January 28, 2015 on 12:00 pm

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: My Hindu granddaughter who is eight years old is very playful and loves to wear pendants. Can you suggest one appropriate for her age? Lana P., Santa Fe, NM

Dear Lana: I don’t have to think very hard to suggest the very colorful Ganesh Deity Pendant here at Ma’s India.


Ganesh Deity Pendanthere at Ma’s India, a splendid reflection of joy, lightness of spirit and devotion against a lovely blue splash of color.

Ganesh here is represented as a boy God, not in his prime yet, where he appears more fearful and formidable. He is still allowed to be the playful and mischievous young god that he shows to his friends and family. That Ganesh also has an elephant head removes some of the “formidability” of this great god.

One of the interesting things is that Ganesh is known as a non-sectarian deity. Hindus of all denominations invoke him at the beginning of prayers, important undertakings and religious ceremonies. Dancers and musicians particularly in southern India begin their art performances with a prayer to Ganesh. Of course, it is also customary to invoke Ganesh at the beginning of any undertakings, including my friend who calls on Ganesh before starting her car.

Interestingly, Ganesh is connected with the first chakra, which also has the color red. And because of Ganesh’s identification with the color red, he is often worshipped with red sandalwood paste or red flowers. I also find of interest that Ganesh is not only the remover of obstacles in one’s life, but he is also the deity to look towards for education and purpose in one’s life.

We are all familiar with Ganesh’s role as gatekeeper to his mother Parvati’s home where he lost his head defending her privacy, thus gaining an elephant head which of course adds to a feeling of playfulness and mischief when considering Ganesh. What I didn’t know and discovered in my research, is that Ganesh is also considered as the god of transitions and is placed at the doorway of many Hindu temples to keep out the unworthy, similar to his role as Parvati’s gatekeeper.

Ganesh is one of the most loved gods in the Hindu pantheon, and if worn as a pendant, would give me assurance that a great and good god was blessing my granddaughter for sure.

Om Sri Ganesh Ki Jai!

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January 23, 2015 on 11:00 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: Is there a difference between saging and smudging? Barbara R., Kansas, MO


Sage and Smudge

Dear Barbara: Until you asked that question, I don’t think I ever thought about a difference between saging and smudging. Viewing our Mountain Sage Smudge with the words “saging and smudging” side by side, I can see why that might be confusing.

Doing a bit of research, I have come to find that saging and smudging are indeed words that are interchangeably used. Contacting a shaman friend of mine, I was interested to hear him refer to bundles of native plants as smudges rather than the commonly referred to “sages.” He told me that he used the smudges in his sweat lodge rituals, healing rituals and even in Native American festivals.

For those not in the know, shamans serve as intermediaries between the material world and the spiritual world. Their main focus is to call back someone’s soul that has perhaps been lost through injury or trauma. They are travelers in the best sense of the word, willing to accompany the spirit or entity back into the spirit world to retrieve someone’s soul.

Sage or smudge originated in Native American ceremonies and its purpose is to disperse negative energy and vibrations in a particular place. I think that everybody is aware of sometimes walking into a residence or place of tragedy and feeling a very inharmonious and unsettling vibration. Sage or smudge has been known to clear the air of these unpleasant feelings. In fact, many shamans are hired to clear out negativity or bring in newness in recently purchased, previously owned homes.

Mountain Sage is sustainably harvested by a Native American reservation cooperative. Not only sage and smudge are used, but people also burn tobacco, cedar, sage and sweet grass and offer them to the Four Directions of east, west, north and south. When doing so, the person opens themselves to guidance and wisdom from spirit.

Saging and smudging becomes a ritual of purification and cleansing. Similar to invoking the spirit of Ganesh in Hindu rituals, when one sages and smudges, it also speaks of a new time in one’s life and the asking of blessings for the new journey. Mountain sage in particular is often used to promote success in new undertakings, whether physical or spiritual.

