He is a man for whom the word "impossible" does not apply

I have heard many compliments in my life. But none come close to this one.

You see the world has so many ways to pull you down. So many excuses and justifications are there.

I had one teacher a very great man. A real saint. He had lived centuries in his life.
He knew what determination was.

The blessing of one being who knows what determination is - to meet such a man - if you can identify him - well you cannot remain the same being for long.

He was close to a very great man who was much older than him. They met in the early days of the movement for India's independence. Wise people are very difficult to get to know. But this man had real persistence. There are plenty of people born with talent. But so often talent is wasted by the lack of "umph" to bring it to application. Wisdom takes a hell of a lot of guts.

"He will never settle for second best. It will make him or it will destroy him."

If you find such words applicable to you - then if you wish to make a life rather than be destroyed by life - then you have to rise to such a state whereby the "impossible" no longer applies to you.

There are reasonable limitations - only a fool denies them. But a visionary is one for whom the body and the mind and convention are not the perimeters of what is true.
There is a light within man - that is not the light of eyes - if your life is not guided by that light - the light of intelligence - then nothing meaningful can ever happen around you. But if you seek that light - you have to put your whole life on the line. You have to give your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole being to that task. Then the impossible is no longer your Bible. Your life becomes privy to another dimension. You tear down the walls. You start to have a relationship with the language of love.

India frustrates me

This land of Sattvic warriors - where some of the greatest teachings of mankind were seeded - seems so souless often today.

There is no efficiency - very little honesty. I have hardly met anyone whose word is true.

False promises. Evasion. Ah to meet an individual who does not have to be reminded constantly of what they promised.

There is no love without respect. There is no respect without people being true to their word. It is very, very difficult to find love in this country. I find that very sad.

Tradition, prestige, a hungering for money, worshipping images in crooked temples, politicians and police and judges who say yes to whomever bribes them the most - all that is here. But to meet a real man. That is almost impossible.

The essential nature

Q: But this does not answer my question to help me get rid of maya (illusion) i.e. attachment.

M: This attachment to the world is not found in sleep. It is perceived and felt now. It is not your real nature. To whom is this accretion? It does not exist once the real nature is known. Maya is not an object that can be got rid of in any other way.

Ramana

Family Life

Family life is so important. I think it is a supreme challenge for a family to work. Those that really succeed in creating a happy family must be great artists. Is there any greater art than a happy family?

Idealism meets Reality in Washington and Iraq

Idealist always fight a losing battle. No matter how noble Bush felt his cause to be - the realities of what he took on were never going to be proportioned in his favor.

From the Washington Post:

US scales down goals in Iraq
Washington Post, Aug 14, 2005 13:29

Washington - The administration of President George W Bush is
significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq,
recognising that the United States will have to settle for far less
progress than originally envisioned, The Washington Post reported
Sunday.

Citing unnamed officials in Washington and Baghdad, the newspaper
said Washington no longer expected to see a model new democracy, a
self-supporting oil industry or a society, in which the majority of
people are free from serious security or economic challenges.

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable
or what unfolded on the ground," the report quotes one senior official
as saying. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the
situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the
beginning."

The debate over a new Iraqi constitution has particularly driven home
the gap between the original US goals and the realities almost 28
months after the US-led invasion of the country, The Post said.

The United State initially planned to build Iraq as a secular and
modern country that honours human rights and unites disparate ethnic
and religious communities.

But the paper said the document on which Iraq's future will be built
will require laws to be compliant with Islam.

Kurds and Shiites are expecting de facto long-term political
privileges. And women's rights will not be as firmly entrenched as
Washington has tried to insist, the report said.

"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realising we
will have some form of Islamic republic," The Post quotes another US
official as saying.

