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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

A few months ago, I received an invitation to attend an event at The White House.  I’m an ordinary guy with no special achievements, accolades, or accomplishments, so I was struggling to find some purpose in this unusual serendipity.  My noble friends convinced me to turn the invitation into a celebration of ordinary, everyday acts of kindness, and I absolutely loved the idea!

I asked friends to perform an act of kindness and share the story with me so I could compile them into a little booklet to present to Michelle Obama.  Despite the very short timeline, dozens of stories started streaming into my inbox.  Though I felt warmed by every kind act, it was impossible to put every story into the final compilation, and that was perfectly OK, since the kindness had already benefitted those who performed it, received it, and were touched by its ripples.

Below are some of the moving, simple, extra-ordinary acts of kindness that happen every day and all around us which got shared with the First Lady.  And what a blessing it was for me to hear all these wonderful stories, and become the instrument that delivered them to the President’s wife!

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Tonight some friends and I got together and hosted a visitor, who is touring the U.S. after spending the last several years on humanitarian projects in Kenya, Rwanda, and India. After hearing his inspiring reflections, we were led in a closing reflection where he handed each of us a little notecard with a quote on it.
My quote read:
“Things don’t have to change the world to be important.” -Steve Jobs
I thought it was a beautiful insight and, after being inspired by many stories of goodness rippling out into the world, I decided to anonymously share this little quote with some people in the neighborhood. So, I took a couple rose-colored lilies, some hershey’s kisses, and the little notecard with the Steve Jobs quote and arranged them in front of the door across the street. I placed a smile card beside it, just for a little extra explanation.
Then I tiptoed away. I hope they bring smiles to the neighbors when they open the door! But regardless of their reaction, this little act brought smiles to my face and warmth to my heart, which is a little extra warmth added to the world. 🙂
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I had to take a bus to meet my husband in a different part of town. After buying my ticket, i asked the bus conductor to keep the change & use it again some else’s ticket, especially when they can’t find the right change (always a battle on buses in bangalore :-))
We were super hungry later that evening, and while looking for a place to eat, we stopped to buy some lemon from a road-side bandi-wala. My husband started a conversation with the old man selling vegetables, who was also smoking a bedi (local cigarette). He then went to a near-by restaurant, packed some hot pulao. He gave this to the old man and made him promise to try to give-up smoking. He agreed with a smile.
In the meanwhile I decided to buy some flowers for the lady from whom i bought some fruits. Across the road there were a few ladies selling flowers near a temple. When i bought and paid for the flowers (jasmine), the sweet lady who sold me the jasmine also gave me a couple of roses and some tulsi leaves. I was tagged! Kindness comes in all forms. I took the jasmine flowers back to the fruit-bandi lady & she was happy to take the flowers home.
Earlier that morning (before i got your email) i had a wonderful time planting trees with some kids in their school. My husband & I sponsored the saplings as a wedding gift for our friend, and i was lucky to actually go do the planting in this school with the super enthusiastic and smart kids. The kids will take care of the plants 😉
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My wife’s friend has a rental house in Santa Rosa and some new tenants  with three little girls are moving in on Monday. The house has a broken heat exchanger in the heating system so it’s not working at this time.  The house if not heated gets extremely cold so I’ve been asked to go figure out a solution.  I’m  sure I’m not going to be able to fix the broken heat exchanger that could cost thousands so I’m bringing up some portable electrical heaters so the children don’t freeze there tootsies off.  This should buy them some time until the proper people can fix the problem.
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The charity that I pour my heart and soul into sent out a request to please send birthday cards to a terminally ill (fighting cancer) boy named Kiandon who is turning 5 this weekend. This truly touched my heart so I forwarded the message in a private message to about 15-18 of my girlfriends and asked the same. One of my friends knew of a children foundation through her church to spread joy to other terminally ill children. They send Joy Jars all over to these kids to cheer them up. My friend put a request in to have one sent to Kiandon. Point being… people come together by just one act of kindness (me asking my friends to help) and now this little boy will get tons of birthday letters from many people from the charity I help with in addition to a Joy Jar!!!!  It makes me so happy that we can bring joy and happiness to this little boy who is fighting cancer.
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The weather got really cold here all of a sudden.  We have been feeding some stray cats and imagined how hard it must be for them to endure such extreme cold without any shelter.  In honor of the Obama’s, we created a covered area with warm blankets for them to take refuge.
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Michelle, You are an inspirational woman. The time and devotion you put into healing the world is something I look up to greatly. Your kindness in looking out for the health of the future generation, your international presence as a strong woman, and your extremely supportive role as a wife are all amazing qualities that you exude so well. Women all around the world look up to your grace, style, and personality. I am so proud of all that you are doing, and you should be proud of you too!
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I’m currently in China and we just finished our mission yesterday. Over 15 volunteers came together from around the world and we performed surgery on 87 patients, fixing their cleft lip or palate. One of my favorite stories from the trip is about an 18 month old girl whose cleft lip we repaired. Her 26 year old mother had an unrepaired cleft lip and we decided to perform surgery on her too! When we told her that she could also have surgery, she was speechless! Mom and baby came back a week after surgery and both were doing amazing 🙂
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About 9 months ago my friend and colleague Susan B. contacted me wanting to support the unfolding of my documentary film “Money & Life” (www.moneyandlifemovie.com).  She lives in Bethesda, Maryland and I live in Ashland, Oregon.  She got together with her two colleagues Myra J. and Steven L. and the three of them proposed an advanced screening of the film-in-progress in the DC area.  I said “yes” to this kindness.
Over the next 9 months they did all the work to arrange and promote the screening.  Susan even sent me a check for my flight to get there.  It dawned on me a few weeks before the screening that I would be flying into DC the day after the 2012 election and that we would be screening two nights after the election.  While not consciously intended, it felt serendipitous and auspicious.
As I few across the country on November 7th, I reflected on the founding of this country on the principles of Freedom.  And how, at the heart of it, my film is really about the reclaiming of our innate freedom to know who we are at the core, to regenerate our innate creativity as human beings, to remember what we care about and give the gift of our lives to That.  I called on the ancestors and Lady Freedom to be present with me and us for the screening.
Susan picked me up from the airport that night.  She took me to her home and fed me and tucked me in. The screening took place at the Lyceum in Alexandria the next evening, November 8th.  About 100 people attended, more than anticipated.  We watched the film and had a most generative, inspiring and heartfelt dialogue for almost 2 hours after the viewing.  Everyone stayed for the conversation, because you could feel we are all hungry for it.  We are hungry for a revolution of love.  Hungry to come together to create a more beautiful world because collectively our hearts tell us it is possible.  Hungry to live more deeply and actually into the dream and destiny of America.  That night we could all feel and taste the probability!
The evening even generated $1,000 for Money & Life in proceeds!  And it generated so so so much more for me in the intangible realms, confirming profoundly why I have stuck with this film for 4 long years!
Susan’s kindness (and Myra’s and Steven’s) in producing this event, allowed me to give my gift of the film and my presence to these 100 people.  We were all impacted and the ripples are already moving out.  The three of us met for lunch at Union Station before I hopped on the train that would take me down to Virginia to visit with my family.  We marveled together in reflection of the screening and sensed into possibilities for the Spring when the film is released.  And I gave thanks to them for their great generosity.
