Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Are Smart Phones Making Fools of Us All?

In this age of smartphone technology, most people are distracted pretty much most of the time. Constant inattention can and will have serious implications for this and future generations.

Many people are not aware of the fact that they are almost constantly distracted. We tend to have an almost addictive need for some kind of emotional engagement and smartphones fill this need on a number of different levels, very effectively. In fact, they have been designed with just this 'need' in mind. 

Various kinds of social network messaging, digital games, news and or information feeds can keep us engaged for inordinate amounts of time and in one way we may feel more connected than ever before and yet, ironically, the levels of disconnection in our societies and among our young people are higher than ever before.

As artificial intelligence begins to penetrate our lives in various subtle and invasive ways we would do well to take into account what this can mean and how it can affect the way we live. 

There are not many of us who have not experienced the frustration of trying to sort out a problem on the phone and having to deal with a digital answering service.

Certainly, the changes now taking place are unprecedented in both the speed with which these technologies are being developed and the manner in which they will completely change our mode of living. 

I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.

These words have been attributed to Albert Einstein but regardless of whether this is, in fact, true or not, they are relevant and sound out as a clarion call. May we wake up in time and shake ourselves out of our zombie-like infatuation. It appears that a whole, vast section of humanity is sleepwalking. Will we look up from our devices long enough to actually notice that we are distracted in the first place and from what we are distracted in the second? 

It is not that this is anything particularly unique to our current civilisation. As says the Biblical injunction; 'there is nothing new under the sun.' We may think we are on the cutting edge of technologies that have never before seen the light of day and yet countless civilisations have passed through this earthly realm and the remnants of their passing are a continuing cause of wonder and mystery to many in this current day and age. 

Whatever the mind is capable of dreaming up and even what has not yet been dreamed, all these things are possible and can and will become manifest in due course of time, if the will to manifest them arises. This is the innate power of the mind.

What has not changed, however, is our perpetual state of 'distraction' in one form or another. The fact is that these emerging technologies can capitalise on this apparent human weakness to target and harvest our attention on a massive scale never before witnessed. We should all be alert to the implications of this.

What we see happening now with the rise of modern technologies which have quickly become seemingly indispensable to the vast section of humanity in just the brief space of a few decades, is at base just more of the same old, same old... There may be a new look, a new flavour, a new brand, but strip that all away and our basic human instincts continue to propel us all in the same old direction.

We can dress up our confused emotions, we can varnish over the fundamental impulses which propel us through life, but century after century, decade after decade and day after day, they remain intact and they are the motivating force behind all that is manifest in this world. This is and remains the case as much now as it was a thousand years ago.

What is troubling now is the fact that this trend is being directed by a tiny minority. If we lose our 'attention,' we lose our power. If we are not aware of or have never considered what impact the current technologies are having on our human civilisations then it is certainly time to become aware now!

As long as we remain subject to the ebb and flow of our hopes and fears we cannot know our true inner freedom and at this time and in this age we are so vulnerable en-mass to being manipulated by a minority. 

The sheer scale of what is taking place, virtually unnoticed, is indeed a cause for concern. When a minority is capable of quietly manipulating whole populations for gain and profit can we call this anything other than a negative trend?

When a whole civilisation appears to be sleepwalking towards a precipice we do indeed face a grave danger.

Is it not intrinsically against the whole ideal of democracy to intentionally keep the mass of humanity distracted by what is unimportant? If we create devices that are geared to monopolise our attention and keep it focused on the trivial instead of the vital we can imagine what the outcome might be.

Don't we have a moral obligation to wake up and notice what is really happening here? It is up to each one of us.

And there is a tapping at the door of our awareness. The inmost core within each and every one of us is trying to get through, trying to jolt us out of our torpor.

Do you ever get the feeling that something is missing in your life?
You should trust that feeling because it is a true one. Something is missing in your life. It's called 'attention.'

