The Pandemic, Traveling and the Power of NOW

The Pandemic, Traveling and the Power of NOW

World Moms Network changed my life.

The first time I traveled out of my country was in 2013. Jennifer Burden, Founder of World Moms Network, celebrated. She couldn’t stop talking about it on social media. I went to Chicago to collect the BlogHer International Activist Award on behalf of World Moms Network (at that time we were still World Moms Blog). That trip was life-changing.

Less than a year later, I went to Brazil on a reporting project, also representing World Moms Network [WMN]. It was my third time out of India. Jen sent me a card that said, “Report your heart out.” The words have stayed with me ever since and every trip after that continued to be life-changing. 

Now the world has changed and travel is restricted.

As I write this from India, we cannot travel to the next block or even the supermarket. So what of travels on planes or cars or trains, or even trucks? 

From an early age, my father used to take me on trips all over India, a few times every year. We used to attend a lot of the Heartfulness events, which happened all over India. I enjoyed not just the pleasure of a trip but also connecting heartfully with new people. Being part of events and celebrations, and networking with people for a purpose, for altruism, for serving humanity has always been part of my life. Perhaps being part of the World Moms Network, is a naturally joyful process because of that lifelong experience of trying newness, initiated by my father. 

So, traveling to the USA, or the UK or Brazil, and other countries was an extension of my childhood. The evolution of learning; the journey of growing as a person; the joy of seemingly tiny moments, continued.

Traveling is a privilege not a necessity.

Let me make a few things clear before I continue. First, I was not born into privilege but to a middle-class family. We saved money for our travels across India. That felt important to my father and as an extension to us. Second, now that we travel outside of India, we still save money, because that continues to be important to us as a family.

Also, I would like to point out, if you make intelligent financial decisions while planning travel, you can make it more affordable.

Also, for those who have challenging financial situations, I am not saying it is imperative for you to travel to find meaning in life. I would never say that. That would be thoughtless. I am not one to judge anyone. I am merely sharing my heart, my experiences, and my joys.

Adrianna and her son in Brazil

Traveling has made my heart softer.

Though not born into privilege, I lived in a very privileged atmosphere within my family, with all my needs fulfilled as well as some wants, and even a few luxuries. Though we were just a normal middle-class family, we were also content, satisfied, and always joyful – my father made sure of that. So, I have never had a need go unmet.

These days, every time I come across a mother in the slums, I am constantly reminded of Adrianna from Brazil, whom I met during one of the reporting trips. I wonder if all her 11 children are fed and receive an education. I wonder if she has a good job. I wonder if she is happy. I wonder if she had any more children. It makes me think of not only her but also about many other people Around the world.

I also think of Karma, the guide I met in Bhutan. He told us that, at the juncture of every Buddhist shrine, he is going to pray to Buddha so that he gets admitted to a university in Paris for his postgraduate degree in tourism. I wonder if he got in, and if he did, what is he doing now? And what happened to him when the world went into lockdown, with the tourist industry being the worst affected of all.

With Karma in Bhutan

Just before lockdown, my family and I traveled to Egypt. In Luxor, we met Abdul, our guide. He had just had a baby and was always impatiently (and endearingly) waiting for us to wrap up our day, so he could rush home to his wife and baby. Where are they now? How are they managing their livelihood? 

Traveling makes us think.

It expands our horizon; it helps create empathy; it has made me care more. I care for Abdul’s family. I care for Karma’s aspirations. I care for Adrianna and her babies. But I also know that my caring for them alone is not going to help them. A larger force is necessary for the world to get back to normal, to defeat that tiny microscopic invisible virus, now mutating into other variants. 

Traveling instills joy.

And now, not being able to travel, has made life very different. I look for joy in other things. I have discovered the joy of long walks. During the beginning of lockdown, there was just a ban on international and domestic travel but we could still move freely within the city and state. I used to go walking here in Chennai by the banks of the River Adyar. I spent nearly 2 hours every evening, walking beside the river. The narrow dirt road, the setting sun, the buffaloes bathing in the river, cranes and a few exotic seasonal birds hopping by to say hello, and me listening to my favorite Laurie Santos podcast. Now, even these are nostalgic these days.

