Kuan Yin, the Albatross and a Prayer for Our Times

Devotion is the cultivation of a prayerful attitude within life. Contemplative prayer isn’t about asking for things, but is a still, open listening into “how it is” within a cacophonous world that is actually permeated with living silence. Our ability to figure everything out is limited. In prayer, accepting our limitations, we lean into that silence, which has a listening presence. One way to connect to the listening heart is through the practice of mantra. Mantra, which means to “guide and protect the mind,” is sometimes done as a concentration practice to help steady and focus mental energy. But mantra is also a heart practice that taps into the universal intelligence inherent within the matrix of consciousness, while at the same time transporting us beyond the mind’s labyrinth-like hall of mirrors.

When we are locked into states of confusion, overwhelm and anxiety and are left circling in our reactive mind, our mantra is “it’s hopeless, I’m hopeless”, which probably won’t get us very far. Instead holding a sacred name or phrase reminds us to soften, listen, trust, have patience, and reconnect to the authentic, innately inherent living Dharma. As the mantric word or phrase dissolves, we are returned to the mystery of intuitive depth knowing – the domain of prajna wisdom.

Namo Kuan Shr Yin Pu Sa, meaning, “I return to the one that listens at ease to the sounds kuan yinof the world,” connects us to the immeasurable listening heart and mysterious power of compassion. We are not alone. The heart of the universe is not a dead, unfeeling space but is receptive, responsive, intelligent. Feeling our hopelessness, compassion can arise, even for a moment. Mercy and love can be there, for ourselves, for it all, for the enormity of our collective disaster. Prayer brings us to our knees. Right now, we humans need to humble ourselves before Mother Nature. We have to move out of our clever abstractions so we can recognise we are actually part of nature and dependent on her. Within the vast intimacy of innate, unbounded reality, we must glimpse the truth that all beings are resident in our awareness.

Compassion is not only gentle, it also calls us to stand up and be passionately aligned to the deeper call of truth. The extreme intensity of our current planetary emergency has fierce compassion within it. The kind of compassion that strips away our human hubris and the pretence generated from our narcissistic obsessions and delusions. After months of burning in the Northern hemisphere and deep drought in the Southern, we are being called to wake up…fast. We now know that every choice we make has an impact. Therefore, can we move from a place that recognizes our deep intimacy with all life?

A stunning recent documentary that helps re-connect us to the listening, knowing heart, the “intimacy of all things” which is the essential meaning of Kuan Yin, is the achingly beautiful Midway Project’s Albatross. It unfurls a meditative art experience that transports us into the story of a mythic bird, long known to the ancient mariner from sea-faring times of old. From the 10,000 mile food gathering journey for its young, gracefully gliding across the ocean where the Pacific Garbage Patch stalks, we are invited into the albatross’s power, beauty, and its metaphoric impact reflecting our collective challenge and dilemma.

Take time out to watch this. It will break open your heart. These days, we need our hearts to break open, we need to feel the grief of so much loss so we can shake off our complacency. So do please watch Albatross, it is a work of love. And do bring some friends together to watch it with you,* to discuss and to explore how to be part of the community of Earth Responders needed for our collective survival. Time is short and an urgency is upon us.
Kittisaro & Thanissara

To witness a young albatross open wide
its translucent, newborn throat,
open the soft, pink shell to its mother,
to the contents of the sea she carried
in her body for thousands of miles,
for over twenty million years – to watch, 
today, the chick wholly embrace
the amber-coloured squid oil
and cloaked shards of plastic,
to see it all slip down in an act
of ancient swallowing – it to witness
eons of trust absorbed into nature’s gut.
And for our own trusting throats
defended by lips, teeth and taste buds,
we evolved to sweeten what poisons us.

Victoria Sloan Jordon
“Midway V Poem – On Witnessing An Albatross Feeding.”

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Notes From the Botswana Road

We traveled for nearly a week through the Greater Kalahari, Makgadikgadi Pans, and Moremi parklands onto Savuti, the Place of Lions, over interminable dust, scree, and Csand roads as if the vehicle was riding waves, up and down, rather than the earth. Then the landscape suddenly changed. The Botswana landscape is mostly flat, but this was different. The geology and contours weren’t dramatically different, but the feeling was. Small rocky hills and Baobab Trees encircled us heralding the arrival into a deeply sacred space. It felt ancient. When we explored, there was a painting on the rock from 4000 years ago. It was the simplest art. An Eland, Elephant, Oryx Antelope (or Gemsbok), and Snakes. Essential meat and medicine for survival.

Tsonxhwaa, Savuti Marsh, Chobe National Park.

All through we had been traveling the lands of the San/ Bushman/  Khoisan “First Sitting There People” where we peeked through a timeless portal into a peoples who for 30,000+ years roamed this dry and brittle ground, rejoicing when the rains came. One day, bees invaded the camp looking for water. As we drove out, we saw the Oryx antelope dance. Rock, our Botswana guide, told us they felt the rains coming. And then the black water laden clouds swept in and dumped the rains. We weren’t prepared; our tents were washed out.

Once, a long time ago, when we were new to Southern Africa, an Elder Bushwoman told a friend that they, the San, were the peoples “on track.” That we, in contrast, in our modern world, were so off track, we didn’t know there was a track. She said that as they, the first peoples, crossed over from this world first, we would follow not so long after.