According to the paper, US officials now acknowledge that theymisread the strength of the sentiment among Kurds and Shiites to
create a special status for their communities

Extract from My Father The Spy

by John H. Richardson

"In Italy, Dad spent his time rounding up spies with his two best
friends, Gordon Messing ("the sloppiest soldier in the U. S. armed
forces") and Gordon Mason ("handsome, debonair, witty, sardonic, a
great lover"). He also fell in love for the first time, with an Italian
baroness whose husband was a fascist officer. And managed to stop
an antifascist riot in a small mountain town by climbing onto the hood
of his jeep and lecturing the mob on "Aristotle's iron law of politics, to
the effect that the anarchy and lawlessness of violence leads to
tyranny." But by the end of the war, his romanticism had burned off
completely. A letter he wrote to a high school friend shows him
changed right down to the rhythms of his prose: "I feel older than the
three years would have normally caused, sadder and very tired. I
drank hard, played poker and shot craps, made love indiscriminately
like all soldiers do. In three years I have hardly read a book, and feel
now almost too restless to spend a single evening at home."
Transferred to Salzburg, Dad began arresting Nazis at the rate of
fifty a month. (Later, the Austrian Ministry of the Interior officially
declared his county "the best and most thoroughly de-Nazified county
in all of Austria.") After each conviction, he sat his prisoner down in his
office and handed him a scrapbook he had compiled of magazine
photos of the camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. "I had come to
hate the Nazi system," he wrote me years later, "and I mean hate it
emotionally as well as intellectually. You will remember that when you
were a boy I took you to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington and
asked you to remember the words he wrote, carved out above his
statue: 'I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against
every form of tyranny over the mind of man.'
No better sentence has
been written in the English language."


One day, a Soviet official came to Dad's office to bluster against
America's recent refusal to repatriate White Russians to Soviet camps,
shouting at Dad in "a bullying, overbearing manner, typical of the
Soviet style." When Dad lost his patience and threatened to have the
MPs drag him away, the official's attitude immediately changed to
wheedling conciliation. That made a big impression. "All subsequent
experience has convinced me that you can deal with the Communists
and the Nazis of this world - and all bullyboy types - only from a
position of strength. Their basic human philosophy, if you can call it
human, is that of the bully - despise and abuse weakness, defer to
strength."

Appearances

We all seek love in one way or another. But I think very, very few find it. I think this is because love demands a lot of us. And most of us are not willing to question deeply enough what it might actually mean.

There is a story from India about a woodcutter. He was a good man. Even though he was poor, in many ways, his life was better than most. He was a handsome fellow and he had been betrothed at an early age to a beautiful woman. He lived with his wife and his mother in a small hut. In those days, the huts were very simple. The entrance was very thin and inside it was quite bare.

One day he was wandering through the forest and he met a saint. India has a rich tradition of saintly beings who retire to caves or forests to dedicate their lives to God. This man was somehow curious to understand why a man would renounce the world for a life of loneliness in the forest. In a way he pitied the saint. At the same time the saint knew that this man had been sent by God to be his student. The man had no idea about this.

The woodcutter asked the saint how he could live a life in the forest so lacking in love and affection chasing some strange God by the tail. He could see no value in such a life. After all the woodcutter had very little...but he did have people who loved him and this saint had a pitiful life by comparison. "Are you sure that the people you say who love you, love you?" "Of course" responded the woodcutter confidently.

The saint proposed a test to see if this was true. Knowing this to be crazy, but willing to amuse the old man, the woodcutter consented. The saint taught the man some asanas over a period of weeks and then he introduced him to various breathing exercizes. The woodcutter learned to stop his heart at will. He was impressed by this old man's teachings - but at the same time wondered how it could help one to have a happier life. He felt healthy and at peace after doing the exercizes and he pitied the old man living in the forest, so he felt like he had nothing to lose. After awhile the saint asked the man to go to his hut and to sit in the lotus posture and to follow the breathing techniques he had taught. The man went to the hut and sat in the lotus posture. His heart stopped beating as he entered a yogic trance - his breath slowed to an almost imperceptible rate and the pulse was not noticeable either. His wife noticed her husband in the strange position and wondered if he was ok. When she found him not breathing....she went into shock and started wailing. Word quickly spread around the village that the man had died doing yoga. Distraught and unhappy the man's wife and mother wailed about the loss of their loved one.

