December 2014 Archives

26th December 2014

Once to ev'ry man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Off'ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
'Twixt that darkness and that light.

James Russell Lowell

Greetings dear ones,

Yesterday we celebrated a remarkable centenary--the Christmas Truce which arose spontaneously in the first winter of World War I. The so called Great War was a defining experience for my grandparent's generation, leading some to cynicism and despair and others, like my grandfather, to a thirst for justice, a burning need to set things right.

A cross, left near Ieper in Belgium in 1999, t...

A cross, left near Saint-Yves in Belgium in 1999, to celebrate the site of the Christmas Truce during the First World War in 1914. The text reads: 1914 - The Khaki Chum's Christmas Truce - 1999 - 85 Years - Lest We Forget. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, in 2015 we will celebrate seventy years since the ending of World War II. For my parent's generation, the Second World War was the defining experience that shaped their adolescence. The war gave my mother a country experience as an evacuee in Somerset, living a life very different from her inner London childhood. My father contracted tuberculosis, apparently from sleeping in the London Underground side by side with strangers during the Blitz. And my adopted Uncle Henry, a kindertransport refugee, lost his mother and father in Bergen-Belsen. My parents came out of their wartime youth determined to create a peaceful and just society.

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Frank Meisler Kindertransport memorial (2006) stands outside Liverpool Street Station. Kindertransport (Children's Transport) was the informal name of a series of rescue efforts which brought thousands of refugee Jewish children to Great Britain from Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1940.

Fifty years ago, young Americans like Sadananda faced the prospect that yet another generation of young men was being wasted in war--a pointless and unjust war. Vietnam became the defining experience for the youth of the sixties. Draft resistance and antiwar protests, along with the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle to end segregation coincided with the discovery of LSD and the call to 'tune in, turn on and drop out'. These synchronous events gave birth to a transformative social and cultural movement--the hippie revolution.

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Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to an anti-Vietnam war rally at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul on April 27, 1967

Meanwhile, growing up in a small town in England, I experienced not war, but peace as a defining moment. Coventry Cathedral, firebombed by the Luftwaffe in 1940, rose again from the ashes as a twentieth century architectural masterpiece. I remember visiting the new cathedral with my parents it shortly after its consecration in 1962. Nationwide, something still more remarkable was happening. From the misery and squalor endured in the interwar years, from the ashes of the war and from the dying embers of an Empire, something new was being born--a Welfare State that provided cradle to grave healthcare and support for its citizens. "Each for all and all for each" was the mantra of this bloodless revolution. The intention was to create a society of unity, community, caring and sharing, a nation defined by the understanding that I am my brother's and my sister's keeper.

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Coventry Catherdral: Baptistry Font & Window

For want of a better word, let me say that I am a child of the Caring Revolution. I am a product of the caring and sharing society. I was reared by parents who believed in this new vision and worked for it. As a sixth-former (analogous to high school student) I attended seminars training teenagers to be the co-creators of the caring society. And as an NHS doctor (employed by the National Health Service) I worked as a public servant. The caring society has shaped who I am and how I see the world.

To every revolution there is a counter-revolution. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, neo-liberalism--by which the market runs the state--and trickle-down economics formed the counter-revolution to both the hippie revolution and Britain's caring revolution. In America, the wealth gap grew ever greater. In Britain, individualism replaced community and a mandate for selfishness took the place of a call to caring. Instead of "Each for all and all for each" the new mantra was "I got mine, you get yours."

Meanwhile, the year that Ronald Reagan was elected, an English former NHS doctor and an American former hippie met beneath the coconut palms on the shores of the Kaveri River in South India. Alakananda's deeply felt experience of the caring society met Sadananda's hippie Utopian ideals--and a vision was born. For twenty-five years we have been living our vision of community, caring and sharing here at Alandi Ashram in Boulder. From making chutneys for our neighbours to sharing our small abode with a homeless pregnant woman, bringing love and cheer to nursing home residents or attempting to start a Food Co-op in Boulder, we have done what we can in small and bigger ways to foster a sense of caring amid a society of rugged individualism, alienation and a growing wealth gap.

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O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry.
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.

GK Chesterton, 1906

Today again we face a defining moment. There is a new world war, one fought in many theatres and under many titles. The enemy facing us as a species is the mutually exacerbating conjunction of global climate change, environmental degradation, hunger, displacement and the trend towards corpocracy. A term coined by David Mitchell in his novel Cloud Atlas, corpocracy--absolute rule by a vast corporation--is the final apotheosis of neo-liberal economics and corporate personhood. The misery caused by these invisible enemies leads many of us to scapegoat visible enemies in the form of people of another race, colour, ethnicity or religion. My Uncle Henry could tell us where such scapegoating of the other leads. ISIL, Al Quaeda, Taliban, Klu Klux Klan, Boko Haram, Al Shebab, National Front, UKIP, Golden Dawn, Freedom Party, Neo-Nazi--all these extremist, jihadist and racist groups and parties are the voices crying out in the wilderness of a planet undergoing degradation and a species in danger of losing its soul. We must indeed be radicalized--and this letter comes in full intention of radicalization. If we are not to splinter into endless war and terrorism between competing extremist groups--as is already the case in Syria--we must be radicalized to global humanitarianism and passionate care for our environment.

