Certainly Uncertain

Ka lynti ka kylluid
Ka mon ka laitluid
La me kwah ban long briew
Ne me kwah ban long ksuid

The path is wide, the will is free, whether you wish to be a human, or you wish to be a demon.

Mawphlang, 27 May 2020
They were playing outside their hut, and little Daphi was dangling from her father’s arm. It had been pouring for days. The picturesque village of Madan Bitaw was gloomy beyond words, but still, the joy of a father and a daughter filled the atmosphere with an air of lightness. It rained incessantly, and the rumbling of clouds muffled some unmistakable omens. Suddenly they heard a massive thud and turned back to discover that a part of their house, was lying in the gorge below.
Beirut, 4 August 2020
Merged in himself, Zuhair was gliding his fingers through the piano. Initially, he did not notice that the clock was unusually jittery, and the small statue of Buddha on his table came to life with a sudden shudder. As the eerie movements continued for a few more seconds, he fell back on his musical mood and tried hard to ignore them. But soon, he failed not to see the curtains blowing up, and the room strewn with glasses with a bang and a dazzling light, only to be cursed to darkness right after.
If we struggle to go beyond the confines of certainty, we reach an elusive expectation of regularity. The rhythm of life that we have got used to over the years of going through the ruts, with our repetitive thoughts, actions, and even dreams, gets a jolt when something unusual happens. It happens in imperceptible forms in our daily lives, but seldom does it take the shape of the present crisis humanity has been going through. The pandemic has made us stand in front of the precipice of uncertainty. With everything slipping from our hands, we are clenching our fists against anything floating by. Is it in anger or desperation? We do not know.
Heisenberg tells us that the basis of the universe is uncertainty at the micro-level. But still, even at the cosmological scale, Nature displays perfect regularity. As if it is testifying to an oxymoron! Being the conscious centres of it, we have an immense opportunity to explore the mysteries and to find ways through the mire of incongruence – an incongruence that bewilders us.
Standing in front of the yawning chasm of death we wonder what this inchoate life means. We turn our eyes inwards, and as we go towards the centre of the revolving wheel, we start discovering a peace that permeates all our actions. We open our eyes, wondering how we missed the underlying symphony in a world full of apparent discord and in this flux of events, we learn to hold on to the stream that flows steadily through us.
Tip briew, tip blei. To understand man is to understand the Great Divinity beyond. The One who is beyond the world of sorrow and uncertainty.

Does Humanity Have a Future?:The Need for a Philosophy of Universal Acceptance

Jeffery D. Long
With each passing day, it seems that our world becomes a more dangerous and frightening place. There is of course the coronavirus, as well as the wider environmental crisis that has given rise to it. And then there are conflicts between human beings of different religions, nationalities, and ethnic groups. One may be tempted to ask if humanity has a future, given all of these many, very serious problems that we all face. One might even go further and ask if humanity deserves to have a future, given that we have ourselves created the problems that we are experiencing. For young people, especially, who did not create these problems, but are inheriting problems that are the result of poor decision making by older generations, the issue of survival is particularly urgent.