My shaman friend tells me that he smudges his own home regularly and keeps his sage in a medicine pouch. He then places the sage in an abalone shell and fans the embers with a feather to spread the smoke. He then leaves a window cracked open to allow the spirits to leave. He advises that all you need is a fireproof bowl and sage.

One last tip on saging and smudging: My own personal experience with saging is that it sometimes leaves a residue in a room and you often have to wait a while before re-entering it after a ceremony. Nevertheless, there is no doubt how saging and smudging work to dispel negativity in one’s space. However you refer to it, saging and smudging are wonderful clearing out tools.

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January 21, 2015 on 11:00 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: I noticed that you carry many types of sandalwood incense. What is it about sandalwood that is so enticing? Laura D., San Francisco, CA


Rare Essence Sandalwood Supreme

Dear Laura: Although I have burned sandalwood incense for many years, I am never tired of it. Lately, I admit to a fascination with Rare Essence’s Sandalwood Supreme Incense Sbecause it has a quality different from their other sandalwood products. Like a wine, this sandalwood appears to have a complexity inbred within it. Similar to many other sandalwood products, other aromatics have been added. But the “bouquet” as they say is rich and enduring and I will go so far as to say it will deepen the experience of your meditations.

Sandalwood originates from woods that are heavy, yellow and fine-grained and maintain their fragrance for decades. Both the wood and the oil produce a distinctive fragrance highly valued for centuries and as a result, these slow-growing trees have been over-harvested. Unfortunately, like everything else that becomes known for its value, like the salmon, it is in danger of disappearing from our lives.

Producing commercially valuable sandalwood with high levels of fragrance oils requires that the trees be a minimum of 15 years old. An interesting but probably widely unknown fact is that it is likely that Australia will be the largest producer of sandalwood by 2018.

When thinking of sandalwood, I feel that most people associate it with Hinduism where the paste is used for rituals and ceremonies, to mark religious utensils and to decorate the icons of deities. Sandalwood is also distributed to devotees who apply it to their foreheads, necks and chests. Preparation of the sandalwood paste is entrusted in temples only to priests.

In Hinduism, sandalwood is thought to bring one closer to the divine. Before starting daily prayers, many Brahmin sects apply sandalwood paste on their bodies as part of their daily rituals before starting their prayers. In Buddhism, sandalwood scent is believed to transform one’s desire and maintain a person’s alertness while in meditation. Sandalwood paste and incense are also used in Islam, Chinese and Japanese ceremonies, to name some that are well known.

Sandalwood’s distinctive aroma truly sets it apart from other aromatic incenses. Whether because of the tree from which it originates or the sanctity attached to it by generations of priests and sages, sandalwood can be considered the most popular of burned incenses in the world.

I’ve asked many people what their favorite incense is, and for many of them, if not most, I would have to say that sandalwood is one of the most popular scents. In recent times of course, there have been an abundance of what I call ersatz scents, including grape, strawberry and lemon incense. Horrors to those who have contemplated chocolate incense! While in favor to some, I maintain my snobbery and will always choose a sandalwood extraction. Thanks for writing, Spiritual Explorer

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January 16, 2015 on 11:15 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: What does it mean to be steeped in spirituality? Lauren P., Hollywood, CA,

Snatam Kaur "Prem"

Snatam Kaur “Prem”

Dear Lauren: You need go no further than listen to the music of Snatam Kaur in her album called Prem to realize what it is to be steeped in spirituality. Prem or Prema is a Hindu word representing the highest form of love. To have prema or prem love is to be fully devoted to your god, goddess or spiritual life. Your heart is softened by the quality of prem and ultimately includes love for all mankind as you undergo this willingness to hear what the god or goddess requires.

Prem is ultimately a total act of surrender to your spiritual life and renders you helpless in the face of this love for your deity. “Let my heart fly open” was one of the mantras of a Hindu saint. She repeated it daily and then one day it became true. Her heart opened like a flower and she became one with her lover deity.

Snatam Kaur led a very privileged life in that she had parents who were of the Sikh tradition. Unlike many children who rebel against a form of strict orthodoxy, Snatam Kaur actually maintained their discipline and religiosity throughout her life. One might envy such a life.

