Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What if? Thoughts on the Newtown, CT massacre and peace

(El castellano sigue el inglés)
I mourn the deaths of the children and adults in Newtown, CT, killed in a Rambo-style massacre by an American. I mourn the deaths of children and adults everywhere who have been killed by weapons made in the United States, sold by the United States. I mourn the loss of dignity of people trying to make a living, and US culture offers them jobs as accessories to mass-murder -- working for defense contractors, the military, as a politician supporting war, or as an artist developing movies, video games, even novels, which teach and glorify mass-murder. I mourn being part of a culture which lives on the American continent only because our fore-fathers mass-murdered millions of indigenous people (including some of my native Algonquian relatives) and stole the land.

To end the cycle of violence that is systemic in US society, what would happen if the government sets an example by withdrawing the military from everywhere except military bases in the 50 states and stops making and selling weapons for export? What if US tax dollars, instead of paying for mass-murder, were used for humanitarian projects such as housing, education, health, community gardens, parks, arts and music?

As Gandhi and other pacifists have demonstrated throughout history, we can resolve conflicts in other ways, without violence. I mourn. And I have hope -- for any problem created by humans, can be solved by humans.

There are myriads of paths of learning how to live without violence. One path is improving communication skills and the art of dialog. Compassionate communication, also known as "nonviolent communication," is a skill we can learn through books and classes and practice. Lots of practice. It involves expressing our observations, feelings, needs and requests in respectful ways, and to learn how to better listen with empathy.

US former president Jimmy Carter is an expert mediator of international conflicts. In a talk he gave at Royce Hall at the University of California, Los Angeles, he said that all international conflicts are based on the same issues as any disagreement in a family. The scale is the only difference. What if the family is filled with domestic abuse, as our entire society seems to be?
Global domestic abuse? There are excellent books and programs for victims of abuse (everyone in the world), as well as programs for the abusers to learn how to change.

The key is to self-reflect, with the help of a skilled guide, on ones own beliefs, and to embrace other beliefs that are more respectful of life. Like Nichiren Daishonin wrote many centuries ago, "You must quickly reform the tenets you hold in your heart."

Nothing is impossible.

Article first published as What if? Thoughts on the Newton, CT Massacre and Peace on Blogcritics.


Yo duelo la muerte de los niños y adultos en Newtown, CT, muerto en una masacre al estilo Rambo por un estadounidense. Yo duelo la muerte de niños y adultos de todo el mundo que han sido asesinados por armas fabricadas en Estados Unidos, que se vende por los Estados Unidos. Yo duelo la pérdida de la dignidad de las personas que tratan de ganarse la vida y cultura de los EE.UU. les ofrece puestos de trabajo como cómplices de asesinato masivo - que trabajan para los contratistas de defensa, las fuerzas armadas, como una guerra político de apoyo, o como un artista en desarrollo películas, video juegos, incluso novelas, que enseñan y glorificar el asesinato masivo. Yo duelo ser parte de una cultura que se vive en el continente americano sólo porque nuestros antepasados asesinaron en masa millones de personas indígenas (entre ellos algunos de mis parientes nativos algonquinos) y robaron la tierra.

Para poner fin al ciclo de violencia que es sistémica en la sociedad estadounidense, ¿qué pasaría si el gobierno pone el ejemplo al retirar a los militares de todas partes, excepto las bases militares en los 50 estados, y deja de producir y vender y exportar armas ? ¿Qué pasaría si los impuestos, en lugar de pagar por el asesinato masivo de guerra, se utilizaron para proyectos humanitarios, como la vivienda, la educación, la salud, jardines comunitarios, parques, artes y música?

Como Gandhi y otros pacifistas han demostrado a lo largo de la historia, podemos resolver los conflictos de otra manera, sin violencia. Yo duelo. Y yo tengo la esperanza - que cualquier problema creado por los seres humanos, puede ser resuelto por los humanos.

Hay una infinidad de rutas de aprender a vivir sin violencia. Un camino es mejorar las habilidades de comunicación y el arte del diálogo. Comunicación compasiva, también conocido como "comunicación no violenta", es una habilidad que se puede aprender a través de libros y las clases y la práctica. Un montón de práctica. Se trata de expresar nuestras observaciones, sentimientos, necesidades y demandas de manera respetuosa, y aprender a escuchar mejor con empatía.

El ex presidente estadounidense Jimmy Carter es un mediador experto de los conflictos internacionales. En una charla que el dio en el Royce Hall de la Universidad de California, Los Angeles, dijo que todos los conflictos internacionales se basan en los mismos problemas que cualquier desacuerdo en la familia. La escala es la única diferencia. ¿Y si la familia está llena de violencia doméstica, como toda de nuestra sociedad también parece ser? ¿Es abuso doméstico Global?

Hay excelentes libros y programas para las víctimas de abuso (todo el mundo), así como programas para los abusadores para aprender a cambiar.

La clave es la auto-reflexión, con la ayuda de un guía experto, en las propias creencias, y abrazar otras creencias que son más respetuosos de la vida. Al igual que Nichiren Daishonin escribió hace muchos siglos, "Usted debe reformar rápidamente los principios que tienen en su corazón."

Nada es imposible.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Review: Lucy Plays Panpipes for Peace

Book review by guest blogger, Tantra Bensko
Lynette Yetter’s novel draws from her own life when she went to the Andes, pulled by the sound of the panpipes as a tool for transformation. Yet it is fiction, in the way called for in David Shields’ Reality Hunger. It means more knowing she really did something truly audacious and death defying. Here, we get a glimpse of how close to reality it is, and how the fiction made it into the powerful book it is.

“Hurtling through space and time, the blue orb was rapidly self-destructing. Vital fluids pumped out of its innards burned in orgies of greed. The vapors ate away its luminous ozone skin.

Indigenous Elders, you might call them brain cells of wisdom, were ignored.

New synapses of fiber optic cable and satellite rays rationalized the destruction as ‘progress.’

Chaos surged like a flooding river.”

Thus begins the story in which Lucy goes to participate in the ancient culture of the Andes.

Coca Vendor (oil painting by Lynette Yetter)

Her words continue to swell when she extends her viewpoint outward, such as “Each person, a black-clad spark of soul, pulled by the inexorable gravity of survival. Together the seething mass of humanity ran. In their black mourning clothes, they were like primordial darkness churning. The light of humanity in their hearts bound each to the other as if to birth a new galaxy of life, in Warrior Town.”

It’s obvious Lynette knows how to write powerfully. I also appreciate how real and down-to-earth the language is, how honest and wholesome this book. It’s hip in a DIY kind of way, with Lynette doing a tour on bike for this book as activism inspiring others to follow their dreams and stand up for peace, and play. It also is a great example of what David Shields call for in his manifesto
Reality Hunger, which is taking the world by storm now. Lynette Yetter’s Lucy feels real, and the events occurred in the way that anything occurs in our memories—as fiction–stories we’ve told ourselves repeatedly and bundled into plot packages.

