Friday, July 1, 2016

From ‘the rainbow road. From Tooting Broadway to Kalimpong Memoirs of an English Buddhist’ by Sangharakshita

[by Dennis Lingwood: 1925-till date]

You asked, ‘What is this transient pattern?’
If we tell the truth of it, it will be a long story;
It is a pattern that came up our of an ocean
And in a moment returned to the ocean’s depth.
Omar Khayyam
(?1050 - ?1123)

As is usual in Indian bookstalls, pornography and religion rubbed shoulders. An English translation of the Bhagavad Gita …. was keeping company with The Adventures of Erotic Edna and Hindu Art of Love (Illustrated). Later, especially in South India, I often found articles on God-Realization and frankly-worded advertisements for aphrodisiacs printed side by side in the same magazine. India believed, apparently, in impartial catering for all tastes.

Sometimes I walked several miles along the Agra-Delhi road before getting a life from a passing army truck. The flat, rocky landscape, barren save for the tender green of stunted thorn trees, had a delicate austere beauty which touched me more deeply than anything I had seen in England. Lush meadows and leafy woods seemed, in fact, rather vulgar in comparison. It was an aloof, aristocratic landscape which somehow suggested centuries of culture and refinement.

Sri Ramakrishna’s wife, popularly known as the Holy Mother…Her room, now preserved as a shrine, was the purest and the most peaceful place in Calcutta…

….Singapore ….The Indian quarter, a small island in the sea of Chinese humanity, was the dirtiest and the most unsavory section of the entire city.

From Audrey’s brother-in-law, a high-ranking police officer, I heard a story which I liked even less, and which made me ashamed of being English. It concerned the Dacca communal riots which had occurred more than twenty years earlier. In great detail, and with every evidence of satisfaction, Dave described how, step by step, agents provocateurs had stirred up Hindu against Muslim, and Muslim against Hindu, until half the city had been set ablaze and hundreds murdered. Much as the story shocked me, I was still more horrified by the laughter which followed. Uncle Dick, Audrey, and Audrey’s sister Gladys were kindly, good-natured people. But Dave’s story of how the police, in order to prevent the two Indian communities from forming a united front against the government, had resorted to tactics which can be described only as vile, seemed to fill them with nothing but amusement. Did they, then, have a double standard of morality, one for use among themselves, the other to be employed in dealing with Indians?

All over India, during the last twenty years, people knowing nothing of Buddhism, who never in their lives opened a Buddhist text, have told me with an air of authority, ‘Buddhism is the same as Hinduism.’ It may be. But uninformed insistence on the point betrays either a pathological basis or plain intellectual dishonesty.

Friendships as a rule ripen quickly in India.

….[Ma Anandamayi’s] Ashram was rigid in its observance of caste distinctions, especially as between brahmins and non-brahmins. All could, indeed, sit together in the hall, and all could join in the singing of the divine names; but the members of a lower were not permitted to eat with members of a higher caste…..The Ashram rules, as far as he knew, had been framed by Anandamayi’s chief disciple and manageress, Gurupriya, a woman of the narrowest and most rigid orthodoxy……
…Having heard from her disciples that Banerjee was really a brahmin the Blissful Mother [Ma Anandamayi]asked him whether, as was the orthodox custom, he wore his sacred thread and recited the Gayatri Mantra thrice daily. This, we learned later, was a standard question, for she was strongly in favour of the strict observance of these practices by all brahmins. … subsequent conversations she could not be brought to admit either that she approved or that she disapproved of the restrictions observed in the Ashram. Each time she extricated herself by adroitly covering philosophical evasiveness with an exercise of personal charm. The latter was of so extraordinary a quality that our dissatisfaction at her failure to give an unambiguous reply to our main question always ended by being subtly dissolved in the delight we could not help feeling in her fascinating presence. …I noticed she seemed to carry on with her disciples, male or female, young or old, a sort of spiritual flirtation. Such a procedure was quite in keeping with the ideals of Bengal Vaishnavism… So highly charged was the atmosphere surrounding Anandamayi, of so many eyes was she the cynosure, that her slightest word, look, or gesture could give rise to repercussions, and become the subject of animated discussion, for days and weeks afterwards. Devotees to whom she playfully tossed a flower almost swooned with emotion. Any special favour shown to one disciple threw the rest into paroxysms of jealousy….We soon discovered that, after being divided from the non-brahmins, the brahmins themselves were subdivided into three groups, each of which ate separately. What the principle of this subdivision was I do not remember; but Anandamayi ate only in the presence of the first-class brahmins, one of whom…..had to feed her…..After lunch the Blissful Mother…..If she called for a glass of water non-brahmins had to withdraw for a few minutes while it was poured down her throat.

A verse in the Ramacharita Manas of Tulsidas …. declares that a Shudra ….should be despised even though possessed of all virtues; while a brahmin, though committing all sins, should be worshipped.

….both Anandamayi and her more intimate followers not only tolerated, but actively encouraged, the observance of the caste system in all its rigid exclusiveness……both Anandamayi and Gurupriya wore sacred threads. Since the custom of investing female brahmins with this insignia of caste status had died out more than 1,000 years earlier, the fact of its revival indicated orthodoxy of the most pronounced type…..according to the best Hindu tradition….. ascetics, whether male or female, are casteless, the sacred thread being one of the articles consigned to the flames at the time of initiation. ….Membership of certain Vedantic orders is indeed restricted to brahmins.

However disinclined Banerjee and I felt to accept Anandamayi as god incarnate, we saw no reason to question the fact that she lived in a state of consciousness that transcended the waking state as much as the waking state transcends sleep, or that she possessed psychic powers of the highest order. Gurupriya’s seven Bengali volumes of reminiscenses…..related hundreds of anecdotes of inedia, levitation, telepathy, clairvoyance, prophecy, and other supernormal phenomena ……Several anecdotes related to phenomena witnessed not only by Gurupriya but by one or more of the other ashramites.

According to the Buddhist tradition, it is the fourth dhyana, or superconscious state, which is the ‘base’ for the development of supernormal powers, so that any person regularly manifesting such powers may be assumed to have made considerable progress in meditation (shamatha-bhavana)

At Anandamayi’s suggestion, each of us maintained a spiritual diary wherein, immediately after each meditation session, we recorded the degree of concentration attained, the kind of mental distractions that had arisen, and any unusual experiences that might have occurred.

No one in the world, we felt, could be more charming than Anandamayi.

