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Last night i was reading a chapter in Thich Nhat Hanh's The Sun My Heart in which he looked at the notion of interdependence and interpenetration.  He used the analogy of organs in the body, where every organ depends on the blood to sustain it, which in turn depends on other organs like the heart to pump it, the lungs to oxygenate it, the digestive system to add nutrients, liver, kidneys etc to purify it and so on.  Essentially, every organ depended on every other organ, and would not exist without the coordinated functioning of the whole.  Indeed, every cell in the body depended on the whole body, which in turn is composed of all of those cells, so each cell is dependent on all the others. Each contains all the others, not in the sense of physically encompassing them (or even, as i thought of it, holding the DNA code) but in the sense that the existence of each cell implies the existence of the others.  In a similar sense, though on a wider scale, the existence of anything implies the existence of everything else, one could not exist without the others existing, and thus even a speck of dust contains the entire universe.

Trying to get my head around the concept, i looked out the train window and thought about the things i could see.  I looked at a street light above the Eastern Freeway and thought about how its existence depended on the conditions of our civilisation being as they are, in much the same way that my existence did.  In fact, when i thought about all the history of civilisation, mankind, the world, the galaxy and the entire universe that went into making that street light possible, the vast chain of events, causes and conditions that led to that street light being there, without any of which it wouldn't be there, is overwhelmingly identical to the chain of events that led to me being there.  Compared to that shared background, the bits of the universe's history which differ between my back story and the street light's are negligible, so it's reasonable to say that my existence and the street light's existence are fundamentally connected.  My existence implies the street light's existence, the street light's existence implies my existence.  The street light and i contain each other.  We are connected, just as everything is connected. 

But, you say, that's all well and good for the links between myself and a street light a few dozen meters away, products of the same civilisation on the same planet, but what about this cup on my desk and an atom radioactively decaying in some distant galaxy?  How are they linked?  Well, i can only guess that if you go back far enough, at some time and place (or maybe various times and places) the conditions that would eventually lead to that atom decaying in that corner of that galaxy would have coincided here and there with those that would lead to that cup sitting there, and if any were changed, neither the cup nor the atom would be as they are.  Therefore the cup is dependent on the decaying atom, and the decaying atom on the cup.

(The next step in this line of reasoning would appear to be the sticky question of predestination and the awkward issues of free will that come with it, but that can wait for another time).


Mar. 2nd, 2009 09:45 am
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Over the weekend, i was thinking about the concept of karma, in particular the idea that anything that happens to someone is the result of their past actions, in this life or another.  I've never been particularly fond of that belief, partly as it seems somewhat fatalistic, but mostly because it can lend itself to a sort of victim blaming, viewing people as deserving of whatever fortune or misfortune befalls them, and use in justifying things like caste or class systems and other inequities. Thinking about it on the weekend, in light of some other Buddhist ideas like change and non-self, i realised there's a different way of looking at it:

Suppose someone was living with bad health problems resulting from having been a drug addict in his teen years, some 10 or 20 years earlier.  Someone could take the attitude: "He's only got himself to blame, why should i have any sympathy for him?", or they could realise that this is a person dealing with the effects of mistakes made long ago, when he was a different person to who he is now and over which he now has no control.  Similarly, the guy could beat himself up over it, thinking: "This is my fault, i deserve it", or he could just accept that the past is the past and can't be changed, and focus on looking after his health and life now as best he can.  Whatever actions in the past may have caused a person's situation now, that's in the past and can't be changed, so what does it matter?  It's what's happening now and what can be done to shape the future that counts.  If those past actions weren't even in this lifetime, but in some supposed previous existence that no-one even remembers or knows about, how much more does that apply?

I've long thought one key role of religion is to provide a way to make sense of life and the world.  One of the hardest things to make sense of is always the sticky question of why bad things happen to good people.  The karmic model, while not perhaps providing any evidence to believe that there is any rhyme or reason to stuff that happens, at least offers a model that could allow acceptance of a situation as having a reason that makes some sort of sense but ultimately isn't worth dwelling on, as well as providing motivation for taking positive action now for the future.

