EARLY MEMORIES:Lacking an ancestral background

When I was about 5 years old, my sister and I were taken to Ceylon by my parents. Apparently we travelled as deck passengers on a Japanese freighter. I have no memories of that journey. Obviously, it was the cheapest way to travel. Since, as children, we were customarily denied the right to ask our parents about matters beyond our own activities, I never enquired about the facilities for sleep, and daily functions such as excretion and washing/bathing.

A female relative of my vintage, however, told me about a decade ago that she, as an adult, had been a deck passenger; and that necessary facilities had been available. What a way to travel!

A sad aspect of the culture into which I was born is that I know nothing about my parents’ formative lives, and how our ancestral family lived. With no feeling about our historical past, the persistent focus on the present, with an eye on a wanted (or hoped for) future, I sought to understand our historical religio-cultural heritage; ie. the Dravidian Hinduism of India.

What I remember of that journey to Jaffna was tripping, and nearly falling into Colombo Harbour in the dark. In our family-home terrain, I remember only a courtyard in my maternal grandfather’s home, and dusty roads; but no people. I must have been a dopey kid.

But I distinctly remember my sister coming onto the verandah adjacent to the courtyard with a piece of thosai in her hand; and her loud indignant complaint when a crow (raven?) swooped down and stole her food.

I also recall a trip to a pool said to have healing powers. Although I was not told, it was my father who sought healing. Back in Malaya, my father was subsequently operated on by a visiting British surgeon. The 3 other patients who had been operated on the same day, died. My father survived (apparently with some difficulty) until age 47.

So, at age 18, I lost the rudder I needed for my future. With no knowledge or feeling about my ancestral heritage, I was ready to be cast, relatively culture-free, onto a totally foreign culture, which was strangely unwelcoming.

Since a yogi had foretold my ‘exile’ (but somewhat obliquely) there had to be a veiled agenda, if not meaning, in this sudden and most painful turn in my life-path on Earth.

Creating one’s future through education

A survey of family expectations for offspring, covering ethno-cultural communities from West Asia to East Asia, as well as some Australian Aboriginal families, found that one ambition was shared by all. Each family wanted to produce a medical doctor. This means that a teenager displaying a good memory would be harnessed (and driven, if necessary) to become a medico.

In Australia 45% of our youth are expected to obtain a university degree. I am not sure whether the intention is to keep young adults off the job-seeker list. Two-thirds of the universities are transmogrified colleges of vocational training. Are the degrees issued vocationally loaded? A teaching degree had sociology as one of two majors; how relevant would that be in terms of providing a student with teaching skills?

Then, a relative of mine, with a pass mark about 40 at end of year 12, enrolled and graduated from one of these universities! Yet, reportedly, about 40% of entrants to the first year of a degree course had been dropping out. (This suggests that the government subsidy per enrolment might be replaced by one based on graduation.)  There is also the issue whether the curricula are ‘mile-wide, inch-deep’ (a phrase I borrowed from Andreas Schleicher in Lucy Clark’s article ‘Learning Curve’ – see my previous post.)

I know from experience that a student can be in Year 12 and yet be unable to carry out a simple calculation; for example, to calculate the cost of traveling from one city to another, given the distance to be covered, the petrol consumption of a particular car, and the cost of petrol. Employers are reportedly complaining about the limited educational levels of applicants for jobs. Universities are said to be imposing ‘filler’ courses on students accepted for coursework.

Yet, the top students in our local high schools are of excellent value, also with ambition and drive. Through my involvement in public speaking competitions for primary school children in the national capital and surrounding townships, I know what a self-motivated education can achieve. I was the founder of that competition, and the co-founder of a national public speaking competition for secondary schools. My local experience is as an adjudicator at ‘Student of the Year’ competitions for both the Quota Club and the Lions Club.

My concern is about the future of those of our youth who are allowed to complete school without being adequately equipped to become economically viable. Who cares for these students?

Having spent years in the past supporting the education of children, and reading about what is happening in recent years, I hope that there could be less semantically-confusing terminology of a very high level of abstraction, and more practical schemes to enable our children to compete with East Asian and European education systems.

Can we learn from Singapore about improving the quality of teaching, in the national interest, and without referring to the joy of learning or the stress of exams? Competent teaching, if seen to be relevant, can be expected to hold the interest of students.

