Maha Ghosananda – The ‘Gandhi’ of Cambodia

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Eleven years ago today, far from his homeland of Cambodia, Maha Ghosananda passed away at the age of 78 in Northampton, Massachusetts.

In his long life, Maha Ghosananda was responsible for replanting Buddhism in Cambodia, after 95% of his fellow Buddhist monks were killed or forced to give up their faith during the Khmer Rouge era. He served as the Patriarch (Sangharaja) of Cambodian Buddhism and instituted an annual peace march, called Dhammayietra — pilgramage of truth — which attracted thousands of Cambodians and helped heal his country of their decades-long civil war.

Buddhism has a long history in Cambodia, dating back to the fifth-century. Beginning in the thirteenth century, Theravāda Buddhism served as the official state religion.

In the 1960s, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, rose to power. They solidified their hold on the country after the Cambodian Civil War ended in 1975. One of the worst genocides of the twentieth century took place during the next four years.

Famine, death from treatable diseases, xenophobic targeting of minority populations and other genocidal practices resulted in between 1.5 and 3 million Cambodians killed, up to twenty-five percent of the countries’ population.

Pol Pot was an atheist and all religions were banned under his rule. As many as 75,000 Buddhist monks lived in Cambodia in 1965. By the end of the Khmer Rouge rule, only an estimated 3000 remained. Monasteries were destroyed, texts burned, and monks were forced to disrobe or be killed.

During the Khmer Rouge reign, Maha Ghosananda studied at the Nalanda University in Bihar, India. He pursued a doctorate in Pali, one of at least ten languages he was fluent in. He learned of the disintegration of the his homeland, learned of the U.S. bombing of Cambodia in its ongoing entanglement with Vietnam, and learned of the Civil War that engulfed the country.

The suffering reached Maha Ghosananda directly — his entire family, including sixteen siblings — were killed. Maha Ghosananda heard this news of his family during part of a five-year retreat which was the culmination of his studies. He heard this news and wanted to return home, but soon realized that the past had gone, and he needed to find peace himself if he was to help his country.

The rivers of Cambodia are full of blood,” he told his fellow monk. His meditation teacher advised him to stop crying. “You can’t stop the fighting. Instead fight your impulse toward sorrow and anger,” he advised.

Finally, Ghosananda listened to his teacher. “The weeping stopped. ‘There is no sorrow in the present moment,’ he explained. ‘How can there be? Sorrow and anger are about the past. Or they arise in fear of the future. But they are not in the present moment. They are not now.’

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Gandhi’s peace work began in South Africa after being thrown from a train

Source: New Republic

A month before his nineteenth birthday, Gandhi set sail for England, where he would study as a lawyer. Gandhi struggled with the new social expectations, and briefly tried to dress, talk and walk like an Englishman.

He quickly realized it was best to focus on his studies. “I have changed my way of life,” he told a friend. “All this foolishness is at an end. I am living in one room and cooking my own food.

Hereafter I shall devote all my time to study,” he said.

After three years of study, Gandhi achieved his goal he passed his exams. He returned to India eager to return home to see his mother, wife, and son, who was only a few months old when he last saw him.

Gandhi would not stay long in India. Instead, he soon traveled to South Africa to practice law.

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Old stories of the old self

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There is a story inside of your heart that is waiting to be told. You cannot tell this story without looking deep within yourself, past the stories you have told yourself about yourself for all the years of your life. These are the old stories of the old self, and they no longer exist except in your mind, where they were born, lived, and can now pass beyond.

It takes courage to look into yourself. It requires strength to return from the depths of your heart with something to share with those around you, in hopes of a better world. Move beyond your fear and doubt. Move out of the shadows and slowly each corner of your mind and the darkness of your heart will receive the divine light of illumination, peace, and joy.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.

Bring forth your desires through selfless action and service. Do not be afraid to share what you have found, and do not be in a rush. Be patient with yourself and those around you.

Speak words of encouragement and acceptance first; truth when necessary. Move past conflict of bitterness and jealousy with patience and understanding.

Resist what is being asked of you and you will stumble on your path. Walk slowly, pay attention and move towards the light.

