Sunday, 2 April 2017

Self Inquiry; Going Back the Way We Came



The practice of Self-Inquiry or Atma Vichara as it is known in the ancient Sanskrit texts of Advaita Vedanta, stems from the time of the Rishis in India.

It was brought into the modern era principally by one of its greatest exponents; Sri Ramana Maharshi; the peerless Sage of Arunachala.


In answer to various people’s questions on Self-Inquiry, the Maharshi often would say; 'go back the way you came.' Some would take his words as being something of a brush off, but in actuality, he was giving a profound teaching and heart advice by way of these few simple words.



To go back the way we came means to turn the mind towards its 'source;' towards our true nature from which this world and everything in it has arisen. 


"I AM THAT I AM (Exodus) implies that the
proof of Existence is Existence itself."

Adapted from Ramana Mahrshi's Truth Revealed


1. What is Self Inquiry?

Self Inquiry takes the energy of the mind, which is normally dispersed and attentive mostly to external happenings and drives it back towards the source from which it arises.

We imagine that ‘mind’ is a coherent entity because we perceive it's activity as one consistent stream and yet the opposite is actually true. This can be discovered upon careful examination. Mind is neither coherent nor consistent and the thoughts which arise are fundamentally unstable and fleeting. In the ideal scheme of things 'mind' should be our 'tool,' and at our beck and call. Unfortunately however, the opposite is most often the case. This is due to the fact of our non recognition of our true nature.

It is as simple as that.

2. Why is Self Inquiry important for us?

The short answer to this is that we could not exist if it were not for the 'Self,' and by this we do not refer to the 'little self,' the personality that we think we are, but the 'greater, absolute and selfless self.'


If we had no sense of 'I am' we could not exist at all. This is a profound and key hint.

Therefore, we are pointing to something utterly fundamental. Something beyond religion, gender, race and even form, time and space.

All of us, who live and move in this world have a vested interest in understanding our ‘true nature.’ If we cannot exist apart from our ‘awareness’ then is it not crucial that we know this truth through the direct recognition of our experience of it?

There can be no question that all of us are experiencing the 'self' all of the time. However, our recognition and acknowledgement of this fact is lacking. This is the sole difference between a realised being and an ordinary one. If we believe ourselves to be separate individual entities then we become a plaything of the 'mind.' Once we recognise what exists changelessly, beyond the mind, then mind becomes our 'tool.'

Recognition of our true nature enables us to go beyond the mind altogether.
 However, we can use the mind as a springboard to bring us to the threshold of 'recognition.' This is the purpose of Self Inquiry.


3. How do we practice Self Inquiry?


Association with an authentic Guru who can point out the ‘truth’ of our inmost being can greatly assist in our recognition of it. In fact, this is a crucial factor. However, if we are not connected with a Guru at this time, Self Inquiry is the royal highway by which we may bring ourselves to the threshold of recognition. Through Atma Vichara, which requires our focused, sincere and concerted investigation we can come to understand and appreciate our true nature. 


Self Inquiry requires that we follow a process of investigation such as; ‘am I the body? Where am I in the body? Am I the mind? Where am I in the mind? What is the mind? And so on… After a while one begins to understand that we are none of these things. We need to follow this process diligently and with focus, right through until we arrive at the sense of ‘I am,’ and on until we reach the original ‘I thought.’

We can pick away at everything we know and perceive through a process of negation. We are not this, not that. By harnessing the energy of the mind and shinning it back upon itself through self investigation one is confronted with some facts which are uncomfortable for the 'little self.' If we begin to understand that 'I am not this, I am not that,' in due course we come to know that we are not who we had previously assumed ourselves to be.

At this point we are squarely confronted with the mystery of our existence.

'Who am I?' is a question that can lead us to the place where mind is no longer useful or able to function. It can lead us to the very portal of awareness which is completely beyond the mind.

Normally we think ourselves to be this, that and the other thing; somebodies father, somebodies son, or wife or child or husband. Self Inquiry blows apart our assumed perception of who and what we think we are. It places us squarely at the threshold of the vast expanse, the absolute self which is infinite, timeless and changeless.

4. What can we expect from this practice?

What do we gain from practising Self Inquiry…?

Nothing whatsoever for the ‘little self.’

There is nothing in it for ‘us.’

Self Inquiry leads inexorably to the dissolution of the mistaken notion of the ‘little self.' It unravels the 'ego.' Chipping away at it until there is nothing left.

Mind undone…

What appears in its place is the certainty, the ineffable peace and happiness which naturally arise from recognising one’s true and immortal nature.

Go back the way you came; beckons us to dive deeply into the perennial source from which we emerged.




Monday, 13 March 2017

Digital Dilemmas, Part 5 (How we are Affected Spiritually)


Leunig
 Does the digital revolution influence us in a spiritual sense?  It can influence us on every level powerfully but the real point here is that digital devices and all of the uses to which we put them are tools that we have created, they are the manifestations of our energy in action. As such, how they influence us is a direct reflection of how we influence them.

To unravel things a little we need to simplify them. No matter how complex a situation may appear on the surface, when we break it down we find a series of simple guiding posts. In this regard we can speak of two 'sign posts;' relative reality and absolute reality.

From the latter perspective we must remain just as we are. That is, as we really are; the changeless, ever present self from which all of  this 'display' arises.

From the relative perspective things are a little different.

There are all kinds of positive things happening, just as the opposite is also true. Spiritual webinars, on-line guidance, eBooks on all manner of spiritual and religious topics, meditation music, free courses, seminars, consultations, all manner of blogs covering very diverse topics. A vast array of information and self help tools exist for those who want to dive deeper into the world of spirit.

On-line spiritual communities are sprouting up around the globe and in these virtual environments, common interests link people together whether they are in Alaska or down town New York. Your racial background, your gender, even your language are no longer a barrier. There are now so many ways for people to connect and interact.

