Saturday, August 27, 2005


The clear bead at the centre changes everything.
There are no edges to my loving now.
I've heard it said there's a window that opens
from one mind to another,
but if there's no wall, there's no need
for fitting the window, or the latch.

Furunzanfar #511
(translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Devout Sceptics

The BBC Radio 4 programme Devout Sceptics featured Professor Kathy Sykes, a scientist and government advisor. She's an energetic woman with interesting ideas, attitudes and experiences. She has some humility too, which helps. Listen to the programme again.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Cows and elephants

There have been some discussions lately in regards to Darwinism and other theories. Bush would not mind that 'intelligent design' is taught alongside darwinian theory in schools. Holy cow! Scientists now say it's a white elephant. “It is large, almost completely useless, and the object of superstitious awe.” They even say the debate about religion vs science is a Red Herring. O dear, I see a thread developing. Here, have a read.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Is there a soul in Europe?

A couple of weeks ago I met very nice scholar of International Relations at Berlin airport. She had been in a conference and I came from Poland that morning. While we paced slowly towards the counter (it was a massive queue), we had very nice discussions about her work, religion, Europe etc; and then we came to the topic of integration. France insists on assimilation, that minorities fully take on the host culture, which naturally creates problems. She said: “What we Americans don’t really understand is why it’s such an issue in Europe”. In a sense, implying that America has been successful in assimilating a variety of cultures. I reminded her that the immigrant that came to America created a third culture in which they aligned themselves to. This is not the case in Europe. What is particular with France though is that it insists in assimilating people into a secular humanist culture.

This conversation came to mind today as I heard some discussion about Europe on the radio. Do we want an EU or not, and how much do we want to integrate with each other? The EU is in a crucial time, and is in need for some soul-searching. The constitution has had the ‘non’ and the ‘nee’ and more will probably join in if they are allowed to vote. Many governments don’t allow for referendums if they think they’ll loose. So Britain won’t vote. But I think the British government is rather pleased about that, for some reason.

The former and worthy ideal for the union was peace. Trade partners don’t start wars because they’re too dependent on each other, and they might even develop friendships. However, the union has grown and is expanding and the goal posts have changed. We need to unite to compete with India, China and the US; we might sink if we don’t work closely together. This is at least what the constitution enthusiasts have been telling us.

The problem is that the European countries have not decided what the EU is supposed to be. What is the EU? What is it for? Where are the limits and the boundaries? What are the common areas we want to work on? What’s the European vision? The constitution was written without answering those questions, and therefore it largely became a document where each country tried to get as much out of the constitution as possible.

One may argue that the balance of self-interest is positive, but without an over-riding and common interest for the whole, there is no question of sacrifice. And without sacrifice, how can we say that we’re working for the common good, or for a common future? Why then create a common market or a common union at all? I think this is what Delors was asking for when he said the EU needs a soul to survive. But where is that soul?

Our leaders need to find their own souls though. A person blind to its own soul, can’t find the soul for others. It will otherwise be a hit and miss endeavour. The European technocrats will forge out an economic plan for Europe, without considering the social, political or even spiritual consequences of their ideas. The blind will lead the blind to God knows where.

But as charity starts at home, soul-searching starts with us. It might not be the easiest choice we can make for ourselves, but how can we not find our soul and be at peace with ourselves?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Be truly human

There were a lot of items that caught my attention today in PM. The multiculturalism debate is a fascinating one which I would like to write about, but it will have to be another time.

Some British museums hold items considered sacred in some cultures, and the program gave the example of objects used in special sacred ceremonies among Australian aborigines. The curator held those objects in a box, which was not shown to the public so to not offend the sentiments of the people of that culture. It was an interesting piece of cultural sensitivity.

A side point is that even though British imperialism, or any imperialism for that matter, is in itself not worthy of praise, there are some good points that came out of it. A lot of ancient scriptures, painting, artefacts etc were collected and would most probably not have been with us to this day. It might be worth giving back a lot of those them when these cultures have created facilities and expertise to handle such items. It would be a great gift.

However, they brought in a researcher on the program, Tiffany Jenkins from the Institute of Ideas, which opposes the sensitive handling of sacred objects; she doesn’t want our museums to become like churches. She said “There is something deeply worrying about curators in rational institutions, secular institutions, encouraging the embrace of other beliefs, over others. It privileges and prioritises the sacred. I think they should instead let people take what they want from the objects; for example, they may go to the National Gallery, they may be Catholics, and they might derive particular meaning from the artefact pieces there […] The institution itself should not encourage a sacred meaning.”

It’s an interesting comment for she mentions rational as if religious and sacred beliefs are not rational. They are in fact often deeply rational in their own context. If you believe in the sacred, in God, in an afterlife of some sort, you have your own rationale and your own priorities in life. If you don’t, then you have other rationales and priorities. It would, contrary to what Tiffany Jenkins said, contravene neutrality to decide that there is nothing beyond this life. The sacred can’t be proven, but it’s neither possible to disprove it. So who is to say that the public sphere should be dominate by an anti-sacred attitude?

One of the problems with the kind of enlightenment thinking that Tiffany Jenkins represents is that it unfortunately is permeated by pride, a pride of superior understanding and of personal neutrality and rationality above all others. It’s unfortunately the same kind of pride that fuelled British and other imperialisms ideologically during the last few centuries.
It would be wonderful if humanism could take the human experience as it is, without making ideological assumptions and decisions and calling it rational and neutral. That would be truly human indeed.

