A DECLARATION FROM DEHLI TO CANBERRA
Last month In Delhi India, His Holiness the Dalai Lama convened a meeting of the leaders of nine spiritual traditions which are practiced in India. A written note by the Dalai Lama was given to each spiritual leader and their followers, the note expressing ‘The Delhi Declaration’, what the Dalai Lama hoped would be achieved for further discussion in our contemporary world.
“Followers of all spiritual traditions try in their own ways to overcome the suffering that afflicts beings in the world and to bring about their happiness. However, it would be better if we worked together to fulfill such aspirations.”
On the agenda of the two day meeting, where spiritual leaders worked together with ‘a congregation of their flock’, were pressing issues to our contemporary world, most pressing to the International and Australian governments - counteracting violence committed in the name of religion. We would only have to read the pages of a newspaper such as this, to consider the threat that the Islamic State poses to peace in our contemporary world.
I feel a pertinent question that should be asked is - how could this group of ‘spiritual folk’ in a far off land like India, give hope for resolution of this conflict with Islamic State a radical branch of one world faith?
Of course it is not up to such spiritual leaders to settle political conflict, that unenviable task rests with our national political leaders, governments and our representatives in the United Nations. However the power of prayer and religious dialogue, should neither be shunned as esoteric and being of no value to offering inspiration in the resolution of world conflicts.
What can leaders of religion offer their political representatives as hope in a time of crisis? One delegate can give some insight to ‘The Delhi Declaration’, who thanked the Dalai Lama for entitling the conference “A Meeting of Diverse Spiritual Traditions of India” rather than “Religious” traditions. What is the pertinence of the distinction in contemporary times between spiritual and religious traditions?
I recall one of my Tibetan Buddhist teachers, Traleg Rinpoche giving a lecture in New York, where he addressed the topic, ‘Reading Ancient Scriptures with a Modern Mind’.
Here Traleg Rinpoche expressed the belief that in modern times readers of ancient texts like the bible, the Buddhist dharma or other religious texts of law - should relate to the commonality of ascetic practice. As Traleg Rinpoche alluded to, the ascetics who wrote our religious doctrine used their common spiritual experiences as inspiration for their religious oral words that came before the words of religions were written.
One should take heart in this spiritual commonality, rather than using religious doctrine as the word that sets religious radicals against the hand of the National and International laws, which are currently attempting to maintain peace on our planet.
Also present at last month’s ‘The Delhi Declaration’ was the head of the Kagyu School, the teaching lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa who made this relevant comment,
“We have been talking about the difference between religion and spirituality. I think all religions began from spirituality, because those who became founders did not just have philosophical views, but they had experiences: actual, lived experiences. I think we need to pay more attention to experience.”
As a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner of over fifteen years, the Karmapa’s prophetic words resonate with the flavor of Tibetan Buddhist teachings. For those of other faiths who are unfamiliar with Tibetan Buddhism, I mean to say by this, is that the Karmapa’s comment infers that in life we must concentrate on our experiences that lead us from political samsaric life, a life where people of different philosophies have conflicts which lead to war, into a unified peaceful world like that aimed for by the contributors in last month’s ‘The Delhi Declaration’.
I recall the picture of Prime Minister Tony Abbott standing on the tarmac, conveying his best wishes and intentions to our fighter pilots before they left on a tour of duty. I honour the responsibility that our Prime Minister and our service people have with the IS epidemic in Iraq and Syria, and those of our security forces on home shores who must stop those recruited from our own citizenship to defend IS overseas.
I’m sure our international leaders are like our Catholic Prime Minister, in a quiet moment, sending prayers of their own faith for our soldiers to come home and our misguided minority of Islamic citizens from not entering foreign conflict.
The Dalai Lama made the statement, “Some historians say that 200 million people were killed in the 20th century as a result of wars and violence. The 21st century must become the century of peace.”
Taking this statement as the ethos of ‘The Delhi Declaration’ to Canberra, where unlike the Indian government the IS threat isn’t on their own shores, like recruited insurgents are on own shores, I have hope and sincere belief that, like the Dalai Lama says, this will be our century of peace.
