Today we have celebrated the 100th birthday of Mama Rosette. She joined her 19 children and their own large families, including the youngest, her 102nd descendant (fourth generation), in the hall decorated with number 100, pictures, and flowers. Nobody was 100 percent sure whether this day would be an occasion for celebration or sad reflection because her injury from a fall earlier this year resulted in moving her to a nursing home and her body grew weaker with each passing day. But her strong mind did not allow her body to succumb to the adverse physical conditions. She is a vivid proof that the mind governs the body, almost ridiculing "mens sana in corpore sano." Her mental power is composed of simple ingredients: acceptance, enthusiasm, and faith. Her eyes exuding enthusiasm make us oblivious to her wrinkles and feeble joints, and her enthusiasm spreads healthy vibrations in and around her. Acceptance and faith are excellent anti-stressors because active acceptance replaces passive surrender or futile resistance and prayers replace worries and anxieties. Praying has been Mama Rosette's lifelong habit. It may be her daily prayer, if not the God to whom she prays, that has kept her 102 descendants plus spouses live and kicking all along. Looking at populationwide statistics, it certainly is a miracle that not a single member of this large family has fallen victim to disease or accident. It may sound cruel, given her conditions of chronic pain, but I do hope that Mama Rosette will stay among the living for many years to come. And who knows? She may become a proud example of "corpore sano in mens sana."
Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I ask, the heaven above
And the road below me.
These last four lines of Robert Louis Stevenson's ballad "Vagabond" are for me a declaration of the highest freedom that a human being can reach while living on the Earth. This freedom can be enjoyed by a vagabond and a hermit alike. These conditions are not necessarily physical. We can live a free life of a vagabond or hermit while living in and working for the society. Freedom does not mean the absence of external constraints, but the presence of internal fullness. In other words, a really free person is equally free on both sides of a prison wall. This kind of transcendental freedom is the privilege of people whose inner residence is placed beyond the boundary drawn by ego or self-love.
"Wealth I ask not" is the declaration of liberty from material things, and "hope nor love," from egoistic desires and emotions. "Nor a friend to know me" is the liberation from the need for social recognition and look-at-me kind of ego trips. The "heaven above" is the highest human ideal, divinity, and the "road below me" is the mission to accomplish to make the Earth life meaningful for humanity. The "heaven above" and "road below" do not represent a dualistic separation of spirit and matter, but a monistic union of these two poles. It means the merging of the negative (matter) and positive (spirit) poles into the eternal spiritual heaven, the destination of the path of spiritual evolution (involution).
Vagabondish or hermit lifestyle pursues a path of liberation from the attachment to all temporary things. This can also be described as a continuous process of gradually moving from the realm governed by material and egoistic principles to the realm governed by spiritual and universal principles. The mission part of such life as expressed by the "road below me" is the process of fulfilling the meaning of human existence by using personal talent for the good of humanity. For me, this mission is something worthy of pursuit for everybody and it is in essence as simple as being happy and good for the self and others.
After two months of unbroken chain of daily marathon translation, I freed myself from the tyranny of deadlines to enjoy a choice of doing and not doing and let my caprice take charge. What I did first was revisiting a lecture series on neurobiology given by Prof. Robert Sapolsky. As an avid fan of this fascinatingly brilliant Stanford professor, I know all his YouTubed lectures almost by heart, and I have chosen the limbic system to indulge in an endorphin rush. His ready-for-printing off-the-cuff lecture always reminds me of my favorite professor during my psychology undergraduate years whose lectures used to put me into a state of trance. I admire these people who have developed their intellectual capacities to the humanly possible extremes and thank them for making my life fuller and richer.
While exploring the structure and function of the limbic system (emotive brain) and its interactions with the cortex (cognitive brain) and prefrontal cortex (executive brain), I got an idea that our personality may primarily depend upon which part of the brain is predominant and that that part is our inner dwelling. Those who have their main residences in the limbic system basically live for material well-being and their behaviors are likely to be dictated by their emotions and worldly desires. Those who have their main residence in the cortex tend to pursue intellectual entertainment rather than physical activities and their behaviors are mostly governed by rational decisions and non-material values. Most of us have our main residences somewhere along the way between these two domains. This distinction roughly coincides with the triguna (three types of human nature) of tamas, sattva, and rajas, respectively, as I expounded in one of my previous posts.