In the final analysis though, life had to go on. How would they get the body out of the hut?! His legs were locked in the lotus position. There was no way to remove the body from the hut. The women were besides themselves. Either the could shop the walls of the hut down and carry the body out that way or they could chop the man's legs off. In his yogic trance the man was able to watch all that was going on around him. He watched his wife's reaction and his mother's too. They both cried at the loss of the woodcutter...but to cut open their hut....for the sake of getting his body out to be buried...that seemed to be an equal travesty to them! When they opted without much deliberation to cut his legs off with the axe...he came out of the trance and raced away to the saint in the forest. Some love they had for him! The saint had a valid point.

What we call love rarely is nothing more than attachment. The physically beautiful think they find love in the beauty of another - but is it not mostly other's infatuation with their good looks - rather than love? The famous are wooed by the world for their standing and position...but what does it amount to in the end if one does not have inner peace? The rich have money and power - but at what cost? A true friend is much harder to find when you have things that all the world wants...though you may be surrounded by people who profess to care.

No, despite being the most natural thing, in this world, love is very rare. We are all so comfortable, or we are so busy chasing comfort or position or money... that we have lost our profound questions. Rarely is their the intelligence to question appearances; to look with any sustained attention into the ways of the mind with any seriousness. Until we do that though, we are satisfied with lives that are shallow and desperate. We do not see our lives for what they are...until something brings us to crisis, to the deep inner well of serious questions. There are other forces in life...but without sustained attention and discernment...we will not have the "ears to hear."

I want to the best at something meaningful

I don't want to be the best at chemistry or literature.
I want to be the best at honesty.
I want to be the best at virtue.
For me the best does not imply comparison with you or another.
It means to dig down to the very depths of one's inner potentials.
And if I should err.
Please forgive me.

Most of us die without opening that door.

Most of us react. It is the source of so much misery. There are no problems beyond the mind. I think watching reactions is the beginning of wisdom or at least the beginning of an awareness of something else within us that has power and insight.

What if I called you stupid or a feminist bitch or a one-eyed monster???? If any of those things were buzz words for you - you would put get hurt wouldn't you? - we are so attached to ideas about oursleves. I think the really serious human being - who has left the world, in the sense of leaving behind all labels, all comparisons - who has found out what it is within them which inspires them - ie who has outgrown a course of study or a job or an identity in relationship to something external - ie a "wife" or an "accounts manager" or whatever straightjacketing we fall for in this world....such a human being is not caught up in words/opinions - they use words carefully of course - but to them reacting is no longer an option.

Such a being has discovered a trail within them - a trail that leads to synthesis... they have moved out of the ranks of the walking dead....They are related to compassion. I think they hear the child when he laughs or when he cries. I mean they really hear that laugh - they really feel that sorrow. Sensitivity is a crushing thing. Few can stand what it would have us discover.

Lord Shiva can dance in ecstasy as the floods come in - his life is about to be destroyed - and yet he is in a place of boundless joy within. Most of us are worriers. Our reactions cover the surface of everything like a blanket of black volcanic ash - and it is that covered dullness which we call life...the surface scum of our own fears and reactions. It is a sordid existence.

You can call me many things, but if my eye is on the bird that I am hunting and nothing can distract me - will it not all be like water off a duck's back? And won't I be true to my dharma...and hence dedicated to living the impersonal life? (Is that where you are?) Is there love when personality rules the mind?

The question is what bird are you hunting and why?

Can any authority shed light on these questions? No, no, no. A resounding no.


Life begins when we have something to give...It is very difficult to disassociate our emotions from our identity. And we tend to identify ourselves with the mind and the body. An original mind never follows a mold.

Detachment does not deny feeling - but it does create an awareness that there is no affection on this earth that compares to one's relationship with the Self. Those related to the Self - what they extend is of another order. Fear is not a part of their mind.

