Archived Stories
from the Road

 


 

STORIES FROM THE ROAD

THE WEB OF LIFE - June 7, 2009
Marin County, California

As many of you know, I’m in writing retreat every Sunday this summer working on the next chapter of GROWING UP SOUTHERN; however, I want to share with you now a new “Story from the Road” regarding the interconnectedness of “The Web of Life.”

“There is an endless net of threads throughout the universe. The horizontal threads are in space. The vertical threads are in time. At every crossing of the threads, there is an individual. And every individual is a crystal bead. And every crystal bead reflects not only the light from every other crystal in the net, but also every other reflection throughout the entire universe.”
- The Rig Veda

(Rig Veda version by Frank Joseph, as published in his book, Synchronicity and You, Understanding the Role of Meaningful Coincidence in Your Life)

Five years ago today, on the Full Moon of the Fourth Month in the Tibetan Lunar Calendar, I was at Mt. Kailash in Tibet to honor my Tibetan daughter, Namgyal Youdon, for Saka Dawa, the annual celebration of the Buddha Shakyamuni’s birth, enlightenment and death (Parinivarna – the final nirvana, usually understood to be within reach only upon the death of the body of someone who has attained complete awakening).

I wrote about my experiences at Saka Dawa in LOVE & LOSS – A Story about Life, Death, and Rebirth in Chapter Eleven – Life & Death.

On my sixty-eighth birthday on May 18th, as I contemplated “growing younger toward death,” I reaffirmed my intention to spend more time in silence, to be focused and present with my colleagues at work, with friends and family, and to be engaged in the conversation of living during whatever time remains for me in this lifetime.

As Maya Angelou says, “The best part of life is not just surviving, but thriving – with passion and compassion, and humor and style, and generosity and kindness.”

My birthday gift to myself was to attend three events with His Holiness the Dalai Lama during his visit to the Bay area in late April. Just being in the presence of the Dalai Lama is a gift for which I am so very grateful. The underlying theme of each talk that weekend was about the inherent joy that arises from being of service to others.

The Dalai Lama is believed to be the manifestation of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who vow to serve humanity and relieve the suffering of all sentient beings.

On Saturday afternoon, a friend took me as her guest to a public talk, “Peace Through Compassion” at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, that was hosted by the American Himilayan Foundation and the Richard C. Blum Center for Developing Economies.

Early Sunday morning, I was able to attend a breakfast with His Holiness the Dalai Lama by making a financial contribution to a charitable organization called Harmony Through Education. The theme of the breakfast was “The Joy of Giving” and was hosted by The Forgotten International. Harmony Through Education was one of the beneficiaries of The Forgotten International breakfast fundraising event.

Harmony Through Education is an organization founded by a young man named Seth Shaffer. Harmony’s school in Dharamsala, India, was created to help provide mentally and physically challenged children and young adults in India with the opportunity to learn. Their motto is “Education is the key to opening the doors of life.”

The mission of The Forgotten International, founded by Tom Nazario, is to develop programs that will alleviate poverty and the suffering associated with poverty, both in the United States and worldwide, in particular, that are experienced by women and children by aiding in education, community services and basic healthcare. The Forgotten International presently supports programs in Cambodia, India, Thailand, Uganda and Vietnam, and in the future will help more people around the world.

The Dalai Lama participated in a panel discussion with several local philanthropists on the topic of “The Joy of Giving.” The last panelist to speak was a seventeen year old girl named Sejal Hathi, who is a senior at Notre Dame High School in San Jose, California, and the founding president of Girls Helping Girls, an organization dedicated to empowering young women around the world.

Sejal has always been passionate about girls’ empowerment and peace-building initiatives. From helping to organize a mentoring program for girls and a Darfur Awareness Benefit, to tutoring socio-economically disadvantaged children, organizing local service days and global action campaigns, Sejal has pledged herself relentlessly to creating a better world. His Holiness was so taken by Sejal’s talk that he bowed to her with His hands together in the prayer gesture and said, “You are my teacher.”

The event concluded with the San Jose Youth Chamber Orchestra performing an emotionally stirring rendition of the Tibetan National Anthem.

Following the breakfast, Tom Nazario had arranged, at the Dalai Lama’s request, for His Holiness to visit a soup kitchen in San Francisco. HH wanted to meet with some of America’s homeless and poor people. The Dalai Lama put on a red and yellow tie-dyed apron and served up the first plates of pesto pasta, and broke bread sitting at a table with several down-and-out men and women, telling stories and making fun of His use of the English language, or the lack thereof. Finally, the Dalai Lama said, “Me, too, homeless person.” Later, His Holiness remarked that having lunch at the homeless soup kitchen was the highlight of his visit to the Bay area.

Sunday afternoon, I attended a luncheon event entitled “Unsung Heroes of Compassion 2009.” Ten years ago, during a private audience with the Dalai Lama, a man named Dick Grace shared the kernel of an idea he was formulating: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do a better job of transforming our contemplative practice into compassionate action.” His Holiness enthusiastically embraced the idea replying, “We have to work hard on that.”

