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The Zone

25 April 2013 | 26 Comments | Tags: , , , ,

Have you heard of the zone? It's a state of mind sometimes called "flow state". Humans experience it when they get really absorbed in an activity, such as sports, music, art, computer programming, and gaming, etc. It is the mad scientist’s state of mind when he is so absorbed in his invention that he hasn't eaten, washed, or slept in three days; it is the child’s state of mind when she is so absorbed in playing that she doesn't realise that she has gotten hungry or tired; and it is the StarCraft champion’s state of mind when he is playing the computer game so intensely, executing ten actions per second, hammering his mouse and keyboard, ultimately defeating his opponent through superior focus and "micro", but has to retire at the age of twenty five because his reflexes become too slow.

If you have experienced the zone, then you know it is blissfully absorbing. Your attention is completely taken away from other things. Your mind detaches from your body. You are fully in the moment, not conscious of the body, outside reality, or the passage of time. The zone produces an inner clarity where the activity you are doing becomes its own reward and you feel fantastic.

Many Eastern teachings, including the art and science of Krishna Consciousness, explain that we are not the body, but are, in fact, beings of pure spiritual consciousness. The zone closely resembles our original state of pure consciousness and is therefore a state of such great happiness. It is not, however, automatically a spiritual experience. It can be spiritual, but more often than not, it is simply the material mind getting absorbed in a material activity without any direct spiritual connection.

For all its wonders, there are some problems with the zone. For one, it is difficult to get into. It requires an activity that you are very skilled at and that is very challenging at the same time. Such activities are hard to come by, and the more you master them, the less likely they reliably lead you into the zone. 

getting into the zone diagram

(source: Wikipedia)

The zone is also very much a temporary state. You might loose track of time for a while, but sooner or later you emerge from the zone and enter back into mundane reality—the bills, the work, and the usual routine.

The yoga texts of ancient India elaborately describe Krishna Consciousness' path into the zone. The texts present a practice of meditation that leads to greater and greater absorption in relationship with the Supreme Consciousness, to Krishna Consciousness. This path starts with hearing sacred sound vibration, then repeating such sounds as you have heard them. This repetition can be done either quietly in "japa" meditation, or loudly in "kirtan" singing. The more you repeat the sacred mantras, the more they embed themselves into your consciousness. Soon, you start to remember them throughout the day, and your mood lifts. With determined practice, the mantras (sounds that represent the many names of the Supreme) become second nature, until you remember them in every situation. Prolonged practice of such Krishna Consciousness leads to a state known as "samadhi", pure spiritual trance, or fully awakened consciousness. In that state you completely understand your relationship to the Supreme and inhabit a body made of pure spiritual consciousness. You are no longer of this material world. You are completely happy, fully and permanently in the spiritual zone.

Below are some amazing videos of Alex Honnold, supremely expert free-solo climber. He climbs vertical walls without any tools, ropes, or support. I think part of the reason he does this is because he can reliably enter into the zone when doing such climbs and there is great happiness in that state. Alex has an amazing skill and I have the greatest respect for him. Still, as you watch the videos (notice your hands start to sweat as you watch) think to yourself how much safer, easier, and more accessible path into the zone you might find by seeking out a friendly group of spiritual practitioners, practitioners engaged in chanting japa and kirtan, practitioners on their way into "samadhi".

Scientific Spirituality

21 January 2013 | 48 Comments | Tags:

Science is Great

Science is great! Science helps us understand the world, cure diseases, build great things like computers, mobile devices, skyscrapers, and jet airplanes. It is useful, fascinating and magical. Indeed, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, as the physicist and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke famously said.

Moreover, additional benefits of science include wonderful inventions like coal-fired power plants, automobiles, and industrial farming, all allowing humans to do great things like destroy the rainforest, raise the temperature of the entire planet, and cause mass extinctions, clearly undesirable side effects of science. However, science will surely be able to solve the problem it has created. Take the Toyota Prius, for example, a wonder of technology, a hybrid car that is extremely fuel efficient. While it still uses fuel like any other car, it is much better than the gas-guzzlers of yesteryear. So good that its “fuel efficiency” is close to that of a horse. With a few more years of scientific advances, we will surely be able to make cars that run on nearly nothing, re-grow the rainforest and clone extinct species back into existence. So, science is great. Right?

The Horsemen Approach

Have you heard of the Four Horsemen? The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Conquest, War, Famine and Death, are described in the last chapter of the Bible as harbingers of final judgement of God over all people. However, I’m not speaking of these horsemen. Rather, I’m referring to the self-styled Four Horsemen known as the torch-bearers of the “New Atheists” movement: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. These four scientists claim to represent critical thinking, knowledge and reason. Disagree with their thinking and you must be an irrational, delusional religious fanatic. After all, they represent science. 

The most famous of the Four Horseman is Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University. A prolific author, Dawkins is best known for his book “The God Delusion”. He also occasionally gives public lectures. I remember hearing of one of his lectures a few years ago. 

The Horseman Speaks

I was sitting in my office in the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester, an office with narrow slits of windows letting in a little daylight, a building that is perpetually either too hot or too cold, having been designed with a monstrously over-powered air-conditioning system for the vacuum tube computers of years gone by. This building, the hallowed halls of learning, the zenith of Western Civilization, is not named after Alan Turing, the famous scientist from Manchester who came up with a universal theory of computation. Instead, it is named after Tom Kilburn, the engineer who built the first stored program computer, highlighting the difference between science and engineering. Scientists come up with ideas, but it is the engineers that make them actually work and create technology. Engineering is applied science. 