The potential for reach and influence is enormous but at the end of the day does any of it bring us closer to finding out who and what we really are?

The world wide web has been very aptly named, these cyber fibres envelop the globe in one pulsating, vibrant buzz. But what does all of this 'buzz' actually amount to?

With so many choices available, the need to develop discrimination is imperative. Without it we simply enter another 'reality' of our own creating and the mind can create endlessly, but to what end?

Technology may appear to bring us closer together, it may help us to become more aware of the bigger picture but does it lead us to 'truth?' Does it bring us nearer to the things that matter?

In a relative sense the potential for good or bad is very potent, but as is always the case with the 'tools' that we create in this world, our use of them determines the out come. If we take note of which characteristics are uppermost in peoples minds, and more importantly in our own minds, then we might get an idea of how our future can be shaped and moulded by these developing technologies.

If our thoughts are of one humanity and the development of a global community, of loving kindness between ourselves and all living things, including the planet on which we are living, then surely the outcome could be something quite wonderful. We are the only ones that can prevent such a spectacular global community from forming.

However most people's minds are not far seeing or harmonious, at least not 99 percent of the time, in fact the mental atmosphere of our planet has become quite toxic and this is a human creation. What is in our minds, will in due course manifest itself in the outer technologies that are becoming increasingly a part of the way we live. Ultimately how they are used will be a reflection of our inner state.

Mind is powerful and it creates. This is why simplicity and the importance of getting back to our place of balance is so crucial. The more powerful the 'tools' we create, the greater the potential for good or evil.

If our minds are peaceful and inclined towards higher goals than the mere making of money, getting of power, appearances and greed, then we could be very optimistic about the future, but from all appearances there are still many hard lessons to be learnt and these generally come by way of painful processes. At least this is what history shows us has been the case time and again.

'Turn within. Know yourself,' are phrases that many of us are very familiar with but unless the essence of this is taken into the heart and experienced directly, the power and potential inherent in their true meaning can not manifest.

'Experience' is most likely to visit those who are not dissipated, multi-tasking, imbibing, doing, engaging and generally 'busy' with their spiritual pursuits in what ever form that may be taking.

In the midst of our complex digital world, which can appear at times to be spiralling out of control, there is ever the quiet, still silence. Unaffected and unchanging. Ever present and omnipotent.

To know who and what we really are is  to know un-contrived simplicity. I remember one evening when i was sitting in a corner of my master, the previous Dilgo Khyentse's room.  Sogyal Rinpoche swept in with a number of his foreign students and at one point asked Khyentse Rinpoche, 'how it was possible to recognise our true nature, directly and un-mistakenly?'

Khyenste Rinpoche simply replied,  'you can be certain when it is unaltered.' That may not make any sense to the uninitiated, but once one has had a whiff of the 'scent' of the true 'self' that simple statement will speak volumes and open us to the recognition of what always is.

'Unaltered' refers to what is, to that which knows and exists as 'I Am.'  We become so absorbed in reading the text on a page that we seldom, if ever, notice the page, the paper on which the text is written, without that paper there would be no text, no story, nothing...

It cannot be repeated often enough, because it is so vital that we understand the ultimate purpose of our lives.  Everything that manifests in this world arises because we exist.

To know who it is that knows it exists is wisdom...

We may feel very clever and modern with all our digital technologies and yet it is stated in the Ecclesiastics (1:9) "what has been will be again; what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

The most vital truth of all may seem far from dazzling, yet everything; absolutely everything exists in and of that.

In the midst of the 'noise' of living 
may we all come to know who and what we really are. 
This truth alone is the ultimate problem solver 
and the one single panacea 
and it is closer to us than we can even imagine...

Leunig

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Digital Dilemmas, Part 4 (How we are Affected Psychologically)



Leunig cartoon
Michael Leunig
In previous articles we looked at how the Digital Technologies of our modern world are affecting us physically and emotionally and now we come to their psychological impact. On each level; physical, emotional and psychological the affects are pervasive
and widespread but perhaps their impact on our mind space is in most urgent need of our consideration.

Personally, I think there are few things as gratifying in all of these techno capabilities as the freedom and accessibility of information. To be able to simply click into a page, type a few words in a search engine and instantly come up with a whole list of possible answers to our question or information requirement is truly something of a wonder and it was not there just a few short decades ago.

Instant information, instant access to libraries, archives, books, knowledge of every kind, videos, you name it, it is now all accessible through the technologies that so many of us are enjoying in the privacy and comfort of our own homes.

Anything at all can be 'Googled' or typed into whatever search engine we like to use and a list of responses immediately pop up on our computer screens. The information age has well and truly dawned and in many ways it is amazing and it is incredibly useful and potentially liberating. I have certainly put these technologies to good use in recent years as have lots and lots of other people.

We have created an engrossing cyber world, with many possibilities suddenly available to all and sundry and ordinary people are finding that they are spending more and more time in front of their screens. With the increase of information available on all fronts how do we discern what is really helpful or not? Our ability to discriminate and make good and informed choices becomes crucial when there is so much information available.

Whoever it was that said 'information is power' certainly hit the nail on the head. Information is indeed power and on one level this can be incredibly liberating. But there is always a flip-side too.
So much information is so readily available to us instantaneously that we can quickly feel a bit overwhelmed. There is a sensory overload that can happen. Certainly there is a point when too much information is, well, just too much.

When the mind is always preoccupied and busy,  it can bring on a sense of disconnection and dis-orientation. Unless we monitor our time on the net more closely and work in a structured, planned way with clear objectives and time deadlines, we risk being gobbled up by the sheer mass of information and 'interesting stuff' that is freely and easily available.

There are also other issues which are beginning to emerge as people start to spend more and more time on, for instance, their smart phones. In a very short time, these devices have become not only common place, but indispensable to many, many people. We see a whole new form of addiction emerging. The addiction of needing to be constantly 'validated,' the addiction of needing to be constantly 'engaged,' constantly pre-occupied.

