Friday, September 26, 2008

Lao Tzu & Justice

26 September 2008

Lao Tzu was a true revolutionary. He was guided by the inner-light and wisdom. Once the emperor invited Lao Tzu to be his chief minister.

But he rejected that offer stating, "this will not work out, it will be hard for us to agree on any issues. You live by the principles and norms set by your ancestors, and i live guided by my conscience."

But the emperor was unable to accept Lao Tzu rejection and said that he was certain that it will not cause any complications to him. On the very first day of Lao Tzu accepting the responsibility of the chief minister a theft-case came to the court. The person accused accepted that he did rob from the wealthiest man in town. Lao pronounced his judgment on the case. He sentenced the thief to six months in prison, he also sentenced the wealthy merchant from who the thief stole, to six months in prison.

"What did i steal... I am the victim. Do I get punished!... Are you mad? Has it ever happened in history where the person whose property is stolen, getting punished?" the flustered merchant exclaimed.

Lao Tzu explained very patiently,"Truly speaking I should have given you a bigger sentence than the one I gave to the thief. Since i am very kind at heart, I did not do that. You have amassed the entire city's wealth, how did you accumulate so much? Did it all rain down from the sky? Who is responsible for so many people becoming poor and for changing some of them into thieves? It is you. What you have done is the bigger crime. What the thief has done does not appear to be much of a crime to me. The wealth that you have amassed is by making so many people poor so that you can accumulate more and more."

The wealthy merchant thought Lao Tzu was mad and he humbly pleaded for an audience with the emperor. Even the emperor when in crisis borrowed money from the merchant and so he met the emperor and explained what had happened at the court. He further cautioned the emperor,"If you allow Lao Tzu in the court to remain longer, you too may some day end up behind bars. Because, he might question how you have amassed so much wealth. If I am seen as a criminal, you may then be seen as a bigger criminal."

The emperor understood what Lao Tzu had implied earlier and he spoke to him. "I feel what you had said earlier about how we would be unable to come to the same conclusion on issues and facing great challenges in coming to agreement, to be true. Yes, it would be difficult for us both to reach an agreement on most issues. You are relieved from your responsibility of being my chief minister."

Lao Tzu continued to live guided by following his inner-light and wisdom. Much later in his life he traveled westward and legend has it that he journeyed through Himalayan mountain and then arrived at the land of Tamils and lived in Palani Hills, where he is known as Bogar. It is believed that he attained Samadhi there in a cave.

Picture taken from Wiki media commons.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

building peace - a voice from global south

23 September 2008

Recently i was co-facilitating a peace building workshop. it was a 8-day intensive process of figuring out 'what we can do with what we already know', than focusing too much on acquiring new knowledge. so we began with measuring how nations were doing according to the recent Human Development Report, and Amartya Sen's 'Entitlement' approach. We also had 1-day sessions on gender, local-governance and human rights and 2-days of using theater as a medium and process for empathy and emancipation.

Through these processes we got to know the plight of millions who suffer from hunger, mal-nutrition, dehydration, displacement, homelessness, ill-health, indignities, right's violations, abuses, humiliation and inability to exercise their freedoms. Close to 80% of Indians are earning less than 2 dollars a day. India ranks 128 among 177 countries. This despite the fact that there is another India that is "growing" and getting prosperous and richer. Yes, following the neo-liberal economic agenda India did manage to be among the largest economies in the world. India did manage to manufacture 54 billionaires and there is scope for hundreds more to emerge.

Large-scale transfers of resources from the poor to rich in the form of land, water, forests and minerals with state standing as guarantor/facilitator for such transfers and the state often indulging in asset-stripping and selling does make millions of Indians angry and outraged. And rightly some social commentators have called this process - neo-colonialism. And like most colonialism things cannot happen without complicity of some of our national and regional elite.

Instead of learning from experiences of countries which swallowed the neo-liberal pills, and the course correction they have taken since - India seems to have more head-strong economic bullies who would rather listen to kleptocrats, oligarchs, and economic hit-men thus forming an unholy alliance cemented with greed, power and arrogance. And all this is happening in such a pace that the civil society is struggling to both comprehend and deal with the Tsunami of "economic-reforms" unleashed.

A worrying trend is that of "special economic zones" a deceptive phrase for "special exploitation zones" which are being created with much glee, where violation of national laws and international declarations and agreements on right to life, livelihood, liberty as well as labor rights and entitlements can be diluted or done away with.

Though market and trading is not new to Indians, the new "market" and new form of international trade called "free-trade" which is another deceptive terminology for predatory economics which creates much inequality, impoverishment, displacement, injustice for the sake of increased profits and wealth accumulation/concentration is slowly becoming the norm. Markets need not be unfair or unjust, neither the trade whether national or international. Greed, exploitation and violations of rights can never be seen as a virtue. It is a vice to begin with and ends up being a crime, whether done by individuals, corporations or governments.