While sitting at my desk, Mikel, a friend and fellow PhD student, came in wearing a large backpack. I waited until he sat down and caught his breath, then asked him where he just came from. He explained he was at Oxford University for a public lecture by Richard Dawkins. I then asked what he thought of the lecture, expecting a rant about how Dawkins was brilliantly condemning religion, especially the Catholic Church. Mikel was a staunch atheists with a special axe to grind against the Catholic Church, an organization quite prominent in his home country of Spain. I enjoyed these rants, as they were quite entertaining and often led to interesting friendly arguments between the two of us.

Much to my surprise, however, Mikel said he was disappointed by Dawkins’ talk. Mikel explained that he was expecting Dawkins to make some good arguments for atheism, but instead the Professor was using emotional language and preaching like a Bible-basher. According to Mikel, Dawkins sounded as much as a religious fanatic, as the religious leaders he was speaking against with such “religious” fever. 

I remember this incident because it taught me of the insidiousness the Western materialistic scientific worldview. Matter is imbued with extraordinary secret powers. The material universe can come from nothing by magic, life can arise from matter by accident, and consciousness can arise from the brain by biochemical reaction. These claims are true, because, well, they just are.

Science is True

Let us examine a few of the ideas of materialistic science. I was quite astounded when I first learnt of each of these, reacting with a “wow, I would never have thought!”

It is common knowledge that the Earth orbits around the Sun. The Earth as the center of the Universe is an archaic idea, an outdated concept, one that no one believes in anymore. Western scientists as far back as Copernicus have discovered that actually the Sun is in the center and the Earth orbits around that

But not so fast. If we dig a bit deeper we learn that accepted wisdom is false. The Earth actually orbits around the gravitational center of the solar system. Large planets such as Jupiter and Saturn, pull on the Earth with their enormous gravitational force. This causes the central point of orbit to vary greatly. Indeed, it is almost never being centered directly on the Sun. We can go further still. Let us take into account that our entire solar system is orbiting around the galactic core, and our galaxy, in turn, is probably moving and orbiting in some undiscovered pattern around other galaxies. So, why do we believe one childish simplification of the structure of the universe (Sun is the center) in favor of another (Earth is the center)?

To quote Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi:

"Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view."

There is more scientific “truth” that falls into this hazy realm, a realm of generally accepted scientific wisdom, a place of theories that no one has ever verified by observation and theories which are impossible to verify by observation.

One such hypothesis is the big bang theory. It proclaims to explain the origin of matter, time and space, but it seems highly unlikely that anyone will be able to stage an experiment to verify what actually happened at the beginning of the universe.

Then there is macro-evolution. A species is defined as a group of life-forms that can interbreed producing fertile offspring. Evolution claims that species evolve into other species, yet scientists have never observed any animal evolving into a new creature that no longer can interbreed with members of its previous species).

The last question we will tackle is the origin of life, and the origin of consciousness. How best to get to the bottom of these mysteries and know for sure? Could such a thing even be possible? Believe it or not, I see very good reasons to be optimistic about solving these conundrums.

Science is becoming more Scientific

Why do I see reasons to be optimistic? Two reasons, each converging on the other, as if seeking to merge in a wonderful fusion of spiritual and material knowledge.

On the spiritual side: we are rediscovering ancient spiritual knowledge that gives a detailed scientific account of life, the universe and consciousness. More on this a bit later on.

On the material side: some scientists are beginning to remove the blinders of materialism, considering that perhaps there might be more to the universe than just matter. Chinks are beginning to appear in the armor of the Western materialist worldview. People are beginning to realize that money does not buy happiness, unlimited economic growth is unsustainable, and something as subtle as consciousness plays a significant role in the laws of physics. Scientists are realizing there is a great need for scientific research to answer fundamental questions such as: What is consciousness? How can we become more conscious? What is happiness? How can we become more happy?

In short, science is realizing that true science can and should be open to the study of everything and scientific spiritual knowledge is eagerly waiting to be rediscovered by open-minded scientists. Wonderful! 

Vedas: Knowledge of Everything

I first came across the Vedic wisdom ancient India in the year 2000 while studying at the University of Southampton. I stumbled upon a university club dedicated to studying and applying the knowledge contained in the Vedas. “Veda” literally means knowledge, and the many books that encompass the Vedic literature indeed contain a great deal of knowledge.

One of the many pearls of timeless Vedic wisdom is that real spiritual knowledge should be scientific. The Vedas teach how to use scientific methods to study and understand spirituality. This was an intriguing proposition. I had always admired the rigor of scientific knowledge, and here was a way to apply that methodology to the big questions of life (who am I, why are we here, etc.) 

The Vedic wisdom explains the mystery of conscious as follows.

“O son of Bharata, as the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness.”

- Bhagavad-Gita 13.34

That is the basis of scientific spiritual teachings. The body only functions when there is consciousness, without consciousness there can be no life. At the same time, the conscious entity is a separate thing from the material body. Some interpretations of quantum mechanics lead to similar conclusions.

Happiness, proof in the pudding

Everyone wants to be happy. The United States of America was founded on the promises of the right to the “pursuit of happiness.” Yet it offers no clue on how someone might go about finding happiness. Indeed, that is one of the great mysterious of life. What will make me happy?

It turns out that happiness is one of the key factors in the scientific approach to spiritual knowledge. The Vedic knowledge explains a step-by-step process for finding happiness, happiness with a very distinct flavor, happiness unlike any previously experienced, happiness that is, quite literally, out of this world.

Here is a quote from a Vedic scripture on the topic of happiness.

“Some say that people will be happy by performing pious religious activities. Others say that happiness is attained through fame, sense gratification, truthfulness, self-control, peace, self-interest, political influence, opulence, renunciation, consumption, sacrifice, penance, charity, vows, regulated duties or strict disciplinary regulation. Each process has its proponents." 

