Reap While You May

Recent deliberations at Bagni di Lucca’s town council have enabled long cherished ambitions to be finally achieved. If you buy it in Bagni (in other words if you kick the bucket) you can now have your place of honour at the English cemetery, which hasn’t received an inhumation since the early fifties.

There are three conditions before you join the internees:

  1. Only ashes placed in urns are acceptable. So you must agree to cremation.
  2. You can be of any religion you like whether it be catholic, Zoroastrian, Seventh-day Adventist, Mormon, Mohammedan, Hindu, Buddhist, animist, atheist, or even C of E. It doesn’t matter. Your ashes will still be welcomed.
  3. The time of inhumation will be initially of 30 years renewable by your descendants

This is a great moment for all those who had aspirations to remain in Bagni di Lucca even after the grim reaper.

I’m already a member of the cremation society which has its headquarters at Livorno. I’ve now arranged everything for myself in terms of my posthumous existence except I still have to decide the moment of my departure. I wish the deities would inform me of that in time.

Anyway, you can read all about this exciting news at http://iltirreno.gelocal.it/lucca/cronaca/2017/04/22/news/nuove-tumulazioni-nel-cimitero-inglese-1.15234968

This is the article from that paper in Italian:

LUCCA. Approvato in consiglio comunale a Bagni di Lucca il nuovo regolamento di polizia mortuaria, adeguato alla nuova normativa. Con l’eccezione della parte esterna delle tombe, che ciascuno potrà affidare a chi vuole, ci sarà un bando per appaltare il servizio di sepoltura a una unica ditta, per evitare problemi, ricorrenti, con tante ditte diverse. Un aspetto criticato dal consigliere Marco Pelagalli, secondo il quale sarebbe stato meglio evitara una sorta di “monopolio” e lasciar lavorare ditte vicine e scelte dai committenti. Il vincitore del bando dovrà assicurare tutte le garanzie legali e sanitarie del servizio, in modo da evitare le tante contestazioni del passato. L’altra novità introdotta dal nuovo regolamento riguarda la durata delle concessioni che si adegua a quella prevista dalla normativa, passando da 50 a 30 anni. «È necessario avere un interlocutore certo — ha dichiarato il sindaco Massimo Betti — che si assuma la responsabilità dei lavori svolti e, non come accaduto purtroppo in passato, trovarsi ad affrontare situazioni di emergenza legate a sepolture non fatte a regola d’arte. Da parte nostra cercheremo di garantire un costo limitato al massimo, in modo che non vi siano aggravi economici o, comunque, siano molto limitati, per i cittadini. Abbiamo, inoltre, voluto che fosse chiaro che la parte monumentale o comunque decorativa della sepoltura fosse slegata dalla tumulazione e fosse affidabile a discrezione della famiglia della persona defunta».
Il nuovo testo prevede tra l’altro che i richiedenti possano utilizzare il cimitero inglese per l’apposizione delle urne cinerarie. «La novità più importante — ha aggiunto il sindaco Massimo Betti — è la riapertura delle tumulazioni del Cimitero Inglese, che saranno possibili solo relativamente alle urne cinerarie contenenti le ceneri del defunto. L’approvazione di questo documento è il primo passo, al quale farà seguito la redazione di un regolamento specifico che concorderemo con la Fondazione De Montaigne e con l’Istituto Storico Lucchese. L’altro aspetto rilevante di questa novità è che le tumulazioni saranno aconfessionali, possibili, cioè, a persone appartenenti a ogni credo religioso o atee». Il cimitero inglese è stato tra l’altro oggetto 
di una ulteriore valorizzazione grazie al fatto di essere stato inserito tra i luoghi da visitare selezionati dal Fai. Nel complesso sono in corso lavori per restaurare altre tombe. Il regolamento è stato approvato dalla maggioranza, mentre le minoranze hanno votato contro. (e.a.)

 

22 aprile 2017

 

Don’t leave it too late – that’s my only advice. There could well be waiting list for such a beautiful place to pass your eternity in….

