In The Beginning There Was Life

by Ursula Daniels

Sunrise at Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal. This is the moment I have traveled halfway around the world to experience: the slanting rays of the rising sun playing over acres of God-encrusted temples, sky-clad saddhus[1], tropical flowers, sweet fruit, brightly dressed worshipers, roving friendly monkeys, singing birds, and a rich tradition of dealing openly with suffering.

It is all of this, and more: glorious potent fragrances, smiles of welcome and inclusion from several groups of women, and, unexpectedly early at dawn of day,  four crying men, carrying a wrapped body on a bier, followed by a dozen or more men. They proceed to the lower quay area, and I hear their sobs. Not yet, I think, not yet.  I’m not ready – I just arrived!

My intention had been to start with life, to celebrate and worship. Then, oriented to time and place, I wanted to experience some of the Eastern wisdom of living into death consciously, openly, honoring death as part of life. Too much pain attends the predominant Western mode of denial, postmortem cosmetic surgery, and the pious apologetics I’ve observed too often. Ready or not, here and now, the gift is given.

Up at 3:30 AM, Center Point Hotel, in the middle of old Kathmandu. The early morning calls me, as always, to silence.  I have more than two hours before  the first crimson gleams of light will stream over the mountain tops and illumine this world. So I settle down at the window and look, entranced, at Swayambunath, the softly lit Buddhist Monkey Temple. It seems to float above the valley amid the stars.  Last night different lights had shone: thousands of butter lamps had filled the temple where I sat in meditation, feeling fed. The peace and prayers of the place still permeate my mind and body. Even now I hear the tight snap of the fluttering multi-colored  prayer flags, repeating their incessant petitions and thanksgivings. Images of the funny, earthy, deeply joyous play of the monks and their students arise, circumambulating the central stupa[2]. Spinning the prayer wheels they skip and gambol clockwise beneath the Buddha’s great four eyes that survey the world in all directions. Yes, their joy-filled prayer and play attracts me; it admits everything.  In the soft night air beneath the star studded luminous sky these men and a few women from Tibet laugh with abandon. They have experienced great suffering. They have lost everything except that which truly matters: themselves, their humor, their faith. I want to hold on to these images, lightly, lightly, not to crush them. So I sit and meditate, facing Swayambunath. When the first hint of gray appears on the horizon I reluctantly get ready for the day.

The smiling gap-toothed  rickshaw driver seems determined to rouse me well, rounding corners at exuberant speed, not an inch to spare. Fully awake we arrive at Lord Shiva’s Temple, Pashupatinath, built as praise to the Creator, God of the Gods, and to the Goddess of Destruction, Kali. This rich and diverse complex covers several square miles of temples, monuments, vihars, stupas, ghats, paties, monasteries, and hermitages. The Nepali people worship the Lord Pashupatinath and his avatar, the Lord Buddha, as supreme Gurus who teach universal love and peace. Buddhist and Hindu Gods share Temples here, on top of the world. Why not?  Is the Divine ultimately not One? The flower sellers are just arriving, as are the daily worshipers from both faiths. Here, in this harsh environment, inclusion reigns: Hindus and Buddhists blend their faiths. Men and women start their days with devotions and worship. They carry their ceremonial bowls filled with sacred local gifts:  Gangajala, water from the sacred Bhagmati River, Godugdha, cow’s milk; Vilva, wood apple, Aegle marmelos leaves, Dhaturo, thorn apple, and Rudraksha, beads strung on a yellow thread. Carefully they choose from the stands the flowers, garlands and gifts they will present as offerings. Purposefully they walk alone or in small groups in one direction, talking in low voices. I follow them.

I feel saddened by my paucity of knowledge of Hinduism, though a bit more at ease with Buddhism. I long to understand Hindu customs, rituals, scriptures, the rich architecture that tells stories which I cannot comprehend. On an emotional level I feel at one with the worshipers. As everyone in India and Nepal points out, there is only ONE Holy One, and we all must find our own way. And may there be peace. And may there be peace.[3] I also am here with a deep desire to worship, to touch that One whom I cannot name any more, but whom I experience as the deepest, surest reality in my life – when I am present to it.

