Saturday, December 23, 2017

Giving Birth to a Deeper Wisdom

When the new Sufi master came to Baghdad from his native Nishapur, in Khorasan, his fame had long preceded him. He had a great reputation for his high spirituality and his own approach to ‘Ishan’ (“perfection”), but also a reputation for his unorthodox methods of teaching. A small group of aspiring disciples, all well dressed and well behaved, and with pious demeanour, had gathered at the inn to welcome him, but also even teachers and students from the nearby university gathered at the inn. As time passed, the crowd was growing impatient. The sheik certainly took his time.
As always on such occasions, among the expectant crowd there were also beggars and bums and other bystanders. One of them turned out to be particularly annoying. All in rags, unkempt beyond description, and smelling badly of wine. The bum inching his way closer to the pious-looking, anxiety-ridden disciples. Taking his time, between hiccups, he examined them intently, one by one, which made the boys even more nervous: the last thing they wanted was to be found out by the great master in such unholy proximity.
Thank goodness, it now appeared that the bum was drifting away. As he was doing so, however, he addressed himself to the embarrassed youth, in such sober, educated Persian that their prayer beads suddenly froze in the palms of their hands: I’ve come for nothing, methinks. What am I to teach you? By the looks of you, you’ve all reached a state of purity compared to which I am nothing. My ways are messy, my teachings tentative, and my quest, far from pure, always gets entangled with my flesh, with my earthiness and my complicated commerce with the world. I am a failure, whereas you — just look at you! — you seem to dwell with the angels already! Now, if you will excuse me … And, with that, he slipped out of the inn. It was then, the story adds, that people at the inn realized that the sheik they had been waiting for had just left them.
A beautiful story to celebrate Christmas. When Christ was born he had no place even in the inn and his place on earth was in a stable within the proximity of animals and as the Bible says he was wrapped in whatever ragged clothe that was available. While Christ lived on this earth, he was not seen with the Pharisees, who were considered wise, but he was seen with the poor, tax collector, the sick, the out castes of society like the Samaritans and people who needed his touch and wisdom.
Today, we live in a world that celebrates surface values, the clothes we wear, the makeup we apply, the degrees that we acquire, the position and power we hold etc. But the most important thing always slips our attention. Namely acquiring wisdom. This wisdom is not the wisdom of the books or intellectual mastery but wisdom of a meaningful life rooted in humanity and in Divine image
There are two types of intellectual knowledge one can acquire. The first, which predominates in the world today through science and technology, is knowledge which exploits the ecosystem and human beings. This type of knowledge has resulted in creating extreme inequality and destruction of the ecosystem.
The second type of knowledge can be acquired through a deeper understanding of the biodiversity, the interrelationship between all existence and the responsibility that we have through our evolved level of consciousness to safeguard, protect and enrich the life of all creation.
In his path breaking encyclical Pope Francis has brought out this very well:
“In this universe, shaped by open and intercommunicating systems, we can discern countless forms of relationship and participation. This leads us to think of the whole as open to God’s transcendence, within which it develops. Faith allows us to interpret the meaning and the mysterious beauty of what is unfolding. We are free to apply our intelligence towards things evolving positively, or towards adding new ills, new causes of suffering and real setbacks. This is what makes for the excitement and drama of human history, in which freedom, growth, salvation and love can blossom, or lead towards decadence and mutual destruction.” …………Laudato Si - Chapter 2 section 79
Jane Goodall studied the Chimpanzees in Congo most of her life and she says:
“Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans have been living for hundreds of thousands of years in their forest, living fantastic lives, never overpopulating, never destroying the forest. I would say that they have been in a way more successful than us as far as being in harmony with the environment.”
Dr. E. O. Wilson, Professor Emeritus and Honorary Curator in Entomology at Harvard University and called "the father of sociobiology" and "the father of biodiversity" Is an American biologist, researcher, theorist, naturalist and author who spent nearly 40 years in the Amazon forest researching on the leaf cutting ants writes:
"I think we ought to have another go at the Enlightenment and use that as a common goal to explain and understand ourselves, to take that self-understanding which we so sorely lack as a foundation for what we do in the moral and political realm. This is a wonderful exercise.“
Let our celebration of Christmas take on a new meaning - as a celebration of a new birth of this holistic awareness and our responsibility as the empowering consciousness and truly as a creation which is in Divine image.
Love to you all

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Birth – Fully Savouring the Moment

The Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches this wisdom through the ceremony and meditation of tea (a Buddhist parallel to the Christian Eucharist):
“You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea. Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup. Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, appreciate the delicacy. If you are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of tea. You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone. Life is like that. If you are not fully present, you will look around and it will be gone.
You will have missed the feel, the aroma, the delicacy and beauty of life. It will seem to be speeding past you. The past is finished. Learn from it and let it go.
The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it. Worrying is worthless. When you stop ruminating about what has already happened, when you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the present moment. Then you will begin to experience joy in life.”
Recently when I was in our ancestral village my chauffeur asked me why people in the village, in olden times, lived up to a very ripe old age without all the new diseases which are prevalent today. My answer was very simple, there was no pollution and then he said our village also has no pollution, the air is sharp, there is food and water. The answer to this is the following part of my article.
Pollution comes in many forms. It is not only what we generally categorize as ; air, water and food. Even in villages we have lost the art of providing snacks for children. The wholesome nutritious peanuts and sprouted beans have been replaced with packaged snacks which are very tasty but unhealthy. Milk which used to be plenty in our village is replaced with milk from the milk vendour of questionable quality. Water for drinking comes from bottled water. The second type of pollution is noise pollution. It is not the audible noise but the high frequency communication noise from mobile phones to TV screens. In cramped houses the children sit hardly a few feet away from the screen. The visual contents of television leaves much to be desired as it puts extremely high stress at the psychological level especially for young children. The third type of pollution is the stress pollution. Irrespective of wherever we are, whether in the village or the city, There are innumerable causes, such as family, social, religious, work place and personal expectations, which induce high levels of stress.
Practically no one lives without stress. These stresses are injected into individual from self-imposed expectations over which one has no control except the subject experiencing the stress.
Hence wherever we are we live in a highly polluted environment. This does not mean that we have to run away looking for a clean environment. This is impossible as we are the creators of the environment and wherever we go we take this environment with us. There is nice episode told to novices in meditation.
A young Buddhist monk in Tibet went to his master and asked him to teach him a very deep level of meditation which he saw the master practice. His master could sit for hours without any lack of concentration. Knowing the sincerity of the aspirant, the master taught him for many years but warned him that he could only guide him and it is up to him to master this intense spiritual practice. It was then, there arose a vacancy in a monastery in Kolkata for a monk to guide the spiritual seekers. The master assigned the task and told the young monk, who told his master that he has made great progress, to take up the position in Kolkata. On reaching the monastery in Kolkata and after a few weeks the monk called up his master in Tibet and told him that he could not meditate as there was too much noise in the environment. The advice the master gave him was that the noise was not in the environment but in the young monk’s mind.
This episode tells us that if we are not totally awake to each moment on what we are, whether drinking a cup of tea or juggling with any task given to us in the process of life, we allow the exterior pollution to dominate.
It is worth reflecting how time is defined in our life. We measure time in a calibrated way and keep track of it in our mind and generate our past and future with their associated worries and anxieties. If we live in the moment, time becomes highly nonlinear. With practice the graph of time becomes an inverted parabola or inverted bell curve from a straight line, which practically every one of us experience. Masters, like Buddha, who practiced extreme mindfulness are able to experience infinity. This is the great truth why infinite wisdom is hidden in the present moment.
In the Gospel of Thomas in Saying 18  Christ says:
The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us, how will our end come?" Christ said, "Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is. Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death."
The end will be where the beginning is …..will not taste death. What a beautiful way of defining how to live in the present moment. Every moment is a birth of the Self and the true meaning of celebrating Christmas is to birth this renewed consciousness in our lives.

