Buddhism, Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, Philosophy, Society, Spirituality

Episode 41: Navigating Through Spiritual Fads


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How can we know that the spiritual teachings we are interested in learning are genuine or will lead us off some beaten track?

Firstly, the goal of the teaching, the book, or the guru/teacher has to be the same goal you have in mind. Without a goal, we are groping in the dark and can end up absolutely anywhere.

Really reflect on why you want to take up a spiritual practice. Here are some reasons I have come across:

  • Simply following the advice of friends, family, co-workers, or authority figures based on a social and cultural contexts. (For example, “Jnana, you have to try mindfulness practice because it’s given me so many benefits!” or “Say your prayers or you’re going to Hell”)
  • Out of sheer curiosity
  • Egoic necessity: collecting knowledge to impress others or oneself, the accumulation of merit/wealth/relationships/etc. by reciting “special mantras”, doing “special meditations” or performing magic
  • Recognising an inner longing for what the material cannot provide and thus searching for it, whether that be God or otherwise
  • Liberation from the wheel of birth and death (suffering) and/or the wish that others also be free from birth and death
  • Collecting interesting experiences and states of mind; consciousness expansion
  • Learning, personal growth, and self-help
  • Or, you’re a journalist who just wants an interesting story…

So, with the goal in mind, investigate if the end goal of your chosen teaching matches your goal. This might sound silly, but it’s absolutely crucial.

Secondly, recognise reaching your goal is a process and is not figured out overnight. Yes, there are spontaneously awakened beings who did not have to do anything or “simply got it” one day with minimal effort, but if you are still seeking, then you are still in the process. As we know from our own lives, reaching goals can take weeks, months, and years to achieve.

As with any goal, including spiritual goals, there will be setbacks. Let’s apply this most obviously to losing 10 kilos of fat. The first setback is that it doesn’t happen instantly. “It takes months?! WHAT?!” The second setback is cheating on your diet or missing a day at the gym. Another setback could be giving up completely or changing course so that you gain 10 kilos instead of lose them. Because we’re not perfect and we are still learning and growing during the process of figuring out how to reach our goal, we will have setbacks and challenges. Guaranteed.

So be wary of any teacher or teaching that makes it absolutely simple and easy. Because it’s not. Losing 10 kilos if you’ve never done it befire or relaxing into meditation if you’re over-stressed is absolutely difficult and challenging — nevermind figuring out all the secrets of the universe or becoming 100% liberated from suffering forever! Spiritual liberation is, well… the most ambitious and arduous pursuit on the face of the earth. I can’t stress this enough!

So we have created our goal and now have a way to get there that we trust. What next?

There must be some evidence that it works from your own experience. Attaining spiritual wisdom is unlike any other form of learning that we know of. It is trans-rational and goes against the grain of logic and the world. A good rule of thumb is that experience means that it does not come from memory or recollection; it is not an abstraction/concept and is not imaginary; and it is not based on general knowledge or anothers’ supposed experience whatsoever.

A good example of experience is, “I can see the sun.” It is experienced by you, directly, without memory/recollection, abstract conceptions, and nobody else has to show or tell you that. However, don’t confuse knowledge with experience. They are two separate entities. I will demonstrate this here:

A baby cannot add 1+1 together and has no recollection that the answer is 2. If that child is left not knowing anything about math, then 1+1=2 is never knowledge. Even if the child does learn that 1+1=2, it is still an abstract concept coming from the imagination. “But,” you might say, “it’s true and I can experience it because I know it. It’s a fact!”. Yes, it is a logical fact, but it does not come from your own experience. If you’re not a mathemetician, you have no idea how or why 1+1=2. “It just does.” And spiritual experience is not concerned with abstract verifications, claims, imaginations, or blindly trusting others’ claims.

The accumulation of knowledge in the form of information and abstraction that the brain mechanically spews back out is not and never was the goal of any true spiritual tradition anywhere in the world.