One of the things I like best is that she includes the vantage point of manifesting and finding our future—and doesn’t just include the times her intentions worked. Her idealism, naïve ideas of the simplicity of finding her heart’s desire are sweet, and ironic when faced with reality. She manages to keep her humor about the ups and downs that causes, though she feels such things very passionately, and they can shake her. Her naïve idealistic determination makes her follow the sound of pan pipes to Peru, where she plays in various venues, joining in with indigenous musicians, as she believes the sound can help create visions of harmony for others as it did for her. She believes she can make a difference to bring more peace to this world through them. But it’s just that quality, and her passionate empathy and love, that create the inspiring events of this book.

On location in Bolivia filming "Panpipes for Peace"

Lucy takes on oppression and segregation, pointing out the false flag of 911, the cultural imperialism of missionaries, the modern tendency to block people out of simply going out and camping under the stars, and she wonders at anomalies of government/military connections. In South America, she plays indigenous peasant music only recently made legal, and has no trouble associating with citizens  in the Andes who disrespect unfair political authority, and encourages harmony in dangerous situations. Even in competitive traditions she fosters a sense of oneness.

She acknowledges how magical the world is through synchroncities such as running into the man who wrote a song she was playing. Yet, this isn’t a treatise on creative visualization. The irony that can undercut such magic becomes obvious when she gets to know the song’s author. I love that combination. She’s not living out some formula, pretending it always works. So, when her intentions do manifest, her visions do come true, they are far more believable and powerful.

We learn about Andean folklore, such as the respectful relationship of miners to the Tios, earth spirits who live underground. We also learn that kusillos are androgynous entities who bridge the known and unknown.  And we follow closely: shocking international business practices, the role of civil disobedience in social progress, and the involvement of the U.S. in civil war. This book made me cry for a long time, tremble, and even shout out loud.

David Shields would like her book. In his, Reality Hunger, which also came out in 2010, he claims “Most, perhaps even all, good work (or, okay, work that excited me) eludes easy generic classification: once we know it’s coloring entirely within the lines called 'novel' or 'memoir' or 'Hollywood movie,' I honestly don’t see how anything emotionally or intellectually interesting can happen for the reader. . . . Just as out-and-out fiction no longer compels my attention, neither does straight-ahead memoir.”

I asked Lynette about the fiction/memoir interface: “My book and reality. It is heavily based on my own personal experience in Peru and Bolivia.

In order to better tell the Truth, to express Reality, I chose to fictionalize my experiences. As an old hiking buddy and PhD in English once told me — fiction is where we express the deeper truths of life. In short, she said, ‘Fiction rocks!’ Lucy Plays Panpipes for Peace started out as pure memoir — emails sent to friends and first person stories I told at performance spaces in Los Angeles.

But, it was too limiting to stick to chronological events and specific people.

By fictionalizing reality I can lump many people into a single character who then becomes an archetype. And in that process, new characters – 100% fictitious – are sometimes born. My favorite is Aunt Bert.

Aunt Bert came to me in a vision, you might say. I was riding in a bus along the shores of Lake Titicaca, when suddenly Aunt Bert appeared in my mind. She told me her life story. As I looked out the bus window at the scenery passing by, I was so moved by her life that I even cried at the sad parts. And when I got to where I was going, I wrote down what she had told me. That is how Aunt Bert came to be in the book.

Speaking of reality – to me, Aunt Bert is one of the most real characters in the novel – yet she is 100% fictitious.

Reality is so multi-dimensional. On one hand, it is the material world we can document with calendars and cameras and weights and measures. Yet it is also the invisible realm of the mysterious that animates all of life – is life. By fictionalizing the material world, I strive to reveal the deeper truths of what is invisible yet is the most powerful truth of all – our own lives.”

David Shields asks “A character is either ‘real’ or 'imaginary’?. . . . To be alive is to travel ceaselessly between the real and the imaginary, and mongrel form is about as exact an emblem as I can conceive for the unresolvable mystery at the center of identity.”

Headshot, Lynette Yetter

I can feel this book in my heart. I know Lynette bravely accomplished the amazing feats in this story, yet it isn’t a heavy handed recitation of her travels, or an SGI tract, but a call to go into our deepest selves, to cry, because there is a reality there that the fictionalization allows to live in a moving way, inside of us. There is no boundary between story and life, Lucy and Lynette, or our hands, wet with tears, and the pages they turn, which catch the light of the sun, that is not separable from the light of consciousness.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Out Out Cruel Light! (Surprising facts of Irlen Syndrome that affects 12-15% of the population)

How would you feel if for 10 years of your schooling, your teachers labeled you as a slow learner and put you in remedial classes and labeled you as having emotional disorders, when really you are highly intelligent, creative, and self-controlled? The only problem was that you have Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, also known as Irlen Syndrome, where the slightest ray of light gives you a splitting migraine headache for days and black print on a white page swirls and jumbles and vibrates like Dyslexia on a Really Bad Trip.
This is the story of Miss X, a 19-year-old somewhere in the United States, who has the worst case ever documented of this syndrome that most people don't even know exists. She lives in her bedroom with black-out curtains over the windows. The walls and ceiling are painted a dark blue. If a housemate forgets and leaves the white nightlight on in the bathroom, Miss X would get a migraine from even that weak beam when she went to take care of her necessities.
Once she was a martial arts champ sparring with full contact and throwing big sweaty men to the mat in triumph, but, as her light sensitivity worsened, she not only missed the camaraderie of those stinky guys, she missed being able to exercise her once strong muscles.
Alone in her "cave" the Internet connects her with friends and teachers as she continues her studies at her own pace. A driven artist, she loves to hone her craft, but a few hours of concentrated work can trigger a migraine that lays her low for days.
With no sunlight entering, day and night lose their meaning. Days blur one into the next. But Miss X has learned to maintain a cheerful spirit even in the face of all the obstacles and excruciating physical pain that her severe disability presents.
Most people who have this condition experience much less extreme symptoms. Children with this disorder are often misdiagnosed as having a learning disability or dyslexia. Irlen Syndrome is believed to originate in the retina of the eye or in the visual cortex of the brain.
If you would like to take a self-diagnosis test or see a sample of how printed text can appear distorted for people with Irlen Syndrome, you can visit Often, using special colored filters or tinted glasses can greatly improve the quality of life for the estimated 12-15% of the population who suffer with this condition.
For more severe situations, like that of Miss X, she and her caregiver request that you open your heart to people suffering from this or any other disability and offer your empathy, and don't tell them to just "get over it."
A closing quote from Miss X herself - "I am happy you are willing to write my story and share it with others. Hopefully it will give some insight ... and get the word out that what I have does exist. Maybe somebody won’t come to judgments as quickly as many did with me, by reading this article — which is all I could ever ask for."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Maple Leaf that Didn't want to Die

Once upon a time there was a maple leaf that didn't want to die.

