Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Growing Up

The Uncertainty of Life

When i was a child, my grand parents owned a farm in Motueka, a small town, just across the bay from Nelson in New Zealand, where i grew up.  My visits there usually lasted a few days and i always looked forward to them with much excitement. On this farm, i experienced great freedom. Hugal, their boxer dog and i would spend hours scouring the pastures and playing among the walnut trees.   We spent tireless days searching for berries and disturbing rabbits in their burrows. There were so many things to do on the farm, so many nooks and crannies to explore and this, peppered with the imagination of a child, led to many little adventures.

When i was about 7 or 8 years of age, my grand parents sold the old farm and bought a lovely, bright, new house overlooking one of the inlets near the beach of Kaiteriteri.  This area is not too far from Motueka and forms a series of ocean inlets and beaches that are gilded with strings of golden sand. In those days there were lots of pine trees and forests and the air  hummed with the sound of cicadas.

Not  many people lived there, but the few who did built small, wooden cottages between the pine trees and would visit on weekends or holidays.  If i came to stay during the week, i could take Hugal and go down and ramble on the beaches for hours without seeing more than a mere handful of people.

I was devastated when the farm was sold. Nothing could ever take its place an so many happy memories  abounded for me there.   Holidays at Kaiteriteri, were a very different matter. These bought new and some times very challenging events into my life.  I enjoyed the same freedoms in this new place as i had always enjoyed on the farm.

Being free to roam as i pleased was one of the highlights of my childhood years, but this was a freedom that i could really only enjoy during the visits to my grandparents.  I took this freedom which they gave me, as a sign of their trust and was prepared to do whatever it would take to retain it.

One incident that stands out in my memory very vividly during this time, took place at the beach not too far from my grandparents new home.
It was late afternoon and the tide was going out.  In this place the tides came in a very long way.  So high, in fact, that only a tiny strip of golden sand would be showing when it was full.  But when it went out again, it would leave the beach naked and wet with little ribbons of seawater ferrying out the last dregs of water. The whole area, that was in one minute blue, would then be drained and become a shining stream of river-lets that diminished rapidly as the water was sucked out into the bay. All this would happen within the space of just a few hours, so there were tidal forces and rips at work in these inlets that were  very powerful.  During these hours the beach inlets would be like giant bath tubs when the plug is taken out and i was warned on many occasions to be very careful.

This particular afternoon, i was playing alone on the side of one of these tidal streams when the small bank of sand that i was sitting on caved in.  Suddenly i was thrown into the stream which was very cold and very swift.  So swift in fact, that i was sucked under by the currents and tossed about like a leaf in a white muddle of water and sand that was being dragged out to the open sea.

From a moment of blissful play and unawareness, i was thrown into a turbid cauldron of icy foaming water.  The current was so strong and the surge so powerful, that no matter how much i struggled and flailed around i could not find  which way was up or down until i was knocked and scraped along the bottom.

In the midst of this crisis i had the very lucid awareness that my short life might well be about to end.
However by this time, the powerful current had  surged out into the open bay and i found myself tossed up and then pushed out of a whirling mass of seawater.

After the initial sobs and gasps for air, i noticed that the shore line was a long way off.  In those few minutes the tidal surge had dragged me about 200 meters out into the bay.  It was utterly terrifying to see this and also that there was no one on the beach to call for help. The entire length of the beach, in both directions, was totally deserted...

Read more in Awareness Comes Knocking
Books by the Writer

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Visitor

Yesterday morning as i was on my way home, a friend stopped me in the street and asked me to go with him to meet a young Brahman man living nearby.

It was a stiflingly hot morning, the sun blazing directly above our heads.  However,  armed with umbrellas and caps we made our way along the dusty streets chattering, laughing and catching up on  snippets of news as we walked along.

When we arrived at Nochur's house, we found it abuzz with activity.  Family members and students were engaged in various preparations here and there and word was, they would be making a trip away later that day.

My friend Bhasiji, a well known visitor in this place, strode into the house without ceremony and bade me follow him up the stairs to a lovely, bright room on the top floor of this newly built home.
At the entrance we met Nochur, his hair an unruly black confusion that had grown rather longer in the months since i had last met him. With a bright smile he carelessly pushed it aside and bade us welcome.

He was clothed in a simple long white dhoti, the traditional dress of Brahmin priests in the south of India.  His forehead was splashed with vibuti, (sacred ash that is placed on the forehead of practicing Saivite Hindus) and  cuncum, (red vermillian paste).  It appeared that we had come just as he was finishing up his morning puja.

We were warmly greeted and urged to sit, all in the simplest and most unaffected fashion, while he continued pottering about with his ritual offering bowls and oil lamps.

The windows in this room are large and to north they had been thrown open to give an unobstructed view of the Hill, Arunachala.  This is one of India's sacred 'lingams'.  There are five spread out in different locations around the country, each one representing one of the elements.  Arunachala represents the element of 'fire'.

We settled ourselves down on a rug and gazed out at this majestic view.  Arunachala rises steeply from the  plains that surround it and forms a very striking pillar of ancient rock.
Suddenly Nochur turned around. The manner in which he did this particularly caught our attention.  He looked at us for a moment without saying anything. There was a bright sparkle in his eyes and an animated and radiant expression on his face. In that moment it looked as though he were suspended in time and space, framed by the majestic spire of the Hill, his right hand raised and the first finger pointing over his back towards it.    'Yesterday, i had a most unexpected visitor!' he said with quiet intensity...

