Tuesday, 25 July 2017

SURFING THE WAVES OF LIFE


The coolest sport in the world, in my mind, is something that's barely more than 100 years old, the art and skill of surfing. Don't get me wrong: For me it's just a spectator sport. I can barely walk these days, and even when young and active I had the grace and balance of a two-legged elephant, so balancing on a surf board was never an option. That doesn't stop the wonder of watching expert surfers glide through the waves.

Surfing seems to me an entirely human invention rather than Divine gift of the Gods, and its development and growth in popularity one of the untold gentle achievements of the 20th century. That seems a tall claim, but bear me out. Surfing involves sunshine, sea, waves, clear water. It is a light-filled sport — redolent of the warm sun and blue sky. Above all, it is peaceful. It thrives in beautiful surroundings. It harms no one and is non-violent. it cuts across countries, borders, affiliations. 

It also creates adventure,  creates camaraderie, and has rapidly produced a now global culture around it which is completely different from the tensions and violence of urban culture. It is a free-spirited sport with its own relaxed vibe and a legitimate way for the ecstatic in society - that living liquid joy of life always under threat from governments, religions and social pressures. The world needs that joy. 

Surfing above all other sports is about being fully present in the moment. Waves are such impermanent creations, always falling to their destruction, and the surfer aims to ride the fall of the waves. The rides last at best only a minute or more, but for that time — even for the spectator — time slows down.

The skill of a master surfer borders on Zen mastery. A good surfer does not just stand on the board waving their arms and bending. No: the surfer will walk gracefully up and down the board, move, stretch, dance in response to the feel and movement of the waves. The image of the surfer might be some muscled young man, hair bleached in the sun, but check out women surfers, some of whom achieve a sort of balletic grace as they ride the waves. And surfers have become wildly adventurous in searching out locations all over the world for good waves, places often untouched by humans such as the coastline of the Atacama desert in Chile.

That is surfing. Unfortunately where I live the shoreline does not produce huge waves, only fierce tidal currents. And the sunshine is not guaranteed. You need a hot climate and the right set of conditions — although there is also surfing in Greenland, the west coast of Ireland and so forth. for armchair surfers like me there are now plenty of travel documentaries about the out of the way places surfers get to. An excellent film to watch is called "Given" (it's on Netflix) and relates the story of a surfing family that travels round the world catching waves.

Just like Life

Surfing has many parallels with life and how to live it properly. Like any simile or metaphor the comparison can be stretched only so far. But, light itself moves in waves and so does our life. This blog has always stressed the importance of staying alert and paying attention - and not being foolish in worldly matters. 

Life is difficult, involves a lot of suffering and often just brief moments of joy. The earth plane is  not a holiday camp. It is always a school for learning, and sometimes a sort of college of punishment as life's conditions in each incarnation bring up prarabdha karma from previous lives that can manifest as tremendous difficulty, sorrow and challenge. This is the nature of life and you would be a fool to ignore it and pretend that life is bliss for you because the Gurus and scriptures tell us it is. But somewhere, buried in you, you should have that nagging intuition that you did indeed sign on for a human incarnation once again, knowing full well the obstacles you will meet. You designed your own life circumstances.

So in life we face wave after wave after wave of conditions likely to cause suffering and upset... waves that knock us off balance again and again until we are gasping for breath and don't even know which way is up and which way is down.

This is where the skill in living comes into it.

Now... to stay out of the turmoil and ride the waves takes a lot of practice. It also takes a lot of waiting. A surfer has to learn to wait patiently a long time for the right wave to manifest before suddenly swinging into action. Then, when the wave comes, the surfer's concentration must be unwavering. The surfer must be able to ride the waves.  

This blog, loyal readers will know, has stressed again and again the need to stay focused, to pay attention to current times and conditions, not to be foolish.  The world is full of the foolish. And where does that lead? Just wasted lives full of bewailing and self-pity that the waves keep coming. So do not waste breath on moaning about yourself. 

