This is the first chapter of the story. My challenge is to develop the character of this individual, the friend, as someone I wish to talk with, and the discussion may sometimes become quite abstract.
Please feel free to comment.
This is a story about someone I knew, in a village in a country not far away.
The village was not very different from anything that one may imagine, not too big, the usual establishments; a town-hall, a community-center, some restaurants, a library and other places one soon begins to expect, where people live together as a community.
A road ran through it, coming from a city close by and went on to the next village and beyond. I would often be at a bus-stop right off this road whenever I had to go to the next village to do some chore, or to the city for one reason or another.
Across from this bus-stop was a restaurant. I never went in, but they had a few tables outside too and when the weather was not too cold, people would be sitting outside. The bus came a little erratically, or just my own synchroniztion to its times was erratic, or maybe I did not mind waiting. I often found myself there with sometimes, 10 or 15 minutes before the next bus.
I wonder if you've been in that situation, you know, just being able to sit somewhere comfortably and watch some things without really wanting to, but because it is happening. That is the way it was with me, and waiting for this bus I became quite familiar with the restaurant across; its atmosphere.
Now, my own situation was definitely singular, or it certainly appeared that way to me. I had been in this village two years, and was a foreigner. But I had been a foreigner for a long time now, having left my native land more than a decade ago. In the country I had lived before moving to the present one, I had not had happy experiences. My memories of them were tinged with some pain and suffering; consequently I was reserved and did not find it easy to develop a relationship or go where I would be among too many people.
All of this held me back as I would wait for my bus, my mind regarding this familiar and warm place across the street.
Two years is a very long time without having a person to communicate with, a friendly person who lets you just speak your mind, so you may get past the initial pointless things and begin to say things from your heart, whatever. So this press of feeling was mounting within and I would watch the people sitting and chatting, and ofcourse they would sometimes notice me looking that way, would look away politely, or just towards me, friendly like, a question as though on their face, did I want to say something?
Then it was, one day that I went inside. You can imagine I was apprehensive. For many reasons, mostly imagined ones, ofcourse.
I had prepared myself for this visit. Had taken a little care to be neatly dressed, not too much, because I also wanted to be comfortable too. I was looking for a feeling of being at home, with the surroundings and the other patrons of the restaurant. I had this little foreknowledge about the customs of the place. In this country, it was customary that you were never hurried along. You did not go to a restaurant to have a meal, you went to become a part of the ambience. It was a respectful attitude towards human character, I thought, this idea.
Walking into an unfamiliar place for the first time is a little like entering a pool, almost. You feel its environment with your senses, your mind, in a rush. You look around for a place, not to push yourself onto someone else's space, just where you find yourself welcome.
Then you're sitting down, putting your coat on the back of your chair. You've brought along a paper to go through while you'll be sitting. It helps to keep from causing some discomfort to others, when they might otherwise see you alone and wonder if you needed some help of any sort, or company?
I remember my first few visits to this restaurant were quite as this, until a pattern sort of developed and people were smiling with a little familiarity when I'd walk in.
Many readers might have started to wonder, how was it that I was even doing this. You think, this is not about you. I accept, my story is different.
It was here that I found one of my best friends. She worked at this place, or maybe owned it. I did not know and never felt the necessity to know about that particular fact about her. The other thing I never knew about her, was her age. I cannot say, if she was thirty, as I once started to think, or much older. I was a foreigner, and this is difficult to say sometimes, even for someone who lives in the place.
'We have this place here', she said, 'and as you can see, people come by and can sit as long as they wish.'
'Feel yourself at home,' she continued ' so, do you live in our village?'.
' Oh yes', I answered. ' I've been living here since two years now. It's a lovely place'.
'Yes. I've seen you, you're familiar somehow. But, you've not come here to this restaurant before, have you?', she asked.
'No. I often wanted to. You've probably noticed me, waiting for the bus across the street.' I said.
And this was the early conversation we had.
Gradually I started to feel myself becoming a part of this place. A gentle smile in greeting always met me when I'd walk in. I'd find a place to sit, pull out my paper, and drink my coffee, which I really started to like the way it was made here.
'You look very young to be leading a retired life.' she remarked one day to me.
' Yes. Life's like that.' This is something I do not have an easy explaination for, how my circumstances, combined with a way I wished to live, brought it about to be in this way.
'So, what keeps you going?' her query was gentle.
'I'm too philosophical, I guess,', I said.
'Too philosophical to work?' she was asking with a genuine interest now.
'Why? Don't you believe that possible?' I asked her in mock reproach.
There's a chasm here, a small one, which opens up. We're talking across different cultures but wondering at the same time, of the individual, his capability. Is everything alright with him.
On the other hand, from the view point of the western side, depending upon your mindset, you may regard this with some curiosity, whether this is tenable at all. This idea of living with a purpose where ostensibly there isn't any. How does it all work out? The dependence on others, the empty hours?
'I do not believe in keeping hours, the necessity of having to do it in a rigid fashion, anything.' I was speaking a little tentatively. I did not wish to make her feel awkward for having caught me with a awkward question. To me it isn't an awkward question at all.
'I found if I did not worry, in a material way, of how I might find the means to manage my life, my living takes care of itself. It's not that I'm irresponsible, I have done and will continue to do, whatever necessary to help others in my family do their things. Their studies, their work, and in return I lead my life free from the bindings of time. As they seem to me.'I continued.
'You must spend a lot of time thinking,' she remarked.
'Yes, I do.' I wasn't going to say too much more, at this time.
'It's not like an effort. Not like work.' I said making a joke. ' It's more about setting something in motion, you know, how I set my life going in this way. Then I am just looking at how the things are playing out, for me, and in general'.
As though life is a gigantic mechanism, and the only way to understand it is to pull yourself out of it, so you can watch. I walked away a little in thoughtful. Something had begun here too. This friendship.