Have you ever noticed how many times you are reaching for your phone during the day, checking this, responding to that? The mind is almost feverishly searching out new stimulation almost all of the time and our smart phones can deliver it.

This incessant engagement can, and is, in turn leading to higher levels of anxiety. There is a compulsiveness in the way that many of us now use our smart phones. When we are separated from our devices, or if we find ourselves outside a wifi or connectivity area a whole different kind of anxiety kicks in. A separation anxiety.

It can also be noted that a new form of depression is arising from the over use of certain digital technologies which are ushering in a whole new set of obsessions along with their concurrant psychological repercussions.

There are also emerging issues arising as we try and keep up with the plethora of updates and developments and breaking news and such. We find that new skills need to be developed to help us cope with the sheer volume and input of on-line information and networking. Multi-tasking is one of these modern day 'skills.' Now we find we are learning to do two or more tasks at the same time. Might we be spreading ourselves a bit thin? How well is any of us really able to multi task?

There is also the question as to what happens if we are separated from this technology for one reason or another? There are numerous reasons as to why this could happen. Amid all this melee how do we reclaim a much needed point of balance?

There is always a fine line at the cross over of, too much. We need to become more alert so as not to be swallowed up. The beauty is, of course, that we can choose when to stop. By becoming aware of the pitfalls and knowing how and when to halt we can regain our control and balance but this requires wisdom in action and a conscious decision.

While we are creating progressively more complex systems of thought which in turn  are creating more and more complex lives we have yet to understand how to negotiate and unravel all of this complexity in a satisfactory way.

There are so many interesting things on the internet. We can easily become distracted and go off on numerous fascinating tangents and all the while our lives are slipping by. There is nothing the least bit complex about that fact. If we are to bury ourselves in this technology what is there to show for it when our mortality finally rises up to claim us?

Take, for instance, those who are into gaming and escapism, who log in to chat rooms and blog carnivals and so on and so forth. Whole days of their lives are spent engrossed in these pursuits.

I stayed a few months at a friends flat in Sydney a while ago and her brother, who was unemployed at the time, was visiting. He spent the whole day and well into the night playing games on the net. He was phenomenal, he barely moved from his seat for hours at a time. That someone should be riveted to little moving dots on a screen for such long periods and with such concentrated intent was actually quite disturbing to see.

We also have privacy and surveillance issues which can have widespread and profound effects on our psychological well being.
Although one can certainly be anonymous on the web, it is becoming more challenging to remain so.

The social media accounts that many people now use, link into so many other areas and now one can simply login using a Facebook, Twitter or Google+ account. This is something i personally find rather insidious. If i want to join a class or study some thing i may not want the whole world to know about it and yet we begin to find that some courses can only be joined via one of these services!

But of course the surveillance issue is not just confined to the internet, almost everywhere we go, almost everything we buy and increasingly almost everything we do is recorded in some way or another. The spectre of 'big brother' is very much alive and peering over both our shoulders.

So here we are, on the one hand we have all this new freedom in the form of information which is easily accessible and available 24/7, but on the other hand this very same technology is moving into our lives in ever more invasive ways. As the technologies become more sophisticated so too are the manner in which they are impacting us.

Artificial intelligence is no longer something which exists only in the realm of science fiction movies. Its out there and there are all manner of pressing and challenging ethical issues to be considered in to regards to its increasing use. Often it appears that these issues are only ever really tackled when they become problems and this brings us in a full circle.

If every spare moment of our waking day is spent with our attention pulled towards some device or other, what impact is that likely to have on our natural sense of inner peace and happiness? Is there any stability to be found in something which routinely throws us right out of our point of balance?

The most pressing need for all of us is to consider how we move forward with the new technologies. They are unlikely to go away because in so many ways they are useful to us. Yet we can be quickly consumed and we might not even be fully aware of it. There is always a fine line between using the tools that are supposed to make our lives easier and being overrun by those very same tools.

There can be no doubt that we have entered the age of useful technology but where do we draw the line between useful and invasive? When does something shift from being helpful and useful to being invasive and controlling...?

Discrimination becomes extremely important when looking at the possible effects of modern digital technologies on the way we work, live, communicate and function. We only have so much time in our day and being disciplined enough to use that time wisely is a very real issue that many of us need to look at carefully.
With all kinds of information available at the mere touch of a button, we potentially open ourselves to a world of mental engagement that leaves little or no room for 'inner space.'

The psychological impact of an information overload can lead to
widespread dissipation, fatigue and confusion. Cyber technologies begin to blur the lines between what is real and what is not.

I think Leunig's cartoon captures the spirit of the current situation rather pithily. Is it time to start asking ourselves how much is too much?  Each of us has to consider and decide this for his/her self. Thankfully we do have these choices. They require a step in consciousness and discrimination. Who among us would loose out by developing these skills of awareness and discrimination when it comes to our use of digital technologies?

The pram already has the baby in it and it is rolling down the hill. Only we can catch hold of it before it gains too much momentum. Very soon, even this may elude us.

'Anyone who isn't confused, really doesn't understand the situation...'

Time to take stock, time to become aware.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Digital Dilemmas, Part 3 (How we are Affected Emotionally)


Because the modern digital technologies that we use are potentially and in actuality so pervasive in their effects, it is easier to unravel some of the strings of implications for our, and future generations, by considering their effects upon the different levels of our being.

So far we have examined, in a very cursory way, how they affect us physically.

In terms of our emotions these effects may be more subtle, more difficult to label, but nevertheless, in their way, just as pervasive and profound. As time goes by we will be able to gauge much more accurately just how these technologies are changing our way of living for better and for worse.

In a general sense our emotional responses take us into the realm of human moods, behaviours and reactions. These can be likened to the ever shifting sands of hope and fear that push and pull us into endless cycles of fluctuation and change. How we place ourselves within the world as functioning human beings is often reflected by the way that we connect and interact with one another and the world wide web is all about 'connections' and 'inter-connected-ness.'