The greatest but "invisible" threat India now faces is the implosions happening in the state's structure which dis-empower the state in its ability to regulate, arbitrate, adjudicate, govern, manage and protect all its people and resources with justice, fairness and equality. And part of this invisible threat is the undermining of democracy. Efforts to strengthen democracy and participation at the local level through local self governance institutions namely the Panchayat Raj institutions have been undermined severely, mostly by the political parties and the bureaucrats, for the fear of losing power and control that they have consolidated over the years since independence, in active collusion with political and economic leaders.

To see poverty, hunger, dehydration and displacement of millions as caused by decisions that people have taken over several years, through violations of peoples right to life, livelihood, liberty and equality, was an eye-opener for some of us, who were trained or conditioned to focus more on the plight of the poor, hungry, thirsty and the homeless, than the causal factors.

I am now convinced more than ever that the path to peace is paved with rights, freedoms, equality, dignity and respect. And it is heart-warming to know that several peoples and institutions are working with awareness and commitment in co-creating a saner world.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

a story of the drum

6 september 2008

my journey in writing continues to be nourished and graced by connections with wise elders from different traditions. today i wanted to try writing a short story.

eagle and the drum

the eagle was flying high effortlessly. it had learned from its elders how to navigate the currents and how to use them to fly and glide with least effort. the eagle saw that people down below in the village were gathering to talk to all relations including the sky-beings. the village was like a giant ant-hill, thriving with activity. the eagle had a soft corner for the villagers, it had known them for a long time and had heard stories of them from its elders and ancestors. visions of the harvest festival that they had celebrated a few months back flashed in its mind.

"it is a time they try to connect with all relations including the sky-beings and creator," the voice of wise grandmother eagle thundered within. the eagle saw some young men and women, creating a fire to warm up the drum. its telescopic eyes zoomed in on the drum. it was the same drum they had been treasuring and using for several summers.

"the drum was not touched by all, it was considered sacred and only the very rooted and steadfast shall touch and play it," the grandmother eagle's voice echoed within. it saw a young man pick it up and warm it. his gentle hands lifted it and caressed it. the young man held it before him and asked permission from the drum for him to play it for the evening. the eagle sharpened its focus to listen to what was being whispered.

the eagle heard the drum speak,"i hear you and hold your request for permission to play me. it is my duty to ask why i was created and who created me."

the young man held the drum closer to the fire, his dark eyes focused on the drum, he could feel the gentle warmth of the fire nourishing the drum and feeding its energy so the drum can do well what it was created for. and as he rubbed the skin gently he could feel the warm fire was feeding him too. the young man spoke, "brother-drum, it is a honor to hold you in my hands once again and listen to you speak. i have swam many seasons in preparation for this. i will share what was shared with me by my elders. the drum is a gift from the earth-mother to humans so they may have her heartbeat to accompany when they sing from their hearts. the drum teaches harmony and it carries our thoughts, voices, joys, sorrows and our prayers."

the drum spoke, "you have spoken wisely and you may play me for the evening. your hands are pure and you now walk the earth more gently. my grandfather drums have shared many stories of the wise amongst you and how well they taught people harmony. i shall carry to all relations and the creator what you sing and speak. they shall remember it and pass it on to several generations to come."

the eagle now saw the young man bow to the fire, seek its blessings and began playing the drum. the sound of the drum carried far and wide. the eagle saw all beings pause to listen. the word spread around fast. it was peace and harmony time. the earth was filled with a new energy and the pleased earth-mother once again blessed the young man with the powers he needed to play the drum well.

as the young man continued to drum, the eagle circled high above him. the sounds of the drum soothed its heart. all beings were joyous by the celebration of harmony, every being was dancing with joy. the eagle then flew low and blessed the young man with the ability to see far and listen well, so his songs may connect with all creation and the creator.

and as it flew, the eagle heard her grandfather's voice, "these humans do get it sometimes, thank the creator for moments such as this, and pray that there may be more such times."

this story is inspired by another story which i found in this site:

the bald eagle picture is from the following site:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

teacher's day thoughts

5 september 2008

thoughts run like rivers, and somewhere along they transform and become clouds in the mind. and when the conditions are ripe, they gather together and enrich the being with their lightening, thunders and showers. the process of learning is continuous as is the process of water from earth transforming into clouds, which also keep transforming and finally descend as rain.

sometimes these clouds can cause confusion and lack of clarity or it may even block listening to our inner voice. but with discipline, training, practice and grace the mind can be tamed or liberated. it is also possible to be fettered and conditioned by the clouds that have gathered within.

it is good to be aware that mind is different from the thoughts it possesses or processes. mind is capable of developing through intellectual stimulation or intuitive absorption and flow of wisdom or knowledge. the body, mind and soul when integrated enable the human to be part of the flow, the exchange. when they are not integrated well, we develop adjustment problems of coexisting with other beings, and if we are seriously conditioned turn into predators and parasites that feeds on lives of others, even to the point of erasing others out of existence about whom we got conditioned to care less about.

the mind can be nourished by many different resources. poetry with brevity is one of the stimulating nourishment that the mind can receive. here are two poetic works on learning from the Tamil culture, each offering insights that have the capacity to transform the serious listeners.

