Monday, January 01, 2007

Moved

This site has been moved to http://my.opera.com/Susthama/blog/

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Conditions for a Rainbow



It's been very rainy here in North Kohala. Wet and cool, like winter rather than summer. For the past few mornings, as we headed over to the temple the blue skies would quickly turn cloudy and during service the skies would open up and pour down buckets and buckets of rain drowning out our chanting. Then after service the rain would stop, which suited us well as we have a work period in the garden right after service and before breakfast. That time of day is ideal for physical labour as it is still cool and pleasant.

We've been doing some networking in Hilo and other places and so have done a fair bit of driving around the Big Island. On the two occasions going to Hilo we've seen some amazing rainbows due to the mix of rain and sun, clouds and blue sky. The clouds move fast and so the rainbows dance, the result is truly amazing and beautiful.

Sun and rain, light and dark, side by side, dancing and moving together to produce this wonderful array of colours in the sky. Magical. Apparently there was a moonbow the other night. It was the night of the full moon and there were clouds on one half of the sky producing this wonderful rainbow in the night sky, similarly we need Amida's light to shine on us in order to produce a similar effect. The clouds of delusion that prevent us from seeing Amida fully and completely are also the same clouds Amida's light shines on to produce beauty in the world.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Nun in Paradise

Hawai'i June 2006

I've landed in Paradise. The plane flew in on a clear evening, the sun just inches away from the horizon, bright orange, reflecting on the water, the air prefumed with delicious Hawaiian flowers and the airport staff smiling and welcoming.

Susan, program manager at NMF, picked me up and took me to the Amida Hamlet. By the time we arrived it was pitch black, the sun sets much earlier here than in Leicester. It felt like 1am by the time we got back to the house.

The following day, Paul Norman arrives, tanned and refreshed, as he had been on the Island for a week already. We are now two people at the Amida Hamlet and soon we'll be three once Judy his wife joins us next month.

We've been talking about setting up a kitchen garden so that we can be somewhat self sufficient. The entire Island is one big garden, the Garden of Eden? There are avocado trees, rows of papaya trees, orange trees, breadfruit trees, banana trees and so much more.

The more I look around the more amazed I am, coffee bean trees, and date palm trees, though apparently not edible are right at our finger tips. Every time I turn around I see something more exotic, more beautiful, and then there is this ordinary human being in the midst of it.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

misfortune, loss, and love

Last Sunday, I was sitting at my computer, happily checking emails when the phone rang. I picked up the phone and there was a crackle and then it went dead. No problem, this sort of thing happens whenever a telemarketer calls and the connection is lost. No big deal. Five minutes later, the phone rings again and a man with a deep and penetrating voice yells into the phone 'Tell (crackle) them that Linda is dead.' then the phone goes dead. No explanation, no apologies for being the one to tell us about the bad news, no waiting to hear what my reaction is, nothing. One second the phone rings, the next minute the line goes dead.

It took about 2 hours to learn that Linda, or Amrita as she is known over here, had died on her way to the hospital. It took a week to find out that she had died of malaria.

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February 22, John Zulu left Zambia to come to England for a visit. Lisa and I went to Heathrow to meet him. We left the house at 4.30am, we got to Heathrow at 6.45am. Lisa got out and went to arrivals while I waited in the car. The airport security came on duty at 7am and ushered me to leave the drop off area, so I drove around and around and around and around for nearly one hour. Still no sign of Lisa and John. I finally gave up and parked the car to go and see where they were. The flight had come up on the screen and then went off the screen but still no sign of John. After several calls to immigration and then to Sundari (to find out what sort of visa he'd applied for) and to the Buddhist House, finally we tracked him down. He had been held up at immigration for nearly two hours.

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March 20, I drove Lisa to Manchester airport. Afterwards, I went to Sudana's to spend a couple of days up there with him and John. March 21, on our way back from visiting the Chinese Temple we were in a car accident. The police were there within 20 seconds, not by any effort on their part, they were answering a call and were on their way and just so happened to be 20 seconds behind us. The car is still sitting in Sudana's garage with an estimated £2000 worth of damage. John and I took the coach back to Leicester.
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Modgala returned to England on the same day as the accident. Tired, exhausted and in need of respite she decided to take some time out. She was going to drive to France but then couldn't because of the car. Instead, she went to Scotland to visit her friends and family.
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After I received the phone call from the mystery man, I rang Sundari and Bhaktika in Sheffield to ask John to ring Zambia to find out what was happening over there.

