1. Last month, I got back from Israel. Iâ€™ve been going there for 15 years, and twice a year for several years. Along with Stephen Fulder, Tovana (the Israeli dharma organisation) and a growing network of people dedicated to the dharma, we have been and continue to be part of a dharma journey together.
Israel is now well established on the international Dharma map with several excellent Israeli teachers, a compassionate social-political wing (see: www.middleway.org) that ripples through the sangha there, and a marked preference for keeping faith with the austerities and personal material sacrifice demanded in the Dharma tradition, unlike the Anglo-American world, which has largely lost its way in this area. Teachers from overseas also offer teachings and practices there.
Itâ€™s a vibrant and dedicated network with use of a section of a kibbutz at Eindor, 90 minutes drive north from Tel Aviv, offering monthly programmes throughout the year.
It is inspiring to be among such dedicated and hospitable people. It is not easy to stay fully committed to the exploration of truth and the way things are in such an intense environment.
Tovana provides a vitally important service to give support to people in Israel to wake up and has deservedly earned the respect of many organisations and networks.
Apart from the retreat, I offer the Dharma Facilitators Programme, shared with Stephen Fulder, and public teachings and workshops. I was due to spend four hours with students at Tel Aviv University. My theme was â€œReligion, Spirituality and Psychotherapy. Conflict or Meeting Point?
That week, teachers and students went on strike at the university due to a planned increase in university fees. It meant that my teaching programme at the university was cancelled. I spent some of the free time in a Tel Aviv coffee shop ( a cafe latte in Tel Aviv is surely the best in the world). With such a title to explore in a morning with the university students, I enyoyed my cafÃ© latte that little bit more!
2. Last summer, the all-powerful Israeli army launched into a murderous two month war upon southern Lebanon based on finding two missing Israeli soldiers â€“ ignoring the fact that 9273 Palestinian men and women remained banged up in Israeli political prisons without trial or status.
More than 1230 Lebanese men, women and children died, thousands more mutilated by bombing, rockets, blowing up apartment blocks and villages with some 970,000 Lebanese losing their homes and populated parts of southern Lebanon becoming a desert due to unexploded cluster bombs. TheÂ kidnapped Israeli soldiers were never traced. Hisbollah also engaged in murderous intent by sending shells into northern Israel killing and woundingÂ a number ofÂ Israeli citizens. The US, the UK and the EU said little.
During this time, two Vipassana teachers from overseas were due to teach a retreat in Israel but cancelled their visit owing to the war (the Lebanese launched countless small missiles into Israel, especially Haifa). The cancellation left real discomfort among some seniors in Tovana. Listening to some important voices in the Israeli sangha, I felt that the cancellation had a temporary impact on some peopleâ€™s trust and faith.
â€œArenâ€™t Dharma teachers concerned about suffering and the end of suffering? said one senior dharma student to me.
What would you do? Would you say it is your dharma (duty) to go, no matter what the risks? Bless them, the Israeli sangha has no hard feelings at all, and have re-invited the two teachers back again this year.
3. Last month, I spent a couple of days in Haifa staying at the parentâ€™s home of UK resident, Asaf Federman, our retreat manager for the April retreat. On my first morning in Haifa, the sirens rang for three minutes throughout the state of Israel to commemorate Holocaust Day. The country stops still â€“ the home, in the office, pedestrians, shoppers, motorists.
A great silence descends all over country. It is hauntingly powerful. I experienced a wave of feelings, as the emotions converted into the water element and my eyes become wet and misty, at this solidarity of a whole country in its remembrance of the Holocaust. I have visited the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. It was built on the olive groves of Palestinian families.
I am no lover of the nation state, any nation state. Violent and unresolved shadows of human beings are prone to identify with the nation state. You may think Israel only cares for itself. Not so. From my observation, Israel is in one helluva state, bitterly divided, stressed out, with a high level of family conflicts, road rage and unresolved social, religious and cultural problems. Israel is not at peace with itself, let alone its neighbours. Tovana has a vitally important function and deserves support.
The issue is not about two statesâ€¦it is about our common humanity.