Monthly Archives: July 2007

God Must have a sense of humour

        I was having a conversation with a nun who has simple faith.  Both of us were cracking up.  Then a nun with rationalised faith came in and I made the comment that God must have a sense of humour.

The nun with simple faith smiled knowingly while the nun with rationalised faith looked at me with disbelief and asked "Why ?".

I slapped my balding forehead and exclaimed "alamak" (the malaysian version of westerner’s exclamation of "What the fxxx ?" – with different tones you get to use this in a lot of situations Open-mouthed). …..I was telling myself that now I’ve to give an explanation.

So I told her that if God didn’t have a sense of humour S/He wouldn’t have built the entertainment center so close to the sewerage outlet Smile……….I’m just kidding.  What I told her was a straight-faced no-nonsense answer that since we were made in the image of God and all of us love a chuckle now and then, even the most serious amongst us I could only conclude that God must have a sense of humour. 

This little section here is dedicated to the whacky and unknown art and science of bringing a smile, chuckle or a hilarious uproar to our often serious and sullen face. 

Btw.  the above account with the nuns actually took place but I had exercised some poetic license Wink

Of all the sections in this blog,  this is the most serious Nerd

Excerpts from “tuesday with Morrie” (collection 1)

1.   On confusion of age.

Morrie : Have I told you about the tension of opposites?
             Life is a series of pulls back and forth. You want to do one thing, but you are bound tod       
            something else. Something hurts you, yet you know it shouldn’t. You take certain things for         
            granted, even when you know you should never take anything for granted.

            A tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band. And most of us live somewhere in the      
Mitch  : Sounds like a wrestleing match
Morrie : Yes, you could describe life that way
Mitch  :  So which side wins ?
         (He smiles at me, the crinkled eyes, the crooked teeth.)

Morrie : Love wins. Love always wins.

2. On modern culture

   "The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough
to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it."

   "So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy
doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get
meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around
you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning."

3. On empathy

   "’s hard to explain, Mitch. Now that I’m suffering, I feel closer to people who suffer than I ever
did before. The other night, on TV, I saw people in Bosnia running across the street, getting fired upon,
killed, innocent victims….and I just started to cry. I feel their anguish as if it were my own. I don’t
know any of these people. But – how can I put this ? – I’m almost….. drawn to them."

4. On caring for people

Morrie  : Mitch, you asked about caring for people I don’t even know. But can I tell you the thing I’m
              learning most with this disease ?
Mitch   : What’s that ?
Morrie  : The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.
              Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we thing if we let it in we’ll become too soft.

              But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, ‘Love is the only rational act.’

              Love is the only rational act.


mirror of erised – desire fo rorrim

Harry porter was standing beside a mirror and in there he saw his father and mother all lovingly looking and gesturing at him. Prof Dumbledore came along and told Harry that what he was looking at was the mirror of erised.  The mirror reflects back to us what is truly in our hearts ; the things we long for and the things that we fear and hate.

Life is like a mirror to what is in our hearts if we take time to step back instead of running away and have the courage and presence of mind to examine all that arises within our hearts and mind.

When we look at a beautiful girl if sexual thoughts arise then that’s who we are inside. However if we appreciate the beauty without the sexual elements then that’s who we are. If we look cynically at the girl and thought of her as a slut that’s who we are also inside ; bitter and cynical.

Even from very young we have been trained and conditioned by parents, society and even religion to reject all that is bad, negative, fearful, hateful etc.  Many religious teachers taught us that we should move away from our hateful and uncomfortable thoughts and tell ourselves that we should love.  And yet everytime when there’s a need for us to understand and to love we run away because of the discomfort we felt.  We may, through force of will, try to do what is right and proper but we are torned up inside when we do.

The result of such conditioning have resulted in a throw-away society.  We reject, runaway and throw away things that make us uncomfortable.  The shirt that is no longer in fashion,  the computer or handphone that is outdated etc. all make us feel out of place and therefore to be abandoned.   We even extend this to our relationships.  When we have done something wrong to the other party and are fearful that it will be found out, instead of confronting the real problem at hand, it is often safer just to abandon the relationship.  If it can’t be done then we try to cover it up with lies. 