….my friend, who like most Bengalis was loquacious and sociable……

Like most Hindus who have received a little education he believed that the marvels of modern science had all been anticipated by the ancient Hindu saints and sages and described in the Hindu sacred books. ….His belief gave him an emotional satisfaction that no argument could be allowed to disturb.

In Kishengunj eye-witnesses had related how a truculent devotee once challenged her to show what difference there was between herself [Ma Anandamayi] and an ordinary person. Calling for a shovelful of burning coals, she dropped one into her open palm and without the slightest changes of expression in her laughing face allowed it to burn there for several minutes…..On examination it was found that her hand had been badly scorched.

Though all Indians are by nature so warmly hospitable that it may appear invidious to make comparisons between the people of different provinces in this respect, Punjabi hospitality is overwhelming even by Indian standards.

…..our meditations…Often we spent the whole session in a dull, semi-conscious twilight state from which we were aroused only when our heads jerked forward heavily ….known as yoga-nidra, or yogic sleep …..Beginners are warned not to mistake it for the superconscious state of samadhi. It corresponds, in fact, to the subtle physical world, or astral plane, and with practice, shadows may be discerned moving about in it though in depths of gloomy water.

….on Independence Day, 15 August 1947, I was invited to address the public meeting that was held at Kasauli ….That even in such a remote place everybody should think it right and natural that an Englishman should be asked to speak on the great occasion showed not only how little room for bitterness there was in Mother India’s heart now that independence had been achieved, but also with what nobility of spirit the struggle for it had been waged.

Tibetan Buddhists believe that the appearance of a rainbow is one of the most auspicious of signs….

Though not strikingly beautiful, Trivandrum, with its trees and gardens and open spaces, is certainly one of the most attractive cities in India….

…. [Kerala] The Untouchable fisher-folk had been Christianized….

In India, particularly in South India, people rarely feel at ease with a stranger until they know his caste, language, income, marital status, and family history. Should this information not be immediately forthcoming, they do not drop the matter, as people in most other countries would do, but they do not drop the matter so vigorous and aggressive as to suggest that they have a right to know….Hindu society consists of about 2,000 castes….Until a Hindu knows a man’s caste he is uncertain whether or not he may eat and drink with him, or even touch him. So acute is the discomfort created by this state of uncertainty that orthodox Hindus, especially brahmins, will go to almost any lengths of rudeness in order to wrest from the uncommunicative this vital secret……Malabar (that is to say, Travancore and the adjacent Malayalam-speaking areas) we found even worse in this respect than Tamilnad. Once we had told a Tamil brahmin that a sadhu possessed neither caste nor nationality the matter could usually be regarded as closed. Not so with the Malayalis. They insisted on pursuing the argument to the bitter end.

….Malayalis had an inordinate passion for attending lectures.

…a Malayalam proverb … ‘If you meet a brahmin and a cobra, kill the brahmin first.’

Among the members of the Ashram was a Nair woman …..There were five or six children in the house, but no man. Her husband, apparently, was always out. One day, …we found a handsome, fair-complexioned young man lounging against the railing….he was the father of the children…their mother, who was his concubine. He was a Nambudiri brahmin. Among the Nambudiris, he explained, only the eldest son was allowed to marry a Nambudiri woman and inherit the ancestral property. The younger sons, ….were not permitted to marry. Instead, they had to keep Nair women as concubines and visit them in their own homes. Caste restrictions, however, were still observed…he told us that he was not permitted to touch his children, nor take so much as a glass of water under his concubine’s roof……..Such was the prestige of brahmins in general, and Nambudiri brahmins in particular, that an alliance of this kind still reflected great honour on the family of the Nair family concerned.  ….the present Maharaja [of Travancore] himself being the product of a liaison between the previous Maharaja’s sister and a Malayali brahmin. …..facilitated by the fact that Nair society was organized on a matrilineal basis, with property passing not from father to son, but from maternal uncle to nephew…..Nambudiri girls were treated with extreme strictness… If a girl so much as looked at a strange man, she was finished. Public announcements would be made of her crime, with the information that on a certain day, at a certain hour, she would be expelled…..As the time drew near, men of various castes and communities would gather expectantly…..the door would fly open, the girl would be flung out….The men would then fight for possession of the girl. Whoever seized hold of her first had the right to carry her off. Henceforward she belonged to him. Being fair-complexioned, which by Indian standards automatically meant beautiful, such girls were in great demand, especially among Muslims.
The Nambudiris …..Judging by what we heard of them they were distinguished mainly for their extreme socio-religious orthodoxy and for the extent of their philanderings. According to a Malayalam proverb a Nambudiri brahmin took three ceremonial baths a day and enjoyed four women. Another Nambudiri characteristic was that they had no inhibitions about nudity…..One of the commonest sights of the day in villages of the interior, we were told, was that of a group of Nambudiri brahmins squatting after their bath under the mandapa, ……all deep in discussion, and all stark naked. Mindful of the fact that Shankaracharya, the great non-dualist philosopher, had been a Nambudiri brahmin, I enquired what it was they usually discussed. ‘Sex,’ I was told, ‘nothing but sex.’……… Younger sons were growing restive, and a number of them had, in fact, become Communists.

Occasionally….we had poppadam…rice-flour cakes ……There was caste in poppadams. One could buy brahmin poppadam, Nair poppadam, Eazhava poppadam, and Christian-Muslim poppadam….

As with most Malayalis, ….cultivation of the soil was in his blood…..

In Travancore, as in other parts of India, Untouchables were not allowed to use the ordinary Hindu personal names. Instead they were known either by the names of birds or beasts or by such denominations as Dirty, Ugly, Stupid, Thief, and Rascal …The reason they were not allowed to use Hindu names was that these usually incorporated the name of a god or goddess, and the names….were much too sacred to be defiled by association with the Untouchables …Swami Vivekananda’s famous exclamation when travelling in the same part of the country half a century earlier. Malabar was a mad-house!

Satyapriya and I were far from approving Swami Agamananda’s abuse of the Virgin Mary, but we knew that he was only retaliating for the attacks that Christians of all denominations (except the Syrians) had long been in the habit of making on the morals of Sri Krishna and other Hindu gods ….

Very much to my regret, I had to admit that so far I had been more fortunate in my contacts with Hindus than with Buddhists. Among the Buddhist monks I had met there was none who could be compared with the Yoga Swami of Jaffna, or with Anandamayi.

