Are you seated?

It was the day after Christmas 1990 and I was visiting my sister who lives some 30 odd minutes away from Montreal. It was about 9:30 in the evening when the phone rang and it was for me. My superior was on the other end. “Brother Rolph, are you seated?” I was standing in the kitchen window looking outside at the snow but I answered “Yes, what is it?” and the reply came: “There has been a fire at the house where you live and your appartment has burnt down”. “Wow, should I come in?” I asked and he said “There is nothing to go to. Go to the other fraternity in the area for the moment”  I was shocked and thought, “It must be on the 10 o’clock news” and so I asked my sister if we could watch. Sure enough on the local news it was mentioned “A fire on the plateau” and I watched in shock as I saw a firemen up on a ladder outside what used to be my window and where a huge flame like a tongue of fire was shooting out and he had the hose pointed there. It was minus 20 degrees Celsius! The images of that night were photographed in my memory forever.

The next day, one of my nieces drove me in. There was a bit of a crowd watching as the flames were still smouldering and the steps and most of the exterior of the building was still standing. We moved our way through to the entrance and a police officer asked me for proof of my living there and so I showed him a card with my name and address and he allowed us through. My niece was more energetic than I and she went up to the steps and called to me to follow and so I did until we came to the bottom of the steps leading to my appartment on the top floor. The water sprayed by the firemen at 20 below zero had frozen on the steps leaving them coated in ice but the bannister was still there and we began our way up. She was leading and she said “Oh I can see a picture on the wall.. there must be things you can recuperate”.  I was suddenly blocked as I could see the blue sky indoicating there was no more roof. It was the top floor which meant my ceiling was gone and I imagined the mess that lay on the floor. I was frozen in my steps and my niece was beconing me and I said “No, lets turn back I just cant go on. I cant see that!”

We came down and mended our way back to the car and I cant remember anything more except my taking residence in another house about some 15 minutes from that one. I sat, a few days later in the office of my superior and cried and I expressed that I prayed hard to leave that house as I was unhappy there and he said “You told me that you did not like that place and you wanted to leave. I asked you to wait until spring. Now you have left but what a price you paid.” The experience of a fire I felt, was like a death of someone close or even  it felt like a thief had come into my home and stole everything. It is an experience I would never wish to happen to anyone. It was like a death of many things. There were addresses that I could never recuperate. I did not have a computer and it was impossible even to this day, to trace some friends from Australia and other far away countries.There were souvenirs of India and drawings and notes and music and books and oh so many objects. In a year or so later I would be looking for something only to realise it was gone in the fire.

I was told we had fire insurance. We were not the owners and it was learnt that the fire began becasue of faulty wiring in the roof and with the extra winter heating, wires were rotten and burnt their way into the ceiling. The insurance told us to buy what we needed to replace and keep the bils for them.  What to buy first? a tooth brush or socks or what? I was touched by the generosity of friends who gave me sweaters and scarves and some necessary items. One day I felt annoyed with God and I said that the fire had come like a thief in the night. “You took everything without my giving you. If only you had left me my working instruments, my files and important books etc!”

There was a call from the owner asking us to come and look over our rooms as there were still some things in there. I was persuaded by a friend and we went. He carried an axe as many objects were still frozen in ice. I was able to recuperate files which we pulled out and took them home and I used a method to preserve them, too long to detail here.

Looking at my shelf of books, only three books were not burnt.  A Bible in English, and one in French and a little book containing the Rule and Life of the Franciscan Friar. I held this book in my hand examining it and seeing the water stains and the cover slightly warped and a card fell from it to the floor. I picked it up. It was handwritten, a note which I copied from somehwere and it stated, “In life, everything is called to disappear one day. All that will remain is the image of God in your soul”   I still cherish this .