Even Snatam Kaur’s education was geared towards spirituality. As a child Snatam Kaur received instruction in kirtan, meditation and the language of Sikh scriptures. Snatam Kaur also received lessons in voice, violin, guitar and percussion. The violin was a favorite instrument of Snatam Kaur.

More interesting is that Snatam Kaur was also trained in western classical music. Thus her music is a winning combination of the east and the west. Soothing sounds from the east are mixed with the upbeat tempo of the west.

My personal experience of Snatam Kaur’s music is that it is very easy to surrender to the silence and meditation upon hearing Prem. More than the silence, however, listening to Prem brings about a state of inner focus and heart opening. Prem’s music can only be described as divine and bliss-filled.

Joining Snatam Kaur in the background of Prem is a keyboard, violin, drum and other instruments that combine simultaneously to perform an experience of cosmic love and stillness. If this is the first time you hear Snatam Kaur perform, you are in for a real thrill.

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January 14, 2015 on 11:14 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: My friend has a crystal which she claims heals. How do crystals heal? Bertha P., Atlanta, GA


Crystal Bible

Dear Bertha: I have to recommend the book Crystal Bible, A Definite Guide to Crystals by Judy Hall. I would agree it is a “bible” of sorts, meaning a truly authoritative, expansive and definitive book on numerous crystals and their properties and usage. From crystal background to crystal healing and on to crystal meditation, this is an “everything you wanted to know about” book on crystals.

Many years ago I would see a chiropractor who used crystals a great deal in his practice. As you walked into his office you would feel revitalized. He told me that what I felt was the energy emitted by these crystals. Needless to say, he had many of them all over his office. His patients would remark, upon entering his office, no matter what malady they had, that they would feel a true vibrational lift and suppression of pain within moments.

You don’t have to wonder what these crystals look like in Ms. Hall’s book. There are myriad beautiful illustrations of the crystals, with color, appearance, rarity and source also shown. I chanced upon the “apatite” crystal and was amazed at the numerous healing attributes of this crystal: healing of bones and formation of new cells, aiding in the absorption of calcium, as well as easing pain of arthritis and bone problems. What I found most interesting was Ms.Hall speaking of how this crystal is a true appetite suppressant. This is but one example of the extensive research that has contributed to the authority of this book of crystals.

Crystals have been used for millennia to heal and bring balance. They work through resonance and vibration. Ms. Hall tells us that one needs to be well trained in order to treat anybody with crystals. After reading her book and her authority on crystals, that is easy to believe.

Ancient healers also felt that some crystals were energizing and some were sedating, similar to when people place acupuncture needles in some fashion upon your body. What Ms. Hall recommends is that you as a healer attempt to find out the origin of the malady before applying a particular crystal. For instance, if someone has a headache, it is good to know whether it is caused by stress or a physical problem within the body. That is when one should consult an expert on crystals.

Lastly, I think all of us romantics would like to know how to bring love in our life through crystals. Ms. Hall recommends placing a rose quartz crystal into the relationship part of your house (farthest right rear corner from the front of the house). She also suggests that one might wear an amethyst crystal to regulate the attraction or add perhaps a soft, pink crystal.

This is a fabulous book on crystals, well worth purchasing.

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January 9, 2015 on 11:00 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: Flu season is upon us, and I don’t want to take the flu shot. Can you recommend some oils that I can apply to my body for protection? Lana P., Milwaukee, WI

Eucalyptus Oil

Eucalyptus Oil


Triloka Lavender Oil

Dear Lana: Well, it certainly will be cold where you are and you are wise to take precautionary steps right now. I must state however that I am not a medical professional and therefore you must take what I say as just somebody who believes in a combination of both traditional medicine and holistic advice. Having said this, I would recommend both Triloka Lavender Essential Oil and Triloka Eucalyptus Oil as wonderful adjuncts for this difficult weather.

Lavender is considered one of my favorite oils of all time. It has so many attributes, among which are as an antiseptic, relaxant, anodyne and floral. The oil of lavender is extracted from the actual flower and not the leaves or seeds. It is good for cleaning scrapes and cuts.

