This is the conclusion to the series “Who Controls Your Mind” – about living a more conscious and purposeful life, and the need to be in control of your own mind to do that.
The consumption and use of information & technology do not bestow wisdom. They can in fact do the opposite. This is called dumbing-down the population.
What is needed is a spiritual paradigm which combats materialism – the ultimate vehicle for ignorance and harm.
Research consistently shows that the more people value materialist aspirations and goals, the lower their happiness and life satisfaction and the fewer the pleasant emotions they experience day to day.
Qualities such as restraint, temperance, self-control, delayed gratification, compassion, humility and kindness all support and bolster a life guided by wisdom.
The video I suggested watching is “The High Price of Materialism” 2011 https://youtu.be/oGab38pKscw
Some quotes I used:
As a strong wind sweeps away a boat on the water, even one of the roaming senses on which the mind focuses can carry away a man’s intelligence. – Bhagavad-gita 2.67
Therefore, O mighty-armed, one whose senses are restrained from their objects is certainly of steady intelligence. – Bhagavad-gita 2.68
A faithful man who is dedicated to transcendental knowledge and who subdues his senses is eligible to achieve such knowledge, and having achieved it he quickly attains the supreme spiritual peace. – Bhagavad-gita 4.39
Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and check the force of desire and anger, he is well situated and is happy in this world. – Bhagavad-gita 5.23
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So tonight the topic is Drowning in Information, while Starving for Wisdom. So this will be the 4th and final part in the series of Who Controls Your Mind? The topic is really massive topic, and in many ways, I have simply tried to discuss things from the angle of us trying to live a more conscious and purposeful life, and to do that it means that we really need to be in control of and in charge of our mind and its contents. We need to be directing our life, not simply surrendering to the huge number of influences that are out there today.
And of course, we had focused on Big Tech, and their utilization of incredibly focused advertising, in very subtle ways, but also their attempts to keep you on their platforms, this being the primary goal, and then, of course, the different ways in which they do this, or try to do it.
Last week, with the talk, we had a little bit of an issue, which I think I’m going to mention, simply because I want people to try to become more mindful of these influences and controls. Last week I had spoken probably quite strongly about the influence of Big Tech, and then this whole new concept of a “Metaverse” where they want you, over the next years, to become increasingly absorbed in this alternate reality, and to keep you there for as long as possible. So the title was probably considered provocative by people that work in this industry (if I can use that term).
And so usually, right after my talks, because I’ve been videoed, we stream them, I post online the talk on Youtube and Facebook, and also on my website. So I had gone about doing things the normal way and uploaded the audio version to Spotify and iTunes, or Apple Podcast rather, and I noticed things had got somewhat hung up with the upload to Facebook. It had been sort of hung in processing. And I was thinking, “Okay, this is taking way longer than usual.” And I’ve had a situation like this before, and I ended up just deleting it because something’s wrong, and re-uploaded, and went through like a breeze. So I was considering that, and it was getting rather late, and I was thinking I’ll just figure it out in the morning.
And then just before I went to bed I got a notification on my Facebook feed. And it stated that my post is violating our community standards and was therefore removed. And of course, I was quite shocked. It was kind of like “violating community standards!??” And it had a question, “Do you want to contest this?” And I immediately just hit, “Yes,” and then it’s sort of like, it had a list of the normal community standards that there are often violations of: nudity, sexual content, hate speech, all this kind of stuff, and using material that you don’t have copyright to. And I was going like, “I haven’t done any of those things.” So it said, “Do you want this to go for…” something like arbitration or something, where it’s there’s a second look at it. And I said, “Yes,” and then I was prompted with just a very limited number of options. It’s kind of like they want to put you in these little boxes. And of course, never any personal contact. And I selected the option that Facebook has perhaps misunderstood the intent of the post. So after I completed that then I was looking at another banner on my page that says, “Your page, (the whole page, with all those videos and content,) is at risk of being unpublished”—this big red banner—”due to continued community standard violations.” Continued! I’ve never had anything like this happen before. Now I’m being accused of “continued community standard violations.”
