THE POPPY LADY

poppies-on-crossesThe idea for a memorial emblem of the red poppy came in a moment of revelation to an American teacher, Moina Belle Michael. It was the Saturday morning of the 11th November, 1918 —the day the Armistice was signed. A young soldier had placed a copy of the Ladies Home Journal on her desk where she was on duty for a Conference of the Overseas YMCA at Columbia University in New York City.  She found time to read it and discovered the marked page which carried John Macrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’:

“I read the poem…  The last verse transfixed me:    

‘To you from failing hands we throw
The Torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields’.

This was followed by a spiritual experience. It seemed as though she heard the silent voices of the dead, whispering and sighing in anxiety and anguish. In a moment of high resolve she pledged to KEEP FAITH WITH THEM and wear a red poppy as a sign of remembrance with all who had died.  She felt impelled to make a note of her pledge and, as she was hastily scribbling it down on the blank side of a used envelope, three men from the conference approached her with a gift of ten dollars to buy some flowers in appreciation of her work for the conference.  Looking up from her intense reverie of dedication and noting the coincidence, she had replied:

“How strange. I shall buy red poppies —twenty-five red poppies. I shall always wear red poppies of Flanders Field! Do you know why?”

Moina then showed them the poem by John Macrae and shared her inspiration. They were duly impressed and took the poem back with them to the Conference room. The conference were equally pleased and the men returned asking for red poppies to wear.

That Saturday afternoon Moina went poppy hunting in New York City and eventually found twenty five small silk red four-petaled poppies, fashioned after the wild poppies of Flanders. On her return to the university the men came crowding round for poppies to wear. She pinned one on her cloak collar and gave out the others.  This was the first group ever to ask for poppies to wear in memory of their soldier dead.

As a result of ‘The Poppy Lady’s’ tireless campaigning, her dedication to the cause and the inspiration her idea gave to others, the red field poppy has become an internationally recognized symbol of Remembrance and continues to draw heart-felt public support as a fund raiser to relieve distress among war veterans and their families.

Yet the revelation that came to Moina was that the ‘war dead’ were not dead. They communicated that they were in a state of “anxiety and anguish”.  Generating money from poppy sales gives much needed practical help to those who survived.  But can we help the ‘war dead’ who are trapped in the mental torment of violent deaths and the grief of unfulfilled lives? The poppy represents the sacrifice associated with two world wars and today many think of the lives lost in Vietnam, The Falklands, Northern Ireland, Iran, Afghanistan and Syria…

Moina’s heart had been stirred by a poem written from the heart of a poet. This opened an access point to the ‘war dead’ and she spiritually heard their grief and suffering.  We too can feel the heart open on reading the old war poems, or on hearing current war news (and not being entertained by sensationalism and human tragedy). On Remembrance Day (Memorial Day in May in America) the poppy can remind us of those who died in battle and is a point in time which can be used for heart communion with the ‘war dead’.

There is a recorded personal story of a soldier killed in 1918, ‘Private Dowding’, which describes his experience of ‘death’ in the battle-field. He had been sure death would mean extinction and he knew that many believed this. It was because extinction did not come to him that he was drawn to communicate his experience hoping that it would prove useful to some.

He did in fact ‘move on’ and describes inhabiting heaven worlds. The writer of this article mentions ‘Private Dowding’ because of a coincidence that happened one November morning. She had been reading this book when the author of ‘Centre’ happened to visit. She told him about Private Dowding’s story and how his book had opened the way to make sense of the soldier’s afterlife story. As Brian Taylor listened he had looked at his watch and quietly observed that it was exactly 11am – it was Remembrance Sunday (2012).

The ‘war dead’ have their suffering to wake up from; the living can recognise them when they come. We can share their Communion and unlock the meaning of that wonderful word.

Further Reading:

Flanders Field (11.11.12)

Centre: The Truth about Everything

Private Dowding

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FOR HUMANITY, MEMORY HAS COME TO REPLACE UNDERSTANDING

Memory cannot, of itself, lead to Understanding. It can only shape Points of View which are endlessly subject to change.

