Today we are on the road, heading for Taupo. On the way our leader (from the Seattle area, home of multiple coffee shops), asks “Does anyone want to stop for a Latte?” Multiple voices answer “Yes!”, and we pull off the highway into the town of Cambridge, Waikato. On the way into town we see a group of what appear to be Hare Krishna people heading into a park and farmers’ market.
We order our coffees and sit in the courtyard of the Cafe, drinking and eating pastries. Who should come along the street behind us but the same group, marching, drumming energetically and chanting;
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare, Hare.
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Hare, Hare.
Our Ojibwa elder walks out to the street and begins dancing to the rhythm of their chant. This not only attracts the chanters to turn back and dance with her, but other members of our group join the dance. Soon our elder leads everyone dancing into the Cafe courtyard, where we eventually pause for some friendly talk.
It turns out that the local group are members of the Waikato Interfaith Council, and hold similar ideals to those that have brought our group together in New Zealand. A meeting apparently by chance, but affirming the purpose of our journey. Has this been arranged from the mysterious realm next to us?
Geothermal Beauty: After coffee we drive on to our intermediate destination: hot springs, silica terraces, bubbling mud pools and a cave at Orakei Koraku. A motor launch takes us across a small lake to the terraces, where we follow a well constructed boardwalk path that keeps us safe as we pass steam vents, small geysers and water hot enough to boil dinner. The beauty and variety is amazing. In this area thousands of litres of superheated water come to the surface daily, and descend the silica terraces into the lake. It reminds us that this is an island chain located on the ring of fire, where the fire and water ‘elements’, liquid and energy, are especially strong.
One of our party reflects that she has been reminded of how astonishing she feels it is that our planet, which is molten at the core, can also have a solid crust that sustains the amazing variety of life we see both in New Zealand and in our respective home countries. It is to her, she says, truly a miracle.
A View of the Mountains: As we drive into our destination at Tuakau, we get a beautiful almost twilight view of three majestic mountain peaks on the other side of the lake. Our Maori hostess tells us how fortunate we are. These mountains, she says, usually hide themselves in cloud and mist, and today we have been gifted with a clear view of their snow-capped peaks.
Throughout the day we have been at the right time, at the right place.
The Travelers Arrive: Today the main group of travelers arrived, and were greeted in a traditional Maori ceremony,
which began with a chanted invitation into the hall, and continued with short speeches of good intention and of welcome by representatives of the new arrivals and greeters. After the two groups sang joyful songs to each other in turns, we ended with the welcomers exchanging traditional hongi forehead to forehead embraces with the newcomers.
After some time to get settled and to partially recover from the long flight from America, we reassembled in the meeting room for a ceremony we had not expected. Two women elders met, one of the North American First Peoples, the other her Maori hostess. Many Maori people had heard of this meeting of traditions and had sent gifts to be given to First Nations persons on the American portion of the journey. Both the Maori representative of the givers, and the Ojibwa representative of those who would receive the gifts were profoundly moved by the occasion, as were many of those sitting in the circle.
The group was then introduced to the Sharda Centre land,
the oasis of spirit, and visited the circle which has been cleared and leveled for the creation of a Temple of Peace. This is a place of prayer and healing for all peoples, and is the beginning of the manifestation of a prophecy and intention of many female generations of one of the Maori lineages.
On returning to the Centre, the travelers from many traditions met for a communal meal, and prepared for a night of rest. – – – Sirdar
Day Zero – Arrived In Auckland, N.Z.
It’s the evening of the 28th. Mary and I flew into Auckland this morning. It’s evening now, the sun is down and the fire is glowing. I’m sitting on a couch right next to Jemila’s fireplace. We were just singing a water song that came through Mary’s people, an Ojibwa water song – so beautiful – like a cross between a lullaby and a love song to the water. I’m thinking of you all out there. May peace envelop you. May it touch your heart. – – – Devi
Day Zero – Preparing for the Journey
Today is a day of preparations. For us, doing the essential handwashing of laundry. For the human guardians of Sharda, doing all the last minute preparations for a group of about twenty people. We each go in the directions of our immediate needs.
Recording the Beauty: We go back into the ‘oasis’ forest with camera in hand, recording the images that are most important to us, as we simultaneously record the deeper impressions of our eyes and hearts. Our first experience of the spiritual richness of this land and of all the land around it is confirmed and renewed.
We look forward to the official beginning of the group journey tomorrow, but in the understanding that this journey has already begun, that it began at some undetermined time in a mysterious location beyond our perception of time and space.
