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Previous Comments By 'somik.raha'

Aliveness and Harmony, by Christopher Alexander

FaceBook  On Jan 7, 2014 Somik Raha wrote:

Jodi, unfortunately, when this was written (in 1979), it wasn't politically incorrect to use the male gender for generalizing humanity. This is true for many thinkers and writers who wrote earlier than a decade(for instance, Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi and others). Kudos to you for taking the time to rewrite it in a way that made it more resonant for you.

 

Beauty Harmonizes Law and Liberty, by Rabindranath Tagore

FaceBook  On Dec 17, 2013 Hindi Translator wrote:

 Translation in Hindi.. सौंदर्य नियम अौर अाज़ादी को मिलाती है एक सुन्दर कविता, परखें तो, अलग शब्दों का झुंड है| कविता का रस, वो अन्दरी माध्यम जो बाहरी शब्दों को जोड़ता है, जिसे दिखे, उसे मिले पूर्ण नियम जिसका कभी उल्लंघन नहीं होता| वो नियम जिस्से सोच का विकास होता है; संगीत अौर आकार का नियम| पर नियम अपने प्रकार की एक सीमा होती है| वो सिर्फ इतना दिखाती है कि जो है वो कुछ अौर नहीं हो सकता| जब इंसान कारण के खोज में व्यस्त हो जाता है, उस्का मन तथ्यों के जकड़ से छूटकर नियम के जकड़ में अा गिरता है| भाशा सीखते हुए जब व्याकरण समझ आये तो वो एक उपलब्धी है| पर उस मकाम पर अटक जायेें अौर व्याकरण के चमत्कार में ही बंध जायें, उस्के हर नियम के कारण को खोजते रहें, तो हम अंत तक पहुंच नहीं पायेंगे -- क्योंकी व्याकरण साहित्य नहीं है, छंद शास्त्र कविता नहीं है| साहित्य तक पहुंचें तो देखें कि वो व्याकरण को  See full.

 Translation in Hindi..

सौंदर्य नियम अौर अाज़ादी को मिलाती है

एक सुन्दर कविता, परखें तो, अलग शब्दों का झुंड है|
कविता का रस, वो अन्दरी माध्यम जो बाहरी शब्दों को जोड़ता है, जिसे दिखे, उसे मिले पूर्ण नियम जिसका कभी उल्लंघन नहीं होता|
वो नियम जिस्से सोच का विकास होता है; संगीत अौर आकार का नियम|

पर नियम अपने प्रकार की एक सीमा होती है|
वो सिर्फ इतना दिखाती है कि जो है वो कुछ अौर नहीं हो सकता|
जब इंसान कारण के खोज में व्यस्त हो जाता है, उस्का मन तथ्यों के जकड़ से छूटकर नियम के जकड़ में अा गिरता है|
भाशा सीखते हुए जब व्याकरण समझ आये तो वो एक उपलब्धी है|
पर उस मकाम पर अटक जायेें अौर व्याकरण के चमत्कार में ही बंध जायें, उस्के हर नियम के कारण को खोजते रहें, तो हम अंत तक पहुंच नहीं पायेंगे -- क्योंकी व्याकरण साहित्य नहीं है, छंद शास्त्र कविता नहीं है|

साहित्य तक पहुंचें तो देखें कि वो व्याकरण को मानते हुए भी अानन्द का ज़रिया है, आज़ादी है|
कविता की सुदंरता नियमों से सख्त सीमित है, पर वो नियमों के परे भी है|
उसका आकार नियम में है, पर उसकी भावना सौंदर्य में है|
नियम अाज़ादी का पहला कदम है, अौर सौंदर्य है पूर्ण मुक्ति जो नियम के आधार पर खड़ा है|
सौंदर्य अपने में मिलाती है सीमा अौर असीम, नियम अौर आज़ादी|

विश्व कविता में, उसके लय के नियम का खोज, उसकी बड़ायी अौर छोटायी का माप, उसका चलना अौर रुकना, उसके अाकार अौर चरित्र के विकास का पीछा करना, ये सब मन के सच्चे उपलब्धी हैं; पर हम यहां रुक नहीं सकते|
ये एक रेलवे स्टेशन है, हमारा घर नहीं|

      

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A Servant Leader, by Vinoba Bhave

FaceBook  On Oct 30, 2012 Be Happy wrote:

Vinoba wrote in English at a time when it was common to use the sweeping "men" to refer to both men and women. This has only recently changed. English was not his mother tongue. In the Indian languages, there tends to be an emphasis on "humans" over "men" and "women" - if he were communicating in his own tongue, this issue would not have come up as he would have used the term "manushya" for human. Be that as it may, I totally agree with the sentiment that women have tended to be our unsung servant leaders. No less a leader than Gandhi admitted that he had learned ahimsa from his wife. In my own life, my hero has been my grandmother, who was the rock of our family. Having her in my life has been my blessing. She would support my grandfather, who felt he was the star. He would write lots of books on spiritual matters, and she would be his humble typist. I took a summer vacation to go live with them when I was 15. I still remember that one day he got annoyed with her and told her, "You are not fit for me." She remained calm and equanimous, while I broke down, horrified. Both of them comforted me, with my grandfather feeling ashamed, and my grandmother telling me not to mind it.  While my grandfather had a lot of intellectual clarity, my grandmother lived it. She not only supported her own family's journey but those of her neighbors and anyone else who crossed her path. Her prayer would not be, "may their suffering be alleviated," rather, it would be, "may their suffering leave them and come onto me." That kind of prayer requires a level of strength that I am yet to develop.  Toward the end of her life, she called my grandfather on her deathbed, and told him that she was here so he could complete working out his own journey. He did not realize it, but that is what she had focused on all her life. He had to complete for her sake, and he had very little time left. For completi  See full.

Vinoba wrote in English at a time when it was common to use the sweeping "men" to refer to both men and women. This has only recently changed. English was not his mother tongue. In the Indian languages, there tends to be an emphasis on "humans" over "men" and "women" - if he were communicating in his own tongue, this issue would not have come up as he would have used the term "manushya" for human.

Be that as it may, I totally agree with the sentiment that women have tended to be our unsung servant leaders. No less a leader than Gandhi admitted that he had learned ahimsa from his wife. In my own life, my hero has been my grandmother, who was the rock of our family. Having her in my life has been my blessing. She would support my grandfather, who felt he was the star. He would write lots of books on spiritual matters, and she would be his humble typist. I took a summer vacation to go live with them when I was 15. I still remember that one day he got annoyed with her and told her, "You are not fit for me." She remained calm and equanimous, while I broke down, horrified. Both of them comforted me, with my grandfather feeling ashamed, and my grandmother telling me not to mind it. 

While my grandfather had a lot of intellectual clarity, my grandmother lived it. She not only supported her own family's journey but those of her neighbors and anyone else who crossed her path. Her prayer would not be, "may their suffering be alleviated," rather, it would be, "may their suffering leave them and come onto me." That kind of prayer requires a level of strength that I am yet to develop. 

Toward the end of her life, she called my grandfather on her deathbed, and told him that she was here so he could complete working out his own journey. He did not realize it, but that is what she had focused on all her life. He had to complete for her sake, and he had very little time left. For completion, he had to forgive everyone who he felt had wronged him, and let go of all grudges. Hearing all this, my grandfather, who always thought of himself as her teacher, broke down. He spent the next six months after her passing a changed man, following her advice and withdrawing from the world, after which he too passed on.

Vivekananda used to strongly say that it was a terrible idea to discriminate between genders in spirituality - the spirit has no gender, and women don't need the permission of men to access their own spirituality. A beautiful and inspiring story comes to us from the Yoga Vashishtha, which tells us of King Shikhidhwaj and Queen Chudala. The queen was far ahead in spiritual matters. One day her husband announced that he was done with the material world and would go to the forest for enlightenment. She told him to go right ahead and she would take care of the kingdom. This being an Indian story, and that too a Yogic one, she could see in meditation that her husband was totally miserable in the forest, being bitten by flies and far away from renunciation. She knew that if she went and instructed him, he wouldn't take it. So, she changed her form to that of a male hermit, and then told him, "You are doing it all wrong." His mind opened up enough to receive instruction from his wife, who then helped him to realize that waking up required separation from the ego, and just by virtue of being in a forest, he wasn't going to get there. This is a remarkable story, quite unparalleled in the Yogic tradition.

I feel that modern efforts for gender equality in language are good as far as they go, but they don't go far enough to celebrate the unique strength and wisdom that women servant leaders have shown us. I must end by celebrating CFMom, who (along with CFDad) serves as a rock for Wednesday meditations, no matter what her health is, so we may all further our journey. It is no easy task to cook for so many people, and she has done this for 15 years now! Her gratitude at being of service deepens our own commitment to servant leadership.

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Science As Spiritual Practice, by Adam Frank

FaceBook  On Apr 4, 2012 Somik Raha wrote:
Lovely reflection, Jim! Very inspired to read it. 
 

Nothing Left to Fight Against, by Zenkei Blanche Hartman

FaceBook  On Mar 13, 2012 Somik Raha wrote:
 Mira, what a great sharing!
 

Pilgrimage to Nonviolence, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

FaceBook  On Nov 17, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

Catherine wrote: However, I can say with a certaintly, that I have NOT found that "kindness begets kindness" as you say. Did the "kind" and innocent Jews receive "kindness" at the hands of the Nazis, or did they all "deserve it" somehow via acts of karma? That's where all this falls down for me. Along with the reaction and problems I am having with this current nonprofit, who apparently has something to hide. Did I bring that on myself by asking for information? Was I not "kind" enough in my simple, factual request?   If we go deep into the Nazi regime, we find two things. First, people, Nazi or otherwise, have a strange tendency to bow down to authority (and you refer to this). So, when given an order from above, they mindlessly follow it. People during that time in Germany were at the pinnacle of culture, and yet, their ethical apparatus failed them. How do we know if that is a whitewash, or if they really felt something was wrong? All you have to do is look at how many people either committed suicide or died every day with their guilt. And those that didn't were hounded all around in society (as Nazi war criminals). There should be no doubt in your mind that most people of that time paid a big price for being a part of the regime. Getting to the Jews, we may presume that many were kind to others and led lives of service. The test of whether that brought back kindness is how much loved they were in their own communities, and there too you will find that many well-respected and loved people existed and were sent to the gas chambers.    Second, the Nazi phenomenon was a unique event in our history, made possible by a tremendous concentration of power and dehumanization. You might be surprised that the first counting machines were developed in Germany to tabulate the census, which was used to identify where all the Jews where. Massive deception made it possible to hide the brutality that was t  See full.

Catherine wrote:
However, I can say with a certaintly, that I have NOT found that "kindness begets kindness" as you say. Did the "kind" and innocent Jews receive "kindness" at the hands of the Nazis, or did they all "deserve it" somehow via acts of karma?

That's where all this falls down for me. Along with the reaction and problems I am having with this current nonprofit, who apparently has something to hide. Did I bring that on myself by asking for information? Was I not "kind" enough in my simple, factual request?
 
If we go deep into the Nazi regime, we find two things. First, people, Nazi or otherwise, have a strange tendency to bow down to authority (and you refer to this). So, when given an order from above, they mindlessly follow it. People during that time in Germany were at the pinnacle of culture, and yet, their ethical apparatus failed them. How do we know if that is a whitewash, or if they really felt something was wrong? All you have to do is look at how many people either committed suicide or died every day with their guilt. And those that didn't were hounded all around in society (as Nazi war criminals). There should be no doubt in your mind that most people of that time paid a big price for being a part of the regime. Getting to the Jews, we may presume that many were kind to others and led lives of service. The test of whether that brought back kindness is how much loved they were in their own communities, and there too you will find that many well-respected and loved people existed and were sent to the gas chambers. 
 
Second, the Nazi phenomenon was a unique event in our history, made possible by a tremendous concentration of power and dehumanization. You might be surprised that the first counting machines were developed in Germany to tabulate the census, which was used to identify where all the Jews where. Massive deception made it possible to hide the brutality that was to unfold. If the local Germans had known what was up, I wonder what would have happened. As an example, when German society found out that autistic and mentally challenged children were being killed under a program for that was deceptively labeled. When the public found out, the government had to stop it. The extent of secrecy was so massive that not until World War II ended did people find out what went on at the camps. Mass cruelty is possible (I find) when massive secrecy is at play.
 
More later...  

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Pilgrimage to Nonviolence, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

FaceBook  On Nov 17, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

 AtoZ, Catherine and Thierry, thank you so much for your comments!

AtoZ, I agree with you on many counts, and will focus on the differences. Darwin's ideas have been interpreted in the mainstream as "survival of the fittest," but when we are talking about the social sphere, an alternate hypothesis is "survival of the kindest." From at least my limited personal experience and evidence I've recieved from others, it seems to me that those who are kind to others, don't manipulate others, and love unconditionally get back what they give. So do those who don't. Perhaps you can validate if you feel like harming those who are kind to you (my bet is you are inclined to reciprocate). A much broader principle than Darwin's seems to be, "What goes around, comes around." Even our planet is shaped that way :).

Catherine, I can tell you where that monk story came from, but I am not sure that you would find that satisfactory. I find it much more helpful to test how far I can go than get wowed by legends of others. In that sense, I am totally with you. I find it helpful to locate my edge, and then test if I can go beyond it. 

To me, nonviolence is a practice that does not have prescriptive solutions (like being vegetarian or staying away from physical violence). It is far more subtle. If I take an act of violence, and claim that my mind is nonviolent, how do I know that I'm not fooling myself? One useful test I've found is this: Is my action a reaction beyond my control, or did I select that option amongst several as the wisest thing to do, grounded on the principle of seeing unity with all?

Most of the time, my answer to this question has been the former, but the latter is an important aspiration. 

 

Pilgrimage to Nonviolence, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

FaceBook  On Nov 17, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

 AtoZ, I half-agree with you. I totally agree with you write that protesting with physical nonviolence while hating those we protest against is not really an example of nonviolence. Gandhi's nonviolence was at the level of the mind - even a thought of negativity or hatred against another had to be watched carefully and not allowed to take hold. For that thought is the grandfather of action.

On trying nonviolence with animals, in India's age-old tradition of monks, we have heard of monks who have offered themselves to hungry animals out of compassion. Turns out the animal refused to eat em at times, and at others they did. Made no difference to the monk.

The reason one would practice nonviolence, according to MLK and Gandhi, is not to strategically manipulate others, but to fill oneself with love and transcend the "us vs them" duality.  Gandhi himself wrote that he was mistaken when early on, he proclaimed nonviolence as a weapon of the weak and the coward. Later on, after he had experimented with it, he remarked that nonviolence is a weapon of the bravest of the brave. Cowards should resort to violence, according to him, so that they get brave enough to try nonviolence.

In my mind, the action is secondary - it is the thought that is primary. The surgeon's knife performs violence on a patient but with the intent to heal. Sometimes in life, we may be called upon to resist with our bodies. The real test of nonviolence is whether, whatever action has been in front of us, was carried out without a trace of hatred. That is what the ancients refer to as "fight like a yogi." Practically speaking, most of the time, when I uproot hatred, a larger repertoire of actions becomes available that do not involve physical violence. Of course, I remain open about this, as it is an ongoing experiment.

 

Fool Realization, by Steve Bhaerman

FaceBook  On Oct 6, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

Yoghio --> I would be inclined to agree with your comment if Swami B was saying, "The joke is on Jesus." However, it seems to me that he is saying the exact opposite, "The joke is on the persecutors of Jesus, who inspite of their huge efforts, could not suppress him."

I once asked a monk, "Sir, we all like to think we are following Karma Yoga (Finding unity through action), but how do I know that I am not fooling myself, and just performing egoistic action?" 

The monk replied, "When all your projects fail, and you still have the ability to laugh with authenticity, then you will know that you are following karma yoga."

The humour that allows us to develop a deeper awareness of who we are is no less a path than others in the journey of self-development

 

Fool Realization, by Steve Bhaerman

FaceBook  On Oct 4, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

 Great reflection, Susan!

 

You Are Not a Prisoner, by Andrew Cohen

FaceBook  On Aug 20, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

This is in response to James' comment. Some years back, my professor shared a gem with me. The context of our conversation was Ayn Rand, and someone had praised Rand.Me: I find it very hard to follow Ayn Rand's philosophy, after learning that she died insane. I was very influenced by her writing, but decided to throw it all out after knowing about her personal life. (I was wrong about her dying insane, don't know how I came to believe that)Prof: I used to know a Buddhist teacher many years back, who was very high up in this country. He used to give wonderful enlightening sermons. Then one day, he was found to be a pedophile. I found myself questioning whether the knowledge I'd received from him should be thrown away. It was clear to me that whatever he had said about truth, compassion and love was invaluable, and had helped me in my own life. Nothing he did changed the value of his message for me, so it made no sense to throw out what he said because he could not live up to it. The value was for me to keep.This was an eye-opening conversation for me. Prior to this conversation, I would leave gold behind just because it was offered with dirty hands. The moment I learned of some weakness that someone had, I'd throw out all the value I had received from that source. After this conversation, there was a great sense of freedom. It didn't matter to me what the person had done. We are all human - and we make mistakes all the time. I don't care who is carrying gold in their hands - I will take gold when I see it. I know that my life is so much richer because of this change in my mental operating system. I am happy to learn from all. (Of course, it took some years to format the system, and the work is still in progress).Stepping it up, this philosophy has big implications. What if someone tells me that Krishna/Rama/Jesus/etc. were mythical characters - never existed! Suppose all of modern science backs up this assertion. The real test of whether I  See full.

This is in response to James' comment. Some years back, my professor shared a gem with me. The context of our conversation was Ayn Rand, and someone had praised Rand.

Me: I find it very hard to follow Ayn Rand's philosophy, after learning that she died insane. I was very influenced by her writing, but decided to throw it all out after knowing about her personal life. (I was wrong about her dying insane, don't know how I came to believe that)

Prof: I used to know a Buddhist teacher many years back, who was very high up in this country. He used to give wonderful enlightening sermons. Then one day, he was found to be a pedophile. I found myself questioning whether the knowledge I'd received from him should be thrown away. It was clear to me that whatever he had said about truth, compassion and love was invaluable, and had helped me in my own life. Nothing he did changed the value of his message for me, so it made no sense to throw out what he said because he could not live up to it. The value was for me to keep.

This was an eye-opening conversation for me. Prior to this conversation, I would leave gold behind just because it was offered with dirty hands. The moment I learned of some weakness that someone had, I'd throw out all the value I had received from that source. After this conversation, there was a great sense of freedom. It didn't matter to me what the person had done. We are all human - and we make mistakes all the time. I don't care who is carrying gold in their hands - I will take gold when I see it. I know that my life is so much richer because of this change in my mental operating system. I am happy to learn from all. (Of course, it took some years to format the system, and the work is still in progress).

Stepping it up, this philosophy has big implications. What if someone tells me that Krishna/Rama/Jesus/etc. were mythical characters - never existed! Suppose all of modern science backs up this assertion. The real test of whether I've understood the Gita/Ramayana/Bible at all is if I can say, without batting an eyelid, "Makes no difference! I have read and consumed the Gita/Ramayana/Bible, and it helps me every day of my life. My thanks to whoever concocted it- it is most helpful." This test can be applied to every religion, every sect, every order, and yes, even to science. It should not matter to us if Darwin or Galileo ever existed, or what indiscretions they indulged in. 

What they have left behind is for us to experience in our own lives, and if we find value in that, why should we impoverish our lives by throwing it away?

In this piece, it seems to me that the value lies in reflecting on our "conviction in no-limitation," a grand idea that is entirely worthy of our time and attention. There may be edges - many people don't meditate and are yet convinced about their limitlessness. But the idea of our limitless creativity is an empowering one, notwithstanding our personal failings in living such an idea.

 

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Paradox of Noise, by Gunilla Norris

FaceBook  On May 25, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

Very interesting thoughts from Ganoba. It brought up for me the notion of levels of awareness. At a gross level, I live in a dual world, where I am not you and you are not me. At a subtle level, my sharp dual boundaries blur, and this is where I start noticing paradoxes. At an undifferentiated level, there are no boundaries, and I cannot ask any rational questions, because there is no "I" to begin with. While some philosophies advocate for the undifferentiated level as the elixir of human achievement, I find a lot more depth in India's ancient Upanishads that makes me think twice before making a black-and-white judgment. For instance, the Isha Upanishad has the following in it (verse 9, quoting Aurobindo's translation):   Into a blind darkness they enter who follow after the Ignorance, they as if into a greater darkness who devote themselves to the Knowledge alone.   This is one of the most mysterious verses that unpacks its meaning when examined in the three dimensions of reality. The Vedas call all rational pursuits "avidya" or "ignorance," including the Vedas themselves, ascribing rationality to the gross level. :) Knowledge, or "vidya," is about direct experience, and exists at the level of undifferentiated reality. The subtle realm is where we dance from one to the other - there is nothing supernatural about it, or as Chris would say, it is "super" natural. Whenever we've felt love for someone, we've reached though the gross and into the undifferentiated.  What this sloka seems to be saying is that those who pursue gross reality (which also includes intellectual spiritual inquiry, such as this comment) are in darkness. And those who pursue undifferentiated reality (direct experience) are in even greater darkness! How can that be? That can only be if the underlying reality (or darkness) between the gross and the undifferentiated are one and the same, and it is a deep mistake to thin  See full.

Very interesting thoughts from Ganoba. It brought up for me the notion of levels of awareness. At a gross level, I live in a dual world, where I am not you and you are not me. At a subtle level, my sharp dual boundaries blur, and this is where I start noticing paradoxes. At an undifferentiated level, there are no boundaries, and I cannot ask any rational questions, because there is no "I" to begin with.

While some philosophies advocate for the undifferentiated level as the elixir of human achievement, I find a lot more depth in India's ancient Upanishads that makes me think twice before making a black-and-white judgment. For instance, the Isha Upanishad has the following in it (verse 9, quoting Aurobindo's translation):

 

Into a blind darkness they enter who follow after the Ignorance, they as if into a greater darkness who devote themselves to the Knowledge alone.

 

This is one of the most mysterious verses that unpacks its meaning when examined in the three dimensions of reality. The Vedas call all rational pursuits "avidya" or "ignorance," including the Vedas themselves, ascribing rationality to the gross level. :) Knowledge, or "vidya," is about direct experience, and exists at the level of undifferentiated reality. The subtle realm is where we dance from one to the other - there is nothing supernatural about it, or as Chris would say, it is "super" natural. Whenever we've felt love for someone, we've reached though the gross and into the undifferentiated. 

What this sloka seems to be saying is that those who pursue gross reality (which also includes intellectual spiritual inquiry, such as this comment) are in darkness. And those who pursue undifferentiated reality (direct experience) are in even greater darkness! How can that be? That can only be if the underlying reality (or darkness) between the gross and the undifferentiated are one and the same, and it is a deep mistake to think one is different from the other. As Tagore so explicitly states in his poetry, there is no meaning in undifferentiated reality were it not for the gross.

On that note, when I was bringing Prof. Howard over to last Wednesday's guest talk, he commented, "Even reading the most boring book in the world is more interesting that being God." "God" is the term many cultures have ascribed to undifferentiated reality, and in that light, there is just infinite potential, but no expression. 

In summary, the mind that perceives paradoxes is just as right as the mind that perceives duality, as the mind that does not exist. Time for a good laugh now. :)

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New Atoms Doing the Same Dance, by Richard Feynman

FaceBook  On May 23, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

For some who've asked me about follow-up resources on Prof. Ron Howard's talk last Wednesday, here is the mail I sent out to those who attended.

Really loved reading the comments, especially PK's note, pointing out that we have the good and the bad in us. Also enjoyed Manasi's comment:

It seems to me that knowlegde conventionally is the pursuit of certainty rather than a willingness to open into the mystery; and very often is the product of an intellect than seeks constant validation of it's usefulness.

Unconventional knowledge is then the pursuit of uncertainty of the subjective kind (as if there's any other). :) 

 

Paradox of Noise, by Gunilla Norris

FaceBook  On May 21, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

The biggest paradox is that life is an unfolding joke meant for my entertainment, and yet, I forget to laugh. When we watch a comedy, a spectacular failure is thoroughly enjoyed, both by the audience, and the actors who enjoy making the audience laugh. Yet, as an actor in life, I forget that I am my own audience, and the spectacular failures are the whole point of my drama for myself, and I ought to be ROFL. Now that's funny by itself! :)

 

Full Effort is Full Victory, by Eknath Eswaran

FaceBook  On May 9, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

This passage resonated with my understanding of the fundamental principle of the field of decision analysis - a decision cannot be judged from the outcome. The quality of the decision can only be determine by the kind of effort that goes into it. It is foolish to use the quality of the outcome (that is apparent to everyone) as a proxy for the quality of the decision, for if we knew the outcomes resulting from our actions, we wouldn't have decisions to make. And yet, this conflation is the oldest mistake in the book of humankind.

Easwaran's article also refers to the indefatigable life force, that can be experienced whenever we serve selflessly with love. We are connecting to something bigger than us that nourishes and takes us forward. We cannot satisfactorily answer why this is the case, or what is really happening, but we can certainly experience this lightness and strength. The experience is nothing like the explanations we may have for it. :)

 

 

Giving Within For-Give-Ness, by Michael Bernard Beckwith

FaceBook  On Apr 26, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

Loved reading this. To fully practice this recommendation, there are some steps in between, and perhaps the most important one is to discover abundance within. Once that abundance is discovered, many cheeks are available. The practice helps us move from a cost-centric (look what you cost me) to a value-centric (look how inexhaustible I am) perspective. As Jesus said somewhere else, "Seek and ye shall find," why not seek abundance instead of victimhood.

 

Before You Know What Kindness Really Is, by Naomi Shihab Nye

FaceBook  On Apr 18, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

On the interplay of kindness and sorrow, the story that has inspired me the most comes from India's ancient epic, "The Mahabharata." A powerful emperor decided to give away his wealth to his citizens in the largest giving ceremonies of those times. In his court, everyone was astonished at how much he gave away, leading some to declare that this was the greatest giving that mankind had witnessed.

"Pooh!" came a voice. As everyone turned to look, it was that of a squirrel, who spoke cynically, "Hah! This is not the greatest giving at all." The squirrel had a body that was half golden and half brown. The angry courtiers asked the squirrel to explain himself.

The squirrel then told his story. "There lived a teacher in a village, who had been unable to get alms for many days. One day, he finally managed to get a little rice and rushed home delighted. He told his wife to make a meal that they would enjoy with their children, after having starved for many days. Just when they were about to begin their meal, there was a knock on the door, and a hungry traveler asked for a meal. Immediately, this teacher welcomed the traveler, and gave the family's entire meal which the traveler hungrily consumed, leaving nothing for his hosts. That night, the entire family perished of hunger. I was in their kitchen, and one morsel of rice that lay on the floor touched my body, immediately burning it to a golden color. Since then, I have been searching for another great giving so that the other half of my body may also turn to gold, but I have been unsuccessful in finding such a giving." 

Whenever I feel generosity is wanting in me, that teacher greatly inspires me to take one more step.

 

A 9-Year-Old's Hidden Self, by Jacob Needleman

FaceBook  On Apr 12, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

This passage reminded me of a chat my wife and I had with a monk. We expressed a desire to meet with spiritual teachers and film Q&A with them so others can also benefit from it. The Dalai Lama came up, and this monk said, "The Dalai Lama says a lot of insightful things, but that is not what is really important about it. What is important is that he says it."

In the spiritual and intellectual realms, two opposite standards apply. In the former, the purity of the individual and the presence is what connects and makes all else irrelevant. In the intellectual world, I remember the distinction my professor made between a regular bow and a crossbow. An opinion is like firing an arrow from a regular bow. The distance the arrow goes depends on the personality who shoots it. Whereas, an argument is like a crossbow. Even a child can fire it and it will go the same distance. An argument lives on beyond the personality. Is there any contradiction between these two?

I don't think so. The same professor always had great presence when decimating my argument, and I never once felt humiliated. Rather, there was so much gratitude for the new clarity gained. Ironically (or not), I have noticed that those who develop spiritually also end up purifying their intellect of noise, and it is not surprising that many great spiritual teachers have also been great logicians.

And then of course, there are the saints, in whose presence I forget my questions (or, to put it more accurately, my questions are rendered irrelevant). :)

 

A Deep, Uncritical Love, by Bhante Gunaratana

FaceBook  On Mar 29, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

  This piece brought up a couple of thoughts for me. First, I was talking to a friend just before coming here today and he asked me a question, "how do I know that the pleasure I feel during meditation is or isn't bliss?" As in, he was asking how to distinguish between pleasure (the good stuff with attachment) from bliss (the good stuff without attachment). The first response that came to me was what a monk I know would say, “Only you will know.” At another level, a great danger with meditation is attachment to sensations. Therefore, if my meditation activity makes me feel like wanting to sit again and again and I'm helpless, that meditation is creating more bondage than it's destroying. Meditation, if done properly, should lead to more awareness and more equanimity. In a sense, this passage seems to be answering the question "what is the goal of meditation?" Meditation is one of those strange tools that, although being a means to an end, is best practiced without an eye on the end. Indeed, the more we crave equanimity and awareness, the further we go from it. I also remembered when, after a round of meditation, I asked a monk, "could you please share some thoughts with us?" The monk shared some thoughts, two of which are relevant here. He said, "In this day and age, meditation is not sufficient for progress. One has to engage in action." After a pause, he continued, "In this day and age, action is not sufficient. One has to engage in meditation." :) Viral built on this idea with the comment (inspired by a monk), "Meditation is inner service. Service is outer meditation."    See full.

 

This piece brought up a couple of thoughts for me. First, I was talking to a friend just before coming here today and he asked me a question, "how do I know that the pleasure I feel during meditation is or isn't bliss?" As in, he was asking how to distinguish between pleasure (the good stuff with attachment) from bliss (the good stuff without attachment). The first response that came to me was what a monk I know would say, “Only you will know.” At another level, a great danger with meditation is attachment to sensations. Therefore, if my meditation activity makes me feel like wanting to sit again and again and I'm helpless, that meditation is creating more bondage than it's destroying. Meditation, if done properly, should lead to more awareness and more equanimity.

In a sense, this passage seems to be answering the question "what is the goal of meditation?" Meditation is one of those strange tools that, although being a means to an end, is best practiced without an eye on the end. Indeed, the more we crave equanimity and awareness, the further we go from it.

I also remembered when, after a round of meditation, I asked a monk, "could you please share some thoughts with us?" The monk shared some thoughts, two of which are relevant here. He said, "In this day and age, meditation is not sufficient for progress. One has to engage in action." After a pause, he continued, "In this day and age, action is not sufficient. One has to engage in meditation." :)

Viral built on this idea with the comment (inspired by a monk), "Meditation is inner service. Service is outer meditation."

 

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Freedom Manifests in Action, by Rabindranath Tagore

FaceBook  On Mar 10, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

Reading this, I was reminded of the censure that individualism generates these days, and remember shaking my head - I don't want to be the selfish individualist. However, I love the grandeur of Tagore's individualist, and want to hold on to life till the fruit is ripe. Why is one individualist position so obnoxious, and the other so sweet and desirable? On Sunday, Deepak Chopra was at the Santa Clara home of Wednesdays, and he said (quoting Rumi), "We are not a drop in the ocean, but the ocean in the drop." That metaphor helps resolve the confusion. The small individualist is a drop in the ocean, desperately trying to make a mark, from a position of increasing scarcity. The grand individualist has discovered the ocean in the drop, and cannot stop expressing/creating/giving through individuality. There is depression in the former, and joyful being in the latter. Makes all the difference. Deepak also shared that science was discovering that not only are we connected to each other at the emotional level, but also at the phsyical level, so much so that the notion of the individual is turning out to be a myth. If that is indeed the case, then why bother living? Why work? Why create anything? It seems to me that Tagore is raining down hard on the attitude that generates such questions, pointing out a colossal misunderstanding of unity. He is urging us to discover the ocean in the drop, and then shine out, for that is the game of creation.  As many pointed out last night, Tagore's individuality is about self-awareness - knowing what is coming through us, and getting out of the way without holding on to it. When Tagore talks about freedom, he says in other places that freedom has no meaning without creation, and creation is ALWAYS the creation of limitation, be it with materials or with thoughts. A distinction draws sharp limitations on what is and what is not something. Creating limitations is not the curtailment of our freedom, but the highest expression  See full.

Reading this, I was reminded of the censure that individualism generates these days, and remember shaking my head - I don't want to be the selfish individualist. However, I love the grandeur of Tagore's individualist, and want to hold on to life till the fruit is ripe. Why is one individualist position so obnoxious, and the other so sweet and desirable? On Sunday, Deepak Chopra was at the Santa Clara home of Wednesdays, and he said (quoting Rumi), "We are not a drop in the ocean, but the ocean in the drop." That metaphor helps resolve the confusion. The small individualist is a drop in the ocean, desperately trying to make a mark, from a position of increasing scarcity. The grand individualist has discovered the ocean in the drop, and cannot stop expressing/creating/giving through individuality. There is depression in the former, and joyful being in the latter. Makes all the difference.

Deepak also shared that science was discovering that not only are we connected to each other at the emotional level, but also at the phsyical level, so much so that the notion of the individual is turning out to be a myth. If that is indeed the case, then why bother living? Why work? Why create anything? It seems to me that Tagore is raining down hard on the attitude that generates such questions, pointing out a colossal misunderstanding of unity. He is urging us to discover the ocean in the drop, and then shine out, for that is the game of creation. 

As many pointed out last night, Tagore's individuality is about self-awareness - knowing what is coming through us, and getting out of the way without holding on to it. When Tagore talks about freedom, he says in other places that freedom has no meaning without creation, and creation is ALWAYS the creation of limitation, be it with materials or with thoughts. A distinction draws sharp limitations on what is and what is not something. Creating limitations is not the curtailment of our freedom, but the highest expression of it. That kind of creation only happens when we are aware of being an ocean in the drop, and not a drop in the ocean.

To make all this concrete, I've been trying to write an article on the problems in medicine and other fields that use classical statistics. I sent the article out to friends, and most wrote back saying it was confusing or unclear. One even asked me if I often get questions like "What do you mean?" Something was not right. I was bored reading my own article. I finally gave up and sat down to meditate. And then - a moment of clarity. What was missing in the article was my individuality, my life. I couldn't really tell that a living being had written this. What is the sign of life? How do we know that the ocean is finally making its presence felt in the drop? It is when limitations that are products of the drop are swept away by the ocean. It is when rules are broken, not with disgust or anger, but with a transcendent joy, and a dance begins. I am totally ruining that moment of clarity trying to articulate in words what simply can't be spoken of. But the net result of that moment was that I knew how to change the article. 

The article was not about methods, it was about life itself. It had to start with people that I could relate to. And to convey the hardest and most abstract idea, I had to take the help of the gods. Literally. So, I now have an article that talks about the Karthik and Ganesh, as the gods of two schools of scientific thought, one that limits knowledge-seeking to data gathering, and the other with a holistic view that incorporates beliefs. 

After rewriting it, the same people who were turned off by the previous one loved reading it. The big irony here (or insight really) is that a volition to serve is not enough. The article was intended to be of service. But it wasn't serving anyone in its initial form. Only after being touched by the ocean in the drop, understanding my own individuality and how it wanted to express itself, and honoring it in the best way possible can I produce something that actually helps others.

Here is the before and after piece.

There were awesome reflections from the circle. One shared a quote, "Don’t worry about what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive." 

Pavi shared about her yoga instructor who'd put her in constraining poses and then ask her to find freedom within the constraint. On these lines, Afreen shared a touching story of losing her freedom through an injury and being on crutches, and how two people she did not know bent down to remove her shoes on Sunday at Deepak Chopra's event.

Viral pointed out that freedom was in understanding oneself and choosing without reacting. Nipun shared about how we find a great deal of selfishness in individualist cultures and tremendous peer-pressure in collectivist cultures - pointing to a need for greater awareness in the moment instead of making generalizations. 

Jennifer pointed out how for her, expressing her freedom to create was not just about acting, but about deciding to be and not react. That would create a different space altogether.

Santosh shared a story about her daughter's interpretation of freedom which I hope she will share online.

Pancho hinted at a debate between Tagore and Gandhi. Tagore found Gandhi's ideas of everyone spinning the charkha distasteful. Why should painters, artists, poets, etc. be limited to one activity? Such constraints crush the soul. The poet should be free to lose himself/herself in the flight of a family of birds in the blue sky. Gandhi responded fondly, "Yes, but those are the birds that have had a hearty meal." Where does Gandhi's message of social justice fit in? Pancho raised the question on whether one can truly be free if one's brethren are not. The seeming contradiction was resolved in Pancho's next comment on the Dandi March when, Tagore asked Gandhi, "The entire nation is looking to you for action. What are you going to do?" Gandhi reportedly replied, "I don't know, but I'm praying." Praying was Gandhi's method of achieving clarity, and the fascinating thing for me to note is that Gandhi came up with a great expression of his own individuality - the salt march was an extremely creative idea, and there was great humor in every aspect of it. Gandhi wrote to the British detailing exactly what he was going to do - to make salt. They couldn't care less. And the rest is history.

We missed CFDad, who is at a 10-day retreat, serving. 

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Entertainment Vs. Art, by Lariv Athem

FaceBook  On Feb 7, 2011 Somik wrote:

You can find more articles by the author at this website

 

You Carry Your Wound, by Osho

FaceBook  On Feb 1, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

How do I find unity with people who tried to kill me or destroy me or harm me in some way? HOW TO DO THAT? What am I supposed to see as "good" in that? Are the Nazi Jew survivors supposed to see "good" in their captors? In India's first war of independence (1857), in the fighting, a soldier speared a monk who happened to be in the vicinity. As the monk lay dying, people overpowered the soldier and dragged him to the monk, asking how he was to be punished. The monk replied, "The one who speared me and the one who I've worshipped all my life are no different." He asked for the soldier to be forgiven in his last breath. The public did not listen to him and the soldier was put to death - that is another matter. If you believe in the divinity of all, and you believe that those who are evil do not have that same divinity in them, that is a contradiction. Gandhi's entire philosophy was around awakening the divine within the perpetrator. That involved love, not hate, which really comes from fear, which can be traced to not knowing the truth. As a mother who is superivising children on a beach, and sees the kids do wrong, the mother has to step in sometime, and mete out punishment, but she does so without a trace of hatred for her children, knowing this is in their best interest. That perspective, that height at which you can see another's interest as your own is what is called for. Gandhi did ask the Jews to stand up and be prepared to die without a trace of hatred for the Nazis. It is quite speculative to ask how that would have stopped the Nazis - we will never know because it was not tried and is a counterfactual question. I've read one essay on Gandhi and Hitler that I've found quite illuminating. One of the biggest copouts of our times is to think the Nazis as brutes, when infact, they were perhaps some of the most cultured people of their times. And yet, there were major ethical lapses. I have a professor who, in a moment of great  See full.

How do I find unity with people who tried to kill me or destroy me or harm me in some way? HOW TO DO THAT? What am I supposed to see as "good" in that? Are the Nazi Jew survivors supposed to see "good" in their captors?

In India's first war of independence (1857), in the fighting, a soldier speared a monk who happened to be in the vicinity. As the monk lay dying, people overpowered the soldier and dragged him to the monk, asking how he was to be punished. The monk replied, "The one who speared me and the one who I've worshipped all my life are no different." He asked for the soldier to be forgiven in his last breath. The public did not listen to him and the soldier was put to death - that is another matter.

If you believe in the divinity of all, and you believe that those who are evil do not have that same divinity in them, that is a contradiction. Gandhi's entire philosophy was around awakening the divine within the perpetrator. That involved love, not hate, which really comes from fear, which can be traced to not knowing the truth. As a mother who is superivising children on a beach, and sees the kids do wrong, the mother has to step in sometime, and mete out punishment, but she does so without a trace of hatred for her children, knowing this is in their best interest. That perspective, that height at which you can see another's interest as your own is what is called for.

Gandhi did ask the Jews to stand up and be prepared to die without a trace of hatred for the Nazis. It is quite speculative to ask how that would have stopped the Nazis - we will never know because it was not tried and is a counterfactual question. I've read one essay on Gandhi and Hitler that I've found quite illuminating.

One of the biggest copouts of our times is to think the Nazis as brutes, when infact, they were perhaps some of the most cultured people of their times. And yet, there were major ethical lapses. I have a professor who, in a moment of great clarity, cried for Hitler. He realized that because of Hitler, we had the greatest lessons in ethical clarity, and he took it upon himself to develop course material that involved, year after year, going through the Nazi decision-making apparatus, parsing out how ordinary people like us made decisions in those times, recognizing that times haven't really changed, and formulating an ethical code for ourselves to prevent similar lapses.

If you look at the Tibetan situation, the world had not really heard or cared about them. Because of the Chinese government's brutality, everyone knows about them and takes the time to understand their philosophy. Thanks to the Chinese, we have given ourselves the opportunity to help ourselves by receiving so much from the Tibetans. And thanks to the Tibetans' insistence on nonviolence, everyday Chinese are standing up for greater rights for all their citizens.

I would of course much rather have my ethics and philosophy lessons without having such violence visited upon fellow beings. However, your question was on what good can be seen in it, and this is the good that I see.

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You Carry Your Wound, by Osho

FaceBook  On Feb 1, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

Catherine, for any solution to be found, you will have to find unity with those who are the perceived victims, and those who are the perceived perpetrators. It is a partial view that sees one as good and not the other. Vivekananda also said that he who believes in a God that is all good believes in a one-legged God :). Buddha, said the same thing a little differently - pointing out that everything that we do has a good and a bad aspect, and at a deeper level, neither aspect. The object is to see things as they are. On damage to the environment, far more damage has been done by those who wanted to protect it, because the head was not combined with the heart. First, it is important to accept that the people who are supposedly creating problems are not outside the environment - they are also part of it. Second, in the long scheme of things, those who live unsustainably will get their due rewards, and things will balance out. Thus it is that every great city is ultimately ruined and lies ensconced in a jungle. That a jungle can come back gives us hope - nature will take care of itself in ways that we cannot know. Third, when we see the unity in all that exists, we start to recognize strange solutions. For instance, in Sri Lanka, elephants are considered to be pests by villagers, eating up valuable crops or damaging village homes. Therefore, elephant killing was rampant. The elephants, on their part, were attacking villages because their habitat had been eroded and they wanted food. Some action heros decided to do something - without judging either the elephant or the villagers as bad. They thought hard about the elephant, asking, "what is it that the elephant gives that humans can find useful?" It turns out that elephant poop is massive in its fiber content. It is also massive in quantity. Our action heros developed a process to convert elephant poop into paper, branded it as "Mr. Ellie Pooh," and sold it in the international markets at premium pri  See full.

Catherine, for any solution to be found, you will have to find unity with those who are the perceived victims, and those who are the perceived perpetrators. It is a partial view that sees one as good and not the other. Vivekananda also said that he who believes in a God that is all good believes in a one-legged God :). Buddha, said the same thing a little differently - pointing out that everything that we do has a good and a bad aspect, and at a deeper level, neither aspect. The object is to see things as they are.

On damage to the environment, far more damage has been done by those who wanted to protect it, because the head was not combined with the heart. First, it is important to accept that the people who are supposedly creating problems are not outside the environment - they are also part of it. Second, in the long scheme of things, those who live unsustainably will get their due rewards, and things will balance out. Thus it is that every great city is ultimately ruined and lies ensconced in a jungle. That a jungle can come back gives us hope - nature will take care of itself in ways that we cannot know.

Third, when we see the unity in all that exists, we start to recognize strange solutions. For instance, in Sri Lanka, elephants are considered to be pests by villagers, eating up valuable crops or damaging village homes. Therefore, elephant killing was rampant. The elephants, on their part, were attacking villages because their habitat had been eroded and they wanted food. Some action heros decided to do something - without judging either the elephant or the villagers as bad. They thought hard about the elephant, asking, "what is it that the elephant gives that humans can find useful?" It turns out that elephant poop is massive in its fiber content. It is also massive in quantity. Our action heros developed a process to convert elephant poop into paper, branded it as "Mr. Ellie Pooh," and sold it in the international markets at premium prices. The villagers were now engaged in collecting the poop and processing it, so they didn't need to aggressively farm and destroy the elephant's habitat. Rather, protecting the habitat was very important so that the elephants continue to get their fiber. Is this going to solve the entire problem? I don't know. But it gives me much hope that the same consumer markets have now been turned on their head to align with a heart that wants to do some good.

 

 

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You Carry Your Wound, by Osho

FaceBook  On Feb 1, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

Catherine, Vivekananda is asking us to recognize that it is nature that is playing its game. When we help beggars and the infirm (and most of the time, we find ourselves moving on), it is because we have received some privileges and find ourselves in a position to be of service. His point is not to build up ego as saviors of those who need saving, but to develop gratitude that we found ourselves in a position to help, and in so doing, we opened ourselves up to the greatest lesson of all - that when we help others, we literally and actually, help ourselves. The joy you get when you've made someone's day is indescribable. And you wouldn't, unless someone was in need of help allowing you to play the role of helper. Therefore, the gratitude to those who play the role of the needy.

 

Worms Are, Therefore I Am, by Satish Kumar

FaceBook  On Jan 25, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

I liked this passage very much, as also listening to all the comments. One thought that came up for me was that nature is not that benign as it seems. When the lion is hunting deer, there is no sign of mercy - the deer is just food. If the lion were to show mercy, it would not be a lion. We see the brutality and cruelty in nature whenever its time to eat.  In that, the human condition is unique from the animal one - that we construct stories of morality to guide our decisions, instead of responding instinctively. In that we have a choice - to answer the call of nature, or wait a bit, and ask, "What is our nature?" There are layers, and we can choose to be true to our base nature, or dig deeper.

 

 

Entertainment Vs. Art, by Lariv Athem

FaceBook  On Jan 13, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

Loved the passage and loved hearing everyone's comments last night! Pancho shared that the author of this piece is none other than Viral Mehta (spelled backwards!). :) I missed that one completely. Loved Sanjeev's comment here as well. The word "art" means "skill," which has both a positive and a negative connotation depending on the context. The word "artful" can mean "skillful," but it can also mean someone who is not genuine and is full or "art." The word "artless" can mean "unskillful," but it can also mean someone who is genuine and sincere. Therefore, the true meaning of art cannot be separated from the beings involved in it, as the passage seems to imply. What the passage brought up for me is that art is an invitation to transcend the limitation of what is offered, and see beyond in a deeper dimension. The more the dimensions of a resulting experience, the more artistic it is. Entertainment and art are on a continuum of experience. When we experience something at a shallow level, it is entertainment. When it is deep, the experience is art. There are times when the experience is so deep that we break through all our finite dimensions, and no longer have a sense of the limited. We no longer think of being elsewhere. We don't think, period. That is a moment of unity, not just with the artist and the art, but really with everything around us in a way that we cannot express. We then spend the rest of our lives sharing that other such experiences using what is finite and totally incapable of capturing the infinite, and that becomes our profound art. It is treated as dull by some, entertainment by others, and as art by only a few. And thus the game of life unfolds. This reminded me of Haricharan Das, a guest speaker here a couple of weeks back said, art is a spiritual pursuit - a capturing of our deepest perception of the universe. Rahul shared that art is the combination of truth and b  See full.

