With the New Moon in Taurus, the eclipse cycle ends. It was a particularly intense cycle, involving both a total lunar eclipse and the Cardinal Grand Cross. At such a time, seemingly ordinary events take on a dream-like symbolic quality. Two events, on on either side of the lunation, captured for me what this New Moon is about.
On Monday, less than twelve hours before the eclipse, Alandi Gurukula student Joanna arrived with two buzzing swarm boxes. Soon we were installing the two queen bees and their myriad attendants in our topbar hives, left empty since the Boulder Flood Disaster.
In Hindu mythology, Bhramaramba, the Queen Bee, is a form of the Goddess, she whose fragrance draws all beings to her. Divine Mother's arrival at the ashram in Her form as Queen Bee spoke of the rich, abundant feminine energy of Taurus that that New Moon ushered in. It was a promise of beauty and abundance to come, as honey-making pollinators crowded our garden, sipping apple-blossom nectar or turning golden with dandelion pollen.
Next day, as we entered the energy of the waxing moon, Martine, our indigenous Peruvian friend, arrived at the ashram garden with his lovely consort and vigorously set to work tilling the ground. Rich and earthy, Taurus was here, bringing the Earth People of the First nations and the groundedness of soil, humus, compost and earthworms. June and July will bring lush greenness and blooming roses-- for Taurus, the soil itself is the thing, as the brown beauty of Earth reveals herself.
May this eclipse cycle bring abundance and groundedness to all of us!
Recently in Personal Reflections Category
Empty Tomb (Ravenna) (Photo credit: jimforest)
The chocolate egg is full of gilt-wrapped sweets.
The tomb is empty.
For me, Easter has always brought an experience of soaring joy and also of profound disquiet. As a child I enjoyed singing 'Jesus Christ is risen today' with choir and organ and relished chocolate Easter eggs as much for their shiny beauty as for their taste. Sometimes we went to London for the Easter Monday celebration with the Easter bonnet parade and the glittering Pearly Kings and Pearly Queens. Yet at the centre of all the fun and celebration was the Easter gospel, rousing in me the same feelings of fear and astonishment that affected the first witnesses of the resurrection. As a child, I wondered if I understood the Easter mystery. Today, I know that I don't.
At the heart of Easter is emptiness--the empty tomb. Years ago, I brought my parents on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As a pilgrim discipline, I didn't carry any money and just accepted what my parents gave me. When we visited the Holy Sepulchre, the supposed site of the resurrection, a black clad Syrian priest screamed at me for not giving him alms. It could have been a devastating experience. But my father gazed in my eyes and said to me, "He is not here".
He is not here; He is risen.
I don't understand the resurrection and can't explain it to myself, can't make the unsettling feeling, the disquiet, go away. The resurrection is not just an article of faith, not just a celebration of the rising of Spring from the cold dark of winter--not even simply an enactment of psychological death and rebirth. Easter brings profound disquiet--the disquiet of emptiness. We seek the risen Lord in the place we left him yesterday--in our habits, our beliefs, our ideas, our concepts. And what we find is emptiness. He is not here. Life and Truth cannot be embalmed, cannot be static, cannot be conceptualized, can never be contained in the Known. He is risen, alive in the now, in the freshness we glimpse each Easter. He is here in the disquiet, the not knowing, the simultaneous holding of faith and doubt. This Easter, every Easter, may we meet the unknowing, the mystery of emptiness.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
TS Eliot, Little Gidding, Four Quartets.
On New Year's Eve 2008, my father, Peter Daniel Hudis, breathed his last. It was a fitting time for his life to culminate. Dad had always loved New Year's. He enjoyed singing "Auld Lang Syne," listening to the ships sounding their sirens in the port and first-footing across the threshold with a lump of coal. He loved the sense of adventure and freshness that each New Year of his long life brought. After sitting with his body for some time, I left the ward, together with my siblings. As we exited the hospital into the car park, the sky lit up with celebratory fireworks. Church bells pealed through frosty air. It was the stroke of midnight and a new year was beginning in joy and loud cheering. Never before had I felt so strongly the words embroidered by Mary Queen of Scots while in prison before she was beheaded-- " In my end is my beginning."