Understanding based on Memory is therefore also endlessly subject to change. It will also have to compete with other competing “understandings” (Points of View).

Real Understanding only comes into existence with DIRECT SEEING IN THE PRESENT MOMENT.  As soon as it enters Memory, it also is already subject to revision because it has become detached from Seeing.

Test this on yourself and others, vegans and carnivores alike, with sentences such as,

“What is on your plate?”

What you remember is filtered by your window frame. The man at the upstairs window will see something different. The man at the back bedroom window may doubt your sanity.

SPHERES OF DUALITY; THE PENDULUM

ProjectDiagram_777NOTES

The circle represents the confines of a system in which duality operates. In our case, this is the field of Humanity.

A & B represent any and all conflicting opposites. The list is endless.

AB passes through the centre of the circle at R. It indicates the maximum polarity possible for AB within the circle. This provides the maximum distance between the contestants A and B.  The arrows on AB and AC indicate the direction of flow. The arrows on CR, one below C pointing towards R and one above R pointing towards C also indicate the direction of flow.

On AR, to the right of A, there are two arrow points facing each other thus: > <.  On RB, to the right of R, there are similar arrows. These arrows represent the confrontation points which are continuously appearing anywhere and everywhere throughout the plane of conflict which is the line AB. These confrontations are interminable.

If A were ever to succeed in defeating and occupying B, B would immediately reappear in another guise at A and the confrontation would resume. History illustrates this very clearly.

C represents the upstream point at which humans are reconciled by abandoning A and B. It is both an exit and an entry point.

The dotted line through C and parallel to AB represents the plane of reality occupied by Humans who are, just that, Humans. They have abandoned the identifications which create the AB conflicts or have never descended into that lower world in the first place.

R represents the linear point, within the horizontal field of conflict, where, by abandoning A and B, reconciliation is also achievable. This is unlikely, however, because of the momentum accumulated by the Pendulum of Conflict in its ongoing advances and retreats.  This momentum reinforces the differentiations of A and B.

C  = R.

The diagram is static. In reality everything is dynamic; every atom, every cell, every solar system.

For the sake of simplicity, the diagram is two dimensional and shows one AB line. Actually, there are an unlimited number of AB lines spreading out in all directions from R to the circumference, just as there are an unlimited number of issues on which humans are divided and are in unrelenting conflict with each other.

Each and every one of these issues on which humans are in conflict with each other has the same Reconciliation Point; the complete surrender of identification with the points A and B.  This is replaced by direct seeing the way things actually are in the present moment.

Reconciliation is rediscovery in the living present of sameness – our real and eternal Identity. This replaces identification with “differentness” which occurs when understanding is based on memory of the past and the points of view it conditions. These points of view include corresponding projections into an imagined future.

Furthermore, the two dimensional diagram represents a three dimensional sphere, the sphere of human existence, within which an infinite number of AB lines radiate outwards from a single immaterial point.  On the material plane, this includes the planet on which our dramas are played out.

Because of the enormous powers of destruction which human beings have obtained, our continuing failure to solve our ongoing and worsening AB conflicts now endangers the Earth itself.

The apparent vacuum within the circle itself is actually full of events, incidents, hostilities, revenge, justifications, memories, points of view, understandings and misunderstandings. All are movements of the conditioned mind.

Full and expanding.

It is a rich compost in which A and B continually seek and find the food to support and nourish their differences rather than resolve their conflicts. It is like a thistle growing next to a lettuce. Each takes from the same soil what its roots need to keep thistles quite different from lettuces.

PRINT DIAGRAM & NOTES 

Article from Blog
THIS WEEK’S PROJECT

 

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WHO’S FOR CHICKEN LIB?

I had settled down in a little Italian bistro to recover from some dental treatment and was dipping ciabatta bread into hot carrot and coriander soup, chewing slowly and observing feeling returning to the gums as the numbing effect of the ‘injection’ wore off.  What a relief to experience pain-free eating! I opened The Independent newspaper lying on the table and read this article which ironically was very much about ‘pain-full’ eating: ‘Secretive Industry that Rules the Roost: Chicken Is Set to Become the Best–Selling Meat Globally.’

