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Map vs. GPS

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Today, there’s a readiness and willingness to accept information from machines at face value with no discernment. Technology is just a machine, a computer at best. There’s no human judgement values, personal experiences, or wisdom in technology. Specifically, GPS’s are not really giving you an actual destination. It’s a computer that is taking you from point A to point B in the GPS’s system. A simple equation. (We use to be able to solve it with a thing called a map.) The problem arises from our believing that the GPS is really depicting an actual, tangible place. It has the undetectable illusion that is presenting the driver with a real place by showing qualities of the destination. Just because a computer can intake data and spit it back out to the user does not mean it discerns like a human mind.

Google has the ability to run specific search engines that evolve regularly due to its tracking bugs that automatically find new data to intake.  A person had to preprogram the logarithm for that bug to have the illusion of working self-sufficiently. Technology is the extension of human discernment that is propelled by our seeming growing need for convenience. Technology is NOT its own entity that should outweigh or completely for stomp out the individual’s ability to make decisions, especially those affecting him or herself.

I felt motivated to write out the above reflection as a reply to a classmate’s self-righteous exclamation: “Do you even know how to use a map?” Directed at my professor, I couldn’t help but smirk at his idea that maps are already outdated. Maybe they are, but I thought it was quite the assumption to make. Anyways, to me, it sounded like someone saying, “Don’t you know that 2+2=4?” to a college professor. Of course it was said with the tone inclining some sort of rhetorical question. Our professor said he preferred maps over GPS’s; I concurred at which the classmate proceeded to say that maps are susceptible to being outdated. I don’t think you need Garmin and MapQuest to tell you that, buddy. I think the cartographers  back in the day were well aware of the fact their product was susceptible to change when new information and details were procured from further research. On reflection, this gradual process of receiving and editing new data seems more plausible (in my opinion) than the GPS saying, “Turn left now,” leading you into a ravine, which (I’d argue) most people would do as they have their heads down, texting away on their iPhone 4s’s. When the smoke clears, and we crawl out of the ditch, we would then proceed to say, “Stupid GPS! It did not update itself!”

So basically that argument is whether you trust a map that will become outdated or you trust a voice on a GPS. That’s really not my point because it boils down to preference. (I don’t think a map has ever misled its user into a ditch though…even if the roads are rerouted, we don’t follow the road as intently as a GPS, hunched over, waiting for Mr. Australian Accent to lead us to the next point within the list of directions.)

My point is to question why or how do we find ourselves so ready to accept information from technology. Why do we have a desire to let things take control (like machines) as we sit back and take the passenger seat? Is it really out of convenience? If it is, how are we any better than animals if our rationale is only to make our life more convenience? (Medicine, machines, weapons, computers-making everything a little easier for us, allowing everyone to take the passenger seat and let technology take us for a spin.)

I think Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity all point to being in control of one’s own actions and one’s own mind.

Buddhism: the Eightfold Path has a few points worth mentioning. Falling under a broader category of Mental Development, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration all speak of  self-control. There’s really no presence of those three in our lifestyle when we take the backseat with technology.

Hinduism: the Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga; I’ve been reading a lot into this in one of my courses. Pratyahara, control of the senses. Dharana, concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness. We might be shutting down our senses (and survival skills at that) when we choose to allow technology dominate our decision-making. We really have no shot of cultivating any type of awareness, more or less the inner perceptual kind that many faiths shoot for.

Christianity: this could prove to be a little more difficult since there aren’t many lists in mainstream Christianity. I’d point out that in the Catholic context (which has many a good list) the Seven Deadly Sins has a little something-something called sloth and gluttony. While that may be a bit extreme in the instance of the GPS, taking the back seat in faith (which is a part of every day life, even when we choose to make it not,) is still letting other people”’ and other things do our work.

On a final note, in summarizing, I don’t think technology is wrong at all; that’d be to argue that all the scientific advances (like medicine-that does fall under that category) were for the worse. Absurd. But in the field of something like medicine, it’s not the meds that are making advances on its own. Its the researches, scientists, and physicians that propel medicinal advances.

So why, then, do we take the back seat?

Written by Jack Viere

November 16, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Is Science Catching Up With Meditation or is Meditation Catching Up With Science?

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You be the judge: is technology finally able to measure the mind’s capacity to meditate, or is meditation finally of some worth as it can be explained in non-religious (scientific?) terms.