Yet, in the midst of all of these problems, we see cause for hope. The coronavirus is a very serious issue, but, like all the diseases that have ravaged humanity in the past, it will one day be cured or managed. While our environmental issues are also quite grave, there are also innovative technologies being developed and new ways of organizing ourselves economically that are being imagined which have the potential to show the way out of this dire situation. And in the midst of even the worst conflicts across communities, one finds pockets of sanity, in which members of one community will rescue members of the other community from the violence that threatens them. In my own country, the United States, where there are, as I am writing this, massive protests against racism and violence carried out by the police, there are also police who support these protests, so long as they are peaceful, and who themselves wish to see a society free from racial prejudice.
There is reason for hope because, if human beings have created the problems that we now face, it is also human beings who will develop the means for solving them. We are a species with great potential both for creation and for destruction. We have been tremendously destructive, but have also been tremendously creative as well. It is our positive creativity, which, in the Vedanta tradition is seen to be a manifestation of our inner divinity, that has the ability to save the day.
Focusing specifically on conflict across belief systems and ethnic and national groups, two of the greatest visionaries of history, who had the capacity to perceive how we might all learn to co-exist, were Swami Vivekananda, and his teacher, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
Swami Vivekananda, or Swamiji, who was the first Indian spiritual teacher to travel to the Western world in the modern era to share the wisdom of Vedanta with Americans and Europeans, taught a vision of what he called “universal acceptance.” In his famous welcome address, given at the World Parliament of Religions, which was held in Chicago in 1893, he proclaimed his pride in belonging “to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.”1
Two important things need to be noted about Swami Vivekananda’s teaching of universal acceptance. First, there is the distinction between acceptance and tolerance. Secondly, there is the question of what it means to accept all religions as true.
I have asked my students on many occasions, “If your friend, or a beloved family member, said to you today, ‘I tolerate you, ’ how would you feel?” Tolerance is, of course, much better than intolerance. If someone is intolerant, it means that they cannot even stand our existence. They are so hostile to us–perhaps because of our beliefs, or our appearance, or our language, or our ethnic origin–that they truly wish that we did not exist. They cannot tolerate the fact that there are people who are different from themselves.
But tolerance is not the highest ideal to which we can aspire. If we are tolerated, it is as if we are merely being allowed to exist. It does not mean that our existence is a cause for rejoicing. It is more like the person who tolerates us would rather we were not there, but they are not going to act on that feeling. Swamiji understood this very well. He said, in another one of his lectures, “Why should I tolerate? Toleration means that I think that you are wrong and I am just allowing you to live. Is it not a blasphemy to think that you and I are allowing others to live?”2 Who am I, and who are you, to say that one person or another deserves to live, or does not deserve to live?
Tolerance, again, is better than intolerance. It is certainly much better to ‘allow’ people to live than not to allow them to live: to murder them. But even this sense of ‘allowing’ another to live falls far short of the highest ideal which we are capable of achieving. Can we not do something more than not murdering others? What is this ideal? This is the ideal which Swami Vivekananda calls acceptance, saying, “I believe in acceptance.”3
What does acceptance mean? Swamiji elaborates upon it as follows:
I accept all religions that were in the past, and worship with them all; I worship God with every one of them, in whatever form they worship Him. I shall go to the mosque…I shall enter the Christian’s church and kneel before the crucifix; I shall enter the Buddhistic temple, where I shall take refuge in Buddha and in his Law. I shall go into the forest and sit down in meditation with the Hindu, who is trying to see the Light which enlightens the heart of every one. Not only shall I do all these, but I shall keep my heart open for all that may come in the future.”4
Acceptance, particularly in regard to different religions, involves seeing different paths not as rival ways of being with which one is in competition, but as many paths to the same ultimate goal. This is rooted in the teaching of Swami Vivekananda’s guru, Sri Ramakrishna, who himself practiced a wide array of spiritual disciplines, drawing from many diverse traditions, and found that each of the paths that he followed led to the experience of samādhī, or absorption in the divine:
I have practiced…all religions–Hinduism, Islam, Christianity–and I have also followed the paths of the different Hindu sects. I have found that it is the same God toward whom all are directing their steps, though along different paths…Wherever I look, I see men quarrelling in the name of religion…But they never reflect that He who is called Krishna is also called Śiva, and bears the name of the Primal Energy, Jesus, and Āllāh as well–the same Rāma with a thousand names.5
How is it possible, though, to accept many paths as true, given the real differences amongst the world’s religions? Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains, for example, believe in rebirth, while in the Christian and Islamic traditions, this idea is denied. How can both understandings be true?
Universal acceptance does not mean that one necessarily must believe everything taught in every religion. This is clearly not possible, given the contradictions among religious worldviews. It does mean, though, that one is open to the particular perspective on truth which a given religion expresses. Each religion captures a different aspect of reality, much like the different parts of the elephant grasped by the various blind men in the famous Indian metaphor of the blind men and the elephant. The important thing, according to Sri Ramakrishna, is that the practice of any religion can be effective in helping one advance toward God realization. This does not mean the religion has to be true in every single respect, but that its core values and its basic orientation toward infinite Reality enable the practitioner to be transformed: to overcome ego and to realize the true, divine Self within.
Does humanity have a future? This will depend on our choices, in the present moment and in the years to come. We need to reduce our greed and attachment to material comfort and work for an ecological state in which all beings, and not only human beings, can thrive and flourish. We need to change many of our habits, and move from a state of ego-centeredness, or even national-centeredness (which can be a mere extension of the ego), to a state of cosmic consciousness. And we need to see one another’s religions and perspectives as alternate paths, alternate views of reality from which we can learn, and ways to realization in their own right, and not as rivals.
If the philosophy of universal acceptance taught by Swami Vivekananda–and lived out to its fullest extent by Sri Ramakrishna, with his practice of many paths–were to be widely adopted worldwide, then there would be good reason to hope for the future of humanity and a peaceful world.
References
Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works, Volume One (Mayavati: Advaita Ashrama, 1979).
Swami Nikhilananda, trans. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (New York: Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center, 1942).

Jeffery D. Long is a religious studies scholar who works on the religions and philosophies of India, particularly Hinduism and Jainism. He is a professor of religion and Asian studies at Elizabethtown College.
Dr. Long is associated with the Vedanta Society, DĀNAM (the Dharma Academy of North America). A major theme of his work is religious pluralism. Dr. Long has authored several books.

How the Dog Came to live with Man (A Khasi Folk-tale)

