Chùa Hương, The Perfume Pagoda

On our first visit to Vietnam we booked a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda.* The Perfume Pagoda is a major Buddhist pilgrimage destination. The Huong Mountains contain fertility and agricultural cults, too.

The name Perfume Pagoda really refers to a number of shrines on – and in – the mountaintop. The most important temple is the Perfume Temple found inside Huong Tich Cave. It’s northern Viet Nam’s holiest site and the setting for the country’s most important and longest religious holiday.

The fest starts in the middle of the first lunar month (February 15) and runs from February to April. Hundreds of thousands of worshippers make the trek to present offerings at the mountain’s shrines and temples. At the high point of the festival, peak traffic will back up for as long as 8 hours on the Yen Vi River.

While the entire trip can be made by road, we took the water route. Reaching the site involved a two hour taxi ride to the pier located 70 km southwest of Hanoi in My Duc Town, a boat trip being rowed for two hours on the shallow Yen Vi River to the base of the pilgrimage site, and finally a two-hour hike up into the limestone Huong Mountains.

For the taxi ride we traveled with our guide on one of Viet Nam’s first highways. As you can see in Uwe’s photograph, the traffic on this main artery a decade ago was nothing like what we’re used to seeing in America and Europe.

Autobahn traffic

Autobahn traffic

Boat launch at Bến Đục

Boat launch at Bến Đục

A young woman rowed us upriver. 12700_V_10_15_82The boatwomen at Bến Đục (Duc Pier) make enough money to support their families, and are chosen by lottery.

We made our slow way past rice paddies and limestone peaks. 11900_V_10_15_74Fishermen in impossibly tiny boats balanced, standing, as they shocked the water with weak electricity to stun the fish they collected in the bottoms of their flat vessels.12500_V_10_15_80

12310_V_10_15_18After disembarking we hiked 4 kilometers straight up.

Beginning the pilgrimage up the mountainside.

Beginning the pilgrimage up the steps

Good shoes are needed as the path is steep in places and the stone stairs are slippery if it’s been raining! The landscape is lush, and the spectacular views are worth the strenuous hike.

Taking a break

Taking a break on the hike up the mountain

07300_V_10_15_28The Huong Mountains are rich in myths and legends. One story relates how a Buddhist monk came here to meditate in solitude two thousand years ago. Another legend tells the story of the Perfume Pagoda’s Quan Am or Guan Yin.** A stone at Phat Tich temple contains her preserved footprint.

It’s believed that the Buddha stopped at the Giai Oan temple to wash. Pilgrims clean their faces and hands in the Long Tuyen Well to wash away past karmas.

But older deities are present. Cua Vong shrine is where believers make offerings to the Goddess of the Mountains. And inside the holiest of holies, the cave’s stalactites are sought out for blessings.

Entrance to Huong Tich grotto

Entrance to Huong Tich grotto

Once we reached the cave, we descended back down 120 wide stone steps to the Huong Tich Grotto, which translates as ‘traces of fragrance’. 08000_V_10_15_3507500_V_10_15_30We entered the cave, whose opening is a dragon’s mouth. Inside Chua Trong (Inner Temple), our guide positioned himself underneath a stalactite and tried to catch a drop of moisture on his tongue.08180_V_10_15_34

The stalactites grant good fortune. Pilgrims through the ages have named them: Basket of Silkworms, Boy Stone, Buffalo, Cocoon, Girl Stone, Nine Dragons Compete For Jewels, Pig, Rice Mound, Gold & Silver Mound, and the Mother’s Milk Stone.

Couples wishing for offspring gather under the Boy and Girl Stones; those wanting prosperity seek out drops from the stalactites hanging from the ceiling that grant abundance and wealth. The Perfume Pagoda Festival is considered an auspicious time and place to find a mate, and is the starting point for lots of successful romances.

At the time we visited, the remote northern region had just gotten electricity. And as our boat headed back down the Yen Vi we passed by boats bringing materials to build a new pier even further upriver.*** 10620_V_10_15_2211000_V_10_15_6510900_V_10_15_6410630_V_10_15_2011300_V_10_15_68

NOTES: *This excursion instantly became one of my favorite trips of all time.

