Saturday, 20 February 2010

On Living deliberately

On Living the spontaneity, wholeness, and humanity of the zen vision.
"When you realise that there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you". - Lao Tzu.

The poem reads:

His life is not poor
He has riches beyond measure
Pointing to the moon, gazing at the moon
This old guest follows the way 

Budai/Hotei, or more popularly, the Laughing/Fat Buddha or Happy Chinaman (depending on where you're from) is clearly "a man who has everything - everything he needs".

And i find good support for my living deliberately and contentedly on the first few introductory pages of a book on Western philosophy - "Good living for me means having the time to actually think and make my ideas coherent, instead of being forced to act on impulse - quickly and not very intelligently, to everything in my life."

It is, after all, about living consciously, deliberately - that is all. Life, after all, is about living, and growing (changing) with Life. Let the world happen, and I with it. Even Plato himself, one of the fathers of Western philosophy, said, with perhaps a hint of an enigmatic smile, "the Good is One", ancient Greek zen.

Intriguingly, for me, Zen is not just a mystical Eastern philosophy - many Western thinkers, from Thoreau to Blake and even Weber have explored it, mused on it, pondered and wondered on it. And even now, we finally find out that "happiness might ward off heart disease".

For me I like to look at the interstices of Eastern and Western thought, and at the overlaps, at how they differ, and complement. I like to think that good philosophy has a certain universality - nature does not like gaps. Just as living a good life, being happy, and being Good, which i feel comes much more easily, and naturally with living consciously, living humanly, and in peace, joy, empathy and understanding of others.

For did Confucius not say, human-heartedness is the greatest happiness.

And for did the Bible not say, "I will remove from you your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26).

In any case, I aspire to, like Budai, as HH the Dalai Lama wisely says, "seek not to have what you want, but want what you have".

Friday, 19 February 2010

A conversation.

I think, what really changed me was that trip to remote northern Laos, where I had the chance to stay for a while with these farmers, who work so hard just so they could provide for their families, and sit down and have dinner together at the end of the day. To me there is so much honesty, so much grace, so much nobility in them.

And most of us think that we, being more affluent, more urbane, are more advanced, more sophisticated, better than them.

It breaks my heart, to think that sadly, that is how we are conditioned to think, how we treat people - based on how much money you (seem to) have, and we all take part in this charade, this aspiration to power - which is simply the ability to make people do things they don't want to do.

Such that a richer person is the one you look up to and aspire to be.

But i often ask myself, why can't i be more like these people, these supposedly "unsophisticated poor simple people", who are, to me, are the truly noble, truly living, graceful, human beings.

A romanticised view of poverty? I think i can point a finger, also, to the romanticised view of wealth and power, as "important-goals-in-life-that-make-you-a-better-person", and given the choice, i think i'd much rather be deluded, poor and living and learning in grace and love and simple things. And Peace.

It is the belief that everything is for sale, that a monetary value can be attached to everything that breaks my heart. And that if you can buy more and better stuff, you are so much better than someone who can afford less (no illusions here).

I turn my head, and i see advertisements telling people to "Give this or that for Valentine's Day". It breaks my heart  to see that everything is reducible to items, to commodities, to a monetary value. So how much is your love worth? How much is your family worth? So we all sell ourselves (and our principles, our dreams, our ideals and our conscience) to the God of Modern Capitalism. It is hard to get rich, if you treat people right, if you are honest.

But of course there are good rich people.

But of course I believe in the very postmodern notion that the only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

El mundo nuevo

I've been thinking about this whole travel and zen relationship for a while, and in a flash, i realised, that's it - travelling alone over a period of time through a foreign land challenges your preconceived notions and assumed "norms" and prejudices, throws them right out of the window and forces you to live in the now, the here.

Case in point.

A moment of Zen realisation would be, almost getting run over by a technicoloured auto-rickshaw blasting Bollywood hits, a poster of Ganesha (everyone's favourite Hindu God) stuck on the rear window ensuring immunity (to him), while you wake up and cross the road for some chai and morning dosas.

Its just like saying "mu", big time. Wakes you up to life happening RIGHT NOW, in every moment, every breath you take, every minute you live.

The feeling of being alive - like waking up on a cold morning and dipping your toes in the icy waters of the Mediterranean.You can smell it, too - the sea, there is a certain freshness, a certain new-ness, a sea-smelling fresh excitement greeting the new day. And not just the Mediterranean - everywhere - from doing the laundry at home to climbing the lofty Himalayas. There is a definite, jolting realisation of the fact that this is your life, an urgent, desperate need, desire to live consciously, deliberately, to hurl oneself at life's Apollonian and Dionysian and really live, eyes wide open with childlike amazement and wonder. As Shunryu Suzuki's book is titled - Zen mind, beginner's mind.

初心,not 粗心.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

On freedom.

"I do think people could fall into the trap of understanding freedom as ‘I do what I like’. I don’t really think that’s freedom because you’re still bound by your desires. So where is the freedom? Freedom would be…you understand your desires, the compulsion of those desires, the addiction of that, and you are able to transcend that. Otherwise…your passion is determining your behaviour." – Father Lancy Prabhu

Thursday, 4 February 2010


Taking the train to work, i found myself telling my friend. Let's go home, one day, start up a little business, sell groceries or something. It's been a long time since we were home - small town boys remembering cycling to the local provisions shop and around quiet neighbourhoods where time is the dark green leaves of an old mango tree falling, falling.... It feels like yet another different life - we have come a long way, and maybe now, it is time to go home.

I still do love my country, even if they still insist on telling me i'm a pendatang. It makes you at times cynical, at times sad, but I realise, at the end of it, i still do love my country, in a bittersweet, unrequited kind of way.

I guess, now, i just don't expect her to love me back anymore (allow me to lapse, again, into a little moment of cynicism... it is a coward's refuge, i guess when one-should-instead-strive-to-be-Nietsche's-model-of-the-Uebermensch)

Or Kierkegaard's Knight of Faith.