Loved the passage and loved hearing everyone's comments last night! Pancho shared that the author of this piece is none other than Viral Mehta (spelled backwards!). :) I missed that one completely.

Loved Sanjeev's comment here as well.

The word "art" means "skill," which has both a positive and a negative connotation depending on the context. The word "artful" can mean "skillful," but it can also mean someone who is not genuine and is full or "art." The word "artless" can mean "unskillful," but it can also mean someone who is genuine and sincere. Therefore, the true meaning of art cannot be separated from the beings involved in it, as the passage seems to imply.

What the passage brought up for me is that art is an invitation to transcend the limitation of what is offered, and see beyond in a deeper dimension. The more the dimensions of a resulting experience, the more artistic it is. Entertainment and art are on a continuum of experience. When we experience something at a shallow level, it is entertainment. When it is deep, the experience is art.

There are times when the experience is so deep that we break through all our finite dimensions, and no longer have a sense of the limited. We no longer think of being elsewhere. We don't think, period. That is a moment of unity, not just with the artist and the art, but really with everything around us in a way that we cannot express. We then spend the rest of our lives sharing that other such experiences using what is finite and totally incapable of capturing the infinite, and that becomes our profound art. It is treated as dull by some, entertainment by others, and as art by only a few. And thus the game of life unfolds. This reminded me of Haricharan Das, a guest speaker here a couple of weeks back said, art is a spiritual pursuit - a capturing of our deepest perception of the universe.

Rahul shared that art is the combination of truth and beauty, and that genius is about being able to see it and attempt to bring it in our work. Truth and beauty are always around us, but we are too blind to see it. Reminded me of another Haricharan Das saying, that the universe/God has put on a galactic show for our entertainment, but we don't have the time to see it.

For me, art was when, on a stroll on the 10th day of a Vipassana meditation course, I found myself in the company of flowers from which colors overflowed. The yellow ochre and the surrounding lush green was of a quality I cannot express. I stood transfixed. When I was finally able to look around, I found a co-meditator transfixed the same way. Others have also told me of similar experiences, so the intellect says, "That's right - it is the clutter in your head that you reduced and you could see better." But then, without the clutter, would I know to appreciate beauty? As Ripa shared, the shadows are important as well, as they give contrast to the light.

Bhoutik shared about art in the mundane, or a beautifully done bed. Someone else shared about the Japanese desire for perfection in everyday things. Shakti talked about the beauty of things as they are - for instance, a messy bed. That reminded me of the Japanese idea of "wabi-sabi" (not to be confused with wasabi), which is the "art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature."

Shalini shared an experience of the beauty of the blue sky, and Shakti shared an experience of the beauty of a newt. Chris shared his experience of art in the circle.

Pancho threaded it all together with "The Art of Living," which seemed to be the theme that emerged, requiring slowing down, developing in awareness. He also talked about balancing art with science, which reminded me of the great scientist, Richard Feynman, who went one step further, passionately asking for us to find art in science! In his essay titled The Value of Science, he writes,

"With more knowledge comes deeper, more wonderful mystery, luring one on to penetrate deeper still. Never concerned that the answer may prove disappointing, but with pleasure and confidence we turn over each new stone to find unimagined strangeness leading on to more wonderful questions and mysteries -- certainly a grand adventure!

It is true that few unscientific people have this particular type of religious experience. Our poets do not write about it; our artists do not try to portray this remarkable thing. I don't know why. Is nobody inspired by our present picture of the universe? The value of science remains unsung by singers, so you are reduced to hearing -- not a song or a poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age."

The "religious experience" Feynman is talking about is shared earlier in the piece through this poem (a fitting end to this comment on art):
"For instance, I stand at the seashore, alone, and start to think.
There are the rushing waves ... mountains of molecules, each stupidly minding its own business ... trillions apart ... yet forming white surf in unison.
Ages on ages ... before any eyes could see ... year after year ... thunderously pounding the shore as now. For whom, for what? ... on a dead planet, with no life to entertain.
Never at rest ... tortured by energy ... wasted prodigiously by the sun ... poured into space. A mite makes the sea roar.
Deep in the sea, all molecules repeat the patterns of one another till complex new ones are formed. They make others like themselves ... and a new dance starts.
Growing in size and complexity ... living things, masses of atoms, DNA, protein ... dancing a pattern ever more intricate.
Out of the cradle onto the dry land ... here it is standing ... atoms with consciousness ... matter with curiosity.
Stands at the sea ... wonders at wondering ... I ... a universe of atoms ... an atom in the universe."

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Instilling Discipline and Responsibility in our Lives, by Angeles Arrien

FaceBook  On Jan 9, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

This piece ran deep. I loved the three don'ts, and worked on the last one a little more than the first two: "Don’t talk about opinions of right or wrong when action can be taken." It brought to mind the story of a monk in India in the last century, who, upon awakening, came to the realization that there was too much disunity in Indian society, with people arguing that their spiritual sect had it right and not spending as much time on their practice. Instead of arguing or lecturing about this, the monk took an unusual step. He picked a sect other than his own, and reflected on the biggest problem faced by that sect's followers. That sect's followers would often be plagued by bandits as they embarked on a pilgrimage to their main temple. The monk established a shelter for these pilgrims, aimed at feeding and protecting them as they undertook their spiritual journey, while himself never bothering to visit the temple. After this gave a lot of value, he proceeded to establish such shelters all over India at major pilgrimage spots for different sects, and gave out the message of unity with his actions. When enjoying the fruits of peace and unity, I find myself being grateful to heroes like this, who cared not for name and fame, and indeed, there are many like this whose names we will never find out, but whose gigantic anonymous acts of kindness enrich our lives and if we are lucky, expand our own commitment to right action. I also reflected on my training in Decision Analysis, where we emphasize action - only those debates are worth getting into that will change our action. If we know that our action will not change,  then debating the rightness of our beliefs or values is a waste of time. Chris opened wonderfully and I'm hoping he will share it here too. What stood out for me was his coining of "valuesgraha," (commitment to values) akin to "satyagraha" (commitment to truth). CFDad encouraged us to share our new year's resoluti  See full.

This piece ran deep. I loved the three don'ts, and worked on the last one a little more than the first two: "Don’t talk about opinions of right or wrong when action can be taken."

It brought to mind the story of a monk in India in the last century, who, upon awakening, came to the realization that there was too much disunity in Indian society, with people arguing that their spiritual sect had it right and not spending as much time on their practice. Instead of arguing or lecturing about this, the monk took an unusual step. He picked a sect other than his own, and reflected on the biggest problem faced by that sect's followers. That sect's followers would often be plagued by bandits as they embarked on a pilgrimage to their main temple. The monk established a shelter for these pilgrims, aimed at feeding and protecting them as they undertook their spiritual journey, while himself never bothering to visit the temple. After this gave a lot of value, he proceeded to establish such shelters all over India at major pilgrimage spots for different sects, and gave out the message of unity with his actions. When enjoying the fruits of peace and unity, I find myself being grateful to heroes like this, who cared not for name and fame, and indeed, there are many like this whose names we will never find out, but whose gigantic anonymous acts of kindness enrich our lives and if we are lucky, expand our own commitment to right action.

I also reflected on my training in Decision Analysis, where we emphasize action - only those debates are worth getting into that will change our action. If we know that our action will not change,  then debating the rightness of our beliefs or values is a waste of time.

Chris opened wonderfully and I'm hoping he will share it here too. What stood out for me was his coining of "valuesgraha," (commitment to values) akin to "satyagraha" (commitment to truth).

CFDad encouraged us to share our new year's resolutions. That brought another monk story to mind. Spending new year's eve with a monk, I found myself in a care center for the elderly (as the monk was taking care of someone). All around me were the really old. One was unable to eat any more and had tubes in his stomach. Another thought I was a particular person even after several clarifications. Yet another could not stop thanking us in Italian for over a half hour for a reason that was not clear to us. I had accepted that the body would have to go, but seeing that the mind also has to go is a sobering wake up call. If we are all body and mind, then there is really no hope at the end. The monk looked at me and said, "We are in queue, awaiting our privilege. We take birth, which is not necessarily painless, but the middle part is our fun time, and yet, we have an aversion to the end. How can that be? The game has to be completed." "This underscores the need to see that which is behind all this." By "that," he emphasized something beyond the body and the mind, that we all have different labels for, and yet, no label can contain it.

Later, when I asked for life advice, "As you've seen, all that we have will be taken from us for sure. Then, why not give it away in the service of others before it gets taken from us." More advice, "Focus on what is really essential." Keeps getting better.

My new year's resolution is to stop hoarding and start giving. By this, I really don't mean at a material level, but at the deepest level of the gifts that I wake up to each day. On my last day, I doubt if anything could suck more than that my gifts rotted with me and helped very few.

I loved hearing others' resolutions, on awareness, integrity, etc. Made me feel as always that we are in a circle of kindred spirits, although many of us have never met each other. :) Pancho did not share three things, so I am really looking forward to read some online sharings.

CFMom gave a rare glimpse into the incredible work that goes into making a Wednesday happen. This evening, she was at Trader Joe's, and found that they had no bread, ostensibly due to a computer failure. She had to make last minute adjustments from elsewhere to ensure that we had enough bread to eat, causing her to come in a little late. And the only concern she had was that she should enter silently so as not to disturb our meditation. As the last don't went in this passage, just by being herself, she shows us each week what it means to not debate right or wrong when there is an opportunity to serve. One can only smile in gratitude.

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Embracing the Mystery of Uncertainty, by Alan Briskin

FaceBook  On Dec 30, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

A mail from a friend reminded me of the most important lesson in last night's talk, which I missed capturing. My friend is inspiring people to spend 11 minutes in the new year, 1/1/11, focused on 1-ness, and dedicate their "thought-sound" to the good of the universe (see Ekataa.net). Reading this message made me smile, and remember Rev Heng Sure's starting story on his Christmas stocking, which he carried with him at the age of 22 to a Buddhist monastery on a retreat, around the Christmas period. He could not bring it in his heart to dispose of the stocking, so, on the night of the 24th, he hung it outside his room, in the hope that his fellow Buddhist meditators would take it down and trash it, for (he reasoned) Buddhists had no use for Christmas stockings. The next morning, he woke up at 3:45 AM, and apart from being tired, remembered the stocking and decided to look for a broom to clean up the surely shredded stocking outside his door. He opened his door and was surprised to find nothing on the floor. Look to his right, he found the Christmas stocking not just intact but full of gifts. There were sutras, chants, Buddha stories and other gifts from his fellow meditators, perhaps the most unique Christmas presents he had received. Then, as he walked by his teacher, the teacher grinned at him and said "Merry Christmas!" That one act of kindness made him feel that he was going to like this place after all :). In true pay-it-forward style, the Reverend was full of kindness for other traditions, and it is rare to hear a talk where a teacher from one tradition is so full of genuine respect for others, although his own path may be different. The seeds his teacher sowed have flowered into a beautiful tree, with many fruits for all of us. That thread of unity is my biggest takeaway from last night, and reminded me of my professor's philosophy (who is a philosophical Buddhist and a nondualist) which has manifested in our field called "Decision A  See full.

A mail from a friend reminded me of the most important lesson in last night's talk, which I missed capturing. My friend is inspiring people to spend 11 minutes in the new year, 1/1/11, focused on 1-ness, and dedicate their "thought-sound" to the good of the universe (see Ekataa.net).

Reading this message made me smile, and remember Rev Heng Sure's starting story on his Christmas stocking, which he carried with him at the age of 22 to a Buddhist monastery on a retreat, around the Christmas period. He could not bring it in his heart to dispose of the stocking, so, on the night of the 24th, he hung it outside his room, in the hope that his fellow Buddhist meditators would take it down and trash it, for (he reasoned) Buddhists had no use for Christmas stockings.

The next morning, he woke up at 3:45 AM, and apart from being tired, remembered the stocking and decided to look for a broom to clean up the surely shredded stocking outside his door. He opened his door and was surprised to find nothing on the floor. Look to his right, he found the Christmas stocking not just intact but full of gifts. There were sutras, chants, Buddha stories and other gifts from his fellow meditators, perhaps the most unique Christmas presents he had received. Then, as he walked by his teacher, the teacher grinned at him and said "Merry Christmas!" That one act of kindness made him feel that he was going to like this place after all :).

In true pay-it-forward style, the Reverend was full of kindness for other traditions, and it is rare to hear a talk where a teacher from one tradition is so full of genuine respect for others, although his own path may be different. The seeds his teacher sowed have flowered into a beautiful tree, with many fruits for all of us.

That thread of unity is my biggest takeaway from last night, and reminded me of my professor's philosophy (who is a philosophical Buddhist and a nondualist) which has manifested in our field called "Decision Analysis." We only expend our energy in discussions or obtaining information provided they have the potential to change our decision. Like last week's talk, it does not matter what tradition one comes from, and what one's beliefs are; if we end up being united in our Decisions (not the big "D" decision) - i.e. genuine loving, sharing and serving. It also reminded me of a talk by a monk I know at a Stanford multifaith conference, where he shared the metaphor of a mountain in Hawaii - one side is a lush rainforest, while the other has a barren desert landscape. While climbing up, it is very hard to believe that a different landscape could possibly exist. But at the top, the view is the same. Chatting with Richard Whittaker later on, I received another insight (which is not unusual when talking to Richard) on this metaphor. When we start at the base from different positions, our differences are rather great, but as we keep climbing up, the differences reduce.

How amazing it is that the room was full of people many of whom hardly knew each other, and yet, our hearts were filled with gratitude for the space, the talk, the food and the countless other gifts that came our way even without our knowing.

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Embracing the Mystery of Uncertainty, by Alan Briskin

FaceBook  On Dec 30, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Tonight was so amazing that it will be impossible to capture all of the wonderful things I heard. I hope others will pitch in to share their impressions, and together, a collective mosaic may be created for all of us to enjoy. Rev. Heng Sure was the guest speaker tonight. He started by talking about the kind of giving that was akin to planting seeds of blessings. He then talked about three kinds of danas or giving. The first is at the material level, involving resources (money, tangible services/products etc.). The second kind of giving, more important than the first, is at the level of courage. When someone is having a hard time, giving that person some comfort, telling them to hang in there is very helpful. When someone is growing old, and their physique is no longer what it used to be, rubbing their shoulders or giving them a hug can go a long way toward helping that person overcome fear of old age - letting them know that this is natural, and they have love along the way. The third and most important giving is the giving of dharma, loosely translated as wisdom. That, by which, others awaken. Skill lies in knowing which kind of giving to engage in and how much. The Reverend then talked about gods (with the lower case), referred to as the "devas." In the monotheistic traditions, this is not common, but in the Eastern traditions, it is quite common to hear about the devas. Who are these devas? From the Buddhist sutras (and also other eastern traditions), the Reverend points out that they are beings with a ton of good karma, who can get whatever they want, and all seems wonderful. However, at one point, the good karma exhausts and the gods have to die and be reborn as humans. This is a powerful idea - even gods die. As humans, the erstwhile gods still have some momentum and hence have some privilege or riches in their lives. This, just like their godlike status, is temporary, and once all of their past karma, earned through giving and planting good seed  See full.

Tonight was so amazing that it will be impossible to capture all of the wonderful things I heard. I hope others will pitch in to share their impressions, and together, a collective mosaic may be created for all of us to enjoy.

Rev. Heng Sure was the guest speaker tonight. He started by talking about the kind of giving that was akin to planting seeds of blessings.

He then talked about three kinds of danas or giving. The first is at the material level, involving resources (money, tangible services/products etc.). The second kind of giving, more important than the first, is at the level of courage. When someone is having a hard time, giving that person some comfort, telling them to hang in there is very helpful. When someone is growing old, and their physique is no longer what it used to be, rubbing their shoulders or giving them a hug can go a long way toward helping that person overcome fear of old age - letting them know that this is natural, and they have love along the way. The third and most important giving is the giving of dharma, loosely translated as wisdom. That, by which, others awaken. Skill lies in knowing which kind of giving to engage in and how much.

The Reverend then talked about gods (with the lower case), referred to as the "devas." In the monotheistic traditions, this is not common, but in the Eastern traditions, it is quite common to hear about the devas. Who are these devas? From the Buddhist sutras (and also other eastern traditions), the Reverend points out that they are beings with a ton of good karma, who can get whatever they want, and all seems wonderful. However, at one point, the good karma exhausts and the gods have to die and be reborn as humans. This is a powerful idea - even gods die. As humans, the erstwhile gods still have some momentum and hence have some privilege or riches in their lives. This, just like their godlike status, is temporary, and once all of their past karma, earned through giving and planting good seeds, has exhausted, the current riches and privilege will end. Therefore, in the Eastern traditions, we are severely warned not to covet the status of gods or heaven. The Buddha likened it to a house on fire with its severe temptations - in that condition, we forget that we are in a temporary house and there begins the downfall. The Eastern traditions tell us to transcend the craving of good and evil, to awaken (a word that the Reverend preferrend to enlightenment).

The Reverend went deeper into the fruits of a nation's acts, and he posited that the wealth and richness of this nation were due to its past good acts of giving, which were quickly being exhausted with two wars and much else that have brought much suffering upon this earth. The only purpose of a landmine is to severely harm the lower part of the human body. The only two countries in the world that have not signed the anti-landmine treaty are the US and China. The US is the largest manufacturer of landmines. The Reverend then pointed out that for the first time in a century (I think that's what he said), the mortality rate has dropped this year. He said that if as a country we do not restore the cycles of giving and eliminate the cycles of harming, then the fruits that we currently enjoy will quickly exhaust. Not sure if he said this or if the thought just came to me that a large part of the world's oil supply (which everyone is concerned about) is simply wasted by the armed forces in every country of the world, either on unnecessary wars or weapons that go far beyond defence.

His comments resonated at another level for me. My professor, Prof. Ron Howard, is a philosophical Buddhist, and at an Ethics class that he was teaching, the second world war and the Nazi era was discussed. He traced a remarkable thread of karma in that session by pointing out that a big reason for Hitler's rise was that most Germans in his time felt very badly about being harmed and given a bad deal by the rest of the world after the First World War (which was true). The reason they got such a bad deal was because of the way the First World War was resolved. Initially, it was a stalemate, and if left to themselves, France and Germany would have figured out that fighting each other as neighbors made little sense and then made their treaties. The balance was upset when the US got involved and swung the war in one direction, resulting in a very uneven hand for Germany, that alienated its people, and sowed the seeds of anger, which almost always go with delusion.

The Reverend also pointed out the flip side of the karma theory, when one looks at all of the Nazi atrocities, where one wonders what kind of karma would justify that - that is an unresolved edge.

The Reverend then sang lovely songs on a guitar called Rosemary. The story totally rocked. His friend Fabrizio is a master guitar maker and had made two guitars, one of which he brought to the Reverend to test. The Reverend loved it. The guitar then made its way to "Eric's shop." After a year, when the Reverend spoke to his friend again, he learned that the guitar had not been sold and due to the economic downturn, most people were not buying guitars. He then asked if he could "babysit" that guitar for Fabrizio. Fabrizio told the Reverend that he'd been thinking about it and he really wanted the Reverend to have it. The guitar was named after Fabrizio's daughter.

He asked Fabrizio if he could share the story with others at CF, and here was Fabrizio's response:

Hello Heng Sure,


I appreciate the sentiments - thank you!  Giving you the guitar didn't feel like anything but setting it free to have a blessed life, and to pass on those universal blessings, and so it's hard to reconcile that with taking any kind of credit or receiving any personal recognition.  It just feels like stepping out of the conventional and accepted world of scarcity and fear, into one of abundance and joy.  That step feels liberating to me, and I really wish I could take those steps every moment, so in a way it almost feels selfish. I'm glad I got the opportunity act in line with values that are far more noble and natural-feeling than the ones that are generally accepted as "normal."  

So if you'd like to share with the Charity Focus people, you may.  I'll view it as one of the blessings that must be shared, as long as it doesn't point to me in any way, but rather points to the wholeness that we are.

Namaste

Before having food, the Reverend shared the vows that monks take when accepting food they have received from others. I'm hoping someone remembers all the vows.

Nipun shared the story of Ishwardada's life and his passing. Some of it is captured in Neil's touching post. Nipun then asked us to dedicate our merit to Ishwardada. The dedication of merit was led by the Reverend, and a part of it was a sing-along. Hoping we will be able to hear the audio as well as the whole session was audio-recorded.

I later asked him what he thought about the dialog between Krishna and Arjuna and the Buddhist injunction to not kill. He said that Arjuna was lucky to have God with him - the problem for him was that he could only speak from a "hypothetical" standpoint (I think that's what he said). That really hit me. If a man like the Reverend who has dedicated himself to a lifetime of service declares uncertainty, then it speaks volumes of the level of uncertainty I should incorporate in my own beliefs. The fascinating thing is that last night, I was reading Feynman's essay titled The Uncerainty of Value (in The Meaning of it All), and found the following:

"Admitting that we do not know, and maintaining perpetually the attitude that we do not know the direction necessarily to go, permit a possibility of alteration, of thinking, of new contributions and new discoveries for the problem of developing a way to do what we want ultimately, even when we do not know what we want."

The Reverend asked me to reflect on the Gita and find my own perspective in comparing it with the Buddha's teaching. I also got a big boost toward doing that - as I was relating this conversation to CFMom, Manju aunty overheard and shared her perspective on the Gita. She first posed the question, "If Buddha went to Krishna, what advice would Krishna give him?" As I started thinking about this, she set me straight, "Buddha would never go to Krishna" and started laughing. She further clarified, "Krishna's commentary was for Arjuna, a warrior sworn to fight and kill. The problem was that Arjuna had no issue fighting and killing - he just had an issue fighting and killing his own relatives, due to his attachment." That was a very deep point. I persisted, "The Buddhists of our time still have to advise those in Arjuna's shoes. What should they tell Arjuna? To abstain from killing altogether?" Aunty pointed out that we are all Arjunas, and that there was no escaping these dilemmas, without which, life would not be as interesting. :)

As I reflect on the Reverend's words and aunty's words, it is clear that the edges are an important gift in our lives. Without these edges, there is no need to find one's own truth - one just has to follow the path and all the answers are present. Thank goodness there are edges, things that manifest as unknowns to tempt us with life.

CFMom cooked for so many people today, and sprained her back muscle while picking up something heavy. And yet, only a big smile and gratitude in her heart. Grateful to everyone tonight for the big smiles and hugs and goodwill.

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Individual and Social Ethics, by Bertrand Russell

FaceBook  On Dec 23, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Sanjeev, you raise some very interesting (and important) questions. Some random reflections.. At the end of the day, we live in action. So, it matters little if I believe in the pink fairy in the sky or am a devout atheist, as long as my decisions don't change. It seems to me that with your worldview, you value much the same things as I do - that is what counts. This is even more fascinating if one reads Russell's passage - it is deeply spiritual in the truest essence. Russell is asking us to think about what makes life meaningful. Feynman was no different, and both were proclaimed atheists. Feynman writes that it does not matter how we arrive at our scientific theories, as long as we do. One could have been soaking in a bathtub when the bulb went on, or one might have been riding on a bus when an aha moment appeared. No one really knows what inspiration led our scientists to come up with their imaginative theories. The realm of science only begins once the theory is in front of us and we can test it. However, I guess that we need to talk a bit more about "mysticism". For instance, it was difficult for me to believe the story regarding the column of light that he saw in his Guru during his birthday celebration. I would like to be proven wrong. To tackle the major premise itself - I am not convinced of the helpfulness of craving supernatural experiences. Many crave such experiences and then become imbalanced, sometimes even after getting it. That may also be the reason that Hari had to really be coaxed into sharing such a personal story (it certainly was the reason why I didn't consider it important to share earlier). The rest of this post is on the minor premise - whether we can then claim any of this to be a science if we cannot experience what someone else claims to have experienced. You and I can watch the same movie, and have a very different experience. To expect to have the same experience is to have an unrealistic expectation, simply becau  See full.

Sanjeev, you raise some very interesting (and important) questions.

Some random reflections.. At the end of the day, we live in action. So, it matters little if I believe in the pink fairy in the sky or am a devout atheist, as long as my decisions don't change. It seems to me that with your worldview, you value much the same things as I do - that is what counts. This is even more fascinating if one reads Russell's passage - it is deeply spiritual in the truest essence. Russell is asking us to think about what makes life meaningful. Feynman was no different, and both were proclaimed atheists. Feynman writes that it does not matter how we arrive at our scientific theories, as long as we do. One could have been soaking in a bathtub when the bulb went on, or one might have been riding on a bus when an aha moment appeared. No one really knows what inspiration led our scientists to come up with their imaginative theories. The realm of science only begins once the theory is in front of us and we can test it.

However, I guess that we need to talk a bit more about "mysticism". For instance, it was difficult for me to believe the story regarding the column of light that he saw in his Guru during his birthday celebration. I would like to be proven wrong.

To tackle the major premise itself - I am not convinced of the helpfulness of craving supernatural experiences. Many crave such experiences and then become imbalanced, sometimes even after getting it. That may also be the reason that Hari had to really be coaxed into sharing such a personal story (it certainly was the reason why I didn't consider it important to share earlier).

The rest of this post is on the minor premise - whether we can then claim any of this to be a science if we cannot experience what someone else claims to have experienced. You and I can watch the same movie, and have a very different experience. To expect to have the same experience is to have an unrealistic expectation, simply because we have different starting beliefs.

But then, how is this a science?

I have found two ideas helpful. One is that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. Conflating the two would be a mistake of logic. Including this principle in our reasoning would help us expand our field of examination.

The second comes from Swami Vivekananda's remarkable introduction to Raja Yoga:
"The teachers all saw God; they all saw their own souls, they saw their future, they saw their eternity, and what they saw they preached. Only there is this difference that by most of these religions especially in modern times, a peculiar claim is made, namely, that these experiences are impossible at the present day; they were only possible with a few men, who were the first founders of the religions that subsequently bore their names. At the present time these experiences have become obsolete, and, therefore, we have now to take religion on belief. This I entirely deny. If there has been one experience in this world in any particular branch of knowledge, it absolutely follows that that experience has been possible millions of times before, and will be repeated eternally. Uniformity is the rigorous law of nature; what once happened can happen always.

The teachers of the science of Yoga, therefore, declare that religion is not only based upon the experience of ancient times, but that no man can be religious until he has the same perceptions himself. Yoga is the science which teaches us how to get these perceptions. It is not much use to talk about religion until one has felt it. Why is there so much disturbance, so much fighting and quarrelling in the name of God? There has been more bloodshed in the name of God than for any other cause, because people never went to the fountain-head; they were content only to give a mental assent to the customs of their forefathers, and wanted others to do the same. What right has a man to say he has a soul if he does not feel it, or that there is a God if he does not see Him? If there is a God we must see Him, if there is a soul we must perceive it; otherwise it is better not to believe. It is better to be an outspoken atheist than a hypocrite."

"In the first place, every science must have its own method of investigation. If you want to become an astronomer and sit down and cry "Astronomy! Astronomy!" it will never come to you. The same with chemistry. A certain method must be followed. You must go to a laboratory, take different substances, mix them up, compound them, experiment with them, and out of that will come a knowledge of chemistry. If you want to be an astronomer, you must go to an observatory, take a telescope, study the stars and planets, and then you will become an astronomer. Each science must have its own methods. I could preach you thousands of sermons, but they would not make you religious, until you practiced the method. These are the truths of the sages of all countries, of all ages, of men pure and unselfish, who had no motive but to do good to the world. They all declare that they have found some truth higher than what the senses can bring to us, and they invite verification. They ask us to take up the method and practice honestly, and then, if we do not find this higher truth, we will have the right to say there is no truth in the claim, but before we have done that, we are not rational in denying the truth of their assertions. So we must work faithfully using the prescribed methods, and light will come."

Based on this logic, the question is whether we have setup, conducted and finished the experiment properly to be in a position to judge its outcome. Those who feel they have done the experiment properly and have not received the results are totally justified (and perhaps morally obligated) to denounce the claim. In the context of last night's assertion, if we clean our heart, and the good guests don't come, then we can rightly proclaim that that assertion was wrong.

Now, just for fun, here's a kicker - compare the following:

Swami V in Introduction to Raja Yoga:
"The end and aim of all science is to find the unity, the One out of which the manifold is being manufactured, that One existing as many."

Feynman, in The Uncertainty of Science, writes the following about Michael Faraday's discovery that led to electrochemistry:

"He had discovered that the thing that determined the cominbations of iron and oxygen which make iron oxide, is that some of them are elctrically plus and some of them are elctrically minus, and they attract each other in definite proportions. He also discovered that electricity comes in units, in atoms. Both were important discoveries, but most exciting was that this was one of the most dramatic moments in the history of science, one of those rare moments when two great fields come together and are unified. He suddenly found that two apparently different things were different aspects of the same thing. Electricity was being studied, and chemistry was being studied. Suddelny they were two aspects of the same thing - chemical changes with the results of electrical forces. And they are still understood that way."

What I find fascinating about all this is that I can be an atheist on some days of the week, and this unity principle still does not leave me alone - it is there, dancing its dance :). The biggest irony of all is that the secular humanists, although usually against organized religion, proclaim this underlying unity as the basis for their moral philosophy. Hmm.. so what was the debate about again? :)

Happy Holidays!

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Individual and Social Ethics, by Bertrand Russell

FaceBook  On Dec 23, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

I am so glad I made it last night, for we were treated by the presence of Haricharan Das. The irony was not lost upon me that the Wednesday focused on Bertrand Russell's reflections was also the Wednesday with the most mention of God. :) Hari shared many stories, which have been beautifully captured by Richard Whittaker far better than I could possibly attempt. Instead of recounting them here, readers can refer to In the Company of Saints. I will instead focus on Hari's philosophy. He started out by saying that feelings of goodness are not enough. There must be action, otherwise the feelings are just entertainment. When one is moved to help others, one must get up and do so. Bravo! He also clarified at the beginning that he uses the word "God" to denote "reality as it is" and encouraged people to replace it by whatever word they preferred. He shared about Gandhi - the man was shot dead, and with his last few breaths, he uttered the name of God. Hari reminded us how at the slightest difficulty, we forget God altogether, and instead uttery "Oh no!" or "Why me?" It is only possible to die with God's name if like Gandhi, we've practiced living with God's name. He shared how he got into his spiritual quest through his candle flame story (see Richard's interview). That made him realize there were things that he really did not know. He emphasized a ruthless determination to get to the truth that is a hallmark of the spiritual quest. To me, this is the essence of science. I would be committing intellectual fraud if I claimed to be a scientist, and yet, closed my mind to phenomena that I did not understand. Reading Richard Feynman (in The Uncertainty of Science) last night, I came across the following: "When the scientist tells you he does not know the answer, he is an ignorant man. When he tells you he has a hunch about how it is going to work, he is uncertain about it. When he is pretty sure of how it is going to work, and  See full.

I am so glad I made it last night, for we were treated by the presence of Haricharan Das. The irony was not lost upon me that the Wednesday focused on Bertrand Russell's reflections was also the Wednesday with the most mention of God. :)

Hari shared many stories, which have been beautifully captured by Richard Whittaker far better than I could possibly attempt. Instead of recounting them here, readers can refer to In the Company of Saints. I will instead focus on Hari's philosophy.

He started out by saying that feelings of goodness are not enough. There must be action, otherwise the feelings are just entertainment. When one is moved to help others, one must get up and do so. Bravo! He also clarified at the beginning that he uses the word "God" to denote "reality as it is" and encouraged people to replace it by whatever word they preferred.

He shared about Gandhi - the man was shot dead, and with his last few breaths, he uttered the name of God. Hari reminded us how at the slightest difficulty, we forget God altogether, and instead uttery "Oh no!" or "Why me?" It is only possible to die with God's name if like Gandhi, we've practiced living with God's name.

He shared how he got into his spiritual quest through his candle flame story (see Richard's interview). That made him realize there were things that he really did not know. He emphasized a ruthless determination to get to the truth that is a hallmark of the spiritual quest. To me, this is the essence of science. I would be committing intellectual fraud if I claimed to be a scientist, and yet, closed my mind to phenomena that I did not understand. Reading Richard Feynman (in The Uncertainty of Science) last night, I came across the following:

"When the scientist tells you he does not know the answer, he is an ignorant man. When he tells you he has a hunch about how it is going to work, he is uncertain about it. When he is pretty sure of how it is going to work, and he tells you, "This is the way it's going to work, I'll bet," he still is in some doubt. And it is of paramount importance, in order to make progress, that we recognize this ignorance and this doubt. Because we have the doubt, we then propose looking in new directions for new ideas. The rate of the development of science is not the rate at which you make observations alone but, much more important, the rate at which you create new things to test."

My professor, who is uber-rational, taught me a thing or two on scientific attitude. He used to organize a group called "Beyond Rationality," which we restarted, where only topics that could not be discussed in a classroom could be brought in. The requirement of the participants in the group was to come in, neither as a believer, nor as a disbeliever. In my mind, that required presence and openness. So, when someone claimed that his sister had an eerily lucky hand in her die rolls whenever they played board games, that would invite questions like "What about when she rolls the die for other people?" and not "Are you taking grass?" Hard to put a label on the third attitude (neither a believer nor a skeptic), but sufficeth to say that it is possible to come from that space, and experience the learning that results.

Hari kept using the word "mysticism" and this brought up an interesting question after-hours on the connection between mysticism and science. Mysticism is the science of the future that we haven't caught up with. It was not that far back when thunder was the weapon of the Gods. Today, it is the play of the clouds rubbing against each other. To explain this phenomena to one who does not possess the language of electricity or physics is like explaining a mystical subject. Interestingly, Swami Vivekananda firmly rejected all mysticism not by dropping down to the level of intellectual dishonesty and ignoring phenomena, but by encouraging us to raise our level of science with a ruthless determination to penetrating the deepest mysteries of the universe. I think that was also the essence of Hari's talk yesterday.

One question that came up was how to balance service with spirituality. Hari said they were no different. To serve others selflessly was the highest spiritual practice. Another question was on music and stillness. Hari said that music and stillness were both valid paths to reach God. Art was also a valid path - the first thing he sees in art is the "I" of the artist perceiving the universe, a deep spiritual act. There are many dimensions beyond that which takes the viewer even deeper.

To a question on what people with no Guru should do, he responded that everyone had a Guru at their personal level - their own conscience. At another level, nature is also our Guru - it teaches us so much. We find layers of Gurus. He talked about having one root Guru who guides us and blesses us to be able to gain knowledge from several other Gurus, but this root Guru is the one who opens the door for the disciple directly to God (or reality). He also said that liberation is the destiny of all - it is not a matter of "if," but a matter of "when," and to him, the mercy of God was in the infinite cycle of birth and death where we get to try again and again.

To a question on whether women could be gurus, he responded, "Of course! There is absolutely no difference between men and women in terms of spiritual ability. The only reason we don't hear about women teachers is because men control the press." When asked if his day job in painting was a mystical experience, he responded, "No, it is hard work."

What touched me the most was his total acceptance. In response to a question, he said, "God(Reality/Truth) opens many doors for us. When the door of teaching opens for me, I go and teach. When it closes, I do what is in front of me. It is all God's work." Later on, I asked him why he closed his ashram. His response, "Oh, the lease expired." That's it. He didn't fight it, or try advertizing campaigns. So he now paints houses to pay the bills and shares his journey with whoever asks for it. That blew me away.

Another gem: "The Universe is putting on a galactic show for our benefit, which is on all the time. We somehow choose not to see it." Recalling Feynman (same essay as quoted above),

"... there are the atoms. Beautiful - mile upon mile of one ball after another ball in some repeating pattern in a crystal. Things that look quiet and still, like a glass of water with a covered top that has been sitting for several days, are active all the time; the atoms are leaving the surface, bouncing around inside, and coming back, What looks still to our crude eyes is a wild and dynamic dance."

Interestingly, Hari does not prefer to share much about his mystical experiences. He shared in the interview and last night that people draw wrong conclusions and turn away. He prefers to focus on meditation and practical questions, from his own experience and the knowledge of the Yoga Sutras. One gem was "Treat your heart like your home. When you keep it clean, (good) guests will come." That was the message of his life - he kept purifying himself and found himself in the company of saints. Another thing I liked about him - he did not engage in false modesty. He told the truth as best he could.

Upon requests to share an unbelievable story, he shared about a time when he knew a person whose Guru was not alive. This person had a deep connection with her Guru and told Hari that she was talking to him. Hari decided to test it, as it was too crazy to believe. He walked into his library, picked a book, opened a page, and then asked this person to share the contents of the page by asking her Guru. The next thing he knew, she rattled off the entire page.

When someone later on went to him for advice, he shared, "People look at me differently - as a guru, teacher, friend, painter, etc. I cannot control what they think. But I can control my practice. So the most important thing is that no matter what other people think about you, stick to your spiritual practice." During his talk, he also emphasized not caring about what other people think, and the importance of settling on any one practice that we can go deep in, and not be forever sampling at the surface level.

After-hours, when pressed further about the need for a Guru, he said something very interesting. When we practice by ourselves, and start to gain benefits, it is easy for us to lose our minds and think that we are big achievers. That stops our progress. When we have a Guru who we see as a manifestation of God, we have something to compare to, and will keep ourselves humble. The essence of what he said, in my mind, is universal, in that, when we surround ourselves with saintly people who serve as an example for us, they are in a sense taking the position of a Guru we look up to, and compare ourselves to whenever our ego tries to rise up.

The penultimate question in the circle was from CFDad, who asked about Gurus who would perform  miracles to impress disciples. Isn't that a distraction? Hari totally agreed, and called it magic, distinguishing it from mysticism. He opined that most people were not trained to distinguish between the two. Magic to him was about self-aggrandizement, inflating the ego. Mysticism was about relinquishing the ego, letting go of all and going toward reality/truth/God. Interestingly, he also said that "yogis know the difference, but are too kind and don't say too much. Ultimately, the kingdom takes care of it." And he laughed, as he often did last night.

To me, a sign of spiritual depth is how someone laughs. Haricharan Das laughs like a man who has found his peace.

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Ancient Law of Hospitality, by Thomas Berry

FaceBook  On Dec 17, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Catherine Todd wrote: How exactly do you "meditate" about this, and how does this differ from my "thinking" about this? Or are you referring to regular meditation while "clearing your mind?" This question cannot be properly answered :). Here is an approximate answer - when I receive these passages, I try to look out for things that don't make sense easily. That is usually a clue that some more work needs to be done. Then I hear the passage multiple times (the listen link in the beautiful voice helps). Then, I go into meditation (clearing your mind) with a group of kindred spirits (the same that mails out these pieces, and many others who receive them), with some idea of what I'm confused about. In the meditation, depending on how much I'm able to let go, as the mind gets still, things start to become very clear, and the things that did not make sense suddenly start to reveal their secrets. The passage dances into life. There you have it. :) What do you mean "protecting the gift of life with the gift of death.?" If we were immortal, it would be a curse and not a gift. Imagine the worst tyrants on this earth who keep threatening the lives of others, living forever. Thank God they eventually die. Imagine our saints living forever - there'd be no mystery in the universe for they know it all, and all we have to do is ask. Thank God they die too, leaving us to decide which path we are going to take. And then us. Imagine a lifetime of knowing what you know. When you play a video game and you are finally a champ at it, imagine being told you can't change the game and that is the only game you can play. Huge curse! In India, there was once a hero who was blessed to live beyond his natural age. Others eventually looked down upon this person as taking up resources that would have sustained new life. Moreover, he knew too much and was a big threat to others, for he crossed over to a darker side and was almost invincible. Natur  See full.

Catherine Todd wrote:

How exactly do you "meditate" about this, and how does this differ from my "thinking" about this? Or are you referring to regular meditation while "clearing your mind?"

This question cannot be properly answered :). Here is an approximate answer - when I receive these passages, I try to look out for things that don't make sense easily. That is usually a clue that some more work needs to be done. Then I hear the passage multiple times (the listen link in the beautiful voice helps). Then, I go into meditation (clearing your mind) with a group of kindred spirits (the same that mails out these pieces, and many others who receive them), with some idea of what I'm confused about. In the meditation, depending on how much I'm able to let go, as the mind gets still, things start to become very clear, and the things that did not make sense suddenly start to reveal their secrets. The passage dances into life. There you have it. :)

What do you mean "protecting the gift of life with the gift of death.?"

If we were immortal, it would be a curse and not a gift. Imagine the worst tyrants on this earth who keep threatening the lives of others, living forever. Thank God they eventually die. Imagine our saints living forever - there'd be no mystery in the universe for they know it all, and all we have to do is ask. Thank God they die too, leaving us to decide which path we are going to take. And then us. Imagine a lifetime of knowing what you know. When you play a video game and you are finally a champ at it, imagine being told you can't change the game and that is the only game you can play. Huge curse! In India, there was once a hero who was blessed to live beyond his natural age. Others eventually looked down upon this person as taking up resources that would have sustained new life. Moreover, he knew too much and was a big threat to others, for he crossed over to a darker side and was almost invincible. Nature automatically protects us by gifting all of us with death.

Death makes people rather somber. So, when we talk about death, we should try to lighten up. Here are two that make me smile. First, the lament of the immortal - "When I asked not to die, I forgot to ask for youth to go with it." :) Second, the lament of the mortal - "Youth is wasted on the young." :)

"The best dancers do not dance..." I understand about "the best fighters do not fight," but not dancing?

The dance happens - the best dancers get out of the way.

And then why bring up an example about being "unwilling to dance the dance?"

For the best dancers to get out of the way, they need to work hard. The hardest work is to do no work. Dancing the dance, initially, involves openness, learning, practice. As time goes on, if one is working properly, one learns that the dance happens, and becomes the dance. The best tennis player does not think very much about which shot to use. The shot happens. Getting there takes time.

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Ancient Law of Hospitality, by Thomas Berry

FaceBook  On Dec 16, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

This passage ran deep for me. Never ceases to amaze me at how much meaning comes out of a passage after meditating. The passage seemed to be highlighting for us two opposites: receiving (Thoreau's story) and trusteeship (Mencius' story). Swami Vivekananda, Gandhi, Vinoba, all encourage the rich to think of themselves as trustees of the poor. This attitude did not require giving up one's riches, but it did involve expanding the circle of well-being to more than one's narrow context. People like Thoreau could never "possess" a beautiful land in their interaction unless the land were either without an owner, or if the owner, as a trustee, kept it open. Trusteeship is a special kind of giving. It involves holding on for the purpose of giving. One of the most powerful conservation efforts in modern times of forest land involves creating clear ownership rights for the purposes of maintaining open access to the land. In ancient times in India, kings demarcated parts of forests to sages, on which no hunting was allowed, and which acted as a natural preserve, a sanctuary for all. The idea of trusteeship can be found to have been with us since ancient times. In modern times, the open-source software movement is notable in its idea of having people establish copyright so that they may then keep their software open without challenge. The trustee aspect of ownership shows us, in a powerful way, that it is not the ownership lines that limit the owner's actions. An awakened heart will find its expression within all limitations, turning the limitation into a beautiful feature, just as a resource owner becomes a trustee. Trustees cannot do their thing unless there are those like Thoreau, who can enjoy things without owning them, without putting their stamp on them. Receivership is therefore as important as trusteeship, and requires one to learn how to possess without possessing. In a sense, nature is the ultimate trustee, protecting the gift of life with the gift of  See full.

This passage ran deep for me. Never ceases to amaze me at how much meaning comes out of a passage after meditating.

The passage seemed to be highlighting for us two opposites: receiving (Thoreau's story) and trusteeship (Mencius' story). Swami Vivekananda, Gandhi, Vinoba, all encourage the rich to think of themselves as trustees of the poor. This attitude did not require giving up one's riches, but it did involve expanding the circle of well-being to more than one's narrow context.

People like Thoreau could never "possess" a beautiful land in their interaction unless the land were either without an owner, or if the owner, as a trustee, kept it open. Trusteeship is a special kind of giving. It involves holding on for the purpose of giving.

One of the most powerful conservation efforts in modern times of forest land involves creating clear ownership rights for the purposes of maintaining open access to the land. In ancient times in India, kings demarcated parts of forests to sages, on which no hunting was allowed, and which acted as a natural preserve, a sanctuary for all. The idea of trusteeship can be found to have been with us since ancient times. In modern times, the open-source software movement is notable in its idea of having people establish copyright so that they may then keep their software open without challenge. The trustee aspect of ownership shows us, in a powerful way, that it is not the ownership lines that limit the owner's actions. An awakened heart will find its expression within all limitations, turning the limitation into a beautiful feature, just as a resource owner becomes a trustee.

Trustees cannot do their thing unless there are those like Thoreau, who can enjoy things without owning them, without putting their stamp on them. Receivership is therefore as important as trusteeship, and requires one to learn how to possess without possessing.

In a sense, nature is the ultimate trustee, protecting the gift of life with the gift of death. Nature is also the ultimate receiver, for in every ecosystem, we find every species receiving benefits from the actions of others, in a natural manner :).

The question arises - can we be a trustee and receive at the same time? As we came together in the circle this Wednesday, it became clear that the circle was an example of the two aspects existing at the same time. We were trustees of the space. At the same time we were receivers in that space. And, the number of trustees would always equal the number of receivers, for each person would be a receiver of every other trustee, and a trustee of every receiver.

It is not always easy to see this in action. We find ourselves challenged by situations where we get attached to one or the other role. Unfortunately, attachment spoils the game, which is really a dance, as Nipun put it. For a good dance, there has to be flow. The best dancers do not dance. The best fighters do not fight. There comes a point where we do not know if we are receiving or giving as trustees. Being aware of the naturalness of that condition - that we are constantly, without any outward action, receiving and giving at the level of our own molecular structure, at the level of our own physiology, and at the level of our own sociology, we come to a point where we realize we can either accept it or sabotage it. Sabotaging is fixating on one role to the exclusion of the other, an unwillingness to dance the dance, an unwillingness to experience what our nature has brought us to. Acceptance is a willingness to dance with both receivership and trusteeship, deepening the intensity without deepening the attachment.

