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Archive for March, 2012

An excerpt from Prayer 1 of Eli Wiesel’s The Town Beyond the Wall, where Micheal finally meets the old man, Varady, a mysterious old person of the stories in the streets.

“Who are you?” asked the old man, impassive.

Micheal spoke his name and added, “I’m your neighbor.”

“What do you want here?”

Embarrassed, the boy stammered.

“I didn’t understand,” the old man said. “Repeat. Repeat what you just said.”

Micheal, who was already regretting his disobedience, made a great effort: “I wanted to see you.”

“Why?”

The boy was silent.

“Why did you want to see me? Come, come, answer!”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“You force entry to my garden, you stare at me, you observe me, perhaps you judge me — and you don’t know why?”

“No sir, I don’t know why.”

The old man thought it over briefly and then leaned forward: “Tell me, little boy; what do they say about me outside? What are the people saying about me?”

“They say you don’t exist.”

The old man laughed. The muscles of his face rippled, and Micheal thought he had heard a crackle. “So that’s what they say,” the old man murmured, as if to himself.

“Yes,” Micheal repeated. “They say you don’t exist.”

“And what else?”

“That’s all. They say there’s nothing to say about a man who doesn’t exist.” Micheal felt his voice fall back to normal. Of all the emotions Varady had roused in him, only curiosity remained.

“Do your parents know you’re here?”

“No.”

“You’ll tell them you’ve seen me? And that I exist?”

“Maybe.”

The old man’s voice dropped: “Don’t do it. They’ll punish you.”

He paused and then repeated, “Don’t do it. Keep the secret for yourself. What would life be worth without our little secrets?”

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A Wish, a Prayer

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Whether you are a believer, an agnostic or an atheist, what prayer would you compose to share your soul? 

Wishes are things that come naturally to humans. We are creatures that feel, and long for comforts in such great ways that span the spectrums of morality, spirituality, and justice. Since the earliest phase of life, the infant child, fascinated with the world, begins to learn from it and name it. Once knowledge manifests, the child begins becoming “human” and begins to express the amazing creativity of our species and our imaginations in a private world of longing.

We wish for everything. And all our wishes are prayers to what we believe in. From the beginning of life, to the very end, our ceaseless longing expresses itself from the momentary to the profound wishes we make. From the longing for good life, love, peace, and wisdom, we long for revenge, harm, and hollow riches, making every wishing human an actor in the chain of causality that results in the good, the bad, and the ugly that we witness in the world. Like fire, human intelligence is potent in many ways. From the uncontrollable ferocity of wildfire that consumes everything in its path to the hearth that warms and protects, the degrees in which the flame manifests resembles the ranges that human intelligence can demonstrate itself. We hide in us the capacity for tremendous good, love, and knowledge, but the greed and power of a mistaken few has cast invisible bonds that cloud judgment for the innocent, in other words, the great majority of us.

It is the love, the care, and meaning we share with our family, friends, and community that make life worth living amidst the bills, the work, the wars, and the atrocities. If we lived in a world of mutual support, care, and empathy instead of the world of competition, differences, and indifference we have inherited, we would wish for far less things than we are used to and could live better than we could ever wish for.

How can this wish for a better world, the silent dream of countless dreamers, come to be? I believe that people have been counting on God for thousands of years to do what we are ultimately responsible for. In a society of nurture, love, care, and unity, people can personify the divine qualities we imagine in heavenly beings and live to be humble, wise, and powerful creatures. But as Confucius say: society begins from the individual. And it is ultimately the innate power that we have within ourselves that, when open to empathy and curiosity, becomes the power to change the world.

I’ve been hoping for some time now that humans would change their understanding of intelligence to include and give more weight to our capacities to mutually love, care, and learn. But I found out that happened only when I became the virtues I wished for, and saw what Ghandi’s timeless reflection, be the change you want to see in the world, really meant. So, I pray that all humans would one day see their infinite power of love and wisdom within us, and change their world by changing themselves.

Amen.

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The following is a cursory reflection of nature as I saw it during my break from college, where I devoted a significant, and memorable, amount of time learning meditation and delving into Buddhist philosophy. Originally a paper written for my Environmental Perspectives class, I decided to put it up on this rarely used blog because I felt the urge to share some glimpses into my experience that I couldn’t possibly write about and explain in words, if not for the requirement to write this paper. 