One last wish. I hope you’ll come to visit me there. I may not have much to say to you when I’m there but the views are splendid and I’m sure you could at least have a glass of fine vino over my mortal remains.

PS I forecast all this in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/urn-burial-in-bagni-di-lucca/

 

 

 

 

Mshiha Qam

In all the years we have been passing Easter here in Bagni di Lucca there’s no better way to start off this day of hope and peace than attending Easter Mass at the Convento dell’Angelo, that incandescently beautiful building on the hill above Ponte a Moriano. The convent is Nottolini’s masterpiece and, until a short while ago, was the home of the Passionist fathers so closely associated with that neglected Lucchese Saint Gemma and now Maestro Kuhn’s musical academy.

I’ve written so much about the convent that I won’t repeat it here. If you want to know more about this stunning place see my posts at:

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/an-angels-monday/

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/easter-morning-on-the-mountain-of-the-holy-grail/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/12/25/reaching-the-holy-grail/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/how-we-spent-our-easter-2016/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/12/25/its-christmas-day/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/12/26/our-christmas-eve/

The programme of the Easter Mass, which was as usual officiated by Passionist father Giovanni Battista accompanied by the musicians of the Academia di Montegral, was as follows:

The Mass was so beautiful and enhanced by the most wonderful music on earth,

After this, in in every way, high experience we returned home to enjoy our Easter lunch. What with Sandra’s true English lamb chop, her delicious lasagne, and two cakes one baked by each one of us we celebrated this most important event in the liturgical year with joy.

Yet we could not sadly ignore the fact that in the world at large this has been one of the most violent Easters on record. How could anyone, for instance,  blow up buses containing refugees from that horrifying conflict in Syria when all they were trying to do was to find peace in some part of this increasingly vicious world? The picture of that girl with her cat boarding the suicide bus will for ever haunt me. Where are they now, I wonder?

My Easter card poem this year reflected this tragic Easter.

 

GOODBYE EASTERLING*

 

The day is crying

our hearts are sighing;

is our soul dying?

 

There is such lying

such false replying

such gross betraying.

 

The world’s belying:

we are all shying

from those denying.

 

Yet death defying,

falsehood decrying,

our sad eyes drying,

 

our fears allaying,

our hope supplying:

ever undying

 

our True God and King

gifts us our life’s spring

anew helps us sing.

 

 

Mshiha qam**

 

 

*Evil servants of Sauron in Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.

**Aramaic, Christ’s language, meaning ‘The Messiah is Risen’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Pilgrims

We were parked by the road side and thinking about the great lunch we’d just had when Sandra suddenly remarked to me that she thought she could see two mediaeval pilgrims approaching us. I had my doubts about the apparition she described but I need not have doubted her. Soon we were talking to two Franciscan pilgrims who had walked all the way from Sicily.

Talking to them we discovered that the pilgrims’ task was to reach every region of Italy. Brother ‘Fratell’ Biagio Conte belongs to the Mission of Hope and Charity of Palermo. He’d already walked across the terrible areas hit by the central Italian earthquakes of last year. His companion was from Hungary.

Fratello Conte told us his mission was to bring peace and serenity to all people, especially who have been hit hardest by adversity. ‘We mustn’t lose hope whatever else happens’, he advised us. ‘Especially in these times when too often people shut themselves in, build walls and exclude others’.

It was a truly wonderful moment to meet these pilgrims on Maundy Thursday, the day before Christ suffered his Crucifixion. And it seemed that meeting these persons was almost coming across another age when Faith was greater. Seeing and talking to them decorated with the shell of Saint James, long-bearded, garbed in green and carrying our Saviour’s cross truly made our day.

‘Brother Biagio said ‘some people give us bad looks – others tell us to go to hell but it doesn’t matter to us what they think. We are bringing the Easter message of peace in the confidence that hope shall never die. Today we’ve come from Arezzo and now we’re heading for Florence.

