Thursday, March 15, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

My friend, the beggar of Manju Ka Tilla, Delhi, India

In December and January I spent three weeks in Delhi and Bodhgaya, India. These were three of the most wonderful weeks of my life. I really love India, and I felt so at home there.

The first week I stayed at the New Peace House in Manju Ka Tilla, the Tibetan enclave in Delhi.

Manju Ka Tilla is an enclosed series of narrow streets, and alleyways, with apartment buildings, and one square, where there are two temples.

It's such a magical place.

On my first day there, I met a beggar. He had very thin legs, supported by a plastic contraption, probably the result of polio, which hasn't been eradicated in India. This man started walking beside me at one point. He was mumbling something, but I couldn't make out what he was saying. It took me a minute or so, and then I realized that he was asking me to buy him a blanket.

When I understood what he was saying, there was no choice for me. I was so overwhelmed, and on the verge of sobbing.

Along the main street in Manju Ka Tilla, there is a long row of vendors. Many of them sell colorful blankets. He and I and stood side by side, right next to the stalls of women with stacks of blankets piled onto wooden tables.

So I said, yes, I'll buy you a blanket, and we walked over to one of the women. I asked her how much the blankets were. She said, 300 rupees, and I told her that I'd like to buy one. She asked me which one I liked, and I said, oh no, it's not for me. It's for him. Gesturing to the beggar, I asked him which blanket he liked. He picked one out, and I paid.

The next two days, I saw him a few times. Each time, he was so happy when he saw me. One of the times he was sitting on the walking bridge that connects Manju Ka Tilla with the neighborhood across the busy road, Punjabi Basti. He smiled, and reached his hand out. My friend! I was also very happy to see him, smiled back, and shook his hand. That was the last I saw him.

He told me he had a wife and two children. The day after I bought him the blanket, I noticed that he was wearing a new jacket that looked like leather, and I wondered if he'd traded the blanket for a jacket. But I didn't care. He must've needed a jacket. I wondered if he really had a family, or if he was just saying this so that I would buy him a blanket. But I didn't mind.

There are always beggars sitting on the bridge from Manju Ka Tilla to Punjabi Basti, many of them in worse condition than the man I met. Some of the people have open sores. There are children, mothers, men, all of them rather dirty, and genuinely in need. In fact, Delhi must have hundreds of thousands of beggars.

Whenever I gave a child a coin, a package of cookies, or a bunch of bananas, he or she was always so happy. The child would skip, or trot off in joy. It was really satisfying giving something to children in India, just to see the joy on their faces. It made me happy, too.

There are a surprising number of people in India with deformed legs, many of them beggars. It didn't occur to me while I was there that they had polio. Now I realize this to be the case. I couldn't understand how there could be so many people with emaciated and deformed legs. Someone told me that they'd all been maimed by a kind of mafia that then coerces them into a life of beggary. I'm not sure about this, but there certainly are many people with polio.

The people in India are really beautiful, though. It's a wonderful country.

I am looking for a job now, and I hope to find one soon so that I can start saving up for my next trip to India.

Monday, November 21, 2011

You Can Be Happy, too.

Here I am again, though I've nothing to write about.

In the past I used this blog as an occasional outlet when I was feeling rather down. But now it seems like—on the odd occasion that I do write something—I am here because I am really fine.

So anyway, I am still not too sure what the purpose of keeping this blog is, but I guess I'll just keep it for now.

When people in the United States have nothing special to discuss, they often talk about the weather.

The weather in Holland is very misty today. It's been misty and nearly freezing many days of late. It also hasn't rained at all the month. Not a drop. So I guess the dikes are at a low level, and there's a drought.

I'm happy with the drought though because we need a new ceiling in our kitchen. It leaks when it rains.

It's just as easy to be happy as it is to be unhappy. Happiness is really only a state of mind, and so is unhappiness. In order to be happy, you have to change your way of seeing. Nothing external can lead to happiness. You can feel a temporary sense of happiness from something outside of yourself, but that sense of happiness won't last unless you have a sense of overall contentment about your life situation.

