UNIVERSAL DHARMA

This Too, Will Pass ~ WHICH ROMANS?

A PROVERB OFTEN USED TO encourage integration and conformity is: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," but, like most proverbs, it should not be used in a blanket-way, to fit every situation. Many proverbs are gems of wisdom that have come down to us through the ages, distilled from experience, and are often still useful today, as they express things pithily and succinctly. But they have limits, which we should understand. One proverb says: "Too many cooks spoil the broth," while another says, "Many hands make light work." How to know where to draw the line between 'many' and 'too many'?

Another well-known proverb is, "The love of money is the root of all evil." This is a categorical allness statement, and is just not true. All evil? Surely, there are other causes of evil than just the 'love of money,' because evil existed in societies that didn't use money, and the hit-movie, THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY, shows how selfishness and possessiveness can arise over such a thing as an empty bottle that fell from a plane among the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, who knew nothing of money. This led to such disruption of long-established tribal-life that they soon concluded that 'the gods must be crazy' to send them such a gift!

We should know the limits of things. A hammer is useful for driving in nails, but not for sewing cloth or writing a letter; a saw is good for cutting wood, but can't be used for drilling holes or shaving one's face; a plastic bucket is ideal for carrying water, but try cooking in it and see what will happen!

Monkeys have been known to imitate people and strike matches, sometimes with disastrous results, as they don't know how to control fire. Much of our behavior, too, is learned through imitating, and young people, especially, succumbing to 'peer-group pressure,' are often influenced into doing things they perhaps would not do if left to themselves; they feel they must 'belong' to the same age-group they mix with—usually in school—and do whatever is done by that group. This is largely the reason why so many young people go astray and get involved in such activities as drug-abuse, violence, vandalism and other crimes; because it's deemed the 'in-thing' to do, they disregard their own better-judgment and 'join the crowd.' I know all about that; I was young myself once, and am not so old now that I can't recall—often with shame—my own youth and the things I did then, some harmless, some harmful, many stupid, during those 'mindless years.'

Maybe it's necessary for young people to rebel against their elders during the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood, in order to strike out on their own into the big wide world, to break some of the psychological ties that bind them to their parents, but it's a pity that much pain is involved in the process, pain felt by the adolescent, and pain that he/she often causes to others. My youth has gone forever; I'll never be young again —not in this life, at least. But supposing I could turn back the clock and become 18 or 20 again, just as I was at that age: do you think I would? Not at all! I was much more stupid than I am now, and I do not relish the idea of doing again what I did then. So I guess I'll just have to be content with what I am, and try to go uphill for the rest of my life instead of down—mentally, that is, because physically, it's out of the question.

Only a few years ago I heard the saying: "Youth is wasted on the young"; had I heard it while young, I might not have understood it as I do now. Many of us waste our youth when we are young, thinking it will last forever, but it's gone before we know it. However, there are various ways of being young and old, and not just in terms of bodily age. I recall reading somewhere how "many people die when they're around 20, but don't get buried until they're 60 or 70." Eh? Yes, they 'die,' mentally, when they are young, although they continue to live physically; they lose interest in life, and the burning urge to discover and find out is often smothered and stifled by others, instead of encouraged. Small kids ask lots of questions, but their parents do not always respond positively, and sometimes say: "Oh, don't bother me now; I'm tired," or, if they are unable to answer the question satisfactorily, due to ignorance or embarrassment, they make excuses, and the spirit of inquiry in the child is quenched; slowly, he learns not to ask questions.

The education-system is also very much to blame for killing people's minds; under the terrible pressure to 'succeed' and out-do one's fellows, young people in schools and universities are taught what is deemed necessary for them to know, but not really assisted to learn and find out for themselves. Educational-institutions churn out 'paper-people,' armed with degrees and diplomas, without which they are hardly recognized as respectable human beings; it is something so false, because such places give only a partial education, concentrating upon 'head-knowledge.' Thus, people become more ruthless and uncaring about others as a result of their education. One notable example that comes to mind is Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State who, when in office, conspired with the then-President, Richard Nixon, to bomb the Ho Chi Minh Trail inside Cambodia—without the knowledge or consent of Congress. The unlooked-for result of this was that many Cambodians were easily recruited by Pol Pot for his eventual take-over of Cambodia in April 1975. It was only later, when the 'Watergate Scandal' hit, that the Nixon/Kissinger conspiracy was revealed, and Nixon was forced to resign in shame, but Kissinger was untouched, and until now, still travels around giving lectures for huge fees. He is what is considered to be highly-educated, but he is by no means an honest person. This illustrates the difference between being taught and learning.

Years ago, in Indonesia, I met a monk who had been a Muslim until he was 80, when he became a Buddhist. At the age of 101 he became a monk, and that's when he stopped riding a bicycle. When I met him he was 105, and he told me that he wanted to learn English! With a mind like that, I don't think he could be called old; his body was old, of course—very old—but his mind—and that is the most-important part of a person, not his body—was young! He died when I was 112.

You know, the word 'man' comes from the Sanskrit word 'manas' meaning 'mind'; so man is really mind, much more than body. Let me explain this more: We have various physical senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. When we experience something through these senses, the sensation is transmitted to the brain via the nerves. So quickly does this happen that we are not aware of it happening, and in the brain it is translated and interpreted, and becomes there a mental or psychic experience. We act, thereafter, on the basis of how the brain has translated and interpreted the sensation. If you pick up a hot object, for example, you feel the heat on your skin, and the nerves there flash the sensation to your brain, which translates it according to past experience, and interprets it as a dangerous situation. Instructions are then issued for you to quickly put down the hot object. This all happens very fast, of course, seemingly automatically and without thought, but not so; thought is behind it all, faster than the speed of light!