‘What wonderful ingenuity and, indeed, bravery’, I thought. How many of us would love to discard all the clap-trap of so-called civilized life and head for the road with blind faith and a smile on our lips whatsoever may happen to us!

With this thought I wish all my devoted blog readers and their friends a VERY HAPPY EASTER!

 

 

What’s Easter but resurging earth

beyond dark season’s blight;

reliving flesh, unseeding birth,

the new day over night.

 

Soil’s primal violence, cracking roots,

holds shaking of the skies,

tumescence of fresh shoots,

inconsolable eyes.

 

And must they fall upon this day

that ripped the veil in two?

And shall world’s peace still yet betray

and ever war be through?

 

The people weep when they might joy

at life anew refound;

could love reform what hates destroy

as Christ rose from the ground?

 

Sins fall like bombs upon the heart

and tear away its breath:

where is the strength, so far apart,

to conquer living death?

 

 

Crucifixion in Borgo a Mozzano

Borgo a Mozzano last night was the scenario for the enactment of Jesus Christ’s last human moments on Earth. Through the narrow alleys of this atmospheric town the various biblical episodes were played out in what was termed  ‘Sequela di Pasqua’.

First there was the Messiah’s joyful entry in Jerusalem and the meeting with his disciples in Borgo’s main square:

There was the last Supper where Jesus broke bread and drank wine and said to his disciples ‘do this in memory of me’. He also warned that one of them would betray him:

The harrowing scene in the garden of Gethsemane followed where Jesus pleads to God that his bitter cup may be taken away from him. If not, however, ‘let your will be done’.

Judas points out the Roman soldiers who they must capture by kissing Jesus who is then captured and led away.

The trial follows and Caiaphas and his Pharisees demand Christ’s crucifixion.

But Pontius Pilate can’t find anything wrong with Jesus. He washes his hands of the whole matter.

There is then Christ’s carrying of the cross with all the stations enacted. See if you can recognize some of them in the following photos. They are:

  1. Pilate condemns Jesus to die
  2. Jesus accepts his cross
  3. Jesus falls for the first time
  4. Jesus meets his mother, Mary
  5. Simon helps carry the cross
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls for the second time
  8. Jesus meets the three women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls for the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of his clothes
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
  12. Jesus dies on the cross
  13. Jesus is taken down from the cross
  14. Jesus is placed in the tomb

Finally, there is the crucifixion behind the apse of Borgo’s main church of San Jacopo.

This vivid enactment didn’t finish here for we were invited into the church of San Rocco magnificently decorated with an amplified altar and where there was a fine choral concert which also included Mozart’s ave verum. As traditional, the proceedings were wound out with a rinfresco in the parish hall.

It’s been some time since the Sequela has been carried out in Borgo a Mozzano but thanks to the spirited collaboration of its citizens and associations this year a convincingly moving enactment was performed. It was even more poignant due to the fact that on the same day there had been massacres of Christians in two Coptic churches in Egypt. Plus ca change…

Palm-Spring Sunday

Spring gets more suddenly with us every year we’re here. It’s now truly sprung. as the hackneyed phrase goes. In our garden the commonly called gaggiolo or Florentine lily or English iris is putting on quite a show and all the other flowers are now in competition with each. Even the vegetables are beginning to start a sweet show. Our Japanese maple is finally putting out its leaves. The muscari are thriving and the wysteria  will now start putting on its fireworks display. Even the pomegranate is showing signs of life. The azalea is continuing to thrive.

Spring is in the air

germinating in our hearts:

happiness blossoms

 

Which reminds me that today is also Palm Sunday marking Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a Donkey.

 

PALMS

  

I was standing by the east gate

when I first saw him pass.

Could this man create so much hate

and yet unite all class?

 

Through the thick crowds I caught his face

and for one fleet instance

it seemed as if he could replace

death itself with his glance.

 

People had cut down palm boughs,

waving them before him

with hosannas and solemn vows

in one rapt festive whim.

 

Sat astride the colt of an ass,

prophecy-fulfilling,

he rode through the acclaiming mass

like a king returning.

