philosophy

Shaucha | शौच | purity & cleanliness

Shaucha is the 1st Niyama of Yoga; or the restraints of behavior. This concept that is central to the Indian religion and yoga and is part of what creates a clear and focused mind. It also means a clean body and sets of actions; its implies purity and cleanliness through all of life in a balanced way.

It is also important when speaking to aim to control your communications from a calm and peaceful mind. Saucha is most often practiced in daily life, whilst cleaning your space; or your car; doing your laundry or even taking showers. Nourishment and organization are also central to saucha.

Saucha and Santosha are very interconnected. One leads to the other, which is why saucha is the first Niyama and Santosha is the second. And remember that these are behavioral guidelines or ways to act around others.

Saucha’s concepts lend themselves to better Focus

Meditation was created to clear and enhance mental focus. Saucha is a part of that because meditation requires a little bit of preparation; sometimes a shower before, or simply taking off your shoes and sitting on a pillow or a mat, etc. So keeping space clean is an important part of that. In yoga, it is very important to keep the space clean of pests; especially in post WW2 India. It is also about creating a clean relationship to yourself; getting rid of the baggage so to speak. Cleaning not only enhances your mental health, but it also removes stress from your body. “Clutter and mess can create more stress and anxiety, but by cleaning, organizing, and reducing the clutter, people are able to take control of their environment and create a more relaxing environment that helps them focus better on the more pressing issues in their lives.”[7]

5 Techniques to create Saucha

  1. Meditate for a couple of minutes first thing in the morning. Clear your mind before your day.
  2. Neti Pot – clear your nasal cavity
  3. Dharana Meditation – focus on a single object and stare at it for 5 minutes or more. Choose a few objects of different distances for longer practice.
  4. Declutter and clean your house and your car
  5. Eat organic foods

References:

  1. The Art of Living Retreat Center – How to Live in Harmony with Yourself and the World Around You
  2. The Art of Living Retreat Center – Saucha – the First Niyama
  3. Bret Larking – What is Saucha
  4. Yoga International – Yamas and Niyamas
  5. Wikipedia – Niyamas
  6. Wikipedia – Saucha
  7. Very Well Mind – The Connection Between Decluttering, Cleaning, and Mental Health
  8. Forbes – the Mental Health Benefits of a Clean Home

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Dall-E & the E.T. - Santosha

Santosha | संतोष | Contentment | Satisfaction

Santosha, the second Niyama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is sometimes spelled Santosa, is a portmanteau in Sanskrit, derived from Saṃ-prefix (सं-, सम्-) and Tosha (तोष (from root √तुष्, √tuṣ)). SaM-, means “completely”, “altogether” or “entirely”,[5] and Tosha (from the root √tus), “contentment”, “satisfaction”, “acceptance”, “being comfortable”.[5]

In modern Californian yoga culture, we say, “chillin” to express this. Contentment is the name of the game. Yoga and santosha are somewhat synonymous; it is a big part of yogic philosophy.

Dall-E & the E.T. - Santosha

Sam is similar to sum, totality and entirely. Tosha or Tushti (तुष्टि) is about appreciation, mindfulness, gratitude, harmony, an active inner contentment. But like all other Sanskrit words; there is a rather distinct philosophical implication behind this compounded idea.

Samtosa, or Santosha means inner serenity; a lacking of cravings and desires; satisfaction in the present. In a way, it is less reactive and more sustainable than happiness, which would be more like the upward part of a mountain that has a valley beneath it. It is like a gentle hum in the background of life that keeps you excited for what comes next.

Minimization is important in the philosophies of santosha. Less things and obligations; more relationships, time with nature, etc. We have so much in the way of our happiness; how can we possibly enjoy ourselves if we don’t take any time to feel that way. Difficulty will always exist; especially with big challenges. Santosha exists in small moments; like taking your time to enjoy the first sip of coffee you have or to eat a decent breakfast.

Relinquishing expectations can also create a path for cultivating Santosha. This is something I’ve had to do with my own life in big ways; letting go of thinking that I would be a full-time yoga instructor; or that I was ready to start a landscaping business by myself have been big lessons for me. I am finding Santosha in the journey of creating these things in balance.

This concept, Santosha, has been a theme as I’ve started a new job at Bushnell’s landscaping service. It will be great to have steady work and will provide an excellent opportunity to learn from a successful, high quality tradesman.