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Building a Creative Temple, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

FaceBook  On Dec 13, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Catherine wrote: I have talked to plenty of people about their bad acts, and believe me, most of them don't care and won't return things. They like doing wrong! You wrote that their acts were "not a decision from the space of freedom, but a reaction from a space of bondage." Perhaps, but they are more than willing to put others into bondage and stay where they are, Lord of the jungle and king of the Hill in their own little corner of hell. They don't want to come out and they don't even try, and they will do all they can to keep you in.  This comment was not for others doing wrong things, but for you (and me) who are trying to determine whether anger is a good decision or not. I have never found guilt for other's mistakes to be useful in life, and so, in my personal ethical code, I've put in the following line, "I am not responsible for the stupid things people do to each other without asking me." That helps me a lot, as I have no burden to carry, and brings the smile back so I can genuinely serve from the heart. Going a step deeper, you might find it helpful to reflect on whether your beliefs come from your experiences, or your experiences come from your beliefs. I find that for me it is the latter, and hence, the need to plant beliefs that give me the experiences I want. I have always suffered when I've believed people are bad and out to get me - it unfortunately plays out to be true. I have always connected and grown when I've believed people are good and are there to support my journey, some with active encouragement, and some with obstacles. This has turned out to be true :). The difference between the two experiences is the first one lacks joy and the second one has an abundance of joy. For me, it was clear that I should not choose the former. Once the beliefs we want are clear, then planting it is the work that has to be done. I often judge others - because I now have the second belief, as soon as the awareness arises, I can i  See full.

Catherine wrote: I have talked to plenty of people about their bad acts, and believe me, most of them don't care and won't return things. They like doing wrong! You wrote that their acts were "not a decision from the space of freedom, but a reaction from a space of bondage." Perhaps, but they are more than willing to put others into bondage and stay where they are, Lord of the jungle and king of the Hill in their own little corner of hell. They don't want to come out and they don't even try, and they will do all they can to keep you in. 

This comment was not for others doing wrong things, but for you (and me) who are trying to determine whether anger is a good decision or not. I have never found guilt for other's mistakes to be useful in life, and so, in my personal ethical code, I've put in the following line, "I am not responsible for the stupid things people do to each other without asking me." That helps me a lot, as I have no burden to carry, and brings the smile back so I can genuinely serve from the heart.

Going a step deeper, you might find it helpful to reflect on whether your beliefs come from your experiences, or your experiences come from your beliefs. I find that for me it is the latter, and hence, the need to plant beliefs that give me the experiences I want. I have always suffered when I've believed people are bad and out to get me - it unfortunately plays out to be true. I have always connected and grown when I've believed people are good and are there to support my journey, some with active encouragement, and some with obstacles. This has turned out to be true :). The difference between the two experiences is the first one lacks joy and the second one has an abundance of joy. For me, it was clear that I should not choose the former.

Once the beliefs we want are clear, then planting it is the work that has to be done. I often judge others - because I now have the second belief, as soon as the awareness arises, I can immediately label such an action as inconsistent with my belief, and work on correcting my action.

The question is, what beliefs do you want for yourself? Work backwards from the experiences you want. 

About games, we are all playing "human" games here. We are role-playing so many different roles. Unfortunately, unlike actors who shed their on-screen persona when they come home (or head toward dementia), we do not know to do that, at least not without significant kicking and screaming. :)

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Building a Creative Temple, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

FaceBook  On Dec 13, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Catherine, you've asked many deep questions. First, I must clarify the comment on "being happy." I do not think Mia was happy that the nun's belongings were stolen. She was very saddened by the situation, and felt that if only the robbers understood who they were robbing, they'd return what they were taking. It was only much after the incident that she saw a silver lining, that the robbers may benefit from the spiritual contents of what they've stolen. That, by no means, justifies their action, and infact, Mia stood up to them, without regard for her own life. She did not say, "yes, yes, take the nun's belongings - it is all yours." Gandhi, initially, advocated nonviolence for Indians as back then, Indians had not fought in major wars, and he considered most Indians to be cowards. Over the years, as he deepened his experiments with truth, he realized that nonviolence was certainly not the path of the coward; it was the path of the bravest. He then reversed his recommendation, and told people to first experience violence, be capable of it, and then come to nonviolence. In one of his essays, he asked people to go fight in the world war, shed some blood. Then they'd know that war has no victors. They'd also have the strength to try nonviolence. He considered the nonviolence of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (Frontier Gandhi) as far superior to his own, for Khan was a Pathan (Afghan Pushtun) who had grown up in a culture of violence (honor-killings were common). Gandhi felt that for Khan to stand up and organize the warrior Pathans to follow nonviolence was a far more legitimate manifestation of his philosophy than his own efforts. The Buddha, although advocating nonviolence, had an interesting view on when one must act decisively in a manner that involves violence. When someone is harming oneself by harming others, out of great compassion for that person (so they may not accrue tremendous bad karma), we should stand in their way and stop them. The operati  See full.

Catherine, you've asked many deep questions. First, I must clarify the comment on "being happy." I do not think Mia was happy that the nun's belongings were stolen. She was very saddened by the situation, and felt that if only the robbers understood who they were robbing, they'd return what they were taking. It was only much after the incident that she saw a silver lining, that the robbers may benefit from the spiritual contents of what they've stolen. That, by no means, justifies their action, and infact, Mia stood up to them, without regard for her own life. She did not say, "yes, yes, take the nun's belongings - it is all yours."

Gandhi, initially, advocated nonviolence for Indians as back then, Indians had not fought in major wars, and he considered most Indians to be cowards. Over the years, as he deepened his experiments with truth, he realized that nonviolence was certainly not the path of the coward; it was the path of the bravest. He then reversed his recommendation, and told people to first experience violence, be capable of it, and then come to nonviolence. In one of his essays, he asked people to go fight in the world war, shed some blood. Then they'd know that war has no victors. They'd also have the strength to try nonviolence. He considered the nonviolence of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (Frontier Gandhi) as far superior to his own, for Khan was a Pathan (Afghan Pushtun) who had grown up in a culture of violence (honor-killings were common). Gandhi felt that for Khan to stand up and organize the warrior Pathans to follow nonviolence was a far more legitimate manifestation of his philosophy than his own efforts.

The Buddha, although advocating nonviolence, had an interesting view on when one must act decisively in a manner that involves violence. When someone is harming oneself by harming others, out of great compassion for that person (so they may not accrue tremendous bad karma), we should stand in their way and stop them. The operative principle is not so much what you do, but what you place in your heart when you do it.

Sanjeev has been recommending the Gita (and be sure to read multiple translations). This question comes up when Arjuna throws down his bow and refuses to fight, preferring to be killed by his unjust relatives, although all negotiations have broken down, and he is required by profession to stand up for ethics and fight. Krishna severely chastises him, and calls his grief foolishness and not wisdom. He asks him to stand up and fight. But then, Krishna also tells him to fight like a yogi. The test for that is to have not a trace of hatred toward another.

So, when you ask about reacting with anger, the test for whether it is a good decision or not is really whether you had choice in the matter. If, after seeing all the alternatives in front of you, you chose anger, perhaps it was the right thing to do. But, if you found yourself swept away by a tsunami, and after the episode of anger, found yourself wondering, "what just happened?," then you can be sure that it was not a decision from the space of freedom, but a reaction from a space of bondage. Such reactions always have unintended consequences, which makes us regret them later.

Now, about gardens being destroyed - this is the real test of life. Every garden you make in your life WILL be destroyed, and most likely in your own lifetime. Connecting your happiness with the fruits you get is a big recipe for misery, for if there is one right we do not have, it is the right to expect. Nothing good ever came of expectations. The real test of spiritual growth for us is when, all our gardens are destroyed, we are able to cock our head and have a hearty laugh - "look at the silliness and fun of it all!" and move on to our next game.

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Building a Creative Temple, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

FaceBook  On Dec 10, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

As an experiment, I tried reading this passage by substituting "I" for "God," and it was quite remarkable. e.g. "In the final analysis, what I require is that my heart was right." I agree. Therefore, it is time to make my actions consistent with my preferences. Chris built on this and pointed out that we should not just judge ourselves from our intentions, but others as well. I liked the word "creative temple" very much, and it brought up for me a term in India, "karma bhoomeee," which translates to "field of action." Field is quite appropriate, for we plant seeds with our actions, and the fruits we get now are from seeds planted in the past. If we keep planting high quality seeds, then there will come a time that someone will benefit from it. If many of us thought that way, then we would end up converting our field of action into a creative temple. In many ways, I find the space of Wednesdays to be like a creative temple given the beautiful seeds that have been planted over the years. I liked the focus on the heart, and was reminded of an NPR interview with a sociologist studying movement patterns of communities in San Francisco. At one point, when asked how she noticed so much, she commented, "To see change, one has to be slower than change." That really resonated with me. There is so much going on within us. Unless we slow down to observe (and meditation is one great tool for that), we cannot see the constant upheaval, and are left at the mercy of nature. I liked how MLK frames this as a continuum and not an absolute yardstick for morality. Reminded me of Sensei Morihei Ueshiba (the founder of Aikido) who remarked once, "It is not that I do not lose my center. I just regain it faster than others." The gap of time between the loss of center and its regaining is what we are all working to shorten and it is a work in progress.  On that note, here is a gap story from last Friday.  See full.

As an experiment, I tried reading this passage by substituting "I" for "God," and it was quite remarkable. e.g. "In the final analysis, what I require is that my heart was right." I agree. Therefore, it is time to make my actions consistent with my preferences. Chris built on this and pointed out that we should not just judge ourselves from our intentions, but others as well.

I liked the word "creative temple" very much, and it brought up for me a term in India, "karma bhoomeee," which translates to "field of action." Field is quite appropriate, for we plant seeds with our actions, and the fruits we get now are from seeds planted in the past. If we keep planting high quality seeds, then there will come a time that someone will benefit from it. If many of us thought that way, then we would end up converting our field of action into a creative temple. In many ways, I find the space of Wednesdays to be like a creative temple given the beautiful seeds that have been planted over the years.

I liked the focus on the heart, and was reminded of an NPR interview with a sociologist studying movement patterns of communities in San Francisco. At one point, when asked how she noticed so much, she commented, "To see change, one has to be slower than change." That really resonated with me. There is so much going on within us. Unless we slow down to observe (and meditation is one great tool for that), we cannot see the constant upheaval, and are left at the mercy of nature.

I liked how MLK frames this as a continuum and not an absolute yardstick for morality. Reminded me of Sensei Morihei Ueshiba (the founder of Aikido) who remarked once, "It is not that I do not lose my center. I just regain it faster than others." The gap of time between the loss of center and its regaining is what we are all working to shorten and it is a work in progress. 

On that note, here is a gap story from last Friday. After watching Wavy Gravy's cool film which Nipun blogged about, we were outside, chatting. A friend came over and suddenly asked me about someone I knew from the past, someone whose memories left a bad taste in my mouth. While I was vibrating with so much positive energy received from the gathering and elsewhere, there was this pot of negativity, tucked away somewhere, and it was for me to choose what to do with it. Ordinarily, I might have told my friend, "come, lets both drink (from this) pot," but this being an evening of freedom, I said, "I have nothing charitable to say about this person, so I'd rather not say anything." 

Sounds picture perfect, only it wasn't. In order to come up with that response, I realized that I had drunk a little bit from the pot, and my heart was heavy. That night, as I introspected (that's the gift of a heavy heart), I remembered S. N. Goenka's (teacher of Vipassana meditation) radio interview, which I'd heard two years back, on this tiny dingy tape sold for a dollar at a bookstore in North Fork. In that interview, he was recounting his Burmese experience. The Burmese government, in a fit of nationalism, kicked out all who didn't look Burmese (so the Indians and Chinese were rendered homeless). They also took over all industries, and this included Mr. Goenka's companies, leaving him stranded in India where he'd gone to visit. As he recounted all of this, I was astounded not just with the words but the compassion in his voice. I remember he kept saying, "Oh, they took over every industry because they were convinced it was in the national interest, and therefore they took over my company too." There was not a trace of anger or regret in his voice. Those who have heard him speak might remember how he talks about people who act foolishly, "Oh, they don't know how much they are suffering. May they be happy!" with so much compassion.

That is a very high standard. When a man loses all his possessions and has to start from scratch, and he finds it within himself to not harbor a trace of hatred, that is a saintly man and an ideal to aspire to, an inspiration to shorten the gap. 

The stories shared this Wednesday were very deep. Mia's story was mindblowing - how she faced three people with a gun, and did not worry about her own life - only that they had robbed a nun she was accompanying of her only possessions. Mia shared it with so much compassion - how she was convinced that if she only talked to these people, they would understand and return what they had stolen. Although that did not work, she found herself feeling happy for them as they might benefit from the good vibrations of the nun's bowl and the teachings of the Buddha in her bag.

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Building a Creative Temple, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

FaceBook  On Dec 8, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Love reading all the reflections. Some random thoughts.. 1. Zero and Infinity: Zero is infinity turned on its head. If infinity is God, then zero must be God turned on its head, which by definition, should still be God. Why I like zero more than infinity is that zero has no beginning and no end - it captures so simply in one stroke the greatest truth of nature - what goes around, comes around. Infinity says the same thing in a more twisted manner. :) I was reminded of the ancient Sanskrit aphorism: "This is complete (zero). That is complete (zero).  From this completeness (zero) comes that completeness (zero). When that completeness (zero) is taken away from this completeness (zero), what remains is still completeness (zero)." From zero comes zero - that is the foundation of all science (from nothing comes nothing). Removing zero from zero leaves zero - that is the foundation of all math. So much for the distinction between science and spirituality. :) 2. Significance of Temple: Going to physical temples is not part of my habit-pattern. And yet, when I do go once in a blue moon, I find a concentration of goodwill, a space where it is legitimate to forget my ego and still my heart. Where it is legitimate to recognize the infinite realities that make each moment possible. It does not matter which temple it is, and what the specific beliefs might be - the science of spirituality is such that the effects are very similar as long as the pursuit is beyond the smaller self. I totally agree with Sanjeev - one can create a temple in one's own home with one's intention and consistent action. On that note, I find Wednesdays to be a temple, for all practical purposes, where we not only work on deepening our awareness but also support each other in doing so, thereby recognizing our interconnections. 3. Knowing the Difference: Catherine asks: How to stand strong and stay in control and not give in to emotion, but keep the heart pure and still act with the e  See full.

Love reading all the reflections. Some random thoughts..

1. Zero and Infinity: Zero is infinity turned on its head. If infinity is God, then zero must be God turned on its head, which by definition, should still be God. Why I like zero more than infinity is that zero has no beginning and no end - it captures so simply in one stroke the greatest truth of nature - what goes around, comes around. Infinity says the same thing in a more twisted manner. :) I was reminded of the ancient Sanskrit aphorism:

"This is complete (zero). That is complete (zero).
 From this completeness (zero) comes that completeness (zero). When that completeness (zero) is taken away from this completeness (zero), what remains is still completeness (zero)."

From zero comes zero - that is the foundation of all science (from nothing comes nothing). Removing zero from zero leaves zero - that is the foundation of all math. So much for the distinction between science and spirituality. :)

2. Significance of Temple: Going to physical temples is not part of my habit-pattern. And yet, when I do go once in a blue moon, I find a concentration of goodwill, a space where it is legitimate to forget my ego and still my heart. Where it is legitimate to recognize the infinite realities that make each moment possible. It does not matter which temple it is, and what the specific beliefs might be - the science of spirituality is such that the effects are very similar as long as the pursuit is beyond the smaller self. I totally agree with Sanjeev - one can create a temple in one's own home with one's intention and consistent action.

On that note, I find Wednesdays to be a temple, for all practical purposes, where we not only work on deepening our awareness but also support each other in doing so, thereby recognizing our interconnections.

3. Knowing the Difference: Catherine asks:
How to stand strong and stay in control and not give in to emotion, but keep the heart pure and still act with the emotions of courage and love?  How to know the difference?

There are many levels to this question. The second question can be answered by developing thoughtful tests for oneself. If there is even a trace of hatred for someone else in an interaction, then the heart is not pure. Is it possible? Yes - when a parent, with decisive force, yanks the toddler away from the power socket before its fingers make contact, there is not a trace of hatred - just compassion leading to decisive action.

The first one is much harder to answer. The wise folks say there are four broad paths by which we can practice deepening our connection with ourselves. People usually turn the knobs on one of them while also having the other three in their lives to a lesser degree. These four paths are: love, science, intellectual inquiry and action. Those who have the ability to believe in God usually choose the path of love, and use the attachment to God to break the attachment to smaller things. The trap in this path lies in the development of fundamentalism, where one starts to take one's own belief as the only way to go.

The path of science involves scientifically observing one's mind, stilling it, and seeing what lies beyond the mind. The metaphor for the mind is that of a lake with ripples. As long as the ripples exist, it is very hard to see through. When the water is calm, only then can we see what lies beneath the water. In this path, no God-belief is needed, but it is also hard and requires more strength than the others. The trap in this path is the discovery of special abilities which can become a huge distraction and stop the process of exploration.

The path of intellectual inquiry is for those who like logic, and need all their life philosophy to be logical. It is the use of logic to ultimately transcend logic and get to the same end. The trap in this path is that we can get stuck with dry intellectual debates and not deepen in awareness and understanding. 

The path of action is for those who find daily survival interfering with the above three paths :). For them, action becomes the means of transcending the ego, by treating work as worship. The person being served is treated as God incarnate (or as one worthy of our full presence and attention in more secular language). Through service comes growth, wisdom and understanding, and no separate worship is necessary. The trap in this path that we may delude ourselves in thinking we are serving in a detached manner, when in reality, we are feeding our egos.

In general, all of us have some elements of each of these paths in our lives. Typically, we turn up the knobs on one or more of these, depending on our natural inclinations. The wise ones tell us that although the paths look very different, the understanding that comes at the end is the same (like a mountain in Hawaii, having very different landscapes depending on which side you're climbing from, but with the same view at the top :).

In summary, the value placed is not on the destination (being unable to lie, always standing up for the truth, etc.), but on the journey, where each step is honored along with all the steps that came before it, and all the steps to follow.

Finally, if there must be judgment of how we are falling short right now, then it must be balanced with how far we've come, to get the encouragement to continue on. If there is no judgment, just a fierce determination to accept the whole truth about the present moment and be totally open to the next, life is a lot easier. That is what I loved about MLK's message - total acceptance of all my faults at this time, and a total determination to keep trying to work on myself. 

4. Catherine writes: I'd like to know some real heroes or saints in my own lifetime. People that really did make a difference and didn't have to "die trying." And didn't have a solely personal agenda of their own.

If the intention is deep enough, then the saints you seek will find you.

For myself, I resonate deeply with this yearning which I went through many years back. What I am now learning is to recognize the saints who surround us in life. The other day, I watched Nipun's talk which also reminded me of something the Dalai Lama said recently at Stanford, that for nine months, we are gifted sustenance and love, without any expectations. Almost every one of us. In my life, as I think about my parents, they are my saints - always giving, and never asking for anything in return, and always full of gratitude when I send tiny gifts for them. Whenever a friend, mentor or colleague gifts me love and presence with no expectation of reward, they become a saint of that moment. In other words, saintliness is not a destination, it is a process, that is far more consistent for some people and less consistent for others. 

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You Carry Your Wound, by Osho

FaceBook  On Dec 7, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Catherine, in response to your request, our tech team just added a feature to let people get notified of further comments when they post a comment of their own. Many will now benefit from your wish. :) As to your question, here are a few random reflections: 1) Does your experience come from your beliefs, or do your beliefs come from your experiences? If it is the former (as I find it to be most of the time for myself, upon deeper reflection), it stands to reason that if I rewire my beliefs, my experiences will change. 2) What are some helpful beliefs to plant? This is a matter of personal reflection, but some that rise up for me are: i) I have time ii) I have help iii) I have love to give and receive iv) (most important) I am free 3) Rumi says children are not of us, they are through us. Vivekananda also reflects on mother's love in his Karma Yoga essays and warns us to be careful of confusing attachment with love. An excerpt: My master used to say, "Look upon your children as a nurse does." The nurse will take your baby and fondle it and play with it and behave towards it as gently as if it were her own child; but as soon as you give her notice to quit, she is ready to start off bag and baggage from the house. Everything in the shape of attachment is forgotten; it will not give the ordinary nurse the least pang to leave your children and take up other children. Even so are you to be with all that you consider your own. ... The greatest weakness often insinuates itself as the greatest good and strength. It is a weakness to think that any one is dependent on me, and that I can do good to another. This belief is the mother of all our attachment, and through this attachment comes all our pain. We must inform our minds that no one in this universe depends upon us; not one beggar depends on our charity; not one soul on our kindness; not one living thing on our help. All are helped on by nature, and will be so helped even though millions o  See full.

Catherine, in response to your request, our tech team just added a feature to let people get notified of further comments when they post a comment of their own. Many will now benefit from your wish. :)

As to your question, here are a few random reflections:

1) Does your experience come from your beliefs, or do your beliefs come from your experiences? If it is the former (as I find it to be most of the time for myself, upon deeper reflection), it stands to reason that if I rewire my beliefs, my experiences will change.

2) What are some helpful beliefs to plant? This is a matter of personal reflection, but some that rise up for me are:

i) I have time
ii) I have help
iii) I have love to give and receive
iv) (most important) I am free

3) Rumi says children are not of us, they are through us. Vivekananda also reflects on mother's love in his Karma Yoga essays and warns us to be careful of confusing attachment with love. An excerpt:

My master used to say, "Look upon your children as a nurse does." The nurse will take your baby and fondle it and play with it and behave towards it as gently as if it were her own child; but as soon as you give her notice to quit, she is ready to start off bag and baggage from the house. Everything in the shape of attachment is forgotten; it will not give the ordinary nurse the least pang to leave your children and take up other children. Even so are you to be with all that you consider your own. ... The greatest weakness often insinuates itself as the greatest good and strength. It is a weakness to think that any one is dependent on me, and that I can do good to another. This belief is the mother of all our attachment, and through this attachment comes all our pain. We must inform our minds that no one in this universe depends upon us; not one beggar depends on our charity; not one soul on our kindness; not one living thing on our help. All are helped on by nature, and will be so helped even though millions of us were not here. The course of nature will not stop for such as you and me; it is, as already pointed out, only a blessed privilege to you and to me that we are allowed, in the way of helping others, to educate ourselves. This is a great lesson to learn in life, and when we have learned it fully, we shall never be unhappy; we can go and mix without harm in society anywhere and everywhere.

4) A famous Buddhist teacher whose son passed away was in tears at the funeral. He was asked why, after a lifetime of learning and teaching detachment, he was still in tears? He replied, "Yes, I know the teaching, but sometimes, it is hard."

Hang in there..

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You Carry Your Wound, by Osho

FaceBook  On Dec 6, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:
Patsy, loved reading your thoughtful response.
 

Stop Eating Our Corn!, by Akinori Kimura

FaceBook  On Nov 26, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

This piece is profound in its pointing out a big tragicomedy in life. Whenever we act without reflection, without understanding nature, the results take us further away from nature and create many more problems. And when we try to understand nature, most of the problems we face disappear, and those that remain have simple solutions.

In a chat with my father-in-law, he shared a story. Malaria is on the rise in India, and has increased after efforts to spray and destroy the parasites. It turns out that the sprays, instead of killing the mosquitoes carrying the parasite, ended up killing the fishes in the swamps where mosquitoes breed. If left alone, the fishes would be eating up mosquito larvae. So, with an intervention that did not try to understand what was so, matters became much worse. Tragicomedy abounds. Now, it turns out, using fish to control malaria was a traditional solution in India, until modern science brought with it DDT :). Worked temporarily, more expensive, and now the mosquitoes are resistant to DDT. We're going back to observing and harmonizing with nature, according to this BBC article

It seems to me that understanding nature properly must be preceded or accomplished by understanding our own nature, for there doesn't seem to be two natures here. I believe Kimura learned more about himself as he learned more about the nature of raccoon dogs.

My takeaway is that if we make the spirit of abundance our starting point, then our mind might clear up to discover it in our universe, and we might get closer to our true nature, where boundaries don't reach.

 

A Realm Beyond Measurement, by Andrew Cohen

FaceBook  On Nov 4, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Ven. Bhikku Bodhi gave an incredible talk last night. Starting off with the story of his life, he shared how he resisted studying Buddhism initially upon finding related books in a bookstore. He finally picked it up, and found himself resonating with it. He wanted to study it formally but at that time, there was no program he knew that offered it. Later, he found out that the University of Wisconsin in Madison did offer it, but he had already enrolled in a program in western philosophy. During that program, he took a road trip with some friends that stopped at Madison for the night. In the morning, as he took a walk through the campus, he saw from the corner of his eye that a monk left a building, passed in front of him and entered another building, along with a western man. Due to his shyness, he could not get himself to meet this monk, but little did he know that he was to meet this monk only two years later, and discover a similarity in purpose (the monk translated the four Nikayas from Pali into Vietnamese, while Bhikku Bodhi has translated three of them into English). The story in its full color may be accessed here (and in a more colorful form here). Bhikku Bodhi then shared the story of the ripple effects of an editorial piece titled “Challenge to Buddhists,” where he pointed out the need for Buddhists to not just go inward, but also to serve outward. Several of his students resonated with this and founded the organization “Buddhist Global Relief,” which has been chosen by the Obama administration to be on a task force on inter-faith action. The Q&A began, and this is when gems started pouring out one after the other. Someone shared that he was uncomfortable receiving gifts. To which, Bhikku Bodhi replied (paraphrased), “It is important to honor the giver and the space they are coming from. Remember that by honoring them, you are helping them practice giving, which is very important for their development. Often times, we get  See full.

Ven. Bhikku Bodhi gave an incredible talk last night. Starting off with the story of his life, he shared how he resisted studying Buddhism initially upon finding related books in a bookstore. He finally picked it up, and found himself resonating with it. He wanted to study it formally but at that time, there was no program he knew that offered it. Later, he found out that the University of Wisconsin in Madison did offer it, but he had already enrolled in a program in western philosophy. During that program, he took a road trip with some friends that stopped at Madison for the night. In the morning, as he took a walk through the campus, he saw from the corner of his eye that a monk left a building, passed in front of him and entered another building, along with a western man. Due to his shyness, he could not get himself to meet this monk, but little did he know that he was to meet this monk only two years later, and discover a similarity in purpose (the monk translated the four Nikayas from Pali into Vietnamese, while Bhikku Bodhi has translated three of them into English). The story in its full color may be accessed here (and in a more colorful form here). Bhikku Bodhi then shared the story of the ripple effects of an editorial piece titled “Challenge to Buddhists,” where he pointed out the need for Buddhists to not just go inward, but also to serve outward. Several of his students resonated with this and founded the organization “Buddhist Global Relief,” which has been chosen by the Obama administration to be on a task force on inter-faith action.

The Q&A began, and this is when gems started pouring out one after the other. Someone shared that he was uncomfortable receiving gifts. To which, Bhikku Bodhi replied (paraphrased), “It is important to honor the giver and the space they are coming from. Remember that by honoring them, you are helping them practice giving, which is very important for their development. Often times, we get something that we don’t need. Even then, it is important to take a little bit to honor the giver. When you receive a gift, do not give it away to others immediately. Hold on to it for a little bit so that the giver’s desire to have given is fulfilled, and then you may give it to others.” This last part was a very subtle insight, of great relevance to us, especially in the CF community that places an emphasis on paying-it-forward.

This advice triggered a memory of Rev. Heng Sure at the recent CF retreat. Just after the retreat had concluded, I saw a lady who walked up to the Reverend and said, “I just love your face!” Without batting an eyelid, the Reverend responded, “What a nice thing to say!” He could have said, “Thank you!” but didn’t, and his response was all about honoring the giver of the compliment, without necessarily commenting on its receivability. It seems to me that such simple and authentic responses can only come after a lifetime of mindful practice.

Another question to Bhikku Bodhi was on the distinction between pain and suffering, of which he has personal experience, dealing with an incurable headache for over 25 years. He shared some nuanced thoughts, of which the gist is that pain should not be identified with the ego. When that mistake is committed, the pain turns into suffering, and becomes “my pain.” He also shared a deep insight that comes from meditation - that what we label as pain is not any one thing, but several undesirable sensations, arising and passing away. Meditation is a powerful tool to be able to see this for oneself, and break our revulsion to pain and develop acceptance.

On acceptance, he suggested the four big acceptances (if I remember correctly) of things that are bound to happen: The acceptance of pain, the acceptance of sickness, the acceptance of our death and the acceptance of separation from all our loved ones.  Someone asked about the role imagination and creativity, to which he responded that the Buddha didn’t have much to say on it, but if someone was creative, they should definitely use their creativity for the good of others. Another question was on scientific evidence around reincarnation, and Bhikku Bodhi talked about Dr. Ian Stevenson, who has conducted rigorous scientific study around past-life memories, and concluded that in some cases, the hypothesis of reincarnation was the simplest to accept.

My question was on the massive political confusion we see in the world, as also organizational confusion. Everyone wants to help the world, but each believes the others’ methods are flawed and actually harm. The Buddha talked about combining the heart and the head when making decisions. What are some concrete guidelines to help us do this?

Bhikku Bodhi first warned about the dangers of politics - even the best-intentioned people find themselves intertwined with all kinds of constraints where they are unable to do any good without making big compromises on their values. The very nature of politics or a position of power is such that it entraps our ego with the notion of holding sway over others. Then, he shared the Buddha’s advice, captured in the form of “Dasa Raja Dhamma” or “The Ten Guiding Values of Governance.” They were:

  1. Dana or Practicing Generosity
  2. Sila or Developing Strong Moral Character
  3. Pariccaga or Renunciation for the good of others
  4. Ajjava or adherence to telling the whole truth
  5. Maddava or kindness/gentleness  
  6. Tapa or restraint of the five senses
  7. Akkodha or non-anger - holding no grudges against anyone. Bhikku Bodhi talked about this at some length to another question that came up later. If we find ourselves faced with anger, the Buddha said that we should not speak and be silent lest we hurt others with words. We should certainly not act with anger, lest we cause irreparable harm.
  8. Ahimsa: Nonviolence
  9. Khanti: Patience and tolerance
  10. Avirodha: Non-opposition and enmity. The ruler should not oppose the will of the people

I found these ten values remarkable. By the time Bhikku Bodhi had enumerated #4, I wondered if anyone was left in the political establishments I know who would make the cut. #10 also stood out for me as a big deal - the Buddha does not distinguish between one and the many. He does not say, “do what is best for the most,” which is the governing principle behind a democracy. It seems that the only way to be consistent with #10 is to adopt an approach of noncoercion. If even half of these values are seriously practiced in an organization or a political group, that organization or group would be a shining light in the world. I found myself remembering Kautilya’s Arthashastra, a treatise on economics and governance in India, where the central focus is on developing a Rajarshi, or sage-king, with a similar set of values (with some differences :). 

Later, Bhikku Bodhi also answered the second part of my question, by suggesting the use of reflection and contemplation along with compassion before making decisions.

Finally, Nipun shared a story about CF Mom. When she was bending down to pick up a morsel of food that had fallen, she suddenly let out a shriek. Nipun was upstairs, and came down - she had pulled a muscle in her back. Nipun, being Nipun, told her, "What better way to be in pain than in the service of others." That she was glowing in the service of others is an understatement - preparing food with a pulled muscle for a 100 people with such a warm smile makes all of this a philosophy of action, and gives us great encouragement to practice it.

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Mighty in Contradiction: Love Powerfully, by Patty De Llosa

FaceBook  On Nov 2, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

This passage made me wonder what the biggest contradiction of my life was. After the meditation, it became clear. "I" am the biggest contradiction. At a deeper level, we are an undifferentiated whole, and this undifferentiated whole finds no meaning without "I." The "I," funnily enough, finds no meaning unless it goes back toward realizing it is a part of the undifferentiated whole. What a contradiction!

I was reminded of a wise monk who, over a hundred years back, reflected on the human condition and refused to think of it as an illusion (the usual translation for maya). Instead, he emphasized that it is a contradiction. Thinking about the difference b/w these two words, it seems to me that illusion is a condition we can find ourselves helplessly facing. Contradiction is created in our minds due to the lines we've drawn on the undifferentiated whole. In other words, contradiction is about decisions we make, and so, if we draw lines differently, we can always go to a plane where the contradictions don't exist. The path of waking up seems to be one of drawing fewer and fewer lines, and therefore, facing fewer and fewer contradictions.

Finally, the notion of love as a tool to break contradictions resonated with me. Love, if one were to look at it scientifically, gets us to forget the lines we've drawn, however momentarily. The moment we forget the lines, we also forget the contradictions that arose from those lines, and therefore, experience greater oneness with the undifferentiated whole. 

 

An Undying Faith of the Infinite in Us, by Rabindranath Tagore

FaceBook  On Oct 25, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

I loved reading Patsy's comment - a very powerful observation that as we grow older, our physical experiences are more difficult than our emotional ones. Made me think that we are wired to learn, even if we do our best not to.

I liked Tagore's emphasis on the "should" as opposed to what we "do" have, and find that to be the genesis of all creation. If we were merely satisfied by a clear understanding of what is happening as it really is, and not as we want it to be, we would end up being indistinguishable from the unity we often find ourselves in, and which, many traditions claim, is our ultimate goal. Tagore is a rebel poet - and he says, how boring! We are Gods, here to create, and that involves limiting the limitless, the only way in which the limitless can express itself.

Of course, Tagore's creation is not a mind running astray, rather, it is the expression of stillest mind possible, that does see things as they truly are, and out of a mischievous twinkle in the eye, decides to create. My professor once expressed this idea without ever reading Tagore, when he announced to our group that we were all Gods. A colleague asked, "Then, why are we here?" 

He responded, without a grin, "Because, you see, it is boring to be God." I laughed at first, and then stopped.

 

The Mystery Never Leaves You Alone, by John O'Donohue

FaceBook  On Oct 14, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

I found myself pondering on the word "doomed." The wise ask us to meditate on mysteries, and that worked quite literally for me. This Wednesday was one of those days when I came in exhausted. I was dozing initially. I know because I was seeing things - animated and exciting conversations or situations. And then, I realized the mind had run off, and Viral's gentle suggestion came to mind, "Keep both doors of your mind open and let thoughts enter and leave. Don't serve them tea." So I saw one dream off, and there came the next dream. Again I realized the wandering, and came out, and again came the next one. This went on couple dozen times in quick succession until I realized what was going on. I had wished for clarity on doom. My tired body and mind had granted my wish. This is doom. The unchanging changefulness of (my own) nature, that will tempt me, wrap me, grab me, no matter how many hours of meditation I've put in. No matter where I am. The laws of nature that govern my body and all else will always follow their own programming. But then, there is the privilege too. The privilege to remember wisdom. The privilege to remember, period. The moment I remember that I'm a witness, and that I am here, a strange strength arrives, proportional to the amount of rememberance, which helps me transcend the bindings of nature. As soon as I realized I was here, and I had experienced doom quite literally, the dreams stopped. And it became clear that I've gone through this process many times before, struggled at many meditation retreats before this session, and that I will continue to struggle in future as well. And that is cool.  I remembered Nipun and Viral's sharing from their respective 30 days, which, even after being practiced meditators, was quite rough. I remembered CFMom's sharing of times when she struggles with her own nature (which is unbelievable to anyone who knows her). A connected thought that arose was from Rabindranath Tagore's book c  See full.

I found myself pondering on the word "doomed." The wise ask us to meditate on mysteries, and that worked quite literally for me. This Wednesday was one of those days when I came in exhausted. I was dozing initially. I know because I was seeing things - animated and exciting conversations or situations. And then, I realized the mind had run off, and Viral's gentle suggestion came to mind, "Keep both doors of your mind open and let thoughts enter and leave. Don't serve them tea." So I saw one dream off, and there came the next dream. Again I realized the wandering, and came out, and again came the next one. This went on couple dozen times in quick succession until I realized what was going on. I had wished for clarity on doom. My tired body and mind had granted my wish. This is doom. The unchanging changefulness of (my own) nature, that will tempt me, wrap me, grab me, no matter how many hours of meditation I've put in. No matter where I am. The laws of nature that govern my body and all else will always follow their own programming.

But then, there is the privilege too. The privilege to remember wisdom. The privilege to remember, period. The moment I remember that I'm a witness, and that I am here, a strange strength arrives, proportional to the amount of rememberance, which helps me transcend the bindings of nature. As soon as I realized I was here, and I had experienced doom quite literally, the dreams stopped. And it became clear that I've gone through this process many times before, struggled at many meditation retreats before this session, and that I will continue to struggle in future as well. And that is cool. 

I remembered Nipun and Viral's sharing from their respective 30 days, which, even after being practiced meditators, was quite rough. I remembered CFMom's sharing of times when she struggles with her own nature (which is unbelievable to anyone who knows her).

A connected thought that arose was from Rabindranath Tagore's book called "Sadhana," which I'd recently found in a free PDF form on Google Books. In particular, the chapter that really struck me was "Realization in Action" or Karma Yoga. The gist of it was that when we create, we are essentially creating limitations. That is the meaning of creation. Creating limitation is not the curtailment of our freedom, rather, it is the highest expression of it. What a tremendous idea!

We draw the lines with our creativity, and our freedom lies in where we choose to draw the lines. But draw we must, else our inner freedom is meaningless. The human pursuit is that of expressing the inexpressible internal freedom in countless external ways.

I resonated with the gift of presence, the visible sign of invisible grace. Indeed, that breaks the mystery of nature in so many amazing ways. 

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Along the Thread of our Inner Sincerity, by Adyashanti

FaceBook  On Sep 30, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Pavi opened the circle by sharing a story of a sit in India, where someone shared how he spent only 15 minutes of the hour actually meditating, while the rest of the time was spent imaginging the crescent moon. This brought up the question of sincerity - to external appearances, we are meditating, but are we honoring that external act with an internal commitment? Varsha built on this and pointed out that the sharing of the meditator of his failing was also an act of sincerity at one level. Pavi also shared how, with rising awareness, one could see if one's action had the purity of intention, or if multiple intentions were mixed into it. This was a remarkable comment and helped me see in a different way. Building on this, it seems to me that I must try to see what I'm mixing up with great clarity. Only after that can I start to exercise freedom to choose what paints I want to mix, should I choose to do so. The emphasis is on freedom - the paints should not mix up because I can't help it, they should only mix up because I want to paint that way. Chris and Kanchan raised the question - what is the difference between authenticity and sincerity. To me, authenticity is about truth-telling and ensuring that my actions are consistent with that truth. However, I could arrive at a low level of truth and be authentic about it. I could be an authentic idiot, only causing harm. Sincerity is what keeps my authenticity from becoming dangerous. Sincerity is what pushes me to find a deeper truth and not be satisfied with what is apparent. In the practical setting, if I don't like someone, I can say so for that is my truth. But my sincerity should push me to check why I don't like someone - and then I find it is not the person but the space that person is creating that I am uncomfortable with. That is a deeper truth that I could then express. Or perhaps, I am the one creating the space I don't want to be in. That is an even deeper truth. Ram uncle shared that he wondered why taking  See full.

Pavi opened the circle by sharing a story of a sit in India, where someone shared how he spent only 15 minutes of the hour actually meditating, while the rest of the time was spent imaginging the crescent moon. This brought up the question of sincerity - to external appearances, we are meditating, but are we honoring that external act with an internal commitment? Varsha built on this and pointed out that the sharing of the meditator of his failing was also an act of sincerity at one level. Pavi also shared how, with rising awareness, one could see if one's action had the purity of intention, or if multiple intentions were mixed into it. This was a remarkable comment and helped me see in a different way. Building on this, it seems to me that I must try to see what I'm mixing up with great clarity. Only after that can I start to exercise freedom to choose what paints I want to mix, should I choose to do so. The emphasis is on freedom - the paints should not mix up because I can't help it, they should only mix up because I want to paint that way.

Chris and Kanchan raised the question - what is the difference between authenticity and sincerity. To me, authenticity is about truth-telling and ensuring that my actions are consistent with that truth. However, I could arrive at a low level of truth and be authentic about it. I could be an authentic idiot, only causing harm. Sincerity is what keeps my authenticity from becoming dangerous. Sincerity is what pushes me to find a deeper truth and not be satisfied with what is apparent. In the practical setting, if I don't like someone, I can say so for that is my truth. But my sincerity should push me to check why I don't like someone - and then I find it is not the person but the space that person is creating that I am uncomfortable with. That is a deeper truth that I could then express. Or perhaps, I am the one creating the space I don't want to be in. That is an even deeper truth.

Ram uncle shared that he wondered why taking off one's shoes was correlated with the ego. To which Varsha responded that one has to bow to remove one's shoes :).

We had the tree warriors last night, who tried their best to save the trees in Berkeley. They were silent heroes, choosing to listen, and we would not have known until Nipun shared their story with us. In a chat with one of them, I found it surprising that Berkeley could not engage in creative thinking to save their trees. I find Stanford takes extra care - all old trees are marked up and either relocated or protected when construction commences. The other day, as I walked by a newly built massive engineering center at Stanford (the Huang Building), I was utterly shocked by one aspect of the construction - an old tree had been beautifully preserved in mulch, encircled by concrete steps. Imagine a mini-colisseum, where the central organizing principle and focus was a tree :). Imagine the mighty construction bowing to the simplicity of a tree and recognizing it in a grand way. 

Maybe we ought to photograph how Stanford takes care of its trees and show it to Berkeley. ;)

Ganoba as usual made a very deep comment - that sincerity is a stage reached in spirituality where we are aware of our lack of awareness, and therefore make a commitment to openness. Nipun celebrated the silent warriors who held the space. 

All in all a great circle, and we ended with a birthday song for participant from Australia!

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Untested Simplicity of the Villages, by Ram Dass

FaceBook  On Sep 16, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Pavi opened the circle by sharing that the piece appeared mischievous to her. I felt something similar, although I’d use the word "cheeky." I like cheeky. On the first reading, I found myself agreeing with Ram Dass completely. Indeed, we must be careful before romanticizing the village simplicity. I had a friend on campus who used to live a very simple life and cook everyday. Being impressed, I asked to be assigned as a roommate. By the time the assignment came through, my friend had landed a part-time job and no longer had financial issues. To my surprise, he completely gave up his simple lifestyle, and stopped cooking altogether. I asked him why his lifestyle had changed, and he told me very honestly that he was living simply because of financial constraints. This was a big wakeup call for me, not to judge exterior appearances, while also recognizing that I had no business judging someone else’s life choices.    On a subsequent reading, I realized that this piece was not about villagers at all. It was about me. I am the villager, romanticizing my own freedom (or simplicity), which means absolutely nothing until I’ve been battle-tested with temptations, and chosen to remain free (or simple). This passage is about the testability of our assertions to ourselves, in the spirit of the old adage, “Smooth seas do not a good sailor make.” :)   In the spirit of cheekiness, our monk-mind can take us on a monastic journey and gobble up inner peace all it wants, but until the monk-mind enters the monkey realm (one example would be the householder realm) to test its attainments, our claims to ourselves stand hollow. Indeed, we would be deceiving ourselves if we remained in a pleasant environment with little exterior turmoil. How do we know we are not escapists? The conclusion of this line of thinking is that as householders, we are in the most authentic space possible to develop our monk mind, much more so than the mo  See full.

Pavi opened the circle by sharing that the piece appeared mischievous to her. I felt something similar, although I’d use the word "cheeky." I like cheeky.

On the first reading, I found myself agreeing with Ram Dass completely. Indeed, we must be careful before romanticizing the village simplicity. I had a friend on campus who used to live a very simple life and cook everyday. Being impressed, I asked to be assigned as a roommate. By the time the assignment came through, my friend had landed a part-time job and no longer had financial issues. To my surprise, he completely gave up his simple lifestyle, and stopped cooking altogether. I asked him why his lifestyle had changed, and he told me very honestly that he was living simply because of financial constraints. This was a big wakeup call for me, not to judge exterior appearances, while also recognizing that I had no business judging someone else’s life choices. 
 
On a subsequent reading, I realized that this piece was not about villagers at all. It was about me. I am the villager, romanticizing my own freedom (or simplicity), which means absolutely nothing until I’ve been battle-tested with temptations, and chosen to remain free (or simple). This passage is about the testability of our assertions to ourselves, in the spirit of the old adage, “Smooth seas do not a good sailor make.” :)
 
In the spirit of cheekiness, our monk-mind can take us on a monastic journey and gobble up inner peace all it wants, but until the monk-mind enters the monkey realm (one example would be the householder realm) to test its attainments, our claims to ourselves stand hollow. Indeed, we would be deceiving ourselves if we remained in a pleasant environment with little exterior turmoil. How do we know we are not escapists? The conclusion of this line of thinking is that as householders, we are in the most authentic space possible to develop our monk mind, much more so than the monastic space, if we could only recognize the opportunity. Reason to rejoice. :)
 
Cheeky and Gandhi go together, for our "be-the-change" grandmaster had a lot of cheek. Early on in his experiments with truth, Gandhi felt that nonviolence was the best tool for the Indians for they were weak, and did not have the strength to fight wars with the British. His views underwent a sea-change and later in life, he felt that nonviolence was a weapon for the strong, not for the weak-minded. Continuing his cheekiness, he exhorted the Indians to get beyond their cowardice, and go fight wars, shed their own blood and shed other’s blood. Then, they would know the value of nonviolence, and stood a chance of becoming ahimsa warriors. Very much embodying the spirit in this passage, Gandhi had severe tests of ahimsa for himself. He said once to his niece Manu, "If I die of illness, you should declare me a false or hypocritical Mahatma. And if an explosion took place, as it did last week, or somebody shot at me and I received his bullet on my bare chest, without a sigh and with Rama's name on my lips, only then you should say that I was a true Mahatma." Prophetic words. He did not take his own attainment seriously as he felt he wasn’t tested enough. 
 
Gandhi’s cheekiness continued when he declared that his own nonviolence was nothing compared to the nonviolence of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (lovingly called Frontier Gandhi, as he came from the Northwest Frontier Provinces; also called Badshah Khan, or Emperor Khan). Khan was a full-blooded Pathan from Afghanistan. Eknath Easwaran’s biography on Khan, "A Man to Match His Mountains," recounts how it was normal in the Pathan culture to kill for honor or be killed for honor, and cycles of violence between tribes was quite common. The British were really afraid of the Pathans and did their best to keep the region divided. In this backdrop, when a Pathan declares that he will choose the path of nonviolence,  Gandhi felt that he could be believed, for he fully knew and was capable of violence. Indeed, the stories of the nonviolent resistance of the Pathans is shamefully forgotten by history, were it not for Easwaran’s remarkable account.
 