 

How would this local triumph end?

No blood had yet been spilled.

Would it forevermore transcend

the man, the god they killed?

 

All we knew was that we seemed free –

our happy feast had come.

Yet wine and bread would never be

the same again for some.

 

And as the palm leaves’ cross-shaped folds

are given in this nave

will he say that our future holds

no terror in the grave?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tales of the Night

What better way to spend a rainy afternoon than attend a talk as part of the Unitre (university of the third age) programme. Natalia Sereni, our local historian is well-known for her books on, among other subjects, the Prato Fiorito, Bagni di Lucca’s part in World War One and the entry of Fornoli in the comune.

Sereni’s subject yesterday was ‘Racconti Notturni’ (Tales of the Night). To this day stories are told locally of witches, demons, sorcerers, elves, sibyls and soothsayers. Indeed, Italy today is even fuller of what are generally called superstitions. Horoscopes are eagerly read and broadcast and posters advertising fortune tellers and card-readers drape our town walls. Why should beliefs in magic and witchcraft still be flourishing and expanding in what is supposed to be a rational and scientific age?

The fact is that these beliefs go back an incredibly long way and are rooted in ancient pagan beliefs. Indeed, the word ‘pagan’ comes from the root for ‘village’ and that’s where these beliefs survive to this day. Religion (derived from the Latin ‘religio’ – tying together) systematised and created a hierarchy of these credences with God placed firmly on top of the pyramid.

In post-reformation northern Europe there was no place for magic and witchcraft. Indeed, such practices were actively discouraged by burning perpetrators of anti-religious heresy at the stake. A manual, ‘Malleus Maleficarum’, (the hammer of witches) written by clergyman Heinrich Kramer and published in 1487 and apparently still in use by the church is an excellent guidebook to the discovery of witches and the ways of interrogating them with appropriate punishments and the correct instruments of torture to use.

So it was the Protestants who led the league in the burning of witches, especially during the start of the seventeenth century. Indeed, King James I was a specialist in the subject – no wonder that Shakespeare dedicated ‘Macbeth’ to him. In catholic Italy there was less burning and persecution going on – the last witch was killed off in 1828.

The reason for this is that the Catholic Church used a process of syncretism in which previous pagan beliefs were incorporated into a new scheme approved by the ecclesiastical authorities. Thus, the Earth goddess Diana was incorporated into the Virgin; the attributes of wizards were made part of the characteristics of St John the Baptist and at least one divinity who protected shepherds’ herds and farm animals became St Anthony Abbot (whose ancient statue incidentally graces our local church at San Cassiano).

No wonder so many churches here are built on the foundations of pre-Christian temples and shrines. Recently we visited Tamilnadu in India and were amazed by the fact that the rites carried out in the magnificent temples of that part of the world have remained the same for thousands of years. Even the appearance of an Asian messiah in the form of Gautama did not interrupt rituals of worship but became incorporated within the multiplicity of idols which adorn these religious centres through the process of syncretism.

The multiplicity of saints in the Roman Catholic faith may be regarded as replacements for the many gods, sprites, fauns and deities of ‘pagan’ times. Catholics are in reality, worshipping in a structure which systematises and orders primeval beliefs whose main object was to help people understand the weird world they lived in. Myths and legends are, in fact, narratives which explain why things come to be and are what they are. If one complains saying that science has done away with this sort of ‘magic’ interpretation then think again: there as so many things which happen in one’s life, so many strange coincidences, phenomena, intuitions, singularities, miracles even, which cannot simply be explained by the laws of quantum mechanics or physics or, indeed, any other form of scientific or rational theory.

An aside by Bagni di Lucca’s own Vito, who combines modern medical science with holistic practices and psychoanalysis, was most perceptive, especially when regarding dreams. Vito sees dreams as the only state where mankind experiences complete freedom: in daily life we are obliged to place the chains of social restrain on us. Dreams, therefore, can provide an indication of who we really are and where we are likely to go. The problem, however, is the way we interpret them.