- Srimad Bhagavatam 11.14.10

All the persons I have just mentioned obtain temporary fruits from their material work. Indeed, the meager and miserable situations they achieve bring future unhappiness and are based on ignorance. Even while enjoying the fruits of their work, such persons are filled with lamentation.  

O learned Uddhava, those who fix their consciousness on Me [Krishna], giving up all material desires, share with Me a happiness that cannot possibly be experienced by those engaged in sense gratification.”

- Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.14.12

This quote acknowledges various approaches to attaining happiness, ultimately recommending the approach of fixing one’s consciousness upon Krishna, Krishna being the Supreme Personality of Godhead, universally revered throughout the Vedic literature. The happiness experienced during this practice of “Krishna Consciousness” is markedly different from the happiness experienced through so many other activities. Here we have a scientific hypothesis: happiness in Krishna Consciousness is distinct from the happiness experienced when pleasing the senses.

“Hold on!” you might say, “happiness is a subjective experience, not something that can be objectively measured. Science only deals with things that are objectively measurable.” True enough, but consciousness is an entirely subjective experience, and that is exactly what we are trying to study here. We have to cast off the shackles of materialistic science to make progress is this exciting new field of spiritual science. Just because something is not objectively measurable does not mean it does not exist, and certainly does not mean we should not endeavor to study it. Otherwise, if we neglected to study anything new and unknown, how could we make any progress?

Process

So how does one make process in this exciting realm where science and spirituality coalesce? The Vedic wisdom suggests an approach.

“Now hear, O son of Pṛthā, how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt.”

- Bhagavad-Gita 7.1

Here Krishna is speaking in the seventh chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita. He is explaining a scientific yoga process for understanding His nature. This process is more than just physical exercise. Yoga is a complete system for self-realization where the physical yoga postures are only one small part of the routine, there to make the practitioner fit to dive deeper into the complete system, culminating in complete absorption in the spiritual energy, resulting in full consciousness of Krishna beyond any doubt. So, at the end of a systematic process we have scientific proof. 

The process Krishna mentions involves integrating Krishna consciousness into everyday activities, aligning them with Krishna’s desires. Krishna recommends, reading about him, chanting of special Vedic mantras, contemplating the spiritual science and ultimately dedicating all one’s actions for a spiritual purpose. At the end of the process, the result should speak for itself.

As the Nobel Prize winning quantum physicists Werner Heisenberg has famously said: 

“The first gulp from the glass of the natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

Deltaflow Reincarnated

18 November 2012 | 45 Comments | Tags:

Hello everyone. Deltaflow is back! After two years of no posts, I've dusted off the old blog and will be posting regularly from now on. 

To mark the occasion, this website has a fresh new modern design. A fully responsive design (that means it adapts dynamically to different screen sizes, so it looks right on a huge 27" display, as well as on a tiny Retina iPhone—try resizing your browser window to see what I mean). I had lots of fun creating the new site. The site runs using the SilverStripe CMS. Check out the software if you want to build yourself a sophisticated website: http://www.silverstripe.org

Enjoy the new and improved deltaflow. Speak to you soon.

- Julian / Candidas

Spiritual Recharge Festival 2010 Photos

1 February 2011 | 17 Comments

I've posted 307 photos I took at the last Spiritual Recharge Festival 2010-2011.

See the gallery here.

Hare Krishna Questions and Answers website

15 July 2010 | 8 Comments | Tags: ,

I have created a proposal to create a new Question & Answer website for Hare Krishna devotees and need your help.

The proposed website will be built on the same software as stackoverflow.com, a hugely popular site where over seven million computer programmers help each other with difficult programming problems. On Stack Overflow the audience votes for the best answer. Answers with the highest number of votes automatically rise to the top, to be read first. People answering questions gain reputation from each "up" vote for their answer, encouraging them to answer questions well. I can see this proposed site turning into an equally amazing resource.

We need a certain number of people "following" the proposal before the people who run StackExchange see it as important enough to make it into a real website. So, please help out and click the "Follow It" button on this website and enter your email address:

http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/10537/hare-krishna?referrer=oBZN-v_zajmdB6M--FAu3g2

Please forward this to all your devotee friends and get them involved, so we can get our Q&A site launched very soon.

StackExchange Hare Krishna Questions and Answers Site

Detailed information about what I'm trying to do here:

The primary aim of the site is to give devotees a way to get good answers to all kinds of questions, as well as for more learned devotees to share their knowledge. If an answer is online, then google can find it and it becomes a permanent record for the future. That is much better than a devotee answering the same question over and over again on various forums. It is also better for the person looking for the answer, because the voting highlights what the best answer is, placing it at the top.

I got the idea for this kind of website after a conversation with another devotee. We were talking about facebook and blog controversies and the inability of devotees to do much about them. I thought about this a lot and had the idea for a devotee Q&A site that could address both local and global controversies in an authoritative way that doesn't look like it is just one person's biased opinion. A good answer on such a site will visibly have the stamp of approval from a whole group of devotees. Then, a few weeks ago, this StackExchange thing came along and did all the hard work of designing such a site for us. So, I'm very keen to take advantage of this opportunity.

To my knowledge every other devotee attempt at an online community either gets neglected over time, limited to a few hundred people, or has a confusing interface which is too bewildering. This is not any individual's fault. The fact is that building a website that people will use for valuable high-quality social interactions is very difficult. The best essay on the topic is this one "A Group is its own Worst Enemy"

http://shirky.com/writings/group_enemy.html

The author explains in great detail why so many social websites fail. The StackExchange model is exactly in line with the principles recommended to make a site successful. It is expertly designed with identity (once the site is launched, anyone that contributes needs to have an identity and is therefore accountable for what they write - no anonymous answering), voting (the community polices itself), reputation (a way to identify those members of the community that are in good standing) and a barrier to entry (you need a certain good reputation to be able to vote to determine what is a good answer). All this means that a website based on the StackExchange technology can still be useful and manageable with millions of users.