The article began with the question: “Who’s for chicken?” Followed by the answer that around the world from more of us, and more often, there is a resounding “ME”. To find out why and how chicken reached this position the reporter claimed to have discovered some extraordinary facts:

Article Fact. Using the latest poultry science and genetics, a broiler chicken’s life, from hatch to dispatch, reaches its target weight in 35 days.

broiler chickens in shed

An English Norfolk farmer, described as running one of the most efficient chicken farms in the world (just nine staff raise 6 million chickens a year) was quoted as being a firm believer that the best welfare standards and the best productivity are achieved by rearing chickens indoors in tightly controlled conditions. “I never cease to wonder at these birds’ abilities,” he said, ankle deep in some of the 54,000 broilers eating and growing in one of his many chicken sheds. “Given the right feed and care they’re so productive, it’s fantastic.”

The fact not revealed is that modern broiler chickens, slaughtered at only five weeks of age, are frequently diseased and crippled.

Hillside Animal Sanctuary boss Wendy Valentine says; “Broiler chickens lead a life of misery. Their excessive and unnatural growth has come about as a result of genetic engineering and makes them pile on weight three times as fast as they should. Their bones simply cannot handle this and as a result they suffer awful, painful leg deformities that leave many of them unable to walk at all.”

Technically, modern broiler chickens are clinically obese. Even when they’re just a few weeks old, all manner of diseases of obesity may have set in.

Article Fact. 95% of the 50 billion chickens eaten in the world every year are broilers. There are actually very few species of broilers. Whether in Sydney or Shanghai, Nairobi or Mumbai, the chicken served up is likely to be the exact same breed of broiler. No other farmed animal system relies on such a narrow genetic base. Moreover, there are only three dominant companies in broiler breeding.

Article Fact. More than half the chicken eaten globally is from an Aviagen bird. The poultry-breeding company Aviagen (it breeds turkeys and fish as well as chickens) is privately owned and notoriously secretive. It runs a highly technical business. The head of Global Genetics at Aviagen said, “Through multiplication centres throughout the globe we supply parent stock to more than a hundred countries.” A single elite Aviagen male bird will go on to be represented in 50 million chickens anywhere on the planet – bred to grow faster and more efficiently.

The fact not revealed is that in order to breed successfully, the parent birds, genetically identical to their offspring, must remain underweight. So they are kept hungry. Sometimes very hungry, eating their meagre rations, finely tuned by the breeding companies, in a matter of minutes, their suffering compounded by the fact that they, like their offspring, have been genetically selected for big appetites.

Article Fact. Concerns about the chicken’s welfare and health hardly make a dent in this meat’s popularity. Without the highest standards of husbandry the crowded, warm and humid conditions in which chickens are raised are perfect for bacterial diseases (salmonella, E coli and campylobacter), which may cause serious diseases in humans eating contaminated chicken if not properly cooked. Defence that builds up slowly would be useless for an animal that will be dead in five weeks. So vaccines to prime chicken immunity to resist attack are injected into each embryo in the egg three days before they hatch.

Article Fact. A chicken financier from Rabobank International was asked what global chicken is worth and the answer is about $450bn and rising.

Article Fact. The intensive broiler chicken industry is transforming the face of global eating. Now, hundreds of millions of chickens live and die in factory farms.

The fact not revealed is that in addition to health problems arising from their genetic make-up, the birds’ living conditions are unacceptable, being unsuited to the birds’ needs and insanitary. Broilers are not caged; they suffer from a completely different range of serious welfare problems to those encountered by battery hens. Diseases and injuries caused or exacerbated by living conditions in the windowless controlled environment sheds include hock burns, ulcerated feet, poor feathering, heat stress, and injuries caused by birds becoming trapped in automatic feed devices. Conditions in broiler sheds which may cause distress or actual pain include dim lighting, inadequate ventilation, filthy ‘capped’ litter, overcrowding and the impossibility of properly inspecting the stock.

