RSA Animate – The Divided Brain

In this new RSAnimate, renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist explains how our ‘divided brain’ has profoundly altered human behaviour, culture and society. Taken from a lecture given by Iain McGilchrist as part of the RSA’s free public events programme.

Jesus in India? — BBC Documentary

Jesus in India? — BBC Documentary

Mysticism: Living Love’s Oneness ~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

What is mysticism? How is it different to spirituality? And why is mysticism important at this moment in time?

The spiritual journey can be most simply described as a way to access the light of our soul — the beautiful light with which we came into the world. On this journey we make an inner relationship with this light of our divine nature — the spirit that is within each of us. Through this relationship we come to know our true self and be nourished by the deeper meaning of our soul.

Spiritual paths and teachings give us access to the tools and guidance to do this inner work. For example, the practice of meditation can help to still the mind so that we are no longer distracted by its continual chatter. Psychological inner work can free us from the traumas, anger, anxiety and other feelings that may cover our light. Gradually we come to know more of our true nature, learn to live in the light of our real self. It is said that the goal of every spiritual path is to live a guided life, guided by that within us which is eternal.

The mystical journey may begin with making a relationship with one’s inner light, but the mystic is drawn on a deeper journey toward love’s greatest secret: that within the heart we are one with the divine. The fire of mystical love is a burning which destroys all sense of a separate self, until nothing is left but love Itself. While the spiritual seeker is drawn to the light of this fire, the mystic is the moth consumed by it’s flames. Rumi, love’s greatest mystical poet, summed up his whole life in two lines:

And the result is not more than these three words:
I burnt, and burnt, and burnt.

The mystical path takes us into the center of the heart where this mystery of love takes place. Initially this love is often experienced as longing, a deep desire for God, the Beloved, Divine Truth, or simply an unexplained ache in the heart. Mystics are lovers who are drawn toward a love in which there is no you or me, but only the oneness of love Itself. And they are prepared to pay the ultimate price to realize this truth: the price of themselves. In the words of the 13th century Christian mystic Hadewych of Antwerp:

Those who were two, at first,
are made one by the pain of love.

Gradually we discover that this love and longing slowly and often painfully destroy all our outer and inner attachments, all the images we may have of our self. The Sufis call this process being taken into the tavern of ruin, through which we are eventually made empty of all except divine love, divine presence.

This is an ancient journey in which the heart is awakened to the wonder and beauty, as well as the terror, of divine love. It is celebrated in the Bible in the Song of Songs: “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” And over the centuries mystics of all faiths have written their love stories. Some mystics have been persecuted, like the Sufi al-Hallaj who was crucified for publically proclaiming the secret of divine oneness, “I am the Truth.” Known as the prince of lovers, he expressed the mystical reality: “I am He whom I love, He whom I love is me.”

Mystics may be drawn inward, but the oneness of the divine also embraces the outer world. When the eye of the heart is open all of creation reveals its divine nature; everything is seen as an expression, a manifestation of the One Being. Mystics are also involved in the demands of everyday life. One of Christianity’s most loved mystics, St. Teresa of Avila, worked tirelessly founding nunneries and looking after her nuns, while at the same time mystical prayer took her into ever deepening states of inner absorption, oneness and ecstasy. Mysticism does not mean to retire from life, but to live the unitive life. “God,” St. Teresa would say, “lives also among the pots and pans.”

The truth of mystical love is one of humanity’s great heritages. It should not be confused with its cousin, spiritual life. The spiritual journey is a wonderful way to come closer to what is sacred. It a way to live in the light of our divine nature, to be nourished by the mystery and meaning of the soul. It opens the door to what really belongs to us as sacred beings. But mysticism is quite different. The moth who feels the warmth of the fire is on a very different journey to the moth drawn into the flames themselves. This is the ancient journey from separation back to union, from our own self back to a state of oneness with God. Step by step we walk along the path of love until finally we are taken by love into love; we are taken by God to God, and there is no going back, only a deepening and deepening of this love affair of the soul.

Even if we are not all drawn to tread the path of the mystic, we need to be reminded that this note of divine love belongs to all of us. In a time of so much division in the world, it is important to reclaim this primal truth that belongs to our heritage: this great song of the soul that celebrates the oneness that is within the heart of each of us and underlies all of creation. This has particular relevance when we confront our present ecological crisis. We can no longer afford to think of the environment as something separate, outside of us. We need an awareness of the “oneness of being” of which we are all a part, and actions that come from this awareness. This awareness of unity is one of the most important contributions of the mystic at this moment in time.