Personally, i'm still more inclined towards the more straightforward view of cause and effect relationship in this world, where stuff happens for reasons that don't have to have a moral basis or neccesarily result from any action of the person experiencing it, but i can at least see a point to the other view.

* Edit - A post on the Buddhism community this week helped clarify what i was thinking of there.  In response to a discussion on whether there's room for God in Buddhism, someone posted a link to this sutta: 


While it was posted to refute the idea that you can be Buddhist and believe in God, what i can see there is more a discussion of fatalism, through believing that stuff happens either because of karma, God or for no reason at all.  It helped put a finger on what i was thinking above:  If you're a total material atheist, then stuff that happens to you just happens because of physical circumstances and there's no rhyme or reason to be found to make sense of it.  That's okay if you can accept that there's not meant to be any meaning behind events, that sometimes shit just happens, but i can also see how you could think it's all just pointless and nothing really matters in the long run. If you believe that everything happens according to the will of God, then when something awful and senseless happens, you can be left asking why God made that decision.  However much you could rationalise it with "God knows best" humility, some things would have to seem unfathomably cold and cruel.  In both cases, it would be easy to feel powerless and at the mercy of outside forces that can fuck with your life for no understandable reason.  Attributing it to your own past actions, perhaps in some previous life you can't remember, does seem a suspiciously convenient explanation, but it is one theory that both gives a reason for stuff to make sense but also lets you take some control of your destiny - you can't know or change what fate has in store for you because of your past actions, but you can change how you act now and the kind of karmic fruit you'll reap in the future.  As a theoretical model or explanation, which is how i interpret these things, that one at least has some degree of internal consistency and seems to lend itself to a more proactive outlook on life.
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On the weekend i dropped in to the Buddhist centre in Box Hill to put our name down for a meditation class next month.  It's on a Saturday afternoon (clashes with tkd, but i can miss a few classes) and was unusually affordable at $33 for the six week course.  I was pleasantly surprised that Elaine wanted to do it too.

I also had some reservations about it - while i'm interested in Buddhism, i'm not sure it's the path i'm looking for in life, and becoming involved with a Buddhist group even on this level seems like taking a conscious step in that direction.  I also don't know whether it will be anything more involved than what i've been learning from books and the internet and doing at home, or even what kind of meditation it will involve (could be Pureland Amituo chanting for all i know),  Perhaps the main thing, if i think about it, is that it's a Chinese Buddhist centre and i don't know if everybody else is going to be Chinese and we'll feel out of place as the only gwailo newbies.

When i thought about it, though, i realised i was being silly.  I'm always lamenting the lack of new experience in life, forever shuffling between work, taekwondo and home, not meeting new people and doing new things.  If i want to meet and interact with different people (not to mention that romantic notion of trying to be of help to others as well), i have to be out there in the world to do it, not sitting at home reading books. 

I really do think i need to make a conscious effort to put myself out there in the world, to choose to say 'yes' to doing different things when the opportunity presents, especially where it involves interacting with new people.  Even if something does turn out awkward or disappointing, that's still living life, isn't it?


Another thought came to mind as well after that visit.  After i'd dropped in to the centre to register for the classes, i walked back to Box Hill station to head off to taekwondo.  In the mall, the local youth group was doing a lion dance, together with people from that same Buddhist centre collecting money for the bushfire victims.  It was a nice sense of community spirit, and reflected something that i'd read in the book i bought from them on my first visit, to the effect of becoming part of a community leading to more ability to do good deeds.  As i thought about it later, i realised how important a sense of community can be in lending a helping hand.  Where i was feeling helpless in that first week after the bushfires, not knowing what to do other than send money, i know that a lot of the other people who were running around collecting goods and donations for the relief effort were doing so in co-operation with groups of friends.  Looking back on it makes me realise just how important those sorts of social networks are for feeling empowered and useful.  Perhaps that's the key - if you really want to make a difference, you can't do it on your own.  Something else to think about anyway.
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One of the drawbacks with not being religious, in terms of specific belief in a personal, sentient devine being, is the lack of opportunity for prayer. 