I recall an anecdote from India with an Australian story, a train ride through India in the late 1990’s, which became known as ‘The Peace Train.’ A train ride of Indian spiritual/religious leaders, in the name of the freedom of practicing faith, inspired after an Australian missionary husband and wife, were killed by Hindu extremists because they fed their Christian converts meat, an action considered against Hindu fundamentalists. I still send prayers to the family of this couple.
Yet in these times where troubles permeate, at still the foundation moments of our 21st century, I believe we must consider the sentiments of ‘The Delhi Declaration’ for the future of our world, my belief inspired by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, that we are entering an age, where all world faiths will live in harmony together.
I Imagine on ‘A Canberra Declaration’ where our spiritual leaders and people of all world faiths draw together, in the name of our free way of life, which our government is doing the best it can in International diplomatic and military partnership, to defend and protect.
A DISABILITY IS A SPECIAL ABILITY
It takes a lot of understanding for a person living with a disability, whether it is a mental disability or a physical disability, to overcome the difficulty and stigma of living with their condition.
A disability restricts a person from leading a carefree life where one can go where they want, when they want. And subsequently hinders one’s ability to orient oneself, to lead an emotionally fulfilling life.
The humdrum of leading a normal life gets to us all, the drudgery of working nine to five, whether you are a blue or white collar worker, can wear one’s patience thin, but most of us bare through the tough times.
To imagine you had a disability, consider your tough times, were too tough for you to get through. You may lose your job or a loved one may fall ill, leading you to quit your nine to five job. After the hardship of a normal life, you pick yourself up off the mat, and you get a new job or your relative’s health improves, or you may go through the pain of a loved one’s bereavement.
Without a disability life goes on, you overcome the hardship of distressing emotions, which make up any of one of life’s setbacks. One goes through the pain but through enduring life with the support of family and friends, we pick ourselves up off the canvas and ‘keep fighting’.
There’s a certain continuum about life – like in contemporary society which has a spotlight on a celebrity in the public eye falling from grace through a sexual or criminal misdemeanour, they go through the burden of falling from grace but life goes on and they are back up on their pedestal to the respect and ‘adulation’ of the readers’ of contemporary media.
Taking a title from the ABC program Australian Story – my Australian Story is a battle with the mental illness Schizophrenia, a word I steer away from because medically, in psychiatry there is no definitive cure, the medication I am on is called Clopine, which as my former psychiatric nurse Andy says is the best drug for people living with my condition.
My illness, alas is a family condition, as I shared this debilitating illness with my father Kevin, so I had a relationship to the disease in my childhood, adolescence and young adult years; before I suffered from my mental illness in my early thirties.
As a child I remember my Dad coming home from work, sitting in the lounge room speaking about his fear that one of his bosses were going to drive down our street and find that he had come home early or had syphoned petrol from his company car into our mother’s car to save money as my father and my mother battled to pay off our family house mortgage.
Writing this article today and sharing some of my ‘family secrets’, the feelings of the despair about the past and the nervousness of the plans I have for the future as a writer and artist, make me feel sullen for firstly my deceased parents, then warmness to my relationship to my sister who is the only nuclear family I have remaining.
The power of expression, whether it is art, in writing or in music, is a skill that is recognised in today’s mental health services, by mental health consumer bodies like Neami National. If you are unfamiliar with this organisation this is a description of Neami National, taken from their website - Neami National is a community-based mental health service supporting people living with mental illness to improve their health, to live independently and pursue a life based on their own strengths, values and goals.
As I am now considered ‘recovered’ by my Neami National community health worker, I have exited the Neami service, despite me believing I have recovered to a point where I am socially functional and following my dreams in the arts, I still have to continue with psychiatric care.
While I consider that I no longer have schizophrenia, I still have to continue seeing my doctor and medical treatment team, to avoid a relapse. This is something I try to do willingly because I can remember the times when I had this illness and was socially inept, like on the occasion when I was incapable of attending my sister’s 40th birthday.