"I have too much to live for!" it said. "I have lofty things to do, and stories to tell. There is a big change coming called Winter; I hear the fir trees whispering about it in their sylvan voices. I must see it and document it. For I am a Big Leaf and what I have to say is more important that anything in the world."

The maple leaf was so persuasive that the squirrels who lived in the branches of the tree stopped their nut gathering and nest building and approached the maple leaf with a plan.

"We'll help you," they said in their high squeaky voices. "We are experts and know everything -- for we have traveled hither and yon through-out the parklands; while you have only been on this one branch your whole life, since you were born last spring. We have studied for many years and therefore know far more than you do."

The maple leaf was overjoyed that the squirrels understood his deepest desire and were altruistically going to help him live! He would not die!

The squirrels twitched their whiskers and their tails as they consulted among themselves, then ran off in all directions -- except for Fluffy, Puffy, Muffy and Robert who stayed behind.

"We are your medical administrators," they chirped in unison to the maple leaf. "We are the ones to fill out forms and process payments and file referrals and seek for donors and bill your insurance and hire new specialists and and and . . . "

The maple leaf felt overwhelmed and perplexed by all of this information and terminology, but he told himself it was worth every sacrifice, for he would live!

A squirrel returned, leading three stellar blue jays, each of whom had something in his or her beak.

One had a shard of broken glass. Another had a needle from a hypodermic that some human had carelessly disposed of. The third held a long string, which dangled in loops and squiggles that danced in the wind. And then a fourth jay appeared. He carried a fresh sprig of fir needles.

"The fir tree," announced Fluffy, "has generously volunteered to be a donor for this historic first-ever fir-to-maple transplant . . . "

"Grafting," Robert corrected.

"First-ever fir-to-maple grafting," Fluffy continued, with an irritated expression on his furry face. The facial expression would have been difficult for humans to decipher, but squirrels know the way of squirrels. Robert interpreted the irritation to mean his boss had a weak spot, a touch of insecurity. Robert was vying to move up the corporate ladder in this booming new medical industrial complex, and this triumph would carry him higher. His name would go down in history: "Robert, the inventor of the maple/fir graft!"

Well, if you have ever worked in an office, or had occasion to visit one, you can imagine the rest from here. So I won't go into every little detail of the back-biting and money-grabbing and reputation-building that went on in the ever-growing community of squirrels, jays, then crows and moles and even the spiders who were trying to cash in on this. For of course everything had a price, and a reasonable profit to be made each time a product changed hands.

The poor maple leaf who wanted to live took out a mortgage to pay for it all. And the "all" was an ever expanding total that got bigger and bigger.

The fir sprig was grafted onto the maple leaf in an ingenious operation involving the cutting edge of technology.

The maple leaf felt horrible, what with the holes poked in his stem and that resinous stuff gunking up his system. But, he kept telling himself that it was all worth it. After all, this was an issue of life or death. And death was to be avoided at all costs, no matter how arduous or painful.

The squirrels' nest was filling with nuts that the squirrels themselves did not collect.

"This medical administrating business is a heck of a lot more profitable than collecting our own nuts," they congratulated themselves in the evening, as they reclined in their nest made of already dead leaves, lined with the softest and spongiest moss, decorated with the rarest downy feathers, and filled with a hoard of only the finest nuts of select trees from all over the land. All of this luxury was brought to them, item by item, by subcontractors as their processing fee for getting certified as "Approved Providers."

The squirrels rubbed their white bellies in contentment, and groomed each other's gray fur.

"You're getting fat," Fluffy said.

"So are you," Muffy said with a sniff and a frown.

Since they no longer ran around to forage for their own food, and never left the big old maple tree, they needed more exercise.

They needed a gym.

So, ingenious crows built the administrators aerobic workout devices in the branches of the tree. For of course the squirrels were far too important and busy to leave their work of administrating the medical care in this dire life-or-death situation of the maple leaf that didn't want to die.

One day, an artist went for a walk in the woods. She sat on a fallen log and admired its texture as it weathered in the forest. The skin of bark had long ago decayed back into nourishment for Pachamama to share with all of life. The bole skeleton was beautiful as grubs consumed it. The grubs enjoyed its flavor then cast it, reformed, back into the soup of life.

Dead leaves crunched under the artist's feet as she shifted her position. The scene glowed amber before the fall of early night. Autumn was her favorite season of the year, so quiet and introspective.

She scratched pencil point over paper for several minutes.

Suddenly, the artist was startled by a noise. A strange sight greeted her eyes. An unexpected conglomeration of wildlife scurried by; a convoy of moles, wood rats, hares and other small creatures hurried along, each carrying something. Jays and crows flapped overhead. The birds toted strange objects in their beaks.

Startled by these unusual sights, the artist arose from her magnificent tree corpse to follow the animals and see where they were going.

She came upon a path much trodden with all shapes and sizes of feet, paws, and slithering bellies. The path led to a maple tree.

And what an odd tree it was. The artist frowned at the sight. Her heart felt sad when she gazed at the overweight squirrels running in suspended hamster wheels dangling from skeletal limbs. Other arms of the maple bent low with the weight of the biggest squirrel nests she had ever seen. At any moment the branches could snap from the burden.

All of this feverish activity of forest critters running, flying, and crawling up and down the tree went to -- and originated from -- a certain point on a certain twig from which dangled a lone maple leaf.

And what an odd leaf it was.

A multitude of metal devices fastened the leaf to its twig, while a massive tangle of hoses and pumps transported green fluid into its tender arbolean veins.

The leaf was alive, yes.

"But what kind of life is this?" the artist asked aloud. The stillness and beauty of the autumn day was destroyed for her.

The artist turned and walked away from the chaos and hubbub extending the life of that leaf beyond its season. Her footsteps crunched on the crisp corpses of the leaf's fallen comrades.

Later, she sat at her drawing table. She finished the sketch she'd started while sitting on that log in the woods, bathed in the golden light that is only seen once the trees have shed their leaves.

Thoughtfully, the artist rose, went to the kitchen table and looked at her assortment of amber-colored plastic jars with childproof caps, each of which was to treat the side effects of one of the other medications.

"What do I need with all this?"

With a sweep of her arm, she pushed the jars into the trash.

First published in Foliate Oak Literary Journal, October 2012. Thank you! 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Is Obama's Call for Peace an Impossible Dream? (How global domestic abuse affects you, and what you can do about it)

How can we explain the stunned silence of the crowds when President Obama mentioned the word "peace" in his acceptance speech? Like an abused wife, have we become so accustomed to the control tactics of global domestic abusers that we now see abuse as normal and peace as an impossible dream?

