Last week in the 1st talk on this topic I didn’t have enough time to present some historical examples of how some societies embraced this principle of Simple Living and High Thinking.
Drawing on examples from the ancient Vedic society and also early Christian Orthodox practices from Eastern Europe, there are clear illustrations we can get inspiration from to find areas in our lives to apply some of these underlying principles in our current times.
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So, this evening we’re going to do a continuation of last week’s talk, the talk last week being Simple Living and High Thinking, and yes, you guessed it, this is part two. So I sort of ran out of time last week to mention practical examples or even older examples that would help maybe provide some sort of contrast and make it so that we could develop our personal road map towards this particular goal.
The first thing I just wanted to address is I did have somebody ask me a question regarding last week’s talk. In the post that went with the video I had stated that, “Things have become so complex (this complicated living) and there is a massive reduction in people’s attention spans and an over-emphasis on trivial and unimportant things like your hair and wardrobe for example” Then in parenthesis, I wrote, “ (try living like the billions of poor and underfed on the planet and see how important how you “look” is to them), and it’s resulting in the truly dumbing-down of the wider population” which I’ve put in parenthesis as meaning low thinking, so the opposite of what we’re speaking about.
But somebody asked a question, David. And I think it is a good question because I think it’s a bit of a struggle for people to rethink their lives in really meaningful ways not just like—but in really meaningful ways that result in in changes in conduct or behavior, that actually do make a difference to us and to others. So he, David, said,
“I agree that to billions of poor people the latest fashions and haircuts are not important at all, but does that mean though that us people living in the first world should dress very basically and wear our hair conservatively? I don’t think so. Just because some people are not in the position to express themselves by dress doesn’t mean we can’t. That is my opinion. There is nothing wrong with expressing oneself with clothes. It makes for a more interesting world. Yes, it probably is quite a trivial thing but much of life is, isn’t it?”
I thought that was a quite good question, because it really points to the challenges of, I mean, where is the right place? Where should we draw the lines? And there’s no easy answer for that, no easy answer in terms of–well, there’s going to be a spectrum, not a massively broad, but there is going to be a spectrum of behavioural change that would fall within the idea of making this move towards more simple living and high thinking.
But I hope, David, you don’t take offense, if I actually try to cast a perspective that may be a little unsettling for people. A couple of days ago I decided to watch a movie that was come up, and the movie was about school shooting, a girl that had gone through or been present in a school where there was a school shooting. And while she was trapped in one classroom and gunshots were going off, a young coloured guy came running into the classroom and hid in the place where they where they were. And his shirt was covered with blood, and he had been holding his brother in his arms, and his brother had died as a result of this, and so he had now run for cover. I mean it’s kind of like, whoa, this is shocking, and this is like very real.
And before I go any further than that, before the live stream tonight I just took a quick look at the news, and it’s like, oh my God, what’s going on? You’ve got this massive heat wave in Europe that’s just like—it’s unimaginable, the temperatures, and of course, as a result all these fires breaking out. And there was one really picturesque village in England that suddenly a house caught fire from grass that erupted into flames out the back, and that spread, and a whole bunch of houses burned. And the news report, of course, covered all of the things that were going on.
And then there was another report about Australia and things they’ve been going through with climate issues there and how chronic it is, and how like even their beloved koala bear which used to be like all over the place is now heading towards becoming an endangered species, that animals are even dying from the heat, and the mind-blowing flooding that’s taking place.
And of course, these news clips had been preceded by massive amounts of rain and flooding in the southern part of New Zealand where, just a few days ago, there was record amounts of snow, and everybody was celebrating, and they’re on the ski fields, and everybody’s going for it, and it’s just like wonderful. And then suddenly it’s followed by such massive amounts of rain that one part of the country, which is traditionally considered extremely dry, I mean it has some of the lowest rainfall in the country, now experiencing massive amounts of flooding, and roads being cut off, and cabins and holiday parks being washed away.
And it’s just like just spending 10 minutes on news tonight, sort of like, oh my God, it’s really serious, and people are starting to freak out a bit. And the big problem is, this is not–people aren’t really tying it to their life choices and their lifestyles. The focus on fossil fuel, it’s–the fossil fuel is not the problem. It is the symptom of a problem; and the bigger problem has to do with this rush into hedonism, materialism, and the idea that just pointless and endless consumption and endless changing of things to satisfy whims of the mind, is actually a really, really, really big problem.
