Buongiorno from Venice, which i thought i’d better see before it sinks much further. Lately, it’s flooding more frequently and more severely, and it’s chilling to drift around this jewel of history and imagine that, within as few as 20 years (if some scientists’ predictions come true) the first floor or two of every building in Venezia could become aquaria. I’m imagining schools of tourists snorkeling around the ghost town like a shipwreck, gawking at the pesci dining in the bistros where once they were dined upon, while the tenaciously adaptable Venetians (the few who can still afford to live in ever-gentrifying Venice) get out their tools and move the old front doors up two flights of steps. 2028: the 3rd floor is the new 1st floor.
Yesterday in Vienna, after a tasty breakfast of organic beet salad and “veganer schnitzel,” i did part of my morning meditation in the Secession Museum, in the company of Gustav Klimt’s epic frieze in honor of Beethoven and the revolution of virtue Klimt saw in his chart-topping 9th symphony. Motivated by both compassion and the desire for personal gain, the most virtuous of humans wage ethical combat against the forces of darkness and decay, but in the end even the mightiest of men cannot stop it… not even the gods can defeat it… yet, in the final battle, a woman with a lyre plays the trump card of music and poetry, opening the door to the Ideal Kingdom. (Sister, could you play a little louder, please? We could use your help.)
The exhibit upstairs was case in point: first, hundreds of the most gruesome photos of slain humans, murdered brutally; and then, further in, the same photos, but this time it’s seals, clubbed and hacked to death for their fur and meat. A few dozen mannequins march in protest, joined across time and space by a parade of Tibetans marching in photographic solidarity, while an elderly Balkan woman in a wheelchair holds a placard asking for change… in the person of Barack Obama. Surely no single person could be Klimt’s harpist for all humanity, but give me Obama and the lyre or, better yet, give me the Dalai Lama and ample time to cultivate the active love he exemplifies, and reflections like this every morning, to remind me why i’m here and keep that extra wind in my sails.
Back in the Himalayas
My bro Todd and i were set to join our pa-la for a trip to Tibet and Mongolia, from which we would’ve just now returned, had we not had to postpone the trip on account of the fact that the Chinese government (currently preoccupied with massacres of Tibetans), wouldn’t let us in — they closed the entire region of Tibet to foreign visitors. In the meantime, we’ve been facilitating discussion about the crackdowns at KN/DEVI, hosting nightly events packed with concerned global citizens, which, if nothing else, gives us all a chance to gather in a human response, and gives our Tibetan staff some small comfort. It’s hard to know if all the caring people in the world could change the course of the Beijing juggernaut, and honestly i’m skeptical, but… we do what we can, right?
While we were there, Todd inspired us to do some ambitious renovation. Fixing, sanding, painting, cleaning, and lots of good fun. We updated the menu with a few new dishes, too, and now KN is shining more brightly than she has in years (Thanks, Todd!). It’s a joy to see the place in full swing, and to see so many people enjoying it so much.
Having finished a several-month-long heroic push at KN, Dara has just begun another kind of adventure: a traditional three-month monsoon retreat at an international Buddhist women’s center just outside of Dharamshala. She’s all smiles to have some time to focus on the inner work. As am i! 🙂
An Auspicious Setback
And for those of you who have been asking for an update on our efforts to establish our new eco-campus for sustainable village development and service retreats, well, there’s much to tell. First, as you may know, we were offered land in the West Bengal hills (near Kalimpong, in the Darjeeling district). Well, what some generous humans giveth, some selfish humans taketh away: Starting late last fall, the whole region went up in political flames (not only figuratively) as a tiny minority of disgruntled and/or opportunistic Gurkhalis (ethnic Nepalis uprooted by generations of military service) revived a sometimes-violent (and always inconvenient) movement for an independent state. The stated rationale for Gurkhaland is sensible enough (Gurkhalis comprise the majority in the area, and the Bengal state government utterly neglects them, so let them rule themselves), but the methods of the movement tend to be both despotic and ineffectual (an unfortunate combination) and, because they’re as relentless as they are inept, the pain never ends. They keep the whole region locked down for weeks on end with forced shop closures, road closures, and heart closures. Very sad. And not particularly conducive to building a retreat center, by the way, especially when they expel all the “foreigners” now and again.
So, between the political chaos and the fact that we learned of a government plan to build a road right through the middle of the land we were offered, we put the Bengal project on hold indefinitely, packed our bags and headed back hOMe to Himachal Pradesh. And, as life goes, this is turning out to be much for the better, as it has given us the opportunity to stumble upon an even more appealing prospect in the tiny, quiet Himalayan town of Bir, just 2-3 hours east-southeast of Dharamshala by road. You’ve seen Bir if you’ve watched Khyentse Norbu’s excellent film, The Cup, which insightfully conveys some of the quirky idyll of Bir. And Khyentse Rinpoche’s Deer Park Institute is a mighty magnet for world-class teachers of Indian wisdom traditions.
In short, we’re still on the road to build the Dharmalaya Institute, but now 1000 or so miles to the west and a fruitful year or two later. A delightful little team of angels has converged around the cause, and we’ve been looking at several pieces of land. We’ll keep looking a bit more in the fall, and around that time we imagine we’ll nab a piece and start slowly building this mud-brick-and-bamboo paradise. What will actually happen is of course anyone’s guess, but we’re pointing our prow in that direction. For inquiring minds, there’s more about the vision on the Dharmalaya website.
Meanwhile, i’m off to Geneva tomorrow to reconnect with our dear Swiss friends to explore the creation of an Earthville chapter in the land of yodels and strudels so we can build long, high bridges between the Alps and the Himalayas.
Sending love to all points on the compass…