Fasting helped to destroy craving, not only craving for food, but for material things in general…..the idea of fasting for a whole week seemed slightly suicidal……we need not have worried. On the third day, as the stomach reached the limit of its contractions, we felt extremely hungry ……Occasionally there was a slight fever and dizziness (due….to expulsion of toxins)…Towards the end of the week,….we felt light, almost weightless …..the mind, once its initial reactions had subsided, became calm and bright. There was no desire to do anything, and no desire not to do anything ….During these and subsequent fasts we consumed only water, with perhaps a few drops of lime juice…..

Toothbrushes and toothpaste had been replaced by the cheaper and no less effective margosa twig and rolled mango leaf.

Later on something …..stranger happened….having finished my meditation, I opened my eyes to find myself surrounded by seven or eight tall black figures …..six or seven feet tall, naked ……each …..possessed a pair of enormous white saucer eyes…..looking down at me….expressive of an indescribable mournfulness, of an infinite hopelessness and sadness …….Rising to my feet, I walked straight through the figures ………Later I concluded that the figures I had seen must have been ….pretas, or hungry ghosts ….Though I did not know it at the time, I ought to have spoken to the pretas and asked them what the matter was and whether I could do anything for them….

Though like Anandamayi both [Swami] Ramdas and Krishnabai were brahmins by birth, no discrimination on grounds of caste was practised within the Ashram precincts. Indeed, none was allowed to be practiced.

….Ramdas turned to the subject of pranayama. To practice this without a teacher…..was the height of folly. ……On our enquiring whether the traditional warnings were to be taken literally and whether one could actually become insane as a result of practicing pranayama, Ramdas replied in the affirmative. Cases of people losing their mental balance due to forcible methods of breath-control were by no means uncommon, he declared, especially in South India…..he strongly disapproved of pranayama ….for the vast majority of people, constant repetition of the name of God was far more beneficial.

No less interesting …..was an elderly ascetic who lived ….in a cave …With him in the cave lived a huge cobra, who not only shared the milk ….but coiled up beside him at night on the rude stone couch that was the cave’s sole furniture…..

….Tiruvannamalai ….Virupaksha Guha ….associated with the early life of the Maharshi. …..the place had and atmosphere of peculiar intensity.

….Yalahankar Swami had an expression of compassion such as I had seen on no other human face…..spoke with a conviction and authority I had rarely if ever encountered. …Egotism could be overcome only by the prolonged experience of Samadhi, by which he meant, not meditation in the ordinary sense of the term, but a superconscious state in which all sense of separative individual selfhood was transcended.

According to a widespread Indian belief, shame, in the sense of sexual modesty, was one of the very last fetters to be broken by the disciple in his quest for spiritual enlightenment, with the result that those who practised religious nudity were traditionally held in high esteem by both Hindus and Jains.

Sringeri….was the seat of Shankaracharya……The Math had vast landed properties in every part of India,….gifted by kings and merchant princes over a period of many centuries, and its annual income amounted to millions….it owned practically all the sandalwood forests in Mysore…..despite the fact that the original Shankaracharya was a Nambudiri Brahmin from Malabar, for some centuries past the Shankaracharyas of Sringeri Math had been drawn exclusively from a particular sub-caste of Telugu Brahmins living in the Andhra country….As a result…the office of Shankaracharya had become in effect the private appendage of that community, the members of which considered themselves entitled to dip into the Math’s treasury as frequently as they pleased…..

Unless they were cornered, leopards rarely attacked human beings, but the hyena, a killer born, had no such inhibitions.

…we halted at a well and asked a woman who was drawing water there to pour some into our lotas or brass pots. Respectfully she refused. She belonged to the Chamar or leather-worker caste…..and for high-caste holy men like ourselves contact with anything that she had touched would mean pollution….. could hardly believe our ears. The woman at the well was saying exactly the same thing as the Matangi woman had said to Ananda, cousin and personal attendant of the Buddha, 2,500 years ago, and saying it in exactly the same circumstances. History was repeating itself…. India had not changed much since the days of the Buddha, it seemed.

Our next stop was at a Muslim house. …the occupant…..told us to go round to the back door. If the Hindus saw

…Newars [Nepal] …Some of these songs were of great beauty….for sheer emotional appeal they far surpassed anything I had heard in India, the note of hysterical abandon which had so repelled me at Anandamayi’s Ashram was completely lacking.

Kashyap-ji ….preferred the ‘rationalism tinged with mysticism’ of the Theravada to the ‘mysticism tinged with rationalism’ of the Mahayana…

From ‘Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party’ by Pran Kurup

….Delhi Golf club (DGC)…is situated in the heart of Delhi on almost two hundred acres of prime land, which is leased by the central government. In 2012, the lease period was extended till 2050 ….It was revealed that the land roughly valued at Rs 46,722 crores had been leased to DGC for a paltry sum of Rs 5.82 lakh per annum through 2050. ….the central government was not only providing a significant subsidy to the DGC, but also locking up a valuable publically owned asset without any benefit to the general public. Not surprisingly, the DGC has on its board of directors a host of central government nominees. …offers a stark and deplorable look into the kinds of hidden subsidies that exist only to benefit the wealthy few.

….Arvind has publically stated that he was not in favor of going national and did not want to contest the Lok Sabha election…he had deferred to the rest of the AAP leadership, and the democratic decision was to take the plunge. In hindsight, …the decision turned out to be flawed. ….with just one star campaigner, the decision was fraught with failure.

I suspect that Prashant Bhushan, because of his frequent absence and his apparent “wavelength differential” with the team, psychologically drifted away from this group slowly ….before all hell broke loose. Yogendra Yadav, with his more erudite style and persona, struggled to fit in as well…..A lot of left-leaning intellectuals joined AAP, post IAC and post Delhi 2013. Many of them have ties to Yogendra Yadav and Prashant from their previous careers. This group …….sees itself as being intellectually superior and, to some extent, looks down upon the rest who have come through the ranks….
….Prashant…had very limited time to campaign during Delhi elections. The reason for his back-seat role might have been genuine lack of time, but it fueled rumors and deepened the wedge between the two factions……..

Most of the problems faced by AAP boils down to ….when you need volunteers (of the committed kind…….) you have none. So eventually, those who are available and around, sooner or later, become the go-to guys for the leader.
…….the much maligned coterie, despite its shortcomings, is what makes AAP work. The results of their hard work are seldom advertised or appreciated, but their mistakes are routinely blown out of proportion.

Shanti Bhushan’s assertions – that Yogendra Yadav should be made Convener, his backing of the disgruntled AVAM group, his assertion that Kiran Bedi was a better CM candidate, etc. – badly hurt the party and incensed the volunteers…..Yogendra Yadav…..had struggled to fit into the “cultural core” of the AAP. It was mostly an issue of style and lack of a personal connect with people who were a lot younger and less inclined to intellectualizing everything.