As my train left the station and the pinks of the twilight sky were lighting up the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building and the reflecting pond, I received the email from my friend Rahul (who is in the film) with the invitation to share a story of kindness that he could take to Diwali at the White House (just a week after the screening).  I smiled while staring out the window watching the heart of DC recede from view as the train snaked its way Westward.
It’s impossible to pinpoint the origination of this act of kindness, because it was the kindness of my friend Tesa who introduced me to Susan, and it was the kindness of my friend Brock who introduced me to Tesa and it was the kindness of his sister Jenna that introduced me to him and so on.  In the end, it traces all the way back to the heart of the Creator.  And the ripples of this act of kindness palpably connect the past with the future in the present.
We can never know the true reach of a simple act of kindness.  May the ripples of this one flow out in the kindness with which it was gifted.
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We knew our neighbors were going to be gone the entire day and we knew their dog was cooped up at home feeling all alone.  In honor of Michelle, Malia, and Sasha, we decided to take him for a great walk.  He was much happier! 🙂
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We started a small in-house garden at our home by planting fruit trees in our front yard and nurturing soil for our soon to be vegetable patch. 🙂 Happy Diwali. 🙂
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I know a person who has  a niece who is building a house for the family. She is totally stressed since money is tight and she has a son studying engineering in a foreign country. She is unable to meet his misc. expenses of daily living. Her uncle steps in and pays the expenses for two years to the huge relief and appreciation of his niece. His only condition is when the student graduates and works, he does the same for another deserving struggling student.
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We adopted Rico, our golden retriever, from a shelter 6 years ago.  He has become such an integral part of our family and we can’t imagine our lives without him.
We are very sadden by how people and animal suffering from the devastation caused by Sandy. In particular, we know that many pet owners like us would be devastated much more by the losses and/or injuries of their pets than by any material losses.
So, we, as a family (including Rico), made a small donation to the Humane Society of New York, in the hope that we can help animal lovers like us to cope with this difficult time, and to be re-united with their pets.
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I have been hosting “Friday gatherings” in our neighborhood park for two years now. It has been so beautiful to witness this gathering unfold. As we live on a very busy street, it is often hard to get to know your neighbors. Two springs ago, our family walked the neighborhood sharing a hand made invitation to come and gather at the park, and bring a seasonal dish to share and yourselves. We gather for a few hours over dinnertime. From the start, we had a great turnout! Some Fridays we would have close to 30 people, of all generations. The children would all play together, and the adults had leisurely time for conversation and music! A few friends (who adopted our neighborhood gatherings) came with ukulele’s and guitars. Some Fridays, we would have maybe 6. It didn’t matter, each gathering had it’s own gifts and blessings. Over time, I noticed that our neighbor across the street was not attending. He had a brain hemorrhage a few years back, and is restricted to a wheelchair. He is a kind, soft spoken man. On Fridays, I would walk across the street to his house and invite him, and he would always politely decline. So with your inspired invitation, I called him and asked if I could bring him dinner. He lives alone and was so grateful for the thought and company! We had a lovely long chat and I was no happy to be reconnected with him again. It is a beautiful reminder to never forget the simple gesture of a kind act.
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A friend called me last week, his friend had called him in desparation and my friend asked if I could help her. She had been an alcoholic for years during and after a violently abusive marriage. Following this period after she managed to leave the marriage, she had stayed sober for four years. However over the last year she had started drinking again to the point that last week she had lost control over her finances after spending it on alcohol and could not pay her mortgage, ended up in hospital after passing out drinking and could not go into work. She contacted my friend last week in a cry of desparation and said she needed help because she wanted to stop this downward spiral that was destroying her life.
He called me and asked me if I could help her. He knows that I have trained in a counseling method which clears big emotional blocks which hold people back in different ways. Of course I said I would help.
I met her and she was in an emotionally bad state but she had hit rock bottom and reached a point where she wanted to stop her out of control drinking. She also had no money left over this month and said she could not pay me for my time. So I offered to help her for free. We met every night after work this last week and we spent hours each night clearing up the underlying emotional issues which were making her reach for the alcohol. She is an incredible person who has been through a painful journey and the alcohol had become a coping mechanism. By the end of the week we had worked on and dissolved many emotional issues and she said she felt clearer, lighter and in control. She has not felt the need to reach for alcohol. I will continue to work with her until she clears the underlying pain and dissolves the destructive habit. She is a beautiful inspirational light and I am blown away by her strength, tenacity and incredible journey every time I meet her. This story is dedicated to her light. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with her.
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I gave 3 30-40 minute counseling sessions to help people going through major/difficult life transitions free of charge.
I built a winter animal shelter to help protect two rescue cats from cold weather.
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This past weekend I attended the Homecoming football game, and game day celebrations were in full swing with even more alumni than usual joining in and returning to their alma mater.  The stadium was packed with fans, and the student section was full of Trojan spirit. However, with more people and more celebrations, there also tends to be more chaos.
As the game went on, a young lady in the seat in front of me began feeling sick. After sitting down for a while, she vomited. Her friends gathered up their things and escorted her out of the stadium. They left behind a small mess on the floor as well as on the jeans and jacket of a young man who was sitting in front of them. When his friends and he realize what had happened they all sort of froze in disbelief and disgust. Then more and more students around them started staring, and some of the young man’s friends actually began to laugh and tease him while he staring, and some of the young man’s friends actually began to laugh and tease him while he struggled to figure out how to react and what to do.
As I saw this scene develop, I grabbed my bottle of water from my bag and reached a couple rows below me to offer it to him. My friend also had a small towel that she had gotten for free earlier that day that she did not want. So I also took this and handed it to him. He thanked me and began to clean himself off with the help of a couple of his friends. My friends saw what I had done and soon after donated their bottles of water to the cause as well. The young man and his friends finished wiping his jeans and jacket and poured the rest of the water on the mess on the floor that the other group had left behind. They thanked my friends and I one more time and quietly left their seats.
Although it is very unfortunate that situations like these occur, especially to innocent bystanders just trying to enjoy their afternoon, I am very proud of my friends for offering help and support in curbing further embarrassment for the young man and preventing it from becoming a big scene. When unexpected life events occur, we should do what we can to extend a caring, consoling, and kind hand to fellow Trojans, and to fellow human beings.
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Last night a homeless man in a thin soiled jacket approached us for spare change to buy food.  We popped into a nearby store and bought him snacks, warm socks, and t-shirts.  He gave us a hug.  I think we got the better end of the deal.