If our attention is hijacked by a mobile phone or some other kind of smart device do we not then become the plaything of that device or thinking which has created it? Where is our cherished freedom if our ability to avoid the subtle manipulation, inherent in the designs of modern technological innovations, is woefully inadequate.

There is something infinitely more dangerous about an addiction which slips into our lives unnoticed. Modern technologies exploit people's impulses thereby robbing them of the ability to choose wisely. 

Have you ever heard of the term, 'persuasive design'? Until very recently I hadn't either. I have, however, long suspected that our very modern deficiency of attention or perhaps we could term it; partial attention syndrome is a very insidious new-age kind of illness with momentous implications. Are we not distracted most of the time?

Persuasive design is a term that describes any kind of technology that has been created with the intention of grabbing people's attention and holding it. It involves the subtle art of subversively
capturing our interest, overpowering our attention and bringing it back repeatedly to that thing, whatever that may be.

If we are beginning to recognise this trend then it is none too soon. The problem is, that even upon recognising this very recent affliction we are nowhere near addressing and or managing it.

Learning to pay attention to our attention is a very crucial piece of advice. It points to something utterly fundamental about our existence.

Do we really notice what is going on around us if we are distracted? We lose our inherent freedom the moment our attention is compromised. Smartphones are not only very efficient in creating a 'vacuum' in our lives, but they are equally efficient in seeming to fill that vacuum as well.

The moment our concentration is directed towards something or other, then, at that moment, whatever it is that we are perceiving becomes our 'world.' 

This is what is meant by the spiritual dictum that we so often hear and yet fail to truly understand. Namely; nothing has an inherent existence in and of itself. Another way of saying this is; whatever our mind is drawn to, that is our reality at that moment.

If something or someone hijacks our attention we become little better than automatons, walking zombies moving past one another in the vast ocean of time and space, scarcely even aware of each other or of the fact that we exist at all.

We don't need any evidence that this is in fact already the case, we have proof of it in every direction that we may turn our gaze in our so-called modern and technological societies. These technologies have entered our lives and are completely and utterly changing the ways we live and think and behave.

We urgently need to become aware of just how pervasive and insidious these changes really are.

In our so-called 'money economy' it is regarded as perfectly acceptable to manipulate people's attention in order to capture that attention and direct it towards a 'product.' Isn't this the very basis of capitalism?

Therefore capitalism is geared towards exploiting human vulnerabilities for monetary gain. Smartphones have already become tools of mass manipulation on a scale, the likes of which we have not seen before. This is a deeply worrying trend and deserves our thoughtful attention.

Ultimately all of this leads to nothing but a profound and insidious d
isconnection from who and what we really are.

If we are not in control of our attention, then something or someone else is... We can be absolutely sure that if we feel that something is missing in our lives, it most assuredly is our attention.

In days to come we will be forced to grapple with this problem  head-on. Given how pervasive our distraction has already become, this will be a mammoth undertaking.

“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
Albert Einstein

And herein lies our salvation if we can in fact rise to the challenge.  We will have to recognise what has always been nearest and dearest.

It has become an urgent necessity to expand our vision beyond the current distraction and pre-occupation with smart devices of one kind or another, towards what is fundamental to our very existence.


Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Merits of Adversity

Iron Ore may think itself senselessly tortured in the furnace
but when the blade of finest steel emerges, it knows better...
Lobsang Rampa

Phoenix Rising
If we could see our future, if we could know how things will turn out and if we could comprehend the greater and wider picture, we might move through this life very differently. Then again, we might not...

As we move through life we tend to cherish an arrogant assumption that everything we think and do is up to us and yet is this really true?

We like to believe that we are the master of our own little ship.
That we are standing at the helm, making all the decisions and that we are in control. The whole setup looks and feels so convincing. There we are on the bridge of our own self-made vessel clutching a self-made 'wheel.' All around us is the wide and open sea. We feel secure in our flimsy vessel, with a little bit of stick in our hands. Yet that sense of security is just a thought.

Despite the size and the ever-shifting seasons of this vast ocean space in which we live, move and breath out the course of our days, we feel that somehow and in some way, we are steering our own independent course.

