Making of the Mahatma

The 1982 film Gandhi told the lifetime story of Mohandas Gandhi, spending only a short period in South Africa where Gandhi changed from lawyer to spiritual activist. Though he spent 21 years there, the film gave only a glimpse of how this land changed him.
In 'Making of the Mahatma', based on the biography of Gandhi's time in South Africa by Fatima Meer, we get the chance to see Gandhi confronted by the cruelties of colonialism and the brutality that man can muster based on ignorance. Mohandas is given a copy of the Qu'ran, attends a church, gives lectures on the Gita, and begins to formulate a spiritual worldview that embraces the beliefs of others. Satyagraha, a term coined by Gandhi, is a far better discovery than decoding the human genome or uncovering the mysteries of blackbody radiation, but the West likes to have its treasures in test tubes, not in little white robes and a walking stick. Though the film is not of the greatest quality, the message comes through, and that is all that really matters. If you know nothing of satyagraha, watch the film.



Vicissitudes of Life

When the uninstructed worldling comes upon gain, he does not take the time to think, to analyze past experience and those of others, and comprehend that the gain is impermanent, that it is bound up in suffering, and that it is subject to change, like all things.

The mind of the uninstructed worldling dances to the to-and-fro, give-and-take of this cyclic existence, trapped in the tapping of the vicissitudes of life.

The mind of the uninstructed worlding is transfixed to the world of change like a child with a new toy. The change keeps the dance alive.

'With Gain, He is Elated.

With Loss, He is Dejected.


With Fame, He is Elated.

With Disrepute, He is Dejected.

With Praise, He is Elated.

With Blame, He is Dejected.

With Please, He is Elated.

With Pain, He is Dejected.'

(Anguttara Nikaya 8:6;IV 157-59)


All the while, the uninstructed worldling never stops the dance. When he slows, his mind slows. When slow, he may discern. When discerning, he will gain insight. With insight, freedom can be gained. The Eight Wordly Conditions are not permanent. Samatha, or calm abiding, is where we take our first steps to freedom.


works cited:
Work in quotes adapted from the Anguttara Nikaya as translated in:
1. Bodhi, Bhikkhu In The Buddha's Words Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2005


Tactile Junkies

Public domain moochu a.k.a miho

At the moment of birth, we begin to define the difference between "I" and the outside world through our senses. We touch objects and put them in our mouths and decide between "me" and "not me." The concept of a self must be reestablished within every moment through constant interaction with thought or feeling. "I .. am feeling the ... ball (which is not a part of me)."

We smell, taste, touch, sense, and hear at every moment. As tactile junkies, we seek out greater interactions, which makes us feel even more alive by creating a greater illusion of self. We zoom at breakneck speed in roller-coasters, slam our ears with deafening sound at concerts, scream at the top of our lungs while sipping beer, getting dizzy, and dancing about to the beat of a song.

Our greatest interaction occurs when two people connect and begin to speak. There is almost like a momentary link-up, much like when two computers interface. You can sense a connection beyond normal sense, creating an interaction so much greater than common experience, there is no wonder that we are such social animals.

And so it becomes clear why fear is experienced during meditation. To stop interacting is almost like asking the heart to stop beating. It must beat for us to live. We must interact to maintain our sense of self, or feeling that "WE" are alive. It is very hard to believe an enlightened mind when he tells us that true happiness lies beyond this sense, when every moment of happiness we have experienced has come from this idea of a self. Upon reflection we see that every moment of interaction, every moment of self-identity, brings with it, a moment of hidden sorrow. We don't know anyone in our daily lives who is truly happy, only people who say they are with empty words. Alas, this is one part of the journey that requires a great leap of faith: abandon all that you are and all that you define yourself by.


Profile: Jainism

Founder: Mahavira* (वर्धमान महावीर)
Number of Adherents: 4.2 mil.
Approx. Foundation: ~ 556
Country of Origin: India
Category: Non-theistic-Liberation
*Jains do not believe that Mahavira "founded" Jainism, but only rediscovered what, from time to time, must be found again.

In a time when the world was ripe with spiritual conquest (time of Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, and the Hebrew Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), Mahavira attained what he termed kevala, or "state of omniscience". Searching among the religions of this planet, it would be hard to find a religion devoted more to peace and compassion than the Jains. From the facemask that prevents the inhalation of small lifeforms, to the whisk-broom that sweeps away crawling life from being stepped on, no other group of people has ever come to my eye with such appreciation for the beauty and unique right for life of each and every lifeform, from the two-legged to the four, from the sky-capping trees to the burrowing potato plant.

Mahavira, who's birth name was Vardhamana, was born around 599 BCE, in the ancient republic of Vaishali, in what is now the state of Bihar, in India. His father was a clan chieftan and his mother was tied to local power. Both parents were also linked to a religious order founded by Parshwanatha, around 200 years earlier.
Vardahamana was married and had a daughter, but at 30 he left his household, renounced his life of privilege, and eventually went naked and possessionless into the world, living on alms, fasting for long periods of time, spending much time in meditation. In his thirteenth year of such practice, Vardhamana achieved his first victory of this existence by gaining kevala, or "state of omniscience." At this point he was known as Mahavira, or "Great Hero."

Jain Philosophy
Jains believe that the soul is a source of all-pervading knowledge that can guide us through this world of desire and attachment through discipline and strict control, thus gaining true freedom from the oceans of rebirth and suffering. This liberation is known as moksha.
The most well-known of Jain beliefs is the principle of ahimsa, or non-harming. This principle pervades Jain thought and practice. The Swetambara monks can be seen with white masks over their mouths to prevent the inhalation of flying creatures, carry whisk-brooms to prevent themselves from stepping on crawling creatures, many venture outside only during the hours of the sun, and the strict will not eat root vegetables that destroy the plant itself.

