Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Barack Obama














It is easy for many of us to take for granted the second inauguration of President Obama today. The fact that this auspicious occasion happens to fall on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day underlines many reasons we should not. There is such satisfying symmetry in celebrating our black president’s reelection on this day.

Here in the U.S., there are four federal holidays honoring individual men. The other three so honored are of course George Washington, Christopher Columbus, and Jesus Christ. Imagine the conversation that might ensue should that celebrated foursome defy the boundaries of time and gather for a meal together. It is an interesting reflection of a country, with all our complexity and contradictions, to consider the heroes we collectively venerate.

Indeed President Obama’s ascent to the presidency, regardless of one’s personal political leanings, is a celebration of the conviction that race should not bar one from such office. However, Dr. King’s teachings on peace, his careful illumination of the path to end violence abroad and at home, is timely  – and as exceedingly difficult and PERSONAL today as it was then – or as it was centuries ago in the time of the Buddha.

May there be peace in our time, and may it begin in each of us.

*         *          *          *         *

Never does hatred cease by hating in return;

Only through love can hatred come to an end.

Victory breeds hatred; the conquered dwell in sorrow and resentment.

They who give up all thought of victory or defeat

may be calm and live happily at peace.

Let us overcome violence by gentleness.

Let us overcome evil by good.

Let us overcome the miserly by liberality.

Let us overcome the liar by truth.

~The Buddha, Dhammapada



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Om gung Ganapataye namaha!

In Vedic tradition, at the start of new undertakings it is customary to honor and invoke Ganesha, also known as Ganapati. Ganesha represents that energy or force that clears the way before us, removing any obstacles that may be in our path.

He is depicted as the elephant-headed god in the Hindu pantheon, a powerful force to be reckoned with, but also a gentle soul whose dear companion is a mouse. A scribe himself, he is especially fond of academic endeavors, so I invite him to smile brightly on our virtual gathering here and bestow his gifts of reliability, dedication and brilliance. May our studies be filled with light!

What Is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is commonly translated as “the science of life.” With such a broad scope, Ayurveda offers an incredibly diverse set of teachings on how to maintain longevity so that we can fulfill our dharma, the mission or purpose that we are called to serve on this planet.

Established in the region that is now India some time between 2000 and 5000 years ago (depending on which expert you consult), Ayurveda is the oldest continuously practiced health system still in use today. More than a regional set of practices, it is built upon a coherent cosmology and set of principles that underpins local variations observed in different areas.

The word Ayurveda comes from the roots ayuh, which means “life,” and veda, which means “science or knowledge.” As a health system, Ayurveda includes the knowledge not only of how to address illness or disease, but of how to live well.

“Ayurveda” is a Sanskrit word, an ancient language that is not in common usage anywhere today. It continues to be studied, however, because so many ancient wisdom practices are preserved in Sanskrit texts, including many meditation traditions, Yoga and Ayurveda.

Ayurveda offers guidance on many lifestyle practices including dietary choices, food preparation, herbal remedies, methods for detoxification, behaviors to attain desired outcomes, yogic practices, appropriate exercise, and much, much more.

In my next post, I’ll cover the incredibly important concept of the tridosha, one of the pillars of the Ayurveda system. Stay tuned! Use the “subscribe” button at the top right of this page to have future posts sent to your In Box.

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In my May Full Moon Newsletter, which came out last week, I mentioned that May Day conjures up images of maypoles and children frolicking among sweet new spring flowers.

Well, not a week later, I came upon the following scene at the American Botanical Council’s annual Herb Day.


I snapped this shot after the interweaving dance had progressed quite far, and the adults were having to bend down to weave under each other’s ribbons. Even clad in modern clothes, the image of this intergenerational group carrying out this ritual struck a timeless chord in me. I loved watching the two circles of people moving in opposite directions, passing each other over and over again, creating such a physical symbol of community connectedness. A mother carried her infant child, a couple of toddlers spun around the pole, one modest 13-year-old carefully tread her path, plus a few grandparents laughingly wove their way.

Meanwhile, in the background the good folks of the American Botanical Council (ABC) were selling small starts of local herbs for people to take home and plant. We were surrounded by their prolific and lovely teaching herb garden. I was fascinated to discover earlier this year that this national group is based right here in Austin. An independent nonprofit research and education organization dedicated to providing accurate and reliable information about medicinal plants, they produce a wonderful quarterly peer-reviewed perodical called HerbalGram with educational articles on herbs, including many Ayurvedic ones. ABC was a perfect setting to celebrate May and the gifts of the garden.

At the end of the maypole dance, what I had not anticipated was the final result – a beautiful basket-weave of ribbons covering the entire pole, a perfect testament to the beauty of our intricately overlapping lives.

I hope your spring is full of dancing and unexpected beauty!


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Ft. Kochi at sunset - until next time...