A surviving rescued broiler chicken

A surviving rescued broiler chicken

The slaughter of broiler chickens is often, from the welfare point of view, unsatisfactory, (from a moral point of view, always unsatisfactory). Clare Druce, a Life Campaigner for Animals, describes the process, “First comes the terrifying catching process, then a gruelling journey, crammed together in drawer-like modules or crates, often suffering from injured or trapped limbs, and from heat, stress or cold. And the suffering is not over yet. At high speed, they must be grabbed from the crates and hung in shackles, a process known to cause great pain. Death is generally by electric shock, intended to render the bird unconscious before necks are cut and bleeding-out takes place.”

“Procedures in far too many poultry slaughterhouses do not ensure that the birds are adequately stunned, leaving an unknown number alive, and some still conscious, when they enter the scalding tank.” – Dr Henry Carter, past President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

The newspaper article rounded off with the glib statement that no longer is there any doubt that broiler chickens will become the most popular meat in the world and (astonishingly) compounded this glibness with a list of the best selling chicken dishes available in various well known outlets.

By not revealing the truth of suffering as the extraordinary fact in a broiler chicken’s life and death, the insight that “What we do to another we do to ourselves” could not be illuminated.

We need to ask critical questions like “Might the increase of obesity, heart disease, cancer and depression in humans be a causal outcome of man’s ruthless and cruel infliction of obesity, heart disease, cancer and misery on the ‘globally popular’ broiler chicken (and other factory farmed and laboratory animals) ?”

Humans urgently need to awaken to our inter-connectedness and oneness with all life.  We need to stop buying ‘genetic freak’ dead animals from factory farms.  Stop turning a blind eye to the insane mass killing of billions of bird beings. Stop eating corpses. We need to have moral respect for animals of all species and not use them as resources.  Buying ‘organic’ or ‘free-range’ chickens is still not the answer – it needs a change of lifestyle. Become vegan. It is not difficult and you will not be part of the suffering cycle of the broiler chicken (and of any animal). It is morally the right thing to do.

Who’s for Chicken Lib? “Me!”

Note: This article was written three years ago but is as relevant now as then. It is being published again prompted by an astonishing guide recently published by a leading UK newspaper (Daily Mail) to encourage the nation to change to a Vegan (wholefood, plant based diet) diet: Daily Mail guide on how to live longer

Linden Brough  March 2016

 

‘Secretive Industry that Rules the Roost: Chicken Is Set to Be come the Best–Selling Meat Globally.’ By Susie Emmett, The Independent, Thursday, 7th February 2013

‘Chicken Today…’ by Clare Druce, Hillside Animal Sanctuary Newsletter, Winter 2012

 

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THERE REALLY IS ONLY ONE

We are living in a very auspicious era: so many paths, healing methods, meditations, wonderful spiritual teachers, channelers, writers, artists, musicians – all so instantly available through the internet.  So much information to dip into, choose from, try out and experiment with – we can be ‘butterflies’ forever and never reach the goal. Or we can miss the precious opportunity and be put off by trigger words like “religion”, “God”, “Christianity”, “karma”, “Buddhism”, “reincarnation” and so on.

All genuine paths are based on the same simple Truth: “There really is only One”. This is our evolutionary intelligence test for the right understanding to arise that will guide us safely through the labyrinth of choice and multiplicity.1. wowsliderThe guiding thread is present in five personal insights (upstream of religion) which enable us — on whatever path we travel — to check out where we are now, how far we have got and how to progress:

CENTRE: There really is only One. Call it God, Source, Tao, One, Nirvana, Emptiness, Void, Absolute…  whatever – it’s not the name. Every living and non-living thing is part of the One. There is no “Other”. Every thing arises out of the Centre of this One and subsides back into it. Just like waves rise and fall but are never separate from the sea.

ETHICS:  The fundamental, easily understood ethic is: Don’t do to others what you would not like done to yourself. Since all is One, what you do to another – you do to you. Ethics is the natural result of this understanding. In practice this means you would stop killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech and taking drugs and intoxicating drinks which lead to carelessness and mistakes which affect others (and yourself). Ethics becomes your lifetime’s training for perfecting behaviour as your thoughts, speech and actions align with the truth of Oneness.