Chapter - II
You know me a bit now and I want to tell you that you're probably not so different. These thoughts I live with, questions some may call them, are in each of our minds. Only our external lives may differ.
I mentioned how I was carrying some memories of pain. Pain that I had felt as prejudice against foreigners. I admit the scars were deep and I hurt in instinctive reaction. I love human company, it nurtures my spirit. I wish others to take from my presence all that I can take from theirs. What happened with me was a betrayal of one human to another.
I sought a revival of this faith in people. That, it is natural when we come across each other, we smile in genuine feeling.
Good deeds in my past perhaps, lifted me from my misery into a healing environment of our village and its environments.
The house that we found to live in was one of a small cluster of four houses which had belonged to a single family. There were fields on two sides and beyond one could see the famous mountain ranges of Europe. I would go out for a walk and soon be out of the village. A wide trail started there and took me through a bower of tall trees with a stream running alongside. The trail went over a small bridge over the stream a little further down, and the water coming through, flowed into a shallow width in its path before continuing on.
I'd come into the open then, fields stretching before me rising gently. A few miles further away the mountains began. You could follow up this path, cut across the field and you'd be on a narrow road. Walk along this road a bit, and then looking towards the mountains, you see one of the most beautiful sights that man and nature came together in a harmony to create.
A small highway ran across the middle distance before the hills started. It was never too busy. The occasional bright trailer trucks, a few cars and maybe a motorcycle or two. You would see that across, from left to the right. A small village road climbed up from where you were standing, winding a little and met this highway, and then continued on the other side and to some greenery beyond.
Plowed fields were on both sides, and rolls of grass lay scattered sometimes in them. I think they changed crops here, three or four times a year. I thought at first I might be doing something wrong, walking through the fields. But in tribute to these people, I never did feel the slightest reproach from anyone doing this. Maybe I was just worrying too much and they just couldn't care less.
Thoughts lay somewhere and I could feel they were around. When you're alone like this you do not realize which of them occupies your mind. I must have been trying to make some sense of what was happening. The large picture. The three countries I was associated with, so different. I was trying to see how this passing through for me is teaching me something about life, and maybe of human existence.
Where does this dichotomy begin? The different worlds of eastern and western thought?
I had lived my entire life in India and the last ten years in the United States near its capital. The inner worlds, as much as the external, could not have been more different. For whatever reason when people saw I was not prepared to look at life in their particular way, they decided to make it happen as though by force. In my belief something absolute holds the world and our existence together. You do not make that choice arbitrarily, you've seen this is how it is, and accept it as natural.
People who differ from you in this idea can be driven to an extreme. An almost inhuman reaction, pressing upon you that everything can only be as you yourself make it. Let alone civility, rationality is sacrificed as well, forcing you to accept that yours has been until then, a backward existence.
I was alone now and these altercations were reviving in me. I began to hear arguments in my mind, countering those I had had to submit to earlier. Never had I expected such a monstrous struggle. I was discovering a new voice within; for it's when an idea is put in language that it really comes into existence.
I wanted someone civilized to discuss this with, to speak with of things from my perspective. Essential to this discussion would be that the language be used in a fair fashion. When I bring up ideas they are in their nascent form, as I imbibed them, expressed in language of my culture. I wish to extend these to some concepts of current western thinking, those which contradict them.
My friend Sarah at the restaurant was an American. She had been living in Europe since a few years now. She had a great sensibility of that area and good deal of respect for the local culture. On the other hand having been educated in southern US, she still thought as an American or at least understood that thinking very well. She was, as I thought, perfectly of a western culture.
I left her some essays once I had written earlier. In these I tried to express commonplace life from an eastern perspective, but in a western idiom, as far as I could succeed in doing that.
'You've raised some interesting philosophical issues and have a unique writing style! You don't say what class this is for; ordinarily that might not matter, but in this case the answer to that does have some bearing on my comments. If, for example, you are writing this for a philosophy class, it is probably very much on point. The same is true if it is meant to be a sort of experimental style of writing. If, however, you will be graded on the usual things such as a strong thesis, arguments which support that thesis, and a conclusion based on the evidence you've presented--and proper punctuation--you may find your instructor will not be kind in grading your work.'
'I really like the tone of your writing; it reminds me of the tranquility of a Japanese watercolor landscape. I just hope that your unique style is acceptable to your instructor!'
These were her comments on my first essay. I called it 'what is work'. She thought they were a class assignment. This was a comfortable arrangement. She would try to get to my meaning and as I learnt from her how to express myself more correctly, I could speak with her of things which interested me.
The next essay was ' the persistence of external reality'. She pointed to some technical shortcomings and then added.
'Another interesting essay! You create some interesting images such as the "turn in our beds" and the "chain around our ankle."
I may not understand every point you make in your essay, but I nonetheless enjoy the artistic way you express yourself.'
'Thank you Sarah,' I said to her with genuine gratitude, 'for the welcome and the encouragement in your remarks on the essays. As long as you are willing to suffer my writing, I'll keep on showing them to you.
I am really happy to be here.' .. with you, I added to myself.
'I'm glad to hear it! I don't anticipate any "suffering" will be involved' she said, with a mischievous wink. 'The world needs more deep thinkers, so keep up the good work!'
The last piece was called, ' how we evolve'. I think she was genuinely taken by what she attributed then, as my style.
'I really like this one! I was actually able to follow your chain of thought throughout the whole piece, which I couldn't always do in the previous ones. That's not necessarily a criticism; sometimes I can't follow Aristotle's line of reasoning, either.' There was the wink again.
'I absolutely love this: "think of ourselves as intrinsically all-knowing and covered in a layer of ignorance, which is removed through experience and learning." That's an excellent description of the way we learn over our lifetimes! It reminds me of Maya Angelou's "when I knew better, I did better," but hers is a practical description while yours is an artistic metaphor'. She said smilingly.