Quite a few times lately i've thought that simple ideas like "i'll remember you in my prayers" were quite appealing, as was the basic idea of giving worship and devotion to something holy and pure, and it came up again when Craig had his cancer diagnosis and everyone was asked to pray for him. 

For me, while i have some sort of inclination towards the idea of something mystical or divine behind the universe, the sort of human-like, partial entity that would desire worship or answer prayers never quite rings true to my imagination.  So the questions remains - how do you pray if you don't know who to pray to? 

There's alway meditation, including this* form for someone in tough times, but it's not quite the same thing.  I guess you could always just do it, addressed To Whom It May Concern, as it were (as i did with Craig) but does it even count if you don't really have the notion that there's someone listening?

I can see why the belief in a personal, sentient god has such appeal, but while liking the idea is one thing, just up and deciding to genuinely believe in it is a different matter.


* text under cut for future reference )
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Last week my brother-in-law was rushed to hospital with what turned out to be a large cancerous tumour, which they removed right away, but found had spread to other areas.  In the end the prognosis was that his chances are quite good, but for a while things were looking pretty grim.  In the 24 hours that it took to get a proper answer from the doctors (after a brief "you've got cancer, it's spread, fill you in later"), he'd made his will, told his friends and family and was pretty much resigned to the fact he was dying.

While i was worried about what he and his family were going through and what was going to happen to them, my thoughts also kept coming back to that other question:  What if it was me?  What if i was told i was dying?  How would i feel, what regrets would i have, and what would matter to me aside from those i'd be leaving behind?  One thing really came home to me:  All the things that i occupy so much of my mind and time with, my likes and dislikes, the things i like to do, read, wear or look at, so much of what i think of as 'me' really wouldn't matter, as all of that would in the end be taken away and gone.  There's a lot said about the things you can't take with you, in terms of material wealth and possessions, but i realised that it also applies to things you do as well as the things you have.  Things you do for yourself, the things you enjoy and experiences you have accumulated - when you die you lose all that.  It occurred to me that the only thing you won't lose is what you've given out into the world, as you've already given it away.  All the rest - that's just wallpaper to make this life pleasant while you're living in it, but it's not what counts.  I've had similar ideas before, but this brought it home to me in a way that was much more real and immediate.  (And yes, this is what i most want to change in my own life).

I guess this is why some philosophers and religious people say you should always be mindful of the fact that you could die any day - not because of what could happen in the next life, but to put into perspective what really matters in this one.

So, cliche or not, there's something to think about:  If you were told tomorrow that you were dying, what would really matter to you?

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Confidence.  Decisiveness.  Quick thinking.  No second-guessing, hesitation or self-consciousness. 

These are some of the things i want to gain from martial arts training, areas of weakness to be strengthened and improved.

I should remember these things constantly and look for opportunities to put them into practise.
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(inspired by a couple of comments on my last post)

Who's your role model?

Real, fictional or made up in your head - who do you want to be, wish you could be more like or otherwise draw inspiration from?

A question

Sep. 25th, 2008 09:43 am
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How do you know what you want to do with your life?
darren_stranger: (Default)

Note to self - Must read up more on the Stoics.


Aug. 14th, 2008 03:33 pm
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Humility is critical in order to achieve enlightenment. Humility means "humbleness of mind; lack of pride."  Humility means letting go of our false identifications as "worse than", "not enough", "special" or "better than" anyone else.  Humility is recognizing the open-hearted, perfect beings that we naturally are.  Easier said than done, and cultivating this perspective is a lifetime practice that is very much a part of the path to (enlightenment).  A big part of cultivating this humility is through selfless service.
   - Kim Soo

Courtesy should be apparent in all our actions and words and in all aspects of daily life.  But by courtesy, I do not mean rigid, cold formality.  Courtesy in the truest sense is selfless concern for the welfare and physical and mental comfort of the other person.
   - Mas Oyama

Service is the highest spiritual discipline.  Selfless service alone gives the needed strength and courage to awaken the sleeping humanity in one's heart.
   - Sathya Sai Baba

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.
   - Albert Einstein


Jun. 10th, 2008 09:45 am
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I meant to post about this last week, but never got around to it.  I'd better get something down now before i lose the train of thought completely.

