Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Rich Life

These days my heart is heavy. It seems as though everything I thought I could count on is fading away. The economy has placed a terrible burden on everyone I know, and has hit publishing especially hard, resulting in the brief [hopefully] suspension of my beloved, little magazine. It’s kept me on the verge of tears for quite a number of weeks – it has been such a big part of how I define myself – and I felt as though it was a little bit like a child. But they say when one door closes another opens, and that doorway has gratefully led to more teaching, including the opportunity to instruct the stress management portion of the Ornish Program for the reversal of heart disease at Stamford Hospital.

Lucky for me that through all of my angst I have been able to pour out my worries and fears to my friend and teacher Sudharma, an 80-year-old Buddhist nun who had recently been living in London. Somehow Sudharma always knew exactly how to snap me out of my pity parties and would often admonish me by saying things like: “Why you worry you no more fancy famous editor? You do mush better work for people who suffer with heart.” When I shared my money concerns she reminded me about what was really important: “Having big house or new car or fancy things not make you rich. What in your heart make you rich. Love make you rich.”

Then last Friday I received the unbelievable news that my dear friend had passed away. She had a heart attack, and then during open-heart surgery, a stroke. She was gone. I can’t find the words to describe how I feel; devastated is a feeble understatement. We had been making so many plans for her visit this summer. She even wanted my daughter to take her surfing. The sadness is incredible.

Sudharma left behind no worldly riches – only her robes and her mala beads – but the richness of her life is evident. She was devoted to helping all those less fortunate, and worked tirelessly in homeless shelters. She spent years raising money for orphanages all around the world. In the last year of her life, she worked endless hours to start a home for girls who had suffered terribly in the sex trafficking trade in her homeland of Burma [Myanmar]. Sudharma had to battle all kinds of obstacles but the determination of her compassionate heart persevered and the home was finally opened. When the news of her passing spread through the Buddhist community, hundreds of nuns and monks sat in an all-night meditation vigil to honor the woman who had been their teacher and their friend.

Susharma lived a life of love and compassion. She loved to laugh and drink jasmne tea. She loved Buddha, her friends and the beach, and the fragrance and beauty of flowers shimmering in the early morning sun. She was the richest woman I ever knew.

I have nearly three hundred emails from my dear friend and someday, when the tears have stopped I will print each of them and keep them with me always. She sent me many Buddhist prayers and offered me such loving guidance. I know her words and her heart will continue to light my path, and when I’m getting a little too caught up in ‘Rita’s World’ I’ll try to remember that being a fancy, famous editor isn’t what defines me . It ‘s the love I hold in my heart.

I love you very much Sudharma. May your heart be at ease. May your heart be at peace.



Asoka said...

very nice sharing.

Meera said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, but how eloquently you are able to witness your grieving process. I'm in a similar process, watching the end days of my mother's alzheimer's, watching her slip away in a slow steady demise. Thank you for your lovely post.

beth said...

sending love and light

holly said...
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Jackie Berry Starks said...

This is such a special story of a wonderful life . Many of us will be enriched by the truth and wisdom that was shared . said...

I think of her all the time and sometimes can even hear her whispering in my ear! I am forever grateful to have had her in my life and thank you all for your kind words!

Rachel said...
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Rachel said...

The Light of His Love will guide you to the Kingdom of Heaven! Surrender and you shalll be set free. Sudharma needed to feel the Lord's embrance in order to overcome her heart troubles. When we surrender and have Faith in His word, our hearts become His and we are forever safe in His embrace.

Venerable Bhikkhuni Upasanti said...


I have the utmost reverence for people of all faiths, and complete respect for an individual’s personal beliefs.

To its credit Christianity does a decent job of stressing the importance of Love. Jesus’ teachings are all about unconditional love. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Turn the other cheek.” Those are worthy messages. Unfortunately the Church doesn’t do a good job of modeling this idea in practice. It encourages separation between Christians and non-Christians. It creates division instead of promoting unity. You’re either saved or you’re not. Many Christians are raised to be rather unloving toward non-Christians, including the priests themselves. That is unfortunate because this is not at all what Jesus taught.

