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Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law...

from the Preamble of Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Greetings dear ones,

This past year, 2018, saw the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Born of the horrors of two world wars and the Holocaust, the Declaration embodies humanity's determination to start anew, to say 'Never Again' to the horrors of the first half of the Twentieth Century. Its thirty terse Articles encapsulate thousands of years of aspiration for a better world, one of peace, justice and liberty. Within it we glimpse the vision of the Hebrew prophets for a world where justice shall 'run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream,' a world of peace where the lion shall lie down with the lamb. In it we see the aspirations of the Edicts of Ashoka, proclamations of peace, freedom of religion, universal healthcare and an independent and impartial judiciary, set up on stone pillars across India's Mauryan Empire. We see the social vision of Jesus, who lived a life of solidarity with the poor and oppressed, and of Muhammed, who advocated for the right to education, religious freedom and racial equality. "A white person has no superiority over a black person, nor does a black person over a white one, except by piety and good action." The Declaration crystalizes the secular motto of the French Enlightenment, "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" and draws inspiration from the Constitution of the United States. It accords with indigenous wisdom as well, such as the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born of the horrors of war. So, to was one of its earliest predecessors, the pillars of Ashoka. The ancient world in which Ashoka lived was one where might was right and tyrants held sway. Siege and starvation were standard tactics of warfare, slavery was normalized, and civilians had no protection. Ashoka himself exemplified this cruelty when his army killed a hundred thousand Kalingan warriors in a war of conquest and drove a hundred and fifty thousand innocent civilians from their homes. His horror and revulsion at what he had done, and his embrace of the nascent Buddha Dharma, drove him to envision a world of justice and peace.

Two thousand years ago, according to the Gospel of Luke, angels announced the dawn of this new world of peace and goodwill. But as the carol by Edmund Sears says,

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring

The promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sought to bring an end to the "disregard and contempt for human rights (that) have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind." Yet in the past seventy years, barbarous acts have continued, and the nations of the world have remained truer to financial markets and the arms trade than to the ancient human aspiration for peace and justice. Dictators, today's equivalent of the ancient tyrants, have been operating from the same playbook, gunning down, imprisoning, torturing and killing peaceful protestors, bloggers and journalists and forcibly displacing entire regions. Impunity for one tyrant emboldens the rest.

2018 was the year when Sadananda and I decided to take matters into our own hands. The situation in Syria, now in its seventh year, was wringing our hearts every day, as the worst manmade cataclysm of our lifetimes. If 'never again' does not really mean never again, then my relatives died in vain in Auschwitz. If governments could not protect human rights, we, as members of the common people of the world, would have to do so on our own. This mood of mingled desperation and determination led us to start Boulder's Interfaith Initiative for Human Rights in Syria, which takes a contemplative approach to human rights, focused on Syria, but including related causes such as Palestinian rights, the treatment of immigrants at the US Mexico Border and the suffering of children in Yemen. During the course of the year, we have walked in silent solidarity with the Disappeared of Syria in both Boulder and Denver, offered a public showing of Syria, the Impossible Revolution by Anne Daly and Ronan Tyan at Boulder Shambhala Centre, marched with Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Unity March and worked with Jewish Voice for Peace and CAIR (Campaign for American Islamic Relations). Working in conjunction with Amnesty International, we collected signatures for a petition to the UN demanding accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. We have forged new friendships around the world, both with people inside Syria and in refugee camps and with friends in both in the US and in Ireland, the UK, Italy and Spain who care passionately about human rights in Syria. Many of these doors were opened for us by our new friend, Dr. Nader Hashemi, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at DU, who was kind enough to come and give a talk at Alandi Ashram.

Dr. Hashemi poignantly told us that if we had a similar meeting about human rights inside Syria, we would all be arrested and many of us would be tortured. Dear friends, tyranny breeds tyranny. If peaceful protestors can be gunned down in Syria, Nicaragua and Sudan, it is only a matter of time before we too lose our freedom of assembly. If Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, can be murdered and dismembered in his own consulate, and Raif Badawi can be flogged and imprisoned for blogging, it is only a matter of time until freedom of speech is dead for all of us.

Seventy years on from the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this is not the time to sit back complacently trusting that Liberal Democracy will survive without our efforts.

2018 was a year of hope on many fronts. It was the year women stood up and said #MeToo and schoolchildren rose up against gun violence. Let 2019 be the year all of us stand up to protect the greatest achievement of thousands of years of aspiration for peace and justice, the basis of today's international humanitarian law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "The advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people," and it is up to us, the people of the world, particularly those of us fortunate enough still to enjoy free speech and free assembly, to work every day to make this aspiration a reality.