We cannot prevent our bodies getting older, but the mind is different, being non-physical, and is not, therefore, subject to physical laws. We must differentiate between the physical organ of the brain and the Mind. Long ago, people of both East and West considered the heart to be the seat of consciousness, not the brain, but medical-science, within the last 30 years or so, has disproved this. People who have had heart-transplants have awoken from the operation still thinking with their own minds, not with the minds of those whose hearts now beat in their breasts. So now, it is generally conceded that the brain must be the base of the mind; there have been no brain-transplants yet to disprove this, so we go on the supposition that it is so. But the brain is not the mind, for the mind—the consciousness—can exist apart from the brain, as attested by many people who have been declared clinically-dead, and after reviving, have described their 'out-of-the-body' experiences. Also, many people have been regressed, through hypnosis, to their youth, infancy, intra-uterine state, and back, beyond the moment of conception—which some have told of as like being sucked up into a vacuum-cleaner—to their previous life, although this is not recognized as constituting proof of rebirth in scientific circles. However, these and other accounts strongly suggest that the mind can and does exist independently from the brain and the rest of the physical body, and is not subject to the normal aging process. Therefore, we should not allow our mind to become old, together with the body, as many of us do, but should hone it as we would a knife, so that it becomes and stays alert and sharp. The body will become old, if it does not die earlier, but the mind might remain young and fresh. How sad it is to come across people—especially young people —who obviously consider that their education ended when they left school, thinking that being taught is synonymous with learning; they cannot really be said to live but merely to exist.

The capacity of the mind to learn seems to be infinite, but then, so are the things that could be learned—so much so, in fact, that someone has said that "nobody can know everything about anything". The more we were to investigate a thing—literally, anything—the more we would find involved in it; it is like the ripple-effect of a stone thrown into a pond, only this pond is without limits, and the ripples would go on forever.

Should we just go through life chasing ephemeral forms of happiness? Or should we spend time trying to understand something of our human condition? Apart from our individual karma—that is, the effects of the actions that we, ourselves, have done—we are also subject to 'group-karma'—the effects of the actions of the group or groups that we belong to, like families, clubs, associations, nations, races, and so on; we might not have done anything directly, ourselves, but we are still involved in, connected to, and responsible for the actions of the groups we belong to. For example, a friend of mine once had to pay $500 compensation for the damage caused by his children throwing stones at passing cars; he didn't throw the stones himself, but he was still held accountable for the actions of his children and had to pay for the damage. If war breaks out between two countries, each country treats the citizens of the other country as enemies, even though, as individuals, those people might never had done anything against that country, nor intended to. Conversely, we also benefit from belonging to groups. In countries with welfare-systems, for example, citizens or residents are entitled to many benefits under those systems. There are responsibilities and liabilities from belonging to a group, just as there are benefits. Yin goes with Yang and Yang goes with Yin, inseparably.

There are certain groups that we have little or no choice about being part of, such as family, or race. Nationality, of course, we can change, just like religion, so there we do have some choice. We also have choice in the kind of friends we have, and the activities we indulge in; nobody forces us to do stupid things; we do them of our own accord. However, we are often pressured and influenced into doing things that something inside us—the small, quiet voice of our conscience or better-judgment—tells us not to do. It is difficult to be different, let's face it; few people like to be 'the odd-one-out,' most of us like to 'belong' and be accepted by others, but this, like most things in life, has a price. What price are we prepared to pay to 'belong'? Sometimes, it is at the cost of our individuality, and really, that is too much to pay. We should be encouraged, by our parents, our teachers, and by anyone who really cares about us, to keep our integrity at any cost, and not to sacrifice it, lose it, or throw it away, just so that we may belong, temporarily, to a group that, as often as not, has no lasting or worthy purpose, and which we might regret joining later on.

Fashion is another tyrant that we suffer under and which robs us of our individuality. People pay exorbitant sums for the latest fashions in clothes, but a few months later, when they are superseded and outmoded, they would be embarrassed to wear them. Some fashions are bizarre, to say the least, and the top fashion-designers must laugh all the way to the bank from becoming rich out of making people look ridiculous!

Here are five characters: 0 0 0 0 0 Now, what do you think: are they the same or different? Perhaps they appear the same to your eyes, but they are not, for under a microscope, their structure would appear different; and even if it didn't, they would still not be the same, for they occupy different positions in space. And if each one had eyes and could see, what they saw would be different, too, if only slightly, for they would see it from a different viewpoint. Each one is unique, and so are we. Do you know this? You are a unique and special person because you are different; there has never been another person exactly like you before— anywhere—and there is not another person exactly like you now—even though there are about 6 billion other people sharing this planet with you; and there will never be another person like you again—or like me. Moreover, since everything changes constantly, we are not the same from moment-to-moment, but are new and different! We are all unique, not photo-copies of some proto-type person—Adam, Eve, Tom, Dick or Harry. And we must know this; even if no-one else recognizes or knows that we are special and unique, we must know it. But, a word of warning, before you begin strutting around with your nose in the air; knowing that you are special does not mean that you are better or worse than anyone else, but different. It also means that you would recognize everyone else as special, too, and not just yourself. So there are conditions, you see.

Now, if someone advises you to conform and "Do as the Romans do, you might ask: "Which Romans?" since Romans, like everyone else, are different, too; they were not all cast in a jelly-mold, were they? Moreover, many 'Romans' are stupid, and don't know what they are doing, so if you were to do as such 'Romans', you would also be stupid. There is another proverb to balance the one about Rome and the Romans: "If the blind follows the blind, both will fall into the ditch."

Conformity is a deadening thing; we should be encouraged to find out who we are and become individuals instead of photo-copies. Take care, however, in your non-conformity, lest you conform to something more stupid than that against which you rebel.

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