Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Interview with the Dalai Lama's Youngest Brother

Tendzin Choegyal is the Dalai Lama’s youngest brother. Aside from being related to one of the holiest persons alive, TC is a rebellious soul who dropped out of college, spent a couple of years as a paratrooper in the Tibetan contingency of the Indian army, survived alcoholism,and found peace through a blend of Buddhism, lithium, and reading the news on the Internet. When I met him at his home in Dharamsala, India—the Himalayan town that houses the Tibetan government-in-exile—we talked about reincarnation, war movies, Steven Seagal’s crazy outfits, and the preservation of Tibetan culture.

The following is a reprint of my interview with Choegyal, published in Issue 52 of Giant Robot magazine. A feature-length profile will be in the Fall issue of Buddhadharma, which goes to press in July.

GR: At a young age, you, too, were recognized as a reincarnate of an important man, right?

TC: Oh, that’s bullshit. I don’t believe it. From a Buddhist perspective, we are all reborn. But choosing a particular person as someone special and saying he’s a reincarnation of so-and-so is bullshit. I don’t consider myself special. I’m just like you. I want happiness, and I don’t want suffering. I think it’s just a sheer accident that I was chosen.

GR: What about your brother?

TC: Ah, that’s different. He is on a completely different level—a much higher caliber, and a lot of tests were done. It may be true for others, but as far as I’m concerned, this is the greatest mistake of the century.

GR: Are you and your brother similar?

TC: His Holiness’ voice and my voice are similar, and we also look alike. I also share his philosophy of life. I share his views wholeheartedly. I mean, the guy cares, you know?

GR: Are you a practicing Buddhist?

TC: How do you define “practicing Buddhist”? Going to the temple every morning is nothing. We ourselves are temples. Even a dog can go to a temple. And as long as you have a little bit of money, you can always make an offering. I do subscribe to basic Buddhist beliefs, and the tenets of the teachings. I believe in taking refuge in the Buddha, in his teachings, and in his spiritual community. But I have to actualize all three within myself and enjoy the fruit of that development.

GR: What are your hobbies?

TC: I used to take photographs, and I used to like editing movies. But right now, my hobby is reading. I’m reading a book in English right now on Buddhism and world history. I don’t read fiction—my time is mostly spent reading about Buddhism and inner transformation. I also read The New York Times, The Herald Tribune, and the BBC on the Internet. Oh, and People’s Daily. I want to know what the Chinese are saying!

GR: Anything else you’re really into?

TC: I like useful tools. Until a few years ago, I used to fix my own car—I was a good mechanic. I used to drive an old Land Rover; now I drive a Suzuki station wagon. I used to wash my car every day, and my friends used to say, “Don’t do that, the paint’s going to come off.” When I’m doing something, I do it whole-heartedly. And then when I leave it, I just leave it. Just this evening my son called me an eccentric. I think he’s right. We all have our extreme sides. I used to take an interest in anything that was mechanical, but now, I don’t think these material things are all that important. I’m interested in human beings now.

GR: Do you like movies?

TC: Yes. This is going to shock you, but I like war movies, like Saving Private Ryan. Like any kid or person who doesn’t really think, I used to like them just for the action. But Saving Private Ryan shows how devastating and bad war is, and I think there should be more movies like that. Entertainment plays a big role in the world. Movies produced today with sex, violence, and drugs practically teach youngsters how to do things the wrong way. I think the entertainment industry holds a lot of responsibility.

GR: Have you met a lot of the celebrities who stop through Dharamsala to meet the Dalai Lama?

TC: Celebrities? They’re all human beings, what’s the big deal? You sit down with them, you start talking, and it’s the same thing. Richard Gere is a wonderful person—very simple, modest, and natural with whomever he meets. He’s done a lot for the Tibetan community. And then, on the other side of the scale, there’s Steven Seagal. Oh my god. I met him when he came here. He was wearing a funny coat, a Chinese brocade, funny trousers, and funny shoes with that ponytail. I asked him, “Why do you dress in such a peculiar manner?” He didn’t say anything. He’s arrogant, and pretends to be a Tibetan reincarnate. But why? He’s a strange man.