And while there is nothing inherently wrong with choosing a particular way of dressing or a haircut, I’m not—I don’t want us to focus on that, that my saying that was used simply as a something—an inflection point, something that would cause a person to maybe think, oh yeah, wow! Because the way that we are living is not how we have always lived. And when I say, “the way we’re living,” I’m not just talking about the technology and fashion and things, I’m talking about the fundamental direction of society and what people value or see as being important. That has changed radically.
So going back to what I was talking about with this movie. You follow this girl dealing with the trauma of what she had experienced. And part of how she was choosing to deal with some stuff was to start taking drugs for the first time, and in communicating with someone about what she was doing, and that person being a little concerned, she responds in a text. She does the yolo thing, you only live once. And it’s kind of like, whoa! The fact that we actually embrace that idea and use it as an excuse to make choices that cause us and others problems, shows how we’ve become somewhat intoxicated by certain types of ideas, and we sort of have great difficulty.
She—further on something happened, and she had a breakdown and was weeping, because one of the things that she realized is that we are all going to die. And the messaging that was tied to that, it was like, oh, it’s like kids shouldn’t have to have that thought. Maybe they think only old people had that thought, but everybody else shouldn’t have to have that thought, and how incredibly disturbing it was for her that she had that thought, the realization that it’s all going to end I’m going to die, because that brings into question then, so what the hell is my life for? What is its value? What is its purpose? What’s the value in endeavoring for anything? Why not just stay home and get stoned all the time? These are the kind of conclusions that can come from this.
And I share the opinion of great transcendentalists since time immemorial, that we should all be embracing the inevitability of death, because if we embrace that, that really begins to affect your choices. Now you can go down the yolo road, you only live once, and go wild, and it’s kind of like it’s like people dancing on the titanic as it was sinking. It’s kind of like, oh my God, of all the choices! And there will be people that go, “Oh that was a wonderful thing to do. They knew they’re all going to die so they might as well have just enjoyed the last minutes.” The orchestra was still playing and they’re still dancing and drinking. And it’s kind of like, not a good choice! Perhaps you should have prepared yourself for the cold water and done everything that you could to save yourself, or if you don’t care about yourself, save others from this tragedy.
If we embrace the inevitability of our death, if we embrace our mortality, it can definitely be a motivation to make your life count, or to make your life be of value. And the way in which the ancient teachers discuss this being of value—you have two categories of experience, spiritual experience and material experience. The nature of material experience is it’s fleeting. It’s over before you know it, and the high or the rush that you can get from stimulating the mind or senses, it comes to an end. It comes crashing to an end. And then, I can either think, well, that’s not very fulfilling, perhaps I should look for something that’s of more meaning and of more value, something that’s more important. Or I can choose the route of going, “Well, that came to an end so let’s just do it again and turn up the volume this time. We’ll do it harder and heavier. A shot a tabasco in it and a squeeze of lemon, and really, let’s rip it!” But that’s not very constructive, or helpful, thinking.
So in order to maybe contrast with how people are living now I’d just like to raise this contrast between modern life and what was the ancient Vedic system in which people lived, which they called the varnashrama system. This is two words: varna and ashrama. Varna means the nature of your work or occupation, and ashrama means the spiritual stages of life. So in the varnas, for instance—and with the type of thinking, because everybody embraced their mortality, meaning that the time I will spend in this body is limited, and I will move on. And they were very aware of what is referred to as reincarnation, which is not actually a very good description. It’s what’s more accurately described as the transmigration of the soul, or a continuum of life.
And there was this deep understanding that my birth in this current body, and my station in life, my family, my education, opportunities, all the things that came to me almost unasked, were actually caused by previous action: As you sow, so you shall reap. And because people were sort of focused with this understanding they were very committed in their life to, for instance, do good work. And the idea of doing good work was so that you would reap a benefit in the next life, the next time around.
