LANTERNS OF MEMORY

Lanterns of Memory

Featuring Hiroshima survivor, Kae Goh Ogura

With text by Martin Luther King Jr.

Directed and photographed by Velcrow Ripper

Filmed in Hiroshima, Aug. 6, 2001

Here’s a short film I did called "Lanterns of Memory" about this day, August 6, sixty-four years ago, when we dropped the Atomic bomb on HIroshima.

This film became part of my feature documentary about my journey to the ground zero’s of the world, Scared Sacred.

 

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Elegant Simplicity

“True surrender does not mean to passively put up with whatever situation you find yourself in and to do nothing about it. Nor does it mean to cease making plans or initiating positive action. Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life. The only place where you can experience the flow of life is in the Now, so to surrender is to accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation.”
–Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

“So. You lost your home. You lost your belongings. You lost your lover. Keep losing. . . lose everything. Then move on to the true loss-ego loss. You can be of service. You can fulfill your destiny. But only with a clear mind and a gentle true heart. You do not need inner fireworks exploding. You are not working towards a Big Bang. All you need to do is be present. You are simply opening to who You are. Who You really are. You are a coiled snake, an untapped resource. Don’t lie dormant all your life. Please. This is real. Lose your silly doubts. Lose them. Lose everything, but trust. Remember Satish.”

~ ~ ~

satish

Satish Kumar grew up in India. At the age of eight, despite his mother’s objections, he decided to leave home to join a wandering order of Jain monks. His hair was pulled from his head, one strand at a time. He tied a white cotton mask over his mouth, which was to remain in place the rest of his life, to prevent him from accidentally breathing in an insect, and thus taking a life. He was given a small feather duster, in order to whisk the path before him, to protect the caterpillars, the worms, the ants. The Jain’s vow never to harm a living being, no matter how small. Satish began a life of spiritual devotion, living off of alms, teaching in the communities during the winter, studying and meditating in the monastery during the summer.
The years passed in rigorous devotion. Then one day, at the age of eighteen, he was given a book of teachings by a man named Mahatama Gandhi. Satish was suddenly struck by the revelation that for the last decade of his life, he had been living only half of the equation. Gandhi was offering a complete vision: the path of spirituality merged with the path of action. Here was someone who was truly practicing the principles of Ahimsa, of non-violence, not just by avoiding causing injury, but by actively working for social change.

Soon after this breakthrough, Satish and a friend crept away in the dark of night, leaving behind a pile of clothes under their blankets to make it appear as though they were still asleep in bed. The ruse was discovered and they were captured at the train station. It would be a disgrace to both their families and the monastery, if they were to desert the order. But Satish was determined, and finally he did escape, finding a sanctuary in the ashram of Vinobah Bhave, Gandhi’s greatest disciple.
Satish became a spiritual activist, working to uplift the lives of India’s ever expanding ocean of poor. He joined Vinobah’s land “Boondah,” a vast journey on foot across India, asking land owners to give a small percentage of their land to the untouchables. Over the years, more than twenty-three million acres of land was donated to the landless outcastes.

1953 marked another turning point in Satish’s spiritual journey. After seeing Bertrand Russell on television getting arrested for protesting nuclear weapons, he became inspired to make his own statement against the deadly trajectory of the atomic age. Satish vowed to do a personal pilgrimage to the four nuclear powers, on foot, from India, to Russia, Paris, London, and Washington DC, bringing the wisdom of ‘Ahimsa’ to the leaders who controlled the weapons that could, with a single push of a button, spell the end of life on this sacred earth.
Before he left, Satish stopped in to ask his guru to bless his journey, and offer advice. Vinobah was no stranger to long walks.

