samedi 7 septembre 2013
SELF AND SOCIETY : A MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGIST AMONG THE INDIANS
SELF AND SOCIETY
There have been Prophets and False Prophets. None of our ancestors caught on to the false prophets but some prophets went on to found religions which are now major ones: Buddhism, Jainism, both of which had their origin in Hinduism; Christianity with its origin in Judaism; Islam with its origins in Judaism and Christianity.
I am not interested in Prophets who attribute their words to God. The biographies of all the prophets were written centuries after their death, so we are not sure of who they were, what they really thought, and their lifestyles.
One thing does interest me, that is the philosophy of some of these prophets and for that no one can equal BUDDHA. He is also different from other prophets in that he did not ascribe his words to a higher power but proclaimed his own interpretation of the reality around him.
I am re reading a book by Pankaj Mishra: An End to Suffering:
The Buddha in the world.
Mr Mishra has done his research and has written down a life story of Buddha from the narrative of his formation of philosophy, not a chronographic depiction of what Buddha did, but how ecologically he developed into a Buddha, and also the revelations did not arrive overnight but only after years and years of meditation and reflexion.
He had questioned the supremacy of the keepers of the word of God and it is a testimony to the institutionalized power of these keepers of “God’s words” that Buddhism barely exists in India, where Buddhism was born. The organized group were the Brahmins and you can find similar groups in any country and in any religion where their supremacy is under threat by thinking human beings with minds that have evolved progressively to adapt to the contemporary society for the past two thousand years.
Buddha assumed that Mind alone could know and analyse the mind. Mind alone can observe the movement and nature of thoughts passing through it. To contemplate, you need a still mind. How to achieve this stillness, when the mind is so active one thought after another, like the fast flowing brook from the mountains… always the gurgling but not the same water… fast moving thoughts, but not the same thoughts
Modern day scientists and psychologists denied it was possible to control the mind and thus delayed the emancipation of the mind for decades, and now continue to do so.
What is attractive in Buddhist approach is the negation of Meditation as presently taught to wide-eyed westerners by charlatan Yogis in India. Temporary states which does not lead to or form a permanent understanding. It is like trying to abolish the darkness completely by striking one match after another. It is better to understand the darkness rather than the ability of the lit match to abolish it for a moment. To quote from Pankaj Mishra’s book:
As the Buddha saw it, teachers preaching the so-called eternal, independent and unanalysable Self had not realized it from within. Kalama and Ramaputra, early teachers of Buddha, upon questioning by the Buddha, had admitted to having no direct knowledge of their doctrine, they assumed it must be true
The practical value of such a philosophy, for our daily life and betterment of our relationships with friends and lovers, is evident to me. If you, like the Buddha come to your own conclusion after analysing it by yourself and also reading some contemporary philosophers.
Once again the inspiration had arrived from India, in the form of Jiddu Krishnamurty.
He says the following in his book, The First and The Last Freedom.
What is the relationship between yourself and the misery, the confusion, in and around you? Surely this confusion, this misery, did not come into being by itself. You and I have created it, not a capitalist or a communist or a fascist society, but you and I have created it in our relationship with each other. What you are within are projected without, on to the world, what you are, what you think and what you feel, what you do in your every day existence is projected outwardly, and that constitutes the world. If we are miserable, confused, chaotic within, that projection becomes the world, that becomes society, because the relationship between yourself and myself, between myself and another is society-society is the product of our relationship-and if our relationship is confused, egocentric, narrow, limited, national, we project that and bring chaos into the world.
My own teachers, the Indians of North America, have a concept of Self and Society, which is much more congruous with each other than found in the Non Indian societies.
For Native Americans, the self is seen as an integral part of the universe and total workings of the world. Valued attributes of self include bravery, endurance of pain and suffering with patience and silence, controlled emotions, honesty and strength, self-respect and self-worth, respect for others, and individual freedom -- meaning to do what one wants as long as it is in harmony with nature (Deloria, 1973). I would add to this illustrious list, Gratitude as well as Sacrifice for Others.