GR: What do you think about the preservation of Tibetan culture in Dharamsala?

TC: I think we’re losing it. Culture is not about dancing; it’s not about the songs you sing. I think we are starting to go mainstream here—people are wearing baseball caps and baggy pants. Human culture keeps on changing—it’s constantly being modified. There’s no such thing as the “original culture”—we are always in a state of flux. So it depends on how you look at it. But no matter how you dress or what kind of song you sing, as long as you can relate with other people, I think it’s okay. Any trend that is based on the mistaken view that freedom under democracy is a license to do anything is dangerous. You’ll destroy yourself, your family, and your community, because it’s based on selfishness. Say somebody is very angry, and he just can’t listen to reason. That person’s reason for not restraining himself is, I’m free.I can to whatever I want. The restraining factor is becoming smaller and smaller. We are becoming noble savages.

GR: Do you think a part of Tibetan culture is threatened by things moving forward?

TC: I really love Tibetans. I really wish success to our cause and our people. But I’m very concerned with the direction in which we are heading. Young people are not taking interest in Buddhism as an internal science. They see that Buddhism dispensed in the name of religion by various institutions is not up to the mark. A good example is the number of monks we have. Firstly, we have too many of them. And then they’re in monks’ robes, but they behave in funny ways. Whatever you do in life, you have to love it or leave it. If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. If you want to do it, do it because you love it. Find meaning in it. Otherwise, you’re tricking yourself. You’re tricking everybody.

Art by John Pham

China Troublemakers on Lockdown for Olympics

If you are a troublemaker in Shanghai, then the China government has issued you a notice.

“In order to strengthen public order during the Olympics and ensure the Games go smoothly, these are the rules important controlled people in our area must follow from April 1 to October 31.”

“Do not pick quarrels in public places”, “Do not express any political opinion to foreign reporters” and “Do not distort the truth, intentionally spread rumours or use other methods to whip up and disturb social order”.

china-troublemaker China Troublemakers on Lockdown for Olympics picture

In addition to the above rules, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy issue a statement to the so called “troublemakers“, petitioners, or anyone on the “controlled” list, ordering them not to leave the city of Shanghai during the coming Olympics.

They have also been instructed not to talk about their political opinions to foreigners, leave the country (which is odd since they can’t leave Shanghai to begin with), or store weapons and explosives at their homes.

Anyone caught breaking the rules from April 1 to October 31, will be detained or prosecuted, depending on the rule broken.

falun-gong China Troublemakers on Lockdown for Olympics picture

The 2008 Olympic games will open on August 8th in Beijing, China.

The India Confusion
photo by Mistral
This writeup is intended to throw some light on the various facets of India for those who are still searching to locate India on a map. It is difficult to explain all of India in this short article, and any attempt to do so results in the oversimplification of a complex topic. But I do hope that it provides a glimpse of India for the novice India tourist.

This is not a "quick fix" India travel guide, or a "sure shot" India travel plan for the India candidate. Nor is it an attempt to suggest the optimum India travel itinerary. Where to go and what to see is not discussed here. Also this is not an attempt to scare you away or discourage you with the "real facts" of India.

Those planning an India trip are in a special league of tourists, with a taste for a mini-adventure and a quest to see a new way of life. This is not an easy or lazy experience. At the same time, you do not have to be a brutally brave macho to visit India. Put it this way, it’s neither a cakewalk nor a mission impossible.

But, a better understanding of the scheme of things goes a very long way towards a memorable India trip.

The India confusion

photo by Mistral
India in one word: Unexplainable. It’s more biology than physics. Your India travel plan invariably starts with the classic confusion - India or Not. The experiences narrated by the ones who have already visited India only adds fuel to fire, and anyone can convince you either way, with proof and contradicting facts about India.

The stories I have personally heard range from tales of people flying out of India on the next possible flight within hours after landing, to tales of travelers dreaming about their next India trip while at the very beginning of their first India tour. I have heard tales of people facing a real cultural shock on returning home. And, I’ve been convinced beyond reasonable doubt about reasons for all their points.