I have a friend who is currently suffering from a great deal of anxiety and has a diffuser on which she can place a drop of lavender oil. This smell of lavender as it expresses through the night brings her a great deal of not only comfort, but also an uplifting feeling for her depression. It feels that lavender has a very pure and antiseptic feeling about it that seems to be synonymous with healing at one’s mother’s bedside.

Lavender sachets are great gifts to be given at Christmas time where one can place a number of them in a drawer in their bedroom and the scent will always be around your most intimate apparel.

I can never say too much about Eucalyptus Oil, particularly the Triloka variety, because I believe it is of the highest quality and I trust it implicitly for healing. Unlike many eucalyptus oils, which are of a lesser gradient, this eucalyptus oil retains its strong integrity of smell. Putting a few drops of eucalyptus in your bath or basin and perhaps on a small tissue for inhalation purposes will ignite your healing powers. I have always had a strong feeling for eucalyptus ever since my parents would buy branches of eucalyptus to put in our home for Christmas. The eucalyptus would enliven and refresh our home with a pungent and strong flavor.

Have a wonderful holiday and see you next year!

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January 7, 2015 on 11:00 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: I like my ego; what does it mean to slay the ego? Rose P., Duluth, MN


Kali Statue

Dear Rose: I have to admit that the ego can be very useful as one navigates the world with all of its intricacies and challenges. Some people consider the ego to be synonymous with the personality, and if you have a great personality, you are certainly not going to want to terminate it. In fact, my guru Ma Jaya would tell us that we didn’t have to destroy our personalities in a quest for spiritual life. The real trick is to kill attachment and if you want to do that sincerely, I would recommend you start out with the Brass Kali Statue. Belief would have that just gazing at it can bring about a diminishment of one’s ego.

When one consents to gaze at a murti, which is a statue of a god or goddess, particularly a Kali statue, one has come to a place in one’s life where perhaps conventional outreaches no longer fills an emptiness that might occur within one’s heart. Therefore, opening up to another possible energy or allowing the spirit of a god or goddess to enter one’s life has to produce some favorable change. When I look at a murti and particularly, Kali, I feel a certain detachment, recession of pain, and sometimes an opening in my heart.

Detachment sometimes, but not always, occurs, as one gets older. As one’s energy diminishes within the body, it seems natural to give up an attachment to perhaps sex or food or even money; the ego of acquisition lessens. The difficulty comes when we try to give up ego when we are younger and all of our bodily systems seem to have a mind and ego of their own, crying for satisfaction of needs. Then if you are not on a spiritual quest, these egoic needs can be overwhelming.

Gazing at a spiritual statue such as Kali is quite courageous in fact. It is not easy to gaze upon the fierceness such as Kali portrays in this statue. However, if one were to open oneself up to what Kali represents, one might be surprised to feel at true kindness and benevolence emanating from Kali.

There are always guardians at the gate to every aspiration. What that means is that when one aspires to something, spiritual or not, there are always challenges or guardians at the gate of the secrets within. Some gates, such as Kali presents, may be so formidable that one becomes terrified to enter. But if one is serious and wishes to attain something, then one might consider taking up the challenge.

Kali is one of the Mahavidyas, a group of scary looking goddesses indeed. But one must go beyond the gates that Kali hypothetically presents as they appear to find their ultimate realization. What one does not realize as one sets out on the spiritual path, is that giving up the ego is quite joyful and sometimes feels like just relaxing into a moment and feeling free.

Surrender is another word to ponder when thinking of the great goddess Kali. Surrender is anathema to most western people. We have been conditioned to assert ourselves and “not take things lying down.” Humility is not always in our vocabulary. But if you were to take the slaying of the go seriously,and attempt to present your ego to Kao, you might see that humility could become one of the gifts of giving up ego.

The important thing for you to remember, Rose, is that you can still keep your wonderful personality. The only thing you will lose is stress, conflict and judgment; you can only gain peace and quiet.