Please help make this amazing resource a reality by clicking "follow" on the proposal and writing some good and bad example questions to go on the site. Bad questions are those off-topic questions that we don't want appearing on the site to keep the site focused on topics related to Krishna consciousness. We need examples of such bad questions in the proposal stage to define what the site will be about.
(sign up to the site using your Gmail or Yahoo email address - that is what is meant by OpenID).

Gaura Purnima / Golden Avatar Festival 2010 Photos

6 March 2010 | 10 Comments

The Golden Avatar Festival (Gaura Purnima) 2010 was held in Wellington last week.

I have uploaded the photos from the event to the gallery on this website. (Note that the photos at the start of this album are from a previous Krishna Fest; actual Gaura Purnima photos being after the "Golden Avatar: Rhythm & Dance!" display board photos).

View the photos here:

gaurapurnima2010

Spiritual Recharge Festival 2009/2010

15 February 2010 | 9 Comments

Every year Hare Krishna devotees from around Australia and New Zealand get together for an 11-day Spiritual Recharge Festival. Lots of feasting, chanting, seminars and association (and my wedding - see previous post). This year there were 130 guests at the retreat. The biggest ever! So much opportunity to meet many wonderful souls.

At this festival I also got Brahminical-initiation (the day before the wedding). So, I am now a Brahmana (teacher/intellectual) by Varna (occupation) and a Grihastra (householder) by Ashram (stage of life/shelter).

I took so many photos. It took quite a while to narrow them down to the 280 best pictures. But that process is now complete ... and here they are. Please browse them to your hearts' content:

Spiritual Recharge Retreat Festival 2009 2010

Gaura Haven photos

15 February 2010 | 6 Comments

Have you heard of Gaura Haven? It is in the Otaki gorge region (1 hour's drive North of Wellington, NZ). Lots of work has gone into the place over the past year. It is very beautiful and many new crops have been planted in the garden. I took a bunch of pictures of Gaura Haven and its surroundings.

Take a look at the wonderful natural beauty:

Gaura Haven  January 2010

Rotorua (and Huka Falls) vacation

15 February 2010 | 10 Comments

After my wedding my parents, wife and I headed up to Rotorua for a vacation. We toured the powerful Huka Waterfalls and visited the strange and wonderful volcanic landscapes of Rotorua (and had some fun riding down the "Luge".

Lots of photos of all that. Check them out here:
Huka falls and rotorua

My wedding (with photos)

15 February 2010 | 5 Comments

It seems about time I posted something on this blog. I has been quite a while. News of the moment: I have gotten married. On the 1st of January 2010 I, Candidasa dasa, married the lovely Visnumaya devi dasi. Or, if you prefer, our western names: Julian Malik Seidenberg and Susan Elizabeth Burrows (now Seidenberg).

Lots of great pictures from the event (thanks to Thakur Saranga and Sukanthi Radha for taking the pictures):

Candidasa Visnumaya Wedding

The wedding was traditional Vedic/Hare Krishna style. Here are some of the fun traditions depicted in the photos:

  • showering the deities with flowers (pushpa abhishek) and then showering those flowers over the audience and married couple to counteract any bad astrological influences
  • the groom leaving the wedding with his Bhagavad-Gita and umbrella to meditate in the forest as a celebrate monk (brahmacari) for the rest of his life (but being convinced otherwise by the spiritual master - representing the father of the bride)
  • exchanging garlands
  • tying the hands together with a flower garland and sealing it with water
    tying the couple's clothing together with a knot
  • a fire sacrifice (agni-hotra) where various grains, seeds and fruits are thrown into a fire to purify any bad karma reactions

Vedic System of Self-Development

9 February 2009 | 1 Comments | Tags: , ,

I recently gave a talk at the Krishna Fest at Gaura Yoga on the "Vedic System of Self-Development". Thanks to Sivarama Swami for the inspiration for this talk.

You can view the talk synchronized with slides here.

or download the source AAC file vedic system of self-development.m4a

or download the source MP3 file vedic system of self-development.mp3

Reinventing the Sunday Feast

6 February 2009 | 8 Comments | Tags: , ,

I was listening to the following podcast:

Darrel Rhea: Marking During an Economic Meltdown

The title is deceptive. It is more about analyzing a market or activity holistically and reinventing it to taking into account the complete picture. With a complete view of all the factors, motivations, desires, side-effects and intentions, one can transform into a truly customer focused organization.

Darrel Rhea gives example how he helped do this for Apple Retail Stores, Electrolux Kitchen Appliances, the Australian Tax System and Hospital Stroke Treatment.

How about we think about the classic Sunday Feast in this way? In New Zealand the Sunday Feast has already been adapted and reinvented to a certain extent to make it more accessible to newcomers, but without changing any of the core values of Krishna Consciousness. But more can always be done to improve it even further.

(Learn more about the "Krishna Fest" as it is in Wellington, New Zealand: Gaura Yoga - Festivals)

Think of the usual kind of person that might attend a Krishna Conscious center: curious, wary, ignorant of any kind of philosophy, averse to ritual, averse to religion, proud, attached to the opposite sex, not able to sit on the floor for long periods of time, short attention span, self-conscious (unless intoxicated), concerned about spending too much money and concerned about the environment (although not actually doing much about it).

So, using that picture of the typical guest, how would you reinvent the Sunday Feast with a fresh outlook, unencumbered by past traditions? Things that might be changed: name, time, music, types of events, sequence of events, physical layout of the room(s), decoration of the room(s), devotee numbers, devotee dress & accessories and devotee language & attitude.

Please leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.