As a holistic concept of human nature, a word meaning cognition-emotion-volition (Chinese: 知情意 zhī-qíng-yì, Korean: 지정의 ji-jeong-eui, Japanese: ちじょうい chi-ji-youi) is used in the Far Eastern culture. A different word implies the ideal manifestation of these three domains of human nature (or brain parts): truth-goodness-beauty (Chinese: 眞善美 zhēn-shàn-měi, Korean: 진선미 jin-seon-mi, Japanese: ジェンシャンメイ Jen-shan-mei -- Korean and Japanese have adopted the Chinese characters while they have their own words representing the same) corresponding to cognition, volition, and emotion, respectively. The state of harmony of these three domains and expressions of human nature is considered the highest virtue to be strived for in the culture I was born into. Both sets of three syllables (I think Chinese characters are very practical because each syllable can hold a whole universe of logos) can trigger positive vibrations in our mental cells like a mantra. Talking about mantra, the Sanskrit equivalent of this triune concept is iccha-jnana-kriya (volition-awareness-action), the three fundamental energies leading to human behavior. These energies are encapsulated in three powerful seed syllables Kleem-Shreem-Hreem, ultimately converging into the universal mantra Om.
As our central nervous system interacts with our peripheral nervous system with sensory receptors and motor effectors, the tamasic, rajasic, and sattvic domains of our brain interact with the seven chakras (energy centers) arrayed along our astral spine, whereby the direction of material evolution is from top to bottom (from the pure spirit to pure material) and the direction of spiritual evolution (involution) is from bottom to top. I have harvested three well-presented schematic representations of the corresponding anatomy of our inner body from the Internet ocean. We can find where our inner domicile is located by throwing a critical look at these images. This address is our permanent address while we are living this cycle of earth life. The address is virtually permanent in the sense that our inborn nature is difficult to change, if not impossible. The best thing we can do is to manage our inner house to the best of our emotional, volitional, and cognitive capacities. May you be well where you are!
Usually, Rosette's birthday is an occasion for double family reunion: family golf tournament and birthday party. This year's is a special one in that another big event joined the wagon. On August 2, Jacques, the second Letendre child, and France marked the 50th anniversary of their happy life together, and 50 of us (siblings and spouses) were invited to dinner and had an unforgettable evening of first-class culinary experience and touching family solidarity (unanimous opinion of each invitee). Rosette was as radiant as ever and we enjoyed her presence. That she is bound to her chair does not diminish her magnetic charm and keen mental power. It is a wonder of nature that a 96-year-old woman still feels like a young girl full of enthusiasm. Two incidences in which she was brought to hospital between her 95th and 96th birthdays only proved that she is resilient against negative changes. So we are very optimistic that we will continue to be previleged with her presence among us for long years to come.
What distinguishes human beings from other organic and inorganic beings is the freedom of choice. Apart from the thorny issue of whether we have free will or not, our current life is the result (flowers) of our past choices (seeds). Destiny is more logical than arbitrary. We are the architects of the houses we are living in. People react to the same challenge in different manners, and different results are yielded according to the reactions. This law of sowing and reaping applies to all beings, human or nonhuman.
So each well-reflected reaction is a building block for the house we would like to live in. I have my own rule of reaction as I expounded in my blog article "Triguna", of which the keyword being "sattvic" reaction. Whenever I reacted to a negative action on the spur of the moment, I later analyze my reaction if it was sattvic, rajasic or even tamasic -- whether I was clement and condoning or repulsive and revenging, whether I broke the chain of negativity by returning good for evil or acted as a part of the chain by giving back or forwarding the evil.