I felt myself rolling now and the start of a deep and meaningful connection with her. She did understand things in the way I saw and was able to express them.
I wanted to give her another essay, containing a deeper conviction of an idea and quite out of the ordinary way of thinking. I had felt a sublime sense as I wrote it, putting down the thought as though, it wasn't mine. I myself wished to know more of it and felt its importance to this entire struggle I was in.
'This next essay, I dedicate to you,' I told Sarah.
She wasn't expecting that at all I think.
'Good thing, no one can see me blush.' She remarked. Her words touching me with their gentleness and feeling.
The concept I wanted to put across was not difficult and neither abstract. The difficulty was in our having looked at the world so much in a particular way that this way of looking at events just appears hard to do.
Yet this is really all there is to it. You have to start putting things in this order and the rest comes out on its own. And thats the whole issue. We are pulled to the old way of looking at things even though it reduces us to the nature of the objects.
Here are the main points of difference. Life is happening with us all. At all times. Something is happening with you, ignore this particular action of reading, but other than that, regard a while some things occuping your mind. The paradigm here is that, it is so, and just so because beyond you, there exists an intelligence which is working upon some residual with which you identify as your identity.
You are powerless to act at all. You refute that immediately, but the point is that the motive to act as you planned to do right now is mere consequence. In that sense everything is predictable. Our great difficulty in accepting this as a truer way of thinking is merely because we cannot get hold of this residual which we consider our identity. And that is because it is our mind itself. We, as we are, see it as our mind. See there is no seeing here.
So it is about accepting an intelligence at work and all the world as you experience it, merely its own actions. You feel yourself independent to make decisions, and then you see those decisions become actions, but there is another way to see that. Every action you percieve, yours or otherwise has a silmutaneous reflection in a subtler realm, we do see that, because we apprehend that world with our mind. So what you think as your decision to act was this thought forming in the mental space, whatever exists as you grabbed it, the action followed and you thought it is of your making.
Can we then just sit back and do nothing? That would be ideal only be prepared to not do anything at all then. When you decide not to do anything, something that will happen as consequence you can already see. What you do not see is that you truly exist, past that residual which works its way into the world. It will take your breath away, literally, as the you that is beyond the one you're identifying with begins to emerge. But then thats what its all about.
So here it is the entire explaination, and the 'other' view-point of the world.
I think for someone not familiar with this way of thinking, the most disturbing aspect would be to accept that there is an intelligence working upon us and we are not that ourselves. We pride ourselves most in our intelligence.
But did you notice, another 'you' lies as though veiled by this sense of yourself, the 'residual', you normally identify with. The other 'you' - you will see acting intelligently and have no issue with, in its actions and suggestions at all.
Given this theory, I would be interested in working away the 'residual - identity' if for no other reason, but to discover and experience what does lie beyond it.
With that as the focus, can we look for experiences in the past when we have felt ourselves as though surging ahead? Can we recognize anything such as this happening with us then - a diminished sense of ourselves, our sense of individualness. And further can we make a change of this kind more directly if we wished to?
The first of these is the experience of letting go. When something new has come up in our circumstances and we have let ourselves go. Has the outcome been better than we expected, always? One need not examine this for weakness of logic, but only as it applies in one's own experience. At this time we are looking at things at a level which is at par with the foundations of logic itself.
When we do not let go, we're held back for the wrong reasons. Again logically, this does not appear to stand to analysis, but we're talking more of examining the situation bereft of 'what-ifs'.
There are many reasons to not allow a sixteen year old to take a long trip independently. I talk of this example as this is 'the' one before me. I am allowing her to let her experience the reality and to let myself experience it. The reason for my accepting it most is, that it has come about in a natural way, therefore I need to see it as it is 'for' me, and it is 'for' her.
Going further, can I also allow more to happen than I would in a normal situation, just to push the envelope? My intention then would be to retard the growth of my identity further where it extends itself to view everything from its own viewpoint. How do I push it back?
Let others do their will. Give in to other's desires.
I can let someone else have their way in a queue we're both waiting in. At most I may be considered polite, which is a nice feeling, and earn others respect which is also nice; but we're searching for something else, an experiencing for ourselves. Does that happen? And, would you know?
Since its out there and different for each of us, this part is beyond my describing. It may only be experienced, then validated.
Here's the hypothesis we're testing. There is an intelligence out there which is the only one at work. To test it's existence, we are going to look for those circumstances which develop in our lives naturally and let them extend us, gradually. Also, to work more directly upon our residual- identities, we're going to let others have their way over us. When that hurts it's OK, for a time, and to the extent we know we can bear.
We develop a focus in doing this. Then, can we measure a positive growth in ourselves far greater than we have normally, and in any aspect we may wish to see that in? It should be reflected in what we hear from others.
The other measure of our positive progress would be that, since we've let more happen with us, the residual has worked away more rapidly, and consequently, life in its purpose moves forward for us. Things are happening in a way which people normally say as being beyond anyone's capacity to plan, yet they are happening with you and are increasingly of an amicable nature.
It should be quite obvious that this entire experiencing takes place over some extent of time. One could measure that either against a clock, so say in days, weeks and months, or one could look at events and their sequences. That is, you work with each and every sequence in this way, or at least as many as you can, and begin to notice how they change for you. You can in this case disregard looking at time, which is an artificial construct anyway.
The essay I gave Sarah was called ' an altogether different way of understanding how we make observations'.
The idea is similar as in the above chapters - that the world in reality acts upon our mind and our perceptions of its events follow.
Reading it, Sarah had to decide whether to take what I was saying seriously, or humor me. And I wished to know what someone with no exposure to eastern ideas, really thought of them. Americans are famously pragmatic.