End of Year Retreat 2008

7 January 2009 | 9 Comments | Tags: ,

I just got back from a 10-day Christmas retreat. Most of the Hare Krishna devotees in New Zealand attended this festival of inspiration, rejuvenation and association. Over 100 devotees were there, in total.

The retreat was held in the Otaki region of New Zealand (1 hour North of Wellington). We rented out two retreat centers: Riverslea and Waihoanga; and also used our own retreat center Gaura Haven for accommodation.

The 10-day passed quickly. There were so many brilliant talks, inspiring presentations, delicious spiritual food (prasadam), and nice people to talk to. A slight downer was that everyone (and I do mean everyone) got sick. A nasty flu virus managed to infect everyone's bodies. It lasted about four days in most people. Nevertheless, it was a brilliant time.

I took about 900 photos over the course of the retreat. A selection of images is available in my picture gallery.

IMGP4401.jpg

Cow Protection, Ecology and Sustainability talk at Gaura Yoga

26 November 2008 | 2 Comments | Tags: , ,

Visnumaya recently gave a talk at Gaura Yoga on cow protection, ecology and sustainability. She has posted the talk and the presentation slides on her website. Much recommended. Check it out:

"Holy Cow Protection" eco-talk at Gaura Yoga

Gaura Haven: landscape photographs and photo presentation

12 November 2008 | 3 Comments | Tags: ,

I have been taking some pictures in and around Gaura Haven / New Gupta Vraja, located in Otaki (about an hour's drive outside of Wellington). Here is a gallery the best photographs, the so-called "glory shots".

I'm relatively new to landscape photography. So, advice and suggestions are welcome.

gaurahaven-landscapes.jpg

Additionally, I gave a photo presentation about Gaura Haven at our recent Vyasa-Puja festival in honor of Devamrita Swami.

Gaura Haven: eco-retreat photos

11 November 2008 | 6 Comments | Tags: ,

Last month I went on an eco-retreat with a group of young interested persons who have been coming along to the Gaura Yoga center in Wellington New Zealand. We went to Gaura Haven (New Gupta Vraja), a retreat center recently acquired by Gaura Yoga. While there we proceeded to plant a variety of organic vegetables. The idea is to slowly move towards self-sufficiency.

Here some pictures from the weekend events:

IMGP0179.jpg

Vyasa Puja Festival 2008 Pictures

6 November 2008 | 7 Comments | Tags: , , ,

On the weekend of the 25th of October, 2008 the majority of practitioners of Krishna consciousness in New Zealand (and a few from Australia) went to a retreat center in Inglewood, NZ called Vertical Horizon. There we celebrated the Vyasa-Puja (birthday of the spiritual master) of Devamrita Swami.

It was a grand festivals. Nearly 100 devotees were present. It was expertly organized by Visnumaya and Gopal Guru. So many great activities, presentations and speeches. The spiritual food (prasadam) was over-the-top great. I also really enjoyed seeing and speaking with many, many old friends.

I took over 800 photos. You can view a selection of the best shots here:

album_001.jpg

(the images 0.8-megapixel images in the gallery are fine for viewing on screen, but not nearly detailed enough for large prints. If anyone wants to print out any of the images, please email me and I can supply the original full 14.6 megapixel images from the Pentax K20d)

Why do bad things happen to good people?

21 October 2008 | 79 Comments | Tags: ,

In this talk at Gaura Yoga in Wellington, New Zealand I discuss a topic that has confounded many statesmen, philosophers and theologians. Why do bad things happen to good people and why do good things happen to bad people? I give an overview of different so-called answers that people try to give to this question. I then explain how the science of Krishna consciousness gives a much more satisfying and sensible answer than any other source of knowledge. There are lots of questions in the end.

 

Click here to play audio/video

 

or download the source AAC file bad things.m4a

or download the source MP3 file bad things.mp3

or download the slides as a PDF file bad things.pdf

How to give a presentation (about Krishna consciousness)

13 September 2008 | 4 Comments | Tags: , ,

In this talk at Gaura Yoga I give some practical advice on how to give an interesting and inspirational Krishna conscious presentation.

How to give a presentation

Download the talk as an enhanced podcast (slides synced to audio) in AAC/M4A format (35 minutes). This file is playable in iTunes or on iPods.

Or, if you can't play or don't like Apple's media formats, here is the audio of the talk in MP3 format.

You can also download the slides I used as a PDF.

PhD passed: I'm now officially Dr. Seidenberg / Candidasa dasa

27 August 2008 | 9 Comments | Tags: ,

It took over 4 years, but it has finally happened. I have completed my PhD in Computer Science at the University of Manchester, UK. That's right: I'm now officially Doctor Julian M. Seidenberg / Candidasa dasa.

You can download and read my PhD thesis, if you like.

Markandeya Rsi vs. PhD

27 August 2008 | 9 Comments | Tags: , ,

This PhD degree has been the greatest austerity I've ever undertaken. It was often frustrating, demotivating, felt like it would never end, caused my body to frequently fall ill and resulted in a huge amount of worry and pain.

However, the austerity of this PhD have been child's play compared with what a sage named Markandeya Rsi went through. (His story is told in the 12th Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam. I'm recalling it in my own words here):

Markandeya was meditating on the Supreme Personality of Godhead in his small heritage for many years. He was very strictly and sincerely meditating. So much so, in fact, that Indra, the King of Heaven (aka Zeus), became worried that this Markandeya might become eligible to take over his position soon. Indra therefore sent a team of people to break Markandeya's meditation.

He sent Cupid along with the best of the heavenly singers (Gandharvas), the most beautiful of the heavenly exotic dancers (Apsaras), the season of spring, a gentle cool breeze, intoxication personified and greed personified (the mode of passion and the false ego of thinking in terms of "I" and "mine"). A celebrate monk's worst nightmare. All these together were to create a situation where Markandeya would be tempted to stop his meditation and enjoy materially.