Finding joy in other ways

On Thursdays, I would take my weekly WMN Editors’ call as I walked. Sometimes I would have just returned from my walk, with a fresh mind and joy in my heart, I would bond with my WMN girlfriends over a cup of hot ginger chai. On other days, I used to walk my feet off, and it felt good. Walking was my substitute to travel, it felt like trekking or hiking. But now, with my state entering complete lockdown, I miss my walks too. I miss the goats and buffaloes walking towards me and meeting occasional friends on the walking trail.

Lessons learned

One thing I have learned through all the travels, through all the walks, through all the lockdowns—which India is now so famous for—is to be in the HERE and NOW. To be present. The planning of the relaunch of the World Moms Network was the highest point in my life. I say the highest because I was at my lowest possible and it was these wonderful women from WMN who perked me up EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. That gift was the most important for me then. The relaunch? Yes, of course, now that Is also a gift but the invaluable presence of the planning phase was when I felt the greatest joy. 

Have you ever experienced the joy of a trek? I have. When we rowed the Phewa lake in Nepal and then trekked over a hilltop. We took breaks in between to drink chai from the village chai shops. When we finally reached the top of Peace Pagoda, it was like deja vu. I am sure you understand that. The joy of the journey of the NOW was the greatest. The sights and sounds and smells of the NOW were more precious than any future sightings of a heritage site. 

Traveling has made me appreciate the power of the now. 

But what of the NOW we are all going through? I will not be surprised if I feel nostalgic someday about the NOW of the pandemic. I already missed my girls last Thursday, when we did not meet (because of conflicts) for our editorial meeting. 

What else will I miss? Surely having my son around all the time. He is having a great time with two monitors attached to his laptop—one with online chess and the other with online school—as I holler in the background to close the chess window and focus on the school. I am sure I will feel lonely when he is back to full-time school and away from home for 8 hours. 

It is best to stay here and enjoy and be grateful for all that I have now.

Yes, I do miss traveling but I think I enjoy drinking chai every evening with my neighborhood girlfriends on the terrace of my house. And no trip can replace the soul-stirring conversation we have every day. 

Travelling gives me joy, zest, but this lockdown has given me so much rest too. It makes me take leaps of faith into the unknown. Lockdown has restored my faith in humanity too when I witness so many random acts of kindness between strangers. Travelling has made me realize that I know so little of this whole world and that there is so much more to know and experience and eat and see and do.

But this lockdown has also made me realize that I know so little of myself, of my family, of what we can do together when cooped up in a house for such a long time, of all the loves and joys we derive in each other’s company.

So, as I wait patiently, to start traveling again and to start walking beside the river again, I take a few deep breaths and let go…of myself, so I can enjoy the present and experience the joy of the NOW.

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here . She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award . She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page . She also contributes to Huffington Post . Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!   This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.   She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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Lockdown Reflections: Musings From a COVID-19 Warrior’s Wife (Part 2)

Lockdown Reflections: Musings From a COVID-19 Warrior’s Wife (Part 2)

We hope you had the chance to read Part -1 of our WorldMom Purnima’s family’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below is Part 2.

My husband’s COVID-19 experience has awakened many feelings that seem to be coming to my conscious mind in layers, in time. I had probably shut out everything when while undergoing the experience. With each memory, new wisdom emerges. A new level of consciousness opens up. Each reminiscence ushers in an opportunity for transformation.

Here I will try to put a few of those into words!

My husband, nor his friends and colleagues, allowed any wasted time in sympathy. They had a job to do. Their duty came first, and I am proud of the COVID-19 warriors worldwide who pledge their lives to do what they think is the right thing to do. Work is worship, for them, and may the world be more blessed by such giving souls. 

They go to work every day, not thinking that it is the end of the world. For them, it is just routine. These physicians have been active healthcare workers during the bird flu, the swine flu, and many other pandemics. They feel humanity will endure and come out stronger and better. At least that is what they perennially convey to all of us – eternal hope, and loving-kindness.

If today you have an opportunity to show kindness to one soul – please do it. You may be doing much more than helping out with grocery shopping, or baking a cake, or running an errand for your friend or a stranger.

You may be touching the soul of a person in an irrevocably good way for eternity by a very simple act, and sometimes that could make all the difference between life and death.

Compassion, affection, and empathy – are the fuel that runs the world. While you are wrapped in kindness outpouring from all quarters, you can endure anything. I received only gentleness from all quarters, and perhaps that was the most important factor to ensure my sound mental health, lack of stress, and lack of worry. Not one patronizing word. No condescension. No holier than thou talk, or wise-talk, no nothing. Just pure love, care, and concern from all who knew of our situation. We also did not face a single social stigma; of course, we had the personal discipline to socially isolate as per standard health guidelines.

