Saturday, July 26, 2008

Guys have the world to gain by practicing yoga. So what's holding them back?

By Andrew Tilin

It's a beautiful Saturday morning and I am in, of all places, a yoga studio. While my cycling buddies set out for a ride, I waited by racks of flowery yoga clothes, then filed in for class. While my pals pedaled and, no doubt, rapped about racing, I unrolled my black mat near someone else's pink one, beside someone else's painted toenails and a pile of voguish flip-flops. Now, my fellow riders are probably engaged in some testosterone-fueled sprint, while I'm grunting loudly to stay balanced on my forearms. I'm inverted and self-conscious: In a class filled with women, I alone am emitting primal noises.

A world turned upside down—that's yoga for most of us men. We still run most of the government and hit the major league home runs, but yoga is a woman's domain. According to a 2005 Yoga Journal market study, 77 percent of the yoga practitioners in America are female. Anecdotally, longtime teachers like Anusara Yoga founder John Friend and Power Yoga instructor Baron Baptiste, who both regularly crisscross the nation hosting workshops, believe the numbers might be even more skewed. After all, only about 1 in 10 subscribers to this magazine is male. "What I find myself constantly contemplating," says Michael Lechonczak, a yoga instructor who teaches at Equinox Fitness in Manhattan, "is how to get more guys into class."

It's not that we don't know what we're missing. Nowadays, there seems to be a yoga studio on every corner; our girlfriends and wives are walking, talking testimonies to the practice. At home, we watch them rushing out the front door, brows furrowed, only to return standing tall, with big, tranquil smiles on their faces and compassion in their eyes. Because my wife Madeleine is a yoga instructor and an avid student, I witness this stress-to-bliss transformation several times a week. When she comes home, I often mumble to myself, "Don't I want to be that happy?" Yet I haven't practiced yoga consistently for years.

So I asked highly qualified doctors, scientists, and veteran yoga teachers exactly why so many men stick to yoga's sidelines. I also polled members of that rare breed known as the male practitioner—from pro athletes to busy investment managers—to find out how they came to embrace yoga. In the end, I discovered social, physical, and emotional realities that discourage men from practicing. I also heard about the moments of inspiration that got men over such barriers—and ideas about what might help other men make the leap, too. If you're a man who's hesitated to try yoga—or you know a man you'd like to introduce to the practice—read on.

Social Obstacles: Yoga Takes a Brave Man

Getting men to identify with yoga has long been a challenge in this country. It doesn't matter that yoga, since its beginnings in India thousands of years ago, has mainly been taught and studied by men. Restrictive American immigration laws of the early 1900s stunted the spread of Indian culture on these shores, and only a handful of influential yogis arrived here through the decades. One such important teacher was Indra Devi. Russian born and Indian taught, she came to the United States in the 1940s and was championed by none other than celebrity cosmetologist Elizabeth Arden. That name resonated, of course, with the women who gobbled up her products, and Arden encouraged her customers to try yoga. A few years later, teacher Richard Hittleman published yoga books and landed on TV—but always had women perform the poses. Yoga's next media celebrity was a young instructor named Lilias Folan, who began teaching asanas on public television in the 1970s. Folan had a gentle style that empowered millions of stay-at-home moms to follow right along. By the time Power Yoga emerged in the 1980s and began attracting more men, the mainstream view of the practice had, fairly or not, taken root: Yoga was for housewives.

Sure enough, the first thing many men notice on entering a yoga studio is that they're in foreign territory. Pensive women readying for class sets as strong a tone as a locker room of guys snapping towels. "Men walk in needing a challenge," says Judith Lasater, who has authored six yoga books during her 35 years as a teacher. "Women often come to the mat seeking refuge."

The instructor can be equally alien. A female teacher might seem like just another pretty face in the intimidating crowd. A male teacher, who will likely be more humble and sensitive than your average tough-love personal trainer, may be met with disdain. "A student walks in from corporate America, and he encounters this man who exists in such a different realm," Baptiste says. "The instructor might not be a guy's guy."

Lechonczak, who consulted on the book Real Men Do Yoga, sympathizes with such concerns. Before coming to the practice nearly 20 years ago, he had a consuming business career and was a weekend warrior who ran and played basketball. Lechonczak thinks more men might be willing to try yoga if they perceived it as yet another test. Albeit a unique one. "The guys coming to yoga have to be ready for the next level, be ready to let down their defenses," he says. "They have to have heart."

A guy's first act of yogic bravery, Lechonczak says, is to introduce himself to the teacher. "Find out if the class is appropriate," he advises. "Admit any fears or anxieties."

Once the line of communication is open, a good instructor will tailor a class for individual students—male or female. Scott Achelis, a 54-year-old general contractor in Walnut Creek, California, began taking classes locally early last year because his back was tweaked from decades of construction work. The key was a positive first experience at the Yoga & Movement Center: a men's only, one-day workshop held by studio director Diane Valentine. Her agenda? Make it fun, and let guys be guys. "It was unthreatening," Achelis says. "We were all stretching and making off-color jokes."

Achelis quickly became a regular in a coed class. "It's still difficult for me when I'm partnered with a woman. I'm uncomfortable touching anybody who's not my wife the way you have to in yoga," he admits. But otherwise being a man among women no longer bothers him. He couldn't care less who's in the room, or that some very unathletic-looking females can enter poses that he can't. "I don't feel like I'm doing 10 percent of something being done by a woman next to me," Achelis says. "I'm doing 100 percent of what I'm able to do."

Physical Hurdles: Overcoming Groins and Gray Matter

Get a man past his reservations about asana time with the ladies and he'll still have a well-founded reason to drag his feet to a studio: Yoga can be painful.

Men, it seems, are naturally tight. Boys and girls may be born equally limber, with an ability to comfortably put their feet behind their heads. But by adolescence, boys generally lose flexibility faster than girls, and as boys become men, the differences in flexibility tend to grow. Researchers have noted this gap, although they can't specifically link it to differences in hormones, musculature, or connective tissue. "It's hard to attribute to any one thing," says Lynn Millar, a professor of physical therapy at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Whatever is to blame, the typical man's pursuits and lifestyle, from sitting at a desk all day to grabbing beers after a twilight softball game, put little importance on flexibility.

Lasater says stretching takes a back seat in a male's life as early as high school. "Look at the way they stretch in football—they push on each other and bounce. It hurts," she says. "How could anyone emerge from that with a positive view of flexibility?" Investment manager Ron Bernstein was certainly ambivalent about stretching—until his 80-hour workweeks caught up with him. Back in 1998, Bernstein, a former competitive high school golfer who's a managing director for the investment firm Marathon Real Estate in New York City, realized that "everything hurt," he says. "My wife was doing some yoga and suggested that stretching would be good."

Bernstein, 37, went to a class in lower Manhattan and muddled through. "On my walk home, my back felt so much better. All those Upward and Downward Dogs really worked."

Physical Benefits

Today a more limber Bernstein is religious about his one-day-a-week private sessions. He attributes his daily vitality and still-strong golf game to Warrior Pose variations that open his shoulders, hips, and back. "My handicap was 10 as a kid and I'm still at about 13," he says. "Not bad for a guy who works all the time." Elasticity also helps men who are determined to play all day. Barry Zito, the 28-year-old star pitcher who's spent most of his career with the Oakland A's, serves as a role model for any jock who's determined to stay injury free. Building up muscle mass and repeating the same athletic motions day after day and year after year only adds to a body's tightness. Which is all the more reason why Zito, who's been in the majors since 2000, likes to brag about a statistic other than wins and losses. "I've never missed a start," he says.

Zito began practicing yoga in 1998, when he heard about an off-season training program in Southern California that entwined baseball skills with yoga—"I've always been open to alternative forms of training," he says—and he's been doing asanas ever since.