Natalia Sereni finished her perceptive and provoking talk with a quote from Hamlet: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy’. After all even I have difficulty in explaining that our planet is a globe to a determined believer in flat earth theory. That’s why I’m off to the local wise woman to get some advice on what is the best washing powder I should buy.

 

A Hundred Thousand Images in Tibet

Gyangtse is the archetypal Tibetan town. With its population of around ten thousand it used to be the country’s third largest town but has now been overtaken by ten larger cities. Largely overshadowed by its bigger neighbours, Gyangtse still retains something of the feel of old times with its traditional architecture, its stunning location and its friendly locals.

We installed ourselves in a hotel which was vast and has clearly been used to hosting official party congresses. Its large dimensions were, however, tempered by some of the most exquisite modern murals and decorations I have seen.

Next morning we took a quick look around the market of this mainly agricultural town.

We then walked along what is popularly known as ‘cow street’ because of the number of these quadrupeds tethered outside the characteristic flat-roofed (because there’s little snow that falls in Tibet) houses. The buildings were full of exquisite details.

Dominating the town was the dzong or fortress, a landmark in the infamous Francis Younghusband expedition to Tibet of 1903-4 which not only was the first time a English person entered the forbidden city of Lhasa but also turned out to be a large-scale invasion with negative consequences for Anglo-Tibetan relationships. The fact was that British Army Gatling guns were a highly unequal match against Tibetan ancient flintlocks. Statistics vary but in one encounter, reckoned to be the highest altitude battle ever fought by the British army, five thousand Tibetan army personnel (largely monks) were killed with just five British casualties.

Sir Francis Younghusband afterwards sorely regretted his aggressive approach which was frankly a political one involved in the ‘Great Game’ where the British and Russian Empires thought that each other had designs on the vast and largely unexplored expanses of central Asia and even India itself! (This story forms the background of Rudyard Kipling’s masterpiece ‘Kim’ –a must-read book and one of my favourites). From Younghusband’s early explorations, which took him to all parts of the Chinese subcontinent, through the shameful Tibetan expedition, to his last years as a spiritualist writer of such books as Life in the Stars, The Light of Experience, Dawn in India and The Living Universe we have someone who personifies both the best and worst of the British explorer-imperialist.

But does it really require an unnecessary slaughter of Tibetan monks to see the Divine Light, develop faith in cosmic rays and believe that on our earth there are extra-terrestrials with transparent flesh hailing from the planet Altair?

The highlight of Gyangtse, however, is not the fort, which is dedicated to the Tibetan and Chinese martyrs of those early twentieth century years, but the ‘Kumbum’, or one hundred thousand images – an astonishing, perhaps the most astonishing, building in Tibet. The Pelkhor Choede (to give it its proper Tibetan name) is a chorten, or shrine, housing an accretion of statues of the Buddha and his acolytes and avatars and built in the shape of a three-dimensional architectural mandala. I only wish I had a drone with me to take pictures of this wonderful building from above so that its complex intersections of circle within the square, so characteristic of Mandalas, could be seen.

dscn5183

The Kumbum dates back to 1427 when it was commissioned by a Gyangtse prince and was an important Buddhist centre. There are nine mandala-like levels with 108 (that auspicious Buddhist number again) chapels

Exploring the nine levels of the Kumbum is a real adventure as one climbs up towards the top (just a ladder at that stage) where the statue of the supreme Buddha (Shakyamuni) is kept. Each floor comprises little chapels with avenging and defending deities and the walls are covered with those one hundred thousand murals, probably the finest in the whole of Tibet, fortunately saved from the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and best viewed with a flash light (which we stupidly forgot to bring….)

No photos, however, can capture the wonder of this building and its treasures.

The Palcho monastery where the Kumbum is placed is equally worth a visit with its lines of prayer wheels and its large assembly hall. It’s a pity that the number of monks here are just a fraction of what they used to be.