I wish you a year of happiness and joy, and may peace and justice prevail throughout our world.



How you can help the work of Interfaith Initiative for Human Rights in Syria:

  • Host a showing of Syria, the Impossible Revolution at your place of worship or organization (reach out to us to organize this).
  • Become informed: Watch Syria, the Impossible Revolution yourself on Vimeo.
  • Invite your pastor, priest or rabbi to meet with Sadananda to discuss our interfaith work for human rights
  • Join us in our contemplative vigils and social media campaigns

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A Rant by Ma

In Syria children are bombed, killed, maimed, gassed, displaced.

In Gaza children are shot at Friday protests

In America children are snatched from parents at the border

Sent away with strangers

Shot for playing while black.

In our world children slave in brick kilns

For the debts of their parents and grandparents

Or work in illegal gold mines

Where tunnels collapse on them.

Children are made into soldiers and forced to kill and maim

Children are sold into sexual slavery

Children live in flimsy tents with no protection from the elements

No door to lock for safety.

Children work for a pittance to help feed their families

Children beg on streets

Children live on streets

Children come to school hungry

Or don't go to school at all.

Children are forced into marriage

Children are thrown off boats by people smugglers

Children live in subhuman conditions

Struggling to cross the border for a better life

A chance at safety.

This isn't even a poem

It's a rant.

Children are our future, our hope our joy, our tomorrow.

Children need rights.


In these days when the sun is darkened by smoke
And the moon is turned to blood
In these days of earthquake, fire and flood
In these days unprecedented, unprecedented,
In these days when vain and fatuous men
Hurl words of mushroom cloud, ash and inferno,
In this dark time
When millions flee from famine, war and storm
We turn to you, The One
Our only refuge.
This day you set before us life and death.
Strengthen us, make firm our tongues
To speak your truth
To men of war and oil.
Let us choose life!


When I think of war, and of the lessons of history, my mind goes first to the Romano-Jewish historian Josephus' account of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 CE. A vast number of civilians--over a million according to Josephus--were gathered in the city to celebrate Passover. They were besieged and starved until the final onslaught by fire and sword.

But when (the Roman legions) went in numbers into the lanes of the city, with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook, without mercy, and set fire to the houses wither the Jews were fled, and burnt every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest; and when they were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is of such as died by the famine; they then stood in a horror at this sight, and went out without touching anything. But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men's blood. And truly so it happened, that though the slayers left off at the evening, yet did the fire greatly prevail in the night.

That was in the ancient world--a world where slavery was a fact of life and international law did not exist. It was a world where total war, war upon civilians, was accepted, where might was right.

Today, as incendiary bombs rain upon the starving people of Ghouta, Syria, I ask myself--have we learned nothing? Have we learned nothing from the siege of Jerusalem except how to besiege, starve and burn civilians more effectively?

Have we learned nothing from the siege and destruction of Constantinople by the Crusaders? War upon war, siege after siege, human history has rolled on, bringing us to the horrors of the Twentieth Century. And after eighteen million died in the First World War--my uncle Albert among them--and perhaps eighty million perished in the Second World War, did we not say, 'Never Again?'

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

AND FOR THESE ENDS to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,


These are fine and lofty words, born of the bitter experience of two horrific wars. Yet even after this charter was written, the US dropped a million tons of bombs on North Korea, used napalm and chemical weapons and killed 20% of the civilian population. Are we surprised the North Korea feels impelled to have its own nuclear weapons? Have we learned nothing?

Even after this charter was written and this noble resolve made, the Twentieth Century continued its sorry course--Vietnam, Iran-Iraq, Ruanda, Bosnia, the Gulf War. Have we learned nothing?

Fireworks around the world ushered in a new millennium. The Twentieth Century was over. The century of horrific wars had ended, yet the horror continued. Iraq. Afghanistan. Chechnia. Somalia. Gaza. Darfur. South Sudan. Ukraine. The Democratic Republic of Congo. Syria. Yemen. Syria.

A million Syrians have been killed in a war almost seven years long. Over five million are refugees living in miserable conditions with no future to hope for. Eastern Ghouta has been besieged and starved for five long years. And the UN Security Council is impotent to enforce international law and protect the civilian population.

Today, as incendiary bombs rain upon the 400,000 starving civilians of Eastern Ghouta, I ask myself, what would Titus have given for incendiary bombs? My sisters, my brothers, have we learned nothing in two millennia except how to wreak greater havoc?

