Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Buddhist monks assist HIV-affected in Cambodia

UNICEF correspondent RobMcBride reports on efforts made by Buddhist monks to support families affected by HIV in Cambodia.

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You're watching UNICEF television.

At a Buddhist pagoda (temple) in the heart of rural Cambodia, a gathering designed to give spiritual support. Vulnerable families, especially those affected by HIV and AIDS are finding strength to go on.

People like Ken Chanthy and her husband, both HIV+, regularly attend meditation sessions.

Ken Chanthy: Mother
"Before these sessions, we were stressed and ashamed. We wouldn't want to see anyone and felt discriminated against. Now we are a lot more positive."

In their bedroom of their simple home are the ARV drugs that keep the disease under control.

"Apart from monks leading meditation sessions, officials from the government also about taking our ARVs exactly on time. We know our lives depend on it."

It's all part of the Buddhist Leadership Initiative, a UNICEF supported program that enlists the considerable help and resources of pagodas (temples) in this devoutly Buddhist country.

Ulrike Gilbert: UNICEF HIV Specialist
"From UNICEF's point of view, the support the monks provide to families affected by HIVis critically important because they address the spiritual needs of Buddhist people, as we as, they help to mobilize material support for families. The vast majority of these families are impoverished, live well below the poverty line."

As part of the effort, Venerable Monk Khun Khat received special training to support people living with HIV and AIDS, combining it with the central Buddhist practice of compassion and helping those in need.

Khun Khat: Monk
"Buddhism teaches that we cannot live in isolation. Even if you have difficulties or challenges, you have to live in a society."

On this day, Khun Khat is visiting a neighboring pagoda (temple) where children are meeting. They are all vulnerable in one way or another. Some are HIV+, others are from AIDS affected households, and some are struggling with other issues. All these children need support and guidance. And Khun Khat can draw upon his own experiences of losing both parents at age 12.

At the end of these sessions, material help such as school supplies and money is handed out. It supports children both materially and spiritually. The government also plays a key role in linking communities with a range of services.

Sam Sorpheann: Director, Provincial Department-Culture & Religion
"The material and the spiritual must go hand in hand. You can not just give money without education and advice. And they need to take away something inside. With education from us and spiritual guidance from the monks."

As the session ends, children leave with valuable lessons to share with their communities.

Ung Chantha: 17 years old
"I pass on what I have learned here to by brother and my sister, and also my neighbors."

Min Srey Mom: 14 years old
"And I share the information with friends."

Taking their teachings to peoples homes is a valuable part of the monks work.

Cheng Sophea has received particularly help from Khun Khat for a number of years. She was diagnosed with HIV in 2002 and her husband died of AIDS in 2003. Cheng Sophea is bringing up their son on her own. A life that is hard but just about manageable. Sophea makes a living from a small recycling business she runs in her neighborhood.

Cheng Sophea: Mother
"It is not a good job but I have no choice. And it means we can get some money to support us."

What is more, through the help of meditation, she has learned to cope with her anger.

"Before I started in the program, I used to think I was the only one suffering. And I would get angry and hit my son. But the program has helped me carry on with my life."

Seung Pahna: 11 years old
"There are still days when she does not feel good, but now she won't hit me any more."

Clearly helped as a family, these home visits have a wider impact on rural communities like this one.

"So that has been instrumental in reducing stigma and discrimination because even after 10 years since the epidemic, in Cambodia stigma and discrimination is prevailing. So monks have played a significant role to try to shift that. And I think there is a lot of lessons we can learn in terms of broadening the scope or applying faith-based responses to other development challenges women and children face."

The impact for these families is clear. Early exposure to his mother's life, medical tests and strict drug regimens, has made Sophea's son want to become a medical assistant.

While the future is uncertain, support for local communities from local monks is replacing ignorance and fear, giving families tools to rebuild their lives.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Heart as Wide as The World

A Heart as Wide as The World
Living with Mindfulness, Wisdom, and Compassion
by Sharon Salzberg

"It is compassion that removes the heavy bar, opens the door to freedom, makes the narrow heart as wide as the world." Nyanaponika Thera
"I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world. I may not even complete the last one, but I give myself to it." Rilke
"How long will we fill our pockets like children with dirt and stones? Let the world go. Holding it, we never know ourselves, never are airborne." Rumi
Sadly, we basically overlook and discredit the power of our own great potential. We forget who we truly are.
"The Buddha's enlightenment solved Buddha's problem, now you solve yours." Munindra
...a revelation of practice as the movement toward fully experiencing the ordinary, rather than grasping after the seemingly extraordinary.
"Renounce and enjoy." Gandhi
It is in the ordinary mind that we find our Buddha nature, when we stop trying to have something special happen.

Being a beginner means having a freshness of view and an unguarded openness to experience.

We renounce that which is inessential, and relaxing into stillness, we become fully focused on the present moment.

...we are all capable of tremendous love, but until we untangle our conditioning, our capacity for connection remains hidden or distorted.

Because compassion is a state of mind that is itself open, abundant, and inclusive, it allows us to meet pain more directly.

Love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity do not distort our ability to see clearly...
"If you are looking for something that is everywhere, you don't need to travel to get there; you need love." Saint Augustine
Mindfulness is a quality of awareness that sees directly at whatever is happening in our experience and meets it face to face, without the intrusion of bias, without adding such forces as grasping, aversion, or delusion to the experience.

Trying to avoid looking at the natural flow of life is fearful, tiring work.

Restlessness often comes from a desire to control that which is inherently uncontrollable.

Through meditation practice we learn to enter into silence, and there the fruits of the practice reveal themselves: wisdom which is seeing deeply into the true nature of life, and compassion, the trembling of the heart in response to suffering. Wisdom reveals that we are all part of a whole, and compassion tells us that we can never stand apart. Through this prism we see life with openness, knowing our oneness. We find wisdom and compassion coming to life, transforming how we understand ourselves and how we understand our world.

We practice meditation because, rather than grasping for what we do not have, on trying to futilely to hold on to what is changing, we can instead settle into the moment and know the refuge of letting go. We practice meditation so as not to waste our precious lives.
"In meditation practice, time is not a factor. It is not something that is relevant in the process. Practice is timeless." Munindra
True patience is constancy - the consistent willingness to use this moment of reality as a vehicle for wisdom and compassion.
"Life's breath is like a water bubble." Kalu Rinpoche
Only love is big enough to hold all the pain in this world.

If we have the ability to remain balanced in the face of unpleasantness, if we can remain mindful, then every moment, including our last ones, may be filled with the peace that we yearn for.

In relating to our life, we have a fundamental choice/ we can be cognizant of and accepting of this ephemeral, fleeting world, or we can cling to a mistaken notion of solidity, of inherent permanent categories. But if we deny the insubstantiality of things, we miss the living, flowing nature of the universe.
"Compassion is a verb." Thich Nhat Hanh
Compassion is nourished by the wisdom of our interconnectedness... Wisdom of our interconnectedness arises hand in hand with learning to truly love ourselves.

We can be truly fearless only when, with a spacious and compassionate heart, we are profoundly in touch with our innermost fear; when we are mindful of it, are not hating ourselves for the fear, and are not being ruled by it.

Meditation practice brings our latent wisdom and compassion to life.

For in our intention lies the power of our minds, and the possibility of essential change.

Joyful compassion comes from knowing the wonderful capacity of the human heart to connect, and wishing that more of us felt connected to each other.
"The Dharma doesn't suffer from comparison." Munindra
There is magic in wonderment, in making a friend of silence, in the space between breaths, in finding the beautiful gift of connectedness.