Illustrations: Dr Bhogtoram Mawroh

In the happy olden days, when the animals lived together at peace in the forest, they used to hold fairs and markets after the manner of mankind. The most important fair of all was called “Ka Iew Luri Lura”(the Fair of Luri Lura), which was held at stated intervals in the Bhoi (forest) country. Thither gathered all the animals, each one bringing some article of merchandise, according to the decree which demanded that every animal that came to the fair should bring something to sell. No matter whether he was young or old, rich or poor, no one was to come empty-handed, for they wanted to enhance the popularity of the market. U Khla, the tiger, was appointed governor of the fair.
Man was excluded from these fairs as he was looked upon as an enemy. He used to hunt the animals with his bow and arrows, so they had ceased to fraternise with him and kept out of his way. But one day the dog left his own kindred in the jungle, and became the attendant of Man. The following story tells how that came to pass.
One day U Ksew, the dog, walked abroad in search of goods to sell at the fair. The other animals were thrifty and industrious, they worked to produce their merchandise, but the dog, being of an indolent nature, did not like to work, though he was very desirous to go to the fair. So, to avoid the censure of his neighbours and the punishment of the governor of the fair, he set out in search of something he could get without much labour to himself. He trudged about the country all day, inquiring at many villages, but when evening-time came he had not succeeded in purchasing any suitable goods, and he began to fear that he would have to forgo the pleasure of attending the fair after all.
Just as the sun was setting he found himself on the outskirts of Saddew village, on the slopes of the Shillong Mountain, and as he sniffed the air he became aware of a strong and peculiar odour, which he guessed came from some cooked food. Being hungry after his long tramp, he pushed his way forward, following the scent till he came to a house right in the middle of the village, where he saw the family at dinner, which he noticed they were eating with evident relish. The dinner consisted of fermented Khasi beans, known as ktung rymbai, from which the strong smell emanated.
The Khasis are naturally a very cordial and hospitable people, and when the good wife of the house saw the dog standing outside looking wistfully at them she invited him to partake of what food there was left in the pot. U Ksew thankfully accepted, and by reason of his great hunger he ate heartily, regardless of the strange flavour and smell of the food, and he considered the ktung rymbai very palatable.
It dawned on him that here, quite by accident, he had found a novel and marketable produce to take to the fair; and it happened that the kindly family who had entertained him had a quantity of the stuff for sale which they kept in earthen jars, sealed with clay to retain its flavour. After a little palaver according to custom, a bargain was struck, and U Ksew became the owner of one good-sized jar of ktung rymbai, which he cheerfully took on his back. He made his way across the hills to Luri Lura fair, chuckling to himself as he anticipated the sensation he would create and the profits he would gain, and the praise he would win for being so enterprising.
On the way he encountered many of the animals who like himself were all going to Luri Lura, and carrying merchandise on their backs to sell at the fair: to them U Ksew boasted of the wonderful food he had discovered and was bringing with him to the market in the earthen jar under the clay seal. He talked so much about it that the contents of the earthen jar became the general topic of conversation between the animals, for never had such an article been known at Luri Lura.
When he arrived at the fair the dog walked in with great consequence, and installed himself and his earthen jar in the most central place with much clatter and ostentation. Then he began to shout at the top of his voice, “Come and buy my good food, ”and what with his boastings on the road and the noise he made at the fair, a very large company gathered round him, stretching their necks to have a glimpse at the strange-looking jar, and burning with curiosity to see the much-advertised contents.
U Ksew, with great importance, proceeded to uncover the jar; but as soon as he broke the clay seal a puff of the most unsavoury and fœtid odour issued forth and drove all the animals scrambling to a safe distance, much to the dog’s discomfiture and the merriment of the crowd. They hooted and jeered, and made all sorts of disparaging remarks till U Ksew felt himself covered with shame.
The stag pushed forward, and to show his disdain he contemptuously kicked the earthen jar till it broke. This increased the laughter and the jeering, and more of the animals came forward, and they began to trample the ktung rymbai in the mud, taking no notice of the protestations of U Ksew, who felt himself very unjustly treated.
He went to U Khla, the governor of the fair, to ask for redress, but here again he was met with ridicule and scorn, and told that he deserved all the treatment he had received for filling the market-place with such a stench.
At last U Ksew’s patience wore out, he grew snappish and angry, and with loud barks and snarls he began to curse the animals with many curses, threatening to be avenged upon them all some day. At the time no one heeded his curses and threats, for the dog was but a contemptible animal in their estimation, and it was not thought possible for him to work much harm. Yet even on that day a part of his curse came true, for the animals found to their dismay that the smell of the ktung rymbai clung to their paws and their hoofs, and could not be obliterated; so the laughter was not all on their side.
Humiliated and angry, the dog determined to leave the fair and the forest and his own tribe, and to seek more congenial surroundings; so he went away from Luri Lura, never to return, and came once more to Saddew village, to the house of the family from whom he had bought the offending food. When the master of the house heard the story of the ill-treatment he had suffered from the animals, he pitied U Ksew, and he also considered that the insults touched himself as well as the dog, inasmuch as it was he who had prepared and sold the ktung rymbai. So he spoke consolingly to U Ksew and patted his head and told him to remain in the village with him, and that he would protect him and help him to avenge his wrongs upon the animals.
After the coming of the dog, Man became a very successful hunter, for the dog, who always accompanied him when he went out to hunt, was able to follow the trail of the animals by the smell of the ktung rymbai, which adhered to their feet. Thus the animals lived to rue the day when they played their foolish pranks on U Ksew and his earthen jar at the fair of Luri Lura.
Man, having other occupations, could not always go abroad to the jungle to hunt; so in order to secure a supply of meat for himself during the non-hunting seasons he tamed pigs and kept them at hand in the village. When the dog came he shared the dwelling and the meals of the pig, U Sniang; they spent their days in idleness, living on the bounty of Man.
One evening, as Man was returning from his field, tired with the day’s toil, he noticed the two idle animals and he said to himself—“It is very foolish of me to do all the hard work myself while these two well-fed creatures are lying idle. They ought to take a turn at doing some work for their food.”
The following morning Man commanded the two animals to go to the field to plough in his stead. When they arrived there U Sniang, in obedience to his master’s orders, began to dig with his snout, and by nightfall had managed to furrow quite a large patch of the field; but U Ksew, according to his indolent habits, did no work at all. He lay in the shade all day, or amused himself by snapping at the flies. In the evening, when it was time to go home, he would start running backwards and forwards over the furrows, much to the annoyance of the pig.
The same thing happened for many days in succession, till the patience of the pig was exhausted, and on their return from the field one evening he went and informed their master of the conduct of the dog, how he was idling the whole day and leaving all the work for him to do.
The master was loth to believe these charges against U Ksew, whom he had found such an active and willing helper in the chase: he therefore determined to go and examine the field. When he came there he found only a few of the footprints of the pig, while those of the dog were all over the furrows. He at once concluded that U Sniang had falsely charged his friend, and he was exceedingly wroth with him.
When he came home, Man called the two animals to him, and he spoke very angrily to U Sniang, and told him that henceforth he would have to live in a little sty by himself, and to eat only the refuse from Man’s table and other common food, as a punishment for making false charges against his friend; but the dog would be privileged to live in the house with his master, and to share the food of his master’s family.
Thus it was that the dog came to live with Man.
Bhogtoram Mawroh is a freelance Cartoonist and Artist. He works as Senior Associate, Research and Knowledge Management at North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society