Written by Jack Viere

November 7, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Posted in B.K.S. Iyengar, Buddhism, yoga

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The Like Button: An End to the Evolution of Human Discernment

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“To innovate is to introduce the new, to engage in a process of change. To invent is to produce a different variation of the old…Yoga tries to help us to truly innovate, to develop the intelligence that allows us to create a new relationship to our ego and our world. This new relationship is dependent on perceiving the world objectively and truthfully and on making choices, discerning what is best.” -B.K.S. Iyengar

Whisper away Facebook...

                Quite feasibly, we could take the concept of Facebook and its Like Button and interchange them with yoga in the above thesis. Or technology for that matter. Facebook gives us the false illusion that we are pushing the boundaries. We are somehow inventive with our ability to create an online identity, whether it is true or false. Not innovative. We are not introducing something new with a status update or an upload of a new photo. We are merely inventing a “different variation of the old.” Technology and its advances are not propelled by our signing in and logging off. If that discretion was common knowledge, and I think it can be when most people take a moment to absorb it, we would still fail to see that we “create a new relationship to our ego and our world.” A sickly relationship with our festering ego. A half-hearted, half-born relationship with our world.

        All Facebook does is cater to our desires and occupies mass amounts of our time with worthless information. It hinders our ability to innovate, especially outside of the technological world. It would only take an individual to pull the plug on the whole apartment complex of the world, and every tenant would be without their Facebook. It’s intangible if you haven’t noticed. (That isn’t to say that for technology to be innovative, it must be tangible.) Yet, society is crippled by the effects of the amount of time we spend on a virtual social networking site.

          “This new [decrepit] relationship is dependent on perceiving the world objectively and truthfully and on making choices, discerning what is best.” Maybe that is the origin from which youth lack social skills that older generations like to harp on.  We cannot perceive the world objectively or truthfully when our relationship to our ego is out of synch. It’s almost as if Facebook whispers to our ego to let go of our capacity to socially function outside of the means of technology.

                Our ability to discern is therefore thwarted by this new, damaged relationship our egos have created. We don’t “know what’s best” since we no longer discern properly, but we sure as hell know what Bob’s feelings are on the Monday night football game. We can Like his status and add our own witty comment, all of which are inventive, yet we impede our capability to innovatively evolve in order to foster a healthier relationship with our egos. We don’t have to make anymore decisions save for “Do I like, or do I not like.” Not a lot of discernment involved there. It seems like Facebook hit this crossroads between inventive and innovative, and many of us are under the impression that this medium of technology proves to be the latter of the two. If so, it’s only a matter of time until…

 

Written by Jack Viere

October 31, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Posted in B.K.S. Iyengar, yoga

Tagged with ,

Hell No! I Ain’t Gonna Do That

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AH HELL NO

I feel like the last entries on myexperiences at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries have been abstract. At least,after today’s experience, I can now say that all my past reflections revolvearound emotions. My emotions shared through my relationships with members atMNM appeared to be pinnacle of my experience in this ‘gig’ called servicelearning. Up until today, I thought I had reached this experience-this end ofthe line, you cannot go any further ideal. I felt comfortable and accepted inmy new environment, I thought I was making somewhat of an impact on the peopleI was around, and I was likewise impacted by my experiences at service.
               Inwriting, I feel like using the ultimate phrase “I thought I had seeneverything” puts a cap on what you can follow up with your next essay. Hence, Ihate to use it when I am writing several periodic essays, like service learning;unless, however, I can see the end of writing on that one topic (which I cannotwith service learning.) I am making an exception today with that self-maderule.
The Technique
               I thoughtI had seen everything at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries. Easing into my routine,I found pleasure from the growth of my relationships. For anyone who might seeMNM or any type of time-with-others service as secondary to physical labor, youreally have not had the pleasure of piecing puzzles together. I was reallyenjoying this Zen-like trance I could enter into when I was around Ms. Shirleyas she told me about the rights and wrongs of society. Today she went on aboutthis newspaper article from the PhiladelphiaInquirer that I read to her. A seventy-two year old man shot his forty-twoyear old neighbor when the police did not arrive after he phoned in hiscomplaint. Ms. Shirley did not like that one bit; consequently, I listened toall the wrongs the world experiences. Her least favorite crime was apparentlyrobbery as she repeatedly mentioned how jewelry shops happen to be robbed whenpeople need money.   
               Butsomething happened today that I was not expecting. I was just starting to settleinto my newly formed comfort bubble. It was massage day. I admit that the firstthing that crossed my mind was, “Oh great, I really could use one for my soreshoulders,” as I imagined a massage-circle form; everyone was included. Nope. Icould not have been any more wrong. As service learners, we somehow became parttime masseuses. Gloves did not serve as a recompense for this odd, seeminglyout of place activity.
My mind split over what happenednext. Half of me thought this was incredibly weird, for lack of a better term,to just randomly start giving someone I knew for less than a month a massage.Massages are intimate. And after a certain age, when one reaches some level ofmaturity, you do not randomly line up for massages as teens do at summer campsand sleep overs. So I felt a little out of place for two reasons when it wassprung on us to get gloves and cocoa butter; the immediate intimacy and my precedentabout massages.
The Product
My second, more grounded half thoughtthat this was the epitome of service learning. Intimacy. My mind drifted to thecleansing of feet in Catholic tradition from John 13’s Gospel. “Afterthat, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet,drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13: 5.)In the recent past, when I volunteered at Camp Holiday Trails back home inVirginia, I could easily draw biblical parallels to my service. Now, for somereason, I find it border-line hokey to draw out those parallels. Maybe it isthe result of too many comparative religion courses that have opened my eyes tosee that Christianity is not the sole mission-oriented faith. It could also bethe consequence of returning to a heavily Catholic-dominated student populationthat helps facilitate the above misconception I have/had; I feel like I playdevil’s advocate too often when I hear the Bible being thrown around like sometextbook reference everyone knows.
Yet, as I rubbed the lotion into Ms. Gladys’ gnarled hands,I connected to something more than skin deep. I could see actual pain in herhands. And while the concepts of emotions and relationships are not tangible,(yet, both their objects are,) I found that physicality permeated the remainingdistance between me as “servicer” and my “service.” The emotions create,nourish, and hinder the relationship which is then escalated to an incrediblyintimate level. Even in the simplest act of a hand massage. Just to pull somenon-Christian connections into this deeper formof service; I think of yoga’s notion within the word yoga: its literal definition is “yoking.” I see that two sets ofemotions are yoked together through physical touch to form a deeperrelationship. Similarly, isn’t the term islamtransliterated as submission? Maybe it is a stretch to connect that withhumility-both of which I needed in order to massage Ms. Gladys. Confucianism:deep respect for elders.