She broached the seemingly upside-down content, at first, as though I meant it metaphorically. I insisted otherwise.
S: The question that comes to me is, if it is the person who is perceiving the event who is "the real cause for something happening" what of things which happen, unobserved? It's the age-old question of "if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" If the answer is that if no one is there to observe it, it didn't happen, that I could not agree with. But certainly, I can see that our observation changes the way we perceive. Am I missing the point entirely?
R: I am missing the contradiction you imply- Ofcourse, things happen unobserved, they are progressing to events, which may or may not concern us. Yes, the tree makes a sound, and it can be recorded as proof.
S :I agree with you; I was just trying to understand when you referred to the "experiencing person" as "the real cause for something happening." To me, that implies that, without the person who is experiencing it, it does not happen. However, I see that there is more than one way to interpret the phrase.
R: I do imply it as you say it - without the person who is experiencing it, it does not happen. I am saying, I don't get how this is contradicted when things happen unobserved or the question, did the falling tree make a sound when no one was around. I do in a sense get it, but if you say it, I may better be able to state the position of my own statement on it.
If, what I am saying is true, it is quite a staggering statement, is it not - that the experiencing person is the real cause of events. Ofcourse you realize it is not my original hypothesis. I am sorry I am not expressing the importance I feel this subject has for me, and for some others too, well enough.
S: No need to apologize! I think we all grapple with these ideas and must find our way through the sometimes clouded haze of understanding to reach a clear expression of thought.
To me, it is a contradiction to say that the event does not happen without the person who experiences it, and yet the tree does make a sound falling in the forest even with no one there to hear it. How did the tree make a sound, then, or even fall, for that matter, if there was no one there to experience it? Is it that the tree experiences it? I am confused.
I attempted to give an explaination, feeling for the meaning I was striving to express. It was as much for myself, and it was a tough going.
S: I'm going to be really honest here and say...I'm not sure what you're getting at here. I feel as if I have lost the thread of what you were talking about in the first place that you keep referring back to. Your last paragraph is particularly puzzling to me.
R: If we understand all existence to be in four layers, where the lowest is the things we interact with and the highest is where we are able to think and reason. Everything happening has a manifestation in each of these layers. When we try to express what constitutes the highest layer, we cannot. But that is where we are reaching to, for our understanding of things. When we understand something, we really see its picture there. So, everything is explained in that highest layer, but its totally formless, and ..
If this is bringing some clarity, I will continue.
S: Yes! Putting things in terms of an image which can be visualized is always helpful. That is why simile and metaphor add so much to writing, I think. So, tell me more about the layers. What are the other two? And where did this concept of layers come from? Is this your own concept, or one which comes from a religious philosophy, or somewhere else?
R: There is a text in Indian philosophy called, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Like many things belonging to the past of India, there is some uncertainty about when this was composed, though likely, 500 BC or so. Patanjali too, may be more than one person, and Sutras, means aphorisms, which these originally are, but extensive commentary has been added with each aphorism.
This is the theoretical basis of Yoga, and if you have heard of Yogis having extra-ordinary abilities, then the basis of their practice leading to those abilities was based on the direction in these.
I am usually reluctant to reveal them as the source of where I am arguing from, because I do not wish the person to become so awed that the discussion is not rational anymore. And then, of what significance will be any conclusion if we cannot derive them from experiences in our lives now. Of course one may think these are anachronistic perhaps, but the matter is so deep, that time itself is but a principle to be understood within its framework.
S: Thank you for your explanation. I take your point about not necessarily wanting to reveal the source, but to me, in this case, it makes it all the more interesting. I suppose when discussing timeless truths, anachronisms...well, aren't.
There is a line one must walk, between expressing things as they come from within, and saying them in a way which is likely to be understood by the reader--meaning, perhaps, being more literal than feels natural. Or do I mean "literal"? At any rate, I think attempting to bridge the divide is often a good choice; if we lose something in the expression, at least we did not lose everything, from the viewpoint of the person reading it.
R: In the second layer of existence are the senses, together with what they connect to in the natural world; and we, as we know ourselves are in the third. Not just ourselves, but all we interact with begins at this layer, that is why the close connection with causes, of things happening as they concern us. Space is part of manifestation of nature, co-existing alongside us, upto the third level. In this sense plurality, as seperation between things, happens as they are expressed in the lower levels.
Events have a pre-determined flow, we live with them in our minds, and when we wish to see connections, we can by reaching in. Else our easy, normal awareness is in the third level of existence, not straining too much.
S: Now I am confused again...above, you said, "the lowest [level] is the things we interact with" but now you are saying "we, as we know ourselves are in the third. Not just ourselves, but all we interact with begins at this layer"; so, are the things we interact with at the lowest level, or at the third level?
See what happens when you engage in a philosophical discussion with someone with a legal background? You get cross-examined!
R: I like this fact of your legal background.
I think, why the explanation I gave above is most difficult to accept, is not letting go of the concept of Space as we have in our mind. Yet if you move to an inner sense of yourself, right now, it is as much possible to think of everything you see outside, as manufactured for you by your senses; in the process as you perceive them.
Something else, appears as space. Our particular understanding of space, as we know it, is a result of our mind reacting with that element. This higher level element sitting alongside our mind, is the primary cause of space. We only see it as we do, on the outside. The concept of "alongside" as much depends on the concept of space, but we can still think of the higher constituent of space as having a relationship with our mind.
At least as it happened with me, getting past this particular barrier did most in terms of accepting this theory. Where is the edge of the universe?
S: If, as scientists think, the universe is continuously expanding, and therefore infinite, then the universe has no more of a physical edge than it does a mental one--perhaps even less of one, depending on how expansive one's mind is. Which seems rather appropriate, doesn't it?
