Monday, April 25, 2011

Hatred never ceases by hatred

I was just listening to a podcast  talk by Jack Kornfield, a US Buddhist teacher and former monk. In the talk Jack tells the story of working in a Cambodian refugee camp with his teacher Maha Ghosananda.  Maha Ghosananda was a Buddhist monk who became known as Cambodia's Gandhi for his work to bring peace to Cambodia after the Pol Pot holocaust that  decimated its population. 
I transcribed the story becuase I thought it was so profound. Here is is as Jack tells it.
"Mahagosanada got permission from the UNHCR to open this little Buddhist temple in the centre of the camp - which was 50,000 people in these little huts, without hardly any water or shade. And when the Khmer Rouge found out that the temple was being opened they let it be known that anyone who went to the opening would be killed when they returned to Cambodia.
So, it wasn't clear whether people would come at all.  But he was this incredibly good hearted and loving monk.  He was spared being killed - most of his family and monastery were killed - because he was in Thailand for the worst of it.
So he went around ringing this bell once the bamboo temple was made, and in the central square 25,000 people came. Half the camp showed up.  And he sat there, in this dusty camp, looking out over the faces of these people, the faces of people in trauma. There would be one uncle with 2 nieces who had survived, a grandma with 2 grandchildren.  Everone had lost family members, temples burnt, schools destroyed. 
And I thought, 'What is he going to say to these people who have lost so much?' And he put his hands together and just began to chant, sounds in  Cambobdian and Sankskrit that they hadn't heard for 8 years.  In this beutiful chanting tone he began to chant one verse from the Dhammapada  which says, 'Hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed. This is the ancient and enternal law.' 
And after a while 25,000 people were singing, 'Hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed. This is the ancient and enternal law.'  
And it was as if he was speaking a truth that was even bigger than their sorrows.  Yes, there's destruction, yes, there's killing and still, there's no end to this without love."

Thursday, April 7, 2011


What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?

I woke up early yesterday morning and saw this beautiful, crisp, Autumnal sunrise happening right outside my window.  I grabbed my camera and took a few shots from my front-yard.  How beautiful!  I love EM Forster's novels (Howards End is probably my favorite) and thought his quote was a good match for these photos.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A healing touch

Over the last few days I’ve gone into a fairly regular kind of energy slump where even listening or thinking becomes painfully exhausting. It’s as though my body is so tired that even moving my mental muscles to form a thought makes me ache.

Yesterday, as I was lying in bed I caught myself trying to do a metta (compassion) practice when I was too tired to think straight. I was trying to form kind and caring thoughts about being in pain, but this mental ‘trying’ just increased my pain.  Hmph!  I was stuck. 

Then a section of Toni Bernhard’s book ‘How to be Sick’ (oh, how I love that title!) came to mind. Toni writes about cultivating compassion towards herself in the face of chronic illness by using phrases of care and understanding such as 'My poor body, working so hard to feel better'.  She then writes:  'Whatever words I choose, I often stroke one arm with the hand of the other. This has brought me to tears many times, but tears of compassion are healing tears.'

Following Toni’s suggestion, I stopped trying to think compassionate thoughts and just started stroking the top of my hand with my other hand.  This kind, compassionate touch went beyond all thought, straight into the heart of the matter; ‘Oh, I’m sick.  How sad.’ 

I was transported back in time to when I was very young – 5 and 6 years old – and spent months in hospital with asthma. I was not only isolated from the world, but also cut-off from my immediate surroundings by a thick plastic tent covering my bed.  Asthma medication was pumped into the tent, so I could breathe it in and out. The intention was to heal, and it probably saved my life many times over, but the experience was confusing and so very lonely. 

The simple act of touching my own hand brought me back to this sad time; a time where all I really wanted was kindness and a sense of connection – to hope, life, and the outside world.  It felt as though offering myself this care, even 30 years on, was a kind of healing. This beautiful and simple practice gave me a sense of mothering and caring for myself. 

Thankyou Toni! 

Beautiful Gili Air - Lombok - Indonesia

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