The weekend before last, probably because of my pending birthday, i found myself thinking about how much i'd like to go out to a club or band or similar.  To do something fun and have a social life for a change.  Of course i was dead broke, after the car business and all our utility bills lobbing in at once, so there was fat chance of that.  But the more i thought about it, as i sat around listening to the Ramones while i waited for Elaine to get home, the more restless i got and the more shitty and resentful i became at missing out all the time, and i ended up feeling quite depressed for the whole weekend (and for most of last week, to tell the truth, and maybe even a little still).

It occurred to me that it was another good, if lightweight, example of the principle of desire leading to suffering, as found in Buddhism (and variations on the theme in Hinduism and Taoism).  While i know that the idea in Buddhism is principally about reincarnation and the way desire and attachement keep you locked into the cycle of birth, loss, decay and death over and over, more and more it seems to me that it's quite an applicable principle to the here and now of this life, where clinging to desires and dwelling on things you want for yourself is ultimately a recipe for disappointment and unhappiness. 

Of course, complete selflessness and detachment is probably beyond most of us mere mortals, but it does seem to make sense that shifting the balance a bit more that way ought to help.  It's a hard thing though, to not only sacrifice things you want for yourself, but to give up even wanting those things at all.  I don't know how you would even do that and still have some sort of motivation and something to be enthusiastic for in life.

I'm sure there's an answer in there somewhere, but i've yet to see the wood for the trees.


A thought - if birthdays suck because it makes us focus on what we want for ourselves, then what if that was turned around, with birthdays made a time to do something for someone else?  Worth thinking about.

Edit ii:

On the question of motivation:  http://community.livejournal.com/meditators/73225.html

Read more... )
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Just making a note of some interesting thoughts i've come across lately, taken from a book that a workmate had sitting on his desk, called 'Daily Reflections for Highly Effective People' by Stephen R. Covey.  I'm not sure why i picked it up, as i expected it to be all corporate go-getter motivational bollocks, but it actually has a lot of quite sound common sense ideas on life in general, which seem to mirror ideas i'm coming across from various other sources.  Here's a few selected quotes that i particularly like:

- People can't live with change if there's not a changeless core inside them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about and what you value.

- How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us and, keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most.

- If you are an effective manager of yourself, your discipline comes from within; it is a function of your independent will.  You are a disciple, a follower, of your own deep values and their source.  And you have the will, the integrity, to subordinate your feelings, your moods, your impulses to those values.

- As you live your values, your sense of identity, integrity, control and inner-directedness will infuse you with both exhiliration and peace.  You will define yourself from within, rather than by people's opinions or by comparison to others.  Ironically, you'll find that as you care less about what others think of you, you will care more about what others think of themselves and their worlds, including their relationship with you.  You'll no longer build your emotional life on other people's weaknesses.  

- Highly proactive people recognise their "response-ability" - the ability to choose their response.  They do not blame circumstances, conditions or conditioning for their behaviour.  Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feelings.

- Look at the weaknesses of others with compassion, not accusation.  It is not what they're not doing or should be doing that's the issue.  The issue is your own chosen response to the situation and what you should be doing.  If you start to think the problem is "out there", stop yourself.  That thought is the problem.

- Maturity is the balance between courage and consideration.  If a person can express his feelings and convictions with courage balanced with consideration for the feelings and convictions of others, he is mature, particularly if the issue is important to both parties.

- It takes a great deal of character strength to apologise quickly out of one's heart rather than out of pity.  A person must possess himself and have a deep sense of security in fundamental principles and values in order to genuinely apologise.

- To relate effectively with a wife, a husband, children, friends or working associates, we must learn to listen.  And this requires emotional strength.  Listening requires patience, openness and the desire to understand - highly developed qualities of character.  It's so much easier to operate from a low emotional level and give high-level advice.

- Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They're either speaking or preparing to speak.  They're filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people's lives.  If they have a problem with someone - a son, a daughter, a spouse, and employee - their attitude is: "That person just doesn't understand".

- Seek first to understand, then to be understood.


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