“It is a long journey. You’ll need some protection. I want to give you two weapons to protect you,” he said.
“How can non-violent people carry weapons?” Satish asked.
“Non-violent people carry non-violent weapons. The first weapon is that you will remain vegetarian under all circumstances; the second is that you will carry no money, not even a penny.”
“Not even a penny?”
Vinobah explained that money is an obstacle to real contact. “If you have no money, you will be forced to speak to people and ask humbly for hospitality. Secondly, when you are offered hospitality you will say, ‘I am sorry but I eat only vegetables.’ People will ask you why? Then you can tell them about your principles of non-violence and peace.”
Satish and his friend set off on foot, for eighteen months, bringing nothing with them. Nothing, but trust.
~ ~ ~

August, 1999

A month ago, Angela and I drove the just purchased red VW Polo to Devon, in the south of England, where Satish lives in a stone farmhouse. Today he’s the director of Schumacher College, an international hotbed of deep ecology thinkers, as well as the editor of Resurgence magazine. Known as the ‘sage of the deep ecology movement,’ Satish is a vibrant man in his sixties, who recently completed an Indian tradition in which the householder sets off on a pilgrimage, in the years after the children leave home.
“My mother said that if you have not had a pilgrimage by the time you are fifty, it’s time to get going!”
This latest pilgrimage took him to the sacred sites of England: Glastonbury, Canterbury, Lindisfarne, and Iona. Still walking, after all these years.
Satish welcomed us into his home, and began bustling around his old farmhouse, setting an enormous kettle atop an old wood burning stove. As he scooped the tea leaves into the pot he recounted a story from his great walk for peace. When he and Menon, his traveling companion, were passing through Armenia, a woman from a tea factory offered them four packets of tea.
“They are not for you,” she said, “Please give one to our Premier in Moscow, one to the President of France, one to the Prime Minister of England, and one to the President of the United States of America. Tell them that if they get mad in their minds and think of pushing the button to drop nuclear bombs, they should stop for a moment and have a fresh cup of tea from these packets. And remember that the simple people of the world want bread, not bombs, want life not death.”
After walking for eighteen months, from the grave of Mahatma Gandhi to the grave of John F. Kennedy, Satish returned to India. He went to see Vinobah, who was on his eternal walk throughout India. After greeting him warmly, Vinobah said, “You have done well. It is brave and courageous. But ultimately, you need go nowhere to find peace. It is within you. The centre of the earth is here.”

~ ~ ~

I asked Satish if he could think of what I call a ‘Scared Moment,’ a moment of fear, from his life’s journey. He thought for awhile before responding. “The only moment of fear I have known is when you are meditating. With your will and your thought and your concentration you are trying to be one with the world, to see everything as a tapestry, as a web of life. Sometimes you feel that ‘I am thinking. I think therefore I am.’ And this ego scares me, this pride, this separateness, it scares me, because my Jain and Gandhian and Hindu and Indian holistic mind wants to melt with the world and not remain separate. Like a little pool of water separated from the lake, from the river or the ocean. So I want to break the boundaries. But moments come when the boundaries hold on to itself and I’m clinging to my separateness. That clinging to separateness scares me.”

This fear is a final defense mechanism of the ego itself, a resistance to it’s own submergence. In his heart of hearts, beyond that flickering illusion of fear, Satish is fearless.

“I’m not afraid. Fear is not my friend and I don’t travel with fear. Fear is only because we don’t trust the universe mother. You come into this world naked, without any possessions, without any money or house or anything. The moment you take birth, mother’s milk bursts out of her breasts to feed you. Only three percent of creatures upon this earth are humans, ninety-seven percent of them are tigers, snakes, elephants, deer, worms, butterflies and millions of other species. They will be fed, sheltered and everything will be looked after by the principle of the mother earth, and the universal law of the divine presence. And nobody is afraid out of those ninety-seven percent. Only humans are worried, afraid to stiffness. A little bit of fear like salt in the food is alright, but if you put too much salt in the food, food is inedible.

“If you put too much fear in our lives, life is not worth living. So for the future, I have no fear. God, Mother Earth, the Mother Principle will look after everything. So for me trust is the guiding principle, and fear is not the guiding principle. I trust in God and I trust in people and I trust in nature and I trust in universe.”

The Scared Sacred Journey #3

Italy, October, 1999

I find a cyber café and send an e-mail to Angela, updating my list of woes. She writes back:

What is going on! The lost traveler, no possessions, just his inner voice and a second hand I-Ching book. Obviously taking you in a direction you were destined to go.