Sex has its place. But there is no romantic love. No paternal love. There is only love. It is the most destructive thing. It destroys everything we cling to. It leaves us absolutely and unconditionally alone. Then there can be relationship. Most of the time the world is the meeting place of masks. Ah if we could shed those masks!...how much fewer tears there would be in the world! There would be no police, no talk shows, no reactions. Mindless entertainment and a sense of lack have no place in a mind that has discovered virtue.

Pornography is whatever images we cling to. Whether it is our position in the world or our lust. Those who deny these things are completely bonkers! Those who escape them are equally stupid? Those who are attentive to what is...are on to something.
Temptation is very strong. But there is something stronger.

The most beautiful three words are not "I love you" - for they rarely mean anything more than infatuation or attachment or fear. The most beautiful words are "I don't know." When you really genuinely can say: "I don't know", a wonderful door opens in the mind - a door to discovery and awakening...A door that has no hunger for conclusions - a door that leads only to enquiry...serious enquiry into the nature of what is.

I think most of us die without opening that door.

The end of Misery

M: You who slept, are also now awake. There was no unhappiness in your sleep, whereas it is present now. What is it that has happened now, that this difference is experienced? There was no "I"-thought in your sleep, whereas it is present now. The true "I" not apparent and the false "I" is parading. This false "I" is the obstacle to your right knowledge. Find out from where this false "I" arises. It will disappear. You will be only what you are - i.e. absolute Being. Search for the source of the "I"-thought. That is all one has to do. The Universe is on account of the "I"-thought. If that ends, misery will also end.

Ramana

The Many "I's"

Q: How can I remove ignorance?

M: While lying asleep in Tiruvannamalai, you dream of finding yourself in another town. Can another town enter your room? Or could you have left home and gone elsewhere. No, both are impossible. Both are unreal, but they appear real to the mind. On waking the "I" of the dream vanishes and another "I" speaks of the dream. Both are unreal; it is the substratum of the mind that continues all along, which gives rise to so many scenes. Many "I's" are born and die every moment. The subsisting mind is the real trouble. Find that and you will be happy.

Ramana

Further reflections on Ruskin....and Lord Siva

I think Ruskin did marvelous work in this world. I don't doubt that for a moment. Social reform is of great human imperative in society. India has many problems. They are not new problems. They have been around for a long, long time in different guises.

But I think Ruskin has another lesson to teach us. You and I and Ruskin cannot save the world. The imperfection will go on. We can live authentic lives and we can - if we are serious and light-hearted...and whole-hearted - resolve our inner conflicts.

Lord Siva dancing in joy in the midst of catastrophe is perhaps the supreme example and teacher of the one most essential truth... i.e. that in the end we can only account for our own minds.

Ruskin was a visionary - but he was also in many ways tied to learning and to knowledge. Self-Knowledge was what Siva was all about. He found that inner joy which cannot be corrupted. Ruskin, perhaps the embodiment of humanism, slaved away to bring a better life and a better appreciation of life to the masses.

Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavat Gita..."Do your duty, but do not be attached to the consequences." If you do that there can be joy. If you slay your doubts and your intellectual inquiries and your fears...what you do comes from another place; a place of harmony and vision. And if you are not attached to outcomes - then how can there be expectations? How can there be madness?....Ruskin found madness at the end of his toils. Siva and Arjuna found bliss. Knowledge and power most often corrupts. The mind must be fathomed - for ultimately it is the source of the sorrows of our world. For all his genius - I could not call Ruskin an enligtened man, though he was a man of great heart. Ultimately it is only self-knowledge that can bring us insight and joy.

Things to contemplate...

Waste Not Want Not

I knew an angry man who had an affair with his neighbor's wife. He professed his love to her many times. One time, he even said he would leave his wife to be with her. The woman was very enamored of him. He was a man of many talents. But he was not inwardly balanced and he was addicted to alcohol. After he drank, his anger was a terrible thing. Often, his children had to threaten him with the idea of the police to tame the raging bull in him. It was a very sad situation.



I knew a young man whose mind was very sharp. He had a love for literature and he was a gifted writer in his own right. His mother died and he was very much affected when he was still in school. After happy times in college studying the great literature of the world, he did not find a job to suit him - and he was embittered by the world. So much brain power, but no job - no practical way to live in the world that harnessed his unique talents …no way to awaken him to joy. How do you give a Shakespeare a job? You can't. But we live in the age of jobs and people must get by. A mediocre position was the only thing he could find. It destroyed him.