The excitement a traveler seeking from the "ancient spiritual India" is comparable with that of the Microsoft executive visiting India for business. Both are enthusiastically scratching the India itch but at the opposite ends of a century!

It is a unique, overlapping, and entangled landscape - one living within the other. India is one part stuck in history. You, as a tourist, are going there to experience this living past. The other part is the modern India that facilitates you as a traveler.

India’s past collides with her present in the middle of the road. You witness this never-ending and mind-boggling fusion of contradictions. This is the simplest explanation of hysterical chaos that is India. It’s akin to two huge elephants wrestling ferociusly - nothing bothers them, nor can anyone can stop them.

A man driving a Mercedes honking his horn at a bullock cart to persuade it loudly to give way is not just a funny sight. It’s a real life picture you experience on the Indian roads.

At every turn awaits you a hither to unknown surprise. This suspense hounds you all the way from the "India or Not" decision, through the India adventure, to your departure, and finally fades into a feeing that becomes India nostalgia.

The rude welcome

photo by SitaParityaga
Your welcome to India is not a friendly one. The first thing you notice is the people. I mean lots of people. People moving in all directions. You have to deal with the worst of India head-on, and it’s really raw. Be it the beggars, the touts, the poor children, or the local taxi drivers, you have to deal with all of them minutes after your arrival.

Whatever tricks and tips you have prepared yourself with are forgotten in a matter of minutes after facing this rude welcome. It’s like learning to swim by reading a book, and them jumping right into the pool. India teaches you new lessons only after you have failed the test.

And it is powerful enough to change the way you view life. The shock treatment strikes you at the very core of your being. No amount of homework can prepare you to handle this. Nevertheless, you won’t be caught totally off the guard if you have done some research.

A regular foreign tourist in all probability won’t interact much with their equivalent Indian social classes during their tour. The shock is more due to this reason as well.

Even for an Indian visiting an unfamiliar Indian city, the environment is as eventful as a foreigner doing visiting. The India poison works quickly on you. You need to give it some time before you get a handle on the scheme of things.

It’s bizarre but this is how India welcomes you. This shock is also very much part of experiencing an India trip.

There is no India culture!

This is a fact about India. And you fail miserably if you are on a mission to find "real" Indian culture. India is not a monolithic cultural block. It’s an anthology of a thousand countries within a country.

photo by olias
More than a dozen languages are spoken principally within various geographic regions. This diversity is visible not just in language, but in food, costume, traditions, and local customs. The way people look and think are different all over India. The ways people cook and eat are different all over India. Each place has different festivals and customs. Even the religious holidays are varied in different regions.

For an Indian living in a southern town, Varanasi at the north is a mysterious place far away from his visual range and comprehension. If you are traveling the length and breadth of India, you arrive everyday at a new India, different from the one you saw yesterday. The north, south, east and the west are all distinctively different. No cities or towns are stereotypical representations of India. All are unique in their own way. It’s a never-ending roll-of-the-dice, and a menu for you to pick places that suit your taste.

Culturally this country falls somewhere in between orthodox and modern. You find a lot of sex ual symbols and signs of modernism almost everywhere in India, like women in the cities walking around in tight T-shirts and jeans, and huge billboards advertizing modern attire. Make no mistakes about it - deep down India has a conservative culture that respects tradition.

The difference between sleeveless blouses and ones with elbow-long sleeves is huge in terms of modernism. It’s technically possible to make traditional Sari sexier than a tight T-shirt and jeans, but the latter is still accepted grudgingly.

The younger generation is a century away from that of their parents. The cultural clash is most experienced in the middle-class Indian living rooms, than in any social setting a western tourist may experience. Indians are notorious in “Indianizing” everything they like. The numerous “Chinese fast food” joints dotted all over the country serve food that is neither Chinese nor Indian. The vegetarian McDonald and the Indian version of MTV, "Empty-V" as it’s pronounced, are other examples.