Yet, is this really true?
And how can we know if it is or not?

Recently, I underwent a journey at considerable expense of time, money, energy and effort. It did not turn out the way I had been hoping for or expecting. In fact, it was altogether quite disastrous in terms of my preconceived expectations. 

It seems not to matter how long we live, how much we do or how far we travel, to some degree or other we remain glued to our belief in what we 'think' we know. Very often the results of life experiences don't seem to add up to much and certain things may take place for which we can find very little meaning at all and yet at the end of the day, do we need to? Do we need to find a meaning in everything that happens to us in our world? Would what we know or think we know really affect the outcome?

Is there anything in what appears to 'happen' to us that we can actually hold onto and claim to own as ours or mine?
Its all so very elusive isn't it? If we look back on the events that have taken place in our lives they are nothing more than memories. If we look forward to future happenings, they are simply fabrications of the mind's hopes, fears and endless expectations.

The only thing we ever really have is this very moment of 'awareness.' There really is nothing else. Each of us needs to investigate and experience this consciously for ourselves. We need to pierce the bubble of our 'known' world of perceptions and preconceptions and take a cold and hard look at what actually is.

The mind is brilliant at fabricating, interpreting and judging, but can we really trust it? I think that deep down we all know that our mind is very unreliable, that it is shape-shifting and filled with contradictions. How can we find peace and happiness with such a 'master' at the helm of our little ship?

The ego can take a certain satisfaction in what it perceives as worthwhile or positive outcomes but what do we do with the stuff that we just can't make sense of? Do we simply try to cast it from our memory? Is that enough to bring us some relief from our endless mind made torment?

If we are not to become cynical about or jaded by 'life' there remains only one course open to us. But how do we get to the point where we can let go of our preconceptions and assumptions without going through a process which will ultimately and at the end of all searching and struggle leave us with no other choice. Such a process is likely to be a torrid and long drawn out affair?

As tiny children, we could look out at the world without preconceptions, but then life set in and we were loaded with so much information, imprisoned by so many surrounding thought-forms and finally so bound up by our own created mental preconceptions that now we can no longer remember the simple innocence of just 'being.'

Getting ourselves back to the simple realisation of our profound and ever present 'state' requires that we unravel all the constructs which our minds have created around the essence of who and what we really are.

Who among us will cast our mind towards the 'profound' when life is buzzing around us and all is going well? It's only when we encounter adversity that we begin to question the basis of our day to day reality.

Think of the way each grain of sand on the beach has arisen by the action of endlessly crashing waves through countless seasons. We can be likened to these grains and our life experiences to all the ups and downs and unexpected twists and turns that shape and polish and in turn, reveal the true and inner beauty.

"If it were not for the stones and boulders that make up the composition of a mountain, we could not catch hold of and retain our grip on those steep and slippery slopes or continue to move onward and upward to the summit of the peak.

How many of us ever reflect deeply in the midst of happy circumstances? When things are going our way, we relax and tend to let the time fly by. We don't consider the deeper questions surrounding our lives and our existence. 

We are like children, deeply engrossed in the game of building sand castles on the beach. All the while the tide is coming in closer and closer but we don't notice it because we are so caught up in the game which we are playing.
At last the waves begin to touch our feet and the castles that we have built begin to disintegrate with each incoming surge. We suddenly look up from our game and notice that the sun is already low on the western horizon and that soon it will be dark and that night will be upon us. 

This is how we live our lives, in a state of perpetual distraction.
We don't question our assumptions about this world. In fact, we take our lives and the extraordinary fact our existence completely for granted.

Only when it is about to be snatched away from us or from someone to whom we are deeply attached, do we stop and give our attention to what is most important.

As babies, we could look out at the world without bias but as we proceed deeper into the maelstrom of life we lose our 'real' selves and become hopelessly entangled and confused.

In the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, there is one sentence which is graphically sobering;
"Water, water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink." 