Yesterday, I had an occasion for such a reflection. This time, it was Serge who helped me draw a lesson from it by tolling a philosophical bell. I posted his small lesson on his blog (in French). He wrote down many ways how to break the chain of vicious circle by reacting wisely, thereby turning material loss to spiritual gain. In the episode in question, I reacted in a harmless way for the person involved, but quite harmful for myself, because my mental disposition was far from being sattvic and breaking this chain of vicious circle.
And what happened to me yesterday is quite trivial. I was asked to translate a missing sentence of a long text, but I also corrected errors and improved clumsy expressions that I came across while checking the terms I used against those of the existing translation to ensure coherency, just taking it for granted that I would be paid my hourly rate. Some errors were fatal and I thus saved the translation from a sure service failure. Then I was asked to provide the word count of the sentence I translated. I just wrote down the word count and added that I would take care not to correct errors voluntarily next time. This was a very rajasic reaction. I did something good without much sacrifice and I should have accepted the result of my fault of just taking something for granted. How the others react to my action is their portion to cope with, not mine. I could have even exuded some healing warmth by saying something along the lines of "happy to be of service." And knowing me, I would have rendered the service voluntarily even if I had known that I would not be paid for that. But I did not know it and that was the cause of my irritation.
As a stone absorbs the incident rays of sunlight, turns them into inner heat, and gives warmth to the air surrounding it, we can absorb a cold wind and give back a pleasant breeze, instead of bouncing it back as whirlwind or storm.
Each person is the mirror of the soul encapsulated in his/her body. A child's soul speaks its pure native language. There are rare cases where souls remain monolingual; most of them learn foreign languages and become polyglot as their hosts (human bodies) grow and expand their repertoires of experience through interactions with other types of soul.
When we see a child talk and behave, we know instantly the native language of its soul. For example, when I saw one of my nephews for the first time when he was three years old, I said spontaneously that he was not a child. Seeing my brother's questioning eyes, I said that he was a man of noble character (in Korean it is a single word, not a compound noun or phrase). My brother has often been reminded of my words since then. For example, when his younger brother knocked him down, he embraced him, still crying for pain, to protect him from my brother's angry reaction.
Such language of soul is called innate nature. Such inborn nature is the direct expression of each soul. It has nothing to do with environment and inheritance. Totally different behavioral tendencies among siblings are a vivid evidence of this view. Let me illustrate it with the example of my niece, four years older than my nephew with a noble soul. Her soul is as devilish as her brother's soul is angelic. She cannot bear to see others profit from her (helping others is hence out of the question). When I was witnessing that she wouldn't allow her father to eat what she could not finish, he told me an episode that consolidated my perception of her native language: when she was three years old, she stuck her fingers in his mouth, yelling and crying, to scratch out the sausage, which she had left for garbage, from his mouth.
Some of you, who follow my blog, may remember Triguna and Da-Da-Da. We all have these three characters represented by the angelic (sattvic), human (rajasic), and demonic (tamasic) children of God, in most cases mixed, with one of them predominant. The cases shown by my nephew and niece are rather rare. Their souls are likely to remain monolingual throughout their lives. And they will never fully understand each other's language because of their monolinguality. Their two brothers, now 8 and 12 years old, are examples of the typical human child of God. Their souls are already at least bilingual and will turn out to be multilingual by the time they have reached their adult heights.
When a tamasic person learns the language of a sattvic person, it does not come from his/her own nature. Such a foreign language is inevitably hypocritical, and is often forgotten in critical situations where the hypocrisy can no longer be sustained because of lacking or contradictory action, i.e., in situations where the mask should be taken off. This also explains the weird phenomenon that religious people are often perceived as being "worse" than non-religious people. Most religions preach mercy and justice, and it's alright if sattvic people embrace such teaching because mercy and justice are vocabulary of their own native language. But rajasic or tamasic people should speak and act as if they mastered the sattvic language of love and peace while their own nature is egoistic or belligerent. Speaking from my experiences again, only two persons deliberately tried to harm me in my life (yes, I am very lucky), and both are pastors. By the way, their acts of bad intention turned out to be great blessings for me. And if they knew that I ended up profiting from the consequences of their tamasic acts, they would say that their real intention was to help me.