While the PAC meetings were typically scheduled to suit Prashant’s timings and availability, he was not always able to attend. When Prashant did attend, the meetings frequently descended into shouting matches, rendering them completely ineffective and ultimately damaging to internal harmony. So eventually, the meetings were anabdoned……

Following the election, Prashant and Yogendra did not publicly recognize AAP’s victory, or attend the inauguration to partake in the party’s success…

Arvind has, from the very beginning, always enjoyed the support of the majority of the party and its volunteers. His leadership, though perhaps ineffectual at time, is the leadership that the AAP and its supporters want…..

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

From ‘The Edgar Cayce Handbook. For creating your future’ by Mark Thurston, Ph.D. and Christopher Fazel

This mental body is the living memory of all the thoughts, attitudes, and actions that you choose – moment to moment – throughout your life……Cayce maintained that the mental body becomes your home when you are finished with your current physical incarnation! In other words, after death you live in the body that you have mentally built during your life.

Your peak moments in life provide clues about your core spiritual ideal.

….the human soul requires meaning….Viktor Frankl….While an inmate in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, Frankl found that the prisoners who had a reason for living were the ones who were able to withstand the most horrible conditions imaginable….Cayce’s readings encouraged people to find a purpose in life bigger than themselves and then to work responsibly toward it. ….We should stop asking what we expect from life, he counseled, and instead ask what life expects from us.

…..finding your soul’s purpose…..
1. What is your spiritual ideal? In your peak spiritual moments, what have you recognized to be the highest truth about yourself and about life?
2. What are your key talents and abilities?
3. What words capture the essence of your mission? …..Your mission statement should more precisely fit your talents and the contribution you are here to make.
4. How will you put your mission statement into action? ….Formulate a plan that involves two or three practical initiatives that will test the accuracy of your mission statement….

….Russian acting teacher Konstantin Stanislavski …… “There are no small parts, only small actors.”

The Sumerian king Ur-Nammu in the third millennium B.C. saw to it “that the orphan did not fall prey to the wealthy, that the widow did not fall prey to the powerful, that the man of one shekel [a monetary unit] did not fall prey to the man of sixty shekels.”

….anthropologist Margaret Mead …. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The Cayce readings placed an unusual value on names ….In one instance a woman…..never liked her name and wondered if a change….would help their relationship. Cayce disagreed, suggesting they make no change because their very names were significant……..At other times, ….Cayce recommended that people might benefit from such a change. ….Cayce often supported the idea of changing a name to stimulate new influences or “vibrations”……

……….The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus……..Many of the sayings in this book are also found in the official Gospels …. “You see the mote in your brother’s eye, but not the beam in your own eye.”

Grace is much more accessible than we may realize. For example, to one man plagued by stress, Cayce promised that in a mere thirty to sixty seconds of meditation the man could contact inner strength and vitality. That’s how accessible the grace of God is to us all!

From ‘An Italian Education’ by Tim Parks

Perhaps more so in Italy than elsewhere. Children are magnets for women’s attraction. ….Italy, for all its faults, must be one of the most civilized places in the world for a child to grow up.

….Dr Maroni …..mentions French and Russian experts, American research centres. Such references score highly in an insecure country that doesn’t quite believe it could itself be responsible for any major scientific discovery.

Generally, it is not easy to make appointments in Italy, since it is important for the person offering a service to appear to be extremely busy, and hence successful. Any shortcomings in the service, in terms of slowness, will thus seem to be a guarantee of its qualities. I have even had a courier service in Verona tell me that they cannot come to pick up a package for forty-eight hours because they are so busy, and of course they are so busy because they are so fast.

As part of the obsession with security that manifests itself in tall iron fences defending bristling vegetable patches, prescription for every medical test under the sun an instinctive fear of any food that does not form part of the traditional national diet, it has become a generally acknowledged truth in Italy that a couple should not embark upon a family until they own the bricks and mortar they live in. …… In gioia e in lutto la casa e tutto, says the proverb – In joy and in grief, the home is chief.

….in all the years I’ve been in Italy, while the housing market in the UK has gone through the roof and then under the floor, I think I can safely say that property here has always been a seller’s market, so greedily is it desired, so rarely sold once gained…..

bisogna fare sacrifice per i figli – one has to make sacrifices for one’s children.

It is not common to see Italian men pushing kids’ buggies around the streets. If they are doing so, it will be in the company of their wives, usually with a slightly bent and beaten posture, waiting to be free.

The elderly ladies use little dialect words to express their affection. Babies are public property. They tweak his nose and pinch his cheeks…….a girl is kissing him and putting his cap straight and feeling how chubby his knees are. Clearly it is quite wonderful being an infant in Italy, so much so that one fears nothing will ever be quite so good again ….

Within five minutes of its birth the child has already been smothered in diminutives, many invented: sinfolina, ciccolina, ciccina ….It must be one of the areas where Italian most excels: the cooing excited caress over the tiny creature, uccellina, tartarughina ….Little birdie, little turtle…..

The nights were spent, as the Italians say, in bianco – in white - awake

….the glass of wine I’ve drunk is beginning to take a few corners off the world….

… Frate Indovino, a sort of calendar cum almanac, says:
‘Your son. From nought to five he is your master, from five to ten your servant, from ten to fifteen your secret counsellor, and after that, your friend – or your enemy.’

Children, Rita remarked, ….were perhaps healthier in German-speaking countries, but certainly sadder.

…..there is no man in greater trouble than an Italian husband who has been careless enough to let a child catch a cold. It’s far, far worse than mere desertion or problems with alimony

…..a large number of Italian couples have all four grandparents at their beck and call.
The availability of nonne – grandmothers – is then further increased by the fact that women in Italy retire at fifty-five (in the civil service the age of fifty), and in fact have all sorts of incentives for getting out even earlier, thus leaving millions of healthy and frighteningly energetic middle-aged grannies with nothing but time on their hands.

……Italy has the most generous maternity leave regulations and the most enlightened system of pre-school care of any country I know. Everything, it seems, is done to make child rearing easy and attractive. And still the birthrate falls.

Pilotato is a favourite word in the Italian press. It refers to the way some decision-taking process may be secretly manipulated – piloted – by those with personal interests, a sort of sophisticated technical euphemism for the more brutal English ‘fix’.