Man was excluded from these fairs as he was looked upon as an enemy. He used to hunt the animals with his bow and arrows, so they had ceased to fraternise with him and kept out of his way. But one day the dog left his own kindred in the jungle, and became the attendant of Man. The following story tells how that came to pass.
One day U Ksew, the dog, walked abroad in search of goods to sell at the fair. The other animals were thrifty and industrious, they worked to produce their merchandise, but the dog, being of an indolent nature, did not like to work, though he was very desirous to go to the fair. So, to avoid the censure of his neighbours and the punishment of the governor of the fair, he set out in search of something he could get without much labour to himself. He trudged about the country all day,
inquiring at many villages, but when evening-time came he had not succeeded in purchasing any suitable goods, and he began to fear that he would have to forgo the pleasure of attending the fair after all.
Just as the sun was setting he found himself on the outskirts of Saddew village, on the slopes of the Shillong Mountain, and as he sniffed the air he became aware of a strong and peculiar odour, which he guessed came from some cooked food. Being hungry after his long tramp, he pushed his way forward, following the scent till he came to a house right in the middle of the village, where he saw the family at dinner, which he noticed they were eating with evident relish. The dinner consisted of fermented Khasi beans, known as ktung rymbai, from which the strong smell emanated.
The Khasis are naturally a very cordial and hospitable people, and when the good wife of the house saw the dog standing outside looking
wistfully at them she invited him to partake of what food there was left in the pot. U Ksew thankfully accepted, and by reason of his great hunger he ate heartily, regardless of the strange flavour and smell of the food, and he considered the ktung rymbai very palatable.
It dawned on him that here, quite by accident, he had found a novel and marketable produce to take to the fair; and it happened that the kindly family who had entertained him had a quantity of the stuff for sale which they kept in earthen jars, sealed with clay to retain its flavour. After a little palaver according to custom, a bargain was struck, and U Ksew became the owner of one good-sized jar of ktung rymbai, which he cheerfully took on his back. He made his way across the hills to Luri Lura fair, chuckling to himself as he anticipated the sensation he would create and the profits he would gain, and the praise he would win for being so enterprising.


On the way he encountered many of the animals who like himself were all going to Luri Lura, and
carrying merchandise on their backs to sell at the fair: to them U Ksew boasted of the wonderful food he had discovered and was bringing with him to the market in the earthen jar under the clay seal. He talked so much about it that the contents of the earthen jar became the general topic of conversation between the animals, for never had such an article been known at Luri Lura.
When he arrived at the fair the dog walked in with great consequence, and installed himself and his earthen jar in the most central place with much clatter and ostentation. Then he began to shout at the top of his voice, “Come and buy my good food, ”and what with his boastings on the road and the noise he made at the fair, a very large company gathered round him, stretching their necks to have
a glimpse at the strange-looking jar, and burning with curiosity to see the much-advertised contents.
U Ksew, with great importance, proceeded to uncover the jar; but as soon as he broke the clay seal a puff of the most unsavoury and fœtid odour issued forth and drove all the animals scrambling to a safe distance, much to the dog’s discomfiture and the merriment of the crowd. They hooted and jeered, and made all sorts of disparaging remarks till U Ksew felt himself covered with shame.
The stag pushed forward, and to show his disdain he contemptuously kicked the earthen jar till it broke. This increased the laughter and the jeering, and more of the animals came forward, and they began to trample the ktung rymbai in the mud, taking no notice of the protestations of U Ksew, who felt himself very unjustly treated.


He went to U Khla, the governor of the fair, to ask for redress, but here again he was met with ridicule and scorn, and told that he deserved all the treatment he had received for filling the market.
At last U Ksew’s patience wore out, he grew snappish and angry, and with loud barks and snarls he began to curse the animals with many curses, threatening to be avenged upon them all some day. At the time no one heeded his curses and threats, for the dog was but a contemptible animal in their estimation, and it was not thought possible for him to work much harm. Yet even on that day a part of his curse came true, for the animals found to their dismay that the smell of the ktung rymbai clung to their paws and their hoofs, and could not be obliterated; so the laughter was not all on their side.