Let us awaken from our sleep, We the People of the World. Let us rise up for peace. Let us make our voices heard, even while 'our earthly rulers slumber.' Let us speak out, let us take to the streets, for Gouta, for Syria, for Yemen, for the children of the world. Let us combine our efforts to accomplish the aim of peace.


"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

Greetings dear ones,

The dark time of the year is a time for hope. Light is reborn as we ring out the old year and ring in the new. What are our dreams and visions for 2018? What do we long to see in ourselves, in our world? Hope is one of the three theological virtues, gifts of God to the human soul. Our capacity to hope comes from divine grace. Yet hope is more than a noun. As poetry columnist David Orr wrote, 'hope is a verb with its shirtsleeves rolled up.'

To hope is a powerful act. Yet there are moments for each of us when the circumstances of our own lives or of the world around us make it challenging to keep hope alive. As a writer and poet, my path is to dive into the darkness and bring forth the seeds of light. As a spiritual teacher, my role is to illumine, inspire and uplift. Yet as a prophetic voice, I am also tasked with telling it like it is, speaking the truth of our condition. And our condition is dire--in terms of social justice, human rights, the environment. One year into the Trump administration, for me as perhaps for many of us, there are moments when it is difficult to keep hope alive.

When I recall all the painstakingly crafted environmental regulations that have been erased at the stroke of a pen, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I see beautiful, wild landscapes sullied by fracking or contaminated by leaking oil pipelines, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When Native rights are trampled upon and Black lives still don't seem to matter, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I know that ice sheets are melting at unprecedented rates, and wildfires raging as never before, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I remember the utter devastation of once-beautiful ancient cities like Aleppo, Jabar, Homs, Hama, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I think of sixty-five million forcibly displaced people worldwide, surpassing even post World War II levels, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I know that cities are besieged and even an entire country blockaded-- and the world does not act--it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I think of the tears of mothers who have lost their children--to gang violence, to police shootings, to missiles, to suicide bombers, to starvation, to cholera, to lack of basic medical care --it is difficult to keep hope alive.

And yet, keep hope alive I must, or in its place will spring the noxious weeds of cynicism, apathy and despair. Keep hope alive I must, or I too will acquiesce to atrocity. Keep hope alive I must, or I myself will become what most I abhor. "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14

Hope is a gift of grace sown in our hearts by the divine spirit. It is up to us to water and tend it every day. When I need to water the seeds of hope, I think of the Somali woman in a refugee camp who has gathered a group of orphan children and cares for them with her UN rations. I think of a little Iranian boy who, after the recent earthquake, guides a still smaller girl to the food relief truck. He has no thought for himself, he only cares that the little girl gets a meal. I think of Chris Parker, the homeless man who rushed into the arena after the Manchester bombing to help, cradling a dying woman in his arms. I think of Lassana Bathily, a Muslim employee who, during the terrorist attack on a kosher grocery store in Paris, saved a group of customers by hiding them in the freezer.

I think of the Orthodox rabbi and the Reform rabbi in Auschwitz, who discussed Torah together every day on their way to forced labour. I think of Tibetans who practiced loving-kindness towards their Chinese torturers. I think of the lepers in India who invited us to share their meager supper. Every day, I water the seeds of hope by recalling the basic goodness of ordinary human beings in the face of extraordinary suffering. I keep hope alive by contemplating goodness. And I know that acts of extreme cruelty and callousness are distortions, while courage, kindness and goodness reflect our essential nature.

And when I come close to despair about environmental destruction, I remember that Nature, Gaia, Bhu Devi, our Mother Earth, is ancient and wise. Even as we inflict upon her the sterility of concrete and asphalt, she will prevail.

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

Tupac Shakur.

The same divine spirit that planted hope in our hearts has breathed life into the earth. Although I am here for just a brief while more, I trust that life, riotous, incorrigible, burgeoning life, will grow and blossom long after I am forgotten. And she herself, life herself, Nature herself, will continue to bring forth heroes and advocates to defend her abundance and beauty from those who put power and profit over life and love.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I wish you a year of peace and joy, and may the flame of hope burn brightly in your hearts throughout 2018 and beyond.



Ma 2017 New Years Letter

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.
O Light Invisible, we give Thee thanks for Thy great glory!

TS Eliot from Choruses from the Rock

Greetings dear ones,

On 24th December, Sadananda and I kindled the menorah for the first night of Hanukkah. As the flame burned down, we set out in the biting cold to celebrate the lighting of the Christ Candle at First United Methodist Church. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." Not for forty years has the first night of Hanukkah occurred on Christmas Eve as it has done in 2016, bringing together the rededication of the Jerusalem temple with the birth of the miraculous babe in Bethlehem. Both stories offer hope and renewal in a time of darkness and oppression.