R: But which determines the other's limit?
Are you saying that our capacity to think out enough will fix the real size of the universe. That isn't how scientists would approach something - they accept a complexity in something as given and study it to determine more they can about it.
S: No, that's not what I meant--now it is you who is being too literal! :-)) I was saying that some people are incapable of contemplating the infinite; so, for those people, the universe would (only to them) be a smaller place than it actually, physically, is. If we "think of the higher constituent of space as having a relationship with our mind" then our mind sets the limits for our own perception of the the universe, does it not? Which is only a perception and has no effect on what the universe does...as far as we know.
R: Contemplating the infinite should yield us something of worth else it would be
considered an exercise in futility.
I really like the way you are saying what I want to too, but in another way. Yes, I am being more literal and want to take it even further, because I wish to assert that it is literally so. The higher element is not an abstraction of space or infinity, as one may believe, and as I can gather from your statement. Unless you have actually read any text on this subject, nowhere else in world literature has this 'higher constituent of space' been defined. It is as concrete as the real things around us, the point being, it is even more so.
This is really the break one has to make with the past way of thinking about our surrounding reality. And, do you?
S: I think I would benefit from a definition of 'higher constituent of space' before I can answer that. I'm still a little confused.
R: We are talking about the third level of existence.
Other than this, 'higher constituent of space' , existing at the same level are the higher constituents of other nature's elements, of earth, water, air and fire. There is one another, very significant, call it of ego-sense. This last, imparts to each of us our sense of individuality - but of note is, that the existence-play doesn't end even for us with the understanding of this one alone. We are yet connected to the reality in the fourth level, the one which as an un-differentiated 'cause itself' makes everything happen.
Thank you for persisting so long in your efforts to unravel all of this. I really do mean that.
S: You're welcome, and thank you!
What I felt certain when we finished with this conversation was that Sarah had followed up her own thoughts, said nothing out of the ordinary but still had somehow opened her mind to something altogether different.
Work, Science( or study) and Money are the things of importance in Western life. The holy trinity.
Ask a teacher, what she would say of 'faith', and she might say a little ambiguously -- " its good to have, if you wish. If it strengthens you. But to believe that something happened with you, or something changed in what you were doing on account of your faith -- that I will have difficulty accepting". She fears you may think were you to have more faith, you would have achieved more. And she doesn't wish to encourage that. In her mind, faith is like a force with some part - intelligence.
She holds back herself from admitting that she brings anything to her work which may be recognized as faith.
Those of us who worship know there is little else one can do, but recall to mind some matters which may be troubling us. As if to share with someone not visible, but nevertheless present to us then.
We were discussing some essays again, I called them 'Eastern thought - an introduction in three parts.'
S: This is a way of thinking which is probably completely new to the majority of Americans. I found this of particular interest: "The next, contentment, is opposed to values in America, but may be acceptable in Europe." (I added a comma after "contentment.") I had not thought of it in those terms before, but it's true: American culture is geared more towards never being satisfied with what you have so that you'll keep striving for more. This leads to a general feeling of dissatisfaction with oneself and one's life, without really understanding why.
I'll look forward to reading more!
R: I wrote these pieces last year to help my daughter appreciate this side of her background, when she started studying 'Theory of Knowledge' at school. I suggested she could make a presentation of this material to her class, but her teacher found it more religious than philosophical. I wonder if you feel so too.
S: While I see it as a mix of religion and philosophy, I can understand her teacher's viewpoint. Passages such as these: "Karma is fascinating as it seems to go beyond our normal realm to our earlier lives" which require a belief in reincarnation cannot be seen as only philosophical. There is much here that must be accepted on faith, in order to derive its benefit. Nonetheless, it is an interesting view into a totally different way of looking at life, from that of non-Indian cultures.
R: If I may ask then -- what do you think about karma?
As an example - during his younger years a man living in some neighborhood, spends much time building a farm. He has to leave later without finishing to take up something elsewhere. On his return to the old town after many years he starts work on his farm again, almost as he left it. The people he bought supplies from, though different now have no problems working again with him. The produce of his farm too he sees he can find buyers for, amongst the same group that would have bought from him earlier ... so, everything takes on from where he left it.
But now, in a manner of speaking, we move closer to what he did during his earlier days. With every project, constructing a fence, or clearing the land to build a barn upon, when negotiating with the supplier of his material, did he look for ways to take more than store-keeper would have given him happily? Did he perhaps wait for the time when the store-keeper would be away from his shop, and he would be able to take advantage of the wife or his son, who were not so business savvy? Or for clearing the land for his barn, did he perhaps not care that what he threw was messing a stream flowing by his land.
If no one is the wiser about his actions, we may remark, simply, he's earned bad karma. But, what is the implication of this remark!
S: I think the idea of karma (the second type you speak of), whether it is called by that name or not, is gaining in universal recognition. It can be seen in a phrase which is now popular here in America: "What goes around, come around." While karma may not always be as "instant" as the sort John Lennon wrote about, it does seem apparent that actions have consequences, and bad actions will, eventually, have bad consequences. The idea is certainly ancient: from this, that; you reap what you sow, etc. Those are variations of the same theme. Is it because of some cosmic moral law, directed by some unseen spiritual force? Or perhaps merely the logical progression of physics? Therein lies the basis for philosophical--and religious--debate.
R: The point of the story is that, it's the man's intentions which form our picture about him. Its one thing that the people in the town have this impression about him and perhaps, will not be helpful to him. But its quite another thing to say that his circumstances will be so arranged, that its not because of what the people don't do for him that his life is difficult, but his circumstances themselves, as though showing a mind of their own, wish to taunt him for just the excesses of behavior he showed during his previous years spent there.
