Sunday, May 12, 2013
In one of the coolest zero-g cover songs ever recorded, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield does a heartfelt rendition of David Bowie's classic before returning to Earth. How do you top months of amazing photos, demos, and tunes done aboard the International Space Station? If you're Chris Hadfield, you cover David Bowie's "Space Oddity" in a showstopping finale.
On the eve of his return to Earth, the Canadian astronaut released a beautifully done video of himself singing the 1969 classic.
Mixed with the help of staff at the Canadian Space Agency, musician Emm Gryner, and others, the cover features a somber piano intro and modified lyrics that reference the Soyuz capsule that will return Hadfield to Kazakhstan.
When the mustachioed commander sings "I'm floating in a most peculiar way" while actually floating up in space, Hadfield wins the Internet, as one commenter suggests. The video, meanwhile, has some stunning shots of the station zooming over our planet, as well as Hadfield's acoustic guitar drifting through a module in zero-g.
Hadfield handed over command of the station on Sunday to Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov. He commended its six-person crew, which organized an unexpected spacewalk on Saturday to repair an ammonia coolant leak.
Organized with unprecedented speed, the spacewalk by Americans Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn replaced an ammonia pump on the station's P6 truss, and they reported seeing no more ammonia flakes coming from the area. Ammonia is used to cool the solar panels powering the ISS.
Marshburn and Russian Roman Romanenko will board the Soyuz spacecraft on Monday evening with Hadfield, who has spent five months on the ISS.
During that time, Hadfield has shown Earthlings how to play guitar in zero-g, safely clip one's fingernails, and even how to cook spinach.
In the process, and along with his eye-popping photos of Earth, Hadfield has become an Internet sensation, conducting Twitter conversations with fellow Canadian spaceman William Shatner--much to the delight of the former's 770,000 followers.
We'll be following Hadfield's reentry on Monday. Meanwhile, here's his version of "Space Oddity."
Sunday, April 21, 2013
what is this divisiveness,
that exists everywhere
in our modern world.
some want us to be democrats,
while others claim
the republicans are the only way.
vegans tell us only to eat non-meat,
while the NRA tells us to bear arms,
socialists and tea partiers want no government,
liberals want to take care of the world.
all of this fighting,
all of this one upmanship.
Islam is the correct way,
Catholicism is the correct way,
Christianity is the correct way,
Hindu is the correct way,
Buddhism is the correct way,
Science is the correct way,
Philosophy is the correct way,
Which one is the correct way?
I am feeling hungry
so I think I will make some
ramen and chapatti tonight
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
to a friend who,
through the years
of wear and tear,
of ups and downs
both pleasant and unpleasant,
has born the weight
of the test of time.
vigilance and fortitude
in the face of insurmountable odds,
this has allowed you to
understand the true virtues
of this life so simple
and yet so strange.
may your dharma light
and your love shine forth
in unrelenting waves
as it has done for the past
sixty seven years.
Wonji Dharma -aka dochong
Thursday, March 21, 2013
I used to own this DVD, but I lent it to Zen Master Ji Bong and he never gave it back. I hope it is OK to post this because this movie is a must see, if you have not yet seen it. I love the plot. Detective Noir movie meets Zen Buddhism. I hope you all enjoy.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
(For those of you who missed this post on Facebook, here is a reprint)
Greetings, greetings and greetings my dear loves ones! After not having the internet for over a week, it seems there is much to catch up on! On the morning of the 9th several of us boarded a train from Delhi to Mayapur, which was quite an interesting experience! The train station was perhaps the most poverty stricken area of India I've seen yet, in that there were literally people dying on the ground (and this was not an isolated incident), naked children and adults clad in scraps of fabric wondered around aimlessly. Not having more than a few pieces of Indian currency it was difficult to do anything, though we all gave away what we had. There were thieves galore at the train stations also, many would see a group of monks and come up and act interested shouting mantras and holding their hands up in gassho/hapjang/namaste pose whilst eyeing their access to your valuables. I only took pictures from withing our “Sumo Gold” SUV after having my phone/camera swiped at more than once LOL BTW in India peeping is not an issue, we had to roll up the windows of the SUV (which had four seats including the driver, but we crammed seven people and luggage in there!) because folks would literally start crawling through the windows to see what they could grab! Even though we had the curtains in our sleeper car drawn, people would readily just come through the cabin, stick their heads through the curtain and look around for no short amount of time, saying nothing and then carrying on about their business LOL
Anyway, as we finally made our way onto the train Swami and I were booked in an “upper class air conditioned sleeper” cabin, and I assumed that our cohorts of junior monks were in similar positions...however that was not the case. As most things in India, the train was filthy luckily though they did give us what appeared to be newly cleaned and packaged sheets, pillows and blankets for our “sleeper benches” (which came in handy over the 22- which became a 24 hour train ride).