That frosty night was not my father's first encounter with Yama, the Lord of death. My parent's love story was a remarkable one, not simply because it played out against the backdrop of the London blitz, nor even because relationships between Jews and Christians, such as theirs, were rare and frowned upon at the time. At seventeen, shortly after meeting my mother, my father was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis and sent away to a sanatorium. There was no cure for tuberculosis in 1942, and after some months, he was sent home to die. But love healed what no medicine could. Sixty-six years, four children, five grandchildren, many mountain peaks and a golden wedding anniversary lay ahead before he did indeed die, as each of us must.
My father's time in the sanatorium was a sojourn in the halls of death. He was given the job of pushing the library trolley from ward to ward, a chilling experience that offered him a weekly glimpse of what lay ahead of him, as he visited the wards full of more advanced cases. This time in the hall of Yama, together with the daily brushes with death he had experienced in London during the Battle of Britain, made my father resolve to live his life in the cause of peace, raising children who would advance peace in the world.
The Katha Upanishad opens with the story of a youth, Nauchiketas, who, like my father, takes a journey into the halls of death. Nauchiketas' father, in a fit of temper, gives his son away to Death. Winning three boons from Yama, Nauchiketas takes Death as a teacher of the ultimate meaning of life. Indeed, it is death that endows life with meaning. In his short story "The Immortal," the existentialist author Luis Borges explores the theme of physical immortality. The abyss of endless time reduces life to meaninglessness and ennui, for without death there is no freedom and no choice. Endless time, like a vast desert, engulfs the capacity to choose. The value of anything I choose in this brief and mortal existence rests on the fact that time is finite, so choice has value. My life has a limited number of years, so if I spend those years with you, that choice has meaning. My day has a limited number of hours. If I spend an hour with you, it has meaning, because I chose this over other things. The finitude of our life, the fact of our mortality, offers us the invitation to make meaningful choices.
Taking Death as his teacher, Nauchiketas discovers faith, shraddha, not in the sense of belief in theological postulates, but in Paul Tillich's sense of Ultimate Concern.
O brother, o sister
Don't waste this precious human life
On idle pleasures and futile cares!
Fame and wealth mean nothing when you die.
You can't bring with you even one needle.
This life will vanish like a dream
Or like the clouds before the rising sun.
Nobody knows when death will come
So take the Holy Name while you can
And do a little kindness every day
Yes, do a little kindness every day.
Underlying this short poem is a story of the great Jewish teacher, the Bal Shem Tov. One day, the Bal Shem Tov was informed that one of his devotees, a merchant, was on his deathbed. When the rebbe arrived, he found the dying man busy running his business, instructing his sons about day-to-day details. The Bal Shem approached the man. " I need your help. Remember your old friend who died a few weeks ago? I saw him in a dream. There's a problem. He has a tear in his shroud and can't enter the World to Come. Since you will be passing over yourself soon, would you bring him a needle?"
" But Rebbe, you know I can't!"
" If you can't even carry a needle with you, why worry about all this?"
The grave of the great poet TS Eliot carries a twofold inscription. In my beginning is my end and in my end is my beginning. In my beginning is my end refers to mortality, to the fact of death and impermanence. As the Buddha said, all compounded entities must decay. Strive on with diligence. Our body is a compounded entity and so must die. Yet as we have seen, it is our very mortality that endows our span on Earth with meaning. Choice is the gift of Yama. In the halls of Yama, diagnosed with a fatal and incurable illness, my father chose life and love. Having sought and found meaning in the jaws of death, he lived his life with a passion and thirst for adventure and exploration and a profound understanding of how to walk in ways of peace and guide his offspring in these ways.
In the Katha Upanishad, Nauchiketas first has to make a very important choice--to choose his three boons. His first boon is the one any child in his position might ask for. He wants his father to be happy and reconciled with him. For his second boon, he asks to learn specific rituals that will lead to Heaven. But for his final boon, Nauchiketas asks Yama to answer the ultimate question. What happens when we die? Yama tries in every possible way to put the boy off. He offers him fabulous wealth, luxuries, vast lands, even kingship. But Nauchiketas points out that all these things are impermanent and here, in the Halls of Death, have no meaning. He insists upon the boon he has chosen--to know the meaning of death and hence of life.
And the answer Death gives is simple. There is a fundamental choice in life--a choice between the good and the pleasant. By choosing his final boon, Nauchiketas has already made this choice. We make this choice in a big way once in our lifetime, by choosing to step on the spiritual path. Having made this choice, we will be held to it. If we step off the path, we will be guided back. But we also face this choice in myriad small ways throughout each day. It takes constant discrimination to choose the good, to examine each possibility and ask, "Does it benefit?"
In my beginning is my end leads us to question, as Nauchiketas did, what happens when we die. Who is it that dies? Who am I? In my end is my beginning is the answer to this question. Yama says to Nauchiketas,
The self is never born, never dies. He sprang from nothing, and nothing sprang from him. He is the Unborn, the Eternal, the Abiding, the Ancient one. He is not slain when the body is slain.
As Jesus said, Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. If we understand that when Jesus says 'for Me' he refers to the Eternal Self, he is clearly saying In my end is my beginning. We let go of our clinging to this temporary life, destined to end in death, and enter into our true identity as the one who is never born and never dies.
Yama goes on,
Smaller than the smallest, greater than the greatest, the Self abides in the heart of every being.
All the endings in life are so painful for us. Birth is a joyful occasion, but it ends our womb life in pain and struggle. Weddings too are seen as joyful occasions, yet many tears are shed at weddings, because the new beginning also brings an ending. The dawn of a New Year brings the Old Year to an end as we realize that all it held is just a memory. Death is perceived as a sorrowful event, yet it is a birth into a new reality.
Our experience of pain in endings comes from our deep-rooted identification with temporary things and our ephemeral body. We forget, again and again, That which abides in the heart of everything. Knowing the Self, bodiless among bodies, the abiding among the ephemeral... the wise man does not grieve, says Yama.
Die before you die and be resurrected now! These profound words from Rumi remind us that we do not need to wait for our bodily death to find the new, transcendent beginning contained within our ending. Every day, life offers us fresh invitations to transcendence. For some, as for my father, a life-threatening illness evokes meaning and transcendence, calling upon us to let go of our identification with that which dies. Or perhaps the death of a friend of similar age comes as a reminder that we too will die--unless we enter into That which does not die. I always enjoy my birthday, a few days before the winter solstice, as an occasion to gather with friends and experience warmth and light on a dark evening. Yet with each birthday, life's ending draws closer. So a birthday brings a very special gift, a card from the cosmos saying "Resurrection now!"
At the ending of each day we enter into sleep, the little death. In the sacred moments between waking and sleeping, we have a unique opportunity to direct our minds towards the Dweller in the heart. We sleep, but That does not. The Self remains ever wakeful, conscious and aware. And as day dawns, we are resurrected from the sleep state to the waking state. The sun rises, calling us not just to wake up, but to Awaken. That radiant being in yonder sun, soham asmi--I myself am that, as Isha Upanishad says.
Life and death offer invitations, yet it is up to us to respond. The practice of meditation helps us learn to read the invitation and gain the skills to respond through moment-to-moment awakening. In our meditation, we are choosing to die before we die. We let go of our activities and set aside time to do nothing. The past and the future keep beckoning us, with all the agendas and notions that make up our temporal identity. Yet we bring ourselves back, again and again, to this moment, this breath. We see that each breath dies into the next as day dies into night and night into day. With each day, with each sitting, with each conscious breath, we die before we die and are resurrected now. As Nauchiketas leaves the halls of death alive, awake and enlightened, we awaken, moment by moment into the new beginning that is beyond all endings. In this body, in this life, without any fanfare or grandiose experiences, but with ease, gentleness and simplicity, we pass beyond the sphere of death into the immortality that was and always is our true nature.