Tri (= three) guna (attributes) is the three attributes inherent or manifest in all things having form and name. The moment atoms and molecules come together or thoughts form an idea, the resulting concrete or abstract entity has one or more of these three attributes. Anything without attributes is something transcendental and absolute beyond the realm of relativity of this phenomenal world.
These three attributes are called sattva, rajas, and tamas in Sanskrit. Everything phenomenal is a carrier of one or a mixture of these traits. The three da's in da-da-da, of which I blogged yesterday, can also be neatly paired as angel-sattva, human-rajas, and demon-tamas. Some examples of their manifestations that come to my mind are: equilibrium-passion-inertia, light-shadow-darkness, wisdom-query-ignorance, healing-suffering-hurting, protection-defense-aggression, sacrifice-negotiation-exploitation, heaven-earth-hell etc. As a matter of fact, living in paradise, limbo, or inferno is our own choice by actively using our own nature or enslaved by its tyranny. The proverb "character is destiny" is quite eloquent in this sense. Although we are not all sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic, we certainly have a dominant trait along the spectrum of triguna, between two extremes of purely good and purely evil, and the borderlines are blurry. This is the nature of the phenomenal world, as plain as materials having three phases of gas, liquid, and solid as well as their boundary phases.
What's the practical use of the knowledge of triguna? Well, I use it everyday instinctively or deliberately. It's somehow very convenient to discern or feel what kind of guna (not to say person) I have business with because my reactions are then spontaneous and definitive so that I can save time and energy for more essential things instead of getting entangled in unimportant details any further seconds. The strategy I use the moment I am confronted with a tamasic character is the last one of the 36 strategies taught by Suntzu in his famous book "Art of War": run away to fight another day. Of course I just forget the event and do not even think of confronting another time, but I leave the scene without losing even a second. If it is not possible physically, I withdraw my mind as a turtle withdraws its limbs (including head and tail) within the shell. With rajasic persons, I negotiate so as not to be exploited. And it always gives me great joy to support sattvic persons with time, money and energy in whatever undertakings they may need my help.
Let me give an illustrative example from the repertoire of my experience. Round-grain brown rice is my staple food and I eat it twice a day. It has a lot shorter shelf-life than polished white rice (I call it dead rice) because the oil in its bran gets rancid rapidly. So it happens every once in a while that I go back to the shop I bought it to exchange or just to inform the shop owner. A tamasic shop owner smells and invariably says that it does not smell. I say thank you and leave the shop with the rancid rice to prevent him from consuming it in case he really did not smell (benefit of doubt). And I come back to this shop to buy things that do not get rancid because a tamasic person does not learn and deserves only pity. A rajasic shop owner admits it but lets you feel his dissatisfaction. I do not come back to this shop in order to give him a chance to reflect and improve. A sattvic shop owner is happy and thankful to be informed and offers compensation in a very friendly manner. Then I have some nice and useful things to say myself.
We are all sattvic, rajasic and/or tamasic by nature and driven by circumstances, moving with a greater or smaller margin along the scale between pure sattva and pure tamas. We can control our behaviors by consciously dealing with our own nature and streamline our reactions to others' behaviors by labeling (an ugly but convenient word) them according to the character manifested.
The ultimate goal of knowing and reacting to triguna is to transcend these three attributes. It is needless to say that the great liberation from triguna (Triguna Rahitam) is only possible when pure sattva has been achieved.
One of the upanishadic (ancient Indian metaphysical scripture) parables I love to tell in my yoga classes is the thunderous da-da-da lesson of Prajapati ("prime father," god the creator of all beings) to his three sons: angel, human, and demon (as you may rightly guess, three attributes of human nature). On the day of graduation from their father's school, they came to Prajapati and asked to give them a last lesson. He said "da" to each one. Angel understood it as "damyata" (control yourself). Human and demon understood the same "da" as "datta" (give) and "dayadhvam" (be compassionate), respectively. Ever since, the three sons (all humans with angelic, human, and demonic traits) have been reminded of their respective lessons whenever the heavenly voice of the thunder rumbles da-da-da.