No one can deny that in one sense, this has bought us all much closer together. We can connect instantaneously, we can interact easily, almost effortlessly, cheaply and from just about anywhere on the planet. Never before has our Earth appeared to be such a small place. Suddenly we find ourselves inside the solar system and less intensely focused on the small family, tribal and communal groups that were always so pivotal to our sense of place and belonging within human societies of the past. These are still very much present but now put into a context and within a much bigger 'world view.'

If anything can reveal 'inter-connectedness' clearly, it would have to be the technologies and social media tools that are available today.

At the heart of this connectedness is the incessant tug of war between hope and fear.  These underlying forces drive most of our emotional interactions and are often bound to be magnified in the cyber 'realities' that we create on-line. Our emotions may be fleeting but they are nevertheless powerful and compelling. Are we not constantly driven by them in one form or another?

Think about it. Our need to belong, our need to excel, our need to be liked, our need to feel important, etcetera. Often at the very inception of an idea, before it is put into actuality it is motivated, consciously or otherwise, by some very visceral emotion. Facebook was virtually built out of one man's desire to impress a girl. We have played into this instinctive need. Facebook and other social media networks have flourished and spread around the world fuelled by our almost obsessive need to be 'connected' with one another. To make our little splash in the vast pond of existence. To reassert our existence as independent and yet interconnected beings and all of this on a much grander scale than ordinary people like you and i may ever have dreamed possible in the past.

In these times, the ubiquitous 'like' button, the instant 'tweet' and the flurry of other communication 'tools' that have become part of the very fabric of modern human communication offer us immediate gratification adding fuel to an illusive and inflated sense of importance or its opposite.

Cyber technologies and social media have enormous potential for reaching out in a way that previously was never possible, but there is also a shadow side. They give us a degree of on-line anonymity that makes it easy to enter into 'relationships' in which our normal responses and responsibilities can be evaded. What might this mean to the younger generation who are being brought up within this kind of environment?

The 'normal' responses of the past, which take place on a day to day level between people in their living and work environments are being affected the trend towards 'working at home.' New incentives are beginning to rise up in order to combat the isolation that this can cause. 'Open offices' are beginning to emerge and people are finding ways to still work and yet be with one another in a physical space.

The mercurial pace with which an online 'moods' or trends can take hold and then be forgotten, is such that it can be difficult to keep apace. Such 'trending' gives us a taste of the ephemeral nature of our emotions and along with that a sense that everything is speeding up.

Is there an emerging paradox in this trend?  While we may appear to more connected, in actuality we seem to be more disconnected than ever.  The nature of our communications is instantaneous but also in many cases very superficial and fleeting. These interactions often lack the vital exchange of energy that can take place between people within eye contact and actual physical presence. This is giving rise to a whole new 'language.' The 'signals' which, in the past, formed the basis of our interactions and our ability to interpret what others are conveying to our senses, both consciously and unconsciously can easily be misinterpreted and lead to confusion and misunderstandings which in turn can increase the sense of 'isolation' in the current media environment.

For those of us who have been around for more than a few decades, the magnitude of these changes can be somewhat daunting. We now see ourselves beginning to function in ways that we did not function in the past and the younger generations are growing up with very different expectations and agendas.

The whole basis upon which this evolution is developing is of a very non substantial kind.  Our philosophical tomes have stated over and over that our world is an 'illusion,' and with the new technologies and all that they stand for we can begin to sense very clearly how true this really is.

Digital technology has provided us with new toys and tools with which to interact with the world on a scale that heretofore has simply not been possible.

What are some of the characteristics of our reactions to these technologies in terms of how they affect us on an emotional level?

1. Compulsiveness.  We can see this manifesting as a fidgety preoccupation with almost constant distraction. Its become a common sight to see people in all sorts of environments busily multi tasking. Here in India, it is not unusual to see people on their way to where ever, on a cycle, a motor bike or in a car, text-ing or talking on a mobile phone. Have we not all seen people gathered waiting for something, or sitting at tables together, all busily engaged with something happening on their phones or computers in the very midst of the throngs of humanity.

2. Connected and yet disconnected. I recently visited friends who have a number of children. Everyone, parents included, was gathered in the living room together but the room was silent, each was busily engaged in some kind of cyber activity on their iPad, phone or pc...

3. Dissipation. The energies favour dissipation. The attention and emotional indicators experience an incessant pressure that draws one outwardly from the natural centre of silence and peace.  This then gives rise to a growing inner sense of loss and isolation.

It is a paradox that the very tools that were supposedly created to bring us nearer to one another are in fact isolating us from one another in many subtle ways. Its a little as though we are cast out to sea, surrounded by the ocean and yet all this water is incapable of quenching our thirst.

We can get sucked into a cycle with digital technologies which can lead to some very unhealthy side effects unless we become more aware and make practical and discriminating judgements and then actually implement them.


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Digital Dilemmas, Part 2 (How we are Affected Physically)



What can be said about the physical impact of the digital age in which we live? Its effects are so far reaching that there are very few areas of our lives, our homes and our workplaces which are not in some way affected.

Lets start with the good stuff, and there is plenty of it depending on ones point of view.  Naturally we can't mention everything but in broad terms we see things like, instant communications, easy access to information, and inter-connected-ness on a scale that is unprecedented. Ease of online services such as banking, travel bookings, online shopping etc far exceed anything we ever had in recent history.

Computers and the digital technology that powers and automates so many of the functions which we now take quite for granted; in fact virtually the entire infrastructure of our modern world, especially in western economies, is based upon recent cyber technologies.

The potential for life changing innovations continues to emerge at a dizzying pace and is undeniable. Automated cars are already on our roads.There is currently technology in development for a car/plane as a viable mode of personal transport. This would be a computerised car cum drone. Safer, swifter and more comfortable than anything we now have to get us from A to B and all automated of course! There are many, many other positive developments due to technological breakthroughs from health and transportation to education and instant information. The list could go on and on.

