Having the eyes to see

 

eagle himalaya

A lone eagle soars high in the sky above the craggy foothills of the Himalayas, wheeling and gliding on the thermal currents. Her golden-brown wings, extending to a gloriously feathered span of five feet, catch every breeze.

At times she seems to hover, so perfectly balanced are the calculations of her own forward movement and the counter-thrust she feels from the wind. Deep below her, over a mile away on the slopes, a small rabbit ventures out of its burrow. It’s just a grey speck in a greyish landscape but she sees it. Making a large circle so as to descend behind her prey, she calculates the distance, her own speed, and the speed of the rabbit, then plunges quickly down and forward. The rabbit has no chance.

Just one scene that plays out every day in nature, but one which reveals how every species has a particular advantage in the struggle for survival. If you and I had the eyes of that eagle, we’d be able to see an ant from the tenth floor of a skyscraper. Eagles have such acute vision because they’re endowed with retinas that have a dense coating of light-detecting cells known as cones. Humans have around 200,000 cones per millimetre whereas eagles have 1,000,000, five times the amount. Like pixels in an image, the more cones, the clearer the picture and the further you can see. The part of the retina known as the fovea – in humans a one millimetre sized dip – is the part where vision is most acute. In an eagle the fovea is a much larger convex pit. They also see in bright colour, as well as in ultraviolet. Not only that, but because of the positioning of their eyes, they can see 340 degrees to our 180. Life is not all about being able to catch rabbits, but if you’re an eagle it is very useful.

The basic impulse of all life is to stay alive, and each species has some special sensory advantage that contributes to its fight for survival. Moths can smell other moths over a mile away, and a fish can hear over huge distances through the water. Even the humble housefly can walk upside down using sticker pads on its feet, and an earthworm can completely regenerate its own body. By comparison, we humans have strict limitations on our senses. We have greatly increased problem-solving intelligence, but our eyes, noses and ears are not the greatest in the natural world.

We tend to consider reality to be only that which we can see, smell and hear; but compared to other creatures we really don’t experience much of ‘reality’ at all. What is reality anyway? If we can only experience directly a very small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum – not even including ultra-violet and infra-red light – then does it mean that anything beyond what we can see is not real? The little rabbit was ‘real’ for the eagle, but any humans flying at that height would have missed it entirely. It would not have been ‘real’ for them.

That’s why eastern spiritual teachings begin with the principle that the five senses alone are insufficient to experience spiritual reality – if indeed there is any such thing as a spiritual reality beyond the physical world. The plane of spiritual existence cannot be proven by any sensory evidence – but neither can it be disproved. The Sanskrit word for ‘proof’ is pramana, and the closely related word for ‘evidence’ is pramanya. When one is able to provide evidence then one has proof that something is real, or that something really happened. The senses cannot provide this proof, hence the logical conclusion that sensory pramana is not good enough for understanding spiritual reality.

The next type of proof often comes from a logical deduction based on gathered evidence. It is known as anuman or ‘deduction.’ You did not see the eagle catch the rabbit, but you know that eagles do catch rabbits, and you’ve just seen an eagle eating what looks like a rabbit. From this you deduce that the eagle caught the rabbit.

smoke

But anuman can also be as unreliable as pratyaksha or direct sense perception. After all, it depends on sense perception followed by a logical deduction. For instance, you see smoke on a mountain and become fearful that there is a forest fire. Although it is true that there are many forest fires on that particular mountain close to your wooden home, and although it is true that last year the fire was so large that your house was threatened, you cannot conclude that it is indeed a forest fire. It may be a controlled fire from a mountaineers’ breakfast camp. You don’t know. Still the apprehension comes based on faulty deduction. Your pratyaksha was without fault – ‘there is smoke’ – but your anuman was faulty – ‘there is smoke again on the mountain, therefore it is a forest fire.’

The third method of gathering evidence or pramana is through shabda, or ‘authoritative knowledge,’ the speech of an expert eye-witness or knowledgeable person. When that person tells you: “No, I actually fed the already-dead rabbit to that eagle. I’m a zoo-keeper and I was trying to lure the eagle back to the zoo…” Or when a stranger on the telephone informs you: “No, please don’t worry about a forest fire, I’m the leader of the mountain rescue team and we’ve been having a training camp up on the mountain. We’re just finishing breakfast right now. I’ll make sure the fire is out before we leave.”