So now I felt quite indignant about contesting this. And I suspected that, at the lower level of review, somebody was either not really emotionally equipped to read the title and not freak out, or they’re trying to impress the boss, because I was being quite critical of Big Tech, or who knows, some other reason, that didn’t seem like the type of—they hadn’t looked at things thoughtfully, of course, hadn’t reviewed the video. There’s no way they could do it in that time that they had responded and made this conclusion.
So then I was thinking, well, so what am I going to do? Am I going to let people know? And I thought I’ll wait, because I consider the work that I’m trying to do, to share yoga wisdom with people is of critical importance, and I do want to be on the platform, and so I thought I’d sleep on it overnight and then consider it. And very early in the morning I got a ping, and I looked at it, and there was a little message with a green check, and said, “We’re sorry. We got this wrong. We reviewed the post again, and it does follow our community standards.” And so everything was restored to what it was.
And I do understand that this was like a pretty tough situation for them because the truth is, I was being highly critical of the whole concept of a Metaverse and what many, or all these social media apps are actually trying to do, and what they are doing. And while it is true that they do bring people together it is ultimately for—the purpose is to commercialize—that’s putting it politely, and to put it more bluntly it’s to exploit everybody on the platform for commercial gain. But the fact that they reviewed it and found that it was not—
I mean my concern at the minimum is the mental health and the well-being of people using these platforms, so it’s not like I have some ulterior motive, and I’m not just out to bash them or anything like that. I mean the reality is these things can be used for good. We had a bit of a retreat over the Easter weekend, and I spoke a little bit about the subject, and one older woman who was an immigrant to New Zealand said that, yeah, but social media is really helpful for her to stay in touch with family and friends and back in Europe, and it’s an important way of staying connected and communicating. And my response to her was, yes, exactly, this is the ideal usage.
However, you have to recognize that the effect that these platforms are having on younger people is way more pronounced than on the older generation. The older generation sees email as just like an extension of and a more convenient way of writing a letter and bringing it to the Post Office to post. That’s how they view it. Whereas the younger generation views these things a lot more differently, and there is this real tying of one’s identity, how we see ourself and self-worth issues and everything, all of that, to these platforms and the use of these platforms. So the effect that it’s having on younger people is way more pronounced.
However, in spite of the fact that I was speaking quite strongly last week and presented something very strongly, to their credit the people that reviewed the decision reinstated the video, because factually it did not violate their community standards, although that was the excuse the lower level reviewer had used. And it’s difficult if people are going to criticise your business and your business model, and then they’re going to come in and as it were shop in your business. It’s very uncomfortable. So I do take my hat off to the—whoever reviewed the second review when I contested what had happened.
But some people had asked me what happened, because it was like my post was up for a few seconds, and some people had already attempted to share it then suddenly it had disappeared. So I just thought I needed to offer an explanation on that basis but not only to explain to you about that, but I mean I was quite surprised that this happened to me. I mean I’m not involved in political issues and things. I’m a spiritual teacher, and I’m just presenting knowledge and information that’s very helpful for people in their lives, and yet I find myself in this situation. And so I thought, well if it happens to me you have to accept that you are being watched and monitored in a more amazing way than you probably realize.
And so the topic tonight: this was a statement from a really renowned Harvard biologist. His name was—what was his name? I’ve forgotten his name. Wilson, Edward Wilson if I remember correctly, who died just a few years ago, but he was a real intellectual, and this quote of his really does capture the dilemma of our era. And what he had stated, and I’ll give you the full context, he had stated,
“We are all drowning in information while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people who are able to put together the right information in the right time, think critically about it and make important choices wisely.”
So that’s the context in which he was talking about things. And of course, it’s really—his statement doesn’t really define what wisdom is. And it’s something that many people actually struggle with: What is wisdom, and what constitutes wisdom? So we’ll unpack some of these things this evening, and hopefully you will find it informative.
