Monday, January 29, 2007

Anti-Racist Politics

Priyamvada Gopal analyzes Shilpa Shetty's big brother win in terms of the politics of British Asian identity in the Guardian.

For British Asians, the public display of familiar battles poked at raw wounds, inspiring large numbers to protest. I would feel a lot more excited about this apparent resurgence of anti-racist awareness if recent years had shown more evidence of a genuine activist spirit among us. Where were these tens of thousands of protesting voices when young Zahid Mubarak died at the hands of a white racist cellmate with whom he should not have been made to share a cell? When a few hundred Sikh women protested alone at discriminatory treatment by British Airways meal supplier Gate Gourmet? When British Asian Muslims are confined illegally and tortured in Guantánamo Bay with the acquiescence of the Blair government? Why did only a small minority of British Asians speak up when "Hindu" criminals in the Indian state of Gujarat, to which many are linked by familial ties, raped and killed thousands of Muslims in February 2002 in an attempt at ethnic cleansing?

Too many of us have been busy unhooking ourselves from the collective term "British Asians" and dividing ourselves into Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. The terms "Asian" and "black" were rallying points in the anti-racist organising of the 70s and 80s, whereas "British Asians" as a category has been largely absent from recent political discourse. Few displayed the outrage CBB has elicited when institutional racism in police forces was exposed. I can't help wondering where these angry voices were when a Sikh playwright, Gurpreet Bhatti, was bullied by loud voices within her own community and even subjected to death threats. Why is racial profiling seen as a Muslim issue? Where were the custodians of Asian dignity when crews filming Monica Ali's eponymous novel were hounded out of Brick Lane? When artist MF Hussain's exhibition was shut down because of vandalism by goons apparently representing hurt Hindu sentiments?

A large part of the problem is that, apart from the sterling work done by a few dedicated individuals and organisations, anti-racist politics has become a facile "representation" game that involves appeasing the fragile sensitivities of a vocal few claiming to represent the whole community. It is about harassing artists and writers, demanding that they conform to "right" ways of representing the community. Meanwhile, India's favourite cultural pastime is "representing the nation", the very task Shilpa announced for herself as she entered the BB compound. As India anxiously finds its place within the community of big global players and tries to reconcile its economic successes with the glaring (and often deepening) inequalities that still mar its social landscape and self-image, it is increasingly obsessed with disseminating the myth of the nation as fundamentally middle-class, professional and successful. The task has partly fallen on the feminine shoulders of India's flourishing glamour industry.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

homegrown engaged cultural criticism bell hooks amalia mesa-bains

A one hour radio show interviewing bell hooks and Amalia mesa-Bains, both are authors of homegrown, engaged cultural criticism.

Bell hooks has been one of my favorite cultural critics for the past ten years. She writes about cultural politics, feminism, education from a critical perspective. She write about theory but simplifies it and does not use a lot of jargon that makes it critical without obfuscating the seminal points. This book is different from her other books, in that, it has a dialogue with a Chicano artist Amalia Mesa-Bains. The topics the two women engage with are family, feminist iconography, resistance pedagogies, public culture, multiculturalism, home, memory, altars and the day of the dead.

When speaking of innovation, they both felt that taking a product and altering it for your own is increasing dying out. Amalia gave an interesting example of how Tommy Hilfiger took over the creation, marketing and production of Hip Hop Clothing. bell writes about how the resistance of the street was “how dare you try to sell me back this appropriation”. The street defies that by creating anew. But now people want to be identified with labels like Versace.

“This erasure of creativity, this recolonization of imagination, creates mannequins. Everything becomes part of a new plantation economy, so the Black body becomes the mannequin on which white fantasies of otherness are played out.”