But since sense perception is faulty, and since even eye-witnesses and experts get it completely wrong, and since such knowledge tends to get compounded and then presented as truth, we are often left disappointed and looking for a fresh source of conclusive evidence. When finding our way to a house in an unfamiliar town we can take the risk of asking any strangers, but when our safety, prosperity, health, happiness is at stake we need the best possible opinions. And when the destiny of our life is the question, the ‘expert opinion’ must be absolutely reliable.

So in Vedic culture the ultimate shabda or authoritative knowledge is the Vedas.  The Vedas are also known as shabda, and it is considered that the Vedas are the final word on reality or tattva, the truth free from imperfect sense perception, faulty deduction, and fallible experts.

This does not sit well with empirical scientists and philosophers. That an intelligent person can rely on a source of information whose validity cannot be immediately proven by direct sensory experience, experimentation or collected research, even the idea is a very strange one indeed. But that is the Vedic model, and is held to be particularly pertinent to discovering the nature of the transcendent, by definition that which is beyond the scope of the physical senses.

 

  Forms of Pramana

(Proof or Evidence)

 
Pratyaksha Sense Perception Proof from directly witnessing only
Anumana Logical Deduction Proof from analysis of all available evidence
Shabda Expert Testimony Proof from an expert authority or reliable witness
Veda Infallible Knowledge Proof from the ultimate authority and witness

 

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ISKCON celebrates Ramanujacarya in his 1,000th year

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The international governing body of ISKCON, the GBC, has issued the following resolution to all its centres in this millenium year of Sri Ramanujacarya:

310: Global Observance of Sri Ramanuja Sahasrabdi

Whereas Sri Ramanujacarya, the great Vaisnava saint who lived between 1017 and 1137, requires no introduction to the saintly, especially the Vaisnavas;

Whereas Sri Ramanujacarya’s 1000th anniversary is being celebrated around the world this year, 2017. According to the Sri Vaishnava calendar, his 1000th appearance day is on May 1, 2017;

Whereas although 1000 years have passed since the appearance of Sri Ramanujacarya, the years have not dulled the level of adherence to his teachings and attraction to his exemplary life. Millions of people now base their spiritual practices and religious conceptions on his words in both southern India, and due to emigration, in the western world also. In many parts of the world, ISKCON is associated very strongly with the Sri Vaisnavas;

Whereas our Gaudiya Acaryas including Srila Jiva Goswami, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura have all referenced and commented on the teachings and life of Sri Ramanuja;

Whereas Srila Prabhupada used Sri Ramanuja`s works, amongst others, to give us the “Bhagavad-Gita As It Is”;

Whereas ISKCON Sriperumbudur and Kanchipuram are organizing grand celebrations this March in which international devotees, sannyasis, and leaders are participating in the 10 day festival at Sriperumbudur, the birth place of Acarya Sri Ramanuja;

Whereas following in the tradition of our acaryas, it would be a great opportunity for ISKCON to get the mercy of Sri Ramanujacarya, and to enhance our already good relationships with the Sri Vaishnava community globally, by having a “Global Observance” throughout the year, or particularly leading up to May 1, 2017;

RESOLVED:

That ISKCON centers worldwide have a “Global Observance of Sri Ramanuja Sahasrabdi”, leading up to May 1, 2017, or anytime through the year 2017, with suitable events and glorification befitting the venerable and worshipable Vaisnava Acarya.

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And so Britain’s slow exit begins…

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Today is the day Britain begins its two year period of exiting from the European Union, the official beginning of what has been termed ‘Brexit.’ The country is surprisingly divided over our immanent departure from what started out as a trading partnership in 1973, and then gradually became ever more a state of monetary, legal and political union.

Perhaps its because of that creeping amalgamation of Britain into a European super-state, a situation that our forbears didn’t sign up for, that a majority of British people felt uncomfortable and wanted out. It was a slim majority, but a majority nonetheless.

To my American friends: Brexit is nothing like Texit, the idea of Texas leaving the union of the states of America. When your forbears signed documents to create the USA, they knew they were creating a political union – one nation with no national borders between the states. When Britain signed up there was no such agreement.

So today the exit begins.

 

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The Ten Fundamentals

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Here’s a poem by my old friend, Madan Mohan Das. Its The Ten Fundamentals or Siksa Dasaka-Moolam; being the articles of faith deduced primarily from Caitanya Caritamrta and adduced as ten propositions by Bhaktivinoda Thakura.