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Michael was asking for money – just like so many less fortunate people in San Francisco. He approached me on a Sunday afternoon when I was basking in the sun on park bench.  My first reaction was to want to say no – it’s a San Franciscan reflex – we get approached no less than 3 times a day for money.  For some reason, my reflex paused this time.  Perhaps it was because I was a captive audience with no intention of moving from my perfect seat on a glorious weekend afternoon. Or perhaps it was because the very sun that held me captive had melted my heart just enough to let me hear someone’s story.  So I said nothing and simply listened.  Michael and his wife Alicia lived in a housing project in the city.  He was selling a newspaper for a $1 donation that is printed by the homeless coalition and supports those less fortunate.  Michael told me that he needed help putting something in his refrigerator and that he was trying do this honestly. He had hit tough times but refused to sell drugs or live dishonestly – there was an earnestness and honesty in his voice that surprised me.  I invited Michael to sit down next to me as I told him that I wanted to help him but didn’t feel comfortable giving him cash.  I asked him how else I could support him and he suggested a gift card for Safeway.  Perfect I said, give me your address and I’ll send you a gift card. So he did. And then I did.  3 weeks later I rode my bicycle to Michael and Alisha’s apartment in the city.  The man at the front desk of the housing project confirmed that Michael and Alicia lived in apt 209 but that they weren’t home at the time.  I borrowed a scrap of paper and scribbled a quick note reminding him of our conversation.  I slipped the $50 Safeway gift card under the door and cycled off.  I pondered my bountiful lot in life and the inequality of the universe as I rode my $3,000 bicycle home to my $2,000 a month apartment and hoped that Michael and Alicia’s fridge would be full for a few days.
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In the darkness of dusk, a rag picker walks past our home to a garbage dump. Battling the street dogs with a stick in one hand, and hunting for scraps he walks the dark streets, hoping to find something of value before the sun rises and someone else take it all away. He is the early bird looking for the worm. Like Santa in reverse, he fills the huge sack on his back with discarded bottles, cans, paper, cardboard, and the-oh-so precious scrap metal. He trades these pickings at a recycling center to earn enough to feed himself the next day. The following morning sees him back with the sack. I see him when i wake up to meditate.
Last night, i filled one bag with clothes, and another with shoes. Some in good condition, some worth trading. Close to midnight, long after all traffic had ceased and there was little chance of anyone else finding the bags on the street, I walked up to the garbage dump- the very spot that the ragpicker scoured every morning- and left the bags as a gift for him.
On my way, the dogs that welcomed him with snarls, rushed up to me. Finding little use for the clothes and shoes, they too left the bags as a Diwali gift for the rag picker.
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A few days ago, I found out that a new mother (I have never met her, but she is a member of a “new mom’s group” in the area) was having some trouble.  She is someone who feels quite strongly about breastfeeding and before giving birth, she felt quite strongly about nursing for the entirety of her child’s first year.  Her son, who is now 2.5 weeks old, has been losing weight (more than what would be normally expected).  It turned out that the mother had not been producing enough breastmilk.  The mother and father are extremely scared and stressed, and their son (who is constantly hungry) is also constantly crying.  It’s been a very rough start to parenthood.  When I heard about this, I started pumping extra milk and then dropped off a supply of frozen breastmilk to her (the bags I have been saving and storing in our freezer and the new milk that I was recently pumping).  I made sure to not eat anything with soy or dairy in the event that her son has food allergies.  I included some ground fenugreek for her to take to help boost her supply.  In the meanwhile, I’ve appealed to other new mothers in the area to donate milk while she boosts her supply.  It’s been really special to see the outpouring of support to help this new family get through a tough time.
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I let the car behind me park in the parking spot I had been waiting for.
A family in a van, stranded at the airport, needed a jump for their car. I lent my jumper cables and gave them a jump for a safe journey back home.
As I was rounding the corner en route home from a long day of classes I spotted a little girl no more than three years old riding her small bike on the sidewalk.  Because she was wearing a helmet I thought an adult must be close by, however on closer inspection I saw no such thing.  My conscience would not allow me to drive further as I watched in my rearview mirror that this small child was approaching the end of the sidewalk where I thought that she may attempt to ride her bike into the street.  Without further adieu, I made a 365 degree turn in order to further investigate.  I rolled down my window and asked the child if there was an adult with her.  She smiled and promptly said no.  I asked her if there was an adult at home.  She said no mommy and daddy.  My mother bear instincts heightened as I asked her where her house was.  She pointed straight ahead.  By this time she had turned the corner and was riding her bike along side of my car.  I told her that I thought an adult should be with her when she is riding her bike away from her house.  She smiled again.  I told her I would watch her until she reached her house.  She looked back at me with a look that I interpreted as gratitude for looking out for her safety.  I stepped out of my car and walked up to the adult at the house she was aiming for and told the gentleman who looked like he could be her grandfather that I had been concerned when I saw the child riding her bike without any adults present.  We shook hands and he thanked me for my concern emanating a felt-sense of gratitude in his presence.
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I baked a batch of vegan cookies, sealed them into ziploc bags with Smile Cards, and gifted them to a friend to gift to random strangers.
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A chicken randomly flew into our yard and started hanging out there.  We went to a local feed store and bought a big bag of chicken food.  Now we’re her best friends!  She’s living in our back yard under a shrub.  Go figure!
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I anonymously dropped off  some Tibetan incense to a husband & wife couple who are friends of mine.  The husband has helped me with issues at my job, the wife has helped with issues around my health, and together they seem like they embody the highest values of Tibetan culture in their wisdom, generosity and compassion.  It helps that they love incense too!
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I gave almonds to my mama and papa. 🙂
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I helped a limited English speaking Chinese student on the train.  She usually rides the Amtrak train but just found out that Metrolink is less expensive.  She boarded my train and struggled to ask how to buy Metrolink tickets.  I tried to explain that it was through a vending machine but the process is complicated even to explain to an English speaking person.  I only had a short time between connections when arriving at Union Station in Los Angeles, but I walked her down from the platform into the station, stood in line with her at the vending machine and taught her how to buy a Metrolink ticket.  She was thankful & I was just able to make my connecting train.
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We recently had employee reviews at my office, where each of us spent some time with our superiors to evaluate performance, gauge progress, and understand goals.  Being a manager, I sat in a few reviews with my own boss and some of the newer associates to provide input. My office is filled with very smart and capable people, so most of the reviews were quite positive, but we had a new associate start about 3 months ago who hasn’t been as quick of a learner as her peers.  It was a tough review session, but I felt assured that all of her feedback was constructive, that she was in a safe environment to continue learning, and we would check in with her at the 6 month mark to gauge her progress.
Maybe needless to say, she left the review feeling a bit down about her performance, and approached me on a Friday evening when everyone else had left to ask for advice.  I had made plans to have dinner with my husband and some friends about a half an hour before I was approached, but something told me that what she needed most in that moment was not so much my advice, as my attention.  So I forgot about my plans, and spent the next hour with her answering questions about my own experiences starting out with this company, some of the challenges I faced and how I overcame them.  I don’t feel like I said anything particularly ground-breaking that would be directly relevant to her as she continues to navigate through this industry and understand what kind of role she will have, but I could tell that she felt both grateful for my time and much more at ease regarding her plans towards her own progress here.  And I, on the other hand, definitely appreciated the unplanned blip in my Friday night schedule.  Because instead of feeling rushed to get to the next place, appointment, meeting or event – I felt present enough to the opportunities I have right in front of me to serve.
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In New York City, my friend and I distributed about a dozen hand-written cards of gratitude to public servants in the city for their tireless work to recover from Hurricane Sandy.  These notes were written on the tail-end of a day-long meditation gathering the week prior, and were infused with the good wishes of each participant.  My friend and I were only two anonymous links in that chain of kindness, but hope that the ripples of that chain will start another chain in each person touched – including ourselves!