HAPPY MIND:   Because you are not causing harm to “another” this gives rise to a happy mind. Happiness is the thermometer which indicates where you are now. By asking yourself, “Am I happy?” you can gauge what percent – 40%, 50%, 80%? You may notice that it can vary hour to hour, day to day, week to week… Ethics stabilises happiness and enables you to home in on purifying the mind so that negative or unwholesome states will never rise again. When this is achieved you will have reached your eternal dwelling place of perfect ethics and happiness.

CLEAR CONSCIENCE:  This is the test. Although the things that you have done in the past will still cast their shadows on the present, the shadows themselves will fade. Your conscience will become clearer. The radiation from the Centre (which has a physical location in the body – where the breathing starts and finishes) which is non-dualistic in nature, reflects back, from the point of view of non-duality, your mental activities. It is a mirror image. Every time you experience a feeling of discomfort emanating from the stomach area around the Centre, can you associate it with something you have done, are doing or thinking?

DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT – NOW:   It’s very difficult to be honest with ourselves. We can justify our behaviour with lightning speed, avoid confrontation and endlessly occupy ourselves with substitute activities rather then face the truth about the way things really are. Acknowledging that we did something wrong, made a mistake, is the first step. Then we need to do something to put it right. Sometimes it appears that nothing can be done now – the person may appear to be dead or out of reach. You can still do something meritorious and share the merit with them wherever they are NOW. Done with clear intention, it will reach them and make them happy. This is a liberating thought because it opens the door of opportunity. Sometimes it seems that nothing can be done and one just has to put up with the consequences and wait for karma to come round again.

These five personal insights, when developed and maintained with self-awareness, change you. When your actions towards others are positive, you experience the positive result of being drawn closer and closer to the Centre of the One.

This article is based on talks by poet-philosopher Brian Taylor – author of ‘CENTRE The Truth about Everything’.

References:
Centre The Truth about Everything by Brian Taylor

 

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ETHICS IS THE HIGHEST SCIENCE

animalmachines.images

First published 1964: New edition published 2013

The scientific recognition that meat eating is dangerous to human health is the link between two ground-breaking books published forty years apart; Animal Machines by Ruth Harrison (1964) and The China Study by Colin Campbell (2006). A second edition of Animal Machines was launched in March, 2013 at Oxford University on the occasion of a Zoology Department conference to celebrate two remarkable scientist-pioneer women and their books; Rachel Carson and her environmental classic Silent Spring (1962), about the ecological risks of the indiscriminate use of chemicals in agriculture, and Ruth Harrison’s Animal Machines, an exposé of factory farming.

Ruth Harrison (1920-2000), a Quaker and lifetime vegetarian, had felt a moral responsibility to help factory-farmed animals. A vital insight that developed from her work was the importance of a fully integrated approach to ‘animal welfare’ in which concerns such as environmental impact and human health are taken alongside each other. She observed that the incidence of degenerative diseases in man was rising at an alarming rate and recognized that human health and well-being were directly related to animal health and well-being. Her remarkable documentary book is composed of research facts, harrowing photographs and detached reporting on what she witnessed on visits to factory farms in England in the ‘60s. Comparisons are included with factory farms in America and Europe.

In her book Ruth pointed out the inconsistency of how one person being unkind to one animal is considered a cruelty but where a lot of people are unkind to a lot of animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended ─by wilful hypocrisy and justification─ to the last by otherwise intelligent people. She clearly saw moral cause and effect:

“…the degeneration of the animal in the appalling ways it is now made to eke out its  existence must have an impact on human self-respect, and ultimately on man’s treatment of man ─‘In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto Me.’” (Matthew 25:40)
                                                          Ruth Harrington, ‘Animal Machines’, p40

She further explained how some may find it easy to lull their consciences when only animals are concerned, but that the issues under discussion extend beyond conscience and impinge in the most practical manner on the physical well-being of the human race in so far as the food provided by these means is not only inferior but dangerous!

The conclusion Ruth formed was that ‘meat eating has become a hazard’ as a direct result of factory-farming methods and their dependence on abnormal environments, unnatural feeding, genetic modification, antibiotics, hormones, tranquilizers and drugs.