We all know we live under the terrifying shadow of a rapidly warming biosphere that is radically changing weather patterns and threatening sustainable life. Alongside this, the immensely destructive power in the hands of a few wracked by greed, hatred and delusion is endangering our collective well being. We have read and heard so many words and perspectives in response. We have anguished and put ourselves to task to try and step down the looming disasters. And while we must maintain hope and work for a sustainable, just, and equitable world, we too must remember, as the KhoiSan knew so well, that we are only dust on this ancient Earth. One day, the winds will blow our foot prints away too.
Kittisaro & Thanissara, notes from the Botswana road, 
Dharmagiri Ubuntu Tour July 2018

                               The Wind Intends to Take Away Our Footprints
Its name is ≠Koaxa, while the Europeans call it Haarfontein; and it was at Haarfontein that Smoke’s Man saw the wind. He saw the wind but thought it was a !kuerre-!kuerre bird, and therefore, he threw a stone at it, and it burst into wind, it burst out blowing, it blew hard, it blew fiercely. It raised the dust, and it flew away and went into a mountain hole: and he, Smoke’s Man, being afraid, went home. The wind was once a man, but he became a bird and wore feathers on his skin and went to live on a mountain. He became a bird and no longer walked, but he flew. He wakes up early and he leaves his mountain and he flies about, he flies about, about, about, about, as he flies to eat, and then he returns, he returns there to sleep; and because he feels that his feathers used to blow, he, too, blows. They were the wind and therefore they blew, and he, the son of the wind, is now a bird.
So said /Han≠kasso.

Leaving.
We are leaving.
Shredded and raw heart seeks calm shore.

We dream another shore waiting
and we need to know how to go.
Not flights of fancy
of awakenings’ glitz
floating eloquences
of enlightenment.
Tongue bright with witty rational
flowing from throat to head
shaping realities of transcendence
while in the core of burning samsara
swirling emotions
float free
on upward circling perceptions
divorcing themselves from our heart connection.

Ascenders into the light,
we descend before you.
An exhausted pile of bones
smouldering in cold ash
from words sliding sideways
in mega churches
preaching crazed dissonance non-union.

But here is the truth.
There is no heaven in the sky.
No nirvana apart from samsara.
No paradise virgin to your violence reward.
And no Planet B.

So sit the night patiently through
and gather your wayward mind.
Take up your own power
as in your heart
is the earth’s body
and all bodies,
the stars, mountains, oceans,
flowers, trees, cities and moon.

Sit until dawn, without flying to the light,
instead, plunge your life
into your unfathomable yearning
so you can be pulled to the intimacy
that this direct path heralds
within each beating heart
where every precious breath
redeems your lost soul.

And when preachers promise a far off place
challenge them
with your honest voice.

Can you dissolve walls of the mind
and into the undivided heart arrive
to stand up fierce
for our Earth
and her all living beings
?

Because from common ground
we move from birth into destiny
while death dream reality
and bone ash wait.

Because all is possibility
with no substance found.
Particles of no-thing-ness
transform into each other
in universal systems
of potentiality
where space, time, matter and light
forever melt like waking dreams.

The wind does thus when we die, our own wind blows; for we, who are human beings, make clouds when we die. Therefore, the wind does thus when we die, the wind makes dust, because it intends to blow, taking away our footprints, with which we had walked about while we still had nothing the matter with us; and our footprints, which the wind intends to blow away, would otherwise still lie plainly visible. For it would seem as if we still lived. Therefore, the wind intends to blow, taking away our footprints.
So said Dia!kwain.

Time with relentless harvesting
your precious human life
is short.
As all life
gathers proof of our faith
through the pilgrimage of the night
that tests the grounds of our being
so we may know
the measure of courage
and the wellspring of our heart,
from which we sip nectar.

Just as the brown, striped bug
drinks from the white elderflower,
and the orange, thin-winged butterfly
skips through ochre grasses,
and the grey, knowing wolves
move through cold, white snow,
and the rhinos through dry, bush veldt go
as lions stalk impala
along the river slow.

Slow is the Earth’s rhythm,
deep and unfathomable in our collective soul.
The rhythm of the days tick-tock,
winding through the web of our connection
of Internet consumption
where we search what we hope to know.

But to truly know is to not know.
And to not know
is so much evidence of where faith can go.

And even when the realms of empty space are exhausted, the realms of living beings are exhausted, the karmas of living beings are exhausted, and the afflictions of living beings are exhausted, we will still accord with this, our deepest heart, endlessly, continuously, without cease. Our body, speech and mind never weary of service to living beings and to this great Earth. So whispers our true heart.
                               Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha

 

AA

B

Extract from The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra by Thanissara, written at Dharmagiri Sacred Mountain Retreat KwaZulu Natal, 2013, which includes extracts from The First Bushman’s Path, stories, songs and testimonies of the /Xam by Alan James, University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg 2001 SA.
Photos – Thanissara
Baobab Tree of Life, Animal KoiSan Paintings, Savuti Lions, Chobe Park, Botswana
Community KoiSan Painting – Garden Castle Park, Southern Drakensberg, Underberg.