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The first thing we did when we ascertained that Amrita had died was call her family to tell them about the tragic news. Then, Dharmavidya and Prasada drove to Sudana's to be there in person to provide support. An obituary was written, the newspapers were contacted and a special tribute was written about her because of her humanitarian work in Zambia. When Modgala heard the news, she decided to go to Zambia for the funeral. Within hours, a plane ticket was purchased, malaria tablets ordered and everyone was on their way back to the Buddhist House. Modgala's coach was going via Sheffield and so she stopped off and had a quick meeting with John, Sundari and Bhaktika and then returned to the Buddhist house.

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Modgala is now in Zambia. She arrived two days ago. The funeral was yesterday and over one thousand people attended her funeral. They danced for two nights prior to the burial because that is what they do over there. I wonder if they are still dancing?

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Willemien is going to stay and continue the work that Amrita started. Modgala will return to England at the end of April and John will return mid May. Sudana will most likely go there as soon as he can.

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So many worlds have collided, so many people have come together, so many things have happened in a way that couldn't have happened any other way. So much love, so many things learned, so much devotion and determination to do what is good and useful.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Vietnamese Nunnery

Huong Son Pagoda is a Vietnamese Nunnery in South Vietnam. It is home to 30-40 nuns both young and old. They take in children whose families cannot take care of them or they are younger siblings to the nuns who live there. The youngest child is 3 and the oldest nun is 86. Next door to the nunnery is a monastery where the head Abbott resides. He founded the pagoda about 20 years ago. It started off very poor and small, and since its inception he has taken care of more than 200 girls and boys.

They follow a pretty tight schedule. The monks wake up at 3 while the nuns rise at 4 in the morning. The first service is before dawn, a very pleasant experience as it is extremely peaceful and calm at that time of day and by the time we finish chanting the darkness has slowly dissipated and a new day begins.

Food is very important in the Pagoda. A lot of time and energy is spent in making sure that the food is prepared well and worthy of offering to the Buddha. Bowls of rice, soup, vegetables, and bean curd are placed on the table so that a group of four people has at least three different dishes and rice. Once the table is covered in food the bell is rung and they bow then sit down. Then they recite a blessing which is accompanied by bells, an offering of rice to the Buddha, a verse remembering all those involved in making it possible for them to eat the food and the three pure precepts. With each precept they take a small bite of rice. Then afterwards, the very young children then say Namo Quan tai am bo tat three times and then wish the Abbess and nuns to eat well. We usually eat in silence or talk very quietly, maintaining the sacredness of the ritual. After everybody has finished eating the bell is rung and one last prayer is chanted before we get up to clear the table. This ritual is done for the first two meals of the day. The second meal is the most important one of the day so they wear their robes and then have a service immediately afterwards. The last meal is very informal. The nuns and children just go and get food which is placed outside the kitchen.

The nuns work very hard from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. They work in teams and take turns making food, sewing, and many other activities that help maintain the Pagoda. Whenever guests come, they make sure that they are looked after very well.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

All in a Week

Last Tuesday I went to Cambridge to stay with Joan Court, 'THE' leading lady in the Animal Activist Movement, and her entourage of furry felines and rabbits. I met her at her home and talked about the hunger-strike due to start the following day in the Streets of Oxford. The hunger-strike is to protest against cruelty towards animals and the opposition of the Oxford animal lab.

Wednesday 10am, her friend Ken whisked us away to Oxford where we were met by the Press and other Animal Activists. She's 86 years old and so has attracted a bit of attention. We set up our two chairs and umbrella in front of St. Michael's church, the oldest building in Oxford, and stayed there until 6pm. She retired into a van parked just around the corner while I went and stayed with Maitrasara and her partner, buddhist friends from the FWBO.

Thursday was a full day, I met Joan at her van bright and early, set up our stall, met some supporters and antogonists, attended a demo outside of the site of the dreaded animal lab for a little while and then went back to our stall until 6pm again. Joan was busy giving interviews to journalists all day meanwhile I was busy giving her spiritual care especially in the form of water. The day ended with a debated chaired by Tony Benn at the Town Hall between vivisectionists and Scientists for medical progress.

Friday morning was pretty much the same, however less hectic than Thursday. The weather was fine and I made sure that Joan was well hydrated before I set off for my next event in London.

I left for London in the afternoon. After a few hours of amiable conversation with my neighbour in the seat next to me on the coach I finally reached Sukhavati where I was met by one of the Reiki students. Tony, Reiki teacher arrived shortly afterwards and so we sat around the conservatory drinking water (tea for them) while admiring the colourful tulips in the back garden.