  

I do not know how, since I had gloves on, the scent ofcocoa butter lingers as I type this. I admit again that I am still shaken upfrom the forced portion of me having to suddenly perform physical service.Nevertheless, it was a learning experience that I am continuing to think abouteach time I catch a waft of lotion.   

Written by Jack Viere

October 11, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Qigong, A First Time Experience

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This past weekend, I spent a good hour and a half participating in Qigong session. As to what I was actually partaking in, I am not 100% sure. I was, of course, informed shortly before the session began what we would be doing, but I admit I was too focused on stretching and warming up- not sure how physically demanding this course would be. I write this because I’ve done several Hatha yoga sessions before, and I thought it could be of some value to compare this new martial arts class to my experiences in the Hindu realm of physical meditation.
Immediately, I detected that breaking a sweat was inevitable; Qigong was physically demanding. Where yoga has one moving to get into positions that one eventually holds for a period of time, Qigong was a continuation of fluid movements. These movements were broken into the Eight Treasures, all of which had very interesting names which we were to meditate on (if we could simultaneously) while trying to follow the instructor. My favorite Treasure pertained to the Tiger energy. Again, compared to yoga, I found that some of the same balancing and flexibility techniques were shared, but Qggong was very demanding in holding one half (in the Tiger “set” it was the legs stuck in a pose) while the upper body went through a circuit of movements in sets of either three or nine. I think that Hatha yoga allowed for me personally to meditate instantaneously once I was able to get into a pose, but Qigong was consistently demanding for my mind to be focused on trying to get into a rhythm. I feel that my recent inactive lifestyle was really jump started by the combination of all Eight Treasures.

Sorry for the vagueness, it was hard to retain all the details of the names of the Treasures I was doing, and similarly, I didn’t have much of grasp on the history of Qigong. However, I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in yoga already or one who would like to start some form of martial arts. This exercise, though, was not seemingly as “violent” taekwondo or any other martial arts. I’m still curious to learn about its history and why it’s placed under the category of martial arts. It did, however, have a strong physical affect on my body. I was thoroughly exhausted when I finished. The extensive stretching in each Treasure was very unique and apparently healthy. “Realigning the channels” was the goal of Qigong; a shared Hindu/Buddhist, Eastern Asian practice.

Fascinating.  