The mind is just a tool that recalls and learns, and healthy people can use it in similar ways. You want to learn Yoga Asanas? Okay, many people can do that. You want to learn quantum physics? Okay, less people do that, but it is still in the realm of possibility for those with healthy minds. Therefore, identification with the mind’s concepts will not lead to spiritual liberation: just because a teacher showed you Yoga Asanas does not mean you will experience the full impact of the purpose of Yoga.

The bottom line is if you’re experiencing what the teacher or teachings are said you are supposed to experience — then you are on the right track!

Why, then, do we have mind-centred/mind-made paths and teachings that lead us to the trans-rational?

Because most human beings are used to it. Since childhood, we have been conditioned by other ignorant human beings about whoand how we are supposed to be but were never taught who we really are. So we are not clear yet. Teachings are like feather-dusters to show us the truth about our own mental scope: our emotions, fears, beliefs, goals, thoughts, and general viewpoint of our own conscious experience and the world — then, when we are honest about all of this, we human beings can begin to experience the trans-rational.

Giving without getting anything in return is trans-rational. How is it logical that you would give away your thing, if it belongs to you, for no good reason? It’s not. It’s other-worldly. We have to learn this, and we will struggle and fail many times in our own psychological mind when we have this basic conception of me and my thing. This is precisely why there is a path and there are teachings: to bring us back on the good boat.

The authentic and original teachings of the Buddha make it absolutely clear about the number one goal, the trials and tribulations on reaching it, and that experience is the most important so that you can verify for yourself and not just blindly believe. He was against Vedic rituals, for example, when they did not produce results and pointed this out in debates with Brahmans many times.

He also admitted the 8-fold path is a fabrication!

The Buddha, too, admits every single word uttered from his mouth is only “a raft” to be abandoned when we no longer need it. We do this all the time with: when we change jobs, for example, the skills from previous jobs are abandoned because we no longer need them.

Just for fun, I’ll leave you with this real-life analogy on how spiritual teachings function:

The Buddhist path is akin to building a beautiful mansion from scratch: first, we have to imagine the mansion (our goal) and then start to build it. The first step is Right View, which is like making the blueprints from the awareness that we want to end up with a mansion. Then we have Right Intention, knowing that we will be there physically, mentally, and emotionally to build it. Next, we lay concrete and put up scaffolding so the structure starts to take shape: Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, & Right Effort. In the final stages, the structure becomes more complex, nuanced, and beautiful. We paint, furnish, add lighting, artworks, and decorations: Right Mindfulness & Right Concentration. Finally, we have the goal: the mansion or Liberation.

Namaste!

Buddhism, Interview, Society, Spirituality

Episode 34: McMindfulness — The New Capitalist Spirituality with Ron Purser

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Ron is not afraid of controversy with his new book: McMindfulness — How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality, out this July. He also hosts the Mindful Cranks podcast. Let’s start out by saying that:

“Dr. Purser is an ordained  Zen Dharma teacher in the Korean Zen Taego Order.  He received ordination in April 2013 from the Venerable Jongmae Park, Partriarch of the Taego Korean Zen order for the overseas sangha. His Dharma name is Hae Seong, which means “The Nature of Wisdom.”

As a long-time practitioner, he really knows his stuff! In our episode, we go over just how the modern mindfulness movement, founded on the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) programme convinces that “a little mindfulness goes a long way” — and all the repercussions that can have.

We go into detail how mindfulness has been hijacked to serve the capitalist system. This truth is Ron’s passion.

My passion is how it has been torn apart from its very meaning, as a way to enlightenment on this planet (and all other planets and universes, also).

So, how has modern mindfulness been severed from its Buddhist roots? Well, here’s a hint: in the Sattipatthana Sutta that the Buddha laid out on mindfulness, a lot is missing from the modern mindfulness programmes.