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Buddha taught us how to sit.  Gandhi taught us where to sit.  And Krishna taught us when to stand up.

Its time to stand up for Pancho.

A true satyagrahi, he’s being held for meditating at Occupy Oakland, making local (pictures 24 – 27) and international news (BBC videoat :57 seconds).

There has been an incredible outpour of support for Pancho, though it is no surprise, it speaks to his love and impact on everyone he comes across. There have been so many emails and phone calls that have gone back and forth over the last 24 hours with a lot of information, support, and updates.  In order to better enable people to support Pancho, remain informed, and to allow for clear communication and coordination among everyone so that we are all engaged in the most optimal manner for Pancho, we held a conference call this afternoon (thank you Sri and Swetha for coordinating) and here is the latest update (including input from Pancho’s lawyer who was able to participate).

Here are the key updates:Pancho is currently is on track to be arrested/taken into custody by ICE (sometime after his arraignment tomorrow morning – Wednesday, November 16th at 9am and taken to Arizona unless we do something NOW.
The most immediate thing we can do is contact the offices of Congresswoman Barbara LeeCongresswoman Diane Feinstein, and Congresswoman and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi asking them to call ICE directly to lift the hold on Pancho.

 

What can you do NOW:

1)    Call/email offices of people above – the links above will provide you with their office phone numbers and email (both local to CA and in DC). Call them on both sides!

2)    Get in touch with Sheriffs office and ask to not honor the ICE hold – (510) 272-6878

3)    Write letters to give to lawyer Francisco Ugarte describing Pancho’s impact on community – please send the scanned letters (they must be signed) to Amit Dungarani (amit@servicespace.org)

4)     Get in touch with influentials to do the above as well (community leaders, faith leaders), time is very short, 12-24 hours – An additional call list has been provided at the bottom of this email.

5)     Additional ways to reach out include social media and petitions, language for which will be handled by communication team.  We need to get this out far and wide in a way that resonates.

6)  If you are local to Oakland/Berkeley/SF area – look for an email from Guri Mehta on events tonight and tomorrow to come to in support of Pancho including public city council meetings, Pancho’s hearing, etc.

7)  Meditate. Meditate in solidarity with Pancho and send love his way and to everyone else including those who have put him behind bars. This is what he would want.

Talking Points (from Pancho’s Lawyer) for points 1-4 above:

Request Pancho’s release because– He is a humanitarian, volunteer for several YEARS

– Former student of astrophysics at UC Berkeley

– violence prevention in Fruitvale neighborhood

– promoter of meditation and non-violence in expanded groups

– his inclusiveness of all communities

– anything else of this ilk (even personal stories)

–  Key Point: Why use valuable money to arrest a pillar of community rather than on pay for police, schools, etc? I want my tax dollars spent on schools, fireman, police and teacher pay and not to deport humanitarians/pillars of the community who focus their whole time on serving the community.

What NOT TO SAY (for points 1-4)–          Anything specific about his immigration status, as even the lawyer doesn’t fully know the situation here.  In general terms it’s alright though as its already out there.