The real message in this passage for me is to be aware of my "villager-tempted moments." Regardless of my decision, am I acting from a foundation of freedom, or do I find myself compelled to act? Do I see the value of my values even when the difficulties in my external circumstances appear insurmountable? 

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But It Is There, by Kent Nerburn

FaceBook  On Sep 3, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

The circle this Wednesday was special - we had the "G" word this time, as Pavi put it. I noticed an interesting difference in my perspective. When reading the piece, I had similar judgments as Jason. However, when Audrey read it out with her soulful presence, I found it undisturbing. Viral explicitly shared this point. I liked how he brought it down to its essence - this passage is not saying "atheists/scientists be damned." Instead, it is pointing out the futility of reductionism of that which is accessible to all but cannot be really talked about. That is another amazing thing - it is often that so many of the thoughts that come up are shared by others more eloquently than I could in the same space.  And of course, there are those who take our dimension to another level. For instance, Nadia (I think it was) shared about the dimensionality in math. If we think of ourselves as 2-D creatures, on a flat plane, it is impossible for us to perceive a 3-D creature. The 3-D creature can only be perceived by us in its 2-D form, and try as it might to tell us about the third dimension, we wouldn't have the apparatus to "get it." In a sense, string theory (which she mentioned) has now brought this dimensionality into physics, where it talks about 11 (or maybe 12 by now) dimensions, all of which are connected by a string, which vibrates. Sounds esoteric, but many physicists swear by this now the same way they swore by their earlier theories. Sanjeev pointed out how Math, which is used by most sciences, has two fundamental concepts - zero and infinity, both of which are undefinable. Zero turned on its head is infinity - and we all know this equation, but where has our skepticism of the tooth fairy gone when we chose to accept it :). I believe Sanjeev will share his full comments in writing soon. I loved Rahul's comment on how we have many competing Gods in our time. People place their spiritual altar next to their entertainment altar,  See full.

The circle this Wednesday was special - we had the "G" word this time, as Pavi put it. I noticed an interesting difference in my perspective. When reading the piece, I had similar judgments as Jason. However, when Audrey read it out with her soulful presence, I found it undisturbing. Viral explicitly shared this point. I liked how he brought it down to its essence - this passage is not saying "atheists/scientists be damned." Instead, it is pointing out the futility of reductionism of that which is accessible to all but cannot be really talked about. That is another amazing thing - it is often that so many of the thoughts that come up are shared by others more eloquently than I could in the same space. 

And of course, there are those who take our dimension to another level. For instance, Nadia (I think it was) shared about the dimensionality in math. If we think of ourselves as 2-D creatures, on a flat plane, it is impossible for us to perceive a 3-D creature. The 3-D creature can only be perceived by us in its 2-D form, and try as it might to tell us about the third dimension, we wouldn't have the apparatus to "get it." In a sense, string theory (which she mentioned) has now brought this dimensionality into physics, where it talks about 11 (or maybe 12 by now) dimensions, all of which are connected by a string, which vibrates. Sounds esoteric, but many physicists swear by this now the same way they swore by their earlier theories.

Sanjeev pointed out how Math, which is used by most sciences, has two fundamental concepts - zero and infinity, both of which are undefinable. Zero turned on its head is infinity - and we all know this equation, but where has our skepticism of the tooth fairy gone when we chose to accept it :). I believe Sanjeev will share his full comments in writing soon.

I loved Rahul's comment on how we have many competing Gods in our time. People place their spiritual altar next to their entertainment altar, and we find God literally competing with the telly. Poignant thought. Reminded me of a rabbi who told me how she interpreted "Thou shalt not bow to false Gods," as referring to power, greed, etc. Makes that commandment very contemporary.

I remembered a film titled "Conversations with God" based on Neale Donald Walsh's book by the same name. In one scene, he was on stage and asked by someone to summarize what God had to say to us in five sentences. Walsh replied, "I can say it in five words. You've got me all wrong."

That had a big impact on me.

Second, I felt that the bickering between the theist and atheist camps is geographically concentrated in the west and stuck where it was 200 years back; and hasn't moved on very much. It seems so as I've been more exposed to eastern philosophy, much of which categorically emphasizes that "I am That" which I am seeking. A monk I know once looked at me with all of his compassion and strength and said, "There is ONLY God. There is nothing else. Everything we do, touch, eat, interact with is God. We are God. Not seeing that places us in great confusion." This monk would find our piece a little too tame. :)

My professor, who has come to the same conclusion, announced in a small group that we were all Gods. Then came a question, "Well, if we are God, then why are we here experiencing life?" And his reply, "Because being God is boring." We all laughed. And then I stopped laughing. He wasn't being funny. In an ancient Indian scripture called the Brihadaranyak Upanishad, the same reason is given to explain what is going on, which I'm sure my professor had not read.

In an interview, Prof. Howard shared more. Think of the board games we like to play. We know for sure that the rules are created by us, but there is no fun in constantly challenging those rules if we want to enjoy the game. We artificially put on restrictions in order to have "fun." So it is with life. We can wake up and see how we're in a game. And we can dive back in with that sense of awakening to truly enjoy our game without forgetting that it is a game. I've found this to be a very empowering way of thinking about life.

And yet, this is not the last word. The monk I was referring to said that the moment we try to speak about that, we fail to do so - we can only communicate in highly partial realities. The Guru Nanak said "Man ki baat to kahi na jaye, jo koi kahe wohi pachtaaye" - one cannot speak of what is truly "in" our mind, the moment we try to, we regret it.

How does all of this non-dualism leave any room for a dualistic God, or a God other than us? India is a land of great stories, and from this land comes another twister. There used to be this renowned master of non-dualism by the name of Totapuri, who was one of the teachers of Sri Ramakrishna, a great mystic. Totapuri tried hard to impress on his disciple that there was no God other than the self, and guided Sri Ramakrishna to come to the end of the mind, as the story goes. Sri Ramakrishna was a great devotee of the Goddess Kali, and he had to cross that barrier in order to move beyond. Then, there came a time when Totapuri had dysentry for many days. He thought to himself, "Since I am self-realized, let me give up this human bondage and free myself from this suffering." And so, the master walked into the Ganga to give up his life. He kept walking and walking and walking, and finally, reached the other end, without drowning. When he turned back to look, the temple of Kali was at the other end, and from it rose the form of Kali, laughing at him, "So, you thought you were going to take your life?" Now, the scientists say that there is a rare event where the water goes down due to the tide for a little while. :)

I remembered a past occasion when everything seemed impossible to me, and I felt completely bogged down. I called my father, having exhausted all other options, and asked for advice. He calmly said, "Don't you see, God is testing you, and until you overcome this obstacle, you cannot progress. This is for your benefit." The moment he said this, something shattered. I saw myself as an ant on a long journey, bogged down by unnecessary load. The load dropped. The energy I was investing in self-pity was unplugged. Whether or not God exists, I've found it mighty helpful to believe in God.

I have given up trying to resolve which ism is the right one for me. There was a time when it was non-dualism, and I asked a learned monk, "What do you advocate? Non-dualism or dualism?" He replied, "All-acceptism" and forever condemned me to my confusion. Or, actually woke me up.

Why should I just be one thing? I might enjoy being a dualist in the morning, an atheist during the day, a non-dualist as the sun goes down and perhaps an agnostic as I'm going to bed. I like all these different games, and I want to play them well.

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Space in the Crowded Workplace, by Ashvin Iyengar

FaceBook  On Aug 6, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

I loved reading this. Just today, I got a "reject" on a paper I'd submitted. It was fascinating as I started looking within for signs of depression, or feeling like a loser, and there were some rumblings, but as I went deeper, noticed a space with compassion - found myself agreeing with the reasons given for the reject. The reviewer did not have enough context, and I should have submitted a preceding paper before submitting the current one. Also true that there are all these other sensations which, if not observed carefully, would take me down a path I would call a mistake.

Loved the part about not needing to destroy someone else to win, and not needing to destroy oneself when conceding. Love comes from that space, and leads to acceptance.

It is amazing that to realize that life does not become all hunky-dory with awareness and equanimity. Things happen beyond our control. However, what does change is my ability to open into a deeper and more authentic space, where happiness, love, etc. and their opposites are decisions, not conditions.

 

Courage to Risk Telling the Truth, by Angeles Arrien

FaceBook  On Jul 30, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

I found myself disagreeing with the title of this passage, which implies that you need courage to tell the truth. My experience has been that the amount of courage needed is inversely proportional to the depth of the truth to be told. When the truth is shallow, a lot of work has to be done to tell it - that is when we exaggerate and economize on the truth. But when it is really deep, courage does not come to mind - one just tells it like it is. Viral pointed out another dimension to this which I ought to have picked up on, given my studies with risk. The word "risk" is misplaced - the risk of telling the truth has to be weighed against the risk involved in NOT telling the truth, which in Viral's mind (and I'm sure, many others, who have thought this through a little bit) is much higher. This connects with CFDad's comment that a lie needs to be supported by so many other lies - too much work.  I find that the hard work needed is not so much in telling the truth, but in arriving at the deepest truth we possibly can. Telling it is the easy part. Hafeez shared an important reflection - what if someone asks us how they look? Sometimes we have to be careful when telling the truth so as not to hurt others. This may look trivial but is actually a big one - are white lies lesser lies? In order to judge the quality of our decision, we must check if we created enough alternatives for ourself and if we took the time to understand our own values. If I was to ask you, "Do I look fat in this shirt?" and I was you, I'd like to say, "Somik, it is not the fault of the shirt - you look fat in every shirt you wear, but, and a big BUT, it seems to me that you are not really interested in shirts and looks, and this is really a "Do I love you?" question. Of course I do, and what's love got to do with shirts and looks? Do we share such a shallow relationship where I need to give you material affirmations? Is there any doubt that we are both destin  See full.

I found myself disagreeing with the title of this passage, which implies that you need courage to tell the truth. My experience has been that the amount of courage needed is inversely proportional to the depth of the truth to be told. When the truth is shallow, a lot of work has to be done to tell it - that is when we exaggerate and economize on the truth. But when it is really deep, courage does not come to mind - one just tells it like it is.

Viral pointed out another dimension to this which I ought to have picked up on, given my studies with risk. The word "risk" is misplaced - the risk of telling the truth has to be weighed against the risk involved in NOT telling the truth, which in Viral's mind (and I'm sure, many others, who have thought this through a little bit) is much higher. This connects with CFDad's comment that a lie needs to be supported by so many other lies - too much work. 

I find that the hard work needed is not so much in telling the truth, but in arriving at the deepest truth we possibly can. Telling it is the easy part.

Hafeez shared an important reflection - what if someone asks us how they look? Sometimes we have to be careful when telling the truth so as not to hurt others. This may look trivial but is actually a big one - are white lies lesser lies? In order to judge the quality of our decision, we must check if we created enough alternatives for ourself and if we took the time to understand our own values. If I was to ask you, "Do I look fat in this shirt?" and I was you, I'd like to say, "Somik, it is not the fault of the shirt - you look fat in every shirt you wear, but, and a big BUT, it seems to me that you are not really interested in shirts and looks, and this is really a "Do I love you?" question. Of course I do, and what's love got to do with shirts and looks? Do we share such a shallow relationship where I need to give you material affirmations? Is there any doubt that we are both destined to get ugly and then die?" 

I have found that going to the heart of the matter transforms relationships. After a conversation like the one above, I only get asked "How do I look?" questions if the person really wants to know how they look, and if that is the case, I owe it to them to tell the whole truth. Why would I not tell my friend if something is wrong with their dress, and have them be embarrassed about it later? 

So, whether I look at the shallow end or the deep end, truth seems to be the best decision. I don't have to accept the question the way it is asked - I always have the freedom to create options.

My professor says this, that those who tell the whole truth don't have to work that hard in relationships - they just tell the whole truth in every situation. I find this to be true for the times I'm mindful, although finding the whole truth does involve pausing and reflecting.

Sometimes, people bring up extreme examples to challenge the wisdom of telling the truth. For instance, if we were in Nazi Germany, and were under threat of persecution if we were a German soldier in those times who wanted to stand up for his convictions. It turns out that there was such a soldier (whose name escapes me - his story is in the book Ethics for the Real World) who stood up for his convictions and refused to participate in the massacring of the Jews. He was jailed, but since the Nazis did everything legally, they could not file charges, for they'd have to then prove that the orders given were legal, for which they'd have to go all the way up, perhaps requiring Hitler to come to court. So, our conscientous objector spent the whole war in jail, getting to live through the war, and come out as a hero. He had a good outcome, but that is certainly not guaranteed for truth tellers.

A personal story, again connected to an important point that Hafeez made - when we are not authentic, the only ones we fool is ourselves, for others know it clearly. The other day, I was in a conversation with someone who was facing some challenges. I felt a lot of compassion for this person and shared what I could to inspire this person to work harder. I felt good, so did this person-  it was from a space of authenticity. Then, we both were in a talk by a wise teacher, who pretty much echoed what I had said. My ego got inflated, and I was thrilled with the validation. At the next conversation opportunity, I tried talking about the confirmation. Surprisingly, I had to work really hard to say something meaningful, and it didn’t make me feel light at all, it didn’t help those listening (one of whom told me so). It is amazing how in the space of one evening, I could see two extremes - we have all the feedback mechanisms we need to know we are not being authentic, and the biggest one is our own experience of the moment. 

I loved Nipun’s story of him confronting someone who took a parking spot while he was trying to parallel park into it. His dilemma of whether to let it go was resolved when he thought about how instead of him, his mother or someone else’s mother might have to face this situation. So, he decided to stand up and confronted the driver, by asking, “Do you know what you did?” The driver was a kid, who replied, “I was parking my car.” Nipun asked, “And what do you think I was trying to do?” He then made clear that the driver understood this was inappropriate behavior, but he was going to let it go this time. This was remarkable at so many levels - I had an experience some weeks back of being rear-ended by an SUV - the driver was texting. While I didn’t want to fight, I made clear that he had gotten really lucky and he shouldn’t do this again. I was wondering if I did the right thing standing up, but hearing Nipun’s story laid that at rest - the principle I got out of it was this - do I want my loved ones to experience what I just experienced? If not, how can I be the change?

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Visionmaking Should be a Daily Activity, by Patrick O'Neill

FaceBook  On Jul 22, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

  Bernard Shaw's bold statement comes to mind: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." As I ask myself, who are some unreasonable men I am grateful the world has seen, many names spring to mind. In the context of vision and being unreasonable, the first name is Dr. V, a doctor who dreamt of building a massive eyecare facility starting at the age of 58, with pretty much no capital. In 18 years, he had done it, and founded Aravind Eye Hospitals. The remarkable story of Dr. V has been captured by Pavi in her film, "Infinite Vision." In the film, someone remarks that Dr. V's vision of what's possible was way beyond anything reasonable. Continuing along unreasonable people, Gandhi springs to mind. Nipun shared a story in a talk he gave at Stanford,  about when Tagore stopped by Gandhi's cottage, and asked him, "The whole country is waiting for you to lead. Do you have a vision of what to do?" Gandhi replied, "No, but you can be sure that I'm praying." Prayer was his method of achieving clarity, and from that clarity came the vision of the Dandi (salt) March, which changed the course of Indian history. Then of course, we have Nipun and the CF Posse. It takes great vision to conceive of a restaurant that feeds people and hands a check of $0. It takes great vision to make smile cards, believing that all people need is a reminder to be true to their own giving nature. One can go on and on. Now, I spend a lot of time thinking about what can be. How do I know that I'm vision-making and not daydreaming? Moreover, the piece talks about avoiding apathy. Apathy and equanimity seem to look alike - both involve not reacting to stimuli. How do I know my non-reaction is out of apathy or equanimity? The test, I believe, has to do with love and presence. In apathy, there is no love, and a lot  See full.

 

Bernard Shaw's bold statement comes to mind: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

As I ask myself, who are some unreasonable men I am grateful the world has seen, many names spring to mind. In the context of vision and being unreasonable, the first name is Dr. V, a doctor who dreamt of building a massive eyecare facility starting at the age of 58, with pretty much no capital. In 18 years, he had done it, and founded Aravind Eye Hospitals. The remarkable story of Dr. V has been captured by Pavi in her film, "Infinite Vision." In the film, someone remarks that Dr. V's vision of what's possible was way beyond anything reasonable.

Continuing along unreasonable people, Gandhi springs to mind. Nipun shared a story in a talk he gave at Stanford,  about when Tagore stopped by Gandhi's cottage, and asked him, "The whole country is waiting for you to lead. Do you have a vision of what to do?" Gandhi replied, "No, but you can be sure that I'm praying." Prayer was his method of achieving clarity, and from that clarity came the vision of the Dandi (salt) March, which changed the course of Indian history.

Then of course, we have Nipun and the CF Posse. It takes great vision to conceive of a restaurant that feeds people and hands a check of $0. It takes great vision to make smile cards, believing that all people need is a reminder to be true to their own giving nature. One can go on and on.

Now, I spend a lot of time thinking about what can be. How do I know that I'm vision-making and not daydreaming? Moreover, the piece talks about avoiding apathy. Apathy and equanimity seem to look alike - both involve not reacting to stimuli. How do I know my non-reaction is out of apathy or equanimity? The test, I believe, has to do with love and presence. In apathy, there is no love, and a lot of hate if we dig deep enough, most of it being self-hatred. In equanimity, not only is there an absence of hate, there is a tremendous amount of presence, and a love of all that is, without distinction. When I daydream, I am trying to make the unbearable present a little more bearable until I can get out. In vision-making, I have fully accepted the present, and with great clarity, I now see what I can be and help be. The ancients, when they had such moments of clarity, would utter "So be it."

Indeed, Paul hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that vision-making at its essence is about clarity, seeing things as they are, being open to possibilities. He shared the story of John Wood, an overworked Microsoft executive, who was hiking in Nepal, and a chance encounter led him to discover that schools in Nepal lacked books. So, he became the change, and collected donated books, and took them to these schools, on the back of donkeys. 

It seems to me that the difference between an ego-centered vision and an ego-less vision is that we try to lead the former and the latter leads us. An ego-less vision is so inspiring to us that we understand the meaning of "the path has found us." Such a vision also brings people together in an inexplicable way to serve on shared journeys. When being fulfilled, the journey on such visions becomes the reward. The vision nourishes us. We sometimes feel that the visions are through us and not from us. An ego-centric vision on the other hand, drains us of our life-force, requiring constant nourishment.

As I reflect on these two distinctions, it seems to me that the ego-centric vision can take insidious forms, and the biggest sign of it is that we go deeper into confusion and further away from clarity. The ego-centric vision leads to more apathy and less empathy, with a very narrow understanding of "I." 

To make this concrete, I was having a conversation with someone - lets call him John. John is very frustrated with his job, and constantly bickers. Since I've known John for a while, I know that he has a really good deal. People love him at work, and he constantly gets opportunities for growth that other people would really envy. Yet,  he takes none of them, choosing to believe that he has a really bad deal, and looking for the greener grass on the other side. Of course, his frustration is that he does not know where to find this grass. It is so easy to see the mistakes of others than our own, and it was clear that John was abusing his own life. He could not do any vision-making because there was so much hate in his mind. He was apathetic to himself, with a very ego-centric vision of himself progressing in ways that were not clear, and becoming very angry with anyone who interacted with him in ways that he did not approve. Long story short, I tried putting myself in his shoes and realized one important thing, a piece of wisdom a mentor had shared long back, "Before you can reject, you must accept."

In other words, I can only say that I don't want something if I know, truly know, that something. One cannot truly know something if one does not love that something. So, in order to know where I must go and what is for me, I must love with no exceptions, and comprehend what is in front of me. That brings knowledge, and the test of true knowledge is mastery and excellence. Only when I am the master can I, with freedom, say that I can move on.

Bertrand Russell is a great inspiration in this regard. At a young age, he was frustrated with life and was ready to commit suicide. Just before he did so, he realized that he had not mastered a particular math problem. So he postponed his plans, and went about solving it. That led to another puzzle and to another, and finally, he gave up his plans altogether. 

Vision-making has a social aspect too. We create room for other people's visions by being genuine listeners, and when we don't listen and are too busy with our own visions, we suck out the space and diminish possibilities. Inspired vision-making necessarily involves dissociating the vision from the vision-maker. Only then can vision-makers freely attach themselves to any vision and give their whole self to it, and retain the freedom to pull back and go to another vision. 

Nipun shared the story of how the 4-minute mile was broken  by Roger Bannister, after whom many others broke it. Until Roger did this, it was considered humanly impossible. Bannister, reflecting back, did not consider this to be the greatest achievement of his life. He felt that his work thereafter in neurology was much more important. Now that is a real vision-maker!

Another great vision-maker that comes to mind is Dadasaheb Phalke, chronicled in the lovely film, Harishchandrachi Factory (available on Netflix). A man who fights against all odds to start up the Indian film industry, with the first film being on a man who is the envy of the Gods because he chooses to always tell the truth. At one point, during a screening of his films in London, he got an offer to stay on and direct films in the UK. His response, "If I don't go back, how will the Indian film industry start?" The rest, as they say, is history.

With gratitude!

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The One Goal of All Nature, by Swami Vivekananda

FaceBook  On Jul 19, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

I felt that our coming together on Wednesdays captures the four paths. When we meditate for one hour, we are walking on the path of psychology, observing the working of our own mind and developing equanimity. When we reflect on passages like this, we are indulging in the path of knowledge. When we have a few minutes of gratitude at the end, that is when we practice love. When CFMom makes food for us, when volunteers serve it, and help cleanup or stuff smile cards later, we are walking on the path of work. Infact, by our very act of coming together on a Wednesday, we have chosen to share our pursuit with others and thereby support each other's journeys. That itself is an example of selfless work. I found myself wondering what Swami V meant by "freedom," attaining which, one experiences "unspeakable bliss." Having just returned from a 10-day retreat (the path of psychology, to be sure), the explanation fresh in my mind was "freedom from mental defilements." It is pertinent to share two insights from the 10-day, that connect with freedom. Although my wife's Ayurvedic instructions helped me a lot to eat well, and I had pretty much stopped overeating this time, by Day 3, I still had stomach problems, and Day 4, like the last 10-day, was a very hard day. For some reason, most other people I spoke to on Day 10 also struggled on Day 4. In the session that the Vipassana technique was given, I was writhing in pain and dancing in the seated position. Then something shifted. The pain disappeared, but the writhing did not. Imagine the comedy of the situation - I'm observing an actor dancing around in pain, except that there is no pain and the actor and audience are one! Who is dancing? Who is witnessing? As these thoughts arose, so did a big grin. I had caught myself overreacting. I felt as if all the times I've overreacted this year came to me in an instant. The dancing stopped immediately, never to trouble me for the rest of the course, althoug  See full.

I felt that our coming together on Wednesdays captures the four paths. When we meditate for one hour, we are walking on the path of psychology, observing the working of our own mind and developing equanimity. When we reflect on passages like this, we are indulging in the path of knowledge. When we have a few minutes of gratitude at the end, that is when we practice love. When CFMom makes food for us, when volunteers serve it, and help cleanup or stuff smile cards later, we are walking on the path of work. Infact, by our very act of coming together on a Wednesday, we have chosen to share our pursuit with others and thereby support each other's journeys. That itself is an example of selfless work.

I found myself wondering what Swami V meant by "freedom," attaining which, one experiences "unspeakable bliss." Having just returned from a 10-day retreat (the path of psychology, to be sure), the explanation fresh in my mind was "freedom from mental defilements."

It is pertinent to share two insights from the 10-day, that connect with freedom. Although my wife's Ayurvedic instructions helped me a lot to eat well, and I had pretty much stopped overeating this time, by Day 3, I still had stomach problems, and Day 4, like the last 10-day, was a very hard day. For some reason, most other people I spoke to on Day 10 also struggled on Day 4. In the session that the Vipassana technique was given, I was writhing in pain and dancing in the seated position. Then something shifted. The pain disappeared, but the writhing did not. Imagine the comedy of the situation - I'm observing an actor dancing around in pain, except that there is no pain and the actor and audience are one! Who is dancing? Who is witnessing? As these thoughts arose, so did a big grin. I had caught myself overreacting. I felt as if all the times I've overreacted this year came to me in an instant. The dancing stopped immediately, never to trouble me for the rest of the course, although the pain came and went as it chose to. Freedom to laugh at myself. Freedom to catch the "I" steal the peace of the "I."

The second big insight was at two levels: micro and macro. Micro: The cause of a lot of problems in life are due to the craving of inner peace (or freedom from defilements). As long as this insidious craving exists, there can be no inner peace. This craving disguises itself as a noble and even spiritual pursuit, and is anything but. Connects to an iJourney passage earlier this year. Genuine inner peace can only start arising when the reaction to craving starts ceasing. Macro: The craving for world peace/freedom/social justice/social equality/social welfare are all insidious cravings. Taking world peace as the example, as long I crave for this, it is guaranteed that in the world I live in, at least one person is not in peace - myself. If most in my world are craving for world peace, then we will have a world there is mostly no world peace. The so-called "positive cravings" are much more dangerous than the "negative cravings," for it is much easier to get false feedback on supporting noble-sounding missions, spurring us on to deepen our misery. The only way I can contribute to world-peace or any of these noble goals is by ignoring these cravings, balancing my mind and deepening in equanimity.

What is a good test to see if I'm growing in freedom? Two questions were given at the retreat: Am I developing in gratitude? Am I giving without expectations? I can only say yes to both when the self-centered behavior recedes.

How do we develop this freedom? Two decisions we might make that help us grow in freedom are to practice awareness and equanimity.

I loved Nipun's sharing of Rev. Heng Sure's colleague who refuses to accept anything at all from anyone. When the other monks asked their teacher what this meant, as they had been told to accept gifts from others, the teacher told them that interaction with others also created a link or a bondage. For many monks who chose to serve, they'd have to give up some freedom out of great compassion for others.

In short, this might be considered the Bodhisattva's value system - these are the folks who refuse to accept what they consider full liberation (although ready for it) until every last blade of grass has been liberated! There are many who believe that we are all latent Bodhisattvas. What a thought!

But the questioning mind asks, "I can believe that I am compassionate like a Bodhisattva and stop working toward my freedom. How do I know I'm not copping out; not fooling myself?"

From some unknown depth comes this thought: Only when we experience some degree of freedom for ourselves can there be genuine compassion for others, for wanting them to experience freedom as well. Compassion that does not come from a space of genuine freedom is no compassion, it is serious confusion that can lead only to more misery, more bondage. How do we check what genuine freedom is? How many times do "I" come in the act of compassion? How much do "I" include in compassion? What do "I" find myself not free to include or not free to exclude?

The question is the answer. The answer is the question.

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A Portrait in Patience, by Pavithra Mehta

FaceBook  On Jun 29, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

I was explaining patience to someone this week, and this passage does a much better job! I loved the poetic approach. Especially these lines: "Patience is a kind of love. A love that is its own explanation in bewildered circumstance. It is an old, old woman placing a wrinkled parchment hand against the cheek of a reckless child."

Patience seems to be both a decision and an outcome. As a decision, it is the old woman knowing deep within that all is well, and the reckless child will be fine and beyond anyone's control. It is the old woman's harnessing of her deepest wisdom and picking an alternative from a space of freedom, not desperation. When such decisions have been made over and over, through committed practice, patience becomes a state-of-being, where there isn't a second thought given to it. We are not doing it, we are it.

Patience is the manifestation of withholding of judgment. I loved this too, "Patience is a kind of trust. A trust that does its part and holds the rest lightly in an open palm."

The sibling of patience is acceptance. A wise one once told me that the real sign of progress was in the level of acceptance one displayed of others, where one was equanimous with what is in front.

How do I know if I'm being a dullhead accepting what should not be accepted? I've found that wholesome acceptance has been accompanied by love, at a level that is unmistakeable. Dullheaded acceptance, on the other hand, has no expansion associated with it; rather, I've noticed fear.

Loved the previous reflections.

 

A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted, by John O'Donohue

FaceBook  On Jun 27, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Loved this passage, and found myself reflecting on "take refuge in your senses." Which senses should I take refuge in. Somehow, I am drawn to the sense of humor. When I lose my way, I also lose my sense of humor. And when I remember to laugh at the comedy of life, that is when I find my way again. I am the subject and the object of the joke, I am the one narrating the joke, and I am the one enjoying the joke. Many years back, I used to work in the concrete jungle of Tokyo in a startup. Every evening, I'd formed this habit of taking a walk with my Japanese colleague in a beautiful lush park (Arisugawa koen) right in the middle of the concrete, and while we walked, I'd try to construct language jokes and run it by my colleage, and both of us would laugh our hearts out, to return refreshed, energized and ready to help create beautiful products. I loved uncle's comment - he talked about how we may do something to uplift our spirits, but these will alleviate only our symptoms and not the root cause of our suffering, which runs deep. The only way to take out the root cause is with committed practice. This really resonated with me. We put money into our bank accounts bit-by-bit, so that we have a buffer for a rainy day. The smarter ones invest (in a smart manner) when the going is good. It is not that different in the spiritual path - when we commit to a practice, whatever it might be, the practice protects us on days when we forget who we are. That is also a good test of whether the practice we've committed to is the right one for us - if following it does not help us remember in times of need, then perhaps we should look for other practices. Aunty's comment was very deep - she has been serving for so long and she shared that she still finds herself challenged. On this wednesday, the stove was not working the way it was supposed to, and initially she panicked, and we heard some clanging of pots. But, she reminded herself soon enough that all was well, and inde  See full.

Loved this passage, and found myself reflecting on "take refuge in your senses." Which senses should I take refuge in. Somehow, I am drawn to the sense of humor. When I lose my way, I also lose my sense of humor. And when I remember to laugh at the comedy of life, that is when I find my way again. I am the subject and the object of the joke, I am the one narrating the joke, and I am the one enjoying the joke. Many years back, I used to work in the concrete jungle of Tokyo in a startup. Every evening, I'd formed this habit of taking a walk with my Japanese colleague in a beautiful lush park (Arisugawa koen) right in the middle of the concrete, and while we walked, I'd try to construct language jokes and run it by my colleage, and both of us would laugh our hearts out, to return refreshed, energized and ready to help create beautiful products.

I loved uncle's comment - he talked about how we may do something to uplift our spirits, but these will alleviate only our symptoms and not the root cause of our suffering, which runs deep. The only way to take out the root cause is with committed practice. This really resonated with me. We put money into our bank accounts bit-by-bit, so that we have a buffer for a rainy day. The smarter ones invest (in a smart manner) when the going is good. It is not that different in the spiritual path - when we commit to a practice, whatever it might be, the practice protects us on days when we forget who we are. That is also a good test of whether the practice we've committed to is the right one for us - if following it does not help us remember in times of need, then perhaps we should look for other practices.

Aunty's comment was very deep - she has been serving for so long and she shared that she still finds herself challenged. On this wednesday, the stove was not working the way it was supposed to, and initially she panicked, and we heard some clanging of pots. But, she reminded herself soon enough that all was well, and indeed, all became well. I was reminded of Viral and Nipun's recent meditation experiences (Nipuns has shared this eloquently on the CF Blog). Both have been practicing for a long time, and both still faced difficult situations where getting through their task seemed challenging.

What I took from all this is that our practice is not going to make life's situations go away. It is still going to be hot and sticky, and there will be days when we have to feed 50 people and the stove stops working. Where our practice is going to come is in realizing that we have the freedom to decide our response without forgetting who we are. I rememberd O-sensei's (the founder of Aikido) quote in a dojo in Tamalpais, "I also lose my center, but I regain it much quicker than others."

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The Fallacy of Togetherness, by Osho

FaceBook  On Jun 12, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

This passage was a little testy at first, and I found myself falling back on a belief I've decided to have. There is gold everywhere, but it comes to me covered with different amounts of mud, and it is my job to wash the mud away because I am after gold. And, the mud is not out there in the universe, it is in my mind. I felt, like others in the sharing, that the word "fools" was harsh and judgmental. But this little bit of mud washes away the moment I place myself in that category. I do not want to become the "fool" who harms other people's growth, but I know that I have done so in the past out of ignorance. I have therefore a responsibility to develop both heart and head. Head without heart is cold and intellectual and does great harm to myself and others. Heart without head leads to what some people call "idiot compassion" and also does great harm to myself and others. I have been guilty of both extremes at one time or the other, but I have seen that with patience and practice, it is possible to combine the two and truly help. Moreover, a sensitivity develops where we can recognize that the best help we can give is to accept that we cannot help, wish the other well from the bottom of my hearts and move on. The universe will unfold as it will. I liked Viral's follow-up question very much - why do ten internally-focused people still choose to sit together? The beauty of this passage lies in the ironies contained within it. I felt that our connections on Wednesdays come out so much stronger, although we hardly speak, and don't even discuss these passages. There is a unifying force within each one of us which we cannot label, and it responds to love and acceptance with greater love and acceptance. Another irony - those who value internal solitude the most usually get it least in the external form. I remember the Dalai Lama's speech at Stanford, where he mentioned that he does not get to meditate more than 10 minutes a day. The beauty  See full.

This passage was a little testy at first, and I found myself falling back on a belief I've decided to have. There is gold everywhere, but it comes to me covered with different amounts of mud, and it is my job to wash the mud away because I am after gold. And, the mud is not out there in the universe, it is in my mind.

I felt, like others in the sharing, that the word "fools" was harsh and judgmental. But this little bit of mud washes away the moment I place myself in that category. I do not want to become the "fool" who harms other people's growth, but I know that I have done so in the past out of ignorance. I have therefore a responsibility to develop both heart and head. Head without heart is cold and intellectual and does great harm to myself and others. Heart without head leads to what some people call "idiot compassion" and also does great harm to myself and others. I have been guilty of both extremes at one time or the other, but I have seen that with patience and practice, it is possible to combine the two and truly help. Moreover, a sensitivity develops where we can recognize that the best help we can give is to accept that we cannot help, wish the other well from the bottom of my hearts and move on. The universe will unfold as it will.

I liked Viral's follow-up question very much - why do ten internally-focused people still choose to sit together? The beauty of this passage lies in the ironies contained within it. I felt that our connections on Wednesdays come out so much stronger, although we hardly speak, and don't even discuss these passages. There is a unifying force within each one of us which we cannot label, and it responds to love and acceptance with greater love and acceptance.

Another irony - those who value internal solitude the most usually get it least in the external form. I remember the Dalai Lama's speech at Stanford, where he mentioned that he does not get to meditate more than 10 minutes a day.

The beauty of life cannot be confined to solitude or company. Life is both, and much more, and it is a mistake to not recognize the solitude in company. When our friends are aligned with our values, it is like different bodies and minds acting as one organism. One of the meanings of the word solitary is "being at once single" - and an aligned company leads toward "singlehood", a oneness. And when company is not aligned, that is when we are truly challenged and pushed to recognize this oneness. That is when our experience of oneness makes a quantum leap in quality. "Smooth seas never a good sailor make."

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Three Great Forces, by Brother David Steindl-Rast

FaceBook  On May 17, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Very grateful to read the reflections here. I found myself wondering that when I envision a better tomorrow and work toward it, am I not lusting for it? 

The author says, "Lust extends much wider than the sexual sphere, and essentially means attachment to something that is not present, or is not the appropriate thing right now." 

The answer seems to emerge from the last few words of the line - "is not the appropriate thing right now," suggesting awareness and discrimination. Indeed, if I act out of a desire to change the future with a specific idea of what it should be, then I am lusting for that which is not here, and many wise people have cautioned us against working with attachment. Then, must we give up envisioning the future?

It is in our nature to create, and creation involves envisioning that which is not. However, the best creators cannot explain how they create, and usually have some vision of where they want to go, but no vision of what the end result is going to be. Their life (like the rest of us) makes sense looking backwards, but not when looking forward. 

Being aware of what needs to express itself through me seems to be an important distinction that can help me check if something is appropriate or not, for awareness is the first step toward discrimination.

 

Learning to 'Presence', by Peter Senge

FaceBook  On May 6, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Neil started us off with some reflections on why habits might be important, to balance the view on challenging habits. He mentioned Viral's lovely piece on Why I Make Time to Sit, where Viral writes, "Looking within is a major pillar in my life, and if I wasn’t setting aside time to focus solely on that, that meant I was prioritizing other things, and did I really want to do that? The answer that came up for me was invariably, no, and so this became a good litmus test for how my intentions were manifesting in actuality." I liked this piece very much, for it brings up some deep questions. If we are in Viral's position having similar thoughts, how do we know that we're reacting to an impulse to feel good in meditation, versus reflecting and responding to make a better decision? The answer is in the lines that Neil quoted - Viral shared that conscious decision on prioritizing what is important, which necessarily involves stepping back, enlarging our view, and then selecting what is most judicious. It is what we mean by "freedom" - we are free to choose, and when we accept our freedom and manifest it through our actions, there is a marked difference in quality when compared to those times when we act impelled by an urge that controls us. CFDad also referred to Viral's piece - he could connect most with the following part, "the hardest part is to get yourself on the cushion – often, things flow on smoothly from there. In my experience I’ve found that, while I might regret not having sat, I’ve never regretted deciding to meditate." He found that this was so true and many of us would concur :). To me, this passage brought up the need to distinguish between reaction and response. In an interview with my professor that I had the privilege to record, he shared how one might develop awareness in life when undergoing an "ep  See full.

Neil started us off with some reflections on why habits might be important, to balance the view on challenging habits. He mentioned Viral's lovely piece on Why I Make Time to Sit, where Viral writes, "Looking within is a major pillar in my life, and if I wasn’t setting aside time to focus solely on that, that meant I was prioritizing other things, and did I really want to do that? The answer that came up for me was invariably, no, and so this became a good litmus test for how my intentions were manifesting in actuality."

I liked this piece very much, for it brings up some deep questions. If we are in Viral's position having similar thoughts, how do we know that we're reacting to an impulse to feel good in meditation, versus reflecting and responding to make a better decision? The answer is in the lines that Neil quoted - Viral shared that conscious decision on prioritizing what is important, which necessarily involves stepping back, enlarging our view, and then selecting what is most judicious. It is what we mean by "freedom" - we are free to choose, and when we accept our freedom and manifest it through our actions, there is a marked difference in quality when compared to those times when we act impelled by an urge that controls us.

CFDad also referred to Viral's piece - he could connect most with the following part, "the hardest part is to get yourself on the cushion – often, things flow on smoothly from there. In my experience I’ve found that, while I might regret not having sat, I’ve never regretted deciding to meditate." He found that this was so true and many of us would concur :).

To me, this passage brought up the need to distinguish between reaction and response. In an interview with my professor that I had the privilege to record, he shared how one might develop awareness in life when undergoing an "episode" of being upset. Here is my paraphrase, "First, accept that I am upset. That is an important awareness and creates some distance from what is happening. Next, accept that you I am having the thought "upset." We know that we are not our thoughts, and this creates more distance. Then, accept that the thought "upset" is having me. We now have enough distance to recognize that we can select our thoughts, and we might want to make a better selection." This, to me, is meditation with my eyes open.

The passage was really remarkable for it points to an important psychological theory, that of cognitive dissonance, which is now well-established in the literature (now in book form, through Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me). The theory says that we don't like having contradictory opinions, and we will go to great lengths to leave out or filter information that would have otherwise caused us to revise our beliefs. In other words, we choose "fight or flight." How might we transcend this?

In my own life, I have seen two separate instances where Nipun, and a monk I know, were being scolded for something. In both instances, both Nipun and the monk jumped over to the side of the scolder and encouraged them on, which of course led to the scolder being unable to scold any further! While developing awareness is like hitting cognitive dissonance with a hammer and cracking it up after several blows, love is like a bulldozer that scares cognitive dissonance with its mere appearance. There is something about the love that Nipun and the monk were able to invoke, definitely after a long practice of awareness, that transformed the situation.

In my own experience, whenever I have experimented loving someone that I had previously not loved (or worse, judged), the relationship has transformed, with me learning so much more than what I thought was possible. Judging others is the antithesis of love, and Jennifer's sharing reminded me of a quote that Chris sent me really made my day. "We judge others by their behavior. We judge ourselves by our intentions." What a disparity!

Pancho shared three deep things - one that I particularly liked was the third option, which my professor often advocates. Be not a believer, nor a disbeliever/skeptic. What is left is a third space, which cannot be appropriately labeled. Any questioning in this space comes from a foundation of openness and a desire to learn in the deepest way possible.

Santosh shared how she continues to learn from her children, and is more conscious of her own habits in order to set a good example for them. Parenting is a blessing-in-disguise, a great opportunity for introspection. Ripa shared beautiful thoughts which I hope she will write as a comment.

Lynn's sharing took me into a space of deep gratitude for Wednesdays - CFMom, although unwell, was there to support our journeys.

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What is Goodness?, by Rabindranath Tagore

FaceBook  On May 1, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Tagore is a poet and it shows in his prose. I found myself pondering deeper than usual on the meaning of things. First, I wondered about the difference between "will" and "wish." The word "wish" has an element of uncertainty in it, and I seem to be saying, "There's nothing I control, but if I did, I'd want this." The word "will" on the other hand, has no uncertainty in it. "I will do this." When looking at my regular conversations, I am surprised by how much wish trumps will, and often leads to untruths. For instance, when asked if I have time, I am more tempted to say, "No, I'm busy," as opposed to, "Yes, but I will spend it elsewhere for now, and will get back to you later." Second, when Tagore says, "when he realizes that he is much more than at present he seems to be," I wondered if this was a supernatural statement. Then the thought of love came to mind. When we truly love, our heart expands, and we connect in a deep inseparable, indelible way. In that moment of connection, there is no "I." There's only great joy. Love is not supernatural - it is an entirely natural experience. Third, when Tagore says, "and perhaps never humanly can be," surely now he is referring to a supernatural possibility. Let us see how love holds up here. My interpretation of human limitations is that of space and time. With space, it would be ridiculous for me to say, "I can only love you if you are within 5 feet of me." We find in ourselves an ability to love others no matter where they are. Love therefore transcends space. It is also weird for us to timestamp love. I cannot distinguish between the love I received 10 years back from someone and the love I received from someone yesterday. There is "old" love or "new" love. Love is just love, fresh and ego-transcending as ever. Thus, love transcends the limitations of space and time, and y  See full.

Tagore is a poet and it shows in his prose. I found myself pondering deeper than usual on the meaning of things.

First, I wondered about the difference between "will" and "wish." The word "wish" has an element of uncertainty in it, and I seem to be saying, "There's nothing I control, but if I did, I'd want this." The word "will" on the other hand, has no uncertainty in it. "I will do this." When looking at my regular conversations, I am surprised by how much wish trumps will, and often leads to untruths. For instance, when asked if I have time, I am more tempted to say, "No, I'm busy," as opposed to, "Yes, but I will spend it elsewhere for now, and will get back to you later."

Second, when Tagore says, "when he realizes that he is much more than at present he seems to be," I wondered if this was a supernatural statement. Then the thought of love came to mind. When we truly love, our heart expands, and we connect in a deep inseparable, indelible way. In that moment of connection, there is no "I." There's only great joy. Love is not supernatural - it is an entirely natural experience.

Third, when Tagore says, "and perhaps never humanly can be," surely now he is referring to a supernatural possibility. Let us see how love holds up here. My interpretation of human limitations is that of space and time. With space, it would be ridiculous for me to say, "I can only love you if you are within 5 feet of me." We find in ourselves an ability to love others no matter where they are. Love therefore transcends space. It is also weird for us to timestamp love. I cannot distinguish between the love I received 10 years back from someone and the love I received from someone yesterday. There is "old" love or "new" love. Love is just love, fresh and ego-transcending as ever. Thus, love transcends the limitations of space and time, and yet, love is utterly natural.

Chris and Steve built on this notion, with Chris wondering what it would be like if what we consider supernatural were instead natural. What if our thoughts of well-being traveled around the world to the intended recipient? Steve challenged the very interpretation of "super-natural" - that which is superly natural, and not unnatural in any way. Loved that observation!

Ganoba shared how he found himself on the edge between the known and the unknown, and how he has to go beyond the past (memory) to face the present.

On the topic of love, I was reminded of my own experience with the dissertation defense. To prepare on the last day, I had decided to meditate to get rid of the butterflies. As I observed the fears, the source of it became clear. It was a preoccupation with "I," will I look good, will I be able to impress others, what if others reject what I have to say? As I observed some more, every slide on my deck flashed by, and I remembered how much help and love I had received toward preparing it. That brought up a lot of gratitude - which is really love in response to love. Somehow, with the emergence of gratitude, the fear had disappeared completely, and I don't quite remember what I said, but I was very happy saying it.

Manavi pointed out how she has struggled with fear as well, and how she's had similar conclusions about the connection with the ego, versus a focus on wanting to serve and give. By connecting with the larger self which wants to be of service, one can transcend the little self.

There were many other sharings that escape my memory but the authenticity with which they were shared have left an indelible mark of love.

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Daily Life of Art, by Nina Wise

FaceBook  On Apr 22, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Some great sharings last night. Neil opened with the story of IBM didn't really think people would buy computers (maybe 40?), and Microsoft came in with a perspective that changed that forever, making computers cheaper, easier to use and smaller (as opposed to large, clunky mainframes). Creativity is about seeing things in a different way. Nipun built on this and talked about creative constraints with the example of Dr. V, who although crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, became an eye surgeon, and at the age of 58, started an 11-bed hospital to do cataract surgery with the constraint that one paying patient's fees would cover the cost of two who couldn't pay. He surprisingly made it work, and turned Aravind into the largest eyecare system in the world. Nipun also made a deeper point. There is creativity and then there is creativity. We can mix paints from a different bucket and come up with a new color. That is one kind of creativity. Or, we can create a whole new color, that leads to a new genre of possibilities. That is a deeper creativity. I liked this distinction very much, and I will build on this in a moment. What struck me was that when we create, we are really giving our being to something and heroically breathing life into it. Once our creation is up-and-running, we give our being in shorter bursts to preserve it. And then comes a time, when we destroy our attachment to our creation and let it go, caring not what happens to it. All of our life's work is a variation in the degree to which we do these three acts, and the knob we are turning is the knob of time, to decide how long each of these phases are going to be. The phase that most of us struggle with is the one of destruction, for we are brought up to look at destruction as bad or unfair. When we adopt a more holistic view benefit not just spiritually and emotionally, but also materially, for the lesser ties we have to our past creations, more freedom we have to create anew. One company that Nipun t  See full.

Some great sharings last night. Neil opened with the story of IBM didn't really think people would buy computers (maybe 40?), and Microsoft came in with a perspective that changed that forever, making computers cheaper, easier to use and smaller (as opposed to large, clunky mainframes). Creativity is about seeing things in a different way.