**Guan Yin is the bodhisattva (usually female) associated with the quality of compassion. A bodhisattva is an enlightened being who delays Nirvana, staying behind to assist others in finding enlightenment. The Guan Yin of the Perfume Pagoda is identified with Dieu Thien, the third daughter of Dieu Trang, King of Huong Lam. She refused to marry, wishing to spend her time in prayer instead.

***An ingenious way to transport the needed materials to the site!

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

Go to my post The Cult of Bà Chúa Xứ to read about south Viet Nam’s most sacred shrine. More pictures from our trips to Vietnam and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

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Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres

D31_2822_DxOWe’ve come to Paris for a quick getaway, and Stuttgart is less than 4 hours by direct fast train. As we think about what we want to do and see, we realize neither of us have ever visited Chartres.

Uwe and I go out of our way to see sacred places around the globe. (See my posts The Cult of Bà Chúa Xứ or The Music of the Heavenly Spheres for some photos and tales from other sacred spots.) Energies gather in some unlikely places. Sometimes I stand in famous spots and am disappointed, while a place less known for religion makes me feel the presence of the divine.

Chartres. I’ve been trying for days – weeks, actually – to summarize the “facts” about this site. It was built 1140-1260 and the labyrinth was laid in the first decade of the 13th century. I wonder what to mention about Chartres’ 1,000 years as a pilgrimage destination, or the female energies of the cathedral and their tenderness. Mary’s tunic, the Sancta Camisia worn at the birth of Jesus Christ, was brought here by Charlemagne. The king in turn had been given the relic as a gift during a trip to Jerusalem.

When the earlier church building burned on June 10, 1194, the Sancta Camisia miraculously survived. Chartres remains an important Marian pilgrimage center, and the faithful still come from around the world over to honor it.D31_2829_DxO

Chartres is one of the most impressive Gothic cathedrals on Earth. Back in my college days at the University of Oregon, Professor James Boren in his Chaucer and Medieval Literature classes explained Chartres as literally turning the architectural form inside out. For the first time the ribs holding up the entire structure had been placed outside, allowing the inside heart of the structure to soar up into the Heavens, seemingly without limits. The support of flying buttresses was necessary because of the unprecedented size and heights of the stained glass windows and the nave. Professor Boren’s face glowed; this stern and learned man radiated as he lectured about a place that he said changed him when he saw it. That lecture and the look on his face stayed with me. Chartres: someday I would see it.D31_2883_DxO

***

Chartres Cathedral contains one of the few remaining medieval labyrinths. It’s large with a circumference of 131 feet, almost exactly the same size as the West Rose window.

Rose Window

Rose Window

In the Middle Ages, French church labyrinths were the sites of Easter dances involving clergy and the tossing of a leather ball. Sadly, the labyrinths were destroyed, covered over, or hidden by Church authorities suspicious of their powers and pagan beginnings. (Labyrinths, including Chartres’, traditionally had an disk or placque of Theseus and Ariadne and the Minotaur at their centers. In fact, another name for a cathedral that contained a labyrinth was the “Domus Daedali” [House of Daedalus], a nod to antiquity’s Daedalus, designer of the labyrinth that held the Minotaur in Knossos.) *

But, Chartres’ labyrinth survived. I learn that while it’s covered by chairs most of the time, the labyrinth is made free for visitors to enter on Fridays. My one request to Uwe for our trip becomes, “Please let’s go to Chartres on Friday!”

So here we are, entering one of the holy pilgrimage destinations in Christianity.

Chartres. Once inside, the cathedral’s beauty immediately takes my breath away. I am so deeply moved that in the next moment I’m close to tears. Whatever I expected, this sacred soaring space is beyond all imagination. Light streams in through the windows and illuminates the visitors, pilgrims, and the simply curious. All of us are suffused in colors.

For a while I just walk around. Uwe’s already moved off with his camera, ready as always to use his art with photography to capture in images what my brain grapples with in words.

As the minutes pass I grow more and more stunned. And I remain dangerously, or is that gorgeously, close to breaking into tears. There is an energy to this place, a sense of the holy and the really, really blessed, that I have seldom felt anywhere.D31_2796_DxO

The Schwedagon Pagoda in Burma comes to mind. It is the most important pagoda in the country, and I felt the top of my head buzz like it was going to blow off from the concentration of religious energies. Or a back pond in the Adirondacks with only my family as fellow witnesses: loons with a pair of chicks calling in low cries to one another as they eyed us but didn’t swim away. Or a tiny Greek Orthodox church in Thessaloniki, supposedly built on the site where Apostle Paul preached. I attended on Sunday with my friend Cynthia and our Greek host Fotis, who led us up to an altar surrounded by burning, hand-dipped wax tapers. Fotis insisted we take bread from the common basket. Tears streamed on both our faces; I finally felt the deeper meaning of breaking bread in fellowship.