-There is a strong possibility that Pancho could be arrested as soon as tomorrow and sent to Arizona for proceedings. We do NOT want this to happen because of the legal and political environment out there. Though there is a strong team of supporters out there, it would make this more challenging. Thus, the best thing we can do is work in a coordinated manner.

-Pancho’s words to lawyer – “It should not be about me, its about the injustices to the occupy community and to undocumented peoples.”

-Lawyers words about Pancho – “I have never met anybody in 25 years that has made a bigger impression on me in just 20-30 minutes”

love,

Team Pancho

(humbly written by Amit and Birju)


P.S. Agencies & Politicians to Contact

ICE: (415) 844-5512

Alameda County Sheriff: (510) 272-6878

Oakland Police Department: (510) 777-3333

Mayor Quan: (510) 238-3141 (leave voicemail) or e-mail her

Barbara Lee: (510) 763-0370

Santa Rita Jail: (925) 551-6500.

Alameda County Supervisors:

Supervisor Scott Haggerty (510) 272-6691

Supervisor Nadia Lockyer (510) 272-6692

Supervisor Wilma Chan (510) 272-6693

Supervisor Nathan Miley (510) 272-6694

Supervisor Keith Carson (510) 272-6695

 

UPDATE: PANCHO RELEASED!

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Tejdeep Singh. Photo from CBS News

On the heels of last weeks news that Howard University dental student Ramy Zamzam has been convicted of terrorism in Pakistan, the United States loses yet another dental professional in the war on terror as 31-year-old dentist Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan becomes the first openly-Sikh US Army Officer in a generation.

While civil rights groups and Sikhs around the world are certain to cheer the decision, I secretly fear that the change will sow confusion in the Armed Services and general public in a perfect storm of geography and oral hygiene ignorance.

Let’s be honest: we’re a nation where many of our people and sometimes our Presidents have scarcely heard of a country until we invade it.  Identifying it on a map, or knowing even basic information about it is tough for a lot of our people.  The following video is case-in-point.

How many soldiers and citizens think that the bad guys are brown-skinned, turban-headed men?  Introducing one of them into the Army as a “good guy” is a brain-popping level of complexity that we’re simply not equipped for as a nation.  Even Halliburton and Blackwater don’t have a subsidiary where we can outsource the massive cultural training project needed to re-educate our troops.

And what will Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh’s legions claim when they descend on Washington donning their already scarily funny repetoire of signs?  Can we expect them to be protesting the Obama adminstration allowing openly-Taliban soldiers into the US Army in the boldest move at allegedly dismantling America to-date?

Americans are also prejudiced against seeing dentists as the good guys, given our 142 lbs of per capita of sugar consumption.   Far easier to type-caste them as terrorists given the pain and bloodshed we should rightly expect on a visit, and Singh Rattan will only add to the confusion that many of our citizens are likely to feel upon learning that he’s one of our finest.

More importantly, given the oral casualties our sweet diets inflict, can we really afford to be losing another dentist to the war on terror, regardless of what side they’re on?  Don’t we need these people fighting caries in the Homeland?  One can only hope that Singh Rattan’s success means that our soldiers ravaged teeth will be protected and defended in the heroic warrior-saint tradition of his noble faith.

Meanwhile, someone in Bollywood is already churning away on a film dramatizing the story– a touching tale of an “ABCD” dentist son of Sikh immigrants finding his tooth fairy-like true love in the war-ravaged Kabul countryside as they race to stop an orthodontic madman from spreading IEDDs (improvised explosive dental devices) to toothless Afghan refugees.

My bet on the title?  Kabhi Kushi Bloody Gums!

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I would really love to start living in this amazing country more regularly, but I think I have to leave America if McCain wins.

Please help me stay in this country!

Lyrics to “Stop” by Karmacy

…Listening to KRMC, 99.1 FM. This is your host,
Modest Goddess (?), the date is January 23rd, 2008,
and welcome to the breakdown. The World Health
Organization just realeased its estimate of the death
toll: 151,000 Iraqi citizens since the start of the war
Depending on your source however, this estimate varies
from a minimum of 80,000 to over 1 million people.
In comparison, nearly 3,000 people died in the 9/11
attacks, and approximately 4,000 American troops
have given their lives in Iraq.
The difference is a human loss of 144,000.
Today’s pop quiz: if 3,000 American lives justified going
to war, then how many more people have to die for
this government to feel vindicated? Let’s have a chat.
We have our first caller.
We always doin what they say
And follow any path they lay out
But it’s our chance we’ve got to prove
To bring the new we’ve got to break the rules and make our future
STOP
The centuries all disguised, the politics Memorized,
The Illusion
Projected as a social contribution
The Evil lingers in the sky
They paint their versions of the truth into my brain
Not even wonderin why
And then I
I simply step in the cut
Not even not knowin what’s what
Not even takin the time to break the Zeros and Ones
They’ll end up havin you,
Grabbin you from your avenue,
Mentally stabbin you, Slappin you physically
Now don’t you ever tell me that you never knew
You’re just a form of revenue to them
Condemned to the independent ballot
statistically
Tossed like a Salad,
The judge’s mallot,
the devil’s palate
All this time I thought that my opinion was valid
And now I’m
Makin hard it to tell, and now, I’m
Workin to make the sell, and now
Livin in my own hell that I designed from my own wealth
So step back
Will you act or be acted upon
Fact
Whether it’s Hitler, 9/11, Vietnam or Iraq!
We always doin what they say
And follow any path they lay out
But it’s our chance we’ve got to prove
To bring the new we’ve got to break the rules and make our future
STOP
My ears pop I can’t get higher
the plot thickens as we chop chickens and raise foster kids
but we hostile we’ve lost our virginity to peace and serenity like backs with bad posture
it’ll cost ya, cha-ching, I got my loved ones living on st-strings
one snip of the cut and thata be what’s up
and thata be what’s wrong with this world when it gets stuck in the gut
who said we have to live by the rules and die by the grave
it’s insane how we follow the game without playing
one day we learn  once we listen just pause to maintain, stop, breathe
can we foresee what we miss when we try to aim
it’s a shame how we follow the game without playing
one day we learn
once we listen just pause to maintain, stop, breathe, aim (gun click, shot)
We always doin what they say
And follow any path they lay out
But it’s our chance we’ve got to prove
To bring the new we’ve got to break the rules and make our future
STOP
Ever since the big bang, or Adam and Eve,
Or whatever you happen to belieive
Happened to conceive
Life on this planet.
However you choose to see it;
From single cell organisms all the way up to human beings,
There’s always been war. Always been killing;
Always been heroes and villains
Filling masses of millions with passionate feelings.
Shady politicians politicking for top billing
In the media, to influence societal thinking.
What kind of system do we live in?
So called conventional wisdom
Preaches policies of segregation and division.
While parents are making livings,
The predispositions of children
Are being formulated and driven by television.
And all of the great thinkers, thinking the great thoughts
Always seem to preach about this hell that we’ve wrought.
Our criminals don’t get caught, cause politicians get bought
And children are steady taught that television is god.
See this capitalistic mentality’s kind of twisted
Sometimes I wished it had never even existed
They got us chasing presidents like assassins
Trying to cash in off of every trend and fashion
While multi national conglomerate corporations
Set up exploitation stations in third world nations
With the motivation of leaving mass populations
Facing the devastation of economic starvation
This is the result of the Regan administration
The next generation of British colonization
And it’s a mockery,
To call a system a democracy’s hypocrisy
When the people that make up the majority
Don’t even have the power to challenge the authority
Of the five percent elite wealth minority
That own a 95 percent monopoly over the world economy
Because they own the land,
which is improperly known as property
and will probably always be, since they also control the policies.
Ya feel me!
Yo!
We always doin what they say
And follow any path they lay out
But it’s our chance we’ve got to prove
To bring the new we’ve got to break the rules and make our future
STOP
STOP!
If I could make the world slow down some
Then we can give it what it needs
Stop. STOP!
If I could make the world slow down some
Then we can give it what it needs
Stop. STOP!