How to use this knowledge in every day life:
Last night, sitting at the dinner table after having done the rituals of welcoming the Jewish New Year 5774, I noticed my mind becoming a little irritable. The dinner offered was delicious, a bottle of award winning French Wine and a Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa. It was not the food. The ambience, the smell of lavender wafting through the dinner table was soothing.
(I thought of my good friend, the Sage of Sioux City, who told me, quoting from Buddha’s Brain: there are 10 000 reasons for people to feel and act the way they do, so don't get annoyed, but try to understand)
I pinpointed the problem for my anxiety. Growing up in Australia and around Jewish Dining tables, and later on at elegant tables with starched table clothes in Jamaica, it was important that every one is supposed to take their places, and dinner is to be complimented by good conversation and shared time and good feelings. I noticed that there were constant interruptions of people getting up and leaving and coming back, the technological noise of the modern era, when we are dining with people at home. At restaurants there are less interruptions.
Once you find where your anxiety is coming from, can the mind find exacerbating factors? In Jamaica, you are seated and you are served dinner and neither the host nor the guests need to get up, there are always helpers to assist you. Obviously such life is not possible in western societies. It is a point for the mind to understand.
Once I understood the source of the anxiety and why it surfaced now, I stopped blaming others or projecting the source of anxiety to the society or the socio economical situation in Europe!
The guests taking their seats would not have alleviated my anxiety; only my own mind could alleviate it.
My teacher, zayama, who was teaching me how to read Burmese scripts in Rangoon, said to me: when you wish to meditate, you can do it anywhere and in any position. It is the wholesome mental climate in which you are constantly aware. Buddha prescribed a posture for meditation only when concentrating on ones breath, the rest of the exercises which involved the study of desire, anger, hatred, torpor and anxiety as they arose in one’s mind, were considered part of the accompaniment to daily routines of life.
The ill feeling disappeared, and when I woke up this morning, I had a very comforting calm feeling in my heart. I felt so good towards the world and the people.
I said to myself. Instead of being a ritualistic Jew attending the synagogue, I will do random acts of unsolicited help this morning.
I happened to be at the Brussels airport waiting for my good friend and his family to arrive from Indonesia. But did find time to organize a shared taxi ride for a lady who had just arrived from Toronto who did not wish to spend 35 euros for the taxi. Saw an Otavalo Indian looking a little bewildered, I went up to him, Hello Brother from the Ecuadorian Andes, what are you looking for? In Spanish of course! He said, my brother arrived from Atlanta this morning and I am looking for him. Sure enough within minutes we located yet another Otavalo Indian. They are easy to spot even at the busy arrival lounge of the Brussels airport…
(the future: I was welcoming the family of this 16 year old from Indonesia who arrived to represent her country in the International Youth Conference on Human Rights)
It is a good beginning of the Jewish Year 5774.
Long ago, sitting in the Moderno Restaurant (since closed) at Piedras Negras, Coahuila, I was asked by a visiting Professor of Psychology: What is your advice for achieving happiness, if you could summarize it in one sentence.
I thought for a while, the slow music of the orchestra in the background and said:
Decrease your Desires.
I will never forget what Dr. Chia, the historian of Zheng He from Singapore said to me, when I questioned him why there were so many expensive shops along Orchard Road. They are not expensive at all; I have no desire for them.
To which I would add two more stages.
The second stage would be to understand some philosophies and philosophers, such as Jiddu Krishnamurty for example. The influential French philosopher, Gilles de Leuze also discussed the importance of Desire. Tell me your desires, I will tell you who you are. It is important to seek philosophers in context, I advice Yogi seeking westerners in India and the Orient to look at their own backyards first, Yoga without its philosophy is just a stretching exercise.
The third would be: Do more for others than you would do for yourself or your family.
Here the American Indians are the masters, sacrificing for others, praying for others, suffering for others.
My two good friends, in KL and Bogor, are unusual examples from that part of the world who bring happiness to others, with their compassion.