Saturday, last day of the hunger-strike and also the last day of the Reiki course. We spent the first part of the morning doing meditation and reiki exercises and then paired up and did hands on Reiki. Broke the hunger-strike at 1pm with a feast that the Reiki students and I put together, lots of fruit and goodies. That afternoon, my partner practiced the 20-point treatment on me and I felt re-charged ready to go afterwards. The most interesting thing that I noticed was that something was making sounds in my throat. It was almost as if something was trying to speak but nothing short of grunts came out. I must admit that I wasn't fully conscious when this gurgling sound started bubbling up from deep within me trying to open my throat chakra. It's rather strange to wake up with this feeling of something happening inside of you without really knowing what it is.

Sunday morning, several of us gathered together in the shrine room for a short service and had brunch and discussed Buddhism in India, politics and engaged Buddhism among other interesting issues.

Monday the 25th was the 16th Birthday of the Panchen Lama. I only found this out a month ago when it was announced that some children from a dharma school in Brighton were planning on protesting in front of the Chinese Embassy and anyone interested was welcome to join and support them. Catherine, one of our volunteers who just came back from India and who has an affinity to the Tibetan cause and I decided to go and support them. The day started off rather gloomy and wet so it was a cheerful and uplifting sight to see the children playing in Regent's Park despite the rain. They'd spent two hours travelling up from Brighton and a little bit of rain wasn't going to dampen their spirits. Just as we made our way to the Chinese Embassy the sun came out, warmed them up so that they could reveal their t-shirts which had the Panchen Lama's picture on them. It was wonderful to see all of them carrying prayer flags and singing Buddhist songs outside the Embassy. They offered cards and a gift to the Chinese Embassy to give to the Panchen Lama, but with no luck, and so in the end gave it to the Free Tibet Campaign spokesperson. It was such an extraordinary protest, I think the police were equally baffled because at one point there was a surge of police around us but they left just as fast as they'd come once they saw these minor protesters. The guards didn't really know what to do and were trying to get someone from inside the Embassy to come out and even told us that they were falling out over it.

After the protest I met Joan McCann, an order member, and together we went to her place. She lives very near to Eppen Forest and on our way to her house we saw a fox coming up towards us. I didn't realize how far outside of London she lived and so had to leave pretty much as soon as I'd arrived but atleast had a chance to catch up with her and meet smudge, her little grey and white cat.

Tuesday, tidied up Sukhavati and took the bus back to Leicester with Catherine. It's nice to be back with the community and cats. Namo Amida Bu.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

words

Words have the power and the ability to transform a person. Words, articulate sounds uttered by people to express their ideas, plays a major role in life.

I'm terrible at speaking and writing. There is so much fear and dread that people will see and recognize how stupid I am. Stupid for not understanding words and the meaning behind them. There goes the whole of communicating out the window for me. I can't fully comprehend or know the meaning of these sounds uttered by human voices. What do I want to communicate to You? What is my message that I would like to impart and make known to you?

The Buddha, the Awakened one, was an intelligent sage, he was endowed with the faculty of understanding and reason. His message was about Truth, Freedom, Love and Peace. Truth has the quality of conforming to reality, of being genuine and not false.

The Quality, that which makes or helps to make anything such as it is, so that it is the same from as reality. Actually being or existing, life, birth, old age, sickness, and death are very real. They are true and not imaginatvive or false. We are reminded of these existential realities or facts nearly everyday. We see things happen moment after moment.

The Buddha understood, he knew the meaning of the truth. He was the significance of it and encouraged us to find our sense of purpose. The meaning of our own lives.

Did he or was he trying to teach us something else? He discovered something and then imparted the knowledge of it to others. After searching for several years he came to the knowledge of something that existed before. He was seeking for something and it is only when we start inquiring for the purpose of finding something that we will experience direct knowledge. The clear and certain perception of that which exists, or of truth or fact.

The search for clear perception, the processof the mind which makes known an external object is an important step. The inquiry, the investigation into the truth is the beginning and in order for one to continue this path one needs faith, courage and determination.

I have faith in the Buddha, I've agreed to the truth of what he has declared. That there is suffering and that there is nirvana.

But faith alone is not enough for me to continue down this path. I need to train the mind, the intellectual power in man, the understanding, the cast of thoughts and feelings need to be restrained so that my perception is clear. The trouble is that the faculty by which man holds communication with the external world is one of the skandhas. This is part of the processof building the self.

We perceive through our senses, however, can we perceive the truth through our senses?