Zito's daily regimen usually includes groin and hip openers like Pigeon, Frog, and Warrior poses because "they're kind of like the positions I find myself in when I'm pitching," he says. Zito happily demonstrates poses to his fellow major leaguers, although in the good ol' boy world of professional baseball, he keeps plenty to himself. "It's too foreign for them," he says. Zito believes, however, that such myopia may prevent players from staying in the lineup.

"Some guys aren't willing to do the things required to keep their health," Zito says. "I'm not judging anyone. I just know my own experience, and it's been really, really good."

Zito might have an even harder time spreading the gospel of yoga if men knew that, when it comes to life on the mat, their brains as well as their bodies are working against them. Science hasn't concluded that women have higher IQs. But women can boast about their mirror neurons.

These are brain cells that receive signals from another person and trigger similar reactions in the observer. Watching someone cry, for example, might more easily cause you to cry. While mirror neurons often detect emotions, they also help an observer match posture and breathing. "You use mirror neurons to watch and imitate your yoga instructor," says Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco and the author of The Female Brain.

For men, says Brizendine, the catch is that they don't respond as well as women to such transmitted signals. Scientists are still speculating whether women have more of such cells, or just more active ones. Either way, the neurons don't inherently make women superior jocks, since men may have been born or raised with other athletic advantages. "But because females' mirror neurons are more easily activated," Brizendine says, "on average, women can mimic better than men."

Fortunately, men can raise the performance of their mirror neurons if they consistently employ them. But until then, men enter the yoga studio at a disadvantage. New poses will be harder for them to get right. "The instructors need to be more patient with the male students," Brizendine says. "They have to perform more demonstrations for them."

Emotional Challenge: Try Beating Yourself

Even if a guy turns a physical corner and starts adapting to yoga's demands, he may still miss out on many of the practice's benefits. Yoga's internal rewards—everything from better focus to less stress—are the hardest for men to realize.

Brizendine says that this problem, too, begins with men's wiring. Men's brains have a high capacity to process emotions like fear and aggression. Put an average, aggressive-feeling man on the mat, add thoughts about hostile takeovers or Shaq dunking a basketball, and you get someone who isn't looking to quiet his mind but to let go of pent-up energy. That's easy in traditional recreational sports, with their scores, times, and rivalries. But guys in Downward Dog may still be looking for something, or someone, to beat. "For men, physical activity—nonsexual physical activity—has always been closely associated with competition," Brizendine says. "Studies have shown that for the last 40 years."

Brizendine adds that with time and training, men's brains can get past such competitive urges, and the proof lies in the men who have found enormous benefits from tapping into yoga's more emotional offerings. Bill Gross, chief investment officer for asset management company Pimco and one of the most powerful men in his business, appreciates what 12 years of yoga has done for his head. Every morning, Gross, 62, leaves his Southern California office to gather his thoughts in a gym. Part of the workout always includes yoga. Gross loves doing Headstand. "Some of my best ideas come during Sirsasana," he says. And, he adds, often after his routine, "a light bulb turns on, and I'm on to something."

Away from the multiple computer screens and trading-room hubbub, Gross gets more than inspiration. The mat offers him a place to calm his nerves and breathe deeply. He returns to the office rejuvenated and relaxed, ready to work with a purpose. "Focus is a huge part of what I do," Gross says, "and when you are trusted with nearly $700 billion of other people's money, you'd better be focused. Because of my practice, I can sift the noise from the facts of an investment."

Yoga can also teach a guy who's overwhelmed by his many responsibilities that the best way to get things done is by being present—focusing on one thing at a time.

"If I go from breath to breath, I'll find myself at the end of class," says Zito. Similarly, when he's playing a game, he says, "If I go hitter to hitter as opposed to letting my mind drift, I'll suddenly be in the seventh inning."

Men, like women, can get addicted to yoga's emotional benefits. Mehmet Oz, a surgery professor at Columbia University who promotes holistic wellness in his book Healing from the Heart, is also a sports nut. But the doctor, who played football at Harvard and has a basketball court in his basement, sees his daily yoga practice as an escape, whether it's from surgery or scorekeeping.

"That's where the freedom comes in. You can let go," he says. "You realize that the bigger game you're playing in life isn't about competitiveness."

What life is about, Oz says, is awareness, equanimity, and keeping one's ego in check—after all, the world is a bigger place than any Indeed, in topping off the list of yoga's benefits for his male colleagues, Oz even uses the word "spirituality," although he's aware that some men might find that term a turnoff. "Try to get a man in contact with the spiritual element of yoga right from the start, and he'll be lost," he says. "He isn't ready for that."

Bernstein, the investment manager who has practiced yoga for seven years, admits that he still doesn't like "chanting Om too many times and closing my eyes." But these days Bernstein's biggest problem concerning yoga is an inability to share his experiences with the very wife who persuaded him to try it. She abandoned yoga eight years ago. "I have no idea why Keri quit," he says. "She just won't do it."

Maybe she needs a few more male practitioners to tell her what she's missing.

Andrew Tilin, a freelance writer living with his family in Oakland, California, contributes to Wired, Outside, and other publications.

Rare fossils in India threatened

By Salman Ravi
BBC News, Sahebganj, Jharkhand

Geologist Syed Raza Imam Rizvi points to a fossil lying by the roadside
Geologists are calling for an immediate ban on stone mining in the area

A treasure trove of history preserved by nature for millions of years in eastern India is threatened with extinction.

Plant fossils, scattered all over the Rajmahal Hills in Sahebganj district of Jharkhand state, are fast finding their way into the hundreds of crusher machines that are reducing them into stone chips to be used in road construction.

Spread over approximately 2,600 sq km, the Rajmahal Hills are home to plant fossils dating back between 68 million years and 145 million years.

Over the years, geologists and palaeobotanists from all over the world have visited the area for their research.

Here, scientists could lay their hands on some of the rarest plant fossils ever conserved by nature.

Examples of these Jurassic age plant fossils - known as Rajmahal Flora - are to be found in many museums across the globe.

The Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany in the northern city of Lucknow also has an impressive collection.


But this wonder of nature is fast disappearing and geologists say the fossils may soon all be gone.

The state government of Jharkhand has given out a mining lease in the area to private companies who are practically blowing up the hills to obtain rocks which are then crushed to make stone chips.


"This is what is worrying us. The treasure which nature has conserved for millions of years would be wiped out in a matter of months if an immediate ban on stone mining is not imposed in the area," says Syed Raza Imam Rizvi, head of the geology department at Sahebganj College.

"Those who have the mining lease are cutting down the hills. All the hills need to be conserved for research.

"If proper excavation and study is carried out, we could also find the fossils of reptiles and other animals which existed during the Jurassic and the Triassic age. Maybe one day we can even find a fossil of a dinosaur here," Mr Rizvi says.

The villagers in the area, from the Pahadiya tribe, say they are fed up of trying to protect the fossils from suspicious visitors.

"We have been guarding these fossils like our ancestors did in the hope that a park would come up here some day and the government would take care of it. Now everything is being wiped out," says Gangu Pahadiya, the headman of Tara village.

'Fossil Road'

When the state of Jharkhand was created in 2000, the government announced a "Jurassic Park" would be set up in Sahebganj to conserve the rare fossils in their natural habitat.

Local people said the government erected a sign some years ago for the proposed park.

Fossils lying scattered around Tara village in eastern India
Rare fossils are being crushed and used in road construction

But now the board is gone, and some say the project has been shelved.

Since many villages in the region are inaccessible, the authorities decided to build a road to Tara village, where rare fossils lie scattered around.

The road has been christened "Fossil Road", but geologists say what is shocking is that the stone chips used for constructing the road are actually fossils.