Inside the great gate the first sadhu emerges from behind high walls, combs his waist long dread locks with long fingers, washes his body from the ever running spout fed by the Bhagmati river. He throws a faded sere shawl over his bony shoulders that droops down beneath his loincloth to the shins. Chanted prayers accompany the marking of his forehead with sacred red and white dye. A young man walks up, places an offering in the bowl and murmurs a prayer. Then he rings the bell next to the yoni and lingam[4] to alert the gods that he has spoken. In one flowing motion he touches the holy man’s feet, then his own forehead and heart – the simple daily gesture of respect to the elders, those of superior wisdom. When he has received a blessing he quickly turns back to the city.

The sadhu takes me up to the rampart behind the altar where he sits and meditates all day. This is the center of the Temple where the revered Bhagmati river winds between the temples and the cremation ghat-lined quays beneath. “Life is from the river and all will eventually find its way down to the sacred Ganges,” he says. We stand in silence and let the golden light wash over us, raising our arms to welcome it. The silver snaking river meander beneath us into the distance, into eternity.

Suddenly a procession of men appears below us as winds its way along the quay. Some are wailing, others are chanting  “Ram nam satya hai,” affirming the true name of God. Highly emotional, yet dignified, four men carry a body on a bier entering the lower quay area. A dark ochre sheet covers a dead body wrapped in a white sheet that droops and trails the ground. The holy man knows them. He also knew their mother whose body they have brought for cremation. He invites me to stay for the whole ritual. I feel compelled to remain but am afraid to intrude. The sadhu assures me that this event is not only for the family, but for us all. For much of the day people will gather, they will come and go. It is good for us to be here, to watch, to notice, to bear witness. We too will die. For aeons, time out of time and oneness, the Lord Pashupatinath, the five-faced deity, the Supreme Self who delivers humans from worldly afflictions, and Kali, Goddess of death and rebirth, have been worshiped here. This place won’t let us forget the lessons of Lord Buddha, whose exposure to old age, sickness and death taught him the unavoidable reality of suffering.  Here we can participate in a ritual that reminds us that we too are dust.

Immediately beneath us the men put down their lifeless burden between the first and second platform on the left of the bridge which divides the ghats into an upper and a lower realm. On the upper side, the north, there are only two platforms. On the south side, where the cremation is about to begin, seven old and stained ones line the river. Four more  recent platforms further down the riverbank are lighter in color, less worn, but otherwise identical. The mourners walk towards three men who had, unnoticed, brought a stack of wood and kindling next to the third platform.  During their conversation the group milling about grows to about fifty or sixty. There are no women present at all.  The saddhu says women’s power is creation and they do not take part in physical destruction just a few brief hours after death. A little later he states that any bodily fluids, including tears, are considered defiling and women are considered weak and prone to tears. I don’t understand because the men entered wailing. Men’s tears are different, he explains after a pause.

This is the first community gathering around the family since the woman has died. The  men’s voices are subdued as they stand in small groups and occasionally look towards the sons. No one looks at the corpse. They wait patiently, stand about, talk, smoke, shoulders hunched in the cold Himalayan morning breeze. Someone brings more kindling and straw sheaves bound together with knotted grass strands. The four sons begin to remove their clothing while the corpse still rests unnoticed like an abandoned package a platform away. The men strip down to briefs; one retains a sleeveless undershirt. Shivering they sit by themselves on the quay’s stone steps between the second and third platform on the south side The three cremation preparers also strip to their undergarments and walk towards the sons. One of them, the tallest, seems to be in charge of the protocol. He carries a long gleaming razor and a dark thick leather strap. He puts his arm around the shoulders of one son and leads him down the steep stone steps to the river. Then, with sure strokes beginning at the forehead, he shaves off the man’s shoulder length hair. One of his brothers moves closer and holds his hands. The other two sit a short way off, alone. One cradles his head in his arms and rests it on his knees, his body racked with sobs. His brother sits silently by his side and covers his own face with his hands.