The chapter on multiculturalism, explains how the term, grew out of the business world to combat loss of business to Japan, by holding diversity workshops. In keeping with this trend, we now have multicultural marketing, where focus groups analyze what products they can sell to minorities. Instead of focusing on issues of literacy, representation, education or economic enfranchisement the focus shifts to Hispanic celebrities and popular culture.

bell talks about the limitations of identity politics that does not acknowledge radical critiques of domination. For instance Afrocentrism is a conservative identity politics, rooted in fundamentalist religion. Also identity politics often obfuscates class issues. For instance class interests of poor black people on welfare are more linked to class interests of Chicana and Chicano farm workers than wealthy or middle class blacks.

In terms of artistic production, bell wants to be able to interrogate which artists are supported by museums and other art establishments and those that are marginalized from the establishment. She feels it is the artist’s responsibility to be able to engage with the audience that they create the art for. Carrie Mae Weems did not eschew the issue of accountability, while artist Kara Walker did not want to discuss the implications of her work with her audience.

This book is powerful as you read on, the first few sections were not so strong but starting with the chapter on multiculturalism, theory was discussed and analysis was undertaken. Memory, altars and the day of the dead, were powerful chapters on how the authors understood, spiritual memory as a resource for resistance and spiritual healing.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Kiran Desai

Kiran Desai's interview in Tehelka.

For me, being Indian means being in touch with India on a day to day basis in New York — go to Indian art exhibitions, hear Asha Bhosle sing, eat in Jackson Heights, go to the houses of friends. It means the open door, the whole ease and generosity that goes with being Indian. It’s the emphasis on community and friendship, which you don’t see in the States. Everything there is so stilted. The western world is a deeply formal and lonely place. That’s the great tragedy of America. That’s what their literature is about. If you live like that, you are condemned to write that kind of literature also. (laughing) Everything is framed in deeply psychological terms, in this language of therapy. You are focussed on one individual finding meaning for themselves. But that’s not the location of our literature and our writing. We are often writing of what it means to be up against community and society. The problem is too much of the writing in the US is now coming out of writing programmes. You are taught to concentrate on small moments of yourself, blow your interior dialogue up to a huge degree (giggling). All this is quashed out if you are an Indian. You don’t loom so large; you are part of a community of many people. Even our language is different. In America, coming out of this process of group approval, everything is becoming too sanitised. All weirdness and eccentricity is ironed out. The whole New Yorker school of short story writing. Tragic. American writing used to be much more fun. But the weirdness that produced the Confederacy of Dunces or Truman Capote’s early books has been completely eroded.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

a bit of this and a bit of that

Some relaxing animation

The Nation has a powerful editorial on Bush's America.

World opinion is against it. The American people are against it. The Democratic Party is against it. The Congress of the United States is against it. The Iraq Study Group is against it. The Iraqi people are against it. The Iraqi government is against it. Many Republican lawmakers are against it. The top brass are against it. But George W. Bush is going to do it: send 21,500 more troops into Iraq. Can a single man force a nation to fight a war it does not want to fight, expand a war it does not want to expand--possibly to other countries? If he can, is that nation any longer a democracy in any meaningful sense? Is its government any longer a constitutional republic? If not, how can democratic rule and the republican form of government be restored? These are the unwelcome questions that President Bush's decision has forced on the country.

Hrant Dink murder in Turkey last week, was shocking.

Hrant Dink was at the forefront of efforts in Turkey to shatter the long taboo surrounding the fate of the Ottoman Armenians. It remains one of the most sensitive issues in Turkey today.

A Turkish citizen of Armenian descent, the newspaper editor openly challenged the official Turkish denial that the mass killing of Armenians by Turks during World War I was genocide.

"Hrant Dink was killed because he was Armenian first, and second because he had the courage to write, think and speak differently to the crowd," Ismet Berkan wrote in Radikal daily this weekend. He argued that Turkey's streets today were filled with nationalist wolves.

The current issue of the The New Yorker has a Letter from Moscow, titled Kremlin, Inc Why are Vladimir Putin’s opponents dying? By Michael Specter.

The article talks about the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who wrote about the terror in the Southern Republic of Chechnya. This was followed earlier by the poisoning of investigate reporter Yuri Shchekochikhin, who wrote on the mafia, tax evasion and links of the F.S.B. with the old K.G.B. The list is not limited to journalists but includes politicians like Victor Yushchenko and the imprisonment of Yukos owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Putin an old KGB man, has passed a law that allows Russians to kill opponents abroad. Propaganda has became more sophisticated, TV is used to support the Kremlin and its corporate interests. Putin likes to project Russia as a haven of stability. But the situation on the ground is quite different. There is an AIDS epidemic sweeping the country, alcoholism is rampant among all sections of society, along with vast differences in income among Russian citizens.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Talking of Racism

Interesting review of the Ugly Betty television show by Yeidy M. Rivero on Alternet, the author compares it to its original from Columbia.

I am an avid Ugly Betty viewer, but initially I was partial to the telenovela. Yo soy Betty la fea has a harsher, more direct approach to women's self-esteem issues, and I appreciated the inclusion of Betty's six "ugly" girlfriends-a support network, who loved her and admired her deeply. Through Betty and the cuartel de las feas (the cartel of ugly women), the narrative created a space for gender and working-class solidarity.

That said, Ugly Betty is an important and timely show. It brings forth a complex assortment of U.S. women's issues, interconnecting gender, ethnicity, race, class and, of course, dominant beauty norms. Significantly, the show also addresses the thorny migration question, indirectly confronting the anti-Mexican sentiment that prevails in the U.S.

Indian actress Shilpa Shetty’s experience in U.K.’s big brother is also generating lots of news both in India, U.K. and around the world.

Here is a perspective from Outlook by Sanjay Suri.

She has been called a "dog" before, she has been accused of touching others' food with her hands ("you don't know where those hands have been"), taunted and provoked— "Shilpa wants to be white", she is "the Indian", and did she live in a house or a shack?

That question has also opened up the divide between the way Indians in India and Indians in Britain view the whole Shilpa episode. India is looking at the racist face of Britain that Big Brother has shown; British Indians are angry that Channel 4 is showing it.... Shilpa is wily, but she is no guttermouth. This show is not India's problem, or any Indian's. It is Britain's. Feel sorry not for Shilpa but for those poor white Brits, because Jade and her like are legion in the country.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


I finally saw Dreamgirls, a movie I really enjoyed. The motown music was fantastic, Jennifer Hudson with her deep voice was mesmerizing. The politics of the music business was well documented, the conflict between R&B and pop music, the appropriation and dissolution of black songs and styles by white performers. The musical was set within the civil rights movement and social change of 1960's America.

The movie was also about women’s empowerment. It is a story of women finding there voice, from full-figured, single mom, Effie ( Jennifer Hudson), who challenged the conventional beauty myths of how singers should sing and look, to Deena (Beyonce Knowles) coming into her own and challenging the image her husband wanted her to portray.

David Denby of the New Yorker, reviews it positively here.

Throughout “Dreamgirls,” Condon pursues two tracks: he celebrates the chart-topping success of groups like the Supremes, but he makes it clear that what they have achieved, however exciting, is not the same thing as artistic success. Effie, too idiosyncratic for pop, remains the artist. “Dreamgirls” fulfills the ecstatic promise inherent in all musicals—that life can be dissolved into song and dance—but it does so without relinquishing the toughest estimate of how money and power work in the real world that song and dance leave behind.

“Dreamgirls” is a barely disguised account of Berry Gordy and the rise of the Supremes; it features some brief, crisply written expository passages and several photo-montage sequences that detail the emergence of black artists as a major commercial force in American music of the nineteen-sixties—all seen against a background of the Detroit riots and the civil-rights movement.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Lawyers attacked for defending detainees

Alternet has an interesting piece on Lawyers that are being attacked by the pentagon for defending Guantanamo detainees.

Bush's attack on lawyers is the latest assault on our civil liberties, which now includes warrantless surveillance of our phone calls and email, and most recently, our U.S. Mail. Although Bush says he's spying on the terrorists, those who criticize his policies, including his illegal and immoral war on Iraq, are also invariably in his cross hairs.