There has never been a time like there is today. People have gigabytes of information stored all over the place, in the cloud, on their computers, on their phones and devices—gigabytes! I got involved with computers very early on, pre Windows. I learned to program. I used a DOS interface, just the command line commands, and before there was all these programs and apps, I mean it was limited numbers. And I had got a computer with one of the first hard drives that came out, and this was like—Wow a hard drive! after using these big and then smaller sized floppy disks to store information. And my hard drive was a whopping 640k. Yeah! Not even one megabyte. 640 k. And then later I upgraded when the first one megabyte hard drive came out. And now we’re talking about on your phone having gigabytes of storage space. It’s just like—it’s phenomenal! But then what it’s leading to is everybody is going wild taking pictures, storing stuff.
I had a little incident a couple of days ago. My—I saw—I don’t keep very many photos on my phone, and I saw one of when I was holding my son when he was a young, very young child, and his granddad was trying to give him a kiss, my wife’s father, and he was kind of like (mimes pulling away) had this weird look on his face, like he was pulling away feeling all uncomfortable. It was–it looked funny, so I showed it to my wife, and we had a little bit of a smile. And then she goes, “Oh can you send it to me?” and I burst out laughing. I said, “I got this from you.” And then her response was, “Yeah, but I want to look at it again, and I don’t know where to find it,” because she has like probably gigabytes of photos on her phone, and she’s a pretty simple straightforward person. But it’s kind of like this has now become common. And she’s a grandma. It’s not like she’s a young influencer or something and going crazy with storing things, but stuff that catches her attention, that she might think she could refer to, she stores it.
So we are confronted with volumes of information that as human beings we can barely keep up with, and it’s having a pronounced negative effect on people and in many different ways.
So this idea that we’re drowning in information, and everybody has got an opinion. You know when they started this whole thing, Twitter and Instagram (and what was before Twitter? Huh? No. What were some of the other ones, the other social media stuff that’s all disappeared now? Myspace, and oh, there’s some others) and what people were told was—news readers were told, “You have to engage with your audience. You have to engage. You have to ask them to participate. Ask them, ‘What do you think about it?’” And so news reporters and anchors started this thing where they would look into the camera; they go, “Why don’t you tell us what you think?” And of course, they have no interest in what you think, but this new world that’s been created of self-importance and “our opinion”—even if we are ill-informed, everybody is so gung-ho with their opinion, like their opinion is the highest truth, and everybody should listen to it, and if you’re not on board with it you’re a hater, you’re a weirdo, you need to be canceled, and blow up your device, and ah, it’s just, it’s crazy land.
But this was just a device (and I don’t mean the electronic device), this was a form of entrapment to get you engaged. And now you see—well it’s not now. It’s been going on for quite a long time—when somebody writes an article or whatever you have hundreds and sometimes thousands of comments, like everybody’s jumping in there. And I’ve heard people, even people that are engaged in these spiritual practices, say that what they like to do is read the comments. But what we don’t sort of understand is the effect all of this is having on our consciousness. And the idea of conscious living and purposeful life is all being eroded by these things. We’re losing control of our mind, our territory, our autonomy.
So one of the things that happens is after a while you just get so overloaded with stuff that people have given up on—largely given up, on analytically or critically looking at things. There was an old Vedic principle that before you go and listen to somebody give a discourse or speak about something you want to know who exactly they are, what is their character and reputation, what is their source of knowledge, where have they acquired it from? In other words, before listening to a person you should evaluate their qualification, and based upon that you make the decision to listen or not to listen. Now that’s just like—with the way social media works we all get forced into these idea silos where everybody in the silo is—it’s just a big echo chamber, people that support our ideas and endorse what we think and think the same things, which is incredibly unhealthy for a lot of reasons. And one of the main reasons is because it breeds tribalism, tribalism of thought. It creates the us and them. That’s actually incredibly destructive.
And people have somehow come to conclude that if you’re consuming all of this information that there is some great wisdom attached to that, that you’re wise and knowledgeable, and it’s absolutely not the case. A lot of information is siloed and distorted and presented with a—in a distorted perspective with a certain spin on it. I mean you can take the same data from a survey and two opposing personalities, or opposing views, can find ways to use the same data to support their positions because you have all of this deceitful speaking where people don’t actually say what they think and what’s on their mind. They find ways to distort, and it creates so much confusion and always leads to a lack of real wisdom.