The methodical patterned shaving process is slow. Dip the knife in the water, slap, slap, up and down against the strap, again and again.  More and more hair falls onto the stone steps. In the end, only a small tuft of hair remains on the crown. Then his neck is shaven clean. The bald man gets up, touches his skull tentatively, rubs it, slowly sits down on the steps and cries, sobs.  Now it is the brother’s turn. He keeps down his head and often sobs; each time the barber waits calmly until he recovers his composure. The other two waiting brothers slide closer, silently waiting, shivering. Occasionally one sobs. Once in a while they exchange a word.  One by one the ritual strips them all of their glossy black hair save the little crown circle. Almost naked they sit on the steps of the quay, next to the funeral platform where their mother’s body is about to be burnt.

The barber now turns his attention to the fire, directing his two helpers. They build a neat rectangular pyre, choosing carefully the heaviest logs for the external frame. It reminds me of Bud Wilkinson’s fires built in the Native American tradition at Dayspring Retreat in which the center always collapses inward, richly fed with oxygen through strategic gaps, generating a luxuriant  flame.

With the early light some of the men leave and about twenty remain. In low voices they talk, smoke and wait. No one seems to look at the corpse resting  between platform one and two.

Suddenly I hear the loud wailing of female voices. Four men  carrying a corpse on a bier, followed by three crying women, walk south past the corpse between platform one and two, past the shaven brothers and gathered mourners. They disappear through a gap of the wall and the wailing stops abruptly. I turn to the sadhu to ask him what is happening, but he is meditating beside his Yoni and Lingam and I do not want to disturb him. I turn my attention again to the grieving sons who have placed some straw sheaves on the top stone step to ward off the cold. The first son breaks out in heaving sobs and his brother silently cradles his head in his lap, rhythmically stroking his shoulders. At long last the sobs diminish and all four move back to the body.  I see the first son reach under the covering and remove a garment, tossing it on the steps next to the platform. Then he removes a catheter, throwing it on top. The brothers sit down, holding their heads. Again the first one sobs, is comforted. Again the last two lower their heads on their arms. After a while they rise and one of them removes an IV from the arm and adds it to the little pile of the dead woman’s personal belongings.

By now the men preparing the pyre have finished constructing a flawlessly aligned rectangle. The leader walks over to the sons without speaking. They pick up the bier and carry their mother’s body to the pyre. Carefully they lift her off the bier and place her gently on top of the wood pile. The sheets continue to cover her as they arrange the limbs. But the feet! These beautiful, perfect, tawny golden feet and slender ankles hang over the pyre’s edge, off the south end! I wonder what will happen to these magnificent feet. No one seems to be concerned about that – everyone just does their job and walks around the protruding feet. A yellow plastic packet of Ghee is cracked open on the stone steps and chunks are carefully placed amongst the logs. Then the second oldest son draws back the sheet from his mother’s face . He takes a torch lit from their own home’s hearth and places it before the mother’s mouth: he is releasing her soul, letting it escape from the inert physical remains and ascend. He cries, silently. The other brothers stand by, frozen, unmoving, the mourners lined up behind them. Everyone’s eyes are riveted on the son as he torches the pyre. It is slow going in this cold thin air, difficult for these fat logs to catch a flame. Little by little, from the base upward, flames flicker and spread. After a while the flames diminish and smoke rises. The tall fire tender takes some sheaths of straw, wets them in the river, and places them on top of the woman’s body. Acrid smoke thickens and slowly thins high into the morning air. Everything seems to happen in slow motion.