God – Insubstantial and formless?

When I was a young boy, I looked up to the sky to see where God may be. I was then taught that God is unknowable; and so we pray to various deities. The deities are manifestations of God. Each deity represents one or more attributes of God or realms of human existence, eg. Pilleyar (Ganesha) as the God of Learning.

Each evening, before dinner, bathed and freshly dressed, we prayed to the deities hanging as pictures in a corner of a room curtained off as a prayer space. We went to the Ganesha temple regularly. We hoped for heavenly intervention with our studies, health, and survival in a foreign country. We accepted that there is only one God, the Creator of all that is. Our approach to God was through rituals performed by priests. Our priesthood does not control us.

From age 24, when I began to read about religion (and religions), I became aware of: religious belief as an innate human drive; the diversity of origins and the resulting religious institutions, some of which are unduly competitive and incomprehensively intolerant; but also of the two shared core beliefs of our great religious teachers (the rest of theology being dogma).

While hoping for a universal acceptance that we humans are co-created, and thereby bonded to one another morally (a vain hope, yet), I find that Hinduism, the only religion offering me an understanding of the place of humanity within a very complex cosmology, posits God as Consciousness – ever-existing and all –pervasive; and lacking both form and substance, while participating within all humans. All existence is also posited as cyclical (with cycles wrapping around smaller cycles), the largest cycle measuring 3.11trillion years!

Birth, growth and destruction apply to the Cosmos. (Sound familiar?) What is the meaning of all this? As I understand it, we arise from the Ocean of Consciousness (God?), and after many lifetimes of being polished morally, to return to that Ocean (God). This gives me meaning in existence, and an acceptance of the perturbations and sufferings that life on Earth inevitably entails – as we learn from significant experiences.

Life is indeed for learning, as said by Dr. Radhakrishnan, a former President of India.

Raising children – ‘free range’ or ‘caged’?

Rights involve responsibilities. Morally. Since a woman has a right to produce a child, does she not have the responsibility to nurture the child, rather than to hand over the task to an institution?

Would not this mean being there, being available, to assuage pain, to offer bodily comfort, to answer the million questions which arise in the growing child’s mind? And to be home when the child is ill? Otherwise, why produce the child?

Do these questions challenge the right of a woman with a baby or pre-schooler to go to work? Not at all. However, reality requires a response to the modern-day dilemma: how balance the subconscious needs of such a young child with the right of the parent?

If the mother has a substantive need for sustenance, should not other arrangements be made which do not subjugate the young child’s needs? Even in a Western society based on individualism (not communalism), parents and politicians can surely give priority to the emotional and psychic needs of a little child?

Yet, in a modern capitalistic nation such as Australia, in which no one has to starve, some babies and little children seem to be brought up in institutional care for (reportedly) up to 5 days/week, and up to 8 hours/day. Is this situation comparable to laying hens being brought up in large closed sheds, in which they are allowed to wander and feed, but without access to sunlight, and the right to forage freely in nature?

What are the consequences of little children being cared for (even educated) for long hours? A 4-year old boy I knew spent 8 hours/day for 5 days/week in childcare. Each day, he ‘lost’ something – his jacket, bag, etc. I recognised what was happening; he was hurt. Right through primary school, he tended to be unco-operative, recalcitrant. I recognised subconscious anger.

From about age 13, when conceptual development begins to flower, he gradually changed (with guidance from grandpa). Recent research confirms this pattern of response to aggravated institutionalisation. Hurt feelings do last.

In my low-employment district, one sees young mothers and their little ones enjoying one another’s company – in the traditional way; the way my generation was prepared to live frugally in small houses while our children knew that mum or dad was always there; even to sort out problems at school.

I hasten to iterate that I accept that childcare workers and teachers are caring people, and qualified professionally. I was once responsible for childcare policy in Australia’s migrant hostels (and also qualified in psychology, with emphasis on child development).

Society is based on families. Families need children – the future of society, and its leaders – who are stable emotionally, and have an adequate sense of societal responsibility. Parents and politicians need to ensure such children. Childcare and schools cannot be expected to be surrogate parents. Unfortunately, that seems to be the modern trend. Read Fukuyama’s ‘The Great Deterioration,’ and observe what is happening in your society.