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My cousin Mrugesh was married in Dhrol, and through the days of pre-wedding preparations and celebrations I was able to tell my family about the team’s plans to go to Pakistan, and my plans to accompany as the filmmaker for Friends Without Borders. Sometime in October, my father reacted to the same news by getting extremely upset and agitated. He told me that he would not be able to sleep a single night that I was in Pakistan for fear that I would not return alive. Moreover, if I did pass through the experience unscathed, he said that he would have an equal measure of worry for fear that I would then consider Pakistan a safe and friendly country and would make repeated visits to the Islamic republic. Months ago, I had no choice but to tell my father that my plans to go to Pakistan were still under consideration, and that nothing was certain. Any other response would have resulted in endless lectures on the subject, most without much basis besides irrational fear and religious hatred.

However, the response I got from the Indian side of my family was markedly different than that of family in the United States. No fear, no worries, only one single-line lecture [“If you are not careful, they will convert you to Islam”]. Sometimes a few raised eyebrows. More often then not, many advised me to use the opportunity to go to a town in Baluchistan (a southwestern province in Pakistan) to visit the temple of Hinglaj Mata, the mother goddess of my caste. Interestingly, nobody could tell me exactly what the name of the town was, but said that it was some 80 miles west of Karachi, and that everyone in the area would know how to find the temple of Hinglaj Mata. The story of how Hinglaj Mata became the goddess of our caste is an interesting one, and has its origins in the dim antiquity of Indian lore.

Though I don’t subscribe to caste identification, much of my extended family very strongly clings to their caste moorings. They are brahmkshatriyas, the descendants of the last surviving ‘original’ kshatriyas (warrior-rulers) from ancient India. According the to legend, there was a sage name Parsuram who one day was deeply wronged by a kshatriya. Reflecting rather vengefully upon the experience, he concluded that all kshatriyas had grown egotistical, corrupt, drunk with power, or otherwise evil and went on a personal campaign of genocide to annihilate every last kshatriya from the face of the planet. If I recall correctly, his bloodlust lasted for 21 generations as he hunted down and personally executed warriors with his fearsome axe. There came a time when only 12 kshatriya boys remained alive, and its at this point that there are a few conflicting accounts of the story. According to one variation, those boys were sheltered by some brahmins (priests) in their ashram. Parsuram came to learn that a few boys remained alive, and arrived at the ashram to slaughter them. The brahmins declared that these boys were brahmin boys, but Parsuram did not believe this. As a test, he told the brahmins to eat with these boys, as the prevailing custom at the time was that brahmins would not eat with any lower caste. The brahmins ate a meal with the boys to alleviate Parsuram’s suspicions and to save the kshatriya boys under their protection. Thereafter, these boys were raised as brahmins, inter-married within the brahmin community, but secretly retained their identity as kshatriyas and passed on that tradition to their offspring. The other variation on this story, the one I’ve heard a few times in my extended family, is that Hinglaj was the name of the brahmin who protected those kshatriya boys (or perhaps Hinglaj was the name of his wife), and has since then become the goddess of the caste. Yet another variation of the story is that the boys were hidden in a cave somewhere in the area around the site of the present Hinglaj Mata temple, and various family members would also like me to go visit and photograph that cave.

Though the actual history may perhaps never be known, there are a few tidbits of the past that have made it into the present. Some time last year, I was able to locate a list of brahmkshatriya last names as they have evolved and branched out from the original 12 last names. To my knowledge, the translation I made is the only existing English translation of that piece of history [I may post it here in case anyone is interested in the details]. Another interesting tidbit is that there seems to be three distinct branches of the brahmkshatriya line: a Punjabi one, a Gujarati one, and a Muslim-convert one. Both the Punjabi line and the Muslim line retain the last names of the caste, and are aware that they are kshatriyas, but apparently don’t know the history of their origins, and don’t maintain any caste connectivity either within themselves, or with the larger brahmkshatriya community. Only the Gujarati line strongly clings to this legacy and lore, and maintains a high-degree of community identity, even publishing and distributing its own news and matrimonial magazine in many parts of the world where the diaspora is concentrated.

Of course, as an added dramatic element to the legend, the sage Parsuram is considered to be the 6th incarnation of Vishnu. Parsuram is not worshipped, especially by my caste [ 🙂 ], and his only apparent contribution to humanity was the genocide of my ancestors. Through all the caste pride and better-than-thou-ism I see in the brahmkshatriya community, nobody ever seems to conceptualize themselves as the descendants of a clan so corrupted that divinity itself had to incarnate to annihilate them!