The Journey so Far… Dishin’ Up & Conquering the Peeks

Ru in kitchen June 2018Food wise, feedback so far has been good. I’m not one to brag so I appreciate feedback even more. When I’m cooking up a storm, my olfactory senses may sometimes become overwhelmed and temporarily disable the full capacity of my taste-buds, so I designated Penny-Jane as my taste-tester/quality control manager (horribly difficult job – I know, we both agreed). I am often to “in the zone” so I forget to take pics… but I did on a few occasions. My Gluten-Free & Vegan Moussaka dish went down like a hit… it was actually improvised – a hybrid between my mom’s recipe and the Vegan Planet cookbook (a breadcrumb alternative for the topping is ground pecan – yum!)

It was a pleasure to have Nobantu joining us for her Birthday and so 2 chocolate cakes were made. Ironically Penny-Jane and I wrote the Gluten free one off as a flop (it did actually look quite floppy initially), until Martin came along and had a slice… let’s just say both cakes were eaten happily. I decided to end the retreat off with a lovely moist Naartjie and Cardamom cake.

Ru rhubarb pieAnd more pie! Strawberry and Rhubarb without the Rhubarb because we couldn’t find any, so improvisation was needed again. Suffice it to say that I couldn’t even take the picture in time because we were so eager to dig in! I say, after all, Pi(e) is the golden ratio so you can’t go wrong with one.

A couple of weeks into my time at Dharmagiri, two of my close friends and I went right up the sacred mountain. It was stunningly beautiful. Fear gripped me at times, between the rocks and the steepness, but ultimately I overcame it and marvelled at the surrounding beauty in awe.

Ru climbingThis is where the fear set in. My experience? Don’t try this unless you have some climbing experience and/or are preferably accompanied by someone who has some climbing experience (luckily my friend does). Later we found that the tip is actually reachable without having to scale up any rocks, if one zig-zags up and around the right hand side of the mountain. It is however, dangerously steep.

Thank you for reading! Go well on your own journeys. We will all soon meet, be it on the mountains or in the oceans.

Namaste!
Light and Love Blessings To All Beings!

By Ru

 

Ru & friendsThe three amigos

The Journey so Far – Natural Connections by Ru

I truly felt the magic and the benevolent power Mandaza has when he took my hand in greeting and looked me in my eyes. You can instantly sense some people’s energies when you meet them, and he is one of them. I did not get to attend all the workshop sessions due to my responsibilities in the kitchen, however when I did sit in, I was overwhelmed by the peace and the love which radiated from Mandaza and all the other incredible souls that took this journey with us.

Having had some profound experiences surrounded by water in the past, my once idle visions, thoughts and intuitions were reaffirmed and rooted… the water spirits are real and they seek to illuminate our world with compassion and wisdom. They love song! The song which Mandaza sang for us brought tears to my eyes, and as we joined in, even a little bird came and sat on a tree branch near us and also joined in on the song.

Ru - Mandaza gift

Here is a Nyami Nyami (Zambezi River God/Snake Spirit) bead necklace. Mandaza’s wife back in Zimbabwe makes beautiful beed pieces, some of which Mandaza brought along. This one chose me.

When we learn to appreciate and respect nature, we align with our true selves, and we are indeed reminded of that old saying “We are spiritual beings having a physical experience.” And the more we align the more we realize that we don’t “need” as many “things” from this physical realm as we once did. Nature, in all its forms, the mountains, the waters, the birds, it is all part of us; an extension of our spirit. I feel that this is a truly important reminder for anyone feeling disillusioned in today’s consumerist paradigm.

The retreat made me feel in-tune with the unity of the collective human spirit and the plight of the natural world. My dream is not just my dream, it is a dream for all who seek to find meaning. Leadership is a force that lives in the hearts of all of those who choose to listen, even the meek at the back of the pack. Forgiveness is where true strength and peace are found. We are all leaders, healers, peacemakers… and our intention is the key to unlocking our power. “Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace” today I want to expand on that, not only one word but one song, one dream, one feeling.

The soft and gentle energies I felt from nature and the earth and my fellow humans was something extraordinary. Within me, I felt the importance of manifesting this “state of being” regularly, and it is doable by simply following a few suggestions made by Mandaza. For example visiting the stream daily and making an offering to the water (water spirits)… I myself am the offering if I so choose: my presence is my present! Another is continuing with the dream circle once a week (kudos to Chandasara for encouraging us to do so). As I become more aware, more mindful, I too become more grateful and walk the earth with gentler steps.

Mandaza’s words stick with me: “One day we will all meet again in the Ocean.”

by Ru, Dharmagiri’s excellent cook & housekeeper

About Ru. 

RuGive me the outdoors so we can go for a hike, and a lake, to paddle and swim. I have had several jobs in my past across several fields. A manager, a writer, a capturer (I’m not gonna tell you what I was capturing but I’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t buses), yes I even gave stand-up comedy a go in Manchester (UK), but that one didn’t go too well as you’ve probably guessed by now… but ultimately in my heart I am striving to leave the rat race as much and live as sustainably as possible with nature. Nature, as I see it, is the symbiosis of all manner of life on our realm, including but not limited to: the plants, the animals and other human beings. This yearning along with the spirit of Ubuntu and Sangha in my heart, has sent me to the most beautiful parts of the world… but also to those that are truly sacred.

