We are living in a fast-paced technological world where we are being served “information” at an extraordinary rate, which we cannot possibly keep up with.
Things have become so complex (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 (try living like the billions of poor and underfed on the planet and see how important how you “look” is to them), resulting in the truly dumbing-down of the wider population (low thinking).
This is utterly alienating people from each other and the world, leading to purposelessness, isolation, and deep unhappiness.
The British historian, Arnold Toynbee, stated in an article back in 1972:
“The cause of the world’s malady is spiritual. We are suffering from having sold our souls to the pursuit of an objective that is both spiritually wrong and practically unobtainable. We have to reconsider our objective and change it. And until we do this, we shall not have peace, either amongst ourselves or within each of us.”
Adopting the motto of my spiritual teacher, “Simple Living and High Thinking”, would reverse this trend and actually solve many of our problems.
The other talk I mentioned in this talk is “The FALSE Me – The REAL Me” which can be viewed HERE
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So the topic tonight: Simple Living and High Thinking. My initiating spiritual master, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad, used to say, “That is our motto.” This is like a guiding instruction, or a guiding light, a beacon that can help show us the way.
You know, we live in a very fast-paced and highly technological world where we are being served information at an extraordinary rate, in which we cannot possibly keep up with. The storage spaces on our devices are just absolutely—they’ve grown so enormously that we can barely kind of calculate. I mentioned a number of times, when I first got into computers in the early 80s, and my first computer had one of the very early hard drives that came out. The size of the hard drive was 640k, not even one megabyte—and that was considered extraordinary. And I remember not long after, the first one megabyte hard drive came out. And of course, I rushed to upgrade, thinking that was such a massive upgrade. Now people have hundreds of gigabytes of space on their devices, particularly their phones.
And what we end up doing is storing so many photos and so many messages and so many videos and other pieces of information that we cannot possibly keep up with and sort of like manage this all in our head. It’s absolutely phenomenal. And this habit of wanting to keep and store all these little snippets of our life is, of course, an attempt to fill up some emptiness, to find some meaning or purpose or—we hold on to the idea that this is all enormously valuable. Then we go back and look at it, and we actually are looking to find what was the value in that. And it is just this attempt to fill up this ever-growing emptiness within. And proof of that being a reality is, of course, the extraordinary levels of depression and mental illness and suicide that is evident in societies that are fully immersed in these technologies and ways of living.
It’s all about this mindless and almost endless consumption in an effort to fill up this emptiness. And what is the practical result of that? Well, the practical result is that our lives are not simple. Our lives becoming increasingly complicated and complex. And we’re not engaged in higher thought. We’re actually being actively dumbed down. This is a reality. We’ve been—this is the way in which everything is working, and how it’s designed.
And we’re very much immersed in a throwaway culture where things are consumed and then discarded, thrown away at just an unbelievable rate. And the amount of waste that is created is having a catastrophic effect on the planet.
There was a—last year, I think it was, and interview that I saw, with Jeff Bezos and he was talking about how humanity actuallyreally needed space travel. And I was waiting and thinking, “Hmm, okay, why do we really need space travel?” Then the revelation was that if humanity wanted to continue to have a thriving civilization (that was his term, “a thriving civilization”), we need space travel, because humans are destroying the planet.
And I was absolutely shocked. How could he use those two terms so close to each other, and not see the contradiction? If we are destroying the planet, how can that be considered a thriving civilization? And he was talking about the need to continue to have a thriving civilization. So he thinks, rather than abandoning the earth in favour of another planet as being a potential solution, he said that humans have to come to look at space as a resource. So that means we explore and try to exploit resources on other planets and asteroids. We take all of the bad products that we don’t want, all of the gases and things we don’t need, and find a way to inject it into outer space. And it’s just the most astonishingly dumb idea.
How can you possibly be that dumb, where you don’t see that you’re promoting the idea of a lifestyle that is inherently destructive, and you think that what we need to do is just become more advanced in space travel, so we can continue with this so-called thriving civilization?
A number of times I’ve used a quote from E.F.Schumacher, the renowned economist, British economist, from the 70s, who was deeply impacted by time that he spent as a consultant for the British government, a consultant to the government of Burma. (Myanmar was called Burma back then.) And he encountered people living an alternate lifestyle, deeply rooted in Buddhist principle, where life was quite simple, and people were driven by higher ideas, and it really caused him to think very deeply about the values that have been adopted in the Western world and the consequences of adopting these values and where it’s all going. And he observed how the modern economy—I’ll read a quote from him:
“The modern economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but are the very causes of its expansionist success.”