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Time magazine publshed an article on Christian yoga, the latest yoga trend that tries to pull Hindu elements out of the ancient practice to make God-fearing Protestants and Catholics feel better about doing it. Instead of saying ‘Om’, one might say ‘Amen’ and instead of surya namaskar or ‘Sun Salutation’, you do a ‘warm-up flow’ or a ‘Son Salutation’. The latter part of the article discusses tensions and concerns raised by this latest of trends, with one camp of purists arguing the inseparability of yoga and Hinduism, while another worrying about the commercialization and co-option of yoga by Christians. All interesting questions which beg another: are we getting stupider as a nation or are we dumber than I thought?

For starters, the very notion of having to de-Hindu yoga to make Christians feel better about it is rooted in the narrow-mindedness and guilt (and stupidity) which are commonly (and needlessly) bundled as part and parcel of Christian doctrine. People like present Pope Benedict XVI have warned that yoga “can degenerate into a cult of the body” whatever the hell that means, and urged people not to confuse the “pleasing sensations” of yoga with “spiritual well-being”, creating the impression that Ratzinger gives himself pleasing sensations in other ways– more spiritual ones of course. Others like Rabi Maharaj, a formerly confused Hindu who is now a freshly confused Christian, go a step further and publicly decry that yoga and meditation are evil and will land you in hell, if not turning you into an anti-Christ first. Call me Beelzebub, but it seems that in this modern era where my laptop doesn’t need a wire to be on the internet that Christians should be able to see past the he-died-for-my-sins, get-into-heaven-free-card mentality for the medieval rouse or archaic mistaken-thinking that it is. Debunking flawed theology isn’t the scope of this blog entry, but pointing out that far too many unthinking people are falling victim to third hand notions of what they should feel guilty about, especially in the absense of any scriptural basis, is. People, you won’t go to hell if you say ‘Om’ and I’m not Mephistopheles.

Meanwhile, well-preserved (by yoga) and tantalizingly bendy Patricia Walden express the edict that yoga should not be used to sell stuff to students, voicing the concern that this latest development might begin us down the slippery slope of commercializing yoga. Wow Patricia, I don’t know what cave you’ve been practicing in, but yoga has already become commercial-o-riffic. Wait, you don’t practice yoga in a cave, you do it on the cover of this magazine, and on this one, and this one. Did I mention this one?. You’ve even on the cover of a magazine that questions the karmic value of commercializing yoga. In your spare time, you can also be found commer… I mean practicing yoga in your book and your videos when not doing so at your lovely studio. Let’s be fair here: commercializing yoga isn’t your fault. It’s Bikram Choudhury’s. While Paramahansa Yogananda is generally regarded as the ‘father of yoga in the West’ (and incidentally Bikram’s guru’s guru), Bikram is undoubtedly the pimp-daddy o.g. yogi makin’ dat dolla. Yet if Bikram in the Anakin-cum-Darth of yoga purity, then Shirley MacLaine is certainly his Darth Sidious as it was she, and not his guru Bishnu Ghosh, who convinced him to start charging the kind of ‘astralnomic’ fees that have allowed him to purchase his multiple Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. Now that Bikram has started to patent, trademark, and copyright elements and routines of yoga practice and litigate against violators, I would have to say that yoga in America is now offically, undoubtedly, inescapably commerical. Let’s not try and blame that on some wacky, prudish Christians.

Meanwhile, Subhas Tiwari of Hindu University is quoted as saying “Yoga is Hinduism.” Whoa, cowboy! Come again? While giving Tiwari the benefit of the doubt through the assumption that his comment was taken out of context, that’s an awfully hairy soundbite for a Professor of Yoga and Meditation to be caught coughing up. If you ask the billion-odd people in India if they are Hindus, a good 800 million or so will say yes. If you ask them if they practice yoga, as in hatha yoga, I’d say that more than 95% would say no. That certainly demonstrates that Hinduism has plenty of scope and breadth to entirely avoid the postures that the western world considers to be yoga. In reality, the Sanskrit word means ‘union’, and Hinduism encompasses many paths to achieve such union outside of the kind of yoga that the author of the article was asking Tiwari about. More precisely (or perhaps diffusely), Hinduism could be better described as the rituals, practices, and beliefs that have developed around the experience of yoga by various paths. Yet in its pure form, most closely described by raja yoga of which hatha yoga is a subset, yoga is a creedless path that requires no set of beliefs or faith from its practitioner. Rather, the experience of the practice itself creates a knowing that is absent untested belief and faith, while paradoxically also becoming the basis for faith that builds and accelerates the momentum of the practice. That last sentence would certainly never make it as a soundbite, and given that the mainstream news just wants soundbites, one has to wonder whether Mr. Tiwari knowingly fed them something sexy so he could get quoted in Time. His clumsy and inappropriate quote will only give Time’s largely Christian readership more reason to unnecessarily hallelujah-ize yoga even more. He did Hindus and Christians a disservice by opening his sloppy pie-hole.

Yet none of these things are the most disturbing aspect of all this. Ranking at the top of distressing elements is how Christian yoga and some quotes from the article, contrary to the spirit of yoga, only serve to divide us. Behind the confusion of what Christians understand to be Christianity and what Hindus understand to be Hinduism, there’s a common yogic experience of Oneness that both religions are built around (a mindful reading of the Bible can demonstrate this). The increasing popularity and practice of hatha yoga is one of the most practical tools that helps both Hindus and Christians (and anyone else who gives it a shot) break past the fog of silly religious beliefs and begin to taste the Oneness of humanity wherein we’re all brothers and sisters. No longer must one person hate or condemn another because of variations in traditions and cultures. Creating something like Christian yoga allows Christians to continue to “otherize” Hindus in a way that still leaves the door open for them to hate, condemn, or evangelize Hindus with the belief that they are heathens headed to hell in need of salvation.

We’ll just have to hope that they practice yoga long enough for their experience to break them past this narrow, sectarian mindset. After all, wouldn’t the truly narrow-minded and ignorant ones (read: Pope Ratzinger) never even try yoga at all?