Just as the Italian household must be perfectly clean before one can relax in it, so the sky must be scrubbed an immaculate blue, every smudge of cloud polished away, before one can feel safe, before one can feel that the universe is behaving as it should, that things are fair…….

The Italian countryside is never just landscape or nature trails, never just a scroll, but full of roadside gods, reminders, little idols, so that you can hardly take your children out of the house here without discussing religion, life, death, and, above all, miracle.

It’s incredible how early schools start giving hours of homework in Italy, how seriously and traditionally they teach grammar and maths. It warms a parent’s heart.

….in England the women often do the gardening. But not here. Here it’s the man’s escape. Monks are famous for their gardening.

It’s hard to spot a man with his child.

…what is it exactly that the Italian mother does to generate this extraordinary bond, this wonderful and wonderfully sick phenomenon that the Italians call mammismo. ….Well, I suppose most of all what Mamma does is be there…….. Mothers may be away at work during the week, but they are there during the weekends when Daddy isn’t. …They don’t want the children to be out in the hot sun, in the cold air, they don’t want the children to be over-tired, to fall off a mountain, fall I nthe river, or, even worse, miss a proper meal. When a father does take the children out, on his return he will have to hear: ‘Oh, but he’s exhausted, he’ll be ill…look at the scratch on his elbow……’……. A father taking his child out on a walk, on a trip, is a man on probation. His wife’s thoughts stalk him everywhere.

All’amore dei figli, non c’e amore che somigli….To the love of children, no other love can compare.

The tradition of feeding stray cats is old and strong all over Italy….

On official occasions Italians come out of a sense of politeness, and to be part of lo spettacolo, but not to listen……The headmistress…pulls out her speech…she proceeds to read, as all public speakers do in Italy, for there is no merit attached here to the ability to think and speak on one’s feet ….I always find it curious that though Italians are wonderful performers in their private lives, in public they actually strive to plod….

How Italians love diplomas, commemorative documents of every kind! Diplomas for having gone to a skating course, for having taken part in a volleyball competition, for being present at the inauguration of some institution or other. It’s rare to do anything in a group in Italy and not end up with a diploma…..

Italians have a lovely expression for getting things both ways, they talk about having ‘your wife drunk and the barrel full’; i.e. she’s off your back and you can drink to your heart’s content. Or, you’ve made your wife happy without even spending anything….

…….I weighed Michele’s school backpack one morning. Five kilos of books…
But however heavy they may be, their backpacks will never smell of sandwiches, because the food is so good no one would ever dream of opting out of school meals. Or rather, the mothers would never dream of letting the authorities let the food get so bad that anyone would want to opt out.
And they’ll never smell of football boots either. For school offers no games, no extracurricular activities. There are no music lessons, no singing lessons, no school choir, no carpentry for the boys and cookery for the girls, no hockey, no cricket…no sports day, no school teams. The school doesn’t, as it does in England, pretend to offer a community that might in any way supplant the family, or rival Mamma……There is no assembly in the morning, no hymn singing, no prayers, no speech day….if children want extracurricular activity of any kind, they have to go outside school; the parents have to look for it, and take them there …..and pay.

On every banknote it says, ‘THE LAW PUNISHES THE MANUFACTURERS AND DISTRIBUTORS OF COUNTERFEIT NOTES’. It’s one of those warnings that, rather than instilling terror, just reminds you how common the crime is, suggests it almost……….

….hundredandtwentythousandlire …..numbers are always written together in this cautious country to prevent anybody adding anything in between…..

….an Italian father can make no greater mistake than not making sure his children have the appropriate footwear for any trip that takes them away from their mothers.

….like many Italians of his age he can’t swim; he never learnt…..

….caring what…people think…seems to me …a peculiarly Italian anxiety. I never used to worry so much in London….

…..further down the Italian boot, where life is wilder,….the newspapers will report on mafia bosses being arrested because they have come home to spend their holidays by the beach they like best, near their mothers ….The Mediterranean epic, from Ulysses on, was ever one of return.

…Pescara, an apparently unprepossessing seaside town ….a town …I believe has more to tell us about Italy today than all the monuments of Florence, Rome and Venice put together…..

…the key to every official discussion about an Italian holiday is pretending that it is undertaken entirely for health purposes, whereas all the images you actually seem, on those posters, on TV, and later on the beach itself, are screaming Fun, Pleasure, Sex….

…..if someone does swim seriously, it is a boy. None of the girls seem to swim. The girls stand at wading depth….

….its a generally acknowledged truth in Italy that a man cant be expected to look after children on his own for more than a couple of hours….

….while it is tru that in summer, and above all on holiday, most Italians like to have a siesta, it is equally true that children the world over do not.

…Stefi …informs me that when her friend Francesca had a little baby sister it was because their parents bought it for her. This is the euphemism parents use in Italy. ‘We’ve decided to buy you un bel bambino

Azzurro is the colour of all Italian national sports teams who are always known as Gli azzurro, the blues.

….it crosses my mind that Italians have as yet made none of those concessions to other cultures the British have: turbans on ticket collectors and chadors in the nursery. Life’s bric-a-brac here is still solidly Catholic. But the sense of inertia is growing. The immigrants are milling at the train stations, and the Italians are mislaying their rosaries amongst the clutter of their economic success.

….the Italian expression for ‘prince charming’ is principe azzurro – a sportsman…

What always surprises me…is how Italians will go off to pet and canoodle in groups, large groups, occasionally breaking off and shouting jokes to each other. They have none of the trepidation and secrecy that seemed such an inevitable part of the package in my adolescence.

The radio will tell you that nearly forty percent of Italian thirty-year-olds still live with their parents.

…..he announces, as if it were the world’s greatest truth, ‘Gli schiaffi dei figli sono carezze per i genitori.’ ….. ‘A child’s blows are caresses for the parents.’ After a silence of about ten seconds we both burst out laughing….

‘No better place to grow up in Italy,’ I tease him… father-in-law is quick to correct me: ‘No better place,’ he says, ‘not to grow up!’

