12 December 2006It’s 6.30 on a misty morning at the Buddhist Retreat Centre near the town of Ixopo in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. Thirty people are stretching through a session of “mindful yoga” in a hall with cool parquet floors and tall windows that frame the greenery outside.Hours later, when the mist clears, they can walk through a forest up a gentle slope to the stupa, or shrine, and look across the valley to the clusters of homesteads that make up Chibini village. The centre is among the most beautiful spots on the planet, with paths winding through a paradise of indigenous trees, rare orchids and tree ferns. Duiker and vervet monkeys live in the forest; otters have been spotted in the dam below the centre; there are horses there, and rescued cats and their progeny patrol the grounds.When Durban-based Dutch architect Louis van Loon bought 140 hectares of derelict farmland in 1970, it was what he describes as a “wild wattle wilderness”.Over the next decade he dug up pine seedlings on the roadside and replanted them on the farm to get a fast-growing forest going. Then he added indigenous trees. There are thousands of them now, attracting 160 species of birds, including the endangered blue swallow. For both accomplishments, the centre has been awarded National Heritage status.It is just as well that the surroundings are inspirational, because the accommodation is spartan. Most visitors stay in a rambling residence – one narrow bed, shelves for clothes behind a muslin curtain, and a shared bathroom across the hall, as in an old-fashioned hotel.Unsurprisingly, cellphones only work – and then sporadically – at the foot of a 5m-high Buddha statue sculpted by Van Loon and set in a small park.But you don’t go to the BRC for mod cons and luxury. You don’t even go there for the fabulous vegetarian food. You go there to chill, or to learn how to live in the moment – a skill most of us lost when childhood ended.Relearning mindfulnessIt is called mindfulness, and can be learnt in a variety of ways. At the BRC, there are structured weekends called “the radiant awareness of being” or “the application of mindfulness” (this for health professionals working in HIV/Aids). But there are also weekends devoted to making and flying a kite; or learning to sketch; or drumming. There’s a very popular birding weekend.The author of the best-selling Quiet Food cookery book runs an annual retreat titled “an introduction to mindful cooking”. Anthony Shapiro, the centre’s artist-in-residence (see sidebar), leads pottery retreats.It’s an unusual programme for an institution devoted to unlocking the spiritual dimension in the individual. And when the centre opened some 25 years ago, the retreats and workshops were not without controversy.How does “mindful birdwatching” qualify as a Buddhist retreat?“Buddhists make it their business simply to sit down on a cushion and notice that that is all that’s happening: that they’re sitting, not standing. And that they’re breathing,” says Van Loon.“This is being mindful – being present in the here and now, however simple and uneventful. It is the perfect antidote to our frenetic, compulsive-obsessive lifestyle.“So why not extend this clarity of experiencing where you are and what is happening from moment to moment to everything else in your life, including watching a bird fly past? Or brushing your teeth?“We can find profound philosophy and meaning in life in the moments when we are truly in touch with things. Sketching, for example, is a powerful way of getting out of our self-centredness, by closely observing something other than our own dramas.”‘ubuntu Buddhism’Van Loon describes what is practised at the BRC as “ubuntu Buddhism”, influenced both by the spirit of Africa, the concept of ubuntu, and the culture of the West. “I think Western science and psychology, African philosophy and art have an incredible richness and depth which can contribute to an exciting new Buddhism,” he says.Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? He doesn’t actually answer the question. Some people call it a religion, he says, and some a philosophy. But “Buddhism doesn’t have the usual concepts and doctrines, dogmas, the articles of faith and belief built into its philosophy that most religions find absolutely fundamental, like a firm belief in a creator God, for example. For most people, that disqualifies it as a religion.