Bring on the hate mail.

(migrated from my original Livejournal post)

Read Full Post »

Time magazine publshed an article on Christian yoga, the latest yoga trend that tries to pull Hindu elements out of the ancient practice to make God-fearing Protestants and Catholics feel better about doing it. Instead of saying ‘Om’, one might say ‘Amen’ and instead of surya namaskar or ‘Sun Salutation’, you do a ‘warm-up flow’ or a ‘Son Salutation’. The latter part of the article discusses tensions and concerns raised by this latest of trends, with one camp of purists arguing the inseparability of yoga and Hinduism, while another worrying about the commercialization and co-option of yoga by Christians. All interesting questions which beg another: are we getting stupider as a nation or are we dumber than I thought?

For starters, the very notion of having to de-Hindu yoga to make Christians feel better about it is rooted in the narrow-mindedness and guilt (and stupidity) which are commonly (and needlessly) bundled as part and parcel of Christian doctrine. People like present Pope Benedict XVI have warned that yoga “can degenerate into a cult of the body” whatever the hell that means, and urged people not to confuse the “pleasing sensations” of yoga with “spiritual well-being”, creating the impression that Ratzinger gives himself pleasing sensations in other ways– more spiritual ones of course. Others like Rabi Maharaj, a formerly confused Hindu who is now a freshly confused Christian, go a step further and publicly decry that yoga and meditation are evil and will land you in hell, if not turning you into an anti-Christ first. Call me Beelzebub, but it seems that in this modern era where my laptop doesn’t need a wire to be on the internet that Christians should be able to see past the he-died-for-my-sins, get-into-heaven-free-card mentality for the medieval rouse or archaic mistaken-thinking that it is. Debunking flawed theology isn’t the scope of this blog entry, but pointing out that far too many unthinking people are falling victim to third hand notions of what they should feel guilty about, especially in the absense of any scriptural basis, is. People, you won’t go to hell if you say ‘Om’ and I’m not Mephistopheles.

Meanwhile, well-preserved (by yoga) and tantalizingly bendy Patricia Walden express the edict that yoga should not be used to sell stuff to students, voicing the concern that this latest development might begin us down the slippery slope of commercializing yoga. Wow Patricia, I don’t know what cave you’ve been practicing in, but yoga has already become commercial-o-riffic. Wait, you don’t practice yoga in a cave, you do it on the cover of this magazine, and on this one, and this one. Did I mention this one?. You’ve even on the cover of a magazine that questions the karmic value of commercializing yoga. In your spare time, you can also be found commer… I mean practicing yoga in your book and your videos when not doing so at your lovely studio. Let’s be fair here: commercializing yoga isn’t your fault. It’s Bikram Choudhury’s. While Paramahansa Yogananda is generally regarded as the ‘father of yoga in the West’ (and incidentally Bikram’s guru’s guru), Bikram is undoubtedly the pimp-daddy o.g. yogi makin’ dat dolla. Yet if Bikram in the Anakin-cum-Darth of yoga purity, then Shirley MacLaine is certainly his Darth Sidious as it was she, and not his guru Bishnu Ghosh, who convinced him to start charging the kind of ‘astralnomic’ fees that have allowed him to purchase his multiple Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. Now that Bikram has started to patent, trademark, and copyright elements and routines of yoga practice and litigate against violators, I would have to say that yoga in America is now offically, undoubtedly, inescapably commerical. Let’s not try and blame that on some wacky, prudish Christians.

Meanwhile, Subhas Tiwari of Hindu University is quoted as saying “Yoga is Hinduism.” Whoa, cowboy! Come again? While giving Tiwari the benefit of the doubt through the assumption that his comment was taken out of context, that’s an awfully hairy soundbite for a Professor of Yoga and Medidation to be caught coughing up. If you ask the billion-odd people in India if they are Hindus, a good 800 million or so will say yes. If you ask them if they practice yoga, as in hatha yoga, I’d say that more than 95% would say no. That certainly demonstrates that Hinduism has plenty of scope and breadth to entirely avoid the postures that the western world considers to be yoga. In reality, the Sanskrit word means ‘union’, and Hinduism encompassess many paths to achieve such union outside of the kind of yoga that the author of the article was asking Tiwari about. More precisely (or perhaps diffusely), Hinduism could be better described as the rituals, practices, and beliefs that have developed around the experience of yoga by various paths. Yet in its pure form, most closely described by raja yoga of which hatha yoga is a subset, yoga is a creedless path that requires no set of beliefs or faith from its practitioner. Rather, the experience of the practice itself creates a knowing that is absent untested belief and faith, while paradoxically also becoming the basis for faith that builds and accelerates the momentum of the practice. That last sentence would certainly never make it as a soundbite, and given that the mainstream news just wants soundbites, one has to wonder whether Mr. Tiwari knowingly fed them something sexy so he could get quoted in Time. His clumsy and inappropriate quote will only give Time’s largely Christian readership more reason to unnecessarily hallelujah-ize yoga even more. He did Hindus and Christians a disservice by opening his sloppy pie-hole.

Yet none of these things are the most disturbing aspect of all this. Ranking at the top of distressing elements is how Christian yoga and some quotes from the article, contrary to the spirit of yoga, only serve to divide us. Behind the confusion of what Christians understand to be Christianity and what Hindus understand to be Hinduism, there’s a common yogic experience of Oneness that both religions are built around (a mindful reading of the Bible can demonstrate this). The increasing popularity and practice of hatha yoga is one of the most practical tools that helps both Hindus and Christians (and anyone else who gives it a shot) break past the fog of silly religious beliefs and begin to taste the Oneness of humanity wherein we’re all brothers and sisters. No longer must one person hate or condemn another because of variations in traditions and cultures. Creating something like Christian yoga allows Christians to continue to “otherize” Hindus in a way that still leaves the door open for them to hate, condemn, or evangelize Hindus with the belief that they are heathens headed to hell in need of salvation.

We’ll just have to hope that they practice yoga long enough for their experience to break them past this narrow, sectarian mindset. After all, wouldn’t the truly narrow-minded and ignorant ones (read: Pope Ratzinger) never even try yoga at all?

Bring on the hate mail.

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