Saturday, June 11, 2016

From ‘Kaleidoscope City. A Year in Varanasi’ by Piers Moore Ede

…it was in Varanasi (known as Kashi in the scriptures, or more recently Banaras) that the full possibility of what India might be seemed to announce itself. Here was a vast experiment in human cohabitation that had been going on for five thousand years; a river city containing every facet of humanity, every creed, colour, caste, both astonishing beauty and the most harrowing ugliness and desolation. Here was the madness of India, as well as its wisdom, the sublime poetry of its spiritual traditions and the dirty imbalance of corruption. Here were Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Sikhs, as well as infinite sects pre-dating any of these major traditions, but which persisted happily within the larger whole. All of it combined as the city itself: one entity, a composite of spirit and form.
Until then I had supposed India was essentially unfathomable: it was too fast, too swiftly changing to yield to any categorization. In Varanasi….it seemed abundantly clear that there was something unique about the place, an energetic quality….There was an intensity to the alleys and the dust, which was part of the makeup of the citizens themselves, the most passionate, lively people I’d ever encountered

…in Varanasi that energy seems more highly charged: spinning faster, amplified somehow so that basic human tasks such as simply going to buy rice become shattering experiences of navigating two-hour traffic jams, throwing oneself against the side of an alley to avoid being crushed by a roaring Tata motorbike, or weaving between unruly cattle in the course of crossing the street. The crush of human numbers, the crumbling medieval architecture built upon and compressed by concrete structures, the hissing charge of frayed electric wires used as ropes by monkey troupes, the appalling pollution and a thousand other environmental factors combine to make the city an alchemist’s crucible, transmuting all who live there. Should you, after returning home across the city, wipe your face with a white cloth it will be stained black from the traffic fumes. Your lungs burn, your eyes stream, your stomach purges, and yet despite all this your spirit soars.

Though almost everything ever written about the contemporary city seems to use the word ‘chaos’, I found an unexpected serenity in these narrow galis – some of them too slender even to allow two people to walk abreast….Walking these mohallas, getting lost, and almost always finding a profound hospitality and kindness, was a key way I got to know the city.

And yet, despite this, the simplicity of life in the old medieval alleys, the poetry of the city’s rituals and beliefs, seemed to me to represent the best of India, the best, perhaps, of the human condition. There was a straightforward friendliness to the people there, a jocular sense of humour.

Virtue does not grow easily in Banaras. And vice has no better place. For all come here to burn.
-          Raja Rao, On the Ganga Ghat

‘Fire has a cleansing capacity,’ continues Gupta…. ‘which is why the bodies of children are never burnt. They’re already clean, you see: their souls are pure. In those cases we merely take them to the centre of the river, attach a large boulder to them with rope, then tip them into Ganga. The Holy Mother will carry them home. Sadhus are not burnt for the same reason.’

…how could a young man bear the austerities such a life [a sadhu’s] would entail? India seems to allow for such behavior like nowhere else on earth, I think.

Though prostitution is officially legal in India, related activities such as pimping and operating brothels are not. Historically this has allowed the industry to thrive, while relegating the sex workers to a murky legal grey area, denied even access to normal labour laws.

A folk saying from these parts warns: ‘Beware the four perils of Kashi: widows, bulls, steps and holy men.’

Between the eleventh and the seventeenth centuries, virtually all of Banaras, was demolished by successive invaders. In the late twelfth century Qutb-ud-din Aibak, a former slave who became a sultan, almost levelled the city to the ground, destroying more than a thousand temples in the process. The sixth Mughal emperor Aurangzeb razed many more, including, in 1669, the Kashi Vishwanath temple, Hinduism’s holiest site

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

From ‘four seasons in rome. On twins, insomnia and the biggest funeral in the history of the world’ by Anthony Doerr

…a headline from the newspaper: Marriage and Children Kill Creativity in Men? ……Here’s Einstein himself: “A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of thirty will never do so.”

…I ….read…..Pliny’s Natural History. He is half-genius, half-lunatic….The more pages I turn, the more I find an endearing sweetness in Pliny; he is so curious, so ardent. The elephant’s “natural gentleness toward those not so strong as itself,” he writes, “is so great that if it gets among a flock of sheep it will remove with its trunk those that come in its way, so as not unwittingly to crush one.”

Near the vegetable market we pass a man holding hands with a little girl. She gazes at the boys [twin boys of the author] with a bright, impersonal wonder. Her father whispers something to her as they pull even with us; she laughs; it is as if skeins of love are passing invisibly between them. And suddenly the gulf between me and the Italians of the neighborhood seems navigable ….

….a Tom Andrews poem… “The dead drag a grappling hook for the living. The hook is enormous”

“Habitualization,” a Russian army-commissar-turned-literary-critic named Viktor Shklovsky wrote in 1917, “devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war.” What he argued is that, over time, we stop perceiving familiar things – words, friends, apartments – as they truly are.

The oldest building in Rome with its original roof still intact is the Pantheon, rebuilt atop an older, fire-damaged temple by the emperor Hadrian around AD 125….Its doors are twenty-one feet high and weigh eight tons each. The sixteen columns on its porch are thirty-nine feet high and weigh about sixty tons each, roughly the weight of two fully loaded eighteen-wheelers, crushed and compacted into a cylinder five feet across. The columns…were quarried in eastern Egypt, dragged on sledges to the Nile, rowed across the Mediterranean, barged up the Tiber, and carted through the streets of Rome. They are ocean gray, flecked with mica, glassy and cold….The vault of the Pantheon is made of concrete and has a diameter of 143 feet…..For thirteen centuries, it was the largest dome in the world. For nineteen centuries, it has resisted lightning strikes and earthquakes and barbarians.

Neither [of the twins] seems very interested in food. Both want to be held all the time. Is this what it means to be a parent – to constantly fail to be in control of anything?

In 1890, in New York City, a drug manufacturer named Eugene Schieffelin, who wanted to make sure that every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays was introduced to America, released eighty starlings in Central Park. A hundred and fifteen years later the United States alone has 200 million – and angry wheat farmers and flocks sucked into jet engines and histoplasmosis, a respiratory disease that originates in starling feces.

….Christmas ….gifts …The Italian ones are easy to find: wrapped gloriously. The Italians could wrap a used textbook and make it look like gold and frankincense.

…..mushrooms, how the stems and caps we eat are only fractions of the real organism. The vast percentage of any mushroom, it turns out, lives underground, in a network of extremely fine fibers, or hyphae, that prowl the soil gathering nutrients. A single cubic centimeter of dirt might contain as much as two thousand meters of hyphae.
Rome is like that, I think. The bulk of it lies underground, its history ramified so densely under there, ten centuries in every thimbleful, that no one will ever unravel it all.

… are fifty times more likely to die on the roads in Rome than you are in Los Angeles or London.

Out here in Umbria, perhaps even more so than in Rome, you begin to get a sense of how long Italy has been home to humans. Everywhere we walk there are centuries-old groves and sleep-soaked farmhouses and ruins of walls.

Watching teething babies is like watching over a thermonuclear reactor – it is best done in shifts, by well-rested people.