The bad stuff.  Physically the lives of those who spend a lot of time on  personal computers or at gaming or who work from some form of web based technology are far more sedentary than would have ever been possible in the past. These technologies have also become part of institutional education from primary through to college and on wards giving rise to all manner of health problems and psychological issues in our up and coming generations.

While we appear to be more easily contactable more and more people are actually alone with their devices than not. Take the ever increasing instances of when family or friends are sitting together in a restaurant, or at home, ostensibly to share a meal together and yet all the while busily tapping out messages or fiddling with something on their smartphones and quite oblivious of one another.

We may be able to easily contact one another and be wired into a whole planetary network of information and instant 'news' and yet our 'personal space' is also routinely invaded 24/7 by mobile technologies along with their electromagnetic radiations.

There are surveillance issues that are genuinely worrying despite the fact that we are told that we are 'watched' for our own good.

IDs are quickly moving towards using bio data that imprints our iris configurations and encodes our finger prints. One by one countries are beginning to phase out passports in favour of online bio data.

Here in India, of all places, I had my iris encoded along with finger prints in an ID process that is currently taking place all over the country. These days in India, even a Sadhu living on the street, has an Aadhaar Card with all his bio-metric details encoded into it.

Getting my own card sorted was a surreal experience. There i was sitting in this dusty office, the paint was peeling off the walls, the fans were outdated and whirring loudly above our heads. There was book work and papers all around the walls stacked in untidy piles from door to door. The electricity went out while i was there and we had to wait until the back up generator kicked in. The fellow taking my details was making dozens of spelling mistakes and there was a constant stream of village people coming and going. It was all thoroughly incongruous and more than a little disconcerting.

What are the privacy issues at stake here? It would appear that privacy is a thing of the past and simply not possible in this new age of digitisation.

On another tack, one question I often have in mind is; what if there is a massive solar flare? Few seem to even be aware of how vulnerable our technologies are to extra planetary events which are taking place constantly and over which we have absolutely no control. These solar flares have incapacitated electrical grids in various countries during recent years and there is no reason why it won't continue to happen. We are currently in a solar minimum cycle but even so, events of cataclysmic proportions are going on continuously on our sun to say nothing of other events taking place throughout our solar system and beyond.

Once again it is not possible in a short article to give an exhaustive list of all the disadvantages but we must mention one that is yet to be fully understood and very likely will become extremely controversial in the years to come.

This is the long term effects of the low level electromagnetic radiations which are constantly bombarding not only us, but every living thing within their radius.

Can most of us go for a day without coming into contact with a mobile phone, a pc, a micro-wave or a cell phone tower...? These towers are perched on the top of buildings, in the midst of the most densely populated areas of our cities and towns. We also see the infrastructure for these towers marching up hills sides in even very remote locations, although now most of the technology is being moved to satellites orbiting the planet.

What about Wi-fi radiations that so many and by the day more and more people are bringing into their homes? We are exposed to these radiations in a different form also from household items that we barely blink at now such as hair dryers, T.Vs and even fluorescent lights.

Some would say that this kind of talk arises from paranoia but the fact is that recent research is overwhelmingly proving that
the electromagnetic radiations that are emitted from the electronic devices that we use every day, to say nothing of the cell phone towers and all the other transmitters that exist within our proximity, have long term and insidiously detrimental health effects.

The physical implications of long term exposure to electronic radiations are only just beginning to be uncovered, at least to the main stream public. Cell phone operators have long known of the dangers of their devices and their towers and they have managed to wrangle legislation with law makers that will protect them from future liability related to the use of their products. It has even been rumoured that these same companies have endeavoured to bring in a legislation that would make it compulsory to sign an agreement prior to purchasing; an agreement that would exclude them from the possibility of being dragged into a law suite at any time in the future!

All of this is a loaded bomb waiting to explode, the clock is ticking, its just a matter of time..!

The dilemma.  How do we balance our increasing dependence with the long term implications of using digital technology?  Do we even have the option of trying to do something? The physical implications are alarming and the research and resulting data that is beginning to emerge is likely to be only the tip of the ice berg.

What are the emotional, mental and spiritual implications? One can easily begin to see just how completely pervasive the effects of our digital age really are. The sooner we expand our awareness and understanding of these, the better.


Saturday, 21 January 2017

Digital Dilemmas Part 1





The Ways in which technology 
continues to improve communication

***

Those of us who have been around for more than twenty years know very well just how pervasively modern technology, particularly that of personal computing and mobile phones, gaming and electronics in general, have changed our lives. We have seen these technologies revolutionise the way we do just about everything and all of this has come about in a comparatively short amount of time.

I well remember the days when letters to my mother in New Zealand would take around two to three weeks to arrive from India and then the turn around was often the same if not longer. It would take weeks to exchange our news and by the time the letters arrived, the news was well and truly out of date.

Probably not too much has changed with postal timings except that we hardly ever send letters these days, preferring the instant messaging of email and whatsapp. I even remember the wind up telephone in my grand parents house and the 'party line' that was shared with other Motueka residents. One would pick up the mouth piece, turn the handle a few times and hear a voice saying; 'what number please?' Although mail is still very much in use other forms of communication are quickly falling into disuse and becoming the dinosaurs of recent technology.

From shopping and banking through to how we access information, how we read, how we interact, even how we work, these changes have infiltrated every level and facet of society. There are not many areas of our lives now that are not in some way touched by the innovations of the digital age.

We older folk, were well acquainted with the good old days of snail mail and land lines and my generation is by no means 'old.' We knew all about waiting in cues at the library in order to borrow a certain book. The days of newspapers and telegrams and fax machines, of trudging to the bank and standing in the line waiting for a teller to transact our business, these were all very much a part of day to day reality. Now, there are so many ways in which computers and mobiles have changed our lives in these past few short years that it would take up too much space to mention all of them.

