Thursday, February 20, 2014

Question authority.

Throughout my life i have heard and read this phrase countless times.  Whether it is on a bumper sticker, a t-shirt, in a book, shouted by someone with a raised fist, uttered in jest, or just brought up in normal conversation, it is mostly used by anarchists who “don’t want the man (or system) keepin’ ‘em down”.  Contrary to what some may think, this phrase was not spawned from the punk-rock revolutionaries of the 1980’s.  Many consider one of America’s forefathers, Benjamin Franklin, to be the originator of the term as he is often quoted in saying, “it is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority”.  Although Mr. Franklin was fairly punk in more ways than one, i’m not sure that his intent behind this message was to encourage people to categorically reject authority like the punk counterculture seems to profess.  After all, there is quite a big difference between questioning something and completely rejecting it.

But i am in no position to interpret the intent of this historical figure as, having never met the gentleman, my thoughts on the matter would be mere conjecture.  Fortunately, though, there is no need for speculation in this regard because the actual person who coined the phrase under discussion was Sri Krsna Himself and He is quite clear about what He means by it.

While Lord Krsna was conversing with His dear friend Arjuna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra, He told him: “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.” (Bg 4.34)

So as it turns out, it is quite beneficial to question authority.  Since genuine authorities actually know what they are talking about, they can certainly teach others to advance in their field of expertise providing that the potential student is worthy, qualified and possesses the proper attitude.  Without assimilating these characteristics, the student may find it difficult to advance in knowledge.

Not many educators are eager to cooperate with a student who breaks down their door, demands immediate attention, and questions their teaching methods or qualification.  Some etiquette must be there if one sincerely wishes to learn something, and so our questions should be put forth in a submissive and respectful manner.

We should not, of course, accept every yahoo who claims to be an authority and blindly follow their ramblings and drivel as gospel truth and our life’s mission, but it is certainly necessary for us to accept some authority if we want to effectively increase our understanding.

It is in our best interest to employ good judgment and fair discrimination in choosing our authority.  Our mentor should be noticeably successful in the field in which we desire to achieve success.  If our goal is to become a plumber, we should not approach a surgeon for training (and visa versa).  Although there are no doubt some similarities in these two fields, the techniques are completely different and therefore we can easily understand that choosing our authority requires a bit of intelligence and some initial research on our own part.  Of course the first step is to know what it is that we want to achieve; then we can select a suitable advisor.

We humans have material needs and spiritual needs, so naturally we can have both material teachers and spiritual ones.  We may learn how to fix a car from an expert mechanic, but for our spiritual needs we should approach an expert in spiritual matters.  So if one is looking for the Absolute Truth, beyond this temporary and illusory world, one must approach a guru who is expert in dealing with transcendental subjects.  Although becoming an auto-mechanic may help one provide for one’s material needs (food, clothing and entertainment for oneself and one’s family), there is still a spiritual need that goes unfulfilled if it is not addressed.  

It can easily be understood that spirit is different from matter and that, while the body is composed of material elements, the conscious spark that animates it is eternal and transcendental to the temporary body.  The body requires food and water to function properly, but no amount of material care can satisfy the soul.  An eternal being cannot find true comfort in a temporary place.  So beyond these bodily necessities are spiritual necessities that require attention.

We need answers to questions such as, “Who are we?  Why are we here?  Why are different people born into various favorable and unfavorable situations?  What is the meaning of life?  What happens after the death of the body?”

These questions pertain to the soul and as such are eternal.  Similarly, the answers to these questions generate eternal results.  As we progress in our spiritual understanding, we are placed into more spiritually favorable situations (both in this life and the next).  The more we value these priorities and actively pursue the cultivation of this spiritual knowledge, the quicker we will satisfy our spiritual needs and attain peaceful perfection.

So don’t let the material modes keep ya down!  By all means, be punk… question authority…  just don’t be a jerk about it unless you want to remain a fool.

After all, there is nothing more punk than overthrowing the authority of material nature, which impels us to thoughtlessly consume its mind controlling products while chasing around the illusion of freedom.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Everybody meditates.

i am often approached by friends and colleagues who want me to “teach them how to meditate”.  Usually when they approach me with this request they are panting and ranting due to being majorly stressed out, completely overwhelmed, or just craving some semblance of peace in their otherwise volatile lives.  They have observed me being subjected to similar types of stresses, burdens and chaos that they are afflicted by, but with a relatively more peaceful mind.  Since it is no secret that i meditate, they easily make the connection that meditation is beneficial and so they ask me to train them in this discipline.  Of course, most of these friends would prefer some sort of magical mantra or sitting posture, either of which they could learn quickly and do for five minutes per day or less, but since that is not the way that it works, they generally give up before they start.

The truth is that the essence of meditation does not really reside in merely uttering syllables or in special sitting postures; it resides in the consciousness that drives us to do the things we do.  Although mantras and suitable environments certainly have a positive affect on our consciousness, the essence lies beyond these mechanical things.  And just like anything else in this world, meditation can be either material or spiritual.

For a very brief time in the 90’s i was an awning salesman.  Prior to this job, awnings were not a part of my world-view beyond the simple knowledge that they provide shade.  Although i knew they existed i didn’t really notice them on a daily basis, but when i became an awning salesman i had to learn about my product.  So after much scrutiny of fabric samples, design implementations for special features, and the mechanics of the production and installation process, suddenly i saw awnings everywhere.  Even though i was traveling through the same neighborhoods and cities as before where they never caught my eye, i found myself noticing every single awning around me…  the good ones, the bad ones, the new ones, the ones that were falling off buildings…  i could even recognize just by the design and quality whether an awning was built by the company that i worked for or by someone else.  This is meditation.

There are numerous things around us at all times, but we do not notice all of them.  It is only the things we have assigned some sort of value to (positive or negative) that we notice.  The things we do notice are a result of our having meditated on them.  So everyone is already meditating…  businessmen meditate on money, parents meditate on protecting their children and keeping them under control, hunters meditate on their prey, alcoholics meditate on booze, couture junkies meditate on fashion, etc.

So everyone already knows how to meditate.

The problem is that if peace is truly their goal, these people have not been properly meditating.  As i mentioned earlier, meditation can be either material or spiritual, as always, the determining factor which separates these two is consciousness.  If the goal behind our meditation is to personally gain control over something it implies that we view our self as the center of our own universe.  This is material meditation and can only lead to ultimate frustration since we are unable to truly control anything.  But if our goal is to understand the world as it is with God in the center, then our meditation is spiritual.  It is only when we understand our constitutional position as a part and parcel of the Supreme Lord and therefore live our lives in such a way that we recognize and acknowledge His supreme position that we can attain peace.

Peace comes when we step out of the center…  when we stop trying to control and enjoy.  If one’s goal is to be peaceful while selfishly enjoying or controlling, one will most certainly fail in an extravagantly miserable way.  The harder we try, the bigger we fail.

Peace is attained when we recognize that the actual occupier of the center is much more qualified than we are.  In fact He is the only one who is qualified.  When we stop trying to do God’s job and simply assist Him according to our capacity and His desires, then peace occurs.  A child “waxing” your car with gravel-filled mud is not peaceful, and the world run by our unqualified selves is equally as painful and chaotic.  Even though our intentions in trying to control something beyond our understanding may be noble, the result is that we just keep adding to the real problems.  And even though we are having fun and we think we and doing a terrific job, it is only because we do not understand the consequences of our careless, selfish and misguided action.  And so we keep wiping gravel-filled mud across the Lord’s really nice paint job. 

So the meditation part is easy…  everyone does it.  But until we step out of the center we cannot expect to find a truly peaceful situation.