Afloat on the sea of life, our very existence arises due to the inexhaustible spring of our awareness and yet we often feel ourselves to be alone and abandoned on a vast ocean from which it seems that we cannot quench our thirst.

Again and again, life rises up and forces us to look more closely. The filters created by our mind must be swept away, either one by one or all at once before we can see it for what it really is. Sooner or later we must acknowledge that nothing could exist without the innate sense of knowing that we exist.  We do not even need to reach out to grasp at what is inherently already there within us.

So next time we feel ourselves to be like the helpless iron ore, aflame within the furnace of uncertain life events, we can remember the blade of finest steel. It will flash brightly in the rising sun to remind us of what has always been ours. The very fact that we know that we exist is what makes the flashing of recognition possible in the first place.

Ultimately, we have two choices; either to let go and recognise what we already are or to undergo the painful, forging process which will eventually force us to drop the multitude of misconceptions that our mind has created and which prevent us so effectively from recognising who and what we really are

The Fire-Bird of Transformation

Friday, 4 August 2017

Reaching Out to Animals, and All Sentient, Conscious Life

How would this change our world?
If everyone understood that all beings, whether animal, insect, bird, plant or even mineral, are sentient and therefore conscious, how would this change the way we interact with them?

If we understood and began to appreciate all living beings as 'sacred' and 'intelligent,' what impact would this have on us, and all the other living forms with whom we co-exist on this planet?

The mind boggles...

I remember as a child that one day my mother asked me to go over to the neighbour's house to find out if they were at home. At that time we were living in Nelson, a small town in the north of the South Island of New Zealand.

Our neighbours were a husband and wife and their two children with whom we young ones often played of an evening. They had not long moved to Nelson and being so nearby, our family had instantly warmed to these new arrivals.

I ventured over the side fence and made my way up the staircase to the front door. Their tabby cat was sitting on the doorstep imbibing the warm noon sunshine. I was already acquainted with her and so gave her a nod as I climbed past to ring the doorbell. I pushed the button a few times but there was no response from within and so, without thinking, I sat down next to the venerable puss and asked her where the family had gone. She looked up at me, made a little feline squeak and we amicably bumped heads and then sat a while in companionable silence.

After some time I slowly got up and made my way back over the fence to tell my mother that the family were, at that minute, away somewhere. When I entered the house a chorus of giggling and squeals of laughter greeted me. Evidently, my mum and sisters had been watching my encounter with the neighbour's cat through the back bedroom window which directly overlooked the neighbour's staircase. They had overheard our conversation.

For some reason, they found it inexpressibly silly and funny that I should have been sitting there verbally interacting with a cat!
I found it equally silly and funny that they did not understand that one could.

I was sometimes reminded of that incident whenever family members would begin to recount stories and memories of our childhood days, yet, from then until now, i still do not see what they could possibly have found so strange or amusing.

All life that is sentient, is therefore conscious. 

It is incredibly important for us to take this statement seriously and give it the consideration that it deserves. Day after day we can witness around us acts of callousness and cruelty of which most people are not even aware. They are not aware because they simply do not acknowledge that other life forms are sentient and therefore feel and respond to energy, moods and pain, just as we do. This is an extremely crucial point to understand if we are ever to come into greater harmony with all other life forms with whom we share this world.

The various forms of sentient life may not speak our language but there is a place where understanding can occur naturally no matter what the outer form may be.

Many who 'own' so-called 'pets' become conscious of this truth by necessity of close association and yet somehow they often continue to exclude other forms of life. If we can ever begin to question our assumptions and reactions towards all living beings we would quickly be forced to change many long-held beliefs. If we want to allow the extraordinary biodiversity of life on our planet to continue to, not only exist but thrive, then a shift must take place in our perception.

At the moment human beings predominantly have the supremely arrogant view that everything in nature, be it animal, plant or mineral, exists for their use and convenience alone.

How utterly arrogant and barbaric is this view?