Contentment is hard when you have to let go of a successful and fun yoga class. My Wednesday noon class at East Wind in Roseville always felt special, like a fun and welcoming place to come back to. However, transitioning that class to another teacher has been a long time in coming. I’ve had several projects where taking the time to teach yoga at noon has been very difficult. I still teach Tuesday evening 7pm and Sunday evening 5pm classes.

DALL·E & the E.T. - Job's loss (biblical)
DALL·E & the E.T. – Job’s loss (biblical)

I’d like to add another class or maybe two; I’d like to teach more yoga at the very beginning and the end of the day so we’ll see if that can work out this year!

EROS part 3 has also been slightly put on the back-burner; I am still finishing the music, just a lot slower than I was able to when I had all day to work on it. I have a couple more dnb tracks and a couple of house tracks to get out there. Some really cool sound designs on these! The new full- time job has been really time consuming, which is great! But I don’t get as much time for music so I’ll have to double down on sound design and melody writing after work.

Niyama #2

Santosha is the second of Patanjali’s Niyamas; it means contentment and also unison with what is; reality. Santosha is an ethical concept in Hindu philosophy. It is a tenet of yoga and corresponds to the mental state that you are trying to create with asana. With focus, you can create a state of santosha by moving through all the things that make you unhappy or dissatisfied and accepting them; or coming to terms with their conclusions.

Santosha means to be completely content with, or satisfied with, accepting and comfortable in what is. To be present to everything and happy with it. This creates a personal growth that allows you to be okay with anything that is happening around you. Similar to a tree growing ferociously on the side of a cliff.

5 Ways to Create Santosha in your life

Dall-E & the E.T. - Job's cosmic spiritual battle
Dall-E & the E.T. – Job’s cosmic spiritual battle
  1. appreciate difficulty in your journey
  2. entertain the point of view of others
  3. be nice, but don’t give away your attention
  4. create commitment and discipline
  5. learn to love your flaws and weaknesses

What does Santosha really mean

Santosha is a method for creating happiness. It is not complacency! It is a method for drawing contentment from within to make what is happening on the exterior irrelevant. So a lot of times, you have to spend time creating it; it won’t just appear after a moment on your mat. Sometimes you have to sit with it for a few hours, or do 2 yoga classes in a row. Meditating really helps too, but that is an internal relationship that has to be built up over time. You have to learn how to enjoy being in warrior 2 when you don’t want to be. You have to show up for it, then stick with it and accept your feelings as it happens. Yoga is just like a simulation or practice ground for what happens in life.

Santosha is really cultivating a space inside of yourself that is nice to come back to. Much of Indian philosophies relate nourishment and satisfaction to commitment and discipline. This commitment and focus to contentment and satisfaction is a self-fulfilling prophecy in many ways. I believe it is how there are so many people out there that are happy without excess.

Santosha is Deep Satisfaction

Santosha is within your control; you simply have to actively cultivate it. It is about the story in your mind and realizing that is a fabrication and it detracts from your fun! Our true power exists in our ability to act and create in the present moment; when we are lost in our story, we lose sight of that. This also means recognizing that our words do not have power over us; when someone else uses a specific word that grabs your attention, remember that you give it power by spending time focusing on it. Redirect your attention and it loses its power and more important its meaning. We are the creators of meaning in our lives by choosing what we spend our time doing and who we spend our time with so we have to make sure that we are doing things that we are passionate about!

References:
  1. Ekhart Yoga – Santosha
  2. Yoga International – Is Santosha (Contentment) Really Possible?
  3. Hindu American – 5 Things to know about OM
  4. Yogajala – Santosha
  5. shahzadpurfarmyoga.com – Samkhya Karika 50, Satisfaction is of 9 Types, 4 Internal & 5 External
  6. Wikipedia – Santosha

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The History and Origins of Christmas

Elliot’s Note about this article

this article is not meant to be exhaustive; the history of Christmas is an enormous subject with lots of cultural history from the civilizations throughout recorded time.

Christmas is primarily a christian holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus. However; it is speculated that the date of the 25th of December was chosen because it is exactly 9 months before the day of his conception, on March 25th which is the Spring Equinox. There is some evidence to suggest Jesus was actually born in December; however the sources aren’t very good[1]. Some believe that the celestial event of the star of Bethlehem, which could have been in June; or perhaps October[2]. The evidence isn’t clear, in my opinion. Generally Jesus is considered to have been born between 6-4 BCE because King Herod died in 4 BC.

When and Where was Jesus Born?