When our week in Fort Kochi was up, Emily and I reluctantly took the ferry back across the waterway to the train station and bid our sweet community goodbye. We had begun to feel like regulars in town, with people recognizing us on the street after seeing us in a store. We had found the most magnificent restaurant (called Oceanos, in case you find yourself in the neighborhood), and ended up going there almost every night (try the kerala red beans with pumpkin, or the okra coconut curry). Likewise, we found a sweet café a few doors down from our hotel and got to know the owner, Biju, after spending several mornings eating his wife’s and mother-in-law’s masala dosas while watching the pick-up cricket game in the field across the street. I expect we’ll be back someday.

Our next stop was Thrissur, about two hours north of Fort Kochi by train, and the hometown (or “native,” as they call it around here) of our dear teacher, Dr. Ramdas. His wife Lima met us at the train station and welcomed us into the house where Dr. Ramdas grew up and where his mother still lives – in fact, where he and Lima and their two children lived until three or four years ago when they came to Vaidyagrama. Their 2-year-old daughter, Rtu-parna, and 15-year-old son, Rithwick, are an integral part of the fabric of Vaidyagrama now.

Rithwick, his cousins, and Lima at a special birthday celebration dinner

Ostensibly we came to Thrissur for Pooram, an annual temple festival famous across India for its elaborate elephant procession; however, it was a joy for us just to be at Dr. Ramdas and Lima’s home in the midst of their family, which was gathering because of Pooram. Dr. Ramdas’s sister Radika and her husband were at the house, as were his niece and nephew from a different sister who couldn’t come. The nephew lives there full-time with Dr. Ramdas’s mother, which all adds up to a full house – and lots of incredible food. Radika and Lima are stupendous, mind-blowing chefs. It seemed we never stopped eating the whole time we were there – one meal would end and it would soon be time for another.

Pooram itself is a day long festival in which two temples hold a friendly competition. Each sends an emissary of about twenty decorated elephants to the square in front of the town’s main temple. Each elephant wears elaborate head ornaments and has three men mounted on top: one carries fans made of peacock feathers, another swings batons with plumes of white fur, and the third holds a brightly colored umbrella high above the elephant’s back.

At the climax of the festival, the two lines of elephants face off across a huge field packed with over 100,000 people, and to the sound of mad drumming, the umbrellas from one line of elephants are taken down and replaced with umbrellas of a different pattern or color. The crowd cheers and then it’s the other side’s turn to show off a new set of umbrellas. This goes on for hours: umbrellas exchanged for new ones, drums pounding and people cheering. I am not sure if there is ever an official winner, but everyone plays the judge of which temple had the better umbrellas. (I am certain it was the devi temple.)

Our guidebooks warned that Thrissur Pooram has become an enormous affair which some men might use as an excuse to “get intoxicated and grope women in the crowd.” The crowd did take on a certain feverish pitch, with the trance-inducing drums and the surges of cheers. I just love the fact that two temples competing on the basis of elephant fashion, one could say, inspires such reckless abandon and drunken revelry. What a wonderful reason for a display of passion. Only in India.

Auspiciously perhaps, that same day we went with Dr. Ramdas to pick up the new car he and Lima recently purchased (a Chevrolet Spirit from “Gee-yem Motors,” as the dealership sign read). We made a motley crew: Dr. Ramdas with his brother-in-law, his 2 year old daughter, and two white girls from New Mexico. After the final papers had been signed, the salesman escorted us outside and arranged us all for a photograph in front of the car. Then, according to custom, he placed a lemon in front of each tire and we rolled over them on our way out of the lot. No one knew the reason or origin of the custom, but it seems meant to ensure an auspicious future for the vehicle.

ShreeLakshmi, Rtu, Emily, me and Lima in our finest

The next morning we drove the car to the Guruvayur Temple, an important and enormous Krishna temple about an hour away, to hold a puja for the car. We awoke at 4 am in order to arrive at the temple by our 6 am appointment, and we all dressed up (Lima dressed Emily and me in her saris for the occasion). We stood outside the temple at sunrise as a priest conducted the ritual: he lit incense and chanted sacred words to invite safe and smooth travels, placed a garland of flowers across the car’s hood, dotted each window with sandalwood paste – and placed a lemon in front of each tire.

The Dhanvantari temple

From there, we drove on to one of only two Dhanvantari temples in southern India. When Dr. Ramdas completed his training as an Ayurvedic doctor twenty years ago, he and one of his classmates came to this temple and slept there for 21 days, paying homage to the god of healing to whom they were devoting their life’s work, eating only the prasad that visitors to the temple brought. Although usually only Hindus are permitted inside, Dr. Ramdas intervened on our behalf and we were welcomed in. It was a powerful experience. A relatively small temple, it holds a quiet calm that is reassuring and comforting. The Dhanvantari idol enclosed in the center shrine is completely covered in butter, the traditional sacrificial offering at this temple. We made offerings of our own and pictured Dr. Ramdas’s 21-day pilgrimage. To imagine we were walking in his footsteps for even a few minutes was an inspiration. We felt initiated.