 

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The Buddha and the Burning House

The Three Carts and the Burning House
[from the Hiyu chapter (Chapter 3) of the Lotus Sutra]
One day, a fire brokes out in the house of a wealthy man who had many children. The wealthy man shouts at his children inside the burning house to flee. But, the children are absorbed in their games and cannot understand his warning, though the house is being consumed by flames.(http://www.gakkaionline.net/kids/cart.html)
*


Then, the wealthy man devises a practical way to lure the children from the burning house. Knowing that the children are fond of interesting playthings, he calls out to them, “Listen! Outside the gate are the carts that you have always wanted: carts pulled by goats, carts pulled by deer, and carts pulled by oxen. Why don’t you come out and play with them?”
The wealthy man knows that these things will be irresistible to his children.
The children immediately race out to get into the carts. In this way, the wealthy man is able to get his children safely away from the burning house.
Once outside, the children demand the carts they have been promised. Instead, the wealthy man gives them a much finer and larger cart — one that runs as swiftly as the wind — adorned with many jewels and drawn by a great white ox. This cart is called the Great White Ox Cart.
Explanation:
The wealthy man can be compared to the Buddha, and the children to the people. The burning house indicates the real world where sufferings abound. The goat, deer, and ox carts represent the early teachings of Buddhism. In those previous teachings the goal was to attain the levels of Learning, Realization, or Bodhisattva.
Once those levels were reached, the Buddha’s followers were then ready to hear about the highest teaching, the Lotus Sutra. The Great White Ox Cart is compared to the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, which opens the direct way to Buddhahood.

Christmas in Robinson Ville

From the age of 4, in 1938, until 1956, for eighteen years I lived in the same house with my parents and siblings. We were nine, five boys and four girls and not enough to make a full foot ball team but enough to have been blessed with the joys of an interesting family life.
Among my best memories are those of Christmas and N.Years and later, the madness of carnival. My father ran a big department store and months before Christmas he delighted in looking over catalogs to choose the toys that would be bought for the toy department. He became like a kid, I remember him sitting at the table in the dining room at nights looking over the electric trains with a twinkle in his eyes. When the train arrived he took pains in setting it up in the show window and he invited us to come down and see it. Of course it was too expensive for our family, even if he was the manager and there were no credit cards in those days and so it was understood and I never felt deprived. I loved the toys I got but I aways wanted to know what was the secret behind the spring that made the toy car run and so after a while I took some screws and stuff out and the spring busted and now I thought, “I’ll just tie it with string and take it where I want it to go instead of winding it up and have it bounce onto the walls and furniture.”

At Christmas, new curtains came out and all the floors were washed and the living and dining room floors were polished and they shone beautifully. All the brass flower-pots and silver shone so clean and bright. In the early years we had a Pine tree growing in a large pot out doors that we used to bring in and decorate but eventually it died and from then on my father’s store imported real Christmas trees from Canada. They were placed in a cold storage until a few days before Christmas my dad brought home home and set it up . I loved the smell of the pine which filled our living room. I loved to sneak in when no one was around and just gaze at the new curtains and the shining floors, the beautiful anthurium lilies that stood in a big crystal vase on the center table, the maiden-hair ferns in the brass pots, the tree sparkling with tinsel and lights and the little decorations. It was a magical time of the year.

We did not have a chimney, being in a tropical country but we were told that Santa became very tiny and passed through the hole for the key or in some cases he opened a window and came in.
Of course we kinda believed up to a certain age but my dad after awaking us on Christmas night, would show me the glass with a drop of milk in the bottom, some cookie crumbs in a saucer and he would say…..”Santa had his snack. See he sat in this chair” and I stared at it and touched the glass as if it brought me closer to the mystery of this man.

See now I look at all this and am grateful because Christmas is all about mystery, things we cant explain scientifically but we just accept. Things we call “miracles” and magic and all those things that help to make life sparkle. Life can be so boring without magical moments. What makes us fall in love? Why do we love to look at a baby.? Sometimes am travelling in the subway and a woman comes on with a baby in her arms and I find I cant stop staring. There is mystery in all this. One day we are so small and helpless and then we grow and become so independent.
Because I could accept and love the mystery of a jolly man in red, bringing gifts for rich and poor alike, then maybe it was not too difficult in growing to believe there were angels singing and Mary gives birth in a manger to a man who marries her even though he is convinced he had nothing to do with it but that he was told in a dream by an angel, “fear not Joseph to take Mary as your wife for what she has conceived is of the Holy Spirit”

Today young and old alike have read and seen movies about Harry Potter and some years ago, “Star Wars”, Jeddai etc.  What would life be without stories of flying men like Superman and Robin and in earlier years Jules Verne and his voyages to the stars, and St. Exuperys “The Little Prince”. I love the part where the Little Price has to leave and the little fox has a tear in his eye and the Prince asked why and he answers, “because you have tamed me”.
And there are so many stories of lonely people being visited on Christmas with someone bringing a gift or some hungry receive food, long lost relatives finding one another,
Around this time others celebrate the Light in different traditions and there are stories on which the Feast of Hannukah is based. Read about it. Its all about a miracle.
And the Hindu feast of Diwali, one of lights and celebrated as big in India as we may celebrate Christmas in the West. That too is based on a story that is beyond scientific explanation.
But if all these feasts were taken away, I doubt we would be any happier and i question what would life be like.