Om Sri Kali Ki Jai!

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January 2, 2015 on 11:00 am

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Just giving a commentary on our new Path of Yoga Prayer Flags now on sale at Ma’s India. These prayer flags are quite different from others I have seen in the past. They seem to be larger and are displayed in a wonderful startling combination of blue and white.

There are seven flags, each one expressing a different aspect of the spiritual path. The following is a brief outline of what you can expect from each prayer flag.


Path of Yoga Prayer Flags

We begin with the basic yoga prayer flag representing union with God or spirit. This yoga prayer flag announces that it is the path of yoga that we traverse in order to experience our connection with God or spirit.

The Atman prayer flag conveys the Sanskrit word that means the inner self or soul. Atman is the true self of an indivividual or his essence. In order to attain liberation, a human being must acquire self-knowledge, which is synonymous with realizing that our true selves are identical with that transcendent self.

Our next prayer flag is “nirvana,” which appears to be a word that people commonly refer to regarding the blissful experience of “knowing” as it has been described. However while desirable, nirvana is known not to be the final liberation that we desire; it is a unique and unusual event that some are privileged to experience. I have heard people who have experienced a “nirvana” experience to say that while they understood that it was not a final experience, yet it reflected a deeper reality that forever configured their lives. It was a glimpse of liberation, but not the continuous awareness of union that saints speak of.

In that context, it is said that the samadhi prayer flag denotes an experience of blissful union with God or spirit. There are different types of samadhi and we refer you to the works of Patanjali for a more concise explanation.

Finally, the ojas prayer flag speaks of ojas as a quantifiable liquid in the body responsible for overall health, energy and liveliness. It is both a mental and physical factor, but nevertheless contributing to health maintenance. It is well known that the path of yoga is an arduous path and if one is blessed to have “good ojas,” it goes a long way towards eventual accomplishment along the path of yoga.

Finally I would say that the satya prayer flags speaks of absolute truth, an essence that pervades the universe in its highest form. I first experienced the word satya as part of the word satyagraha, which was Gandhi’s mantra as he resisted the British. It means soul force, the force necessary to overcome egoic and difficult challenges.

Finally, let us now speak of the last prayer flag, which is Aum, the universal sound. The tri-syllabic word is that word which when recited puts us in touch with the divine essence that pervades the world.

Each one of these prayer flags are interconnected with each other and as they send out prayers to the wind, are necessary steps and experiences as we traverse the ultimate path of yoga.

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December 31, 2014 on 11:00 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: I just love the book Feed Everyone which speaks of the underlying philosophy of feeding everyone, both spiritually and physically. It speaks to the true meaning of “food.” Jane R., Topeka, KS


Feed Everyone

Dear Jane: Thank you for your letter. Feeding Everyone is and always was a core philosophy of Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati and her chelas at Kashi Ashram. I have always remarked that when somebody visits us at Kashi that they should count on gaining at least a few pounds when enjoying the wonderful meals prepared by our chef Swami Rudra Das. The book that you refer to, Feed Everyone, is a compilation of 45 recipes shared by Ma Jaya together with her students.

Some might consider this book to be a throwback to the 50’s and 60’s where baking ingredients always abounded with lots of butter and lots of sugar. However, the butter and sugar were mixed in with stories of generosity and gratitude for the abundance of not only food, but the spiritual generosity that Ma gave to all who met her. Ma always insisted that everybody who visited and lived here should never go hungry.

Ma Jaya said that if a person were physically hungry, they would not search for God; it is the physical hunger that is compelling and overwhelming. Therefore, food at Kashi was considered prasad, a Hindu word for nourishment of the soul and body.

After meeting with the saint, which is the meaning of darshan, there is always prasad served on Saturday nights in the form of some delightful sweet. In Feed Everyone, Ganga Ma, one of Ma’s students, speaks beautifully of prasad which she calls the food of life. She compares prasad to the Eucharist, the bread that was transformed into Christ’s own body through the miracle of faith. She asks us to acknowledge how prasad is not only physical food, but the gift the gods give each day to nourish us in the form of a sunset, a kindness or a juicy fruit.