  1. The Vedic truths are deemed self evident,
    As have in pure succession made descent;
    2. Which first that Hari is supreme decree,
    3. He is possessed of omnipotency;
    4. He is the source of bliss and rapture’s store;
    5. That souls stand in between the land and shore;
    6. Some bound by matter,7 and some bound no more.
    All souls and worlds subsist in him alone,
    8. And all are one with him, and yet not one.
    9. The way to win his grace is said to be,
    To sing his name in holy company.
    10. And finally to gain the highest bliss
    Of Krishna’s love, than which naught better is.

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Daily Japa: My Daily Flight

spitfire-mki

The first six months of my life were spent on an RAF aerodrome, and as a child I heard the grown-ups talking of military aircraft and of daring aerial battles during the war. No small wonder that I still think of flight as a metaphor for spiritual progress.

As every western devotee of Krishna knows, the daily commitment of a dedicated practitioner is to chant a minimum of sixteen rounds each day. This takes around two hours. The effect of the Hare Krishna mantra is quite remarkable, especially when recited early in the morning with mental focus and without distraction. The meditator feels uplifted by gradual degrees until there is a distinct feeling of lightness; of being free from gravity.

But in order to derive the most benefit from mantra meditation it must be done with determination and a feeling of gratitude and respect. Wherever the mind wanders it must be brought back to the sound of the mantra. That may take some time each morning; the mind still has to struggle with the lingering remnants of the night’s dreams, snatches of remembered conversation or hopes and longings for the future. Eventually, after an extended period of mental wrestling, the intelligence overpowers the mind and a level of absorption is reached.

I think of it as the gradual ascent of an aircraft – a British wartime Spitfire, naturally. So here’s what chanting sixteen rounds feels like in flight mode:

0 – 4 Rounds

The first round is usually accompanied by much coughing and spluttering. The engine is cold, having been out in the field all night. As you turn over the engine it may take a minute or two before it catches and you can rev it up. But once warm, the chocks are kicked aside, your plane turned in the right direction and you begin making your taxi down to the runway. You look at the sky, look at the wind direction, and begin to pick up speed along the runway. You begin to feel an intermittent lift as your plane reaches take-off speed.

4 -8 Rounds

You lift the nose of your Spitfire, but you’re a little too soon, and you jerkily come down to the ground again. Picking up just a little more speed, you see the trees flash past you. Again that feeling of lightness. And then the noise in your head stops: your wheels are no longer bumping along the ground. At first you’re only a few inches above the ground, but slowly, gradually, you lift and the ground sinks away from your eyes. Only the tops of the trees are visible. You’re flying.

8 – 12 Rounds

But you’re still too low to relax. You have to climb because flying low is dangerous. It takes more effort to climb than it does to take off. So you adjust the throttle and pull back on the lever, aiming for the wisp of cloud up ahead of you. Suddenly it goes darker; you are surrounded by cloud. You can’t see anything ahead or to the sides of you. You feel mild panic at having your vision so restricted. But after a few minutes, as you continue to climb, the cockpit becomes lighter and lighter.

12 – 16 Rounds

You break through the cloud cover and watch as it gently retreats slowly below you. The strength of the sunlight up here surprises you. It’s a completely different world; clean and fresh, light and bright. Up here there is only you, the bright blue sky and the Sun. For a moment even the mechanics that got you up here seem to disappear. The aircraft has become only a distant presence. You can’t even hear the engine anymore. You are soaring now, climbing ever higher. Nothing can stop you now. You are free.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

— John Gillespie Magee, Spitfire Pilot

 

 

 

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Prostate Cancer Diagnosis Breakthrough

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I don’t think I quite believed in God until I had a trans-rectal prostate gland biopsy. The experience made me a believer. Well, I had to shout out to someone for help.

There are parts of the body that our Creator did not design to be investigated with cameras, let alone 12 needles. I will say no more.

Good news indeed, then, that a breakthrough has been made on the prostate cancer diagnosis front. It may save many men from having to go through the unpleasant experience, especially the 27% of men that didn’t actually need it.

More importantly, it will help to save lives if the diagnosis is less invasive, since men of a certain age tend to be doctor-phobic at just the wrong time of life.

Breakthrough news here.