When my parents were young children, clouds of darkness were gathering over a Europe already shattered by the horrific war in which their fathers fought. They were fourteen years old when the Second World War broke out. Six years later, seventy million had died in battle, bombing, starvation and genocide. Even as a young medical student, thirty years later, I walked each day past a bombed out London church. Yet, in the face of the horrors of war, the resilience of the human spirit reasserted itself. The ending of the war brought a determination to create a more peaceful world and more just and open societies. The UN was born on 24 October 1945. In 1949 came the Geneva Conventions, seeking to limit the atrocities of war and promote basic humanitarian values. The great ideal of the Enlightenment, liberal democracy, began to spread across Europe and become a normative political ideology. And on 25 March 1957 the Treaties of Rome were signed, laying the foundation stone of the European Union, based on the values of human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights--hard-won lessons for a Europe grappling with the legacy of two appalling wars.

Today, many of us in the United States and Western Europe take liberal democracy and the rule of law for granted as our inalienable birthright. Others of us-- African Americans, Native Americans, LGBTQ, religious minorities as well as refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, shine light on the gap between these ideals and their implementation in daily life. None of us are truly free or equal until all of us enjoy these inalienable rights in full measure.

A new year, 2017, is taking birth in a world shaped by the ideals of the Enlightenment. And again, just as in my parents' childhood, dark clouds are gathering with the rise of far-right populism and authoritarianism. Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is leading his nation away from promised democratization to escalating authoritarianism. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has cheerfully compared himself to Hitler, saying he would be "happy to slaughter" 3 million addicts. Urged on by far right populist Nigel Farage, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, isolating itself from the great project of the Four Freedoms. And the election of self-described populist Donald Trump has energized America's white supremacists as well as Europe's extreme nationalist parties. With the appointment of Steven Bannon of Breitbart News as Trump's chief strategist, the far right is ready to enter the mainstream.

According to Jan-Werner Muller, "populists always, at heart, reject pluralism, and claim to be the exclusive and moral representatives of "the people" and their interests. It is therefore, above all, a moralistic imagination of politics... Once in office, they tend to describe the opposition as illegitimate, immoral and "enemies of the people" -- this polarization is a key element of what populism thrives on. Just like Chávez and Maduro said those who voted against him were infiltrators and traitors, Donald Trump referred to "millions of illegal voters" who explain why he lost the popular vote."

"It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness." This quotation, attributed to sources as disparate as Confucius, Eleanor Roosevelt and a Unitarian minister, shines forth as a flame to clarify our confusion and warm us as we shiver in anxiety. We are the ones who can brighten the gloom and avert impending catastrophe. We can't take freedom, equality, liberty and justice for all and the rule of law for granted--and perhaps we never could. The checks and balances offered in our constitution can be removed at the stroke of a pen. We the people are the only real checks and balances. Are we ready to arise for justice like the Standing Rock water protectors and the Black Lives Matter activists? When we see minorities assailed, are we ready to stand with them? Are we willing to allow the Geneva Conventions become a dead letter as hospitals are bombed and civilians starved in Syria--or will we call the governments of the world to account? Are we willing to allow all the humanitarian gains of the last seventy years to wither along with the hopes of unwanted refugees shivering in tents--or will we advocate for them?

I usually suggest simple, health-oriented New Year's resolutions. This year, I invite you to BE the one you are waiting for. Democracy, the rule of law, pluralism, and international humanitarian law are inherently fragile, for they represent our highest aspirations as a society and international community. If we forsake the dream and vision, they will be no more. Dystopia awaits us if we do not uphold these ideals. And sustaining democracy and humanitarianism requires more than a click on a petition site. Here are some simple tools:

  • Use the Indivisible Guide to borrow strategies from the Tea Party in order to resist the Trump Agenda. Or, if you prefer, use these same strategies to advocate for refugees or push for a just resolution of the war in Syria.
  • Support organizations like the ACLU that are standing up for our civil liberties.
  • Support charities that are helping refugees:
  • Want some weekly action items to help you work on behalf of our democracy and protect minorities? Look at this site.

As TS Eliot said, the darkness reminds us of the light. Instead of despairing or cowering under the covers, we can light our little candles as beacons of hope. If we fail, at least we lived in integrity and sowed seeds of hope for future generations. If we succeed, freedom and democracy will be stronger than ever before.

Wishing you a joyous New Year and peace and prosperity during 2017!

