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.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Walk Down a Small Road in Bali

There are many roads to follow in Bali both large and small. One day while in Ubud my two friends and I decided to hike out of town on a small road. It had rained a lot and we went out during a brief dry spell. The evidence of the rainy season was everywhere. From the top of damp stone walls water cascaded down. The road itself was slippery and we did not know where our journey would eventually take us.

On every road there is always something to see. You can observe and enjoy the large and grand but sometimes the less obvious and subtle can please both the eye and the spirit more.

Just outside the Sacred Monkey forest I met Bapak Sudra who was sitting by his small shop that had no customers and few things to sell. Bapak introduced me to his fighting cock that he kept in a small wicker cage. He then took me into the back of his house to show me the wood carving he was working on.

It was of a large orangutan that he said he would finish in about 2 weeks. He seemed happy to have a visit even though I bought nothing. He wrote his name very carefully in my book. He asked where my friends and I were going and I said, "we are just walking." He smiled and laughed and said, "Oh, jalung, jalung, .....walking walking." He wrote it as well in my book beside his name. I used it all day long when people with taxis came by and wanted to drive us. There were a lot of them, it helped a lot.

I never saw Bapak carve but I have seen many artists do much fine wood work. This man was using a heavy chainsaw to cut a log into pieces to be carved later. You could tell that the section he was cutting would someday become a large Budha. It was hard work and he told me so. It is so hot that practically any job is difficult here.

This young boy was watching his father carve near by. He is learning early what may well one day by his profession.

It is easy to forget sometimes what hard long work goes into making things of beauty.

Any road out of Ubud has to take you eventually beside the lush green rice paddies. I have never seen a more beautiful shade of green anywhere. Young plants appear so full of life they look as though they could glow in the dark.
It is all planted by hand and tended to by people who will work all day out in the hot sun. This man owns these paddies.

I pointed in one direction after another asking him if he owned the rice paddies. He kept saying yes. He was sweating heavily, it was close to noon and the sun was particularly hot in the cloudless sky. He never stopped. He walked here and there and bent over often to adjust and straighten the small plants. At one point a heron had landed in one of his paddies and he took a stick and smacked it loudly with another. The noise scared the bird away. I was slower to leave.
In Bali you will find rice paddies in all stages of growth. Whether it be just planted or almost ready to be cut.

Most of the harvested rice follows a humble path before it ends up on a dinner plate. Once it has been separated from the stalk it is spread out on quiet roads and lanes to dry.

In the rainy season one keeps a close watch on the sky. The hot sun dries everything quickly when its rays can touch the ground directly. Chickens however have to be soshed away

I am reminded how really fortunate I am to be not working on this hot Bali Road. We meet so many on our walk who have no time to just wander.

The mind has only one road:

The division-road.

The heart has many roads:



And oneness-road.

Excerpt from Ten Thousand Flower-Flames, Part 13 by Sri Chinmoy.

For an unaspiring man,

Work is punishment,

Work is torture.

For an aspiring man,

Work is a blessing,

Work is a joy.

Excerpt from Ten Thousand Flower-Flames, Part 89 by Sri Chinmoy

God always wants His heart-children

To study at

His simplicity-purity-school.

Excerpt from Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants, Part 213 by Sri Chinmoy.

We cross many bridges on our little journey. Some precarious and some grand.

Even on the remotest roads in Bali the trinket sellers can find you and try and sell you something you do not want no matter how cheap the price.

What is more fascinating for me is just people going about their lives. No hour passes when it seems a sacred offering is being made. Always patiently and always with devotion. When it is repeated so often over many days and years it cannot help but add to the inner beauty of the place that is already so enchantingly beautiful outside.

I feel most often that I am both openly and secretly watching this world around me. No matter how much you look there is always more to see. Maybe just maybe, it is more than enough to just look within.

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.

We walked down a small road in Bali. We felt the sun above us and felt its earth beneath our feet. We saw people of every description and stopped often to learn about their world. Did we make any progress on our journey? We did after all return from where we had begun. Perhaps there is never any return to a starting point. Beauty entices us to go forward. God pushes us ever onward towards our goal.