 At the extreme we even "throw away" our parents , our children to institutions because they have become a burden and uncomfortable for us to handle. We felt and had been conditioned by society to feel that way that we must abandon all that is unpleasant and move towards what is pleasant and convenient.

   Such a self-centred approach to life had caused a lot of unnecessary mental and emotional suffering for a lot of people and we continue to use a failed paradigm of living and loving to try to reduce these sufferings and to seek happiness.

    However Buddha taught us not to abandon or even reject all these negative or positive emotions that arise in us but instead look at them from a detached person point of view. A half-filled cup is neither half-full nor half-empty. Thinking one way or the other is delusions.  We are to see the situation as it is. Only then could we start to reduce our sufferings and only then could peace arise.

     Peace from doing the right and ethical thing and meditative peace are the second and third happiness buddha talked about. The first kind of happiness had been what we are accustomed to and conditioned for….and these are unstable.

    The second happiness comes from doing what is right and ethical and often we have to confront our hypocrisy and our inherent fear.  In confronting uncomfortable truth and acknowledging it helps free us from the burden of untruth.  It is liberating and what ensue is deep and abiding peace.

tuesdays with Morrie – We Talk about Death

The Fourth Tuesday –  We Talk About Death

"Let’s begin with this idea," Morris said. "Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it."

    He was in a businesslike mood this Tuesday. The subject was death, the first item on my list. Before I arrived, Morris had scribbled a few notes on small white pieces of paper so that he wouldn’t forget. His shaky handwriting was now indecipherable to everyone but him. It was almost Labor Day, and through the office window I could see the spinach-colored hedges of the backyard and hear the yells of children playing down the street, their last week of freedom before school began.

Back in Detroit, the newspaper strikers were gearing up for a huge holiday demonstration, to show the solidarity of unions against management. On the plane ride in, I had `read about a woman who had shot her husband and two daughters as they lay sleeping, claiming she was protecting them from "the bad people." In California, the lawyers in the O. J. Sirnpson trial were becoming huge celebrities.

Here in Morris’s office, life went on one precious day at a time. Now we sat together, a few feet from the newest additionn to the house… an oxygen machine.  It was small, – and portable, about knee-high. On some nights, when.-he couldn’t get enough air to swallow,.. Morrie attached the long plastic tubing to his nose, clamping on, his nostrils like a leech. I hated the idea of Morris connected to a machine of any kind, , and I tried not to look at, it as Morris spoke.

"Everyone knows they’re going to die," he said again,.. "but nobody believes, it. If we did, we would, do things differently."

So we kid ourselves about death, I said.
"Yes. But there’s a better approach. To know you’re going to die, and to-be spared for it at any time. That’s better. That way you can actually be more involved in your life while you’re living."

How can you ever be prepared to die?
"Do what the Buddhists do every day, have a little bird on your shoulder that asks, "Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?"

He turned his head to his shoulder as if the bird were there now. "Is today the day I die?" he-said. .

 Morris borrowed freely from all religions. He was born Jewish, but became an agnostic when he was a teenager, partly , because of al that had happened to him as a child. He enjoyed some of the philosophies of Buddhism  and Christianity, and he still felt at home, culturally, in Judaism. He was a religious mutt, which made him even more open to the students he taught over the years. And the things he was saying in his final months on earth seemed, to transcend all religious differences. Death has a way of doing that.

"The. truth is Mitch," he said, "once you learn to die, you learn how to live."

 I nodded.
 "I’m going to say it again," he said. "Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.He smiled, and I
realized what he was doing. He was making sure I absorbed, this point, without embarrassing me by asking. It was part of what made, him a good teacher.

Did you think much about death before you got sick I asked.

"No." Morrie smiled."I was like everyone else. I once told a friend of mine, in a moment of exuberance, ‘I’m gonna be. the healthiest old man you ever met!’ "

How old were you?    .
"In my sixties." So you were optimistic.
"Why not? Like I said, no one really believes they’re going to die."

But everyone knows someone who has died, I said Why is it so hard to think about dying?

"Because," Morrie continued, "rnost of us all walk around as if we’re sleepwalking. We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half-asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do."

And facing death changes all that?’  
"Oh, yes. You strip away all that stuff and you focus on the essentials. When you realize you are going to die, you see everything much differently.