With my love and blessings always

Alakananda Ma


Alakananda Ma December 2013

Child of the dark time

I long for light

Recall the light.

Lights before I came into the world

Cranley Mews menorah kindling

Behind blackout curtains

In the days when London burned

And no church bells rang.

Lights that welcomed me to the world

Sodium lamps glowing on icy streets

Advent candles calling to Emmanuel.

Lights of childhood

Yule log in the hearth

Lantern in tent,

Lamps shining through leaded glass

Pooling on cobblestones,

Sunlight on warm brick wall,

Shafts of light through stained glass windows.

Trinity wharf lighthouse

Illuming London docks

Ipswich harbor lights

Reflected in the Orwell

Ship lights, port red, starboard green.

Lights of faith

Sabbath lights

Lumen Christi shining in dark church

Tiered arati lamps

Circling before Shanta Durga,

Sea of butter lamps at Svyambunath,

Divali lights floating down the Ganges.

Lights of joy and sorrow

Birthday candles, yahrtzeit candles

Kirtan votives, romantic candles,

Wildfire blazing on Bear Peak,

Starlight in the desert,

Firelight by full moon.

Child of the dark time

I seek the light

Light in face, in smile, in eyes

Light of spirit, light of love

Light of lights

Beyond the darkness.

Child of the waning year

I see the light

Hidden in the hearts of all.

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"'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo. 'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

This time has been given to us--and it is a time that calls for great moral courage and clarity of purpose. It is a time when we are asked to resist injustice, resist bigotry, resist the targeting of vulnerable minorities, resist racism in all its forms. It is a time when we must stand up for Mother Earth and all her species, more strongly than we have ever done before. It is a time when we must wake every morning and set our moral compass.

For some of us, it is inevitably a time when we experience a sense of threat. If we are undocumented, we fear deportation. If we are Muslim, we fear being put on a registry. If we are African-American, we fear increased racial profiling. If we are in the LGBTQ community, we fear the loss of marriage equality. If we are women, we fear the erosion of our reproductive rights. If we are rape survivors, we fear the normalization of rape and sexual harassment. If we have come here fleeing an authoritarian regime, we wonder if history is repeating itself. Where now can we go?

For others of us, the threat may be less evident. It is tempting to look on the bright side; after all, it's only four (or eight) years. The People have spoken (sort of, as Hillary won the popular vote). Now we need to give Trump a chance. It is tempting to accommodate, to look the other way, to get on with our own lives. And this is why we need to set our moral compass every single morning as we awaken to a new day. Is racism permissible, because it won't affect us? Are deportations acceptable, if our family won't be deported? Is persecution of a religious minority acceptable, because we don't belong to that minority?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller.

We face, at best, a presidency that could set us back fifty years in terms of civil rights, LGBTQ rights, women's rights and basic human rights. Let us remember how hard-won these rights are. People struggled and died to get us where we are today. And we need to gain much more ground before minorities truly have equal protection under the law.

At worst, we face the erosion of our democracy and its transformation into a Fascist autocracy. American exceptionalism may lead us to think, 'It couldn't happen here.' We have a constitution, a Bill of Rights; we have strong democratic institutions. Yet many, even today, do not experience all of these rights--the right to a speedy trial, for example. Our rights will last as long as we defend them, not just for ourselves but for all segments of society. Our institutions will not protect us--we need to protect them.

This time has been given to us; and it is a time to awaken soul-force, satyāgraha. Soul-force is a Gandhian concept that has become part of the American psyche through the work of Martin Luther King Jr. The Civil Rights Movement was powered by soul-force.

'Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement 'satyagraha', that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence.'

Gandhi: Satyagraha in South Africa.

'Non-violence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evildoer, but it means putting of one's whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honour, his religion, his soul, and lay the foundation for that empire's fall or its regeneration.'

Excerpt from Gandhi's writings.

We see this soul-force demonstrated today by the Water Protectors who stand in peace and prayer in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Faced with tear gas, mace, rubber bullets, water cannon and LRAD noise bombs, they continue drumming, chanting, praying and standing their ground. The Water Protectors are willing to die to save the Missouri for all our grandchildren. This is satyāgraha.

This time has been given to us. It is a time to use our freedom of speech while we still have it; a time to assert our right to free assembly; a time to defend press freedom as reporters from prestigious media outlets shiver in the cold outside Trump National Golf Club, waiting for scraps of information. It is a time to protect our democratic institutions, not to wait for them to save us. It is a time to uphold the rule of law.