All of these places’ sacred energies are present in Chartres. It is so much more than I deserve or had awaited. I take a deep breath to center myself, and move forward to stand poised at the entry to the labyrinth.

***

“A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. …D31_2798_DxO

“A labyrinth is an archetype with which we can have a direct experience. … It is a metaphor for life’s journey. It is a symbol that creates a sacred space and place and takes us out of our ego to “That Which Is Within.” At its most basic level the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are. …D31_2790_DxO

“A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is like a puzzle to be solved. It has twists, turns, and blind alleys. It is a left brain task that requires logical, sequential, analytical activity to find the correct path into the maze and out. A labyrinth has only one path. It is unicursal. The way in is the way out. There are no blind alleys. The path leads you on a circuitous path to the center and out again.D31_2788_DxO

“A labyrinth is a right brain task. It involves intuition, creativity, and imagery. With a maze many choices must be made and an active mind is needed to solve the problem of finding the center. With a labyrinth there is only one choice to be made. The choice is to enter or not. A more passive, receptive mindset is needed. The choice is whether or not to walk a spiritual path.” – Dan Johnston, Ph.D. at www.lessons4living.com

Exterior Chartres Cathedral

Exterior Chartres Cathedral

While I walk the labyrinth and contemplate the mystery of the sacred**, Uwe photographs me. When I see his photos later I’m surprised, and glad.

***

NOTES: * Another name for the eleven-circuit labyrinth is the “Chemin de Jerusalem” or Road of Jerusalem. Walking the labyrinth in Chartres or other places could be made instead of making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

** I haven’t even tried to talk about the lunations of the labyrinth. Their meaning is still debated. A celestial calendar? Esoteric design of the deeper mysteries?

Walking a Sacred Path. Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool. Dr. Lauren Artress, Riverhead Books, 1995.

http://www.sacred-destinations.com/france/chartres-cathedral

http://www.labyrinthos.net

http://www.lessons4living.com/chartres_labyrinth.htm

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More pictures from France and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

The Cult of Bà Chúa Xứ

To see the Mekong Delta on our own by boat proved complicated and required more time than we had. We signed on instead for a tour. We were lucky: only a young couple from Holland had signed up as well.

Travel by boat we did! We took long boats, short boats, boats powered by motors or by human arms. We visited floating markets and stumbled into a tourism promotion festival going on in Chau Doc.

For me the highlight was the festival for Bà Chúa Xứ, the Lady of the Realm on the border to Cambodia. The shrine to Bà Chúa Xứ houses the most important cult in southern Vietnam.Temple entrance

We had the really good luck to visit Bà Chúa Xứ’s temple during the holiest period of the year. Her three-day festival starts at the beginning of the rainy season on the twenty-third day of the fourth lunar month.

The Lady of the Realm protects female entepreneurs (important in a country like Vietnam where women play a major role in small family businesses). Bà Chúa Xứ’s cult has a fascinating belief in both fecundity and the capacity of the goddess to multiply all that she touches — including money.

If you invoke Bà Chúa Xứ’s help, you must make a pilgrimage to thank your benefactress for her assistance. (She is remorseless to those who betray her favor!) Traditionally men need to spend 9 years making an annual pilgrimage, and 7 years are required of women.

In the courtyard before her temple, spirit money is burned in huge vats.Spirit $2Spirit $1

I wanted to make an offering inside the temple and decided to brave the crowds.DS1_0517

I joined the slow moving throngs and we inched our way forward. All around me pilgrims carried tall flowers, Pig 6and men bore platters with decorated sacrifices of whole pigs on their shoulders.Pig 5Pig 4Pig 3Pig 2Pig 1 People bought baskets filled with offerings of fruit,  Temple Offeringand still others carried lit sticks of incense, held high. Entering the templeThe crowds were so thick that I was concerned someone would set my hair on fire!Incense 1

Once I was inside the temple I managed to make my way up to Bà Chúa Xứ’s altar. Each day in progressive rituals her image is washed and cleaned. On this day, old women were changing her robes. I was unable to get close enough though, and made my offering later out in the (relatively) less-crowded courtyard.