All Americans should heed the words of Martin Niemoller: "First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I said nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing. Then came the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist. And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did little. Then when they came for me, there was no one left who could stand up for me."

George W. Bush must immediately renounce Stimson's threats and relieve him of his duties. A country that would sacrifice its own values under the guise of protecting them has no moral authority in this world.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King Jr's thoughts on War

I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Kabir Helminski feels Rumi’s popularity in the West is because of
1. A universal voice beyond the concerns of conventional religion.
2. Boundary between divine and human love is left ambiguous
3. Rumi is ecstatic and intoxicated with Gods love, those qualities are lacking in most people these days.
4. He is the clearest, most powerful voice of cosmic, divine love.

Rumi’s soul was set ablaze after his meeting with Shams of Tabriz, a mysterious vagabond.

Some of Rumi’s poetry, in The Rumi Collection translations by Coleman Barks, Robert Bly, Andrew Harvey, Camille and Kabir Helminski, Daniel Liebert, Peter Lamborn Wilson, among others.

With Us

Even if you’re not a seeker,
still, follow us, keep searching with us.
Even if you don’t know how
to play and sing,
you’ll became like us;
with us you’‘’ start singing and dancing.

Even if you are Qarun, the richest of kings,
when you fall in love,
you’ll became a beggar.
Though you are a sultan, like us you’ll became a slave.

One candle of this gathering
is worth a hundred candles; it’s light is as great.
Either you are alive or dead.
You’ll come back to life with us.

Unbind your feet.
Show the rose garden-
Start laughing with your whole body,
like a rose, like us.

Put on the mantle for a moment
and see the ones whose hearts are alive.
Then, throw out your satin dresses
and cover yourself with a cloak, like us.

When a seed falls into the ground,
it germinates, grows and became a tree:
if you understand these symbols,
you’ll follow us, and fall to the ground, with us.

God’s Shams of Tabriz says
to the heart’s bud,
“If your eyes are opened,
you’ll see the things worth seeing”

You are not a single “You”

When you fall asleep,
you go from the presence of yourself
into your own true presence.
You hear something
and surmise that someone else in your dream
has secretly informed you.
You are not a single “you.”
No, you are the sky and the deep sea.
Your mighty “Thou,” which is nine hundredfold,
is the ocean, the drowning place
of a hundred “thous” within you.

Intellect is a shackle

O my child, intellect is a shackle
on the foot of one who walks the path.
Break the bond; the way is open!
The intellect is a chain, the heart may be deceptive,
and even your soul is a veil-
the path is hidden from all three.

When you life the intellect, soul, and heart,
the station of nearness your reach is still subjective.
One who gets lost isn’t considered brave.
Love takes aim at the one who has no troubles.
Know that the arrow of the friend is ready in the bow.
Make your chest a target in front of it.

Love isn’t the work of the tender and gentle;
Love is the work of wrestlers.
The one who becomes a servant of lovers
is really a fortunate sovereign.
Don’t ask anyone about Love; ask Love alone about Love.
Love is a cloud that scatters pearls.

Love doesn’t need me to translate; it translates for itself.
If you journey to the seventh heaven, Love is a useful ladder.
Wherever a caravan journeys, Love is its qiblah.

May this universe not deceive you, way laying you from love,
for this universe comes from you.
Let’s go! Close your mouth like mother of pearl.

Be silent, for this tongue of yours is the enemy of the soul.
O child, Shams of Tabriz has arrived; the soul is full of joy
for the time has come to join in union with his sun.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Chandralekha RIP

Chandralekha passed away December 31st, here is a tribute from her partner. I saw a very powerful piece that she had choreographed for women's day in Delhi last year, it combined dance, yoga, sexuality and philosophy.