Humiliated and angry, the dog determined to leave the fair and the forest and his own tribe, and to seek more congenial surroundings; so he went away from Luri Lura, never to return, and came once more to Saddew village, to the house of the family from whom he had bought the offending food. When the master of the house heard the story of the ill-treatment he had suffered from the animals, he pitied U Ksew, and he also considered that the insults touched himself as well as the dog, inasmuch as it was he who had prepared and sold the ktung rymbai. So he spoke consolingly to U Ksew and patted his head and told him to remain in the village with him, and that he would protect him and help him to avenge his wrongs upon the animals.
After the coming of the dog, Man became a very successful hunter, for the dog, who always accompanied him when he went out to hunt, was able to follow the trail of the animals by the smell of the ktung rymbai, which adhered to their feet. Thus the animals lived to rue the day when they played their foolish pranks on U Ksew and his earthen jar at the fair of Luri Lura.
Man, having other occupations, could not always go abroad to the jungle to hunt; so in order to secure a supply of meat for himself during the non-hunting seasons he tamed pigs and kept them at hand in the village. When the dog came he shared the dwelling and the meals of the pig, U Sniang; they spent their days in idleness, living on the bounty of Man.
One evening, as Man was returning from his field, tired with the day’s toil, he noticed the two idle animals and he said to himself—“It is very foolish of me to do all the hard work myself while these two well-fed creatures are lying idle. They ought to take a turn at doing some work for their food.”
The following morning Man commanded the two animals to go to the field to plough in his stead. When they arrived there U Sniang, in obedience to his master’s orders, began to dig with his snout, and by nightfall had managed to furrow quite a large patch of the field; but U Ksew, according to his indolent habits, did no work at all. He lay in the shade all day, or amused himself by snapping at the
flies. In the evening, when it was time to go home, he would start running backwards and forwards over the furrows, much to the annoyance of the pig.
The same thing happened for many days in succession, till the patience of the pig was exhausted, and on their return from the field one evening he went and informed their master of the conduct of the dog, how he was idling the whole day and leaving all the work for him to do.
The master was loth to believe these charges against U Ksew, whom he had found such an active and willing helper in the chase: he therefore determined to go and examine the field. When he came there he found only a few of the footprints of the pig, while those of the dog were all over the furrows. He at once concluded that U Sniang had falsely charged his friend, and he was exceedingly wroth with him.
When he came home, Man called the two animals to him, and he spoke very angrily to U Sniang, and told him that henceforth he would have to live in a little sty by himself, and to eat only the refuse from Man’s table and other common food, as a punishment for making false charges against his friend; but the dog would be privileged to live in the house with his master, and to share the food of his master’s family.
Thus it was that the dog came to live with Man.
Bhogtoram Mawroh is a freelance Cartoonist and Artist. He works as Senior Associate, Research and Knowledge Management at North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society.

O Gangamayi

O Gangamayi, Supreme Queen
Bhagirathi,
You cardled me under your spell;
wrapped under the lustrous blanket of stars,
with cushions of eternal snow,
in your divine abode of the
Himalayas, beyond the reaches of fears and doubts
you granted me the first glances into your golden orb.
Dispelling the mind waverings forever
with the playful splashes of your roaring torrents, you whispered the mysteries of your words of power.
Since, you have sent me forth with your magical force of invisible winds,
and made me the witness of the veilings and unveilings of your creation.

A Vedantist in Ireland 

Karl Whitmarsh

Saturday, March 28, 2020 

I can hear the church bells ring for noontime Angelus from our house in Connemara.  They are a reminder to repeat a prayer: 

The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, 
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. 

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art Thou . . . 

Now and at the hour of our death. 

The Divine Mother everywhere is the remover of obstacles and affliction.  But in Ireland we pray to Mary in particular to intercede with Jesus her son and with God the Father in times of distress.  If there has ever been a time to ask for her help, it is during this Covid-19 pandemic, for those who are sick or facing destitution or otherwise in fear. 

The bells of this Catholic church are virtual. Their machine-generated tones, broadcast from loudspeakers, reverberate over the unnaturally still streets of the village. 

The following day (Sunday) 

Only one or two parishioners are allowed inside the Catholic church to assist the priest for Mass. I am not one of them. 

But I can see the priest in my mind’s eye.  I can hear him repeat Christ’s words, ‘Do this in memory of me.’ And I ask – is it merely memory?  Is not the Last Supper being recreated at this moment?  Does not the remembrance by even a single worshipper usher the Lord’s Lila into existence? 

Meditating on the Eucharist through the lens of the Gita, we understand the Mass as the eternal sacrifice.  The sacramental host, the act of its offering, he who consecrates the host in the inner flame of his being – if you realize the Divine in each of these, you will reach the Divine. 

Meanwhile – the little village where I live has eight rumored cases of Covid-19, which, relative to its tiny size, implies an astronomical rate of infection. Naturally people here are fearful.  They accept lockdown without reservation.  As recent arrivals from abroad, my wife and I are more restricted than the other villagers – we may not enter shops or any public building.  

Sunday, April 26, 2020 

Now the church is live-streaming Mass with an iPhone for camera. It is reassuring to watch, to picture myself there, though the priest sings off key and his words are difficult to make out as they echo across the near-empty cavern of the church. 

