Sunday, May 20, 2007

qaStaH nuq?

Before the wrath of Katrina washed lost dogs into Dakini Valley, altering its texture forever, I lived here on my own. For the most part, anyhow - although one is never truly alone, if you open your eyes, ears and heart. Certainly my beloved Gypsy Rose was a living tangible presence who helped me through some tough times.
In the second year of my residence, another ordained came to live here for a period of time, as a fix-it guy; an incredibly handy and kind monk. Although we had different roles and tasks to accomplish, we worked together whenever was needed. We both wished to maintain the beauty of Jetsunma's retreat home, and recognise the sacredness of the Valley. At the beginning it was a wonderful time, but one of the potencies of this Valley is that it brings forth aspects of yourself that might otherwise lie hidden. It amplifies the clutter and reactions of the mind, so you can see and taste them more clearly. On top of that, in those days life here was very basic - no electricity, no phone, certainly no Internet access. It was a challenging environment in many ways. And although as ordained, we perhaps try and be more conscious of our behavior and view, having robes also helps to ripen circumstances and reactions, as with a magnifying glass.
So over time our relationship soured, to a place of tension, discomfort and certainly not one of friendship. For my part, in retrospect, I understand the degeneration a little better now, the aspects of myself that contributed to the decay of kindness. But at the time, as is so often the case, we were simply embroiled in a dance that brought no-one benefit.
Jetsunma came on retreat at some point during this, and of course was aware from the moment she arrived - before even seeing either of us - that something at the Valley was terribly wrong. To my heartbreak, she said that it was the first time she had come to the Valley and felt sad; and the cause of that was my lack of devotion. When her attendant passed this on to me, I was stunned. I cannot describe how it felt - shock, horror, anguish. My heart torn out. The realisation that I had no idea what devotion truly is, nor that it can be absent and you be unaware of its disappearance. It has nothing to do with what anything looks like from the outside, and is so subtle that even inside it can fall into a dark crevasse and you never know. I did not doubt for one second that it was true - because the greatest blessing in my life is Jetsunma, and I know and trust her in a way that transcends any relationship of this world. She is my breath, my thought, my awareness, my life. Through her presence in my world, I have begun to learn about the truth of existence in a language without expression, but one of absolute certainty and clarity because it is inscribed on every cell of this, my body.
Jetsunma - in her boundless kindness - on hearing of the tension that had manifested between us put some very practical solutions in place, as well as passing on messages to us both. She moved me down to live in the original homesteaders cabin, so that we had space from each other. When I thanked her, sobbing, for showing me how hard and dry my heart had become, she said "I want you back. It shows you what a difference one heart can make."
The other instruction - told to me 3 times, to make sure i really got it - was that I was to watch videos. Not teaching, Dharma videos, but movies; things to make me relax, to soften my rigid mind. It may seem like an odd request, but that is the magnificence of a teacher as pure as Jetsunma, that you can be sure whatever it is she offers, it is the only thing to do.
I think it can be challenging for us in the west to understand the Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhist path, which pivots on - and only on - the relationship between student and teacher. This is the foundation and the source of accomplishment of everything. And it may not look 'spiritual' as we would like to comfortably define it - practice, prayers, contemplation of teachings. It will simply look like whatever is needed and appropriate, and that can be anything.
So, I diligently watched videos from Jetsunma's collection here - and it was fun! I have never been much of a movie goer, and of course had taken my 'spiritual path' pretty seriously; now I could let my non-existent hair down, and feel OK about it. Not all of the movies were maybe my taste, yet as they were from Jetsunma's personal library, each was food for thought.
What quickly became my favorite was the massive collection of Star Trek, Deep Space Nine; I soon became a resident there, knowing the people and places as if it were my hometown. I savoured each episode, enjoying the script, the visuals and most especially the thought provoking story lines: about time, space, reality, existence, conflict, race - often providing a contemplation that followed the contours of the Buddhist Path, without being an overt, traditional teaching. I loved it, watching them in random order, so that early episodes would arise after later ones, proving how it had developed over time into a rich community where actors seemed to become their characters. My favorites (for any DS9 trekkies) were perhaps the fringe dwellers, who displayed facets and edges of personality that defied simple categorisation: Quark, Ducat, Garrick (apologies for spelling inaccuracies). Something about them - the fact that on the surface they may seem unpleasant or untrustworthy, yet certain situations would prove the complexity of who they were: that there is no simple good or bad in anyone, but layers of habit and potential.
Worf, too - the mighty Klingon warrior, struggling astride the divide of culture and history that was never easy to reconcile. How many times is that played out in real life, as we try to come to terms with how we have been brought up, what we feel, how we now live and who we choose to walk this life with. Day in, day out we have opportunities to see and learn ourselves as complex beings, with trembling, confused hearts, trying to make sense of our lives.
The phrase at the beginning of this post, which I laughingly discovered on edamommy's contemplative blog, where Buddhism is explored in many ways, may have been written by Worf himself, as a method to uncurl the hardened corners of his heart. It is the mantra of Chenrezig, om mani pedme hung, written in Klingon! I loved discovering this, because it opens every door, blurs the lines, makes you think. And invites you to simply laugh. Nothing is fixed, nothing is real. The potency of Chenrezig and the compassion he displays will permeate time and space in possible and impossible ways. Nothing is immune - no race, no language, no country - whether they exist or not, it doesn't matter. The possibility and potential is ever present, everywhere, all the time. Right now, as you breathe: there it is. That's the joy!
Watching the videos was a process of contemplation and devotion on many levels, beyond my understanding. I learned a little more about myself, about the breadth this spiritual path encompasses, of needing to soften and relax so that the rigid chinks of what I believe to be true, or just so, can break apart. The armour of resistance or supposition or unarguable definition or 'i am right' with which we clothe ourselves on a daily basis, often has nothing to do with the essence of compassion and wisdom that is our true nature. But we don't see that, because we live inside it and just accept it to be our reality. It isn't. Somehow seeing that precious mantra in Klingon is a tease, reminding us not be be fixed in our views of what is possible. Because anything is.

