We have recently seen a number of huge natural disasters which result in great unhappiness to everyone affected. No one seeks unhappiness, yet it comes into our lives, even though uninvited. There was also a report about how 3 in 5 young girls in the USA are overwhelmed by record levels of persistent sadness. CDC reports that 1 in 3 teenage girls seriously considered suicide in 2021.
The spiritual perspective is that so much pain results from not accepting the reality of the nature of this world and our life in this world. We have an unfortunate penchant for seeking the eternal, or that which is permanent, in a material and impermanent/temporary place.
The solution is to cultivate a real spiritual life, and by so doing, experience the eternal happiness and love which is part of our eternal spiritual nature, even while residing within the body and within this world.
Some Vedic quotes on the subject:
The misguided materialist does not know that his very body is impermanent and that the attractions of home, land and wealth, which are in relationship to that body, are also temporary. Out of ignorance only, he thinks that everything is permanent. Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3.30.3
Indeed, a human being should also never desire permanent residence on the earth, for by such absorption in the material body one becomes foolishly negligent of one’s actual self-interest. Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.20.13
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya.
So what do we think about the big floods in the storm? Pretty far out for New Zealand or what? Majorly far out? It’s very sad to see the way in which people’s lives are affected. I was looking at the news last night and one older woman in Hawke’s Bay, and her house is half full of silt and destroyed, and she was saying that, “This is like 50 years of my life just gone in one day.” And I think when you frame it that way it’s sort of pretty—it’s kind of shocking.
I had the great fortune of spending over 40 years of my life in the third world, what’s called the third world, and living in places where there was tremendous economic hardship for the majority of people, and life was not very comfortable, and the frequency of catastrophic events was sort of like mind-boggling. Like the experience for us here in Auckland of that cyclone, that would be sort of like a mid-range cyclone in the Philippines, where I lived for a long time, and they would have some significantly stronger than that, and there would be on average about 18 to 20 a year. Batton the hatches folks! And with the really major ones, where they’re getting close to 300 kilometres an hour winds, where you can get coastal storm surge that’s like six, eight, even fifteen feet, coming inland and just taking out whole towns.
One of the things I learned—I mean because, it was like when I first moved to India there was a devastating flood. I was staying in this place that’s considered a very sacred place, a very holy place, largely rural community, and the Ganges flooded, and you could not see any land as far as the eye can see. Everything was underwater. So we—I was living with another monk, and we were living in like a native house, thatched roof made from grass, bamboo framed house, woven bamboo walls, brick, with a little bit of a thin layer of cement on the top of it for the flooring. But we had to go up and live in the roof because the water was up so high. And if we wanted to go out you had to dive in the water and swim out the door and then come up outside. And of course, like water was impossible, clean water was impossible to find. There were gigantic cobras swimming around everywhere. One slithered over my head. It was about seven feet long. And the devastation was mind-boggling. We had a half a sack of potato and a can of flour and some oil, and so we sat up in the roof using a little coal-burning stove to cook potato and puris. That’s the only thing we ate for about a week. It was pretty bad.
And of course, coming from New Zealand it was just like shocking. Then there was a cholera epidemic on the tail end of, as the water resided, people dying everywhere, I mean, just like everywhere, on the side of the road bodies, things I’d never encountered before. But I feel very fortunate to have had this type of exposure and to learn to live very simply and to learn to manage personal expectations.
My friend here, Adrian, approached me just before we got—or in the middle of the kirtan he asked me, “What are you going to talk about tonight?” and I didn’t have a clue. I hadn’t thought about anything really, so I told him, “Seeking permanence in that which is impermanent,” and this is the great folly of people in this world, because we have become very disconnected from a spiritual foundation, a foundation that recognizes that we are all eternal spiritual beings, glorious, wonderful spiritual beings, having a pretty temporary, and often bummer, experience of being embodied, dealing with this world, which is impermanent, dealing with the life of this body.
The time that I’m going to stay here is impermanent, and yet almost everybody is endeavoring to bring about some permanence. People are seeking permanence in love and relationships; people are seeking permanence, in terms of a home, where they can live happily ever after; the idea of, fleeting pleasure can become permanent; whereas the reality is there is another spiritual reality, a transcendent reality, but we have to learn to get out of our way.