Has there been any mention in the media, ever, about the psychic needs of very young children in two-career-person families who are being brought up in childcare and in after-school care? What about their rights?

All that one reads about is how much more of Other Peoples’ money needs to be spent in subsidising working mothers. Why not pay them to stay home for the first five years of a child? Want to work, to have a career? Surely not at the expense of the psychic needs of a little child!

What of society are our politicians creating? Should not morality over-ride materiality? Let us learn from the animal kingdom, from which we are said to have evolved.

What do dogma-devoid religions offer?

Most of us conduct our lives in a manner consistent with our religious beliefs, do we not? Yet, there is little difference in the behaviours of almost all human beings, whatever our origins, ethnicities, cultures, or locations. With rare exceptions, immigrant behaviour bears this out.

As well, in the inner core of humans, whether staunchly religious or just well-behaved citizens, I believe – having observed closely humans of a wide variety for a long time (yes, I am indeed ancient) – there is an innate spirituality (some outstanding non-conformists excepted). Hinduism suggests that there is a component of our Creator (the one and only) within each of us. This might also explain why many immigrants normally tend to reach out to one another, as do babies and little children with one another. It seems innate.

Those who proclaim the superiority of their religious faith makes me wonder whether an unwarranted arrogance, or an inferiority complex, or a sad lack of understanding about reality is involved. Irrespective of the sources or originators of each religion, are there not only 2 core foundational beliefs in each faith? The Buddha was apparently silent on whether he proclaimed a belief in God; but was he not a Hindu by birth and upbringing?

Who can deny these 2 core beliefs? One – there is a Creator (God) of all mankind (avoiding fruitless debates as to how this occurred. Two – Our Creator God is represented within His creations. The consequence is that we are bonded by co-creation. Thereby, we have a mutual responsibility towards fellow humans. True or false? If false, please explain.

All the explanatory additions or embellishments over time, especially to the principal institutional religions, do not diminish the validity of these core underpinnings, do they? Any superstructures in the form of theological dogma do not undermine this core.

In a universe in which everything is obviously inter-connected, what else is needed beyond this core to provide a guide for living, and for reaching towards the Divine? This reaching out is also to go within ourselves!

A Westernised Hindu contemplates Buddhist teaching

The following is an extract from a review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat of the book ‘Eastern Wisdom for Western Minds’ by Victor M. Parachin. (from the Internet)

“Consider the encounter two little American boys had with an elderly Buddhist monk, who was visiting the United States from Thailand. Because of the monk’s reputation as a meditation teacher, he was asked to offer a series of classes. . . . Following the lecture, the monk and the woman were conversing as the children watched with some boredom. A mosquito landed on the monk’s arm and began to probe for blood. Someone was about to whisk it away when the monk shook his head, saying quietly, ‘it takes so little.’

“The young boys, who had been disinterested in the event, suddenly focused intensely on the monk. Evidently, the thought of not killing a biting mosquito had never occurred to them. The monk, noting their interest, used the moment to instruct them in the philosophy of reverence for all life. Addressing them directly, he said, ‘All living things wish to live and be happy.’ ”

That is a most splendid guide for one’s life. However, while I was collecting Buddhist parables which could be understood by a young grandson, I came across one which I did not pass on. Personalising it, I wondered what I should do (under the philosophy of reverence for all life) were I to be attacked by a hungry tiger. Should I do nothing because it is the nature of a hungry tiger to eat me (no personal animosity presumably implicated)?

Or, could I take the view that my spiritual progress through many lifetimes should not require me to be eaten by a carnivore; what learning could I derive from being eaten? What a conundrum!

A Seeker wanders and wonders – The destination

As a little boy, I would look to the sky and wonder where God is located. Where else could He be? As I grew up, the then Stationary State cosmology did not put a dent in this belief. He was there somewhere. However, the Big Bang Theory ‘upset the apple cart.’ God had now to be outside the physical Cosmos. Where?

When I then read that God is ‘unknowable,’ and lacking both form and substance, I wondered whether He is located in another dimension. Luckily, my cultural heritage did not promise everlasting bliss, or the possibility of sitting on God’s knee, when I died. But where would I be located before each re-birth? In the same or another dimension? Would I meet God there? The more one learns, the less one knows!