When we are overcome by difficulty we mostly forget that we are dealing with a temporary phenomenom. Waves rise... then fall. Nothing lasts, even tough conditions. the same for good conditions... they do not last. The one constant truth about life as normal people live it is that it constantly changes. 

Some incarnations indeed can contain extraordinary shifts in fortune and status as life proceeds. Think of Gandhi and Mandela, both of whom spend considerable time in prison - or the famous teacher Sri Aurobindo, same thing. Think how even the great Ramakrishna spent the majority of his life as a humble temple priest being bossed around by his unscrupulous nephew. 

Riding the waves of life is ultimately about balance, learned only through repeated practice, mistakes and failures. One of the great problems about Indian Vedic spirituality is the mindset that "The Guru will do everything for me... Divine Mother will minutely guide my life" but you will find this model breaks down again and again and that somehow in each and every incarnation we come to a point where we face difficult decisions that only we alone can face. God is going to stand clear and see what you choose. Do not forget that. The moment will come to you, and you may be reading this aware that you face a very difficult choice without any apparent Divine guidance.

Balance in life is crucial, but so too is the understanding that everything will tend towards failure. Waves crash and dissipate. Life in the end comes to our moment of death. Understanding the inevitable movement towards dissolution in life is vital and will save you lots of tears. We have a shelf life. Everything in your life has a shelf life. And that's how it is. In surfing.. you can crash and burn in a spectacular flurry of foam and breaking wave — a wipeout — and if you are extremely careless have a serious accident surfing into hidden rocks.

Ah, but for brief shining moments... we can find ourselves in the right position on the right wave at the right time.. and the sun is shining and the waves are sparkling... and suddenly it makes sense all this talk we hear of "living in the moment". Because each moment riding the waves of life is irradiated with eternity, and beauty, and ..just... "isness". It is what it is, nothing more complicated than that. 

Lets go surfing!

Advice from the Guachos

And here is a great piece of advice from one of the movies/documentaries made by Argentina's Azulay brothers, who are called the Guachos Del Mar. The Azulays are one of a small number of people who travel to desolate places in search of surfing the perfect unknown wave... such as the barely populated area of Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia at the southern tip of  South America. their father was also a famous surfer, and you can hear his voice in one of the beautiful pieces of music accompanying their documentary Patagonia. Here it is (and you have to imagine the gentle sound of Latin acoustic guitars):

When I was young I was taught
And later, by myself, I could confirm
That it's not by wandering around
That you get somewhere.

That is why it is so important,
Without delays - and being careful -
To make your own compass
To be your guide.

It must show you the way during the day
And during the night,
Especially if the light is scarce.

Please allow me to remind you,
If you are someone who might forget,
A well-known truth I know:
That a waterdrop can perforate the hardest rock.

This may be an obvious saying
But it will rescue he who is in search for guidance.
This saying tells us that there is always a good destiny
For he who conducts himself
Without ever losing his integrity.

Having thus refreshed
This indispensable rule for any journey,
I wish to complete the equipment of any explorer
With a few words of advice:

Keep a low profile.
Don't be devious.
And don't ever assume that any battle is lost.
And always pay homage to life,
and to the beauty of everything ever created.





















Wednesday, 5 July 2017

EMBRACE ABSURDITY


Go on, admit it. Your life is absurd and you are absurd. You might think you are different from everyone else, but are any of your thoughts or deeds original in even the smallest way? Look around you. This is a mad world, and sometimes the only thing you can do is shake your head, grin, and...carry on. Welcome to our crazy world!

Manifest daily absurdities..a list

1. You pay taxes for essential services. Governments use this money on weapons and then raise taxes.
2. Adverts routinely lie and misrepresent.
3. Companies exist to make money for banks which loan money to them and skim off profits.
4. Gurus religions and cult leaders charge money to "get closer to God". If God exists why do you need to pay money to talk to the Divine?
5. If God is everywhere then why go for a"special powerful mantra"?
6. Angry people enforce rules for the gentle.
7. Humans are economically disadvantagedthrough gender, skin colour, and culture even though every country proclaims "freedom of opportunity."
8. Insane rules exist to limit the ways of ecstacy for humans.
9. We never think we will die. Then we do.