The work of man today is to unite with your brothers and sisters in harmony, love, and peace. Find and make union with nature. Leave behind thoughts of competition and destruction, and build up one another in the image of God. Know that God will provide for all when brought into remembrance.

Quote from Mary Anne Radmacher

Silence, Calm of my Heart

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My tongue is a sword that can bring pain or peace. When I rest my tongue, my body relaxes. When my body relaxes, my energy becomes grounded. When I am grounded, I find stillness. When in stillness, I can hear my heart.

Listen-Deeply

“Listen deeply” Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Swami Sivananda, the enlightened sage of India, wrote about mouna, a vow of silence, as a part of spiritual practice. Through talking, we waste energy, distract the mind, pulling it outward. In this outward movement, we lose ourselves in the world. The cultivation of silence creates a transfer of energy in the body, transforming the speech energy, which is material in nature, into ojas, spiritual energy.

Taking a vow of silence is a means to what Sivananda called mouna of the mind. This mental silence comes naturally through the cultivation of a spiritual practice, day after day, until one day, you reside in peace.

When my heart speaks, my mind enters into silence. Within silence, my awareness expands. With expanded awareness, truth is illuminated. In the presence of truth, fear and doubt vanish.

When controlled by fear, I extend my suffering to those around me. When tangled in doubt, I walk confused and disoriented. When the dragon of fear and doubt awakens, I am far from peace.

With a quiet and tranquil mind, I elevate my thoughts. Through humility and grace I make myself small, asking for help – for light, for strength and for comfort, for illumination of the demons that darken my mind and torment my soul.

With harsh words I resist what is asked of me. Creating noise that breaks the silence. In the silence where peace resides, in the calm of my heart.

Silence, Calm of my Heart

My heart beats

Beat beat thump thump

The slow steady rhythm of a stream passing by

Making music through the echos of stones

Flowing past the fallen trees

 

The Brink

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Maria y José
Your waters swirl the Atlantic
Crashing into lands
Once visited by the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria
Bringing once again the terror of death and destruction

The pain of the colonized
Still suffering for the sins of the colonizer
The tears of the past
Still shed in the present

Mother and Father
Maria y José
When will we remember?
We are your sons and daughters

The Earth shakes and trembles
With the horror of buildings crashing
Fifteen dead: from the quaking of the earth
Fifteen dead: as the volcano shook
Fifteen dead: as they prayed for forgiveness
And the church steeple fell

No more can we hide our complicity
No longer can we stand
By the plausible deniability of our so-called leaders

There is no where to stand
But the center of the storm
Because everywhere we turn
We are there
And we are the storm

It is not those in power
Who gather in the ivory towers
To debate the speed in which death will arrive
Who threaten to harm those who have already lost everything

It is not those in power
Who accuse one another of murder
While speaking words of hatred and genocide

It is not those in power
Who are to blame
For the coming of the end

We must come to accept
That the acceptance of our convenience and luxury
And the pleasure of our power and privilege
Has brought us to the brink
As we argue with one another
Over who will have which seat
On the train that is barreling towards the cliff’s edge

We may sit and watch
Another man shot
We may sit and watch
Another storm grow
We may sit and watch
The waters’ tides rise
And feel good
Knowing we have followed and liked
Another avatar that shares our views

We may win the next election
Voting out all those in power
Replaced by a new command
Who will steer the train to the cliff’s edge

And still the waters’ tides will rise
And still the ancient forests will burn
And still the Earth will shake and tremble

Maria y José
Have mercy on your children
For we do not know
How to stop our own pain
We no longer remember
That we are your children

It is only when we remember
Maria y José
That you are our Mother and Father
It is You who brings us life
As surely as death comes

Look deep within yourself

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There is a story inside of your heart that is waiting to be told. You cannot tell this story without looking deep within yourself, past the stories you have told yourself about yourself for all the years of your life. These are the old stories of the old self, and they no longer exist except in your mind, where they were born, lived, and can now pass beyond.

It takes courage to look into yourself. It requires strength to return from the depths of your heart with something to share with those around you, in hopes of a better world. Move beyond your fear and doubt. No longer live in their shadows and slowly each corner of your mind and darkness of your heart will receive the light of God.