In the midst of everyday challenges and the pouring of wisdom from within my heart, I realized that as humans, our collective compassionate consciousness was being elevated.

Wisdom is perhaps already inherently present inside every one of us if we listen. Wisdom is what probably enables us with creativity, and intelligence, when we decide to look deeper than what our immediate current perception show us. My wish for all of us is to go beyond that tangible thought or feeling and wait, like we do, as a family, both physically and emotionally.

Let wisdom decide to enthrall us, and in that one moment of revelation, you can feel the Universe’s love, and if you continue to stay there for one extra moment, perhaps that would allow us to perceive the kindness and compassion in our immediate surrounding, from the Universe.

As humanity, we endure with some hope, some gratitude. We are always offered a choice at that one moment when we are faced with life-altering adversity – we can choose hope and gratitude and be transformed by our choices. And this perception can make all the difference in lighting the path – for ourselves and for people around us. 

I remember this excerpt from Carl Sagan, inspired by an image taken by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990. Voyager 1 was about 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away, and approximately 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane, when it captured this portrait of our world. Caught in the center of scattered light rays (a result of taking the picture so close to the Sun), Earth appears as a tiny point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. 

The Pale Blue Dot – Our Home, Planet Earth
Image Credit: NASA

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor, and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

To be continued …

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here . She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award . She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page . She also contributes to Huffington Post . Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!   This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.   She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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Lockdown Reflections: Musings From a COVID-19 Warrior’s Wife (Part1)

Lockdown Reflections: Musings From a COVID-19 Warrior’s Wife (Part1)

Jennifer Burden, the founder of World Moms Network, asked me to share my family’s COVID-19 story from India. I have been reluctant because our hearts go out to so many I know, who have lost family and friends near and dear to them in India and across the world, from COVID-19. I hope our story can help paint the picture of how the virus is affecting the daily life of families of health workers, around the world, to our global readers. So, with that intention, I tell my story…

My husband and I are so different, we come from different cultures and languages within India, however, one of the few things that bind us together is our love for travel. We had planned to spend our 15th wedding anniversary somewhere trekking up a mountain or looking at art pieces in a museum. Thankfully, we have similar tastes in the type of travel we do, and so that is one thing less to quarrel about in our lives! 

Instead of celebrating our anniversary in some far off exotic location, we knew that we would celebrate our love and togetherness from the quarantined confines of our home, as times were now difficult and different. And that was okay too. 

BUT – Today I dreaded waking up to our wedding anniversary. 

The author’s husband who is a physician.

You see, my husband is a frontline healthcare worker, a pulmonologist, and is involved in the treatment of patients in the COVID-19 ward in the hospital where he serves. He is in contact with hundreds of COVID-19 positive patients every single day. Several days before our anniversary he was down with a high-grade fever. Slowly this took a worrisome enough turn, for him to call up the technician to come home to test him. Thus, the whole day of our 15th wedding anniversary was spent waiting in prayerful anticipation. Well, to cut the long story of the day short, he turned out to be positive for COVID-19. This was definitely not the anniversary we were expecting, and we were now worried. 

Most healthcare workers have been facing enormous challenges – physically, mentally, and emotionally. They see in the eyes and hearts of patients, so much loneliness, pain, and fear, that, that in itself drains them out completely. It can be very overwhelming and many times the doctors and nurses die hundreds of deaths inside, as they let a life go.

As his wife, I seek to understand, yet, sometimes I do not. At times, I can sympathize. Other times I get frustrated, caught up in my own other problems or worries. 

We have missed him at times when he used to come home very late, long after my son and I had fallen asleep. At other times, I have learned to stay indifferent. I remember, once when we were on our honeymoon, he received a call from one of his patients. I don’t always have him to myself. Being married to a healthcare worker has been a very enlightening journey, living with him and his profession for the past 15 years.

The author’s family.

At times, he indicates that he understands and explains patiently how he cannot make more time for us. At other times, he is full of his own joys or sorrows of work.

In the midst of such a life, where I did not know when he would be back home for the day, things had only worsened in the past 8 months. Being part of the first responders in the fight against the coronavirus, I cheer for him. 

Every night our family wait, patiently. I say, ‘patiently’, because, the hardest part of this COVID-19 pandemic was always to constantly wonder when my husband was going to contract it. I never doubted that he wouldn’t contract it. After all, his whole day, more than 12 hours, was spent with people who had contracted it. I just prayed and hoped that at least he would be asymptomatic or he would recover very quickly.