You know, having a material body and a mind that’s materially engrossed, we build so many ideas, we build so many aspirations, we try so hard for something that can never happen. You cannot find permanence in this world. The permanence that we seek is by nature spiritual. There is another reality, a spiritual reality, but we spend all our time utterly absorbed in that which is material and transitory; and the need to cultivate this knowledge of my eternal existence. This is called atma tattva. Tattva means the truth (can mean other things also), the truth of the self (the atma means the self).
And it’s like everybody is, I mean, you’ve got this massive epidemic of identity ignorance where everybody wants to identify as this or that or anything. Any attempt to identify with that which is material and temporary cannot lead to utter fulfillment and happiness. It’s not even a possibility.
I saw this absolutely heartbreaking and shocking thing. It was a headline in the New York Times. And the headline was: “Record levels of sadness in teen girls the CDC reports,” (CDC – Centre for Disease Control), which is kind of like, what this is a disease? It’s actually, from a spiritual perspective, yeah, it’s a material disease. So I think they—just a couple of excerpts:
“’I think there’s really no question what the data is telling us,’ says Dr Kathleen Ethier, the head of the CDC’s adolescent and school health program. ‘Young people are telling us that they are in a crisis.’ Nearly three in five teenage girls felt overwhelming and persistent sadness in 2021, double the rate of boys. And one in every three girls seriously considered attempting suicide.”
It’s a whole ‘other subject which I will address at another time. But it’s largely built upon the utter bullshit that’s being pushed, that you can be worthy, you can find happiness, through the vehicle of the body, you just have to spend enough money to modify it and develop these grotesque looks that now people are thinking are cool. And it’s just like, what are you doing? I feel so sad, because it is so sad.
And it’s all tied into the same idea, this seeking that which is permanent in that which is not, that which is temporary. We have a desire for permanent blissfulness. That desire rises from the soul itself. It is a spiritual desire. We desire love, permanent ecstatic love. We desire to feel sheltered and protected. These are spiritual desires. But when we direct them at a very impermanent and transitory world and transitory and impermanent personalities, material personalities, we end up faced with a serious problem.
One of the things I really valued in my time living in less developed countries was how people so easily embraced that which was often catastrophic and got on with stuff. And many of them carried a quite deeply spiritual view of things, that this is the nature of this world, this is the nature of life; my job is just to do the best that I can to be a good person, to be good to those close to me, to seek to alleviate to the degree that I can, their suffering. And that is so noble, that is so uplifting. It is so filled with hope.
From a spiritual perspective, the great spiritual teachers told us that we need to acquire a certain way of seeing things, that we should look upon great challenges and great difficulties and even great unhappiness as a spiritual opportunity. If we simply falsely hope for a brilliant outcome in a place that can never produce a brilliant outcome then that’s not trying to be hopeful, that’s sort of—that’s called hoping against hope, hoping against hope, maybe next time, being heartbroken for the third time or the fourth time or the fifth time, maybe next time. And what happens is that when people develop a spiritual perspective of life, a spiritual perspective of this journey, there is enormous hopefulness, not that this world is going to become perfect but the fact that I can achieve that perfection. It is my inherent right to be in that condition.
So I won’t go any further.
Was that depressing or no?
Audience member: Uplifting.
Acd: Huh? Uplifting? I certainly hope so. I’m the bummer guy, but it’s my job to talk about the realities and to shine a light on the path that leads to great light and enlightenment. Every single one of you, in this very lifetime, can come to the pinnacle of self-realization and God-realization. That possibility is real and true, but we have to learn to do the right things and adopt good ways of looking at stuff. We need to seek permanence in that which is transcendental, that which is spiritual, that which is permanent. We accept the world for what it is. Okay?
Anybody have a question?
The idea that you can make this world perfect is complete—that’s an illusion. The world by nature is imperfect. And a lot of people are dreaming up solutions to problems that will permanently fix everything. It’s kind of like, no! Our job is to do the best we can, and to cultivate a good spiritual perspective, and to live a noble life that is actually beneficial to others and will become beneficial to ourself.
Thank you very much. Haribol.
It’s my other pair of arms. It’s hard when I’m sitting in this chair to play the guitar. I’ll sing the same mantra then. Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana.