15
Jan
09

makar sankranti.

kite string.

Today marks the festival of Makar Sankranti, the much loved kite-flying festival celebrated across India.  Last year we enjoyed watching the preparations leading up to the festivities.  You can read more about the festival and see some colorful photos by checking out this post.

28
Nov
08

thanks-giving.

For the past two days Sam and I have been glued to the TV, watching the news of the hostage drama unfolding in south Bombay.  We have been so moved by the incredible suffering being experienced there- the hostages and their families, families mourning the loss of loved ones, and families that will learn of their losses in the coming hours.  But I must also remind myself of the suffering experienced by the hostage-takers and their families.  To dehumanize them is to perpetuate the isolation and ignorance that spawned their actions.  To advocate further violence against them does not fundamentally change what has occurred nor prevent similar activity in the future.  Violent retribution may provide a temporary release for our collective fear, vulnerability, powerlessness, insecurity, or sense of injustice.  But is does not relieve the true suffering.

So, what do we do?   

I say we because I do believe the solution lies in our collective efforts.  The world needs activists as well as scholars.  We need teachers and doctors, selfless service and financial commitment.  We need spiritual leaders who stand up and denounce terrorism and violence in its many forms.   

More than ever, we need compassion.

Yesterday Sam and I celebrated a non-traditional Thanksgiving with a quiet sushi dinner for two at a  local restaurant.  We needed a break from the constant news coverage, but sitting at  the dinner table we found we could think of nothing else.  We remembered everyone directly affected by the tragedy.  We speculated about a resolution to the stand-off.  We were grateful beyond words for the blessings in our own lives that are too numerous to count.  Our reflection certainly was a true Thanks-Giving.  

We also wondered aloud about our social responsibility.  What can we do to promote tolerance?  How can we work for social justice?  How can society be transformed?  Right now I have only questions, not answers.  I welcome your comments and suggestions.  How do you work for social justice?  What do you think needs to be changed?

 What is your vision for a better world?

14
Nov
08

holiday: buddhist monasteries.

 

monastery.

 

prayer wheels.

Om Mane Padme Huum.  Spinning these prayer wheels accumulates the same merit as chanting the mantra.  

 

buddhist mural.

Buddhist mural paintings adorn the exterior walls of monasteries in the northern region.

 

on holy ground.

On Holy Ground.  Monks and visitors to the monastery remove their shoes as a sign of respect.

 

altar.

Candles and other offerings are laid in front of images of the Buddha.

 

young monks.

Young monks enjoy a simple breakfast of sweet potatoes, rice, and milk.

 

 

buddha image.

A statue of the Buddha is central inside the monastery meditation hall.

 

diya.

Diyas burn brightly in front of sacred images.

 

avelokiteshwara.

 

 

 

dharma wheels.

 

 

 

buddhist tablet.

Buddhist tablet outside Pemayangtse Monastery in Pelling, Sikkim.

03
Nov
08

cardamom & tea.

These are a few of my favorite photos- and favorite experiences- from our trip to Sikkim and Darjeeling.  Our driver from Pelling, Sikkim, was a local boy who stopped along the side of the road to show us fresh cardamom growing in a field.  The leaves of the plants extend above the earth, while the cardamom seeds are close to the ground.  The driver, Lobsang, dug in the dirt and pulled out this cluster in which cardamom pods are nestled.  He then rinsed the cluster in a nearby mountain stream, revealing the individual pods.  Lobsang opened a pod to show us the seeds inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived in Darjeeling at dusk, creeping along narrow roads winding through a tea plantation.  The road was so narrow that we had to back up into a turnout whenever we encountered another vehicle.  Darjeeling district is famous for its tea, and tea gardens are visible along every mountainside.  Sam and I toured one nearby garden, where we plucked some tea leaves, flowers and berries.

 

 

 

 


02
Nov
08

holiday: sunrise photos

We woke at 3:30 one morning to watch the sunrise at Tiger Hill near Darjeeling.  The sun came up around 4:30am, dramatically illuminating  the mountain peaks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

28
Oct
08

the legend of diwali, festival of light.