But the peculiar thing about this diversity is that you feel the presence of a strong, and widely-spaced, common cultural net that encompasses all the individual Indian cultures. The blood circulating between them is common.

The Social structure

photo by beach
There is nothing like the contrast between the poor in villages and the rich in the cities. The extreme rich and the unimaginably poor live almost side-by-side in any Indian city. The burgeoning middle-class lives somewhere in-between.

All share, more or less, the same public landscape. The cultural co-existence of these classes is an unexplainable miracle. Accommodating a foreign tourist in this society is not a surprise when compared to their own social contradictions.

The sheer size of all these classes creates a unique economic system that accommodates and caters to all of them. As a tourist this plays to your advantage. You can fit into any slot in the economic spectrum. This is one reason why it is possible for you do an India tour with a lavish or a tight budget.

Your choices are limitless, as the luxury and comfort of hotel accommodations are available whether you pay $3 a day or $300 d day. You can cover three thousand kilometers for a cost ranging from $10 to $150 on the same train in different classes. You can have a decent meal for less than $0.50 to a meal fit for a king for $50.

A "poor man’s Mercedes" is available for anything and everything in India. Like anyone in India, you need to find your correct financial class and just fit into that. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" is a very practical piece of advice in this context.

A foreign tourist definitely sticks out in a social scene. People take it for granted that a foreign tourist is well traveled and courageous, and it’s up to you to put this perception to your advantage. This perception has probably evolved from the fact that Indians see a countless number of lone foreign travelers roaming every nook and cranny of the country.

An average Indian thinks that all western culture is the same. For him US culture and UK culture are the same, leave alone the difference between Scotland and Wales! This has nothing to do with geographic understanding or the lack thereof, and the reason for this is simple - both the guest and the host are unaware of each others culture.

The family factor

Don’t get surprised if your Indian friend introduces you to her dad’s eldest brother’s son-in-law’s younger sister to you. It is a highly networked family structure that is probably alien to the westerner. People are not as independent as they are in the west. Parents play highly influential role in their children’s lives.

A simple example is an average Indian marriage. Selection of one’s life partner is rarely an individual’s decision. People prefer a wider acceptance in the family circle on matters related to marriage. It’s perceived as a creation of a new network of relations, and not as a one-to-one agreement.

This is what the social security net in India is like. The same holds for many aspects that would normally be individualistic, ranging from academics to career decisions. A family is more of a collective consulting body where everyones opinion matters.

This explains why a large number of people travel as a family, which is why the trains and buses are crowded. "Family only" sections are available in most restaurants.

The family is the elementary building block of the Indian society.


Any layman on the road wants to say something to you. Indian love to talk, and do so even with a total stranger on the street. Such communication hardly starts with introductions by name. The starting topic is generally a subject of popular interest. They talk for hours as if they are long time friends, and may depart without knowing each other’s names.

When directed at a foreigner, the first question is invariably about his country. Everyone is licensed to ask anyone on the street the latest cricket score. Probably this explains the high sound levels in public places.

It’s a patient but emotionally sensitive race. Personal attachments and intimacies are valued. Indians are notorious for asking personal questions, and is usually asked with no malicious intent. They socialize and bond by sharing personal information. It typically ranges from where they live, where are they going, what business they do, etc. The list is endless.

Never get embarrassed if a total stranger standing next to you in a queue ask such blunt questions. The interesting thing is that if you do not ask such questions back you’ll be regarded as impolite, aloof, or rude. In Indian customs, this is a bit of insult to the initiator.

Not looking at your face when answering questions is not a sign of impoliteness. Eye contact in face-to-face communication is much less than in western practices. The funniest fact is that you will attract a lot of stares when you are not talking to them. This is more so in a rural or a small town setup.

English is the de facto communication standard for government and business communications. A business traveler faces very little trouble at all in speaking English as compared to the tourist. India has the second largest English speaking population after the US. But majority of English speakers are in the professional, academic, or business community. As a regular tourist you may not encounter this population in any direct sense.

Your concern is the English knowledge of a taxi driver, a counter clerk, or a layman at the bus stop. But you’ll be able to manage in public with English. Almost every Indian language uses a good amount of English vocabulary. What this means is people may not understand the sentence but they can pickup the keywords.