The moral of this parable is multifarious. First, people understand the same teaching differently depending on their limited capacities. There is no uniformly applicable teaching. When Buddha showed a lotus flower, only one of the gathered followers understood the speechless sermon. He smiled and was enlightened on the spot (this is how Mahakasyapa became Buddha's successor). Second, we should not aim anything beyond our given capacity because it is beyond reaching anyway (as long as we have not "transcended" our own nature -- a toddler cannot run as long as he is a toddler). Third, We should constantly strive to reach the maximum possible level of virtue matching our nature.
If compassion and giving is so natural for you that you cannot bear the sufferings of others and share whatever you have, then you are the angelic child of god and should try to control your own desires and emotions, which is possible for you while the others are excluded from this path. If you are rather a taking than a giving person, not because people are eager to give you, but because you like it that way, you are a human child of god and should start giving instead of taking (if you have nothing to give, you can still give your attention and love). If you do not mind harming others and seeing them suffering, you are a demonic child of god and should try to become sensitive to others' sufferings and pains. We can imagine how difficult it may be for a person who loves to inflict pains to others to become compassionate.
A demonic type can become a human type only by becoming compassionate, and the human type can become angelic by overcoming egoism. Then the path to self-realization and self-transcendence is open to the angelic type of person through self-control. The rampant marketing spiritualism of today's society will never bring any bit of spiritual accomplishments to non-angelic seekers of truth and enlightenment.
So let's be reminded of our own da, whether it is daya (compassion), dana (charity), or dama (self-control), whenever we listen to the thunder rumbling da-da-da and try to accomplish our da and then advance to the next da till we reach our ultimate goal of life, the great liberation from all three attributes of human nature.
Some thirty years ago, I read in one of my favorite newspaper columns that only mathematics and metaphysics would have ultimate importance in our lives. Although I had long abandoned studying mathematics for what-for kind of doubt (thus voluntarily quitting my longstanding position as the school best), I accepted instinctively the truth of this prophecy and have never doubted the truthfulness of this pithy message. And I think that we are already witnessing the fulfillment of this prophecy, given that every innovation has an innovative algorithm as every cell has its nucleus. What I am doing at this very moment (writing a simple blog text on my website builder interface) is only possible through the combined operation of a network of algorithms. In this digitized and automated world, algorithms keep all the systems surrounding us alive without surfacing to any visibility, just as enzymes and neurotransmitters keep us alive without being consciously perceived.
The virtual world we are living in is of course far from being metaphysical world. Yet, it's on the verge of penetrating into a four-dimensional domain, thus transcending this three-dimensional phenomenal world. Alongside this technical -- hence material -- development, the surge of spiritualism around the world is indicative of the humanity globally heading towards the fourth phase of inner growth, i.e. metaphysical phase. This reminds me of the four stages of human life (ashrama) as practiced in India for eons: renunciation for emancipation (I explained this in my earlier post Purushartha). Around me and around the world, I observe more and more people already living or ready to live in this fourth stage of transcending the material level of life. We seem to be embarking on the end stages of material (represented by mathematics) and immaterial (represented by metaphysics) evolution on the earth.
translator, yoga teacher
A Residence Called Chakra
Language of the Soul
Be your own Valentine
Math and Metaphysics
Believing and Seeing
Jesus and Buddha
Yin and Yang
Doing My Best
Human Path to Divine Union
Bond of Providence
Loss of Ego = Gain of Soul
Needs and Purposes
Original Sin v Sacred Seed
Viagra, Serpent, Adam, Siva
For Healthy and Happy Life
Keep Cool and Warm
Sharing the Fruits of Efforts
Challenging the Guinness
Back to the Earth
Edu. for Spiritual Evolution