A forest department official in the area, Pujan Singh, admitted that rare fossils were being used for road construction.

"The entire Rajmahal Hills are full of fossils of plants and reptiles. Those who have taken the mining lease don't care about it. They don't know about it," Mr Singh said.

"The fossils are finding their way into the crusher machines that are reducing them into chips. We have tried to stop it, but there is very little that we can do. The mining department has allotted them a lease," he said.

'Precious gifts'

Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda promised the fossils would be protected.

"We are proud of possessing nature's precious gifts in the form of fossils. We are working on a proposal to conserve them," Mr Koda told the BBC.

But geologists say the authorities need to act immediately to save from destruction the evidence of a world that existed millions of years ago.

"The Rajmahal Hills need to be conserved in their natural habitat to facilitate further studies and research. If mining activities continue at such a pace, everything would be destroyed and the generations to come will never forgive us," said geologist Nitish Priyadarshi.

Queen Rania takes on stereotypes

By Beth Jones
Producer, BBC World News

Screen grab of Queen Rania's YouTube V-log
The queen's V-log already addressed terrorism and violence against women

Queen Rania of Jordan is seated behind an enormous desk in her office in Amman with three cameras trained on her.

Two of them are ours, the third belongs to her staff, who are about to film the latest edition for her personalised channel - or V-log - on the video-sharing website YouTube.

It is the seventh video she will have posted since she made her online debut in March. Speaking in English, she asks people to suggest stereotypes they have heard about the Arab world so she could "break them down one by one".

King Abdullah's wife may not be the only public figure tapping into the popularity of YouTube - politicians and monarchs worldwide have created sites.

Some stereotypes are just wrong... This (Arab headscarf) is not a symbol of extremist behaviour
Queen Rania, speaking on YouTube
But as a prominent Arab using the internet to try to engage with the west and promote moderate Islam, she stands out from the crowd.

"My teenage son is a man of very few words and his response was 'cool', so I guess it's got to be good," she jokes.

YouTubers seem to agree with him: so far over two million people have watched her videos (a combination of posts from her and contributions from various musicians, comedians and local Jordanians).

Channel of communication

By putting herself online, Queen Rania is opening herself to the criticism of millions of people.

"When I first broached the idea of doing YouTube some people looked at me as though I must have completely lost the plot," she confides.

Queen Rania of Jordan with King Abdullah and their younger son
She understands well the power of the visual image

"I do feel that our world is in a bit of a crisis at the moment," she says. "Violence has overtaken dialogue and compassion has lost out to anger. I'm hoping this will become a channel of communication between east and west because I very much think our world is in dire need of that."

Unlike the YouTube sites belonging to the British royal family or the UK government site, which don't allow comments and disable any discussion, Queen Rania's channel actively encourages them.

People have written a plethora of opinions on her page ranging from the adulatory, to the engaging, and the angry.

It's not exactly an online conversation. She can pick and choose which of the comments she responds to.

But she hasn't shied away from the tough issues: the rights of Arab women, honour killings, religion and terrorism have all been addressed.

No mistakes

And as one of the most photographed women on the planet, Queen Rania understands the power of the visual image.

"A lens is something through which you can really reach out to people and get your message across," she says.

It might be one of the reasons why, despite the crowd of cameras, staff and crew engulfing her, she manages to do her piece to camera in one take, with no hesitations, and no mistakes.

Queen Rania plans to end her V-log on 12 August, International Youth Day, but already she says it was move worth taking.

"By putting myself on YouTube I'm really putting myself out there, throwing myself into the thick of things. But it's a gamble worth taking.

"As Muslims we need to stand up and speak out about who we are. If we want to defy stereotypes we have to start defining ourselves and we're not going to do that just by sitting quietly at home expecting people to just get it."

Rania: The YouTube Queen is a Rockhopper TV production.
You can see it on BBC World News on 26 July at 0710, 1510 and 1910, and on 27 July at 0010, 0710, 1510 and 1910. All times GMT.

When the present is just bloody awful


This is from a Question and Answer Session with Thich Nhat Hanh on 20th of July 1998, in Plum Village:

Question : “I hear you say that the present moment is a wonderful moment. What if the present moment is just despair... a desert of emptiness and loneliness, meaninglessness, sickness, a feeling of loss and despair? Most of the time when I stop I find myself there.”

Answer By Thich Nhat Hanh

When the Buddha gave his first Dharma talk, he spoke about ill being, dukkha. Of course the feeling of loneliness, meaninglessness, sickness, despair, all belong to dukkha, ill being.

The Buddha talked about it first of all.

That was the first topic of his Dharma talk. According to the spirit of that Dharma talk, you should not try to run away from your ill being, try to escape, because if you do, you have no chance to get out of it. If you know how to embrace your pain and look deeply into it, and if you really care to look deeply, you will find out how it has come to be: the roots of your ill-being. And only with that kind of insight will you be able to get out of the situation. Therefore the attitude of running away from your suffering is not a wise attitude.

In fact the first truth, namely, ill being, suffering, has been described as a holy truth, because the first Dharma talk given by the Buddha was about the Four Holy Truths. First of all, ill being. The second truth is the cause, the roots of ill being. The third truth is the possibility of overcoming ill being and restoring well being, and the fourth is the way out of ill being and arriving at well being. Not only are the two last truths described as holy, but also the first one and the second one. Why do we call pain and suffering a holy truth? It is because, thanks to it, we can find the way to overcome suffering and ill being.

If we know how to handle our suffering, then we can learn a lot from it and we can discover the way out. But if we don’t know how to handle it, we will be overwhelmed by it, crushed by it, and the only thing we will want is to get away from it.

But how to get away? That is why even suffering is described as holy, wonderful. "Wonderful" does not mean pleasant alone. "Wonderful" means that there is a depth that we have to discover, and that looking into this, we can discover that also. The fact is that happiness is not possible without suffering. Those of us who have not experienced any kind of suffering would not be capable of identifying happiness, this is my experience. If you have never been hungry in your life, you do not know exactly the joy of having something to eat. If you have not suffered as a homeless person, you would not be able to identify the joy of someone who has a house to live in. That is why happiness cannot be identified without the background of suffering. That is why when someone says, "Come with me—I will show you a place where there is only happiness," please don’t believe him or her. Without the background and the remembrance of suffering, of pain, you cannot enjoy the happiness you are having now. That is why not only happiness is wonderful, but your non-happiness is also wonderful.

Suppose you have sadness and you want to get away from it. How can you get away from it? You have to embrace it and look deeply into it and identify the causes that have brought it to you. Then you can learn from your sadness, and then you can enjoy the non-sadness, the well being that you can afford to have. If you know how to cut the source of nutriment that has brought on your sadness, then you are on your way to emancipation, and you begin to enjoy your non-saddness. It is like your toothache. I hope that in this moment you don’t have a toothache, yet you don’t enjoy your non-toothache until you have a toothache. Suffering from your toothache you get enlightened: you say: "It’s wonderful not to have a toothache." So, how to enjoy your non-toothache? Just remember the time when you had a toothache.

Suffering plays a very important role in helping you to be happy. That is why even what you call suffering, loneliness, meaninglessness, sadness, fear and despair can be wonderful, because it is thanks to them that you have an opportunity to discover what freedom, stability, friendship, interbeing and love are.

So let us not run away from our garbage; we should learn the art of making compost. Using that compost we will grow a lot of flowers. Don’t think that without compost you can have flowers. That is an illusion. You can have flowers only with compost. That is the insight of interbeing — look into the flower and you will see the compost. If you remove the compost that became the flower, the flower will disappear also. What you are looking for, freedom, joy, and stability, you know that suffering plays a very important role in it. So be aware that we cannot just run away from our problems. In fact, we have to go back to our problems. The practice of calming, of concentrating, of embracing, of looking deeply into the nature of our pain, is absolutely necessary for us to get the transformation, the healing that we need so much.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Where Are The Keys
Article by Mark Epstein M.D
Dr. Mark Epstein is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City who lectures frequently about the value of Buddhist meditation for psychotherapy. His previous books include Thoughts Without a Thinker, Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, and Going on Being.