The following conundrum applied when I contemplated the objective of meditation. Is there any point in seeking to still the mind when it is already at peace? Yet, I did hope to understand Reality (which must include both the material and the immaterial) through some process of awareness. However, Maya now clouds this objective. Will whatever I perceive be real?

I then read that it is not the external, impermanent, even ephemeral sphere which is pertinent in the search for an awareness of Reality. I noted that I should be seeking awareness within me – to reach that part of God, that amorphous essence pervading all of Creation, which is within me. Is that the soul – the real me (who is in an existential transit through a spectrum of Earthly lives)?

When my mind, which is said to be only an instrument of Consciousness (that Ocean of Existence), finds my soul, would that be what is meant by ‘Realisation’? When I still my mind to reach my soul – the presumed extension of God within me – would that be the ultimate destination of my peregrination through Existence? If this view is correct, would I not need to be adequately ‘polished’ before Mind meets Soul?

Or, is it the case that my soul is separate from that part of my Creator said to be within me? I now so believe!

Perhaps I should cease being a Seeker, and sail my frail sampan on my personal river of destiny in calm contemplation, until its currents take me to where I must go – in due time!

It is the journey, not the destination, which must be crucial to learning about ultimate Reality. Isn’t learning an enrichment of the soul?

Proper insults

Time for a break from some serious matters. Also time to appreciate the most expressive English language. Often, a quotation could hide great wisdom. This is one I acquired from my father when I was a pup: ‘The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on.’ That has been my operational guide during a most difficult life; and I do believe that I am sane, but also at peace both mentally and spiritually. To be able to forgive one’s persecutors is a necessary pre-requisite.

“He had delusions of adequacy.” – Walter Kerr•

“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” -Winston Churchill• ”

I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” Clarence Darrow•

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” – William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).•

“Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.” – Moses Hadas•

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” – Mark Twain•

“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends..” – Oscar Wilde•

The search for memories of past lives

I began to read about the research on past-life memories of little children by Dr. Ian Stevenson decades ago. The scepticism expressed by some professionals in related fields continues, now covering the investigations being continued by Prof. Jim Tucker. Some of the stakeholders in many a scholarly discipline will not accept any reliable evidence which challenges their closely-held beliefs until someone tips them out of their comfort zones.

I have in mind Immanual Velikovsky who, in the early 1950s, forced the experts to accept the reality of cosmic collisions. Now we await them!

As one would expect, research on the issue of past-life memories of little children has been rigorous. Stacy Horn’s article ‘The children who’ve lived before’ in the May 2015 issue of the Reader’s Digest contains the following (referring to the work of Prof. Jim Tucker, who is continuing the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson in the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia, USA, over a total of more than 45 years).

“ … When he first learns about a subject, he checks for fraud, deliberate or unconscious, by asking two questions: ‘Do the parents seem credible?’ and ‘Could the child have picked up the memories through TV, overheard conversations, or other ordinary means?’ If he can rule out fraud, he and his team interview the child and his or her family to get a detailed account about the previous life. Then the researchers try to find a deceased person whose life matches the memories. This last part is essential because otherwise the child’s story would be a fantasy.”

The message from this is (as Stacy Horn wrote) “ … encouraging people to consider the meaning of consciousness and how it might survive our deaths.”

Little children can be amazing – Part 2

(More from the Huffington Post, 5 May 2015)

1) I sat down with my 3-year-old daughter who was playing at her dollhouse. I asked her which doll I would be and she replied, ‘The one that does the dishes.’

2) Dropped my son at pre-school and he says, ‘Have a good weekend, Mommy’ as he leaves the car. Clearly he has plans that don’t include me.’

3) 3-year-old daughter: “Boys can wear dresses, right?’ Husband: ‘Yes, they can – most boys don’t, but if they wanted to, they could.’ 3-year-old: ‘Daddy, you wouldn’t look good in a dress – it’s not your style.’

4) From my 5-year-old: Why do my little ball things hurt when I squeeze them? They’re not even attached to my body.’

5) Me: ‘Why is the dog’s head all wet?’ My 3-year-old (standing outside on the patio): ‘Oh, because I peed on him.’