I could have spent days in Gyangtse – perhaps hiring a bike to visit the surrounding country which is delightfully rural. Certainly I had to be dragged away from the Kumbum – the magic of that building had me in raptures. For once the significance of Mandalas encapsulated me for I was actually inside one as I rose higher and higher to the top and enjoyed a wonderful view of the landscape looked over by the final statue of Shakyamuni, the Supreme Buddha.

Sadly too, the Kumbum marked the last stop of our travels in Tibet. From now on we would be homeward bound….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heated Debates at Sera Monastery, Tibet

In the afternoon of our second full day in Lhasa we visited the same monastery which Don Ippolito Desideri, the Jesuit from Pistoia mentioned in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/a-morning-in-lhasa/ , stayed at back at the start of the eighteenth century and, indeed, where he was given his own chapel by the chief Lama to practise his devotions.

Sera is one of Tibet’s three great teaching monastic universities, the other two being Drepung and Ganden (which we did not visit) and is situated on the slopes of Wangput mountain a little outside Lhasa at a height of 13,000 feet. The mountain slopes also contain nineteen hermitages where those monks seeking greater seclusion towards their search for enlightenment may stay, and four nunneries too.  (It should be stated that Tibetan nuns, recognised by their very short hair, have played a leading role in the Tibetan resistance movement.)

The word ‘Sera’ in Tibetan means wild rose and, indeed, the site is still surrounded by wild roses. The original monastery was founded by Jamchen Chojey of the great Gelugpa (yellow hat) order in 1419 and houses a little over five hundred monks.

As sadly with so many other monasteries in Tibet Sera suffered grievously during the Cultural Revolution with widespread destruction of its colleges and an untold number of monks (ranging into the hundreds) slaughtered.

As a result of this massacre many monks fled south into India and established a parallel Sera monastery at Bylakuppe near Mysore. This Sera mark-two monastery houses around six thousand monks, nearly six times the number at the original site in Tibet. I must visit it next time I’m in the sub-continent.

Fortunately there is little visual evidence of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution at Sera, Tibet. We found the monastery a very serene place filled with happy pilgrims and monks. The buildings looked very well cared for and intact and there was some work taking place to replace the drainage system in parts. I do feel the Chinese want to draw a curtain, as much as the rest of us, over what was going on in Tibet during those critical years between 1966 and 1976.

Sera has some fine buildings including a large assembly hall but it is particularly famous for two things.

First, is its fine collection of wood blocks used for printing books. In the workshop I was able to obtain a copy of that masterpiece of Tibetan literature, the Bardo Thodol or Tibetan Book of the Dead. To have my copy of it from Sera monastic University was indeed tremendous. All I’ve got to do now is to learn Tibetan (although I do have the Evans-Wentz translation.)

(My copy of the Bardo Thodol – liberation through hearing – from Sera Monastery)

Second, is the monastic university’s debate sessions. We were in time for the afternoon one and came across yet another of those extraordinary sights one encounters in the mountain kingdom. In the debating courtyard I noticed around a hundred pairs of monks, one sitting meekly on the ground the other striding around him and outstretching both hands clapping them and wildly twirling his auspicious rosary of 108 beads.

What did all this noise and kafuffle mean I wondered? Translation please!

Actually, each pair of monks represents a question-and-answer session. The standing monk or teacher questions the sitting monk or pupil. The arm gestures and clappings signify the beginning and the end of each question. If the teacher is annoyed by the student he circles around him (clockwise of course) three times.

If anyone thought of Sera debates as something on the lines of the Oxford Union then think again. The ‘debate’ is, in fact, a religious quiz. Questions are generally closed ones by nature of the replies the novice is allowed to give and the subjects could relate to the relationship between Dharma and Karma, the nature of Samsara, truths about a Bodhisattva, even if a yak can be enlightened, the four noble truths established by Gautama etc, etc. I do wish more could have been explained to me about the questions asked but they are all on doctrinal matters.

Afterwards I discovered that the Tibetan argument takes two forms to defeat wrong ideas and clarify understanding. The first type of argument proposed by a teacher is that of a syllogism made up of a thesis and a reason stated together in one sentence. The second is that of a consequence, similar to a syllogism but an expansion of the pupil’s answer.