One feels the energy with which Dharmagiri is blessed, as it sits at the foot of this mystical mountain, a mountain Mother-Nature took millennia to sculpt. I am fascinated by the human mind, in what makes it work (is it only the brain, or is this “I” something more…), and how it communicates with and perceives the world around us. I care about nutrition; I want to feed my soul and the world around us only excellence, and that within itself suggests sustainability. My passion has taken me to cooking (at which I am alright if you compared it to my stand-up – let’s just say I was hackled off the stage in the first minute or so)…

I am very enthused and deeply grateful to be joining such a beautiful team of people here and continue my career as a cook. What an incredible opportunity: To feed people healthy food! I am excited to meet some awesome new people as well! I am very sensitive over many things but not emotional, I find there is a difference, for example I recently read Sister Abigail Nkleko’s book, Empty Hands, and I must have cried cover to cover, but if someone were to taunt me about it I wouldn’t burst into tears, so I would say I’ve curbed having a ‘reactive’ attitude.

My first step towards Buddhism and meditation was at the BRC in 2013, after a friend of mine had past-away and I decided to do something good (rather than destructive) to morn him and for myself. After attending a weekend silent retreat with Stephen Coan – I was truly humbled to my core. Humbled by the things I learned about Dana and the kindness and generosity that has been, and still is, such a powerful force of prosperity within the community. Humbled by the teachings that were passed down to me and the blessings I received. May we all walk a humble path, and may we all truly know how to love ALL of life. Namaste.

 

 

Reflections on Mandaza’s “Understanding Our True Connection with Nature” Retreat

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The theme for this retreat was: understanding our true connection with nature.  What emerged from the experience for me was not so much ‘understanding’ as waking up to a living oneness with nature – of being gently reabsorbed into nature –  the sense of separation between ‘me’ and ‘nature’ softly fading away and being replaced by a vivid sense of oneness, of belonging, of being of the same fabric.  Something perhaps like Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘interbeing’ including all and everything.  Mandaza spoke of it as the great spider web of Spirit that interconnects everything in the universe.

 

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On reflection it seems to me that this sense of separation is something that we unconsciously create when we withdraw from an active relationship with the abundance all around me – because it was through consciously engaging with this abundance that the vibrant sense of oneness sprang out of its dormancy and into life.

On the first day of the retreat we were awakened to the earth.  We sat outside on the rocks and grass in the beautiful spaces cleared by Martin, beside the stream flowing and babbling down from the mountain, and were asked to identify all the other communities present there with us: the grasses, mosses, flowers, trees, soils, minerals, insects, mammals, birds – in the earth, on the earth, above the earth.  Our group identified over 70 within a very short time.  We looked at just some of their roles and contributions to the web of life.  In simply bringing this to mind, an awareness of the abundance of interconnected support all around us arose together with an awareness of our forgetfulness as humans – of our dismissive disregard for all that gives and supports our life  when we imagine ourselves to be separate and superior.  We blindly blunder on in our arrogance, caring little for the source of our lives or for the wellbeing of future generations.

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This led to a lot of discussion about how this way of conceiving ourselves leads to such flagrant abuse and destruction of that upon which we depend for our lives and wellbeing.  Mandaza spoke of all that we receive from the earth and how the earth receives all our waste, transforming it into fertile life-sustaining nutrients.  He asked how often we say ‘thank you’ to the earth, how often we give back to the earth by seeing, feeling, noticing, appreciating, tending and caring for the earth and all her communities?  Later in the day we were encouraged to take a handful of seeds and go out to the places on the land that we feel a special bond with and express our gratitude by giving some seeds back to the earth as a gesture of recognition and thanksgiving.  It is difficult to describe how powerfully meaningful and moving it felt to do this. And the earth took her rightful place as our mother.

On the second day of the retreat we were awakened to water.  We began by talking about water – its qualities, attributes, roles and contribution.  A rich dialogue followed about water – the beauty and functions of its various forms like ice, snow, rain, rivers, ocean, mist, steam; its volume and extent on the earth and in our bodies and all other bodies, its network of streams and rivers and oceans, its life-giving and sustaining role, its role in circulating carbon dioxide, cleaning the air and maintaining the atmosphere, its molecular structure and capacity to respond to sound and other forms of energy, the pleasure we feel in playing and bathing in water….and so much more.  And then Mandaza asked us, each one individually, instead of speaking about water as if it is something separate from us, to speak as water about water’s contribution to the web of life: “I am water, I ……”  And water came to life within us.

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In the afternoon Mandaza took us each through a water ritual at the stream after which we spent time on our own outside contemplating our individual experience of the ritual.

In the evening we began to talk about dreams and listening to the messages that come through our dreams – both for ourselves individually and communally.  So began the process of integrating the dream world into the healing of our wholeness.  Each morning then began with a dream circle where we shared the dreams we could remember from the night before and shared what we saw in each others’ dreams.  And the messages lived among us.

Dialogues continued through the remaining days on our purpose as humans on earth, on our relationships with our partners, families, children, elders and ancestors, on race and gender, on what love is, on the languages that we use – of love and hate and gossip, on leadership, on service, on prayer, on healing, on forgiveness and justice in our personal and national lives, on living in peace. Interspersed among the dialogues were meditations, laughter, play, song, and drumming. And the birds and butterflies came to join us.