Domestic abuse gone global. It's not just an intimate couple trapped in a cycle of abuse based on power and control, it's all of us in the world. Global domestic abuse. Domestic abuse tactics include:

• Isolation

o Controlling what we do, who we see, who we talk to, what we read, where we go (The Patriot Act and Homeland Security, and their counterparts around the world)
o Limiting our outside involvement (Creating a climate of fear of traveling to unapproved countries such as Cuba, and restrictions of movement for travel and immigration across the US border)

• Male Privilege

o Treating us like a servant (Wage slaves)
o Making all the big decisions (WTO, World Bank, IMF, etc)
o Acting like the King of the Castle (All those experts we are expected to believe)
o Being the one to define men's and women's roles (Women still do not legally have equal rights, and what rights women do have are being challenged every day)

• Economic Abuse

o Preventing us from getting or keeping a job (We've all seen this)
o Making us ask for money (Mortgage applications, car loan applications, Health Insurance applications, Social Aid applications, Student loan applications, Grant applications, etc, etc, etc)
o Not letting us know about or have access to the (global) family income (Rich getting richer and poor getting poorer)

• Emotional Abuse (Turn on the TV and you'll find all of these; hence the epidemic of mood-altering medications and suicides)

o Putting us down (If we're not an expert, our ideas don't count)
o Calling us names (Advertisements that imply "You're ugly, fat, unlovable!" etc, if we don't look like a model)
o Making us think we're crazy (Prozac, Paxil, Ritalin, etc.)
o Making us feel bad about ourselves ("You're a social reject if you don't have the latest iPhone!" or whatever)
o Playing mind games (Too many to list)
o Humiliating us (Airport security)
o Making us feel guilty (Mortgage foreclosures, IMF loans with harsh conditions)

• Coercion and Threats

o Making us do illegal things (Invading countries is not legal)
o Making us drop charges (US ignores the World Court)
o Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt us (People jailed under the Patriot Act for just reading, talking, or not talking like Leah-Lynne Plante)
o Threatening to commit suicide (Suggesting that the world will end unless the economy keeps making the rich richer and the poor poorer)

• Intimidation

o Making us afraid by using looks, actions, gestures (Turn on the TV and almost everywhere we see something trying to make us feel fear, such as a news show about terrorists)
o Smashing things (Atomic bombs blowing up cities, etc)
o Destroying our property (Our home, the Earth, is being destroyed by transnational corporations)
o Abusing pets (Species going extinct due to industrial pollution)
o Displaying weapons (Selling and using weapons seems to be the number one industry: the military-industrial complex)

There's a lot more, but you get the idea. As you can see, the abusers are the super rich people who create transnational corporations that make the rich richer and the poor poorer, while buying up radio and TV stations and major newspapers to spread propaganda justifying the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, and paying politicians to do their bidding. The victims of this global domestic abuse are all the rest of us: almost 7 billion people living on this globe.

When the abuser is an individual trying to control another individual, any domestic abuse hotline you may call will probably advise you to leave the situation and sever all ties, physical, financial, verbal, emotional, etc., with the abuser.

But when you're a victim of global domestic abuse, you can't leave the globe and go to another planet, as in Eric Frank Russell's 1951 science fiction classic tale of a Gandhian utopian planet, ...And Then There Were None. Like the Democrats, Republicans and other parties in Washington, and everyone on the planet, we all have to find a way to come together, dialog, and work things out. How can we, as President Obama said, "Do the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move . . . forward?"

A huge first step would be for abusers to take a lesson from one of their own: the late transnational CEO, Ray C. Anderson. In his autobiography, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose--Doing Business by Respecting the Earth, he shows how he woke up from being an abuser and developed empathy and compassion.

In the United Kingdom there is a program for abusers to learn how to accept responsibility for their actions and reform their ways. Perhaps they can take their program to corporate headquarters around the world, Wall Street brokerage firms, and government offices of obstructionist politicians.

In the meanwhile, we can each develop our own state of life. I feel inspired by these words of Daisuku Ikeda, president of the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International, which I jotted down during his 1990 live-simulcast speech from Los Angeles, California:
"When you feel entrapped by the chains of society, stand up with courage (compassion and wisdom) and your life will be as huge as the universe."

Article first published as Is Obama's Call for Peace an Impossible Dream? on Blogcritics.

Monday, September 3, 2012

U.S. Presidential Election; Green Party should endorse Obama, while endorsing Greens for local elections

Just a quick note to address the Green Party --

Please stop criticizing President Obama and presenting unbalanced data. I recommend that you focus on local elections for now, and build your base.

The last time I idealistically voted third party in a presidential election, Reagan got elected. We "Green"-sympathizing third party voters inadvertantly took votes away from Carter. By default we helped usher in the very Reagan/Bush era of fear that you are criticizing.

Please stop trying to take votes away from Obama, the lesser of two corporate evils. Instead, you can recommend that all Greens vote for Obama while you continue to build a firm foundation locally.

Focus on local elections. Build your base.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to be a Buddha; The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon

SGI study chief Mr. Morinaka for the first time lectured in Seattle, Washington. On August 20th, to a packed auditorium, he talked about "The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon" by Nichiren Daishonin. His lecture drew heavily from commentary written by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda.

As background, Mr. Morinaka discussed some of the history of Buddhism and observed that Buddhism branched into two main practices:

1. Meditative
2. Praying to statues

Meditation nowadays, he said, is often thought of as achieving tranquility, peace of mind. Some schools even advocate trying to sever attachments. However, in the past, Tien Tai of China practiced a different type of meditation whose intent was to observe ones innate limitless Buddhahood and to manifest it.

Praying to statues, on the other hand, Mr. Morinaka observed was separating ourselves from Buddhahood. A statue externalizes the Buddha. The greater we imagine the external Buddha to be, the lesser we ourselves feel. We feel tinier and more insignificant.

As I ponder these observations, it brings to mind some oft quoted words of Nichiren Daishonin.

"Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo." ("The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon," Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, page 832)


"Even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo, if you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but an inferior teaching." ("On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime," WND page 3)

So, we can see that even if we are chanting daimoku, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, to the gohonzon, if we think the gohonzon is outside ourself, instead of observing our own innate limitless Buddhahood and manifesting it, we actually can feel tinier and more insignificant -- as if we are praying to a statue of an external Buddha.

This reminds me of a point made by Christopher Small in his book Music, Society, Education. Small observed that Western Industrialized Society has created a type of priesthood called "experts." The more we idolize "experts" and unquestioningly believe what they say, the tinier and more insignificant we feel. "I'm not an expert," is a phrase we often hear and maybe have said ourselves. When we put anyone on a pedestal, be it an Olympic athlete, a rock star, a politician, an economist, a scientist or even an SGI leader, the more we idolize them as "others" outside of ourselves, the tinier and more insignificant we feel.