Even the English spoken in India has its own style. The accent is distinctively different. Each and every letter in the word is pronounced distinctively. You’ll be addressed ‘Yes Madam’ (d not silent!). They don’t bother much about it .

The worst is the structure of the sentences. They try to translate and speak verbatim as spoken in the local language. The infamous “You are from which place madam?” is a perplexing question for a novice listener. Almost everyone on the street (read as taxi drivers and vendors) knows how to count in English. Speak to them in English without grammar. That’s the best way to communicate.

Culturally there is no “NO” in India. An evading answer is equivalent to NO. Never use the word NO if you don’t want to harshly deny something.

  • “I just had a tea” is the polished way of saying NO to a tea offer than a polite “No. Thank you”.
  • Never deny an invitation by saying that “I Won’t be able to join”.
  • “I’ll try to come” almost means, “don’t wait for me,” told in a polite way.

In written communication also the word NO is not usually mentioned unless it is a very formal situation. A long silence from the other end can be treated as a negative answer.


The most valuable currency you need to enjoy India in total is patience. She never allows you to run faster than her nor she is bothered about your hurry. The India elephant moves at her own pace, stopping here and there at it’s own wish, enjoying every bit of it’s journey. Follow it’s procession in style... it is the best way to enjoy India.

Your patience will be put to the ultimate test. If you are on the way to another country and want a quick 2-day India tour, you are in for serious trouble. If you are used to a clockwork life style, leave your watch at your arrival terminal and pick it up on your return. Don’t get frustrated if someone tells you that you have to sit on a bench and wait for four hours for the next bus to town.

India teaches you systematically the new limits of your patience!

The India nostalgia

It’s more of an infection you get after visiting India.

If you haven’t fallen in the "runaway from India" category, in all probability you are in the addicted to India league. There is nothing like a neutral feel about India. You either love it or hate it, and those who are infected spread it to others.

As a novice traveler you’ll be satisfied with the most popular tourist spots you visit, but the first experience has already induced the courage to go further. On your second trip you are less skeptical. But this time you have an advanced set of questions for India. You want to go to the regions you couldn’t visit last time. You come back from your second tour with the knowledge that you have seen very little of India.

The itch makes you want to go there again. Every time you do, you have a better control over the scheme of things and are more adventurous. The advanced India traveler ego drives you to explore the off the beaten path and remote places. For you this doesn’t feel like a movie seen over and over again.

If you’ve reached this stage, well, you can assume that your India addiction has reached a point beyond cure!

Indian rupee continues to slide

Indian woman harvesting grass for livestock feed
Spiralling prices are threatening to stifle India's economic progress

The Indian rupee has continued to slide in value against the US dollar amid concerns that high oil prices will stoke inflation in the economy.

The Indian currency is down 8% against the dollar this year as the soaring cost of oil has eaten into household budgets and hit the trade balance.

Wholesale prices in India, which imports 75% of its oil, are rising at their sharpest rate in 13 years.

Separate data seen by the BBC suggests inflation is higher than thought.

'Difficult times'

One dollar was worth 42.972 rupees on Monday, up from 42.92.

Asian currencies fell across the board on Monday after global oil prices showed no signs of retreating, despite a pledge by Saudi Arabia to increase output again if necessary.

India's economy, which has enjoyed exceptional growth in recent years, is vulnerable to the soaring cost of the commodity because of its dependence on imported oil.

Hefty government subsidies designed to keep fuel prices down have hit the public finances, while the higher cost of importing oil has hurt India's balance of payments.

Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram recently admitted that there were more "difficult times" ahead for the economy.

Wipe out gains

Indian government data obtained by the BBC has revealed the full impact of price rises there.

It was announced last week that inflation had hit more than 11%, its highest level in 13 years.

But official statistics from the Ministry of Consumer Affairs say wheat and onion prices have risen by some 50% in many smaller cities since January.

Politicians have warned that inflation is threatening to wipe out gains made in the struggle against poverty.