There's a famous cult US film from the late 1990s called The Big Lebowski, by the Coen Brothers, which is a wonderfully crafted comedy of errors, based on mistaken identity. The central figure, the little Lebowski, is an amiable and incurably lazy stoner with one sole hobby — bowling. The film includes a mysterious character, who actually narrates the movie, and can be interpreted as God walking here and there on earth (as a grizzled cowboy with a big moustache, acted by the wonderful Sam Elliott) and at one point "God" sits next to the hero at a bar in the bowling alley and says something to the tune of "I like your style." The hero's response to the utter absurdity of events unravelling around him is almost Zen -like. "F... it," he says to his friends "Lets go bowling."

Lets go bowling... this acceptance of the absurd, and carrying on despite the acknowledged absurdity, is pretty much all we have left in life. Of course many of us have plans, have a wish-list, or a burning desire to prosper and get ahead and show our relatives how great we are, or want to marry the perfect person, live in the perfect house, live the trouble-free life. This,  too, is deeply absurd and crazy. it always turns out differently from how we expect it.


The failed experiment

One generation in the world tried the concept of "perfect material life" out, Americans who lived in the Eisenhower era in America in the 1950s. This "perfect" world still haunts western popular culture, with its shiny cars, drive-in movies, high school proms, and orderly little houses everywhere. Husbands wore hats and went off to work. Wives cooked and raised children, who watched that new mass addiction TV.  People consumed products, urged to buy, use and discard by adverts. Everything was simple to understand: this culture had an ideological enemy, had an unacceptable "other" or externalised shadow  — communist Russia and China. The much later movie The Truman Show encapsulates this bright primary colour world.

Behind the perfect facade, lurked the reality - hidden from sight - that in fact America was assembling an arsenal of nuclear weapons so numerous they could have destroyed human civilisation many times over. Another was that American military spending began to grow out of control. In one of his final public addresses the elderly president Eisenhower issued a warning against the spreading power of  what he called the "military industrial complex" — and spawned a thousand conspiracy theories ever after.

Also behind the facade was the bizarre fact that this was a perfect white world. If you look at Hollywood films of the era it's astonishing how white and protestant Christian America always looks, when in fact 1950s America was made up of a huge mix of  races, especially African Americans who had no civil liberties or equal standing with the whites. All this was airbrushed away.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the absurdities of this perfect society became icily clear in the 1960s. And it all unravelled pretty quickly, the catalyst being the assassination of president Kennedy in 1963. What really killed it off was an inside job: the generation who grew up watching TV in the 1950s. These clean scrubbed young people with excellent educations, took a step back and realised how crazy society actually was. Drugs, especially LSD, and the killing machine that was the Vietnam War, opened the eyes of this young and naive generation. 

Spiritual institutionalised absurdity

Out of this breakdown grew the spiritual movements of the West based on the teachings of the East, which grew in numbers as the above mentioned naive generation got to grips with what drugs had unveiled in them. Absurdity subsequently piled up as westerners bowed and scraped before imagined godlike beings, mostly from India, and enthusiastically planned for enlightenment in a few short years. All very exciting, but all to often these organisations quickly became abusive, heirarchical and disfunctional, a sort of shadow form of the very concept of a communist structure based on a strong leader that their parents feared so much in the 1950s.

Having gone through this particular experience, I still laugh at the craziness of some of these movements. In one such, a bizarre habit developed of "coaching" the speaker at weekly satsangs - esssentially exerting corporate control of what should be said and whether it was on message. This produced cringe-making stiff and awkward speeches time and time again in an organisation supposedly dedicated to freedom. In another, the meditation teachers all had to wear suits all the time, which made them look like minor corporate executives rather than teachers of the spirit. All these customs and behaviours went unquestioned because of course the charismatic leader was "enlightened". Another equally strange thing - the creation of "sannyasins" in the Osho organisation that merrily indulged in sex. 

