On Becoming A Better Human Being

Yesterday I started sending messages to my friends in the Middle East wishing them “Ramadan Kareem” (which means Have a Generous Ramadan) despite all the sadness we hear in the news of Palestinian women, men and children being killed for wanting to return to their homeland and all the other countries at war now and of people being ostracized and killed for being different.

The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.
[Quran 2:185]

The faithful continue to believe that all these shall pass and we will see a peaceful world. As Catholic, I also wish the same, and I think others too practicing other religions, wants a world where we can co-exist and enjoy the freedom to express who we are, what we believe and who we want to be.

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Then I remembered a chapter in the book of the Dalai Lama talking about religion and how it can make us a better person.

We know that most of the crisis and war around the world are fought in the name of religion or the belief that that is what their gods believe they should do and gain their place in their heaven.

But many of us know that the teachings of the different religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism) and other faith practices are towards peace, love, tolerance, acceptance of our differences and in fighting off excessive desires (in wealth and fame). And all of that is inert individual characteristics that we already possess. That is why, if we banded together, we would eventually win the war that is ravaging our world now.

According to the Dalai Lama, we can have philosophical and metaphysical views on religion at the same time live it according to your daily existence. But he also said that although the philosophical views differ and sometimes contradicts each other, in spiritual practice all religions are connected. They all recommend inner transformation of our stream of consciousness which will make us better, more devout people”.

True right? It all boils down to our understanding and accepting that we may have different faith beliefs, but we are similar on a spiritual level. Others may profess it outwardly, but it doesn’t mean they are more faithful than the others. It really depends on how you live it out, on how you’re spirituality makes you a better person for others.

Each one of us may believe in one way and one truth but it doesn’t mean that it is the same for the next person, we should be open to accepting the truth of other traditions even if it goes against our own convictions regardless of its reasons and how it affects others.

We as a person should have our own conviction but we should keep an open mind and be tolerant to those who don’t share them because that makes us different from each other but at the same time similar in a way that we accept each other to be like you — a person living each day trying to be a better person for others.

Postscript:

I am happy to say that all my friends who responded to my messages are all fine together with their families. They want us to remember them in our prayers and to keep up wanting for world PEACE!

Reading suggestion(s):

My Spiritual Autobiography His Hoiness The Dalai Lama

Look for the Glitter

Every day, every morning I receive an email from one religious organization – a message designed to be from God and they called it God Whispers. Telling me his thoughts about me and about my life, my dreams, my past and what could be my future.

They are encouraging words at times when I am confused or at a lost for words to describe my day. Or they can be random that I cannot relate to it until after days and there are times I completely forget them.

Yesterday God whispered these words to me

Dear Dhidhak

In a gold mine, you’re surrounded by gold. The problem is that you can’t see the gold because it’s covered by darkness, dirt, and danger.

Look for the glitter,
God

P.S. Dhidhak,  do you have a lot of problems today? The more problems you have, the more gold you have. 

But couldn’t relate it to my life at that moment until after I reviewed how my day was before going to sleep.

Towards the end of the day yesterday I received a letter of rejection from the fellowship I applied last January.  

The application was hanging over my head even before the accident. I didn’t give it much thought because I was busy moving between Turkey and Tunisia and continuing my remote technical support to people in the field until I had the accident.

When it happened, I felt I needed to do something to keep me relevant because I know how long it will take to recover. I decided to finish the application, asking friends and colleagues to give me a reference to help propel it and waited to know if I will have a future with them. My focus changed and applying for the fellowship and hopefully getting it would be a good plan at the time when I was not certain what my future would be.

So yesterday afternoon, for a brief moment I was stunned by the letter.  I will be a hypocrite if I say I didn’t felt bad, and a bit insulted having been told my life’s work is not impressive to a group of people who decides who can join the program and be the best leader after the training. Of course, I did, rejection fuels different emotions – hurt, pain, it lower self-esteem and it is one reason we have a very confused world now. But then the more I think about it, I am more challenged than rejected. Challenged to strive harder.