So one of the things that’s being promoted, as if it is very wise, is that there is this need for us to learn new patterns of consumption. And this is really happening widely with the green movement, or the idea of sustainable living. And what people don’t seem to understand (and I’ll speak about it within a certain context in a few minutes) but what people don’t seem to understand is how incredibly unwise it is to promote materialism, consumerism, because it is a failed ideology. People are not becoming happier, healthier, more peaceful and living more harmoniously. Everything is going in exactly the opposite direction. And so in spite of people consuming and digesting and sharing so much so-called information, and they’ve got all this advanced technology with it, there is a monumental lack of wisdom.
When people utilize all of this information, and specifically technology, to really promote and to accelerate materialism, this is so unwise, because it is completely unsustainable. Within this lies the seeds of destruction of society and large parts of humanity even, what to speak of all the other species, and the planets.
The idea of learning to consume more sustainably—what about just learning not to consume as much, rather than changing the energy sources of what you’re consuming and going through all sorts of contortions to try and recycle. I mean the recycle thing is not—I mean if you really dig into it you will see that even with all the current attempts and all the cute stuff, “Oh, we’ve been able to make this product out of this, and this product out of that…” the amount of waste that is still being produced, that’s not being recycled is growing at a massive rate and is causing much harm.
Wisdom, actual wisdom, is often, if not always, going to be founded on some sound spiritual principles; and wisdom will always promote the idea of exercising control of your mind and control of your senses. Advertising wants to do the opposite.
I mean I can remember years ago, when things were much more blatant, less subtle than they are today, and there was a massive ad campaign in America, and if I remember it was for Pizza Hut, and the byline was, “Let yourself go to Pizza Hut,” meaning, don’t control the senses, don’t! Give in! I mean, this is the byline for Nike that, “Just do it!” On one level it’s kind of like, take the challenge in life for the physical exertion, and just do it, and which means, kind of meant to be like excelling. But actually, it’s a very subtle message to not exercise control. If you have an urge to be able to instantly fulfill it is considered a glorious thing. You are empowered! No, you’re not! You are being enslaved.
The Vedic teachings promote the opposite idea. They really promote dispassion, not being all passionate about things but living more peacefully in a more subdued way and in a very modest way, not to be loud and proud, as they say, but to be more subdued, dispassionate, to exercise restraint. These were qualities that lead one towards deeper understanding and a much better life.
So I’ll just quote a couple of verses from the Bhagavad-gita. This is from the 2nd chapter and it’s the 67th and 68th verse. It says,
“As a strong wind sweeps away a boat on the water, even one of the roaming senses upon which the mind focuses can carry away a man’s intelligence.”
That’s pretty far out. And then,
“Therefore, O mighty-armed [this is Lord Krishna addressing a great warrior prince, Arjuna] therefore O mighty-armed, one whose senses are restrained from their objects is certainly of steady intelligence.”
So here the idea that being able to show restraint, this is producing, or as a result of, steady intelligence, whereas to be unrestrained means one has unsteady intelligence. And so this is why it’s an important principle even for, especially for, young children, for parents to teach children restraint.
I saw, just recently, an interesting video. It’s like an animation video, and I’ll post a link to it. It’s called The High Price Of Materialism. And it was put out, not with any kind of focused spiritual message, but everything that they spoke about sets a person up for a much better life, much more peacefulness and happiness. And it was put out in 2011, like 11 years ago, but it’s still highly relevant. And in it they mentioned that,
“Research consistently shows that the more people value materialist aspirations and goals, the lower their happiness and life satisfaction and the fewer the pleasant emotions they experience day to day.”
I mean this is a fundamental truth. It was true 11 years ago, and it was true a thousand years ago, and it is true today, and will be just as true in the future.
And what they examine in this little animation is how materialism is actually in direct conflict or contrast with pro-social values. The more a person is inclined to very pro-social values the less materialistic they are. The more materialistic and consumption-driven they are the less they are inclined towards pro-social values. They mention that materialism is directly tied also to the degree to which you are concerned about the planet and the welfare. The more materialistic you are the less concern you have, even though you may outwardly adopt one or two projects to try and look like you’re environmentally concerned, the reality is that these things are in contrast, or in conflict. And they point out how materialism always promotes self-centeredness as opposed to a sense of connection to a wider community and a sense of responsibility to a wider community.