While the desserts have evolved in contemporary times into much healthier ingredients, it is still wonderful to peruse the recipes in the Feed Everyone book and experience the lushness, richness and sybaritic quality of the desserts. It is also reflective of how food and the richness of it were synonymous especially after times of depression and deprivation with satisfying the many forms of hunger that people feel. One then is able to taste and experience a scintilla of what was given to her chelas by Ma. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, Ma was very anxious that nobody goes hungry or is alone on those holidays.

Here is an example for the recipe of Crème Caramel:

1-quart whole milk

1-cup heavy cream

3 whole eggs

1 1/24 cups sugar for custard

4 cups of sugar for caramel

1 ½ tbsp vanilla

An intimate reflection by Ma Jaya is told in the first pages of Feed Everyone where she speaks of the joy of sharing her cooking and baking with many who lived in her neighborhood. Ma Jaya speaks of there never being less than 15 people for dinner and if she didn’t hear the sound of her refrigerator being slammed shut at least very 15 minutes, she would think something was amiss.

Feed Everyone is full of magical quotes and reminiscences of a teacher whose mission in life was to serve and feed all, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation or philosophy.

Om Sri Jaya Sati Bhagavati Swaha!

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December 26, 2014 on 10:59 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: I ordered Tibetan prayer flags and noticed on the outside that they were titled “good karma” flags. What is good karma? Rosalind R., Newport, RI

Dear Rosalind: Karma is a very interesting subject and I noticed the same thing on those Tibetan Prayer Flags, which incidentally come in small, large and extra large size.

There are many people who are glad to speak of good and bad karma respectively. Frankly, I don’t appreciate when people say of somebody whose act they might disapprove of,”Uh oh, that’s bad karma for them.” My own spiritual teacher Ma Jaya said that karma is a very complicated matter, and it was not wise to assume that one had a knowing of who was entitled to good karma and who was the recipient of supposed bad karma. Sometimes I think that when you utter judgments of bad karma on someone, it might even rebound back to you, such is the arrogance that one might carry around when speaking of others without compassion


Prayer Flags

I do know that the nuns, who reside at Dharmasala, where the Dalai Lama also resides, make the Tibetan prayer flags. The people who own the distributorship support fair trade, which essentially means that the distributors support viable and fair relationships with their vendors, artisans and crafts people that they work with. This also means that the vendor has an opportunity to fix the price that they wish to sell their items, thus providing livelihood to many people around the world. And if I had to say anything about bad or good karma, I would say that sounds like good karma to me.

From my limited knowledge, I know that some very good people have their share of hardships which some might attribute  to bad karma, which means to them that they are paying off some old debts that they might have incurred either in this life or another one. I also know people who talk about their supposed good karma when things are going well with them and they feel they are prospering. But again, does that mean that they are suddenly reaping the benefits of past actions and karma?

It is a very sticky matter indeed to pretend to have knowledge of what constitutes good and bad karma. Sometimes it just smacks of “judgment” on the part of people who wish to judge peoples’ bad or good fortune as they see it. I know of other wise people, having gone through difficult circumstances, have seen their trials as an opportunity to pay off old debts and perhaps through their absolution, accrue good karma once again.

These are very uplifting prayer flags indeed. Each flag has a wind horse in the center guarded by the four Tibetan Dignities: snow lion, tiger, dragon and Garuda. These four animals represent the spiritual qualities we long to possess: compassion, kindness, joy, awareness, non-judgment and humility.

My friend who is a Buddhist teacher hangs her prayer flags outside her home. Since she lives in a small town, which has mostly Christian influences and churches, I am sure that the townspeople wonder about those pieces of cloth gently listing in the breeze. I myself am very heartened by her devotion and belief that these prayer flags as they are touched by the wind blowing through them, are emitting the prayers inscribed upon them. These prayers are meant to positively benefit the world.

And if I had to make a statement, I would say that was good karma indeed. Thanks for writing, Spiritual Explorer

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