WE SPEAK OF the Past and the Future but, in reality, there is only the Present, and here, in the Present, we were born, here we live, and here we will die. There is always only the NOW!

Most of us marvel, now and then, at Nature ? its beauty, its strength, its persistence and tenacity, the wonderful variety of its life forms. But can we perceive a purpose in the producing, evolving, and sustaining of all these forms? Can we even say that there is a purpose in it all? Or is it merely a matter of things coming into being, remaining a while, reproducing, suffering throughout, and then dying, leaving only a few bones or a bit of ash? Does Nature have a discernible purpose?

Well, the fact that this question is being posed implies doubt, at least, and/or perhaps the intention to stimulate or irritate others to ask the same question, not just superficially, or in passing, but as something that intimately concerns us all.

We are ? are we not? ? one of Nature's countless life forms, but unlike the myriad other forms, humans alone can ask this question, and it both ennobles us, and causes us quite a lot of anguish. The other forms live by the laws of Nature, follow the promptings of instinct, and never question their bondage. But we, to a large extent, have broken away from our Mother and her laws, and, to that extent, have become unnatural; this process continues. We still eat, sleep, procreate, defecate, etc., in much the same way as our primitive ancestors did, and as other life forms did and still do; physically, we have not changed very much for thousands of years, except for getting a little taller and a bit healthier, perhaps, and these are due to better nutrition. We still carry vestiges of our primitive past with us in the form of the hair on our heads, which would have served to protect the skull and the delicate brain within from being scorched by the sun; we retain the nails on our fingers and toes, though they are no longer needed as weapons; and why men have nipples, no one knows! It is in the mind ? mentally ? that we have evolved the most, and have graduated from living solely by instinct to living by discernment and reason. When this process began and why, whether it will eventually reach a point where no further development is possible, and if there is a design in it all, we cannot say, and no one should be so bold or brash as to claim to know the purpose of life (no matter what this or that book might have to say about it). We may, if we have thought about it somewhat, declare that "such-and-such is my purpose in life," and strive to realize it; that is our prerogative. But at the same time, we must allow other people the same freedom and right to decide for themselves what their purpose is or is not, without trying to force ours onto them, or expecting them to conform to our ideals.

We are confronted now, moreso than ever before (because we know much more about it, and cannot ignore it), by the immensity of the Universe, which we attempt to measure by 'light years'; but, although it is easy to talk in terms of millions, or even billions of light years, it is really incomprehensible to us, and, of necessity, we feel tiny and unimportant in relation to it all. It is here, however, where Science has forced us to see how infinitesimally small we are, that Mysticism takes over, to save our dignity and sanity, and we move away from the intellect somewhat, to the intuition, and feel ? rather than discover by the process of thought ? that we do have a role to play (as does everything else, no matter how large or small), and, as such, we are important.

Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, and all other famous conquerors and empire builders, did what they did only because of people behind them, whose names and deeds were never recorded ? people like their foot soldiers, water carriers, cooks, grooms, messengers, and so on. Behind Columbus, Magellan, Neil Armstrong, and all other pioneers, explorers, and discoverers, were rank upon rank of other people, supporting and financing them. The great inventors like William Caxton, Benjamin Franklin, Louis Pasteur, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and so on, all relied upon others to assist, encourage, feed and clothe them. In short, no one does anything alone; our living, our every action, even our every breath, somehow involves others, even if it is not immediately apparent. And not only does it involve other people, but other things ? all other things ? in a vast network. To see this is Mysticism: an intuitive awareness of how things exist interdependently ? so interdependently, it has been said, that if it were possible to remove a single grain of sand from the Universe (which it is not, of course, because where would it be removed to?), the whole Universe would collapse!

Far from being opposed to Science, this is really complementary to it, and continues where Science begins to fumble and stumble among its laboratory equipment and its theories and hypotheses, for it leads us into the dimension of Love and Compassion, which arise from seeing and feeling things ? all things ? as interdependent, and could never lead to the cruelty and abuse of power that Science sometimes engenders. It could be called 'The Science [or Art] (Science and Art are not mutually exclusive, as is sometimes supposed, but are, seen from one viewpoint two names for the same thing) ? of Life and Living.' A scientist might be persuaded ? by others, or by his own base desires ? to use his knowledge and power for harmful purposes; it goes on all the time, especially in the arms industry.