The goddess originally resided on the top of Sam Mountain; her image is popularly thought to have grown from the stones of the landscape.

from the summit of Sam Mountain

from the summit of Sam Mountain, with the temple crowds just below

She wished to be worshipped and caused the locals to move her statue down to Vĩnh Tế village, where her temple still stands today.

I was surprised and moved to realize that her image had mass and strength rather than simple beauty. Some reports state that her statue is a female Shiva (Khmer). Other sources equate her with the queen Thien Y A Na (Cham), the goddess Tin Hau (Chinese), and the Lady Buddha (India). Bà Chúa Xứ is also named The Black Lady, and I see a likeness to Christianity’s Black Madonna.

Bà Chúa Xứ is a powerful deity protecting and bestowing prosperity on her people in the Mekong Delta. In such a fertile area it makes sense to believe in a benevolent, generous goddess.U&J Temple Entrance

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More pictures from our trips to Vietnam and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

PLEASE NOTE: I’ve moved. You’ll find me (and all of my previous posts) at my new address jadicampbell.com.

 

8:15 A.M.

 

At 8:15 a.m. some 65 years later,

Birds perch on the Dome.

It’s startlingly calm. A becalming place

Green, tranquil, filled with standing statues

tourists with cameras and

prayers for peace and

pray-ers for peace and

Classes of school children

running

water everywhere.

They bring chains of 1,000 cranes

folded in loving memory of Sadako Sasaki

Her cranes became tinier

leukemia advancing until

Sadako folded symbols of longevity and healing

with the aid of a pin.

At 8:15 a.m. some 65 years later,

Five cranes hold sentinel on

ruined

blackened

girders

The skeleton now, simply,

called the A-Bomb Dome.

Statues are the world’s countries’ monuments

to Hiroshima reborn, arisen

declaring her residents will,

forever, live

in a place called The City of Peace.

Classes of children, schooled in knowledge of what

unthinkable tragedy

took

place

here

stand for photos before the fountain with the flame

in the center burning

until the last nuclear weapon is dismantled;

Before the cenotaph shielding

names of the dead, reopened, names

added on August 6th.

The Peace Park, the terrible

hypocenter.

And the tourists with cameras?

We bear witness. We come to

ask, Why?

How many

angels danced on the head of a pin?

We come to see The Truth or

as much truth as we can bear.

Seeing demands the clearest sight

possible when your eyes are filled

with the pin pricks of tears

Water,

like the water the burned begged for as they died

The peace fountains spouting outside the museum

the river that flows

calmly, becalmingly

near the A-Bomb Dome,

where the cranes have taken up residence.

(17 October 2010 21:27 p.m.)

NOTES: I wrote the first version of this poem while we visited Japan in 2010. The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m.on August 6, 1945. Sadako Sasaki lived 2 kilometers from the epicenter. She was 2 years old at the time, and died of the radiation exposure 10 years later. Sadako is famous for folding origami cranes. According to the Japanese legend, anyone who folds 1,000 cranes will be granted a wish: Sadako hoped to be healed. Today classrooms of children all around the world send strings of paper cranes to be displayed at Sadako Sasaki’s memorial in the Peace Park. Her statue and story are a powerful reminder of the innocent lives lost.

The cenotaph is opened each August 6th and the newest names of the dead are added. Its arched form provides a shelter to the souls of the victims.

The Peace Park contains statues dedicated by countries around the world; a museum; and monuments. We visited at night and the Dome (the only building left standing after the blast) was occupied by cranes. The image of this World Heritage Monument and the symbolic birds took a powerful hold on my imagination. When we returned at daylight to visit the park it overflowed with classes of laughing children, stunned tourists, and an atmosphere that is impossible to describe. It is a place of shared tragedy, and humanity.

The cranes were still there, perching in the Dome.

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More pictures from our trip to Japan and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

The World’s Largest Pile of Bricks

We love travel. I refer to traveling to new cultures and places as connecting the dots. With each trip I feel a little more connected to the world at large and to the various dots that make up my picture of this planet and we who inhabit it.