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I was left feeling both immense joy and sadness.  Joy at the taste of fulfilment of a deep yearning from childhood for this immersed attunement with all that is – and sadness at the tragedy of what has been lost and devalued through the alienation and arrogance of human hubris. May we yet have the humility and courage to ask for the help we need from the wisdom keepers among us for the wellbeing and joy of present and future generations of all life on our planet.
by Chandasara

 

 

Ending Plastic Pollution

Greetings! We missed getting this out for Earth Day, (April 22nd) but then as our wellbeing and survival depends on a healthy environment, Earth Day awareness nowadays has to be every day. We all know we live in an intensified world where resources are increasingly limited, our eco-systems are under great threat, our wildlife too, and our warming biosphere threatens to tip us into climate melt down.

But it’s never too late for a reminder about how we can do our piece, and certainly awareness around consumerism is a very large piece. Below Dharmagiri’s recently employed office admin manager, Penny-Jane, has penned an encouragement for us all. Take 10 mins to read how we can take steps to leave the planet in better shape for those who come after.

First, to introduce you further to Penny-Jane

penny-janeI am an environmental scientist by training with a strong background in environmental law and policy. Having grown up and studied in Stellenbosch and Cape Town I feel a strong connection with nature and feel blessed to live in, what I think is one of the most beautiful countries in the World. I have spent the past four years of my career working for Greenpeace Africa as part of their Climate and Energy team with the majority of my work focusing on renewable energy as an alternative future for Africa (and the World), with a move away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy. My studies as well as my work are based on my strong belief that we as humans need to find a more sustainable way of living in harmony with our planet if we are to survive as a species. Our fundamental disconnect with ourselves has led to a society that has forgotten it is a part of the natural World that we are systematically destroying. Travel is one of my great passions and I have spent time in many parts of the World, most recently a four month working period in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This also allowed me to fulfil a life-long dream of seeing a glimpse of South America which included the majestic Iguazu Falls, Machu Picchu and the jungles of Peru.

I have had the privilege of attending retreats at Dharmagiri in the past and I have been on a long journey to find my way back. I believe that Dharmagiri creates the space for us all to reconnect with our inner truth and to feel part of the beautiful natural surroundings here. I feel strongly in the work that is being carried out at Dharmagiri and look forward to being of service here to further that work. This opportunity to live and work at Dharmagiri is a real privilege for me and I look forward to meeting you all.

Earth Day 2018 (and every day!) – End Plastic Pollution by Penny-Jane Cooke. 

Here’s the thing about plastics right, they have become a pervasive part of our everyday lives, they are the substance that makes our lives more convenient, from that shopping bag when you forget your lovely reusable material one (again), to that straw that seems to make your smoothie taste extra good. They are the substance we love to hate.

The dark side of this everyday convenience is that they are polluting our lives and the lives of so many species that share this planet with us. My heart breaks every time I see a picture of a turtle suffering with a plastic ring strangling its body or a beached whale with a stomach full of plastic. Our everyday convenience has become a problem on a Global scale that is impacting our health and polluting the environment at an unprecedented rate.

But what can we do, sometimes these issues seem so unsurmountable that it is impossible to imagine that an alternative World exists. The good news is that there are alternatives, there are solutions and in Earth Day 2018 there is the support we all need to realise our ambitions to kick that plastic habit.

The call for Earth Day 2018 is for all citizens of the World to band together help end plastic pollution by finding out how many plastic items you consume every year and make a PLEDGE to reduce the amount. To this end there is a fantastic update to the traditional 3R’s that we all know so well, to now bring you the 5R’s Reduce – Refuse – Reuse – Recycle – Remove

So what does all that mean…

Reduce (ok so you knew this one already)

Consume what you need – Many plastic products you may frequently use are generally unnecessary – do you really need a straw to drink a glass of water? It is important to only consume what you need, especially when it comes to plastics. Many of the most commonly disposed of plastic products have viable alternatives. Always ask yourself if you can get the same product without consuming plastic before you buy something.

Refuse

When you order a drink at a restaurant, you can tell the waiter that you don’t want a straw. If you know you need a straw, you can purchase a metal or wood/paper based straw and bring that with you. You could also go a step further and ask the restaurant to stop providing plastic straws or to only provide straws to customers when requested.

Plastic bags are one of the biggest sources of plastic pollution. Refusing the plastic shopping bags given away at retailers and grocery stores is easy. If you need a bag to carry your purchases, bring reusable canvas bags instead. And buy cloth or mesh bags to carry fresh produce to the cashier.

Take a little extra time while doing your shopping, select products without plastic packaging and always be sure to avoid or even boycott products that are excessively wrapped in plastic (for example fresh produce).

When you go clothes shopping, it is best to avoid fabrics with plastic microfibers such as nylon and polyester. Or check ways to collect the fibres in your washing machine.

Reuse

You can buy reusable mesh bags that replace the plastic bags you use for bulk produce at the grocery store.

You can purchase canvas shopping bags and leave them in your car for anytime you go shopping.

Get a reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic ones and throwing them out.