Of course we admire greatness, beauty and wisdom. We feel deep appreciation for what our mentors and role models teach us. But, if we forget that we are all one, that each of us is a microcosm of the entirety of humanity, all of life and indeed the whole universe, then we are externalizing that person whom we admire, seeing them as outside of ourself. And when we externalize them, the more we worship their greatness, then the tinier and more insignificant we feel. Rather than feeling inspired to achieve greatness ourselves, we can actually lose hope and even succumb to despair.

Despair is rampant because Western Industrialized Society teaches us the false belief that we are all separate from other people, the natural world and the cosmos. It is a new habit we are developing, learning to strengthen our awareness of our innate limitless Buddhahood and to manifest it.

Mr. Morinaka, in his lecture, repeatedly emphasized the importance of faith; it is up to ones faith to elicit the power of the gohonzon. With faith as the foundation of our practice and study we do our human revolution and strengthen our conviction that we each are as limitlessly powerful and indomitable as the entire universe spanning past, present and future and that nothing is impossible.

The Sun of Jiyu Over a New Land; the complete poem

Since this major work of Daisaku Ikeda, "The Sun of Jiyu Over a New Land," is only quoted in truncated versions elsewhere online, I decided to type out the entire poem and post it on this blog as a public service.

In response to the Rodney King Riots of 1992, SGI president Ikeda wrote this poem of hope to the SGI-USA members of Los Angeles, and by extension, the people of the entire world.

"The Sun of Jiyu Over a New Land" inspired the SGI youth of Los Angeles to present a Global Family Festival at the Ikeda Auditorium in Santa Monica, California in 1998. During the rehearsal period we, of the Documentary Committee, would read the entire poem aloud together every week.

You can also find this poem in the book To My Dear Friends in America; Collected U.S. Addresses 1990-1996, by Daisaku Ikeda, World Tribune Press, 2008, pages 202 - 215.

"The Sun of Jiyu Over a New Land"
To my treasured friends of Los Angeles, the city of my dreams.

A brilliant, burning sun
rises above the newborn land, 
aiming toward a new century,
raising the curtain on a new stage
of humanity's history.
Shedding its light equally on all things,
it seeks the sky's distant midpoint. 

In this land wrapped in the limitless light
of the morning sun,
my splendid American friends
make their appearance;
bearing the world's hopes,
with power and vigor they commence their progress anew.
To my beloved and treasured friends I say:
"Long live America renewed!
Long live the SGI-USA reborn!"

Ah! This enchanting city, Los Angeles!
Land of freedom and pioneering spirit!
From jagged mountain ranges 
to the Pacific Ocean,
variegated nature changes ceaselessly --
rich agricultural lands nurtured by the sun's dazzling rays,
and the groundbreaking efforts 
of those who came before.
Downtown, clusters of buildings soar skyward.

To think that this vast metropolis 
could grow from a single aqueduct
stretched across the barren desert
from beyond the distant mountains!

It is said that in America
new winds blow from the west.
And indeed, the fresh breezes
of new ways of thinking,
new styles of living,
have arisen in California
and spread to the entire United States.
So many stories of the silver screen,
created here in Hollywood,
have delivered bountiful gifts
of romance and dreams 
to the world's peoples.

This rich spiritual soil, 
this great earth alive with diversity
of peoples and traditions -- 
giving rise to new culture,
a new humanity.

Los Angeles is a city pregnant with future,
a city where, in the words of one writer,
you can set new precedents 
with your own energy and creativity.

And more, Los Angeles is a bridge
linking East and West,
a land of merging and fusion
where cultures of the Pacific
encounter traditions of the West.

Ah, the Pacific that opens before our eyes!
The boundless, free and untamed sea
for which the great Melville
voiced his respect and praise:
"It rolls the mid-most waters on the world.
. . . the tide-beating heart of earth."

Once, the Mediterranean
was inland sea and mother to the 
civilizations of the surrounding regions --
Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In like manner, the Pacific's depths
must not divide -- 
but be the cradle of a new civilization,
an enormous "inland sea" connecting
the Americas North and South,
the continents of Asia and Australia.

This is my firm conviction --
California will be the energy source 
for the Pacific region
in the twenty-first century
and Los Angeles its eastern capital.

In October 1960, I took my first steps on
the American continent
in California, the Golden State.
The honor and glory of becoming 
the first chapter established in North America 
belong to the Los Angeles Chapter. 

Since then, this city has been
the core and center of kosen-rufu
in the United States, the starting point
for worldwide kosen-rufu.
My dear friends, never forget
this mission which you
so decidedly possess.

In the thirty-three years since that time, 
I have visited Los Angeles seventeen times.
Kansai is the heart
whose beating drives the movement 
for kosen-rufu in Japan;
Los Angeles plays this self-same role for the entire world.
For this reason, on each visit,
staking all, I drove in deep
and deeper
the piling of construction.

In 1980,
the first SGI General Meeting was held,
and in 1987, Soka University of America
opened its doors.

Ah, February 1990!
I postponed my visit 
to South America and for seventeen days
gave myself heart and soul
to the work of encouraging
my beloved fellow members
here in Los Angeles!
Those impassioned, consuming days of
unceasing toil and action
are the collaborative 
golden poems of shared struggle.

Nor can I ever forget the spring of 1992 ---
even now my heart is rent with pain 
when I recall how the 
tragic news of the civil unrest in Los Angeles
raced around the world.

Heartrending images
of the evening sky shrouded in black smoke,
of buildings collapsing in flames,
once peaceful streets shattered by riot,
the entire city gripped
by a battlefield tension.
People standing lost in confusion,
a woman holding an infant cried out
-- What has become of the ideals of this country?
What are we supposed to teach our children? --
Her woe-filled words tore 
like talons at my heart.

I received continuous reports,
extended prompt relief.
And, putting everything aside,
I sat before the Gohonzon and 
single-mindedly prayed --
for the safety of my treasured friends,
for the immediate restoration of order,
for a world without violence and discrimination.

Ah, America, land bringing together
so many different peoples!
A republic of ideals
born beneath the lofty banners,
the uniting principles of
freedom and equality.
As this century draws to its close,
the soul of your idealism
grieves at the stark realities of racial strife.
What is to become of the
spirit of your nation
fostered by so many people of
wisdom and philosophy?

My treasured friends,
There is no question that your multiracial nation, America,
represents humanity's future.
Your land holds secret stores of unbounded possibility, transforming
the energy of different cultures
into the unity of construction,
the flames of conflict 
into the light of solidarity,
the eroding rivulets of mistrust
into a great broad flow of confidence.
On what can we ground our efforts to open
the horizons of such a renaissance?

It is for just this reason,
my precious, treasured friends,
that you must develop within yourselves
the life-condition of Jiyu --
Bodhisattva of the Earth.