So he was saying that this greed and envy that’s been cultivated and what’s driving everything is not an accidental feature but the actual cause of the so-called success, economic success, of the growing economies of the world. And then he goes on to ponder:
“The question is whether such causes can be effective for long or whether they carry within themselves the seeds of destruction.”
So we’ve commented many times that they do carry within them the seeds of destruction, I mean we’re seeing these situations now. You look at the news, the so-called news, and it’s filled with such sadness. We’re seeing the growth of climatic change that’s impacting people in ways that they couldn’t even begin to imagine previously, and it’s moving at such a rapid pace. We’re seeing the conflicts arising within different political ideologies which are overflowing into how countries are managed and economies are managed, and what is the result of these things.
And then we consider how the—I mean we have this—it’s just astonishing! It’s like, how did this happen, where the biggest corporations in the world, many of them are not engaged in the useful production of anything. They’re not producing any product or thing of useful value. They are based upon the manipulation of the public. And we see that the five biggest companies in the world involved in advertising. And I personally don’t think advertising is contributing things of enormous value to the world. All they’re doing is stimulating need or greed. They have an annual income of over—something close to 250 billion dollars a year. I mean they’re making so much money primarily from just advertising, and their advertising model is, they call it targeted advertising, but it’s actually blatant manipulation of people: people’s fears, their emptiness, it’s a gross exploitation of these things.
So I’ll just read a couple of things in that regard. These corporations that are involved in these undertakings, Big Tech, they are magnifying or even creating unhappiness, and then promising to remove that, promising to fulfill you somehow. So the previous design ethicist from Google, Tristan Harris, in testifying before the US Congress, he spoke about the business model of the big social media companies, and he said that model (and these are his words)
“…is to create a society that is addicted, outraged, polarized, performative and disinformed. [And] that’s just the fundamentals of how it works.”
This is his statement. There was a revelation in the Wall Street Journal where they reported that after having received a whole bunch of leaked internal documents from Facebook they reported that,
“Facebook has known for years that Instagram was mass producing anxiety, depression, and eating disorders amongst teen girls who use it, and they did nothing about it. That’s because giving teens eating disorders is very profitable,” As Casey Johnston writes, ‘these companies know that it’s addictive to make people think that, somewhere in their app, there is a solution to feeling inferior and incomplete. The influencers who make you feel not pretty enough, who also seem to have the key to becoming pretty enough’”
So you’ve got the influencer who, when people watch them, feel, the girls, not pretty enough, they seem to be offering the solution to that problem, to becoming more pretty, and he writes,
“That’s Instagram candy.”
So they were aware of all the chaos and turmoil and pain that they were causing, but it was such an amazing business model, it was producing so much money they simply suppress this.
So the reason I’m speaking about some of these things is to do with the title of the talk, simple living and high thinking. Technology, using technology, doesn’t make you smart. Using a smartphone doesn’t mean that you are smart–could mean that you’re extremely dumb, especially when you are absorbed in it, and it’s dumbing you down and exploiting you and magnifying, I mean the worst things that society have to offer. It’s absolutely outrageous the way people are speaking to each other and dealing with each other on all of these apps. I mean how ridiculous is Twitter, where you can only have what is it 150 characters or something. It’s like, oh my gods! But it’s designed for this purpose, to breed outrage, to breed competition, to breed conflict, then to breed an addiction to see what happens when you blast something out.
So one of the big things that we see in the technologically advanced societies is almost a complete loss of peace, of actual personal inner peacefulness, of satisfaction, of happiness, because the complexity of the world is designed and been used to prevent that from happening so that—and magnifying that emptiness–so that they can try to sell you that which will fill you up.
E.F. Schumacher famously stated:
“I suggest that the foundations of peace cannot be laid by universal prosperity…”
So just think about that. He’s saying that the foundations for individual or personal or societal peace cannot be laid by universal prosperity,
“…in the modern sense, because such prosperity, if attainable at all, is attainable only by cultivating such drives of human nature as greed and envy, which destroy intelligence, happiness, serenity, and thereby the peacefulness of man.”
We want to close our eyes to the reality of what we are experiencing. It’s like we want to be in denial. There is this modern idea that everybody can create their own truth, that simply by wishing something to be, it can be. And it’s just like what?! And it’s so astonishing that even medical professionals are buying into these ideas. It’s just like, how can any good come from these ridiculous ideas, that you can create your own reality in your mind, and that that is going to be perfectly okay, and you will find fulfillment and everything by doing that, by not really accepting and dealing with the reality of this external world in which we live.
