(A molecular biologist turned Monk)
mardi 30 septembre 2014
It was a pleasant evening. Good Northern Mexican food, good company of friends involved in Pubic Health. The now defunct El Modelo restaurant in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico provided good ambience with some music in the background and the waiters elegantly dressed with years of experience behind them attended to you.
There in the midst of the flavours of tampiquenas and margaritas, I was asked the question:
How would you define Happiness!
I remember that moment very well. Two Mexican Americans and a West African from California were peering at me, waiting for an answer.
I thought following a moment of silence to concentrate my mind and the answer came to me:
Happiness is the absence of desires. To be happy, you have to decrease your desires.
They didn't respond immediately, then after a moment, the West African psychologist responded with glee: that is a very good definition.
That was long before I was introduced to the Yogic Philosophy of Patanjali by a Chinese Accountant from Malaysia or had encountered Buddhism through the book, The Jew on a Lotus by Louis Kaminitzer.
I am not interested in Hinduism or Buddhism as religions but I am very attracted to the philosophies of Patanjali and Buddha, both thought to be contemporaries in Northern India around 2500 years ago.
As Dalai Lama would repeatedly say, if you want to be happy, practise Compassion, if you want to make others happy, Practice compassion!
To do that, you have to achieve Inner Peace of mind.
Whenever any conflict arises in your mind, think of the structural defects of your mind, Kleishas of Patanjali’s Philosophy, which are fires to destroy your thinking process.
Ignorance, Ego, Attachment, Fear of Change and Aversion.
We are all products of our cultures, superficial and deep cultures of where we were born, where we grew up and what we studied and the societies we live in. We cannot avoid them but as adults we can certainly not cultivate that which stroke our egos and create inner conflicts.
Being a Snob was considered to be once a cultural quality but no one looks up to a snob these days, or in many countries. Trying to impress others with material goods or possessions do not hold water any more.
I distinctly remember overhearing two men discussing buying and selling of a part of the national debt of a country. I was uninterested and aghast at the amount of money they were discussing and remember my consternation when a cunning and unsavoury woman, mother of a good friend of mine tried to impress me with the pittance she had paid for some device for her house. I had the audacity, being less humble those days, to tell her: madam, you fail to impress me, as I just heard two men discussing buying and selling national debts. Everything is relative.
Cleansing your mind of the cultural traits, mostly superficial which are forced upon us, is a source of unhappiness for many of us. Why mention that such and such cost so much money, if it is not to impress others.
It is your desire for those objects that makes you put a price on them. For a person with no desire for those objects, the mention of a price has no meaning and at times could be nauseous.
(A molecular biologist turned Monk)
(A molecular biologist turned Monk)
I will never forget the moment when I was being driven through the streets of Singapore, with expensive stores lining on both sides.
Such expensive brands, I exclaimed.
My host, a humble professor, replied: No, they are not expensive at all, since I have no desire for them.
That was a defining moment to me. Words I use were being thrown at me. Australia, Asia, Europe and America. The circuits of my life, all disappeared for a moment.
Decrease your desires, you will be happy.
One thing you would realize that to do that, many other bricks have to be laid as foundations. Inner Peace, to begin with, and how do we achieve that?
Jim BlackBird, a patient, worker at the clinic and a friend told me
Be a good person, then you would become a good doctor. Not the other way around
And from the American Indians, you can learn the fundamentals of becoming a good person.
Be grateful for things you have and not ungrateful for things you do not have
Be humble. In our countries where there are many symbols of wealth or ostentatiousness to exhibit on oneself, we forget that those are just symbols and symbols are transacted and they are not transacted equally to every one.
The humblest country I have lived in and continue to live in is Cuba. There are no outward manifestations of personal wealth and people like you for what you have in your heart. Try to do that in your life and times wherever you are.
I have been blessed with friends of such exceptional qualities, who are humble as well. Brother Joseph in Miami and Brother Friend Joe in Bogor, Indonesia, just to mention two.
Be compassionate, towards yourself, towards others.
In this very confused world of ours, when national and cultural boundaries are becoming indistinct, become more tolerant, accept others and their peculiar situations rather than being judgemental.
What can I do for you? An Indian will ask, rather than what can you do for me?
Do not talk until you walk in his moccasins, an Indian will say, rather than, pull yourself by your boots and walk
Remember in this world, many people cannot pull themselves up by their boots because their feet had been cut off by their own societies, their own belief systems, oppression by family, government and surprisingly globalization of the market, followed by the globalization of suffering.
What made me write the above piece is the dedicated friendship of my brother friend Joe from Bogor as well as listening to Professor Barry Schwartz from Swarthmore on a video presentation, which is attached. From TED
If you want to be happy, lower your expectations! He says.
this has French subtitles for those who speak French
Somehow, it rings true for me.
lundi 29 septembre 2014
FINDING MEANING IN THE MODERN WORLD
On the early days of this New Year 5775, I stared into the tranquil Atlantic Ocean as the sun was setting. Boats were gently bobbing, solitary without their owners; a gentle breeze with no memory of the cold winter to come embraced all of us on the shore.