If the second explanation, the one about nature having its own mind, seems only an enchanting story - so would it be, if two men were standing together watching a cannon firing. If one of these men, knew Newton's laws and predicted where the ball would land, would not the other man be equally struck with wonder? Even without bothering to bring up the equations in our mind, or the factors that need be known to arrive at the result, the mass of the ball, the initial velocity.., we put our faith for explaining all of nature's phenomenon so much in physics, that when we do not have a ready answer we still feel safer believing in physics than any other way of understanding.
S: I think we are saying the same thing about karma, in actuality. I agree that there seem to be forces beyond simple interactions with others at work. There is a theory that is gaining popularity these days which says that we attract the kind of energy we put out; if we do negative things, we attract negative energy, and bad things happen to us. The author of a recent book calls it "The Secret." It is not new, though. This idea has many forms of expression; would you agree that karma is one of them?
R: Would you be willing to agree that Newton's laws are the same as the action of Karma?
S: No, I would not agree that Newton's laws are the same as the action of Karma. Newton's laws are demonstrable, repeatable, with predictable results, in a laboratory setting. They demonstrate what we call "facts." i.e., something which can be replicated and proven through scientific method. Karma is much less predictable, wouldn't you agree? Now, it may well be as certain; but can you replicate it in a laboratory? I don't think so. That is why karma belongs in the realm of philosophy or religion, rather than science--in my opinion. I am keenly aware that reasonable minds may differ. :-)
R: Karmas are the reaction of an insentient nature working within its own laws. These laws, we have called the causal realm, are the fourth level of existence. They, i.e. karmas, of course include our ego-sense, and therefore us from the third.
Newton's laws of motion are an insight into nature's laws as they apply to inert bodies, mass and their motion.
Thank you Sarah, I have learnt much in these discussions with you. But there is much, much further I have to go, I only hope I am never lost and without a direction to take.
S: I have a feeling that won't be a problem for you; you seem very focused to me.
Discussion on the essay ' How we may cause natural events to occur '.
S: I find this essay easier to follow; whatever you're doing, it's working. ;-)). However, I do have a question with this underlying assumption: "thoughts relating to an event only seem to be ours, in reality they belong to the event." I suppose my reaction to this is, "how do you know? How can you say that my thoughts are not mine; what is your evidence to this effect?" (there's a legal term creeping in ;-)).
I suppose one could put it this way: how did you get from point A to point B?
R: The answer to your question would be along the lines of our earlier discussion in the 'observations' essay. Whatever we percieve as thoughts, their objective part, that is also their real part, is of the nature of the 'higher constituents' of nature's elements. We accompany the thought only with our ego-sense, which too exists at that same level.
The experience of seeing our thoughts as such is the revealing of the reality.
S: It seems it is not possible to discuss things of this nature without making some underlying assumptions--for example, defining the "higher constituents of nature's elements." One must be willing to accept that things are a certain way, and not another, in order to even begin the learning process; would you agree? And by "things" I am referring to things which cannot be seen or proven by scientific inquiry. So...does that not make them faith-based?
R: I have the same questions with this philosophy and think the way forward as following through to where it is that it takes us further, that is, to abilities beyond the limitations we normally consider ourselves as having. As example, we cannot now say with absolute certainty what's on another person's mind, or to exactly know which events are going to happen with us next and will significantly impact the course our lives will take.
The text itself advises to not consider these as an objective of the study or practice, because of all the involvement and turbulence it would create in the life of the person having them - like the present day 'celebrity-status' . On the other hand, I find no other method to prove that the parts, or 'assumptions' as you call them, leading to the results are in fact correct, unless one can experience these extraordinary results.
S: ...and that's an interesting point you make: "unless one can experience these extraordinary results." Have we not all experienced something that could not be explained by science alone? I know I have. Does it mean I have "psychic abilities"? No, not at all. I suppose that is one explanation; another would be that I was using my ordinary five senses, or some of them, and discerned something with them that I did not realize. For example, a favorite pet of mine ran away; the next day, I "heard" a voice (in my head--that is, my own thoughts) say "Go open the front door and let [the pet] in." And there she was, on the front porch, happily waiting for me. Perhaps she made a sound I did not think I heard; perhaps she was communicating with me in some way science cannot yet measure. The possibilities are endless. But because of events like this, I would never say, "If I can't see it, I don't believe in it." :-))
R: The position you take is, and please do correct me if otherwise, that 'things' may exist and we can believe that it is so, but, evidence is required, ie. hard facts alone allow 'things' into the domain of science.
I think I also need to say something about where I am coming from, in this - I should really be saying, where I wish to go to, with this. Well, simply put my case is that the philosophy I have been advocating for in our discussion deserves to be studied, that is, there is merit enough in what we can say about it as of now, and that nothing in our present knowledge allows us to dismiss it. Dismiss it as something unlikely to add to the our understanding of life, and how to better deal with it.
As a concrete objective I would wish something included in the course of 'Theory of Knowledge' which high school students study. Naturally I am asking for a chapter in the text-book which stands on its own, and is not considered only an extension of the chapter on religion.
What would be your opinion?
S: As with most things, it depends how you define your terms! Science can be defined as a systematic study of the physical world as understood through observation and experimentation. Where, then, does that leave, for example, psychology, which involves more than mere chemical or electrical impulses of the brain? We may then want to expand our definition to include the theoretical explanation of phenomena -- a much broader view. I have no problem with including things which are not yet "hard facts" under the penumbra of "science." My only problem is with assuming something to be a "fact" which cannot be proven to be true. Therefore, I would certainly agree that these subjects which are of interest to you deserve study in a "Theory of Knowledge" sort of course. My caveat would be that they cannot be presented as "facts" per se; that is, to say something to the effect of "there are four levels of existence" as if it could be proven in a laboratory, rather than saying "this [name of philosophy, school of thought, or whatever] holds that there are four levels of existence..." This is why there is such heated debate in the U.S. about teaching Darwinian evolution vs. teaching "creationism" or "intelligent design." To the person for whom the Bible contains literal "fact" as they see it, their own views are as meritorious of inclusion in a science class as those which teach Darwinism. But, if we confine our definition of a "fact" to something which can be scientifically proven, without relying on faith, that argument must fail. So, as with so many things, it comes down to the definition.