Nipun built on this and talked about creative constraints with the example of Dr. V, who although crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, became an eye surgeon, and at the age of 58, started an 11-bed hospital to do cataract surgery with the constraint that one paying patient's fees would cover the cost of two who couldn't pay. He surprisingly made it work, and turned Aravind into the largest eyecare system in the world.

Nipun also made a deeper point. There is creativity and then there is creativity. We can mix paints from a different bucket and come up with a new color. That is one kind of creativity. Or, we can create a whole new color, that leads to a new genre of possibilities. That is a deeper creativity.

I liked this distinction very much, and I will build on this in a moment. What struck me was that when we create, we are really giving our being to something and heroically breathing life into it. Once our creation is up-and-running, we give our being in shorter bursts to preserve it. And then comes a time, when we destroy our attachment to our creation and let it go, caring not what happens to it. All of our life's work is a variation in the degree to which we do these three acts, and the knob we are turning is the knob of time, to decide how long each of these phases are going to be.

The phase that most of us struggle with is the one of destruction, for we are brought up to look at destruction as bad or unfair. When we adopt a more holistic view benefit not just spiritually and emotionally, but also materially, for the lesser ties we have to our past creations, more freedom we have to create anew. One company that Nipun talked about was Ideo, which has formalized the process of creativity and has been the subject of numerous studies on their remarkable repeatability of creative design. What these studies have revealed is that for any product, Ideo first starts with quantity, and tries to get around a thousand ideas on the table. Of the thousand, a hundred may be considered worthy of further exploration. Of the hundred, ten are chosen to be prototyped, and of the ten, one sees the light of day, and may or may not succeed. For the one hit product that we see, we do not see the 999 products that had to be destroyed by their creators. When I say destroyed, I mean it in the sense of attachment. Such a process has led to an iconic status for Ideo, and reveals much about creativity. (see case study)

Going back to Nipun's distinction between the two kinds of creativity, it connected with a memory of  a conversation with Viral two years back. Viral was telling me how he was interested in observing his impulses and not reacting to them, and I was telling him how I couldn't stop honoring my creative impulses as they came up. Are the two ideas in contradiction, with one telling us to develop self-restraint, and the other telling us to let go? Two years hence, I don't see any contradiction. Observing impulses helps us separate the wheat from the chaff, the noise from the deeper impulses of creativity. A practical question arises, as usual. How do I know I'm not fooling myself into thinking the impulse comes from the depth of my being and is not noise? From observation, I've noticed that there are some qualities of these deep impulses - the primary one being that it sparks a sense of holiness. I immediately know that this is a good thing, with no confusion whatsoever in my mind, and the little self melts away somewhere. Then, the only thing left to do is to be led by this holiness with an openness, ready to delight in my discovery. In a sense, the path finds me. And there is no expectation whatsoever. That is the practical test. With the other kind of impulse, there is a want, and an expectation, usually followed by an imbalance and desperation.

Thinking about this now as I'm writing, there's a world of difference between the two, but I wouldn't know it without slowing down and looking at each carefully. Hence the need for restraint, not of the creative impulse but of the voices that take away our freedom to choose by impelling us to react. Doing so can help pick the purest, best impulses for ourselves (we deserve the best - hard to argue against that!)

Neil had also shared earlier how there is creativity in simplicity, and that was a kind of creativity that often gets missed. Others picked up on this. Ripa shared her beautiful experiences with children, and I hope she will regale us with the story of how she learned from her little yoga practitioners' creativity. Audrey shared a Math teaching experience with a second grader, and how she realized that concepts that have become second nature to us are alien to a child, forcing her to be creative in her teaching. Aumatma shared how native americans make a huge work of art to destroy it right after its made. Guri was reminded of the mandalas of the Tibetans which are also destroyed upon completion. Guri went on to share some beautiful stories from her travels. One was about how gorgeously the streets were decorated for easter with leaves and flowers and were all destroyed after a procession. That was the purpose of the decoration. She then talked about an experience where, because the elctricity went off, she was able to observe a spectacle of light caused by fireflies, which she'd have missed had the outage not happened.

Last night was of course, extra special, with CF Mom's birthday.

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Neighbors Are Our Practice, by Tenzin Palmo

FaceBook  On Apr 17, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

I liked this piece very much. The ideal of treating life as one long open-eyed meditation is a great one to realize. Having said that, a question did arise in my mind. When someone "pushes my buttons," how do I know that by not standing up to the neighbor who I've deemed an irritant, I am developing patience and not cowardice? And by standing up to the neighbor, how do I know I am developing courage and not impatience?  A story arose as a response. Around the time of the second Iraq war, when the protests were in full-swing in the Bay Area, the general secretary of Sarvodaya (Mahatma Gandhi's org in India) was visiting Stanford. President Bush was visiting campus, and student groups were organizing protests. Students approached the secretary and asked him to join their "civil disobedience" movement. The secretary responded, "Sure, but first I need to ask you a question to check that this is indeed Gandhian civil disobedience. Do you love Bush?" The question stunned the students, as they could not comprehend why they needed to love Bush. The secretary said, "If you don't love Bush, how can  you transform his heart? How can you protest against someone you don't love?"  That story stuck with me. Whenever I saw a friend protesting on something noble (like the lack of love on the part of some sections of our society), I wouldn't hesitate to use this yardstick on them. But the real insight came when I was at a meditation retreat (yes, they are useful too :). Although I was telling people they were contradicting themselves on basic principles, and not having love in their hearts for those they disagreed with, I myself did not have love for them as I pointed this out. In other words, the being was inconsistent with the telling (or doing). I was being hypocritical. That moment of insight was phenomenal - it was one of those moments where one does not know whether to laugh or cry. I suggest laughing :). The original  See full.

I liked this piece very much. The ideal of treating life as one long open-eyed meditation is a great one to realize. Having said that, a question did arise in my mind. When someone "pushes my buttons," how do I know that by not standing up to the neighbor who I've deemed an irritant, I am developing patience and not cowardice? And by standing up to the neighbor, how do I know I am developing courage and not impatience? 
A story arose as a response. Around the time of the second Iraq war, when the protests were in full-swing in the Bay Area, the general secretary of Sarvodaya (Mahatma Gandhi's org in India) was visiting Stanford. President Bush was visiting campus, and student groups were organizing protests. Students approached the secretary and asked him to join their "civil disobedience" movement. The secretary responded, "Sure, but first I need to ask you a question to check that this is indeed Gandhian civil disobedience. Do you love Bush?" The question stunned the students, as they could not comprehend why they needed to love Bush. The secretary said, "If you don't love Bush, how can  you transform his heart? How can you protest against someone you don't love?" 
That story stuck with me. Whenever I saw a friend protesting on something noble (like the lack of love on the part of some sections of our society), I wouldn't hesitate to use this yardstick on them. But the real insight came when I was at a meditation retreat (yes, they are useful too :). Although I was telling people they were contradicting themselves on basic principles, and not having love in their hearts for those they disagreed with, I myself did not have love for them as I pointed this out. In other words, the being was inconsistent with the telling (or doing). I was being hypocritical. That moment of insight was phenomenal - it was one of those moments where one does not know whether to laugh or cry. I suggest laughing :).

The original question can now be resolved by testing whether my being and acting are consistent. Am I manifesting the value which I'm standing up for? If I've decided to point out to someone that they do not love their enemies, is my own heart overflowing with love for them? If not, I cannot transform them and need to be patient until my heart overflows. If so, then speak I must and be the change.

Some of the sharings today were too powerful for me to even attempt trying to capture them. How does one capture the anguished cry of a soul that precedes tears of awakening? That can only be captured in our hearts as indelible impressions of pain and love which we have now experienced by being present.

Some that I could remember - Nipun shared how the sound of a stove gone truant at the start of meditation might have pushed our buttons. I remembered a wise monk who was at a certain point in his life, situated in a house next to train tracks. Every time a train passed by, the whole house reverberated, disturbing the monk's meditation. The monk went to his teacher for advice. The teacher said, "meditate on the sound of the passing train." By making the disturbance a teacher, the monk was able to transcend his aversion and progress in his meditation.

Santosh shared how her toddler son pushes her buttons, breaking the rules of the house, and how such experiences have become her teacher in developing equanimity. I sincerely hope she compiles these stories - they would inspire so many while making us smile.

Ripa shared a lovely story from her yoga teacher-training days, where she was asked to pick the most important yoga. I hope she will share the story online in its fullest glory.
Guri shared how her buttons were pushed when returning from South America, where the pace of life is very different from the US. I hope she tells her story with all its color when she gets a chance.

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We Have Forgotten Sabbath, by Wayne Muller

FaceBook  On Apr 10, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

This thought had an undercurrent of ancient wisdom which our modern sensibility has felt  uncomfortable about including in our lives. The primary one being religion (now a cliche to say that I am spiritual, not religious). I remembered a wise monk who defined the science behind religion as threefold: philosophy without which there isn't really a religion; mythology which helps us remember abstract wisdom in times of need through colorful and lovely stories; and practice (or its pejorative cousin, ritual), without which the philosophy and mythology are mere entertainment. Mindless following of rituals has been widely criticized. And yet, that which is bad, must also be good. In that vein, the author points out the benefit of the Sabbath, not in terms of the particular Jewish holiday, but in the broader sense of taking rest. So, in praise of the ritual, we note that even if we have not come across the philosophy of taking rest, and heard no stories of the wonderful benefits of resting and reflecting, by engaging (mindlessly) in the ritual of rest and reflection, we get the benefit of it. This is not all that different from brushing my teeth - every time I choose to do it, I get the benefit of dental science without studying it, or without needing to keep reading up stories of all the bad things that happen to people who do not brush their teeth. Some years back, I was mighty confused about rituals, and I think rightfully so, as there are so many wherever we look. I asked a monk, "How do I know which ritual is good for me and which is not?" He replied, "That ritual which expands your sense of who you are (who you include in I) and connects you to more and more of the universe is good. But that ritual which contracts your sense of who you are and creates disconnection from the universe is bad." That resolves the strategic question of what ritual to follow. But a tactical one follows. "Suppose I have picked a ritual, like weekly refl  See full.

This thought had an undercurrent of ancient wisdom which our modern sensibility has felt  uncomfortable about including in our lives. The primary one being religion (now a cliche to say that I am spiritual, not religious). I remembered a wise monk who defined the science behind religion as threefold: philosophy without which there isn't really a religion; mythology which helps us remember abstract wisdom in times of need through colorful and lovely stories; and practice (or its pejorative cousin, ritual), without which the philosophy and mythology are mere entertainment. Mindless following of rituals has been widely criticized. And yet, that which is bad, must also be good. In that vein, the author points out the benefit of the Sabbath, not in terms of the particular Jewish holiday, but in the broader sense of taking rest.

So, in praise of the ritual, we note that even if we have not come across the philosophy of taking rest, and heard no stories of the wonderful benefits of resting and reflecting, by engaging (mindlessly) in the ritual of rest and reflection, we get the benefit of it. This is not all that different from brushing my teeth - every time I choose to do it, I get the benefit of dental science without studying it, or without needing to keep reading up stories of all the bad things that happen to people who do not brush their teeth.

Some years back, I was mighty confused about rituals, and I think rightfully so, as there are so many wherever we look. I asked a monk, "How do I know which ritual is good for me and which is not?" He replied, "That ritual which expands your sense of who you are (who you include in I) and connects you to more and more of the universe is good. But that ritual which contracts your sense of who you are and creates disconnection from the universe is bad."

That resolves the strategic question of what ritual to follow. But a tactical one follows. "Suppose I have picked a ritual, like weekly reflection, as beneficial to me. At the moment of undertaking the ritual, other pressing actions seek attention from me. Which way do I go? Should I follow the ritual because I have committed to? Or take care of the urgent task that needs taking care of?"

Pacing by the Santa Clara venue of Wednesday, the answer seemed clear. What matters is the space I'm coming from when taking the action. Is that a space of freedom, where I see the big picture and after taking everything into consideration, act with the deepest authenticity possible? Or is that a space of desperation, where I have lied to myself about having no choice? That, to my mind, would determine whether the decision is wholesome or not. 

Finally, a story. This Tuesday, I gave a dry-run for my defense talk and my colleagues pointed out a ton of changes that needed to happen. I didn't think I'd finish on time (for Thu), and hence wrote to Nipun and Neil, letting them know that I would probably not make it (ironical, given the passage of this week). The next day, with a big plan of getting a lot done, I started off for my first appointment with the President of Stanford University. With some time to spare, I walked leisurely by Stanford's Memorial Church, and decided to circumambulate, while saying hi to Jesus. Memories came flooding back - used to do it years back when living on campus. As I walked, Jesus did not speak back, but the flowers did. There were so many gorgeous flowers, and rose bush teeming with buds, that were waiting to burst out in their full glory. There was a lovely fountain that I don't remember seeing before. The trees around seemed majestic. And the stained glass on the church inspired me to remember Christ's deep message. 

After all these thoughts, a great clarity arose. I wrote to Nipun and Neil, "Wednesday is my sabbath, and I have time." Of course, the day was just starting. As I walked in to the President's office, with ten minutes to spare, I turned on my laptop, and it went into Rescue and Recovery mode! All my past bad karma of criticizing Microsoft came back to haunt me. After telling myself that this was a test of equanimity, and remembering to pat myself with "All is well," two reboots did the job, and the meeting went fine. 

I was looking forward to spending the rest of the morning getting research done, but a mail was waiting for me. A friend had requested that I give a campus tour to a new admit, who was still deciding whether to join Stanford. First reaction, "Oh no!" Second reaction, "Wait, this is a test." So, I called the new admit at the time I was supposed to, and it went to the voicemail. I had a gift of time, and got a lot done over the next 45 mins, after which she called, and I took her on a tour, ending with a lunch meeting with colleagues and my professor. The discussion was intense, focusing on truth-telling, and we all gained so much from that conversation.

Returning, got some more work done until my officemate walked in, and said, "Hi Somik, how are you doing?" Then I knew. This was the test that all the events had been building up to. The old temptation was to say, "Very Busy!! Can't talk!" The new way was to tell the truth, "I have time, and I am spending it on research." My officemate understands this language (we help keep each other honest) and he burst out laughing, as did I. 

We ended the day with meeting the Patient from Hell, Prof. Steve Schneider, who dealt with his cancer as a decision-maker, using his education and wisdom to carve out a path-breaking treatment for himself and thousands of others. Hearing his life story over a cup of tea was so inspiring - the gist, the ones who achieve clarity are the ones who are ask the stupidest questions that no one else was brave enough to ask. 

As I headed after this to Wednesday, and reflected on everything, I realized that most of my work for the dry run was done, and of high quality, while also having been able to serve those who needed help, and learning from inspiring people. And how much of this would have been missed if I had started the day with a lie - that I am busy! This passage indeed shows that the practice of Sabbath is not a theoretical nice-to-have, but one with great practical benefits if followed. This does not necessarily mean that I will be able to make it each week, but this week's reflection gives me the clarity needed to be aware of the space from which I will make my decision to follow the ritual.

To step it up, someone pointed out that the Sabbath was a state-of-mind that could be had, even while working intensely, and he pointed out the philosophy of the Gita with the phrase "kartaram api akartaram," or "doing without doing." What if we could keep a Sabbath-mind, at rest, while engaged in intense action? Now that is an ideal to aspire for.

Ashok shared how deeply he was touched by the gorgeous temple architecture of South-East Asia (Burma, Vietnam). His rich descriptions of Angkor Vat were vivid - a culture that found the time to create an exquisite community space for reflection and self-growth. I hope he will post some pictures for the rest of us.

Bhupen uncle shared a lovely story - his grandchild pointed to his tummy and asked when he was going to have a baby! He realized he needed to create a practice around exercise, and told his grandchild "6 months!" He also shared how fluidly CF Dad would call him for a game of tennis, and he'd come over and enjoy a game with a heart at rest. He wished all of us the freedom to enjoy life as soon as possible. Now that's another ideal to aspire for.

Praveen shared a lovely reflection which he has written down as a comment, and uncle sang a lovely song (the lyrics are in here as a comment)! A friend posted the song that Meghna had sung so beautifully two weeks back.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2rlKePk3Xw

The ripples continued - person A was complimented on a T-shirt by B. Person C tagged A  with a t-shirt. A took off his t-shirt and tagged B with it (out it on his car). B had done the same a few weeks back for someone else. It is a good world.

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What Eugene Taught Me, by Linda Lantieri

FaceBook  On Apr 1, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Last night was magical with Mam Movies co-founder Meghna's stories, some of which she has captured on the CF Blog. Not possible to capture all the reactions, but just to give a flavor, people who are generally reticent could not stop thanking Meghna in the circle. From the passage, I was reminded of Gandhi's reflection which he shared at a prayer meeting. "It is my constant prayer that I may never have a feeling of anger against my traducers, that even if I fall a victim to an assassin’s bullet, I may deliver up my soul with the remembrance of God on my lips…" This reflection always brings me goosebumps. It is said that in the second after Gandhi was shot, he died uttering "Hey Ram!" I wonder if I'd be able to get over the fear and despair in such a situation and be able to see that everything was alright in the larger picture and forgive my assassin (would there be anything to forgive?). What an ideal to have in life! It seems to me that over the decades, Eugene's story speaks to Gandhi's reflection, in that it is indeed possible to forgive, and we must do so for our own sake. There were fewer reflections today as everyone was soaking in the force of Meghna's sharing. Chris shared the amazing story of his birthday gift, where CFers joined in to make art work at a station. Near the elevator, Pancho drew in a "welcome home" mat. Passengers were so thrilled that they joined in the art-making exercise with a big smile. Praveen shared that everyone at the circle probably has deep stories behind their life, and Nipun added Praveen's story of gifting his favorite t-shirt at Karma Kitchen (see picture from the receiver).  Someone (Kyle?) shared the story of how he shared loaves of bread with folks in a train station who were asking for money. Someone pointed out that he was not thanked, and his response, "That's the point! No expectations." He also added that after meditating, they realized that even though  See full.

Last night was magical with Mam Movies co-founder Meghna's stories, some of which she has captured on the CF Blog. Not possible to capture all the reactions, but just to give a flavor, people who are generally reticent could not stop thanking Meghna in the circle.

From the passage, I was reminded of Gandhi's reflection which he shared at a prayer meeting. "It is my constant prayer that I may never have a feeling of anger against my traducers, that even if I fall a victim to an assassin’s bullet, I may deliver up my soul with the remembrance of God on my lips…"

This reflection always brings me goosebumps. It is said that in the second after Gandhi was shot, he died uttering "Hey Ram!" I wonder if I'd be able to get over the fear and despair in such a situation and be able to see that everything was alright in the larger picture and forgive my assassin (would there be anything to forgive?). What an ideal to have in life! It seems to me that over the decades, Eugene's story speaks to Gandhi's reflection, in that it is indeed possible to forgive, and we must do so for our own sake.

There were fewer reflections today as everyone was soaking in the force of Meghna's sharing. Chris shared the amazing story of his birthday gift, where CFers joined in to make art work at a station. Near the elevator, Pancho drew in a "welcome home" mat. Passengers were so thrilled that they joined in the art-making exercise with a big smile. Praveen shared that everyone at the circle probably has deep stories behind their life, and Nipun added Praveen's story of gifting his favorite t-shirt at Karma Kitchen (see picture from the receiver). 

Someone (Kyle?) shared the story of how he shared loaves of bread with folks in a train station who were asking for money. Someone pointed out that he was not thanked, and his response, "That's the point! No expectations." He also added that after meditating, they realized that even though they may not have money to share, the biggest gift can be a smile and the words, "I love you," which, for prudential purposes, can be said from the heart and not necessarily from the lips.

Pancho pointed out the divine feminine at play with Meghna's contribution. I am hoping he will share three things in an online comment.

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The Lovely State of Observation, by Vimala Thakar

FaceBook  On Mar 25, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Last night's session was packed with so many aha moments, and I do hope some of the participants will capture these moments for posterity. I will keep my comments brief this time. I liked how Neil came up with the three Ps - Presence, Perception and Patience. Also liked how Sarah talked about Proof - the proof that we are in this state of silence is whenever something goes wrong or confused us, our first response is silence. Building on the first P - presence, Praveen gave me a ride last night. We chatted about different things, and when we were pulling in, there were just 2 minutes to spare before 7 PM. In that instant, Praveen tells me, "Somik, at least one of us should make it in time. Why don't you go while I park." My first reaction was to refuse and wait for Praveen, but I quickly realized that was a reaction from the ego, not wanting to appear "greedy." In Praveen's eyes were so much authenticity that it sparked my own authenticity - the only thing I could really do was to accept with gratitude. So, in I went and got a nice seat up front, while Praveen got to sit behind. That act of receiving generosity really opened my heart, and gave me more punch for the 3 minutes of gratitude at the end. It is remarkable how that one microsecond of authentic generosity created an indelible impression on me, and not the information exchange that had gone on for several minutes earlier. Sarah's comment on proof connected with an experience earlier in the week, which was sort of miraculous. We were running out of hard disk space and Geet had asked me to clear some out so we could process some movies she was working on. As I hunted through the hard disk, the only one that I could process because of its small size was this video we had taken of a monk at Olema who is super cool. After processing and uploading it, went back to the hard disk to delete it, and then found that all this time, I had forgotten to empty the trash. Right after I did that, the  See full.

Last night's session was packed with so many aha moments, and I do hope some of the participants will capture these moments for posterity.

I will keep my comments brief this time. I liked how Neil came up with the three Ps - Presence, Perception and Patience. Also liked how Sarah talked about Proof - the proof that we are in this state of silence is whenever something goes wrong or confused us, our first response is silence.

Building on the first P - presence, Praveen gave me a ride last night. We chatted about different things, and when we were pulling in, there were just 2 minutes to spare before 7 PM. In that instant, Praveen tells me, "Somik, at least one of us should make it in time. Why don't you go while I park." My first reaction was to refuse and wait for Praveen, but I quickly realized that was a reaction from the ego, not wanting to appear "greedy." In Praveen's eyes were so much authenticity that it sparked my own authenticity - the only thing I could really do was to accept with gratitude. So, in I went and got a nice seat up front, while Praveen got to sit behind. That act of receiving generosity really opened my heart, and gave me more punch for the 3 minutes of gratitude at the end. It is remarkable how that one microsecond of authentic generosity created an indelible impression on me, and not the information exchange that had gone on for several minutes earlier.

Sarah's comment on proof connected with an experience earlier in the week, which was sort of miraculous. We were running out of hard disk space and Geet had asked me to clear some out so we could process some movies she was working on. As I hunted through the hard disk, the only one that I could process because of its small size was this video we had taken of a monk at Olema who is super cool. After processing and uploading it, went back to the hard disk to delete it, and then found that all this time, I had forgotten to empty the trash. Right after I did that, the mac showed we had more than enough space, and I didn't need to process the video. If the apparent hard-disk clog problem had not appeared, the videos of the monk would not be on youtube (the links are below) - in that sense, I felt this was a little technology-induced miracle.

Now getting on to the content of these videos, they blew my mind. I had heard the message so many times, but it was as if the presence with which these messages were uttered was captured, and that presence simply knocks me off my feet. The monk went on to answer three questions, the primary one being "What is Spirituality?" where he pointed out that it could not be defined, only experienced. It went far beyond the mind and the body, and no one can really prove that there is something beyond in an external sense. But, we have it from many sources that if our mind is stilled, we can experience this "joyful observer" state as this passage calls it. We can take that as a hypothesis, and as true scientists, test it on ourselves, by sitting and following all the requirements that go along with the hypothesis.

Now that, I am able to accept, without any reservations as an approach where there is no contradiction between science and spirituality; rather, science is the method of spirituality. 

Someone observed that serving others always led to a better sit. I remembered a story from my first 10-day sit. A clock in the corridoor had fallen and smashed. One meditator stayed back, cleaned the glass so no one would be injured, and went very late to the sit, while the rest rushed in on time. This meditator, at the conclusion of the 10-day, remarked that that late sit was his deepest one in the entire 10-day period. There's some science to this service-sit relation.

Another participant brought up two opposite ends of the spectrum (sparked from the passage) - Shankara, a tremendous debater who established spiritual centers in the four corners of India in the 8th century (people have not agreed whether that is BCE or AD), and Ramana Maharishi, an early 20th century sage in South India who would not speak at all, but would beam out compassion to all who were in his presence to such a level that all questions were transcended :). They were at polar opposites and both served society in tremendous ways. Ramana was remarkable - had no PR or desire for it, and didn't even speak!! And yet, people from other countries managed to find him during the British Raj (no concept of the internet). The notion of communicating with silence was picked up by others.

Ripa shared a lovely story about sculptor dadaji - hopefully she will write more about it; and brought Jayeshbhai to the circle, and Pancho built on that. I look forward to reading Pancho's three points.

Chris had his own P's to share. The Proof is in the Pudding. And, the word Praxis - the practical application of a theory. 

Nipun's story was too remarkable for me to share - he has promised to blog about it. 

Finally, here are the three youtube videos I mentioned of the cool monk.

1) What is Spirituality?

2) Getting to Spirituality,

3) The Pilgrim Mind 

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The Interplay of Awareness, Presence and Compassion, by Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche

FaceBook  On Mar 20, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

This was a very deep piece. Uncle (CF Dad) started us off with an incredible welcome (usually Nipun does this) and it was a treat. I don't know how to capture the genuine love with which he spoke, which comes from so many years of solid service and meditation. On the passage, I found myself struggling a little bit. All the talk about awareness and presence is well and good, but how do I know I'm not fooling myself into thinking that all is well, when things are not? What is the practical 1-second test which might guide my thinking? Upon reflection, it seems to me that we often live with memories of past-awareness, as opposed to being present all the time. These memories can be used constructively to continue the work and be a source of love and compassion, or destructively, to generate anger and contempt. For example, if I've woken up to the fact that the earth is in danger and I need to be more conscious about my actions and how they impact our home planet, I have two paths in front of me when interacting with someone who (according to me, assuming I know better - a very big assumption) does not perceive the same reality. I could either choose to be compassionate, knowing that it took a lot of help and kindness for me to wake up, and I should extend the same if possible. Or I could react with contempt - how could this person be so insensitive? What a terrible fellow! Research has shown that contempt is a toxic reaction - in marriages, when couples start showing contempt for each other, such couples have been found to be in marital unbliss. I think this is true for all relationships. The metaphor of the poison is a wonderful one - I know that contempt is poison for me. And yet, there are moments when I unwittingly drink from it. The choice is between the two c's (or seas). Should we drink from the sea of contempt, or the sea of compassion, both of which are abundant? Getting back to the practical test - it seems to me that if we can remember what feeling  See full.

This was a very deep piece. Uncle (CF Dad) started us off with an incredible welcome (usually Nipun does this) and it was a treat. I don't know how to capture the genuine love with which he spoke, which comes from so many years of solid service and meditation.

On the passage, I found myself struggling a little bit. All the talk about awareness and presence is well and good, but how do I know I'm not fooling myself into thinking that all is well, when things are not? What is the practical 1-second test which might guide my thinking?

Upon reflection, it seems to me that we often live with memories of past-awareness, as opposed to being present all the time. These memories can be used constructively to continue the work and be a source of love and compassion, or destructively, to generate anger and contempt. For example, if I've woken up to the fact that the earth is in danger and I need to be more conscious about my actions and how they impact our home planet, I have two paths in front of me when interacting with someone who (according to me, assuming I know better - a very big assumption) does not perceive the same reality. I could either choose to be compassionate, knowing that it took a lot of help and kindness for me to wake up, and I should extend the same if possible. Or I could react with contempt - how could this person be so insensitive? What a terrible fellow!

Research has shown that contempt is a toxic reaction - in marriages, when couples start showing contempt for each other, such couples have been found to be in marital unbliss. I think this is true for all relationships. The metaphor of the poison is a wonderful one - I know that contempt is poison for me. And yet, there are moments when I unwittingly drink from it.

The choice is between the two c's (or seas). Should we drink from the sea of contempt, or the sea of compassion, both of which are abundant? Getting back to the practical test - it seems to me that if we can remember what feeling is predominant - contempt or compassion, we will know whether we are in a stage of presence + awareness, or whether we are living with past memories of awareness and no presence.

A story on this - I was discussing research with a colleague, and found myself criticizing a decision-maker who I had initially wanted to help, for making what I thought was a mistake in thinking. My colleague responded with utter disarming compassion, saying, "I'd be really interested to learn what you find when you apply your research tools to help this decision maker." The purity of her intention hit me instantly. I realized that by bringing contempt in, I'd closed myself off from learning what was really going on with the decision maker. As a researcher, it is very important that my learning mode never shuts down. It seems then that to be a better researcher, one must develop in compassion. I got to meet the decision maker, and decided to be compassionate with presence. Within five minutes of our meeting, I was shocked to discover using the tools I was working on that the decision maker came from a very lofty position of values, one that I had hardly expected. With great respect, I pointed out the error that was still being made. Funnily enough, it hit the decision maker immediately, and as he gasped, it hit me too. I couldn't tell who was the speaker and who was the listener, and got really emotional that clarity had been achieved. I wish this joy upon all who work - if we cannot tell who is being helped and who is helping, although we may have started off being instrumental in some way, wow! I couldn't pay enough to be in that space, and yet, it is I alone who sabotage my efforts by drinking from the wrong cup. This piece is so apt, so practical, I remain in gratitude.

As we went around the group, it was wonderful to see how the question organically emerged, "what is my cup of poison?" Someone thought it was fear. Another thought it was judgment. She shared this lovely story about judging someone (maybe roommate?), and sitting down in her car, and uttering a prayer, "God, please help me see her point of view without judgment." The minute the prayer had been made, that she saw the other's point of view, and was overwhelmed with compassion.

Another thread that went around emerged with a gentleman who wondered what the right action was when one encounters beggars on the street. He found himself wondering if he should give money. What if the money would be used for drinking or smoking? People responded to this question in different ways. Uncle (CF Dad) shared a story when, in India, he was in a car with Nipun and was approached by a beggar. He didn't know what to do, and announced that he would give at a better opportunity, to which Nipun responded that uncle couldn't be too sure that he'd live the next day, so he should honor his impulse and be of service! Another attendee shared an experience (from Nepal, I think) where she resisted the urge to give to a beggar, and the next day found the same man outstretched, perhaps ill or dead. That made her so sad that she might have made a difference but didn't that she has learned to honor her impulse to give.

I find myself conflicted on this one. The Buddha always advised having a cool head and a warm heart, and it is certainly true that many things we try to do to help others may actually end up harming. Yet, there is something about the stories people shared about a deep impulse to help. I remembered my father's own story - during a festival in India called "Durga Puja" (a celebration of the feminine force of the Universe), my father wanted to offer Rs. 100 for the service. He decided to go cheap and instead gave only Rs. 50. Thereafter, as he came out, who else but me greeted him with a long face - someone had stolen my new sandals, which had cost.. you guessed it, Rs. 50! Thereafter, he decided always to honor his first impulse to give and gave us clear instructions in the family never to second-guess ourselves. I don't think he implied this as a causal event - instead, I believe he recognized a larger pattern. Money and other resources come and go in our lives. When we start to think that such resources are static, our thinking becomes distorted, and we try to hoard, without realizing that there is no way we can prevent what has come to us from leaving. It is a matter of greater wisdom to trust the unknown future - that all will be well, and the universe will provide. This does not contradict the Buddha's message. There are many moments when we are clear about what to do, and we should just do it. But there are several other altruistic moments, when we stand confused about what to do. I see no harm in using one's head to seek clarity, and harmonize with our heart.

Pancho's message (which is always too beautiful to be captured by me, so I hope he offers it in writing), was also about harmonizing with the heart instead of staying only at the intellectual level.

Chris shared a lovely story toward the beginning which was about how native Americans did not see the ship on the horizon (of the first pilgrims), although it was there to be seen. However, someone did see the ripples caused by the ship, and slowly, that person traced it to the ship, and helped his people develop awareness about it. Aumatma built on this, and said that this was the process of healing - one had to see the ripples and trace them to the source to find the cause of the problem.

An attendee shared reading a piece in the Times of India with a host family in Cuttack - it was about CharityFocus! He had brought the cut-out with him and read this line:

The inspiration behind Charity Focus, a brainchild of Nipun Mehta (www.charityfocus.org) declares that "it's impossible to create a better world without inner change that results from selfless service''.

The article is here, written by none other than Deepak Chopra. Talk about ripple effects - this was incredible.



Finally, aunty (CF Mom) closed in a powerful way expressing the need to stay aware and present in her own life. Her humility and practice stands like a mountain of inspiration for all of us!

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If Sameness Is A Demand We Make, by Rev. Carol Carnes

FaceBook  On Mar 12, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

This piece reminded me of a monk's thunderous essay, where he declared that sameness can only happen when there is no life. As long as there is life, there must be good and evil. Every wave creates a trough. And yet, we are worried when some suffer while others seem to be happy. The question then is, do we expand our notion of normalcy to accept the suffering of others? That sounds like a heartless thought. And yet, the opposite idea of trying to get to sameness is at the heart of all fanaticism. In the same essay, the monk says that we are all fanatics about something or the other, and that fanaticism has both good and evil effects (no surprise on the evil aspect). How do we resolve this one? Nothing can have positive effects without also having negative effects. This is a great truth that should help reduce our fanaticism about our favorite ideas. The other day, my professor shared an insight when someone brough up how they valued environmental sustainability. It turns out that there was a period when foam containers were considered evil for their impact on the environment, and it was politically incorrect to use them. We made the switch to paper containers. When a deep analysis was done, researchers found more harm to the environment from the switch, but our minds were made up about this. Such patterns repeat, and our fanaticism does not reduce. If only the world were to do the obvious, we'd be a much happier planet. As I find myself guilty of such fanaticism, it is amazing how profound this little iJourney passage is, for it provides a compelling answer. The notion of normalcy is about developing the awarenss to accept everything as it is right now, without introducing any distortions. What that seems to do is to calm my mind. My sister had this wonderful status message today (talk about the benefits of our online lives) which went as follows: “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” - Anais Nin   Once this acc  See full.

This piece reminded me of a monk's thunderous essay, where he declared that sameness can only happen when there is no life. As long as there is life, there must be good and evil. Every wave creates a trough. And yet, we are worried when some suffer while others seem to be happy. The question then is, do we expand our notion of normalcy to accept the suffering of others? That sounds like a heartless thought.

And yet, the opposite idea of trying to get to sameness is at the heart of all fanaticism. In the same essay, the monk says that we are all fanatics about something or the other, and that fanaticism has both good and evil effects (no surprise on the evil aspect).

How do we resolve this one? Nothing can have positive effects without also having negative effects. This is a great truth that should help reduce our fanaticism about our favorite ideas. The other day, my professor shared an insight when someone brough up how they valued environmental sustainability. It turns out that there was a period when foam containers were considered evil for their impact on the environment, and it was politically incorrect to use them. We made the switch to paper containers. When a deep analysis was done, researchers found more harm to the environment from the switch, but our minds were made up about this. Such patterns repeat, and our fanaticism does not reduce. If only the world were to do the obvious, we'd be a much happier planet.

As I find myself guilty of such fanaticism, it is amazing how profound this little iJourney passage is, for it provides a compelling answer. The notion of normalcy is about developing the awarenss to accept everything as it is right now, without introducing any distortions. What that seems to do is to calm my mind. My sister had this wonderful status message today (talk about the benefits of our online lives) which went as follows:

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” - Anais Nin  

Once this acceptance without distortion has happened (to the extent possible), I am in a much better position to go in and see where I can be the change, in a skillful, efficient manner. The idea of sameness takes an altogether different dimension - I am seeking to recognize a deeper unity, not impose a shallow uniformity. With that recognition comes a deep sense of responsibility to be the change out of compassion, not anger at the world. The best service acts I've been able to do are the ones where I didn't think and plan the seed, but became aware of a deep connection, and went beyond the doer, the deed and the receiver. These are the rare moments. Most of the time, it is a struggle to get away from the idea of agentship, a struggle to get away from distorting, a great struggle to stop struggling and do the easiest thing possible - just be.

Missed this Wednesday - hopefully someone will write about insights.

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Where Skillfullness and Clarity Meet, by J. Krishnamurti

FaceBook  On Mar 4, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

A fantastic Wednesday! Neil gave us clarity on selflessness with a very accessible example - that of point-guards in basketball. The best teams are those which have the most selfless point-guards, who are responsible for passing the ball instead of making the points on their own. Those teams also have the most fun.  Paul blew my mind with his story. He was in charge of a journalist team covering the Iraq war, and one of his embeds was a mother of a 3-year old, a very good journalist, who had undergone hazard training, etc. Paul used to have a hard time sleeping well in the bay area while his colleagues were in dangerous situations. One day, the phone rang at 3 AM, and it was his journalist, who, in a shaking voice, said that she had a decision to make. Her embed unit was returning, but she could join another one, which had just decided to attack Baghdad. What should she do? She had barely seconds to make up her mind, and was calling on the satellite phone. What Paul said next is worthy of internalizing. Instead of telling her what to do (which he thinks is a bad response in any situation), he responded by, "I want you to know that I value your safety much more than anything else." She said, "Thanks, that really helps." She went on to Baghdad, and thankfully, returned safely.  There is something deep and spiritual about Paul's response - so many people ask us for advice, and going back to our deepest values, while recognizing the other's free agency is a very powerful and authentic response. Joel shared about his great-uncle who had just passed away, and how he, in the last years of his life, lived like a 20-year old. I remembered what some older people have said - "Youth is wasted on the young." :) This passage was brilliant, and reminded me of a conversation I had with my professor about the Buddha. My professor, who has studied the Buddha in a very deep way, and teaches decision analysis, pointed out that the Buddha  See full.

A fantastic Wednesday! Neil gave us clarity on selflessness with a very accessible example - that of point-guards in basketball. The best teams are those which have the most selfless point-guards, who are responsible for passing the ball instead of making the points on their own. Those teams also have the most fun. 

Paul blew my mind with his story. He was in charge of a journalist team covering the Iraq war, and one of his embeds was a mother of a 3-year old, a very good journalist, who had undergone hazard training, etc. Paul used to have a hard time sleeping well in the bay area while his colleagues were in dangerous situations. One day, the phone rang at 3 AM, and it was his journalist, who, in a shaking voice, said that she had a decision to make. Her embed unit was returning, but she could join another one, which had just decided to attack Baghdad. What should she do? She had barely seconds to make up her mind, and was calling on the satellite phone. What Paul said next is worthy of internalizing. Instead of telling her what to do (which he thinks is a bad response in any situation), he responded by, "I want you to know that I value your safety much more than anything else." She said, "Thanks, that really helps." She went on to Baghdad, and thankfully, returned safely. 

There is something deep and spiritual about Paul's response - so many people ask us for advice, and going back to our deepest values, while recognizing the other's free agency is a very powerful and authentic response.

Joel shared about his great-uncle who had just passed away, and how he, in the last years of his life, lived like a 20-year old. I remembered what some older people have said - "Youth is wasted on the young." :)

This passage was brilliant, and reminded me of a conversation I had with my professor about the Buddha. My professor, who has studied the Buddha in a very deep way, and teaches decision analysis, pointed out that the Buddha was probably the first decision analyst. I asked, "How so?" He responded, "The Buddha used to be a tremendous debater before he got enlightened. He is known to have remarked, "An argument that I cannot win I do not understand." (I hope I'm not misquoting here) Can you imagine the Buddha saying something so arrogant? This was pre-enlightenment. Post-englightenment, the Buddha retained all of his sharpness, while overflowing with compassion. I haven't encountered another character in history who could change the frame of his discussants with utter simplicity the way the Buddha could. In that sense, was an embodiment of clarity and compassion. In a nutshell, his life message for me was, "Cool head, warm heart."

Great damage is done in our society by "cool heads," who also have "cold hearts," as someone pointed out in the circle with a quote from Gandhi. The converse, in my mind, is equally true. Great damage is done in our society by "warm hearts" who also have "hot heads." Krishnamurti, in his own life, embodied the combination of the two just like the Buddha, and this is a tremendous ideal to aspire to.

On the subject of skill, when we are faced with situations where our skill breaks down, we get great moments of self-reflection. I had one such moment this week. I was scheduled to teach a problem session on Visual Basic for Applications (programming in Excel) on Monday. I postponed the preparation till Sunday night, and to my horror, when I was ready to begin preparing, Excel crashed! I was using Office 2003, an older version of office, and it was quite hard to find a source CD. Spent several hours unsuccessfully on Sunday night. Then, on Monday morning, I managed to get a source CD, and spent several hours, again unsuccessfully. Nothing made sense. I asked a colleague to get his laptop with Office 2003, but when he did, it turned out he was mistaken and he had Officer 2007. I had only a few hours to prepare and give the talk. As my stress level started rising, I decided to try an experiment.

Said to myself, "I have all the time in the world! I have all the resources I need! All is well!" and gave up. Took a break, and came back to my desk. And a miracle happened. There, sitting on my desk, was a laptop with a working copy of Office 2003. 

And guess what, it was my own laptop! I had a spare machine for such emergencies, sitting right next to my regular machine, and completely forgot about it in my stress! This time, with a calm mind, I prepared for the session and was done in 30 minutes. The session went well.

I was also worried about having to purchase an expensive copy of Office for my regular machine. Again, telling myself that all was well, decided to search online for Office 2010 - and there it was - the free beta version that would work till October, long enough for my purposes, and happy to be a guinea-pig for Microsoft.

I loved hearing about the couple who landed in San Jose, CA instead of San Jose, Costa Rica, and joined us last night. Neema shared four awesome breaths. Uncle sang a deep and wonderful Kabir song, which I've heard several times from professional singers like Kumar Gandharva and Kailash Kher, but never understood this clearly. Hopefully someone will post a translation for the benefit of those who don't follow Hindi - typical of Kabir's poetry, the song knocks listeners off their feet in an instant.

All is well!

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Being Judicious, not Judgmental, by Thanissaro Bhikku

FaceBook  On Feb 26, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

To test the depth of a philosophy, I find it useful to go to the extreme. The distinctions of being judicious versus judgmental imply a context of some unpleasantness, much more so in the latter. The extreme example of unpleasantness would be to fight in a physically violent war. I could argue to myself that this is the judicious thing to do, that I'm not being judgmental, and there really is no other way of resolving the situation. The question is, how do I know that I'm not fooling myself? The Gita exhorts us to not be fearful when faced with the prospect of fighting to protect dharma. In the next breath it asks us to fight as a yogi. And the test of being a yogi is whether we have even a trace of hatred in our hearts for anyone (least of all our "enemies.") If we hate the "other" in a fight, we are not fit to be yogis, and the fight is no longer one that will protect dharma. I found my breath taken away by this incredibly high standard. If I can eradicate all hatred in my heart and fill it only with love, then it is hard to imagine any situation where fighting would be necessary. There is always another way that will emerge. 99.9% of the world's conflicts would not exist anymore if this standard were adopted by fighters on all sides. In the 0.1% of the world's conflicts that are inevitable (in my mind), the Tao Te Ching offers advice on how the fight itself must be conducted. J. Legge translated a profound verse from Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching as follows: "A skilful (commander) strikes a decisive blow, and stops. He does not dare (by continuing his operations) to assert and complete his mastery. He will strike the blow, but will be on his guard against being vain or boastful or arrogant in consequence of it. He strikes it as a matter of necessity; he strikes it, but not from a wish for mastery." I will go further than Legge into this interpretation. The skillful commander is one who mourns upon victory that there was no othe  See full.

To test the depth of a philosophy, I find it useful to go to the extreme. The distinctions of being judicious versus judgmental imply a context of some unpleasantness, much more so in the latter. The extreme example of unpleasantness would be to fight in a physically violent war. I could argue to myself that this is the judicious thing to do, that I'm not being judgmental, and there really is no other way of resolving the situation. The question is, how do I know that I'm not fooling myself?

The Gita exhorts us to not be fearful when faced with the prospect of fighting to protect dharma. In the next breath it asks us to fight as a yogi. And the test of being a yogi is whether we have even a trace of hatred in our hearts for anyone (least of all our "enemies.") If we hate the "other" in a fight, we are not fit to be yogis, and the fight is no longer one that will protect dharma. I found my breath taken away by this incredibly high standard. If I can eradicate all hatred in my heart and fill it only with love, then it is hard to imagine any situation where fighting would be necessary. There is always another way that will emerge. 99.9% of the world's conflicts would not exist anymore if this standard were adopted by fighters on all sides.

In the 0.1% of the world's conflicts that are inevitable (in my mind), the Tao Te Ching offers advice on how the fight itself must be conducted. J. Legge translated a profound verse from Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching as follows:
"A skilful (commander) strikes a decisive blow, and stops. He does not dare (by
continuing his operations) to assert and complete his mastery. He will strike the blow, but
will be on his guard against being vain or boastful or arrogant in consequence of it. He
strikes it as a matter of necessity; he strikes it, but not from a wish for mastery."

I will go further than Legge into this interpretation. The skillful commander is one who
mourns upon victory that there was no other way to resolve the dispute. There is no notion of victory over others for one who truly sees.

Being judicious, to me, is about integrating the head and the heart. It is about balance, so we see things as they are. It is what results when we "return" from a state of undifferentiated being to the realm of confusion (or daily life, where we have to make decisions).  The state of undifferentiated being is not a supernatural state - we enter into it many times a day when we love someone, or do an act of kindness from a space of genuine connection. In such a state, there is no confusion whatsoever. There is no decision to be made. There is no judgment or judiciousness. However, we don't stay in that state for very long, and find ourselves back in the land of confusion. It is here that our intellect is extremely useful. It is here that our memory is a great gift. If we utilize our intellect properly, retaining our memory of the undifferentiated, then we develop distance from the decision situation, enough to be able to dissect it with an unwavering hand and see it for what it is, and act to be consistent with our values.

In the passage, another thing that stood our for me was the notion of packing everything into a meditation session because of a perception of lack of time. I remebered a conversation with Viral, where, to paraphrase him, all of life is a long meditation (which also seemed to emerge from the New Year's reflection: Receiving Each Day As An Invitation). There are really two kinds of meditation - one that we do with our eyes closed, and the other is when our eyes are open. Without realizing it, we are actually meditating our way through life, learning from each experience that comes our way. From this perspective, all of us will be experienced meditators by the end of our lives - all is well!