His father was a good man. But he did not really understand his son. Whose father does? Very few really. The young man got a job on the ferry that his father captained. He worked as a steward and he secretly hated it. The money was not so good. One of his co-workers was a cruel person and he took a dislike to this young man. He distrusted his ways and his intelligence. Perhaps it was jealousy...who knows? - but this young man became the subject of his torments.

The bright young fellow endured so much taunting and name-calling. He was not one to brook a fight. It affected him a great deal. He was very sensitive. He could not turn to his father, the captain - because he was fearful of appearing weak. So he weathered the abuse in silent misery. He came to hate the world...despite his love for literature and the laughter he had once shared with his friends. Alas, his friends from his college days had scattered to the four corners of the earth. How he missed them! It was a very sad situation.



When you look at the world with a discerning eye you will see that most of us are forced to compromise. You will see that desires and fear, addiction and anger consume and cripple the majority, in one way or another. Very few men rise to the potentials that they are born with. Very few marriages are really happy. So much is wasted. Social conditioning and unquestioned traditions destroys us. The loss of loved ones, the cold, mechanical realities of making money and fitting into a crooked world...make us into demons or ghosts.

However brutish life appears to you....don't allow yourself to perceive yourself as a victim. There is such strength and beauty within you...don't let it be muted by this bitter world. You are child of eternity lost in the deserts of the world. Find your way home.

Don't compromise. Your love, your light is what is needed. Not your anger, not your sighs, not your resigned acceptance of the sordid realities that you perceive all around you. Find a way - find a way to not waste the beauty within you. No matter how impoverished you may feel...no matter how terrible a sinner you may consider yourself to be...be determined to discover that silence within which is beyond comparison. The seeds of a better life are waiting therein. You owe it to yourself, and to this screaming world, to bring those seeds the life-quenching waters of your unwavering attention.

There is so much despair on this planet. Greet it with a smile. That is the only business of a serious man;- learning to smile in the midst of tears – not a malicious smile…but the wholehearted smile of one who is acquainted with their real nature.

The word "ordinary" means "the business of order." Take care of the essentials. Be a responsible person. Bring order to your life. Then you will have the space to entertain the extraordinary. In reality, beyond the wavering needle of your hypersensitivity (the hyper-sensitive man is so easily crushed by the insensitivities of the world) or your dullness (the angry, addicted man is so dull)...you are an extraordinary being. Never settle for anything else! (When you do that, you do great injustice to yourself and He who created you).

Doubts....doubts, they will come...

The mind. What is the mind?

Who am I? Where am I going? From whence did I come?
Is it not the mind that asks these questions out of uncertainty...out of insecurity...out of attachment....out of fear...out of anger?

Lord Siva danced in ecstasy in the midst of the deluge. Armageddon was upon the world...and he dances in ecstasy?!!!

Is it that he has transcended all tendencies, all residues, all attachment-breeding habits?

Abraham took his son to the mountain to be sacrificed? Uncertainty gone. His own son on the slab - on the altar before God. No more doubts. None that he listened to anyway.

Where devotion merges with discrimination...is there room for doubt?

What is the mind then?

It has a totally different set of qualities to it, surely...

Look around you....wherever you live in the world...what do you see? You see pain, you see suffering, you see contentment, you see tears...the gamet of human emotion and potential is there.

If you are happy - is your happiness founded on something you may lose?
If you are sad, is your sadness founded on a weight that may be lifted?

Is there happiness where the mind defines you?
That which defines you - is that not the source of tears?

Affection is an extraordinary thing.
I do not know if you have felt that state which is love - even for a moment.
We don't have a word for it in english.
"Love" is such a silly word...so easily distorted.

Srddha - is a word in sanskrit that we might call "urgency."
The buddhists speak of "mindfulness" - awareness...what are you aware of?
Does that bring you to an urgent state?
A state without conclusions?
A state that questions...

