2008-12-cover-sml.jpg Cover Artist: Cherie Payne
Title: Essence
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Website: www.cherieblossomart.com

Feature Article: The Dark Side of Devotion

With my first impression of devotion, associating it with sacredness and holiness – monks, nuns and priests, and devotees of religions – a warm and fuzzy feeling arose within me.

The more I contemplated devotion the more facets I began to see. I remembered an art exhibition I attended years ago that was raising awareness about the plight of those in China who were devoted to Falun Dafa (Gong). The scale and scope of abuse taking place there make it possibly the largest religious persecution in the world today. To date over 3000 deaths have been documented, as well as over 63, 000 accounts of torture.

In April 1999 over ten thousand Falun Gong practitioners gathered at the Chinese Communist Party headquarters in a silent protest against beatings and arrests. Two months later the Chinese government banned the practice, began a crackdown, and started a ‘massive propaganda campaign’.

Since 1999, reports of torture, illegal imprisonment, beatings, forced labour, and psychiatric abuses have been widespread. 66% of all reported torture cases in China concern Falun Gong practitioners, who are also estimated to comprise at least half of China’s labour camp population, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture. In 2006, human rights lawyer David Matas and ex-Canadian Secretary of State, David Kilgour, published an investigative report concluding that a large number of Falun Gong practitioners have become victims of systematic organ harvesting in China and that the practice is still ongoing.

China is not the only country where these things are experienced. People all over the world from Africa to India have been persecuted for their devotion – Muslims, Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, evangelical Christian churches, Islam, Baha’i, Sikhs, Dalists, the list goes on. In 2007 we saw the monks of Myanmar subjected to brutality on the streets.

More recently we saw the peaceful march of 400 Tibetan
monks turn into violence, imprisonment, and beatings. Their call: to put an end to the Chinese Government’s brutal treatment of
the Tibetan people. The Government’s systematic campaign is
steeped in propaganda and forces monks to denounce the Dalai
Lama in writing, excludes Tibet from the benefits of economic development, places restrictions on religious practice, and imposes
policies that weaken Tibetan culture and ethnic identity. More than
50 of the 400 monks were arrested on their way to Lhasa, and it
was reported that 80 people were killed by the Chinese Government in the Lhasa crackdown.

And did you know that over 7000 Egyptians have been
imprisoned for their faith?

Amnesty International considers these people to be
prisoners of conscience and appeals to end government policy of
repression of religious belief and freedom of conscience, opinion
and expression in general. December 10th is Human Rights Day,
so why not devote some of your time to go online and sign a few
petitions to help.

These people who suffer religious persecution display
the most profound devotion. Are you so devoted to the aspects of
your life?

Renee Cashman
www.amnesty.org.au / www.awaazsaw.org

Regular article: Naropa – The Dauntless Disciple

Naropa came from Pataliputra, of mixed-caste parentage. His
father was a liquor seller, but when the time came to follow
his father’s profession, Naropa rejected it and went into the forest
to become a wood gatherer. Even there his restless, seeking soul
gave him no rest.

One evening he chanced to hear tales of the great sage
Tilopa. Then and there he decided that Tilopa was his guru and he
would not rest until he had found him. The next day he traded a
load of wood to a hunter for the yogin’s traditional deerskin and set
off toward Visnunagar in search of his master.

One day, when the dust sat heavy in the windless air,
Naropa was on the road to nowhere in particular when he chanced
to see a figure approaching in the hazy distance. For no discernible reason, his heart leaped in his throat. As if they had a mind of their own, his feet flew down the road toward the as yet unrecognisable figure.

But the closer he came the surer he grew. And finally,
when he could make out the face and form of the other traveller, he knew. He had found Tilopa at last. He flew to his master’s
side, prostrated himself in the dust at his feet, then began dancing
circles about him, addressing him as ‘guru’ and inquiring after his

Tilopa stopped still in the middle of the road, fixed Naropa with an angry stare and shouted, “Stop all this nonsense; I am
not your guru. You are not my disciple. I have never seen you be-
fore and hope never to lay eyes on you again!” Then he thrashed
Naropa soundly with his stout walking stick and told him to get out
of his way.

But Naropa was neither surprised nor discouraged. Now
that he had found the master he had sought for so many years,
his faith was certainly not going to be shaken by a few blows. He
simply set off for the nearest town to beg food for them both.

When he returned, Tilopa ate heartily without so much
as a word of greeting, and beat him soundly once again. Silent,
Naropa contented himself with the leftover scraps, and once again
walked around and around his guru in reverential circles.

For twelve long years he remained by Tilopa’s side, begging food and
serving him in all things. Not once did he receive a
kind word. Not once did Tilopa acknowledge him as his pupil. And
not once did Naropa’s faith waver.

Toward the end of the twelfth year they chanced upon a
village celebrating the wedding feast of a wealthy man’s daughter.
The generous host had provided the guests with eighty-four different
types of curry. One of the dishes was a delicacy so rare and
so exquisite that one taste would make you believe you had dined
with the gods.

Naropa was given large helpings of all the curries, including the
great delicacy. When he returned to Tilopa and spread out the
feast, an amazing thing happened. For the first time in all the years
Naropa had known him, Tilopa smiled. Then he helped himself to
every morsel of the special dish. Licking his fingers, he handed
Naropa his empty bowl, asking, “Where did you find this, my son?
Please return and fetch me some more.”

“‘My son!’He called me ‘my son!’thought Naropa, happy
as a Bodfhisattva on the first level of the path. “For twelve years
I have sat at my guru’s feet without so much as being asked my
name. And now he has called me ‘my son!’” Floating in ecstasy, he
returned to the wedding feast to ask for more of the special curry
for his master.

But such was Tilopa’s appetite that he sent his disciple
back again and again. Each time, to Naropa’s great relief, he was
given more of the elegant dish. But when Tilopa sent him back yet
a fifth time, Naropa was ashamed to show his face, and a great
inner struggle raged within him. Finally, unable to face his guru’s
displeasure, he made up his mind to steal the entire pot.

Waiting for the right moment, he lingered on the fringes
of the crowd, edging slowly toward the pot of curry. And as soon as
all the guests and servants were preoccupied with some ceremonial
occurrence, he abandoned his self-respect, snatched up the
pot, hid it under his robes, and made his getaway.

Tilopa praised him for lowering himself to such a level
of humiliation, further commending him for all his years of
perseverance. Calling him ‘my diligent son’, Tilopa then bestowed the
initiation and blessing of Vajra Varahi upon him and gave him instruction in meditation.

Within six months Naropa gained mahamudra-siddhi,
and a light began to flow from his being so intensely that it could
be seen as far as a month’s journey from his hermitage. His fame
spread like wildfire, and devotees flocked to him from the four
quarters of the world.

After years of tireless devotion to his countless disciples,
he was assumed bodily into the Paradise of the Dakinis.

The Universal Storyteller

‘Through loving devotion, their ego evaporates.’
Sri Guru Granth