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
TS Eliot, East Coker, Four Quartets.
And cometh from afar.
Sixty years ago, I was born into a Postwar Britain of bombsites, rationing and austerity. Neighbours dropped by to borrow sugar and stayed for a 'cuppa' at the kitchen table. Toys and furniture were scarce, optimism abundant. My parents wanted a child who would bring peace to a war-torn world and tell the next Hitler where to go. Their innocent aspiration invoked a tiny freckle-faced Tara.
This intention to benefit all beings,
Which does not arise in others even for their own sake,
Is an extraordinary jewel of the mind,
And its birth an unprecedented wonder.
When I was ten, the Cuban Missile crisis erupted. I didn't expect to see eleven. That October Sunday, we sat around the television, watching Russian ships approach Cuba, waiting for JFK to press the button. Mutual Assured Destruction. Slowly, the ships turned. I saw a world reborn, a hope renewed.
Morning has broken,
Like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken,
Like the first bird.
At seventeen I read On the Beach, post Nuclear Holocaust novel, watched Children of Hiroshima, learnt about ICBMs. It seemed impossible that I would live to be twenty. I would be turned into a shadow, only that. Adult insanity ruled.
the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Today I celebrate sixty years in a world on the brink. Sixty years of adult insanity. Nuclear weapons, My Lai massacre, Chernobyl, TMI, Fukushima, global warming, Age of Stupid, species extinctions, African famines, gulf oil spill, Twin Towers, Afghanistan, Iraq--war and still more war. Sixty years, waiting to be turned into a shadow. Sixty years, yearning for peace. And still my spirit is strong.
Drinking a cup of green tea
I stop the war.
I have seen that all faith traditions are true and good and all religions tainted with misogyny and fear of fleshly lusts. Fear drives adult insanity. Fear turns us into shadows, with or without a nuclear holocaust. I have seen that life can be rich and full, even on the brink. I have seen that joy abides in all, beneath the horror, beneath the pain, beneath the fear, for joy is our true nature.
From joy all beings come
By joy they live
And unto joy they all return.
I have learnt that simplicity, contentment and humble pleasure are revolutionary acts capable of transforming the world. And I have seen that Eros, a much-maligned god, deserves a place of honour in my pantheon. He gives much more than sexual ecstasy. He imbues my life with all-embracing love and transcendent passion, colouring everyday things with his radiance. Eros will never allow me to be turned into a shadow.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
As a teenager I made friends with Roman pagan poet Horace, translating his poetry and even visiting his house in the Aniene valley. Horace has walked with me ever since, tapping me on the shoulder when I sip a glass of water--how good it tastes!--or wander round the garden--see the flowers, feel the warmth of the sunlight, smell the fragrance, pluck today!
Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.
Don't trust tomorrow's bough for fruit
Pluck this, here, now!
For decades I have studied Vedanta, Hinnayana, Mahayana, Tantrayana, Kabbalah, Hasidut, Sufism, Taoism and the Desert fathers. The essential teachings of all mystic traditions are summed up in a hymn I learnt in St Mary's Infant School.
Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.
Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Make our earth a Heaven,
Like the one above.
In sixty years, I have learnt that this world, with its pains, its wars, its catastrophes, this world on the brink, is the birthplace of compassion, the ground of tenderness. And I have come to know that the greatest treasure we can possess is the human heart, in all its love, in all its sorrow, in all its pathos, for the human heart is where time meets eternity.
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
Image by Morna Crites-Moore via Flickr
As s child I remember singing Johnson Oatman's old hymn "Count your blessings"
When upon life's billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
This simple children's hymn has always remained with me for the profound spiritual message it contains. Counting blessings is an important practice of metta, or loving-kindness. Counting blessings, giving thanks, frees us from hindrances such as doubt, despondency and discontent. Instead of feeling discouraged, bitter or frustrated because we don't have all the things--wealth, power and prestige--to which we feel entitled, we can experience a thrill of surprise for all the blessings we do receive on a daily basis.