Before Mark Epstein became a medical student at Harvard and began training as a psychiatrist, he immersed himself in Buddhism through experiences with such influential Buddhist teachers as Ram Dass, Joseph Goldstein, and Jack Kornfield. The positive outlook of Buddhism and the meditative principle of living in the moment came to influence his study and practice of psychotherapy profoundly.

Going on Being is Epstein's memoir of his early years as a student of Buddhism and of how Buddhism shaped his approach to therapy, as well as a practical guide to how a Buddhist understanding of psychological problems makes change for the better possible.
Going on Being is an intimate chronicle of the evolution of spirit and psyche, and a highly inviting guide for anyone seeking a new path and a new outlook on life.

Chapter 1
There is a story that has kept popping up in my work over the years that embodies much of what I have learned about how people change. It is a story that has served a number of different functions as I have wrestled with the sometimes competing worldviews of Buddhism and psychotherapy, but it ultimately points the way toward their integration.

It is one of the tales of Nasruddin, a Sufi amalgam of wise man and fool, with whom I have sometimes identified and by whom I have at other times been puzzled. He has the peculiar gift of both acting out our basic confusion and at the same time opening us up to our deeper wisdom.

I first heard this story many years ago from one of my first meditation teachers, Joseph Goldstein, who used it as an example of how people search for happiness in inherently fleeting, and therefore unsatisfactory, pleasant feelings. The story is about how some people came upon Nasruddin one night crawling around on his hands and knees under a lamppost.

"What are you looking for?" they asked him.
"I've lost the key to my house," he replied.
They all got down to help him look, but after a fruitless time of searching, someone thought to ask him where he had lost the key in the first place.
"In the house," Nasruddin answered.
"Then why are you looking under the lamppost?" he is asked.
"Because there is more light here," Nasruddin replied.

I suppose I must identify with Nasruddin to have quoted this story so often. Searching for my keys is something I can understand. It puts me in touch with a sense of estrangement, or yearning, that I had quite a bit of in my life, a feeling that I used to equate with an old reggae song by Jimmy Cliff called "Sitting in Limbo."
In my first book I used the parable as a way of talking about people's attachment to psychotherapy and their fears of spirituality. Therapists are used to looking in certain places for the key to people's unhappiness, I maintained. They are like Nasruddin looking under the lamppost, when they might profit more from looking inside their own homes.

In my next book, I returned to this story obliquely when I described locking myself out of my running car while trying to leave a meditation retreat that I had just finished. I knew I had locked my keys in the car (it was idling away right in front of me, for goodness sake!) but I still felt compelled to look on the ground for them just in case I might somehow be miraculously saved. Being locked out of my car,with it running on without me, seemed like an apt metaphor for something akin to the title of my first book, Thoughts Without a Thinker. Something like a car without a driver, or, in this case, a driver without his car. Humbled by my own ineptitude, I felt closer to Nasruddin in my second pass through his story. Rather than seeing him simply in his foolish mode, as a stand-in for psychotherapists looking in the wrong place for the key, I now felt sympathy for Nasruddin, allied with him searching in vain for what he knew was not there.

But it was not until some time later, when I came upon the same story in someone else's work, that I could appreciate it in yet another way. In a marvelous book entitled Ambivalent Zen, Lawrence Shainberg told how this same parable captivated his imagination for ten years. He, too, thought that he understood it. The moral, he concluded, is to look where the light is since darkness is the only threat. But he determined one day to ask his Japanese Zen master (who is a wonderfully engaging character as described by Shainberg) for his interpretation.

"You know the story about Nasruddin and the key?" Shainberg asked his master.
"Nasruddin?" the roshi replied. "Who is Nasruddin?"

After Shainberg described the story to him, his master appeared to give it no thought, but sometime later the Roshi brought it up again.

"So, Larry-san, what's Nasruddin saying?" the Zen master questioned his disciple.
"I asked you, Roshi."
"Easy," he said. "Looking is the key."

There was something eminently satisfying about this answer; besides having the pithiness that we expect from Zen, it made me look at the entire situation in a fresh way. Shainberg's roshi hit the nail on the head. Nasruddin's activity was not in vain after all; he was demonstrating something more fundamental than initially appeared. The key was just a pretext for an activity that had its own rationale. Freud evolved one way of looking, and the Buddha discovered another. They had important similarities and distinctive differences, but they were each motivated by the need to find a more authentic way of being, a truer self.

I love this story because it connects me to something fundamentally true about my own process of self-discovery. I had the sense very early of feeling lost and cut off from myself. This feeling motivated my spiritual and psychological search, but it also had the potential to make me feel terrible about myself. In my discovery of Buddhism, I found a method of cutting through the self-estrangement that so bothered me. I found a new way to look at myself.

In the 1970s, there was a saying in Buddhist circles, "You have to be somebody before you can be nobody." This was a popular statement because of how clearly it summed up a very obvious phenomenon. Many of the people who were drawn to Buddhism were attracted by the ideas of "no-self" and "emptiness" that are central to the Buddha's psychology. But these are difficult concepts to understand; in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, for example, monks often study the scriptures that explain them for years and years before even meditating. In the West, people who were suffering from alienation or from spiritual and psychological distress often mistook the Buddhist descriptions for an affirmation of their psychological emptiness. "You have to be somebody before you can be nobody," was a way of telling them that their psychological work of raising self-esteem or creating an integrated or cohesive self had to precede efforts at seeing through the ego. In many cases, this was indeed sound advice; but the categorization of people into the two categories of "somebody" and "nobody" created another set of misunderstandings.

When the Buddha taught his middle path, he had the temerity to suggest that both "somebody" and "nobody" were mistakes, that the true vision of who and what we are involves looking without resorting to the instinct of intrinsic reality. "Somebody" was the equivalent of clinging to being, while "nobody" was the same as clinging to nonbeing. In either case, the mind's need for certainty was shortchanging reality. The correct view, the Buddha perceived, lies somewhere in between. The self-centered attitude is as much of a problem as the self-abnegating one. We can be proud or empty; in either case the problem lies in our sense of self-certainty.

Rather than blaming my upbringing, or other people, or instincts beyond my control, this view offered an approach that taught me to work first and foremost with my own reactions to things. When I thought I was somebody I reacted one way, and when I thought I was nobody I reacted another. In either case I was obscuring my own awareness. Removing these obstacles opened me to myself - not as something or nothing, but as a unique, singular, and relational process. I learned to live more in the moment - not putting up a false front and not focusing only on what was expected of me, but in touch with a more spontaneous, creative, and responsive self. As Nasruddin indicated, I was indeed searching for something. Learning to look, instead of react, turned out to be the key.

Meditation was the vehicle that opened me up to myself, but psychotherapy, in the right hands, has similar potential. It was actually through my own therapy and my own studies of Western psychoanalytic thought that I began to understand what meditation made possible. As compelling as the language of Buddhism was for me, I needed to figure things out in Western concepts as well. Psychotherapy came after meditation in my life, but it reinforced what meditation had shown me. Change did not come from trying to get rid of my problems or from going into them more deeply. It came from accepting what was true about myself and working from there. In exposing me to my chronic ways of reacting, psychotherapy showed me where my blind spots were. It sometimes took the interaction with another person to reveal them to me, but the results were similar to what I had glimpsed from sitting on the cushion: As I learned to question my own identifications, I came to be able to live more fully in the moment, and I felt closer to who I really was.
Posted by Ian Roberts

Thursday, July 24, 2008

10 thoughts for today

1. The spirit of optimism lets your body thrive.
2. Eat when you're hungry. Take pleasure in food.
3. Be wary of the should. They sap your energy and narrow your vision.
4. Stretch as well as strengthen-find symmetry in the balance.
5. Rather than avoid, engage with resistance.
6. Use money as a tool for putting your values to work.
7. Mindfulness is the mother of insight and joy.
8. Personal power grows with compassion, not aggression.
9. Do less. Enjoy more. You only have this moment.
10. Nourish your bliss. It lays the foundation for what's to come.