Some mourners drift away while the sons silently take their place on the stone steps again. The cawing crows and exuberant song birds emphasize the quiet of this weekday morning. In low voices the remaining mourners chat. The first son is shivering and sobs out loud. The second cradles him in his arms. Again the other two hold their heads in their hands, bowed low. Again human silence and nature sounds: a breeze blowing through some scruffy trees, bird song, three monkeys fighting over some small red fruit before the ancient Hanuman statue, a yelping dog chasing an unseen intruder.  Early morning worshipers pass by, look down upon the burial scene for a bit, chat, and move on. A group of Japanese tourists, bussed in to observe the sunrise temple worship, line up at the upper rampart. They scan their video cameras over the scene and a minute later they are gone. Silence returns.

I move over to the opposite side of the river because I feel too intrusive so close by, but I remain on the left side of the bridge, the south side. Loud clanking noises draw my attention to the upper part of the river, the right side, north. A tour guide invites me to hire him and begins a conversation. He is telling me that where I stand is not the big event today. On the right side, up north, something important is happening: a rich woman of high social standing is being burnt there. Down here is only a poor woman’s cremation. He’ll be happy to explain it all to me and guide me through the temple complex as well. I decline but do take a quick look at the happenings upstream.

On the first platform above the bridge a pyre is being prepared by a tall strong young man in torn western garb. I know he is a Dom, one of the untouchables, a Dalit. He stacks the big logs quickly while four or five men stand on the quay. One is dressed in a three piece Western suit reminding me of a Wall Street lawyer. When the pyre is finished they place the woman on it, one man briefly places a torch at her mouth, and drops it. The young fire tender sticks whole packs of yellow plastic ghee bags into the gaps between the logs, tosses dry sheathes of straw on top, lights the pyre and sits next to his bamboo pole on the arcade steps. He takes out two bharatas from their newspaper wrapping and slowly munches his breakfast, then wipes his hands on his pants. The men chat and laugh; two of them drift away after a few minutes. They look neither at the pyre nor the young man poking at the logs now and then. Sparks, flames and smoke rise up; their chuckles and conversation continue to waft across the bridge. Another guide comes by and explains that this was the woman who was carried down the quay earlier, behind the lower cast platform. It seems the mourners recognized they were in the wrong place, abruptly stopped wailing, and moved where they belonged: up-stream, next to the royal platform. That is the place where last year the whole royal family was cremated after the mysterious killing of everyone except one family member who is now King. No one will talk about the tragedy and the guide immediately changes the subject. He is impressed by the rank and wealth of this corpse and that is what he wants to see.

I return to the first pyre. It is smoldering and the tall tender carefully places more small Ghee chunks and a few strategic kindling sticks in the gaps. The sons are still shivering, otherwise motionless, shoulders bent. The third son seeks comfort from the forth, leaning his head on his brother’s shoulder. The group of mourners has shrunk and a few talk quietly while others simply stand and wait. The fire tenders lean on the wall, the long thick bamboo pole resting on the platform rim. Occasionally the tall man picks up the pole and enlarges the draft holes at the base. After a long time he lifts the straw with his pole from the corpse and huge flames burst forth from the center beneath the corpse.  The perfect slender feet still stick out over the edge. I see a blackened femur and tibia. But the feet are still as beautiful as they were at the beginning. The man pokes around a bit, then quickly, unexpectedly, smashes down on the legs with his pole. Calmly he takes the feet and pushes them to the center. With these feet all human resemblance is gone; only logs, lumps, fire, and smoke remain. Again the tall man takes straw, wets it in the Bhagmati, and covers the body. Again, silently, the brothers wait, the mourners chat.  Crowds on the bridge and quay come and go, watch a while, move on. On the top of the rampart occasional tourist groups in a variety of garb arrive, peer down, focus, snap, and leave. I walk up to take a look at the northern ghat.

