Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Very Grateful Leopard

Bhopal, Feb 8 : A day after a tiger was rescued from a well near Nagpur, a year-and-half old leopard was Tuesday extricated from a well in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh after a six-hour rescue operation, officials said. “When I reached my fields in the morning around 7 a.m., I heard a sound from the well. I looked and found a leopard in the well,” said Chaganlal, a farmer. Chagan informed the forest department. But soon, a large number of villagers gathered near the well. They made many attempts to take out the leopard, but without success. “Later, we used a cage and successfully took out the leopard from the well,” said B. S. Annagiri, the forest conservator. The leopard would be released in the Dewas forest area after a medical check-up. On Monday, a full grown adult tiger had fallen into a 40-feet-deep dry well near Nagpur. He was rescued after a three-hour rescue operation.(IANS)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Death Of A Pope

When they hear the word ‘pope’ people in much of the world think of the prelate in Rome. In actual fact there are several other popes, each claiming primacy in the Christian world, although the Roman pope is the only one claiming to be infallible in theological matters. Pope Shenouda III of the Egyptian Church rarely got in into the news in the West although his recent death has been widely reported, probably because of the political situation in Egypt. He was an interesting man who had been both a monk and a desert-living hermit before being elevated to the papacy 40 years ago. There has not been a hermit Roman pope since, I think Celestine V some 800 years ago. I suspect that monks and hermits might be less efficient in running a church than theologians, diplomats and priest-bureaucrats, but that they might make up for it by their spirituality. The Coptic Church is as ancient as the Roman church although its practices, rituals, chanting, etc, have remained much less changed, some going back to the early days of Christianity. May this gentle monk/priest rest in peace. This video is a brief over summery of Pope Shenouda’s interesting life.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Of Metta And Monkeys

Some people think that a few weeks of meditation and all their problems will be solved, that their
life will be uphill all the way from then on. This is not correct. Regular meditation will certainly brings about positive changes in you but this does not mean that you will never have problems. You will. Likewise, some people think if they practice Metta Meditation that ill-will, resentment, angry brooding, vengefulness or petty irritation will never besmirch their heart again. This is not the case either.
Back in the early 90s I spent a few months staying in a temple in Delhi. I had been given a room with an old Tibetan monk who had been living there for several years. In the beginning I was a bit adverse about sharing my space with someone else but he was a kindly old man and we got on well together. He meditated for an hour every morning and I would join him. We had interesting talks about Dhamma and although he was not deeply learned he had a lot of meditation experience. At this time I was focusing a lot on Metta Meditation and making a point of being as compliant, helpful and considerate as I could to everyone in every situation. This proved easy with Lamaji (that’s what everyone called him) and most of the others in the temple. But even out in the street,purchasing things or using transport I did so too, with a fairly high degree of success. As a result of my practice I had achieved a state of considerable serenity, with occasional periods of bliss. I was very encouraged by my practice.
One day, for reasons I can’t remember, I decided to visit the New Delhi Zoo. When you know how the poor in India live it’s not surprising that the zoos are so dreadful. The animals in this zoo were confined in tiny cement cages or squalled compounds and they looked underfed, mangy and unhappy.When I got to the chimpanzees’ cage there was already a bulky man there with his little daughter. She had a bag of bread crusts and he was carrying a long green stick. The chimp had seen the crusts and expecting to get something to eat it had come up against the bars of its cage and was staring intently at the little girl. The man took a piece of bread from his daughter, held it out, and when the chimp reached for it he whipped its hand with the stick. The chimp screamed in pain and then jumped up and down with rage. The little girl squealed with delight and then her father lashed his stick back and forth across the bars driving the chimp to the rear of its cage. I was utterly horrified, not just the man’s viciousness, but also by the appalling example he was settingfor his daughter. In a frenzy of indignation I snatched the stick from him and told him what I thought of him. He stared open-mouthed at me for a moment and then began loudly shouting back at me. This ugly altercation continued for some time, a small crowd gathering to watch, until eventually we stomped away from each other exchanging is accusations was we did. All the way home I was in a state of enraged agitation, my mind racing with angry thoughts. Back at the temple I buttonholed the first monk I saw and recounted the whole incident to him. His failure to be as indignant as I was did nothing to sooth my rage. I went to my room, sat on my bed and tried to calm myself down. As my anger receded it began to dawn on me that all my previous months’ practice had completely failed. ‘Good god! What have I done! What must those people at the zoo thought when they saw me, a monk, red-faced, shouting and waving his arms around?’ I began to feel absolutely miserable. By the time Lamaji returned I was thoroughly depressed. He sensed that something was wrong, asked me what the problem was and I told him. I finished by saying; “I should have never opened my mouth.” “No Bhantji you did the right thing” he said. “But you did it in the wrong way. It’s hardly a surprise. You’re not an arahat or a bodhisattva. You still have defilements and you will have for a long time to come. But your growing, your changing and your sincere. I have seen it even in the short time you have been here. That man at the zoo probably still doesn’t realize the wrong he has done and he’s probably proud of shouting you down. You are sitting here feeling sorry for what you did. That means the Dhamma is already changing you. In the future you’ll continue making mistakes, you’ll give in to temptations and provocations. Don’t be too hard on yourself. As long as you keep your resolve, as long as you keep your faith in the Dhamma you’ll be okay.’ He got up, patting the top of my head as he did, and made us both a cup of tea. His words did not make me feel much better but in the next few daysI thought more about them and I knew he was right.
The Buddha said. “Just as the great ocean slopes away gradually, inclines gradually, without any abrupt precipices, even so this Dhamma and discipline is a gradual doing, a gradual training, a gradual practice.” (Ud.54). It is unrealistic to think that just because we do Metta Meditation and try to act with of kindness that we will never again lose our temper, get irritated or find ourselves making harsh judgments of others. We all commence our journey on the Eightfold Path carrying different baggage, we all proceed along it at a different pace, and we all pause to rest in different places. While maintaining your commitment to the spiritual life you should also be patient with yourself and not overestimate your progress. When anger overwhelms you, as it sometimes may, be aware of the work still needed but also remind yourself that you are slowly but surely moving forward.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Hill Of Jewels

Ratanagiri is the biggest and highest of three hills, the others being Lalitagiri and Udayagiri, situated some 50 miles from Bhubaneswar in Orissa. Each of these hills has extensive Buddhist ruins on them. Major excavations of the ruins were carried out by Debala Mitra in the late 50s and her Ratanagiri remains the definitive account of the place’s history, architecture, sculpture and inscriptions. She uncovered several large stupas, hundreds of smaller ones, one main monastery and several smaller ones as well as dozens of fine Buddha and bodhisattva images. It is thought that the Kalacakra Tantra was composed in Ratanagiri and it was likely to be the last functioning Buddhist centre in India.

I spent two days exploring the Ratanagiri/Lalitagiri/Udayagiri ruins in 1989 and was fascinated by the place. It was very remote in those days and getting there required wading across the nearby river. A nearby village family put me up for the night. The tourist boom in India has now stimulated the authorities to do further excavations, build a nearby museum and construct better access roads. But the three hills are still rarely visited. A friend of mine in Vienna, Herbert Lotz, has recently returned from Ratanagiri and sent me some photos he took while there, which I reproduce with his permission. His other photos can be seen at

There are more photos of Ratanagiri at

Monday, March 5, 2012

Holy Holi

Holi is the Hindu festival marking the beginning of Spring. Have a look at these extraordinary pictures of the celebrations of Holi. And a Happy Holi to my Hindu readers.