Bhikku Bodhi lays out on Accesstoinsight.org:

“The practice of Sattipatthana meditation centers on the methodical cultivation of one simple mental faculty readily available to all of us at any moment. This is the faculty of mindfulness, the capacity for attending to the content of our experience as it becomes manifest in the immediate present. What the Buddha shows in the sutta is the tremendous, but generally hidden, power inherent in this simple mental function, a power that can unfold all the mind’s potentials culminating in final deliverance from suffering.

To exercise this power, however, mindfulness must be systematically cultivated, and the sutta shows exactly how this is to be done. The key to the practice is to combine energy, mindfulness, and clear comprehension in attending to the phenomena of mind and body summed up in the “four arousings of mindfulness”: body, feelings, consciousness, and mental objects.

At the heart of the matter, modern mindfulness misses that mindfulness is made to lead to true and final liberation from all suffering, or Nibanna. (This is simply one way to waking up out of the vast collection of the Buddha’s methods.)

Without taking into account other factors beyond “simply paying attention to the present moment” — a person will (more than likely not) magically become free or cultivate wisdom. In fact, this is just another form of suffering, and this can be proven. If simply paying attention to the present moment worked, then we would see evidence of this in the external world as greed, desire, and hatred decrease: that is its purpose, after all. Is this the case? Not at all!

Google, Apple, Nike and other major corporations have repeatedly used secular, modern mindfulness training as part of their curriculums. Marissa Levin admits this, in just one article underpinning the mindfulness/capitalist situation:

“Once the Eastern practice became popular as a method of self-help, it quickly became a tool within businesses to increase productivity and well-being of employees.

‘With business meditation, we have a practice that is extrapolated from Buddhism and secularized so that all of the theological underpinnings are swept away,” says Catherine Albanese, author of A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion.'”

Mindfulness, as a business model, completely disintegrates the value of mindfulness as a way to liberation from wordly suffering for all beings. As a business model at all, to increase productivity for corporations, lends itself to be a materialistic substitute for Reality. This is in direct contradiction to its purpose. B. Bodhi goes on to say, “This [mindfulness] is the only satisfying way for the seeker of truth when the diffuseness [papañca] of the external world with its thin layer of culture, comfort and allurement, ceases to be interesting and is found to lack true value.

Also, modern mindfulness misses out on the other facets of the Sutta, including:

Contemplating the body in mindfulness of breathing, bodily positions/postures, eating/drinking/walking/speaking, and…

Reflection on the Repulsiveness of the Body:
Ex) “And further, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu reflects on just this body hemmed by the skin and full of manifold impurity from the soles up, and from the top of the hair down, thinking thus: ‘There are in this body hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, fibrous threads (veins, nerves, sinews, tendons), bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, contents of stomach, intestines, mesentery, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, solid fat, tars, fat dissolved, saliva, mucus, synovic fluid, urine.”

Reflection on the Modes of Materiality: (Cemetary Contemplations 1-9)
Ex) “And further, O bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu, in whatever way, sees a body dead, one, two, or three days: swollen, blue and festering, thrown into the charnel ground, he thinks of his own body thus: ‘This body of mine too is of the same nature as that body, is going to be like that body and has not got past the condition of becoming like that body.”

Contemplation of Feeling:
Ex) “Thus he lives contemplating [painful, pleasureable, and neutral] feelings in feelings internally, or he lives contemplating feeling in feelings externally, or he lives contemplating feeling in feelings internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination-things in feelings, or he lives contemplating dissolution-things in feelings, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution-things in feelings. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: ‘Feeling exists,’ to the extent necessary just for knowledge and remembrance and he lives independent and clings to naught in the world.”

Contemplation of Consciousness:
Ex) “Here, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu understands the consciousness with lust, as with lust; the consciousness without lust, as without lust; the consciousness with hate, as with hate; the consciousness without hate, as without hate; the consciousness with ignorance, as with ignorance; the consciousness without ignorance, as without ignorance; the shrunken state of consciousness, as the shrunken state; the distracted state of consciousness, as the distracted state…”

And so much more…

Ron and I go into detail on how modern mindfulness and capitalism are satisfied holding hands. See www.ronpurser.com to contact him.

