in the UK, record droughts in the Sahel, record droughts in the US, record fires in mention but a few of her recent messages. She'll continue speaking and waking us to the need to change.

Before the Paris talks, we'd been sitting with an empty cup for twenty years. Truly slow service at the World Café! During the talks we lifted our voices. The type of tea being brewed wasn't really what we ordered. For example, emissions from shipping and air traffic were left out of the mix. Now the tea is poured. Our cup is half full--and that's progress. It is indeed historic.

Let's take a moment to join the applause, then consider how to get the other half-cup. As one Paris delegate, activist Anieesa Khan said, real change doesn't come from governments, it comes from grassroots action. So, what can we do?

  • Press your church, university or city to divest from fossil fuels.
  • Promote, volunteer for and vote for the potential world leaders who will make a difference-- such as Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. (Canada, congratulations, you did it!)
  • Be a voice for justice and peace. Every action you take on behalf of social justice and human rights will have a positive feedback towards environmental concerns. Climate justice, social justice and human rights go hand in hand.
  • Eat less meat. Get your dairy from small local producers. Cattle feedlots produce large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than CO2.
  • Keep fighting fracking. Here's what Cornell professor Robert Howarth told The Nation: "If we stop producing methane, which means stop doing fracking of natural gas and oil, the world wouldn't run up against that (1.5'C) limit for about 50 years. So we could buy ourselves 25 to 35 years of time, which is critical."
  • Walk, bike, take the bus. It's what you do every day that counts. You don't need to go into agonies of guilt over an occasional plane trip, but choose nonstop flights and only for longer journeys.

Most of all, stay positive, keep hope alive and remember the seventh generation. Cynicism, bitterness and despair will only lead to apathy. Without us, all of us, there would have been no COP 21 and no Paris agreement. We can't save ourselves and our fellow species by acting from fear or anger, still less by giving up and withdrawing from the fight.

Get up, stand up, stand up for your right
Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight
Get up, stand up. Life is your right
So we can't give up the fight

Love will save us, gratitude will save us. With a big thank you to all Paris delegates who stayed up night and day to bring us the climate agreement, let's have a nice slow sip of the tea they have poured us, take a breath and keep on fighting as open-hearted warriors.


Haiku by Paul Reps

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It's been a hard week on the justice and peace front--a week of violence, mayhem, hatred and prejudice. Wednesday saw the horrific mass shooting in San Bernardino. I was saddened by the deaths and injuries; the grief of those who lost loved ones. I was devastated that such an apalling act took place in a centre for developmentally disabled people. And then the final twist of the knife--the perpetrators were Muslim. We could only wait, in anguished anticipation, for the backlash against innocent Muslims.

And backlash indeed there was, culminating in Donald Trump's outrageous, unconstitutional and preposterous proposal to ban all Muslims--about a fifth of the world's population--from entering the US for any reason.

News of the next blow reached us via our Black Lives Matter contacts. On Friday evening, while on social media, we learnt of the death of stabbing suspect Mario Woods, shot twenty-five times by six San Francisco policemen--the 307th African American killed by police this year, according to After watching witness video of the shooting, we found this killing even more horrific in its own way than the San Bernardino mass shooting--because Mario Woods was killed by public servants whose job is to protect us and keep us safe.

Just as I felt I could bear no more, came the stabbings at Leytonstone Underground Station in London, perpetrated by a would-be terrorist. Yet in that deepening darkness, finally we saw some rays of hope. First, l'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the courage and heroism of the San Bernardino police officers who responded to the 911 call--truly living up to their 'serve and protect' mission, placing their own lives at risk as they sought to 'bring calm to chaos'. Residents of San Bernardino came together to share grief and support, through interfaith vigils, free cupcakes and community expressions of care for those affected. Wherever there is the human heart, we will find beauty, courage and tenderness. We must keep this faith in human goodness, even when confronted again and again with acts of evil, racism and hatred.

And, friends, we can also light up the darkness with sparkles of British humour, one of the greatest gifts my native land has to offer. Leytonstone has several things to teach us. While Mario Woods died clutching a kitchen knife, shot twenty-five times in what has been described as an execution or firing squad, the Leytonstone stabbing suspect, Muhaydin Mire, was taken into custody after being subdued with a taser. During the attack, Mire shouted, "This is for Syria, my Muslim brothers!". In response, an onlooker shouted the now-famous words, "You ain't no Muslim, bruv, you ain't no Muslim." These spontaneous words didn't come to excommunicate a man we now know was mentally ill, rather, they express that such conduct is radically un-Islamic.

As Londoners trend #YouAintNo MuslimBruv to the top of Twitter, they speak not just to one deranged man, but to all who want to divide us, want us to live in fear. If you are a person of hatred, of violence, of prejudice in your thoughts and actions, if you seek to divide and spread fear, then whether you are Trump or a terrorist, a police officer or a priest, you ain't no Muslim and you ain't no Christian either, you ain't no Jew and you ain't no Hindu or Buddhist, for you have slammed shut the door of the human heart, the home of true religion. And instead of cowering before you, instead of closing our own hearts, we're going to keep lighting candles and making cups of tea, we're going to keep giving out free cupcakes and most of all, we're going to keep smiling--because you can never take our humour away from us.


A candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the San Bernardino shooting on December 3, 2015 at San Manuel Stadium. Photo: Marcus Yam/2015 Los Angeles Times


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