Finally, a story. I found myself in a situation where someone had a terrible group experience and wanted to complain about other members in the group. The "others" were non-native English speakers. The protagonist of the story was very upset with the incompetence of the others, and couldn't stop crying about it. It was clear to me that something was badly wrong, and that the protagonist was very upset about it and that these two things were distinct. I wondered how to make it clear to the protagonist. Would it be more upsetting if I gave no sympathy for the emotional buildup? Would it make matters worse? But wait a second, was I being judgmental of the protagonist? Was there contempt or compassion? In matters of confusion, I've found it useful to go to my deepest intention and connect with it. Memory returns in such times. I remembered that when we connect with our deepest intentions, it matters not what we say - the intention is understood. The deepest intention here was compassion. So, the next step was to lay out the two distinct events - the team was dysfunctional, and the protagonist had chosen to make a big deal out of it. I gave full sympathy to the first event, and no sympathy to the second.

Having made that clear, sound advice had to still be given. The situation was unpleasant and time was limited. Again, memory of my own experience in Japan and research in global teamwork returned. A colleague suggested a quick check on past grades, which revealed that the other team members should not be incompetent, and I put a high probability on this being a communication issue. Non-native speakers need time to process what they hear in a foreign language, translate it into their own, formulate a response, and then translate it back. A professor had taught me a rule of thumb - give at least 10 seconds after you speak. I gave this advice back to the protagonist, and emphasizing the need to slow down and develop patience.

A week later, the protagonist came with a big smile - the problems had resolved. The team needed a safer space to work in, and it developed with patience from the protagonist. To me, this was a great lesson. Advice we give to others is really a desire for us to repeat the wisdom for our own benefit. The judicious nature of this advice resulted from a refusal to judge the other team members. But I wonder if this wisdom would have arrived if instead of the protagonist, I had been the one facing the problem. I can only hope to have access to a kind soul who would have helped me be judicious.

Hearing others, what stuck out for me was "jujubee" (judicious seemed to be a mouthful for many), and Shruti pointed out that jujubee meant simplicity in a Southern Indian language. Nipun shared a lovely story of how berating someone may not be a judicious use of our intellect and ability; that there is something about authenticity and patience. Not just 10 seconds, or 37 seconds, or 37 years, but 3700 years. It is the authenticity that lives on for 3700 years! Now where he got that number, I do not know, but that sounds like a cool yardstick.

Ripa shared a reflection from an inspiring film on Kabir called "Had-Anhad," where one of the singer-philosophers in the film shares this incredible story. The flies wanted to get the status of the moths, and went to the king of the moths and applied for it. The king of the moths said that the process was simple. The flies had to go and find the light. The flies raced out, found different sources of light everywhere - people's houses, street lights and so on. When they returned, they didn't see any moths come back, so feeling pretty victorious, they asked the king of the moths for his decision. The king was confused - "What decision?" The flies replied, "Whether we have been victorious in finding the light, and can now get the status of the moths." The king grinned and said, "You idiots! The decision has already been made. The moths who find the light become one with it, and never return. If you've found the light, why on earth would you return? You have not found any light - you are simply doing the work of getting a certificate from me."

Guri pointed out that being judicious also involved some judging. I'd agree with that - in the land of confusion, we do need to "make good decisions"  using our intellectual and intuitive capacities. We had a few people who had just returned from a Vipassana meditation retreat- and had a unique perspective on judgment having spent 10 days looking at their own minds.

And aunty took the cake tonight, with a side of bitter melon (cur-ray-laa as it is called in India)! With great trepidation, she finally made this dish, not knowing whether people with a Western taste would like it. It was a recipe she had received from her mother-in-law, and I loved it :).

In gratitude!

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Beyond Endings, by John O'Donohue

FaceBook  On Feb 22, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

This piece resonated with me for many reasons, most of all as I'm preparing to complete an academic journey that began in 2004. The word "closure" seems to imply the opposite of openness and I like "completion" a lot more, as it has the picture of a circle associated with it. What goes around comes around. By the fact that we are standing on earth which goes around in a circular (sort-of) path, even at the physical level, things come around.  The notion of the experience taking us toward realization is a deep one. It differs in an important respect from providing closure, in that, closure is a state we want to be in, but it is not the experience of the state itself. The experience of closure, like all other experiences, cannot be labeled. The notion of closure an a construct reduces the richness of the experience behind it.    "The nature of calendar time is linear; it is made up of durations that begin and end. " This reminded me of a wise monk's reflection, "Another theory in modern times has been presented by several schools, that man's destiny is to go on always improving, always struggling towards, but never reaching the goal. This statement, though apparently very nice, is also absurd, because there is no such thing as motion in a straight line. Every motion is in a circle. If you can take up a stone, and project it into space, and then live long enough, that stone, if it meets with no obstruction, will come back exactly to your hand. ... Therefore, this idea that the destiny of man is progressing ever forward and forward, and never stopping, is absurd."  Should we then not try for closure? The author urges us instead to go toward completion by experiencing and accepting experience. In other words, even if we do nothing and keep moving, that movement is bound to be circular. Completion is ours to have, whether we like it or not. The need for closure arises due to a refusal to recognize the circul  See full.

This piece resonated with me for many reasons, most of all as I'm preparing to complete an academic journey that began in 2004. The word "closure" seems to imply the opposite of openness and I like "completion" a lot more, as it has the picture of a circle associated with it. What goes around comes around.

By the fact that we are standing on earth which goes around in a circular (sort-of) path, even at the physical level, things come around. 

The notion of the experience taking us toward realization is a deep one. It differs in an important respect from providing closure, in that, closure is a state we want to be in, but it is not the experience of the state itself. The experience of closure, like all other experiences, cannot be labeled. The notion of closure an a construct reduces the richness of the experience behind it. 

 

"The nature of calendar time is linear; it is made up of durations that begin and end. " This reminded me of a wise monk's reflection, "Another theory in modern times has been presented by several schools, that man's destiny is to go on always improving, always struggling towards, but never reaching the goal. This statement, though apparently very nice, is also absurd, because there is no such thing as motion in a straight line. Every motion is in a circle. If you can take up a stone, and project it into space, and then live long enough, that stone, if it meets with no obstruction, will come back exactly to your hand. ... Therefore, this idea that the destiny of man is progressing ever forward and forward, and never stopping, is absurd." 

Should we then not try for closure? The author urges us instead to go toward completion by experiencing and accepting experience. In other words, even if we do nothing and keep moving, that movement is bound to be circular. Completion is ours to have, whether we like it or not. The need for closure arises due to a refusal to recognize the circularity of nature. Once we accept the circularity, there is no closure that is needed. Whatever is required is already here, and it couldn't have been better.

 

Finally, the ancients in India had this to say about completeness,

"That is complete. This is also complete. From that completeness, comes this completeness. When this completeness is subtracted from that completeness, what remains is completeness."

The ancients had also recognized that the only symbol possible for completeness was what we know as "zero," with no beginning and no end. Completeness and nothingness are two sides of the same coin. Looking at the aphorism above from the lens of nothingness, we find:

"That is nothing. This is also nothing. From that nothing, comes this nothing ("nothing comes from nothing" is the foundation of physical science as we know it). When this nothing is taken away from that nothing, what remains is nothing (this is the foundation of math as we know it today: 0-0 = 0)."

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Applying Realization to Relationships, by Adyashanti

FaceBook  On Feb 11, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

I found this passage very deep. But first, a caveat. When experiences of enlightenment or realization are described, they tend to throw us off-track, into assuming these are supernatural moments. I have found that such a frame is unhelpful, for I can only understand what is natural. So my comments follow from an entirely un-supernatural perspective. It was funny that this week, I hung out with a monk who always talks about the unity of all existence. He used a lovely metaphor to make the implications clear. Imagine a mother on a beach, watching over two children playing. One of them builds a sand castle. The other comes over and destroys it. The builder is devastated, and fights and then starts crying, asking the mother to intervene. The mother does so - she gives compassion and love, and with great interest, tries to guide both children toward better behavior. She might even scold the one who broke the sand castle. But while she is completely checked-in to the world of the children, talking to them on their terms, her perspective is much larger than those of the children, and she is not disturbed within. I found this metaphor so fascinating on so many levels. Our usual tendency when we see other people fighting is to start throwing high philosophy at them. A mother who truly sees her children, also sees the need to speak the other's language - in other words, become one of them and then guide. It requires a lofty perspective (which mothers have all the time in such situations), but it also requires complete identification with those who are suffering, the part where the mother is "checked-in" and talks the language of the children out of great compassion. Total dissolution should not be misinterpreted as losing oneself, as Bill so articulately points out. It is not about committing suicide. Rather, it is about opening up and seeing a much larger reality. The funny thing about the monk who shared this story is that every time I am in his company, somet  See full.

I found this passage very deep. But first, a caveat. When experiences of enlightenment or realization are described, they tend to throw us off-track, into assuming these are supernatural moments. I have found that such a frame is unhelpful, for I can only understand what is natural. So my comments follow from an entirely un-supernatural perspective.

It was funny that this week, I hung out with a monk who always talks about the unity of all existence. He used a lovely metaphor to make the implications clear. Imagine a mother on a beach, watching over two children playing. One of them builds a sand castle. The other comes over and destroys it. The builder is devastated, and fights and then starts crying, asking the mother to intervene. The mother does so - she gives compassion and love, and with great interest, tries to guide both children toward better behavior. She might even scold the one who broke the sand castle. But while she is completely checked-in to the world of the children, talking to them on their terms, her perspective is much larger than those of the children, and she is not disturbed within.

I found this metaphor so fascinating on so many levels. Our usual tendency when we see other people fighting is to start throwing high philosophy at them. A mother who truly sees her children, also sees the need to speak the other's language - in other words, become one of them and then guide. It requires a lofty perspective (which mothers have all the time in such situations), but it also requires complete identification with those who are suffering, the part where the mother is "checked-in" and talks the language of the children out of great compassion.

Total dissolution should not be misinterpreted as losing oneself, as Bill so articulately points out. It is not about committing suicide. Rather, it is about opening up and seeing a much larger reality.

The funny thing about the monk who shared this story is that every time I am in his company, something happens in my heart. His purity of service inspires me to serve more and love more, and the rest of the day, I am a different person. This happens also on several occasions where something someone in CF says/does triggers a deep sense of impersonal love, and I am firmly convinced that everyone experiences this many times in their life, more so when coming in contact with people who serve selflessly.  In this state, I have several observations. First, when someone is angry with me, it does not bother me at all. Rather, I feel so compassionate (and I'm not even thinking about being compassionate) and so sorry for the other person's anger. Second, the anger or confrontation never lasts for more than a few seconds. Something shifts in the other person's heart and melts it almost instantly.

Where Adyashanti's words hit gold is this - it is my blunder in thinking that this state is something I get into only through meditation and good company. An even bigger blunder is to start hankering for these completely natural experiences. My observation is that it leads to anger and impatience with people for "spoiling" my peace, and I act in ways that are regrettable. In short, I leave the real lesson in the experience of impersonal love behind, and compartmentalize personal relationships as something that I have to "deal with." 

Upon deeper reflection, what I'd call "love" in the personal sense becomes almost distasteful - it has so many expectations linked with it. The impersonal love, on the other hand, makes me feel like a giant - it is as though the strength of the universe is behind me, and I can see through the other person, that their anger, their words, their actions - they are all irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. We are connected and at this moment, I feel it, and I understand what love means. The fact that I am able to write all this shows how uniquely my mind processes something that is the simplest, non-supernatural experience, and how much work lies ahead in trying to get out of my own way.

I loved Neil's opening comments. He shared the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That triggered the other metallic rules - the Platinum Rule, "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them," and this one which hasn't been assigned a metal yet, "Do unto others as their loving mother would do unto them." In my research with public safety, a police officer told me that they are trained on the ethic, "Do unto others as you would want them to do unto your mother." These last two rules are very high standards, very admirable.

Neil also talked about mirror neurons, where we're physiologically wired to respond to each other's stimuli - we are like the same organism separated by our skin (or really, our minds). That is a fascinating notion that confirms most of what spiritual seekers have already found.

Finally, Neil talked about his biggest learning in the Phd program, which was to let go of his ego and understand that those giving feedback want the best for us. It is about practically dissolving ourselves and seeing a much larger reality. I completely echo this reflection. That has been my learning too - my research was much harder when I was trying to do it. When I gave up trying to be the actor, I received so much help - it was incredible to see how things improved so fast, and I wasn't even sweating.

Neil's reflections really helped drive home how passages like this are incredibly practical in our daily life and work. 

I loved Ripa's telling of her experience with Amma (the hugging saint) in New York. She related how she spent the night waiting for her turn, falling asleep but waking up every time to see this indefatigable woman continuously hugging people with love. Finally, after receiving her hug, she was surprised to see that there was no supernatural energy behind Amma - it was Amma's presence, in a simple, natural and beautiful form. After being touched by it, walking back to her apartment, Ripa could see how the morning had turned into a beautiful morning, how the previously dirty streets now looked beautifully dirty (I believe she even felt this way about the garbage cans!) :).

Santhosh's stories are such charmers - I wish she'd write a book about her 3-year old who is also her teacher. She related a story of how her daughter fell down in the mud, and took a while to ask for help. When the call for help came, she went over. And after that, she was touched that her daughter thanked her for the help - made her wonder if she expresses gratitude that often. Something for all of us to think about.

A dramatic comment came from Dinesh uncle, where he turned the frame around in a very powerful way. He shared that the hand cannot know that what it is connected to, until it develops its own separate identity. How are we to know what we are, unless we deliberately become "not we?" This is a very powerful thought that points to the ultimate freedom that is behind life - we choose our personal relationships as a medium of learning. Only through the personal can we be encouraged to go toward the impersonal. The question may then arise - if we were in that impersonal love space to begin with, why play this whole game? Why come out of it? From's uncle's point, the answer seems to be - "it gets boring!," resonating with some of the other comments (like Bill's).

Nipun shared some deep reflections on the Buddha's comment to his disciple Ananda, that wholesome company (kalyan mitra) was very important - not 50% of the path but a 100% of it. Yet, elsewhere he did say that "I take my refuge in Dhamma" and that was more important than "Sangha" (or company/organization). There are many perspectives, and it all depends on what we're looking at.

Guri shared closing comments on her 10-day experience, where she wondered why the fish in the pond (in the retreat) were all clustered together when there was so much space, only to realize that so were all the meditators around the pond. 

It was great to have Auntie sit in the circle and I hope she joins again. Moreover, although I have written only about some of the comments, there were many more insightful ones, and many contributed with silence and love, which I don't know how to capture online :).

With Love!

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Forgiveness & Your Life's Unfinished Business, by Stephen Levine

FaceBook  On Feb 5, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Profound. Each line of this passage can be experienced. "As long as there are two, there is unfinished business." I think this extends also to one, for one is also a distinction we make in our mind. To get beyond one's and two's, we have to get to zero. I have often wondered at the brilliance of whoever came up with the symbol for zero - no beginning, no end - a circle, the idea of a whole. This notion breaks all the distinctions in our mind, and takes us toward the "no mind," where there is nothing to forgive, no one to be angry with, no one who will be angry. Indeed, that is because there is no "one" anymore. Reflecting back on moments that can be termed "the dark night of the soul," I find that intense guilt arises out of a great misunderstanding, a great confusion, a strong self-deception. Experienced constructively, guilt is a stepping stone, which takes us from a bigger confusion to a smaller one, provided we step out of it, and realize it is not a useful emotion. Its big trap is to make us believe the stories we spin about how terrible our actions have been, or worse, how terrible we are. Before we saw multiplicity, and didn't feel the pain of others. Now, we have connected at an awkward level, where the guilt and the associated pain comes like a gushing tsunami. But stare at it some more - and the tsunami becomes a mere wave, and soon crashes innocuously under its own weight, for it is not being fed anymore. Then, the zone of the zero begins - who is to ask for forgiveness and from whom? The futility of the multiplicity was long obvious. The trap of the one becomes clearer, as the one quickly leads back to the two. There are times (in fact, many times), when we are hopelessly mired in the two, and that is when the author's suggestion of using forgiveness as a tool becomes invaluable. With practice, forgiveness becomes the stepping stone toward the zero. Forgiveness is what makes us human for we can only forgive when  See full.

Profound. Each line of this passage can be experienced. "As long as there are two, there is unfinished business." I think this extends also to one, for one is also a distinction we make in our mind. To get beyond one's and two's, we have to get to zero. I have often wondered at the brilliance of whoever came up with the symbol for zero - no beginning, no end - a circle, the idea of a whole. This notion breaks all the distinctions in our mind, and takes us toward the "no mind," where there is nothing to forgive, no one to be angry with, no one who will be angry. Indeed, that is because there is no "one" anymore.

Reflecting back on moments that can be termed "the dark night of the soul," I find that intense guilt arises out of a great misunderstanding, a great confusion, a strong self-deception. Experienced constructively, guilt is a stepping stone, which takes us from a bigger confusion to a smaller one, provided we step out of it, and realize it is not a useful emotion. Its big trap is to make us believe the stories we spin about how terrible our actions have been, or worse, how terrible we are. Before we saw multiplicity, and didn't feel the pain of others. Now, we have connected at an awkward level, where the guilt and the associated pain comes like a gushing tsunami. But stare at it some more - and the tsunami becomes a mere wave, and soon crashes innocuously under its own weight, for it is not being fed anymore. Then, the zone of the zero begins - who is to ask for forgiveness and from whom? The futility of the multiplicity was long obvious. The trap of the one becomes clearer, as the one quickly leads back to the two.

There are times (in fact, many times), when we are hopelessly mired in the two, and that is when the author's suggestion of using forgiveness as a tool becomes invaluable. With practice, forgiveness becomes the stepping stone toward the zero. Forgiveness is what makes us human for we can only forgive when we realize there is no need to hold on to a past memory. The word "forgive" comes from "for+gifan", where gifan means to "give." I can only give when I have - which means, forgiveness is a quality that springs from abundance, not from scarcity. Therefore, one has to be truly poor and suffering when one is unable to forgive.

This week, a situation came up from the past, where my forgiveness was tested. A colleague in a professional venture had broken up with our team on a very sour note. After a year, there was an opportunity where our team was asked if we wanted to give what we had created together some years past. While all of us loved the idea, this colleague vetoed our plan. Immediately, negative memories came up, and I could see a dark cloud passing over me. It was a little while before I loosened up and smiled at myself - how silly that all of the thoughts that were in the past, that I had officially "moved on" from, had to come rushing back. I hadn't truly forgiven and loved. Or perhaps, if I had, I must have forgotten. Better late than never - I blessed this colleague, and felt immediately transformed.

I find the Wednesday pieces so practical and scientific that it is beyond belief. The trap in these lovely well-written pieces is to think that they are philosophical and leave them aside from our daily lives. Very grateful for the opportunity to reflect. Very grateful for the opportunity to forgive and to ask for forgiveness.

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Pale Blue Dot, by Carl Sagan

FaceBook  On Jan 28, 2010 Somik wrote:

This metaphor came with the image of zooming out to recognize the macrocosm we are in, and I felt it is a powerful way of thinking that can help us break our present attachments and go to a much loftier viewpoint.  On the same lines, is a corollary metaphor looking at the opposite end of the spectrum, the microcosm. If we look at our bodies, composed of millions of cells, we can start to imagine the lives of our cells. They are born, do intensely work for some time and then die. What if think of our little cells as people. Well, there's the toe people, and then there's the foot people. What if the toe people held grudges against the foot people, thinking, "you aren't giving us enough resources. There's inequity here, .." And the foot people held similar grudges against the toe people.  I find myself grinning at this idea, simply because I cannot fathom the notion of toe people and foot people. There's just me - the whole organism to which the toe and the feet are connected. I understand how my unity works at the cellular level. Although the toe and foot have different functions and look different, they are part of the same organism. Since my awareness is at the level of the organism, I recognize the underlying unity immediately.   Can we bring the awareness that lies in the microcosm up to the level of the macrocosm? When we are in toe-consciousness, we cannot see the organism that we're connected to. But, what if could connect to that organism of which we are a part? What if we were aware that although we look and think differently, we make up a much bigger whole, one that we simply cannot understand at the level of toe-consciousness? How would our lives be if we acted with that awareness? At another level, Sagan's metaphor drives our ego into insignificance. The toe metaphor points drives home the significance of each part. Significance and insignificance are two sides of the same coin, and not contradictory ideas. To the larger being,  See full.

This metaphor came with the image of zooming out to recognize the macrocosm we are in, and I felt it is a powerful way of thinking that can help us break our present attachments and go to a much loftier viewpoint. 

On the same lines, is a corollary metaphor looking at the opposite end of the spectrum, the microcosm. If we look at our bodies, composed of millions of cells, we can start to imagine the lives of our cells. They are born, do intensely work for some time and then die. What if think of our little cells as people. Well, there's the toe people, and then there's the foot people. What if the toe people held grudges against the foot people, thinking, "you aren't giving us enough resources. There's inequity here, .." And the foot people held similar grudges against the toe people. 

I find myself grinning at this idea, simply because I cannot fathom the notion of toe people and foot people. There's just me - the whole organism to which the toe and the feet are connected. I understand how my unity works at the cellular level. Although the toe and foot have different functions and look different, they are part of the same organism. Since my awareness is at the level of the organism, I recognize the underlying unity immediately.  

Can we bring the awareness that lies in the microcosm up to the level of the macrocosm? When we are in toe-consciousness, we cannot see the organism that we're connected to. But, what if could connect to that organism of which we are a part? What if we were aware that although we look and think differently, we make up a much bigger whole, one that we simply cannot understand at the level of toe-consciousness? How would our lives be if we acted with that awareness?

At another level, Sagan's metaphor drives our ego into insignificance. The toe metaphor points drives home the significance of each part. Significance and insignificance are two sides of the same coin, and not contradictory ideas. To the larger being, hair falling and growing again is not a big deal. To the hair, it is birth, trauma and death. What if we take the awareness of the larger being with the biggest perspective possible and then examine the littlest of things. What would that vision be? 

Finally a story. On Tuesday, everything went contrary to my expectations. I had a full busy day planned with lots of work to be done. I started out my day with an email from a colleague who was worried about his workload getting bigger. My initial reaction was defensive - I have a bigger workload, and I could think of many reasons why things had to be better for me. Then I paused, and reflected, and found a deeper intention to be of service, and responded by acknowledging both the intention to serve and justifying the present. That didn't feel entirely wholesome. I was reflecting on everything and suddenly realized that I'd made everything in my life so important that other people's problems were not in my circle of concern anymore. It was I who was suffering as a result. Hmm.. I met my colleague and made clear that it wasn't about fairness of work distribution, it was about stress. If anything caused stress for him, I wanted to help in whatever way I could. A big burden lifted off from my heart.

In a later meeting with my professor, who I'd been trying to get a hold off for a while, our meeting went over my "budgeted" time. Instead of being delighted, the old habit-pattern kicked in causing stress. I had to be somewhere else, and I didn't have the phone number of the person I was going to meet. Then, I decided to ditch it - the universe was too vast, and my problems were too small - I gave up, and decided to enjoy the presence and time of my professor, and we had a magical meeting. I went late to the other meeting (which proceeded just fine without me), and was still able to carry out the role I had promised to perform.

One would think that this was enough to awaken me, but then I had a dinner engagement, and my friends were late. Again, my first thought was.. "Oh no, I have so much work to do, I should have timed this engagement and made it clear,..." The second thought, as I walked out into the Oval, was "What am I doing? This is so insignificant. Yes, I have a ton of things to do, and no, I am not going to do any of it right now." As I saw the clear sky, Sagan's metaphor opened up. A speck of dust; no, a fraction of a speck of dust. That's what we are. And yet, the tiniest of my problem becomes my world. No way. Not happening. Needless to say, the dinner was fantastic, I had a great time, and the next day, I finished what I thought were insurmountable tasks. 

As we went around the group, Viral shared the notion of innercosm, akin to microcosm. He summarized the gist very beautifully as one of gaining a bigger perspective. And, there is ALWAYS a bigger perspective.

Nipun talked about the fourth guy who went to the moon, Edgar Mitchell, and found himself looking at the earth and going into a moment of connection with all of life. He realized how artificial the borders are that we have created, because from space, there are none. The inspiration led to his found of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), which conducts research in areas that mainstream science has found unproductive :).

Ripa expanded the metaphor by using death as a tool to enlarge perspective. On our deathbed, how would we look back at our life? Can we bring that awareness and live each moment that way? Steve Jobs has an inspiring commencement speech on these lines (see the part about death).

Dinesh uncle wondered what was wrong with his generation that they could not take any of the risks the younger one was taking to follow their heart. I had a big smile when I heard that, and Pavi and Guri both reflected on that very powerfully. Pavi said that we stand on the shoulders of the previous generation - it is thanks to them that we can go further. Guri also pointed out that it is not the case that our generation is all awakened and aware. We have created a bubble around our little community, so it is not correct to generalize. Building on what both said, I feel that we are part of the same organism. If children succeed, then the organism succeeds, and parents are part of that organism. That generalizes to all people, all life. 

Nipun also shared this incredible story about a woman who has spent her life serving others. She had this experience where she felt she was looking at the world, and it was all dark, and when she turned around, she saw bright light, which was creating lots of lit-up spots on the world. She felt that acts of service and genuine compassion are little bright dots. Nipun felt the Wednesday is like that - maybe insignificant in the larger scheme of things, but a little bright dot. To build on this, I feel that the dark and the bright dots are part of the same organism, so in order not to let the dark dots overwhelm us, we have to glow even brighter.

Pavi also noted that it was ironical that although our insignificance should be depressing us, in our circle, we felt pretty good about it :).

We had an incredible guitar performance at the end by a Canadian friend, which was about taking the dive and spreading our wings to fly. 

On that note, may we all fly to follow our hearts!

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When You Don't Choose Love You Choose Fear, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross & David Kessler

FaceBook  On Jan 19, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

I can hear Pancho say BAMMMM! This is a lovely piece that hits the nail on the head. I understood "love" not in a mushy, intimate sense, but in a universal, connected sense, where my sense of "I" encompasses much more than my own well-being. Just today, my sociology professor was sharing some wisdom with me. He said that as babies, we have no sense of "I." We have to be repeatedly indoctrinated through our interactions with others in order to develop this sense. We derive our sense of "I" only in relation with others. And therefore, this "I" can be very different with different people. With love, it seems to me, that we are reversing this indoctrination, and going back to the bliss of a baby. After much analysis, it seems only sensible to want to believe that which leads to good experiences. We don't even have to be blind about this - we could bet on love, and see for ourselves what experiences and transformations follow to decide if we want to love more, or less. But this love cannot be the kind that binds. In the book "Notes to Myself," Hugh Prather has these gems on love: "Wanting to be loved, to be lovable, is not really a desire for how I want to be, but for how I want others to be." 'Love is the vision that can see all as one and one as all." "Love shows me where all minds and essences unite." "How do I get love? I have it. I must drop my definitions of love. Love is not saying nice things to people or smiling or doing good deeds. Love is love. Don't strive for love, be it." "All my life I have made it complicated, but it is so simple. I love when I love. And when I love, I am my self." My advisor once shared this story. At a thesis defence, he had a student who was terribly afraid of his questioning. Just before the exam began, with great intention and love, my advisor told him that he had passed the exam as far as the advisor was concerned. From t  See full.

I can hear Pancho say BAMMMM!

This is a lovely piece that hits the nail on the head. I understood "love" not in a mushy, intimate sense, but in a universal, connected sense, where my sense of "I" encompasses much more than my own well-being.

Just today, my sociology professor was sharing some wisdom with me. He said that as babies, we have no sense of "I." We have to be repeatedly indoctrinated through our interactions with others in order to develop this sense. We derive our sense of "I" only in relation with others. And therefore, this "I" can be very different with different people.

With love, it seems to me, that we are reversing this indoctrination, and going back to the bliss of a baby. After much analysis, it seems only sensible to want to believe that which leads to good experiences. We don't even have to be blind about this - we could bet on love, and see for ourselves what experiences and transformations follow to decide if we want to love more, or less.

But this love cannot be the kind that binds. In the book "Notes to Myself," Hugh Prather has these gems on love:

"Wanting to be loved, to be lovable, is not really a desire for how I want to be, but for how I want others to be."

'Love is the vision that can see all as one and one as all." "Love shows me where all minds and essences unite." "How do I get love? I have it. I must drop my definitions of love. Love is not saying nice things to people or smiling or doing good deeds. Love is love. Don't strive for love, be it." "All my life I have made it complicated, but it is so simple. I love when I love. And when I love, I am my self."

My advisor once shared this story. At a thesis defence, he had a student who was terribly afraid of his questioning. Just before the exam began, with great intention and love, my advisor told him that he had passed the exam as far as the advisor was concerned. From that point on, the student was able to free himself from his fears - he was touched by something much higher than judgment, that he did an outstanding job in the exam.

Love is such a practical tool in our toolbox and it is astonishing that this four letter word does not make it into any business school class! We transform ourselves when we love, and therefore, as we have changed, our world has changed.

With love for everyone who make Wednesdays happen...

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Noticing the Gaps, by Eckhart Tolle

FaceBook  On Jan 18, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

It was great to have Neil open today. He spoke vividly about how baseball hitters are able to get into the zone, where they can see the seams of the ball (which is hurtling down at breackneck speed toward them). Getting into the zone is about being able to slow down our minds and take in a much bigger view of what is happening in front of us.

Pavi shared a succinct observation - between the stimulus and the response lies a space. When we slow down, we begin to notice this space, and realize that we can choose our response. To me, this is the freedom that mystics and saints talk about. To realize that I create my own reality, not at the level of philosophical platitudes but at the level of practical reality, is a great realization. To keep that realization at every moment is an ideal to aspire for. Much happiness can be determined in our lives by doing so.

I liked all the different examples in which my ego plays out. I could find myself raising my hand several times. I would add that feeling guilty about the past is another big activity for the ego. Who is guilty and about what? I have deviated from my self-image and am devastated. This is one of the biggest time-sinks we can engage in. Every time I've been in this mode, all it has taken is one simple question - who is feeling guilty? And immediately, the foolishness of the time spent feeling sorry for myself becomes evident.

 

Law of Least Effort, by Deepak Chopra

FaceBook  On Jan 8, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

When I hear the word "nature," conditioning makes me think of trees and forests. Deeper reflection reminds me that nature could also be my nature. Infact, from the same vedic sources that Deepak Chopra cites comes an exhortation to find that knowledge, knowing which, all becomes known. Pondering over this aphorism, I felt that it is my own nature that if known, reveals all nature to me, for then, the distinction of "my" or "I" is no longer present. When I am established in my nature, there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, just peace and harmony with all that is. Once established, the hardest problems look puny and all action from this space becomes the right action. The problem is, getting to this space can be very hard. Smita's mother pointed out that we get into this space only when we have given up trying. I could resonate with that as some of the decisions I've taken came from insights that leaped up when I completely gave up. I stopped trying to be something else, and accidentally got into the space of connecting with my own nature, where there are no dilemmas, for there is no mind.   Again, as Smita's mother pointed out, we may know this insight several times, but we also know that we're going to lose it and will have to work to regain it again. This was her last visit to a Wednesday in this visit and we are going to miss her smile, wisdom and presence. (She cooked a few Wednesdays back for everyone, so she is now our CFMom from Minnesota!) She plans to hang out in Karma Kitchen DC and Wednesdays in DC.   The idea of love in this passage is profound. To me, it is what takes all this discussion of awareness of nature from the intellectual to the real. Going deeper, what is the experience of love? The author is giving us a key to a very big mystery. We all experience love in so many ways. It is that moment when we cannot put any label to what we are feeling, but our whole body trembles, we feel expanded, and a tear-dro  See full.

When I hear the word "nature," conditioning makes me think of trees and forests. Deeper reflection reminds me that nature could also be my nature. Infact, from the same vedic sources that Deepak Chopra cites comes an exhortation to find that knowledge, knowing which, all becomes known. Pondering over this aphorism, I felt that it is my own nature that if known, reveals all nature to me, for then, the distinction of "my" or "I" is no longer present. When I am established in my nature, there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, just peace and harmony with all that is. Once established, the hardest problems look puny and all action from this space becomes the right action. The problem is, getting to this space can be very hard. Smita's mother pointed out that we get into this space only when we have given up trying. I could resonate with that as some of the decisions I've taken came from insights that leaped up when I completely gave up. I stopped trying to be something else, and accidentally got into the space of connecting with my own nature, where there are no dilemmas, for there is no mind.

 

Again, as Smita's mother pointed out, we may know this insight several times, but we also know that we're going to lose it and will have to work to regain it again. This was her last visit to a Wednesday in this visit and we are going to miss her smile, wisdom and presence. (She cooked a few Wednesdays back for everyone, so she is now our CFMom from Minnesota!) She plans to hang out in Karma Kitchen DC and Wednesdays in DC.

 

The idea of love in this passage is profound. To me, it is what takes all this discussion of awareness of nature from the intellectual to the real. Going deeper, what is the experience of love? The author is giving us a key to a very big mystery. We all experience love in so many ways. It is that moment when we cannot put any label to what we are feeling, but our whole body trembles, we feel expanded, and a tear-drop rolls down our cheek. We feel connected to someone and in that moment, we cannot distinguish ourselves from them (by the definition of connection, and by the experience of it). It is love then, that gives us access to our nature - for we have practically broken the limitations of our identity and connected to something bigger.

 

The funny part is, we are not aware that the experience of love connects us to a deeper awareness. However, we can see the power of it - for a moment of genuine love is indelibly printed in our minds. It is so deep that one is forever touched by it. When one makes a practice of love, it becomes a great tool for developing awareness as we can be engaged in it all the time. Suddenly, a meditation practice that I'd learned years back, made a lot of sense. In this practice, the meditator starts by giving love to all four directions, to everything that is around, and then enters into silence. If done right, it takes us straight in to the zone of awareness. In other practices, love is given at the end. One effect of that (for me) is to ensure that even if no awareness has developed during the meditation (which is very unlikely), the awareness sets in for sure at the end. Love is what explains the development of awareness through service. In other words, service without love is of no use to anybody. To get to the practical, I am amazed at how easy life looks when I surrender and develop love for those who are trying to help in my research. And, by the same token, how hard it seems when I get defensive. The other day, I chatted with a good friend on the phone and got all defensive when he started getting critical. We agreed to meet to discuss further. At the meeting, I decided to honor his love for me, and at every criticism, I kept sending love and gratitude. And surprisingly, everything he said make sense. And, he kept getting happier and happier with my research. We ended the meeting on a great high - he felt it was great work and that he had been able to help me (which he indeed had).

 

As we went around the group, Reepa shared her reflection on Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) who is also known as the hugging saint. When asked how she could do what she does, she replied with a question, "How does the river flow?" This metaphor struck a chord with many and was repeated by others as well. 

 

Viral shared a story, building on the idea of "knowing that by which you know all." It was the story of a sword master's challenge to a tea-master (Japan's tea ceremonies). The tea-master decided to take some lessons from another sword master. In the duel, the tea-master drew his sword out so perfectly that the challenger conceded defeat - for he could find no flaw in the action. When one is a master in one area, one finds the ability to master other areas too.

 

Hafeez shared an aphorism, "Love what you do. Do what you love." Pavi shared a dissenting view on nature - for it is true that nature also has examples of the cruel and the difficult. The March of the Penguins is a great testimony to the struggle of the penguins. Others shared how getting to the awareness of nature was the hard part - lot of struggle needed to get there.

After the sit, had a lovely chat with Dinesh uncle's brother, who was the entrepreneur behind the STD-ISD PCO (phone booths manned by people) that revolutionized the telecom landscape in the 90s. It was incredible to hear about the patience with which he had to convince the government of India that a payphone is not just a phone into which you can put in coins (as defined by law) but also any phone that you have to pay to use. He managed to get the government to recognize something a child can understand, and the rest is history. What I observed was a lack of bitterness at the government. I requested a write-up from him - hopefully we'll manage to get it and put it on the CF Blog.

 

Grateful for another lovely Wednesday.

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Receiving Each Day as an Invitation, by John O'Donohue

FaceBook  On Dec 29, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

The author seems to be viewing life as an unfolding meditation, and this is a remarkable way to look at life. I was blessed this Sunday to hear the stories of Hafeez, Farooq and Aunty (CF Mom) fresh from a 10-day. As questions went back and forth, Viral made one comment that stuck with me. The gist of what he said was that meditation brings about a huge collection of experiences. Some seem remarkable and some seem mundane, but they all have the same quality - they are all transient, and therefore, it is best to recognize the transitory nature of each experience, no matter how pleasurable or how repulsive they might be. That wisdom is to me, the heart of the matter. If one is established in that wisdom, that one cannot be shaken by the vicissitudes of life. This passage conveyed the same sentiment - that life itself is a prolonged meditation. Suddenly, the purpose of meditation seems clear. By closing our eyes, we are trying to find what we cannot see when our eyes are open. We are slowing down time, so that we can find the truth at the smallest instant of time. And the truth is that our experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant, all arise and pass away. This truth manifests on a grander scale, at every waking moment. I find this to be a great wake-up call for the new year. The insights of meditation are not as useful if I think of them as limited to the time I close my eyes. I must bring these into every moment of my existence. The following lines are very rich in their visual imagery, "The liturgy of dawn signals the wonder of the arriving day. Magic of darkness breaking through into color and light is such a promise of invitation and possibility. No wonder we always associate the hope and urgency of new beginning with the dawn. Each day is the field of brightness where the invitation of our life unfolds. A new day is an intricate and subtle matrix; written into its mystery are the happenings sent to awaken and challenge us." We have positive assoc  See full.

The author seems to be viewing life as an unfolding meditation, and this is a remarkable way to look at life. I was blessed this Sunday to hear the stories of Hafeez, Farooq and Aunty (CF Mom) fresh from a 10-day. As questions went back and forth, Viral made one comment that stuck with me. The gist of what he said was that meditation brings about a huge collection of experiences. Some seem remarkable and some seem mundane, but they all have the same quality - they are all transient, and therefore, it is best to recognize the transitory nature of each experience, no matter how pleasurable or how repulsive they might be. That wisdom is to me, the heart of the matter. If one is established in that wisdom, that one cannot be shaken by the vicissitudes of life.

This passage conveyed the same sentiment - that life itself is a prolonged meditation. Suddenly, the purpose of meditation seems clear. By closing our eyes, we are trying to find what we cannot see when our eyes are open. We are slowing down time, so that we can find the truth at the smallest instant of time. And the truth is that our experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant, all arise and pass away. This truth manifests on a grander scale, at every waking moment.

I find this to be a great wake-up call for the new year. The insights of meditation are not as useful if I think of them as limited to the time I close my eyes. I must bring these into every moment of my existence.

The following lines are very rich in their visual imagery,

"The liturgy of dawn signals the wonder of the arriving day. Magic of darkness breaking through into color and light is such a promise of invitation and possibility. No wonder we always associate the hope and urgency of new beginning with the dawn. Each day is the field of brightness where the invitation of our life unfolds. A new day is an intricate and subtle matrix; written into its mystery are the happenings sent to awaken and challenge us."

We have positive associations with the image of color and light. However, on deeper reflection, if the pleasant and the repulsive are of the same nature, then the jubilant welcome for dawn must also be given to dusk, with the same intensity and integrity. The following mysterious lines are rendered in poetic form in an ancient Indian text:

"Into a blind darkness they enter who are devoted to ignorance; but into a greater darkness they enter who engage in knowledge."

What could be the meaning of this? The secret of this verse in my mind lies in the understanding that light and darkness differ only in degree, not in kind. They are both of the same nature. When I start off with ignorance, I am in darkness. From that position, light is a pleasant, attractive idea. But when the intensity of light is increased, there comes a point where all has become light, and we cannot distinguish anymore. The lack of discrimination from ignorance and from knowledge are a world apart. And yet, they are of the same nature. 

Many wise people in India affirm, "I will go from the untruth toward the truth. I will go from darkness toward the light. I will go from the transient toward the permanent. " One wise man affirms, "I will go toward the truth within the untruth. I will go toward the light within the darkness. I will go toward the permanent within the transient." 

The New Year is a new dawn for us, and as the passage suggests, it holds great promise for us. The promise is not so much in events that will change the course of our life, but in our ability to develop awareness that events are happening all the time, and it is our determination of value that gives "significance" to events. It is in our hands to view each moment as a life-changing moment, one without a duplicate. When that is done, we become like Tennyon's Ulysses, drinking life to the lees. 

The idea of something "new" can be used as a tool to develop the determination to break the strength of our old habits. The funny thing is that there is little in the physical earth that will change in the New Year, and yet, it is a beautiful tradition the world over to create space for reflection, where we may, as powerful decision makers, make good decisions for our lives. 

Finally, a story. I've had days when my research seemed monotonous, difficult and downright scary. Suddenly, I wanted to escape by writing interesting articles, reading interesting books, watching an interesting movie, doing anything to escape the unknown. And then, there'd come a point when it became clear that I had to face my fears, and get some work done. And when I did, things would start clicking, and the joy would set in. The exhilaration of success would however, prove illusory, as I realized that my excitement had caused me to make mistakes. After both kinds of experiences, I decided to honor the common nature behind both - that of transience. Today, I gave a talk to my colleague. The last time I presented to him, things had been torn apart, and I had gotten defensive. Today, each time he said something harsh, a great spring of gratitude emerged from my heart. I accepted what he had to say. And wonder of wonders, there was a point where he uncovered the cause of the disconnect, much to his relief and my joy. It was my inability to communicate an idea that made sense. A big research roadblock had been cleared, and I can now clarify this issue for any audience. In all my previous discussions, this didn't happen as I think I was getting in the way of my friend trying to help me. But there was a deeper reflection - again sparked by Viral's comments on Sunday (I wish I'd noted them down). None of the other experiences were a waste of time. They were all part of the same learning process, same transitory experience, and it was all good. Without them, there could be no learning.

I am deeply grateful to all those who make Wednesdays possible with their effort, presence and compassion, for helping me learn that I can and should drink life to the lees at every moment. I wish everyone a grand beginning, grand determination, grand awareness and grand success with extracting joy out of every moment to come.

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Willing to Experience our Suffering, by Charlotte Joko Beck

FaceBook  On Dec 24, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

I remembered the aphorism, "Pain is a condition. Suffering is a decision." While that might sound a little intellectual, this truth was brought home to me when my grandmother lay dying of lung cancer. The doctors told my parents that she would be in terrible pain and we should get morphine for her. She never once needed morphine, and would always stay cheerful, causing the doctors to tell my parents that she might be lying about her pain. She would sometimes have palpitations, when everyone around her would think she was going to die. Once, after such an episode, she called my parents and told them, "When you see me in this condition, don't make the mistake of thinking that I am suffering. I have separated myself from my body, and I am very happy. Whatever is happening is to my body, and that is natural given my condition." She passed away in this spirit - great pain but no suffering, in what some would call a good death.  The author makes a startling point. If I truly mean what I say by the sentence, "I am suffering," that would mean I have become the suffering, and where I begins and ends and where suffering begins and ends cannot be clarified. Who is suffering then, and from what? The more accurate sentence for most of us most of the time is, "Suffering was done to me," or "Misery was done to me." In the rare but definitive times that we mean the former, we are in a very different space, one where our equanimity is firm. I was also reminded of last week's thought, which brought out the truth of duality. Everything we can think of or come in contact with is at once helpful and harmful. The notion of duality itself is helpful and harmful. While the author initially prods us to go toward non-duality by becoming our suffering, she then shows that duality is also valuable, for suffering can be treated as a good teacher. When our ideas are challenged, we get defensive and suffer. If we stay with that suffering an  See full.

I remembered the aphorism, "Pain is a condition. Suffering is a decision." While that might sound a little intellectual, this truth was brought home to me when my grandmother lay dying of lung cancer. The doctors told my parents that she would be in terrible pain and we should get morphine for her. She never once needed morphine, and would always stay cheerful, causing the doctors to tell my parents that she might be lying about her pain. She would sometimes have palpitations, when everyone around her would think she was going to die. Once, after such an episode, she called my parents and told them, "When you see me in this condition, don't make the mistake of thinking that I am suffering. I have separated myself from my body, and I am very happy. Whatever is happening is to my body, and that is natural given my condition." She passed away in this spirit - great pain but no suffering, in what some would call a good death. 

The author makes a startling point. If I truly mean what I say by the sentence, "I am suffering," that would mean I have become the suffering, and where I begins and ends and where suffering begins and ends cannot be clarified. Who is suffering then, and from what? The more accurate sentence for most of us most of the time is, "Suffering was done to me," or "Misery was done to me." In the rare but definitive times that we mean the former, we are in a very different space, one where our equanimity is firm.

I was also reminded of last week's thought, which brought out the truth of duality. Everything we can think of or come in contact with is at once helpful and harmful. The notion of duality itself is helpful and harmful. While the author initially prods us to go toward non-duality by becoming our suffering, she then shows that duality is also valuable, for suffering can be treated as a good teacher. When our ideas are challenged, we get defensive and suffer. If we stay with that suffering and become aware of what is happening, we get a chance to pause and reflect, and in that pause, something shifts. Our ideas are no longer as rigid as they once were, and our frame has expanded.

This really hit home, for I have moved through various ideologies over time. Each time I shift, I can't believe I used to think otherwise earlier. That ought to give me some pause and develop compassion for those who don't agree with me, and to be open to learning.

This week, I gave a research talk to my close buddies to get feedback. Right from the beginning, we started sparring (since we know each other so well), and after a while, I became aware of two voices - one said, "they don't get it," and the other said, "you are defensive!" As soon as I was aware of this, I paused and reflected. It was clear that defending my ideas was not the goal - learning and improving was. Then, the right thing to do was to accept and learn. Over the rest of the session, I accepted all that was given, and continued to contemplate over lunch as to why I had suffered over some parts of the interaction. 

By the end of the lunch hour, I was convinced that it was silly to suffer, and off I went to incorporate all the feedback. And lo and behold, the slides I produced with the new frame my friends had suggested made so much more sense to me and had much higher quality.

I remain in gratitude, and wonder why I forget that all I need is already here, and everyone is here to help me.

As we went around, there were many reflections on suffering as I think this one hit home for others as well. A special mention is for Smita's mother who cooked for everyone today, as CFmom is on a 10-day. 

And did I mention the delicious desserts? Chris had baked one of them! 