Written by Jack Viere

December 13, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Posted in yoga

America’s Consumerism and How It’s Backwards From Faith

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Guy Fawkes Effigy

After enduring Black Friday, I couldn’t help but observe how we Americans love to indulge in purchasing material goods. The fine line between essentials and desires is undoubtedly crossed on Black Friday when the “herd instinct” is to put your life on the line (no pun intended) to get a few percents off on worldly products. And as Americans, we value these secular, ephemeral, and hedonistic “goods” more than spiritual treasures. Proof of that is seen in the overflow of Black Friday into “Cyber Monday” in which all the left over stuff (that apparently was left over stuff from 2010,) is sold online through sites like Amazon. This isn’t to say all Americans participate in Black Friday, or the U.S. is the only country that consumes (though we rank fairly high on the consumer chart…) but you don’t hear about the sales on the day after Guy Fawkes Night. Maybe that’s because I’m here in the States, but still, where in the world did Cyber Monday come from?
I think looking to Hinduism’s doctrine on consuming would be one of the more encompassing and straight forward teachings on the harm of consumerism. While the Christian philosophy is summed up in the line: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19.) the Hindu philosophy (coincidentally in the 6th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita titled The Science of Self Realization,) pertains to a more self oriented belief. And I find this somewhat more appropriate for American Christians because people really have “stored up their treasures on earth” during days like Black Friday and continue to do so through the Advent season leading up to Christmas Day. Lord Krishna, the Eighth Avatar of Vishnu, (the Ninth is Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama) tells Arjuna, an Abrahamic figure in the Gita, of the Vaisnava Sampradayas. In short, there are four of these sampradayas, or as Wiki says “traditions or religious systems.” Kesava Kasmiri’s commentary on the fourth sampradaya, known as Kumara Sampradaya, or “duality in unity,” describes the harmful aftereffects of consumerism:

It should be clearly comprehend that attachment to worldly pleasures locks one to samsara or the endless cycle of birth and death while contrarily detachment from the infatuation of worldly pleasures frees one from samsara.”

Excessively buying into secular goods does not advance our path to moksha, or liberation from the cyclical dance, samsara. It does not lead us further down the narrow path to Heaven. One of the more profound and intricate Christian beliefs is that Jesus came into the world through Mary, the handmaiden of the Lord. And as  King of the Heavenly Hosts, He  wasn’t clutching a scepter, wearing a signet ring, and indulging in excessive wealth. Similarly, raja yoga encompasses an assortment of practices; the one defining Jesus’ rejection for worldly goods can be seen as tantrism. While tantrism contains metaphysical exercises, they focus the mind inwardly on speech and outer actions and reject physical surroundings. (That’s a stretch to make that parallel,) but Jesus also placed emphasis more on action, dharma, rather than physical objects.
Another stretch would be to say to solve America’s intense consuming rate would be to return HOLYdays and their true meaning, especially Christmas as Catholics begin the liturgical season of Advent, the waiting of the arrival of the Lord. The Spirit of Christmas hasn’t been Jesus oriented for quite some time now, and with unbelievable days like Black Friday that seep into Cyber Monday, there seems to be no mass movement of trying to curb our intake of products; in fact it’s apparently going the other way. It can be deduced, or maybe even induced, that the growth of American consumerism is a fear originating from the ultimate reality of samsara/salvation. Or vice versa, because the paths for either of these two are too demanding, people result in ignoring reality and submerse themselves in hedonism and secularism.