India's Dalit icon aims for top job

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News

Mayawati has been described as an unorthodox politician

Will an "untouchable" become India's next prime minister?

The way a number of Indian opposition parties are rallying around Mayawati, a Dalit or "untouchable" icon, and touting her as a future prime minister must be gladdening the hearts of 160 million members of the community she represents.

The 52-year-old daughter of a government clerk who grew up in a shanty town in the capital, Delhi, has emerged as the pivot of a fledgling "third front" in Indian politics.

It is trying to throw down the gauntlet to the coalitions led by the governing Congress and opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Ms Mayawati's "third front" brings together a slew of regional parties and communists, who are still smarting after they stopped supporting the government over its nuclear deal with the US.

"The impact of Mayawati has sobered a lot of political parties. She has a larger-than-life image. Now it's a third front with Mayawati as the nucleus," says Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express newspaper.

This despite the fact that her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), a regional party based in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, has only 17 seats in the parliament.

Since the 2004 general election, Mayawati's fortunes have soared. In the last state assembly elections a little over a year ago, her party swept to power winning 206 of the 403 seats and more importantly, had leads in 55 of the state's 80 parliamentary constituencies.

Her party also polled well in at least 60 parliamentary seats outside Uttar Pradesh, making her a pan-Indian Dalit icon of sorts.

Social engineering

The canny political strategist has also broadened her appeal, wooing upper-caste Hindus and Muslims - she has 29 Muslim and 52 upper-caste Brahmin members in the present state assembly.

In India's fractious and caste-driven polity, this is a masterstroke in social engineering - an unprecedented coalition of the poorest of the poor and the rich, and of Hindus and Muslims. And this has taken place in a state which accounts for one in seven MPs in the Indian parliament.

Opposition leaders with Mayawati
Mayawati is now the nucleus of the emerging new 'third front'

The upshot, say analysts, is that her party has become a factor in about 10 states, and could play the spoiler there for the bigger parties in next year's general elections.

The unorthodox Mahatma Gandhi-baiting politician with a penchant for gaudy birthday celebrations, expensive jewellery and personal statues has been an enigma for India's upper classes and journalists.

On the one hand, her homegrown charisma and mass-based leadership qualities have never been in doubt; on the other, she has been assailed with charges of amassing wealth and property beyond her means.

"Her political peers and journalists have persistently underestimated her and her party. She has been regarded as an unguided missile that has explosive intent, but no sense of direction," says Ajoy Bose, who has written a book on Ms Mayawati.

But he says her triumphant Dalit-Brahmin alliance in Uttar Pradesh has become a "blueprint for electoral success" in India.


Analysts say Ms Mayawati thrives best during periods of political instability, even when she appears to lack the numbers to form governments.

With only 66 legislators in the 403-member assembly, she took power in Uttar Pradesh twice. She secured a third term with 99 legislators.

"Each time she was short of majority. She was able to grab power because other parties prevented each other from forming the government," says Ajoy Bose.

This is exactly what could happen if the Mayawati-led "third front" mops up about 100 seats or more in next year's general elections which are expected to leave no party with a clear majority.

A village in Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh is one of the most backward states in India

Analysts say that Ms Mayawati is also trying to move beyond a purely caste-based agenda to enhance her appeal among upper-castes and classes - her government recently brought in English in primary schools and announced new urban housing and health plans.

But she could also blow her chances because of what her critics describe as her "despotic" side, and a lack of any second rung of leadership.

"There is a kind of ruthlessness in her that can be self-defeating. Her party is too individual-centred, and does not have a policy management team.

"Then there is the looming threat of corruption cases against her," says political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

However, the prospect of Ms Mayawati becoming the prime minister has immense symbolic value.

"This would be a Dalit woman from the most populous Indian state and one who has earned her way to the top through education and political work, not inherited it via marriage or lineage," says analyst Mahesh Rangarajan.

The next general elections will tell whether Ms Mayawati manages to exploit this opportunity.

Heart Sutra commentary by Thich Nhat Hanh


An extract from The Heart of Understanding by Thich Nhat Hanh

Through mindfulness we experience Interbeing
which means everything is in everything else.
Therefore, one should know that Perfect Understanding
is a great mantra, is the highest mantra,
is the unequalled mantra, the destroyer of all suffering,
the incorruptible truth. This is the mantra:

"Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha."

A MANTRA IS something that you utter when your body, your mind and your breath are at one in deep concentration. When you dwell in that deep concentration, you look into things and see them as clearly as you see an orange that you hold in the palm of your hand. Looking deeply into the five skandhas, Avalokitesvara (the Buddha) saw the nature of inter- being and overcame all pain. He became completely liberated. It was in that state of deep concentration, of joy, of liberation, that he uttered something important. That is why his utterance is a mantra.

When two young people love each other, but the young man has not said so yet, the young lady may be waiting for three very important words. If the young man is a very responsible person, he probably wants to be sure of his feeling, and he may wait a long time before saying it. Then one day, sitting together in a park, when no one else is nearby and everything is quiet, after the two of them have been silent for a long time, he utters these three words. When the young lady hears this, she trembles, because it is such an important statement. When you say something like that with your whole being, not just with your mouth or your intellect, but with your whole being, it can transform the world. A statement that has such power of transformation is called a mantra. Alokitesvara's mantra is

"Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha."

Gate means gone. Gone from suffering to the liberation of suffering. Gone from forgetfulness to mindfulness. Gone from duality into non-duality. Gate gate means gone, gone. Paragate means gone all the way to the other shore. So this mantra is said in a very strong way. Gone, gone, gone all the way over. In Parasamgate sammeans everyone, the sangha, the entire community of beings. Everyone gone over to the other shore. Bodhi is the light inside, enlightenment, or awakening. You see it and the vision of reality liberates you. And svaha is a cry of joy or excitement, like "Welcome!" or "Hallelujah!" "Gone, gone, gone all the way over, everyone gone to the other shore, enlightenment, svaha !"

THAT IS WHAT the bodhisattva uttered. When we listen to this mantra, we should bring ourselves into that state of attention, of concentration, so that we can receive the strength emanated by Avalokitesvara. We do not recite the Heart Sutra like singing a song, or with our intellect alone. If you practise the meditation on emptiness, if you penetrate the nature of interbeing with all your heart, your body, and your mind, you will realize a state that is quite concentrated. If you say the mantra then, with all your being, the mantra will have power and you will be able to have real communication, real communion with Avalokitesvara, and you will be able to transform yourself in the direction of enlightenment.

This text is not just for chanting, or to be put on an altar for worship. It is given to us as a tool to work for our liberation, for the liberation of all beings. It is like a tool for farming, given to us so that we may farm. This is the gift of Avalokita.

There are three kinds of gift. The first is the gift of material resources. The second is the gift of know-how, the gift of the Dharma. The third, the highest kind of gift, is the gift of non-fear. Avalokitesvara is someone who can help us liberate ourselves from fear.

TheHeart Sutra gives us solid ground for making peace with ourselves, for transcending the fear of birth and death, the duality of this and that. In the light of emptiness, everything is everything else, we inter-are, everyone is responsible for everything that happens in life. When you produce peace and happiness in yourself, you begin to realize peace for the whole world. With the smile that you produce in yourself, with the conscious breathing you establish within yourself, you begin to work for peace in the world.