Thankfully, this is beginning to change, there is something of an awakening in the consciousness of a growing number of people. It is not yet widespread, but there is a shift beginning to take place. Many of the so-called primitive societies understood and lived by the natural laws of respectful and sustainable co-existence. But in recent human history, most of these natural, intuitive qualities have been lost and forgotten.

Awareness does not discriminate between forms. It is the inherent nature of all sentient life, however, and where ever it may appear...

What we begin to see now, even though it is in a very nascent stage, is something of a quiet opening and awakening. At this time it is just a few people who are paving the way in 'interspecies communication,' but their work is sending out ripples, which in time will have a profound impact on the way we view the 'living world' around us.

However, each and every one of us can help to accelerate this process through our every day small deeds and by changing the way we think.

Then, like a shift in the tide, almost imperceptibly but slowly with a gathering momentum it can begin to catch on and start challenging old and previously unquestioned 'beliefs.'

There will come a time when we will look back on current accepted norms and behaviours and be amazed that we could live in such a barbaric and unaware world such as we have been living in for so long. It would seem that the more, so-called advanced today's societies think themselves to be, the more unaware and brutal they actually are. The effect that this mode of thinking is having upon our planet and the lives that we share with is self-evident.

When ingrained beliefs begin to undergo a metamorphosis when we begin to become aware of who and what we really are, we can not help but start to notice that this same 'being-ness' which is in us, also pervades everything else. Everything includes everything, animals, plants, insects, and the planet on which we live, move and have our being.

The inter-connectedness, which binds us all inseparably, due to the fact of our being aware and alive, is vaster and more thoroughly integrating than our mind can ever really comprehend or grasp, therefore we need to move beyond mind in order to begin to really get a sense of the underlying reality from which all of life emerges.

The implications of such a shift in awareness are truly immense.

An appreciation of the unity and sacredness of all life is integral to awakening to our own awareness.

Awakened Beings have long understood the inter-connectedness and inherent divinity in all sentient life forms. From the Buddha to Ramana Maharshi, and countless others besides, great sages have communicated with animals in such a natural way which is completely respectful of who and what really exists. For Them this truth is a living reality, not something to be questioned or doubted, Their experience which moves from the heart in an ever fresh exuberance of being, is a timeless and constant affirmation of unity in diversity.

Those who stayed near Ramana Maharshi and who were honoured to witness His many exchanges and relationships with animals, birds, and at times also the plant life, took it all quite for-granted. The animals simply became a part of the life of the ashram. The Maharshi treated them all as His own children, showing them the same care and respect that He bestowed upon all the people who were drawn to be near Him.

A Jnani can differentiate between the different forms of life, but to Him, all are inherently 'divine.'

All are sacred 'drops' from the same sacred ocean of life.

The changes which can be initiated by humans in their interaction and effect upon the different kingdoms of life, begin in our mind and in our thinking. When the energy of the heart is enabled to speak through the mind anything becomes possible. This is not mushy, sentimental talk, but truth based on a profound and inherent law in nature that always moves towards harmony and balance.

As in all things, we are inevitably drawn back to the one and central tenet, the inherent 'divinity' within all sentient life.

To find out who and what we really are is so vital in reclaiming our true inheritance and in recognising that all living beings have an equal claim in this same inexhaustible spring of life. However we, as human beings, hold a unique position and responsibility within the kingdoms of nature.

We have the capacity to know and recognise who and what we really are and to live and let live by this truth.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Negativity. We Can Dissolve it at the Core

In these days and times, it can sometimes feel as though we are surrounded by negativity. There is our own negativity; that which
other people convey and also the negativity that we see going on around us in the environment.

Yet, it is said that 'all of our moods and emotions arise from the mind,' which basically means that, to find any peace and happiness in this world, it is essential to understand what the true nature of the mind really is.

To embark upon this huge undertaking, however, requires a high degree of weariness with the trappings and ways of our usual habitual reactions to life and what we perceive to be happening to us and around us. Most people have not quite reached that stage in their dissatisfaction levels, as yet. To bring about the kind of focused enquiry needed for this sort of investigation, it can require nothing short of a massive crisis to rip apart our preconceptions.