And of course, the thing that becomes most lost due to this exploitative business model that’s been used by all the tech companies is that people feel increasingly disconnected from each other and this world, and they feel haunted by a lack of actual purpose, fulfilling purpose.
Quite a long time ago (meaning I think it was a year and a half or more ago), I read out something. I’m going to read it again. It was a woman’s blog post. She wrote this in her personal blog. She was a highly paid professional, an accomplished individual, and it was really startling how honest she was. So I’d like you to try and listen to this carefully and reflect on it, because I think it really does capture what is the reality of many people’s lives. So she writes:
“I have almost everything people talk about when it comes to happiness. A good husband, a great job that I enjoy and pays me well.
But here I am, feeling all confused, blank and painful. I feel numb, suffocated, lifeless.
For all the reasons I could think of, I should be grateful for the life I have and be happy about it.
Yes, I am grateful. But I am not happy. I feel guilty for not being happy. I cannot talk to anyone. No one can understand. Even I can’t understand.
Everything is so quiet. All I can hear is my husband’s breath and the sound of my wall clock. I feel so lonely. I feel like I am the only person in the world, and I have this feeling. This feeling overwhelms me, eats me alive and I find myself lost in it, piece by piece.
I find myself pushing people away because I think they don’t truly understand me. I try to build a thick wall around me to protect myself and my [loneliness or my] lonesomeness. Behind the wall, I have the whole world of my own. Except there is nothing in that world.
I know it is not healthy for me to stay in my world forever.
I know it is time for me to break the wall. But I just don’t know how.”
This is a stunningly sad confession of a highly intelligent individual. And when I read this I find it utterly heartbreaking how we can exist in this state, how we can live in this condition. And it’s not just a few individuals, this is representative of a large percentage of society, to different degrees of course.
One of the big problems that we are encountering is the utter superficiality of the materialistic lifestyle, I mean utterly superficial. All you have to do is look at the amount of money that has been spent on body modification, where people are trying to find self-worth and happiness and love in this artificial construct of trying to re-engineer a body to fit a fantasy. Even if you find someone who says they really love the way that you look, how can you shake off this inner reality that it’s fake, and their declarations of admiration for you, and their finding you to be worthy of praise or affection, or whatever, friendship, based upon this falsehood, how can you ever square that? You can’t. You can’t. You can’t hide behind this exterior. You know the truth. You know the reality of the situation.
So we live in this time where there is a pervasive spiritual illness that is haunting society. I just read a quote from a British historian, really quite well-known guy, who, I think he died back in 1975, but in 1972 he made this statement in the London Observer in an article that he wrote, and I think it’s incredibly profound. And he states:
“The cause of the world’s malady…”
—and malady meaning sickness or ailment—
“The cause of the world’s malady is spiritual. We are suffering from having sold our souls to the pursuit of an objective which is both spiritually wrong and practically unobtainable.”
So we’ll just pause there and consider that. I mean the, “We have sold our soul he says to the pursuit of an objective which is both spiritually wrong and practically unobtainable—” I’ll continue reading”
“We have to reconsider our objective and change it. And until we do this we shall not have peace either amongst ourselves, or within each of us.”
This is Arnold Toynbee. That’s an incredibly astute and profound observation.
The malady, the illness that is pervading society is the sickness of materialism. Materialism is the idea that the only thing that exists that is real is the material energy. It is the denial of the existence of any spiritual energy. And materialism supports or drives, then, what is called hedonism. And hedonism is the idea that I can find happiness and fulfillment by material experience, by stimulating the mind and the senses, driving them into a frenzy, and then trying to satiate or fulfill those desires will bring me fulfillment and happiness. And it’s absolutely not true. And it is a not only not true, it is absolutely untrue, completely untrue.
We know that the answer to finding purpose, fulfillment, happiness, peace lies in what is described in the ancient yogic, or Vedic, terms as atma tattva. Atma tattva, the Sanskrit word, means the truth, or knowledge let’s say, of the true self, knowledge of the true self. We’ve spoken previously, not too long ago, there was a talk I did on the false me, the real me, which I would encourage people to look at and to give some consideration to. I’ll put a link to it in the post that goes along with this video.
