Thursday, December 10, 2009

Golden Willow

I call it my tree but I have no real right to say this. It is a audacious declaration that most of us spout when we try and make claim to something that is essentially divine.

In fairness we may have some justification for claiming dominance over simple material things like bank accounts and shoes, but certainly not to things that exist outside of ourselves in the timeless natural universe.

For a brief time, as I carried it home from the garden center, and it poked its meager foliage outside the confines of my trunk, it was all mine. To the drivers, who spotted the wisp of fluttering greenery, moving sedately along the Van Wyck expressway they could say, "heh, there goes a guy taking his puny tree home from Costco." I had after all, just dished out 35 bucks for a pot of dirt and a slender twig, with about the same height, but none of the sturdy dimensions of hockey stick.

15 years ago when I moved into my small room in Queens I had big plans. I had forsaken what I had identified as the wild natural splendor of Canada, for the urban wasteland which is New York city. On my block there were but a handful of nice big trees. Ones, that if you really looked up at them you could exclaim without hesitation, "Wow."Most of the newer trees appeared to be not much more than runts and looked as though they had a tenuous hold on surviving for another season, let alone grow tall and strong for decades more.

There was scant evidence that the street, not too many years earlier, had once displayed in summer a proud and grand canopy of green. The best and greatest tree on the street, was a stately ancient maple. The grand reach of its limbs was impressive. Its gentle shade spread over innumerable cars and homes over many hot summer days. It succumbed quickly in the aftermath of negligent sidewalk repairs in my first year on the block.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Three Men in the Park

It was not one your typical meetings in a small public park in Queens. Goose pond, at this time of year sees lots of winged wildlife flying in and out through its ragged stand of trees throughout most of the day. The geese presumably are taking a brief break on their way north. Three middle aged gentlemen from the UK marching around to the Hokie Cokie is a much rarer sight.

I am not too surprised at the antics I am watching. I have known the three of them for the better part of 4 decades. They have, as well as myself, have been known to cavort in public places in much more peculiar ways than this. What is actually taking place is a serious practice for a funny performance that will take place in just 2 days time.

Charana, the leader and mastermind of the little group is under the gun. The group he is working with now are life long friends and the core of a much larger performance ensemble that will be composed of other friends from around the world. He does not work from any script but is intimately familiar with each step and maneuver that will take place when it is performed.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sri Chinmoy often gave as much significance to the outer life as he did to the inner. A lifelong sportsman he found numerous ways to inspire his students to transcend their perceived limitations in athletics. In so doing he knew that if they set challenging goals for themselves it would also inspire them to make inner progress as well.

In the late 70s he took up the sport of distance running with intense dedication. The running boom was just taking off in America and Sri Chinmoy, at age 47, when most would think of retiring, trained himself to run the most difficult distance of all, the marathon.

On March 3 1979, he completed his first Marathon in Chico California. His time was 4:31 and just 3 weeks later he would run one again. Now on this 30th anniversary of that event, his students honor him by running the 26 mile distance. They do this not just in Jamaica Queens where he lived, but in centers around the world.

Click on the above picture to go to the movie

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Love of Flowers

It seems to me now as though I have always loved flowers. Some of my earliest memories go back to my very early childhood and the experiences I had in and around fresh flowers. It did not matter whether or not they grew wild and free in fields or under the tender care of my grandmothers and their little gardens.

Most importantly I remember how my Mother reacted when the first spring flowers blossomed. How much she enjoyed picking tulips and the aroma they gave off when sitting in little glass vases in our home.

If there is anything that is naturally beautiful in the world around us it has to be flowers. My spiritual name, 'Utpal', means Heart Lotus. When my spiritual teacher gave me this name to me many years ago, it seemed to me to be just perfect name for me. I realized within and without that I was a flower and I had a deep inner connection to Beauty itself.

Flowers never have to explain their beauty, it just is. Sometimes for just a few hours and sometimes the hardy ones can be beautiful and fragrant and share their glories for weeks at a time.

There may be some deep and useful significance to their radiant colors and charm but often it seems as though they exist soley to inspire us and give us joy.