Several hours into the train ride my friend Prahlad Charan (an aspiring junior monk who loves to engage in lengthy, spirited discussions within me comparing Buddha Dharma and Sanatana Dharma) made his way through seven other cars to my cabin to bring me lunch prasad and visit. After talking for about an hour he mentioned that the other monks would like me to come back and give a dharma talk, but they were worried that I might be very uncomfortable with the condition of their cabin (I later learned that our cabin fare was over four times more than the cabins that everyone else was booked in). I told Prahlad that I would love to come visit and he made another joke- “Either way with you, Prabhuji it's okay right?” (equanimity is certainly a quality that was a Buddhist innovation and not I've witnessed in any other the Vedic practicing monks...they have a very hard time understanding the concept) we both had a hearty laugh and started heading back to the general cabin.
Before I left for India, my dear teacher and friend Wonji Dharma told me that I wasn't prepared for the things I'd encounter and I've found that to be true at every turn, especially true on all aspects of the Indian railway system. Exiting our upper class sleeper, we went through one other upper class car and then passed through a steel slammer door (which rolls down from the top and locks at the bottom) and entered the general cars where there were literally hundreds of people in cars meant for fifty people; indiviuals were sitting cross legged on rows of benches hanging from the ceiling and on “assigned seats” beneath them...where there were seats assigned for three, there were always five to seven seated, then people were hanging out of the emergency windows, seated on top of on another on the floor and standing along the walls of the car holding onto the barred windows. We literally had to body surf and crawl over people to get to where we were going, as I recall seven cars worth.
When we finally got the the car where our party of monks were seated, everyone started yelling in Hindi and immediately the way was cleared for “Prabhuji to come, sit here” on an open bench that they had cleared at the sights of me. I reluctantly took a seat but invited as many people as could fit to sit around me. Wearing the saffron robs of a Sadhu in India is an interesting experience, I didn't think anything of it when Swami gave me the robes to wear before we departed the USA, but even amongst the Indian devotees, there are very few monks allowed to wear saffron (almost everyone is in white) and special accommodations are made at every turn, people fall and prostrate (aka “pay obeisances”) at your site, and make sure you are taken care of to the best of their means. If I had it my way, I would have just worn western clothes...But alas, often in life we have no choice.
Anyway, as I settled in and everyone got their gawks in (Swami and I were the ONLY westerners on that whole train) the questions started coming from all around in curious inflections of Hindi and Bengali about who I was, why I became a monk, what I thought of India etc. etc. etc. So after answering a couple questions, my friend and translator Ananda Das told me that everyone would like me to give a talk now, as the car went from a dull roar to silent, Ananda said just to start speaking and he'd translate everything I said. I spoke for almost two hours, every time I'd try to defer the lecture into a conversation everyone would say “more, more, continue, continue” LOL The people couldn't process why a westerner would come to India, or take up any form of renounced life and it's that subject that I spent most of my time talking about- how in the west people have lots of money and material possessions but so few people are happy, why that was, what the causes and conditions leading to liberation/nirvana and happiness were etc. etc. Even in the land of the Buddha, these concepts had become completely foreign in modern times, whilst I can easily relate to the principles of Sanatana Dharma (if only from an allegorical perspective), the Buddha Dharma seems to complex and unrelatable to the people of India that I've encountered. There were a couple hundred people in that car, and at the conclusion of my forced discourse, I hung around for about five hours anyway just soaking up the experience of “actual India” (as my monk cohorts often explain). We had a great time, and even started a kirtan. There was no space to move, barely enough air to breathe but none-the-less we manifested a wonderful sort of camaraderie there...an experience I'll no doubt relish for years to come.