Once upon a time, King Dasaratha ruled the prosperous kingdom of Ayodhya.  The King was blessed with four sons from his three wives: Rama, son of Kaushalya, was the eldest boy and heir to the throne of Ayodhya.  Bharat (son of second wife Kaikeyi), Lakshman and Shatrugan (twin sons of Sumitra) enjoyed the strong bonds of brotherhood.  Together the four boys mastered the mental and physical challenges presented by their teachers.

Eventually the King became too old and weak to rule the kingdom, so he named Rama as his successor.  All the citizens of Ayodhya were elated as they prepared for the coronation ceremony.  Second Queen Kaikeyi, however, was jealous that Rama would receive all the glory while her own son Bharat would have nothing.  Kaikeyi began scheming and plotting a way to have her own son crowned king. 

On the eve of Rama’s coronation Kaikeyi called King Dasaratha into her chambers.  She reminded him that he had vowed to grant her two wishes after she had saved his life many years ago.  The king remembered his vow, of course, and pledged once again to grant her wishes.  Kaikeyi then calmly told the King she wanted him to banish Rama for fourteen years and name her son Bharat as ruler of Ayodhya.  King Dasaratha was filled with sadness.  Although he did not want to rob Rama of his birthright, he was compelled to fulfill his promise to Kaikeyi.

Upon hearing his father’s decision Rama calmly accepted his fate and promised to fulfill his dharma (duty) by living out the term of his banishment.  Rama’s wife Sita and his brother Lakshman insisted on following Rama into exile, so the three began their journey south into the wild forest where they would live for fourteen years.

During their long exile Rama, Sita, and Lakshman fought many battles and performed countless heroic deeds.  They cemented alliances with the tribes and animals living in the forest.  Their reputation spread until nearly everyone had heard of their courage and fairness.

Fourteen years passed and finally the time arrived for the threesome to begin their journey back to Ayodhya.  But on the eve of their departure a great tragedy occurred.  Sita was captured by Ravana, the evil Lord of Lanka, and was taken to his lair in his kingdom south of India. 

When Rama and Lakshman discovered that Sita had been kidnapped, they appealed to their friends in the forest for help.  Legions of humans and animals came to their aid, building a great bridge across the sea to the land of Lanka.  In a bloody and violent battle that lasted more than ten days Rama and his army defeated Ravana, Lord of Lanka.

Finally Rama was reunited with his wife Sita.  Together with Lakshman they began their journey north to claim Rama’s rightful place as the King of Ayodhya.  Word of their glorious victory had spread and they were greeted by celebrations in every village and city they entered. 

 The kingdom of Ayodhya had planned an elaborate festival for the return of the King, his wife, and his brother.  The entire kingdom was ablaze with light as every building and home was decorated with lamps and candles.  There was a great feast that included dancing and fireworks.

During the festival of Diwali we remember Rama’s triumphant return to his kingdom.  We celebrate his faithfulness and courage.  As we light candles and hang lamps in our windows, we welcome the light of knowledge and virtue into our homes and hearts.

28
Oct
08

holiday: gangtok, sikkim.

Gangtok, the capital of the state of Sikkim, is nestled in the Himalayas in northeast India.  

 

 

   The walkway approaching Buddhist monasteries is often lined with prayer wheels inscribed with the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”.  Through the practices of meditation and chanting this mantra Buddhists identify with the Buddha of Compassion, gradually expanding their compassion to include all sentient beings.  Spinning the prayer wheels accumulates the same merit as chanting the mantra, sharing the intention that all beings become free from suffering.

 

 

 

 

Prayer wheels at monastery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            the mall at Gangtok

 

 

 

 

 

 

          

 

Gangtok at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Every morning I awoke to see this woman performing her morning prayers on the terrace.

 

   

 

 

 

    

 

   We bounced along mountain roads, sometimes just inches from a 5000-foot drop.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Tsomgo (Changu) Lake, altitude 12,400 feet.

 

Yes, we rode on yaks.





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