Christianity does a poor job of embracing Truth. It claims to value honesty and it does promote some degree of self-awareness, but that’s about it. Beyond that it markets a variety of fictional stories as indisputable truth. It doesn’t teach people to accurately interpret and accept what their senses tell them. And it largely ignores the importance of prediction. The lack of Truth-alignment is why many Christians find this belief system largely unhelpful in their day-to-day practical lives. So they’re Christians on Sundays but not on weekdays. Because Christianity is disconnected from Truth, it’s out of touch with reality. If you want to grow in your career, finances, or health while maintaining a strong spiritual focus, you’re basically on your own.

Christianity falls flat in the area of Power too. It teaches people to become dependent on the Church for spiritual guidance instead of cultivating real power as independent conscious beings. It promotes fear and timidity instead of courage. It teaches you to give your power away to an external authority instead of developing your own authority and creativity as a conscious being.

If you want to create an effective moral code for yourself, it must be solidly grounded in reality (aligned with Truth), it must help you cultivate a sense of unconditional love and connection (aligned with Love), and it must empower you to grow (aligned with Power). If it fails to satisfy any of these conditions, then your moral code is ultimately turning you away from conscious growth.

We must take personal responsibility for setting things in the world right...we can’t leave it up to a higher power to make the world a better place. And we must overcome divisiveness and unite humankind as a whole.

Always in Peace,
Venerable Bhikkhuni Upasanti

Rachel said...

Venerable Bhikkhuni Upasanti,
I can see your point. I guess I never thought of it that way and I always let other do the thinking for me. I am new to yoga and my eyes are opening daily to its beauty. But it's a struggle and I hope you, the Administrator and the other bloggers can forgive my stupidity. You have helped me to "think". Something many of us don't do for ourselves.
In peace too.

Rachel said...

Oh and by the way, Sudharma sounds like she was an amazing woman. Perhaps if more people knew someone like that, their hearts would unite rather than divide.
I am sorry for any disrespect.

Bhartiy Kumar Ranjan said...

I met Sudharma about 15 years ago when I relocated to NY from India. I knew right away it would be a long a wonderful friendship. Sudharma always saw the bright light in all aspects of life. Even the dark corners. She gave of herself tirelessly until she could give no more; and even then, she found a way to offer more than imaginable.

I moved back to India 3 years ago but managed to maintain a basic & quick email correspondence friendship with Sudharma. She never really wrote long letters to me, but she would send an email to say she was checking up on me. It always made me feel like someone was watching out for me. Rita is very fortunate to have had the opportunity to befriend Sudharma. Busy, to the point & out in the world doing good & "growing flowers" was her mantra. I can't say my collection of correspondence is as voluminous as yours, but I have a few quickly written emails that Sudharma sent me when she found some spare time. I could feel the intent and love move through the simple words on my screen.

I stopped hearing from Sudharma about a year and a half ago. At the time I had managed to relocate to London for a 6 month assignment and I met her for a brief cup of tea. She was vibrant and living out her dream of building the orphanage. The correspondence soon ceased and I assumed Sudharma was busy with meetings and traveling engagements. It wasn't until I was in New York this past week that I found out the tragic news. I searched desperately to get information about what had happened. My heart was broken. I finally got an update from a young monk associated with Sudharma's home monastery. He told me what happened and how it was a global loss on so many levels to so many people. He then told me about Rita and how Sudharma had many plans to learn yoga from her and he showed me this site.

Tonight I am back in London, with a broken heart and a mind wondering how I missed the passing of such a gifted and loving being. I am no expert yogi. In fact, I recently began learning about yoga and have a long way to go. But I am inspired to learn all I can in honour of Sudharma and I am learning to look at all the flowers around me.

Rachel, if you knew Sudharma, even for a day, thoughts of division and ridicule founded on religious discrimination would never enter your mind. Sudharma loved all people, and all religions. She learned from them all and applied the universal law of love to her life. That was the only religion she needed.

Blessings to you Ven. Upasanti. It is good to see your name.

Aapka Vishvasu,
Bhartiy Kumar Ranjan said...
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Stan Garby said...

I consider myself a Christian and I cerainly don't share Rachel's sentiments. I believe "religion" rests in the heart. I guess that's what Venerable Bhikkhuni Upasanti is saying. It's easy to hang on someone else's religious coattails but I believe yoga teaches us to explore the religion within ourselves. Venerable Bhikkhuni Upasanti couldn't have expressed this better. I will pray in my own way for Rachel to find yoga and Jesus. Then she will know what liberation really is.