R: But my point is that there is enough merit in this philosophical system to take its statement -- of the four levels of existence, as a hypothesis worthy of further investigation. How can one arrange for such concerted study, is a question?
In this case, we must keep in mind though that the person doing this investigation will be experimenting on his or her own faculty of observation. This would not be a result that any person can be called in to verify in an instance. Any person who is subsequently involved to verify 'facts' claimed by the experimenter, can only make such observations after he too has been through the process of the experiment. The instruments and objects in this experiment are the experimenter's own senses and his mental faculties. He is able to observe his deeper lying faculties only by a process of stilling his normally agitated behavior of the mind. After that, the 'fact' of the inner faculty is viewable quite objectively.
Still stands to question though that, as the experimenter peers into his own stilled mind will he have an enlarged view of the external world? That would be the third level experience. Deeper still, will he find himself at par with the machinations of the entire universe, at the causal level, the fourth one?
I think it's very intriguing to put this to a proper study and test. Don't you agree?
S: I agree that it is intriguing and that studying it could only prove interesting and useful. Where I depart from your logic is that one can view the inner workings of one's own mind "quite objectively." By their very definition, one's thoughts can never really be said to be "objective." Again, we get into definitions. To look at something "objectively" means "not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; dealing with things external to the mind rather than with thoughts or feelings; belonging to the object of thought rather than to the thinking subject."
Now, having said that, that is a quite different thing from saying that you can show something to be "true." If you "observe" something to be "true," then, for you, it is "true," is it not? I find that a fascinating distinction--that something might be "true" and yet not be a verifiable "fact"!
R: In the normal way, when we close our eyes we think that as the inside, and with them open, is the outside. But the separation is actually between all five senses and the mental faculties; so if we sit with our eyes closed, there is still a connection with the external through the other senses.
But once aware that it is so, we make progress. We gradually bring ourselves to focus on all else, other than the sense inputs. At that time we may realize, it is better to make sure about when and where we are sitting for this effort, and maybe also, how, meaning comfortably. Either way, all results come not only when we are in this practice, but other times as well. Doing other things, we can see we are quite engaged with our activities and yet as though looking upon them. This is not with any effort, but only noticing as happening -- now that we are looking for it, and that is the best practice.
Our mind undergoes the change, of stilling, and it happens over days, at the least, and is perceivable as a change we carry over to even how we attend to our earlier activities.
What are we looking for? -- not a good question.
For we can no longer look, or hear, nor smell, taste or feel; or we can do all of these, but their inputs, their sense has a different meaning for us.
S: OK, I admit--I was following nicely, up until the end. Can you explain more about why it is not a good question?
R: How else would we be objective about what we find there!
If this isn't something we have earlier done, the process of stilling our mind, should we not proceed with as totally an unbiased mind as we can carry, with no notions we can formulate at this time.
S: Ah, yes, I see! If we are not free of preconceptions, it will color our interpretation of what we find--or think we find, as we may, in that case, be thinking we have found something different from what was actually there! Hm...which begs the question, how would we ever know? :-)
R: ... that which we find is actually there?
My attempt to lead our discussion in that direction is the reason for bringing it up in the next essay -- on presence.
S: Lead away!
Discussion on essay ..' A presence in oneself '.
R: I think in the above, the philosophizing really begins with, ' what really exists is me, this presence'.
I can very, very vaguely imagine, my existence, but without this presence. Or put another way, I can sometimes see myself, as though clinging to this sphere of reality within which everything is happening. Because I see nothing else but this, and it does not turn upon me, ie. separate itself from me, I think I have started to think everything I see within as my very own world.
S: I'm afraid the only part of that which I understood is "I think I have started to think everything I see within as my very own world." Sorry to be obtuse...I think it must be difficult to be specific when writing about things which are more, by their very nature, ephemeral, than concrete. :-)
R: Let me make a small change in something I've said above:
And say instead: it happens for this presence, and can happen really in no other way.
Saying it as earlier makes me the person doing it, feeling it... and as this, it shifts the emphasis to, it is happening for reasons I am not even aware of, I'm only carried along.
As of now I think I feel, all the way down to the experience of it, as pleasant, unpleasant, soft, hard - but this is so actually, with my sense of being involved. My hand cuts and bleeds, after the initial intense moments, I can even see it all distantly. If I feel attached by the physical pain, that too can be schooled to appear removed; as people who follow this practice do.
I am more than just grateful to you for staying in this discussion. I am also grateful to have found someone who is representing the other point of view. Usually, it only feels like a blank wall when some things I take for granted, aren't so at all, and I'm left wondering why.
Does it seem incredible that millions live by these ideas? I will be really happy to think that, for this discussion, if you were to visit India sometime, people doing such practices as we have talked about will not bring in you any feelings of revolt.
S: I think it is very good for someone to become acquainted with the ideas and practices of very different cultures; good, not only for that person's individual growth, but also because it contributes to that person's own culture. To increase understanding between nations, religions, philosophical viewpoints and schools of thought, is to add to the knowledge of the world and diminish the likelihood of serious world conflict. That may sound like a grand goal, but I believe it to be true: the more understanding we have for things which are, to us, "foreign," the more willing we are to live and let live, and even derive benefit from this sharing of knowledge.