As each group seeks its separate 
roots and origins,
society fractures along a thousand fissure lines.
When neighbors distance themselves 
from neighbors, continue your
uncompromising quest 
for your truer roots
in the deepest regions of your life.
Seek out the primordial "roots" of humankind.
Then you will without fail discover
the stately expanse of Jiyu
unfolding in the depths of your life.

Here is the home, the dwelling place
to which humankind traces
its original existence --
beyond all borders,
beyond all difference of gender and race.
Here is a world offering true proof
of our humanity.

If one reaches back to these fundamental roots,
all become friends and comrades.
To realize this is to "emerge from the earth."

Past, present, future . . . 
The causes and effects of the three existences
flow ceaselessly as the reality of life;
interlinked, they give rise to all 
differences and distinctions.
Trapped in those differences,
human society is wracked by 
unending contention.

But the Buddhism of True Cause,
expounded by the Daishonin whose
teachings we embrace,
enables us to break the spell
of past karma, past causes and effects,
and to awaken to the grand humanity
-- the life of Jiyu --
that had lain dormant in our hearts.

My mentor, President Toda,
taught us that when one embraces
the Mystic Law,
all intervening causes and effects
ebb and retreat, and there emerges
the common mortal of beginningless time.

This, another name for Bodhisattva of the Earth,
is the greatness and splendor
of the human being write large,
after all false distinctions and adornments
have been removed.

Awaken to the life of Jiyu within!
When the bright sun of True Cause rises,
the stars and planets of 
past cause and effect grow dim,
and the supreme world of
harmonious unity emerges -- 
the unity of friends and comrades
each manifesting the life-condition 
of Bodhisattva of the Earth,
offering timeless proof that, indeed,
"The assembly on Eagle Peak has not yet dispersed."

Ah, my treasured friends,
whom I so deeply love and respect!
It is critical for you now
to directly perceive
the web of life that binds all people!

Buddhism describes
the connective threads of 
dependent origination.
Nothing in this world exists alone;
everything comes into being and continues
in response to causes and conditions.
Parent and child.
Husband and wife.
Friends. Races.
Humanity and nature.
This profound understanding
of coexistence, of symbiosis -- 
here is the source of resolution for
the most pressing and fundamental issues
that confront humankind
in the chaotic last years of this century.

The Buddhist scriptures include
the parable of "Two Bundles of Reeds,"
aptly demonstrating this relation
of dependent origination.
Only by supporting each other
can the two bundles stand straight --
if one is removed, the other must fall.
Because this exists, so does that;
because that exists, so does this.

 For several brilliant centuries,
Western civilization has encouraged 
the independence of the individual
but now appears to be facing 
a turbulent twilight.
The waves of egoism
eat away at the shores of
contemporary society.
The tragedy of division
wraps the world in a thick fog.
Individuals are becoming 
mere scraps, mere fragments,
competing reed bundles of lesser self
threatened with mutual collapse.

My friends!
Please realize that you already possess
the solution to this quandary.
First you must break the hard shell 
of the lesser self.
This you must absolutely do.
Then direct your lucid gaze toward your friends, fellow members.

People can only live fully
by helping others to live.
When you give life to friends,
you truly live.
Cultures can only realize
their further richness
by honoring other traditions.
And only by respecting natural life
can humanity continue to exist.

Now is the time for you to realize 
that through relations
mutually inspiring and harmonious,
the greater self is awakened to dynamic action.
the bonds of life are restored and healed.
And blossoms in delightful multitude
exude the unique fragrance 
of each person, of each ethnicity,
in precise accord with the principle of
cherry, plum, pear and damson.(1)

Our goal --
the Second American Renaissance.
Holding high the standard of humanity,
we advance --
from divisiveness to union,
from conflict to coexistence,
from hatred to fraternity.
In our struggle, in our fight,
there cannot be
even a moment's pause or stagnation.
My beloved friends,
Bodhisattvas of the Earth
readying yourselves
for the new century's dawn!
With you own efforts
bring about a renaissance here,
in this "magnetic land!"

The certain signs of America reborn,
Los Angeles rejuvenated,
are to be found within your hearts.
With this pride and conviction,
be victorious in your daily life,
overcome your own weaknesses every day.
Never forget that it is only through 
relentless challenge 
-- one step following another -- 
that you can steadily transform
your ideals into reality.

Buddhism is reason.
Therefore, always maintain self-control.
Be the master of your actions. 
Exercise common sense in society.
Keep a smiling countenance at home.
Be courteous to your friends and fellow members,
like a warm spring breeze to the suffering.
Reason exhaustively with the confused.
But, when you deal with the arrogant ones,
be bold and fearless like the Lion King!

Seen from the Malibu Training Center,
the Pacific Ocean's unbounded expanse
is bathed in radiant California sun.
An ocean of peace across whose surface 
innumerable waves murmur and dance.

Beloved Los Angelenos!
I want you each to be
like the California sunshine,
showering on all people
the bright light and warmth
of your compassion.
Be people who extend hope and courage,
who inspire respect and gratitude
wherever you go.

Buddhism teaches us the means
to overcome life's fundamental pain
-- the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death -- 
which none can escape,
and which no degree of wealth and fame
can relieve in the slightest.

Everyone, anyone -- 
when returned to
their solitary human existence,
is but a karma-laden "reed,"
trembling before the onslaught
of the four sufferings.

Seeking eternity within impermanence,
crossing over delusion to nurture confidence,
building happiness from anguish,
rush forward from today
toward tomorrow
in the prodigious battle that is
our human revolution!
For you are the Buddha's emissaries
upholding the ultimate philosophy of life!

Fellow Bodhisattvas of the Earth!
Born here, gathered together here in Los Angeles
that you might fulfill your mission --
Raise your voices in songs of praise 
for freedom, democracy and humanity!
Wave the banners of culture and peace!

Ah, Los Angeles!
Here is to be found SUA,
A palace of intellect for 
the Pan-Pacific era of the twenty-first century.
Here is located the World Culture Center,
dynamo of American kosen-rufu.
And here rises the splendid form
of the future site of the SGI Headquarters --
which will become the mainstay
of the grand endeavor of worldwide kosen-rufu.
Truly a new wind will blow from the west!
Los Angeles, the stage on which
you act with such freedom and vigor,
is the launching site for world kosen-rufu, 
the cornerstone that links East and West.

Walt Whitman, giant of 
the American Renaissance, penned these words:
"Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race 
the sun ever shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands,
With the love of comrades,
With the life-long love of comrades."(2)

Ah, Los Angeles!
The sun rises beyond the Rockies,
spreading its light over the wide Pacific.
Now! In its luminous beams,
let friend and friend pull together
in perfect unity, rowing into the seas --
embarking on a new leg
of our journey of kosen-rufu!

Grip the rudder,
hold firm to your course --
the Stars and Stripes,
the tricolor flag of the SGI,
ripple as a hopeful breeze fills our sails.
The lapping waves beat out their message
of congratulations upon our ship's bow!
Our destination --
America's distant future,
the lights and colors
of a Century of Life,
the brilliant glory of human harmony.