And so there was just like—the way they would act, for instance, the system of government was they were monarchs, but in the most ancient of times many of the kings were referred to—the Sanskrit word raja, which means king, and rishi means a great sage, and they were often referred to as raja rishis, which means like saintly kings. And they knew that it was important for them to set an example for their citizens.
I mean what you see in the world today, who’s setting the example? Look at all your TikTok and Youtube and Facebook influencers. Oh my God, it’s just like so shallow! And it’s just like—and this is what everybody’s following? These guys are making millions of dollars just doing trivial things. And that’s a huge statement about the nature of our life, and where we are with stuff.
But these kings, they were really focused on public welfare. Not only the kings, the merchants, the wealthier people and society, everybody set about engaging in welfare activity. So I mean, in the old days the roads you either travelled by foot or bullock cart, or if you had some more money perhaps by chariot or on a horseback. If you were quite wealthy they would have palanquins that people would carry, and people would just sit back inside and be carried. But the roads, in a place like India where it was exceedingly hot during the summer, were kind of torturous. And so wealthy people and kings, for instance, would plant thousands and thousands of trees along both sides of the roads, and they would excavate large ponds that would have lotuses and be filled with water where people could stop and rest and bathe. They dug wells every kilometre or so, so that people could freely take water to quench their thirst. I mean just on that kind of level people were really, really focused.
They used to—it used to be a common thing for people to go on pilgrimages. They would go, as a big part of their life, to go visit what they considered holy or sacred places, where they would encounter yogis, or transcendentalists, and they would take time out from their life to listen to spiritual discourses and to help them sharpen their focus about what their life is for. There was this real practical necessity, they felt, to be able to go out and do these kind of things. And in these different places of pilgrimage, they would build what were called dharmasalas. Dharma is from the word dharma, which means religiousness, or righteousness, or right conduct, and sala usually means like a big mansion. And so they would construct these huge places with like a hundred rooms and attached bathrooms and places to bathe, which were freely available for anybody to use. And in my early part of my life when I travelled around the holy places of India as a monk we frequently occupied these dharmasalas .
The consciousness of the people who built these kind of facilities was actually materialistic, but it was good. They did good stuff so they would get good stuff in multiples happening to them. And so if you wanted to live in large palatial buildings, they felt that by building such large palatial—well not palatial, like actually quite basic, but very large mansion type buildings, and allowing thousands of people every year, providing shelter for them, they felt, okay, the karmic reward for that was going to be really significant.
And so you had people that weren’t just focused on this idea of living for the now, and you only live once, and trying to consume and get as much as they can, and just greedily, all over the place, just doing stuff. They had this longer view.
Now I’m not saying people necessarily have to accept the idea of reincarnation or karma to see the value in what they were doing. Because of what they were embracing, it drove a certain type of lifestyle, and their choices in their life benefited many, many, many people. And so in this way the poorer or less advantaged sector of society was uplifted in many different ways.
This tradition of pilgrimage is something that’s almost foreign in the Western world—well, not all of the Western world: You’ve got places like Portugal and Spain and France where they have these traditions of going on these long journeys of pilgrimage and staying at monasteries or these places, or camping out near them, and in this walking, to dedicate the time that they would take this journey to thinking more deeply about life, and purpose, and things of a deeply spiritual nature.
There’s an incredibly, wonderful book I read. It was called the—was given to me by a friend, The Way of the Pilgrim. It is originally a Russian book that was written in the 1800s, and it was translated into English. And what it did was it followed the journey of a person that was a pilgrim. And in Eastern Europe with the Eastern Orthodox churches, they really had this tradition where they had these monasteries and churches, but it was more than monasteries, than the churches, where there were in different areas renowned individuals who were living deeply spiritual lives, and people would take these pilgrimage to seek guidance and inspiration and direction from these deeply spiritual people. And this particular—in this very short book, this guy goes through southern and central Ukraine and Siberia in his long journey. And what he was seeking was to learn the practice of ceaseless inner prayer and communion with God. And people that endeavored and tried to live this way and did these things, they were usually identified. They would wear certain types of attire, and the way in which they would practice by constant chanting of prayer or invocations and things. And they would, in every single town, there were people that would keep an eye out. If they saw a pilgrim they would ask them, “Please spend the night in my home.” They considered, “I become blessed by inviting into my home a person that’s genuinely trying to seek some higher purpose and meaning in life.”