While in Burma, we took a boat up the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay to Mingun for the day. Yet another fallen kingdom, Mingun is reknowned for the largest functioning bell in the world. It weighs in at 55,555 viss (90,718 kilograms or 199,999 pounds). The sound is a deep claaangg, rung by thumping the bell hard on the lip with a mallet. Mingun is also famous for the king who bankrupted his people with an attempt to outdo every shrine-builder who’d ever lived: King Bodawpaya wanted to build the huge stupa known as Mingun Pahtodawgyi.

It would be the highest in the world, a magnificent 150 meters tall, dwarfing everything built

How the stupa would have appeared finished

How the stupa would have appeared finished

prior to it.

Work began in 1790.

King Bodawpaya never finished his religious edifice. He ran out of funds; or, halted construction due to a prophesy that his realm would end when the building was completed; or, that completing the stupa would signal his death. An earthquake on March 23, 1839 dislodged the huge bell and damaged the structure beyond saving. The Mingun Pahtodawgyi became the world’s largest pile of bricks…

D30_2884_0200

Mingun Pahtodawgyi. Can you spot the teeny tiny humans in the photograph? (Click on the photograph)

The structure stands, all semi-finished 50 meters (150 feet) of it, roughly a third of the original planned height.

It’s a holy place and the faithful still come to worship. And the curious come to climb it [enter Jadi and Uwe, stage right]. Now, at any sacred Buddhist site, you remove your shoes at the base of the structure.

Going up, sir?

Going up, sir?

And you climb the stairs, barefoot, and then clambor on the ruins, barefoot, for one truly awe-inspiring view of the Irrawaddy River and the surrounding countryside.

View of the Irrawaddy River

View of the Irrawaddy River and several of Mingun’s gorgeous temples

Shan pilgrims in traditional outfits had also climbed the stupa and gave us the gift of their smiles and waves.

D30_2876_0200

Shan pilgrims

Shan pilgrims

It was a magnificent afternoon and yet another highlight of our 4 weeks in Burma.

Picnicking on the Edge

Picnicking on the Edge

It wasn’t until we were safely home again that I got a good look at Uwe’s photographs.

Go on, I dare you

Go on, I dare you

Just a few small jumps and you’re there

There was a photo I had taken, too.

Hope those bricks are stable!

Hope those bricks are stable!

All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. And click on the final image to enlarge it for an even better idea of how damaged the site is.

More pictures from our trip to Burma, and of Uwe’s photography, may be viewed at viewpics.de.

A Massage at Wat Pho

Pieter was right: the temple massages at Wat Pho really were awesome. Lisa wasn’t surprised by how crowded the site was, because it was dazzlingly, exotically beautiful. All of the palace buildings had golden roofs that gracefully swooped down and curled back up towards the heavens. Guardian demons held up columns or stood with watchful eyes. Thai06_2584_018All of the surfaces were covered with encrusted diamond shapes of colored glass, or tiny mirrors. Throngs of tourists wandered with cameras and guidebooks, admiring the buildings that glittered in the bright Thai sun. WatPho3“It’s almost as if this entire site is winking at us!” Lisa exclaimed.

Lisa and Babs wandered with their own cameras until they found the traditional massage school. An attendant asked them what kind of session they wanted (how long? what style massage? rather from a male or female therapist, or no preference?) and assigned them numbers. Babs’s number was called first and she looked nervous as she vanished out of sight with a therapist. A few minutes later Lisa heard 32 announced. She stood up and a young Thai woman led her to a different building.

The slats of the rattan walls in the low open structure let in both light and air. Lisa was led to the back of the long room, filled with low mats to the left and right. All around her fully clothed people lay on backs or stomachs as Thai therapists pulled at their limbs. Her therapist pointed for Lisa to lie down, and Lisa watched intently as the Thai girl put her palms together in front of her chest and whispered a prayer. She took one of Lisa’s legs in her hands, and Lisa forgot everything around her as the therapist smoothed away the knots of travel.

###

In the tropical climate Babs’s own long blond hair had gone completely limp. Babs was miserable. She was pretending she wasn’t shocked and frightened of the foreign megalopolis. Thailand’s capitol city might be a short plane ride away from Singapore. In reality, Bangkok was light years distant from any sanitized, orderly place. Babs knew Lisa admired her for what she perceived to be Babs’s sophistication and worldliness, her previous international travel experience. But just a few days in Bangkok quickly forced Babs to admit how terribly narrow the contours of her worldly knowledge were.