Life is so tenacious that, even when people are starving to death, as in such places as Ethiopia, Somalia, or in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and can barely stagger around, they somehow find the energy to procreate. One sometimes wonders: If mothers really love their children, as it seems they do, how can they bring them into such hellish conditions, to suffer and die? There seems to be no reason in it at all. We cannot suppose that there is nothing more in it than just a few minutes of sexual pleasure, when all other pleasures are denied to them. Then what? We must not forget Mother Nature's urge to ensure the survival of the species; She is prepared to sacrifice millions of individuals, and not care at all, it seems, or if the species becomes extinct, as so many species have and will. Does Mother Nature really care, when She can produce others to take their places, or none at all? We might think we are highly intelligent and sophisticated, and that we are really in control of our lives, but it is a delusion, and we have not gone so far away from our basic instinctive roots that Nature cannot recall and humble us, and use us as pawns in Her callous chess game.

In its attempts to ensure the survival of the species, Nature makes allowances for failures and a high attrition rate, and reproduces prolifically, prepared to sacrifice many so that a few might live and carry on their line. Compared with the fecundity of insects, or fish, for example, Man is really quite puny, for it takes some years before a human is able to take care of itself, and humans rarely give birth to more than one baby at a time. Man is not armed with fangs or claws with which to protect himself, he has no body armor, and it was only his superior intelligence and cunning that enabled him to become the dominant species on the planet. Most insects lay dozens or even hundreds of eggs at a time, and are capable of multiplying at an alarming rate, but because of predators that live off them and keep them in check, they have not increased to overwhelming proportions, even though they've been around much longer than Man.

Even if there is no purpose to Life ? and I'm not saying there isn't, mind ? and even if death is the end of our lives ? which again, I'm not saying is so, but many people believe it is ? Life, as it is, enables us to work towards, and achieve, many things, not just for ourselves personally, but for our whole race. Just think: we have inherited most of what we have and are from those who went before us, including our theories and beliefs about life and death; are we going to pass on to our descendants just what we have inherited, no more and no less, or are we going to add something to it ? some interest, as it were ? so that those who come after us will be the beneficiaries of our living, with its discoveries, achievements, progress, sufferings, and mistakes? I write, not because I think that my ideas are unique or have never been told before, but because, by so doing, I might add my voice to all those who have ever tried to indicate to others that life is a precious commodity, and must be used for the common good; I have little else to offer except words, but words can and do change the world, and so, I try.

There is room for improvement in the world, as most people would agree ? on the socio-political level, on the economic level, the scientific and technological levels, and most of all, on the mental spiritual level, for this is the level from which all the other changes must come. We can, and should, work for enlightenment of the mind, to overcome ignorance, and understand that it is not your life, or mine, but ours that we are talking about.

Concern is now spreading, and even alarm, that our planet, which has been abused, exploited, polluted, and husbanded unwisely and profligately for so long by an ever increasing number of bipeds, is reaching a crisis point, with noticeable changes in weather patterns, greater frequency of storms, hurricanes, floods, droughts, ozone depletion, deforestation, salination, rising temperatures and the predicted rise in sea levels that will follow as a result as the ice caps melt, and so on. You and I might not be able to do much about it, but it would be a step in the right direction if we could see something positive in it all: it is forcing us to see beyond our national frontiers, and our narrow, insular ways of looking at the world, and recognize it as an undivided whole, instead of as a collection of separate nations. Pollution knows no frontiers, and needs no passport, visa, or ticket to ride; there is no point in complaining about the winds blowing sulphurous factory emissions from one country to another, for the winds are not to blame. We are now able to appreciate that what people do in the Amazon jungle, for example, affects people all over the world, but are we also aware that what we are doing ? each one of us ? is also having an effect on the planet? We should not just blame unscrupulous loggers and mine owners, but must accept responsibility for our involvement in the condition of the planet, for we are surely involved; think about this every time you flush a toilet, or discard a plastic bag, for instance. It does not mean that we should cease using our toilets, and dig holes in the back garden, as in the old days, but that we must be aware of how we are involved, and how we contribute to the overall state of things, and then follow this up by trying to reduce our contribution to the amount of waste and pollution.

It is hard to awaken people, but we must try, and if we are reasonably mature, mentally, we will not mind making some adjustments to our lives, and won’t feel offended when/if someone reminds us of our responsibilities. We are living in a time when we cannot always afford to 'pussyfoot around' and consider everyone's personal petty sensitivities; our very existence is at stake ? maybe not immediately, but in the future ? and not merely a few bruised egos, or some 'loss of face.'