Those of my generation and older could never have dreamt in our younger years that our lives could be changed so dramatically and in such a short time. Yet here we are, using all this stuff as though this is the way things have always been...!

My mother, who is now in her early eighties has wi-fi in her home and never goes anywhere without her mobile phone and her ipad. In recent years when i have gone to visit her i would often rise early in the morning and find her already propped up in bed, a cup of coffee on the side table, her ginger cat curled up nearby and her ipad firmly and squarely in front of her eyeballs.

A whole new 'computer language' has sprung up. Digital technology has moved into our lives and it looks set to stick around. Our greatest challenge now seems to be how keep apace with it.

On a recent trip to Australia I found it particularly frustrating to note how extensively electronic voices have taken over our everyday telephone business communications, how pervasive the electronic voice is at the end of almost all dialling tones, how difficult it is to actually just connect to another human being. With basic services being increasingly digitised the human element is being subsumed by pre-programmed electronic non beings that infer that all transactions must be standardised. Slip out from the stereotypes and you are in trouble.

Being out of society for periods of time and then returning to it again can help to underline the pace of the rapid changes that are sweeping the entire planet.

We would do well to step back occasionally and review the manner in which technology, in all of its various forms, is impacting our lives. This is vital if we want to remain at the helm of our own vessel. Its all too easy to calmly glide into the vortex of an ever more invasive technological society without actually noticing our shift. Many are scarcely aware that we are drifting towards a digital black hole which is about to consume us. Once artificial intelligence takes hold we will be dealing with a whole new ball game.

Those of us already pondering the effects, both positive and negative, of the various types of technology now being developed can at times feel like prisoners on the ramp of a sinking ship, caught between our choice of quick or delayed drowning.
Of course it need not and certainly is not all negative but we would do well to proceed into this period of digitisation with some semblance of conscious awareness.

In the up and coming four articles  we will be examining how technology affects us, what all of this can mean for us and future generations, and how it is impacting the way we live, not just physically but in far more subtle ways.  We will explore what it could bring in the future and why we should take the time to become more aware of the inner effects of the technologies that we use so unquestioningly. There is a fine line drawn between the useful 'tool' and the all consuming one.

There can be no doubt that our digital age has extraordinary and beneficial advantages but nothing in the material world comes to us without a 'price. What is the 'price' of digital technology? Can we offset the dangers by being more aware or are we all inextricably caught up in this seemingly unstoppable electronic tide?

At the end of the day we must observe that digital technology should not be labelled as either good or bad it is simply and unquestioningly a powerful tool.
How each of us responds to and makes use of this 'power' is really up to us. It places us each in a position of responsibility that we can either acknowledge or ignore, but which ever the case may be no part of our lives will remain untouched.

What are the ways in which we are all affected by these modern technologies, not just physically, emotionally and mentally but also spiritually?

(Edited, updated and re-posted from an earlier series of articles originally written 2013)

Thursday, 29 December 2016

On the Importance of Saving Lives

In honour of my teacher, Chadral Sangyay Dorje, who passed away a year ago (30.12.2015) in Parping, Nepal, I am re-posting an article I wrote several years ago which continues to have a vital message and relevance today.

*****

Homage to the Beloved Lord of Refuge. 
We can never repay your kindness. 
Merging into the Expanse of Wisdom 
you will continue to benefit countless beings...


"Limit yourself to just a few activities 
and undertake them with all diligence."
Kyabji Chadral Sangye Dorje

"One of the 'activities' that Chadral Rinpoche undertook with 'all diligence,' was the annual fish release into the sacred Indian river, the Ganges. This happens right at the point where this vast river finally flows out into the Bay of Bengal and the wide open sea.

He began this project in the 1960,s with little more than an old wooden canoe, a few bucket loads of fish and a couple of helpers. Today the work is carried on primarily by his wife, Sangyum Karmala and various sponsors and volunteers. It is now a large operation involving many helpers, a number of boats and many truckloads of fish which are purchased from the fish farms in and around Kolkata and then released with prayers and auspicious mantras into the milky green waters of the great 'Mother Ganga'.

During the 1990,s I used to wonder about the little black pouch that Rinpoche always wore around his waist. He guarded this pouch very carefully as it was stuffed full of various denominations of Indian and Nepali rupee notes which devotees had offered for the purchase and release of fish. He was thoroughly scrupulous about the offerings which came in. Each was assigned to its own purse which denoted a particular cause, but somehow the funds for the 'fish release' were always very abundant and the little black pouch was fairly bursting at its seams.

However, this had not always been the case. When Rinpoche first began this project, he was only newly arrived in India as a refugee from Tibet and extremely poor. In those days he was establishing the very first Buddhist Meditation Three Year Retreat center in Sub Continent and as they could not afford to hire many workers, he rolled up his sleeves and took up a shovel, carrying and labouring on the repair work site with everyone else.

Funds for the Fish Release were very scarce. One time the monastery caretaker walked into Rinpoche's room with tears in his eyes. He had just discovered that Rinpoche had sold a lovely piece of precious brocade, one of very few items that they had managed to bring with them from Tibet. With these funds he had bought a dial up phone so that he could call Kolkata to order fish and keep tabs on progress for the annual end of year release!

The caretaker was in a state of utter misery a good deal of the time during those years of scarcity. He was always wondering how on earth they would all be able to eat and carry on the general business of very simple living, but Rinpoche was never concerned and always waved him away with words of solace, telling him that ‘all would be well.’

I know that Rinpoche would have given the clothes off his own back in order to keep on releasing fish into the Ganges. In fact he ordered Lolu, the caretaker, to sell some of his scant personal possessions in order to do just this, on more than one occasion.

