Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Wisdom Traditions

Spiritual Passage to India

Love everyone, feed everyone, and remember God.
Neem Karoli Baba

I recently gave Ram Dass’s Be Here Now to Laura,  an exceptional Maryville University  graduate  and psychology major. Previously,  I had mentioned to her that part early in the book about Richard Alpert’s growing disenchantment as an upwardly mobile psychology prof and his eventual breakdown/breakthrough with Neem Karoli Baba (“Maharajji”), who became his guru. I thought she might appreciate both the design of the book and some of the teachings, which she’d probably not come across in upper-level psych courses.

Like Ram Dass a devotee of Maharajji, Parvati Markus has recently compiled ardent testimonies  in Love Everyone: The Transcendent Wisdom of Neem Karoli Baba Told through the Stories of the Westerners Whose Lives He Transformed.  The influential psychologist Daniel Goleman was one of those Westerners, and his experience in India was crucial to developing a more holistic and powerful psychology:  “In the West I had been in the heart of American psychology, and here was a sea of love, totally off the map of Western psychology. It was so clear that we had missed something really important about human abilities, human potential, about the heart. Here was a being who was endless love and presence. It wasn’t some temporary state; it was who he was. That’s what really got me.”

Markus’s book covers the years 1968 to 1973. Many people went  to India at a young age (late teens, early twenties), and eventually returned to the U.S. to integrate what they had experienced in ashrams and following the guru around India. People went into the professions, raised families, got stuck,  got unstuck, achieved fame (e.g., Krishna Das).  All of them had been marked for life by  Maharajji, as the following remarks indicate… Read the rest of this entry »

At Home in the World: A Summer Writing Class 2017

Thich Nhat Hanh is regarded by many as one of the most skillful and pragmatic of spiritual teachers. In 2016 he published At Home in the World, a succinct autobiography of his ninety years of life in Vietnam and in exile. Filled with recollections, teachings, and practices, this book will be our guide for getting in touch with our own stories, wisdom, and resources for mindful living.

Thich Nhat Hanh has been a proponent of Engaged Buddhism for over sixty years. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. He was a kindred spirit to the Catholic monk Thomas Merton and Jesuit activist Daniel Berrigan. He is the author of scores of books, including The Miracle of Mindfulness, Being Peace, and Living Buddha, Living Christ. He resides at his community, Plum Village, in France.

Each class session will allow for quiet time, discussion of the book, writing practices, and paired and group sharing. Suggestions will be offered for further writing and experiments in the week between classes. A class blog will be available for sharing the fruits of our reflection, exchange, and writing.

We will meet on the following six Wednesdays: June 14, 21, and 28 and July 5, 12, and 19. You’ll need a copy of At Home in the World and a notebook or laptop. Our meeting time will be 6:30 p.m. to 8:15 at my home, 4514 Chouteau Avenue in Forest Park Southeast (63110).

Tuition is $135.00. An on-line class will also be available for those interested ($75.00). Email me if you want to join us: markjchmiel@gmail.com.

I Beseech You, Orianne Aymard

Peace and harmony appear so closely woven in every cell of her being that the spirits of darkness would search in vain for a loophole.

–Melita Maschmann, Encountering Bliss: My Journey through India with Ānandamayī Mā

 

My PhD was in the area of Religion and Society, sociology religion and social ethics, at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Previously, as Master’s student at the Maryknoll School of Theology, I studied with Venezuelan sociologist Otto Maduro, who had written a sociology of Latin American religion employing ideas from Pierre Bourdieu. It was an exhilarating study which made sense of that part of the Catholic Church that had been making a preferential option for the poor.

Over the last several years, I’ve read several works on the life and influence of the Bengali spiritual force, Sri Anandamayi Ma. I was delighted to read a new book by Orianne Aymard, who employs theorists like Bourdieu, Jurgen Habermas, and Max Weber to make sense of how a community and institution continue after the death of the charismatic leader. Her title reveals the stakes of this inquiry: When a Goddess Dies: Worshipping Ma Anandamayi after Her Death (Oxford University Press, 2014). The author investigate topics like the postmortem cult of the guru, the significance of relics, the meanings of the guru’s death, dreams and visions of the guru after death, and the future of the cult, given the struggle over the monopoly of religious power.