My belief in a God was cultivated ever since an early age. As a child it was filled with simplicity and as I grew and asked why and where, I was told ‘here to learn how to know, to love and to serve’ as a purpose to my life. These three things are the motivation for a healthy and wholesome life for me. There is a joy in getting to know my self and others and the universe and searching to understand the Mystery of God, there is a joy in loving without expectation, and there is an unexplainable joy in rendering service, and these three give a sense and meaning to my life.
Without these, without miracles and mysteries, Christmas could not be the same and so beautiful and serene as it is today in this world that we know.
The Peace that sung the angels that night, can still be felt. We have to be……. still……to know. May the Peace and Joy of Chistmas be yours!

Heart to Heart

Under the heading of “Fundamental Freedoms” of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights, the section states:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association.

I started this blog in response to and also in the service of friends and acquaintances who wanted me to write something about my life, my experiences, my thoughts and feelings especially on meditation, and on the spiritual life. The people, teachers and gurus who I have met were put on my path to teach me something and help me along the path. I will be always thankful for whatever I have learnt from them.
I have and may continue in my writings, to express my feelings and searching from a very early stage in life.
I will continue to do so but I consider the path to be one continuous learning experience till this body ceases to breathe and the breath has gone maybe back to where it came.
I do not consider that being stagnant in thought and disposition is something attributable to me.
And so we see my visits to the Orient at different stages in my short lifespan. Visits which I hold dear in my heart.
We are so privileged to live in a country which allows this freedom of expression and ideas as stated in the quote from the Charter.
I respect the choices of others and their right to their expression of their beliefs. It is in this light that I give the right to myself to state mines.
Of those schools which I have frequented the most and of which I have studied some and are more familiar with,  and of which I am still learning and comparing what we have in common, is Hinduism and Buddhism. I hold them in deep respect and admiration.
As for Biblical and Christian Scriptures I still hold them very dear to my heart and will never cease pondering and meditating, especially the words and teachings attributed to Jesus of Nazareth.
Some may ask “what religion do you belong to ?” and my answer (on this day December 23,  2011) my 77th (almost 78th year) I will answer…”I do not like to think or categorize my self as “belonging” to an institute.
I like to think of myself as “belonging to the Christ”,  the one of whom St John in the First Chapter, V 1….   In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.’
V14. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth”

It is that Word made flesh, Jesus the Christ to whom I belong and who I yearn to know fully and to hold at the center of my heart, of my life for all times. May his name be for ever praised.

Petals in the Himalayas

It was during the rainy season or Monsoons when we arrived in Darjeeling. It rained every day and it was difficult moving around as it seems that the mud was everyhere and that when we stayed indoors, the low-lying clouds came into our rooms and filled evrything with humidity. Our only joy was in the satsangs and the talks given by the Buddhist teacher and in between the talks, we had some little time for touristing around. This was 1971 and Tibetans were still fleeing from Tibet and sneaking through the forests and into Nepal. There were lots of little boutiques where Tibetans brought some of their treasures to be sold. They needed money to take care of themselves and some, their children.  It was a ‘buyers market’ for the tourists seeking curios to bring back to the Westen world.

There was a man from Toronto who was buying gems and one day he asked me to accompany him. It was an unforgettable experience. we walked into this tiny shop which seemd like someone’s living room. In the middle of a room, was a small round table and a light suspended from the ceiling, which came and stood just about the center of the little round table. We were invited to sit on the rug around the table and once we wre seated the jeweler asked what was the jewel that we were particularly interested in seeing. My friend said “rubies” and he went to a chest-of -drawers and came to us with some envelopes. He sat on he floor, pulled the light down low and began opening the envelopes and displaying the stones. There were some beautiful black-red rublies, some with a distinct star as the light reflected on it. My friend expressed his choice and requested the price and asked “can you put this one aside”. We watched several kinds of jewels all coming in paper envelopes. It seemed like scenes from ‘Arabian Nights” as he showed us topaz and amber and all kinds of precious stones. My friend made his choice and paid and we left. He told me, “no where in the world will you see stones so beautifully cut like in India.  When I go back to Toronto I can mount them and sell them for a good price.”

