Tuesday, December 22, 2009

December in South India: news from a Dharma tour

As Christmas approaches, spare a thought for Shakyajata and Priyadaka,  two Order Members from the UK, both currently touring India and visiting many of TBMSG’s most remote ‘Dhamma outposts’, small projects in remote areas, mostly initiated by gradates from Nagaloka.

She says -

“Well, where to begin? We have been travelling for nearly five weeks now, and every day is packed with impressions, a rollercoaster of unfamiliar experiences. Both of us are showing symptoms of overload (poor sleep, strange dreams, loss of short-term memory etc) so have decided to spend a few days here in Kerala, meditating and chilling out - we have just spent an entire day at the beach!

Before that we were in Hyderabad, where we arrived having survived a rather trying train journey from Bhubaneshwar in Orissa... there were MICE! The situation in Hyderabad could not be more different from Orissa, a remote place where there are a bunch of young mitras full of enthusiasm and inspiration; here TBMSG is much more established.

We visited a very famous site, Nagarjunakonda, an amazing place. Up to about the 5th century CE, this remote, peaceful valley of the ancient river Krishna, was a huge Buddhist monastic settlement, with many monasteries, stupas, viharas etc; then as everywhere in India, Buddhism became overlaid by Brahmanism and eventually disappeared. Then in the 1950s it was decided to build a huge dam, for much-needed irrigation for the peasant farmers of a huge area of Andhra Pradesh. The whole valley was set to be drowned; but a remarkable Indian archaeologist completed an excavation of the whole huge area, in just 6 years. Now the site is a vast lake (the dam is staggeringly huge) with an island where all the artefacts are displayed in a museum, among beautiful gardens and a setting like a Japanese ink-painting.

The Buddhist artefacts are amazing, not quite like anything I have seen before; including large standing and sitting Buddhas with strong faces of a different ethnic appearance from northern Buddhas, and unusual mudras (hand gestures). The site finds go back to the Old Stone Age, so much to take in...and we only had an hour!

The heroine of this stage of our journey is Jnanajyoti, who is making great efforts to connect and reconnect with women she knows in the Sangha here. I do hope they will continue to be supported in future, by TBMSG and the FWBO as a whole. Also great thanks are due to Padmavir who is trying to organise good things for us and, it seems, lots of other visitors at the same time! It's great to witness a revival of the ancient Buddhist traditions in Hyderabad, in a new form which will transform the lives of people here.

Kerala, on the western coast of South India, is hot and humid, quite tropical, and very beautiful, generally cleaner and more sorted than other parts of India.

Today, meditating on the beach, it came clear that there are women here I especially want to help.
In fact we have lots of ideas for projects we want to pursue. We have had a number of successful (if rather stressful) 'programmes' and there is so much interest in people, in what we have to offer. Spending a day or 2 as a 'tourist' has made me realise what it is I love about being here - it is a sort of glow on people's faces when they realise what their potential is for a different way of looking at their lives - that brilliant gleam of human potential, it's the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

And people are so friendly and responsive - a few days ago I found myself talking (to about 100 people) about my brother Asangasila's death (it was the anniversary) in just a natural way...they are so open and uninhibited. In Kerala we have spent a lot of the time with Ratnasiddhi, an Indian Order Member from Nagpur who is very impressive. He connects with people in a way we never could - I said something that inadvertently offended someone very politically militant at a meeting, and he fielded it so expertly. We are learning so much - Priyadaka is revealing a particular talent for teaching meditation, making it simple and appealing and very effective - to a group of 150 people including lots of babies, on one occasion!

Return to Nagpur
On Saturday morning we are going about 150 km north to stay with one of the Indian Dhammamitras in Kerala, who is going to show us some historic sites and put us on the train on Monday morning, to go back to Nagpur in central India, where we shall be based for most of the rest of the time here. This is a bit of a cliff-hanger as we do not have a confirmed reservation yet....our previous experience of this was not positive, we had no space to sleep...the journey takes 2 days and a night, so wish us luck...but it should be an exciting journey, through half of India....time to go now.

Any support you can give will be most welcome, on www.justgiving.com/youngindianfutures ... and thanks to you all.

love to all,
Shakyajata and Priyadaka

The map above shows most of TBMSG's groups across India; their website is at http://tbmsg.org

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