And so what’s happening in the world today with all of this barrage of so-called information, it’s quite often promoting narrow interests, where people are really forced into these silos and become increasingly tribal in their instincts, as opposed to being more geared towards humanity. It is impossible to have a hate on for any group based on bodily identity, and to declare that you are compassionate and concerned about another group. No, that’s not real compassion, not real concern. You would be concerned even for those that you considered despicable, and you would want to help them. But rather than thinking about how to help people, everybody just wants to hate on each other. This is not wise. This is not a product of wisdom. This is tremendous and destructive foolishness.
With the leaders of Big Tech, I don’t go out of my way to check them out, but whenever I come across something where they’re making some statements I generally pay focused attention to what they are saying, and I do it because I understand, at least to some degree, the outsized influence that they have on society and how their use of these technologies as magnifiers of influence are being used to create certain outcomes, and these outcomes are frequently unwise, frequently unwise.
And a couple of examples just that come to mind, and one of them, or two of the things, I’ll just mention involve actually the same person, the guy Eric Schmidt that was formerly the CEO of Google. A lot of people don’t—they think Google’s just a search engine, I just type something in there if I want to find something out, and they don’t realize really how it all works, how much information is being collected about you.
There’s one thing—and I heard the guy talk about it once, and I call it the “you need milk” example, and he was talking about having a home that is so—you know, this whole thing about the internet of things—where your life is so plugged in, and so much information is being collected about you that, one afternoon, evening after work, you get in your car or you’re taking public transport, whatever, and you’re about to head home, and suddenly you get a notification on your device, “You are probably out of milk, or about to be out of milk. It’s time for you to buy again, and there is a store 200 meters down the road on the left that has the brand that you use, and right now you can get it at this discounted price. Would you want to be notified when we get to the store?” And of course, a lot of people would go, “Yes,” and they would go and do that.
And it’s kind of like, Wow, that is terrifying, that we—I mean it’s advertised or promoted as being, “This is such a wonderful thing. Your life is going to become easier,” but in reality, what is going on, I mean Google makes more money from advertising than practically anybody else, billions, hundreds of billions of dollars every year. And the reason they make so much money is because of how effective they are in influencing people. And we’re just thinking, “Oh, but it’s just a search engine.” No, it’s–there’s way more going on.
And what their idea is, is that they want to prompt you with everything that you need in life, direct you to where you can get it, and they will take a commission on all the sales. That’s the business model. That’s what they’re trying to achieve, and that’s what Eric Schmidt was talking about. And on one hand we would think, “Oh wow, all this technology and information, yeah, this is really making my life better.”
But what we’re not seeing is the downside to that, which is unwise, the degree to which my life has been taken over, my mind, my desires. These people are in the business of creating desire, and then offering to fulfill it and making a commission on it.
The other thing that he once spoke about that kind of blew my mind, it was him talking in an interview about the absolute need for space travel, and why it’s critically important that we’re investing a lot of money in space travel. And it was fundamentally that there are insufficient resources on the earth to maintain the current levels of consumption, and so we need to travel to find other planets that we can utilize. And it’s just like what! Don’t you see something wrong with this? It’s like our levels of consumption are God-like and we must bow down to this and obey it and follow it. And if it means wrecking this planet and then looking for some other place to go and wreck, that’s perfectly okay. But that’s incredibly unwise.
It is possible to live a far more simple life, a life that is more simple in living and higher in thinking, that is more purposeful and meaningful and more connected. This idea that all this consumption is going to fulfill us is ignorant. It’s highly ignorant.
Another thing that I looked at was a very recent, just a few days back, Elon Musk being in a conversation with the head of Ted talks, Chris Anderson, and they were speaking about travel to Mars, and the building of communities there and the importance of these things. And then the conversation turned to the opportunity to determine what that society that would colonize Mars would be like, the idea of creating a society and the laws to govern it.