There is sexual urgency - which is so feeble.
Nevertheless, it has a natural place.
Only the fool tries to wrap it up in a theory or deny it.

Srddha.

You are on fire. You want clarity.
But all you got is doubt.

What are you identifying with?
Is it envy or insecurity or ambition that speaks behind the words that usher forth from you?
What is it that you represent?

You are confused and you want answers.
Or you prefer the "bliss" of ignorance.
"Leave me alone" you say.
But, what is it that has you knocking on heavens door?

What is the mind?
Is it static?
Do its qualities change?
Is there the possibility of profound transformation?
And if there is....where are you after that transformation?

Lord Shiva is dancing in ecstasy at the end of the world, as the flood rolls in.
Abraham is raising the knife to kill his own beloved son...not questioning the word of God...mindful of his emotions...yet not ruled by them.

What is love?

Doubts...doubts, they will come.
But this question....what is love?

You can walk away from the churches and the temples and you can empty your heart of everything that poisons you...but whatever you do...never drop that question.

It will bring you face to face with the mind.
It will force you to put your house in order.
Where is distortion then?

And God said "Be nice to your wife."

http://www.bluehaze.com.au/humour/images/Lotus.pdf

Today's World - the Opposite of Love

"And today we face the prospect of mass unemployment. To the industrial economy, the human being is not important - nuclear submarines are. We don't have the money to feed the starving people, but we have plenty of money for weapons. This is the opposite of love."

Tara Singh

I AM presence

Q: Is it the body that goes to sleep when tired?

M: But does the body sleep or wake up? You yourself said before that the mind is quiet in sleep. The three states are of the mind. The Self is always uncontaminated. It is the substance running through all these three states. The waking state passes away, "I am" remains; the dream-state passes away, "I am" remains; the sleep state passes away, "I am" remains; they repeat; still I AM.

Ramana

Helplesslessness

There is a state of helplessness. It has a strong hold on some minds. On others, its presence is more fleeting. How to conquer it? How to rise above it? The answers to these questions are very mysterious and demand unwavering attention to the movement of emotion and thought.

Book recommendation - towards a cleaner world

Cradle to Cradle - Remaking the Way We Make Things

By William McDonough & Michael Braungart
North Point Press, 2002


William McDonough's new book, written with his colleague, the German chemist Michael Braungart, is a manifesto calling for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design. Through historical sketches on the roots of the industrial revolution; commentary on science, nature and society; descriptions of key design principles; and compelling examples of innovative products and business strategies already reshaping the marketplace, McDonough and Braungart make the case that an industrial system that "takes, makes and wastes" can become a creator of goods and services that generate ecological, social and economic value.

In addition to describing the hopeful, nature-inspired design principles that are making industry both prosperous and sustainable, the book itself is a physical symbol of the changes to come. It is printed on a synthetic 'paper,' made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers, designed to look and feel like top quality paper while also being waterproof and rugged. And the book can be easily recycled in localities with systems to collect polypropylene, like that in yogurt containers. This 'treeless' book points the way toward the day when synthetic books, like many other products, can be used, recycled, and used again without losing any material quality—in cradle-to-cradle cycles.

Temptation

It is very, very strong.

How do you go beyond it?

I do not think there is a clear answer to that.

We all covet, steal and lust after things in so many ways.
Maybe you meet someone you trust enough to be your confessor.
Maybe you see the world in a different light because of something in your experience.
Maybe you have the integrity to be very honest.
It is beautiful when that happens.

Kill the ego!

"You say you are not happy. But you were happy in sleep. What has transpired in the meantime that the happiness of sleep has broken down? It is the ego. And that arises with the waking state. There was no ego in sleep. The birth of the ego is called the birth of the person. There is no other birth. Whatever is born is bound to die. Kill the ego! There is no fear of death for that which is already dead. The Self remains after the death of the ego. That is Bliss that is immortality."

Ramana

Meditations on Loyalty

"He can ask me anything. If he wants me to have sex with an aardvark in his next movie, then I will do that."