“The sad thing is that the further people get absorbed with large commercial combines [the BEEF, POULTRY and DAIRY industries, the CHEMICAL industry, PHARMACEUTICAL industry, VIVISECTION industry, UNIVERSITY industry…] and turn their minds purely to efficiency and material progress, the more they sink their consciences or salve their woolly thinking.”
                                                               –Ruth Harrison, Animal Machines, p36

The Second Edition includes a description of the reaction to Ruth’s book. It was serialized in a major British newspaper and caused an immediate expression of shock and outrage from the public who realised that they were supporting institutionalised cruelty through their grocery purchases and poisoning themselves with unsafe food at the same time.  In response to the furore, the government had set up what became known as the Bramble Committee to investigate ‘the welfare of animals kept under intensive livestock husbandry systems’. The Committee’s report included a remarkable appendix written by William Thorpe (also a Quaker) on ‘the assessment of pain and distress in animals’. The creation and funding of animal welfare research in the UK resulted from the influence of this report and Ruth’s book.

First published 2006

The far-reaching discoveries of The China Study (2006) strikingly contribute to Ruth’s conclusions of over forty years ago. In his book Colin Campbell presents the results from a study of the relationship between diet and disease done jointly by Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. It spanned over twenty years of research. Simply put, the study’s startling conclusion is that an ‘animal protein’ diet is the main cause of the ‘diseases of affluence’ i.e. cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s and auto-immune diseases. The study also reports that a ‘whole food plant based diet’ maintains good health and can facilitate healing of disease (and by-pass the need for aggressive and costly surgery and drugs).

Similarly, Ruth had concluded that ‘most sickness could be prevented by the right feeding of the people.’ The realisation that the best welfare for animals might come about

dreamstime_xs_41476112

while promoting the best welfare for humans through a plant-based diet, effectively making factory farms obsolete, would undoubtedly have fulfilled Ruth’s humanitarian vision for the real well-being of animals and humans.

She had felt that voluntary codes (though necessary) led to much less improvement than laws. The scientific evidence that an ‘animal protein’ diet is the main cause of disease in humans needs to be made publicly available to consumers to give them the option of choice:- meat, chicken, eggs, dairy products and fish carrying a government health warning (like on cigarette packets).

Ruth Harrison, Rachel Carson (who wrote fifty years ago about the hazardous effects of pesticides in the food chain), Colin Campbell and all genuine scientists share a profound ethical awareness of the interconnectedness of life which they stress must be taken into account to avoid global catastrophes.

Some final ‘food’ for thought:

A VERO (Voice for Ethical Research at Oxford) delegate at the Oxford University conference for the launching of the second edition of ‘Animal Machines’ noted that the plentiful food served showed no indication of how the ‘animals’ had been treated; nor any attempt at a practical application of the moral insights of the pioneer authors the conference was honouring…  It seems that at Oxford itself the legacy and impact of ‘Animal Machines and ‘Silent Spring’ (far less ‘The China Study’) are conveniently absent… 1]   

Momentous and affirmative as the discoveries are in ‘The China Study’ for human health, from an ethical viewpoint it is disheartening to read the animal research descriptions of infliction of disease, torture and killing of imprisoned animals. Colin Campbell respectfully acknowledges that the initial research was done using animals, and declares that substitute ‘non-animal’ research methods  were not available, but feels that “the end justified the means”… 2]

This underscores the truth that the highest science is Ethics because it is to do with survival of all Life (and not merely knowledge). Changing to an ethical way of life is not only a change of diet. It is a humanitarian decision undertaken for purely moral reasons –to end the exploitation of other species (and end the Dark Age of human degeneracy in the form of animal research laboratories and factory farming).

How far have we got to where?