Monday, May 14, 2007

the diamond of gratitude

The chain of hearts has blossomed. Not only with the kind comments on this blog, for which I thank you, but Melanie's dedicated search found someone in LA who was wanting to adopt one or two of Ms Wu's dogs, preferably an older dog; she read the last post, and is in love. It hasn't been finalised yet, but what a wonderful unfolding; I will let you know of the progress.
When I emailed Ms Wu to follow up on Tooky's questions, this is what she said. Apparently Lucky is a she!
It seems right when I named her Lucky. I think she would be afraid of cold weather in winter. I never put clothes on her coz it’s not too cold in winter here. She must had suffered a lot before she showed up in my school. She has to be taught to live inside a house. She’s always been friendly and enjoyed the sunshine in corner quietly. She never barks loudly, and only leans towards me at meals with excitement. In general, she’s a tender dog with good behavior who never causes any trouble.
I think I am in love, too!! It did cross my mind what my 3 would think, but LA is much better, not only due to the cold of winter, I would also worry about rattlers, and besides I have to let my heart love them all!!
Tia's comment also reminded me that I haven't thanked everyone for helping us secure the land on which we will build a beautiful, sustainable animal sanctuary. I know some of you were able to make cash donations, and others held us in your thought and prayers. To every one of you, i say thank you. I cannot articulate what this means, it is a gift of life, hope and awakening, for each and every one of us.
When I was young, my mother made me write thank you cards; a task I resisted and whined about, especially for gifts I didn't especially like - why thank them for That! She, however was adamant, and so i chewed my pen and wrote " Dear Aunty.....". I also had to write thank you's to school comrades for birthday party invitations, regardless of it was someone i liked. It seemed an odorous, endless task.
However, now that I have passed the age my mother was when she enforced this rule, i understand the power of thank you. It doesn't matter what the gift or event was, or if I enjoyed it, it is an expression of gratitude for the thoughtfulness of the giver, for the kindness of the heart.
This was brought vividly alive for me through the work of Masuru Emoto on the effects of prayer and positive thought and words on the crystal formation of water; you can see the difference that extraordinary. Here is his response to the question of whether he had discovered a particular word or phrase that best helped the natural waters of the world:
"Yes. There is a special combination that seems to be perfect for this, which is love plus the combination of thanks and appreciation, reflected in the English word gratitude. Just one of these is not enough. Love needs to be based in gratitude, and gratitude needs to be based in love. These two words together create the most important vibration. "
The purity and beauty of the crystal, as seen above, mirror the effect on our hearts, and the world, when we respond with love and gratitude to the thoughtful words and acts of others. It becomes a gift reciprocated - fluid, boundless. It is a gift that takes little effort, and yet its value is immeasurable. We, too, consist so much of water - imagine these diamonds in our cells!
I am grateful to my mother for engraving this idea in my mind, although it has taken decades to recognise its value! But that is the magnificence of even the smallest gift of kindness - it ripples through our lives, shedding jewels at unexpected moments, sometimes in dark, neglected corners of ourselves. To be able to say thank you is a blessing and a promise, it reflects the space in which something of benefit was received, and becomes the space for such a gift to again be welcomed, perhaps by someone else. The lines between the giver and receiver are blurred, there is simply the pure and perfect vibration of gratitude, which describes the hearts of us all.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