Nature. What is nature? What is this puzzling, but amazing thing we are a part of? My understanding is that nature is the stage in which all life is played out on. If not for that stage, there would be no platform for a story to be enacted. We come from nature and return to it. It is an energy that creates all and consumes all with somber indifference. As for all our mundane, worldly lifestyles, they are all tiny, insignificant microcosms of activity taking place within this great impersonal and mighty scheme. What is our place in this giant universe in which we are but insignificant specks of transient dust? What implications does this vast reality hold for us, the isolated intelligence that has lived, in very conspicuous subservience, fear, and wonder, of this almighty system for millennia? What does being human have to do with comprehending nature and understanding our meaning in it? This is the question I attempted to engage by traveling to the lush wilderness of tropical homeland, Sri Lanka, to meditate and learn under the subtle and incisive wisdom of Buddhist forest monks during my semester off from college in the fall and winter of 2011.

Since I was a kid, I thought much about things like what the meaning of everything was and noticed my place in the whole scheme of humans, animals, and all the other things out there; a reality that makes you feel much smaller than you would like to believe. But it was only when I was 22 that I felt the confidence of physical and mental strength to gauge this timeless philosophical inquiry of what is nature? Having had a keen interest in learning of the world and learning from the world at a very young age, the pursuit of knowledge was something I took to like a child’s fascination with the colors of the world. After delving into many avenues of knowledge and inquiry, my intellectual pursuits encountered the mysteriously alluring manners of Buddhist philosophy. Learning from it over the last 3-4 years and finding answers that I could verify through experience and science, I began, with great curiosity, to attempt an engagement with the very core of being and the mysteries and origins of nature through the introspection of Buddhist meditation. Sensing that the time was ripe and the opportunity to put all my knowledge through a very unfamiliar and alien challenge was at hand, I decided to take a break from college to go back to my homeland and explore and experience life in a few of Sri Lanka’s multitudinous Buddhist forest monasteries.

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Kaludiya Pokuna Tapovanaya, Mihinthale

Surprisingly, the popularity of my path of exploration was a very uncommon phenomenon, even in a country that is traditionally Buddhist. I still wonder why people would put themselves through the unceasing activity of modern life when the tranquility of the cool green shade, the drama of rain drenched forest paths, the cold, still, wisdom of ancient ponds, and the wondrous excitement of the earth waking up at sunrise, and all and more of these vivid experiences lie virtually at their doorstep. It is a peculiar question that led environmentalists, minimalists, philosophers, and thinkers in general, to the ironies of the unsolvable riddle of human nature. At least I am happy that I decided to embark on a personal journey, possibly, implicitly, a gesture of defiance to the senseless indulgences of modern life inspired by people like Thoreau, Krishnamurty, and the Buddha himself. To explore the very depths of being under the shady calm of the wise old ironwood trees and the melodious cacophony of the smaller, more musically inclined, citizens of the tropical wilderness was an experience that gave me much more perspective that I expected I would gain. Knowing one’s place in nature follows the personal exploration of one’s limits, understanding his or her innate capabilities, and losing the fear to question the norm and oneself. Nature is a treasure, hidden out in the open for all to see, that is really discovered when the individual decides to inquire about his part in the great scheme of parts that create the greatest scheme of all.

Being in nature is unfortunately an unfamiliar thing for most people. It is probably explained best by the sounds of the silent forest. The fact that the musical vibrations of the flowing brooks, rustling leaves, and the distant, melodious dissonance of cicadas flow through the passive silence of the trees, through my ears and into my heart to give me enjoyment and understanding, makes me wonder why people have resorted to living in the midst of bellowing horns, ceaseless chatter, surrounded by the constant mechanical hum of human contrivances. The randomness of nature, the lack of uniform structure, is best understood when one sees the same qualities reflected in oneself. Once removed from the conventions of society and culture, a person sees that the uniformity that we conform to is a quality we have learned to live with, just as a smoker lives with pleasure in indulging in a poison he sees no harm in. When removed from the busy, sweaty rush of urban haste, one discovers the slow, pondering demeanor of the earth and the universe, and begins to question why there needs to be such toxic complexities to our lives when a gentle meandering of space in time is what has always been and will continue to be. Humans seem to be competing and living in their own rationally justified concepts of money, culture, tradition, politics, war, entertainment, ad infinitum, while only conveniently returning to nature’s soothing care and unconditional generosity to rejuvenate oneself to work and dream and compete and live harder all over again.