A month ago the villagers were just afraid of the virus.  Now they are restless to boot. Emotions are raw and ever on the verge of multiplying like uncontrollable audio feedback. Still, these Irish are practical people. In their hearts they are calm, they view the pandemic as one more passing thing.  Life will return to the old ways sooner or later.  Shops and pubs will reopen, crowds will watch the Galway races elbow-to-elbow, and churches will fill up on the major feast days. This is a conservative place where tradition dies hard, if it ever dies at all. Famines and wars have devastated this part of Ireland, forcing half the population to emigrate and decimating the rest.  Those who remained passed down to their descendants a stubborn identity as Catholic Connemara Irish. 

For seven centuries, the English colonial rulers suppressed the native Irish and their Catholic religion.  They starved the populace, reduced it to serfdom, burned its churches and banished or killed its priests. They cynically offered conversion to Protestantism as a way up and out for those who would repudiate their Catholic faith – but few accepted the offer. Instead, mistreatment by the English bound the Irish forever more tightly to their church. 

But he Catholic church in Ireland isn’t what it used to be.  I think for Irish society at large that is actually a good thing.  Years of unjust persecution conferred immense moral authority on the Irish Catholic church. Subsequent years of arrogance and complacency have effectively squandered that authority.  The Church has slid increasingly into irrelevance, causing pews to empty out, vocations to thin, and young people to tell the reporters from Irish Television that the Church means nothing to them.   

But you wouldn’t know it out here in the country.  Most people here identify themselves with a parish – there are several in the area – and go to Mass at least monthly.  Though no longer its unrivalled heart, the parish church remans a vital organ of the community. 

Catholicism is the de facto religion of the west of Ireland to a degree unimaginable to most twenty-first century Americans.  Newspapers and radio stations keep their audiences up to date with local parish services and holy day activities, and host opinion columns by local clergy.  In the shops you will find cards for novenas and Holy Communion mixed in with the birthday cards. The ubiquitous Catholic ‘national’ schools are funded by the State. 

A half block up the main street is another church in my village – the Church of Ireland, as the Anglican Church in Ireland is called.  All over the Republic, the Church of Ireland is struggling, because Protestants are nowadays few, less than one in twenty among the populace.  Also, Protestantism is a reminder of the English occupation, though the Irish for the most part no longer bear any ill will toward the English. Once upon a time this was the established church in Ireland, meaning that all Irish, including the Catholic majority, had to tithe in its support.  Two hundred years ago on any Sunday morning this little church would be filled with dozens of soldiers from the local British garrison, their bright scarlet uniforms standing out among the plainer clothes of the local landowners and merchants.  Now the church is lucky to have a dozen souls in attendance on a given Sunday.  But those who attend are committed.  The silver lining in the decline of organized religion is that the parishioners who would come to church mainly to be seen have fallen away. Only the dedicated are left in the nearly empty pews. 

This is the church I look forward to attending regularly when services are allowed to resume. Its small but ardent numbers call to mind the words of Jesus: ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’  

. . . . . . . . . . 

I was profoundly touched on reading a conversation between Swami Ramakrishnananda and an Irish monk who had converted to Buddhism, disavowing the Catholic faith in which he was raised.  To the monk Swami said, ‘God can be attained through all paths. You could have got liberation by following your own religion.  You have made a blunder by giving up your own [Catholic] religion and accepting another.’  For the swami, the monk’s blunder lay not in his embracing of Buddhism, but in his rejection of his native religion, where everything he would need to realize God was already at hand.  

It would be splendid to see a Vedanta Society grow up in the west of Ireland, bringing to light in this region the teachings of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, all the while seen as a unity with the traditional Catholic faith. There already are wonderful spiritual riches all about here – people here only need to be awakened to them.  If Vedanta can be propagated in such a way as to breathe new life into the ancient Catholic traditions, it will surely catch fire among the latent Irish spiritual seekers now disaffected from their country’s religious past.  

Every Indian child growing up is exposed to the stories and myths surrounding such divine figures as Krishna and Rama.  The Irish too have access to a vast treasury of spiritual legends, made tangible in the stone crosses, holy wells and monastic ruins from Ireland’s glorious past.  I will mention just two places of pilgrimage near where I live that I am fond of visiting: Balintubber and Knock. 

Across the lake from my village and some miles to the north is Ballintubber Abbey, where Mass has been said without interruption for eight hundred years.  Norman invaders burned the Abbey in the 13th century, English kings further suppressed it, and Cromwell’s soldiers burned down the Abbey roof and surrounding buildings in 1653 – but the Abbey walls remained standing, and Mass continued to be celebrated in the apse of the church.  A short walk from the Abbey is St. Patrick’s well, where the legendary fifth-century patron saint of Ireland is said to have baptized his converts (and from which Balintubber, “village of the well”, gets its name).  A nearby stone is said to bear the imprint of the saint’s knee. 

Balintubber Abbey, restored 

Several times each year, beginning on Easter Monday, pilgrims assemble here to walk an ancient 22-mile route known as Tóchar Phádraig, or St. Patrick’s Causeway.  Their destination is Croagh Patrick, the sacred mountain on whose summit the great founder saint of Ireland fasted for forty days in 441 AD.  The priest leading the walk is in high spirits as he points out dozens of spots along the way, each with a story of its own.  There is, for example, the ‘Dancora’ (bath of the righteous) where medieval pilgrims, in ritual expression of being cleansed of sin, washed after their pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick before their return home. Hot stones kept the water in the Dancora warm. 