This time has been given to us. It is a time to overcome our fear, thinking of others who have more reason to be afraid. Today we all need to stand in soul-force, ready to defend our cherished freedoms. For so many, these freedoms have yet to become a reality. To allow them to be further weakened would be a catastrophe. As a nationalized citizen, I have taken a vow to defend the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, inner and outer. I pray that you will join me in this endeavour, for this time, a time for soul-force, has been given to us all.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

But if I am only for myself, who am I?

If not now, when?"

Rabbi Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14


Thank you to activist Marty Rosenbluth for calling my attention to the opening quotation from Lord of the Rings.

See also my post Dear Mr. Trump, here's why you are not 'my' president.

Further reading: mostly excerpted from a list compiled by Professor Jeff Colgan of Brown University. Also see his Google Doc on Risk of Democratic Erosion


Donald Trump | by Gage Skidmore Creative Commons

Dear Mr Trump,

You may be surprised to notice that I am not calling you 'President-elect Trump.' The reason is simple. You are not my president elect, nor will you ever be 'my' president. Let me explain why this is so.

First of all, it is not because you lost the popular vote and will become the President of these United States only because of an antiquated institution that some consider a dishonourable relic of the days of slavery. No, Mr Trump, Mr Not-my-president-elect Trump, you would not be my president even if you had garnered an Obama-style landslide.

Nor is my obstinacy based on the fact that you will implement policies such as cutting taxes for the rich--policies that in the past have only led to deepening income inequality. Much as I oppose such policies, they are standard Republican fare and would have been a looming reality even if a different Republican nominee had won the Electoral College.

It is not even because you, who own casinos, beauty pageants and a modelling agency, appear to espouse socially conservative policies so restrictive of women's liberties that they are reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's dystopic novel, The Handmaid's Tale. Your own running mate and many of your former rivals for the nomination espouse similar policies, albeit with less apparent hypocrisy.

Do I refuse to acknowledge you then, because your environmental policies will lead to further escalations of climate change, raising the terrifying prospect that our own grandchildren will have no life, no future, no habitable planet? Grave as these concerns are, frightening as a Trump presidency seems for millions around the world, this situation is not in itself irremediable. It is always possible you could wake up to the urgency of the situation--if in fact you love your children and care about their future. You could become a global leader for positive change--you do not have to be the person who signs our species' death warrant--and that of countless other species.

So why do I stubbornly insist that you are not and never will be my president? My friend, I will never accept that you are my president because your campaign was based on hate. You spoke to those who suffer and gave them someone to blame--the Muslims, the Mexicans, immigrants--the Other. You ridiculed and denigrated women, minorities and disabled people, dismissing basic human decency as 'political correctness.' You have awakened the beast that sleeps within each of us and empowered him to tear apart our communities, our nation and our world.

My friend, we have seen this before. We have seen another man who inspired huge rallies and gave a hungry and humiliated nation a scapegoat for their suffering. My parents lived through those dark times of the rise of Hitler and the Second World War. Their teenage years were filled with bombs and rationing and death. Later, as young adults in the time of peace, they were determined to raise children who would stand up to the next demagogue, the next would-be fascist leader. My parents knew that there was no flaw in the German character that is not shared by each of us around the world. They knew that good people acquiesced to Hitler's increasingly dark policies in order to be proper and respectful citizens. They saw their own politicians seek to appease Hitler in a vain attempt to preserve the status quo. They taught me never to accept or acquiesce to a ruler who spoke words of hate and stirred animosity towards the other.

So you see, my friend, all my life I have been preparing to have the fearlessness to stand up to a leader such as yourself. Please don't misunderstand me. I wish you well, and I wish only the best for your supporters and those who voted for you. I understand that your rise to power is a symptom, not the problem. I know that we all desire the same thing--happiness, but we do not always know the best way to attain it. I understand that sometimes we make the fatal mistake of pursuing our own happiness at other's expense. And when we do so it creates misery for ourselves as well as others.

But, my friend, as your sincere well-wisher, as one who has pledged to defend the spirit of our constitution against all enemies, inner and outer, I will stand against the rhetoric of hate, I will stand against the 'othering' of minorities, I will fight for our liberties, for justice, for true equality, with my pen, with my voice, with my firm conviction. I will not appease nor acquiesce; I will not consent to the normalization of hate. You may be duly elected, but you will never be 'my' president.

We are all refugees

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I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vistaed hopes I sped;

And shot, precipitated,

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

We are all refugees. At first, as Francis Thompson so eloquently describes, we are refugees from the Hound of Heaven, fleeing into the duality of hopes and fears from the ruthless compassion of the light of truth, from "those strong Feet that follow, follow after."