To smile is not to smile only for yourself, the world will change because of your smile. When you practise sitting meditation, if you enjoy even one moment of your sitting, if you establish serenity and happiness inside yourself, you provide the world with a solid base of peace. If you do not give yourself peace, how can you share it with others? If you do not begin your peace work with yourself, where will you go to begin it? To sit, to smile, to look at things and really see them, these are the basis of peace work.

Yesterday, we had a tangerine party. Everyone was offered one tangerine. We put the tangerine on the palm of our hand and looked at it, breathing in a way that the tangerine became real. Most of the time when we eat a tangerine, we do not look at it. We think about many other things. To look at a tangerine is to see the blossom forming into the fruit, to see the sunshine and the rain. The tangerine in our palm is the wonderful presence of life. We are able to really see that tangerine and smell its blossom and the warm, moist earth. As the tangerine becomes real, we become real. Life in that moment becomes real.

Mindfully we began to peel our tangerine and smell its fragrance. We carefully took each section of the tangerine and put in on our tongue, and we could feel that it was a real tangerine. We ate each section of the tangerine in perfect mindfulness until we finished the entire fruit. Eating a tangerine in this way is very important, because both the tangerine and the eater of the tangerine become real. This, too, is the basic work for peace.

In Buddhist meditation we do not struggle for the kind of enlightenment that will happen five or ten years from now. We practise so that each moment of our life becomes real life. And, therefore, when we meditate, we sit for sitting; we don't sit for something else. If we sit for twenty minutes, these twenty minutes should bring us joy, life. If we practise walking meditation, we walk just for walking, not to arrive. We have to be alive with each step, and if we are, each step brings real life back to us.

The same kind of mindfulness can be practised when we eat breakfast, or when we hold a child in our arms. Hugging is a Western custom, but we from the East would like to contribute the practice of conscious breathing to it. When you hold a child in your arms, or hug your mother, or your husband, or your friend, breathe in and out three times and your happiness will be multiplied by at least tenfold. And when you look at someone, really look at them with mindfulness, and practise conscious breathing.

At the beginning of each meal, I recommend that you look at your plate and silently recite, "My plate is empty now, but I know that it is going to be filled with delicious food in just a moment."While waiting to be served or to serve yourself, I suggest you breathe three times and look at it even more deeply, "At this very moment many, many people around the world are also holding a plate but their plate is going to be empty for a long time." Forty thousand children die each day because of the lack of food. Children alone. We can be very happy to have such wonderful food, but we also suffer because we are capable of seeing. But when we see in this way, it makes us sane, because the way in front ofus is clear - the way to live so that we can make peace with ourselves and with the world.

When we see the good and the bad, the wondrous and the deep suffering, we have to live in a way that we can make peace between ourselves and the world. Understanding is the fruit of meditation. Understanding is the basis of everything.

Each breath we take, each step we make, each smile we realize, is a positive contribution to peace, a necessary step in the direction of peace for the world. In the light of interbeing, peace and happiness in your daily life mean peace and happiness in the world.

Thank you for being so attentive. Thank you for listening to Avalokitesvara. Because you are there, the Heart Sutra has become very easy.

This extract is reprinted from The Heart of Understanding, published by Parallax Press, Berkeley.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

First Nepal president is sworn in

Ram Baran Yadav
Mr Yadav's first task will be swearing in a new prime minister

The first president of the newly-declared republic of Nepal, Ram Baran Yadav, has been sworn into office.

The largely ceremonial post was created after the abolition in May of the country's centuries-old monarchy.

Mr Yadav's appointment has provoked a fresh political crisis. The former-rebel Maoist party had backed a rival presidential candidate.

After he lost the vote, it refused to agree to form a new government, despite being the largest party in parliament.

Immediately after Mr Yadav took office, interim Prime Minister GP Koirala tendered his resignation.

Mr Koirala announced he was resigning on 26 June but was waiting for a president to be elected to hand in his notice.

A new government must now be formed.

The Maoists were expected to lead it as they won most seats in April's elections to a new constituent assembly.

But they say they are being blocked by an alliance of rival parties.

The BBC's Sushil Sharma in Kathmandu says that there is now concern that the country may be governed by a shaky alliance of parties with differing ideologies while the Maoists - with their capacity to bring supporters onto the streets - will be watching form the outside.

You Can Play Native American Flute Part 2

Part two will show you six notes that go with each other no matter how you put them together.Just 6 notes to learn and you don't need to know what notes they are.Just play in 20 minutes and release your songs

Twin paths to a world full of love

Article from: Sunday Herald Sun

Bryan Patterson

THEY lived 500 years and more than 3000km apart, but Jesus and Buddha were soulmates, according to a new book.

Another recent book on the pair suggests Jesus might have studied Buddhism and adopted some of its philosophies.

Some modern scholars have been intensely studying the sayings of both religious masters to find similarities.

It's not that easy. The Dalai Lama once said trying to mix Buddhism and Christianity was like "trying to put a yak's head on a cow's body".

Maybe, but some modern Buddhist evangelists seem to be doing great business blurring the lines between cows and yaks.

Pop Buddhism has humanist beliefs that seem similar, at a glance, to the noble Christian ethics.

Of course, there are major differences in the spirituality of the West and the East, which avoids attaching a divine will to ethical codes.

Buddhists don't generally believe in the supernatural, but believe in reincarnation and the possibility for humans to live several lives.

In Christianity, each life is unique and is the only chance for salvation.

Buddha was born a prince into a wealthy Indian family, while Jesus was born into a poor and oppressed minority in a land under occupation. He declared himself divine and had to die to prove it.

Christ became a dangerous social and religious revolutionary while Buddha became a quiet teacher of spiritual wisdom.

But many of their words have a common thread,

Jesus said the heart of Christianity was: "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." Buddha said his Golden Rule was: "Consider others as yourself. Remember that you are like other men."

About love, Jesus said: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Buddha said: "Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so, cultivate a boundless heart toward all beings. Let your thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world."

All religion, in essence, makes the assessment that temporal life is, in some ways, unsatisfactory, asks the ultimate human questions and proclaims the answers. For Christians and Muslims it is about salvation. For Buddhists it is seeing "the true nature" of yourself.

The common way to enlightenment, according to each faith, is to proclaim universal love and believe the spirit is more important than the body.

Religious scholar Dr Marcus Borg, in his book Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, said they shared a primary interest in compassion, extolled the love of enemies and encouraged their followers to find a new way to live beyond human appetites.

The wisdom of both was "world-subverting".

Vietnamese Buddhist monk and prolific writer Thich Nhat Hanh lights candles daily to celebrate both Buddha and Christ.

He said Buddha and Jesus were pivotal figures, both "living streams" who opened the way to better lives on Earth and in the afterlife.

But he also said: "We don't want to say that Buddhism is a kind of Christianity and Christianity is a kind of Buddhism. A mango cannot be an orange. If you analyse the mango and the orange deeply enough, you will see small elements are in both. If you look a little deeper, you discover many things in common."

Buddhists generally believe the universe evolved through natural law and that truth has been given through countless ages by various Buddhas.

To Buddhists, Jesus is seen as an Enlightened One, although the crucifixion of Christ is difficult to explain in terms of the law of karma. How could someone so enlightened and good end up on a wooden cross?

Still, followers of the faiths can learn from each other.

Christian philosopher Thomas Merton was not too concerned with the differences between cows and yaks.

He said: "I couldn't understand the Christian teaching the way I do if it weren't in the light of Buddhism."