I thought to myself:
With no anchor
Sad is the person
Who has only the wind?
An anthropologist is always interested in the OTHER, and as Claude Levi-Strauss had said: The modern world lends itself to anthropological observation.
Through the lenses of an anthropologist, nothing is trivialized but every sentence and word assumes its own importance.
One such example happened soon after the above observation.
An older taxi driver, morose and not courteous, took me from Gare du Lyon to Gare du Nord.
A soft rhythm was playing on his radio.
What music are you listening to? I asked him.
Algerian, he replied.
Do you know Chaabi Music?
A smile, however restrained, broke on his unfriendly face.
Where are you from? He returned my question.
I am from Australia.
His frown returned.
You are a Zionist, like the American. He didn't hide his preferences, I support Palestine, he continued.
I was not in the mood for an inflammatory discourse in French with a morose Algerian who has declared his love of Arabs, but at the same time, my anthropological curiosity, spurred me on.
Are you an Arab or a Kabyle (the original inhabitants of Algeria before the Arabs came and conquered them and have ruled over them ever since)?
I am a Kabyle.
(A Kabyle Woman)(Amazegh)
I put my hands out and said to him, Nice to meet you; sorry the Arabs came and took over your country. Kabyles lived in peace with the Jews, even before the time of the Arabs
Tariq Ibn Ziyad, the Moslem General who conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century was a BERBER, a kabyle just like you.
His frown deepened
I did not want to increase his confusion to tell him that Gibraltar; the current rock colony of Britain at the tip of Spain is named after the famous General, Jibal Tariq, and the mountain of Tariq!
Are you Algerian or French?
I am Algerian, was the reply from this “French” taxi driver.
This short interaction made me realize how much difficulty people have to make meaning out of their lives. I am certain that his grandfather had a nice little farm in the mountains and had led a contented life, being a Kabyle in Kabyle Land, speaking Amazegh language, despite his country being over run by Arab speaking invaders from the East!
Europe, American and Australia, Canada, New Zealand does not give the same sense of cultural security anymore. As a student I had been lucky enough to be in Australia, New Zealand, UK and USA… how the cultural landscape has changed in such a short period of time!
(the flag of the Amazegh people, also referred as Berber)
I got out of the taxi in front of the Gare du Nord, thought I had descended into some metropolis in the developing world! Was this Conakry, as I eyed women in beautiful braids with colourful long dresses and hair ornaments pass me by? Drunks and Prostitutes greet you with ease, there are Bangladeshis selling burnt corn, suspicious looking black Muslims (you can tell because of the mark on their foreheads, made by hitting the ground too hard while praying!), others from indistinct parts of the world, with appearing distinctly threatening looking, created this human canvas. Indian Tamils much like their Malabar ancestors brought over to Reunion as labourers, slithered through the crowd, having acquired their European disdain.
This particular scene is repeated all over the European continent. Veiled women carpet the cities from Oslo to Barcelona to Berlin to London.
Here I am, an OTHER like just all the OTHERS, but I have a NAME!
Perhaps La Habana, in the island close to my heart spares one of this confusion. Perhaps because in La Habana, we know who the people are, why they are here, each person carries with him or her, an imprint of the greater society, each person making up the fibre of the whole society.
No wonder I miss La Habana so much!
I am beginning to long for simple, less confusing societies.
The communities of American Indians are one such good example.
Many of the new world countries where there are no major conflict with indigenous people or do not have indigenous people, are also less confusing and polemic. (Many of the islands in the Caribbean or in the old world, many of the islands of the Pacific, have you been to Funafuti?)
Dragging my luggage, I felt, I do not belong to Europe. I am here, like I have been in many other places, an OTHER from somewhere else. I like that ambiguous status, I do not hanker for the mundane uniformity or the cantankerous diversity of Europe or USA. I have never migrated, just travelled to many places, and in some stayed for a while.
Australia, which I have always identified as “my country” began to look strange and the friendships and affections began to wash away slowly. Asia has a genealogical history for me, but the history I have lived through, especially after the adolescent mind had become cultured, has been the history of my people, the history of Jews.
This is my anchor.
This connection has been immensely soothing. Through this connection, everything appears to have a meaning, even this martyr of an Algerian with a morose mind driving taxis in Paris at a time when he should be listening to the waves or the rustling of leaves in his native Algeria!
(this is the earth the morose taxi driver should seek, a kabyle village in Algeria)
As Pablo Neruda had written:
Asi es de injusta el alma sin raices:
Rechaza la belleza que le ofrecen:
Busca su desdichado territorio
Y solo alli el martirio or el sosiego
A soul without roots is an Injustice /
It is unjust that the soul has no roots
It rejects the beauty it is offered
It searches for its wretched territory
It searches for its wretched earth (paying homage to Franz Fanon)
And only there finds its martyrdom or Tranquility
(the translation is mine)
How true, How true, Pablo!