He sighed. "Learn how to die, and you learn how to live."

I noticed that he quivered now when he moved his hands. His glasses hung around his neck, and when he
lifted them to his eyes, they slid around his temples, as if, he were trying to put them on someone else in the dark. I reached over to help guide them onto his ears.

"Thank you," Morrie Whispered. He smiled when my hand brushed up against his head. The slightest human contact was immediate joy.

 "Mitch, Can I tell, you something?"
  Of course, ‘ I said.
  "You , mightt not like’ it."
  Why not?
   "Well, the truth is, really listen to,that bird on your shoulder, if you accept that you can die at any time – then you might not be as ambitious as you are."

    I forced a small grin.
    "The things you spend so much time on – all this work you do might not seem as important. -You might have to make room for some more spiritual things."

   Spiritual things?
   "You hate that word, don’t you? `Spiritual.’  You think it’s touchy-feely stuff
   Well, I said.
   He tried to wink, a bad try, and I broke down and laughed.

  "Mitch," he said, laughing along, "even I don’t know what `spiritual development’ really means. But I do know we’re deficient in some way. We. are too involved in materialistic things, and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relatiortshjp we have, the universe , around us, we take these things for granted."

   He nodded toward the window with the, suns streaming in. You see that? You can go out there, outside anytime. You can run up and down the block, and go crazy. I can’t do that, I can’t go out. I can’t run. I can’t  be out there without fear of getting sick. But you know what? I appreciate that window more than you do."

  Appreciate it?
  "Yes. I look out that window, every day. I notice the change in the trees, how strong the wind is blowing. It’s as if I can see time actually passing through that windowpane. Because I know my time is almost done, I am; drawn to nature like I’m seeing it for the first time."

   He stopped, and for a moment we both just looked out the window. I tried to see what he saw. I tried to see time and seasons, my life passing in slow motion. Morrie dropped his head slightly and curled it toward his shoulder.

    "Is it today, little bird?" he asked "Is it today?"’

**** Excerpts OCRed with minimal editing – Pardon errors ****

tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

"I love this book … a true story that shines and leaves you forever warmed by its afterglow"      Amy Tan

   This was the plug for this book. By looking at the plug we will never know that this book is about dying and it as such it is also about living for dying and living are inseparable.

   Why does the documentation, with vivid portrayal and a touch of humour, leaves us warm all over ?  Is it because Morrie was able to talk with great candour about things that we are afraid of talking or even think about ?  Why do we fear death so much ?

    When I first read the critique of a christian who was once a buddhist about how negative buddhist religion is and how the contemplation of death can terribly upset a person I truly felt sorry for the author.  Neurosis is defined as an unhealthy fear of what is not real and the corollary we can also say the joy with that which is not real. If something is real and we have an unhealthy fear of it it is also a neurosis. Like a person constantly cleaning his hand because he felt it has germs on it. Germs are real but the fear is unreal.
Death is real, it is all around us and without it life is not possible.  Isn’t it a neurosis when we fear or are uncomfortable with something that is so real and unavoidable ?  A healthy mind is one where there’s an acceptance of something that is inevitable and is at peace with it.

       Buddhist’s meditation on death helps to develop in us our capacity to let go of what is bad as well as what is good in our life for ultimately everything has to be abandoned. All good and bad are fabrications of the mind and we often hold on to them with a neurotic frenzy as if they are real.

      There’s a zen story in which a person was hanging on a rope string over the edge of a hill.  Below him was a tiger waiting for him to fall and above him was a rat gnawing at the rope and was getting through. Right in front of the person was a beautiful flower and he was smiling.  Is he neurotic or has he understood life and death ?

      "tuesdays with Morrie" helps us confront our own mortality with a touch of sensitivity, humour, openness and a lot of compassion and humanity. And only then do we suddenly realised that facing death is the same as facing life for we can never have one without the other.

        Morrie started living with gusto, joy and peace when he was told he had Lou Gehrig’s disease. Morrie had always been young at heart and were able to associate well with the young but it was the "death sentence" that really made him see what was possible with life.  

        Until and unless we accept our mortality can we truly live.  From the day we were borned we were already given a "death sentence".  To truly live is to love…..everything else is a struggle to live.