I remember being disheartened when my sister returned home from her 40th birthday celebrations and her telling me so many people were upset because they wanted to talk to me after so many years. I recall the thoughts in my head and the feelings in my heart staying with me for days, me with schizophrenia unable to deal with my disappointment – caught in my own mental and emotional bubble to which I could not let anyone in.
A mental and emotional bubble for people with a medtal illness? I believe this is the state of flux that all people with a mental illness live within – traversing emotions that sometimes and sometimes not get processed, according to the severity of their condition.
I recall last year’s local Doncaster Neami branch Christmas Party, in the tranquil surrounds of one of the parks in the municipality of Manningham, whose motto is half city half country. While we all were enjoying ourselves ‘in half city half country’ with the good company playing games and celebrating the festive season, I looked at the Neami clientele and realised I no longer fitted in, as I could see for most of the people in attendance, they were in their personal life’s, still caught in the mental and emotional bubble, like the one I know so well.
I also recall the conversation I had with the Neami Branch Manager. I said my mental health is so much better now that I had my first paid occupation in ten years, to which he refrained,
“We are all social creatures.”
I now consider we, social creatures hopefully on an unbroken mental and emotional lifestyle, not an emotionally divorced mental rollercoaster.
Having let the light in on my understanding of mental illness, what is my understanding of the mental and emotional bubble for people living with a physical disability? I’ll share an example of a birthday party I attended for a man with cerebral palsy who was confined to a wheel chair.
Another man in a wheel chair with the same condition was waiting to give his present to the birthday boy, so feeling I could help what I thought were his nerves in approaching the birthday boy, I introduced myself and said come on I’ll take you up to him, to which he explained, no he is feeding I must wait. Through this interaction I knew instantaneously that this man knew his condition better than I did – he enlightened me to his condition and I thus felt emotionally caring.
This man knew his disability better than I, he had a certain specialness about his disability, a specialness that made me realise despite his physical difficulty, he was more emotionally aware of his condition than I realised, he had a special ability, that overcame in his character his physical disability.
In my opinion stigma still defines ‘a special ability as a special disability’, like that stigma portrayed by young American songstress Mile Cyrus. Forget the tweaking of Miley, Miley made derogatory public comments about one of her idols, the Irish artist Sinead O’Connor’s battle with depression, to which the Irish singer defended with hostility.
Like the racism retort of the young Collingwood supporter against the Australian of the Year Adam Goodes, where Adam said it was not the young Collingwood supporter’s fault. The Miley-Sinead incident, highlights what is special about ‘a disability’ that I now call a ‘special ability’, a mental and emotional recognition and response to one’s life long personal condition.
PROCTECTION OR DEFENCE OF OUR NATION
With our troops being sent to the Middle East to quell the ISIL threat, I think it appropriate to question the future of our participation in conflict in foreign lands.
I recall Barack Obama’s campaign before he became the United States President in 2008, saying quite clearly that he didn’t support the previous US administration’s entry into and participation in the Iraq War.
Yet now we find our own government, the United States and other governments, again participating in a fresh conflict in the Middle East. I don’t see this as a contradiction on behalf of ours and other administrations like that of Barack Obama’s United States Administration, for the simple fact that while this Middle East conflict brews, the war is also on our and other western countries shores.
I see our participation as a defensive measure to not only liberate the people of our of allies’ nations, but also as a necessary defensive measure to quell the possibility of ISIL supporters travelling to ‘their homelands to take up arms or of perpetrating a terrorist strike on our own or other allies’ home shores.
So while our defence forces are protecting our allies and our own nationhood, what can we make of Prime Minister Abbott’s message to the Australian people? While as I have said I agree with Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s deployment of our troops, I do have a difference of opinion regarding his philosophy of our participation in this and any possible future oversea’s conflict.
So what is the philosophic difference between the defence and protection of the Australian nation and people? I firstly recall Prime Minister Keating’s statement, that as our leader he would not go to Gallipoli for Anzac Day, as he did not agree with celebrating this conflict as Australian troops were, in his opinion sacrificed by our British allies in defence of a cause which was more theirs and not ours.