But then what went through my mind was—and there was no conversation about what principles would guide the formation of such laws or such a society. I mean for thousands of years almost all societies were governed by universal principles that were religious or spiritual in nature which now have it largely been abandoned to this idea that you are as an individual more important than anything. Your desires are more important than anything. And of course, what you haven’t understood is, many of these desires are created by others. They’re not even organically yours. And then you are encouraged to satisfy those desires so that you can be exploited financially. And this is not wisdom.
So okay, if we abandon all these virtues, spiritual and religious virtues, and now adopt the virtues of materialism, I mean what kind of a society are you going to build? Just look at what’s happening internally, the debates surrounding big tech and these social media platforms. I mean do you really think that people that are heavily involved in these controversies are going to come up with a more perfect system? It’s kind of like the values that are often being promoted are contrary to deeper and more important spiritual values.
So there’s a massive need for a paradigm shift. We need a spiritual paradigm as opposed to the paradigm of materialism. The foundation of materialism is the idea that I am material. There is a denial of the existence of the spiritual being occupying the body. That is the foundation of materialism. And then from that flows the idea that the more you can consume, the more you can satisfy the desires of the senses, the happier you will be. And that is absolutely not true. That is false.
So we need a spiritual paradigm that we are functioning within. And this is really about a battle for your autonomy, that you become an independent and strong individual guided by profound and real, valuable spiritual principles and ideas, that you move away from this, the supremacy of the individual and their desire to consume and their desire to impose a value system on the rest of society, to something that is built upon a deeper understanding of the self and the understanding and realization, the appreciation that the actual purpose of human life is self-realization.
And if you throw that one out the window then you are living as animals do, simply propelled and impelled by animal desires and consciousness, thoughts of them and us, tribalism. The need to realize that you are not the mind, you are not the desires that reside within the mind. You’re an eternal spiritual being. You have an eternal spiritual nature. Your desire for happiness, for love, for a home, for eternality, are a part of your spiritual being, and these needs can only be fulfilled spiritually, not within the material world. There is a need to understand that all life is sacred and all life is special. Even when somebody is behaving badly there the reverence for life must persist. And we must find better ways to communicate and to get along and to live more harmoniously. And that is only possible with this profound understanding that we are all eternal spiritual beings.
And then in relation to this world, we must give up the ideas that this is simply here for us to exploit and use, to claim ownership of. It was here before we showed up in this lifetime. It will be here after we leave.
Taking back control of your life will be evident, the degree to which you are taking control of your life will be evident, by the degree to which you are in control of your mind and in control of your desires and to the degree to which you are living a purposeful spiritual existence. This is wisdom. Applying these principles are wise.
So I’ll just close out with two verses from the Bhagavad-gita in this regard, and they deal with this idea of purpose and direction, and of exercising restraint over one’s senses and desires. So from the 4th chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, it says, “A faithful man”—and when I say man here, I always do these massive eye rolls: this was the way everybody used to talk. Now everybody’s locked into sexism. It’s really quite (rolls his eyes)—I know that there are issues and problems but the fact that we have to struggle to use language—we are meant to be hu-man, human, human. When we use the word, pronoun man, we’re not talking about a sexual identity or a gender. We’re talking about humanity.
“A faithful man who is dedicated to transcendental knowledge and who subdues his senses is eligible to achieve such knowledge, and having achieved it he quickly attains the supreme spiritual peace.”
This is the foundation for peacefulness.
And then in the next chapter it says,
“Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the senses and check the force of desire and anger, he is well situated and is happy in this world.”
So these are verses (and I will post them along with the talk), these are verses worth keeping and sometimes reflecting on and remembering, because they are founded in actual wisdom. And that which is counter to these ideas is not wisdom. It is ignorance, and it produces the unhappiness, the dissatisfaction, the trouble—I mean oh my, the world is just flooded with psychoactive substances legal and illegal. Everybody is so, you know, just to get through the day or the week everybody is so dependent on all this artificial stuff, and we don’t see that there is anything wrong with that or that it is a dangerous sign. But what can we do? We can try to share ideas and ask you to kindly consider them because it is in your best interest.
Thank you very much. Haribol.
So of course, the solution to the problems is the use of these transcendental sounds to bring about transformation in life.