Jesus was most likely born in Bethlehem, a town in the West Bank in the Judean Hills of Jerusalem; currently this is contested by Israel and Palestine and not a good place to visit due to the Isaeli/Palestinian conflict (12/2023)[5]. The Church of the Nativity, built in the 4th century, is one of the oldest continuously used churches in the world founded by St. Justin Martyr, a 2nd-century Christian apologist.

I believe that it is likely that Jesus was born in Nazareth, his hometown, and that the journey to Bethlehem was added later to satisfy the Old Testament prediction which fulfilled the prophecy of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), which is currently debated by scholars. I don’t think there is enough evidence to truly know this. This account only exists in the book of Matthew and is supported by the gospel of Luke. Bethlehem, meaning “house of bread” in Hebrew, was known for its fertile land, which ensured bountiful harvests.

It is likely that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th. According to modern biblical scholars; there are two competing theories as to why this date was chosen for Christmas:

First, The “Calculation hypothesis” suggests that this date was calculated as nine months after March 25th, believed to be the day of Jesus’ conception.

Second, which I believe, the “History of Religions” hypothesis, proposes that the Church chose December 25th to coincide with Roman pagan festivals, particularly the birthday of the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus), a popular deity during the later Roman Empire.

There is no definitive evidence of the day of Jesus’ birth, although it is possible that it was December 25th.

A Strange Coincidence?

The festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the “birthday” of the unconquered sun, was celebrated on December 25th. This date later became significant in Christianity as it was chosen as the date to celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. The choice of this date for Christmas is often seen as a way to Christianize or replace the popular pagan festival. The worship of Sol Invictus may have influenced early Christian practices. The use of solar imagery in Christian iconography, as well as the adoption of December 25th for Christmas, are examples of possible intersections between the two traditions. After Constantine the Great embraced Christianity, the significance of Sol Invictus began to wane, although the cult continued for some time. Its legacy, however, can be seen in various aspects of Roman culture that persisted even after the adoption of Christianity as the empire’s state religion. The worship of Sol Invictus was established in Rome by Emperor Aurelian[6] in 274 AD, although the concept of a sun god was not new and had been a part of Roman religion in various forms. This particular cult combined aspects of earlier Roman sun gods like Sol with elements from other deities, especially from Eastern religions.

It is most likely that this holiday was created as a way to merge traditional paganism with the up-and-coming tenets and celebratory practices of Christians; but that’s just my opinion.

Christmas Trees, Decoration, and Lights

Evergreen Christmas Trees

have a fascinating history. Humans have worshipped, or appreciated trees for a very long time. The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the Devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.

In Germany placing a Yule tree at an entrance or inside the house during the midwinter holidays became popular in the 16th century, because of the garden of Eden mythos. It said believed that Protestant reformer Martin Luther was the first to add lighted candles to a tree, inspired by the starlit sky as he walked home one winter night. The Christmas tree symbolizes life and rebirth in the midst of winter. Early trees were adorned with fruits, nuts, and later, candles. The custom spread throughout Europe and was brought to America by German immigrants. It became enormously popular in the 19th century, especially in England after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were depicted in a published illustration with their decorated Christmas tree. Thanks Europe!

The Rise in popularity of Victorian Christmas Traditions

Henry Cole invented the Christmas Card in 1843

At the dawn of the 19th century, Christmas was hardly celebrated – at least, not in a way we would recognize today. It was Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the V&A, who introduced the idea of the Christmas card in 1843. Cole commissioned the artist J.C. Horsley to design a festive scene for his seasonal greeting cards and had 1000 printed (you can see the first cards here) – those he didn’t use himself were sold to the public. Later in the century, improvements to the chromolithographic printing process made buying and sending Christmas cards affordable for everyone.[10] Increased prosperity across Britain saw a rising market for mass-produced toys, decorations and novelty items such as the Christmas cracker. Inspired by bon bons (French sweets wrapped in paper) he saw during a trip to Paris, sweetshop owner Tom Smith first invented the cracker in the 1840s. It wasn’t until the 1860s, when Smith perfected its explosive ‘bang’ that the Christmas cracker as we know it today became a popular seasonal staple. Along with a joke, gifts inside could range from small trinkets such as whistles and miniature dolls to more substantial items like jewellery. The Victorian age placed great importance on family, so it follows that Christmas was celebrated at home. This creates a logical depiction of how and why we celebrate Christmas in the nuclear and extended family; the presents are stylistically very similar to what evolved during the Victorian era of Great Britain.