You Can Play Native American Flute

Do you need to relax? Play the is so easy.No notes or chords just the sound and you fingers.Everyone has songs inside them.Let your spirit soar release your songs today .be free!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sigur Ros - Saeglopur (the fountain mix)

Inside the world's largest opium factory

By Amarnath Tewary

Opium factory, Ghazipur
The factory exports most of the opium (Photo: Paras Nath)

It remains the world's biggest legal opium factory, dating back nearly two centuries.

And the factory located in Ghazipur in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh is back in the limelight because of a recently published internationally acclaimed historical novel.

Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies is set during a time when opium trade out of India was flourishing under British rule - and much of the opium was flowing out of this factory.

Ghosh says that opium was essentially the commodity which financed the British Raj in India

But at the 188-year-old Ghazipur factory, nobody appears to be aware of its controversial history or to have read Ghosh's novel.

Brisk business

Instead, it is business as usual: the 52-acre colonial red-brick factory employs 900 workers and has an annual turnover of $45m, with 90% of the opium exported to such countries as the US, Japan, France, and Sri Lanka for pharmaceutical uses.

USA and Japan alone import 200 to 250 metric tonnes of opium from the factory every year.

Photography inside the factory is prohibited and security is tight.

Factory official Manik Mukherjee says that Indian opium is "pure" and has immense pharmaceutical value.

The factory was located in an idyllic environment - a far cry from the bustling border town that Ghazipur is today.

In 1888, Rudyard Kipling, on a reporting trip to the area for the Pioneer newspaper, described it in vivid detail.

Opium factory in India
Amitav Ghosh says opium funded the British Raj (Photo courtesy: Wellcome Library)

"On the banks of the Ganges, 40 miles below Benares as the crow flies, stands the Ghazipur factory, an opium mint as it were, whence issue the precious cakes that are to replenish the coffers of the Indian government," he wrote.

"The opium arrives by challans, regiments of one hundred jars".

Amitav Ghosh has this description in the Sea of Poppies. "The factory was immense: its premises covered forty-five acres and sprawled over two adjoining compounds, each with numerous courtyards, water tanks and iron-roofed sheds.

"Like the great medieval forts that overlooked the Ganga (Ganges river), the factory was so situated as to have easy access to the river while being high enough to escape seasonal floods".

Ghosh studied etchings and lithographs of the factory made by British artists.

Colonial vestiges

"It's quite an imposing sight, you know, if you look at those rooms and the balls of opium in them - it must have been millions and millions of rupees' worth".

The cavernous factory still carries its colonial vestiges - the red brick buildings, a canopy-like water tank and a sun clock donated a British opium agent. The agents auctioned off the opium to traders.

The old processing unit was modernised only two years ago with opium cakes laden on moving trays drying under the sun.

Opium factory workers in Ghazipur
Nearly a thousand people work at the factory (Photo: Paras Nath)

The factory diversified during the Second World War, opening an alkaloid extraction unit for life-saving drugs and became one of the largest exporters of legal opium in the world.

Poppy cultivation declined in the neighbourhood and in the rest of Uttar Pradesh state declined towards the end of the 20th century. A lot of the poppy now comes from the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

But some things, like the grand colonial building, haven't changed.

Ghosh wrote about "a miasma of lethargy" that seemed to be always hanging over the factory's surroundings - one example was the opium addled monkeys who would lap the open sewers carrying the factory's waste.

Monkeys still have the run of the factory, eating opium waste and dozing all day.

"They have become addicted to opium. Most of the time we have to drag dozing monkeys away from this place," a worker says.

Indian government survives vote

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flashes a victory sign as he arrives at parliament for the second day of debate, 22 July
Mr Singh has promised the government will prove its majority

India's Congress party-led government has survived a vote of confidence over a civilian nuclear deal with the US.

The vote came after the government's left-wing allies withdrew their support in protest at the controversial accord.

The government motion received 275 votes with 256 against, Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said, hours after adjourning the debate amid claims of vote buying.

If the government had lost the vote, India would have faced early elections, casting the nuclear deal in doubt.

There was brief confusion over the counting process. Most voting was electronic, but about 50 votes were cast on paper which delayed the count.

Whether the government stays in power or not, it has lost the credibility and confidence of people at large
Rakesh Punia, Delhi

At least four MPs were too ill to vote from the chamber of the 543-seat house itself, but it is still not clear why so many MPs cast paper ballots.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says until Tuesday morning, the vote had looked too close to call.

But the government managed to scrape through with the support of smaller parties and independent members.

India faces a general election next year and many political parties have used the debate over the nuclear deal to stake out their positions ahead of the polls, our correspondent says.

Tight vote

Two days of debate on the nuclear accord ended in uproar amid opposition allegations of vote buying.

Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members waved fistfuls of money in the air, alleging that they had been offered bribes to abstain.

A nuclear reactor in India
Approval needed from IAEA, expected to meet on 1 August
Consent also required from 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group
Congress to approve deal before President Bush signs it into law
All this to happen before Mr Bush's tenure expires on 19 January 2009

Mr Chatterjee adjourned proceedings for several hours. He called it a "very sad day" for the Indian parliament, adding: "Nobody will be spared if found guilty."

Under the accord, India, which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, would gain access to US civilian nuclear technology and fuel.

In return its civilian nuclear facilities would be opened to inspection. Nuclear weapons sites would remain off-limits.

The communists fear the accord could give the US too much influence over Indian foreign and nuclear policy.

The main opposition Hindu nationalist BJP fears that the deal could compromise India's ability to test nuclear weapons in the future.

With the left withdrawing support, the government could rely on only 226 members in the 543-seat parliament, and needed 46 more to be absolutely sure of a majority.

The Congress party hoped to get the backing of the regional Samajwadi party and other smaller parties to help it win.

India's media was awash with reports of alleged defections and desertions among MPs ahead of the vote.

India is under pressure from Washington to sign the accord before the US presidential election in November.

Last week, Indian officials met members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world nuclear regulatory body, in Vienna to discuss plans to safeguard India's civilian nuclear facilities.

The IAEA's approval of the plan is a key condition for enacting the deal.

If the IAEA signs the agreement, the deal will go to the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which regulates global civilian nuclear trade, for approval.

It must then be approved by the US Congress before President Bush can sign it into law.

Critics of the deal fear assistance to India's civil programme could free-up additional radioactive material for bomb-making purposes.

No Birth and No Death by Thich Nhat Hanh

Some people might ask you, "When is your birthday?" But you may ask yourself a more interesting question: "Before that day which was my birthday, where was I?"

Ask a cloud, "What is your date of birth? Before you were born, where were you?"

If you ask the cloud, "How old are you? Can you give me your date of birth?" you can listen deeply and you may hear a reply.

You can imagine the cloud being born. Before being born it was the water on the ocean's surface. Or was it in the river and then it became vapor. The wind is there too, helping the water to become a cloud. The cloud does not come from nothing, there has only been a change in form.

It is not a birth of something out of nothing.

Sooner or later the cloud will change into rain or snow or ice. If you look deeply into the rain, you can see the cloud. The cloud is not lost; it is transformed into rain, and the rain is transformed into grass and the grass into cows and then to milk and then into the ice cream you eat.

Today if you eat an ice cream, give yourself time to look at the ice cream and say: "Hello cloud! I recognize you." By doing that, you have insight and understanding into the real nature of the ice cream and the cloud.

You can also see the ocean, the river, the heat, the sun, the grass and the cow in the ice cream.

Looking deeply, you do not see a real date of birth and you do not see a real date of death for the cloud. All that happens is that the cloud transforms into rain or snow.

There is no real death because there is always a continuation.

A cloud continues the ocean, the river and the heat of the sun, and the rain continues the cloud.
Before it was born, the cloud was already there, so today, when you drink a glass of milk or a cup of tea or eat an ice cream, please follow your breathing.