I used to watch Rinpoche's handpicked group leave from Salbari Gompa every year for this great event, with tears in my eyes, wondering if I would ever have enough merit to be allowed to go with them and help. They all stayed at the house of a Marwari Hindu who had taken a 'shine' to Rinpoche's 'project' and Rinpoche, ever mindful and sensitive about respecting others, was always careful never to take more people with him than was absolutely necessary for the task at hand. He did this so as not to over step or impose on the kindness of a generous donor.

One year, however, I decided to take matters into my own hands. At the time, I was living in a small retreat hut in the forests of the Darjeeling hills and had come to know that Rinpoche had arrived at his Salbari Temple. He had journeyed from Nepal and was already on his way to Kolkata. I did not want to ask for permission and risk being sent back to my hut, so I just packed a few things, went down the hill and caught the night train. After arriving in the wee hours of the following morning and finding myself a suitable lodging, I made my way to the place where I knew the ‘release’ would be taking place. I was able to reach the banks of the Ganges just as they were all preparing to begin work that day.

It was naughty of me to go without his permission, but I never once regretted my decision and Rinpoche never said anything to reproach me nor showed any sign of displeasure at my unasked for appearance. Within an hour I was chugging out onto the river on a funky old wooden tugboat together with one of the Lamas. The two of us had loaded our boat with the help of a band of Indian workers, with large, waist high buckets filled to the brim with fish.

Four other boats, each with two helpers to unload the buckets came and went in a constant procession as we began to release the truck loads of fish that were been bought down to the river.

It was hard work in the unforgiving sun, but we barely looked up to notice it. Throughout most of the day, Rinpoche sat quietly on the banks and watched us come and go. There was such a special atmosphere, like a rain of blessings enfolding the whole procedure and although we labored for hours without any breaks, none of us faltered or felt tired.

Many times I found myself with tears in my eyes and sponataneously, mantras and prayers flowed from our lips as we lifted bucket after bucket-load of fish and poured them in droves into the waters. The moment of their release was so exhilarating. It was a joy to watch them flicker away like sparkling darts as the rays of the sun's light flashed for a moment off their silvery fins.

As it turned out, the year I went was one of the last that Rinpoche, already well into his nineties at the time, could attend in person and his wife, Sangyum Kamala and others have come forward now to carry on the work.

Just think of how relevant and how meaningful this work, which had such humble beginnings, has now become. This is not just a symbolic act that shows remarkable foresight and conveys a powerful message; this is a living demonstration of something much deeper, which has profound implications.

The fish in our seas are being caught indiscriminately and in droves and who is giving anything back? Can we take and take without end?

However, the story does not end here. I want to add mention something that happened to a young newly-wed couple who were about to embark on their honey moon in the Andaman Islands. This story is a remarkable tale that reveals the intricate and subtle underlying threads between the motivation and the activities of those who live, work and exist in this world only to benefit others.

On the day of their departure, the young, newly-weds were walking through the Kathmandu airport, when they noticed an elderly Lama sitting to one side with his family and entourage. It was Chadral Rinpoche, about to set off for Kolkata to undertake the annual fish release.

As the husband’s family members were all long time devotees of Rinpoche, he immediately went over to receive the Lama’s blessing. During this encounter Rinpoche made some comments which the young man was not able to fully understand at the time. He had asked Rinpoche to bless them on their trip and this Rinpoche had graciously done. However, he had also said something to them that they had both found very unexpected and disturbing.

He had said something major was about to happen and that much life would be lost as a result. As a political conflict was raging in Nepal at that time, the couple attributed his words to this. Rinpoche had told them that he was going to Kolkata to buy and bless fish which had been raised in fish farms. He had told them that he would release the fish into the Ganges and that he was praying that by doing this, he could save a few lives.

The couple offered a donation towards the buying of the fish and he thanked them and then added that it would be offered in their name, but not only for their long life, but for the benefit and long life of all beings.

It was mid-December in the year of 2004. Exactly two weeks later there was the huge 9.1 earthquake near Indonesia. The massive quake released a gigantic tsunami that devastated a vast swathe of south-east Asia and took with it some quarter of a million lives. It happened just off the coast of Aceh, not far from the Andaman Islands where the couple was still holidaying at that time. The newly-weds lives were spared but their known world thereafter was completely shaken and they could never forget the timely words or the powerful blessing of the Lama."

(This excerpt is from the chapter called Ransoming Lives and is quoted from my third book, Masters, Mice and Men, in the Series, Shades of Awareness.)


Monday, 19 December 2016

When the Lone Owl Calls...


The Un-blinking Gaze of Awareness
 In the year 2011 when i was living in a tiny hut in forests of Lopchu, a wooded area straddling a ridge between Darjeeling and Kalimpong, i had a good deal of time to ponder the realities of life.

I lived less than a hundred meters away from an old village cremation ground and witnessed the unceasing flow of processions, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly. The solemn groups of family, friends and community members who carried the deceased on their final journey to fires of dissolution. All passed by my small abode. 

The cremation ground was an unpretentious open space with a simple platform where a pyre could be built and after due ceremony, once the final rites had been given, the corpse laid to rest before being consumed by the flames.

Living in such close proximity to the spot where all of this was taking place, it was impossible to ignore or in any way forget the truth of the uncertainty within which we act out our short, distracted lives.

One evening in the stillness and cold, as i sat in my upstairs loft, the power suddenly went out. Being far from a city or even the village lights, everything was plunged into an inky darkness. I was well prepared for these occurrences.

I opened the large windows just in front of me and breathed deeply. I loved those times when the world was bathed in darkness. In the safety and comfort of my loft i could gaze out of the window and see the stars above in their glorious Himalayan splendour while below spread the valleys far far away; mere tiny speckles of light glimmering in the distance like forgotten promises.

Often clouds swirled around in these valleys and one almost felt that one was gazing from the window of a soundless aeroplane.

Such nights were not rare in this part of the world and if a moon had risen one could also clearly see the glittering white flanks of the Kanchenjunga massif, the world's third highest mountain. It seemed to hover like a surreal, yet stationary cloud in the northern sky.