Within the heart of each of us, within the heart of humanity, is this song of mystical love. It has been present for millennia celebrating the divine unity that is our real nature, and the deepest secret of our relationship with God. Hearing the many voices that today so easily consume our attention, it is easy for us to forget this quiet voice of divine love. And yet it is one of the great secrets of humanity, passed down from lover to lover, needing to be embraced, to be known, to be lived.

Death of the Ego II : The Ego and its False Perceptions

The Ego is a live entity that acts, thinks and feels. Every experience we have in our awakened existence is an experience of the Ego. We are so identified with the Ego that we develop a clear illusion that it is the Ego that controls our life. The appearances of pain, suffering, happiness, and loneliness are all projections of the Ego. It can provoke such havoc in our system that it can make one feel empty and unhappy. The compensation for this can come through the pursuit of external elements and self-medication: drugs, alcohol and many other addictions.

From all the realities, or perspectives, of the Ego, the feelings can be the most intriguing because when the Ego makes residence in our emotional system, it can easily blind us and imprison us as individualities, making us its slave. Most of the time when the Ego does not agree with the way reality is manifesting itself, it starts the blame game on others, or starts to attack the individual’s mind with thoughts of less value and self-worth, creating an inner environment of hostility against oneself.

The fact is that the perceptions of the Ego are generally lies and many times we find ourselves being a victim of the circumstances of illusionary perspectives .The Ego tries to consistently prove that we cannot change, that we do not have the capability to transcend obstacles. This is not true. This is the reason that many times, during passages of life or challenges, we feel defeated before we even start the battle.

The Ego manages our existence: it thinks, it reacts and it feels. To learn its tricks, we need to investigate ourselves in depth, because intimately in our beings there is a precious skill of observation, our internal observer. From the point where it is developed inside of ourselves, one progressively becomes aware and conscious of our limitations, and also our potential, virtues and defects, and gradually we prepare ourselves for a new dawn in our lives, to an age of awakening and self-realization.

There is definitely a distinction between self-perception and self-knowledge. In the beginning, with self- perception we can perceive the actions of our Ego over our Psyche, but when we engage in a process of elimination, one starts observing that many times it is not the real Self that is in control, but the many different facets of the Ego. These facets are the ones that get in despair, that get mad and scream. It is necessary to ask oneself what is the reason for these reactions: why one is so mad or feeling defeated etc. This is the beginning of self-mastery.

This exercise can improve much our inner power of observation and make our internal observer a skilled companion on this journey of self-awareness. It is not necessary to analyze the actions and perspectives of the Ego, just observe. As we observe the different nuances of the Ego, we realize what is needed to be changed in order to find mastery, internal realization and peace.

As this power gradually develops, we perceive the Ego’s games ahead of time and they therefore lose their power over the control of external circumstances in our lives, as we are able to act instead of react. As the internal powers of self-observations increase, the more we would gather the power to truly transform our lives.

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Ajarn Sulak Sivaraksa: Do the Best You Can But Don’t Expect to Win

Ajarn Sulak addresses the 2011 INEB Conference

: In your book, “The Wisdom of Sustainability”, you describe consumerism as a “demonic religion”. Consumerism is one of the main drivers of the climate crisis. Why and how can it be described from a Buddhist point of view as a demonic religion?

Sulak Sivaraksa: From the Buddhist point of view, the three root causes of suffering are greed, hatred and delusion. Consumerism promotes greed. Greed now dominates global society, through advertising in the media and because transnational corporations are in control. It is linked with hatred and violence. Violence is on the whole controlled by politicians, but more politicians are now under the control of transnational corporations. So greed is now in control of hatred.

Greed and hatred go together. People want more and more, and if they don’t get it, violence takes place. But underneath everything is delusion. People on the whole don’t know who they are – they aspire for more power, money and luxury, whatever. These are the three root causes of our suffering.

I think we Buddhists should not simply preach. We should concretize it. That’s why I keep saying consumerism is an expression of greed. Most governments—even democracies, not to mention dictatorships—promote hatred. But deep down it is delusion. Delusion is directly linked with mainstream education, which teaches people how to be clever, and promotes greed and hatred. Mainstream education never teaches people to know who they are. They don’t teach how to breathe properly—the basis is always “cogito ergo sum”—one-dimensional thinking.