Let’s try to give a ‘western’ example:

Listening to Beethoven’s fifth symphony is a transient experience because the sound starts and then after just over half-an-hour it stops. It is thus a product. The minor premise is that music is impermanent because it is a product of instruments starting and ending to play.

The major premise is that all products are transient. Everything (and everyone) has a birth and a death. It follows from the major premise, too, that sound is transient

The pupil can thus answer in one of at least three ways at the premises launched to him by the teacher.

(1) “The reason is not established,” = denying a minor premise;

(2) “There is no pervasion,” = denying the major premise;

(3) “I accept it,” = accepting the argument and the conclusion.

They then may have to take the ‘consequence’.

The session did look and sound an odd way to question novices on their knowledge of the Dharma and Buddhist doctrinal matters. I would have been truly scared to be a novice at Sera! It was, however, fascinating to watch. But when I thought of the debate as a combat sport, spiritual rather than physical, it began to make more sense to me.

Two main rules had to be observed by those non-monastic spectators attending the debate: one was to keep silent – this was pretty easy as nothing could be heard above the general discussion mayhem; the other was that photos could only be taken using a cell phone. I think this second rule was a desperate one since it’s quite rare to find a Chinese or even a Tibetan person without one of these items of technology in their hands (that includes monks as well) and it just seems natural to take a picture of this astonishing event…

20161031_152146

Actually, this system of debate, or ‘closed dialectic’ as I’d rather prefer to term it, goes back a long way. It originated in India several thousands of years ago and apparently there was a similar thing going on among the Greek philosophical schools.

Developing one’s awareness of the ultimate Truth and opening the doors of perception is indeed a systematic ritual. Whether, to outsiders, the ritual looks like the next thing to a pub argument is irrelevant for behind it all there are strict rules of procedure which both the teacher and pupil must observe.

Incidentally, the system continues in Italian schools where oral examinations are as important as written ones and certainly in other religions although the rules of engagement may differ. I suppose in England the dreaded interview is the closest one gets to it.

The word ‘argument’ also needs clarification. In English ‘to have an argument’ is usually taken to mean having an often rough disagreement between two (or more) persons. One can also use the word in the context ‘My argument for the existence of the yeti is etc.’ Argument or ‘argomento’ in Italian means something quite different than its usual English use, ‘L’argomento dell’Opera è’ means ‘the ‘plot of the opera is’ – argomento is never used in the context of a rough exchange as in English. It generally means a discussion or ‘point’.

Certainly the debating sessions, for which Sera is particularly famous, seemed to me to draw a fine line between ‘litigare’ and ‘discutere’. I’m sure, however, that the novices, quickly learnt where they went wrong! Everyone, anyway, left on good terms.

Sera Monastery has a big festival called Sera Bengqin on the 27th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar (which is around February). It’s one of the coldest parts of the year but I’m sure that the crowds of pilgrims will do much to warm one up.

It was great to see something of the monks’ daily routine at Sera but we were raring to see more of the country outside Lhasa. Our wish was to be satisfied, for next day we would be travelling through some of the most spectacular country I’ve ever seen and surmount three mountain passes, two of which would approach 17,000 feet in height.

ॐ नमः शिवाय (OM NAMAH SHIVAYA)

OM NAMAH SHIVAYA (ॐ नमः शिवाय)

His Thousand Names are inadequate to describe Him.
But when mankind knows Him, they will have everything.

The mantra Om Namah Shivaya is perhaps the most powerful mantra for Lord Shiva. It has five syllables in Sanskrit and therefore known as the pancha (five) kshara (syllables) mantra. The number five is auspicious for Shiva as it comprehends the five major elements that permeate all creation: earth, air, fire, water and space. Shiva is all these five elements into one perfect wholeness.

Start the day by reciting Om Namah Shiva (lit: ‘I bow to the name of Shiva’) and you will receive protection from this great power says Baba Cesare as he leaves Guzzano, Bagni di Lucca for Hampi, India.