There are reusable wax lined bags and wraps that effectively replace single use sandwich bags.

When you finally decide to get rid of old clothes, toys, furniture, or electronics, donate them rather than throwing them away.

Use dishes, glasses, and metal silverware instead of their plastic counterparts.

Consider trying washable reusable cloth diapers instead of disposable ones

Many food containers from restaurants are durable enough to be reused for kitchen storage.

Recycle

You have made it through the section about adopting a plastic reduction regimen. You are now thinking about turning down straws, carrying your own shopping bags, and encouraging your friends and family to do the same. But in a world where plastic is so ubiquitous, there are going to be instances where consuming plastic might be necessary. It would be difficult to expect you to reduce your plastic consumption to zero overnight. That’s where recycling comes in. Your next step is to learn about recycling. Recycling is far from the final solution to the Plastic Pollution problem, but it is an important part of it. It cannot replace the need for reducing consumption or refusing and reusing plastics when you can. If recycling is the best option, you should do so following the rules of the community, town or city in which you live. For the most part, only recycle if you are positive that the item is truly recyclable.

Should I recycle this?

Plastic bottles for recycling, Tel Aviv, Israel

Remove

Help the effort to remove plastic:

Start a beach or river clean-up in your local community.

Support the work of organizations removing plastic from the environment.

Purchase innovative products created from recovered ocean or environmental plastics.

Personally, I am really amped for Earth Day 2018 and keen to get started, for more information and to take the pledge check out the Earth Day website – https://www.earthday.org/

And most importantly the awesome tool kit they our friends at Earth Day have put together here – http://www.earthday.org/wp-content/uploads/Earth-Day-Network-Plastic-Pollution-Primer-and-Action-Toolkit-updated-2.20.2018.pdf

Blog post by: Penny-Jane

A bit about me… World Traveller, environmental activist, passionate about education, empowering communities and finding solutions to some of the environmental issues facing the World today. Part time blogger, currently living in the Underberg, KZN.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/penny-jane-cooke-45529a76

Penny- Jane (second left) at our recent retreat with Mandaza Kandemwa, focusing on deepening our relationship with nature within an ensouled world. 2 mandaza

 

 

Dharmagiri – AGM August 12

Précis of Dharmagiri Vision Meeting, facilitated by Nobantu

The morning began with an exercise introduced and guided by Nobantu – of each person writing down points, on small pieces of paper, about their sense of
1) what is working at Dharmagiri?
2) why does Dharmagiri exist – what does it offer?
3) so where to from here?
After looking at all the points which were put up on the walls, we divided into three groups to synthesize this input.

The input about what is working at Dharmagiri included comments about the blessing of dharma protectors, the beauty and sacredness of its mountain location, as well as the retreat centre being a sanctuary and spiritual home where there is a sense of sangha and community, an established and well-maintained place that is not to big where people can practice, grow, heal and find silence, peace and compassion. The depth of dharma in the teachings, especially Kittisaro and Thanissara’s teachings which include eclectic Buddhist perspectives, as well as the availability of international, resident and local teachers, the encouragement of diversity and openness, flexibility and openness to change, as well as an availability of overseas financial support were also noted, as were Dharmagiri’s reputation, authenticity, generosity, goodwill and willingness.

The synthesis of this input by one of the sub-groups reads as follows:

“The stable and vigilant mountain; a spiritual home and sanctuary where healing, love and compassion are natural. Dharmagiri is well maintained and a place where groups and spiritual friends can meet and it is a strong and effective source of dharma.”

A further synthesis reads:

“The mountain is a source of nourishment and guidance for all of us: the space is sacred, holds and protects us. There is a committed core group of teachers and sangha members, who are demonstrating flexibility and openness to change. Relationships with local communities have been established and can be deepened over time; there is a feeling of good will that can be nourished in turn to do much more. The space has a feeling of authenticity, generosity, and a depth of dharma teaching that has manifest a particular ethos of the sacred mountain that is accepting of so many different pathways and ideas. The small community has nurtured this, and a reputation has been built around this authenticity.”

The input on why Dharmagiri exists – what it specifically offers – included comments in the areas of Dharmagiri being a refuge; a place for practice, healing and transformation; a place that models a way of being; and a place from where spirituality can be integrated into the world. Firstly as a refuge, Dharmagiri provides a spiritual home, a hermitage, a sanctuary, a safe place; secondly, as a place for practice and healing, Dharmagiri develops love, compassion, reflection, insight and facilitates personal, social and nature-related healing, and offers a space where it is okay to acknowledge our suffering and develop a way of relating to it, and a space where the pain and separation from apartheid can be healed; thirdly, as a place that models a way of being –compassion, generosity, wisdom, awareness and inclusion are modelled through the teachings; and lastly, as a place where spirituality can be integrated into the world, Dharmagiri demonstrates a deepening of spirituality and a way to build bridges from there into the world.

The synthesis of this input by the second sub-group reads as follows:

“We come for enrichment, for peace, for personal growth and for friendship”.

A further synthesis reads:

“We begin with honouring a legacy of inclusive sacredness in people, tradition, and place, which includes depth of practice, teachers, intentionality, and influence. Qualities, values, experiences and practices that support this include authenticity, nurturing, compassion, love, wisdom, generosity, sparkliness 🙂. These qualities emerge through and in this location: through connection, through experiencing the sacredness of ancient place, and through sangha.