Today is my Mother's birthday and I wanted to do something special for her even though I am 10,000 miles away. It is not easy to call from so far and even harder to send a gift. Therefore I thought she might like an offering of Balinese flowers. It seems that I have spent a lot of time over the past 2 weeks being a journalist but there should always be time for a son to do something significant for his Mother, especially when it is her birthday.
I started collecting flower pictures from the moment I started shooting here. I will never be able to capture images of all the incredible variety of flowers that grow here, but before you know it you can see lots and lots.

O Silence-flowers, smile;

My inner eyes are ready.

O Silence-stars, dance;

My inner heart is ready.

O Silence-sky, come;

My inner body is ready.

Excerpt from The Wings Of Light, Part 17 by Sri Chinmoy.

As I was collecting these many flower pictures to share with my Mother I realized of course, that as many beautiful things there are in the world, we will only ever have one Mother. I know how much love she felt for her own Mother and I hope she knows just how much I love her as well.

The master photo journalist had limited success with his uncooperative monkey subjects. They were reluctant most of the time to be cute or just look right for the camera. Never once did a flower have an attitude. They were always beautiful, no matter how grand or small they were.

Some flowers, like the hibiscus, are very familiar to my northern eyes. I even try and grow them myself but they will never look as sweet as the ones that grow wild and free here. Even the ones past their prime still look wonderful. I am past my prime and I wish I was this charming.

Do not allow

Your heart's beauty-flowers to dry.

These flowers will grant you

Divinity's liberation-breath.

Excerpt from Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants, Part 103 by Sri Chinmoy.
My parents have traveled to many parts of Asia. As I walk through the temple gardens and parks I imagine sometimes that they have walked here as well. Even if they have not, I still believe in the heart's capacity for oneness. That we can always share positive uplifting and beautiful experiences through our heart's oneness.

Only if peace-heart-flowers

Blossom everywhere

Will perfection be possible

On earthly soil.

Excerpt from Peace-Blossom-Fragrance, Part 2 by Sri Chinmoy.

The lotus flower of course is my favorite. I am not certain what my Mother's favorite flower is but I will always remember her wearing fresh sweet pea flowers in her hair in summer when she would visit her own Mother in the small country village where she lived.


The human mother tells the child,

"Look up! There is the truth."

The divine Mother tells the child,

"Look within! There alone

Is the beauty of truth."

Excerpt from Silence-Seed And Sound-Fruit by Sri Chinmoy.

Surely there is never enough of what one can do for their Mothers. Is there any way to repay all the care and love they have given their children over the years, and even now continue to give and give? The answer is no never

I am offering her some humble pictures of flowers. My words will never be strong enough, my images never as beautiful as all the love she has selflessly and has continuously offered to me.

Life-flower quickly fades.

Friend-bond quickly breaks.

God-Love quickly dawns.

Ecstasy all-where pervades.

Excerpt from From The Source To The Source by Sri Chinmoy.

Bamboo Gamelon Players

Late one night, I was walking down a small street in Ubud. The rains that had been falling earlier had just cleared and the air was fresh and sweet. As I moved forward I heard the distinct plunk plunk sounds of a Bamboo Gamelan orchestra playing. I was puzzled as it was well past the time most public performances took place.

I came at last to the Balai Banjar or local community hall. From the top floor the music drifted out sweetly into the still night.
It is a very public place so I had no reason to pause as I went up the stairs. There I found these men happily practicing. The music not just for themselves but also, because there were no walls, shared equally with the community around.

I left my shoes at the top of the stairs and waded into the enchanting melody and rythmn that filled the room. The men noticed us but paid little attention to us as the music swelled and flowed.

The group is called a Sekaha. Clearly it was led by the man in the black t shirt who seemed to clearly understand how the music should flow. Others are allowed to improvise because the Balinese have a very free approach to music. Gamelan orchestras here are constantly changing their music. They believe that music should grow and change. It is only the most sacred songs that carry on untouched.