We usually need to be shaken to the very depths of our being before we can begin to wake up and look around us and question the reality of all the things that we usually take completely for granted.

Most of the time we just grind along in our little world of preconceptions, routines and general undefined negativity and the years rush by as we dig ourselves deeper and deeper into the mire.

Not all of us, however, are destined for a 'crisis,' whatever the crisis may be... We may instead be fated to the much greater danger of a comfortable, predictable existence which lulls us into the belief that nothing more is possible. With such an attitude we run the risk falling into the zombie-like state of sleepwalking our way through life. 

Even though we all know that one day we will die, nevertheless, like one who has been hypnotised, we continue to walk along the precipice, until suddenly one day we fall off the cliff. In the split second of the resurgence of our awareness, as we are being flung into the abyss, it is all a bit too late.

We can, however, keep certain things in mind, as we go about our daily routines. We need not necessarily rush off to a cave in the desert or in the mountains. A simple shift in attitude can greatly assist us in dispelling negativity while at the same time helping us to generate a far more positive mental atmosphere, which in turn, can make our living environment so much pleasanter for us and all those around us, to live in.

1. Perspective.
In the bad moments and on the bad days we can turn the mind outwards to take in a much vaster perspective. We have only to look up at the sky in order to do this. Remembering that countless worlds are circling around in the universe, we are forced to remember that we are so much more than we can ever think we are.

We may not be able to understand fully what this really means just now, but we can take it on good faith that it is true. After all, how could we actually exist in the first place? This is truly a mystery beyond anything the mind is capable of comprehending!

So turn your gaze upwards and open your heart...

2. Investigate and ask yourself, 'is this true?'
Whatever is happening in and around us is always changing. Our moods and our thoughts are constantly coming and going. Happy one moment and sad the next, how can we trust in any of these transient things. Rather it would serve us better to look into and ask ourselves, again and again, 'is this real? Is this true?' 

What seems true and real in one moment can appear to be quite the opposite in the next.

3. Remember the basic goodness of beings.
We hear about so many bad things in the news, we are constantly barraged with negative advertising and images and such brutality and violence. The media seems to have become a monster for endless negative regurgitation, and it can be such a 'downer.' Yet we have only to look around us to see how much beauty and goodness there is as well. 

In fact, if we are open to it, there are so many things in our environment that can bring us joy and they are simple and free and abundantly available. We have only to stop a moment and notice.

4. Be the witness at the centre of all happenings.
Being a witness of our lives and of our thoughts, we can create a little space between what is 'going on' and how we perceive ourselves to be. This 'space' opens up a supreme opportunity to encounter who and what we really are. As the 'witness' we can be in this world and yet not of it...

5. Give yourself moments of deep quietude. 
If we can give ourselves the gift of  'silence' in the moments when we do not engage our mind in any kind of thought activity then, in the very midst of life, we can experience a deep silence and peace which is profoundly refreshing. Even just a few moments spent inquietude can change our whole mood and perspective.

6. Put aside some time each day to do something that you find uplifting.

Some people get immense pleasure from gardening and in assisting things to grow, others delight in their particular field of work, some are transported by music, still others take enjoyment in swimming, or running or sailing...

Whatever it is that lifts our mind out of the drudgery of daily routines and thought patterns and reminds us that often the greatest joys can be found in the simplest of pursuits, then, we can be blessed with a gift which is far more precious than anything that money can buy.

7. Smile at someone or extend a helping hand.

It is so easy to miss an opportunity to bring a little happiness or ease into another beings life, yet these chances can appear at any time and invariably they require little more than a slight effort. I remember one of my teachers telling me, 'if you see a beautiful flower, take note of it and offer the merit born of your delight, so that all beings may find peace and happiness.' This simple gesture can be practised in a whole multitude of situations and in an instant can transform the ordinary mind into a positive creator for good.