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Dr. Aymard interviewed devotees, both Indian and Western, old-timers and new enthusiasts, and I found fascinating what they had to say about her. Here is a small sample: Read the rest of this entry »

Mudra

On Daniel Berrigan

1.

Some of Daniel Berrigan’s Whitmanian multitudes:  Brother, uncle, jailbird, correspondent, chef, Jesuit, retreat master, playwright poet, peacemaker, mentor,  reader, teacher, prophet, son, friend, logophile.

2.

In our age they they talk about the importance of presenting Christianity simply, not elaborately and grandiloquently. And about this subject they write books, it becomes a science, perhaps one may even make a living of it or become a professor. But they forget or ignore the fact that the truly simple way of presenting Christianity is—to do it. — Soren Kierkegaard Read the rest of this entry »

Ninety Years Alive on Earth

On Thich Nhat Hanh, At Home in the World: Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life.  Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2016.

Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is a survivor.  Narrowly missing death in South Vietnam  on more than one occasion during the 1960s, he had many students killed in the bloodshed during the American War. He and other Tiep Hien Buddhists could not return to their country for fear of persecution, or worse. Uprooted, he ended up living in France,  where he and friends slowly began to rebuild their  lives.

At Home in the World, published in 2016, offers snapshots of nine full decades of Thich Nhat Hanh’s life.  It bears keeping in mind that his country  was living under a French colonial occupation regime, followed by U.S. intervention and invasion.  He and his friends knew what it was like to live under the U.S. bombs.

Nhat Hanh admits that in his youth he was a “revolutionary monk.”  He and his brothers  wanted to rejuvenate Vietnamese Buddhism, and they had to reckon with a conservative religious  establishment. Their motivation was simple: “Taking action against injustice is not enough. We believed action must embody mindfulness. If there is no awareness, action will only cause more harm. Our group believed it must be possible to combine meditation and action to create mindful action.” [41] Read the rest of this entry »

The Good News of the Barakats, 4.6.2017

Last night, Sharifa Barakat and I had dinner at Central Cafe (along with Imman Musa and Dania Saffaf Atienza).  Sarah Dwidar introduced me to Sharifa her freshman year at SLU on  sunny day on West Pine.  Later, she took a Social Justice  class with me, and we were part of SLU Solidarity with Palestine.  I have long been impressed with her humor,  love of literature, and keen sense  of responsibility.

After dinner, we walked to Left Bank Books to hear author Ibtisam Barakat (no relation to Sharifa) share her philosophy and read from her new book, Balcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine.  Someone asked her a question about the political solution to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian people, culture, and land, and she said point-blank, there’s no solution politically, there can only be a “soul-lution.”  Accordingly, her contribution is to tell the story of her life as a Palestinian in Palestine and the Diaspora.  She has  published two books so far, and she mentioned at least three others to come, insha’allah.

I was struck by Ibtisam’s clarity, calm, and compassion. Her presence is her message.

It was an intense, gentle, and inspiring evening.

Universal Gatha

Breathing in, I recognize my flawed humanity
Breathing out, I smile

–shared with me by Ale V.

The Good News of a Sangha, 3.25.2017

Five years ago today, Jenn Reyes Lay and I started a  St. Louis sangha in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh.   Annie Fitzgerald offered Sophia House  on Gibson Avenue for our first gathering. Many wonderful people have shared the fruits of their practice with us during these 60 months: sitting, walking, singing, reciting the precepts, slowing down, studying the Heart and Diamond Sutras,  offering retreats  in the country, and facilitating mindful dinners.

As poet Diane di Prima wrote in her poem Life Chant, May it continue!

 

The Good News of a Single Blueberry, 3.19.2017

Almost five years ago, Erin Szopiak organized a mindful dinner for some of our friends: Everything for the menu had been grown locally, several of us helped prepare the meal in the King’s spacious kitchen, we savored most of the meal in calm silence, and, for dessert, Erin offered each of us a single blueberry, which we were to appreciate slowly, involving our sight, smell, touch, and taste.  Erin invited us to the wonder of the here and now!