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.”

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.

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




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.