Written by Jack Viere

November 29, 2010 at 2:35 am

The Importance of Understanding Hindu Terminology and Concepts

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Together, Hindu philosophy and scripture depict how “truth is one, paths are many.” One gives evidence towards the other; the philosophy derives from the scripture. Huston Smith’s Illustrated World’s Religions defines many of the Sanskrit terms that are key to understand within Swami Satchidanananda’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Within the Chapters 2 and 18 that have been analyzed, Krishna specifies Arjuna’s dharma, or duty. In addition to Krishna’s explanations, Satchidanananda’s commentary explains how the Hindu terms and beliefs from Smith’s texts fit into scripture and reality. It is crucial to understand Smith’s concepts before diving into the Bhagavad Gita; though Satchinananda’s comments are easy to understand, the broad Hindu terminology has to be learned and experienced to a degree that allows for the reader to relate to the scriptures. The Four Yogas are the philosophies that both Smith and Satchinananda write on; however, the Sanskrit words are better defined within Smith’s text while Satchinananda elaborates more on the concepts and beliefs that the same words have. This depicts the need to understand the diction before understanding how “truth is one, paths are many.” Both writers point to this significance of this philosophy through the shared medium of the Four Yogas. While learning the Hindu terms, one can follow their teaching through the steps prescribed by yoga and achieve what is true.   
            Within the quote “truth is one, paths are many,” the Hindu yogas are the paths. Hinduism’s inclusivity binds many variations of how an individual can become closer to God. “The result is…there are multiple paths to God, each calling for its distinctive mode of approach.” (Smith, 26.) While there are four paths called the Four Yogas, each believer is included in a branch of yoga. The goal of yoga is “to discern the self’s deep-lying divinity.” (Smith, 26.) Again, Smith defines the terms that are applied in the Bhagavd Gita; “The first step of every yoga involves the dismantling of good habits and the acquisition of good ones.” (Smith, 26.) The paths in “truth is one, paths are many,” are meant to be journeyed on while the truths are to be discovered.
In Chapter Two of the Bhagavad Gita, Sloka 41 rephrases the concept of “truth is one, paths are many” as: “If your mind is unsteady and wandering, many-branched and endless are the thoughts and choices. When your mind is clear and one-pointed, there is only one decision.” (2:41, Baghavad Gita.) To achieve a clear and one-pointed mind, yoga is prescribed. It encompasses the physical, mindful, and spiritual demands of Hinduism. While Smith states yoga’s ideal, Satchinananda follows the Bhagavad Gita and discerns the reality of one who is trying to live yoga. Satchinananda quotes Krishna telling Arjuna, “‘You haven’t harmonized your thought, word, and deed.’” (Satchinananda, 13.) At this point, Krishna begins teaching Arjuna the use of yoga.
The spiritual and mindful demands of yoga are best seen in the form of raja yoga. Known as the “royal way,” raja yoga encompasses the teachings of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. According to Satchinananda, in raja yoga, also known as integral yoga, “You blend theory and practice. You apply the theory in your day-to-day activities.” (Satchinananda, 19.) The day-to-day activities can be seen as karma yoga, which is the way through action and work. To integrate truth while on one of the many paths of karma yoga, one needs to apply the said “theory” from Satchinananda’s quote. But in order to understand truth of that theory, one must incorporate jnana yoga, or the path of knowledge and discrimination. Because yoga literally means “yoking, or uniting together,” one needs to yoke the truths found in jnana yoga. “For those already enlightened, the scriptures are as useful as a water reservoir during a flood.” (Chapter 2:46, Bhagavad Gita.) While one can learn as much as possible from the teachings found in scripture, Hinduism does not stop at this point. Bhakti yoga signifies love and devotion. “The aim of bhakti yoga – the yoga of love and devotion – is to direct toward God the love that lies at the base of every heart.” (Smith, 28.)  Because love and devotion can both be continual, the combination of the Four Yogas is unconditional.
However, yoga does not call for one to rejoice in their accomplishments. Satchinananda is quick to point out that “one’s duty is to perform the act, but not for the fruit.” (Satchinananda, 23.) The fruits of one’s actions can delude yoga’s attempt to bring one’s atman, or soul, closer to God. Though there are many paths on which a yogi can follow to reach ultimate truth, there are also false paths that are distracting.  In Chapter 2:49 of the Gita says: “Work done for the sake of some results is much lower than that done in mental equilibrium, Arjuna. Wretched are those motivated by the fruits of their actions.” Instead of being led down the wrong path towards distractions, Satchinananda advises “equanimity of mind is yoga.” (Satchinananda, 23.) Equanimity has two Latin roots: eques, meaning equality, and animas, meaning soul or mind. While in philosophical terms, the word equanimity can refer to equal- mindedness, Hinduism combines this meaning with the idea of an equal or calmed soul. Equanimity enables a yogi to stay on the correct path to truth. “With minds full of desires and heaven as their highest goal, they speak mostly of rites and rituals, which they believe will bring more pleasure and power.” (Chapter 2:43, Bhagavad Gita.) Only with equal minds and souls can a believer truly practice the Four Yogas.
I think that Hinduism’s inclusivity is something that world religions lack today. While both Christianity and Islam require for a believer to be completely committed to their faith, I think Hinduism allows for some picking and choosing. This can be reflected in the multiplicity of deities. Hindis are able to pick an ishta, or one’s chosen ideal of God, and this allows for believers to worship a more appropriate deity that reflects their chosen path of yoga. Hinduism’s teachings are not loose and unrestricted. With many deities come multiple mythological stories that convey the same message of yoga and stress the significance of yoga. I find that some of the major concepts of Hinduism, such as the Four Yogas, can be applied to other faiths. I think that when reading Hindu scripture, such as the Bhagavad Gita, there can be an array of interpretations, all of which are accepted. I think Satchinananda’s commentary portrays how analyzed and complex simple terms such as yoga and dharma can hold so much meaning while at the same time, the same terms in Smith’s context can be used as simple building blocks to create a much larger picture. The quote “truth is one, paths are many” depicts how the same terms can be used with the same meaning, but explain an assortment of Hinduism’s traditions and teaching.  
  
             

Written by Jack Viere

November 16, 2010 at 12:44 pm