selfless service

January 29, 2010

I read a beautiful phrase in the Bhagavad Gita this morning: “…surrender yourself to me, disciplining yourself and renouncing the results of all your actions” (12:11). To me this means being equally unattached to either the praise of good results or the blame of bad results, and doing the work for the sake of the work – the ultimate meditation while serving others through your actions. Mahatma Gandhi truly loved this book and tried to live his life according to its many teachings and spiritual instructions.

The Bhagavad Gita is the discourse between Krishna and Arjuna before the main battle in the Mahabharata when Arjuna is having doubts about fighting against his relatives and mentors. Hindus consider the Gita as one of the most important books on spiritual instruction and living correctly. Some people look at the Bhagavad Gita as a book encouraging war and violence. Gandhi challenges: “just base your life on the Gita sincerely and systematically and see if you find killing or even hurting others compatible with its teachings”.

The world’s most famous terrorist and leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin-Laden (apparently the David Suzuki of the middle East) has now taken to lecturing the US and the world on global warming and the economic meltdown. Not satisfied with traditional terrorism, he is now quoting Noam Chomsky (heh) and attempting to nag people to death. Come on dude, don’t you know if you have nothing nice to say …

cham shan temple

January 26, 2010

A few nights ago, my friend and I were attracted by the beauty of this Buddhist temple which was lit by what seemed like a thousand orange lanterns. Spending a few moments at the temple was a very moving experience especially in front of the black AvalokiteĊ›vara bodhisattva with several arms. The grounds are so beautiful and the air so perfumed with incense that I didn’t even feel the cold until I returned back to my car. I was so at ease that I returned home and decided to take a little nap. I fell asleep and woke up the next morning 13 hours later. I will return soon and this time (hopefully) enter the actual temple if it is open.

empty promises

January 25, 2010

Mark down January 25, 2010 as the day in Montreal that promises were made to Haiti that will be proven to be lies in less than 10 years. At the very least, the aid will have major strings attached that do not have Haiti’s best interest at heart and will worsen the overall situation for the Haitians’ autonomy. If I am right, I will be sad. If I am wrong, I will be happy (but shocked).

Societal pressure to conform, strengthened through the media and advertising, has a powerful hold on most people. The best and most effective marketing strategies have the sciences of psychology and human behaviour as their allies. Marketing and advertising is based on exploiting our deepest fears and insecurities; fear and embarrassment enables people to be be controlled by the contrived and strategic messages of advertising. When I hear a person say “I’m doing it for myself”, I am convinced that a large percentage of the time they are controlled so deeply that they can no longer even recognize it.

Women get nose jobs and breast implants “for themselves”! Men (in the grip of a mid-life crisis) get a Ferrari “for themselves”! Shopping makes some feel good especially when they are feeling down – like a nice hit from a sensual drug. Doesn’t the trend make you wonder how much and by whom we are being controlled? Our clothes, our shoes, our cars, our houses are the main items where our insecurities and fears are most exploited. I cannot omit the best example of the control that marketers have on our society – diamonds.

I encourage you to read this article on diamonds from the Atlantic – it is shocking and revealing about the depth of control that advertising has on the public. Men and women feel inferior and insecure based on what they can or cannot afford. The volume and depth of your love and commitment is tied to the amount you spend on an engagement ring! The diamond industry was able to create a sensation about large diamonds and then, when it suited them better, was able to get rid of surplus small diamonds by changing advertising strategies, and then change back yet again. That my friends is true power and control.

I love doing things for the people I love, but I am very cognisant of the subtle (and not so subtle) controlling messages all around me. I am not against shopping or dressing well or enjoying life or buying extravagant gifts. But I am against doing it because it is expected of me and by whom it is expected. I ask that the consumer looks deeply into themselves and asks themselves why. What motivates me to want that stuff? The answer is there and difficult to avoid.

A quote in the Mahabharata sums it up for me on this topic. An ancient rishi, Sanat-suja is invoked to give council to King Dhritarashtra: “The soul that is constantly being affected by the pursuit of objects and experiences becomes clouded”.

inconsistent messages

January 21, 2010

I love this piece of writing from one of the most influential men who ever lived – Mohandas K. Gandhi. It is a message to the readers of his publication “Towards New education”.

“I would like to say to the diligent reader of my writings and to others who are interested in them that I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am in age, I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will stop at the dissolution of the flesh. What I am concerned with is my readiness to obey the call of Truth, my God, from moment to moment, and, therefore, when anybody finds any inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well do choose the later of the two on the same subject.”
Harijan, 29-4-’33

Too often we go through life clinging to our past opinions or decisions even when we know them to be wrong. All because of the fear of appearing weak-minded due to inconsistency. How beautiful is Gandhi’s teaching above? It would be ridiculous to believe that we have rock-solid opinions and morals. We are constantly evolving and must never allow our ego to keep us still. We are like healthy water – always moving and brimming with energy. Stagnant water, on the other hand, tends to have a bad smell.

studio tax

January 21, 2010

Last year, I used StudioTax to complete my taxes. The software was great, easy to use, and (best of all) free. I plan on using it again this year to submit my taxes on time (two years in a row will be a record for me!). You can download the pre-certified version of StudioTax and optionally donate some money to their development efforts. The CRA-certified version is expected to be released in mid-February, but all your entries in the pre-certified version automatically carry over to the certified version. So no worries.