Iconoclastic dancer Chandralekha passed away on December 31. Companion Sadanand Menon remembers

On January 13, we will gather under the neem trees Chandra loved at 1, Elliot Beach Road, Chennai. There was not a blade of grass there when we first made it our home. Just a sandy acre barrened by the sea. The salt air ravaged everything until someone advised the sturdy wind breakers, the casuarina and the eucalyptus. After that Chandra turned the compound into a forest of banyan and mango and tamarind. But most of all, neem. There are 70 neems on the plot now. She was prouder of them than the entire corpus of her work.

Under these trees then we will gather. Through a scatter of recorded voice boxes, Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch, Lin Hwai Minh, Sardono Kusumo, Georg Lechner, Kyoko Edo, Arundhati Roy, Indira Jaisingh, Kapila Vatsyayan, Romila Thapar, Vasu Gurukul — leading artists, writers, and intellectuals across the globe — will pay tribute. We will then gather at Mandala, the theatre she created and listen to her voice. And, of course, her laughter. That’s it. No speeches, no portraits.

Chandra often engaged with the concept of death. The idea of a Socratic death fascinated her — to take wilful hemlock, a peculiar poison that kills feet upwards, so you are conscious till the end. She took the news of her abdominal tumour sportingly. I was more afraid than her. She was a child when she had understood that in Sanskrit the root word for Yama — the God of Death — means balance.

I was in college when I met Chandra. I was 19. She would’ve been about 45. From the start, it was like walking through a door, a narrow path opening out into a wider, unimagined world. This was 1969. A time of great ferment. After May 1968, in campuses across the world students were on fire. We were a group of 20 or 30, high on Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. One day, a dalit boy in our group returned from his village with news of terrible atrocities. Eighteen of us rushed there. For many, it was a first encounter with Indian realities. Someone came up with the idea of barging into affluent parties to raise money for the dalits. At one such party, while most people clucked with sympathy, there was a peal of laughter from one corner followed by a mocking voice. This was Chandra. She took our friend aside and scolded him severely for his naive charity. He was smitten. The next day, 20 of us marched to Chandra’s house. Not one of us remained unaffected. She read us our first lessons in real political understanding.

Over 1969 to 1973, Chandra’s house was a second home to scores of boys and girls. She lived in a small one-room house in Mylapore. The house belonged to Professor Chandrashekhar, the famous astrophysicist. His sister Vidya Shankar had been Chandra’s ‘sakhi’ for years and lived close by. Chandra had stopped dancing in those years. But for me — for many — this little room was an entry point into a whole new comprehension of humanity. Into new frontiers of knowledge. It was a churning, a discovery, an understanding of one’s own potential. Chandra had a fabulous library. Sanskrit classics, the European masters, contemporary greats, books on art, dance, music. People like Mohan Rakesh and Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Badal Sircar went in and out of her house. You went to watch the legendary Balasaraswati dance. You were introduced to Kelucharan Mahapatra and Kumari Kamala. You were fed on conversations about poetry and dance and philosophy. And then, there was Chandra herself. I came from a middle-class family who read but had no other aesthetic background. Introduced to Chandra’s world, I entered into a permanent state of excitement I have never recovered from.

An incredible, exhilarating openness — that is what most defined Chandra for me. She challenged everything. She loved intensely, fiercely. None of her friendships were casual. There were no ladders in her love. Everything was non-hierarchical, non-segmented. Life was a series of relationships — none of which ever fell off. She had time for everyone. She was impossible to possess. She lived with this great democracy of emotion. Sometimes, hostilities and subtle resistances eddied between those who loved her, but there was never any jealousy. There could not be. For the first 20 years that I knew her, Chandra refused to speak of her family. She had this immense need to remain unconnected. She was quintessentially a creature of unconventionality. Her father had something to do with this.

Chandra came from a family of affluent Patels, from Nadiad district in Gujarat. Her father was a doctor, and though Chandra left home when she was 17, he played a seminal role in her intellectual make-up. Their home had a massive library and he encouraged Chandra to read. When she was mesmerised by the Sanskrit text Amarakosha, he asked her to read the Bible. When she thrilled to the poetry of the psalms, he guided her to the sceptic Robert Ingersoll. When she was immersed in the Gita, he challenged the omniscience of Krishna. Chandra was 12 when she knew all of Kalidasa; 14 when she declared marriage the most undignified institution ever devised for women.