The Layman or Laywoman
The layman reaches for moksha by meditating frequently (traditionaly 48 minutes), fasting, devotional practices, and maintaining vows.

The 5 Lay Vows
1. Ahimsa, non-violence
2. Truth
3. Non-stealing
4. Non-illicit Sexual Conduct
5. Non-attachment to possessions

Unlike many of the worlds religions, Jainism asks its adherents to be self-reliant. There are no priests or gods to turn to. The only true figurehead are the 24 Tirthankars, or those who have gained moksha. The 23rd was Parshwanatha and the 24th was Mahavira. They are meant as guides and not as divine beings which will intervene in the lives of the Jain who prays to them.

North and South
ccording to one account (one can easily guess who's side this is), in the 3rd century during a famine, a group of monks of the Jain sangha migrated and returned a few years later. They returned to find that those who stayed had taken to wearing clothing and behaving in ways that were not in agreement with the ideals of Mahavira. At this point, the Jain split. Those who had remained without clothing and upheld traditional values (in their opinion) became the Digambara, or "sky-clad" monks. The northern group who had taken to wearing clothing became the Swetambara, or "white-clad" monks.

Jain Influence on Indian Society and Culture
Though the Jain make up less than one-half of one percent of the Indian population, they have had a large impact on Indian culture; business, art, religion, education, and government. A massive statue of Gomatheswara can be found in Shravanabelagola, one of the world's largest.
Through the influence of ahimsa, vegetarianism has spread througout India. This same principle influenced Mohatma Ghandi in his struggles, first in South Africa and his most famous non-violent movement in India. This movement then influenced Martin Luther King in his non-violent movement for civil rights in the United States. That movement influenced non-violent protests of civil rights for freedom in South Africa. Who can say how much this man, clad in nothing, owning nothing, attached to nothing, gave to this world? It is sad to think that the world owes so much to Mahavira and the majority of the world knows not his name nor his religion. Though I am not a Jain myself, I recognize the great wealth of knowledge and unending illumination of the concept of ahimsa and know that these Jains are my teachers and that I have much to learn from them.

I bow to their wisdom and say a word of thanks to Mahavira for the light he has given the world.

Listing of the 24 Tirthankars

Works Cited

  • Jain Heritage CentersHistory of Jainism February 2, 2006

  • Wikipedia.orgWikipedia-Jainism February 2, 2006

  • Heeds, Peter Indian Religions: A Historical Reader of Spiritual Expression and Experience New York: New York University Press, 2002


The Flock

There is a common perception that we are creatures of free will and independent thought. A careful look at almost any human behavior shows this is not the case. At birth our will is guided by the worldview of those around us, taking shape within the vessel of the language or languages spoken by those that live near us and live within our family. Many people are unaware that entire concepts exist within certain languages and that languages themselves limit the scope of the human reach of understanding (at the dualistic level). We are conditioned creatures.

Ivan Pavlov, in the 1890's, studied the salivary gland in dogs. What Pavlov discovered was a sort of "conditional reflex" in which the dogs would begin to salivate even before the food was introduced. Food need not be present, only the thought. That is a very important point. Pavlov would have been interested in a certain pharmacy of which I was employed.

The Free Range

One group of employees work in the pharmacy itself, in a large, open warehouse with no internal walls. The employees freely walk from workstation to workstation as work demand changes and carry on conversation over the noise of the conveyor belt and machines. Though the rows of certain workstations act as a sort of wall, one may only look between shelves to catch a quick word from a fellow employee. The mood is relaxed, friendly, and jovial.

The Coup

The other set of employees work in the cubicle area. Each cubicle area is subdivided into departments. Talking is discouraged with frowns and glares. Talking is only possible if an employee exits their workstation and stands in clear view. Though the cubicle area is built within the same setup as the pharmacy area, it has been converted into departments which are sheltered and cut off from each other. There is little noise or activity to be seen.

The Lunch Room

The conditioning of the work environment is all too clear during the lunch period. The free range group come together at noon and sit in one or two close groups, talking together. They talk freely, loudly, and openly. When someone has a birthday, there is a cake, food and gifts. When someone is leaving the company, there is cake, food and gifts.

The coup group enter as the free range group leave on a somber note. Each employee sits as far from the other, picking one or two trusted friends to eat with, sharing their meal in hushed conversation. There is no large table of people. When there is a birthday, there is no cake. When someone is leaving the company, they just leave.

We are conditioned creatures. Our worldview, our experiences, our language, our expectations, our understanding, our hopes, and our desires frame our responses. These are manipulated by our environment, which includes people, places, and these days, many, many things. In the modern world, many religions have lost touched with the original concept of transcendence. Jesus went into the desert and fasted and meditated. Buddha sat under the tree and fasted and meditated. Mohammed sat in the cave and fasted and meditated. At one point the mind transcended the base, impure, defiled and conditioned mind and distilled to something far beyond our understanding. That is why we write about them now. It is absurd to think that we can understand their ways and their thought from this conditioned mind. The people of the Book, Christian, Muslim, Jew, must retouch that lost tradition of meditation and fasting and learn to transcend the conditioned mind and touch what it truly holy. At that place, there are no mistranslations, divisions, or separations. The unity of awareness is awakened.

This path isn't easy, but in this world of decline in virtue and reason, where man believes he gets closer to "playing god", we must do our part to preserve the tradition and maintain the path. Started out one would not think they would be on their knees picking weeds, but that is the spiritual life. The path must be lived, preserved, and maintained. If you become lost in your own reflection, forge your own path and when you are ready to come back home, when will keep the lantern lit.