Read more in Masters, Mice and Men
Books by the Writer

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

We Never Know

We Never Know...

There has been a power cut since 7 pm last night.  It is now 9 am in the morning.  The generator for the mobile tower over in the village is humming away. Barely audible, amidst the wailing calls of the birds that come here at this monsoon season from Bhutan.

The mournful sound of their calls has an oddly poignant edge and drowns out the chirps and delicate melodies of the local bird life.
It is interesting that they turn up here in this little patch of
forest near Darjeeling, year after year. Many families from Bhutan are established along this ridge and within this patch of forest with its few remaining giant Utish trees, dripping with orchids and ferns. 

A little further up the road the forest changes markedly as huge, old Norfolk pines rise up in long, straight lines. Nothing could contrast more with the semi tropical forests, that surrounds the old Temple than these towering, pine giants.  The Norfolks are remnants of British rule and were planted during the days when they came to these hills to enjoy the views and the cool temperatures during hot summer months.

When i first moved to this small Gompa, which had been offered to my teacher in the 1970's, the caretaker was one of Chadral Rinpoche's old Bhutanese students.  He had left Bhutan some years before to settle here in these forested hills, bringing with him his two sons, both of whom were ordained as Buddhist monks.

Pala, as we call him, was a wonderful caretaker. He had a green thumb and the gardens around the compound were always a mass of blooms. He was never idle, and seemed always
to be busy fixing or making something.
The two sons visited regularly, but were often busy visiting local villages to perform rituals and pujas for local families...

Read more in Masters, Mice and Men
Books by Lyse Lauren


Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Silent Power of a Mountain

Mount Kangchendzonga
 One day, while sitting in the loft of my 'tin palace,' a small retreat hut which I built at the end of a ridge not far from Darjeeling, a town in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas, I was overcome, as happened on many occasions, by the majestic vista that spread out before me.

 From my perch, I could gaze out the window past the cupola of a small Chorten which rose up right in front of my house. It had been there a lot longer than my little house. These structures are a Buddhist symbol of the stages of enlightenment and often contain the relics of holy beings. Beyond the chorten, a line of bamboo poles had been raised, each containing large colorful prayer flags which fluttered in the wind. Each flag was covered in ornate Tibetan script bearing mantras and prayers. 

Beyond this, a few sturdy trees clung to the edge of the cliff face hiding somewhat the vast chasm which opened up right below. From that point, space ruled and swirling mists rose up from the distant valleys far below. 

The huge peaks of the Himalayas rose up just a few miles to the north, and on a clear day, one could see from Mount Everest in the west, right across a huge swathe of towering peaks to the tiny kingdom of Bhutan in the east. 

But there were no clear mountain views that particular day. Instead, monsoon mists billowed around the steamy valleys in an endlessly shifting dance.

And yet, there were moments when the clouds parted during the rainy months and then one could catch a fleeting but unforgettable glimpse of the huge massif of Kanchendzonga, freshly dusted and clothed in a thick and brilliantly white mantel.

Kanchendzonga is the world’s third highest mountain. It is an enormous eruption of black and grey granite that rises up 8586 meters in the far eastern portion of the Himalayan mountain chain.
That is just a few meters short of Mount Everest.

Recognized as a sacred mountain by the natives of the fiefdom of Sikkim, it holds a certain mystic and is revered by the locals who remain committed to protecting it from the footprints of irreligious mountaineers. 

However, the mountain itself is a treacherous domain for mortals and many have lost their lives trying to scale its flanks.

But from a respectful distance, the monsoon vistas are very special. There is no other time during the year when the play of light is quite so luminous and pure. What can emerge between the billowing clouds for fleeting moments are evanescent explosions of brilliant color and light. They appear as almost not of this earth.


These glorious visions of the mountain had inspired and sustained me for the many years while I lived on that ridge. The mountains were a ceaseless ocean of shifting color and light. They never looked the same. The play of light, the subtle shades of color, the shifting clouds and moods which it drew forth at different times of the day and night; all were a constant reminder, for me, of the dance of life which is forever changing. One could never lift ones gaze and not find there a new world of wonder.

During those years this majestic view of clouds, light, and mountains was nature's teaching for me. To look out of my windows and see how everything interacts in the natural world was a constant and vital lesson in impermanence and change.

Nature reflects the basic truths of life ceaselessly and with unmatched simplicity and beauty.
Even so, we often fail to notice them. We are constantly reminded of life's impermanence and yet we are swallowed up by our thoughts and by the ceaseless stream of distractions which claim almost all of our attention from the very moment we wake in the morning until we close our eyes at night.

Caught by the movement of the forms upon the screen, our eyes fail to see the screen upon which their movement depends. We gaze right past what is always present, unmovable, unshakable and mountainlike, grasping instead at the dancing forms and the shifting play of colors and lights.

In times cluttered with ceaseless distractions it is in the simplicity of nature that we can find, quite effortlessly, little windows of opportunity; windows that allow our spirit to soar free from the worldly display for a moment or more.

In the freedom of just such a moment, we can begin to discern what is constantly shifting and changing and what is consistently present and stable and begin to know the difference. In our eternal search for happiness, this is a very essential milestone on our journey back to the source of all being.

The silent power of a mountain can help us to recognize the unshakable power within.


Read More in Masters, Mice, and Men
Volume Three in the series; Shades of Awareness