Saturday, 14 February 2009

Parinirvana - Nirvana day

Parinirvana (Bo nie pan in Chinese) is the Buddhists final nirvana. This is reach upon the death of a person who has achieved a complete awakening. This is the ultimate goal, it is the releasefrom bhavachakra, samsara, karma and rebirth and the dissolution of all mental and worldy aggregates (skandhas).

The Mahaparinibbana Sutta and the Nirvana Sutra describe the parinirvana of the Buddha. The Mahaparinibbana Sutta (Theravada tradition) is the principal source because of its attention to detail in the most standard studies of the Buddhas life and the oldest existing account. Although the Nirvana Sutra (Mahayana Tradition) mentions well known episodes in the final months of the Buddhas life, the narratives are merely a springboard for the expression of Mahayana ideals.

Nirvana Day is a Mahayan Buddhist holiday which is celebrated in East Asia and by some Western Buddhists. Buddhists beleive the Buddha was Enlightened and hat he was free from the pain of physical existence. Passages from the Nirvana Sutra are often read on this day as well as meditation and visits to Buddhist temples and monastaries. This day is also a time to think about one's own future death and those of loved ones. The though process reflects Buddhist teachings on transience.

Friday, 13 February 2009

St Valentine's Day - The Saint of Love?

February the 14th marks St Valentine's Day and is a celebration of love and affection. Sweethearts mark the day with romance and flowers but was St Valentine the saint of love?

Valentine or Valentinus is derived from the word valens which means worthy and has been a popular name in history, it is also the name of several martyred saints in ancient Rome. Nothing is known about the Valentine whose feast day is February 14th apart from his name and that he was buried at the Via Flamina which was north of Rome.

In the earliest list of Roman martyrs compiled by the Chronographer of 354 the name Valenine isnt there, however the feast of St Valentine was first celebrated in 496 by Pope Geasius I. The Saint Valentine which appears in martyrologies connected to February 14th is described as either priest in Rome, a bishop of Interamna or a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.

It has been suggested that Valentine's day was created as an attempt to supersede the pagan holiday of Lupercalia.Observed 13th to 15th February Lupercalia was an archaic rite connected to fertility. Also that it was invented in the fourteenth century by Chaucer when the feast day became associated with romantic love.

Valentine's Day has evolved through the centuries and we now send cards and other love tokens to our sweethearts even though it has very little to do with St Valentine. I often wonder why it is we need a special day to show our love and to spend huge amounts of money to prove it. If you love your partner, show them everyday in those small ways that mean much, much more than money spent on flowers that will soon die.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Forgetting Faith Works

I confess that I sometimes forget to reach out to the beings of love and light even though I know to the very core of my soul that they are always there and will help if only I would ask.

I struggle daily with depression, I talk, meditate and pray when the going is good but at times when my depression hits the hardest I forget that I am not alone. I have friends on earth and in the other realm. Only when things are darkest do I reach out and ask for help and help is given.

My experiences tell me that faith really works, even for people who don't believe in anything that is outside themselves, faith in yourself is enough to move mountains. Jesus told us that even if your faith is the size of a mustard seed anything is possible.

If nothing else, Jesus was indeed a very wise man and believed and achieved. The teachings of Jesus touch my heart and soul, even if I am not convinced of all the bible tells us about him. To be honest I am not sure of the scriptures relating to most faiths but take out what is important, the message of faith and love.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Is spirituality a benefit to mental health?

I certainly think that there are many benefits to spirituality on mental health. It is not necessary to be part of any organised religion or faith group to gain benefits. Spirituality can give a focus and a meaning in your life and can give you a sense of acceptance and belonging. Many people with mental health problems often feel like they are on the "outside looking in" and its a lonely place to be.

Spirituality can often become a focus of a person's life during times of emotional stress, such as in times of bereavement. Often this is a time when people seek answers to life after death and why we should suffer loss of any kind. Spirituality looks to finding harmony with the universe, it looks for a way to balance the feelings of "why?", sadness and anger.

Connecting with the spiritual is a deeply personal experience and can lead you to recognise that when you hurt someone else you are in fact hurting yourself. When you lend a helping hand to another, this also aids you.

One of the unique aspects of spirituality is that it spans across all cultures and includes those who do not believe in a god or higher being. Religions are about community based worship and that too sounds like a benefit, however religions are often a source of intolerance which is certainly of no benefit to those with mental health problems and do not need to continue feeling like they are on the outside looking in.

Many practices such as yoga and Tai Chi can offer you discipline, a healthy body and a healthy mind as well as being very relaxing and focused. Some aspects can lead you to connect more with nature and fresh air is essential particularly those with depression. Ritual can offer the benefit of providing structure and reading literature on philosophy can offer fresh thinking to a negative mind. Find out what works for you, what feels right to you.

From my own personal experiences I have found that it has improved my relationship with myself and with other people. It has given a whole new meaning in my life and can help me to live with myself. I still have a long way to go in my recovery and many issues to be worked out yet I feel that it is spirituality that has kept me alive.

Thursday, 15 January 2009


Today is Pongal which is a harvest festival equivalent to a thanksgiving event. Pongal means “boiling over or spill over”. The act of boiling over of milk in the clay pot is considered to denote future prosperity for the family. Pongal is a celebration of prosperity and thanks to the rain, sun and the farm animals that have helped in the harvest. Villagers wear new clothes and people owning cows see this festival as important. The festival is at least 1000 years old though some believe that it is more than 2000 years old.

The festival is celebrated for four days, the first day Bhogi is marked by throwing away and destroying old clothes, the end of the old Thai and the emergence of the new Thai. The second day is the main day and is celebrated by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery early in the morning in new pots. Later they are topped with brown sugar, cashew nuts and raisins and allowing it to boil over the pot. This is were Pongal gets its name and when the rice boils over it is traditional to shout”Ponggalo Ponggal!” and to blow a conch shell (sangu) announcing the year to be filled with blessings and good tidings. Watching it boil over is a good sign, it means good luck and prosperity is soon to come. New boiled rice is offered to Nature at sunrise to thank the sun and nature for providing prosperity. The dish is later served to all people present for the ceremony. Savouries and sweets are also prepared and people visit each other.

Maattu Pongal, the third day is when they offer thanks to the cattle because they help farmers in many different ways. They decorate the cattle with bells, paint and flowers and are allowed to roam free. They are also fed sweet rice and sugar cane, some people decorate the horns with gold. The taming of the wild bull contest is one of the main events in some villages.

The final day, Kaanum Pongal (kaanum means “to view”), people visit their relatives and friends to enjoy the festive season. In the cities, however, people flock to beaches and theme parks with their families. Sugar cane is chewed and also houses are decorated with kolam (see picture). Today relatives and friends are thanked for the harvest. Although this festival was originally for farmers it has become a national holiday .

I like this festival. Thanks is given to everyone and everything involved in the harvest. Nothing seems to be left out. I can imagine this to be a fun festival enjoyed by all.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Baptism of Jesus

The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah :

Look, I am going to send my messenger before you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight,

and so it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. John wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey. In the course of his preaching he said "Someone following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit".

It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from Heaven "You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you".

Mark 1:1 - 11 (The Jerusalem Bible)

Mark begins this Gospel by pointing out that the prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled, John is the voice that cries in the wilderness and announces the coming of Jesus, who he later baptises. Thus providing evidence that Jesus was indeed the Son of God.

So, why did Jesus ask to be baptised? . Like some previous prophets it seems Jesus was confessing sin on behalf of all the people. By being baptised he was approving John's ministry and baptism. In this way Jesus also was identifying with those who were repenting. It was also an announcement of the beginning of Jesus' ministry.

Christian groups have different opinions in their teaching of baptism. The washing away of sin, as an exorcism from evil spirits, others believe it marks an important step into obedience of Christian life. For some it acknowledges the salvation that is already accomplished but baptism has no power to remove sin.

Some faiths "Christen" their children soon after birth and this seems to be enough that the child is raised to believe in the Christian faith. I was Christened in this way and for me it seems a strange thing to do because Jesus taught that a child is innocent and is already saved. Although I myself have never been baptised, baptism seems more appropriate than a Christening as it is the choice of the adult to continue his faith in Jesus. That said I think neither is necessary but that is a personal view on this matter and I do not consider myself a Christian but do agree with much of the teachings of Jesus.

St Hilary's Day

St Hilary was native to Poiters in Aquataine, a region of France. He was born and educated as a Pagan until his middle age when he embraced Christianity. He converted his wife and his daughter and seperated himself from anything that was not Catholic. Initially he would not eat with Jewish people or heretics but later he relaxed the severity of his opinions.

In 353AD he was chosen as Bishop to his native area. The Emperor Constanius was at the height of his power and St Hilary was called upon to support the orthodox cause in several Gallic Councils, which Arian bishops formed the majority. The consequence of this was the Emperor banishing him to Phyrgia where he spent more than three years in exile composing works on the Trinity.

In 359 he attended the Council of Seleucia in which Arians, semi Arians and Catholics contended for mastery. He proceeded with council deputies to Constaninople where he dismayed the Arian party so much they appealed to the Emperor to return him to Gaul.

He travelled Gaul, Italy and Illyria and discomforted heretics and procured the triumph of orthodoxy. After around seven or eight years of missionary travel he returned to Poiters where he died in peace in 368.

The lesson we are instructed to learn from this are that we are also called to a lifelong contest with heretics, success is combining hatred of heresy, with compassion for its victims.

My personal view of this is whenever hatred is used in the name of religion then that is its downfall. In the Christian faith the message is about love not hate and here I find another example of the wrong message being preached. I feel that the life of ST Hilary to be one of intolerance and not love.

The information for this blog was taken from "Lives of the Saints".