New Zealand: Incredibly Large for a Small Country: Flying over the Pacific, the maps on the video screen before us surprise us. We are used to the phrase “Australia and New Zealand”, and we tend to think of the two countries on equal terms. But we are struck by the geographical smallness of New Zealand on the map when compared to the largeness of Australia. New Zealand appears tiny, tiny, tiny.
However, just in driving around Auckland and onward to the Sharda Centre, we are struck by the variety of the landscape. And having looked at tourist guidebooks and an airline TV show on a New Zealand national park, we get a sense of the incredible environmental richness of this small island chain. There is also a sense of the rich presence of subtropical flora which is unfamiliar to us. But the land itself, even though altered by the demands of agriculture, sings with an energy that is clearly different from North America. And that energy is not small, but something as tremendous as the energy of a geographically large continent. The body may be small, but the spirit is enormous.
We arrive at the Sharda Centre, and the lesson is repeated. Just ten acres in a small farming community, but it is truly a ten acre oasis both of nature and of the spirit. Most of it is forested, but with trees we have never seen before. And packed in this small space are a few great ecological and spiritual guardians which have escaped the axes and chainsaws of the timber cutters.
A human guardian of the centre leads us on a green road down the hill slope into the forest, and down a series of earth steps cut into a hillside. We are now beside a small creek hearing the refreshing sounds of a series of small waterfalls. We are introduced to the trees, to the stones and to the land. We come out at the bottom into a small level clearing where this creek and another creek come together. On the land between the creeks there is a carefully leveled and groomed gravel circle, graced by a central design in small stones and a number of waist high signposts carrying words of prayer. We are told that it is a space for a temple of peace, which was envisioned by a former guardian of Sharda, and which will be built in physical space at some time to be determined. But we sense that it is already fully functioning, and that the eventual physical structure will only recognize what is already happening there. But we also recognize that the two streams coming together also symbolize the central purpose of this journey.
On returning to the Sharda buildings we feel how special it is that a small island with a population so much smaller than that of the North American Continent has been able to manifest and maintain such a facility. We are told that it has been the recipient of a stream of frequent small miracles of generosity, which have supported both the expected and unexpected needs of this spiritual gem. We feel that Sharda, too, is “incredibly large for a small country.”
Days Minus Three and Minus Two
A Coming Together of Traditions: As we drive and talk on day minus three, and talk later that afternoon and the next day, we are struck by how our spiritual learning and experience are pointing us in a similar direction. We hear of visionary expectations of Maori elders which are in total harmony with our feeling that there is a need for mutual respect and a sharing of wisdom between the spiritual traditions. The Maori speak of it as a coming together of North and South, where North Americans may speak of it as a coming together of East and West. It is also a meeting of the European/Middle Eastern and Maori traditions. There is a flow back and forth of information and distilled experience which proves deeply engaging and at times profoundly moving.
The afternoon ends with a healing ceremony from the Sufi tradition. At the end, we share a few words. There are many names of God, but one name has been left off the list. We might call this the Knitter, or the Weaver. There is a sense that the Divine Weaver is weaving right now, and that some of this weaving is taking place in New Zealand, at the Sharda Centre. What is being woven is a new garment for the planet.
For two days we have spoken about and discussed the big picture, but at the end of our sharing our hostess says, with tongue in cheek, “No, this is not about the needs of the planet. It is all about me. I have been feeling that what I have been discovering does not quite fit the reality around me. It is so good to find others with whom it fits.” I tell her she is completely wrong. “NO, it is really all about ME. I have been feeling that what I have been discovering does not fit in my environment!” We both laugh joyfully.
Day minus Three
Altered Time, Altered Space: Travel to the West within North America takes us to earlier time zones. This earlying of time continues as we cross the breadth of the Pacific Ocean. Then, at a place just East of New Zealand, this apparently natural order of things reverses itself, and instead of gaining time, we lose a whole day. We depart on Sunday, and instead of arriving some time later on Monday, we arrive on Tuesday morning. A whole day has ‘disappeared’. We expect to gain it back as we return, but if we should decide to stay permanently in New Zealand, we lose that day for the rest of our lives.
We may partially understand the logic of the International Date Line. The new day has to begin somewhere. But the ordinary thinking of our being insists on asking the question, “Where did that lost day go?”
Our conception of time is clearly relative, as is our conception of space.
We arrive at Auckland International Airport, and are greeted by a representative of the Sharda Centre. We drive to pick up supplies for the group journey, and circle parts of Auckland, getting familiar with a landscape of very unfamiliar trees. We are not only in a different time, we are clearly in a different space. We prepare to be open, to become acquainted with the unfamiliar, to begin a new season of life which will take us in new directions.