 

 

Buddhism, Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, Philosophy, Society, Spirituality

Episode 19: Building an Ecological House – Part II


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Building an ecological house… is what I am going to do. Because I feel a responsiblity towards taking care of myself and changing the current situation on earth.

People, like you and me, are starting to wake up and bypass the status quo, because the disillusionment of pleasing authorities that exist in our imaginations is over-grown, like disengaged tree branches falling and crippling away at their stems.

Bodily freedom comes with enjoying life’s blessings and eliminating the stress of chasing bills for energy companies who could give a damn if we stay warm or not. Freedom comes when we are living authentically, under less pressure, acknowledging the inner space to let thoughts, emotions, sensations, and material sense objects flow through our experience without having to cling to them. Our current cultures all encourage clinging: to business (busy-ness), to success, to sense stimulation, to future events, to familiar people, to our reputation, and more subtly, to habits (“Samskaras” in Buddhist/Hindu philosophy), and to self-image. That is: the external world and its multiplicity of situations.

In my previous episode (#18), I talked about how the Industrial Revolution ignited massive economic change in Europe and North America, spurring the growth of the consumer society we now live in. It’s not our fault, but we made rash decisions when the population boomed and kept growing larger. Cities replaced rural lifestyles, factory lines replaced craftsmanship, and railroads promoted long-haul transport. Now we have a system (again, imaginary, but passed right along by our forefathers) that encourages working to get by while life passes us by.

So… I will build an eco-house and harness wind and solar power to create a home where the family are reliant on nature and live closely with her; we will grow our own fruit and vegetables and freeze them over winter. We will nurture animals who come to live with us. We will spend time making music, taking long walks, reading, podcasting, painting, building guitars, and have a healing centre with massage and meditation.

I feel the responsiblity to be free — to inspire the rest of humanity to be free.

If you have similar ideas that need expression or an inspiring thought to share, then comment below!

Buddhism, Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, Philosophy, Society, Spirituality

Episode 18: The Economy, Cities, & Our Big Brains – Part I

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What will happen in the future to jobs and the economy as people start to “wake up”?

Firstly, people who are awakening are more concerned with not only themselves and their immediate families and friends, but the wider scope: humanity as a whole.

As the population is growing — estimates of nearly 10 billion by 2050 — how are we to take care of each other in this new age we are entering? More and more graduates of top universities can’t get jobs, because the bar is raising and the sectors we are currently engaged in, in cities in particular, are becoming obsolete. Think about this: in my city alone, London, the top sector is finance and banking: according to uncsbrp.org:

”London’s economic importance cannot be underestimated. In terms of industries, it is the financial sector which is the most important. Although creative, media, technology and manufacturing industries all operate from London, it is the financial services sector which dominates them all. Most of the banking, underwriting and trading markets that operate in the capital are base in the City of London.”

How many people, out of the entire 9 million people who live in London, are in, or desire to be in banking? I’m not everyone, of course, but the majority of London is a cultural hub where over 250 languages are spoken and people have wide and diverse interests: East London’s creative scene is being overturned lately by developers, and many are scared for the future of their neighbourhood. London is a place that’s hard to leave, and you can find generations of families who have lived in the same neighbourhood their whole lives and masses of foreigners who came to the city 10, 20, 30 years ago and call it their home: that’s why you have what is called “Banglatown” in Shoreditch, Chinatown in the center, Jamaicans living in Brixton and Seven Sisters, Jewish areas in Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill, student centres in New Cross and Westminster and Aldgate, a smattering of schoolboys and girls everywhere, office workers, restaurant owners, pop-up shops and record stores, and a thousand other small businesses like tattoo shops, hair salons, music venues, and off-licenses. It’s not difficult to integrate with everyone, and that’s what makes London unique: we don’t all desire to follow the status quo, and we stay even though developers are taking land to create unaffordable housing and rents we’re up to our necks in heating bills, because you know, it’s never even really sunny… we are a collective, though segregated by smartphones and cliques and language barriers and busy-ness.