The upper pyre is burning much quicker. The fire tender cracks open a large packet of Ghee and tosses it whole into the center of the now uncovered body. He breaks the legs with one quick stroke and pushes in the feet. The three mourners in the arcade remain engrossed in their conversation. I wonder if my bias shapes my perception. Am I creating, exaggerating,  this supremely stereotypical scene before me?  Rich versus poor, idealizing the poor? Nothing can be that extreme!  I look for signs of emotion, of caring. I see none – neither from the mourners nor the young fire tender.

I retreat downstream where the four sons still sit. Occasionally they exchange a few words, or one of them breaks into sobs and is, or is not comforted. The process began before daylight. It is now past noon. The logs on the pyre’s exterior look blackened, but otherwise look as solid and strong as when they were lit. But each time the straw is lifted I see how the center has sunk deeper inward with each implosion. There is no trace of legs or feet now. The torso attached to the skull has turned into one gnarled black lump. The main tender takes his pole and turns it, pushes it down into the declivity. One of the sons wails, the other three slump down silently. For the last time wet straw is placed on the pyre. Finally the day is warming up and I remove my jacket and coat. The sons shiver less. Mourners drift back in. Again the straw is lifted and the blaze rages upward. Slowly the flames subside and the tall tender uses the long bamboo pole to push the first logs from the bottom of the pyre far out into the river. The sons move closer together and the mourners turn towards the pyre. One by one, carefully, the partially burnt logs are ejected way out into the shallow stream. Freely most  float downstream, sizzling, avoided by scavenging monkeys, while a few get caught on a bank of debris at temple’s boundaries. I know that the poor will come and gather as precious cooking fuel these logs which most people would never touch.

One by one the pyre remnants are pushed into the Bhagmati. With a straw broom the ashes are cast far out into the water. Bit by bit the platform is emptied and cleaned until only a little black pile is left on the platform. The four sons gather around it. One of them bends down, picks up a handful of the corpse’s remains and wraps it in a white cloth with four fringes hanging from the corners, like TsitTsit[5]. He holds his burden tenderly and carries it with one brother to the center of the Bhagmati River. The water only comes up to his knees. He hands the white package to his brother to hold, bends down and digs with his hands deep into the earth beneath the flowing water in front of his feet. He reaches for the white cloth and slowly, gently buries it in the earth. Eventually it will flow into the Ganges. All shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well. The sons watch the water flow downstream and then return to the gathered community.

The pyre tenders meanwhile have brought two leaky buckets which they repeatedly fill with water and pour over the platform. Two brothers help with the clean-up. With straw brooms they sweep the quay, the steps down into the water, and rinse the whole area again. One of the brothers tosses the mother’s catheter and IV, her clothes, shoes, and belongings into the river. Piece by piece the brothers remove their own clothing, their shoes, everything except their briefs, and throw them into the river.  Each one seems absorbed in his own emotions. Two brothers cry silently, side by side.

The mourners move towards the fountain of continually running water from the holy river. The brothers wash themselves, head to toe, carefully, slowly, one after the other, and then move into the arcade. I see movement but can’t discern details. Eventually they emerge at the south end to join the Brahmin who has stacked the white mourning clothes on a boulder. The dressing ritual of the first son begins. The man stands tall, quiet, profoundly dignified. A string is placed around his waist and a loincloth folded in at the abdomen. The shorts are removed and the loincloth is fastened in the back. Then comes the dhoti. Next to me a giggling Chinese boy and blond girl elbow each other as they point at the undressed man. I remember Lord Mountbatton describing Gandhi, the Maha Atman, the ‘Great Soul’, as a ‘naked little brown man in a diaper.’  To see our own biases, to break free of them seems an interminable effort. How arrogant we all are, just in different ways, thinking we know what is reality, how to live, think, and be.  I trust that shared wisdom from diverse cultures can help us survive on our poor battered globe.  Participating as observer in this earthy ritual I confront some of my own preconceptions and biases. I demand an honesty few are willing to face, and which they have a right to refuse. My way of grieving, dealing with loss, are simply my own preferences. The choice is ‘between pyre and pyre/ fire and fire’ as T. S. Eliot said. The task is to grow into a widened vision, an enlarged world view, and ultimately greater kindness.