The false me is this material body and the material mind. This is not who I truly am. These are garments that I am inhabiting, and after a certain amount of time I will be forced to give up these garments and to leave them. And if I am going to spend my whole life simply cultivating desires and stimulating my bodily senses and then seeking to fulfill those desires through material experience, I will remain forever unfulfilled, unsatisfied, unhappy and utterly lacking in peacefulness.
This fundamental principle is the essence of all spiritual practice and all spiritual pursuit. If somebody thinks they are on a spiritual path but this is not foundational to it then I’m sorry you are not engaged in a real spiritual pursuit. It is impossible to stress the importance of this.
And what is amazing, how cultivation of this understanding of my actual spiritual identity, and me now becoming increasingly aware and connected to my deeper inner spiritual identity, it will make it so the way I interact with this world and things of this world will change. I will no longer have this false idea that material experience is going to be fulfilling.
Of course, you can enjoy a certain sensation or an experience. It’s not that it’s not enjoyable. It’s not that there is no happiness there, but the nature of that happiness is that it is fleeting, and it is also unfulfilling. It doesn’t satisfy you. I mean Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger singing, “I can’t get no satisfaction, and I tried and I tried and I tried, can’t get no satisfaction.” People have recognized this. Hedonists have recognized this.
The cultivation of atma tattva, knowledge of the true self, will have the effect upon us that we begin actually to live more simply, and we are engaged in higher thought. We are connecting to higher and more uplifting ideals. We will automatically become more compassionate and kind and caring. We will take some joy, even if it is fleeting joy, in simple pleasures, but we will be finding deeper fulfillment and actual happiness and satisfaction from spiritual experience, spiritual activity.
When we consciously choose to live more simply and to be engaged in higher thinking, when this becomes a guiding principle for our life, we can live out our time in this body, we can live out our time experiencing a real spiritual life that awards the highest fulfillment, the highest experiences of happiness and of love. But if we do the opposite, if we are involved in complicated or complex living and low thinking—you know, give up the selfie! Oh my God!
I remember one time sitting on a plane and there were a group of people behind me on this plane, and they had been working in Japan, and they were returning to their country of origin. And they were looking through all these photos, they were sharing photos, and there was this discussion about which was the best photo of this individual, was it one of these eight or ten photos, which one was the best one. And the amazing thing was the one that people found to be the best one is the one that least looked like what the person, how they actually appeared. The photo that makes people look slimmer and younger and more vibrant, that doesn’t show them how they actually are, was what everybody was gravitating to and praising, and saying that this is the best photo. And then the person wants to look at that, and, “Wow! I look so good here,” And of course, “I look so good!” that’s not you. That’s the body that you’re wearing around.
And this is what people do with the selfie thing. They’ll take so many selfies, then the one that looks least like what they really are, that creates a more artificial reality is what then people will share with others. This is called complex living and low thinking, and it doesn’t reward one with that which we truly desire and which we truly deserve.
And so I cannot stress how important it is for us to also consider this motto of my spiritual teacher,
“Simple living and high thinking,” and how I can apply it to my life. I promise you! I promise you, that if you actually adopt this principle, while cultivating spiritual practice, your life will become infinitely more happy. You will experience infinitely more peacefulness. You will find greater purpose and meaning. You will be a better person. You will be a better person to others.
So I humbly ask from you that you also consider that motto. Write it down somewhere, and from time to time, whether it’s once a week, or once a month, or once a year, look at it, and reflect on your life. I need to look at it and reflect on my life, how, whether I am moving towards this goal or moving away from it. If we move more towards the goal our society will become infinitely better. We will be better stewards of the planet. We will be consuming less. We will be less nasty, mean, greedy, envious, antagonistic, rude, these things will gradually leave us. This is our choice.
So we know that the cultivation of atma tattva, this knowledge of our true self, is not simply an intellectual pursuit. We are asked to meditate and reflect on our own eternal nature from time to time, but the thing that will transform us and make this increasingly clear, that which will cut through the fog and the illusion and the cloudiness, is the engagement in the process of the chanting of these spiritual sounds, these transcendental sounds, these holy sounds, holy names. Because we are being exposed to the transcendental sun, our innermost heart of hearts becomes warmed and becomes purified. Just as the sun is a purifying agent, the transcendental sun is the ultimate spiritually purifying agent that will help us grow in reconnecting with our true spiritual being, and our life will become much more wonderful and meaningful.
So with that thank you so very, very much, and I ask you to join in with me—still having a few voice issues so we will stream kirtan from one of the other talks. Please do take the time to join in and to immerse your heart and your mind in this transcendental ocean of love that are these spiritual sounds. Thank you very much.