- Johnny Deppp on director Tim Burton.

Economist Blames Aid for Africa Famine

By TODD PITMAN, Associated Press Writer
Sun Jul 31, 5:12 AM ET

DAKAR, Senegal - In Niger, a desert country twice the size of Texas, most of the 11 million people live on a dollar a day. Forty percent of children are underfed, and one out of four dies before turning 5. And that's when things are normal. Throw in a plague of locusts, and a familiar spectacle emerges: skeletal babies, distended bellies, people too famished to brush the flies from their faces.

To the aid workers charged with saving the dying, the immediate challenge is to raise relief money and get supplies to the stricken areas. They leave it to the economists and politicians to come up with a lasting remedy. One such economist is James Shikwati. He blames foreign aid.

"When aid money keeps coming, all our policy-makers do is strategize on how to get more," said the Kenya-based director of the Inter Region Economic Network, an African think tank.

"They forget about getting their own people working to solve these very basic problems. In Africa, we look to outsiders to solve our problems, making the victim not take responsibility to change."

Moving the aid can be nightmare in itself. Africa's good roads are few, and often pass through the front lines of civil wars. But Shikwati notes an additional problem: Even African countries that have food to spare can't easily share it because tariffs on agricultural products within sub-Saharan Africa average as high as 33 percent, compared with 12 percent on similar products imported from Europe.

"It doesn't make sense when they can't even allow their neighbors to feed them. They have to wait for others in Europe or Asia to help," he said. "We don't have any excuses in Africa. We can't blame nature. We have to tell our leadership to open up and get people producing food."

Nature, of course, does bear some of the blame. Recurring drought is a part of life in Africa. Farmers have learned to cope, but exploding population growth sucks up water, pasture and livestock.

Many food crises result from bad government and civil wars. For 30 years after winning independence from France, Niger was ruled by coup and military dictatorship. Now it's a peaceful multiparty democracy, but its desert is getting bigger and drought is unrelenting

All it took was the locust swarms of a year ago, the worst in 15 years, to start tipping Niger over the edge. The crop-devouring insects ravaged some 7,000 square miles of Niger farmland. The combined drought-locust onslaught cut cereal production by 15 percent last year, according to the
United Nations.

At first, few noticed. Places like Niger "were never on anybody's radar screen. They're not considered important, geopolitically or resource-wise," said Cathy Skoula, executive director of U.S.-based Action Against Hunger. "It comes down to a question of priorities. But any human life is important."

Aid groups say Niger's catastrophe could have been averted — that early warning systems were in place, and the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies warned of imminent food shortages late last year.

In November, Niger's government issued an emergency appeal for 78,000 tons of food. Donors, busy with higher-profile crises, barely responded.

The following month came the Indian Ocean tsunami that entirely eclipsed Africa's misery on the world's TV screens.

Aid workers say heading off famine needs long-term, steady funding.

"Prevention doesn't sell that much," said Stefanie Savariaud, spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Program in Niger's capital, Niamey. "The world has to wait for images of dying children to react. The question is, how to mobilize the international community when it's still preventable?"

Ironically, only three weeks ago the world's attention was fixed on Africa again, when the G-8 summit pledged to double African aid to $50 billion and granted 18 of its countries debt forgiveness, including Niger. At the same time, rock concerts televised worldwide made sure Africa's troubles stayed high on the global agenda.

A week later, TV pictures of hungry people began beaming out of Niger, and donors reached for their wallets. But the World Food Program has only raised $9 million of the $16 million it appealed for, Savariaud said.

At a feeding center in Mada Roufa, in eastern Niger, Mai Sali, a local employee of the international relief organization
Doctors Without Borders, praised those efforts, but agreed crisis aid was not the answer.

"We need to find other long-term solutions. We can't just address emergencies," he said.

___

EDITOR'S NOTE: Todd Pitman has covered West Africa for The Associated Press since 1997. He is based in Dakar, Senegal.

___

Associated Press writer Nafi Diouf in Niamey, Niger, contributed to this report.

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