We think we need all kinds of things in order to be happy, but really, this is not the case at all, since happiness lies within the mind.

If you want to be happy, it's also very important not to harm yourself or others. Harmful actions stem from the mind, so take a look at what's in your mind. Remember that if you harm yourself or others, you will be miserable, so try to avoid harm at all costs. This is very important for a happy life.

Whatever you have, wherever you are, you can be happy, as long as your mind is happy. You don't need anything other than what you have right now. The past is gone, so forget about it. Move on with your life from the present moment. Be kind to others, and kindness will come back to you.

If someone does something to you, try not to retaliate. Retaliation will only make matters worse. Instead, realize that that person also has his or her own problems that led him/her to commit such an action. Remember that harmful actions stem from the mind alone, so then you can go back and think, well, that person must be experiencing pain or unhappiness in his/her mind, and that's why he/she did that. This way you can feel a sense of love for that person, along with the wish that he/she will be able to experience happiness in the future.

Try to remember that we are all essentially the same. We all want to be happy, and we want to avoid suffering. Everyone wants happiness, but rather than creating the causes of happiness, we continually create causes for unhappiness, and that is harm, pain, negativity. So it's better to just stop all of this.

Try to realize your own value as a human being. We all have the same potential for good, and that includes you. So there's no need to put yourself down, or to see yourself in a bad light. You are a valuable person, and you have good qualities, so be happy about that. In order to increase your sense of worthiness, try to think of little things you can do to help someone else, or to help yourself. This doesn't have to involve spending money.

If you mess up, or make a mistake, try to forgive yourself. Forgiveness goes a long way. You can forgive others, and you can forgive yourself. Forgiveness is a form of love. You'll be doing yourself a big favor if you can really learn to forgive. Holding grudges only harms your mind, and since happiness is in the mind, you'll just be unhappy, so whatever it is or was, accept it, forgive, forget.

We can all make small contributions, and it all begins in the mind. You can do it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Infrequent Blogger is Happy


Like many bloggers out there, I have neglected my blog. There are times when I think, well, perhaps it would be better to just delete all of my blogs from the blogosphere. After all, does anyone really read my blog? And do I have the dedication to continue posting. I'll leave these questions open.

The other issue is, at times, well, what IF someone read this blog, and realized that they knew me. I might become embarrassed at my candidness, and occasional willingness to reveal details of the struggles I face as a woman in a foreign country, separated from family, lacking the usual support system most people take for granted.

But then I ponder, isn't that what many blogs are about? We all have our personal challenges, and some of us choose to blog about them. There might just be other people out there who could benefit from our posts, or there might even possibly be kindred souls out there who could share in our struggle in a virtual way. We may not ever meet each other, our paths might never cross. But at least we can feel the support of knowing that someone, or a multitude perhaps, are sympathetic to us. There might even be a few caring souls out there who actually wish us well. Imagine that there are people out there who DO really genuinely wish us the best. People who want us to succeed, and to lead satisfactory, fulfilling lives. These people might exist.

Let us say you are one of the few people who actually read this blog. Just pretend. Okay, I am imagining that there's someone reading this blog.

What I would like to tell you, dear reader, is this. Whoever you are, wherever you are, I wish you happiness. That is all.

When I say happiness, I mean in a very simple way. This has nothing to do with material wealth, or with meeting your dream person, or landing a fabulous job, or anything that exists outside of your own mind. It has to do with finding satisfaction right now, in the moment. Wherever you are, whatever situation you're in, try not to make any value judgements for the moment. Just say to yourself, life is happiness. I live, therefore I am happy. I am breathing now. Breath is happiness.

Happiness does not exist beyond this.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day Meditation

Today is Earth Day. The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa gave a teaching this morning from India. At the end of the teaching, he told everyone to go out and sit on the earth and do some meditation, so I went out with my kids and sat in the courtyard of a local Schiedam church on the grass.

Actually, everyday is Earth Day, the Karmapa explained. We are dependent upon the Earth for our very survival. If it weren't for the Earth, and the complex set of interdependent circumstances that allows Earth to sustain life, none of us would be here.