As the sun peaked behind the horizon Prahlad and Janavah quickly wanted to escort me back to my car, they said otherwise I wouldn't be able to get back in...I didn't know what they meant but as we entered they upper class cabins and I was settled back in, a ticket checker rushed them back to their car and it was time to take some rest.
BANG, BANG, BANG! BANG, BANG, BANG! I awoke from a light sleep “what the hell?” I thought! As I adjusted my eyes, I put on my glasses and noticed through the curtain, a guard standing a the foot of my bed with a long rifle pacing back and forth, yelling something incomprehensible to my native English speaking ears through the steel slammer door that'd been locked shut after I had gone to sleep. The passengers from the general, grossly over booked and over capacity cars (many of whom were unticketed stowaways, who had jumped through the windows of the moving train) were becoming unruly and trying to get into the “upper class cabin” door, and looking around I noted that this must be a common experience, because everyone around me was completely undisturbed.
After a few moments the ruckus subsided and I laid back down but I didn't sleep again that night...I just waited for the for the sun to peak through the filth of the cabin windows indicating that we were at our destination. Amongst other things processing in my mind, we were told that we'd only have a two minute stop (which is always unannounced) and we'd have to grab our things and exit the train then or it was going on and we'd be stuck LOL As Maharaja and I rushed trying to get our things ready at the door, Janavah and Ananda appeared (having somehow convinced the guards to let them into the upper class cabin to assist us) and grabbed our things (not letting us carry any of them, ever) and we exited the train.
As we loaded into the Sumo Gold SUV we left the train station for Mayapur, traversing for three hours through the heart of India, where cities and high rises were completely forgotten, thatch huts, houses made of bamboo and a mixture of cow dung and mud were the only forms of houses and shops to be seen. Cars and motorcycles were almost entirely replaced by ox drawn carts, steel wheeled rickshaws and bicycle contraptions. West Bengal is an interesting place for certain, there is some sort of strong tension between the Hindu's and Muslim's there, albeit they live as neighbors keeping the animosity under the table as it were; I learned that both the Hindu and Muslim people there strive to have more children than the other, rearing them in their respective religious traditions, so that the animosity may be won out by sheer population alone.
One of the most striking aspects of this Indian state is that for many years, the Communist Party was the ruling political force throughout the area, and as we traversed through the numerous small towns and villages, there was no shortage of the remnants of the communist area, old propaganda murals in various states of decay graced the walls of numerous houses, huts and shops, the iconic red hammer and sickle was plastered literally everywhere. The mental stigma that is carried in my mind of the hammer and sickle intermingling with the tranquil, never ending rice paddies and smiling villagers created quite a conundrum to process somewhere between my eyes and brain.
After our three hour journey, we pulled into Mayapur- one of the three most holy places in the world for many followers of Sanatana Dharma (specifically Gaudiya Vaishnavism), the birthplace of Lord Caitanya- and seven of us, complete with a few pieces of luggage each, piled out of our five person capacity SUV and immediately prostrated on the ground of the holy land.
Mayapur is a unique village, everyone here has extremely strong faith and religious propensity. Even in the amongst the poor shop keepers, I have yet to be cheated here (unlike the rest of India, where everyone is trying to swindle everyone, and if you're a westerner, all the better!) and people move about their business quietly, saying little of mundane things, but always quick to engage in discussing the pastimes of Lord Caitanya and their beloved incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
For being a dusty, out of the way village the cleanliness of Mayapur is striking compared to the “wanna-be western” cities of India, wherein the villages and thatch and mud-mixed-with-cowpie buildings are so much nicer and well kept than the concrete multi-stories of Delhi and elsewhere. Needless to say, in a country where knowledge (or at least belief) in things like handsoap (let along antimicrobial cleaners) are overshadowed and ignored in favor of age-old Vedic admonitions for the usage of water alone (which is often only offered in a cold variety), moving into the beautiful hand monastery here was a welcome relief for me.
One of the more surprising finds for me here, was that the first building on the monastery complex is actually a martial arts pavilion, and arriving at the monastery I encountered two young student monks (brahmacaris) practicing stick fighting with bamboo poles! I later found out that, seeing as the true vedic martial arts methodologies have been lost to time, on the the (oddly enough, western born) spiritual masters here, is also a master of Mantis Kung Fu, which is trained daily by many of the brahmacaris, and from my observation they're doing a great job!