If people are taught to breathe properly and mindfully, we can tackle greed, hatred and delusion. That’s why His Holiness the Dalai Lama is such an important example. He is a simple monk who gets up every morning, breathing properly. You can see his wisdom and compassion shining. At the same time he realizes that is not enough. It is a good foundation, but we must learn from science too, and bring it together with wisdom and compassion. Scientific know-how without proper breathing, wisdom & compassion, becomes a servant of transnational corporations and governments. We must come together now to change ourselves—and also change this world.

The more you promote violence in the media, the more people feel insufficient. Hence consumerism: they will buy this and buy that in order to get happiness. They never do get it, but they carry on aspiring for it. Violence is a threat. It creates fear in a population. People hope that by acquiring something, they will overcome the threat. But you can never overcome a general state of insecurity.

EB: Social psychologist Clive Hamilton wrote a powerful book called “Requiem for a Species”. He describes the “consumer self”—a false self that is continually dissatisfied and seeks to establish its identity through buying more goods. Cycles of dissatisfaction, anxiety and debt are created as it tries to acquire more elements of consumer identity. Meanwhile, the judicial position of transnational corporations now gives them legal rights of “personhood”.

SS: To be protected.

EB: When corporate behaviours are examined using psychiatric criteria, we discover an institution with some kind of psychopathic personality.

SS: That’s right.

EB: Some people say “We must not condemn corporations, because there are also human beings working there.” Yet if the institution of the corporation is a psychopathic institution, its CEOs serve an ideology that has no empathy. Can we Buddhists afford to be sentimental about this?

SS: No, but if our condemnation comes out of anger, that will not help. We would do better to understand and de-structure these corporations. My main concern is social structure that is unjust and violent. Corporations are the biggest and most powerful examples.

Most churches, and even the Buddhist Sangha, also have structures that are violent. We cannot ignore that issue. We may talk of “the future of Buddhism”, but if we don’t tackle social structure, it is mere chatter. To tackle this issue seriously, we have to learn who we are. We re-structure ourselves first, so that we don’t campaign for ego, for victory or for Buddhism.

Humility, compassion and wisdom are necessary to tackle social structures that are violent and unjust. With that in mind, we do need social scientists, anthropologists and mainstream scientists to come together. That is the new possibility. We have to push ahead with it.

EB: So Buddhist analysis in your view has to prioritize understanding of cultural and structural violence—which are less easy to discern than violent colonialism, because they hide themselves in a kind of mental fog. In order to discern the fog, one has to de-structure it within oneself.

SS: Precisely. And let’s remember, Gandhi’s success was also his failure. He used truth and nonviolence against oppressors outside India – the British empire. But he never used Satyagraha (the power of truth and nonviolence) against the unjust social structure within India—the four varnas (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra castes).

Ambedkar (who led thousands of the Dalit “untouchable” people to Buddhism) was great because he emerged from beneath the four varnas. Unless that system is tackled, India will remain un-liberated. 60 years after independence, the social structure is still awful. They got rid of one imperialism, but now they blindly follow American neo-imperialism. The suffering of India’s poor carries on and on.

This is why more and more so-called “untouchable” people become Buddhist. I am happy to talk with them. I say “You became Buddhists, that’s great. But if you still hate the Brahmins, that doesn’t help. You must learn to cultivate compassion and wisdom, and how to change the social structure—rather than hating the Brahmin oppressor. One reason we held our meeting (International Network of Engaged Buddhists, INEB) here was because I want to listen to the oppressed Buddhist Indians, and I hope they will also learn from us. Together we can change the social structure of this country.

The Japanese monk who led the ceremony this morning points out that Japanese Buddhism maintains a national social structure that is violent and unjust. Japan promotes violence, particularly in Asia: destroying the environment, importing cheap labour, prostitutes, even wives—because Japanese women are rebelling against male domination. That monk is wonderful. He is one of the few to speak out. I make efforts to meet a small group of such people, who don’t follow the mainstream.

EB: In America now we see a non-violent struggle confronting the corruption of the political process by Big Oil corporations. On November 6th, people formed a human circle around the White House, carrying posters citing President Obama’s own statements when he was running for election.

SS: That’s great. More and more people are awakening there, and even breathing more correctly! They are learning to question smartness and arrogance. We remain young at heart if we learn to be humble, breathe properly and honour others. I see much in America to be hopeful about. It is a country that has done dreadful things in the last 100 years or so, but it’s not too late to change.

I was involved with the creation of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship there. Many wonderful Americans have become Buddhist. Most are well-to-do and white, and they may not have embraced lifestyle changes that fully reflect the Four Noble Truths. But I think there are real developments. It is a matter of urgency, after all. The world may be irreversibly damaged by climate change during this decade.

EB: The great danger identified by James Hansen and colleagues (at NASA) is that unless there is a sufficiently rapid change in the energy system—unless we successfully turn back the power of the fossil fuel industry—humanity will lose control of the process. That brings us back to the “demonic” nature of consumerism and corporations.


EB: Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge University has identified an empathy circuit of 10 interconnected regions in the human brain. It is underactive in psychopathic individuals who commit acts of cruelty. Such a person does not feel the normal, involuntary human reaction of empathy for others’ feelings. A genetic lesion affects the empathy circuit. We instinctively call unfeeling cruelty “evil”. Baron-Cohen defines it on a neurological-genetic level. “Evil” is the “zero-empathy negative” state.

Now what happens when fossil fuels create the greatest profits in human economic history, but are controlled by zero-empathy negative institutions? In 1995, evolutionary geneticist Edward Wilson asked “Is Humanity Suicidal”? Sixteen years later, carbon emissions are out of control and extreme weather events have become “normal”. Shouldn’t we Buddhists be asking his question anew, with all its implications?

SS: This is good for me to know. I would like to be clear and understand what you say before I can make any meaningful comment. It is very useful for me to learn this information.

Extreme weather led to a major flood right now in my country, Thailand. Three cabinet ministers came out and said they are inexperienced and don’t know how to handle it. Why didn’t those supposedly democratic politicians resign?

We have been uprooted from our own culture. 150 years ago when we opened the country, westerners complained that they could not ride horses, so we built new roads. Now we have so many roads and cars that the natural drainage (of Bangkok) has been lost.

We have abandoned our traditional respect for Mother Earth, Mother River and Father Mountain. Now we see them only as material to be consumed, turned into money and subject to technology. We have to pull ourselves back to our roots, while at the same time being open to new scientific knowledge. We must change ourselves and society fundamentally, through non-violent action.

To be mindful one must cultivate inner peace. But we must also have kalyanamitra, good friends who have good ideas, with whom we can dialogue. They need not only be Buddhists, they could be Christians or atheists. This isn’t a matter of numbers. A few friends can achieve a lot with technological know-how, commitment, less egoism, more compassion and wisdom.

Time is short and pressing. But with groups of people like this, we may pull through. Even if we don’t pull through, we will have done our best. We must fully do our best—not out of self-concern, but for the next seven generations, and for all species.

We all have Buddha nature. It is my conviction we can pull through. I strongly support creative civil disobedience. I strongly support the Occupy movement. It is wonderful! We have to use all kinds of tactics. We have to learn to be non-violent. We have to learn to be mindful.

Do the best you can, but don’t expect to win.

“Sulak Sivaraksa and I share a conviction that if we are to solve human problems, economic and technological development must be accompanied by an inner spiritual growth.” —H.H. the Dalai Lama

The Wisdom of Sustainability continues E. F. Schumacher’s groundbreaking work on Buddhist economics in Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. Emphasizing small-scale, indigenous, sustainable alternatives to globalization, Sulak offers hope and alternatives for restructuring our economies based on Buddhist principles and personal development.

Sulak Sivaraksa is one of Asia’s leading social thinkers and activists. His wide-ranging work includes founding the International Network of Engaged Buddhists and dozens of other educational and political grassroots organizations, and authoring more than 100 books in Thai and English, including Seeds of Peace: A Buddhist Vision for Renewing Society. He was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize and, in 1995, received the Right Livelihood Award, known as the alternative Nobel Peace Prize.

“Sulak is one of the heroes of our time, offering deep wisdom and refreshingly sane alternatives to the earth-destroying religions of consumerism, greed, and exploitation.” —Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

“With the crash of the economy, the question of alternatives to the current economic model has become extremely urgent. Sulak Sivaraksa has been in the forefront of developing a thoroughgoing critique of consumerism.” —Walden Bello, author of Deglobalization: Ideas for a New World Economy

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