A line from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead comes back to me. “There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”

Olive oil was the muscle, hair tonic, soap, and lamp fuel of the Empire, the flavor of its meals, the illumination of its dramas…. Soothe a toothache, alleviate stretch marks, grease a chariot axle, cool your scalp, anoint a dead Christian…..

“Italians,” our friend…says “will stop anything for pleasure.” And the longer we’re here, the more we feel he’s right. Expresso, silk pajamas, a five-minute kiss; the sleekest, thinnest cell phone; extremely smooth leather. Truffles. Yachts. Four-hour dinners.

Romans discuss death over dinner; they wait in line to examine the corpses of their dead heroes; they take the arms of revered old parents and escort them through the parks on Sundays. Six or seven times, since coming to Italy, I’ve seen young people on park benches reading novels to grandmothers. I’ve seen hundred-year-old women picking stolidly through eggplants at the market…..

What is Rome? …..Its a feast every damned week. Its maddenly retail hours. It’s a city about to become half old-people’s home/half tourist museum. Its like America was before coffee was “to go,” when a playground was a patch of gravel, some cigarette butts, and an uninspected swing set; when everybody smoked; when businesses in your neighborhood were owned by people who lived in your neighborhood; when children still stood on the front seats of moving cars and spread their fingers across the dash. It’s a public health-care service that ensures assistance to both Italians and foreigners in an equal manner ……Its an economy in recession, the lowest birthrate in Europe (1.3 children per woman), 40 per cent of thirty-to thirty-four-year-olds still living with their parents. It’s a place where stoplights are open to interpretation, lattes should never be ordered after lunch, and a man is not considered a failure if he’s forty years old and still spinning dough in a pizzeria. It’s a country where parents let their kids play soccer in the streets and walk home from school unaccompanied, where your first thought when you see an adult man talking to a child in the street is not necessarily Child molester.

….from the poet Belli: “I’m not myself when I exert myself.”

Roma, they say, non basta una vita. One life is not enough.

From ‘All Kinds of Magic. One man's search for meaning across the modern world’ by Piers Moore Ede

All kinds of magic are out of date and done away with, except in India, where nothing changes in spite of the shiny, top-scum stuff that people call ‘civilization’.
(Rudyard Kipling …)

….Environmental writer Gregg Easterbrook …wrote: ‘capitalism renders its chosen covetous, insecure, unfulfilled, constantly twitching…Materialist obsession has performed the amazing feat of making unprecedented abundance unsatisfactory to its beneficiaries.’

Despite enormous poverty and social problems, the Indians seemed to have an awareness of their place in the scheme of things very different from our own. Although anxious neither to idealise the East nor demonise the West, I couldn’t help but see a thread of meaning in Indian life, long since exorcised from my own culture. It was the meaning provided by religion, and it was evident in a thousand sparkling details on any given day: a rickshaw wallah touching his statue of Ganesh before a journey, a smouldering incense stick or the Muslim call to prayer, echoing through the dawn. Despite having been an atheist for as long as I can remember, I found this intensely moving.

Inside my rational empirically driven culture nothing was allowed a significance beyond itself. But in India, the opposite felt true. Everything, both animate and inanimate, was filled with a living spirit.

Like nowhere I’d ever been, India seemed to shine in my mind’s eye as somewhere alive with possibility.

……sadhus …..They lived life on their own terms. Their obsession with their inner journey was such that they’d given up everything to pursue it. They were romantic figures without the burden of possesions, worldly ambition, money of any kind. ….They weren’t trying to ‘be’ anything, unlike the rest of us. They were interested in absolute freedom and that suggested a sort of evolution to me.

In the East, religion has always been more about practice and experience than dogma……What was important for these pilgrims was not so much the writtten scriptures of the canon of any specific tradition. It was the idea of religion as practice, as lived experience bringing one closer to God. ….Ramakrishna, the Bengali saint of the nineteenth century. For him the scriptures were ‘a mixture of sand and sugar’ and science ‘mere dirt and straw after the realization of God’. Learned people, to him, were like wanderers in an orchard, who count the leaves and fruit and argue over their value instead of plucking and relishing the crop.

…a Swedish Indologist… ‘The opening up of the self to the mystical realms of consciousness can be very dangerous,’ he said, ‘because it leaves the practitioner open to all kinds of influences. That’s why sadhus are always drawing boundaries around themselves. They do it with their lines drawn in the earth, by sprinkling water and by sitting before fire. This protects and grounds them. It purifies everything it touches.’

I realized that the Indians made no distinction between a foreign sadhu like Ram and any of the others.

‘Jadoo is certainly there,’ he said. ‘But you’ll never see it outright…… It’s seen as a display of ego to show off one’s powers. The only reason people do it is to nudge the common man from his dream, get him thinking that there’s something else going on in the universe. …..there have been occasions, yes, when I have felt myself subtly manipulated, moved in various directions. There’s no doubt in my mind that powerful forces are at work. We call them siddhas, actually – the power to control, through yoga, the subtle energies. …..dedicate yourself to the most rigid austerities under the tutelage of a guru. And the irony will be that when you finally gain the ability to perform these feats, you’ll realize how irrelevant they are.’
‘What is important then?’ I asked
‘Merging with the Absolute,’ said Ram. ‘Nothing else.’

For now, India remained the best place in the world to follow a mystical path……

Until now, India has yet to impose those strict barriers between the animal and human worlds that render Western cities so particularly sterile. To see a cow garlanded and sleeping between rows of traffic, a temple monkey receiving prasad or vultures descending upon the Towers of Silence, is to feel connected still to a larger web of life, the Indian gods, too, in all their animal forms, remind us that the natural world is one of the most obvious manifestations of the divine we have.

The contrast struck me as amusing, for it is all too often the case that despite our comparative wealth by Indian standards, we travelers are invariably dirtier and less well presented than even the poorest peasant….Our scruffiness and sheer disarray never fail to baffle the spotlessly clean Indians, whose very religion equates worldly cleanliness with spiritual purity….

‘It is true,’ he muttered, ‘that I find a lot to admire in the Indians. They are so kind, no – even to someone like myself. But more than that, they see God so clearly, don’t you think? More than any other country in which I’ve travelled. They see Him. One can be walking through the poorest slum and this woman will step out, so beautiful, and light incense before a statue, and then she is set, you know, knowing that all is OK.’ …. ‘They know something, I think,’ he chuckled, lapsing back into badinage. ‘But its out of reach for someone like me.’