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At Once, Beneficiary and Victim, by Aldous Huxley

FaceBook  On Dec 20, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

I loved this piece! Remembered a paper I'd read in a class on memory about this man who'd found techniques to augment his memory beyond its natural capacity. He had developed techniques to help remember objects in a list (20, then 100, then 1000 objects), and he could recite it in any order that was requested of him. He became a showman, and did well for a while. And then, he started discovering that he was unable to forget what he'd committed to memory, try as hard as he might. He started going crazy, and ultimately died insane. When we hear of people whose memory becomes indelible or momentary, the two ends of the spectrum, we feel they are cursed. The object of this point is not about memory, but about the problem of duality which is the heart of this piece. Duality is the tremendous idea that everything we come in contact with is at once helpful and hurtful. Its truth is evident at every moment. The author prods us to go beyond duality, into a space where we cannot be trapped by language. I remembered some exquisite poetry by Kabir, the 15th century philosopher-poet from India. Kabir says, "Jo paani ke naam ko paani jaaney wo naadani hai Pani pani rat te rat te pyaasa hi mar jaaye Shola shola rat te rat te labh pur aanch na aaye Ek chingaree labh pur rukh lo Fauran labh jal jaaye" To translate, "Naive is the one who confuses the label "water" with water (the experience of it)  Although chanting "water, water" (contented with just the label), they are bound to die of thirst  Those who chant "fire, fire" have not a scratch on their lips for doing so  But when they put a spark of fire on their lips, their lips burn instantly." That is the difference between the label and the experience that evoked the label, brought out so powerfully in the imagery of water and fire. The author says at the end of the piece that "Certain persons, however, seem to be born with a kind of by-pass that c  See full.

I loved this piece! Remembered a paper I'd read in a class on memory about this man who'd found techniques to augment his memory beyond its natural capacity. He had developed techniques to help remember objects in a list (20, then 100, then 1000 objects), and he could recite it in any order that was requested of him. He became a showman, and did well for a while. And then, he started discovering that he was unable to forget what he'd committed to memory, try as hard as he might. He started going crazy, and ultimately died insane.

When we hear of people whose memory becomes indelible or momentary, the two ends of the spectrum, we feel they are cursed. The object of this point is not about memory, but about the problem of duality which is the heart of this piece. Duality is the tremendous idea that everything we come in contact with is at once helpful and hurtful. Its truth is evident at every moment.

The author prods us to go beyond duality, into a space where we cannot be trapped by language. I remembered some exquisite poetry by Kabir, the 15th century philosopher-poet from India. Kabir says,

"Jo paani ke naam ko paani jaaney wo naadani hai
Pani pani rat te rat te pyaasa hi mar jaaye

Shola shola rat te rat te labh pur aanch na aaye
Ek chingaree labh pur rukh lo
Fauran labh jal jaaye"

To translate,

"Naive is the one who confuses the label "water" with water (the experience of it)
 Although chanting "water, water" (contented with just the label), they are bound to die of thirst

 Those who chant "fire, fire" have not a scratch on their lips for doing so
 But when they put a spark of fire on their lips, their lips burn instantly."

That is the difference between the label and the experience that evoked the label, brought out so powerfully in the imagery of water and fire.

The author says at the end of the piece that "Certain persons, however, seem to be born with a kind of by-pass that circumvents the reducing valve." I haven't met such people. However, I've met a lot people who've had to work hard on doing the by-pass surgery on themselves. I liked the metaphor of by-pass surgery - that I have to by-pass the blockages in my own heart. To step up the metaphor, I believe that the surgery has already been performed by nature. We are simply unaware of it. When there are blockages in our heart, our body sends signals which we do not know how to process. If we train our mind to honor those messages, we can perform the by-pass more successfully.

A story to illustrate this. The other day, I was sitting with someone for my research, obtaining data. As my informant was giving me data, I became aware that she was hard-pressed for time. This is an ordinary experience that most of us have felt at some time or the other in our conversations. Immediately, a part of my mind said, "Ignore this - you need to get the data. If she is really busy, she will tell you." And so, I pacified my mind and ignored the signals. And sure enough, there came a point where she panicked about the time and requested to end the session. We did that, but it didn't feel wholesome to me. I should have honored the signals that I'd received and responded with compassion - asked her if we could meet again (which is what we ended up doing anyway). Although this was a small incident, what amused me was that the voice that was trying to fool me was my own voice.

People had lots of reflections on languages and after we went around the group, I remembered my own time in Japan, when I attended Aikido lessons. I had only learned some basic Japanese to get around, and Aikido is full of philosophical Japanese. I couldn't understand a word of the language, but somehow, it didn't matter, and I was able to partake of the experience that the teachers were trying to share with me. I remember much later, after I'd finished the first basic exam, the teacher pointed to me while training his new batch (all Japanese) saying,  "This guy doesn't understand a word of what I'm saying, and he still understands what we're doing here. You guys should not have any problem." (this is my paraphrase from the gestures, sounds, few words that I understood and the "aah" responses :)

Viral shared the notion that awareness is a spectrum. When awareness is concentrated, we call that focusing, which is very helpful. When awareness is broadened, we have a different experience, that is also helpful. Wisdom is about knowing which awareness is needed in this moment, and that is what we can develop.

One participant talked about a trip from the east coast where he sat next to a woman who shared her life and how she'd done so much for her family. After listening to the long story, the listener, in that moment, with his full heart, appreciated her for who she was, getting beyond duality and into a space where both had an experience they cannot put a label on.

Guri gave the only defense for language (thankfully, or else we shouldn't speak a word from now on), where language can spark off deep experiences. We have all these iJourney reflections through the language used in these pieces. So, we must be balanced and recognize the benefit as the piece suggests.

Finally, it is hard not to be touched by aunty's compassion - she went off for a 10-day, but had cooked for all of us!

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The Surprising Truth of Sufficiency, by Lynne Twist

FaceBook  On Dec 12, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

As usual, this was a deep and apt passage. Three big ideas stood out for me. First, Lynne writes, "In our relationship with money, it is using money in a way that expresses our integrity; using it in a way that expresses value rather than determines value." I understood the idea of using money to express value, but I wasn't clear on what she meant by using money to determine value, until the meditation. It was funny, because, I've come across this idea many times in the form of the fallacy of sunk-cost thinking, which is a foundational idea in Decision Analysis (and finance-related fields). Everyone who studies basic finance is usually taught that what you've paid for something in the past is gone. It ain't coming back! You cannot use the investment of the past to determine the value in the future. In other words, the amount of money that I spent on something cannot be used to determine what it is worth to me at the present time. If I use it in that way, I would have committed an error of thinking - I'd have violated the sunk-cost principle. My thoughts on value about anything have to do with me looking forward from the present moment. The past does matter, but only for learning, and not for accounting. Remembering this principle would have great implications on a wide variety of decisions, and would be a practical manifestation of a deeply spiritual idea. The second big idea was that of sufficiency. I remembered a TED talk by Paul Stamets on 6 ways that mushrooms can save the world. In the talk, Stamets shares some cool ideas - using mushrooms to break down waste and turn it into a green oasis, to stop the spread of harmful diseases, to sequester carbon more effectively than most other methods known to us, to termite-proof houses in a natural and simple way and even to produce energy. The point is not that there is enough fungus for our world to be taken care of, but that here is one man who felt that he had sufficient resources to tackle big probl  See full.

As usual, this was a deep and apt passage. Three big ideas stood out for me.

First, Lynne writes, "In our relationship with money, it is using money in a way that expresses our integrity; using it in a way that expresses value rather than determines value." I understood the idea of using money to express value, but I wasn't clear on what she meant by using money to determine value, until the meditation. It was funny, because, I've come across this idea many times in the form of the fallacy of sunk-cost thinking, which is a foundational idea in Decision Analysis (and finance-related fields). Everyone who studies basic finance is usually taught that what you've paid for something in the past is gone. It ain't coming back! You cannot use the investment of the past to determine the value in the future. In other words, the amount of money that I spent on something cannot be used to determine what it is worth to me at the present time. If I use it in that way, I would have committed an error of thinking - I'd have violated the sunk-cost principle. My thoughts on value about anything have to do with me looking forward from the present moment. The past does matter, but only for learning, and not for accounting. Remembering this principle would have great implications on a wide variety of decisions, and would be a practical manifestation of a deeply spiritual idea.

The second big idea was that of sufficiency. I remembered a TED talk by Paul Stamets on 6 ways that mushrooms can save the world. In the talk, Stamets shares some cool ideas - using mushrooms to break down waste and turn it into a green oasis, to stop the spread of harmful diseases, to sequester carbon more effectively than most other methods known to us, to termite-proof houses in a natural and simple way and even to produce energy. The point is not that there is enough fungus for our world to be taken care of, but that here is one man who felt that he had sufficient resources to tackle big problems that the earth community is facing. And, using his education, research and resources, he had become the change he wanted to see. The idea of sufficiency is very important for all those who want to help the world.

The thid big idea was about poverty. I remembered a basketball player who was interviewed about his impoverished background. The interviewer asked him, "You've been poor growing up. How does it feel to not be poor?" He retorted, "Who says I was poor? I was never poor. I just didn't have money." Poverty is a disease of the mind, not a physical condition that can be cured. We ought to be very careful when we label some people as poor, for with it, comes the filter of pity and the idea that "I have to do something for them." The "I" takes over my mind with some notions of superiority (like privilege). When we choose to say that some people don't have money or other resources they need, it sounds more like a temporary situation (which is true about any and every situation that we face) where I don't need to do something for anyone. Instead, they need something, and I may have the opportunity of fulfilling their need and co-creating value, as a partner, not a benefactor.

Finally, poverty is not just of money, but the other big resource, time. This week, I came in to my office with a set of targets. As I settled in, my officemate started talking about the birds who were nesting in the large eucalyptus tree outside the window. I immediately noticed a panic sensation - I wasn't going to meet my targets if I wasted time in idle conversations. Then, I remembered this passage (which I'd read the night before), and took a few deep breaths. I decided not to react, and instead chose to be present and enjoy the conversation. We traded bird stories - how a bird had once laid an egg under an unoccupied table in my previous causing much work for the facilities people. How a bird had created a massive nest above the shade on my friend's door, which he, out of great compassion, dismantled, so the bird could go somewhere else, as he knew that nest would not survive. Even so, he felt great sadness in dismantling a result of great hard work. The conversation was so enriching in many ways. It made time stop. For the rest of that day, I decided to forget about my targets and just do what I could, with the belief of sufficiency - I had sufficient time and resources to get everything done. And my experience matched my belief :).

The thoughts across the room today were, as usual, very deep. Reepa mentioned how poverty or scarcity makes people creative. I remembered Prof. Anil Gupta's key idea - he felt that some of the best innovators on this planet will be found in extremely impoverished conditions, where people have to innovate to survive. And the result was the Honeybee Network - a collection of over 100,000 innovations made by such people, and open-sourced to the rest of the world to patent and productize. Rishi's story about his uncle who knew all the twists and turns to get to a park in India was stunning - as he revealed at the end that his uncle was blind. And yet, this uncle felt he had sufficient resources to lead a full life, start a company selling shoe polish, make it successful and support his family. Someone else reflected on how we have sufficient resources within us to apologize.

I loved aunty (CF Mom's) comment from Nipun on giving - if you find that you can't give, then it is not yours. Remembered Geet's comment to me on several occasions about money - if you don't spend it, how will more come? This idea honors so many deep truths. At the physical level, when we spend, we are engaged in an act of giving. This enriches others, and allows them to give. Eventually, someone, somewhere, gives back to me, because they have been enriched to do so. At the deepest level, my universe is a reflection of my mind. When I hold back from my universe, my universe holds back from me. When I give to my universe, my universe gives back to me. This is the reason those who give from their heart find that everyone's giving back to them more than they could imagine or want. It is not necessarily that this is so as a physical truth, but that they are able to spot such actions for their mind is now tuned to it. And when one finds the evidence of a kind universe, one is happier, and more inspired to continue the gratitude. Why not create my universe in a manner that gives me the most happiness?

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What the Vision Does, by Peter Senge

FaceBook  On Dec 5, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

This was a powerful piece! I am reminded of a monk who I asked for advice over a lunch visit. He was silent. Then, we walked up a hill and meditated. After the meditation, he looked at me, and said, "Since you asked for advice, here's what came to me." He went on give me three pieces of advice. First, the theory of burnout. Most people cannot separate themselves from the projects (or visions), and so when the project fails, they feel it is their own failure. This is a disaster, and causes burnout. People have no energy to move ahead with life. It is vital that we never identify ourselves with our projects. We do not exist for a project/vision. The project/vision exists so we may grow and learn. Then, the real measure of success is how much we were able to fulfill our deepest intention. We may have failed in a thousand projects, but if we have grown in love and equanimity, then we have succeeded. For this separation to come about, we must grow in awareness of our deepest intentions. Second, this awareness cannot grow by simply serving others. One has to meditate to enhance this awareness. Third, this awareness cannot grow by simply meditating. One has to serve others to enhance this awareness. Viral added his lovely reflection to this point - Meditation is inner service. Service is outer meditation. Going deeper into the awareness of intention, it seems to me that the more I am aware of my intention, the stronger is my intention of being aware, as its benefits become amply clear.  Another funny thing is, most people have good intentions. When we are aware of our own good intentions, we also start recognizing this about other people. Dinesh uncle added a caveat that this may not be the case always, and Vijay uncle added that the road to hell was paved with good intentions, but I don't see that as a contradiction. Even when people are actually harming us, there is some rationalization that it is somehow good - in other words, there is some good in  See full.

This was a powerful piece!

I am reminded of a monk who I asked for advice over a lunch visit. He was silent. Then, we walked up a hill and meditated. After the meditation, he looked at me, and said, "Since you asked for advice, here's what came to me." He went on give me three pieces of advice.

First, the theory of burnout. Most people cannot separate themselves from the projects (or visions), and so when the project fails, they feel it is their own failure. This is a disaster, and causes burnout. People have no energy to move ahead with life. It is vital that we never identify ourselves with our projects. We do not exist for a project/vision. The project/vision exists so we may grow and learn. Then, the real measure of success is how much we were able to fulfill our deepest intention. We may have failed in a thousand projects, but if we have grown in love and equanimity, then we have succeeded. For this separation to come about, we must grow in awareness of our deepest intentions.

Second, this awareness cannot grow by simply serving others. One has to meditate to enhance this awareness.

Third, this awareness cannot grow by simply meditating. One has to serve others to enhance this awareness.

Viral added his lovely reflection to this point - Meditation is inner service. Service is outer meditation.

Going deeper into the awareness of intention, it seems to me that the more I am aware of my intention, the stronger is my intention of being aware, as its benefits become amply clear. 

Another funny thing is, most people have good intentions. When we are aware of our own good intentions, we also start recognizing this about other people. Dinesh uncle added a caveat that this may not be the case always, and Vijay uncle added that the road to hell was paved with good intentions, but I don't see that as a contradiction. Even when people are actually harming us, there is some rationalization that it is somehow good - in other words, there is some good intention somewhere that lost its way. However, recognizing that starting good intention is absolutely critical if we wish to connect with others and find unity. This unity is not at the level of ideas - it is at the level of being, and when we start from this position, compassion automatically enters our heart, and we take the loftiest position possible when looking at any situation, where none is excluded from compassion.

To make this more concrete, in a recent conversation with a friend from Purple Country, we started arguing about whether government initiatives were better than voluntary initiatives. I am in favor of the latter, and my friend in favor of the former. As we kept discussing, my friend kept saying that if I didn't like the system in Purple Country, or in this country, I should leave. At first, I pointed out that there was no country in the world where voluntary initiatives were the norm. But when this argument kept coming up, I pointed out that this sounded like Nazi Germany, where if you didn't like the system that was thrust upon you, you'd have to leave (or worse). My friend was deeply offended, thinking I'd compared Purple Country with Nazi Germany, and was close to tears. I realized that she would surely cry if I clarified that it wasn't Purple Country, but her line of reasoning that I was commenting on. At this point, I became aware of very strong vibrations of a negative kind, and reflected on my intent (thanks to this passage!) My deepest intent was certainly not to make her cry or offend her. It was to learn from her and grow in understanding. I immediately apologized for the misplaced analogy. Funnily enough, as I made these choices, I felt a lot of compassion for her. And then, I started to get deeper insights which I acknowledged immediately.

I said, "It seems to me that in Purple Country, people are very checked in with government. Is that correct?" She nodded. I continued, "Then, it is not as though government action is relevant to social progress, but the voluntary initiative of the people that makes government action and social progress irrelevant to each other. Its the people who make it work, and you are basically arguing that if people wake up everywhere, then they will make their governments do the right thing." She nodded vigorously - this was her exact point. 

Another insight came. "When I keep arguing in favor of free enterprise, it is not as if private companies or free markets are relevant to social progress, but the voluntary initiative of the people behind these markets that can make them work for social progress. So here too, it is the people who make it work, and if they are awakened, then we will have progress of the kind that we like." She started nodding. 

I concluded, "Then, we are really not from two different spaces. We are both honoring the need of the individual's awakening. When someone has woken up enough to care and act, that intention is what unites us all. The difference lies in the specific vision." 

She agreed. What was more, something big had shifted within me. I've never had this much compassion for people who believe government can be a force for good, making the same error as those who have little compassion for people who believe that private enterprise can be a force for good. I had forgotten something that is far more fundamental - that we are united in intent. And when I respect that unity, something shifts. My attachment to my vision is broken by the power of that unity. 

This isn't about government action or private-sector action - the details were offered in gratitude. Some of these pieces can be really abstract, and sometimes people wonder about their practicality. I hope the story demonstrates the practical utility of such pieces. This is really about an inner shift, my own inner shift. It is not as if I will start supporting government action now or abandon my vision. But it is the case that now when I interact with someone in a government action program, their vision won't stand in the way of my learning (from them) and compassion.

With lots of gratitude for these lovely pieces..

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Cultivating An Eagle Mind, by Matthieu Ricard

FaceBook  On Nov 24, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

The visual imagery of the eagle deflecting the crow's attack at the last minute reminds me of Aikido - the way of harmony with the life force. In this martial art, students are taught to receive (and not defend against) attacks by developing presence. As presence improves, the receiver is unperturbed, and at the last moment, makes the minimal effort necessary to deflect the attack. The sign of an Aikido master is that the attackers go flying in different directions, but the receiver of the attack has hardly moved. One of the lessons Aikido teachers in Japan keep emphasizing is that Aikido is not about the techniques. The techniques help you to understand Aikido. This is more easily understood from the eagle-crow story - it is not about deflecting attacks from crows, but living in a manner where we are equipoised, and don't harm ourselves more than necessary. In ancient traditions, there is a word called "sthitapragna" which comes to mind - it means one who is firmly situated or present, and implies strength. Equanimity is not a hallmark of weak minds - it is the result of tremendous mental strength inculcated by practice. Inner conflicts are often linked with excessive rumination on the past and anticipation of the future.  I loved this line - it captures so well how we are either in the past or in the future, but never in the present. This is the bane of our existence.  Afflictive mental states, on the other hand, begin with self-centeredness, with an increase in the gap between self and others. This is another gem. The word "afflictive" brings to mind "disease" - it is indeed a diseased mind that doesn't know better than to increase its own disease and spread the malaise to others. What is interesting is that "self-centeredness" is of pseudo variety, in the sense that the author is expressing it. If we are truly centered in our self, we would display equanimity and have healthy minds. The problem is that  See full.

The visual imagery of the eagle deflecting the crow's attack at the last minute reminds me of Aikido - the way of harmony with the life force. In this martial art, students are taught to receive (and not defend against) attacks by developing presence. As presence improves, the receiver is unperturbed, and at the last moment, makes the minimal effort necessary to deflect the attack. The sign of an Aikido master is that the attackers go flying in different directions, but the receiver of the attack has hardly moved.

One of the lessons Aikido teachers in Japan keep emphasizing is that Aikido is not about the techniques. The techniques help you to understand Aikido. This is more easily understood from the eagle-crow story - it is not about deflecting attacks from crows, but living in a manner where we are equipoised, and don't harm ourselves more than necessary.

In ancient traditions, there is a word called "sthitapragna" which comes to mind - it means one who is firmly situated or present, and implies strength. Equanimity is not a hallmark of weak minds - it is the result of tremendous mental strength inculcated by practice.

Inner conflicts are often linked with excessive rumination on the past and anticipation of the future. 

I loved this line - it captures so well how we are either in the past or in the future, but never in the present. This is the bane of our existence. 

Afflictive mental states, on the other hand, begin with self-centeredness, with an increase in the gap between self and others.

This is another gem. The word "afflictive" brings to mind "disease" - it is indeed a diseased mind that doesn't know better than to increase its own disease and spread the malaise to others. What is interesting is that "self-centeredness" is of pseudo variety, in the sense that the author is expressing it. If we are truly centered in our self, we would display equanimity and have healthy minds. The problem is that we are not selfish enough - we don't do what is really good for us (service is one of the most important things we could do, as the author points out in the first paragraph). 

Finally, a story. In a recent conversation with a friend on how to deal with a colleague who had gone in an unethical direction, I kept talking about how we ought to put up a fight, and my friend pointed out that we already had - I wasn't being present enough to notice that our responses may have looked minimal but were substantial. It seemed that I preferred a confrontation. Digging deeper, my friend pointed out that I had thoughts of getting even. I was a little shocked, and after looking in, I realized he was right. Don't know how they came in, but it had a lot to do with ruminating on the past, and anticipating the future as the author of this piece put it so articulately. I had stopped being the eagle, and had started becoming the crow. :) Thankfully, we have the ability to wake up. I feel so much more peaceful in uprooting those unhelpful thoughts, and feeling compassion toward the one I was angry with.

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for such friends, thankful to the people who've written such lovely Wednesday pieces, thankful to those who so carefully select such pieces, thankful to those who come to a Wednesday and give their presence so generously, thankful to the Mehta family who have facilitated this generosity over the years, thankful to the people behind CF for making it what it is, thankful to everyone known and unknown who has helped me in my journey knowingly or unknowingly. 

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Death: the Key to the Door of Life, by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

FaceBook  On Nov 20, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

This Wednesday was rather special - a smaller group with deeper reflections. A different vibe was in the air. The passage sparked several thoughts. A teacher once said, "Real death is when you forget yourself."    Medical science has now shown that my body right now has no cell in it that existed prior to seven years. There is constant birth and death within my own body, and this will continue even after "death" happens to my body. If I am cremated and the ashes immersed in a river, the fishes will be served by them. And if I am buried, then the worms will be nourished. Either way, my cells will help in the procreation of other species and this incessant cycle of life and death will continue. And yet, I live with no awareness of this tremendous phenomenon.   A wise king was once asked what the most wonderful thing on this planet was. He replied, "People are dying everyday, and yet they think that they will never die." Some call this confusion Maya. This confusion wreaks havoc in our lives. We extend the confusion of our own mortality to others, by forgetting that they are mortal too. If everyone is here a short time, why expend hatred or anger? Why waste time with grudges? Why not just love?    The confusion also extends to my creations. When I am mortal, and so are the things I use to create, then how can I expect my creations to be immortal? And yet, "sustainability" is an important idea in our society, which gets taken to obscene levels with the notion of "too big to fail." We act with great fear of death and cannot imagine what will happen if the world around us changes. Well, the world will change inspite of our best efforts.   How do I stay out of this confusion? One method I've found useful to imagine what it would be like if I were immortal. The thought disgusts me. I would know more than I'd ever care to know. I would have an advantage over others that I don't want. I w  See full.

This Wednesday was rather special - a smaller group with deeper reflections. A different vibe was in the air.

The passage sparked several thoughts. A teacher once said, "Real death is when you forget yourself." 
 
Medical science has now shown that my body right now has no cell in it that existed prior to seven years. There is constant birth and death within my own body, and this will continue even after "death" happens to my body. If I am cremated and the ashes immersed in a river, the fishes will be served by them. And if I am buried, then the worms will be nourished. Either way, my cells will help in the procreation of other species and this incessant cycle of life and death will continue. And yet, I live with no awareness of this tremendous phenomenon.
 
A wise king was once asked what the most wonderful thing on this planet was. He replied, "People are dying everyday, and yet they think that they will never die." Some call this confusion Maya. This confusion wreaks havoc in our lives. We extend the confusion of our own mortality to others, by forgetting that they are mortal too. If everyone is here a short time, why expend hatred or anger? Why waste time with grudges? Why not just love? 
 
The confusion also extends to my creations. When I am mortal, and so are the things I use to create, then how can I expect my creations to be immortal? And yet, "sustainability" is an important idea in our society, which gets taken to obscene levels with the notion of "too big to fail." We act with great fear of death and cannot imagine what will happen if the world around us changes. Well, the world will change inspite of our best efforts.
 
How do I stay out of this confusion? One method I've found useful to imagine what it would be like if I were immortal. The thought disgusts me. I would know more than I'd ever care to know. I would have an advantage over others that I don't want. I would take up resources that could have gone to others, and suck out space from newer and fresher perspectives on account of my age. I would see all my loved ones die in front of me, and never have someone who would live to miss me. Now, what if everyone else was immortal too. That is as close to the idea of hell that I can get. Very quickly, we'd use up this planet's resources, cause stagnation, and only spread misery around us. After picturing all this, I am so utterly grateful that I will die. And I am very happy that no one one this planet will be subjected to the torments of immortality.
 
This reflection is not unique to me, but really is ageless. The mythology that surrounds Alexander the Great has it that when he was in India, he found the river of immortality. Just as he was about to drink from it, a bird on the perch of a tree called out to him, "O fool, wait before you drink." When Alexander looked up, the bird narrated how it had made the mistake of becoming immortal. No fire would burn it, no sword would cut it, and it had tried unsuccessfully to end its life, but could not, for the rest of time. The enormity of this curse struck Alexander, and he refrained from drinking the water. The same sentiment lies behind this myth.
 
I liked Viral's emphasis on the ending of this passage, that although we have to be mindful of the fact that we are mortal, we have to go slow. I may be hurtling toward my own death, but I have time, for time is a construct of my mind. This connects beautifully with last week's passage, The Problem of Time.
 
After we went around the group, I was deeply inspired by the personal stories shared by many members. Many thoughts were sparked.
 
Different cultures have a different take on death. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says that death is not a single point as we would consider, but a process that takes a while. Well, we are living and dying right now. Tibetan and Hindu philosophy both caution us from mourning when someone is passing on. They exhort us instead to create a powerful and holy atmosphere, where the one who is passing on is reminded of the important, and is sent off with love, strength and courage. When growing up, my father used to tell me that it was important not to be sad, as the soul who has passed would feel my pain and would be deeply pained. Whether this is true or not, what is certainly true is that my sorrow would affect those in front of me. The source of my sorrow is the love I have received from the one who has departed. Then, why not pay it forward to those around, by reminding them of the importance of this love, loving them in that moment, and wishing the universe the very best?
 
This is all easy to say, and there is more to it. When my grandfather was passing, my father's instruction was foremost, and as that was the first death which I saw at close quarters, I assumed it was the norm to do what my father had instructed. I felt no sorrow at all. Somehow, I knew for sure that his time had come. And two days before he died, while he still had some level of consciousness in the hospital, I was deeply concerned that he should remember who he was. So, I whispered in his ear that he should prepare himself. When we brought his body back, on one end, my father stood in an ocean of calm, absorbed in the chants of freedom that were sung, while my mother had completely broken down. She had always connected with her father-in-law as her own father. For a long time, I thought it was her weakness. But now I know that it was her humanity. And I am so grateful that she is the way she is, and that my father is the way he is.
 
Death connects us with our own humanity. The other day, I was on the phone with someone who had tragically lost her brother. Before taking the call, I told my wife about it as I'd known this earlier. She heard only my end of the conversation as I listened, and responded to the space I was in. After I hung up, I looked at her and saw that she was in tears. Death had overcome incomplete information, and connected my wife to the pain of someone she did not know and would probably never meet. I felt blessed to see those tears, remembering my own humanity.
 

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The Problem of Time, by Jacob Needleman

FaceBook  On Nov 13, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

This was a very deep passage. When reading the second paragraph, I was in a hurry and remember looking for the word after being. Being what? Reading it again, I realized my mind was so conditioned to reading about being something or the other, that just "be-ing" was surprising (pleasantly so). Be-ing something else is not be-ing myself, and hence is untrue. It sounds so simple - all I have to do is stop stop being something else, and yet is extremely hard to do, because it is about not doing. I find myself engaged in being something or the other, in other words, engaging in self-deception. I loved the fact that this passage was about "The Problem of Time," because a misconception of time is probably one of the leading causes of self-deception. "I don't have time to be here" is one of the biggest lies I tell. With the evolution of polite social language, an euphemism for lying, our minds are trapped into believing our own lies leading to stress and unhappiness. My inspiration on keeping my thoughts clear about time is my Professor. Whenever I meet him, I find that he is in a state of "be-ing," which manifests in tremendous attention to whatever I have to say. Every meeting with him has a magical touch to him, and I come away inspired, believing in myself. Once, he revealed his secret behind the ability to be. After attending a Zen workshop, he had convinced himself that, unlike the common perception that we form our beliefs from our experiences, he had discovered that his experiences were coming from his beliefs. Therefore, he reformatted his operating system and installed new beliefs. The first one was, "I have time."  Before and after this installation, he has used To-do lists and technology to manage his time. However, after installing this belief, he now finds that he has time. When you stop him in the hallway, he has time to smile at you and greet you with great presence and intention. When something une  See full.

This was a very deep passage. When reading the second paragraph, I was in a hurry and remember looking for the word after being. Being what? Reading it again, I realized my mind was so conditioned to reading about being something or the other, that just "be-ing" was surprising (pleasantly so).

Be-ing something else is not be-ing myself, and hence is untrue. It sounds so simple - all I have to do is stop stop being something else, and yet is extremely hard to do, because it is about not doing. I find myself engaged in being something or the other, in other words, engaging in self-deception.

I loved the fact that this passage was about "The Problem of Time," because a misconception of time is probably one of the leading causes of self-deception. "I don't have time to be here" is one of the biggest lies I tell. With the evolution of polite social language, an euphemism for lying, our minds are trapped into believing our own lies leading to stress and unhappiness.

My inspiration on keeping my thoughts clear about time is my Professor. Whenever I meet him, I find that he is in a state of "be-ing," which manifests in tremendous attention to whatever I have to say. Every meeting with him has a magical touch to him, and I come away inspired, believing in myself. Once, he revealed his secret behind the ability to be. After attending a Zen workshop, he had convinced himself that, unlike the common perception that we form our beliefs from our experiences, he had discovered that his experiences were coming from his beliefs. Therefore, he reformatted his operating system and installed new beliefs. The first one was, "I have time." 

Before and after this installation, he has used To-do lists and technology to manage his time. However, after installing this belief, he now finds that he has time. When you stop him in the hallway, he has time to smile at you and greet you with great presence and intention. When something unexpected comes up in his schedule, he has time to receive it with his full awareness. 

I always wondered how he would respond when he had many demands on his time and really needed to be doing something else. It is rare for him to say no to someone's request for time, but the way in which he did it earlier this week thrilled me. I would normally utter a lie, "I don't have time" out of habit. But when I popped my head and asked him, "Professor, do you have some time?," he looked at me with a smile and replied, "I always have time. The question is, how am I going to spend it?" We agreed to meet a little later, but upon reflection, I realized that I'd been handed a gift. This answer was so beautiful because it had two great truths in it. The first - he had time. The second, it was his decision on how he would spend it, just like the rest of us are free to choose. We have physical constraints and cannot be somewhere else because we chose to be here right now. We have to continue to use our intellect wisely and harmonize with our hearts to make the most of our time here.

There is another common confusion about time that he once clarified in class. When a loved one says, "Oh, you don't love me because you're not spending enough time with me," his response is (my paraphrasing of it), "What does love have to do with time? When you love someone, you are never in deficit - it'd be silly to say that I have no more love to give because I gave it to such-and-such person. But with time, you cannot be doing two things at once, and so you need to be wise about how you use your time."

For those who are curious, the second belief he installed was "I have all the help I need." And he finds that wherever he goes, people are always ready to help him, so he never has to worry about anything. 

I loved the thoughts that people shared. Chris' comments on how often we look at the clock when someone is speaking was striking. Bhoutik's story of the 3-hour meeting with Nipun where he didn't once look at his cellphone for the time. And I loved the polar views on Facebook and other social networking sites. While many found that was the space in which they could give high quality attention, others felt such tools took away attention from the environment they were in. Guri's closing thoughts were remarkable, for she shared them with great joy and laughter. I hope she will post the mail she received about the internet (which really cracked her up) in an iJourney comment.

I liked Nipun's final story, where as a child, he was serving food in a temple, and wanting to connect with each receiver, he kept saying "Om." Although nothing was said in response, the resulting connection and presence, brief and perhaps never to be repeated again with the same set of individuals, was something he has not forgotten. 

In summary, after hearing everyone's comments, I felt that the author's insight holds true - it is not Facebook, Twitter and Orkut that are a problem. It is about us. The medium has changed from physical presence to an online presence. We should not be surprised to find that the presence however remains the same. I am present right now as I write this online comment and I feel great love and goodwill. My mind is focused on being true to my intention. I do not know if anyone will read this comment  and connect with my intention. But, I have already been rewarded in a way I cannot explain, for the act itself. I have a smile to carry with me for the rest of the day. And I know that..

I have time. The question is, how am I going to spend it? :)

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Thought Power, by Swami Sivananda

FaceBook  On Nov 8, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

This was a very deep passage, rich with powerful metaphors, and here are a few thoughts. First, how does thought indeed travel, like a boomerang? It seems to me that thoughts are preceded with and succeeded by vibrations. When some vibration comes up within my body and nerves, and I label it as a certain kind of feeling, certain thoughts arise in response. When I think certain thoughts, more feelings arise as a response, which are millions of atoms and molecules in my body vibrating in a certain way. Given that the environment around us is also full of such atoms and molecules, it stands to scientific scrutiny to posit that some of my inner vibrations will make a difference to the outer environment. Depending on the strength of these vibrations, others will pick them up from the outer environment and receive them within. At a very gross level, we see this happening through sound energy, when we speak and generate sound vibrations. These are picked up by others and processed for meaning and responded to. But at a subtle level, when I don't speak, I am still participating in this process of receiving and transmitting vibrations. Nipun pointed out that studies have shown how negative vibrations and positive vibrations left behind after a meeting can be picked up by people who come in a little later. The second thought was on the claim that "This thought-world is more real relatively than this physical universe." The truth of this claim can be seen from our own experience. When I am totally engrossed in a thought activity, I lose perception of the world around me. I don't notice that I'm hungry or thirsty, that I need to go to the restroom, that it is hot or cold, etc. My perception of the universe is largely a result of the thought-world I am in, and it can and does trump what is so at the physical level. The third thought, which I didn't share in the group to keep it short, was on the business of dwelling on an evil thought. The author has gone to the roo  See full.

This was a very deep passage, rich with powerful metaphors, and here are a few thoughts.

First, how does thought indeed travel, like a boomerang? It seems to me that thoughts are preceded with and succeeded by vibrations. When some vibration comes up within my body and nerves, and I label it as a certain kind of feeling, certain thoughts arise in response. When I think certain thoughts, more feelings arise as a response, which are millions of atoms and molecules in my body vibrating in a certain way. Given that the environment around us is also full of such atoms and molecules, it stands to scientific scrutiny to posit that some of my inner vibrations will make a difference to the outer environment. Depending on the strength of these vibrations, others will pick them up from the outer environment and receive them within. At a very gross level, we see this happening through sound energy, when we speak and generate sound vibrations. These are picked up by others and processed for meaning and responded to. But at a subtle level, when I don't speak, I am still participating in this process of receiving and transmitting vibrations. Nipun pointed out that studies have shown how negative vibrations and positive vibrations left behind after a meeting can be picked up by people who come in a little later.

The second thought was on the claim that "This thought-world is more real relatively than this physical universe." The truth of this claim can be seen from our own experience. When I am totally engrossed in a thought activity, I lose perception of the world around me. I don't notice that I'm hungry or thirsty, that I need to go to the restroom, that it is hot or cold, etc. My perception of the universe is largely a result of the thought-world I am in, and it can and does trump what is so at the physical level.

The third thought, which I didn't share in the group to keep it short, was on the business of dwelling on an evil thought. The author has gone to the root of himsa (or violence) and explained how physical manifestations of violence are but a downstream expression of deep-rooted violence in the mind that happened much earlier. But, one question may be raised. When we meditate and observe our thoughts, both positive and negative stop bothering us. How is it then that by dwelling on the negative and receiving the same effect (of not being bothered by such thoughts), we end up on a very different path? I think the answer lies in the metaphor of "dwelling.' The word "dwell" means to live in residence. Effectively, it is about how and where we choose to confine ourselves. Observing on the other hand, is like being a traveler who passes through the dwelling while it is under construction, and notices the raw materials that are going into creating it. The observer is shocked by the non-realization of the dwellers that the materials are rotting, and will only lead to disease and infirmity. But the dwellers do not realize this - they are now used to the rot. Their seeming equanimity comes from the space of ignorance. The observer now has compassion for the dwellers - they do not see it as it is. But that compassion is also born out of ignorance, which is realized the moment the observer realizes that the observer and the dweller are one and the same. Then, the observer wakes up. There is no contradiction, and the author has used sharp words to drive home the distinction between creating a dwelling and observing the creation.

The final thought is on the third paragraph, where the author says that the best method to overcome depression is to think inspiring thoughts. Doesn't this fly in the face of instructions of meditation, where we are required to "not think" - and simply observe what happens? How do we reconcile the two ideas here? When I thought more about this, I realized that he isn't talking about any random positive thoughts (like watching a movie or going to a bar). He is talking about inspiring thoughts - we can only be inspired when we remember something about ourselves, and our sense of freedom increases. We recognize that power in ourselves through some trigger, be it a dualistic form of what some might call "God," or an attachment to what others might call "selfless service." When such an inspiration happens, the positive part of me develops the strength of a giant, crushing the negative which have now been dwarfed. 

I remembered my time in a 10-day meditation seminar, where around the middle, I was having serious doubts about my ability to complete it. As I took a walk around the premises of the retreat, I noticed the tall trees that stood up to the scorching sun, without complaining, and didn't stop being true to their nature of giving shade. The lovely flowers which would often be covered by the dusty of our feet would not stop blooming - that was their nature and they would be true to it to the day they died. And here I was, not being able to recognize my own nature and complaining about this and that. At the next meditation session, I had been so inspired by the tree and the flower, that I call on them for help as my meditation teachers. As these thoughts multiplied, the negative thoughts on wanting to run away diminished, and were completely vanquished. Although my body was weak, I had never felt so strong before. I knew what the outcome of the next few days would be and there was no more trouble (there was still pain and all of the scary stuff, but it didn't scare anymore). 

After remembering this, I realized that the author has shared with us a masterful insight of meditation. Theoretical meditation is about observing your thoughts, opening both the front door and the back door of your mind and letting the thoughts go through. Practical meditation is a battlefield! The forces of good and evil are stacked up against each other, and we must feed the positive so the negative is forced out. When the feeling of power and confidence has set in, only then will we have the strength to become an outsider in our own mind and observe our thoughts. We need an awareness of our  inner strength to observe our mind, at the same time, the observation increases our awareness of our inner strength. They feed on each other.

I liked Guri's ending comment about the practicality of this idea. 

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Disturb Me, Please!, by Margaret Wheatley

FaceBook  On Oct 29, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

I really liked this passage. The last paragraph reminded me of a wise man saying, "Unity, not uniformity!" The idea of Unity in Diversity is a powerful one, and the author is nudging us to recognize that unity. This unity, as she points out, is not at the level of the mind, for we are so divided in our thoughts, opinions and contexts. For lack of a better expression, we call this unity of the heart. Whenever I have not been in this unity, and engaged in a debate or conversation, I find myself disturbed. Why did the other person say this or that? And whenever I've engaged from the foundation of unity, I have felt calm and undisturbed, no matter what is said to me. The quality of such conversations has been entirely different (and much preferred). Yet, it is hard to be in that space. I find the author's technique very helpful - it is an extension of what we do in meditation with our eyes closed. We are continuing the observation process in everyday life situations. A big part of listening truly from a space of unity is the resulting trust. Trust, at a superficial level is about me knowing the other person will be right. I remembered a deeper definition of trust by Patrick Lencioni, who says that trust is about knowing that you won't be destroyed by the other person if you are wrong. If we step it up another level, trust is about knowing that you are fine no matter what happens to you. There may be moments where we are able to trust the universe in this manner, but when this happens, we are in a different zone. The quality of our interactions are vastly different, and the conversations we have become transformative.  Finally, a story about recognizing the disturbance and learning something about myself from it. My sister is going through a tough patch, and in conversations with her, she would stall and not share her decision situation. I was quite disturbed by her "we'll see what happens." When I asked my wife for advice, she candidly said, &  See full.

I really liked this passage. The last paragraph reminded me of a wise man saying, "Unity, not uniformity!" The idea of Unity in Diversity is a powerful one, and the author is nudging us to recognize that unity. This unity, as she points out, is not at the level of the mind, for we are so divided in our thoughts, opinions and contexts. For lack of a better expression, we call this unity of the heart. Whenever I have not been in this unity, and engaged in a debate or conversation, I find myself disturbed. Why did the other person say this or that? And whenever I've engaged from the foundation of unity, I have felt calm and undisturbed, no matter what is said to me. The quality of such conversations has been entirely different (and much preferred). Yet, it is hard to be in that space. I find the author's technique very helpful - it is an extension of what we do in meditation with our eyes closed. We are continuing the observation process in everyday life situations.

A big part of listening truly from a space of unity is the resulting trust. Trust, at a superficial level is about me knowing the other person will be right. I remembered a deeper definition of trust by Patrick Lencioni, who says that trust is about knowing that you won't be destroyed by the other person if you are wrong. If we step it up another level, trust is about knowing that you are fine no matter what happens to you. There may be moments where we are able to trust the universe in this manner, but when this happens, we are in a different zone. The quality of our interactions are vastly different, and the conversations we have become transformative. 

Finally, a story about recognizing the disturbance and learning something about myself from it. My sister is going through a tough patch, and in conversations with her, she would stall and not share her decision situation. I was quite disturbed by her "we'll see what happens." When I asked my wife for advice, she candidly said, "Have you ever spoken to your sister without advising her? Can you try listening to her and not being the elder brother?" I tried remembering when I'd last done that and it was many years back. 

So, I called her and told her sincerely of my intention to reconnect. She said there was one condition on her end. I should not ask her to go for a 10-day meditation camp. I was stunned. I wasn't thinking of suggesting it this time, but in my past conversations, instead of listening and trying to understand, at the first sign of emotional stress on her or anyone else's part, I'd suggest that they go off for a 10-day. I can see why this is an immature suggestion on my part - it is my way of saying, "since I don't have time or ability to listen and help, why don't you go help yourself?" While such a suggestion has its merits, there is a time and place for it, and it should not be used as a copout for empathetic listening and understanding. I agreed of course, and the result of the conversation was a much better understanding of her situation. I don't want her to think like me and act like me. I love and liker her the way she is. And I also accept the fact that I cannot solve her and other people's problems, much as I'd like to think I do. The world was fine without me, and it will be fine after I've left. I am at peace. But I needed the disturbance to discover it :).

And as Guri pointed out at the end, I will forget this wisdom and will need another disturbance to remember it again. 

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I Am Interested In My Mind, by Paul Fleischman

FaceBook  On Oct 22, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

I loved the poetic metaphors in this piece. Two stuck out for me. One was, "(I want to) see my child unravel through his eddying transformations." Who is the "child?" To me, the child is the gift in each one of us. It is what we get to work on our entire life. The parenting metaphor fits well, because we can choose to completely ignore the child and have it go nowhere. Or, we can exercise so much control over it that we completely strangle it. Alternately, we can be enlightened parents, remembering Kahlil Gibran's sage advice, "Children are not of us, they are through us," and accept that our gifts are not us or of us. We can nurture the gifts we come with, and bring them to a point that they blossom and serve others. But to even recognize and develop the maturity to get out of the way of our gifts, we have to sit. The second metaphor that stood out for me was "the same organic immersion that sets a snow goose flying ten thousand miles every winter and spring." What organic immersion sets off the goose on its heroic journey, without even realizing its heroism? I submit that all of us are heroes - we've had this moment of organic immersion, when, after spending 9 months as water creatures, we took a heroic leap out and became land creatures. That is a heroic act! Of course, some people need a little more help than others, but the heroism remains. The root of heroism is the impulse that is generated from a recognition of truth, and a great desire to honor it and manifest one's true nature. It then follows that to develop heroism, one must sit. :) When this impulse comes forward, one does not have to make any choices - like the snow geese or the baby does not do any cost-benefit analysis. It just is true to its own nature. Finally, a story on recognizing what is leading to an organic impulse. I was involved in communicating something harsh to a friend in a professional setting. Although what I had to communicate was a con  See full.

I loved the poetic metaphors in this piece. Two stuck out for me. One was, "(I want to) see my child unravel through his eddying transformations." Who is the "child?" To me, the child is the gift in each one of us. It is what we get to work on our entire life. The parenting metaphor fits well, because we can choose to completely ignore the child and have it go nowhere. Or, we can exercise so much control over it that we completely strangle it. Alternately, we can be enlightened parents, remembering Kahlil Gibran's sage advice, "Children are not of us, they are through us," and accept that our gifts are not us or of us. We can nurture the gifts we come with, and bring them to a point that they blossom and serve others. But to even recognize and develop the maturity to get out of the way of our gifts, we have to sit.

The second metaphor that stood out for me was "the same organic immersion that sets a snow goose flying ten thousand miles every winter and spring." What organic immersion sets off the goose on its heroic journey, without even realizing its heroism? I submit that all of us are heroes - we've had this moment of organic immersion, when, after spending 9 months as water creatures, we took a heroic leap out and became land creatures. That is a heroic act! Of course, some people need a little more help than others, but the heroism remains.

The root of heroism is the impulse that is generated from a recognition of truth, and a great desire to honor it and manifest one's true nature. It then follows that to develop heroism, one must sit. :) When this impulse comes forward, one does not have to make any choices - like the snow geese or the baby does not do any cost-benefit analysis. It just is true to its own nature.

Finally, a story on recognizing what is leading to an organic impulse. I was involved in communicating something harsh to a friend in a professional setting. Although what I had to communicate was a consequence of many events, and was truthful, I felt it was not the whole truth. So I sat, and tried to observe my mind. It soon became clear that I had a lot of compassion and good wishes for my friend. Therefore, I had to honor this truth. So, when I wrote my mail, I started with strong wishes for my friend's well-being. Then, I delivered the harsh message that was my duty to deliver. I ended again by wishing for friend's well-being. My friend responded by reciprocating the compassion for me and others, leading to more good wishes being sent around from my other colleagues as well. But, what struck me was the inner peace in my heart, and a firm grounding in my wish for my friend's well-being, and a dedication to carry out my duty at the same time.