Lights at Christmas

The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while many German Americans continued to use apples, nuts and marzipan cookies. Stringed popcorn was added to trees’ decoration after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts. Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.[8]

The earliest lights were candles in the 17th century. This posed significant fire hazards and many tools were adopted to keep homes from burning down. Then, in 1882, Edward Johnson, Thomas Edison’s associate invented the first string of Christmas lights in red, white, and blue; three years after Edison invented the light bulb. Grover Cleveland displayed an electric lit Christmas tree in the White House in 1895, but adoption was still low due to the cost of lights. Once the cost of lights went down, they were widely adopted across the US and numerous technological advancements in lighting led to LED lights. Now, lights symbolize joy, celebration, and the bringing of light during the darkest time of the year. The story of Christmas lights is a testament to how technological advancements can transform cultural practices and create new traditions that last for generations.

Conclusion

From ancient Egypt to Bethlehem to modern America, from the birth of Jesus to celebrating the garden of Eden in Germany to making LED shows with high-tech lightning on giant evergreen trees; this is the history and evolution of the wonderful holiday we know as Christmas. Celebrate away humans! (if you have questions or additions, comment!)

References
  1. Wikipedia – Jesus’ Date of Birth
  2. LiveScience – When was Jesus Born?
  3. Britannica – Biography of Jesus
  4. Wikipedia – Chronology of Jesus
  5. Smart Traveller – Israel and Palestine Occupied Territories
  6. Wikipedia – Emperor Aurelian
  7. Britannica – Christmas Tree
  8. History.com – History of Christmas Trees
  9. National Geographic – History of Christmas Trees
  10. vam.ac.uk – Victorian Christmas Traditions
  11. Wikipedia – Sir Henry Cole
  12. The First Christmas Cards

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Aristotle’s Ethics, Karma, and the Philosophy of the Good

Aristotle lived from 384 B.C.E. to 322 B.C.E. He is widely regarded as one of the best philosophers of all time; up there with Plato and Socrates of Ancient Greece. For the sake of riling you up, I’m going to say that Socrates was the best philosopher in all aspects except one; his hubris. Socrates never wrote anything down. It is a shame that he did not make a greater contribution to the human race through a story, or some kind of literature for children. Just my two cents.

Modern Psychology

In modern psychology, the pursuit of knowledge is linked to a sense of fulfillment, purpose, and personal growth, which are key components of well-being and happiness. This is often referred to as “eudaimonic happiness,” and contrasts to “hedonic happiness,” which is based on pleasure and avoidance of pain. Happiness is probably a good goal for a human to have; and suffering seems to be an important way to get there. Our lives seem to be very balanced in how we view our successes and in contrast our suffering; perhaps a balance of both is what we are really looking for in our journey on Earth.

Socrates’ Skeptical View of Virtue

Socrates famously asserted that an unexamined life is not worth living, suggesting that understanding and knowledge are essential to a meaningful, ethical, and thus happy life. In Socrates view, true happiness comes from self-awareness and the continuous quest for knowledge.

Aristotle claims that there is a way to achieve this happiness. Happiness is achieved through pursuit of excellence and goodness. “Aristotle follows Socrates and Plato in taking the virtues to be central to a well-lived life. Like Plato, he regards the ethical virtues (justice, courage, temperance and so on) as complex rational, emotional and social skills.[3]” Ethics and morals are what make human societies possible.

Aristotle goes on to talk more specifically about how to create goodness, through fine art, construction, horsemanship, military strategy, flute playing, and home construction. He does have one more line that I think is very relevant to today’s society: “the end is some product over and above the mere exercise of the art; and in the arts whose ends are certain things beside the practice of the arts themselves, these products are essentially superior in value to the activities”. I think this can apply to construction in a big way, especially home building.

Aristotle’s views of desire intersect intriguingly with the concept of Maya in Hinduism; the illusion of perception. Aristotle goes further to say that all desire is futile and vain; the end must be the best good, ideally the supreme good (all caps), a concept we also see in the Hinduism; Moksha, or release from Samsara in death in the ultimate goal of life in Hinduism.

Ethics and Religion

Max Brückner  (1836–1919
Max Bruckner (1836-1918), The Walhalla, backdrop for the scenic design of The Ring of the Nibelungs by Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Bayreuth, Richard-…

In all of the religions on planet Earth, there are a few similarities in terms of the realms of reality and the afterlife. There is always some kind of hell: Naraka[5] in Jainism Buddhism and Hinduism, the Fields of Punishment in Ancient Greece, The 9 circles of hell in Dante’s inferno; in Islam, Jahannam is believed to be a space below the Earth, with physical, psychological, and spiritual punishments. There is also, always (except for Judaism), some kind of heaven: however it is usually dystopic. (except in the case of Christianity) In the eastern religions, the heavenly realms are chaotic; there is a titan/demigod realm in Buddhism where beings are very powerful and also conflict jealously with each other. Elysian fields, the Hall of Valhalla in Asgard, Tir na nOg in Celtic mythology, the Field of Reeds (Aaru) in Egyptian mythology, and the final abode of Jannah in Islam.