Thiruvalluvar an ancient Tamil sage/poet describes the ethics of learning thus:

karka kasadara karpavai katrapin nirka atharku thaga

Learn perfectly all that you learn, and thereafter keep your conduct worthy of that learning.

another sage/poet Auvaiyar, one of the most popular and highly respected woman elder of Tamil society had this to share on learning:

kattrathu kaiman alavu kallathathu ulagalavu

what you have learnt is a mere handful, what you haven't is like the world in its size.

Monday, September 1, 2008

7 parts of the self - part 2

reality is the interval between two thoughts.
- jiddu krishnamurthi

conditioned part

in the previous exercise we dealt with the 'threatened part'. in this exercise we shall deal with the 'conditioned part'.

understanding the ways of mind is a journey into true awareness and understanding. it is done through a process of being mindful or observant. it is not an intellectual exercise or sophistry of thought. observation is the key activity. but the moment one begins to walk on this path, defenses come up. to cope with fear or to find security the mind puts up defenses. imitating what gives some sense of security to others that one perceives as living secure, is one prominent defensive mechanism. another prominent method of feeling a sense of security and overcome fear is to submit to authority, not through coercion, but because one is persuaded and conditioned to believe such a submission is the only option.

though it requires suspending reasoning, judgment, evaluation, accepting half-truths and sometimes even lies - conditioning is a major part of our lives. when we understand how the conditioned mind responds to situations, how it functions - then one begins to unravel the path to experiencing freedom. since mind is a play-field of memories of histories, stories, myths, legends, experiences, meaning-making, association, culture, tradition, socialization, learning and unlearning - it needs to be observed with great attention.

step 1: relax. breathe consciously. be aware of your surrounding, then focus on your breathing and travel within. focus on being in the field of mind, you are merely observing and taking note. observe what thoughts occupy your mind now.

step 2: scan for images, visions of episodes where you responded to a situation of threat, fearfulness by submitting to authority and accepting whatever they felt is the appropriate response, and regretting later for the authority figure committed excesses or had committed grave atrocities.

step 3: did you hear your own inner voice, however feeble or uncertain it was, that spoke through the cloak of conditioning and appealed to your heart and reason? what is that voice? is that conscience? is that our reasoning self? is it a reflection of inner conflict that happens when we try to put a particular episode into a compartment, but it does not seem to fit in there. we may try to use all the powers of reason to justify why it needs to be classified in a certain way, but deep down an awakened part of us tell us the truth, that it is our coping mechanism and not a choice made in freedom and fairness.

step 4: now can we move from just one such episode and scan our memory for such patterns where our responses to situations are coming more from the conditioned part of our self, than the free and fair part. can we track like a hunter in pursuit of the prey, the footprints of episodes that made us aware of such patterns in our responses? what do these episodes teach to us about ourselves? what are we conditioned by?

step 5: can we now focus on what are the things that we initially learned to be true, but later began to question? what are some things that we un-learned, because our experience was different from the conditioning material?

step 6: who are the prominent authority figures in your life, in your life in society, the world? have you seen them use mechanisms for conditioning peoples mind when faced with a complex situation? who are some figures whom you once admired but later on came to know about the more negative side which caused you to reassess how you see and place them?

step 7: is there a part of you which indulged in perpetuating myths and stories about events and episodes for the benefit of feeling secure or overcoming fear, failure or defeat? can we remember times in which we used this process of conditioning others to our advantage? is there a part that broke through clouds of defensiveness, that dissented within and caught your attention? what was that part trying to say?

step 8: can we now share and listen to each other what we have tracked through scanning our memories of own life experiences? is conditioning a phenomenon that can be clearly talked about? is conditioning widespread? are we conditioned to view certain issues in certain ways? who is behind and benefiting from such conditioned responses from us? who is winning, who is losing out if the conditioned responses are sustained? what does that do to us? do we become accomplices in manufacturing opinions and consent? what do we stand to lose in the long term?

step 9: what has the reflection, sharing and listening taught us about conditioned self? how big a part does the conditioned self play in our functioning and responses? how does becoming aware of our conditioned self help us in dialog and reconciliation efforts? can we assume that some of the responses, reactions and functioning of the other is based on their conditioning? is it possible in the dialog process to put aside one's conditioning and have genuine interaction and exchanges? how can we create and facilitate such spaces? what impact does this kind of awareness have on how we relate with others?