So I interpret Paul Keating’s stance as going some way to explaining my premise for the future of no war on our planet. Prime Minister Keating interpreted the Gallipoli conflict on which many build our nationhood, as Australian soldier’s participating on behalf of ideals to a ‘homeland’ of the British Empire, that were now largely antiquated in our quest as a nation to define our own unique identity.
So why do so many politicians, and leaders in our population, still use our participation in war as a means to define our nation Australia? While men served, as do women now serve in support of our troops, to me the building of our national identity by leaders like Prime Minister Tony Abbott, on our participation in conflicts, has a level of contradiction to my ‘intellectual terms’.
As a ‘conflict realist’ – someone who supports and understands our necessary involvement in world conflicts - for the reasons I have explained. But as an ‘idealist pacifist’ - someone who does not believe ideally in war, I do not believe in continuingly defining our nationhood on current and future conflicts in which we do participate.
I believe in the past it has been human nature to not glorify war, but rather honour the service of our service people, their sacrifice and pain, and that sacrifice and pain which we shared with them as a nation of people.
Recalling the reaction to returning Vietnam veteran’s, where they were unfairly spurned by a people which was against our involvement in this conflict. Forty years later, as a ‘conflict realist’ I support that we treat our returning service people with their rightful honour. Yet as an ‘idealist pacifist’ I wonder to the depths of my soul, that I would like our leaders like Prime Minister Abbott to no longer build our nationhood ‘on the back’ of our participation as a ‘warmongers’ against an enemy.
Taking the ‘power to the public’ of the Vietnam War protests – I believe as the His Holiness the Dalai Lama recently stated – the 20th century was a time of war and the 21st century must become a time of peace. So where has the strident protest of the 1960 and 1970’s populous against war gone?
To me I find Prime Minister Abbott’s address to the people who elected him as though we must support our contemporary soldiers in contemporary conflicts like we did in the conflicts of history which, which our Prime Minister still defines our nationhood by.
To my ears this is morally respectful but yet philosophically naïve, because by not having a stance which does not want to repeat the ‘mistakes of history’, he continues the cycle of war and conflict, our nation will, by his conservative ethos find ourselves contributing to in the future.
To me, under Prime Minister Abbott, our current administration is defending our nationhood against ISIL, but not fully protecting our nationhood, because by participating in contemporary conflicts in the name of the spirit of our past military involvements, we are continuing an ethos where we define our national identity by participation in wars.
So I must ask Prime Minister Abbott - what are we going to learn from our current conflict in the Middle East, which can help us protect the nation that we are, but learn to protect our values by in the coming decades absolving ourselves from participation in wars, so we can define a broader national identity, not from who we go to war with, but what unique Australian characteristics are we protecting in conflicts we enter, so in hopefully future times of peace we can understand, live by and inturn celebrate the values which make us uniquely Australian on our home shores and in the world community?
OUR MOTHER'S DEVOTION
With the flow of adolescent emotion
I discover life’s motive, emotional motion
so I let go of my mother’s hand
no longer her hand in my hand
Am I an adolescent free of my mother’s devotion?
Through thick and thin
forgiving me of my sin
I pray for my mother’s lost devotion.
Now through the sun and the rain
four seasons in an adult’s day
I live for my recollection of my mother’s devotion.
Where to go, where to stay?
Free from her bosom since yesterday
I reach out for my mother’s lifelong devotion.
With family values and fair play
as clear as a spiritual apparition only seen today
I see her face, in your face
both our mother’s lifelong devotions?
With fatherly advice and a motherly ear
at the wheel, life is no longer hard to steer
tuned to both our mother’s soulful devotion
a musical arrangement will become
our family’s emotive motion.
So our life is a rollercoaster ride
Look mum! No hands at a height
Then around a bend hands held tight,
Exhilaration and fear show me,
that a new beginning is near.
The new beginning with heaven at our station
our’s is the right price
so I’ve given up the might of the fight
to the soulful continuation
of our mother’s devotees
and our mother’s devotions.