Quickly after arriving in West Bengal, I met one of Swami's Indian disciples named Pankajanabha whom I quickly befriended. Seeing as he, our friend Janavah and Munjoti are all staying in the same sleeping quarters, we've made a habit of getting up before morning services to get ready early and take about an hours walk through the foggy jungle to the student monk school (guru kula) so we can chit chat about the Dharma and attend the morning lecture by the Guru their who we're both particularly fond of. Actually, Pankajanabha also asked me to start teaching him my system of martial arts (after having a few hours to discuss the differences between what I teach and what he's practiced at the monastery), so we're finding a few hours a day now to practice in the midst of our otherwise very busy schedule.
Right now there's a huge festival going on, so many Gurus and Swamis from around India have gathered here to perform various ceremonies (pujas) and to lead camping expeditions of pilgrimage with their disciples to the various nearby holy sites and rivers. Seeing the level of devotion and servitude (or as they say, surrender) that the disciples around here have for their Guru is very odd to me, to say the least. Seeing some grandiose displays devotion, I've been compelled to engage a few of these gurus and Swamis about the relationship between student and disciple here. Humilty and modesty amongst the “spiritual masters” who consider themselves “good as god” is unseen and unheard (except amongst literally five or six of the myriad converged here) and yet the preach those tenants to their disciples very strictly.
By now there have been many questions as to who I am and where I'm from in town as well, I've just been introducing myself as “Josh” rather than any monastic (“spiritual”) name, which only breeds more questions (seeing as the saffron color of the only garments I have here is quite revered). The words has traveled around our small community about the “white Buddhist (or more frequently, mayavadi) monk”. When people prostrate themselves, I get on the ground immediately and pay obeisances back, apparently that coupled with my answers and questions to the various gurus in interactions that have been observed and being nicknamed the “laughing Prabhuji”, several of my cohorts have taken to calling me “Josh Maharaja” (which is a term for spiritual masters, meaning something like “great king”) and introducing me to their friends as a “perfected soul” (which is the only English I can make out, outside of my name in the midst of the Bengali and Hindi conversations), to which I can only shake my head and fervently deny. It's an awkward situation and embarrassing situation, especially in front of the so-called “bona-fide gurus” and in spite of my asking them to only call me Josh, they persist...so jokingly I play with their theology and refute “I can't be a maharaja, I'm only a Buddhist remember...anatma not atma (we teach no-soul rather than soul)!”
I've really come to love these monks, they've got such wonderful and simple hearts, they seek to be of service to everyone and sincerely to make the world a better place. Albeit, the fervor with which folks around here deny and dismiss science, anthropology and critical inquiry in favor of 5000 year old folk tales, and often contrived scriptures is disheartening and honestly (even though it's not an unfamiliar phenomenon to me) disturbing. On our morning walk today, two of my companions were trying to convince me that if I were to keep an empty stomach and eat only milk solids reduced from sacred cows in Mayapur for three months, my vision would be corrected and I'd no longer need “specs” (glasses/corrective lenses). On that note, I've seen people drinking cow urine, and alongside eating and smearing about their bodies, brushing their teeth with cow dung powder (some sort of ayurvedic specialty apparently)!
It takes a whole lot of upaya (skillful means) to engage the Dharma in a non-offensive, yet clear and compassionate way with folks of such a world view. A few days ago I was engaging a discussion with a brahmacari about how “not okay” it is to brush your teeth with cow dung powder to no avail, his logic was that the cow is scripturally and culturally sacred, an animal existing only in the mode of goodness and how important all aspects of the cow are for humanities thriving, to which the only reply could be “the Vedas also talk about how a Brahma (priest) is more sacred than a cow, so does that mean it's okay to eat Brahma (priest) dung and smear it all over your body?” The perplexed look on his face was priceless, to which we replied “I guess by my logic, yes” after which we had a good laugh and he went on his way.