Later, when we realize what a cruel dictator our 'I illusion' is, we become another kind of refugee, taking refuge in the truth, as Trungpa Rinpoche, himself a Tibetan refugee, describes.

By taking refuge, in some sense we become homeless refugees. Taking refuge does not mean saying that we are helpless and then handing all our problems over to somebody or something else. There will be no refugee rations, nor all kinds of security and dedicated help. The point of becoming a refugee is to give up our attachment to basic security. We have to give up our sense of home ground, which is illusory anyway. We might have a sense of home ground as where we were born and the way we look, but we don't actually have any home, fundamentally speaking. There is actually no solid basis of security in one's life. And because we don't have any home ground, we are lost souls, so to speak. Basically we are completely lost and confused.

Yet even though we are refugees--whether refugees from truth or refugees from illusion, we live in some kind of comfort and convenience. We take it for granted that we will have food, shelter, light, heat, transportation--even internet. Six years ago, the people of Syria also took these things for granted. In fact, they enjoyed some of the best cuisine in the Arab world. Today, middle class Syrians are crossing the Aegean in rubber dinghies, sleeping in flimsy tents in Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonian border, or living without jobs, education, dignity or hope in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

We are all refugees. And if we live secure today, who can tell what will happen tomorrow? We are all refugees. Some of us, myself included, have parents, grandparents or great-grandparents who themselves fled persecution for the safety of a distant and unknown land. There, they had to start life over again in a foreign language and with different customs.

We are all refugees, yet today some of us have more than others--more comfort, more safety, more security, more rights. If our rights and freedoms have meaning to us, how can we deny them to others, the desperate refugees from a war-torn land? If our spirituality means anything to us, how can we ignore those who are cold and hungry? The refugees come to challenge us to live up to the ideals of liberty and equality that we profess as the basis of Western society. To turn our backs on them is to betray our deepest-held ideals. To close our borders, our doors, our hearts to them is to refuse the challenge they bring--a call on our compassion, a cry for our human caring, a reminder of the transitory nature of our life as pilgrims and strangers in this world--for truly, we are all refugees.

You shall neither mistreat a stranger, nor oppress him: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 22:21

Refugees at Mecedonian Border.jpg

Refugees wait to cross into Macedonia at the Greek border station of Idomeni. Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP

Let Love Trump Hate

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The year is 1932.The up-and-coming leader, Adolph Hitler, is drawing crowds, inflaming passions and inciting violence with his demagoguery and anti-Semitism. In the streets and meeting halls of the Weimar Republic, Hitler's Brownshirts clash with Communists and Socialists. Soon the republic will collapse into a totalitarian dicatatorship, a war-machine will be built, and European Jewry will be destroyed as war engulfs the world.

Twenty years later, I was born into a country of postwar austerity, bombsites and burgeoning hope for a brighter future. I was also born into an extended family who had lost many members in the Holocaust. My parents and grandparents lived though cataclysmic events fuelled by hatred and division. In so many ways, their story is my own. My ancestors are alive in me. Events of recent days have stirred this generational trauma that lies always just beneath the surface of my psyche. As I wrote on my Facebook page--my fascism alarm has sounded. It seems I was not alone in this, for the post got more likes, shares and comments than even the cute photo of baby deer in our backyard.

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Writing for me is certainly an act of service, a form of activism, a way to awaken hearts--but it is also a journey to innate wisdom. When the events of the world I live in leave me frightened, devastated or frustrated, I turn to my blog. I know I'm not the only one feeling this way, and hope readers will journey with me from fear to courage, from despair to hope, from darkness to light.

As we consider Trump's demagoguery and incitement, his Islamophobia and denigration of Mexicans, African-Americans, women, people with disabilities and so on; as we grapple with the hatred and prejudice expressed within the group mind at Trump rallies, we can best approach the challenge by by applying the principles of prajna and upaya.

Applying prajna refers to the way we work with our own minds. If we hate and detest Donald Trump, we're really activating our inner Trump. If we despise and look down upon those who support Trump, we are becoming the very thing we dislike in others. "I cannot tolerate intolerance," as the famous saying goes. As Trump goads us, the Bernie people, the people, the Black Lives Matter people, the 'liberals' or (astonishingly enough), the 'far Left', claiming that we are 'bad people', let's not fall into the trap of deciding 'Trump people' are 'bad people.'