Look into the tea or the ice cream and say hello to the cloud.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Yemen embraces its Jurassic past

By Stephanie Hancock
BBC News, Madar village, Yemen

Dr Mohammed al-Wosabi next to some prints from ornithopods (bipedal dinosaurs)
The prints show how dinosaurs behaved, says Dr Wosabi
The village of Madar is perhaps an unlikely setting for a major scientific discovery that has been hailed as a 'new frontier' for the Middle East.

Tucked away in the heart of rural Yemen, Madar now finds itself in the limelight after a series of dinosaur prints were discovered in the village - the first such discovery on the Arabian Peninsula.

The dinosaur tracks have been lying exposed, above ground, for centuries, but scientists only recently stumbled across them following a tip-off from a local journalist.

Villagers have lived alongside the now famous footprints for generations, but never had any inkling about how important they would turn out to be.

"Before these tracks were named, we believed they were footprints from giant camels," said Yahir Saleh Arshami, who has dinosaur tracks running right in front of his house.

"But now they tell us they are from dinosaurs - we were extremely surprised. Luckily I built my house around the footprints so as not to disturb them."

The prints are located in several different sites dotted around Madar village, and are from both ornithopods - bipedal dinosaurs - as well as sauropods, which walked on four legs and are the largest animals ever to have lived on earth.

Ancient beach

At 150 million years old, the tracks are so ancient they were made before the landmasses of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula were separated by the Red Sea.

Mr Arshami outside his home
Mr Arshami thought the prints around his home were made by giant camels

Scientists are extremely excited about the discovery.

"These prints are very important in terms of culture and history, but they also allow us to go back in time and trace their history, and find out about the environment at the time," said Dr Mohammed al-Wosabi, of the University of Sana'a.

Dr Wosabi was the first scientist to view the tracks.

"These prints were made on limestone rock, which is only deposited in shallow marine areas, so we know these dinosaurs were living in a beach-type environment."

But perhaps more importantly, the prints - some of which are half a metre wide - also offer a glimpse into the dinosaurs' behaviour, vital information which cannot be gleaned by studying fossils alone.

The footprints capture a specific moment in time, almost like a photograph, and by analysing the spacing of the tracks scientists can tell what the dinosaurs were doing all those millions of years ago - even how quickly they were walking.

"The prints show a herd of eleven dinosaurs walking together," said Dr Wosabi.

Local councillor Abdul Aziz poses next to some sauropod prints
Villagers have been excited to learn about their famous heritage

"We can see that the smaller animals were walking quickly to keep up with the bigger dinosaurs, while the bigger ones slowed down their pace so the smaller ones could keep up.

"This is an example of social behaviour we did not know about before."

Villagers in Madar are both excited and proud to have such an important discovery right on their doorstep.

'Great adventure'

"It is thanks to Dr Wosabi that we know about these footprints - we used to just pass on by them," said Abdul Aziz, a local councillor in Madar.

"It's a great adventure to have dinosaur prints here, it feels really great - all this culture and history, and right here in our village as well."

A sign showing the way to the prints on the outskirts of Madar village
Many hope the prints will attract more tourists to Madar

One of the biggest challenges for scientists who studied the prints was explaining to villagers what dinosaurs looked like.

"We brought picture books to show the villagers, and especially the children, what dinosaurs were," said Dr Wosabi.

"When they saw the pictures the villagers were surprised - stunned even - because what they thought were camels had changed into dinosaurs. They were very shocked."

But villagers have now embraced their famous heritage, and most of Madar's 3,000 inhabitants have even watched the Hollywood blockbuster, Jurassic Park.

Scientists in Yemen have applied for the prints to be given Unesco status, not only to properly protect them, but also in the hope that the dinosaur tracks might help pull in curious tourists as well.

Madar's friendly locals are keen for more foreigners to visit the village.

As Mr Arshami, whose home is ringed by dinosaur prints, said: "It's something good for the country and many people have come to see this site. For scientists and tourists, it's very good. We hope more tourists will come."

Aim Your Gun

Here is my breast. Aim your gun at it, brother. Shoot!
Destroy me if you will
And build from my carrion whatever it is you are dreaming of.
Who will be left to celebrate a victory made of blood and fire?
Thich Nhat Hanh
From his poem ‘Our Green Garden’ 1976 (?)

Metta-Lovingkindness-Meditation Talk w\ Bhante Vimalaramsi
Here... as instructed by Bhante Vimalaramsi are the basic instructions for the Metta (Lovingkindness) meditation. Set to radiant and exotic images, Bhante describes how to do this practice as taught by the Buddha.

This simple practice, he teaches, can take you all the way to the very end of suffering and the highest states of mind that can be experienced.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rediscovering treasures of Bamiyan

By Alastair Leithead,
BBC News, Bamiyan


A tour of Afghan caves housing the world's oldest oil paintings

When the Buddhas of Bamiyan were carved out of the mountainside, the Roman Empire still held sway.

They towered over a rich valley in what is now central Afghanistan, where caravans of traders would stop and rest on the Silk Road as they transported goods between east and west.

For centuries the two huge statues stood guard over Bamiyan.

But in 2001, just months before they were forced from power, the Taleban dynamited what they considered un-Islamic representations of the human form.

Today all that remains are the recesses where they stood, and the labyrinth of fragile caves surrounding them.

Iconic art

Today there isn't even a paved road connecting the valley to Kabul, but yet inside the caves are a reminder of Bamiyan's past wealth and glory and a new claim to fame that could put the province back on the map.

Inside those caves the steep, narrow steps are crumbling, there are cracks in the mud tunnels carved into the mountainside, and still visible high in the echoing chambers are pieces of Buddhist iconic art which are now thought to be the oldest oil paintings in the world.

Only a few fragments of the ancient paintings remain
Only a few fragments of the ancient paintings remain

Japanese, European and American scientists restoring the cave murals dating back to around 650AD, discovered oil was used in the paint.

Yoko Taniguchi, one of the Japanese experts working on the caves, told reporters this is the earliest known use of this technique in the history of art.

She said it was previously thought the technique originated in Europe during the Renaissance, eight centuries later.

But wandering through the Buddhist temples carved out of the rock, there is little left of the murals destroyed in the last 30 years of war after surviving for centuries.

A tourist guidebook to Afghanistan written in the 1960s and 70s by Nancy Dupree, a famous traveller who dedicated much of her life to the country, gave an account of the artwork as it was then.


"The rest of the hall is elaborately decorated in a varied palette of burnt sienna, green, lapis lazuli blue, and yellow ochre depicting flowers, trees, stylised floral sprays, cornucopias and figures of kneeling worshipers," she wrote.

"A series of Buddhas dressed in sombre-hued maroon robes and framed with aureoles against an azure background walk on lotus pads set among flowers."

Paintings defaced by the Taleban
Most paintings have heads and hands missing

There's little evidence of this today apart from a few scraps of colour and detail here and there, but there are isolated caves higher up the mountain, impossible to get to without a rope, where some of the best examples still survive.

A combination of the vibration from artillery shells, the Taleban chiselling away the depictions of faces and hands, and looting put paid to most of the paintings.

But there are enough fragments left to give a hint of what it must have been like.

The views from the caves looking out over the valley are stunning and there is another twist to the story of the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

A Buddhist pilgrim wrote around the time the paintings were finished in the mid seventh century of the amazing statues - but he described three.

According to his account, the third reclining Buddha was a 1,000 feet long and lay on the valley floor.

It would be remarkable if it was buried beneath the river sediment and two teams of archaeologists, one from France another from Japan, are in a race to find it.

It sounds like an Indiana Jones film, but there have been many interesting archaeological discoveries in Bamiyan and this beautiful valley may not yet have revealed all its secrets.