However, faced with these allurements, Markandeya wasn't even slightly shaken. He remained completely steady and fixed in his worship.

Markandeya Rsi's austerities were so powerful, in fact, that the members of Indra's assault team began to burn-up within (similar to what happen when Kapila Muni was attacked by the sons of Sagara who thought he had stolen a sacrificial horse).

Eventually, while Markandeya was meditating in this way, the Nara-Narayana avatar came and visited him. Markandeya immediately recognized the Supreme Lord and worshiped him with expert poetry.

The sage explained: Krishna is like a spider, He creates everything within the universe like a spider creates his web, and then He retracts it all back within Himself. Through Krishna one can conquer material misery, death and even time itself. Time is so powerful that even Lord Brahma (the oldest and most intelligent person in the universe) fears it, but Krishna's devotee need not fear time. The devotee knows that his self is not the body. The modes of nature generally bind us to the material world, but the devotee knows how to use the mode of goodness as a launch pad to blast himself off on a trajectory back to Godhead. Because of their perverted and sinful activities, materialists cannot understand Krishna. So material philosophers therefore come up with so many different theories, doctrines and religions. These are created to match their particular mix of the modes of nature (satva-, raja- and tama-guna), but have no real substance.

After hearing this nice prayer by Markandeya, Nara-Narayana offered him any benediction he might desire. The sage answered that just seeing his worshipable Lord was all he desired. He could imagine no greater gift. However, he was curious about the illusory energy (maya). He asked to understand how it could bewilder so many people into thinking material life was the one true reality.

The Lord ruefully promised to fulfill his wish and then disappeared.

Markandeya went on meditating for a few years when suddenly strong wind started to blow. Soon after, it started raining very heavily. The intense rains caused severe flooding. This hurricane went on continuously for many years. The intense weather eventually caused the entire surface of the earth to become flooded. Practically all species died off in this intense atmosphere. Gigantic sharks roamed the wild waters. The flooding even spread to the higher-dimensional space of the heavenly planets. It was the devastation at the end of the day of Brahma.

Markandeya was swimming and drifting throughout all of this. He lost all sense of orientation, he felt intense hunger and thirst, he got attacked by sharks, he felt extreme pain from various injuries, he was completely exhausted continuously fighting for his life, he frequently fell ill, he felt lamentation, happiness (when he temporarily escaped some danger), fear and misery. This went on for many, many years, all throughout the night of Brahma (4.32 billion years).

After an extremely long time drifting in the waters of devastation, Markandeya spotted a small island with a banyan tree growing on it. In one corner of the tree he saw a young child. As he swam closer to the island he noticed the wonderful beauty of the child. He noted his blackish-blue skin, wonderful jewelry, shark-shaped earrings, auspicious bodily markings and nice cosmetic decorations.

Then, suddenly, the child inhaled and began to suck everything surrounding him into his mouth. Markandeya also got sucked into the mouth of this wondrous child. Within the mouth he saw his old hermitage, the waters of devastation, the heavenly planets, the creation and destruction of the universe, everything, the entire universal manifestation; he even saw time itself, past, present and future, all at once. The child then exhaled and Markandeya found himself spat out back into the waters of devastation.

As he once again began to struggle to keep his head above the waters, he suddenly found himself transported back to his old heritage, as if nothing had happened. He then realized: "oh ... so this is the power of the illusory energy!".

And I realize: a PhD is nothing compared to that.

How to: evaluate spiritual systems

14 August 2008 | 10 Comments | Tags: , ,

There are so many different religions and spiritual systems out there. Which should you choose and why?

In this talk at the Gaura Yoga centre in Wellington, New Zealand I give some criteria by which one can judge how bona fide a spiritual system is. I conclude by explaining how well Krishna consciousness does when judged by these criteria.

Download selection of the presentation slides [24 MB].

Download just the audio of presentation [34 MB]

Download version formatted for iPod/iPhone [153 MB].

Download highest-quality version [262 MB].

Pictures of Gaura Yoga June/July 2008

11 July 2008 | 3 Comments | Tags: ,

IMGP1686.jpgI have now been in Wellington, New Zealand for exactly one month. It is great!

I have uploaded a photo album of some of the pictures I have taken here over the last month. The images are of the events, activities and prasadam (food) in and around the Gaura Yoga center.

All shots were taken with a Pentax K20d D-SLR. I continue to be amazed at the quality of images this camera produces. Infamous photographer Ken Rockwell preaches that the camera doesn't matter. He argues that just like owning a B??sendorfer piano will not magically make you into a great pianist, similarly owning a good camera does not automatically mean you take great pictures. The folks at the Luminous Landscape respond by saying that the camera does matter. They argue that it is critically important. A good set of tools can turn a okay craftsman into a great one.

I think both viewpoints have some truth to them. A good camera does not automatically result in better pictures, but it does definitely allow one to take pictures in more demanding situations (less light, fast moving subjects, far away subjects, distracting backgrounds, etc.). Even in ideal situations, a good camera and lens combination can turn a good photograph into a great one. However, the best equipment alone will, of course, not magically turn a run-of-a-mill photographer into Annie Leibovitz. Artist's consciousness is ultimately what creates the artwork. The tools are just instruments through which the artist manipulates the world of matter around him or her. A better tool allows for more detailed precise manipulation of matter.

So yes, I like the K20d. Check out the new pictures.

Contributor Resources: Photograph your property whether you're on site or away using a professional security camera system. Installation of some sort of a surveillance camera is usually fairly simple. See here more information on security cameras.