Some boutiques carried tankas (Tibetan paintings on cloth) beautiful drawings of Buddhas and mandalas. Some carried scarves and clothes and musical instruments and some even had human cranes for sale. One guy was particularly interested in buying a skull. It was just the top part of the skull which was sold. I was horrified and wondered how can anyone buy such a thing. I remember when we left by train for Delhi that some kids in our compartment were taking out of their bags and showing some of the souvenirs they were bringing back to the West. There were bells and dorges and statues and tankas and jewels.  There was a group of these kids travelling together and comparing the stones they bought. “May I see that star ruby?” she asked her friend and so her friend passes her the stone and she was looking at it in the palm of her hand when the train gathered up some speed and the ruby rolled out of her hand and fell on the floor. They were both, in a flash, down on their knees but helas, the ruby had slipped through a crack in the floor and gone!. I thought to myself “how strange a thing that it should come all the way from its precious envelope in the jeweler’s shop, to find freedom in a rail-track!’

I could not find a hotel to stay in whilst in Darjeeling but a friend suggested I come with him to the market place as he was told there was a possibility of staying with a family of some of the vendors. Afetr enquiring around we found one that was willing to have me stay at his place. He was a short man with a big smile and he spoke a little English. He left his stall to take me to his home. It was extremely poor and very little furniture in the living room but there was a cot which he said I could use and sleep there. The price was also so cheap! The bathroom was out side in the public square and there in the early morning was where we ran into the other Westerners brushing their teeth, washing thier faces etc. It was situations like this that made us all smile and enjoy the luxuries of fresh flowing water and whatever goodies we had. It was there also that we learnt where the next lecture will be and at what time. We were given a companion as a security measure so we wont get lost.

It was on a day when the sun came through that we set out on a path heading for a lecture. I cant remember what the monk spoke about but he invited anyone who wanted to ask questions, to allow the others to go for lunch and to come and see him in the hall.  I had a question and so I went. He listened attentively and said “come with me” and he led me to this room with many books on a shelf and he said “I want you to read this and we will talk”.  I left and after a bowl of soup in the village, I went to the place where I was staying and stretched out on the bed I began to read. The title of the Book was “The Opening of the Mind’s eye” written by H.H.Dalai Lama .  It was around the noon hour, very hot and my eyes were heavy and I dozed off to sleep. I had a strange dream that there was a giant spider in the room and it was coming my way. I was scared to death as the spider approached but then suddenly in my mind a voice said ‘why be aftraid, it is only a spider”! From that moment, the spider became smaller and smaller and finally it came close and just walked over my wrist and left and I awoke. My heart was pounding as I was sure that the spider was in my bed and so I jumped up and searched but there was nothing. I got up and looked at the time. Oh it was time I left the house for the afternoon lecture and so I made my way down.

The dream was so strong, it lingered with me as I wondered what it meant. The Bhikku came in and sat down and began his lecture.  “There was a monk who sat in meditation and every time he began his meditation, a giant spider would appear.”  I was shocked and my ears were fully attentive as the monk continued. “So one day the monk went to see his master and asked….”I cant meditate. the spider is driving me crazy. I have this knife, may I have permission to kill the spider” His teacher looked at him and said, “Please give me that knife. Here is a small paint brush and some ink. Take this with you and when the spider appears, you will paint an X on its back and it wont bother you anymore”  So the monk went back and sat to meditate and sure enough the spider came back and this time the monk took out the little pot of ink, dipped the paint brush and made an impressive black X on the spider’s back and as his master indicacted, It disappeared and he had an incredible meditation. He came out of meditation feeling so refreshed and his head was tilted to his chest. It was in the heat of the day and his chest was exposed and as he opened fully his eyes, lo and behold there was this beautiful black X on his chest and abdomen!”  Please remember from this story that everything we see in meditation is our very own creation, so please be gentle even with our distractions.” said the monk and I have never forgotten this lesson.