Now, that worry was gone. He was COVID-19 positive, and I knew how the next fortnight was going to be. All of the regular COVID-19-words now stared at my face – quarantine – social distancing – uncertainty – grocery shopping for the next 15 days, etc.

I decided to take one hour at a time and gave my attention to only the most important tasks of the immediate hour. The most important thing to do, of course, was to take care of my husband.

The next thing I decided was to get off my phone, unless absolutely necessary, such as the phone calls from my parents or from my husband’s colleagues. I uninstalled all the Apps from my phone temporarily, and that is probably the best decision I have ever made in this current digitalized year.

One thing that helped me stay positive and resilient is an everyday meditation regime, and the online group meditation sessions every Sunday morning with our Heartfulness community.

I suddenly realized how close my husband was, with his colleagues, friends, seniors, juniors, students, and the Dean in his workplace. I entered his workplace that I wasn’t as aware of, prior to his sickness in our busy lives. There was an outpouring of love, concern, affection. Most days he was on his phone, when he had the energy, talking to his students, or discussing regimes and protocols with his colleagues. He never gave me the impression that he was sick. But he gave me a lot of reasons to worry too, as he was still symptomatic with fever, respiratory infection. However before I knew it, he was back on his feet and on his job (from home, as we had to be in quarantine for few more days).

One hour at a time, one day at a time, we let time pass at her own pace. The hours were long, but the days were short, as they say.

Fifteen days, after our 15th wedding anniversary, we tested again, and the results were negative. He is back to work now, and treating patients, in one of India’s hotbeds of COVID-19 – Chennai.

The author and her husband.

Our wedding anniversary will have to wait until another day, another year, but I am proud of him for being a part of India’s fight against the pandemic. He makes me proud. 

To be continued …

Read Part – 2 here.

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here . She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award . She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page . She also contributes to Huffington Post . Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!   This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.   She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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India: Voices of High School Students: Altruism from Youth #YouthDay #OmegaIntlSchool

India: Voices of High School Students: Altruism from Youth #YouthDay #OmegaIntlSchool

On the International Day of Youth, World Moms Network – Senior Editor, Purnima from India, met with a few young high school students. Read on to find their take on the state of affairs of the world, their life ahead in times of this pandemic, their passion, their ways of achieving their dreams and goals, and generally trying to have a positive perspective towards the world and their life.

Purnima asked 3 questions!

  1. What is your passion? What makes you most excited about? What does your heart live for? Take some time and think about the questions mentioned below. Answer the questions to the best of your ability. This is about your beliefs, hopes, and dreams.
  2. What is that one thing you would like to see changed in this world? (Examples: Climate Change, Education policy, Global unity, etc…)
  3. Tell me about that one step you would like to take to achieve question #2?

Harini Ramanan says:

My passion is writing. I am excited about creating a whole new world that can fit into a reader’s head. I am passionate about global unity. I want to promote diversity among religion, race, and more. 

Ritesh says:

I love data science, especially the field of artificial intelligence. I would love to implement this into business, as I’m also interested in becoming an entrepreneur. Despite the challenges that may come, I am determined and will work my way through.

Ritesh

One thing I would definitely like to see changed in this world is parents no longer making their children’s major decisions. Especially in India, many parents put a lot of pressure on their children to, (for example), take up a certain subject to study in the future, impeding the child from doing what he/she is really passionate about, just because the parent thinks it’s ‘not going to work out’. 

I totally agree, that parents know what is right and what is wrong and that their children should respect that, however, sometimes there is no ‘right or wrong’ decision when it comes to a child’s major decisions, after all, it’s impossible to see what the future will bring. Nevertheless, I believe that it’s not up to a parent to decide where their child’s success lies, but for the child to prove that their success is where they want it to be.

What I am about to say might sound ridiculous, but just like we children go to school, I believe that parents also need some form of education to become better parents and respect their children’s opinions and passions. Parenting is already a hard task in itself, especially when the child grows up and starts to become rebellious and doesn’t want to do what the parent wants them to do. But through education, parents could, maybe, be able to understand what their child is really interested in, and rather than pulling them away from it, help them to achieve their goals.