The last day we were in Thrissur, we went to Lima’s parents’ home, about an hour away. We were excited in particular to see her mother, whom we had treated during our training a few months ago. She taught us how to make a traditional kerala dish, kind of a sandwich of sweet coconut meat in rice flour steamed in banana leaves. They live about two kilometers from the beach but apparently don’t go very often, so in our honor, we all piled in their small mini-van (along with some neighbor-relatives) and went. It was a beautiful beach, and Emily inspired Rithwick to go in up to his chest. The rest of us stayed at knee’s height and watched a beautiful sunset.

We were sad to leave Thrissur’s warmth – and Lima’s incredible cooking – but after five days, it was time for yoga. We boarded the train and headed south to Trivandrum and took up residence at the Shivananda Yoga Ashram. Perched on a hilltop with enormous trees bearing brilliant red blossoms and dropping ripe mangoes (well, not the same trees), we felt like we had arrived in heaven. As a fellow yogi commented, “This place is like yoga Disneyland.” It really was. The rigorous schedule of meditation, yoga, and seva (mopping the floor, in my case) was a welcome dive into Spirit and heart, a good transition in advance of pancha karma. I stayed for ten days before heading back to Vaidyagrama on my own, with Emily to follow a week later.

This bathing suit is all the rage in south India.

On one of my last days there, the ashram planned a day trip to Kanyakumari, the very southern most tip of India – the place where the India Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and the Bay of Bengal come together. I had not expected to make it there this trip, so it was a true surprise treat to get to take a dip in those waters. We then waited several hours to get on a ferry out to the rock where Swami Vivekananda meditated for two days straight before deciding to come to Chicago for the world’s fair in 1893, at which he gave a riveting speech that effectively introduced yoga to the West. From the rock, I looked north towards this vast and complex country and counted my blessings once again.


Someone had to remind me that this past weekend was Memorial Day in the States. Being so far away myself, I think of all the soldiers and civilians who have died far from their homes under our flag. I remember too the Army officer I met on the first leg of my flight to India (he got off in Atlanta). He said he was always embarrassed when people thanked him for his service, because he loves his job – “It’s the best job in the world.” I’m not sure which aspects he loves. I think of all those who have died in wars, and I hope that they have found peace. I am grateful for peace wherever we find it, and perhaps especially wherever we make it.

Upon reflection today, I realized that’s really why I’m in India, why I am studying Ayurveda – to learn to create peace.

Sarve bhavantu sukinah

Sarve santu niramayah

Sarve bhadrani pashyantu

Ma kashchid dukha bhagbhavet

May all be happy;

May all be free from disease;

May all see only the good in others;

May none suffer from sorrow.

~from Vaidyagrama’s daily prayers

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Dhanvantari is a Hindu god of healing. He is the father of Ayurveda, the physician god who carries in his hands a bowl of amrit (the nectar of immortality), a discus or chakra (to cut away evil), a conch shell (which is used in a ground form in some traditional medicines), and herbs or a leech (an ancient method still in use today for bloodletting – the saliva of the leech contains a compound very similar to the pharmaceutical blood-thinner Coumadin).

This morning – Tuesday – three people I know are having surgery. They are in different time zones across the planet, and their surgeries are for different reasons. They are all fathers, and they are all dear to me. As I learned of their pending surgeries over the past week, one after the other, it began to feel like more than a coincidence that their procedures are all falling on this day.

Today is January 11, 2011, or 1/11/11. Tuesday is the day of the week in which the elephant god Ganesh is traditionally honored, and I will be making a pilgrimage to a renowned Ganesh temple here in Mumbai to make an offering and ask for his blessing. Ganesh, also known as Ganapati, is the god of beginnings, often honored at the start of a new enterprise, journey or undertaking. He is known as the remover of obstacles.

Some are turned off by the many gods of Hinduism. The way I see it, we all have many facets. Sometimes we call upon the mother in ourselves to respond to a certain situation, and at other times we call upon the student, or the healer, or the teacher. There are many archetypes within each of us, and I believe that the tremendous power that drives existence is similarly infinitely faceted. By seeking the blessing of Ganesh, or Shri Dhanvantari, I am calling upon a certain aspect of this infinite power, focusing and directing my own energy on that quality, and honoring what I believe is the one source of love and beauty upholding this universe.

Today, if you are willing, I ask you to please send whatever prayer or good energy or healing thoughts you wish towards these three men to support their healing. May Shri Dhanvantari guide their surgeons’ hands. May Ganapati remove all obstacles on their path to healing. May their own healing powers be strengthened and supported by the love of strangers directed their way. May today bring them comfort, peace and ease in their bodies and spirits, and may those who love and support them be equally comforted by our community of shared energy.

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