“It’s not that Buddhism denies or accepts the existence of God, but that it does not find theological concepts like original sin, judgement, heaven and hell, etcetera very useful or meaningful in living our day-to-day existence.”The centre is remarkably laid back, and teachers – who, by the way, donate their services, in Buddhist tradition – also seem to follow Van Loon’s tolerant lead. If you skip a meditation session or a lecture, it’s no big deal. You can go deeply into Buddhist philosophy and meditation practice. Or you can put that aside for another day, another visit, so long as you adhere, at least while you’re there, to the most important stricture: do not cause harm.You can attend every session in the hope that at some point you may be blissed out, if only for a moment or two. Or you can simply drink in the gentleness and joy that seems to pervade the BRC.What’s remarkable is that it works, either way. For weeks afterwards, you’re not concerned about taxi drivers cutting in front of you, and stopping. You just shrug it off. It’s their karma. And it’s not that important.In this worldWhat is, then? “We can’t sit on our meditation cushions and work on our spiritual well-being without incorporating the welfare of those around us,” says Van Loon. The Buddhist principle of living a noble life in the midst of everyday chaos has been applied towards improving the lives of the people in the valley.Thus: Woza Moya (Come Spirit), a non-profit organisation linked to Chibini. The BRC has raised funds to build and maintain both a primary and secondary school. There’s an active HIV/Aids programme, with home-based care workers from the community trained at the clinic in Ixopo and involved in everything from counselling to orphan intervention.Which makes it okay for retreatants to search for their spirituality without feeling hypocritical about contemplating their navel while surrounded by incredible poverty.Nobody stops you from supplementing the pittance you pay for lodging with a donation to Woza Moya – but nobody will harass you for it either. It is, after all, your karma.This article was first published in The Weekender. Republished here with kind permission of Barbara Ludman and The Weekender.
The Weekly Report from Washington, D.C. for November 13, rounds up the latest on the tax legislation moving through Congress and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen’s last days on the job. Pending tax legislation moved forward in the House after the Ways and Means Committee approved the GOP tax bill. The Senate GOP unveiled its tax reform plan. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen left office on November 12.CongressHouse. The House Ways and Means Committee approved the GOP’s amended Tax Cuts and Jobs Bill (HR 1), along party lines on November 9. A floor vote on the bill is expected during the week of November 13.Senate. Senate Republicans unveiled a tax reform plan on November 9. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to begin a mark-up of the GOP plan during the week of November 13. IRSIRS Commissioner. John Koskinen highlighted his service as IRS commissioner during a press conference in Washington, D.C. Koskinen’s last day as commissioner was November 12 .Disaster Relief. The IRS provided guidance on leave-based donation programs to aid victims of recent wildfires in California. Under these programs, employees forgo their vacation, sick or personal leave in exchange for cash payments the employer makes to charitable organizations providing relief for the victims of this disaster.Cybersecurity. The IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is asking how cybersecurity concerns could impact professional responsibility, OPR Director Stephen A. Whitlock said on November 8. Whitlock spoke at the AICPA Fall Tax Division Meeting in Washington, D.C.Filing Season. The IRS released the first in a series of reminders to help taxpayers get ready for the upcoming tax filing season. The IRS gave tips to encourage problem-free filing of returns .By Jessica Jeane, George Jones and George L. Yaksick, Jr., Wolters Kluwer News StaffNeed to know more? Join Wolters Kluwer Principal Analyst Mark Luscombe on Nov. 29 for Tax Legislation Update: Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a 2 CPE webinar from CCH® CPElink. Mark will discuss what you need to know about the proposed legislation and its impact on businesses and individuals. Link is: http://www.cpelink.com/product/detail/?p=12149&t_id=1039&t_ref=3&s=r53bz8fLogin to read more tax news on CCH® AnswerConnect or CCH® Intelliconnect®.Not a subscriber? Sign up for a free trial or contact us for a representative.
Intel at CeBIT – Windows Server 2003: End of SupportThe end of life of Windows Server 2003 presents security and software issues for enterprises that stay on the platform. But there are opportunities for those who adopt the latest hardware and software platforms, including green IT and greater processing power. This video was original published on http://www.computerworlduk.com/sponsored-article/it-business/3608608/intel-at-cebit–windows-server-2003-end-of-support/