Ruins of Balintubber Abbey 

It is said that when St. Patrick ended his fast on the mountain summit, he threw a silver bell down the mountain knocking Corra, the mother of all demons, out of the sky and into Lough Nacorra where she drowned. He then banished all the snakes in Ireland into the sea. Some believe that snakes were regarded as symbols of the druids, the high priests of the pre-Christian Celts.   

There is no paved path up the steep mountain, only sand, mud, rocks and gravel.  In days gone by the especially devout would sometimes climb the mountain on their knees.  Halfway up the mountain is a cairn of rocks, atop which you will find a small informal shrine.  Coming close you will see it is devoted to the twentieth-century Italian saint Padre Pio, who was known for his extreme piety and service to the sick, and for the stigmata which he tried to conceal but could not, much to the consternation of his superiors in the Church. 

Twenty miles to the northeast of Ballintubber is Knock, where in 1879 fifteen villagers had a vision of Mother Mary on the outer wall of their parish church.  Wearing a crown and dressed in white, she was flanked by the Lamb of God, Saint Joseph and St. John the Evangelist.  For two hours the villagers were transfixed by the vision as they recited their rosary on bended knee.  When Pope John Paul II visited Knock to celebrate Mass one hundred years later, he was greeted by a throng of nearly half a million – about one in ten inhabitants of the country. 

Pilgrims at the Knock Shrine in the 19th century 

Over the years Knock has become a major center of pilgrimage, with a modern basilica that dwarfs the original parish church. It even has its own airport. Nonetheless, in the off-season Knock can be surprisingly quiet and intimate.   

On one of my visits to the town I was graced with the company of an American sannyasin, who toured the site enthusiastically.  Naturally outgoing and spontaneous, he entered into spirited conversation with one of the many shopkeepers along the main street that sold statues and other memorabilia of the Shrine.  I was skeptical that such a shopkeeper would have any interest in a place of pilgrimage beyond the purely mercantile.  But how delighted I was when our swami emerged with several mementoes of Padre Pio presented to him as gifts.  The shopkeeper was in fact a sincere devotee of Padre Pio and a devout Christian – as doubtless are countless other merchants and hoteliers at pilgrim centers, grateful for the privilege of dwelling and making their living in a holy place. 

St. John The Evangelist, Mother Mary, St. Joseph, and the Lamb of God surrounded by angels 

John Curry (d. 1943), last living witness of the apparition 

Mother Teresa visiting the Shrine 

Friday, May 29, 2020 

Walking home the other day from the village, we noticed the front entrance to the Catholic church was open. Almost on tiptoe we approached and opened the inner door.  The apse was empty and still, save for three or four votive candles burning near the main altar.  We sat and prayed and meditated awhile.  It had been two months since we had last been inside of a place of worship – how cooling was the relief we felt, how soothing the knowledge that we could come back again to sit where the Lord was especially manifest. 

Saturday, June 19, 2020 

The lockdown continues to lift. We expect services to resume in our Church of Ireland Sunday after next.  It will be joyful to see again the little band of parishioners whose acquaintance we had just begun to make earlier this year. The Catholic church in the village has been raising funds for, among other things, repair of the church bells so that we can hear their living musical tones once again. Yet the church will not be able to resume its services for some time in order to respect social distancing. And when it does, how soon will the choir sing together again? When will congregants join together again in the body and blood of Christ?  

Nowadays the word ‘together’ evokes hope and fear and anxious caution.  The realization is dawning on us all that even after the pandemic has become a distant memory, its impact on our lives will be lasting and disruptive. Things cannot and will not go back to as they were before.  

Old forms are dissipating, new forms are in creation, yet the Divine and our relation to Him stay the same, at all times and in every place. 

The Crystal Award 2021

s.

The Crystal Award 2021 for excellence in art hosted at Raj Bhavan was conferred by the Governor of Meghalaya Shri Satyapal Malik to Mr Wanhi-i Challam of Chilliang Raij, Jowai at Raj Bhavan today the 12 of August, 2021. The fourth edition of award instituted by Riti Academy was awarded to Wanhi-i Challam for his excellence in animation film. Speaking as chief guest during the occasion, Shri Satya Pal Malik, Governor of Meghalaya emphasised on the need for art education in the state for graduate, post graduate courses and advanced studies in visual arts. he lauded the efforts of Riti Academy and urged upon the State government to provide necessary support in this regard. Other guests who spoke on the occasion included Commissioner & Secretary, Arts And Culture Department, Federick R Kharkongor, and Chief Art Director, Riti Academy of Visual Arts, Mr Raphael Warjri. The Commissioner & Secretary, Arts And Culture Department, Federick R Kharkongor, also lauded the Chief Art Director of Riti Academy, Raphael Warjri for his continued efforts in not only promoting art but also identifying and nurturing upcoming artists in the field. He reminded those present that art is immortal and lives beyond generations and praised the novel cause of Riti Academy that had instituted the Crystal Awards to celebrate the works of various upcoming artists across the State. The chief art director of Riti Academy, Raphael Warjri in his address expressed his gratitude to the Governor of Meghalaya for having hosted the award ceremony at the raj bhavan, Shillong. Raphael Warjri further expressed his desire for an art college to be set up in the state as potential expertise and other prospects are available except for certain resources that would require the support from the State Government and other private initiatives and stakeholders