Science of Happiness (Three Modes of Material Nature)

3 July 2008 | 81 Comments | Tags: ,

I have moved from Manchester, United Kingdom to Wellington, New Zealand. Last Sunday I gave the Krishna Fest presentation at the Gaura Yoga center here in Wellington. The topic was the "Science of Happiness" (analyzed using the teachings on the three modes of material nature from the Bhagavad-Gita: As it Is by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada).

Download and view a higher quality (800x600) version of the video here [124 MB].

Calcium and iron on a vegan diet

26 June 2008 | 37 Comments

Got milk?

My bodily situation forces me to have a vegan diet (and the unhealthiness of the substance formally known as 'milk', as well as the extreme cruelty of the dairy farming industry would probably lead me to be vegan even if I could digest milk). So, some people may ask: "how do you get your calcium and iron?"

The answer is not: "you must eat dairy products!", or "you must take this kind of supplement!".

The dairy industry has long perpetuated the myth that calcium is only available from milk (much like the meat industry has perpetuated the myth that the only way to get protein is by eating lots of meat). It is a testimony to the power of advertising that we believe these seemingly "universally acknowledged truths". Calcium is, in fact, available from a variety of vegetables, in much greater quality and quantity than it is present in milk.

Taking a supplement is also not the answer. The body and different types of foods work as an integrated system, each supporting each other. So, just popping a pill with the necessary mineral simply results in that substance passing through the body, unabsorbed.

You can eat as much calcium as you like, but without doing any exercise it won't be absorbed into your bones. Without exercise calcium goes into your joints instead. The result: stiff joints (arthritis) and weak bones (osteoporosis). Calcium supplements have also been shown to increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and kidney stones.

Moreover, Calcium dependents on vitamin D and magnesium to aid its absorption. The best way to get vitamin D is to spend 5 - 10 minutes in sunlight every day (without sunglasses or sunscreen). The best way to get magnesium is to eat seeds, nuts and whole grains. So, calcium, magnesium, exercise and sunlight must be taken together in order for the calcium to be absorbed (as explained in greater detail in these videos). Calcium and protein, however, do not go well together. People who consume too much protein also absorb less calcium, especially if the two are taken together.

Interestingly, however, calcium and dark fruit juices inhibit the absorption of iron in the body. To help the absorption of iron, vitamin C is required. Great sources of vitamin C are lemon or orange juices.

On the other hand, dark fruit juices (like red grape juice) are good for removing toxins in the food. So, when eating food which is unhealthy or full of pesticides (basically anything non-organic), it is a good idea to also take some dark fruit juice with it in order to remove at least some of the toxins.

So, everything works together in a web of interrelation and support. There are no quick fixes. A holistic healthy lifestyle is required.

New picture gallery

18 June 2008 | 760 Comments | Tags: ,

I've installed a new picture gallery software on this website. The old coppermine gallery was nice, but kind of clunky and didn't integrate well with my desktop applications. So, out it went. In its place it put a gallery called (simply) Gallery.

Take a look at the new gallery. You will find an archive of all the photos from the old gallery and a brand new picture album. The pictures in the new album were taken with a new Pentax K20d DSLR camera. I think you will notice these pictures are of significantly higher quality than all the previous images (shot with an old Minolta A1). If, for some reason, you want to look at the old coppermine gallery, that is still online here.

Fossil of pregnant fish found: the earliest mammal

6 June 2008 | 4 Comments | Tags:

German news Heute.de is reporting a story in Nature magazine about the recent discovery of the oldest mammal named Materpiscis attenboroughi (a type of Placodermi). Researchers from Australia found a fossil of this fish containing several embryos connected to their mother by an umbilical cord, making it the earliest known mammal. The fossil is estimated to be 380 million years old. This is older than the dinosaurs (which existed roughly 230 million to 65 million years ago).

oldest mammal.jpg

oldest mouse.jpgThis discovery suggests that mammals existed far earlier than it was previously thought. The earliest mammal previous to this new discovery was a small mouse-like creature known as Hadrocodium Wui discovered in China by Zhe-Xi Luo, Alfred W. Crompton and Ai-Lin Sun. This creature lived roughly 195 million years ago.

Lead research John Long of the Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia says that this new discovery means that the current models of evolution need to be adjusted significantly.

What's wrong with what we eat

15 May 2008 | 9 Comments | Tags: ,

Cow equals Nuclear Bomb
(picture credit: cow, nuke)

The cow killing that is going on today is like a nuclear bomb. It is the new holocaust, threatening to destroy us all.

In the United States alone every year 10 billion animals are killed for food. If you lined them all up that they would reach to the moon and back five times! With that many living entities being killed there is simply no way that they can be treated ethically. Doing so also results in second highest contribution to global warming in the world (after energy production, but ahead of transportation and residences).

In this excellent presentation at the TED conference Mark Bittman reenforces much of what I talked about in the King Corn post. It is a really compelling presentation on the importance of local food (Locavore = person who only eats local food; is the new word of year), importance of eating organic food (although it isn't a cure-all) and the importance of eating less meat, less junk and more plants (eating plants is what makes us healthy).

He also talks a bit about the history of food. About how we got into the sorry state of far too much meat-eating we are in today.

Here is the video of the talk (much recommended!)

King Corn

10 May 2008 | 97 Comments | Tags: ,

I saw a documentary called King Corn today. It is about two guys from Boston who decide to grow an acre of corn in Iowa to learn more about this strange grain that is seemingly in everything we eat.

Ear of corn inspection

(picture credit)

Tilling and planting one acre of corn (31000 seeds) with a modern tractor takes only about 18 minutes. So, a single farmer can farm many thousands of acres of corn. What used to be a major undertaking, requiring lots of manpower, now can be done with relative ease by just a few hard-working farmers (using lots of machines, chemicals and GMOs).

Once the corn starts growing it is sprayed with liberty weed-killer. This herbicide is non-selective, meaning it kills any and all plants. The corn, however, is genetically modified Liberty-Link corn that can resist the herbicide.

