Just before Election Day, Dr Ela Manga and I offered the Still Action Retreat, in order to share inward practices for outward impact. In our own work, we have seen how communities are fractured, people are growing more isolated and there is a deep sense of internal dis-ease and disconnection. We have been pondering how South Africa can regain its collective power for social transformation. It is a legacy the country seems to have lost. What can we do, in our individual and collective lives, to create a shift – a tipping point – to a more inclusive and cohesive world?
When I visualise the embodiment of Still Action, Green Tara always comes to mind. She sits, at ease, watching over the world with a compassionate gaze. She is green, representing the element of wind on the Tibetan prayer flags. She acts with the swiftness of the wind, whenever she sees suffering, like a parent who senses their child is in danger. Her left leg is bent inwards, showing that she is free from destructive emotions, while the right is lifted, ready to jump into action from her place of stillness. With one hand she gives, enabling all who ask for help to access their innate talents and skills. The other is held in the refuge mudra, where the thumb and first finger touch to show the union of wisdom and skilful means. She holds the lotus flower, iconic in Buddhism, as a metaphor that the mud of our unskillfulness can be transformed to allow the lotus to bloom. The beauty of the lotus flower represents our fully enlightened qualities, which we can use to touch into the joy of being in service of others.
I spoke briefly of Green Tara during the retreat, and wanted to write this piece to reveal some more about her. The story goes that she was once a woman called Wisdom Moon, the daughter of a king. She possessed great faith and showed complete devotion to the Drum Sound Buddha. In front of this Buddha, she took the bodhisattva vow, which is the promise to bring all those who suffer to liberation. The monks were delighted at her promise, but feared that she would not be able to assist many beings, if she was still in a woman’s body. They prayed for her to be reborn as a man. She realised that their prayers were the product of their own conditioning and a sign of the era. She, however, had a vast mind that could access ultimate truth, and vowed that as long as there is still suffering on this earth, “I will benefit beings, appearing in a female body.” (Bokar Rinpoche, 1999:20). Ever since this story, recorded in the 16th Century, Green Tara has been considered a goddess, who gained enlightenment. She will help anyone who prayers to her, in the commitment to carry out her bodhisattva vows.
During the retreat, I talked about the Buddhist archetype of the contemplative activist, the bodhisattva, and how we can start right now, as a bodhisattva-in-training. I have been taught about three different types of bodhisattva – the monarch, the ferry driver, and the shepherd. Depending on our personality, we may feel more connected with one of these. Monarchs develop their own strength and confidence before feeling that they are ready to help others, often through studying and deep practice. It can take them many years to feel ready to take up their bodhisattva crown, but once they do, they lead with wisdom. The ferry driver travels on the same ferry as everyone else, in the same direction, but has the responsibility of guiding the way. Shepherds put the welfare of all others ahead of their own, in the same way that they would look after their herd, and ensure that no danger befell them.
Looking around the Octagon, we could feel the bodhisattvas picking up their crowns, boarding their ferries and protecting their sheep. We were blessed with the presence of mothers who have done everything in their power to protect and allow their children to flourish, even at times of intense personal hardship. We sat alongside those responsible for the health and well-being of others, through their work in rheumatology, integral medicine, yoga and mindfulness teaching, coaching and breathwork facilitation; leaders of communities both on- and off-line, and those who support their friends and clients to feel the most confident and beautiful that they can be, in order to do the work they wish to do in the world.
If we had worries about the state of the world before the retreat, they were soon dispelled. We were surrounded by an Octagon filled with Green Taras, women – and one young man – with the deep wish and commitment to make the changes necessary for both inner and outer transformation. Ela and I have committed to run this as an annual retreat, so keep a look out on the calendar. We would love to hold the space for more bodhisattvas to birth themselves next year.
May 2019, Dr Lucy Draper-Clarke
The Activists Way – a weekly support group for change makers and activists, using tools of contemplation and creativity to keep connected with the work. Thursday mornings in Auckland Park. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Breathwork Africa holds two breathwork sessions a month, with the next one being on 29 June from 2:30pm to 4:30pm at Woodlands Spa in Muldersdrift at a cost of R350/person. You can book with email@example.com. For other events related to breathwork please visit www.breathworkafrica.co.za and www.drelamanga.com.
Still Action Saturdays:
Once a month with Drs Lucy and Ela. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Green Tara Retreat