The other man who shaped her was Harindranath Chattopadhya, icon of the freedom movement, founder-member of ipta and the Progressive Writers Association, poet, singer, man-about-town. Baba, she called him, and there wasn’t a day since he passed away 17 years ago that she didn’t speak of him. He was in his 50s. She was in her teens. He was her entry point to a wider, unimagined world. He overwhelmed her with his playful vitality. She went with him to rallies. She met giants like Mahakavi Vallathol and Rukmini Devi Arundale. “I’m sure Baba and I were in love with each other,” she told me, “but we weren’t lovers.” Dashrath Patel, who founded nid in 1961, was in Chennai then, and the three of them lived together.

I became a part of Chandra’s life almost by accident. I can claim no exclusivity. Ten years after her sensational debut in 1951, Chandra stopped performing. She was searching for alternate content. For years she immersed herself in travel, accumulating experiences. Then in 1972, she met the dancer Kamdev and returned to dancing. They performed Navagraha together. That’s when she threw the student paltan out of Mylapore — “Get your schooling elsewhere,” she said. But after four performances, Kamdev decided to live abroad and the production fell through. Chandra began travelling again, giving her famed “body” workshops. She asked me to move in as a caretaker during her long absences. That’s how I became part of her daily life. It was a relationship of great endearment and great tension. The distance was too great, there was never any question of catching up. But a partnership grew between us.

Since college, a line from a biography of Dorothy Parker has always resonated for me. “She found everything about death disgusting, but most disgusting for her were the graveside emotions of the living.” So I cannot express Chandra’s absence. The silver hair is gone, the oversized bindi, the reds and blacks she loved, the laughter we all loved. But the sharpest for me has been the putting away of her beautiful Japanese wheelchair. It was her constant companion these last months, imbued with her passions — the right colours, the right textures, the Sambhalpur weave. The wheelchair now lies folded in a tiny cardbox in the corner of the room. Chandra has wheeled away in some other vehicle.
Jan 20 , 2007

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Hafiz, a.k.a. Shams-ud-din Muhammad (c.1320-1389) was a Persian poet, born in Shiraz. He has written an estimated 5000 poems, of which 500 to 700 have survived. Hafiz is part of the Sufi tradition, and he considered himself one with God, and often describes that experience in his poetry. Rumi, Kabir, Saadi, Shams, Francis of Assisi, Ramakrishna, Nanak, Milarepa and Lao Tzu are all known to have achieved perfection or union because of their extraordinary romance with the beloved.

Hafiz grew up the youngest of three sons of poor parents. His father was a coal merchant and died when Hafiz was in his teens. He worked as a baker's assistant by day, and used the money he earned to pay his tuition for studies at night. He learnt classical medieval education: Koranic law and theology, grammar, mathematics and astronomy. He also mastered calligraphy. He studied the great Persian poets: Saadi of Shiraz, Farid-ud-din-Attar and Jalal ud-din Rumi.

His teacher was Muhammad Attar, who he often had a challenging relationship with.

Here’s a sampling of some of his poetry, translated by Daniel Ladinsky, from the book The Gift, poems by Hafiz, the great Sufi master.

An infant in your arms

The tide of my love
Has risen so high let me flood over


Close your eyes for a moment
And maybe all your fears and fantasies

Will end.

If that happened
God would became an infant in your


And then you
would have to nurse all


Too beautiful

The fire
Has roared near you.
The most intimates parts of your body
Got scorched,

Of course you have run
From your marriages into a

That will shelter you
From embracing every aspect of Him.

God has
Roamed near us.
The lashes on your heart’s eyes got burnt.
Of course we have
Run away

From his sweet flaming breath
That proposed an annihilation
Too real,


My Eyes So Soft

Your loneliness so quickly
Let it cut more

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice so

My need of God

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Wake Up To Your Life Ken McLeod

Ken Mcleod, Wake Up to Your life.