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Remote Viewing Revealed: Uri Geller speaks out

uri-geller

In 1998 the CIA ended its research into the intelligence-gathering and espionage potential of ‘remote viewing.’ It had been running since 1973. The research was to study the ability of certain people to see pictures and objects at a distance – without using their eyes. 25 years is a long time for a government agency to investigate what many called a ‘spurious psychic phenomenon.’

A quarter of a century suggests that someone, somewhere, thought it was indeed worth investigating, and that the results from laboratories such as Stanford, one of the universities where the remote viewing was conducted, was actually coming up with tangible results.

Typically a ‘psychic’ would be asked to describe, or reproduce, a drawing being made by a ‘target’ at a remote location. There was no prior contact between them, and no connections at all during the experiment. Yet the results were remarkable, with detailed drawings made in the lab that accurately reproduced the original. The repeated observatory powers of the laboratory psychics seemed to suggest to the scientists that the power of the mind to see is not limited by the eyes.

But how could that be? The working model for neurologists is that the mind is a function of the brain, and that the power of sight is therefore limited to direct perception of an object through the medium of light waves entering the eye. That being so, the results of ‘remote-viewing’ should have been statistically random. But they weren’t. In many cases the experiments showed that the psychics could ‘see’ with startling accuracy.

One such person, it has just been revealed, was the spoon-bending Uri Geller, whose story of CIA-sponsored experiments can now be told.

 

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Not too late to make a resolution!

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Resolutions are like a pod of seeds. They’ll grow.

It’s still not too late for a New Year’s resolution. You can do it. Whatever it is, rallying your determination now can make all the difference to the rest of the year.

For those of us walking the spiritual path, January is a great time for looking at the year ahead and fixing our determination to reach a target. Yes, even the spiritual life has targets, and spiritually-motivated development of mental strength is an essential prerequisite. Visualising your goal comes first, then verbalising it as an affirmation. A determined resolution is known as a sankalpa, and expressed as a verbal commitment becomes a vrata.

It’s much easier to reach any goal when you have friends who share the same path, and especially when one of them gives you encouragement and occasional guidance. Such a person can be a patha-pradipika guru for you, someone who ‘keeps the path illuminated.’

A coach is someone who helps you reach your goals, often in sport. He or she will listen carefully as you describe what sort of physique you wish to have, the level of stamina you want, and the lap times you’d like to reach. The coach will then suggest exercises and a fitness regime that will suit you. In spiritual life it’s just the same. We all need someone who’ll listen to the goals we’d like to reach and offer us guidance to get there.

You may already have such a person in your life, or you may be looking for one. Finding one, trusting them, and being honest when you don’t make your chosen target is a key element in keeping your resolutions and becoming an improved version of yourself.

 

 

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Management vs Theology – a new challenge

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Martin Luther nails his protest to the church door

Any human endeavour requires good management. Any organisation of a certain size – and some say over 150 members – requires a different system of management from that of its beginnings. But when good management dominates theology, and spiritual vitality, and moderates religious practice, and we choose a religious leader on the basis of how good a manager he is, then the very purposes for which the organisation was founded are threatened.

This year is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s challenge to the Church of his day. He thought it needed reform and he wrote his suggestions as a list. A contemporary list of suggested reforms for bishops of the Church of England, all 95 of them, has been published and makes interesting reading. It’s a long piece, but it can be ‘translated’ for the organisation or movement of your choice.

Here it is.

 

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Happy New Year of Service to the Vaishnavas!

We have now entered 2017 and with it, the Millenium of Sri Ramanujacarya. I wish all the Vaishnavas who will be directly celebrating the 1,000th anniversary of the birth a wonderful year, and I wish that his name is broadcast far and wide. May the glories of Ramanujacarya be communicated in 108 languages, by 1,008 great teachers, all over the world.

This morning I received this link and I would urge my readers to have a look and see if inspiration comes to you.

Meanwhile, our efforts to make known the great legacy of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada continue past the 50th year celebrations with the new film on his life. The movie is the devoted work of Yadubara Das and his wife Visakha Dasi. It was always going to be quite a monumental undertaking to produce a full-length documentary of this type. But they did it, and now the cinema distribution is the task in hand.

Let’s all make a small contribution to the cost of this (a generous sponsor will double your donation) and this beautiful film will come to a cinema near you soon this year.

Just click here for information.

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