I’ve never met Dick Grace, but apparently, to anyone who knows him, the phrase “work hard” is music to his ears, particularly when the aim of that work is to alleviate the suffering of our disenfranchised brothers and sisters around the globe. He sprang into action, gathering friends and philanthropic “angels” willing to help him shine a light on the healing power of compassion in action. From this inspiration, the first Unsung Heroes of Compassion event was created through an organization called “Wisdom in Action.” For more information, email unsungheroes09@yahoo.com.

The event that afternoon was the third “Unsung Heroes of Compassion” ceremony that His Holiness has attended since its inception in 2001. Being honored were forty-nine women and men from all around the world who in the Buddhist tradition are Bodhisattvas.

Bodhisattvas are found everywhere, from every religious and spiritual tradition, be it Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, et al. Bodhisattvas express the truth of interdependence, understanding that their own welfare is inseparable from the welfare of others.

One of the current Unsung Heroes being honored was seated at each table. I was seated with James (Wolf) Starkewolfe who was being acknowledged for his work in delivering corn and beans to the indigenous Raramuri Indians who live in a nearly inaccessible area in the state of Chihuahua in Mexico’s Copper Canyon, six distinct canyons in the Sierra Madre Occidental region. The overall canyon system is larger, and portions in some places are much deeper, than the Grand Canyon in the U.S.

It is a treacherous journey to reach the Raramuri who live in caves, under cliff overhangs and in small shelters with sides only four feet high. They live a primitive life with few modern amenities and in recent years have suffered devastating famine as a result of drought, threatening their survival as a people.

Nevertheless, Wolf is adamant that what he and the other members of Apoyo Tarahumara (Raramuri Support), the group that organizes the missions, provide is not charity. “It is a privilege to be welcomed by the Raramuri,” he says, adding that theirs is a wisdom culture with much to teach modern civilizations. “They call themselves ‘the people who care about people,’ and refer to others as ‘the people who care about things.’” Even though the food drops are large, they provide sustenance for just a few hundred people during the extremes of winter and summer, and there are thousands more in need throughout the region.

Shortly before the “Unsung Heroes of Compassion” program began, a woman who was sitting at the next table, came over to introduce herself. “Are you Jane Bay?” she asked. I replied I was, and she said, “I’m a friend of Fu Ching (my Chinese friend from Chengdu, China). He loves you very much, and when your Tibetan daughter, Namgyal, died, Fu Ching called me in Lhasa to share the devastating news.”

Her name was Arlene Samen. She is the Executive Director and Founder of “One HEART” (Health, Education and Research in Tibet), an organization dedicated to saving the lives of Tibetan women and children, one birth at a time.

Supporter Mariel Hemingway has said, “Anyone who becomes a part of One HEART’s journey is also opening to the Divine Mother in all of us.”

As we talked, Arlene revealed that she herself has adopted three Tibetan girls, off the streets in Lhasa. When she heard of Namgyal’s death, on the threshold of coming to the U.S. for the first time, she herself felt the loss as deeply as if it had been one of her own daughters.

Arlene went on to say, “As soon as I got off the phone with Fu Ching, I closed the office and everyone on our staff went to the Johkang Temple to light butter lamps and say prayers for Namgyal.”

Needless to say, at this point, tears were streaming down both our faces, and we held each other in a tender embrace.

It was such an unexpected experience that the full impact and significance of what occurred didn’t fully reveal itself until after I returned home.

With the warm, late afternoon sun flooding my bedroom in golden light, I was transported back to the day in July 2003 when I sat in that very room in silent meditation at the same time that Namgyal’s sky burial was occurring in Tibet. I was in a state of unspeakable anguish. (LOVE & LOSS – Chapter Two – Prayers for Namgyal).

Jane and Namgyal at Kyichu Hotel
Lhasa, Tibet – March 2003

I am astounded by the synchronicity of Arlene and her staff having gone to the Johkang Temple sometime during the first three days after Namgyal’s death, and that six years later, she and I would meet by coincidence at a hotel in San Francisco in the presence of the Dalai Lama.

What a stunning experience of the interconnectedness of the web of life.

We don’t have to be millionaires to be philanthropists. We can practice generosity in small and simple ways that have enormous consequences for the benefit of others as Arlene Samen’s compassion surely had for Namgyal, and me, without my even knowing about it.

 

 

 

With the sixth anniversary of Namgyal’s passing approaching on July 18th, I am still filled with gratitude for the gifts of grief that I received from loving and losing her.

On the OneHEART brochure that Arlene gave me at the “Unsung Heroes of Compassion” luncheon, there is a quote by Lois Wilson, “Focus on what you can do, then do it with all your heart.”

There’s a bumper sticker I see from time to time that is a reminder to “Commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” Amen to that…

Wishing you Peace & Happiness.
And love always,
Jane

 
©2006 Jane Bay - All Rights Reserved