Friday, August 05, 2005

From heart to heart

This Calendula is from my garden... Posted by Picasa


"How does one seek union with God?"

"The harder you seek, the more distance you create
between Him and you."

"So what does one do about the distance?"

"Understand that it isn't there."

"Does that mean that God and I are one?"

"Not one.
Not two."

"How is that possible?"

"The sun and its light,
the ocean and the wave,
the singer and his song
-- not one.
Not two."

Anthony De Mello, S.J.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Why one thing or the other?

Yes, I was listening to BBC Radio 4 again. I do listen to it quite a lot when I’m pottering around, washing or cleaning etc. It does have quite good programs. This week, instead of Any Questions and Any Answers, Nick Clarke led the program Straw Poll. They debated the motion that: "Political parties are dead, long live single issues".

Again. I wrote already a boring piece on this yesterday… I thought they missed the point. Why choose between political parties and single issues? It’s a pretty western way of thinking – either one thing or the other. Why not both? Eastern thinking tends more towards incorporating or assimilating rather than separating ideas.

I remember a couple of my friends, who were studying theology here in Oxford, cornered in this way. For example, in essays they had to choose between God being within time or outside of time, for He couldn’t be both simultaneously, could He? This is very strange thinking for a Hindu, what to speak of a Vaishnava-Hindu. If God is God, He can be within time and outside of it simultaneously – if He so desires. If He is the source of time, He can do whatever He so desires with it. But this is not enough – we have to argue for one or the other! Like if He cared what we thought. :)

So back to exciting politics… Why argue for one or the other, and miss the point? One lady calling in did mention the position of ideology, and how this is missing today. In a way it’s true. All parties have succumbed to market forces, for what else can you do if you’ve decided that economic development is the goal of life?

Even utilitarian philosophers had a drive some time ago to explain how if happiness is the goal of society, economic development is not the way. There’s no correlation between more money and happiness, from their perspective. I agree. Happiness comes from within the soul and not from gadgets. They might not agree with me on this point, for even if they recognise that happiness is on a deeper level, they have nothing in their utilitarian philosophy to explain why this is so. So while they think about this a bit more, I’m free to assert that hapiness comes from being connected with the source of happiness, with God. That’s why one of God’s names is Rama – the source of all joy. Hare Rama!

Wise words

"People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway."

Mother Teresa

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Political apathy

I heard Analysis today on BBC Radio 4, which dealt with the subject of community. They talked about how the UK government wants to involve more people in politics by devolving power to local communities; but their powers are minute and lack funding. In that regard it’s not serious.

I personally don’t think that an artificial involvement of people in local issues will increase people’s interest in politics. This sort of thinking belongs to a time that has passed. In the 60s and 70s people became members of political parties, and gradually moved up the ladder to higher politics. The legitimacy of politics and the ideological debates came from within the political parties. This is no longer so. This is not the route most people would like to take.

People nowadays are engaged various charity works, or in focus groups, or in their own work. They care about society and its future, and would like make their contributions to it, however they don’t want to do it by joining a political party. The future of politics will therefore lay in tapping into those networks and harnessing their expertise and energy. It’s a total paradigm shift, from expecting people to approach the political machinery to politicians searching out people that can be consulted on the issues at hand.

Another related point is how matters are dealt with and solved. People today are not interested in politics because politicians seem more concerned with scoring party political points than solving issues on a deeper level. For politics to come alive again, politicians will have to work on solving problems holistically; i.e. working for society as a whole rather than for a lobby group or a pressure group. They might even have to cooperate between party lines (scary thought!), and my feeling is that they would command more respect if they did.

Governance has probably always been a sort of balancing act, although it’s maybe more so today than previously. The calculation governments seems to be making is between the balance of gain and pain; i.e. how much gain can we get, and how much pain can we tolerate? Media is one factor in this. Although they do a great service in scrutinising politics, they thrive on sensationalism, and thus they are eager to create controversies where there is none. Often politics feels like a tennis match between politicians and the media, and so the general public become reduced to mere spectators to this fascinating game. No wonder people have lost interest.

So creating small community groups that can decide how the playgrounds can look like and where they should be can be of some use, but it will not solve the issue of public apathy for politics in general. For change to happen we need to think anew. Sorry, there are no shortcuts…

Sunday, June 26, 2005

A bit busy...

I will start to write soon... I’m just a bit busy right now, trying to finish my essay on secularization in eighteenth century Europe. It’s a subject matter that I love (religion and politics) but I find it a bit hard right now to organise my thoughts into a structured essay. The name of the blog is abhyasena, which is ‘by practise’ in Sanskrit. It’s a word that appears in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, where Krishna instructs Arjuna about the process of yoga. Arjuna finds the process hard, because it is hard to control the mind, but Krishna encourages him that it’s possible by suitable practise and by detachment. Both are my challenges right now, because I get ‘very interesting and good ideas’ that does not relate to my task of writing, and cleaning and gardening seems increasingly noble acts at the moment. Anything to distract me from writing.
Then comes the point of detachment… Can I accept to write an ok essay, or does it have to be ‘brilliant’? I of course want to do a good job, but at what point does it become an ego issue? Some speak about the Pareto principle, which has been interpreted in various ways. One of them would be that we use 20% of our energy to produce 80% result, and 80% to finish the last 20%. From that point of view we would use our energy better by being satisfied with an 80% result. However, in the grand scheme of things, an essay is not the most important thing in the world, neither is it the end of it. And from a spiritual point of view, perfection is only a concept that relates to God. I’m of course also perfect, because the soul is part of Him, but I’m tiny. A perfectly tiny being…