This summer, while in the UK, Sadananda and I watched Ken Loach's documentary Spirit of '45, about Britain's caring revolution. The final message of the film was a mandate to us, the elders, to talk to youth about creating a caring society. We did it once and we can do it again. For those who have never experienced a caring society, this may be a hard message to convey. I have lived it, and understand its importance. At this hour of global crisis, we need to create a caring world, knowing that I am my brother's and my sister's keeper, wherever in the world they live. I am the keeper of all species and steward of our beautiful Earth. As human family, we must stand "Each for all and all for each." Let it begin right here, at the dawn of 2015. Let it begin with me, with you, with us, the Alandi family.

wishing each of you a joyous New Year

with my love and blessings always

Alakananda Ma

Earth from Space

Earth from Space (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alandi Ashram's candlelight vigil for the children of Peshawar was held on Monday 22nd December, the seventh night of Hanukkah. We chanted 108 mahamritunjaya mantras and also shantadurga mantras. It was a deeply moving event.

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A hundred and forty five candles
Each a mother birthing in pain and hope
A child reared with love and care
Each a youth full of promise
Each a pool of blood on schoolroom floor
A wooden coffin
Each the tears of fathers, mothers,
Siblings, cousins, grandparents
Each a family rent with sorrow,
A city, a nation, bereaved.
And above them all
The menorah
Speaking of truth that conquers falsehood
Light in darkness
Life triumphant over death
Hope in desolation.
Shalom, salaam, Shantih.

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I Can't Breathe

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The All-Nite Images / Flickr via Creative Commons


I can't breathe
Beneath the crushing weight of bodies
Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Jimmy Mubenga and so many more
And
I can't breathe in the stranglehold of police brutality
And
I can't breathe as long as our girls, our Nigerian daughters, are still missing and it's been eight months now
And
I can't breathe because I'm drowning in mothers' tears

And
I can't breathe the stench of Mexico's mass graves
And
I can't breathe because I'm being water-boarded to make the world safe for democracy
And
I can't breathe because black lives have never really mattered to the world
And
I can't breathe thinking of my ancestors in slave collars
And
I can't breathe because I'm choking on tear gas
And
I can't breathe as long as liberty and justice for all means liberty and justice for some
And
I can't breathe if I keep silent
So I open my voice and speak,
and shout the outrage
Calling for a world
Where all of us can breathe.

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At this dark time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, we light candles to bless the darkness--Hanukkah candles, advent candles. This year we also hold candlelight vigils for Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner.

It has been an extraordinary, exhausting couple of weeks, from the moment we heard of the Grand Jury verdict in the Michael Brown shooting case. Only a week later, the World Food Programme announced that it had run out of funds to feed 1.7 million Syrian refugees. Right after the news, Sadananda and I sat down for our lunch, looking miserably at our simple meal of carrot-ginger soup and roasted turnips--homegrown vegetables. It was hard to eat when our sisters and brothers could not. But of course, there was more to come. Two days later we learned of the Grand Jury verdict in the choking death of Eric Garner.

It's rare that I lack joy and optimism--but at that moment l simply felt exhausted and overwhelmed by events in the world and in my adopted country. In my journal I wrote: "I must feel the stress to be an authentic force for transformation. Feed on the darkness and bring forth the light. Blessed are they that mourn."

By Friday night I was hitting a place of despair. " What would be good news?" asked Sadananda. I replied, "The World Food Prgramme announcing they are going to start feeding the Syrian refugees again." Minutes later I turned on the BBC World Service and my prayer was answered! It was perhaps the fastest answer to a prayer I ever received!

Hanukkah is the light that comes forth from desolation and devastation. The temple has been desecrated--now it is cleansed and the menorah is lighted anew. Light returns from darkness and loss. It is the warrior light kindled by people who stood up and fought for their rights. The menorah is placed in the window for all to see because--so the teaching goes--it reminds all oppressed people everywhere to stand up for their rights, for justice, for truth, for equality.

Advent candles are the light we kindle as we await the birth of a new reality. They are lights of hope amid darkness. Hope shone its rays into my heart when I read Bhagavad Gita with my students. "When righteousness grows weak, when unrighteousness prevails, I make myself a body." The Lord sets aside his divine state, to be born, suffer and die as a human among humans. It is in time of darkness that the Child is born who all the world awaits.

And who is that child? What is
the divine birth, the birth of hope announced by a new star? That divine child who shines light into darkness is us, all of us, when we awaken, when we stand up for our rights and the rights of others. The Prince of Peace is marching, protesting, facing riot police or security forces in cities around the world, holding a 'die-in' at Grand Central Station or London's Westfield Mall, shivering in the cold holding candles because 'black lives matter'. All lives matter. We all matter. Each of us has a part to play in the awakening for which we long. As long as my faculties remain and the internet exists, I will write this justice and peace blog, remembering the pen is more powerful than the sword.

As TS Eliot writes in Choruses from the Rock:

And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.
Therefore we thank Thee for our little light, that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who hast moved us to building, to finding, to forming at the ends of our fingers and beams of our eyes.
And when we have built an altar to the Invisible Light, we may set thereon the little lights for which our bodily vision is made.
And we thank Thee that darkness reminds us of light.

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Mitchell Vaughn | The Cavalier Daily



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    This page is an archive of entries from December 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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