The cost of rice has shot up by more than 40%, the statistics say.

The Reserve Bank of India raised its key lending rate by a quarter point to 8% earlier this month and officials have indicated that a further increase could be imminent.

But some economists believe it has been slow to address the inflation threat, given that prices are rising at their fastest level since 1995.

The less optimistic outlook has hit investment in India's stock market with official figures showing foreign fund managers have sold $5.3bn worth of shares and bonds this year.

This contrasts with $19.5bn worth of purchases last year.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Taleban's '$100m opium takings'

By Kate Clark
BBC News, Afghanistan

Afghanistan poppies
The Taleban 'taxes' poppy farmers

The Taleban made an estimated $100m (£50m) in 2007 from Afghan farmers growing poppy for the opium trade, the United Nations says.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said the money was raised by a 10% tax on farmers in Taleban-controlled areas.

The UN estimates last year's poppy harvest was worth $1bn (£500m).

Mr Costa said the Taleban made even more money from other activities related to the opium trade.

Listen to File On 4, Radio 4 Tuesday 24 June 2008 2000 BST, repeated Sunday 29 June 1700 BST
Or catch up at Radio 4's Listen Again site

"One is protection to laboratories and the other is that the insurgents offer protection to cargo, moving opium across the border," Mr Costa told the BBC's File on 4 programme.

The final figures for this year's harvest have yet to be released but yield and proceeds are likely to be down due to drought, infestation and a poppy ban enforced in the north and east of Afghanistan.

This would lower revenue, "but not enormously", Mr Costa said.


The past few years have seen abundant yields from poppy farming, with Afghan farmers cultivating more than the global demand.

"Last year Afghanistan produced about 8,000 tonnes of opium," Mr Costa said.

Militants in Pakistani tribal area bordering Afghainstan, March 2008
Nato says Taleban attacks are on the rise

"The world in the past few years has consumed about 4,000 tonnes in opium, this leaves a surplus.

"It is stored somewhere and not with the farmers," he added.

The stockpiles represent hundreds of millions of dollars and it is not known whether they are possessed by traffickers, corrupt Afghan officials and politicians or the Taleban.

British officials say that drugs money funds the Taleban's military operations.

"The closer we look at it, the closer we see the insurgents [are] to the drugs trade," said David Belgrove, head of counter narcotics at the British embassy in Kabul.

"We can say that a lot of their arms and ammunition are being funded directly by the drugs trade."

Map of expected opium cultivation

Monday, June 23, 2008

Polishing the Mirror

Talmud, and the writings of the saints of any tradition. But the source might also be any spiritual or inspiring text we use not simply abstractly or academically but as a means of deeper self-understanding.

In fact, carrying the same logic a step further, svadhyaya can refer to any inspirational activity, from the simple act of chanting, using a mantra, or singing a hymn to receiving teachings from the guru or going to hear a sermon. Rituals of the major religions—for example, the ritual of confession in the Roman Catholic faith—can act as svadhyaya. To take a similar example, repentance and seeking forgiveness are integral parts of the process of purification and illumination in both the Jewish and Islamic faiths. In a somewhat different form of svadhyaya, the Tibetan Buddhist contemplates the "great thoughts that turn the mind to ultimate dharma," thus turning the mind away from the worldly toward the spiritual life. In svadhyaya, spiritually inspiring teachings are tools to help us understand ourselves, and, through that understanding, change our attitudes and behavior.

Attuning Our Inner Navigator

This teaching is not only meant for those dedicated to matters of the spirit. It has great practical meaning for all of us who recognize there is room for improvement in our lives. Svadhyaya represents an ongoing process through which we can assess where we are at a given moment. It is like attuning our inner navigator and finding meaningful answers to questions: Where am I now, and where am I going? What is my direction, and what are my aspirations? What are my responsibilities? What are my priorities?

We often find ourselves on cruise control, acting habitually and being so swept up in the momentum of our daily lives that we don't take the time to check where we are or where we are headed. The mantras and textual studies offered by the classical tradition function as references from which we can measure where we are. If we come back to the image of the inner navigator, then the mantras and texts can be seen as the polestar, which shows us true north.