Selvambiga says:

I love art. When I come up with new ideas and implement it, I feel satisfied after looking at my output on how creative, hard-working, and concentrated I was toward my artwork. Sometimes when my artwork looks very similar to the one I had in my mind, I’m on cloud 9. I would say that my heart lives to achieve my goals, ambition, and also my cravings toward my likings like chocolates, desserts, and also ice creams.

I also want to change the healthcare policy to a better one providing adequate and necessary treatment to all who arrive at any hospital, be it rich or poor. I want to do this because not everyone in this world is getting proper medical treatment because it is expensive.

Mabel David says:

My passion is to share love by indirectly helping others in need especially. Spending time with people I love and who love me back gives me joy and peace. My heart lives for the new experiences I experience every day.

Nishit Joseph says:

I want to be a lead guitarist. I love playing and feeling guitar against my body. I am very excited about changing the string in my guitar. My heart lives to bring music to every corner of the world.

Adil Sukumar says:

Everyone should have a voice. I want to see everyone happy smiling. My heart lives for doing what I love.

Poojasri

Poojasri M says:

I want to see all people treated equally, no matter whether they are rich or poor, all people in the world must be treated equally.

Tania Mascarenhas says:

I want to eliminate discrimination and hate from this world. It’s very taxing to even think about this.

I’m currently working on collecting suggestions on an app called Tumblr which is a microblogging platform. Once I have collected enough ideas, I hope to start a Kindness Challenge; where each day we can represent ideas or do something as simple as baking a cake, giving a compliment or speaking to an old friend.

Vanaja Karthik says:

I would like for abusing to stop. I am going to strive for the Heartfulness movement to spread throughout the world and prioritize spirituality, love, kindness and togetherness.

These kids have started with a thought, put words into their ideas, are leading engagement in their community. They encourage action among adults, and lead transformation.

Special shoutout and gratitude to Mrs. Ushma Sriraman, who leads the Value-Based Education department of the Lalaji Memorial Omega International School, for her cooperation, coordination, and for her virtual hugs!

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here . She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award . She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page . She also contributes to Huffington Post . Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!   This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.   She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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Lumbini, Nepal: Buddha’s Birthplace, What Remains Now and the Ethos of the Heart

Lumbini, Nepal: Buddha’s Birthplace, What Remains Now and the Ethos of the Heart

THE BIRTH OF Siddhārtha Gautama

6th Century BC:

The old nurse looked at her radiant Queen, Maya Devi. She still had the same sweet smile on her face, and nothing seemed to have changed since the day she was born, the day the old nurse picked her up as an infant. Pregnancy only made her glow more like the full moon. She still insisted doing things her way in that same charming captivating way like now, when she went bathing all by herself in the Puskarini pool, even though she was about to give birth in a fortnight. Her nurse watched helplessly as Maya played in the pool, with her friends amidst the pink and white lotus flowers. The nurse sighed, and got up to ready the sleeping arrangements for Maya. Maya had wanted to leave for her father’s home for birthing her child as was the custom of those times. But instead of leaving earlier by a month, she spent more time with her affectionate husband, King Suddodhana, the leader of the Shakya clan. On the way to her father’s place, she wanted to spend the night at the beautiful garden in Lumbini, which meant ‘the lovely.’

Just as the nurse was about to walk away towards the tents, she could sense something waswrong. She turned to see Maya’s face contorting in pain for just a moment. Or did she imagine it? She squinted her near-sighted eyes, and watched intently for a longer moment, and noticed the same expression again. Maya met her gaze, and the nurse knew it was time. She waded mid-pool and quickly helped her out of the water. Maya insisted on walking all the way to the tent without support, wincing during every contraction, supporting her hips with her arms. She did not reach the tent. She took a quick detour and halted below a strong and sturdy sal tree, under the full and bright moon of the first lunar month Vesak, of the New Year. She rested for a moment, as her womb contracted in divine agony. Her nurse held out her hand, but the all-time-self-sufficient Maya supported herself by clutching a branch, and birthed her handsome Prince, whom she named Siddhārtha, the one who achieves his goal. The Gods from heaven showered a stream of lukewarm water to clean the baby, and then another cooler shower. She thanked the Gods silently. As she gazed lovingly at her just born beautiful new baby boy, Siddhārtha walked seven steps on the lotus in the pond, as the lore goes.

 

Nativity Scene: The Birth of the Buddha

Nativity Scene: The Birth of the Buddha

Maya passed away 11 days later, leaving Siddhārtha in the hands of her sister Prajapati, who was also the second wife of her husband. Prajapati’s motherly love for Siddhārtha never made him realize the absence of his birth mother. The court astrologers predicted that the Prince would either become a great saint of modern times or a mighty Monarch.

