I have travelled the world far too much, and have received the hospitality of so many kind, beautiful strangers, many of whom were Muslim, to be persuaded by the hate and ignorance of those who have never been courageous enough to step beyond their localized communities.
Fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar is soon neutralised by travel. Initially, we are dazzled by what is culturally strange and new. But soon, we are overwhelmed by the shared humanity in all we encounter.
We must lead by example, expressing love and compassion to all. Just maybe, those who hate might be inspired enough to choose a better, more peaceful way.
“Better it is to live one day seeing the rise and fall of things than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the rise and fall of things.” – The Buddha
Buddhism and Nationalism cannot sit side-by-side. Nationalism is by nature the propagation and attempted sustaining of myths of identity. Those who choose to be attached to such notions, do so in disregard of the true, absolute reality that everything is transient, impermanent and in constant flux, whether it be the individual, society, culture, traditions and even ethnicity. Everything changes in time.
Old myths get replaced by new myths, so what is the point in fighting against the inevitable? To do so is like trying to paint all the autumn leaves green, in the hope of deluding oneself that summer has not gone.
In contrast, a core part of the Buddha’s teachings is to accept impermanence. By doing so, we surrender ourselves to the natural processes, no longer grasping onto the unreal, which creates the friction that produces suffering. We should accept the impermanence of all phenomena, including the fleeting breath that is our own existence. There is nothing to grasp onto, and if we do, we are not grasping truth, just merely illusory phantoms of fancy, including our sense of self.
Instead of standing against the winds of change in all our delusional, egocentric glory, fighting for this or that ideology and national identity, it is far better to let go of all that, and become the wind itself, rather than be separated from it. If we choose not to, we only postpone the inevitable. The wind will always conquer in time.
I have no time for beliefs in the supernatural anymore. I only believe in what is tangible and real in this moment. What lies beyond death will be what it will be at that time, but it has no relevance now, except as a pointless game of speculation.
If there is a God, then whatever it may be will be just as natural as I. A permutation of existence, all-encompassing, entirely universal, abstract and beyond the lexicon of language. God does not need to be called “God”. Likewise, I do not need to be called “I”.
We are continually faced with the inadequacy of language to encapsulate the whole without division or separation. The labels applied to things by words, blind us from seeing things as they truly are, often leading us into beliefs of delusion and fantasy. We have a tendency to fill in the gaps of our knowledge with fanciful ideas, however unproven, to comfort us.
What I am far more interested in are patterns of behaviour that transform the world we live right now. Actions based upon compassion and love, applied through a prism of wisdom, whether by a Christian, Atheist, Muslim, Pagan, Buddhist… have very real effects upon our world. These behaviours should be cultivated and encouraged, because by nature they neutralise the effects of negative activities. They inspire, comfort and increase harmony within communities. We don’t need to have faith in speculative concepts, we just need to observe the results of positive actions, such as compassion. They are apparent, without the need to believe in anything supernatural. There is no reason to believe in the unreal, when the real is so much more magical. It is simply a matter of how we wish to see; a choice of perspective.
…Truth is the manifest of reality as it truly is, not what we wish it to be.
We are trapped within a variety of cages of complexity and ideas, to which some of us will remain forever shackled. Each cage is uniquely finessed for each inmate. Some are permitted to look out beyond the bars of their cage. Others have a dark curtain draped over their cage. Some have no bars on their cage, but stay within it, regardless. Others are chained to the cage, but have stepped outside of it, afraid to step back in. Occasionally, there are those who fly freely within and outside of the cages. And the rare ones get to soar beyond the room of cages itself towards complete, immaculate liberation…
I just scrolled through all my posts on Facebook the past few days, and I felt sad. There is so much unnecessary cruelty in the world. I try my best to bring awareness, so that people with voices will speak out. We all have to speak out! Enough violence! Enough abuse of the planet! Enough greed! Enough hate! Enough war! Enough prejudice! Enough! Enough! Enough!
Unless you have been anaesthetised, I think we all share in a very palpable fear that we, as humans, have not made the best decisions for our future. There is both an equal amount of frustration, apathy and confusion that is clouding us from making the bold decisions that we need to make, to bring a future suitable for our grandchildren. There is no time to lose, and we need to be firm in our commitment to each other, regardless of creed, to build bridges between those we feel do not understand us. We must be self-aware and see our own mistakes equally to the mistakes we see in others. We must all accept that we are flawed, but there is always another sunrise upon which to build an improved, better world.
Vision, compassion and wisdom are not some folksy terminology: They are paramount expressions of noble human activity. ACTIVATE THEM!
Unless we know something to be 100% true or 100% untrue, it is better to be open-minded, neither believing nor non-believing, but always curious and asking questions. It makes for a much more interesting life, allowing an engagement with the magic of mystery to manifest.