She was terrified of the jostling throngs and afraid of the foreign faces hurrying down the streets. The Bay Area consisted of lots of ethnic groups, of Americans. The jumble of nationalities here was far too authentic. If one more sticky brown body brushed against hers, she would have to scream.

At the temple Babs had been unable to relax despite the massage therapist’s coaxing, dexterous fingers. She had lain fearful and stiff, horribly awkward as a stranger touched her. Babs left the temple with an uncomfortable awareness of how uptight she was and no idea of how to release it.

Her sinuses were clogged with humidity and the aromas of overripe fruits and other odors she couldn’t identify. The stench from open food grills just made her want to gag, while the sly, half closed eyes of the Buddhas in their strange rich temples frightened her. WatPho6They watched Babs, and on all accounts they found her wanting. The glittering Thai world was simultaneously far too blinding, and contained far too much clarity.Thai06greenBuddha

Lisa noticed nothing of how scared Babs was. Instead, Lisa charged head first into the contradictory experience of the crowded streets Thai06nighttrafficand serene, glittering temples. Thai06MonkBabs was dismayed first by her friend Lisa’s surprising lack of fear, and next by her startling physical transformation. For the first time in their friendship she was discerning a little stab of jealousy against plain Lisa.

– from my short story “Banged Cock” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.

(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More pictures from our trips to Thailand, and of Uwe’s photography, may be viewed at viewpics.de.

The Music of the Heavenly Spheres

Image

Schwedagon Pagoda, Rangon

In 2009 we spent 4 weeks in Burma, the maximum time permitted on a visa. For years we’d debated back and forth about whether to go. Does one travel to a repressive regime? Just the year before, monks were shot for demonstrating peacefully in the streets. In the end we decided to go and bear witness. A country closed tight and ruled with iron fists, the poverty and corruption are unbelievable… as are the loving kindness of the Burmese and the beauty and magic of their land. I have been pondering what to post about our trip to Burma and how to write it, because Burma is unlike anyplace on earth.

But these are only words.

Let me begin again, this time with a story:

Sacred Pali script

On our very last day in-country, in Yangon we stopped at a café on a busy street with outdoor tables. All of the tables were filled with other tourists. The locals did not have the money for anything so extravagant. A beer, a pineapple juice, and hot green tea arrived; I wrote out some last post cards. Hovering in the street were the post card seller, a hawker for newspapers (used and days old), and a skinny boy with an endless “Hello? hello! Hello? hello!” When a tourist looked his way he said “Eat,” and mimed someone putting food in his mouth. He hovered looking over the wall dividing the café from the street, persistent with hunger.

I became aware of an ethereal music swimming its way up from the background of my consciousness. I thought someone down the street a ways with access to a power generator was playing a recording of a beautiful, haunting voice. Then the sound came nearer, and it was a young Burmese person. At first I thought it was a man slowly making his way down the road. It was a woman: she had her hair up under a cap and thanaka paste on her cheeks to protect her skin from the sun.

A  voice from the Heavenly Spheres

A voice from the Heavenly Spheres

She halted and stood very still as she sang, or chanted verses, or recited a Buddhist prayer. It wasn’t clear if she was singing or speaking and didn’t matter. The purity of that voice pierced all barriers and reached all hearts. Every so often the little metal cymbals in her fingers went ching! in a perfect counterpoint.

When she stopped, the entire café burst into spontaneous applause. People kept getting out of their seats to put bills in the can on a string around her neck. I checked my wallet. I knew my last offering in Burma was going to this young woman with the voice that sang with the music of the spheres. This music usually can’t be heard. The Greek mathematician Pythagoras of Samos believed the movement of planets (heavenly spheres) creates ethereal and earthly harmonies; Shakespeare wrote often about how these harmonies affect events. All I know for sure is that on that afternoon, in a dusty street in Burma, a young woman was channeling that music for us to hear.

I walked out with a 1,000 kyat note, stepped around the restaurant’s retaining wall to donate – and saw my singer had just one leg. She was propping herself up with a rough plank of wood.

This is my final image of the country sometimes called Myanmar. This is my avatar for Burma: a transcendent voice beyond language, standing with only one leg, singing gloriously, regardless.

I will post more about Burma in the coming months.

(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)