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Clinging Causes the Pain, by Tenzin Palmo

FaceBook  On Oct 18, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

I really liked the metaphor of holding something lightly versus tightly, and wondered whether this was about internal attitudes or external manifestations. Handshakes are what we often engage in, and whenever I've had a light handshake with someone, it is because I'm not in the moment, thinking about the next thing I'd like to do. But when I am totally in the moment, my handshakes are tight and firm, as is my resolve to connect. Therefore, I don't think this metaphor is about external manifestations. Rather, it is about being light internally, so I have everything at my disposal to pour into the moment. In order to be able to keep pouring myself into each moment, I will also need to get over the fear of not having enough to pour in later. That fear would make me hold back. I also loved the monkey story and felt there was another dimension to it. Tenzin talks about the troubles of craving, but I feel the same holds when there is aversion. So, if I have put in my hand in the coconut, and I sense fear of the hunters approaching, instead of collapsing my hand, I'd spread it and try desperately to pull it out. That would only harm me and be unsuccessful. Finally, a story where my hand got stuck in the coconut. Last week, I was involved in helping organize a talk on campus. As we were looking at the space, there were several decisions to be made. In particular, we had one room where I thought we could have a 45 minute meditation, and an adjoining room where we could do the talk. My friend Michael who has a great intuition about spaces was with me, and he suggested instead that we look at both adjoining spaces as one, and not as two. Then, the meditation and the talk could be in the same room, while the adjoining room had wide enough doors to become an overflow or extension space. The idea was brilliant! We could accommodate 100 people with this arrangement. As we started thinking what to do next, I suggested that overflow column in the adjoining room (which was as wide  See full.

I really liked the metaphor of holding something lightly versus tightly, and wondered whether this was about internal attitudes or external manifestations. Handshakes are what we often engage in, and whenever I've had a light handshake with someone, it is because I'm not in the moment, thinking about the next thing I'd like to do. But when I am totally in the moment, my handshakes are tight and firm, as is my resolve to connect. Therefore, I don't think this metaphor is about external manifestations. Rather, it is about being light internally, so I have everything at my disposal to pour into the moment. In order to be able to keep pouring myself into each moment, I will also need to get over the fear of not having enough to pour in later. That fear would make me hold back.

I also loved the monkey story and felt there was another dimension to it. Tenzin talks about the troubles of craving, but I feel the same holds when there is aversion. So, if I have put in my hand in the coconut, and I sense fear of the hunters approaching, instead of collapsing my hand, I'd spread it and try desperately to pull it out. That would only harm me and be unsuccessful.

Finally, a story where my hand got stuck in the coconut. Last week, I was involved in helping organize a talk on campus. As we were looking at the space, there were several decisions to be made. In particular, we had one room where I thought we could have a 45 minute meditation, and an adjoining room where we could do the talk. My friend Michael who has a great intuition about spaces was with me, and he suggested instead that we look at both adjoining spaces as one, and not as two. Then, the meditation and the talk could be in the same room, while the adjoining room had wide enough doors to become an overflow or extension space. The idea was brilliant! We could accommodate 100 people with this arrangement. As we started thinking what to do next, I suggested that overflow column in the adjoining room (which was as wide as the doors) be demarcated by folded tables. Michael pointed out that people wouldn't be on the other side of the column because all would be interested in seeing the speaker. I agreed. Then I suggested another blockade elsewhere and Michael helped me see better. Finally, I realized my hand was stuck in the coconut. I was holding on tightly to an aversion of chaos. I needed to relax. So, I found myself telling Michael, "You are the boss and I will follow."

We then entered a deeper co-created space, where a lot of brainstorming happened on what to do with two smaller rooms in the same space which were at our disposal. A great outcome of that brainstorming was that we ended up with an art room (for community art) and a gift room (where people could take and leave gifts behind).

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Are You Ready To Lose Your World?, by Adyashanti

FaceBook  On Oct 9, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

This thought went very deep. It almost sounds like true wisdom will arise when we do nothing. However, I don't think it is a "do nothing" path at all. On the contrary, a lot of striving is necessary to develop the awareness to see that that need to do nothing to destroy our balance. As the striving continues, the intensity of work needed will reduce over time, bringing a deeper awakening. We must distinguish between the goal and the path. On the path itself, there are two major paths that come to mind - the path of rejection and the path of acceptance. In the path of rejection, we reject anything that is not real - e.g. my voice, appearance and vibrations are not my reality. Once we have exhausted the entire space of possibilities that the mind could pose as reality, we will be able to transcend the mind and start to be. Similarly, in the path of acceptance, we accept everything as a partial reality - e.g. my voice, appearance and vibrations are all real - but only partially so. None of them captures the full story of reality. This means I can accept every idol, image or idea of reality with ease, noting that this is also a partial reality. Once the mind has exhausted its entire space of possibilities, we will again be able to transcend the mind and start to be.  Where both these paths meet is where Seng-t'san says, "only cease to cherish opinions." By rejecting, we stop cherishing opinions. By accepting all in the same way, we cease to cherish any as higher than the other. Both paths, if practiced properly, will lead to non-attachment. But both paths have their dangers. By rejecting all that comes, I could develop anger (for instance, getting angry at those who worship images for that is not reality), and while I am superficially rejecting all, I have forgotten to reject anger within my mind. I end up becoming more of a rejectionist than anything else, unable to find peace or help others find peace. By accepting all that comes, I could de  See full.

This thought went very deep. It almost sounds like true wisdom will arise when we do nothing. However, I don't think it is a "do nothing" path at all. On the contrary, a lot of striving is necessary to develop the awareness to see that that need to do nothing to destroy our balance. As the striving continues, the intensity of work needed will reduce over time, bringing a deeper awakening. We must distinguish between the goal and the path.

On the path itself, there are two major paths that come to mind - the path of rejection and the path of acceptance. In the path of rejection, we reject anything that is not real - e.g. my voice, appearance and vibrations are not my reality. Once we have exhausted the entire space of possibilities that the mind could pose as reality, we will be able to transcend the mind and start to be. Similarly, in the path of acceptance, we accept everything as a partial reality - e.g. my voice, appearance and vibrations are all real - but only partially so. None of them captures the full story of reality. This means I can accept every idol, image or idea of reality with ease, noting that this is also a partial reality. Once the mind has exhausted its entire space of possibilities, we will again be able to transcend the mind and start to be. 

Where both these paths meet is where Seng-t'san says, "only cease to cherish opinions." By rejecting, we stop cherishing opinions. By accepting all in the same way, we cease to cherish any as higher than the other. Both paths, if practiced properly, will lead to non-attachment. But both paths have their dangers. By rejecting all that comes, I could develop anger (for instance, getting angry at those who worship images for that is not reality), and while I am superficially rejecting all, I have forgotten to reject anger within my mind. I end up becoming more of a rejectionist than anything else, unable to find peace or help others find peace. By accepting all that comes, I could develop attachment to particularly pleasing forms (for instance, confusing an image of reality for reality) and lose my balance and consider the partial reality in front of me as the only reality, and end up becoming a fundamentalist, failing to find peace myself or helping others find peace.

Finally, a story of reality. I was in the magical city of Berkeley with my wife and a dear friend and mentor. We talked about reality and the ideas shared above, and entered a zone where it was difficult to speak. We were feeling reality in the moment. Just then, a loud voice interrupted us, "Excuse me, I've been trying so long to park but cannot find a lot that has space. I and my wife have been trying to get to a football game and we are willing to park anywhere we can and get a taxi. Can you tell me where to go?" I thought our friend would quickly resolve this, as she said, "Oh, yes, I can tell you where to go."

The next thing I knew, our friend stood up heroically, and said, "I know the best place for you to park in Berkeley." Now, I was really listening. The best place to park in Berkeley is very useful to know. Looking at the man, my friend said, "Are you ready for this?" As he nodded, she exclaimed, "The best place to park is right here!"

I looked at the curb where his car was parked, and indeed, there was no red marking, or any "no parking" sign. She continued, "Get your things from the car, and I will take you and your wife to the game myself." This is the part where I wanted to jump up and clap or say "Bravo!" Of course, we tagged along to drop them. The man was shocked, and kept nodding his head, "I can't believe this is happening." I found myself saying, "Welcome to Berkeley!" My friend left them with a smile card, to widen there already wide smiles.

 

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Contemplation Vs. Social Change, by Brother David Steindl-Rast

FaceBook  On Oct 3, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

I found myself asking what the author of this piece really means by "changing the world much more by changing yourself." At a fundamental level, when doing deep contemplation, wisdom arises when I see my bad habits in slow motion, and develop a deep determination to break them. I start seeing that what I valued earlier was not really good for me, and there are more important things to value. In a sense, the value system gets an upgrade. When I go back to the world of action, I still try to be consistent with my value system. The difference is - I now have an upgraded value system. When I take decisions with this new value system, I am doing things that help me more truly. When I am helped more truly, the more truly I want to help others. Somehow it is the innate desire in all of us - that the more we receive and grow, the more we want others to receive and grow. With each upgrade of awareness, I start to appreciate different things - self-sufficiency, service, freedom to explore myself, and so on. And as I help others with these things, there is a direct change in the world. The world also changes in another way - by the idea of "monkey see, monkey do." We all hold someone or the other as an ideal to follow, and when that ideal sets an example in their own life, we try to emulate, resulting in change. It is important then for us to set good examples for we never know who might be emulating. From the starting line of the post, the word "rebel" springs to mind. What am I rebelling against? I'm tested as temptations to resort to the old habit-patterns arise. That is where the idea of being a rebel is helpful - I need to rebel against the old habit-patterns. Finally, an experience where all of this came together. I am part of a group which encourages service and random acts of kindness on a campus. Instead of following the traditional path of getting as many people signed up on admit weekend, we decided to focus on service.  See full.

I found myself asking what the author of this piece really means by "changing the world much more by changing yourself." At a fundamental level, when doing deep contemplation, wisdom arises when I see my bad habits in slow motion, and develop a deep determination to break them. I start seeing that what I valued earlier was not really good for me, and there are more important things to value. In a sense, the value system gets an upgrade. When I go back to the world of action, I still try to be consistent with my value system. The difference is - I now have an upgraded value system. When I take decisions with this new value system, I am doing things that help me more truly. When I am helped more truly, the more truly I want to help others. Somehow it is the innate desire in all of us - that the more we receive and grow, the more we want others to receive and grow. With each upgrade of awareness, I start to appreciate different things - self-sufficiency, service, freedom to explore myself, and so on. And as I help others with these things, there is a direct change in the world. The world also changes in another way - by the idea of "monkey see, monkey do." We all hold someone or the other as an ideal to follow, and when that ideal sets an example in their own life, we try to emulate, resulting in change. It is important then for us to set good examples for we never know who might be emulating.

From the starting line of the post, the word "rebel" springs to mind. What am I rebelling against? I'm tested as temptations to resort to the old habit-patterns arise. That is where the idea of being a rebel is helpful - I need to rebel against the old habit-patterns.

Finally, an experience where all of this came together. I am part of a group which encourages service and random acts of kindness on a campus. Instead of following the traditional path of getting as many people signed up on admit weekend, we decided to focus on service. We came up with gifts for new students that we hoped would help them - an orientation guide and a wisdom scroll (which started off with Karma Kitchen and is rolled in Wednesdays). During the fair, the sign-up sheet started distracting us, so we turned it upside down. It made a big difference in our volition and we felt relieved that we didn't need to care about who was signing up. We just needed to focus on serving with our full hearts. The experience was transformational at many levels. Here is a writeup for those who are interested.

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If You Really Pay Attention, by Paula Underwood

FaceBook  On Sep 27, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

I find it important to think of volition when engaging in a listening conversation. We all get non-verbal signals all the time. We can choose to process it from a space of expectation, which i a great impurity of the mind. I have found that conversations that have expectations in it go in undesirable directions. On the other hand, we can choose to process the signals from a space of freedom and compassion, with a great volition of goodwill for the other person. When this happens, the members of the conversation open up into a deeper space of listening, where a lot is shared and co-created. These are the unforgettable conversations of our life. I have a story to illustrate the movement of volition from expectation to freedom. Some weeks back, I was TA'ing a class on Ethics, which I greatly admire. The class was being offered to executives for the very first time. My job was to socialize during break-time and check that people were getting value from the class. If anyone had issues, I would bring them up with the organizers of the class so they could be addressed before the class was over. In the break, I walked over to a group of smiling people thinking I'd get some positive feedback. I asked, "So, how's the class going for you?" A gentleman who was smilingly sipping his tea, looked at me with a deadpan expression. His smile vanished, eyes narrowed, shoulder tensed up, face contracted and I felt a big amount of negativity. Then, he spoke, "I don't know how this class can get any worse." He had an issue with the fact that the class was being taped and he'd just made a comment that he was afraid would get him into trouble. He multiplied the negativity from this experience and found everything else in the class to be useless - and started criticizing the professor, whom I respect very deeply. I tried telling him that I would convey this and see what we can do, but he should try to learn as much as he could from this point on. But there was an impu  See full.

I find it important to think of volition when engaging in a listening conversation. We all get non-verbal signals all the time. We can choose to process it from a space of expectation, which i a great impurity of the mind. I have found that conversations that have expectations in it go in undesirable directions. On the other hand, we can choose to process the signals from a space of freedom and compassion, with a great volition of goodwill for the other person. When this happens, the members of the conversation open up into a deeper space of listening, where a lot is shared and co-created. These are the unforgettable conversations of our life.

I have a story to illustrate the movement of volition from expectation to freedom. Some weeks back, I was TA'ing a class on Ethics, which I greatly admire. The class was being offered to executives for the very first time. My job was to socialize during break-time and check that people were getting value from the class. If anyone had issues, I would bring them up with the organizers of the class so they could be addressed before the class was over.

In the break, I walked over to a group of smiling people thinking I'd get some positive feedback. I asked, "So, how's the class going for you?" A gentleman who was smilingly sipping his tea, looked at me with a deadpan expression. His smile vanished, eyes narrowed, shoulder tensed up, face contracted and I felt a big amount of negativity. Then, he spoke, "I don't know how this class can get any worse." He had an issue with the fact that the class was being taped and he'd just made a comment that he was afraid would get him into trouble. He multiplied the negativity from this experience and found everything else in the class to be useless - and started criticizing the professor, whom I respect very deeply.

I tried telling him that I would convey this and see what we can do, but he should try to learn as much as he could from this point on. But there was an impurity in my mind - I was a little offended that he had criticized the professor. Although there was a volition in my mind that he should get the most from the class, it was now reduced. Just as I'd read him, he too read me, and called me out, "You are being defensive."

Over the next session, I gave the feedback about the taping. The professor thought this was a great opportunity to practice what we were teaching - telling the whole truth, and suggested the organizers lead a discussion and tell the students what their own limitations were, and brainstorm a solution. While the brainstorm was ongoing, I kept giving compassion to all. I could feel the anger in the room subsiding. Reflecting on it later, I think what really happened was that the impurity in my mind was subsiding - the expectation that all should respect my professor. Instead, I cared completely for the students understanding the class material.

Thereafter, we went to lunch, and as luck would have it, I was on the same table as the morning friend. On getting a question from another participant on the goals of the class, I took the opportunity and explained, "This class is very similar to meditation. In meditation, we look at our own bad habits, and only then are we able to correct it. Do you guys do meditation?" One nodded, but my morning friend said no. I continued, "If you do, you will quickly become sensitive about your habits. For instance, when you were giving me feedback in the morning, I noticed how your face changed, how your shoulders tensed up, and how much you were boiling inside. It should have just been about giving me the feedback and continuing to enjoy the class to the fullest. Why should you let your enjoyment depend on our shortcomings? Why not continue to derive the fullest value from this point on?"

He replied with a "Hmm." After a pause, he said, "You are absolutely right." and went silent. And we both listened to each other in a very different way.

 

 

 

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Maintaining Vision, While Focusing, by Ajahn Thanasanti

FaceBook  On Sep 17, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

The heart of the piece is the awareness of attachment to vision or focus. Awareness is what can enable us to realize that we are decision makers and not slaves. It can be very useful to discover implied vision from the activities we're currently focusing on. For instance, as a student, I might be totally focused on obtaining the best grades possible. The implied vision would be a degree holder who looks good on paper. But that vision is not very comforting, so I try finding a higher vision. Maybe it is about being able to apply knowledge to practical problems, so I can help companies and be gainfully employed. But I could step it up some more. Maybe my vision should be about being a better human being. The kinds of things I'd then focus on learning as a student, and the attitude with which I'd approach knowledge would be very different.  An experience last week helped me see the switch point between focus and vision. Some researchers from another country were visiting, and I was asked to join a meeting to help them out. As I was a bit late, my colleague welcomed me and said, "Their research is in your area. Why don't you tell them about your work?" I was about to, but something told me, "hold on!" In the past, I have spent a lot of time talking about myself, but at this point, I found myself checking my vision - it wasn't to educate others about my work, it was to help them. So, I started asking questions to get to know what these researchers wanted. As I got totally focused on what they were saying, it became clear that they were going to get into a trap very soon. I brought it up and showed them a way out - by changing their frame wherein, all of their initial questions would vanish. They loved the solution, and the meeting ended in 10 minutes. They had found their vision for the next two years. I was fascinated by the whole process of letting go of my ego, and focusing on others, and how quickly the insight came. If I had started talkin  See full.

The heart of the piece is the awareness of attachment to vision or focus. Awareness is what can enable us to realize that we are decision makers and not slaves.

It can be very useful to discover implied vision from the activities we're currently focusing on. For instance, as a student, I might be totally focused on obtaining the best grades possible. The implied vision would be a degree holder who looks good on paper. But that vision is not very comforting, so I try finding a higher vision. Maybe it is about being able to apply knowledge to practical problems, so I can help companies and be gainfully employed. But I could step it up some more. Maybe my vision should be about being a better human being. The kinds of things I'd then focus on learning as a student, and the attitude with which I'd approach knowledge would be very different. 

An experience last week helped me see the switch point between focus and vision. Some researchers from another country were visiting, and I was asked to join a meeting to help them out. As I was a bit late, my colleague welcomed me and said, "Their research is in your area. Why don't you tell them about your work?" I was about to, but something told me, "hold on!" In the past, I have spent a lot of time talking about myself, but at this point, I found myself checking my vision - it wasn't to educate others about my work, it was to help them. So, I started asking questions to get to know what these researchers wanted. As I got totally focused on what they were saying, it became clear that they were going to get into a trap very soon. I brought it up and showed them a way out - by changing their frame wherein, all of their initial questions would vanish. They loved the solution, and the meeting ended in 10 minutes. They had found their vision for the next two years. I was fascinated by the whole process of letting go of my ego, and focusing on others, and how quickly the insight came. If I had started talking about myself, it would have been a waste of time (in retrospect). So, in terms of efficiency, cross-checking with the vision and focusing on things that help the vision is so much better. And of course, the satisfaction of having helped someone cannot be measured.

I was fascinated by the comments that came up today. Viral shared a powerful insight (as he always does), on how awareness is a continuum, and when we take things out of awareness, we call it focus. When we add things to it, we call it vision. Someone else (I think Pavi) added to this idea - it is important to be focused with awareness of the vision. Sam had a powerful insight - he felt all his thoughts had been echoed by others - it was like hearing your thoughts come from so many mouths, and he felt a connection. Viral added another powerful one - we were focused on the center and holding the center together with our thoughts, and yet each one was bringing their own vision. 

I also loved Pavi's workshop story. Two people were asked to do the following exercise: one was asked to speak and the other was asked to listen. After some time, the facilitator would ask the listener to turn their head in a different direction. It turned out that the listener found it hard to listen, and the speaker found it hard to speak. Vision and focus go hand-in-hand.

Building on this, I would call it a symbiotic relationship. No vision can be carried out without focus, and focus without vision is going to get us nowhere. 

On another note, the idea of focus and vision also applies to meditation. I was reading a piece that was very critical of a certain meditation practice. The critic had been asked by the teacher not to get stuck with specific experiences in meditation and to develop equanimity. The critic instead felt that his wonderful experiences were what he liked and wanted to stay with them. It seemed as though he was so focused on his experience that he'd gotten attached to it, and lost sight of the vision of meditation - which is to break attachment and develop equanimity. The critic later claimed to be enlightened, but in the entire piece, there was only abuse for other teachers and no sign of joy. I felt very grateful to this critic because he is indeed a teacher. It is hard to get the lesson unless someone else makes a spectacular and visible error. That is when we get to recognize ourselves in the same spot at some point or the other.

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Plan of Life, by Nicole Grasset

FaceBook  On Sep 10, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

There is a word that is not mentioned in the piece but all over it - equanimity. The author is able to see so much not because she is all tangled up with life, but because she has taken a step back, decided to be equanimous. From the stillness of equanimity, one can sense freedom and choice. I remembered Leo Tolstoy's famous story, Three Questions. The story expands on the question. One becomes three. What is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? What is the most important thing to do at all times? And the answer to each, from the lovely story, is: The most important time is now The most important person is the person with you The most important thing to do is to do good to the person with you Nicole's question can be asked in two different ways and a personal experience comes to mind. Just before I left for my 10-day meditation retreat, someone close to me challenged my wisdom of going for this. This person said, "Why are you doing something that is best left for people above the age of 60? What a criminal waste of time. You will find that the world has moved on by 10 days, and you have lost 10 precious days of your life. So much work is to be done and you are escaping from the world." These words were said with so much force that I was confused. I consulted my wife, "Do you think I am doing the right thing? Should I go?". She looked straight at me and said, "Do you really need someone else to tell you the value of meditation?" Immediately, I remembered. I found myself thanking her and off I went. Of course, all these doubts vanished after the 10-day, but Nicole's question remained. The difference was in the person who was asking the question. Before, it was one whose mind felt like a slave of time. After, it was one whose mind felt like a master of time. Going from a slave-mind to a master-mind is possible. Without practice, I know that the slave-  See full.

There is a word that is not mentioned in the piece but all over it - equanimity. The author is able to see so much not because she is all tangled up with life, but because she has taken a step back, decided to be equanimous. From the stillness of equanimity, one can sense freedom and choice.

I remembered Leo Tolstoy's famous story, Three Questions. The story expands on the question. One becomes three.

  • What is the best time to do each thing?
  • Who are the most important people to work with?
  • What is the most important thing to do at all times?

And the answer to each, from the lovely story, is:

  • The most important time is now
  • The most important person is the person with you
  • The most important thing to do is to do good to the person with you

Nicole's question can be asked in two different ways and a personal experience comes to mind. Just before I left for my 10-day meditation retreat, someone close to me challenged my wisdom of going for this. This person said, "Why are you doing something that is best left for people above the age of 60? What a criminal waste of time. You will find that the world has moved on by 10 days, and you have lost 10 precious days of your life. So much work is to be done and you are escaping from the world." These words were said with so much force that I was confused. I consulted my wife, "Do you think I am doing the right thing? Should I go?". She looked straight at me and said, "Do you really need someone else to tell you the value of meditation?" Immediately, I remembered. I found myself thanking her and off I went. Of course, all these doubts vanished after the 10-day, but Nicole's question remained.

The difference was in the person who was asking the question. Before, it was one whose mind felt like a slave of time. After, it was one whose mind felt like a master of time. Going from a slave-mind to a master-mind is possible. Without practice, I know that the slave-mind will be back. But knowing that there is something beyond the mind, to which the mind can be a friend or a foe is a very empowering and freeing idea. I am amazed at how much I've managed to get done after coming back, and at the absence of fear of being overwhelmed.

It is not as though everyone has to go for a 10-day meditation retreat to free their mind. The point of this story is equanimity. Everyone has a different way of reaching it. The 10-day retreat is one tool, but there are many other good tools. 

Nipun raised a good question - what did we plan when we were 20? Funnily enough, I wrote down my plan, laminated it and carried it in my wallet. I have looked every time I change my wallet (which is once in so many years). This was at a workshop where the instructor told us to write down an immediate-term goal, a medium-term goal and a long-term goal. I looked at the worn out laminated card again and found that I've met the immediate and medium-term goals, and one of my two long-term goals. The second one will also be met in the coming years. It is surprising that in a world of constant change, there is something that can remain constant. Standing where I am right now, I still agree with the goals I'd written down. Perhaps this is why we often get encouraged to write down what we want to do - for we have just manifested our desire in a very concrete form. And I suppose that when we are younger, with lesser garbage in our heads, we can see ourselves a lot better. 

I loved Pancho's poem. I hope someone posts it here. Also loved all the other reflections, from the spiritual vibes of Mt. Shasta, to a conversation with a manager about the plan to be happy no-matter-what, to how plans at 20 are no where close to what happens after two decades, to sharing a lovely sunrise with an 80-year old couple. 

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Underneath All Victories and Defeats, by Gangaji

FaceBook  On Sep 3, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

I liked the idea of "giving up." There are two kinds of giving up, as the author hints. In the first, the mind is still active, and the ego responds to the external situation by walking out. However, the mind keeps beating me up, and does not stop harassing, even after the external giving up has happened. This giving up is the result of a monkey mind.  There is another kind of giving up, which comes from a space of silence. Due to great external agitation, there is a realization that nothing I do will help. So the mind backs out, and I go into silence. From that space, things get a lot clearer. This giving up is the result of a monk mind. I include below a reflection from a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat, that shows the monkey and monk minds in action.   Day Four I was exhausted from three days of Anapaana (focused concentration technique), dealing with a regimen that is quite the opposite of a highly unbalanced lifestyle. The fourth day is special as this is the day when Vipassana instructions will be given. And it was indeed special, as the unfolding events will show.  At breakfast, with the usual wholesome and healthy food options, I noticed peanuts with a strange smell. My mind ought to have immediately gone on alert, but my greed got the better of me, and I lifted a handful. As a I started munching, I realized the strong smell was that of garlic, and I knew immediately that I'd be sick. Sure enough, my stomach kept making strange sounds for some time, and during the hour long sitting from 8-9 AM, I had to walk out to relieve myself. I felt embarrassed. As I walked back to the hall, Chris, our Dhamma manager was there to see if I was ok. I said I was and asked if I could go back to the hall and he said yes, of course. This had happened once before in the previous Vipassana seminar last year on the last day. Memories came flooding back. We were told we had to spend two hours in the hall when the Vipassana teaching would be in  See full.

I liked the idea of "giving up." There are two kinds of giving up, as the author hints. In the first, the mind is still active, and the ego responds to the external situation by walking out. However, the mind keeps beating me up, and does not stop harassing, even after the external giving up has happened. This giving up is the result of a monkey mind

There is another kind of giving up, which comes from a space of silence. Due to great external agitation, there is a realization that nothing I do will help. So the mind backs out, and I go into silence. From that space, things get a lot clearer. This giving up is the result of a monk mind.

I include below a reflection from a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat, that shows the monkey and monk minds in action.

 

Day Four
I was exhausted from three days of Anapaana (focused concentration technique), dealing with a regimen that is quite the opposite of a highly unbalanced lifestyle. The fourth day is special as this is the day when Vipassana instructions will be given. And it was indeed special, as the unfolding events will show. 

At breakfast, with the usual wholesome and healthy food options, I noticed peanuts with a strange smell. My mind ought to have immediately gone on alert, but my greed got the better of me, and I lifted a handful. As a I started munching, I realized the strong smell was that of garlic, and I knew immediately that I'd be sick. Sure enough, my stomach kept making strange sounds for some time, and during the hour long sitting from 8-9 AM, I had to walk out to relieve myself. I felt embarrassed. As I walked back to the hall, Chris, our Dhamma manager was there to see if I was ok. I said I was and asked if I could go back to the hall and he said yes, of course. This had happened once before in the previous Vipassana seminar last year on the last day. Memories came flooding back. We were told we had to spend two hours in the hall when the Vipassana teaching would be introduced later in the afternoon. I was groggy (two meals a day meant I was hungry for 18 hours, and I'd just relieved myself of one), and not sure how I'd survive. In the break, I relieved myself further and realized with despondency that I was getting stomach flu. Maybe I wasn't going to survive this course and would have to drop out. I need to get help for my stomach. As I was thinking of spending the afternoon break in bed, I looked up at the bathroom service list and was aghast to find my name on it. Of course, I had entered it myself on the previous day. Ok - so the challenge had just stepped up. 

Taking one thing at a time, I ate a lighter-than-usual lunch. Then, I decided that I would postpone getting medical help and would first clean the toilet. If I was going to be a quitter, I'd at least gift a clean toilet to my co-meditators. The building I was staying in had a large toilet, and I didn't realize how much work it was. The last thing I'd want to do with an upset stomach was heavy lifting, and of course, the mop had to weight a ton when wet, with its wooden handle hitting the ceiling if I so much as lifted the mop all the way from the bucket. Learning how to clean this large toilet with an oversized mop and doing it with equanimity was a great challenge, but with each stroke of the mop, I felt satisfaction creep in. By the time the toilet was cleaned, I was exhausted, ready to drop dead, but had a lot of satisfaction. 

After sitting on my bed, pondering over the next course of action, I realized I had about 40 minutes before the start of the next meditation session. I decided to postpone my quitting decision till then and take a slow walk up the hill. With each step, I became aware of an inner calmness, as I practiced accepting my situation of an upset stomach. Then, suddenly, it hit me. The tree in front of me had a lesson for me. It stood tall, giving so much shade from hot sun, cowering not a bit. Inspite of discomfort, this tree was going to do its dhamma, and continue giving shade to the best of its ability with the changing seasons, until it died. It did not have a mind to question its dhamma, it just did it. And here I was, trying to awaken in dhamma. Therefore, if I had to have a teacher, this tree would be my teacher. I immediately asked the tree to bless me so I could receive dhamma. With every step after this, the same request went out to each tree, and the heart kept getting lighter. By the time I reached the meditation hall, I realized that every plant, flower and tree that I had encountered, even the grass, was a teacher of dhamma, and since I had come as a sincere student, they had opened dhamma up to me by helping me recognized their teacherhood. I knew now that I was going to make it.

The next meditation sessions passed by, and as the Vipassana teaching was given, I was able to survive, and go deep. With each passing session, the focus improved, the practice of the technique improved, and the equanimity improved. In the evening sitting, I had a great insight. There was great pain in my butt and hip, and as I watched in slow motion, I could see the painful sensation arise and my muscle tense up in response. There was a moment when I told my mind not to react that way. And like a silly thief, who thinks the master is not watching, it did so, right in front of me. I couldn't help laughing. With the help of a sharpened mind, I had caught the thief who was stealing my peace. And it was my own mind. I saw why the mind did this - it was because of fear (or aversion). The moment I laughed, the fear disappeared, and the muscle collapsed. Of course, it tensed up again alongwith other muscles, but they all collapsed with greater rapidity, and soon the painful sensation was replaced with a finer sensation, first of burning and then of a tingling, which was nowhere near that discomfort which made me desperately want to get up.

By the end of the day, as I sat on my last sitting, the trees came to my mind, and I felt that there was a great blessing. I could tune in to the natural vibrations in the body, and opened up in a deeper way. As I walked down the hill, I felt successful and excited. And then it struck me - when I was about to fail, I had no faith in myself, and had to get the blessings of the trees, plants and flowers. But when I managed to get through the day, my ego came up to claim the credit, destroying my equanimity. I had caught myself in the act! Laughing to myself, I accepted the truth of my ego, and went to bed with great gratitude.

Day Five
Vipassana has started, and so has Athithana (sittings of strong determination). We were told that we couldn't change our posture, open our eyes or move our hands. As I sat through the first one, fresh from the success of the previous day, a big sensation from my stomach punctured my confidence. I had not relieved myself earlier, and the reality of an upset stomach was still with me. My stomach, of course, chose the Athithana to collapse again. This time, I decided that death would be preferable to getting up and I was going to break the mystery of my stomach. As I watched each shooting pain with full concentration, a big realization dawned. These were not actual motions where something undesirable would happen. They were instead signals of alarm, to which I normally respond without delay, and due to the quick-response conditioning, I wouldn't notice the decision opportunity. I thanked my stomach for these signals, recognized their practical utility, and told it that I would respond when I could. The stomach may choose to (or not to) keep sending these signals. Suddenly, I felt like an outsider watching with patience and compassion how my mind did its monkey business, as the signals wouldn't stop, although they decreased in frequency and stopped bothering me altogether. The sitting passed comfortably.  Just before it ended, I knew that when I got up, I would discover that the situation was not so bad. The actual experience confirmed this. It was my fear and aversion that had multiplied the impact of the sensation and caused such great distress in the past. 

What a great relief to have broken the mystery of the stomach (with such practical benefits), or really, one of the mysteries of the mind, not through intellectual jumps but through actual experience. I realized also that my stomach was a great teacher of Dhamma. It would accept anything I gave it, and try to extract the most energy it could. If I kept giving it garbage, it would collapse by the law of nature, but it would try its best to get back on its feet so it could serve me again. It would do so until the day I die, without questioning me ever. What a great embodiment of Dhamma - to live and die in service! By extension, my entire body (not just mine, but everyone's body) is a great embodiment of dhamma, and for that reason alone, I find compassion in my heart toward my body.

 

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One Legitimate Use of Power, by Keshavan Nair

FaceBook  On Aug 17, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

Nair's ending comment reminded me of Randy Komisar's book, "The Monk and the Riddle," where he talks about living the "Whole Life Plan," instead of the "Deferred Life Plan." It is easy to get into the deferred mode, but I find it is not that hard to live my whole life plan. It may take a little time and effort, and we may need to plan so transitions may be skillful. 

The idea of leadership being about service is not new, although it is perhaps the most forgotten idea. We find that Plato talks about it in "The Republic," when he talks about a good leader being one who protects those he/she is chosen to lead. 

Leadership studies are strangely not well-known, with in-your-face charismatic leaders taking the limelight from the media. Yet, inspiring and lasting organizations have consistently shown servant leadership, be it SouthWest Airlines, Toyota, or Semco. Semco has in-fact instituted a model where those who are led will appoint their leader, a controversial upside-down practice that is really, in my mind, an enlightened practice. 

Finally, my most inspiring manager was this man who would always ask me to work less and would try to make life easier for me whenever he met me. Every time he asked me to work less, I used to work double that of what I had planned - it was as if my heart couldn't control the joy and it had to find expression in creativity. And when I've had other managers who've had expectations on how much I should work, the heart has gone into a transaction mode. 

Nipun writes about this phenomenon in this post. (read toward the end about affection)

 

Letter to A Friend in A Hurry, by Pierre Pradervand

FaceBook  On Aug 13, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

Pancho,

Thanks for sharing about Meher Baba. I remembered a time when I was a kid, and was visiting my grandfather, he took me to a spiritual club he was part of in Kolkata, where they were discussing Meher Baba's philosophy. It struck me as incredible that someone would not speak for 30 years. At that meeting, someone claimed that Gandhiji had met Meher Baba on a ship when returning from the west, and was so impressed that he laid down one day of the week (was it Monday?) as his day of silence. 

Old memories came flooding back..

 

 

Letter to A Friend in A Hurry, by Pierre Pradervand

FaceBook  On Aug 13, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

Upon reading this piece, I wondered who the friend in a hurry was. It was not until I meditated that this became clear. It was me - the friend in a hurry, who needed to hear this. What is funny is that until there was stillness in my heart, I could not see this. I loved the passage for its rich metaphors - it contains various powerful ides. A big idea is that we are all decision-makers, not to be tossed about by the sea of life, but in charge of ourselves, if only we take possession. Possession precedes attachment, and is closely related. Indeed, we keep hearing exhortations to detach, but detachment is a negative idea. It is much easier to attach to a higher ideal. And possession is a powerful tool to make that attachment happen. I choose to possess higher ideals, and the lower ones will fall by the wayside. Right now, I possess time, and am not in a hurry. When taken to love, I possess the ability to love much more than myself.  Finally, reading about stillness is one thing, but when the experience of meeting others who come from this space is quite incredible. Friends of ours had brought their visiting parents over for dinner. My friend's wife remarked she couldn't believe that her in-laws were not bored AND not interested in watching TV. They were both content at enjoying the sunset in the lawn, without needing to even speak to each other. If you think they are from a different planet, they actually are. They are from a village in India, where stillness is still to be found as a norm and not the exception. After dinner, we went for a walk to the East-West bookstore on Castro, and I was pointing out the various Japanese and Chinese restaurants on each side, when suddenly, my friend's father stopped in his tracks with an exclamation, "My God! What a massive tree!" As I looked up, indeed, in front of City Hall was this remarkably tall tree, that I had never noticed before on Castro Street. --- After Wednesday ---- An allied thought is about  See full.

Upon reading this piece, I wondered who the friend in a hurry was. It was not until I meditated that this became clear. It was me - the friend in a hurry, who needed to hear this. What is funny is that until there was stillness in my heart, I could not see this.

I loved the passage for its rich metaphors - it contains various powerful ides. A big idea is that we are all decision-makers, not to be tossed about by the sea of life, but in charge of ourselves, if only we take possession. Possession precedes attachment, and is closely related. Indeed, we keep hearing exhortations to detach, but detachment is a negative idea. It is much easier to attach to a higher ideal. And possession is a powerful tool to make that attachment happen. I choose to possess higher ideals, and the lower ones will fall by the wayside. Right now, I possess time, and am not in a hurry. When taken to love, I possess the ability to love much more than myself. 

Finally, reading about stillness is one thing, but when the experience of meeting others who come from this space is quite incredible. Friends of ours had brought their visiting parents over for dinner. My friend's wife remarked she couldn't believe that her in-laws were not bored AND not interested in watching TV. They were both content at enjoying the sunset in the lawn, without needing to even speak to each other. If you think they are from a different planet, they actually are. They are from a village in India, where stillness is still to be found as a norm and not the exception. After dinner, we went for a walk to the East-West bookstore on Castro, and I was pointing out the various Japanese and Chinese restaurants on each side, when suddenly, my friend's father stopped in his tracks with an exclamation, "My God! What a massive tree!" As I looked up, indeed, in front of City Hall was this remarkably tall tree, that I had never noticed before on Castro Street.

--- After Wednesday ----

An allied thought is about how I might escape the net of delusion that has been thrown on me. There are two ways - one is to shrink my ego to a miniscule level so I slip through the nets, and the other is to grow so large that the net cannot encompass me. The idea of possession belongs to the second approach - as the possessor of everything, I am attached to and the possessor of all there is. Once this idea settles in, I need nothing, and nothing can shake me. I am free to move amongst my possessions, as the need arises, without being tied down to any one. Perhaps being tied to all and tied to none are two sides of the same coin, as someone (I think Ketan) pointed out last night.

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Like The Sun Shining, by Tenzin Palmo

FaceBook  On Aug 6, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

 The piece evokes some words. "Open" - an open palm. Open to possibilities. Open to discovering I have something to give. Open to discovering I have something to receive. Open to discovering who I am. "Expectations" - a closed fist. They are the chains that prevent our progress. If there is one thing we have no right to have, it is expectations. The two paradigms apply not just to relationships with others, but also to a relationship with myself. Who am I? Am I open to discovering this? Or do I have a self-image that prevents honest inquiry and shackles me? Finally, this piece paints a picture of the author's mother, and I think there's more to that picture, from the lens of the interaction with my own mother, who is very similar. All my life, whenever I've wanted to do something, she has unquestioningly supported. I remember as a child growing up in a Catholic missionary school with a strong musical culture, I had a desire to participate and sing. Without any preparation or training, I enrolled straightaway for the annual music competition. I announced this to my mother, and told her that I had picked Julie Andrews' lovely song, "Raindrops on Roses" from Sound of Music. I needed the film so I could practice. My mother did not once question my decision, or point out that in living memory, no male in the Raha family was known to sing or have any participation in music, or that here I was singing a girly song in a Boy's school, or any other objections that I can now think of. Instead, she promptly rented the film from a store and never passed judgment on my practice. My music teacher kept checking on me, and telling me to improve my pitch (I had no idea what she was talking about, and understood that to mean that I just had to sing louder). Finally, on the day of the event, she called all the participants aside and had us all sing. Then, she disqualified me (I remain in gratitude) to prevent embarassment. What I cannot forge  See full.

 The piece evokes some words. "Open" - an open palm. Open to possibilities. Open to discovering I have something to give. Open to discovering I have something to receive. Open to discovering who I am.

"Expectations" - a closed fist. They are the chains that prevent our progress. If there is one thing we have no right to have, it is expectations.

The two paradigms apply not just to relationships with others, but also to a relationship with myself. Who am I? Am I open to discovering this? Or do I have a self-image that prevents honest inquiry and shackles me?

Finally, this piece paints a picture of the author's mother, and I think there's more to that picture, from the lens of the interaction with my own mother, who is very similar. All my life, whenever I've wanted to do something, she has unquestioningly supported. I remember as a child growing up in a Catholic missionary school with a strong musical culture, I had a desire to participate and sing. Without any preparation or training, I enrolled straightaway for the annual music competition. I announced this to my mother, and told her that I had picked Julie Andrews' lovely song, "Raindrops on Roses" from Sound of Music. I needed the film so I could practice. My mother did not once question my decision, or point out that in living memory, no male in the Raha family was known to sing or have any participation in music, or that here I was singing a girly song in a Boy's school, or any other objections that I can now think of. Instead, she promptly rented the film from a store and never passed judgment on my practice. My music teacher kept checking on me, and telling me to improve my pitch (I had no idea what she was talking about, and understood that to mean that I just had to sing louder). Finally, on the day of the event, she called all the participants aside and had us all sing. Then, she disqualified me (I remain in gratitude) to prevent embarassment. What I cannot forget in this story is the unconditional love and support my mother gave me to support my fancy.

Onward several years, I had gotten admission into an engineering college in a field of my choice (Computer Science) and everyone at home was thrilled. My mother spent all her time getting me setup to leave home for the first time. Not once was there any talk of missing me. On the day of departure, for the first time, I saw tears in her eyes as she hugged me. In those tears were also this struggle - her tremendous attachment to me, and her firm resolve not to weaken me - she blessed me and asked me to take care of myself. I would call home every weekend, have normal conversations, and during vacations, only on the day of departure, get to see her tears. Many years later, my mother's sister told me, "Do you know how much your mother used to miss you? She would sit on the steps outside your house and cry her heart out. She didn't want you to know."

My mother dealt with her attachment in her own way, releasing them through her tears. But she never once confused herself on what was more important to her - it was always my welfare, my education, my progress. She knew to retreat into her space to deal with her attachment without putting chains on me. And that to me, is a very human picture that I can relate to. In the piece, Tenzin does not tell us what happened on the day of departure, or what her mother's close friends know about how she dealt with her attachment, but I suspect we will find a human being.

----
After hearing others' thoughts on this piece, a deeper opening followed, one that now finds its way into this blog.
----
Detachment is a terrible idea. It is negative, and sounds cruel. Moreover, I think it is not a skillful way of getting beyond attachment. On the other hand, we can attach to a higher ideal. Instead of being content with loving myself, I can love one more person, then another, and another. By stepping it up, I am putting all my energy attaching to more and more, and soon, the smaller, lower attachments automatically fall by the wayside without even a complaint. My mother was attached to me, but she attached herself to a higher ideal - my welfare (as did Tenzin's mother). The lower attachment could not compete with the strength of the higher attachment. It did not go away, but it could not win.

This way of looking at things was shared by a certain hero who lives these days at Olema. That hero remarked, "You cannot really solve a problem. You can only dis-solve it by going to a level where the problem does not exist." If attachment+fear is looked upon as a problem, then we have to go to a level where it does not exist - strive to attach to every being that exists.

Finally, I remember another hero who said that the ideal attachment was that of a nurse. She gives all her love and nurtures the child in her care as though it were her own. The day her employer terminates her services, she packs her bags without a word and goes to the next place, ready to love the next child with all she has.

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What You Have Given Your Mind to Do, by Michael Singer

FaceBook  On Aug 6, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

I liked this thought very much. While it is a powerful guide to meditation, there is something important that precedes it - compassion. If I get angry at myself for falling asleep while meditating, then I might give up as someone not fit for it, and lose the opportunity to develop a good understanding of how my mind works. Therefore, compassion precedes understanding. However, when I understand that my mind is not me, and that it will do its own thing, my compassion for myself (and others) increases exponentially. Compassion is somewhat like solar energy - we need a significant initial investment, after which it more than pays for itself. I had an opportunity this week to "push the compassion button." A friend had come down after a long time and we weren't really connecting. I found the friend distracted and not interested in my responses to his questions. After a while, I noticed my mind starting to get annoyed, and that was a good time to push the compassion button. My friend kept talking as I beamed joy and kindness. And suddenly, the understanding was right there, like the veil had just dropped from my eyes. My friend had the worst conversation of the year with his boss, and it didn't go the way he'd hoped. I could feel the pain he was feeling and that doubled my compassion, and made me determined to create more space. Instead of talking, I listened, and only replied when he asked questions. The result was downright crazy - he resolved all of his problems in his own mind, and came down to a single question - he was working two jobs, one of which he really liked, but that was the one he was doing for free. The people in this place loved him, but didn't have the budget to hire him. I don't know why, but I found myself saying the following, "You are like the flower - it has fragrance to give, whether or not there is someone to smell. Well, then, why don't you offer your services as a gift to the place you like, regardless of whether they pay you. A  See full.

I liked this thought very much. While it is a powerful guide to meditation, there is something important that precedes it - compassion. If I get angry at myself for falling asleep while meditating, then I might give up as someone not fit for it, and lose the opportunity to develop a good understanding of how my mind works. Therefore, compassion precedes understanding. However, when I understand that my mind is not me, and that it will do its own thing, my compassion for myself (and others) increases exponentially. Compassion is somewhat like solar energy - we need a significant initial investment, after which it more than pays for itself.

I had an opportunity this week to "push the compassion button." A friend had come down after a long time and we weren't really connecting. I found the friend distracted and not interested in my responses to his questions. After a while, I noticed my mind starting to get annoyed, and that was a good time to push the compassion button. My friend kept talking as I beamed joy and kindness. And suddenly, the understanding was right there, like the veil had just dropped from my eyes. My friend had the worst conversation of the year with his boss, and it didn't go the way he'd hoped. I could feel the pain he was feeling and that doubled my compassion, and made me determined to create more space. Instead of talking, I listened, and only replied when he asked questions. The result was downright crazy - he resolved all of his problems in his own mind, and came down to a single question - he was working two jobs, one of which he really liked, but that was the one he was doing for free. The people in this place loved him, but didn't have the budget to hire him.

I don't know why, but I found myself saying the following, "You are like the flower - it has fragrance to give, whether or not there is someone to smell. Well, then, why don't you offer your services as a gift to the place you like, regardless of whether they pay you. And tell them that they are not obligated to you. You can work a couple more months like this, and if nothing changes on their part, you will simply move on, but until then, you will do what you love."

He loved the idea and decided then and there to follow this path. At my end, I found it fascinating that the conversation had begun with me thinking something was wrong with him, and by the end of it, I was clear that the issues were in my mind and I wasn't creating enough space. The "compassion button" is a powerful tool that helps facilitate the observations that Singer talks about.

 

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