Winter is behind us now. This brings a feeling of light, hope and openness. We can look out of the window at trees and see them forming leaves. Golden Daffodils adorn our gardens once more. The snowdrops and crocuses are also bountiful. This year more than most! I like to think it is not only a new beginning but also a time to ponder on what lies ahead. Although in the quiet moments of a Spring day, reflection on what has past is often more on our minds. Dare we expect more from this new year than the last? In the old Pali dialect, the language of the Buddha (upanijjhāna), “reflection” has the self-same meaning that it does in English—it means to be like a mirror or the surface of a deep pond, to receive an impression and hold it without adding anything else. It also means to contemplate or consciously consider. To listen to the inner voice of reason.
Years ago, at Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York, Bhikkhu Bodhi spoke of this, and of the Buddha’s advice to his 7-year-old son Rahula. The Buddha told his son about the importance of honesty, telling young Rahula to practice reflection—to reflect on the inner and outer consequences before, during, and after doing something. Please consider trying this. The results are subtle but quite amazing. Consider how you feel before you perform an act of generosity, during, and after. Also consider how it feels to do something less than noble or not do something. Let’s say, not to eat or drink too much or be angry or stingy, to un-grasp the hand of lifelong habits. What is amazing is that this type of practice of reflecting on the quality and consequence of our lives is a way to expand time by opening and deepening and enriching the time we have to spare.
In meditation or just being alone with our thoughts , we allow ourselves to reflect on something that has already happened. We can allow a memory or experience to arise within us, and like the surface of a deep pond, reflecting the moon without fighting it or fleeing from it or freezing it or adding anything at all. Remember that the ancient root of the word, “understand” means to stand under, to allow the truth of something to soak in. It also suggests holding and supporting, standing under our own experience, receiving it. Think of the lake under the moon.
Crocuses in the garden
Re-written from an article published in Parabola magazine.
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I had completely forgotten about the Holi Festival this year, perhaps due to concentrating on the chaotic aftermath of the Brussels attacks, that was played out time and time again on the news. To get away from the tragic news, I spent more time than usual in the garden. I had missed the postman when he called with a parcel from India. Later that evening I opened the surprise package to find a real gift of memorabilia from The Sathya Sai Book Shop in Prashanthi Nilayam. The precious gift was sent by a young friend living in the Ashram there. There was no note with the parcel, only the gift of books, book marks, trinkets and other wonderful bits and pieces – all of which instantly brought back memories of those days with Sai. The parcel had arrived on The Holi Festival day and that in itself was a good omen.
My friend who sent the parcel had told me the following story some time ago. I would like to share with you all. It is quite an amazing one. It’s a story that spans decades and led to my friend and his family going back to Prashanthi Nilayam to settle down and live for the rest of their lives.
The Story of The Father
“My father,” said my young friend:
“He had been a smart man and was well educated. He had also been a religious one too and had leanings towards a spiritual life. He didn’t want to settle down and take a wife. He wanted to take Sannyasa, to dedicate his life to seeking God. My father had heard about Sathya Sai Baba from friends. He was very curious about “The Baba.” He later visited him several times in the 1960’s. He’d believed in him fully, and in his heart felt that Sathya Sai was a very special guru. My father then made a decision that he’d like to live there in Puttaparthi. He wrote Sai a letter telling him of his plan to stay in Prashanthi Nilayam, the letter had been accepted. Sathya Sai had responded to him with the word, “later.”
My father’s family wanted him to marry as is the custom with Indian families. In due course they found him a wife. He felt he had to fulfill his family duty and was married. He forgot all about going to live in Prashanthi Nilayam. When a chance presented them both with an opportunity to go and live in the USA, they did. The family thrived there and kept Sai Baba alive in their hearts by attending Sai bhajans and functions.”
My friend went on to say, “We children grew up in the States and did very well at school and college. Then at some point I wanted to visit Sai Baba in India and I did just that. After only a few weeks with Baba, I knew I wanted to stay here for good. I didn’t want to return to the States. I had to explain this to my parents and they were, at first, profoundly upset. I then told them, they should also join me here in India. Eventually they did after many hardships in having to sell their business in the middle of the 2008 financial crash.”
My friend bought a flat large enough for them all to live together right there in Puttaparthi. By that time, Sai Baba was quite ill and was to pass away in 2011. Still, the promise made to the father all those decades ago had been fulfilled.
There are many legends about the significance of Holi. Here’s one of them:
Lord Krishna Statue – Ashram Gardens, P.N.
An alternative account of the basis of the holiday is associated with a legend involving Lord Shiva, one of the major Hindu gods. Shiva is known for his meditative nature and his many hours spent in solitude and deep meditation. Madana, the God of love, decided to test his resolve and appeared to Shiva in the form of a beautiful nymph. But Shiva recognized Madana and became very angry. In a fit of rage he shot fire out of his third eye and reduced her to ashes. This is sometimes given as the basis of Holi’s bonfire.
The festival of Holi is also associated with the enduring love between Lord Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu) and Radha, and Krishna in general.According to legend, the young Krishna complained to his mother Yashoda about why Radha was so fair and he so dark. Yashoda advised him to apply colour on Radha’s face and see how her complexion would change. Because of this associated with Krishna, Holi is extended over a longer period in Vrindavan and Mathura, two cities with which Krishna is closely affiliated.
Krishna’s followers everywhere find special meaning in the joyous festival, as general frivolity is considered to be in imitation of Krishna’s play with the gopis (wives and daughters of cowherds).
Thanks to the Photography group Photography Is My Hobby for the glorious images.