And it sort of—it was wonderful, because it reveals what used to be the norm for Eastern Europe, and for a good part of Southern Europe. In England you didn’t really have this tradition so much. In the Americas you didn’t have this tradition. And the world has become greatly influenced by these countries that don’t have these very deep spiritual traditions.
I mentioned earlier about the varnasrama system. The asramas, which were the spiritual orders of life, they guided how a person would ideally divide their life. It wasn’t a requirement, it wasn’t an imposition, but it was something that was commonly embraced. In the first period of their life a person observed the order of what was in Sanskrit called brahmacharya, where they would often reside in an ashram of a spiritual teacher. Their parents would bring them there and turn over their child to someone of known reputation, and that person would now become responsible for this young person’s spiritual education, but also what was their material education. And the way in which they would look at the material education would be dependent upon the natural propensities of the child. Every person has a certain type of mentality and certain type of innate skills and abilities, and these teachers, these spiritual teachers were very astute, and they knew precisely the right way to guide this individual and to educate them and prepare them for life, both in terms of their material welfare and their spiritual welfare.
Once a person reached late teenage years, usually, or—they would take leave from their teacher, they would go out and beg and try to provide some reward as a thanks to the teacher, and then they would return to their home, and more often than not, get married, and take up what was called grihasta life. This household life was also governed by principles that made it so people saw a deeper meaning to life. The type of spiritual practices and meditation that people engaged in their personal life was far out, but there was this huge (I’m looking for the right word) drive to embrace charity, to actually share the food from your table, the money that you earn by endeavour, to share it with those who have less, and with those who are dedicated to the spiritual path. And so this charitableness was considered an antidote to materialism.
Materialism, it’s kind of like all about me. I want to get everything, and I’m trying to acquire more and more, and I want to enjoy more. It’s kind of like it’s very self-focused. I see my family as being an extension of myself, and so I try to do the same thing for them, but it’s kind of—it is somewhat selfish driven. I’m not making a comment that that’s bad or good or anything like that, but that observation. Whereas to become charitable and to give of one’s self in different ways, with work that you can do for others, the help that you can extend, the supporting of people undertaking spiritual journeys and things like this. So this was like a big focus.
But then the third stage of life began usually at around the age of between 50 and 60, where people would retire from material endeavour, and they would retire from basically running their families. They had shown their kids, and their kids had also acquired in ashrams, how to live. They became what were called vanaprastha. Vanaprastha was a recognition that the amount of time I have left in my life is limited, like severely limited, and now I need to become very spiritually focused on what is this higher—the purpose and meaning of my life, which they all understood to be self-realization and God realization. And so people became very much absorbed in this activity.
The older people in the community were considered treasures of the community because of their life experience and their realization and the changes that they’re going through. They had enormous amount to offer their own children, their relatives and people even in their neighbourhood. And so older people were very much treasured and loved because they played a really powerful and significant role within society.
The fourth order of life was called sannyasa, where one may become—they usually take a vow of perpetual celibacy from that point, and they just become utterly absorbed only in spiritual practice. They often are mendicants who travel from place to place, and their sole purpose of existence was to try and elevate all those that they meet, spiritually.
And so this was the focus of society. When we think about how we’re living now, and how our choices as a society is not working out. Things are not working out for us. We’re going to pay, and we are beginning to pay, and we will pay higher price for this choice that we have made, having the more complex lives and not being very thoughtful, just going for the instant rush now. If it feels good, if it looks good, do it. What’s going to happen tomorrow, let’s not even think about that. Let’s just live for the moment.
So we had societies that had entirely different focuses. And they had concepts—they have this word atmarama. This atmarama, it means one who is utterly self-satisfied; and when we say “self” here we’re not talking about the gross physical body or the mind. We’re talking about somebody that has actually connected with, and is experiencing the reality of their eternal spiritual existence, and their body and mind now has become a tool for that. And it just—they’re living out this very spiritually directed life.