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Once the initial reaction subsided, which didn’t take long, I sent messages to my friends who sent me the invitation. If not for him, I wouldn’t know about it and to those who gave me professional references. I regret a little bit not getting in the program because it could be a good platform to promote my advocacy and put disability in the forefront rather than an afterthought in so many global discussions that affect our society now.

I also left a message with my sister telling her the news and what I think it means to me. As always she has the right words to say at the right time, putting me in my place, placated my feelings of rejection and any other negative thoughts that formed around it and went to bed at peace.

This morning, reading what had God whispered re-affirmed my reaction to the letter yesterday.

I realized that there is so much gold around us, around me, and in me. But gold doesn’t come from the ground glittering and glowing the moment you see them.  Like any gems and precious metals, you don’t know them unless you know what you are looking for — they come covered in dirt, in between rocks or found in the darkest part of the earth.  It takes time to get to the part where it glitters, and value appreciates.

Maybe that is how I came across to those that reviewed my application among the hundreds of applicants. It didn’t glitter to the luster that attracts attention enough to offer me the opportunity. But its’ okay, I don’t need to be glowing and glittering to serve and to lead. I may not have a fancy title attached to my name, but I know that at the end of the day your title doesn’t earn you the feeling of fulfillment knowing that you found gold in others and that they see the gold in me.

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The First Temple I Visited When I Was In Nepal

Who would have thought that when I accepted the job in Nepal to support my organization respond the destructions brought by the earthquake in 2015 it would also pave the way for me to visit holy site after holy site … I started a pilgrim without me knowing.

I was happy to meet Nepalese returning from their work abroad, like our driver and many new physical therapists to help in rebuilding Nepal. They are willing to leave their high paying job because they know that their family and country needs them. It is good for us as outsiders to work with them knowing that their intentions are the same as us … to help and support the nation building.

The Monkey Temple

Found the middle of the busy streets of Kathmandu, the Monkey Temple was named because of the abundance of monkey around the hills that joins the pilgrims as they climbed the stairs to venerate their gods.

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Buddha welcomes you to the temple … start your ascent!

In Hindi, it is the Swayambhunath Stupa and temple complex. It is on a hill that can be seen from far if you know where to look. Hindu worship animals and as you already know the “cow” is a “holy cow” to them.

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The view from the top of the hill … overlooking one part of the densely populated city of Kathmandu in the late afternoon as the smog rises up covering the sky

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When you see them in the middle of the streets, you drive around it, or you completely stall the traffic until it moves out of the way, you cannot shoo them away, or you will have the evil eye upon you!

Reading up on Swayambhunat made me feel sad when I saw the destruction around the complex brought on by the devastating 7.2 and 6.8 earthquakes within one month apart in April and May 2015. Most of the buildings, statues, and murals that toppled to the grounds can be said to be over 100 years, and in that jolt, they fell like Lego bricks and nothing could have prevented it.

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Fallen bell
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One of the altar with the Buddha eye in the center
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Prayer bells … you can see the shine caused by the hands of those passing and pray

It is wonderful to see that the spirits of the people didn’t falter, they come in droves and continue life after the destructive earthquake. With the contributions from all over the world – the pilgrims and the devotees had made constructions and reinforcements of the structures possible. The community was able to start rebuilding early.

The photos are some of the devastations I saw when I visited the temple during one of our weekend breaks. There was less and less aftershock by that time, and there are more and more people allowed to visit and worship again in the temple.

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The peace it brings to the pilgrims amidst the rubbles
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More climbing required … the price is at the top of the stairs
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The stairs … along the way you will be welcomed by HIndu gods to guide your way, to the enlightenment
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Constructions commence. The community reinforced the structure to prevent further collapse
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One of the last standing column/stupa that’s reinforced for safety and reconstruction
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One of the stupa that didn’t make it … it was reduced to a stub
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The temple complex with the round bell for everyone to turn as they pass by praying
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One monkey contemplates the outcome of the destruction the earthquake brought to his temple
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Monkeys are part of the life in the temple
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Bells left hanging secured by those huge chains
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Rubbles blocking the way to the other side of the complex
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Cracks in the wall of an old building that houses monks looking after the temple complex
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It all comes down to this … more rubbles
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More structure damage … some of them are condemned to be demolished completely
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Debris everywhere … the red building is an old library and bookstore
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Houses of monks destroyed during the quake
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Piles of rubble from buildings that collapsed during the shake
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One of the stupas and housing complex for the monks

Traveling with Purpose

Two thousand and sixteen was my best travel year so far! It was not just simply traveling; it has purpose and meaning.