As the story of the Buddha goes, Prince Siddhārtha abandoned the palace and the kingly riches in search of meaning for life and wandered away to the forests, at the age of 29. Through the strictest of penance, he eventually attained Nirvana or enlightenment at the age of 35.

Just before passing away at the age of 80, Buddha told his primary disciple and cousin, Ananda, that Lumbini his birth place would be one of the 4 holiest places which would attract Buddhists for all time.

***

May 2018:

LUMBINI, BIRTH PLACE OF BUDDHA, UNESCO World Heritage site

2500 years later today, the Lumbini garden remains so, as predicted by Buddha. In my eternal quest for all things Buddhist, I was taken to the serene land of Nepal, which is adorned by the whitest and most beautiful Himalayan Range to the north, and by the rather nondescript town of Lumbini to the South. I won’t go into details of how to reach Lumbini by road/air, where to stay once you reach there, or the best things to do there. You can find all of that in travel websites and travelogues written by travelers and tourists who have visited the place before me and who would visit after me.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

UNESCO World Heritage Site

For the travel-lusting curios, however, I am going to briefly share my experiences of visiting the Maya Devi temple in Lumbini. This temple is housed inside the Lumbini development complex which also has the Monastic zone and a Lumbini village zone. In 1978, many nations came forward to build monasteries depicting the evolution of Buddhist culture in their countries and I am going to share a few pictures of those different monasteries below. To confuse you further, when you visit, there are many gates to this complex, depending on how you plan to enter. Whichever of the 9 gates you choose, be sure to cover all the monasteries. They are absolutely lovely and unique and give you a flavour of their own respective countries.

A few of the monasteries below …

The Thailand Monastery

One of my favorite monasteries. It stands magnificent in snowy, pristine white glory; embodying purity. It is very well maintained with manicured lawns and neatly trimmed trees.

Thailand Monastery

Thailand Monastery

The insides of the Thai monastery is also very beautiful. The decorations of the Buddha, the culture reflecting in the ornate decorations, information on neat bulletin boards, and so on – all gave a very nicely organized monastery.

Insides of the Thai Monastery

Insides of the Thai Monastery

The Cambodian Monastery

This monastery reminded me very much of the Angkor Wat temple in its looks and structure. It is still work in progress with construction work going on, and dust billowing towards us, in the heat. We were forced to make a hasty retreat to the other monasteries, though this breath-taking beauty did not stop beckoning us…

Cambodian Monastery

Cambodian Monastery

The Myanmar Monastery

The Golden monastery from Myanmar decorated with green and gold paint, and a maroon balustrade to match, was a splendid sight from outside and inside too. It is a replica of the monastery in Yangon. My husband’s bucket list grew, with Myanmar as one of the places to visit, before the end of this year, as we breathed in the sight of this beautiful monastery.

Myanmar Monastery

Myanmar Monastery

The German Monastery

As we kept walking, we came across a circular lake, and on one side there is this beautiful German monastery called, ‘The Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa’. Do not let this humble, yet beautiful monastery mislead you, for you are about to witness wonder inside it.

German Monastery

German Monastery

As we entered this monastery, we were slowed down. There was not enough time in the world, to complete admiring the beautiful murals on the walls. There was a prayerful atmosphere which the monks tried hard to maintain inside the prayer room. It was simply splendid. I recommend, you sit down for a few minutes to meditate here. No photography is allowed inside, for which I am thankful, because our senses were already assaulted enough, just admiring the murals inside.

Inside the German Monastery

Inside the German Monastery

At times, I was so glad for these “No photography” signs because Nature was giving us a chance to just sit, allow the beauty to descend into you, both in a way of the senses and also into the heart. No more thinking about Portrait mode or Normal mode or other modes, light exposure, and all those umpteen photography things which my husband and son keep discussing about, but just a mind which needs to calm down, and a heart which needs to look inward.

Colorful Murals Inside the German Monastery

Colorful Murals Inside the German Monastery

And we moved on, because a noisy group of tourist arrived and were discussing with the care taker, as to how they could seek permission to take pictures inside the prayer room.