Bibliography
ANIMAL MACHINES by Ruth Harrison, (1964) Second Edition 2013, Published by CABI, ISBN 978-1780642840
THE CHINA STUDY by Colin Campbell and Thomas Campbell (2006), Benbella Books, ISBN 978-1932100662
SILENT SPRING by Rachel Carson (1962) Penguin Classics, New Edition 2000, ISBN 978-0141184944

References
1] VERO Voice for Ethical Research at Oxford   http://www.vero.org.uk/
2] DR HADWIN TRUST UK’s leading non-animal medical research charity  http://www.drhadwentrust.org/

 

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THE INDIAN LADIES

I first met the Indian ladies in the female servers’ rest room at the English vipassana meditation centre, Dhamma Dipa. The room was crowded with servers (volunteers who have already benefited from a ten day meditation course and offer to serve a course) having their evening meal. At the end of the table sat three peaceful old Indian ladies in colourful saris. One carefully cut up several pieces of fruit and beautifully arranged the fruit on a big plate. I thought how healthy they must be to eat so much fresh fruit! But it was not only for themselves – the old Indian lady first offered the fruit to everyone in the room before taking what was left for herself and her sisters. When they had finished eating they proceeded to pick up the dirty plates of the younger servers (who were busy chattering) and take all the dirty dishes to the kitchen for washing.

I was to get to know (and love) this group of old Indian ladies who come regularly to serve at Dhamma Dipa and Dhamma Padhana. Whenever they come they bring Dana for everyone, home cooked Indian food, clothes for Servers, seeds and plants for the garden. Indian clothes boutiqueOne evening after group sit (and before server’s metta) we had a spontaneous Indian boutique party in the Household Workshop to share the recently donated clothes! Everyone left smiling carrying something useful and colourful. This made the old Indian ladies very happy.

The outstanding memory is of the time they came on mass to serve a Hindi course at Dhamma Dipa – the whole kitchen team was made up of old Indian ladies whose average age was over 70! The kitchen manager was a young male and (fortunately) Indian. At the beginning he thought it would be impossible to work with such a team but within days they became like ‘mothers’ to him, he became a much loved, dutiful son, we (servers and students) became their extended family and the food prepared was the best ever – main ingredient ‘metta’!

The centre became charged with good will throughout that Hindi course and the different departments merged into One big family. The Indian ladies never missed a meditation sit and when most other servers would take a rest until the 2.30pm sit, the ladies would sit at 1pm as well. This was always possible as everyone felt inspired to help ‘the old mothers’ with cleaning and tidying the kitchen and dining rooms. We were witnessing ‘continuity of practice’ in action. The Indian ladies didn’t separate their service from their sitting – it was all the same opportunity for ‘awareness’ and ‘presence’ to them.

Rules, which are created as a response to someone getting it wrong (reduced awareness) and needing a guideline for the smooth running of a group, were replaced with ‘presence’. The eldest sister among the old Indian ladies took charge of their laundry and early every morning used a washing machine to wash their clothes (Rule: Course servers are not allowed to use the laundry.) The time was chosen so as not to interfere with the centre use of the machines, she carefully removed and put in the drier any washing left in the machine and always remembered to come back to collect their laundry so that it didn’t get in the way. At every opportunity, if the laundry server was folding laundry, they would help.

One of the old Indian ladies could hardly walk and it took her a long time (many little painful steps, several times each day) to walk up to the Dhamma Hall for the group meditation sit. Everyone felt compassion for her. One day I walked into the servers’ rest room and there she was with legs bared and feet resting on another’s knees while several of them were wrapping her legs in banana skins which were held in place with elasticated bandages. What are you doing? I asked (Rule: Not to practice other techniques at the centre.) The eldest sister said it came to her during meditation to use the discarded banana skins from breakfast to heal her sister’s legs. Faced with such pure intention I was silent. Two days later I passed the old Indian lady with the leg problem and asked her how her legs were. She smiled and lifted up her sari to show me the swelling was all gone and she was in much less pain.

The Indian ladies didn’t waste time with idle chatter but would be delighted to inspire usgolden smiling Buddha with Dhamma talk. They had been born into a Jain family and the eldest told me that it was similar to Buddhism except they had been taught to pray to Buddha for liberation instead of doing meditation. When they met vipassana meditation they recognised it as the true way to Liberation. They loved and were grateful to Goenka for maintaining the purity of this meditation technique and for teaching the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path.