We don’t all want to be in banking…

(Tune in to hear the rest of the episode!)

Buddhism, Internet, Philosophy, Society, Spirituality

Episode 16: Internet Series: Effects on our Consciousness

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Artwork by Alex Grey – https://www.alexgrey.com/art/

What is internet doing to our state of consciousness as human beings?

Are larger companies monopolising us by creating themselves out of thin air, based on our belief in them? How does this affect small businesses and individuals alike?

What will the internet, Google, Instagram, and these platforms do to us and our children if they exert control based on the power we give them?

These questions and others will be explored in this part II of my “Internet Series” — see part I: De-Google Yourself.

We seem to be blinded into the notion that “we need the internet to survive” today. Smartphones, Google, and the upcoming 5G — our dependcy on these devices further gives them power rather than us obtaining our own power through the food we eat, the way we treat our bodies and minds, and the way we interact with other beings.

The internet is so smart that it is now installed in refrigerators, so every time you remove a carton of almond milk or potatoes, it knows you’re getting low and will write you a new shopping list to order more. You are no longer thinking or making considerate choices about your body, your health, or who you are buying from: a computer is doing it for you. This gives your power away so you keep creating purchasing patterns so the business you buy from is making decisions for you — perhaps to the same business again and again. And it’s all under the guise of convenience.

If we’re not conscious enough, striving to become evermore efficient, we will lose our true efficiency and hand it over. But we can’t say that we haven’t considered the consequences.

If we as “customers” and “consumers” of the internet, apps, and online shops keep this as our main reality, here is a possible forecast:

  • The internet will feed us our food on our couches with applications like Just Eat and Uber Eats as we lose the motivation to cook or make an effort to move based on our wants or needs. This will have vast implications on our health. We will become unknowledgeable about what we are putting into our bodies as orders are placed and fed to us (What are the exact ingredients? What care went behind our meal? Is the space we ordered from clean and suitable for cooking?) which could lead to more physical diseases.
  • The small business with a physical location will disappear as orders are constantly placed online. A few monopolise the market, like Amazon, who take a percentage from craftsmen and small businesses who actually create and maintain their products or creations (books, films, etc).
  • Physical service to others will become obsolete, because human interaction is already declining. What will happen to going into a doctor’s office to be checked out when you can describe your symptoms on Skype? Will people move from their home to get a massage or haircut? Will religious and spiritual centres disappear as people obtain more information stand-alone, rather than with older, wiser, beings?
  • Impatience will increase as our attention spans become shorter and shorter

The best thing that can happen, though, is that we realise our societies are becoming out of control with dependency on technology, and go back to:

  • Looking each other in the eyes
  • Cooking and being aware of our bodies and their needs; going to the market to buy food from knowledgable farmers who have so generously grown and prepared our food for us
  • Collaborating with others in real life out of empathy, compassion, and service to them in physical reality
  • Having more physical and mental energy/space which is conducive to a happy life and nurtures creativity, problem solving, productivity when things need to be done, and strength when performing physical tasks
  • Turning around from the big giants, refusing to buy duplicates and rubbish; buying instead from small businesses and conscious creators, like artists (musicians, wood-workers, metalsmiths, custom guitar or violin makers, painters, sculptors, jewellery artisans, etc) who spend enormous amounts of energy and time to channel “God” into the world, spreading beauty, creativity, true individuality, and essence which we are all capable of
  • Spending more time in nature and outdoors, not struggling to think or strategise when unnecessary
  • Being more aware of our environment or surroundings when in a building or outdoors, including other people who are with us
  • Devoting more of our life to being present with ourself and others
  • Improving our focus, motivation, and clarity of mind
  • Putting others first as we rely less on social media and our own ego / false persona it creates and seeks to maintainAnd finally…
  • Using technology and the interet as the tool it is meant to be rather than a dependent reality