The International Nuns Temple of Nepal

On the right side of the International Nuns Temple, you can see that there is a place of stay for the nuns from Nepal, and is maintained by the Government of Nepal. It has a long courtyard where footwear was not allowed, and as our feet were getting burnt, we were reminded of childhood memories of playing hide and seek with our cousins, during summer break, on the hot terrace at midday. We had to make a hasty retreat this time too, because we could not bear the burning of the hot grounds on our naked feet.

(*If I did not tell you earlier, you are requested to leave your footwear outside most of the monasteries, as a sign of respect and cleanliness.*)

International Nuns Temple in Nepal

International Nuns Temple in Nepal

The Singapore Monastery

This was closed and we could not learn much about it. So we resorted to taking pictures of it and us.

The Author and her son in front of the Singapore Monastery

The Author and her son in front of the Singapore Monastery

The Chinese Monastery

The Chinese have built the biggest monastery in the complex. It is very well maintained and organized with a lot of information displayed. There was so much to assimilate about the culture and history of Buddhism in China and about the monastery itself.

Chinese Monastery

Chinese Monastery

The entrance of the Chinese monastery is guarded by their traditional ‘Four Heavenly Kings’ and other deities. There was even a Maitreya Buddha at the entrance. This is a very beautiful and colorful monastery.

Guardians of the Chinese Monastery

Guardians of the Chinese Monastery

Though the entrance looks not so huge, the courtyard was heavenly. The visitors who entered never felt like leaving. You would also notice that the entry and exit of the monastery is structured such that it makes you circumambulate in clockwise around the Buddha which is a holy practice of Hindus and Buddhists.

Courtyard of the Chinese Monastery

Courtyard of the Chinese Monastery

World Peace Pagoda

We were then directed towards a path by one of the tourists, saying it led to the Eternal Flame, The World Peace Pagoda and the Maya Devi temple. They are all in a straight line.

Inside the Peace Pagoda

Inside The World Peace Pagoda

As you walk on this path, you can find the golden Bodhisattva statue glistening in the sun. It is a fairly recent addition, in 2012. It is supposed to personify that image of the infant Buddha when he took the seven steps on the lotus, as soon as he was born.

Golden Bodhisattva statue

Golden Bodhisattva statue

The Maya Devi Temple

Our walk brought us to the Sacred Zone at the Maya Devi Temple. There was an ambience of tranquility in the atmosphere. But something else was also missing. I couldn’t quite sense what, yet. There is a pond beyond which the temple stands tall and majestic, in white serenity. It felt that the temple was celebrating Buddha’s mother rather than the Buddha.

Maya Devi Temple

Maya Devi Temple

There are rows of small stupas outside the temple. Excavations seemed to be happening continuously since the discovery of the Ashoka pillar in 1896.

Ashoka Pillar

Ashoka Pillar

King Ashoka in the 249 BC is supposed to have originally discovered Buddha’s birth place and built this iconic pillar with detailed inscriptions and the various stupas around it.

Details - The Ashoka Pillar

Details – The Ashoka Pillar

Around the temple building, there are numerous small stupas and they have been archaeologically dated back to the second century BC.

Archaeological Ruins Around the Temple

Archaeological Ruins Around the Temple

We entered the temple, and began walking on the wooden floor, following the signs. People were throwing coins below into the ruins, as offerings for good luck. We stood above and gazed from the railings, there were coins from different countries. As we kept walking, we finally reached the Marker Stone which marks the exact spot where Buddha was born. Devotees were praying, some tourists were gazing intently trying to capture everything in their memory, as you see, photography is prohibited inside the Maya Devi Temple. The path further leads to the Nativity sculpture where you can see mother Maya Devi holding the branch of a Sal tree and Buddha standing on a lotus. As we walked beyond, the path led to the exit of the temple.

The sun was very bright and almost scorching, and glared my eyes, because the temple was very dimly lit, like the insides of a movie theatre. I waited for a moment, for everything to sink in. Everything seemed like nothing.

I noticed the colorful prayer flags in the garden outside. There was a small pond, and a few monks were sitting around a tree, chatting. There were benches for tourists, and some were meditating on it.

I got the feeling that perhaps it was time to leave.

What did I seek in Lumbini?

As we made our way towards the exit, we halted for a drink of water at the watering pool. A few monks were filling up their plastic bottles too, and we waited patiently for them to move. It gave me a moment to reflect.