Hitler and his Brownshirts became what they were due to causes and conditions. While some of these causes arose from their own childhood experiences, there were many systemic causes and conditions rooted in the unjust Treaty of Versailles and the hunger and humiliation the German people were experiencing. Meanwhile,the doctrine of anti-Semitism provided a conveniently vulnerable and defenceless scapegoat for the anger of a defeated nation.

In the same way, karmic conditions gave Trump, the rich kid raised to be 'a king and a killer,' an insatiable thirst for fame, wealth and power. And the anger he rouses in his largely working class following arises from many causes embedded in our society. Trump's message of 'making America great again' (whatever that means), making America 'win' again, may appeal to people who lack a sense of worth and significance because they are always at the bottom of the pile. His bigotry gives voice to feelings many have not dared to express until now. Finally there is a target for life's dissatisfactions--undocumented immigrants, Muslims, Leftists, African-Americans, President Obama and so on. These 'bad people' should be taken from our midst to keep us safe, just as the Jews were taken from the midst of German society.

When I hear Trump speak or watch clips of the way protestors are treated at his rallies, naturally feelings of horror, disgust and aversion arise. Still, I don't want to hate Trump or despise his supporters, for given the right set of circumstances--that could be me. So I gently repeat, "May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you have ease of wellbeing", sending the energy of loving-kindness to these fellow sentient beings.

First we apply prajna and work with our own minds, so that when we come to bring upaya, skilful means, into our work in the world, we don't approach the challenge full of our own fear and aversion. Now we must meet the challenge with courage and integrity. Complacency, acquiescence, the collusion of silence--these behaviours will allow bigotry to go unchecked and our society to be divided. At first many thought Hitler was just a funny little man. Why bother to stand up to such a preposterous demagogue? And initially many of us hoped that if we ignored Trump, refusing to give him the attention he sought, the problem would go away--but it hasn't. When Pope Francis took the extraordinary step of interfering in our country's internal affairs by speaking out against Trump, he was offering us a powerful lesson. The man or woman of spirit is a voice for the voiceless.

Who will speak for our undocumented immigrants, who have no vote and no official voice, if I don't? Who will speak for the beleaguered Muslim minority? Who will speak for us, the so called Far Left, if we don't speak out for ourselves? While Mitt Romney, Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton have all raised their voices to condemn Trump's bigotry and "political arson,' we can't leave this to politicians. Each one of us needs to rise our voices loudly and insistently and make it clear that the politics of hate and division has no place in our society.

Let courage trump fear

Let unity trump division

Let peace trump violence

Let love trump hate.


In the political ferment of student life in Seventies Britain, a Socialist was someone who quoted Das Kapital like a Baptist quoted the Bible. The rest of us were a bit scared of both, Socialists and Evangelicals. At the time, it scarcely occurred to me that the caring society I was so proud of, the NHS I was training to work in, were major Socialist achievements.

Then the Eighties rolled around, bringing Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Compassion became countercultural and the mandate for selfishness replaced the call to caring. New words began to enter our vocabulary--'trickle down economics' for example. But as an immigrant to the US during the Reagan era, I never noticed anything trickling down to me.

America was full of surprises, not all of them good. For example, apparently there were only two political parties, and as far as I could see, both of them would fit into Britain's Conservative party. Liberal was a term of insult rather than the political party my parents supported, and Socialism was apparently synonymous with Communism. Universal healthcare was regarded with suspicion by those who most would benefit from it and 'Welfare' was a despised term rather than the proud achievement of health and housing for all.

It was while I was working to start a food Coop in Boulder that someone called me a lefty for the first time--and they didn't mean it kindly. I had never been called a lefty before for any other reason than being left handed! Meanwhile, I had begun to appreciate that everything I respected in a society-- 'each for all and all for each,' compassion and care for all, the Welfare State, was encompassed in the term Democratic Socialism.

As I watch Britain's Conservative Party dismantle all I admired and loved about my homeland--the place where my family lives--as I listen to America's right wing rhetoric growing increasingly strident, I've realized that, even though I'm very different from those orthodox Marxists I found so funny years ago, I am actually a Socialist. The Neoliberal economics of continuous growth on a finite planet are leading us towards a devastating endpoint. Already sixty-two billionaires own more that 3.5 billion poor people. The economics of caring and sharing may be a left turn--but they represent a turn away from certain destruction.

Thanks to Social media, people of compassion and integrity are getting an opportunity to be heard as never before within the political arena. Of course, the corporate media don't like them, giving them the smear treatment or worse still, the silent treatment. But Jeremy Corbyn is now leader of Britain's Labour Party and Bernie Sanders has become, despite all odds, a realistic candidate for President of the United States. Let's give all the support we can to those who stand up for a Caring Society.


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