Thursday, September 3, 2015

FFF: Monks, the Universe, and Everything



A collective of Buddhist monks visited our campus last week.

They came to us from the Drepung Gomang monastery in India and spent much of their time in the student ballroom. The monks let us sit in on meditations, where I was able to hear chanting and throat singing for the first time. I had heard recordings of this sound before, but never in person. I must say, my body shook from hearing it. There is indeed something spiritual about it. It carries a tone to it that seems to come from the earliest moments of the universe, the very instant of creation. It's almost ominous. I don't mean that in a bad way (yes, I know how that sounds.) Rather, I mean there is a deep power in it that almost seems like something humans weren't meant to hear. I read somewhere that analysts determined that the human voice should not be able to perform that deep throat singing.

But obviously it can.  Here's an example (start it at the three minute mark):





The monks also spent the week creating a mandala. It's an amazing work of art composed with tinted sand. Vibrant colors and intricate designs take form out of what was piles of said sand. The one created by these monks is a statement, a prayer in its own way perhaps or at the very least a stated intention, for all religions to be in harmony.








Then, after days of intense work, meticulous attention to detail, compulsively neat placement of sand, release of creativity and artistic endeavor, the mandala is swept away. All of the sand is swirled together into one single pile.








"Then all the colors will bleed into one...bleed into one..."

Small bags of sand are distributed to all, passing on the positive energy.






The remainder of the sand is then carried to a river and released into the water. The entire pageant of the mandala, from the first placement of a grain of sand to the moment it all merges with the river's current, is symbolic of the impermanence of things. It was once here. Now it is not. So it will be with everything.

Ain't that the truth.

"Nothing is permanent. Everything is subject to change. Existence is always becoming."

I was impressed and heartened by the positive response from students. Then again, Eastern spirituality is something of a curiosity for many of us reared in America. I remember my own first attraction to the philosophy upon reading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse in college. It is an appealing idea indeed. Shed the dogma, shrug off the incessant weight of our world, and instead aim to achieve higher consciousness. Care not for the comments from "decent church-going women with pinched, mean, bitter, evil faces," to quote William Burroughs.

Change what you are. Evolve.

A thought came to me, coincident perhaps that it was on my mind earlier in the day from reading I'd been doing. While watching the monks, I couldn't help but think about a sensation often reported by astronauts. A few of them have described a feeling they had in space, one of euphoria, transcended consciousness, and a "oneness" with the universe. This sounds rather like what Buddhist monks are pursuing through meditation. If we finally get our act together and get out there, will the experience of such a sensation become a common occurrence? Is this experience described by astronauts a sign, a little voice saying, "Yes, this is it. You're doing exactly what you're supposed to do. Move out of your tiny pen. This is the frightening change required for growth." Will the very act of exploring and colonizing space fundamentally change us to a point where there is no going back?

I think that would be a great thing...and something scary to all the right people.




Space is the place.

It's reminiscent of transhumanism. Nothing stays the same. Nothing is permanent. Why should we ever assume that our weak, meaty forms cannot change? Through transhuman technologies, we can be in charge of our own evolution. What that says for consciousness or the human condition, I'm not too sure. Once consciousness is say, disembodied by uploading into computers, is it free then? Free to expand? Free for us to become whatever we want, no longer bound to limited bodies?

I have no idea.

No one does.

"Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most."

Don't be afraid to change who you are. Life is too short to be one person.






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