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A cave kuti deep in the Na Uyana Aranya Senasanaya, Pansiyagama, Melsiripura

Why have we forgotten to see ourselves as the representation of nature we really are? What are these eyes? Skin? What are these blood, muscle, thought, and emotion, but a different representation of a flowing spring of crystal clear water running under a canopy of banyans, ironwood, and ebony? The beauty of this moment in time and space is only possible because the earth, the sky, the water, and the trees had long ago agreed to just “be” and let be. So have our bodies, with its fleshly components, repulsive though they may seem to most, create in their harmonious unity, a precious human vehicle. Why cannot we humans see the same harmony in nature and in ourselves, among all of us regardless of race, religion, or opinion? Has our “intelligence” judged this timeless unity to be incompatible with our perspective? Why does our insatiable desire for money, power, and pleasure, our inability to let go of our addiction to our selves, cloud the clear and enlightening reality of us being the small particles we are in an ancient scheme of mass, space, time, and thought?

Nature reflects herself within the human being with her intimidating array of personalities. The terrifying claps of thunder and shocking streaks of lightning express themselves in the various turbulent afflictions we encounter in our experiences in time, both physically and mentally. Likewise, for someone engaged in reflection, it would not be a burden to notice the fires, the floods, and the earthquakes, whose mercies we are bound to, manifest themselves in their characteristic fearsomeness within all of us, even the smartest and strongest.  The comforting warmth of a tropical sun, the soothing sensation of diving in a crisp, cool, water filled rock pool, and the blissful cool of a forest breeze; gems of moments that seem to pass by too quickly, express themselves from the moving episodes of joy, love, and insight that well up from the depths of our hearts. But how does one absorb and know the feeling of the refreshing reality of nature’s gifts when the reality is quite different to that? How does one know this when she is too busy making annual plans for 4 years in the future, slouched under a light and surrounded by walls and blinds? How does one know the unpredictable moods of the wind, its sweetness, its empathy, its rage, when one is stuck inside a refrigerated (work) cell? Do people experience real joy, love, and insight when they are bound to the numbing inconsistencies of conventional reality? Do they experience the pure contentment of insight, the delight of unconditional joy or see the devastation and turbulence that we are all subject to, when they are submerged in their fluorescent lights, computer screens, and TV shows?

My observation is that people, when they fail to experience and acknowledge this incredible and amazing scheme we are fortunate to experience, they simply become empty nodes created by human “intelligence,” spokes in the components of the machine called society, instead of using this amazing human being to experience, witness, and make meaning out of this thing we call life. But aren’t we too busy taken up with such important and very intelligent activities like killing zombies on TV screens and forever imagining the best possible scenarios to fill our lives up with more shiny, curvy things and sophisticated, expensive habits of culture?

The path leading deeper into the Na Uyana Aranya Senasanaya, Pansiyagama, Melsiripura

Although we are a part of nature, (fortunately) nature is not entirely human. Therefore she doesn’t share our tendencies for hatred, vengefulness, achievement, or prosperity. She passively waits, for her infinite wisdom has known all too well the benefits of her unhurried approach since the birth of time. For those humbled by the terrifying storms and beams of mercurial light skimming the treetops, nature has much to teach. And it is only to those who are sensitive and humble enough that nature begins revealing her secrets to. For the last twenty six hundred years, the Buddhist tradition has understood this. Although most “Buddhists” nowadays seem to understand more of TV, politics, and drama, the tradition has never ceased to continue being with nature. There is a robust presence of committed, humble, gifted, and intelligent human beings, from the youngest I’ve seen in my semester off at around 15, and the oldest well over 90, living, not only in the jungles of Sri Lanka, but in forests all over the world. They are inspired by the timeless qualities of nature as they strive for enlightenment; nirvana; the terminal knowledge of existence, the eradication of all suffering, and uniting with the timeless essence of this random reality we call nature. I was inspired by their knowledge, courage, and contentment. I still follow that inspiration in the hopes that I too, could one day, come to understand this scheme and dwell in the contentment of knowledge and peace.

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Mihintale_Kaludiya-Pokuna

Kaludiya Pokuna Tapovanaya, Mihinthale

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