You write about things which are entirely unknown, I suspect, to the majority of Americans; that is part of why I have trouble understanding what you mean, sometimes. But, it is good for me to try to understand, just as it is good for you, as a writer and philospher, to have to push yourself to be understood. And, I hope, to anyone else reading this discussion, will come a new understanding as well--whether about the content of the philosophical discussion, or just about how better to express ideas in writing, so that the translation from thought to written word becomes clearer. :-)
R: I couldn't agree more with you, and share your hope in finding reconciling world-views among peoples through understanding each others cultures.
Yes, many ideas I have tried to express, may be the first time that people outside India have come across them. Or what is more likely, they may not have seen them connected to a single framework, and may appear pretty strange otherwise.
This concept of presence versus doing-it-ourselves is definitiely one of such.
S: When you use the word "presence" (and forgive me, because I think we've been over this before, but some things require a deeper understanding), how do you define that word, in that context?
And yes, it is not lost on me that the very fact that I must ask the question proves that it is "one of such." ;-))
R: Definitely, to try and conjure up this 'concept' of presence is not likely to succeed. Instead we begin with what we feel is real for us. Maybe things which surround us, or our particular situation, as a mix of troubles and happenings.
If we are more comfortable with a sense of reality in 'things' around us, we cannot ignore that any sense of the real we have, comes to us through our senses. But since we make much more of these same things, inside our heads, (else they would be fragments of data,) we accept the existence of a reality of these same, somewhere beyond our common perception.
It is not so difficult to see ourselves, our identity, there as well; to whom else is all we perceive making sense otherwise? We may try to examine just what is it, what does it really do? But if we ask who is doing the examining, we have to accept that, that too is only the same.
Seems we really can't get away from ourselves.
But if we take our identity as just that and nothing more, that is, it does not actually initiate any action? Is it just the same as choosing not to act?
S: So, are you saying that, by taking our identity as "just that and nothing more" we would be failing to look inside ourselves for deeper understanding? If I may play devil's advocate for a moment, what potential disaster results from choosing not to act? To act, by doing what, exactly? (I ask this as a method of furthering discussion.) :-)
R: I meant "instead" in place of "but" at the start of the last paragraph, making the sentence mean the opposite of as you read it.So, with that meaning, our identity is only a sense of such, and we have a moment before every action, especially with routine actions, when we can consider, if we are just attaching ourselves to this action or is it anything more.
S: ...and, what a difference that might make, if we were to think, before every action! (or would the world move too slowly in that case? Would anything get done? :-))
R: And, if it is only that, then given everything before, and our karmas, things could not have been different from as they are now.
Many who read or otherwise come upon this philosophy, understand it as saying not to act, thereby, making out its message as being of inaction, translated simplistically as lazy.
It would be, I admit, if the person's intent was truly to be indolent. But, quite subtly, if the person was instead, looking, or more correctly seeking, for the spring in his every action, he would only quite mistakenly appear not wishing to act -- on account of his indolence. Don't you think so?
We have reached the end of the philosophy. This last idea we have struggled with of identity, is called Asmita, and was mentioned in "Eastern thought introduction," the earlier topic. It is truly difficult to overcome, if at all. It is poetically portrayed in one Indian epic Ramayana, often read as an allegory of the human struggles to overcome an earthly bondage.
In it, the reality within ourself is an heir-apparent, banished to spend fourteen years in a forest, more perilous in the times of this story. He is accompanied by his wife, insisting to be on his side. She is the tranquility we seek. A brother, representing hot-headed valor, maybe even rationality, joins them.
While in their little abode, when the king-to-be is away, a demon disguised as a sage deceives the brother away from the cottage, and seizing the princess, carries her to his own kingdom. The demon is none other than Asmita we mentioned. Well, gathering together his many energies, most prominently his life-energy, represented in the story as a monkey-leader dwelling in the forest, the king sets out to win back his queen, and succeeds, but after he has vanquished the demon.
My own demons are not conquered. I cannot truthfully take this discussion forward and speak as though with experience of what may lie past this.
S: One may question whether one's demons can ever all be conquered in this life...but to me, the journey is the thing; the quest for knowledge is the sine qua non of our existence. As long as we continue to ask the questions, we are improving, whether we think we have found the answers or not.
All the best!
R: Thank you Sarah. I've enjoyed these discussions with you very much!
S: So have I! Take care!
This is all I wished to put in this story. I will be very happy to hear your comments.
Reading the above, it is apparent that Sarah does not connect to the idea I intend to convey.
She asks me, ' When you use the word "presence" (and forgive me, because I think we've been over this before, but some things require a deeper understanding), how do you define that word, in that context?'
We are quite lost after that. 'But if we take our identity as just that and nothing more, that is, it does not actually initiate any action? Is it just the same as choosing not to act?' I mean 'identity 'as something 'superficial' but Sarah takes it to mean the opposite.
She responds 'So, are you saying that, by taking our identity as "just that and nothing more" we would be failing to look inside ourselves for deeper understanding?
Is that its inherent meaning perhaps, and that is why ? - like an oxymoron?
I say she fails to grasp the meaning as I meant because she still says , we would be failing to look inside ourselves for deeper understanding?.
But there isn't an ourselves ... anymore. Only meaning.
wow! that was amazing! I loved it
Hi, this really is quite an accomplishment! I noticed early on that you write well, and that I might not be able to find many errors, but I'm happy to be ale to help with one small issue:
'Yes. I've seen you, you're familiar somehow. But, you've not come here to this restaurant before, have you?', she asked.
In dialog like this, it is not necessary to have a comma after the question mark. Same thing with an exclamation mark.
And here is another place that can be improved:
It should be quite obvious that this entire experiencing process takes place over some extent of time. One could measure that either against a clock (say, in days, weeks and months) or one could look at events and their sequences.
Hmm..an interesting as well as intriguing story..well done Rajiv.
Thank you Kevin, Summersnow and Arun. I am really happy you read and liked my story !