One step is the start of each journey
One seed is the start of a great forest
One drop of water is the start of a river
One moment in time is the start of eternity
And one ocean, one missing day? What does that begin? What is the inner scale of this journey? What seed will be planted? What will flow from this drop? And how much greater is the impact of a lost day than the smallness of a moment?
Beyond Distinctions and Differences – – – [EARLIER THIS YEAR]
There is a realm beyond time and space, beyond tribe and colour, beyond the distinctions and differences we humans make about each other. Each cultural group has a few who have an experience of this realm, and who discover that it is a place of healing and well-being.
We have each experienced it in a limited way and talked about it only in our own language. Because we did not understand the language of the others, we have continued to be limited in our individual experience and have usually failed to transmit the knowledge in full. We have even foolishly claimed what little we hold of this wisdom as our own unique tribal possession.
Only by sharing and learning more of this wisdom can we each be of more service, both within our own cultural realms and within the world as a whole. Many elders of varied traditions now recognize this, in spite of the tribal sporting rivalries of their children. They recognize and honour each other as holders of essential portions of one potentially continuous wisdom. And they are increasingly willing to share with and learn from each other for the benefit of the whole planet.
Children will always be children. Teenagers will always cheer for the tribal team. But regardless of the tribe, it has never been appropriate for the children or the teenagers to judge the elders who carry this wisdom. As the white people say, “it is above their pay grade.”
Instead, the appropriate behaviour is to apprentice with an elder of your own tradition and learn your own path. If you follow it with integrity of intention and openness of heart, perhaps one day you may be blessed with the knowledge of an elder. Some, however, are called mainly to the needs of their own tribe. So far, only a few are called to be intertribal spiritual diplomats. Honour them.
Whatever your personal calling, seek wisdom.
More About This Realm Beyond Space and Time – – – [EARLIER THIS YEAR]
Each religious tradition in passing on its wisdom is subject to something equivalent to genetic replication errors.
There was an Anglican layman in Wales, UK, who got involved in the Christian charismatic movement and studied everything he could about charismatic methods of Christian healing. He was disappointed at what he believed to be an inadequate success rate compared to what he understood from the New Testament.
So instead of continuing to mimic what he saw as depleted forms, he went back to the source with the question, “What did Jesus teach?” He discovered that Jesus repeatedly spoke about what Jesus called “The Kingdom of Heaven”, and he looked at everything Jesus said about it. When he himself started to speak at healing services about the Kingdom as he now understood it, the success rate of healing went up.
His work was recognized by Rev. Rowan Williams, the Bishop of Wales; later (and now retired as) the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is a part of very interesting new directions being explored by the Church of England. His name is Mike Endicott, and his website is www.simplyhealing.org
My take on this: Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven was “at hand”. Some take this to mean “Coming soon to a Church near you.” But your hands are right here, and spiritually connected to your heart. And Jesus was not a Christian, but a Jew, whose first ministry was to the immediate needs of those who had become lost among the Jewish people.
The Prophet Muhammad later saw the same nearness – “nearer to you than your jugular vein”. An Imam of my acquaintance once said “Islam is a straight path, and a straight path goes in at the front door”. And the front door, he said, is the Basmallah: “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim,” which appears at the beginning of most suras of the Qur’an. “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” Compassion and Mercy come from the heart, and reach the heart.
So one must conclude that this realm, this kingdom of Divine Love is right here, right now, and richly available to us if we only knew how to open ourselves to the experience and blessing of it. Many masters, saints and prophets have discovered methodologies which worked for them and their disciples. The call of this century is to begin to study what they and later masters of their traditions had and have to say about their experience and their methods. We are to draw understanding from them that can be transmitted in the emerging global culture.
We might call this study “Functional Theology” – the study of what has actually worked. It transcends the study of the doctrines of any particular faith or division of faith. And it potentially makes polemics totally obsolete. Instead of pitting the best of our culture against the worst of others, we must now study the best of all the traditions.
This is not the dreaded bugbear of syncretism, of egotistically choosing a patchwork of doctrinal tidbits from a smorgasbord of traditions. It is, after initial apprenticeship in and basic understanding of a tradition, taking master classes. This is the study of the basic experiential principles discovered by other traditions, and applying them in the context of our own appropriate personal, spiritual, religious and doctrinal boundaries, and in our own individual and cultural calling. When properly pursued, it should reveal to us hidden treasures of our own traditions which have been buried by replication errors, but which can be rediscovered by studying cross-cultural examples. It is not creating a grey mishmash of religions, but it is seeing each other as colleagues in a rainbow of beautifully related traditions. It is also seeing and respecting the beautiful differences in each sector of the rainbow.
And the pot of Gold? To be discovered!