The grieving son continues his ritual. The sacred Brahmin string is removed from his chest. Normally it is replaced ritually only once annually in a ceremony of commitment, but in this moment everything that represents the past is let go, including this symbol of sacred belonging. Then a crisp white cloth is draped over his shoulders, covering the tall body with utmost elegance and grace. Last comes the sparkling white turban. Wrapped around and around the bald head, one long segment protruding stiffly over the back. Shining in the white of mourning they will wear for one whole year, the brothers toss their old Brahmin string and shorts into the river. Then they join the Brahmin by the platform for the pooja[6].

In Hindu worship every ritual must be performed perfectly to be efficacious. The sons move slowly and carefully; they look spent and concentrated. This is the concluding vital task. The sacred vessels are placed on the ground. Rice, flowers, and other offerings are ready. The Brahmin takes up a  handful of rice, chants, pours it into the hands of the son who carefully dips it into the sacred river water in the bucket, then drops it on the offering plate. Seven times the ritual is repeated with deliberate movements, adding flower and food offerings. A contemplative, care-full spirit pervades, like a perfect Japanese tea ceremony. Doing a thing well for its own sake. Doing it perfectly. Being present to each detail.

The pooja is finished and the brothers rise as the mourners gathers around them. Four tall graceful men, heads held high, garbed in blazing white, lead the  procession down the quay and disappear through a gap in the stone wall. The sudden silence stops the play of the monkeys and the birdsong. The quay is quiet, sparkling clean, deserted. I am the only observer on this side of the bridge. Most of the spectators are on the north side to see the finale of the rich woman’s cremation. I too feel spent, tired, clean.

I wander over to the northern ghat.  Here the work is also finished. The young man was a pro. He got his job done in much less time. The logs from the pyre and the lumpy body parts have been pushed barely over the platform edge. They are caught and piled high against the stone base. The pooja here has just begun.

The chief mourner follows the quick movements of the Brahmin, dips the rice into the leaky bucket, offers it up. The second time he moves quickly to moisten the rice in the quickly escaping water. The third time there is insufficient water and he takes the bucket, turns it upside down to trickle the last drops over the rice. The next handful of rice must be moistened, but he knows the bucket is empty. He looks baffled. He peers over at the river but does not move. He hesitates with his handful of rice in the air. Then he puts his hand into the empty bucket, pretending to wet the rice. The next time he is quicker – he makes a quick motion dipping only half way down into the pretend-water. The last time he does not bother. He takes the rice he has received and flings it down without pretense of moistening it. A few flowers are added. He gets up and walks off with the Brahmin. The man in the three piece Western suit joins them and they walk north past the royal cremation platform. Before I know it they have disappeared. A disheveled platform remains. Blackened lumps and cinders and straw are piled high at the base. The quay is a litter of wood, kindling, straw, empty yellow plastic Ghee bags, crumpled paper, and a plastic cup.
I am stunned. Still I think of the feet, those two perfect, beautiful pair of feet that now are no more. I too am a broken cup, I know it well. I also will die, later, maybe sooner. The mourning I see in this lower place of multiple ghats for the poorer folk is what I long for at home, for myself, my hospice patients. The capacity to face the reality of death, to say good bye, to mourn. No post-mortem cosmetic surgery here! Denial of death and suffering is impossible after a day like this. How much easier it would be to move on after a death if we could experience loss more deeply, viscerally, in the beginning. I long for some concrete ritual in our culture that would facilitate mourning. For so many of us there is a yawning empty space after a death in a hospital, interrupted by the arrival of the ashes a few days later. If we are lucky a memorial service helps us re-member and re-connect briefly. Here, in Kathmandu, death is not a left-brain linear affair, but a visceral embodied experience.