अर्णव के कुंडलिया छंद

१। जन्म मन से पूरे हों वचन, तब जीवन का सार।
जीवन के कुरुक्षेत्र में, संयम का आधार।।
संयम का आधार, करे इच्छा सब पूरी।
मन से मन का नेह, हटा देता सब दूरी।।
मर्यादा के राम, बने जाकर हैं वन से।
अच्छे हों जब कर्म, लोग अच्छे हों मन से।।
२। कैसे उदघाटित करें, दुख में सारे सत्य।
दिखें आचरण में सदा, मानव के सब कृत्य।।
मानव के सब कृत्य, रखें कोशिश को जारी।
समझ सकें यदि गूढ़, भक्ति की महिमा न्यारी।।
गीत रचे अब भक्ति, नित्य स्वागत में जैसे।
दिशा बदल दे क्रोध, सहज निश्छल मन कैसे।।

‘मंजरी’ के आल्हा छंद

 Ben Mach from Pexels

भारत माँ की तुम हो शान
सिसोदिया राजवंश के राजा, भारत माँ की तुम हो शान।
राणा सांगा के पोते तुम, उदय सिंह के पुत्र महान।
सकुशल योद्धा भारत के तुम, बहादुरी के परम मिसाल।
वीर महाराणा प्रताप तुम, जयवंताबाई के लाल। ।
वीर-पुत्र पाकर तुझ जैसा, धन्य-धन्य है राजस्थान।
सिसोदिया राजवंश के राजा…।
देशभक्त तुम, शौर्यवान तुम, मातृभक्त दृढ़, शिष्ट उदार।
थर-थर शत्रु काँप थे जाते, जब तुम भरते थे हुंकार। ।
तेज सूर्य का फीका पड़ता, उन्नत करते जब तुम माथ।
अंबर भी नीचे झुक जाता, देख तुझे सेना के साथ। ।
तुझसे गर्वित देश हमारा, गाए तेरा ही गुणगान।
सिसोदिया राजवंश के राजा…
मुगलों से टक्कर ली तुमने, कभी नहीं मानी यूँ हार।
किए प्रबल युद्ध वीरता से, चमका कर अपनी तलवार।
गद्दारों की कर दी तुमने, रण कौशल से खट्टे दाँत।
भारी भरकम सेना पे तुम, करते रहे निरंतर घात।
युद्ध किए हल्दीघाटी में, बरबस अपने सीना तान।
सिसोदिया राजवंश के राजा…
पराक्रमी घोड़ा था चेतक, जिसपर तुम करते थे नाज।
जिसकी एक छलांग की करते, चर्चा सारा जग है आज।
आवाज़ आज तक गूँज रही है, सुनो पहाड़ी के उस पार।
गौर करो कोई बोल रहा है, -नीला घोड़ा रा असवार।
‘खोड़ी इमली’ लहर-लहर कर, गाती चेतक का जयगान।
सिसोदिया राजवंश के राजा…
जन्म-दिवस के शुभ अवसर पर, श्रद्धा मन में लिए अकूत।
आज प्रतिज्ञा हम लेते हैं, हे भारत के वीर सपूत !
भारत माँ के आन-बान का, सदा रखेंगे हम सब ख्याल।
दुश्मन आँख उठाए तो हम, बन जाएँगे उसके काल।
पड़े जरूरत अगर देश को, दे देंगे इसपर हम जान। ।
सिसोदिया राजवंश के राजा…

मंजु के कह-मुकरी

गुरू

१। उसकी महिमा सबसे न्यारी,
गोविन्द भी जायें बलिहारी,
शीश नवा कर ध्यान करूँ।
क्या सखि राधा ? ना गुरू।
२। खुद जलता जग रौशन करता,
ग्यान का दीपक उसमें जलता,
उसकी वाणी से सुबह शुरू।
क्या सखि पिता ? ना गुरू।
३। शंकाओं का समाधान दे,
सद्मार्ग का आत्मग्यान दे,
हाँथ जोड़ वंदन करूँ।
क्या सखि माता ? ना गुरू।

कृष्ण

१। जी करता नैनन में भर लूं,
बंद पलक फिर कभी न खोलूं,
मैं अपना दिल उस पर हारी।
ऐ सखि साजन ? ना गिरधारी।
२। वस्त्र छुपा देता वो मेरे,
पैरों पड़ती तब वो छोड़े,
बड़ा वो चंचल है चितचोर।
ऐ सखि साजन ? ना रणछोर।

Phan Nonglait (the First Khasi Lady Freedom Fighter)

Ka Phan Nonglait is among the few local ethnic conceptual painting based on historical narrative about the first among female freedom fighters from the region. Ka Phan Nonglait was an astute female warrior who fought alongside Tirot Sing Syiem.
Shanborlang Kharbudon ‘Sdenzil’ is a self-taught and accomplished artist of Shillong with creative nuances for design. He had designed several album cover and corporate merchandise for a wide range of purpose with clientele extending even to western countries. Some of his artworks depicted ethnic concept with contemporary applied skill, while others are trendy and universal yet original to his innovative style.