I was working in the holiest of the land and was able to do my pilgrimage to two other sites that all Christians wish to walk through and relieve the journey of the first pilgrims beginning from Jesus Christs.

Although I lived in the Gaza Strip, in the occupied Palestinian Territory three weeks in a row, I get to spend at least two weekends in a month in Jerusalem when I am commuting to work in the West Bank five days in a month. Inside Gaza, I attended the only Catholic Church – the Holy Family Church every Saturday located in the middle of the old city under the Latin Patriarchate and joined the less than 100 Catholics living there in the celebrations.

When in Jerusalem, every weekend I get to go and walk in the Old City of Jerusalem and experience first hand (over and over) the sights and sound of the lives of the first Christians, Muslims, Orthodox, and Jews. Walking on the pavement where Jesus carried the cross to Mount Calvary and be laid in the tomb that is now enclosed by the Basilica of the Holy Sephulcre. I even got to spend the Holy Week in Jerusalem when I first moved to Israel, and it was surreal.

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The door of the Basilica of the Holy Sephulcre (Old City, Jerusalem / 2016)

“In my opinion, if you really want to experience the grace of being in the Holy Land visit first as a pilgrim with every intent to live out the life of Jesus, Mary and his apostles, then return as a tourist to better appreciate the experience”.

When I took my two-weeks break towards the end of November 2016, I decided and went to visit the seaside province Galicia in the northwestern part of Spain via Madrid spending a week in the small town of Santiago de Compostela and end my days for a week embracing the statue of St James.

I didn’t do the famous walk along the Camino. I went straight to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. I immersed myself in reading books about the pilgrimage, at the same time meeting those that completed the journey with certificates to show for it. I was also in touch with one of my former colleague that made the same pilgrimage years back after he recovered from a traumatic health condition. Staying put was enough for me back then — I was there at the time when I needed to sort myself and see what I would do next.

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At the courtyard with the Cathedral of Santigo de Compostela in the background (Galicia, Spain / 2016)

It was one of the most exciting experiences I had. I was supposed to spend it with a friend from long ago, but I guess that trip was meant for solo travel because a companion would have been a distraction into my communion with the higher spirits when I was there.

My pilgrimage in Europe would not have been complete without me visiting San Pietro in Roma.

I missed my train from Santiago de Compostela to Madrid. I thought my train was 5 in the afternoon and when I got to the train station, I realized that it was meant to be 5 in the morning. The night before I packed my bags and planned my day of nice pork meals and hang around the church courtyard until I go to the train station embracing  St. James one last time and said my goodbye. In the end, I had to pay extra to buy my new ticket, leave much later in the night and instead of me resting before I take my early flight to Rome I arrived very late and spent only a few hours with my friend instead of one whole night and meet her family.

Then it was time to go and fly to Rome. I have few friends and family in Rome, part of my trip was a reunion of some sort — meeting again friends from Nepal and the last housemate I had in Gaza Strip before she ended her mission earlier, and a very old college buddy who was running a hotel close to Roma Termini while I stayed with family. I get to see again the small city of Vatican. The last time I was there John Paul II was still Pope, and he passed away the year after that. Then I get the chance to visit his crypt and venerate the now Saint John Paul II and attend the weekly greetings made by Pope Francis.

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At the altar of the Saint Peters Basilica (Roma, Italia / 2016)

Then it was time to go back to my original playground, the Holy Land with the promise that I will spend my Christmas in the town where Jesus was born with good friends and be home to my family in the Philippines in the New Year!