Love to you all

Friday, December 8, 2017

Lesson from Phaethon Myth

Phaethon, the son of the Greek sun god Helios. Ancient myths told the story of how this rather insecure-sounding young god was challenged to prove he was related to Helios, who was said to pull the sun across the sky
To prove his divine provenance, Phaethon decided to have a go in his dad’s chariot and was unable to control the horses, who then ran wild across the sky dragging the hot sun with them. Humanity was almost destroyed in the subsequent chaos, which scorched the Earth, burned vast amounts of vegetation and created the great deserts of Africa. The Earth was only spared when Zeus blasted the horses with a thunderbolt, killing Phaethon in the process. Here’s what the Greek philosopher Plato wrote about the myth in his famous work, Timaeus:
“There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. ‘There is a story that even you [Greeks] have preserved, that once upon a time, Phaethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father’s chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt.”
This myth resonated with what we are doing to ourselves through shallow thoughts and reasoning in the area of development of technology and sustainability of the ecosystem.
Let us take for an example the use of fossil fuel such as coal, oil and gas which are drawn out of the very innards of the earth. These resources have developed over millions of years and the unbridled rate at which we are consuming these resources is equal to the action of Phaethon in driving the horses of Helios in the Greek mythology. A deep reflection will point out that it took the Sun’s energy millions of years to convert decaying vegetation into deposits which is utilized not only to conserve and convert nature’s waste into useful structures of trapping the latent energy but contain the pollution of the atmosphere. By burning the fossil fuel and converting its energy content at a rapid rate, we have polluted the atmosphere with greenhouse gas such as Carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide.
There is a saying in the 12th century wisdom traditions of the Iroquois tribe of native Indians of America which states as follows:
“The Seventh Generation philosophy mandates that tribal decision makers consider the effects of their actions and decisions for descendants seven generations into the future. There should a clear understanding that everything we do has consequences for something and someone else, reminding us that we are all ultimately connected to creation.”
The irresponsibility with which we approached the technical development in the Industrial age has to give way for more eco-sensitive and life oriented decisions in future developments of science and technology and our own responsibility to the entire ecosystem.
Like Phaethon, we have not evaluated our core strengths and the holistic thinking and skills needed to control the vehicle which has tremendous potential to destroy the whole of humanity.
The thunderbolt of Zeus is the ethical and moral principles which destroys all devious paths and keeps us on the straight and narrow. It is the ethical and moral principles on which every decision in future technology development has to take place. Be it in the development of Artificial Intelligence or Gene manipulation, the extreme foresight that is needed to guide us should take a front seat. This is the reason why today we are talking of Spirituality Based Leadership. Spirituality is not a my belief system but the acute awareness of our connectedness to the entire cosmos.
In the spiritual Vedic tradition the symbolism of the chariot and horses are again brought out as to why one should develop a singular focus, as was the strength and capability of Helios, who could keep the horses in tight control so that the Atman or Soul which is symbolized by effulgent Sun could trace the correct path. I quote the verses from the Katha Upanishad:
“Know the Atman as the Lord of the chariot, the body as the chariot; know the intellect as the charioteer and the mind again as the reins. They say, the senses are the horses and their objects are the roads; the Atman, the senses and the mind united, the wise call the enjoyer. He who has no discrimination and whose mind is always uncontrolled, his senses are not controllable like vicious horses of a driver. But he who has understanding and whose mind is always controlled, his senses are under control like good horses of a driver. But he, who has no discrimination, and whose mind is not under control, and who is always impure, does not reach that goal, but enters into the round of births and deaths.” ………..Katha Upanishad Chapter 1 Section 3 Verses 3-7.
The lesson we learn from the myth of Phaethon and from the symbolism of the scriptures should takes us into deep reflection.

Love to you all.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Free Thinker – An outcast from Society

“I was strolling in the gardens of an insane asylum when I met a young man who was reading a philosophy book. His behaviour and his evident good health made him stand out from the other inmates. I sat down beside him and asked:
‘What are you doing here?’ He looked at me, surprised. But seeing that I was not one of the doctors, he replied:
‘It’s very simple. My father, a brilliant lawyer, wanted me to be like him. My uncle, who owns a large emporium, hoped I would follow his example. My mother wanted me to be the image of her beloved father. My sister always set her husband before me as an example of the successful man. My brother tried to train me up to be a fine athlete like himself.
And the same thing happened at school, with the piano teacher and the English teacher – they were all convinced and determined that they were the best possible example to follow. None of them looked at me as one should look at a man, but as if they were looking in a mirror.
So I decided to enter this asylum. At least here I can be myself.” ……………..Kahlil Gibran
This is an apt story for what happens in society even today. Our education system, our parenting  and social milieu are all out to get the individual to be modelled after their own perceived identity of being that which suits us.
This mindset has evolved in our society due to two reasons. The first reason is the prevailing religious influence of western religions which played a powerful role till the 18th century. The unquestionable imposed belief system and the concept of that human beings are powerless entities requiring hierarchical power structure to dictate what is good for them created a society of mental slaves. 
The second reason is; with the advent of scientific achievements from Galileo to the 20th century, the authority of the scientific knowledge started to assert its influence. In classical Newtonian thinking, the first law of Newton states that “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” This classical mechanical billiard ball model imposed the need for a higher level of external energy to convert inherent potential to a well-directed destination.
Recent scientific studies in biology has discovered that there is an inherent potential bestowed on every living system and this potential has the unique capacity to emerge as its own kinetic energy capable of propelling itself toward its full realization in an act of co-creation, this is called “Autopoieses”.
This lack of understanding leads to imposition of an external will in moulding the inherent potential and results in stunted growth or decay. As Humberto Maturana, the Chilean  Biologist, Cybernetician, Scientist  and philosopher says:
“Only love expands intelligence. To live in love is to accept the other and the conditions of his existence as a source of richness, not as opposition, restriction or limitation.”
This open acceptance of the other as he or she is, is the process of nurturing free thinking, thereby opening the flood gates of one’s individual intelligence and creative capacity.
In spiritual traditions, Buddhism encouraged free inquiry. Buddha believed that every individual had his or her own path to enlightenment.
In “Kalama Sutta” - The Buddha's Charter of Free Inquiry, the Buddha says:
"Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumour; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blameable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them.”
This advice is given by Buddha, not only for the self but also for those who come under your influence.
Let us be free thinkers and allow the full freedom for others to benefit from their own inner reflection.

Love to you all