the second miracle


I want to share a story that has broken my heart open, a story of one person who has made an immeasurable difference to a corner of the world that many of us may never visit.
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Melanie - a kind-hearted spirit, whose reason for getting our of bed in the morning is to be of benefit to animals in need. This is not her day job - this is the voice of compassion which exists in us all, yet sometimes we are deaf to it. She has listened, and acted. She contacted Tara's Babies about 30 dogs in Taiwan who will be killed if homes are not found. Her call touched my heart, and I spontaneously said yes, to ten - how could I not, because the vivid story of selflessness that is unfolding around me makes me catch my breath with inspiration.
The dogs in Taiwan are housed in a dog garden in a school yard. Lucky, whose picture no doubt shocked you as it did me, is one of these dogs. Ms Wu, a teacher at the school, cannot bear the suffering of animals, and two years ago set up an animal rescue, operating from the school. She finds dogs in terrible condition - sometimes one heartbeat from death, as Lucky was - and nurtures them with love, tenderness, vet care, and food. She teaches them to trust, to know that people can love as well as harm. When ready, she takes them to adoption parties, where hopefully they find loving forever homes.
It is an amazing display of courage and dedication - some of the stories of catching the animals show her determination to bridge that stream of distrust and terror that separates dogs on the street from a future home. She does this, because her heart allows her no option, but to act when there is terrible need.
But, Ms Wu's dogs are no longer safe - they are tied to the railroad track of impending change, and the locomotive is bearing down fast; Ms Wu is going to retire, and the Principal has said the dogs will be euthanised. Saved once, and having learned to recognise love and trust, their lives will be cut short. This is what Melanie cannot let happen, and neither can I.
Ms Wu writes touching stories from the dogs perspective - here is a little of what Lucky has to say:
I am waiting for the second miracle in my life.
I was lying down at my last gasp in front of Yang Mei Senior High School, simply wanted to bask in the sun for the last time. On the verge of death, I was gently held in a pair of warm arms, which brought me to the dog house. I heard someone talking tenderly, and was given a bowl of meat and some clean water.
Then I went to the hospital and was told that I’ve got a serious folliculitis, which has damaged my cortex. The doctor was not very optimistic about my condition. However, mummy Jia-jen kept her hopes up— after all, I could still eat a little bit. She started to feed me lots of nutriment twice a day.
It’s about half a year before the crust of my wounds began to fall, and the jet-black hair started to grow. Although my hair would never be as thick as normal dogs, it’s a whale of difference comparing to the outfit I’d got when I was homeless. I feel getting better not only physically but also mentally. I relax a bit when I get along with mummy, and hum in a good mood when she takes me out.
I walk about freely in the dog farm and get on with other dogs peacefully. I have gotten used to stay quietly in a corner to avoid unnecessary bully for one year and a half.
I am about nine years old now, my hair won’t be able to grow completely due to the necrosis; therefore, I probably will not even have a slight chance to get a new home. Mummy says to me gently: ‘Sh, don’t you worry about it. I promise to take care of you to make up for what you have suffered.’ However, she could not keep her words anymore, because here comes the new principal and the dog farm is forced to close along with the mummy’s retirement. She could not bring me home since she’s already got ten dogs.
I never hate any person or dog, and just want to stay in the corner belonging to me. I have no other wishes but to bask in the sun, however the wish of simply being alive does not seem to come true easily.
I really long for the second miracle taking place sometime soon— somebody could take care of me while I am old and ailing like a candle guttering in the wind, and bring me the love I once had but will lose soon. Oh my dear lord, please tell me, is it really going to happen?

Ms Wu is worried for all her dogs, so the ten she has chosen to come to Dakini Valley are healthy and adoptable - she sees a good future for them, and says, " You even give a hand generously to me who is far away in foreign country; it’s been so lucky for those ten dogs who can be reborn in Tara ’s Babies. I won’t worry about them anymore in future, since I know that they would rest in a warm harbour. I can’t express how I feel with words right now" . What an unimaginable choice to have make - who will live, who may die - for beings you have nurtured and nourished from death already.

I asked her about Lucky: "He doesn’t like barking or exercising, neither does he cause too much troubles. I wish Lucky could have a happy life in the U.S. Lucky does not have much hair even though Ive been feeding him nutrition food. The doctor says that the his hair follicles have died. He would still need continuous medication and observation once he gets there. I am not sure if it is OK with you or would it cause too much trouble?

I want to save Lucky, but worry that with his hairless old body, he would find our winters too cold; until we build our new shelter, we have nothing appropriate to offer. So this is my plea - some of you live in places that are warm, where the air is softened with moisture, and the sun shines. Or your relatives live in this climate. And you have friends and neighbours who live in your street, your town, 50 miles away. And some of them have a yard where an old dog could rest. And they are willing to tend to the needs of an old greying dog, who was once a bag of hairless bones, and now wants only love and safety.

Our planet is littered with lives of suffering, so why Lucky - why this dog? Why not? Compassion and suffering have neither boundaries, nor limits. They are present in our neighbourhood, our daily lives, and they are familiar to people and animals hidden from our view. The story of Lucky is not unique, but it is a story we can write the ending to. We can be the miracle. And if we make a difference, even only once, we have changed the face of this planet, and the texture of our hearts, forever. I want to find him a home, where he can bask in the sun until he dies a natural death, so that the chain of kindness which links my heart to yours, and your to Ms Wu's, and hers to Melanie's, and Melanie's to her neighbour.... is entwined around the earth, unbroken.

Please help me find a home for Lucky. His transport/paperwork to the US will be arranged, and we will find a way to get him to you, to his home of love, and his resting place in the sun. When Ms Wu heard even ten of her dogs could be saved, she said,"Suddenly I feel the world is full of wonderful and adorable things and there are so many angels helping me and my dogs out. I've cried my eyes out, with tears of joy and appreciation."

Be an angel, be the second miracle. Contact me about Lucky, or any help you can give for any of these dogs, at

The reward will be more than one life saved, it will be the seed of a different future for us all.