One of the greatest opportunities we have to see ourselves is in the mirror of relationship. Therefore another means of svadhyaya is to look at how people are responding to us and let that be the opportunity to understand something about the way we habitually operate. For example, it is difficult to hide aspects of our personality from our mates, our parents, or our children. Even with intimate friends, our pretenses are not likely to endure for long. While we are quite able to play the games of avoidance and self-deception in our own company, in the mirror of our relationships, it is not so easy to hide.

In other words, svadhyaya suggests that we can use all of our activities—solitary and relational—as mirrors in which to discover something important about ourselves and that we can use what we discover as valuable information in the process of arriving at a deeper self-understanding. Finally, the ultimate purpose of svadhyaya is to function as a mirror reminding us of our higher potential—in other words, as a way into the interior where our true Self resides.

To this end, the classical means of svadhyaya include using a mantra, reading a text, or sitting with a spiritual master (guru). In fact, the ancients used the word darshana—which means something like a mirror image—to describe the teaching contained in a particular group of sacred texts, and they used the same word to describe what happens when we sit with a spiritual master. In both cases, we can see our neuroses, our small-mindedness, and our pettiness mirrored completely. At the same time, we can also see beyond our current state to something like our divine potential. And that too is who we are.

Although the classical means of svadhyaya were mantras, texts, and masters, we can use our wives, husbands, lovers, friends, yoga students, or yoga teachers. Everybody. Everything. In fact, all of our activities can be an opportunity to see more deeply who we are and how we operate, and on that basis we can begin to refine ourselves and thus become clearer and more appropriate in our behavior.

Balancing Action and Reflection

Tapas (purification) and svadhyaya exist in mutual relationship, tapas being the means whereby we purify and refine our systems and svadhyaya being the means of self-reflection through which we come to an increasingly deeper level of self-awareness and self-understanding. By cleansing the vessel of the body and mind, tapas makes us fit for svadhyaya; by examining the vessel, svadhyaya helps us to understand exactly where we should concentrate our practices of purification. And thus, in this relationship between purification and self-examination, we have a natural method for discovering who, in essence, we are.

We cannot truly consider tapas apart from svadhyaya; therefore, an intelligent practice of tapas must of necessity include svadhyaya. For example, if we do intensive asana (postures) without being adequately self-reflective, we may end up destabilizing our hips, creating vulnerability in our lower back, and ruining our knees. If, however, we consider the asana practice itself as a mirror, we are certainly more apt to avoid injury and may even come away with a better understanding of ourselves as well.

For many of us who are drawn to styles of asana practice that reinforce existing tendencies, this is a tricky point. For example, if we are the high-paced, hyperactive type, we might be drawn toward a very active practice—one that makes us sweat and that generates lots of heat—whereas what we may really need is a more soothing and calming practice. Or if we are the slow-moving, sluggish type, we may be drawn to a very gentle and relaxing practice, whereas what we may really need is a more active and stimulating one. In either case, the result would be tapas without svadhyaya. And in both cases the result would most likely be a reinforcement of existing patterns or, even worse, a possible injury or illness.

When we practice, it is important to look carefully, both at who we are and what is actually happening in our practice so that we have a constant feedback mechanism through which we accurately feel what is happening in our systems, and as a result of which we learn increasingly more about ourselves.

In short, tapas accompanied by svadhyaya ensures that tapas is transformational activity and not simply a mindless application of technology or, worse yet, an abusive activity. According to the ancients, svadhyaya develops tapas, tapas develops svadhyaya, and together they help us awaken to the spiritual dimension of life. And thus, as we go deeper and deeper into the process of self-investigation and self-discovery, we also go deeper and deeper into the Self, until eventually we discover (or uncover) the Divine. One great teacher has described this process with the image of a drop of water dissolving into the ocean. At first we wonder whether we are the drop. But eventually we discover that we are not and have never been the drop, but only the water itself.

From Yoga for Transformation (Penguin Putnam, 2002) by Gary Kraftsow. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.