**********   The book is quite an easy read , do check it out –   will post a few choice excerpts later **********

Guru – Dead and Living

In all spiritual traditions we are often told to practice what is good. We are trained to condition our minds to move our minds from what is hateful and hurtful to what is good.  We have a set of standards that everyone adheres to, including the Guru.  If a Guru do not conform to the very standard he preaches he will very quickly be abandoned. The path of service and devotion rely heavily on the moral character of her teachers.

However buddhism and a number of eastern spiritual traditions do not subscribe to such a view. This in no way suggests that teachers from these traditions do not try very hard to satisfy the delusional longing of the teachers to be liked, loved and honoured.

The buddhistic path is one where we deconditioned our mind from the glue-like attachment of our delusions. Before we could take steps to reduce our delusions we first have to see those delusions.  In our normal day to day interaction and events life seems to be sweet.  Even when bad things happen or when we ourselves do bad things our mind will justify and rationalise our delusions. In the end we no longer see our delusions as delusions but see it as part of our goodness.  It takes great awareness and personal integrity to acknowledge our weaknesses and our delusions. I found such a person recently and she doesn’t even belong to any spiritual tradition. To me it was like a breadth of fresh air.

This is why a number Gurus in the buddhistic tradition use very harsh means to provoke their disciples. When the disciple’s delusions are stirred up sufficiently and the disciple is then pulled back in the 11th. hour to see it’s ugliness for himself, a big chunk of our delusions would have fallen away.  Such Guru usually do not have many disciples but what they did have great merit in reducing the delusiions of their students.  Such living Guru is even harder to find these days.

Not finding such a living Guru does not mean that such a Guru do not exist.  Our enemies and those who do hateful things to us and stir up our desire, our hatred and our sufferings are then our best living Guru. But in order to benefit from such life’s lessons we have to have this basic awareness.  This basic awareness can be gained either through indirect means such as insight meditation from the buddhistic tradition or the more powerful and direct means through the 3rd eye(ajna) meditation. Trataka or staring at a candle flame until tearing can also be considered as a form of 3rd eye meditation.

Many disciples of eastern tradition that upholds Guru devotion also practice such devotion when a Guru has long passed away. Many spoke lovingly of such a Guru even when they have never met him before. A dead Guru is perhaps the safest Guru to have in that we can always project our desires, our delusions upon the image of such a Guru.  We can make out to be anything we want. In short we create a Guru in our own delusional image.  Of course the teachings of the Guru becomes our guiding light but our delusions is seldom, if ever, removed. We substitute one delusion with another and when circumstances change all the ugly delusions will arise in great abundance.  This also explains why some of the most horrendous crimes were carried out in the name of a religion or a Guru. Such guru delusions should never be made as a substitute for real spiritual practice.

This is why buddhism as taught by Buddha Sakyamuni abhors such guru devotion and all teachers are archetype rather than a personality to remove the tendency of people to worship their teacher for no other reason than their charming personality.

I like it best when buddha admonished a congregation of monks who had abandoned their dying brother just because he was vomiting and shitting all over himself.  He himself went and clean up the monk and told the whole congregation that to render help to such a person who can never return our kindness is as good as serving a buddha.

When HH The Dalai Lama was asked what was his religion , he replied "my religion is kindness".  

Wisdom and Profundity

Some years ago a group of buddhist brothers and sisters were having a conversation after a lama gave a talk. I was driver Sad.They were praising the lama’s delivery and said that his talk was very profound.

Yesterday while discussing with a nun on a number of issues she too praised what I had said as profound. I smiled and it wasn’t a smile to mock her but deep in my heart I felt that if what I had said was profound then it is basically of no use to anyone. 

ALL spiritual truths are simple. The reason we could not see it, is not because it is profound but because it is so obvious and our mind that loves elaboration will overlook it. It is like our nose…we know it is there but we just can’t see it.

Wisdom arose in our mindstream when all elaboration stop. It’s simplicity and it’s directness seem to make it’s veracity self-evident and no elaboration is needed. When truth is profound,  it is no longer truth but an elaborate attempt at pointing at the truth.

Profundity is actually judged not by what was said but rather by our ignorance.

Be still and "know".