At the time, I went through this spiritual mill with eyes closed, emerging battered and bruised and scratching my head. What had all that been about? Still, surely it was better than going to an orthodox religion like Christianity that basically told everyone "thou shalt not kill" but encouraged wars and mass murders against "infidels" including slavery of entire populations - and of course the mass slaughter of animals who were judged not to have souls.

Absurd, absurd, absurd.


Personal sanity

It seems to me now that the only truly sane approach is simply to wonder at everything, and be on the alert for the latest development in this theatre of the absurd. There are numerous examples every day - for example the craziness in London of trying to ease traffic by applying congestion charges for driving into the city centre, only to encourage Uber taxi drivers. It is estimated 100,000 extra vehicles, all Uber taxis, have flooded London. And most Uber drivers have no idea of where to go or how to drive, indeed drive so slowly and badly they cause massive traffic pile ups. Utter madness!

The absurdity of it all, coupled with simple wide-eyed wonder, both combined give you a grandstand view of some fantastic synchronicities and serendipitous happenings. I enjoy the stupidity of we humans, but love too the workings and patterns of birds, animals, insects. God? Surely God must be smiling too. If you believe in a God, he created some awesomely funny things like puppies, blowfish, praying mantises, squirrels. Humans in turn have assembled truly bizarre cultural ways of living alongside each other. 

Embrace the absurdity of it all!






















Tuesday, 4 July 2017

PERSPECTIVES ON THE PROBLEM OF EVIL


One of my favourite Guru/Disciple stories is the one of the disciple who has committed some offence and is banished from the Guru's presence. He is found that night shivering with cold sheltering from the rain under an archway outside the ashram. "What are you doing here?"the Guru asks sternly. "Where else could I go?", the poor disciple replies. I hope I haven't made that up...but it has certainly been embellished! Anyway, the point is a sweet one... Where else can a devotee of God or goodness or a divine teacher go even in the face of disaster and despair?

This is the problem of all those resolving to give a noble and spiritual life only to find that the world does not suddenly turn into a rainbow heaven, and that on the contrary troubles increase along with sensitivity. There is a "bent-ness" to the world at present, a piling up and growth of dark energies and forces, acting sometimes in pretty scary ways... A loudmouthed bullying demagogue as US president...continuing terrorist activities...corrupt governments...insanely greedy corporations...and just a tide of ignorance rising everywhere — or in fact always there. Not all is lost, not all is totally bent, but only a fool would ignore the strain of disharmony, violence, and cultural madness that is all around us. It impacts us in numerous ways, such as unfair taxes, rip-off bills for essential services, a pervasive feeling of not being safe and constant infringement on individual liberties. It can manifest in so many ways... urine stains by Indian temples; graffitti scrawled over signs; fights and brawls and idiotic mass hysteria. 

The English writer CS Lewis, creator of the famous Narnia stories, also wrote a trilogy of what I guess you could call spiritual science fiction, in which our universe is a glorious place, planets ruled by mighty and wise beings. But something has gone wrong with Earth. It is called "Thulacandra" or the Silent Planet because it has come under the influence of a "Bent Oyarsa"... A spirit that has diverged from the path of goodness and sacrifice. 

This trilogy was written in the 1940s as World War 2 raged (about the same time his friend JRR Tolkien was finishing off the Lord of the Rings) and from a Christian perspective. Christian faith revolves around our being "fallen" because of the figure of the Dark One, the nameless one. The book also strongly echoes what is called the Manichean view of dualism...Manichee was an ancient non-Christian prophet and this religion flourished two thousand years ago, with a belief that this world was bent and twisted by a spirit powerful enough to cause prolonged suffering to human beings.

The Vedic view has different approaches. From the stand point of Brahman consciousness the entire universe is an illusion, or the play of Divine Mother who has her fierce as well as benign side. It is Maya, or Lila, a drama or play created by the Divine who sees and experiences all of it. Our souls, our Jiva, are like sparks from a flame, made of god-stuff but appearing for unknown reasons to be entirely and absurdly separate from the source.