Let me also add, that I have no interest or business trying to convert anyone to my way of thinking about anything. I certainly am not arrogant enough to think that my thoughts are any more right than someone else’s. We are all on our individual journeys, trying to get through life, as well as understand it. The conclusions we reach are ours alone.
Photography & Words by El-Branden Brazil
For the last few weeks, I have observed, on my way back home, the development of a new hair salon from its initial construction. As someone who clips his own hair, this new enterprise should really be of no interest, but my curiosity was piqued. How would this new business aim to attract customers in Tokyo, a city of thousands upon thousands of barbers, salons and beauty parlours that can be found on almost every street?
Today was the big opening. Gentleman, who I presumed were the owners, dressed in fine suits and chatting on their mobiles, stood outside. The salon, which had been the home to hairy bottom-bearing builders for the past month and a half, was now home to new clientèle, waiting to get their hair snipped, blown, dyed and permed. Certainly, if I had hair myself, I may even have found myself drawn by the hypnotic power of the modern-looking design of the shop. Indeed, the six plasma TVs in the shop window, that unrelentingly played scenes from a movie about skiing, was certainly tempting. However, it occurred to me that I was getting duped by the razzmatazz. Do six beautiful TVs really mean that I would get a better cut than if I went to a salon that does not have these TVs? The answer, of course, is no.
The nature of the modern consumer world we now inhabit, is entirely about image. Certainly, those six flashing screens, mirrored marble walls and neon lights have absolutely no bearing on the skill of the employees within. Whilst the superficial dressing may well entice initial customers, the hairdressers’ ability would be the final indicator on whether they returned or not.
Everywhere you look today, we are bombarded by imagery to invoke certain emotions about a product being offered. The reality is that we are being tricked into believing that one product is better than another through manipulation of colour, smell and design. Brand managers are playing a game of smoke and mirrors, convincing us through dressing that one product is better than another, even though the product may in fact be the same. This brings to mind my stalwart friend at university, Tesco’s Value Beans, which looked and smelled the same as Heinz, but cost 20 pence less. I could live with a less glamorously designed tin, as long as the contents managed to fill my stomach.
Medicines, drinks, news channels, clothes, restaurants, cars… the list goes on and on, all using design to manipulate us into thinking that the product is something we need. We are told that some products can even make us “cool”, whatever that adjective actually means. I have always been baffled at the promise that drinking a red can of fizzy fruit and vegetable extract can somehow make me become a “cooler dude” than I already am. Or, that a pair of denim pants embroidered with a familiar brand name are any more helpful in enhancing my life than that of another cheaper company. It’s all smoke and mirrors.
Sadly, we now live in a world where the game of politics has, more so than ever, become a game of image and deception; where policy must be packaged to become palatable and even fashionable, however despicable it may be. The build up to the Iraq war, with all the spin and falsehoods that led us there, is perhaps the saddest example.
We have become Alice in a Wonderland, trying desperately to discern what is genuine, good and necessary. Many of us can’t help but to follow the trends and brands that pummel our minds incessantly. And like the zombies in George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, some of us spend countless hours wandering banally through malls in search of products we have been told we need.
There are some though, who have awakened to the bombardment and are asking, ‘Why?’
You cough, you breathe and then you sigh… That is life.
“Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is we would know everything that God would know if there was a God, but there isn’t. I’m an atheist” – Stephen Hawking
This word “God” is a semantic hurdle. The word can mean many things to many people, including simply or complexly, the universe itself in abstraction. It is just a label applied to the great mysteries that abound, just as the phrase “the Big Bang” is. Words try to find meaning in the darkness. They are conveniences.
I do agree that science can discover great, underlying truths, and perhaps the mind of “God”. We may even discover if the universe is a hologram, and that we are the universe itself, enfolded infinitely. We may even discover, as some maverick scientists postulate now, that the universe is a simulation. We may discover then, that in the beginning was, indeed, the word.
What the mathematics of science brings to Truth is accuracy over the flowery flourishes of metaphor used by mystics. Yet, we must not be mistaken in thinking that the insights of mystics are any less valid and valuable for understanding Truth. I see no difference between the Big Bang and the Aborigines’ Rainbow Serpent dreaming the world into existence. No difference at all, except the words used.
I have always believed that mathematics may well be the language of God. However, the words of great mystics should not be diminished any less in their value for understanding Truth. There is much wisdom, poetry and insight to be found in the metaphors of mystics. Even the mystics themselves though have repeatedly pointed out the inadequacy of words to express the insights they have gained from their experiences of the divine. The Buddha was himself reluctant to try and explain what he had gained, because he doubted that his awakening could be adequately expressed through words. The Sufi mystic, Rumi said, “If I could repeat it, people passing by would be enlightened and go free.”
Arthur C. Clark once wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In defining something, we often fail to see things as they truly are. Indeed, if I must choose labels, I much prefer the poeticness of magic, over the coolness of technology, regardless of if they are an indistinguishable thing. Perhaps it is the poetry of the term God that makes it such an appealing label for the great unknown.