And yet despite the ambiguity of India, or perhaps merely its complexity for someone like myself, it was by far the most absorbing place I had ever been. Religion, as I had learned it in childhood, seemed to divide the world into two halves: one sacred, one profane. In India that division was gone. Here everything was sacred, everything was set apart for the worship or service of God. People say Him everywhere – in elephants, in river stones……

The town of Dras in Kargil district has the dubious distinction of being the second coldest inhabited town in the world.

…Leh valley, Kushok Bakula Rimpoche airport, the highest commercial landing strip in the world…..

….its the Ladakhi people who enliven their surroundings. Weather-worn like almost no other people on earth, they bear the distinctive pink complexion of high altitude dwellers, as well as the most evocative smiles I’ve ever encountered.

….a young man, lean and dark from the fields, and an old woman, yellow-eyed; both projecting that interested but non-judgemental stare that I’ve found all over India.

In Hinduism, after the three main stages of life are fulfilled (student/householder/retirement) a fourth may be adopted – that of sannyasin or renunciate. While most men defer this final stage to a future life, the most ardent bid farewell to their families and possessions and set out, during their final years, to find detachment from all worldly pleasures and thus draw closer to moksha, enlightenment or liberation from the wheel of rebirth. As a cultural institution, it is perhaps the greatest signifier of just how much orthodox Hinduism venerates the spiritual quest.

While Hinduism has numerous weird and wonderful subgroups, its largely a devotional religion in which everyone finds their own form of the divine and pours all their human energies into its worship…..

At lunchtime we stopped at a dosa stall, where there were lines of makeshift tables and benches, beside which sizzling pans fried the fermented rice-batter pancakes, with their distinctive sour taste, which are such a feature of the South Indian meal. In all my worldwide travels I have never known such good value. For just five rupees (three pence) it was possible to eat as much as one wanted.

Soul drunk, body ruined, these two
sit helpless in a wrecked wagon.
Neither knows how to fix it.
And my heart, I’d say it was more
like a donkey sunk in a mudhole,
struggling and miring deeper.

But listen to me: for one moment,
quit being sad. Hear blessings
dropping their blossoms
around you. God.

I spent several hours at the [Hazrat Nizamuddin] dargah that morning. Certainly it was one of the most vivacious places I had been to in Delhi….

…although Turkey was the place where the great mystic [Rumi] lived and died, and his image is still used in the glossy pamphlets of the tourist board, the practice of Sufism is illegal in Turkey, punishable by imprisonment. While the rest of the world is experiencing an unparalleled mystical resurgence, Turkey, it seems, harbours old grudges still…

….Istanbul …Out of a city of fifteen million, perhaps six million live in …shanty houses built without permission, foundations or amenities. Largely populated by economic migrants from Anatolia……

….gliding into the Bosporous. At 17 miles long and just 700 yards wide at its narrowest point, this has been one of the world’s most strategic waterways for millennia.

I died a mineral, and became a plant.
I died a plant and rose an animal.
I died an animal and I was man.
Why should I fear
When was I less by dying.

….Ataturk…wanted to cut off all ties with tradition…
‘Before Ataturk?’ I asked. ‘What percentage of Turks practiced Sufism?’
He considered for a moment. ‘At that time Istanbul had a population of about 500,000 people. For that number there were some 360 dervish lodges open. Based on what we know, approximately 90 per cent of the city’s population were affiliated to a tekke!’

‘……..When they ban Sufism they are opening the gates for radicalism.’ ….Sufism, in itself, represents a notably liberal and pluralistic interpretation of Islamic doctrine…Rumi. ‘Love’s creed is separate from all religions,’ he wrote. ‘The creed and denomination of lovers is God.’ Certainly, Rumi’s own path to the divine was Islamic, and yet he excluded no one on a different route.

It was in Konya, on the central Anatolian Plateau, that Rumi had spent his life. For the pro-European, Western-facing Turks, Anatolia is often described as ‘backward’ these days….In Rumi’s time, the city was the capital of the Seljuk empire, a liberal, highly creative hub of spiritual and artistic thought. Today, it’s the most conservative town in modern Turkey: sleepy, producing cement, carpets and fertilizer, home town of Necmeddin Erbakan, the nation’s most famous hard-line Islamic politician, and indeed one of the places where he found his strongest support.

Some Islamic modernists go further still, rejecting Rumi altogether. Their principal complaint, it seems, is in Rumi’s assertion of absolute unity with God – called Wahdat-ul-wujood in Sufism. From the earliest origins of Sufi mysticism, this notion has caused problems. That anyone should claim absolute unity with god smacks of heresy, a lack of humility. In times gone by, many Sufis were put to death for such statements, such as Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, also known as al-Hallaj (the wool-carder), who was beheaded in Baghdad for having uttered ‘Ana ‘l haqq’ – I am the Truth.

One sure sign of a poor cup of Turkish coffee is to get a mouthful of grounds in the first sip…

‘……Rumi compared the Koran to a bride. “Although you pull the veil away from her face, she will not show herself to you,” he said.’
‘Then what is the trick?’
A chuckle. ‘Stop pulling!’

….Rumi lived in times similar to our own in many ways, with wars and strife… They, like the Sufis before and after them, rejected conventional beliefs. God is in our hearts, they claimed. He is not in the mosque or the madrasa or in the pages of books. He is within us……

….Idries Shah wrote:
Cross and the churches, from end to end
I surveyed: He was not on the cross.
I went to the idol temple, to the ancient pagoda.
No trace was visible there.
I bent the reins of search to the Ka’ba.
He was not in the resort of old and yound.
I gazed into my own heart.
There I saw Him, He was nowhere else.

The philosopher Colin Wilson speaks of our normal waking consciousness as a ‘robot’, a creature which goes through the motions of life with only occasional glimpses of the intelligence within. For the Sufis, that ‘intelligence’ is God, and in their rituals they find ways to reconnect precisely because of its ability to convey the essence of that experience, the sheer exuberance of connectedness.

Perhaps as many as 25,000 years ago, during Palaeolithic times, the hunting cultures of Siberia and Central Asia coined a word, saman, defined as a technique of ecstasy. From this came the word ‘shaman’, meaning religious leader, priest or healer, but more specifically describing someone with the ability to enter trance states in order to gather knowledge in the non-human realms.

Shamans spend years in the most arduous training in order to explore and penetrate layers of consciousness. They are the masters of expanded awareness, with infinitely subtler, more penetrating understanding than our own.

‘Are you a god?’ asked several men to him, shortly after his enlightenment. ‘No,’ replied the Buddha. ‘I am awake.’