This book has taken me over two months to finish, and I think I have only understood 5% of it. It is very dense, with a lot of information and practise guidelines, along with examples from the life stories of Mulla Nasrudin. But it is different from any other Buddhist book that I have read, in that it focuses on how patterns get created and methods to dismantle them from our lives. He does not use a lot of Buddhist terminology but uses more psychological terms but within a Buddhist framework to wake up to our naked, open awareness.

He defines Buddhism as a set of methods through which we wake up to what we are and stop the cycle that generates and reinforces suffering. He gives central importance to attention. We are what we experience. Presence is knowing, directly in the moment, that we are what we experience. Attention is the strong, stable and volitional attention cultivated in such disciplines as meditation. Active attention is composed of mindfulness and awareness.

Attention is used to dismantle the wall that separates us from what we are. This wall consists of conditioned patterns of perception, emotional reactions and behaviors. The wall has many components: conventional notions of success and failure, that belief that I am a separate and independent entity, reactive emotional patterns, passivity, an inability to open to others, and misperceptions about the nature of being.

To be present in life we have to open to experiences and not try to reactively and automatically control what we experience. We have to let go of the illusion of control, and that can be done through meditation.

Return to what is already there and rest.

He works from a psychological framework when he talks about dealing with reactive emotions.

Reaction is always based on past experience. Elements of any present situation resonate with the past and trigger habituated patterns that formed and developed on the basis of past experience. When patterns are triggered, attention goes out the window.

Pattern based living is described in three forms of suffering.
1. Pain
2. Change
3. Existence

The five elemental reactions arise as attempts to control what is being experienced through rigidity, evasiveness, devouring, busyness and confusion.

Patterns develop through crystallization, habituation, webbing and layering.

After explaining how patterns get formed, he moves on to how to dismantle reactive emotions, through spiritual work.

He defines spiritual work as essentially destructive in nature, since it attempts to return to our original mind which is clear, empty awareness. The practise has three components: cultivating attention and coming into presence, a way of generating higher levels of energy to power attention, and a set of methods that bring attention to habituated patterns. Formal meditation methods are only half the practise, the rest is how you cultivate attention in your daily life. He also emphasizes the need for a teacher, who can help spot patterns that are hard to spot oneself.

The four immeasurable are beyond pattern formations and serves as a bridge to the practise of insight. This helps us see into the nature of experience and penetrate the three deepest habituated patterns: subject object perception, taking subjective experiences as reality, and the fear that makes us turn away from open, direct awareness.

The four immeasurables are
1. Equanimity
2. Loving kindness
3. Compassion
4. Joy

Mind training
1. Tonglen or taking and sending- We exchange our happiness for other people’s suffering. We reverse the habituated way we relate to the world, and put others first and experience the friction generated inside as a result.

2. Cho or cutting. This exercise is to cut through confusion to bring out presence directly, in pain or pleasure, suffering or happiness. It is a way to give up the obsession we have with our lives and identification with our body.
When we die to the belief that we these reactions and obsessions, we are able to cut through the pattern of self.

Once we gain insight and dismantle illusions we see experiences as just arising. The three understandings that make up the nature of unborn awareness are emptiness (nothing there), clarity (what makes awareness possible), and unceasing arising (experience comes and goes on its own).

The book for the first four hundred pages focuses on cracking the egg of ignorance or walking up to our original nature. As Ken Mcleod summarizes it here.

All through this book you have been peeling away layers. With the meditations on death and impermanence, you peeled away attachment to conventional success and saw the rigid structures of patterns and conditioning. Using the mechanisms of the five dakinins and the six realms, you peeled away reactive emotional patterns. The four immeasurables exposed and released raw, undischarged emotional cores. Insight cut through the fabric of dualistic perception and ignorance to reveal the crystal of original mind.

Now you know what presence is: knowing the whole and knowing that what you are is not separate from the whole.