This morning I woke up in a warm bed. Amazing! There was clean water to brush my teeth. Fantastic! And delicious, pure spring water to drink. Incredible! We may take these things for granted; millions will never have them. Counting blessings leads us not only to metta, but also to karuna or compassion, as we think of all the people who have no warm bed, who go to sleep hungry or in fear, who have to carry water for miles, who don't have any clean drinking water. As we count our blessings with genuine surprise and enthusiasm, we naturally think of how to contribute in any way to those who don't get a chance to enjoy life's simple pleasures.
So, this Thanksgiving and every day, remember to count your blessings and feel innocent joy and childlike surprise. And if you want a moment of goosebumps, click the link below for a lovely rendition of Aled Jones 'Count your blessings one by one' by an English choir girl.
Count your blessings while you may,
For we are here but little time to stay;
All around are hearts sincere and true
Lovely things abound just waiting for you;
Count your blessings while you may
The big or small, whichever comes your way,
For then you'll find this world a place of love
If you will count your blessings from above.
As a small child, I remember visiting my great-grandmother, Emma, in a sparsely furnished room. The only item of interest in the room was a large photograph of my great-uncle, Albert George Board, tragically killed during World War I.
Sergt. no 1853 6th Battal. (Rifles) The London Regiment... was an ostrich feather dyer; volunteered for foreign service and joined the 6th London Rgt 6 Aug 1914 after the outbreak of war: served with the Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders from 7th March 1915, took part in the Battle of Festubert, after which he was promoted L.Corporal for bravery in the field, gaining his second stripe 25 OCt for good work at Loos after his senior NCO had been killed: was promoted Sgt in Dec., and was killed in action at Loos 9 Feb. 1916 while investigating a mine crater which had only been exploded that morning. Buried in South Moroe Cemetery near Loos. Corpl Cuss DCM wrote: "The bombing platoon worshipped him, and the boys would follow him anywhere. We have sustained a loss which can never be replaced. He went out on his own to explore a mine crater which had only been exploded that day, and was sniped while doing so. His body was recovered the next day by two of his comrades, and buried with full honours and a cross was erected bearing a suitable inscription."
As his obituary points out, he was an amazing and charismatic figure, respected for his love and kindness. Thirty-five years after my uncle's death, I was born in a small town in England, the eldest child of two only children. My grandfather had died some years before my birth, from an autoimmune collagen disease. The man who would have stood in my grandfather's place, offering support to the new parents and love to the newborn baby, was Albert, whose life had tragically been wasted in a futile and cataclysmic war.
Because of this war, which occurred a generation before my birth, I was robbed of the company and love of an uncle who would have meant a great deal to me--the more so because I had no maternal grandfather. Because of the war, my great-grandmother lived her life in mourning. The death of Albert Board left an empty chair at the family table that could never be filled. It is almost a century after he was killed; yet his death continues to leave its mark upon the living.
World War I alone left empty chairs at fifteen million family tables--tens of millions of families changed forever by the loss of a loved one who could never be replaced. Then, in World War II, whole families and lineages were exterminated, entire cultures destroyed-- robbing the whole human family of the unique gifts of these lineages and cultures.
The 'war to end all wars' did not end war. In our nascent century, World War III has taken the form of a metastatic cancer, breaking out as many seemingly disparate entities. There are wars waged by wealthy nations against poorer nations, typically Moslem, tribal or both, as in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are proxy wars fought by poor tribal people against other poor tribal people, using the sophisticated weapons of the wealthy nations, as in Sudan, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. And there are endless wars against abstracted enemies: the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, fought using sophisticated weapons from wealthy nations and resulting in the deaths of countless poor, often tribal, people.