Bring forth your desires through selfless action and service. Do not be afraid to share what you have found, and do not be in a rush. Be patient with yourself and those around you.

Speak words of encouragement and acceptance first; truth when necessary. Move past conflict of bitterness and jealousy.

Resist what is being asked of you and stumble on your path. Walk slowly and pay attention and move towards the light.

The work of man today is to unite with your brothers and sisters in harmony, love, and peace. Find and make union with nature. Leave behind thoughts of competition and destruction, and build up one another in the image of God. Know that God will provide for all when brought into remembrance.

Establishing a daily mindfulness practice

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The most important aspect to establish a daily mindfulness practice is a clear intention. Why do you want to sit?

There are many benefits to this practice of slowing down, sitting still, and becoming aware of your inner world. Many people experience a calmness of spirit, if only for the time they are sitting. Others are quickly transfer the lessons learned from sitting still into their life, transforming relationships and more actively engaging in their own life.

After a sustained effort of two or three weeks, a daily mindfulness practice will often bring insights, memories, and answers from deeper in the subconscious.

The subconscious as a constantly turning machine, like the buzz of electricity that runs through your home, whether the lights are on or not. The subconscious is always at work, and never forgets any of the experiences that you’ve encountered. Mindfulness and concentration practices help connect the conscious and subconscious mind until the proverbial lights turn on.

With a little bit of practice, it does not take more than twenty minutes to slow down the mind. Even though the mind seems to be in constant motion, it is possible to re-train the “monkey mind,” guiding it into a place of rest in the heart. What may be most surprising is that the mind actually likes to rest! Like a young child who doesn’t even realize they are tired, the mind needs guidance and permission to slow down and stop its constant jumping from one branch to another, one thought to another, endlessly on and on.

A good place to start is twenty minutes a day, for ten days. Vipassana meditation retreats, which are free and take place worldwide, offer ten-day, silent meditation retreats. This ten-day period is a long enough time to establish a practice, and learn how to carry it forward on your own.

Here’s a little more information about beginning a sitting mindfulness practice. These are tips; remember the most important thing is to have the intention for your mindfulness practice so you are motivated from within.

  • Find a place to sit. Choose or create a space that will be quiet, and place some items that help bring peace to you. A candle, photos, and flowers are all helpful to settle the mind. If you’re able to comfortably sit on the floor, do so with your legs crossed. If a chair is more comfortable, that’s fine also. The most important thing is to sit with a straight and relaxed spine for twenty minutes.
  • Breath deep into your belly. The body is designed to receive air through the nose. Breath full breaths into your belly, feeling your abdomen expand and contract with the breath. If it helps, repeat silently: “inhale, exhale,” “in, out,” or any other words or phrases that calm your mind.
  • Focus your mind on the breath. As you breath in and out, bring your mind’s attention to the breath. The mind calms when it has something to focus on. Continue to silently repeat a word or phrase, or enter into silence.
  • Observe thoughts, feelings and emotions. As you sit and focus on your breath, thoughts, feelings and emotions will arise. At first, these will be superficial and mundane. (Did I turn off the oven? I forgot to return that email!) Continue to breath, and observe without becoming attached. The breath is your anchor, and if you find yourself lost in thought, calmly and gently return to the breath.

A standing ovation for five simple words

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“Sisters and brothers of America”


These words marked the culmination of five years of wandering and the beginning of Swami Vivekananda’s life’s work. These words were met by 7000 people who “went into inexplicable rapture with standing ovation and clapping that lasted for more than three minutes” gathered at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. These words brought a message of unity, tolerance and universal acceptance.
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After five years of wandering India, Swami Vivekananda found himself at the southernmost point of the subcontinent. He witnessed:

“the meeting of the three eternal seas, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian sea and the Bay of Bengal. A fantastic composition of sand, rock and sea at the foot of green hills met his eyes. He stood with awe and wonder […] He was overwhelmed at the sight. The vast, expanse of sky and sea meeting in the distant horizon looked timeless and eternal.”