This fantastic location readily gave rise to thoughts beyond the petty trappings of day to day living.

A lone owl called out from its perch in the nearby forest. Mournful, solitary and echoing throughout the hills. That call was so poignant, so haunting in the darkness of those long winter nights.

It was as though the owl's call was inside me echoing the call of my own awareness; persistent, near and unspeakably mysterious.

The following morning i woke to discover that the electricity supply had still not returned. The generator for the mobile tower over in the village was humming away, barely audible, amid the wailing calls of the birds that visited this location every year from Bhutan.

The mournful sound of their cry had an oddly poignant edge on those bright and sunny mornings and drowned out the chirps and cheerful melodies of the local bird life.
It intrigued me that they turned up in this little patch of
forest near Darjeeling, year after year. 

Many families from Bhutan were established along this ridge and within this patch of forest with its few remaining giant Utish trees, dripping with orchids and ferns. 

A little further up the road, the forest changed markedly as huge, Norfolk pines rose up in long, straight lines. Nothing could contrast more with the semi-tropical forests that surrounded the old temple than those towering, pine giants.  

The Norfolks were remnants of British rule and had been planted during the days when they came to these hills to enjoy the views and the cool temperatures during hot summer months. They had never been touched and had grown tall and thick. They were jealously guarded by the forestry officials. Rising up like a line of silent sentinels they marched up the mountainside seeming to gather all the light of the day to themselves.

When i first moved to the small Gompa, which had been offered to my teacher  (Chadral Rinpoche) some decades before, the caretaker was one of Rinpoche's elder Bhutanese students.  He had left Bhutan some years before to settle in these forested hills, bringing with him his two young sons, both of whom were ordained as Buddhist monks.

Pala, we called him. He was a wonderful caretaker. He had a green thumb and the gardens around the compound were always a mass of blooms. He was never idle and seemed always to be busy fixing or making something. He endlessly tinkered and planted and created and during his 'reign' the Gompa precincts were a bright mass of marigolds and everything looked fresh and well attended.

The two sons returned regularly but were often away and busy visiting local villages where they performed rituals and pujas for families who were celebrating births, deaths and marriages.

 However, some years after i moved to Lopchu Gompa, they decided to build a small temple of their own just up the road in a place called Ninth Mile.  This village was little more than a tiny cluster of dwellings and was situated right in the midst of those towering Norfolk Pines. 

Eventually, when the living quarters were completed, the sons moved up there taking Pala with them. He was sorely missed.

 A few months later, after they had settled in, the eldest son, Gomchen, decided to construct a small Mani Lhakang on the road. This would consist of a number of prayer wheels and it was intended that the locals and those passing by could spin the wheels rending the silence and casting the merit of thousands of mantras into the mountain air.

They were large barrel like objects that spun on a central spire. Each wheel was painted with the syllables of a mantra and contained many thousands of tiny rolls of prayers written out painstakingly on thin sheets of rice paper. They were carefully prepared before being blessed by a Lama and then packed inside the wheels. Each wheel turned in a clockwise direction and the faithful were said to generate a great wealth of blessings and merit thereby extending their lives.

Actually, the idea, to build these prayer wheels had been on Gomchen's mind for quite some time and he had been saving long and hard so that he could begin this small construction.

One morning while he was up on the road, preparing the iron rods for the workers to begin setting that day in concrete, he lifted one into an upright position in order to make a measurement. Unmindful of the wires nearby, it suddenly connected with the main overhead power line. Unfortunately, that day, there was no power cut.

The result was instantaneous. Many thousands of volts of
electricity poured through his body and out of his feet. In fact, the surge was so powerful that it blew holes right through the soles of his shoes.

His heart could not sustain itself under such a sudden and tremendous assault and within moments he was dead.  He was 48 years at the time.

He had been a Buddhist monk since childhood and had completed a
number of long retreats, hence the name Gomchen, which means 'great meditator'.  He had practised and meditated and led a life which by all accounts was praiseworthy and yet he did not see what was coming. 

When he had lifted the rod that morning, his mind was distracted by many competing thoughts, the very least of which was the thought of impermanence. That thought had slipped away into the hazy recesses of long years of repition and habit.

He had pondered much on death and the impermanence of life, it was true, and yet when death came it was totally unexpected and he was not prepared.

Palla was inconsolable with grief. He too had pondered long and hard on the Buddha's primary teachings. In his eighty years he had seen a good deal of joy and sorrow but none of it had prepared him for this. 

This was an irony beyond understanding.

Even in the midst of a 'holy life' one may constantly forget one's true nature. If we are endlessly distracted we cannot be prepared for the inevitable, which may tap us on the shoulder at any moment. 

We live our lives as though they will never end.  As though there will always be tomorrow and yet our death is the one and certain thing in this world, the thing none of us can avoid.  

We all know that death can visit us at any moment. We all understand this, we are all aware that this is what awaits us in some form or other and yet we get caught up in the dream of the unfolding cycle of day to day events.

And this is as natural to us as breathing. We have forgotten our true origin. We have forgotten who and what we really are.


Many would say that to remember death as our nearest companion is morbid and depressing.  But there is another side. It can help to wake us from the reverie that enslaves us in our day to day routines. 

Life and death are only two sides of one coin. The awareness from which they are inseparable remains unnoticed.

By carrying this awareness with us where ever we go, each moment and each day becomes a gift and an opportunity.

The thought of death reminds us to open our minds and hearts here and now, not tomorrow, not next year. It prompts us to look further than the tiny circle of our thoughts and our ordinary preoccupations.

May we all remember the inexhaustible spring of our awareness which is our true nature and which is, at every moment, awaiting our recognition. 


When the lone owl calls it is the distant echo of our own awareness.

This very moment, which is our constant yet unheeded companion is our golden key to unlocking the mystery of the eternal present which is ever beyond the vagaries of a transient life and death...