1. "Cherry, plum, peach and damson blossoms all have their own qualities, and they manifest the three properties of the life of the Buddha without changing their character" (Nichiren Daishonin, Gosho Zenshu, p. 784)

 2. Walt Whitman, "For You O Democracy," Leaves of Grass, 1860


Sunday, July 29, 2012

WU LUNG and I LUNG, A short Buddhist play by Lynette Yetter

Adapted from pages 12 and 13 of the August 2012 Living Buddhism magazine published by SGI-USA, based on the gosho "Wu Lung and I Lung" page 1099 of the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin.

Wu Lung
I Lung
The King


Wu Lung and his son I Lung are seated side by side at a writing desk, carefully doing calligraphy with brushes and ink. Wu Lung writes with confidence, due to his long experience. I Lung, however, is timid and writes slowly with nervous attention; for he is just learning. 

Not like that, son. Watch what I am doing, if you want to become a Master Calligrapher.

(Bowing low) Yes, Father.

The King enters and strides regally up to the writing desk. He lays a scroll on the desk near to Wu Lung. 

Wu Lung, my Master Calligrapher. I want you to copy this document.

(Bowing low) Yes, my King.

The King exits with great pomp. Wu Lung unrolls the scroll and scans the contents. 

I Lung, prepare more ink. We have a lot of work ahead of us.

Yes, Father.

Wu Lung continues to read over the scroll. Meanwhile, I Lung, completely with mime, places the ink stone in front of him and pours some water in it. He keeps the ink stick upright; holding it with the thumb on one side and the index and middle finger on the other side. He presses the ink stick on the ink stone very lightly and describes circular movements with the stick. Wu Lung is still reading the scroll. 

Good thing our King is not asking us to copy anything Buddhist.

Wu Lung lowers the scroll. He has a very angry and determined look on his face. 

For I despise Buddhism.

Wu Lung abruptly faces his son, with great seriousness. 

I Lung, I want you to promise me something.

I Lung pauses from his ink-making task and faces his father with full attention.

Yes, Father.

Promise me that, no matter what, you will never - not ever - copy a single word from a Buddhist writing.

Yes, Father. I promise to obey you and never copy a single word from a Buddhist writing.

Wu Lung smiles with great satisfaction. 


Suddenly, Wu Lung’s facial expression changes to one of panic. He drops the scroll and clutches at his heart. He gasps for breath and stumbles offstage where he collapses dead.

(From offstage) Gak!!!!!

I Lung is mortified. He weeps in extreme mourning. The King enters with another scroll in his hand. I Lung stops weeping and greets the king with a deep bow.

I Lung, your father’s funeral will be sumptuous as befitting his rank. Now it is your task to carry on your father’s work.

Yes, my King.

The King extends the scroll to I Lung. 

I want you to copy this Buddhist writing, the Lotus Sutra.

Offstage we hear WU LUNG’S VOICE, with a ghostly tremor. I Lung hears the voice, but the King appears to not hear anything. 

Promise me, my son, that no matter what, you will never - not ever - copy a single word from a Buddhist writing.

I Lung trembles, torn. Whose command should he follow? The king continues to extend the scroll of the Lotus Sutra to I Lung, looking a bit impatient that he has not yet accepted it. 

The voice of the deceased Wu Lung talks at the same time as the king. 

I want you to copy this Buddhist writing, the Lotus Sutra.

(From off stage) Promise me you will never - not ever - copy a single word from a Buddhist writing.

I Lung closes his eyes and places his hands over his ears in great anguish. 

I want you to copy this Buddhist writing, the Lotus Sutra.

(From off stage) Promise me you will never - not ever - copy a single word from a Buddhist writing.

Emotion bursting out, I Lung drops his hands from his ears, open his eyes and shouts. 

Yes, Father! Yes, Father!

The King, perplexed gazes at I Lung.

And just what is THAT supposed to mean?

Trembling, and looking at the ground, I Lung explains. 

My father’s dying wish was for me to promise to never, not ever, copy a single word from a Buddhist writing.

Obviously highly irritated at having his imperial edict denied, the King gets a calculating look on his face, as if imagining what future punishments he can come up with to reprimand I Lung for his insubordination. I Lung notices this royal glare and trembles in deep fear. 

(In a threatening tone of voice) I can’t make you break your promise. But can you at least copy the title of the Lotus Sutra?

I Lung, afraid of going against the King any more, hangs his head in remorse and reaches out his hand to accept the scroll. 

Yes, my King.

The King hands over the scroll and exits with haughty triumphant steps. Obviously shaken with deep fear, I Lung sits at the calligraphy desk, mimes rolling out a fresh sheet of paper and places weights on the corners to hold it in place. He dips his brush in the ink and with mortal fear, paints the characters as he recites them aloud. 

(Stuttering) M-m-m-myo-ho Re-re-re-renge K-k-k-kk- k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k--------Kyo!

Emotionally exhausted, I Lung collapses with his head resting on his folded arms and falls asleep with TWO SOFT SNORING SOUNDS. 

Zzzzzz. Zzzzzzz.

Enter Wu Lung, walking in a happy heavenly dreamlike way. He addresses the sleeping I Lung. 

I Lung, my son.

Still sleeping, I Lung talks in his sleep.

I’m sorry Father. I’m so sorry I broke the promise to you. Please forgive me Father!

Forgive you? Why, I have come to visit you in your dreams in order to THANK you for ignoring my order.

Thank me???!!??

Because I went against Buddhism, I had been miserable ever since I died. But when you wrote myoho-renge- kyo, each word turned into a Buddha who came to encourage me.

(Smiles in his sleep) Aaaahhh! That is great you are happy now, Father!

(With a stern reprimanding tone, hand on hip and wagging an accusatory finger at I Lung) And I would have been happier a lot sooner if you had thought for yourself, instead of blindly following orders.

Yes, Father.

Wu Lung throws his hands in the air and looks heavenward, shaking his head as he exits. 

I Lung wakes up, stretches and yawns. He has a bright expression on his face. He leaps up and paces around with great vigor. 

I WILL think for myself, and never again blindly follow orders. And what my heart tells me to do right now is to copy the entire Lotus Sutra for everybody’s happiness.

He sits back down, dips his imaginary brush into the ink and writes with a flourish. As I Lung writes, we HEAR I Lung, the King and Wu Lung chanting strong joyous daimoku in unison. 

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Nam-myohorenge- kyo. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

The King and Wu Lung enter. I Lung stands. The three characters stand together center stage, take a bow to the audience and together exit. 