No-one likes criticism, that's for sure, but only mentally immature people resent honest and fair criticism, and deliberately go against it, just to prove that they are 'their own man' and 'don't take orders from anyone.' As we mature mentally, we are better able to consider things, and if we find something right ? whether we are helped to see it through advice, instruction, criticism, or whatever ? we are more likely to accept it and incorporate it into our lives.

Mental maturity, however, doesn't always coincide with physical maturity, and cannot be measured by how many years a person has lived; a young person might be more mentally mature than an old person; age is not the criterion in this.

Years ago, during my stay in the Bataan Refugee Camp ? and I keep talking about this, as it contained many interesting experiences from which useful lessons may be drawn ? the Camp administration (Filipino, of course, though the Camp was funded by the UNHCR), provided each billet (and there were some 3,000 billets in the Camp, ten to a building, each accommodating about six refugees), with a plywood-topped table and two benches, not very strong or durable, but quite serviceable. Before long, however, many of these tables and benches were spoiled and useless from being left outside in the rain. This was just one of numerous examples of how many of the refugees neglected to take care of things in the Camp, and so great sums of money had to be spent to repair or replace them.

And where did the money come from? From the not-unlimited funds of the UNHCR. And so, what could and should have been spent on other refugees had to be spent on replacing things that had been broken or wasted by careless people. There was an obvious "It's-not-ours, and-so-there's-no-need-to-take-care-of-it" attitude among the refugees. Because of this, the Camp administration found it necessary to institute a 'Work Credit System,' whereby each adult refugee was required to work two hours per day, at various tasks, and if, by the time they came to leave the Camp, they had not fulfilled their work quota, they were 'put on hold,' and not allowed to depart (in theory it was like this, but it seldom happened; the Filipinos were very good at making lists of rules, not good at enforcing them, but good at breaking them, and the refugees soon came to see the truth of the old saying that "a barking dog doesn't bite"). The Work Credit System was a shameful comment on the refugees, for it implied that, without such a system, they would not have kept their Camp clean; and in spite of the System, it was dirty. This is how they demonstrated their gratitude for being hospitably taken in and accepted for resettlement. It was also quite common for refugees to go into the nearby beautiful forest and start fires, which would often burn out of control, destroying many trees; they also did this on the hills surrounding the Camp, and the seedlings that had been planted and replanted several times in an attempt at reforestation there never had a chance to grow; those who did this obviously enjoyed seeing everything going up in smoke!

Yes, I'm complaining, and some people won't like it. Many people expect a monk to always use nice and kind words, but they never consider their own actions. If they put aside their antiquated concepts about how a monk should be, and stopped to think a little bit about why I am complaining, they might understand that I am not doing it just for the sake of complaining ? I only wish it were not necessary! ? but for the sake of everyone, including the people who do crazy things! We are all in the same boat, whether we like each other or not! It appalled me to see the forest and the hills on fire; it wasn't my country ? I wasn't born in the Philippines ? but it was/is part of my world, and I cared about it, and still do.

Of course, I am aware that anyone who points out things like this, and complains, will not be very popular. Now, I won't say that I don't care about people's opinion of me, because I do, but not so much that I will keep quiet about things that are more important to me; I will not let people's opinion of me immobilize and silence me. It's not a matter of who is right or wrong, but of what. I have a responsibility, both to the world as a whole, and to myself, to express my disapproval of such carelessness and stupidity; if I were to see it, and keep quiet, I would be giving my tacit consent to the continuation of the destruction, and that I will not do. I am not afraid to stand alone in this, if necessary. Moreover, if enough people complain loudly enough, it will eventually have an effect; somebody will listen.

Are you one of those who prays when you are in trouble or you want something ? "Help me! Give me! Save me!" ? but who do nothing positive for the good planet that supports you (your life support system)? if so, it would be better not to pray at all, for if you do not know how to take care of what you've got already, it would only be detrimental for you to get more, because the more you have, the more responsibilities you will have. Think carefully before you pray, therefore; your prayers might be answered! (But then again, they might not be).

"It is those who are not learned that are saved rather than those whose egos have not yet subsided in spite of their learning. The unlearned ones are saved from the relentless grip of the devil of self-infatuation; they are saved from the malady of a myriad whirling thoughts and words; they are saved from running after wealth. It is from more than one evil that they are saved."

(Ramana Maharishi)

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