We would do well to remember our mortality. Each loss, each suffering, brings back old losses and gives us an opportunity to grieve.  A letting go is invited, a way to digest what is unhealed. I remember the Ductal Cancer cells recently discovered in my breasts. Will they break out and create havoc? No one knows. Whenever my time is to die, will I be ready? Will there be a service to remember both the light and dark parts of my life? Will that make my kids uncomfortable? Will I be missed? Will they have the potluck celebration, story telling, games, the surfeit of Sutton Gourmet desserts I asked for?

At deeply emotional times perennial essential human questions always surface. I wonder: IS there an ‘I’, a core, a remnant, a spirit, a something that continues when my body is gone?

Does it matter?
I have left Kathmandu, Dhakka and Delhi behind. Several days in Bollingen on Lake Zurich buffer my return to the United States. I hunger for it and dread it. Everyone I knew was scarred by war, and now, again, war. Iraq this time. Good God, where are we going?  Is there hope for us poor humans?

My friends have winter clothes and a perfectly adjusted bicycle, my Vello, waiting for me. Straight from India I change, ride past Carl Jung’s lake home to my favorite baker and butcher in Schmerikon. I am shocked! Here, in Switzerland where nothing is supposed to change, two neighboring bakers have merged! And, incredibly, I cannot pay with my Swiss Franks:  the money has been changed! Not to the Euro, of course, just new faces on paper. A beautiful young woman offers to exchange fifty Franken for me and gratefully I accept. I feel drained, cannot find my bearings. I almost said, as I used to,  ‘I cannot find my feet,’ but that phrase has lost its meaning.

I ride to Wurmsbach, the Dominican convent where the nuns’ Gregorian Chant sustained me during so many summers. The entrance to the old chapel is barred! Breaking all written and unwritten Swiss rules I climb over fans and buckets and sacks into the old sacristy. The comfortable smoke smudged walls are painted an impersonal blazing hospital white, the cloistered choir is gone. The stained glass figure of the black Jesus still fills the center nave but in this barren setting he does not look like the ‘Maha Atman,’ but like a little black man draped in a sheet.

At two AM I sit at Lake Zurich, dangling my feet over the edge. Wild gusts of snow  blank out the whole Upper Lake. I left Washington in early March in a snow storm. Now, a month later, white magic billows around me in Bollingen. Finally  I retreat behind the three foot thick walls of my friends’ ancient house and read Jung in German. The humor and gentleness I missed in English lifts my spirit. ‘Der Herr Gott,’ a harsh guttural appellation to ‘The Lord God’ of my childhood is addressed  by Jung as  ‘unser lieber Gott’, ‘our dear God.’ From punitive commander and vigilant judge to approachable friend – sustaining Holy Mystery.

Home, finally! My suitcases still unopened in the garage, I sit and gaze upon the forest behind my house. Here, now, home: Deer Hill, where the field mouse trots and the chipmunks frolic at dawn. April, the cruelest month, yet the most vibrant and beautiful. I watch the  wild wind whip the lone ancient pignut hickory and enormous oaks at will. Pounding rain drenches the daffodils and my newly turned garden. I open door to this supreme spectacle and sit by the blazing fire, sipping  rich Chai from India. Deer feed spitting distance from my deck. The fox urinates by the fence after missing his/her squirrel breakfast by a hair.

I settle in with my familiar Buddhist mantra.
This moment is all there is. It is perfect.
It was perfect from the beginning.
It lacks nothing.
And may there be peace.
And may there be peace.

Ursula Daniels

[1] Holy Person, unclothed: open to the sky and the gods
[2] A spiritual monument, each part representing the Buddha’s body & steps towards enlightenment.
[3] I have just come from Dakkha, Bangladesh, on the day of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Bush effigies lined the street, crowds  fill the streets in anger and despair. They know the toll of war on any populace. In 1972  3 million Bangladeshis were killed in 9 months. They were the ‘collateral damage’ and experienced it in their bodies.
[5] Tsitsit are the fringes on a Jewish prayer shawl.
[6] Worship ceremony