Maya Angelou was one of my favorite American writers and spiritual elders. I remember hearing her give a rousing keynote at an Omega conference in Florida several years back, saying that she was trying to grow up into a beacon of truth and wisdom to shine light in the world. That’s my kinda gal.
Maya means illusion in Sanskrit, but this goddess was real enough. Her writing, teaching and extensive heart-centered social activism seemed all of a piece, which greatly inspired and informed many of us who strive likewise to be bodhisattvas, spiritual activitists, and genuine higher educators. She is going to be missed in this agitated, dream-like world.
Huffington Post April 7, 2014
After I graduated from college in 1971, I had the good fortune to travel overland from London to India. I had celebrated at Woodstock and marched on Washington, but that first Asian pilgrimage was the real turning point of my life. Over time, I would find and meet many — if not most — of the saints and enlightened masters (Hindu and Buddhist) of that era.
One day in 1973, in the foothills of the Himalayas at a hillside monastery outside Darjeeling, one of my friends surprised me by asking, “Have you seen your picture in the window of the photo studio in town?” I hadn’t. He encouraged me to go see it: “It shows your first meeting with the glorious Sixteenth Karmapa, and his thousand-watt smile.”
Only one popular Buddhist teacher has written a book about prayer, and that’s Thich Nhat Hanh. Many Western Buddhists and mindfulness practitioners today seem unaware of the numerous prayerful traditions and practices of Buddhism in the old world. I myself savor the mystic poems, songs, chants, prayers and sacred music practices of Vajrayana Buddhism. Perhaps because Mahayana-Vajrayana Buddhism is very inclusive and open to eclecticism, I too feel that way. I wanted to share with you a prayerful poem gifted to me this month, from some Catholic friends.
"As we turn our lives to the crosswalk
of Lent’s dark journey,
let us locate ourselves in the intersection
and there open a holding space
to welcome the world.
Last month I was in Nepal at my dear lama friend’s mountaintop monastery, Druk Amitabha Gompa, overlooking the Kathmandu Valley. His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa was giving a series of teachings interspersed with special prayers and pujas, chants and rituals, dedicated for various purposes. I was seated near HH onstage in a small row of red-robed lamas, when suddenly – amidst it all, the pomp and circumstance, the deep beats of the giant drum, the Tibetan long horns, the rattle of hand rums and the cacophony of 800 people chanting together— I realized that if I only released my resistance— all of it!— I was totally aligned and one with Him and the Buddha, and all and everything. This sorta Taoist realization of Dzogchen non-doing and effortless spontaneity lasted just a several timeless, breath stopping, globe-halting, earth shattering seconds, but it made me a servant for life.
It’s freezing (and snowy) here in New England! But it’s good to be home from my fruitful pilgrimage to India & Nepal last month. I happily sat beneath the Bodhi Tree every day, and watched it grow while the leaves occasionally fell—and hordes of pilgrims and tourists passed around and through it all—the head monks of Buddhist countries and the homeless and beggars of Bihar, the poorest state in India… on The Champs Elysees of Buddhist pilgrimage places. I was so impressed by the HH the 17th Karmapa in person, in his room at the Tergar Monastery, which Mingyur Tulku built for him in Bodhgaya. He is very powerful and all grown up now. There are metal detectors and outer walls guarding the Bodhi Tree and Stupa now, tho it still feels pretty much the same beneath the Tree and also inside the Mahabodhi Stupa temple. India is a wonderful, mysterious, magical country filled with a plethora of people and customs. I felt honored to be there but even more fortunate to return to my homeland.
Thanksgiving is always for me a time of reflection, how it’s never too late to start again or to turn over the garden and refresh the spirit(ual life). It’s also a time to refocus on all I have to be grateful for; the large and small blessings in my life and the lives of those around me, past and present. My Metta practice reminds me daily to perform acts of loving kindness and wish others well. This can be applied at every encounter, and is the discreet Bodhisattva’s way of blessing and cherishing every single sentient being, day to day, moment to moment, whoever you may encounter along the path. I encourage you to practice daily thanksgiving as well; it heals the heart and opens the spirit.
This is the high holy day season where I came from. At-one-ment is an excellent way to turn the ship around and start afresh, every annum, every day and every moment. I invite you to acknowledge your transgressions, make amends where possible, and at-one as well. This is the antidote to guilt and denial. I have wronged people, and I am sorry. I have finally felt a drop of heartfelt compassion, now that I’ve crossed the sixty yard line of life.
I myself aspire to be the Bodhisattva of Children, of all the weak and little ones, the under-dog and the marginalized, the sick, the weak, the halt, the mute, the traveler, the unseen, unheard and excluded. I am the BodhisattvaBear and Protectress of all the children. Of all those who are still selfing and striving to grow up to be someone, until the selfless Self reigns ascendant. When they see through themselves and their bubble-like confines of egotism, autonomy within interdependence will be realized and achieved; and they’ll rule their world through self-mastery rather than attachment and expectation, force and willful domination.
What is wisdom? This is one of the world’s timeless Big Questions.
Wisdom is an endangered natural resource today, in our agitated and benighted world. We overlook and ignore it at our peril. Wisdom is as wisdom does. One would be foolish if enlightened only from the eyebrows up. Wisdom is the panacean pearl of great price, and priceless too. Wisdom can be developed, and it can also be awakened within us. Working from both ends or sides—from outside in, or from top down as well as from bottom up, swooping while climbing—we can gradually explore, develop and attain discerning wisdom through information and learning, first; then investigation and inquiry, analysis, reflection and contemplation; leading progressively to greater conceptual understanding, self-awareness and application (in daily life); integration, realization, illumination, gnosis, and ultimately “the wisdom which surpasses understanding”.
The secret to happiness is wanting what you got rather than getting what you (think you) want. This may not be as easy as it sounds, but it’s simple enough once you find the balance point between effort and acceptance, what could be and what is. I try to apply the natural great perfection’s Dzogchen pithy instruction “At ease.” In that spirit of welcome and appreciation, openness and interest, everything is possible and nothing seems too difficult.
The happiness movement today has many aspects, and I’m all for it, although sometimes it does seem a bit overly simplistic. I believe it’s time to reflect upon what we really want and need, collectively as well as individually, before setting into motion powerful forces intent upon achieving those aims and goals. We don’t want to reach the top of the ladder after a long climb, to find it’s not leaning on the right wall!