As I was biking home this evening from a rather disappointing meeting, I started to feel a sense of gratitude for being here on this planet. It was a small moment of joy and gratitude. The sun was setting over a river in Rotterdam. It was a huge, firey ball reflecting off of the water. There were Egyptian ducks walking along the river bank, and I biked alongside them, taking in all of this remarkable beauty. It had rained earlier, so the sky was clear blue with a few scattered clouds, and the grass and trees were imbued with fresh green dampness.

The sun shines on everyone without discrimination. We can all enjoy the beauty of the sun, the sweetness of birds singing, and the greenness of trees, grass, and plants. We can all appreciate these things on a very basic level. It's a very simple and joyful thing to do.

Lately I have a heightened sense of birds singing everywhere I go. There are little white balls of plant fuzz floating through the air all over town. The days are beginning to get a little hotter. Disappointment slides away as easily as it comes these days.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Leaving Fear Behind

Leaving Fear Behind is a beautiful film by Dondup Wangchen. He interviewed Tibetans in Tibet on their feelings approaching the Olympic games in 2008. Some of the responses are quite emotional. Several people start to cry when they say that their greatest wish is that His Holiness the Dalai Lama be allowed to return to Tibet.

It's tragic that Tibetans are facing the decimation of their culture, and I think this film is an important document in that it allows Tibetans to express their own ideas about what their lives are like.

In the past several months I've had the great fortune of meeting several Tibetans. Whenever I meet a Tibetan I am always amazed by their warmth and sincerity. I truly love the Tibetan people. They are such kind, warm hearted people. To me they represent the ideal that I am striving to fulfill for myself. If it weren't for the Tibetan's dedication in preserving the Buddha's teachings, I myself would be totally at a loss. By extension, if I make an effort to become a better person through contact with Tibetan people, then I can inspire other people in turn.

The Buddha's teachings tell us that everything we view as a misfortune is actually a teaching in disguise. Whenever we endure mental hardship we become stronger. We can use it as a form of mind training. As an example, if I think that my life is difficult or lonely, I can think about the Tibetans, and see that actually my life isn't difficult at all. Either that or I can think, I am suffering now, but I am going to use my suffering, and mentally take on the suffering of others', thereby relieving them of their burden. In developing an altruistic attitude, my mind becomes joyful because I am able to assist other beings in finding happiness.

Dondup Wangchen is still imprisoned, and is probably being tortured for making a simple film.

Several months ago I met a man who was arrested and tortured in a prison in Lhasa. He recounted his story. It was a horrific one. Yet, despite the suffering he'd obviously endured, he told his story with a smile. I wish I could retell it here, but I haven't asked his permission. Even though he was telling a very difficult and sad story, he was still able to make it positive. After enduring weeks of starvation, he explained that the food he finally was allowed to eat was the most delicious food he'd ever eaten. And then he also said that after being denied water, when he finally did get something to drink, the water he drank was the sweetest water he'd ever tasted.

In actuality, I feel my own pain as a great burden at times, and I bemoan my lot. But my pain is non-existent. And my life is a happy and lucky one. Even the slight discomfort I feel, my shyness, and inability to make friends here, is really not bad at all. I can see this in comparison to many of the lives of people I read about and meet. And I can also see that if it weren't for the perception of suffering that I've experienced throughout my life, I would never have been led to study the Buddha dharma. If I hadn't felt a great sense of loss, and of being lost in the world, of failure, loneliness, what have you, I wouldn't have felt the sense of desperation that was the driving force behind my great thirst for the Buddhist teachings.

Alternately, I can train myself to rejoice in my own qualities, to really look at what I have as valuable, and to view my life as valuable. However small my contribution is, whatever good thought I have, or small kindness I bestow on another being, I can rejoice in that small virtue. Little by little, drop by drop, I can slowly transform my attitude, so that I no longer feel anguished. As my own attitude changes, I will become more a capable, and I will be able to reach out to others in more meaningful ways. I can also aid others in their quest to become relieved of their own suffering.

So it is through my own pain that I have come to discover greater truths, and that I have come into contact with Tibetan people. My fortune is truly great, indeed.