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Vatican City

December 23, 2009

As we approach Christmas, I thought it would be appropriate to post some highlights of thoughts shared with us last year at this time.  Last Christmas we were at Vatican City, outside of St. Peter’s Square, randomly approaching strangers on the street to see if they could help us find reasons to hope.  We thought since they were at the Vatican, that perhaps they too would be on a similar search, and would have some compelling thoughts as to why we as a society may continue to flourish, or why we may consume ourselves into oblivion.

The answers were quite diverse.  It seems that Vatican City attracts all sorts of people – some with great faith in God, and others…well…I’ll let you watch the video and see for yourself….

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Maya and Betu: courageous activists

December 16, 2009

Sitting in their living room, with sunshine pouring in through the open windows, we can hear the sounds of this New Delhi suburb outside.  Horns honking, birds singing, a man on the main road wailing in a haunting voice announcing the merchandise that he is selling.  In the garden, fragrant tropical flowers sway in the wind, and inside Hindu icons and statues blend in with the otherwise secular decor.

This is the home of Maya and Betu – founders of Sangini – an Indian organization committed to lesbian rights that runs a shelter, a support group, and a help line.   On the outside, this may appear to be an ordinary middle-class suburban home but inside the walls live this openly lesbian couple who are daring not only to challenge their society’s boundaries for themselves (homosexuality was illegal in Delhi until just a few months ago), but also daring to ensure that others find safe spaces to direct their own destinies as well.  Having heard of these two courageous women, I was intrigued to learn what gave them the strength and the hope to continue their struggles in the face of such adversity.

Maya smiled at me when I asked her my question of her thoughts on the future of humankind.  “Things repeat themselves, and they will always repeat themselves.  The only thing that changes is who is in power”.  A never-ending cycle of human greed and power-struggles?  Is this really what she believes we have to look forward to?   No.  Maya firmly emphasizes that she really does have optimism for the future of humankind.

She does not actually think that things will change appreciably in the manner in which society as a whole conducts itself, but she has hope that over time perspectives will slowly change on certain issues.  Though root prejudices will continue to pervade our psyche, and those once-oppressed will in turn become oppressors – she believes that despite this there will be moments of victory and moments of breakthrough on various fronts.  I suppose one could liken this to a sort of upwards spiral – with patterns and cycles repeating themselves, but with gradual overall change and overall upliftment of the human condition.  I interviewed her prior to July 2009 -when Delhi repealed the criminalization of homosexuality – but I suppose that this historic event really does speak volumes to support her perspective.

We spent the morning sipping tea and speaking of war, peace, prejudice, oppression, the importance of supporting local economies, the importance of tradition and culture – and the dangers they see India facing today as her youth lose touch with their cultural traditions and values.  Betu in particular seems to feel quite mournful of the loss of India’s soul, and the commercialization and westernization of their nation.

When speaking of war, Betu has some unique ideas to reduce the impact conflict can have upon the masses.  Much like sports are played on an athletic field, so too says Betu, should wars be “played” on a battleground to avoid involving civilians and civilian infrastructure.  Since it really is all about economics and politics, these things should be conducted outside of normal habitation regions, and only those who wish to fight may participate.  “You know like we watch cricket on tv – like that we could start watching these wars on tv.  ‘Oh, tonite Iran and the US are fighting and the Pakistan and India war is on too’ ” she chuckles.  She also speaks of borderless nations as a means of helping us to connect as humans and to really begin to understand one another.  This too would go a long way in preventing conflicts rooted in fear and ignorance.

I say that I remain unconvinced – not just that sensible solutions like Betu’s will ever be considered, but that we will ever make enough incremental positive change faster than we repeat the cycles that destroy ourselves.  Maya chuckes “It’s just a perspective.  There will never be hope for humanity – only for individuals”.  And this apparently is enough for them to continue their fight, enough for them to reach into their souls and follow their passions, and enough for them find glimmers of hope in the uphill battles they struggle with.

Ani Lobsang Dreulkar

December 5, 2009

Dreulkar and I met in Milan, Italy at a Buddhist convention where the Dalai Lama was speaking.  I accosted her for an interview as she was heading to lunch with a group of fellow monks who hailed from nations around the world.  Apprehensive and shy at first, Dreulkar was clearly intrigued by the questions posed to her.  Given her unique background – she is from France and was born into a caucasian Buddhist family – and given her own life-choice to be a practicing Buddhist monk, I myself was very intrigued to hear what she might have to say.  So we agreed to meet up after we had filled our bellies with dal and rice for an intimate chat between strangers on the status and future of our world.

Seated in front of a wrought-iron fence, with the sun sparkling in her eyes, Dreulkar spoke of her sadness and also of her hope.  She shared with me the struggles she faces trying to maintain hope despite not really seeing much reason to have any hope at all.

“For me, I don’t really have hope for human civilization – so I try to develop inside me this hope” she says.  The juxtaposition of her shaven head and red robes – symbols of her sacrifice and her passion – combined with her nihilistic undertones, took me by surprise.  Upon further reflection I wondered if perhaps this may in fact have been what compelled her toward a life of spirituality.

Dreulkar speaks of the need to “let go” and to “live in the present” as being keys to personal and global peace-building.  Memories of past conflicts, while powerful and important to acknowledge, must be released for a purer present to emerge.  She does not claim it to be an easy task however, and stresses that this will require a major transformation of our mental and material views, but she maintains that this must occur for any future peacebuilding and change to occur.

“We have the power to transform, but we need to be careful of the time – because sometimes it’s too late”.

It was getting too late for us too – the afternoon session was about to begin, so we kept our conversation brief.  I left that evening with her words resounding in my mind and in my heart.  Like myself, she sees little reason to believe.  And yet she continues to struggle, she continues to transform herself, and she continues to seek a more pure present and future.

And in truth that is all we have – we cannot dwell on the fact that we’ve destroyed the majority of our rainforest, or that we’ve historically oppressed the poorer and the darker – we need to cut the chains that these realities hold us in and dream a purer world for today and for tomorrow.  We must learn from these past mistakes, but not allow them to discourage us from looking forward – for if we waste too much time wallowing in the pessimism that the realities of yesterday conjure, then we will surely never find a brighter reality for the future – or at least not before we run out of time.