Monday, July 16, 2012

Bicycle Camping in Mexico, Colombia, and Beyond: An Interview with Andreas Hubl and Anita Burgholzer

While fear of violence keeps most US tourists out of Mexico and Colombia, the young Austrian couple Andreas Huble and Anita Burgholzer bicycled and tent-camped all the way through these countries (and many others), armed only with friendly smiles. They are happily pedaling still.
I met them as they rested in Copacabana, Bolivia. We chatted about their almost two-year journey-in-progress.

What were your experiences in Mexico and Colombia?

As a rule of thumb we can say that 99% of the people ALL over the world are good! With a little bit of preparation and common sense you will be able to travel in most of the countries which are "oh so dangerous." We always try to carry our smiles, and even more important to keep our hearts open. Most of the encounters we have are positive. The people in Mexico (and especially in Colombia) were always very helpful, enthusiastic and hospitable. We did not have any problems regarding safety. In those countries, most of the criminal activity happens internally, between rival cartels, the police and para-militaries. If you avoid traveling in high-risk areas (locals will tell you where those are), you will most likely be safe. Even in the States, or in Europe, there's a chance of being robbed at night in the wrong 'hood. In Colombia and El Salvador we felt extremely welcome. Very few tourists go there, and locals treated us like family members. In Colombia, we received many invitations into people's homes, and had a wonderful time. It was just great, far better than we expected.

How did you decide to do this journey?

Traveling and cycling have always been essential parts of our lives. We started saving money – just in case our dream would someday turn into reality. I (Andreas) read a lot of books from other adventure cyclists and was fascinated by the way they see the world. Traveling by bicycle they are part of the environment, and get a much deeper understanding of a country and its day-to-day culture. These stories, written in a sensible and critical way in the natural voice of the author, created a lot of pictures in my mind. They fed my yearning for someday breaking out of the routine.

How did you prepare for this trip?

In 2008 we made our first "test-trip." We spent three weeks bicycle camping on the small island of Socotra (Jemen). It was such a wonderful experience that we decided to set off when the time was right. At the end of 2009 we were no longer happy with our jobs (although now, after seeing how most people live, we have learned not to complain). We knew that we could not wait much longer as we dream of having a family one day. So we set a date (May 5, 2010), and communicated our decision to our families and friends – which was the most important step of the whole journey.

Why was that?

First, we figured out the logistics of what to do with our jobs, flat, etc. before we told anyone. That way when they raised objections, we could explain in detail how we would take care of those situations. Then, the reactions were stunningly good! It was the most important step because once other people are involved in your plans, it gets more difficult to say, "No, it all has just been a joke." The acceptance motivated us a lot. We knew that we were doing the right thing, and that our family and friends support us.

What were your jobs/careers?

I (Anita) worked as a Graphic Designer in a small advertising company. I (Andreas) worked as a purchaser for a company which produces solar panels.

Why do you prefer bicycling, instead of flying or driving?

It is the slowness of our travel that makes it so intense. You are urged to stop in small, remote villages – talk to people with different social backgrounds. Some are bitterly poor, and would give you their last piece of bread. But also many rich people showed us respect and were very hospitable.

What does "slowness" mean to you?

There's a saying which describes "slowness" perfectly: "The snail can tell you more about the way than the rabbit."

On your travels, what have you learned about human beings?

The most important thing for ALL human beings is being happy. For most people this means having good relations with their families and/or friends, a harmonic social environment. No matter if we are rich or poor, educated or "simple," settled down or nomadic – we all have to eat, sleep, love, cry, laugh. We all want to live in peace and harmony.

What countries have you bicycled through?

Austria, our home country - Czech Republic - Poland - Lithuania - Latvia - Estonia - Sweden - Norway - Denmark - Iceland - USA - Mexico - Belize - Guatemala - Honduras - El Salvador - Nicaragua - Costa Rica - Panama - Colombia - Ecuador - Peru - Bolivia. We will continue our trip to Argentina and Chile. Around February 2012 we want to reach Ushuaia, Patagonia – the southern-most city on the Americas. After that? We'll see if we still feel wanderlust. Maybe we'll continue to India and return to Europe overland.

What have you experienced with people in different countries?

Generally speaking you can say that as soon as you enter a new country, the "energy" changes: the environment, nature, the weather and history, praegt – the people, everything. Eastern Europeans are more reserved. It is not so easy to get in touch with them. But once a conversation is running, it can rapidly turn into deep friendship.

In Iceland we experienced a deep connection with ancient traditions and nature. Young, trendy Reykjavikians wear exactly the same, woolen sweaters as their grandparents wear. Ancestral mythology is still very much a part of everyone's daily life.

The USA was a completely different world for us. Everybody was talking to us, wanting to know more about our trip. We were fascinated by the easy way of making contact with people there.

In Latin American countries it depends on where you travel. In coastal areas people were mostly very emotional and outgoing. In the Andes, especially in areas with a lot of indígenas, it got a bit more difficult to get in touch with people. But nevertheless, our way of traveling helps us to meet and learn from people who often live a simple life in harsh conditions where there is not much time and space for an easy-going lifestyle. But be warned – once a fiesta starts, the indígenas turn into hedonistic, happy party-people!

What thoughts do you hold in your minds and hearts as you encounter new languages, cultures, people?

In Eastern Europe we mainly talked with our hands and feet. In Northern Europe the majority speak decent English. For more than a year we have only needed Spanish, which [we now speak] on an intermediate level. Learning the language makes traveling and talking to people much easier. Regarding cultures and people, with open hearts and no expectations, we have never been disappointed or surprised.

How do you think traveling by bicycle and tent-camping (rather than traveling in an RV) affects the way you perceive and interact with other people?

Our style of traveling lets us understand a little bit better about the conditions in which local people live. Sometimes the homes are very simple adobe huts with straw roofs at altitudes of more than 4.000 meters. In Colombia we saw people living in huts made of trash. When we passed, it was pouring rain and the temperature was below 10 degrees Celsius. The water ran directly through their huts. We personally would feel a bit bad if we traveled in such areas with a luxurious RV. On the other hand, our camping equipment is very good, allowing us to withstand very harsh conditions. Our gear is quite luxurious and unaffordable for most of the people here. And many times we need help from exactly these people! In remote areas it is often necessary to ask locals for water, or for a camping spot. The conversations following our requests help us understand and learn from the people. They are happy to have contact with some crazy folks from a far-away country. These moments make our journey unique for us. We experience and take part in the everyday life that has nothing to do with the "white" picture travel books, and TV shows.

How have your travels affected other people?

Two of our best friends are currently traveling overland from Europe to India. They always mention that if we had not made our dreams come true, they most likely would not have made the decision to travel in this way. Also, our blog is a big success. For many people it has become essential to read our stories, and vicariously travel with us.

You can read Anita and Andreas' blog (in German), and see their photos. Maybe you, too, will become inspired to live your dreams.

Article first published as Bicycle Camping in Mexico, Colombia, and Beyond: An Interview with Andreas Hubl and Anita Burgholzer on