Every one of these wars leaves empty seats at thousands of tables. Every one of these wars creates losses whose effects will still be felt in a hundred years, just as the loss of the uncle I never knew impacted my life permanently. Every one of these wars pushes tribes and cultures to the brink, robbing the human family of unique forms of wisdom. There is no war to end war, but as HG Wells said, "If we don't end war, war will end us."
In the second dream, I was holding a big graduation ceremony for the Gurukula. Both my parents were there. My mother was graduating from the school and was quite proud of this and said it was a very good programme. My father then endorsed the school. After this my father gave Sadananda an endorsement. He wrote down the endorsement on a piece of paper before returning to the ancestor world. It sounds as if everything is going well with my father's blessings!
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So there was the somewhat nervous anticipation of the event, the actual lived event, and now the event seen in the rear-view mirror, as I share it with you. With the eclipse conveniently occurring on Monday night, we enjoyed our usual weekly Vedic fire ceremony and bathing of the Shiva lingam. Our Naropa crowd was gone for the holidays and it was just the three Pujaris, Katherine, Sadananda and myself. After meditation we took delicious South Indian prasadam. I was quite surprised to find myself rather peaceful and not getting into any erratic Uranian moods!
Later that night, Sadananda and I went back in the temple and chanted Om namah shivayah for an hour, into the time of the eclipse. However, we didn't stay up past twelve thirty. The interesting part happened next. I took Madhav Nidhan, a classical Ayurvedic text, to bed with me! While Sadananda was brushing his teeth, I was reading Ayurvedic pathology. And as I look in the rear-view mirror, I see that this was in fact the great and anticipated Event--just sitting in bed in my brushed cotton nightgown reading a book that I would never have seen as bed-time reading. Indeed, Uranus was illumining my mind with insights into the ancient text. In this darkest of dark nights, the light of Ayurvedic wisdom was flooding my consciousness. During an aspect, Uranus square natal mercury, when I was challenged to individuate my consciousness, I received a clear message that I was individuating as a vessel of Ayurvedic wisdom in twenty- first century America.
Sometimes a seemingly trivial event can be of great significance when we reflect upon it.
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Hanukkah is about rekindling, reconsecration, bringing back the light. In devastation, light returns. Without destruction, without desecration, there would be no Hanukkah miracle. It is our desolate places that call out for warmth and radiance, the darkness of our despair that invites the light of the menorah.
It is a dark time for our planet, our ecosystems and our civilization. Catastrophic climate change is underway and escalating, yet our response as a species is weak and hesitant. We are like a patient with a life-threatening illness refusing to take our medicine because it tastes bitter. Can we find our Hanukkah miracle of global cooperation, respecting the earth and the future of our children? It lies within our soul, we have only to awaken.Will light emerge from this time of unprecedented darkness?
The Hanukkah lights are warrior lights, celebrating victory and freedom. The Maccabees had only one resource, faith, as they took on the might of empire and warlords. In our time, can we break free of the imperial power sway of our military-industrial carbon based economy and come together as one people? Can we take our earth back as the Maccabees took their homeland back?
I pray it may be so, Amen, Amen.
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Image by Oxfam International via Flickr
In Brazil, drought dries up the Amazon rainforest. "These are the times spoken of in prophecy," says an indigenous farmer. "The sun is changing and the forest dying."
In Cancun, Mexico, the Climate Summit opens. CO2 emissions continue to rise even as weather catastrophes escalate. As I study prehistory and our Paleolithic journey, I see today's crisis inherent in the first microlith--the newest, coolest stone tool. Our fascination with technology and our urge to expand and people the earth has been with us from the beginning. We survived the Ice Age because of our longevity, which allowed for the support and guidance of elders. Today, we have more elders than at any point in history or pre-history, a potential pool of wisdom and experience typically warehoused away from contact with younger decision makers and leaders.
Our children face an uncertain future. Can the elders awaken? Can we make our voices heard? Can we meet each other with patience and compassion, free from judgment and hostility? Beneath the attempts to shore up the status quo, is another reality being born?
O God, lead us from death to life,
from falsehood to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope,
from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.
World Prayer for Peace, Satish Kumar
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