When we made this journey, all the way from Chennai, South India, what did I anticipate to find? I was allured to Buddha’s birthplace, but I couldn’t find him here. Lumbini is no doubt a very important and holiest of sites for followers of Buddhism and even followers of other religions and I appreciate the beauty of the Lumbini development zone and commend the effort of the Government to preserve this as place of value and heritage.

However, as I fill up my bottle, with the cool water from the tap, I wonder, “What did I get, which I sought from this visit to the birth place of Buddha?”

Did I get enlightenment like Buddha? But did I seek that? I don’t even know what that means…

Did I seek to find Buddha somewhere hidden in the beautiful monasteries constructed by various countries? Or somewhere near the Marker Stone, which claims he was birthed there?

I was not seeking his physical presence – surely not!

Was I seeking to find some meaning to the strong presence he left behind in this world? Perhaps…! But what of it?

Well, whatever I was seeking or not, I surely was trying to find some essence of Divinity in all of this. One could call it peace, or bliss or a meditative calm or any other word… and it all can be identified with something akin to Divine. But I was vaguely disappointed. I felt generally at peace at a superficial level in some of the monasteries, but I still was trying to figure out what I was searching, assuming that I would know once I found it. And here I was experiencing an anti-climax of having found nothing at all.

My water bottle overflowed and I sensed an impatient monk behind me who was being fidgety with his bottle, tapping it against the railing of the water taps. I closed my bottle and allowed him to use it. He smiled his thanks but I did not have the energy to smile back. I was drained by the heat and my own contemplation.

We walked back along the long path leading to one of the exit gates, each of us silent in our hearts and in our own world.

Long after I came home to India, and decided to write about my experience in Lumbini, I felt emotional about not having experienced Buddha’s presence. I just did not feel him or find him anywhere in Lumbini. It felt like ‘time’ had trapped all of Buddha back in the 6th century BC.

It just felt like memories of Buddha lost in time, accentuated by celebrated tales, and an active humanity in the future which tried to relive the enlightenment of a single man (or God) of the past. 

The Ethos of the Heart

As I was wondering about my experience, my friend texted me and offered to have a Heartfulness meditation session, where one meditates on the source of light in the heart. I could not say no. After the session, I felt lighter and peaceful in a general way. Later, I remembered something I read long ago, written by Daaji, the Global Guide of Heartfulness. This seemed to be a fitting climax to my experience.

“Imagine for a moment that we don’t have to go anywhere, or to do anything, except simply sit wherever we are, and allow ourselves to be found? Imagine that heavens are waiting to enter our heart, right here and now! What a powerful concept! How do we make this a reality and allow ourselves to be found? How do we create such a state where the higher presence naturally settles within our hearts?”

He goes on to explain as below …

“The answer possibly lies in cultivating the seeds of contentment within our hearts…

It starts with a simple suggestion that everything we need is already present within us. All the love of the world, the beauty of life, the seed of perfection is present in our heart represented as a source of light. This suggestion is strengthened through actual experience in meditation, as the idea of light leads to a feeling of an inner presence.  This inner presence becomes a reality as our consciousness expands, and we become aware of a wholeness of being. When we begin to experience this state of wholeness and perfection at our core, the clouds of discontent and ignorance start to dissolve. The heart regains its light and innocent nature.

Under such circumstances, the egoless heart, the humble heart, automatically draws the heavens towards itself. Such a heart is perfectly adjusted to its external circumstances.  It creates heaven around itself.”

Full article here. 

I felt light instantly. This seemed to be the missing puzzle to my experience-jigsaw. I had read this article almost 2 years ago, more or less agreed with it, and swiped away to the next article, devouring words and ideas. But the joy of the pudding is not merely in the eating, but in the conscious experiencing of the taste, or the sweet of it. The Universe is so vast, and the world of learning and experiencing is also as broad as the Universe and perhaps even more so. As the human soul tries to imbibe everything or parts of the universe in a quest which is directed external – to new places, new understanding of the senses, and new knowledge, there is something limiting to that, as the façade never fully lifts.

As I try to understand what he meant in the article, I also realize that perhaps humanity is unconsciously seeking an ethos of that content heart, which satisfies itself with everything within, which knows with confidence that indeed the Universe is present within. 

What do you look for, when you visit holy lands? Tell me, your experiences … 

Photo Credit to the Author.

This is the first in the series of articles by #WorldMom, Purnima from her travels in #Nepal.

You can read the series of articles from her travels in #Bhutan here.

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here .

She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award .

She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page .

She also contributes to Huffington Post .

Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!
 
This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.  

She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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