DG is a place and a space that enables transformation, healing, liberation, refuge and re-membering through depth-practice, relationship and self-knowledge. With that comes an inner purpose for all those who to come to this place, and from there a relationship with community and community purposes: this includes bridgebuilding, mending structural violence and the actions that emerge from those processes, in friendship, and in healing.”

Input contributions on the question of ‘so where to from here?’ included continuing to offer depth practice and healing through offering mainly longer retreats and self retreats but including a few introductory retreats as well, and by building sangha through involvement and communication, continuing to involve local people, and reaching out to more black Africans and more young people. A focus on developing an African view of the dharma, or what some referred to as ‘Afro-dharma’ including an honouring of indigenous spiritual traditions, was also mentioned as well as continuing to offer a place of dialogue and reflection on South African issues. Also raised was the offering of trainings using mindfulness in different contexts. The need to identify the core principles and guiding ethos of Dharmagiri, and the need for better marketing, communication and organisational structuring and support came up as well.

The synthesis of this input by the third sub-group reads as follows:

“Dharmagiri offers an environment of simplicity, a sense of belonging, bonding, a feeling of coming home. It encourages dropping social niceties, being real, and working with suffering. Dharmagiri’s space generates an ethos conducive to sharing authentic communication and practice of awakening. A lack of hierarchy, being inclusive, grounded in heart space, generosity, and a desire to help are foundational. Dharmagiri should stay small perhaps with an ability to host small groups. It should not over develop or become focused on making money and growing.”

Having completed this process, a general discussion about Dharmagiri’s vision statement concluded by delegating the task of formulating the vision statement to a sub-group. The vision statement that emerged read as follows:

Dharmagiri, nestled in the ancient and sacred presence of Mvuleni Mountain; and we, who practice, guide, and teach here, hold a dream that healing and liberation is the birth right of all. This is catalysed through contemplative practices and the transformation of consciousness that reconnects with the core of who we are, beyond the masks we wear, at the timeless level of our being.

The legacy of the sacred mountain and the long tradition of wisdom teachings enable the unfolding process of awakening from personal and collective wounding. This activates an innate intelligence, which guides our way home where we remember that we are loving and compassionate and as unique and authentic selves, belong together within the inter-connected and mysterious web of life.

After some later reflection and consideration, the final formulation of the vision statement for Dharmagiri emerged as follows:

At Dharmagiri, we hold a dream that healing and liberation is the birth right of all. Our focus is to catalyse this potential through contemplative practices that reconnect with the core of who we are, beyond the masks we wear, at the timeless level of our being.

The power of Mvuleni-Bamboo Mountain where Dharmagiri is nestled, and Dharmagiri’s legacy of Buddhist inspired wisdom teachings, enables a process of awakening from personal and collective wounding. As dysfunctional conditioning is released, our innate, intuitive intelligence is activated, guiding our way home so we remember that we are loving and compassionate, unique and authentic, and belong together within the inter-connected web of life.

For advertising purposes:

Dharmagiri Sacred Mountain Retreat is dedicated to well-being and the transformation of our individual and collective consciousness through insight meditation, mindfulness, and healing modalities.

Dharmagiri is on the border of South Africa and Lesotho near Underberg, KZN. It was founded in 2000 by Kittisaro and Thanissara, who trained in the Thai Forest monastic Tradition, and is guided by them, Chandasara, who also trained in the same tradition, a board of directors, and members of Sacred Mountain Sangha, an affiliated community of South African and International Dharma practitioners.

We offer guided silent meditation retreats, self-retreats, and a range of shorter retreats that promote physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Within an ethos of open inquiry, we share teachings and practices that encourage the cultivation of mindfulness, insight meditation (vipassana), compassion, integrity and wisdom. We believe changing the world for the better grows from each person’s ability to access peace, clarity, and their positive creative potential.  

Various other topics discussed included what is meant by “Afro-dharma”, aspects of Dharmagiri’s finances, issues of governance and organisation, marketing and publicity, and programme issues.

Points raised in relation to “Afro-dharma” were that while much attention has been given to the East meeting the West in Buddhist practice, there has not been much attention given to the meaning of the East meeting Africa. There was a real passion to explore this. It was suggested that Dharmagiri host a workshop to explore this.

The need for a proper budget detailing all areas of income and expenditure was raised, including income from overseas benefactors, dana, fees, retreat costs, and teacher dana / fees. Stipends and general HR issues such as role, responsibility and decision-making definition, communication and accountability, and general conditions of living and working at DG also require attention.

Regarding governance and organisation, the possibility of having a ‘council of elders’ was raised. Such a council would play an advisory and mediating role and would comprise people who have been supporting DG for a long time but who are not immediately involved in its running. The need for a management committee including community residents to link to the DG Directors (all of whom are not currently resident at DG) was also raised. It was suggested that we consult an organisational specialist to help with structuring and clarifying these issues of governance and organisation. A committee to take the governance, organisation, and financial issues forward was agreed. Chris K, Jane P and Chandasara would take up that role.