Despite years of searching he had not yet identified how to help the people of his land, the:

“potable condition of the Indian masses, victims of the unscrupulous whims of their rules, landlords and priests. The tyranny of caste had sapped their last drop of vitality. In most of the so-called leaders who shouted from the housetops about the liberation of the people, he had seen selfishness personified. What was his task?”

His three-day meditation continued, sitting 500 meters off the coast on what is now known as Vivekananda’s Rock. Finally, two realizations:

“He must approach the outside world and appeal to its conscience. But he was too proud to act like a beggar. He wanted to tell the West that the health and sickness of Indian were the concern of the whole world. If India sank, the whole world would sink with her. So the outside world, in turn, needed India, her knowledge of the Soul and of God, her spiritual heritage, her ideal of genuine freedom through detachment and renunciation; it needed these in order to extricate itself from the sharp claws of the monster of materialism.”

Now that he understood his task, his audience and those who could aid in making his vision a reality:

Then, to the Swami, brooding alone in silence of that point of rock off the tip of India, the vision came; there flashed before his mind the new continent of America, a land of optimism, great wealth, and unstinted generosity. He saw America as a country of unlimited opportunities, where people’s minds were free from the encumbrance of castes or classes. He would give the receptive Americans the ancient wisdom of India and bring back to his motherland, in exchange, the knowledge of science and technology. […] He recalled the earnest request of his friends to represent India in the forthcoming Parliament of Religions in Chicago. And, in particular, he remembered the words of the friends in Kathiawar who had been the first to encourage him to go to the West: “Go and take it by storm, and then return!”

Source (block quotes): Vivekananda Kendra’s Wandering Monk Exhibition

Discover the Truth Within YourSelf

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Image by Abraxa-Nor, "Inner Truth"

Image by Abraxa-Nor, “Inner Truth”

Sit in a comfortable sit close to the ground, or lie in Sivasana.

Turn your attention inward.

Breath, inhale and exhale. Breath slow, deep breathes.

Relax your mental awareness into a state of observation and concentration. Sit like a Buddha.

Continue to observe your breath. With each inhale create space; surrender the mind with each exhale.

With a calm and clear mind, pay attention to mental formations and thought patterns.

Be at peace with all that arises and passes away.

Fear and doubt are veils of illusion, dragons of our lower self.

Discover the Truth Within Your Self

The wisdom of doing nothing

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I am in a Brooklyn apartment, celebrating Friends-giving on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. In a week, I leave for India on a one-way ticket. I am spending a few days with my friend Nick, and most of the guests are entering a near comatose state after hours of binge-ing on carbohydrates, starches, and sugar.

One of Nick’s roommates is further gone than the rest. Earlier in the evening she lamented about her job, and expressed her wishes to find a rich Jewish man to marry. Someone that would make her parents’ proud. Now, her legs are splayed over one arm of the love seat. With a start, she wakes from her slumber and begins to half shout, half mumble obscenities, directed at nobody.

I look at the black man next to me. He looks back at me. Nothing to do.

Three and a half years later and I am beginning to learn the lessons of doing no thing.
***
The more I observe my mind, the more of a danger it is. What I saw as judgement I now see as pride. What I see as pride is now arrogance. A dragon unwilling to be tamed.
***
thevoicethatspeaksinside

I am learning to listen to, and trust the voice that speaks inside. I am finding that to listen requires silence, detachment and even-mindedness. I feel like I’m swimming upstream in a river of noise, craving, and distraction.
***

Shiva says: Do nothing and receive my grace.

Shiva says: Do nothing and receive my grace.

Earlier this year, I sat up until five in the morning for Mahashivatri, the “great night of Shiva.” It is believed that the early morning hours when the world has slowed almost to a stop are favored by Shiva. He shares his auspicious blessings with those who are able to still the mind with all its expectations, the body with its unnecessary movements.

On Mahashivatri, planetary alignment supports the vertical energy in the body, so long as the spine remains upright. When this is done, no effort is needed to receive the benefits.

Now when I sit in concentration, I feel the kundalini energy rise up, beginning at the base of my spine, rising to the crown of my head, where Shiva sits in contemplation. My third eye channels the awakened energy, bringing me into dimensions beyond. My seat is grounded and heart open.