And in this process of self-realization and God-realization people experienced levels of such infinite fulfillment and happiness, experiences that transcended death, transcended all material experience. And it’s real. It’s a very real experience. But by virtue of the fact that people were either in that state, or moving towards this state, they were the worst kind of consumers that you could imagine. (Laughs) They were uninterested in how they looked. They were uninterested in the experiences. They recognized, “Yeah, that tastes far out, but I’m moving on yeah.” “That was cool. I’m moving on.” “Oh, that was a bummer. I’m moving on.” There was this stability in their life that the material highs and lows that occurred around it didn’t affect them. It’s not like they didn’t experience the highs and lows. They experience it, but that’s not what’s moving them, and that’s not what’s directing them.
And of course, the idea of an atmarama would be the worst possible idea to introduce into the world now in terms of what—they have these sayings, like everybody’s freaking out now about the recessions that are hitting everybody, and “how bad is it going to get?”and… And one of the things that you hear from economists and people in government, “Oh, there’s a lowering of consumer confidence.” People are not confident to just go out and spend because the money’s kind of drying up, and so they stop spending, or spend way less, which means manufacturers don’t make as much stuff, there’s not so much money flowing in the economy. And from the point of view of economists and politicians this is like a disaster. And so they’re always thinking how, “How can we stimulate the economy? How can we make it so people are going out there and partying like there’s no tomorrow, just buying, using the credit card, just going for it?”
This model is not self-perpetuating. This model eventually comes crashing down.
So in talking about this idea of simple living and high thinking, I’m not going to say that it should be only this way, and people should only adopt these kind of habits. No. This is for every individual to choose; but to be guided by this higher principle of simple living and high thinking. I mean, like I suggested last week, make a note of this somewhere. Put it somewhere that you’re going to actually look at from time to time, whether that’s once a year, or once a month, or whatever, where you can actually look at it, and think about my life and the choices, and how things are going for me, and what can I do to make it so that my life is becoming increasingly more directed on simple living, trying to really pare stuff back, to live as simply as you can.
I’m not promoting the idea that everybody needs to go live in a cave or run off to a farm or a commune somewhere. I’m not promoting that idea at all. But within the context of our life, what can I do to greatly simplify my life? And what can and should I be doing, that would make it so that I am increasingly thinking higher thoughts, more spiritually directed thoughts, that my life, my decisions my choices, are going that way?
Even if you are constantly—let me change it, even if you are currently practicing meditation or yoga, or you’re adopting some religiously directed life or a spiritually directed life, you can still enormously benefit from using this and thinking about this, not just whenever, pretty much as often as possible, but the idea of once a week or once a month having a simple living high thinking day, where you actually examine what am I doing in this day? What are my choices? Where am I going? And what is the nature of my engagement with others? How am I dealing with my family or friends or those that are significantly important people in my life and everything around it? And by our making personal choices to try and conduct a life that is more directed this way then the better the world will be and the better your life will be.
In ancient times people were very, I’ll use the word religious, not necessarily in the conventional sense, but there was an idea of some higher transcendent reality that we should be aspiring for and connected to. There was a sense of a higher purpose, being connected to this higher transcendent reality, or truth, or God, however somebody wants to conceive of that or deal with that.
And I’ll give you a little example. Amongst all of the Vedic texts, the Upanishads were considered of very great importance, and there is one brief one. It only is made up of 18 verses, and it’s called the Sri Isa Upanishad, Isopanisad. And the very first mantra in that Upanishad: īśāvāsyam idam sarvaṁ begins. It’s very beautiful. It goes:
Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord [or Isa]. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things knowing well to whom they belong.
And so this mantra, it really encourages people to abandon covetousness, looking at what others have and desiring to have it, looking for ways to shake money loose from people, which is the focus of big corporations and everything. Just taking one simple idea like that, these principles can really transform our life and make it infinitely better.
So hopefully I’ve covered things a little bit more, and at least spoken about how things used to be in the past, in the quite ancient past, but for the purpose of not necessarily trying to replicate that, but how to take the principles that were being utilized, and how can I now use those in my life, in the world that I live in today, in the society that I live in. What do I need to do to alter this direction? How do I live a life that is more simple and more elevated in higher thought?
So with that I thank you very, very much for joining us, and we’ll chant. And I have to think about what I’m going to chant. I might chant the mantra Aum Hari Aum.