A second note comes in from my mother. Accustomed to having a son who has always been a bit of a loser (of wallets, passports and keys), she’s not too surprised:

Hi Steve. I forgot happy birthday. I hope that wasn’t the day you were ripped off. ‘Sorrow not if in these days and on this earthly plain things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy and heavenly delight are assuredly in store for you.’ Baha’u’llah. Bye take care of yourself, never mind your goods and chattels. Love Mum.

~ ~ ~

There is a growing movement called ‘Voluntary Simplicity,’ in which one deliberately reduces one’s possessions to only that which is truly needed. Some choose to eliminate anything they haven’t used within a year or two. Others cut out unnecessary appliances-weed whackers, electric frying pans, television sets, all the things we think we need, but really just want. Life becomes uncluttered. There’s a sense of liberation. It’s not the same as poverty; it’s a choice. Ironic that the simplicity forced upon the multitudes of poor becomes a radical act of will for the privileged few. A strange form of suffering, drowning in stuff. But suffering it is. And the cause of suffering-the wealth of the first world is only possible through the exploitation of the rest of the world. Voluntary simplicity works, on many levels. Does involuntary simplicity count? How about involuntary humility?

~ ~ ~

“So. You lost your home. You lost your belongings. You lost your lover. Keep losing. . . lose everything. Then move on to the true loss-ego loss. You can be of service. You can fulfill your destiny. But only with a clear mind and a gentle true heart. You do not need inner fireworks exploding. You are not working towards a Big Bang. All you need to do is be present. You are simply opening to who You are. Who You really are. You are a coiled snake, an untapped resource. Don’t lie dormant all your life. Please. This is real. Lose your silly doubts. Lose them. Lose everything, but trust.”

~ ~ ~

I’d wanted to visit Assisi, home of the wonderfully mad Saint Francis, an early practitioner of Voluntary Simplicity, but now I’m fleeing on the next train. Hopefully I won’t continue running from disaster to disaster, from country to country, like a whipped dog. My inner voice exhorts me to trust, but I’m having trouble following that advice.
It’s cold. My sweater and coat are gone. But across the tracks is an extravagant cactus in a cracked lime green pot perched on an ancient wooden pedestal set off against a rich red brick wall with dark green moss in the cracks, creeping ivy studded with purple flowers pouring down from the balustrade above. Wish I had a camera.

I sit by the water, pull out my miniature ‘I Ching’, select three Italian coins, and throw a reading.

Sky Over Thunder

Fidelity
Be True

Rising
An expedition south bodes well.
You will see great people, so do not worry.
Flexibly adapt to the time.
And you will rise.

Rise by truthfulness.
Rise through empty lands.
Rise through the unknown.
Like a tree rises to the sky.

Humility
Be Humble

I know what I’ll be having for dessert today: humble pie.

The Scared Sacred Journey Part 2

scaredsacred-poster

1999 – France

It isn’t long before I enter the city of Marseilles. A second wave of sadness hits me, the memory of another loss, just two weeks earlier. It was here that my girlfriend, Angela, had made the decision to leave the project, to return home. I remember the train station, the pictures in the photo booth, kissing away our final moments together. “Am I making a mistake?” she asked. I had said no, because the decision was already made. The plane ticket was bought.

For the last two weeks I’ve been asking myself, again and again: why didn’t I say yes. You are. Don’t go. But I didn’t. Instead, I walked out of the station into the noisy city of Marseilles, searched out a café and ordered a Croque Monsieur. It was horrible. White bread with cheese on top and an ugly slice of ham inside, done in a microwave. Sounded better in French. I forced myself to eat it, then trudged down a long stone staircase, into the little red car and out onto the highway. Alone. A primal moan emerged, wracking my body. My Inner Voice offered it’s usual level minded take on the matter, which irritated me immensely at the time, but eventually I’ve come to realize it’s true: she did have to go. This is my mad journey. We’d failed to make it ours.

Now I’m alone, racing towards the Italian border, the project at risk. I plunge into the darkness of a long tunnel cutting through the French Alps, self-torturing loops of regret orbiting through my brain. My gear’s been stolen. I’m alone. I don’t have enough money. I’m alone. I can’t replace the gear. And did I mention? I’m alone. As I approach the Italian border, a new tension strikes: I’m afraid of customs. I couldn’t afford insurance for the Polo, and I’ve heard that to be caught uninsured in Italy means a large fine, or even imprisonment. I anxiously peer through the wavering headlights, expecting to have to face a customs officer at any moment: “Your papers please?” But I burst out of yet another tunnel, pass by a small sign surrounded by EU stars that reads, ‘Italy,’ and that’s it. I’m in a new country. I pull over at a money changer’s to get some Italian cash. I say, “Bonjour.” The teller replies, “Bonjiorno.”

Tunnel after tunnel through the Italian night. The toll is steep, ten dollars to go about twenty kilometers. But the road is hugging the coast and there are no alternative routes. Eventually I find an exit, readying myself to pay close to one hundred dollars in tolls, only to discover that there’s an open gate. My pulse stutters as I think of my uninsured state of being, but poverty forces me to be daring. I braze on by. Just past the gates, a number of motorcycle policemen in black with baggy pants are at the side of the road, writing up tickets for cars they have pulled over, perhaps for doing what I have just done. I keep glancing at the rear view mirror, anticipating wailing sirens and flashing lights. But no. I’m through and have just saved a hundred bucks that I don’t have. Excellent.

I find myself in Imperia, a groddy town on the Italian Riviera. It’s a bit whorish, a little seedy, not all cleaned up like the French Riveria. I like it already. I pull over to take a break. As I step out of the car I notice a pair of Italian loafers sitting on the curb. They have holes in the bottom, but fit perfectly. I walk down to the seaside, feeling all Italian in my new shoes, the beginnings of a replacement wardrobe. I wish they hadn’t of taken my razor though: my beard is getting itchy.

A meditative statue of Mary faces the ocean, arms outstretched, blessing the sailors. I pause in front of her, breathing deeply, allowing this icon of Mother Love to calm my mind. Out on the pier, men cast fishing lines into the sea with a soothing whizzz.

A young couple are pushing their child along in a wheel chair. His mouth is frozen open, his body paralyzed. Their son. I study his still features as they wheel him along the boardwalk. He probably likes it down here, by the ocean, even if he can’t show it. It puts my problems into perspective. What do I know about suffering? Nothing.

When I come back to the car, there’s a cop writing up a parking ticket. It must be a ‘No Parking Zone.’ I didn’t understand the Italian signage. I watch him from a distance, waiting for him to finish writing up the ticket and leave. He begins meticulously writing notes while talking on a mobile phone. Oh God: he’s probably calling a tow truck. And I can’t stop him, because of my insurance problem. He moves down the street, but remains within sight of the car. I contemplate leaping in and making a getaway, if he would just turn his back for a few minutes. But that would be crazy.

A few minutes later a tow truck arrives. I stand watching as the men get out, lower the jaws from the back of the truck, open them wide, and clamp down viciously onto my innocent vehicle.

Good-bye car. Just let it go. Goodbye the last of my belongings. My small library: ‘God in all Worlds,’ ‘Call of the Dervish,’ ‘Fire Under the Snow’ and ‘Kundalini Yoga for Beginners.’ Gone. A box of special objects collected in each of the Scared and Sacred places that I’ve been to so far. Let it go. Too much collecting, too much attachment. My shoes. Oh. These Italian things are falling apart and no good for hiking. Need shoes. Tent. No more camping. Stove. No more cooking. Oh no: my journal, stored inside my palmtop. I search frantically through my handbag. I have it! And my passport, and my bank card. I even have a pocket-sized I Ching. So it could be much worse.

The drivers climb into the cab of the tow truck, raise my car up into the air, and drag it away. My brain numbs as I watch my little red VW evaporating into the depths of the Italian legal system.

Gone.

I feel light headed, surreal. Estranged in a strange country with little more than the shirt on my back and a pair of shoes with holes in the soles. Which aren’t even mine. Now what?