To place attention in the original mind, Gampopa instructs us to

Don’t invite the future.
Don’t pursue the past.
Let go of the present.
Relax right now.

The final chapter has an interesting exercise that we can do for ourselves, to identify and study our own patterns.

1. Observe what you don’t notice, what you don’t question, and what you don’t laugh about. What you don’t notice tells you where patterns keep you in ignorance. What you don’t question tells you what patterns assume. What you don’t laugh about tells you where your identity is invested.

2. Study your life history, start with five year intervals. And then study your parents and children and see how patterns are transmitted.

3. Look at the five circles of your life. The first is where you live, the second is your immediate support system, the third circle is how you earn your living, the fourth circle consists of your social relationships, your parents and relatives, and the fifth circle is the social and cultural realms-where you fit into the socio-economic system.

4. Practise alternation - this method studies patterns and cuts the web of existence.

Obstacles and resistance are signs that your practise is effective, your are hitting something, possibly a pattern and that they are hitting back. Keep persisting and see obstacles as useful. A powerful obstacle shreds your patterns of achievement, identity and superiority.

For more information on teachings by Ken McLeod

Friday, January 05, 2007

cherry blossoms in January

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Blood Diamond

This holiday season, I have been seeing way too many violent films for my liking. Starting with Casino Royale, to Babel and Children of Men to finally, Blood Diamond. I can’t take the violence and brutality any more. It seems what the U.S. is doing in Iraq, is inspiring film makers to make descriptive, brutal movies, what is edited out of CNN’s broadcast is inflicted on us on the big screen.

Blood Diamond is about the diamond trade in Sierra Leone, where civil war has broken out between the rebels and the country’s leaders in an attempt to control the diamond trade. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Danny Archer, a Rhodesian-born diamond smuggler who, having been orphaned during his native country’s violent struggles in the 1970s, has spent most of his 30-some years crisscrossing the continent as a soldier of fortune and a merchant of misery.

The New York Times has a searing review of the movie.

..this film betrays an almost quasi-touristic fascination with images of black Africans, who function principally as colorful scenery or, as in the gruesome scenes inside rebel training camps, manifestations of pure evil. Pure evil that, incidentally, likes to listen to rap and, in one case, wears a Snoop Dogg T-shirt along with his gat. Good as gold, Solomon earns a sizable share of screen time, and though the performance is expectedly sympathetic, the character has none of Danny’s complexity, which means that he’s inherently less interesting. Mr. Hounsou, who first came to attention as a noble African in “Amistad” and has often had to play the same role since, must be awfully tired of holding his head up so high.

The tragedy of Sierra Leone and the complicity of Americans, who buy more diamonds than any other consumers in the world, deserve louder, more clamorous attention than the occasional news report. And certainly big-budget Hollywood action films are plenty loud and plenty clamorous, and the volume is only turned up to shrieking with the addition of the international heartthrob who, by sacrificing himself on the altar of love in 1. “Titanic,” conquered a generation of young female fans (the same demographic most likely to brandish a rock on its ring finger).

Here is a link to a UN document that discusses conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone and Angola.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Wishing everyone a happy and peaceful new year free of war and violence in 2007.

Nir Rosen has written on Saddam's sectarian hanging in Iraqslogger.

The Sunni Islamo-nationalist website Islam Memo claimed that the Safavids (Persians, meaning Shias) burned Saddam's Quran after they killed him. They also said that Saddam exchanged insults with the witnesses to his execution and cursed one of them, saying "God damn you, Persian midget." The same website also claimed that Ayatolla Ali Sistani blessed Saddam's execution and that the Iraqi government refused to provide Saddam with a Sunni cleric to pray for him before the execution. Finally, they asserted that Saddam said "Palestine is Arab" and then recited the Muslim Shahada, testifying that there is no god but Allah and Muhamad is his prophet, and then he was executed. The website claimed that following his death Saddam's body was abused

Middle School chronicles

Middle School is a dress rehersal for life