Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Quest for Perfection

The Quest for Perfection

One last blog entry before the year ends. It feels good to be tucked comfortably at home, while the rest of the world is out there partying. New Year Eve to me is a good time to reflect, to reassess and to enter into "calibration mode".

When you are young, you feel a certain restlessness, a certain longing to belong to the world, to be a part of something--a cause, an image or an idenitity. When you are older, these things don't matter so much anymore for you are more secure in your own beliefs, in your understanding of the nature of Man and the world out there. You define what is meaningful to yourself and you go about doing it. That's your dharma, your duty, the reason you were born into this world.

A lot of people fear growing old. It is a fear that one has to come to terms with sooner or later. All things in the universe are subject to decay. If we can watch nature unfold in fast-motion--like what you see in some of those nature documentaries on TV--you'll realize that nothing in this universe is static and the apparent solidity and permanence of your physical body is but an illusion.

The molecules of your body do not belong to you--they are part of the continuous flux of energy and matter that is nature. You are but a temporary conglomeration of energy and matter--like a star or a planet--that will ultimately dissolve back into that Great Void.

This illusory, Matrix-like nature of the world is something that mystics have known for ages. When you realize these things, then you begin to see your life in a completely different perspective. All this clinging to the temporary sense objects in the world seems so foolishly futile. Which is why sometimes in life we are never satisfied--nothing ever seems to be the way we want it to be. Why shoud it be? Your idea of perfection is one that is doomed to fail from the very beginning because it means shaping Nature in a certain way to suit your liking.

Nature is already perfect as it is. How can something that is already perfect be further "perfected"?

Now hang on: How can we say that Nature is perfect when you see natural disasters, wars and calamities taking away thousands of human lives every year?

When I say Nature is perfect, what I mean is that Nature cannot operate in any other way. It is the way it is. There's nothing personal about it. One can accept it or fight against it. Only acceptance brings peace and harmony with our surroundings.

Our human views of perfection are very narrow because they are ruled by our egoist and selfish ideas of what perfection should be. When we seek to create our "perfect worlds" by reengineering Nature, then we have upset the balance of forces in the world. One country seeks "perfection" at the expense of another. So the balance of forces in the world have been disturbed, and Hegelian dialectic begins.

You are conscious of your own being. You care for that small part of Nature--your body, your family, your friends, your possession, your country, your planet as "your world". You want this "world" to be perfect. But it is not a closed system, it is part of a larger system which is Nature itself. As long as you see your world as a fraction of the whole, it can never be "perfect". How can it be?

Imperfection exists because we care for a small part of the whole. But that is all that our small mortal selves are capable of. So, as long as our souls are small, and our wants are selfish, we have to accept imperfections. Take it with a sense of acceptance. Take it with resolve, with understanding, with courage, with wisdom. Take it with equanimity.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Nature of the Effulgent Soul

The Nature of the Effulgent Soul

It's good to finally get the opportunity to blog again. So let's cut to the chase:

It's year-end, perhaps we should all slow down a little and reflect on the lessons we have learned this year before we begin another. One thing in life that I've found to be always true: there's always something to learn, always new things to discover; and whenever I stumble on some fresh insights, I marvel at the spiritual vistas that open up before my eyes.

Life is exciting because it is a never-ending school. Every lesson that is learned, elevates the soul to the next step in its evolution. I've been documenting my "progress" on this blog for more than two years now; still there are so many more insights that I have yet to put down in words. Some are difficult for me to express; if I do so, they will come out as mystical mumbo jumbo. But I will continue trying because it is this very act of putting down thoughts and insights into words that help me in my learning process.

Most men find enjoyment in sense pleasures. It is well and fine; one can probably spend one's entire life that way, shifting from one sense craving to the next. But sooner or later one will find them unsatisfactory because they never last. All sense experiences come in waves--the clinging to such waves will only bring pain.

Self-mortification and asceticism is not the answer either for they take the other extreme position--inflicting pain on oneself so that one avoids pleasure only serves to intensify one's attachment to the senses. It harms the instrument of the body, which is a necessary vehicle for the soul to progress.

The slightly more learned man finds pleasure in knowledge. He thinks of himself as "higher" than the common men and takes pride in his intelligence. I've highlighted the danger of the intellect many times in the past. Most educated men are stuck here. They think they have read enough books and come to certain conclusions and they spend the rest of their time arguing, debating and criticizing others who don't subscribe to their ideology.

The intellectual mind is a necessary instrument to progress but it can also be a great hinderance to one's spiritual progress. This hurdle has to be overcome, sooner or later. But it takes time to dissolve the intellectual ego. It takes the next great leap in the soul's evolution.

Formal religions give a certain glimpse of hope to the spiritual progress of man but it too falls short at times because they are perpetrated by less than perfect men. The true insights of religion are usually lost and get diluted when disseminated to the masses. Dogma, superstition and fanaticism take root. And so guillible are we to these things that we get attracted to religious practices that promise us material wellbeing and the guarantee of an afterlife. Like ignorant kids, we are easily taken in by acts of the supernatural, by the professed "powers" of certain "holy men". Again, another great hurdle has to be overcome.

The only true path to spiritual progress is constant practice. Kriya. ("The Malay word for work, "kerja" which comes from the same Sanskrit root, would shed light to the meaning of this word). The instruments of the mind, heart and body must be put to work. In the end no theories or dogma will bring us salvation--only the work we do in this life, from which a gradual purification of the mind, heart and body can be attained.

We are all like wound-up clocks. There's so much stored up samskaras in us. We react to the world of sense impressions and in the process, create more samskaras. As long as we have attachment towards certain sense objects, we will always react to the world and create fresh karmas. Our store of karma is always "topped up", and our souls will forever be cast out in a vast sea of senses, like flotsam, lashed about by the waves, never finding a way towards the calmness of the shore.

When I say we must "work" towards spiritual progress--we must not again see it as an external ego-driven attainment. Spiritual progress, unlike material growth is not a process of accumulation but one of "letting go". Work or kriya means constancy of purpose, being in touch with the core of one's inner being, never losing sight of the soul.

Again, when such things are put to words, they sound unnecessarily complicated. But then again, words are but imperfect expressions of the soul; they only serve to point to the Truth. Truth is ultimately, something to be perceived and experienced. It's like humour: a joke loses its impact when you try to "explain" it.

All the words that I've written mean nothing if there do not trigger that spark of realization inside, no matter how faint. It is this spark that grows slowly, day by day, gradually, turning into a steady illumination at first, and then spreading into a dazzling radiance; a radiance that is the true nature of the effulgent soul.