No guru can give you Nirvana; this you can only achieve yourself. The baba can guide and show the way, but the devotee must carry out the practice.

Ciao Baba Cesare. Alla prossima!

ॐ नमः शिवाय

 

 

Dharma

Baba Cesare has left his ashram near our village of Longoio, Italy for his ashram in Hampi, India. The winter chill was already beginning to have its feel upon him and, like a swallow, he has flown south.

I’ve already written about Baba in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/08/27/baba/ .

Together with his friends, disciplines and acolytes we wish Baba a safe journey back to his spiritual homeland. At the same time I feel that Baba has left a great spiritual strength for us to nurture in our hills. Rarely have I met someone so much in pursuit of that which is higher than any of us – that o so multifariously difficult-to translate-word of eastern philosophy known as Dharma.

Simply put Dharma is the right way of doing things and the carrying out of duties according to this right way. What is the right way?  Once Baba said to me ‘I know that I don’t know’. And sometimes it comes to me that perhaps I don’t know that I do know. Rightness is, above all, liberty from attachment and from anything that weighs one down with material preoccupations. Are my worries a matter of life and death? Only thinking about Dharma should put me right about that.

There are many books dating back to the most ancient of sages which lay down the right way of doing things but only by carrying out one’s life in a veracious manner will convince and, above all, feel upon the pulse, the greatness of Dharma.

To harmonise oneself with the universal law of Dharma one has to understand the rule of Karma, which is equally universal in mankind. It’s inherent in such biblical statements like ‘as you sow so shall you reap’, from Galatians 6.7, from such scientific statements as cause and effect and from such human interfaces as action and reaction. Cutting a cluster of grapes from the vineyard will cause it to fall into a basket. Good actions will develop one, bad ones can only destroy one in the end. Virtue and sin in the Christian eschatology – heaven and hell both internally and externally are all there for one to see, feel, believe and practise.

Without the third Hindu concept of Artha it would be impossible for most people to practise good Karma and thereby enable one’s own Karma to draw closer and harmonise with Dharma. For Artha is the means of life, the actions which enable one to survive in the world whether it is undertaking powerful take-over business bids or street-begging. It also means clarity, the ability to be able to look after oneself without harming others.

Without the proper conduct of Artha, Karma and Dharma one will constantly be an anguished soul suffering pererenially in a Dantean hell with no means of escape at any time .

The ‘Itness’ of it is both very simple and very complex. The simplicity is in the clarity and apparent obviousness of it. The difficulty is in the deviousness and obfuscation of the human psyche. There are so many ways to be evil but only one way to be good.

Lies have to be remembered. The truth has no need to be remembered. It just is. Nothing is hidden – not even the most devious falsehood. Good action heals, bad action hurts. No action disappears without trace. It is kept in the memory of the Godhead.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Dharma is truly the Golden rule.

The Dhammapada is a Buddhist text translated into Pali from ancient Sanskrit sources. There can be no better expression of Dharma than these opening verses:

What we are is the result of what we have thought,
is built by our thoughts, and is made up of our thoughts.
If one speaks or acts with an impure thought,
suffering follows one,
like the wheel of the cart follows the foot of the ox.

What we are is the result of what we have thought,
is built by our thoughts, and is made up of our thoughts.
If one speaks or acts with a pure thought,
happiness follows one,
like a shadow that never leaves.

“They insulted me; they hurt me;
they defeated me; they cheated me.”
In those who harbour such thoughts,
hate will never cease.

“They insulted me; they hurt me;
they defeated me; they cheated me.”
In those who do not harbour such thoughts,
hate will cease.

For hate is never conquered by hate.
Hate is conquered by love.
This is an eternal law.
Many do not realize that we must all come to an end here;
but those who do realize this, end their quarrels at once.

 

We all hope so much to see you next year Baba Cesare (or maybe before in India?). You have both brought me down to earth and into heaven by your presence, your all-seeing eye, your calmness and your words. God bless!