Ammonia fertilizer is used to increase yields. It quadruples the farm's yield and eliminates the need to rotate crops, like the Romans used to do. So, a monoculture of corn can be grown everywhere, year-after-year. However, as farmers are only now discovering, ammonia gradually destroys soil quality.

The harvested corn is used mainly for either animal feed or high-fructose corn syrup production.

Instead of letting cattle eat grass off fields, the fields are used to grow corn. This corn is then fed to the cows in a feed lot. The benefit is that since cows are not allowed to move, they fatten up more quickly. Corn is also a much richer diet than grass, so the cows gain weight even more quickly and less overall space is required. A cow is usually slaughters within 60 - 120 days of entering the feed lot.

Why 120 days? Because after 120 days on a corn diet a cow starts getting really sick. Its digestion system can't handle eating corn for so long. It develops a condition called acidosis, which will quickly kill the animal (humans can also develop acidosis, but usually only as a side effect of certain pharmaceutical drugs). Antibiotics are mixed in with the corn feed to keep the cattle alive for a bit longer, so they gain enough weight for slaughter.

Modern corn cannot be eaten by humans. It is optimized to produce maximum starch. You don't get something for nothing. So, the price of more starch is lower protein in the corn. The result: corn that tastes like chalk, has almost no nutritional value and is perfect for high-fructose corn syrup production.

One in eight people in New York have diabetes (although most don't know it) largely because of eating (and especially drinking) too much high-fructose corn syrup. Drinking one soda per day doubles one's chance of developing diabetes as opposed to someone who only occasionally drinks a soda. And the main ingredient in sugar water is ... high-fructose corn syrup.

Also, a typical McDonald's meal is basically all corn: The burger is made from corn feed cows, half the calories in french-fries come from the corn oil it is fried in, and the drink is, of course, mostly high-fructose corn syrup. We are what we eat, and what we are eating is primarily corn.

Government subsidies rewards the overproduction of cheap corn. Otherwise, it wouldn't be economically viable to grow so much corn. However, largely as a result of those subsidies, in the USA only 16% of people's income is spent on food. That's half the amount that people spent on food a generation ago. People like it when their food is cheap. More money to spend on other, more important things in life, right? The unfortunate side-effect is that low quality food makes people sick. Life expectation is actually going down in the USA. People are dying younger and it's because of what they eat.

The Bhagavad-Gita affirms all this. In it Krishna declares that wretched persons ingest only suffering when they cook for their selfish motives (BG3.13). (alternative translation credit: Garuda das)

Sleep is absolutely essential

28 March 2008 | 67 Comments | Tags:

Sleep

Every living entity on the planet (and beyond) needs to sleep. Rats, die if they are deprived of sleep for 5 days (they also die if they are deprived of food for 5 days). Why this is, no one knows. It is one of the great unsolved mysteries of science. Wouldn't it be better if we didn't have to waste so much time with sleeping?

Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita (BG6.16):

There is no possibility of one's becoming a yog?«, O Arjuna, if one eats too much or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.

The general trend nowadays (in the mode of passion) is to sleep too little. I was listening to this 60 minutes feature on sleep. They presented all the latest research on the subject. Some surprising and alarming results:

  • Sleep enhances memory: a study showed that students memorizing a list of words could recall them with 40% better accuracy after a night's sleep than they could before going to bed. So, pulling an all-nighter to revise for an exam will actually harm one's changes of remembering the material.
  • Insufficient sleep is cumulative: the negative effects of sleeping only 4-6 hours night-after-night build upon one another. The less sleep you get, the worse your state of body and mind becomes.
  • The effects of not sleeping are similar to intoxication: sleeping for only 4-6 hours has a similar effect on your mental awareness as drinking alcohol. So, for example, your ability to drive a car is severely impaired, your emotional mind takes over and can no longer be controlled by one's rational/logical mind. In fact, the MRI brain image of someone who hasn't had enough sleep is very similar to that of someone will a severe mental disorder. Caffeine can offset these effects for one or two days, but after three days insufficient sleep no amount of coffee can mask the intoxicating effect.
  • 2-second micro-sleeps occur after insufficient rest: if you have had insufficient sleep, then you will, most likely, not realize just how tired you actually are. Your body will fall asleep for 2 second, even with open eyes, without you realizing. Needless to say, this can be very dangerous when driving a car.
  • Many disasters are caused by insufficient sleep: lack of sleep played a factor in many accidents. For example: in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown and the Staten Island ferry crash the staff responsible all had had inadequate sleep.
  • Lack of sleep causes obesity: not sleeping enough causes a drop of the leptin hormone, which regulates hunger. So, not sleeping enough will make you feel hungry, even if you've had plenty to eat. It produces an uncontrollable desire to eat. The result: not sleeping makes you fat.
  • Lack of sleep causes diabetes: studies have shown that if someone is restricted to sleeping just four hours per night, they start developing symptoms of type-2 diabetes (symptoms include: weakness/fatigue, tingling/numbness in hands and feet, blurred vision, dry/itchy skin, unquenchable thirst, extreme hunger, weight loss, irritability, frequent urination, slow healing of wounds). It seems not getting enough sleep disturbs the body's ability to metabolize sugar. Indeed, type-2 diabetes, which used to only occur in elderly people, is becoming more and more common; even children are getting it (children need 9 - 10 hours sleep, yet frequently get less than 7 hours of sleep). Lack of sleep also increases one's risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

Most people need 7.5 - 8 hours of sleep per night, yet the median amount of sleep people in the USA get today is just 6.7 hours. Sleeping is just as important as eating. Not sleeping is really dangerous. So, if you are not getting enough sleep, then what are you waiting for? Get to bed!

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