Many servers will have their own stories of meeting these remarkable Indian ladies; this is one contribution reflecting the wondrous benefit of good friends on the Path who inspire us by example.

 

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H BLOCK

I lived in H BLOCK at a vipassana meditation centre in England called Dhamma Dipa and did long term service there for fifteen months. It proved to be one of the happiest work (service) experiences of my life. The centre runs regular ten day courses (as taught by S. N. Goenka). The aim of vipassana meditation is to purify the mind so that things can be seen as they are and responded to with equanimity and good will – rather than reacted to with aversion and attachment. The result is ever-increasing happiness and freedom from suffering.

Each retreat has around sixty men and sixty women attending from all over the world. For many students it is their first time and all undertake to complete the rigorous course of confining themselves to the meditation centre, maintaining segregation of the sexes, keeping the Five Precepts (undertaking not to kill, steal, lie, take alcohol or drugs and to maintain celibacy), keeping Noble Silence, eating only two vegetarian meals a day, rising early and doing long hours of sitting meditation – and they would come out smiling and happy at the end. As a household server my task had been to support the students by maintaining the sanctity, order and cleanliness of the centre.

The twenty acres of ground around the centre are described as Dhamma Land because of the vibrations of peace and good will. The birds are very tame and show no fear of humans. After one course a student told me how each day a crow had strutted along the path in line with them as they quietly walked in the woodland area. Goenka describes the norm human state as being one of ‘loving kindness to all beings’. All animals, insects and plant life (and even inanimate things). The flowering shrub, the bird, the student will brighten when viewed with loving kindness, without needing to name them.  Everything communicates so that things can be intuitively known and we share in the joy of creation.

Stepping outside the centre’s boundary one day I had walked to the nearest bus stop about half an hour away. An unpleasant (yet strangely familiar) smell was noticed first. Along the lane about ten minutes before the bus stop the throat had begun to constrict as I breathed in ammonia laden air. Looking to the right I saw, through some gaps in the hedgerow, a long wooden shed about a three metres off from the road. Window after window screened over with rolled down black blinds cutting out the light. Large noisy fans were whirring out the horrid smell.  I listened. Apart from the fans all was eerily silent. No sound came from within the shed. I reached a metal gate with a sign saying ‘NO ENTRY’ and could see clearly now. The shed was one of several and had a large sign saying – H BLOCK.

I had only read about factory farms and seen pictures of the barbaric conditions animals are forced to live in.  The ‘strangely familiar smell’ was recognised as the smell that pervaded the centre when the air pressure was high or it was unusually hot. It must spread for miles.  On another walk past the factory farm I was able to verify what was inside. The blinds had been rolled up and there were lights on. I could see through the window. It was a chicken factory. Chickens (young hens now with feathers) were crowded together with standing room only as far as the eye could see.

This was a broiler farm for factory-produced chickens. There was no need to recall the appalling facts about genetically modified chickens as I was seeing the suffering directly. The birds were obviously constantly breathing in the ammonia fumes (from their litter) that was being expelled into the fresh air I was breathing. They were crowded prisoners in an artificially lit shed with no access to natural sunlight. They had no freedom to scratch the ground, peck for food of their choice or have a dust bath. They were being totally deprived of the joy of a bird’s life.

The causal connection (what you do to another you do to yourself) between the atrocities that go uncontested within the factory chicken shed and the present diseases of affluence (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, auto-immune diseases and depression) are so obvious that it does not need named. Suffice to say that these same diseases arise in the factory farmed chickens’ short, unhealthy and unhappy lives, caused by their unnatural environmental conditions and genetic modification. They are then slaughtered for humans to eat. I felt compassion for the suffering birds and made an intention to help bring the light of consciousness to their (and humanity’s) plight.

Past the chicken factory farm is an orchard full of apple trees (being intensively grown) then acres of poly tunnels full of raised strawberry plants (being intensively grown). From the road I heard the loud chattering of people talking in a foreign language. It was the fruit pickers. Many come from Eastern Europe to work long hours for the lowest UK basic wage. They live on the fruit farmer’s land in a large worker’s caravan site. I wondered if any of them lived in an H BLOCK?

May all beings be well and happy.

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