We cannot pretend, however, that saying "ah the world is just an illusion" stops insects from biting, nasty people hurting us, poverty, suffering afflicting us all. 80pc of the worlds wealth is concentrated in the hands of 1pc of the global population... And of that tiny percentage a lot is in the hands of dynastic families, criminals, and successfully greedy and aggressive individuals. Bent stuff! A world with so much evident injustice is hard to take. Even worse for the highly sensitive is the very realisation that life exists everywhere by something feeding on something else. Even plants show an urge to crowd out competitors.


Signal Noise

So...evil. The existence of a force apparently always out to ruin the beautiful and good, or more precisely our beautiful and good. So lets take a look at it from a distance if we can...like picking up a scorpion and putting it safely in a container. 

Now one answer to all this is that the pain and suffering we inevitably meet in life is our karma coming back at us from some unspecified point in the past, maybe from many lifetimes. we have parachuted in to a reality that pushes us to work out things. There is an element of the deeply absurd about it, as we don't precisely know what these "things" actually are in our lives. 

Another view is that God takes a malicious interest in hurting humans and terrorising individuals for no seemingly logical reason....which point of view has certainly made atheists out of many. Or...the Manichean view....God only has limited jurisdiction in this manifested universe: its a reality in which God is somehow losing grip. 

Then the view of evil can be that it is the inevitable  result of limited intelligence and the greed and lusts of most human beings, who are after all basically apes and monkeys filled with very basic biological urges to fight and kill for food, territory and a mate.

Whatever view on "bentness" you have, all of this is individual and unprovable speculation and theory, but when your faith in goodness gets so battered and bruised by pain, there is a sort of natural howl of sorrow and complaint.

The existence of evil, from one viewpoint is a manifestation of signal noise. I am no engineer but every system that transmits something from A to B runs into "noise", an inevitable manifestation of chaos that surrounds order, that indeed coalesces to make up order. Think of this like the ripples and waves on still water whenever anything touches it. We experience this noise throughout our life.

My own life has seen plenty of moments when I have basically said...if I remember to say it all.. "This is too much, I cannot bear so much." Deaths, various relationship disasters, unemployment, poverty, loneliness, great chronic physical pain....all this has unfolded through my life. 

It has not been the simple joyful world that I hoped it would be when I was a very young and idealistic meditation teacher 40 years ago. But....and there is always a but....with age has come too a genuine admiration at the way the Divine plays all around, in me, outside me, and the indescribable sensation that God really  does know exactly what He is doing, down to the last millisecond. Now you can intellectually decide this is so, repeat "I am not the Doer" a thousand times, but actually living this is like surrendering to what really is. and what really is, is that we have almost zero free will, we are not the free beings we believe ourselves to be, and... out come 1000 spiritual cliches.. we need to look within. 

Then, too, the simple logic that in the manifested world everything casts a shadow (beyond self luminous yogis) and that is how it is. 

Light playing on objects casts a shadow. But the shadows cannot exist without the light. And that light to me seems absolutely inseparable from the quality which we call Love. Love is so strong, so ominipresent that we can never hide from it. Our incarnation gives us the chance to play , to try and hide...but Love always triumphs. Evil never lasts. So...I believe in Love and I follow Love. The road may be thorny and long..and wearisome and tough. But others are there too... Those who nourish Love.

In the end it comes down to which side you decide to stand on. George Harrison put it brilliantly when discussing the Hare Krishnas, who have their own fairly absurd chaotic history, and saying "At the end of the day, you know, if I have to choose where to stand... I stand with them." 

This is an individual choice. This might sound like some awful exhortation from a religious system, but why not choose to get over yourself, admit that evil is there, that life is absurd, but nevertheless commit to flying the flag of Dharma. No, it won't lead to instant joy, no one might even notice. But fly the flag of the borderless nation of Dharma. Jesus sums up dharma for this age: "Love God and Love your neighbours". Fly it even though you know the world does not agree with you. Fly it but don't make a point of it. You are bound to mess this up.. fly the flag upside down, drop it in the mud. So what. We need your courage!