One of the more interesting things about India is the packs of wild dogs that you see everywhere (in cities and villages alike), they mostly treat humans with a sort of mild disregard, much as many humans would treat a stray dog; it seems somehow they understand the symbiotic relationship they have, depending on the scraps of trash and decaying food left about by the people and the people depending on them to clean up (because India sure as hell doesn't understand waste processing, in any form other than throwing trash and rubbage into the streets LOL).
The food here is amazing, the ever present and innumerable varieties of milk sweets available are a personal favorite. We eat twice a day in the monastery, which fits into our schedule as something like this:
3:00am – Rise and Shower Etc
4:30am – Morning Service (Various Pujas etc)
6:00am – Morning Talk/Discourse from Guru
9:00am – Breakfast
10:00am – Work Period
2:00pm – Dinner
3:00pm – Work Period and Free Time
9:00pm – Shower and Sleep
The food is always first offered to the deities (depending on which temple or which part of the temple you're at, an incarnation(s) of Lord Vishnu) and then we share in the “remnants” of that offering, which is then considered pure and “karma free” (even vegetation is considered to have life, taking which for one's self, rather than for God has negative karmic influence) having been offered to the Lord and thus purified before being shared with us (the monks/devotees). Usually breakfast consists of some kind of flattened rice, cooked and fried with peanuts, herbs, spices and various vegetables alongside some form of mildly sweet chutney, green bananas, and water. Our evening meal usually has several varieties of rice, dahl, chutneys, chickpeas and subji (vegetables) alongside some kind of sweet and water. My monk friends and I often manage to acquire some milk sweets (like gulab jamun, or milk fudge and cake) with some chai (tea...always made with rooibos, which is naturally intoxicant/caffeine free) in the evening. It's wonderful to be eating organic vegetation grown right here by the monks, totally vegetarian with no artificial additives, fresh (whole) milk products from freely roaming cows and lots and lots of water (be necessity of course, on account of the heat). I'm feeling physically very invigorated here! :-)
I'm known for carrying a spoon with me (which I've had since I was in Chicago, through France and throughout India) that I wash and use at every meal (in spite of it being disposable LOL). In a world that hasn't discovered the usage of soap, handwashing is somewhat futile, and with the sanitary (or lack thereof) conditions about these parts, I dont take the chance with eating by hand, for my health or the sake of my clothing (I only have four outfits, or rather scraps of cloth that I wrap around my body as a robe), which has to be hand-washed in cold water rather rigorously for a prolonged period to get free of all of the dust, dirt and grime of a days work.
Speaking of cold water, those “showers” mentioned in the above schedule are actually nothing more than cold (and I do mean COLD) water ablutions; take a bucket of water (channeled in from the sacred Ganges) and pour it about your head and body as necessary! I managed to pick up a bar of some sort of ayurvedic soap in the town outside of the monastery (which I double checked to be cow dung free LOL) which is more or less a brick of some waxy substance, that I just think of as soap for the sake of my sanity :-)
Overall it's quite the good fortune to be having this opportunity to fully immerse myself in the culture of Sanatana Dharma, and understand the roots from which sprang my own tradition of Zen Buddhism. It's amazing how many elements have been carried over directly from India, through the Himalayas, into China, Korea, Japan and even Vietnam unchanged. Yet so few of these elements are understood in practice in various Buddhist lineages, and the meanings are often quite contrived in my experience (that is, when explanations are given). It's no small amount of material either, which means I have a lot to digest, that may take several years as I continue to “try, try, try” to propagate a pure and clear transmission of the Buddha Dharma (or rather, more specifically- awakening) in the Western world, that is a contemporary changing society, informed by scientific inquiry, anthropological survey, critical thinking and our trademark western pragmatism.
I know I've already said too much, so I'll stop here for now...
With all my love from jungles of West Bengal,
~josh (March 14th 2013)
a.k.a. Thich Duc Tam, a.k.a. Wanji, a.k.a. Gendun Phuntsok...a.k.a.whatever the hell you want, so long as it's not late for a good meal, a good laugh or a good hug :-) ♥
p.s. The Internet here is really, really terrible. I'm not sure how often I'll be able to access it, but it should be better after the 28th, I'm trying to get access to a wireless card that is more reliable but we'll see how it goes...
Friday, February 22, 2013
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Rarely am I left speechless,but this video and its song leaves me crying with tears of hope each time I watch it.