Click button to play video

The instruments they are playing on belong not to the individual musicians but to the community as a whole. I have crept into a rehearsal and not a performance. Yet still the music enchants. I imagine I am listening to the timeless sweetness of the ancient Balinese Heart. I suspect that future generations wandering into open community halls late at night will also be enthralled. Captivated by music very hauntingly familiar and always able to stir the soul's life breath.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Dance of Life

There are never any small stories told through dance in Bali. Each production is an epic. Each performance tells a great mythical story, in which life and death, good and evil must and do eternal battle.

Men and Women dance with elegant beauty and precision on small stages often open to the skies. Mortals through most of the day they become Gods and Goddesses once they enter the stage with their beautiful makeup and costumes. These are eternal stories and have been performed just so for centuries. Each step and move is unchanged. A performer has to become the dance itself in order to perform.



Is the prose of the mind.


Is the poetry of the heart.


Is the song of the soul.


Is the dance of life.

Excerpt from Europe-Blossoms by Sri Chinmoy.

Every person in Bali is familiar with all the ancient stories of the Hindu religion. The names of Krishna and Arjuna and all their renowned deeds are known by heart. The performance this night is of the Mahabrata. The Ancak Saji Ubud Palace court yard where it has been staged has been in use for more than 500 years.

Unless your heart

Is a dance of hope,

How can your life

Be a song of peace?

Excerpt from Ten Thousand Flower-Flames, Part 78 by Sri Chinmoy.

On another night I went to a Kecak dance, known in the west as the Monkey Dance. In this story Rama looses his wife Sita to an evil being named Rahwana. He has used enchantment to turn her. She believes her husband is dead and looses all hope

A Priest invokes a sacred blessing before each performance.

The rain is falling heavily when we arrive. The outdoor venue is closed so we move to a covered space nearby. There is some time before the performance and we are sitting in plastic chairs when Warsa approaches. He tells us that he is part of the 100 man Kecak chorus and has been doing this for 15 years. He is paid nothing for his work. Any money raised by the group helps support his temple. He is a photographer by trade and is happy to talk about cameras with my friends and I. He is happy to pose for a photo but I have to encourage him to smile. He tells me, "My teeth are not good."

There are no lights other than the burning candles on a stand in the middle of the room. The men chant and swing. It is hypnotic. I find myself being lost in their sound and movement.

Hanuman is the monkey God. His life is all about total surrender and service to Lord Rama.


To me

Heaven-duty is self-imposed torture.

To me

Earth-service is God-ordained rapture.

Duty enervates me.

Service immortalises me.

Excerpt from When I Left God In Heaven by Sri Chinmoy.

Rama also enters the battle with his dear brother Lakshmana.

The outcome is foregone. Goodness is victorious over evil, and yet we who are not on the battlefield watch in wonder and trepidation nonetheless.

Will Sita be rescued will evil be vanquished from the earth plane once and for all.


The body is scared to death

When it enters into the battlefield.

The vital often enjoys

The battle.

The mind is often withdrawn

From the actual fight.

The human heart dies

Before the fight begins.

The divine heart surrenders

To the Will of the Pilot Supreme.

The soul-bird flies away

From the battlefield

At God's choice Hour.

Excerpt from Europe-Blossoms by Sri Chinmoy.

Near the end of the performance and Sita has been rescued by Lord Rama a unique event takes place. A large pile of coconut husks are place in the middle of the floor and set on fire.

The chanting of the men's Kechak chorus grows stronger.
When the heat from the flames is most intense a man in trance emerges and dances around the hot coals to the rhythm of the chanting men.
He runs through them scattering them everywhere. The crowd cries out in amazement. Near me 3 Japanese girls in the front row screeched with a mixture of delight and fear. The pile is put back together again by men with long rakes. The man, dressed in his hobby horse costume runs through it again and again until the hot coals are no more. He lies upon the ground afterward where moments earlier he danced in ecstasy.
His feet are now black beyond recognition. It is said that his act of devotion brings good fortune to the entire community. He appears in a daze. People place small bills in front of him on the ground. His breath comes deep and slow.

My inner being

Shall dance and dance

If ever my outer life

Becomes a blade of humility-grass.