India monkey god idol for Obama

Mr Bhama with the idol
Mr Bhama says he is ardent supporter of Mr Obama

A group of Indians are planning to present a statue of the revered Indian monkey God, Hanuman, to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

The group decided to order the idol after they read a magazine report saying that Mr Obama carried a good luck 'monkey king' charm.

They say that a Barack Obama victory would be good for India.

Hindus revere monkeys which they believe are descendents of the monkey God Hanuman.

The two-foot tall, 15kg gold-polished, brass idol has been made as a present for Mr Obama because "he will be good for India if he becomes the next president," according to Brij Mohan Bhama, leader of the group.

Mr Bhama belongs to the ruling Congress party and also runs a textile mill in the western city of Mumbai.

'Monkey charm'

"We have heard that he carries a small monkey charm in his pocket. So he is a devotee of Hanuman. That's why we want to present him with this idol," he said.

Mr Bhama and his friends have also invited Carolyn Sauvage-Mar, chairwoman of the group, Democrats Abroad-India, to a meeting they are holding on Tuesday to pray for Mr Obama's success.

The Delhi-based group registers voters, sponsors events and occasionally hosts Democratic Party leaders visiting India.

Obama stands for change. We are hoping that he will bring about change so that oil and food prices come down
Brij Mohan Bhama

Mr Bhama is hoping that Ms Sauvage-Mar will pick up the idol and arrange it to be delivered to Mr Obama.

"They have invited me for the prayer. I am happy to go to bring best wishes to Obama," she said.

She said she would talk with the organisers and find out whether she would be able to help in shipping the idol to Mr Obama.

Ms Sauvage-Mar said the people organising the prayer meeting for the presidential candidate had possibly read a Time magazine article which mentioned that Mr Obama carried a "monkey king good luck charm".

"Senator Obama has a good luck charm. We don't know whether it is of Hanuman. But the people here think it is Hanuman," she said.

Mr Bhama says he is an ardent supporter of Mr Obama - even his email identification is bhamaforobama.

"Obama stands for change. We are hoping that he will bring about change so that oil and food prices come down," he said.

"India will progress if he comes to power."

Shyness drug could boost confidence

A drug that combats shyness and social awkwardness, dubbed "social Viagra", could be developed after scientists investigated a hormone released by new mothers.

Scientists in the US found that oxytocin, a natural hormone that assists childbirth and helps mothers bond with newborn babies, helps reduce anxiety and calm phobias.

There are also signs it may help people with autism.

Teams in the US, Europe and Asia are now racing to commercialise a drug based on the hormone, which can be produced synthetically.

Paul Zak, a professor of neuroscience at California's Claremont Graduate University, who has tested the hormone on hundreds of patients, said: "Tests have shown that oxytocin reduces anxiety levels in users. It is a hormone that facilitates social contact between people. What's more, it is a very safe product that does not have any side effects and is not addictive."

The research has been backed up by studies in other countries.

Researchers at Zurich University in Switzerland were able to ease symptoms of extreme shyness in 120 patients by giving them oxytocin hormone treatment half an hour before they encountered an awkward situation.

A spray of the hormone has also been successfully trialled at the University of New South Wales.

Millions of people in the UK suffer from shyness, and one-in-10 people say it seriously affects their daily life. Some resort to drink or illegal drugs to help overcome their awkwardness.

As well as being released by mothers after childbirth, the hormone is believed to make people more generous. Research shows that the higher the natural level of oxytocin people have in their brain, the more likely they are to give money to charity and act kindly towards strangers. It has also been shown to increase the level of monogamy in rodents.

There is speculation that oxytocin might be able to help new mothers who have trouble bonding with their babies or orphans whose mental scars from neglect make it hard for them to love adoptive parents.

It could have other commercial benefits. For instance, it could be sprayed in restaurants to put diners at ease, or be used as an alternative to tear gas to calm rioters.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Talk about a movie that changes your personnel outlook on life,religion, and all the governments corrupt decisions…makes you really think what the government is doing and what there trying to make us believe.