While the need to look at marketing and publicity was raised several times, discussion was postponed in order to focus on other issues, so no decisions were made in relation to this aspect of DG functioning. At the moment Thanissara and Marlene are fulfilling this role and will be liaising with Peter who will be gathering and editing content for the website, newsletter, and DG Facebook page.

Regarding DG’s programme, it was decided to continue to offer longer retreats, self-retreats and to hire the centre to groups who are aligned with DG’s vision and ethos, for running their retreats. Offering nature connection retreats and insight dialogue based retreats including some focused on race and gender dynamics was also agreed. Developing further mindfulness based courses and linking the Jo’burg, Durban and Cape Town groups in more closely with DG and the American Sacred Mountain Sangha in relation to this, was discussed. Exploring “Afro-dharma” and linking this in to local groups and consulting with Sister Abe in this, was agreed.

A sub-group volunteered to meet in the evening to try to consolidate this discussion into a “way forward” statement that could be brought back to the larger group for discussion and agreement. The statement that emerged from this process is as follows:

The Way Forward
Dharmagiri Retreats

The focus of taught retreats offered at Dharmagiri will be aimed at supporting the development of depth practice rather than offering short introductory retreats which are already adequately provided by other retreat centres. In practice this means continuing to offer annual month long retreats as well as five and ten day retreats throughout the year. Between taught retreats, Dharmagiri will be available for supporting individual self-retreats, guided or self-determined.

In addition to retreats taught by Dharmagiri teachers, we will continue to invite outside teachers, both local and international, to offer retreats that are aligned with Dharmagiri’s vision and ethos, in areas such as, for example, Meditation, Mindfulness, Yoga, Healing modalities, and the Enneagram. We will also continue to offer Dharmagiri for use on request by outside groups that are similarly aligned with Dharmagiri’s vision and ethos.

Dharmagiri will continue to offer the annual Yatra retreat with a view to developing and expanding its orientation to include more of a conscious focus on raising awareness of our connection, relationship with, and care for nature, other forms of life and the environment. These retreats could involve, for example, walks in the mountains – not so much to walk as to sense and connect with the plant, insect, and animal life, the water, air, earth, sun, the history of the people who came before us through their paintings and other artefacts, learning from other cultures about their understandings of living in balance with their natural environments, developing awareness of the skies – the moon, stars, milky way galaxy and touching into how awareness of these has helped people plant, harvest, navigate, mythologize, find meaning in awe and mystery, and feel a sense of connection to something greater than ourselves. We could possibly walk out to spend a night in a cave as part of the retreat. All this would be held in a meditative space – exploring the relationship between inner connection and outer connection.

We also plan to continue to offer Insight Dialogue-based retreats both to deepen insight into the Dhamma and also as a safe and containing space for an ongoing exploration into our race and gender conditionings with a view to fostering greater understanding, empathy, and mutually enriching relationship. The term “Afro-dharma” came up during our AGM and these retreats could be a way of feeling into what is intuited with this term. Is there a connection between, for example, the philosophy and practice of Ubuntu and the kind of human relationship encouraged through the Sangha?

At Dharmagiri we will be developing some new mindfulness-based modular courses particularly looking into the characteristics of existence, and especially into the anatta or not-self aspect of the Dhamma. We hope that through these courses, and some of the retreats we will be offering, to draw in more younger people and more black Africans to join with us and share their perspectives as we deepen into a transformation of consciousness that takes us beyond our conditioning into the heart of who we truly are so that we may find each other there.

Resources Needed to Carry Out the Vision

  1. On the ground support: Housekeeper/Chef and Garden/Maintenance help.
  2. Clear role descriptions with responsibilities, accountability and communication lines clearly defined.
  3. More formally agreed terms of residence/employment at Dharmagiri including stipends, dana, leave, days off, etc.
  4. Help from a temporary organizational structure adviser/consultant to help us formulate a good practice organization model and process that fits our particular needs and circumstances.
  5. It was suggested that we establish a council of elders – a small group of people who have been long term Dharmagiri supporters and are not involved in the directing or running of Dharmagiri and who can advise, mediate and offer suggestions from an empathic and objective perspective.
  6. Additional buildings: A tremendous offering was made by Julian Kiepel last year, who examined the land in detail and made very helpful suggestions that would enable further buildings to fit within the requirements of land use in the Drakensberg. His extensive document is still being studied. Thanissara briefly shared a plan she sketched post conversations with stake holders as a spring board for discussion. There wasn’t time to look into this. Kittisaro and Thanissara have proposed a further longer meeting at a future date, over serval days to a week, with an interested group of stakholders to explore the building project.
  7. A financial committee to look into budgeting and local fundraising (Chris, Jane, Chandasara, Peter).
  8. An international fundraising committee (Kittisaro, Thanissara, Mike).
  9. A governance committee to secure a consultant as mentioned in point 4 above (to be included in the financial committee’s brief).
  10. A programming committee to schedule retreats and events, contact teachers, and manage the process of liaising with teachers, the office, and on the ground community members. Currently Thanissara & Chandasara, Marlene, Jane, advice from Sue.
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Our Team DG at the August 12th AGM. Back row, L-R Jane, Chris, Sue, Chandasara, Martin, Judy, Marlene, Moyra, Nobantu, Jess. Front row L-R Peter, Thanissara, Kittisaro, Mike.