8. Ponder over, and remember impermanence and change.

Our world and everything in it is subject to the law of impermanence and change. This is a fact that we encounter every single day of our lives. Somehow we learn to live on in spite of it and yet how much more beneficial might it be if we could remain alert to this fact with a freshness that would make everyday matter and each moment count.

If none of the above tips really resonates for us then at the very least we can remember...

Which just about sums it all up!

Have a great day and put a smile on yours and someone else's face. Go on, its easier than you think...

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Like the Rays of the Setting Sun

Our lives are running out like the rays of the setting sun,
Death is closing in like the lengthening shadows of evening.
Now what is left of this life will vanish as fast as the last rays of light.
There is no time to waste...

from Patrul Rinpoche's 
Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones

Recently, my nephew; the eldest son of my older sister, passed away.
No one had seen it coming. No one was prepared or forewarned.
It was shocking. He was only thirty-seven years old.

If we ever need to be reminded of our mortality, the untimely passing of someone close to us and young in years is perhaps the most poignant.

It raises all manner of questions and stirs the inner flame of fear and uncertainty, even if on a deep and unrecognised level, of what is awaiting us all.

Death is such a mystery, it is such a profound 'unknown.'
To move through life as though death will somehow never touch us is to float in the vast uncertainty in a tiny bubble of illusion.

Every breath that we draw is bringing us that much closer to the 'great leveller.'

Nickolas was the only other Buddhist in my family. He found enormous comfort in the teachings of the Buddha and most particularly in the teachings on compassion.

He never missed an opportunity to reach out and embrace those he loved and let them know it. His compassion had not yet matured into the 'great compassion' of the enlightened ones but he was on his way.

His mother, Jana was distraught in a manner that is unbearable to witness and in the manner of all mothers who lose a child seemingly before their time.

Naturally, she wanted his funeral to be just as he would want it to be. After all, this would be the last thing that she could do for him in this world. At the time of his passing, Nickolas had been living in a different town from his mother. As the body was kept for autopsy Jana made the journey there only once it was released and taken to the funeral home.

If she could have, she would have taken it to the Buddhist centre but the wishes of other family members had to be respected and so a compromise was reached. Nickolas's mother is not a Buddhist and knows very little of its ways and teachings and yet in her sincere desire and need to express her love for her eldest son she tapped into an intuitive spring in her being and let it flow.

Without knowing why she insisted that his body should be placed facing the west, even though it was against the norms of the funeral home. Yet by facing the body towards the west, in the direction of the setting sun, she was honouring a Buddhist tradition of deep and ancient origin.

Prior to releasing his body, the directors of the funeral home warned her to be prepared. They told her that her son would not appear as she was used to seeing him and that she and another family member who was with her, may find it very distressing. Jana immediately requested them to clothe him in the Buddhist robes in which he had taken his Bodhisattva vows and she explained how they should be draped.

Then, a small miracle happened. The disfigured, anguished and contorted features of the young man suddenly gave way to a peaceful and beatific countenance. The funeral home staff were confounded and deeply moved by this inexplicable and yet undeniable shift.

With all his special things around him in the small room set aside for him at the funeral home, it quickly took on the atmosphere of a simple shrine. Lamps were lit and a calm and peaceful atmosphere began to saturate the place.

Why is it important for each and every one of us to acknowledge our mortality?
Precisely because our lives are running out like the rays of the setting sun...

We do not know the hour or the place and yet there in the distance, faintly echoing on the evening breezes, the owl is calling our name.
That hollow and resounding echo reminds of how fragile and
fleeting is our time upon this earth.

We must value it deeply and try to never waste a single moment in pettiness and dissipation. Our lives are a gift in which we are given the chance to recognise who and what we really are.

Many think that this is something only a very rare few are capable of perceiving but this is far from true. All of us are inextricably linked to our divine inmost nature and through the blessing of life, we can begin to realise this innate inner treasure.

Each of us in our own and unique way must discover who and what we really are by whatever means that can aid us upon our way.
Right here, right now. Before there are regrets and before it is too late.

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 Maharshi'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. The 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 the 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 the 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)

 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...


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.