There is always a heavenly realm that humans enter from creating a good, or purposeful life; there is also the existence of a realm of great suffering that is granted to the wicked and immoral. All of these myths and legends and stories and religions can be applied to modern psychology through the lens of the Hero’s Journey and comparative mythology. They are a map to consciousness and what it is like to be a human being; they are all applicable to our lives in various ways, once we learn to look inwards.

A Map for Happiness

What we get out of all this is that religion, and more importantly the stories within are the ultimate guide to mental equilibrium in the contemporary world. The ethics embedded in religion, such as The 10 commandments are meant to provide us with a way for living a happy and fulfilled life. It teaches us how to interact with each other in a net-positive way, or a way that can benefit all of society, including ourselves. More and more research is being conducted and developed regarding interactions between humans as creating more overall satisfaction in life. We are indeed social animals that prefer to interact with each other in person. “we anticipate that an explicit recognition of the interactionist perspective will foster greater attention to the complexities of happiness, particularly in the domain of human sociality, which involves especially rich and potent webs of interaction”[19]. Some of this new research is very exciting for helping humanity to get more satisfaction out of life.

In the end, Karma and a good, productive life can’t be expressed for you; you have to create it.

Philosophical Concept list:

  1. phronesis – pactical wisdom
  2. arete – virtue
  3. eudaimonia – true happiness
  4. agape – unconditional love
  5. the Hero’s Journey – The continuous quest for knowledge
  6. ethical universalism
References:
  1. Wikipedia – Nicomachean Ethics
  2. MIT – Nicomachean Ethics
  3. Stanford.edu – Aristotle’s Ethics
  4. National Library of Medicine – On happiness and human potentials: a review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being
  5. Wikipedia – Naraka
  6. The ARC of the Hero’s Journey
  7. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – the Upanishads
  8. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Daoism
  9. Oxford Bibliographies – Upanishads
  10. OLL – Upanishads
  11. Britannica – Upanishads
  12. Open Stax – Daoism
  13. Stanford Encyclopedia – Daoism
  14. Oxford Bibliographies – religious traditions of China
  15. Hawaii.edu – Journal of Daoist studies
  16. Introduction to the Special Theme “Daoist Philosophy and Philosophical Daoism: Conceptual Distinctions”
  17. The Perseus Project – Aristotle
  18. Wikipedia – Jannaham
  19. The Human Journal of Well-Being – Happiness: An Interactionist Perspective
  20. study.com – Hubris in Greek Mythology

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The_School_of_Athens_by_Raffaello_Sanzio_da_Urbino

Socrates and the Importance of Skepticism in the Modern World

Lysippos’ Socrates

It has never been more important to question what is happening in today’s society; the news, entertainment, commercials, and the advent of A.I. is propelling us towards a world where people will believe almost anything easily and readily. In this new world, it is important to be skeptical of everything and to question all of the information that you receive. This is one of the fundamental aspects of epistemology or theory of knowledge and is core to western philosophy.

Once upon a time, in ancient Athens, there was a man who walked around owning nothing and arguing with everybody about how dumb they were. He birthed the philosophical movement of skepticism. He might be one of the few humans in all of history that was uncorrupted by money and power. His name, was Socrates.

Born of a stone-cutter and a midwife in 469, Socrates particularly liked to argue with a group of people who called themselves Sophists. They were the lawyers of ancient Greece; orators, public speakers, mouths for hire in an oral culture. His arguments with the sophists became the basis for logic and dialogues and influenced the youth of Athenian society, ultimately leading to his death.

Socrates was extremely disruptive to Athenian society, but he didn’t write anything down. He was remembered by his students, Plato and Xenophon through their work who each had different account of Socrates. He is credited with founding western philosophy through his student Plato and his student, Aristotle and is also credited with founding epistemology through his Socratic method, which was largely based on incubation and midwifery.

Indeed the Oracle of Delphi claimed there was no wiser man alive. He was also a veteran of the Peloponnesian war.

He was polarizing and disruptive figure in Athenian society, so much so that he was sentenced to death for impiety and corrupting youth. He spent his last days in prison, refusing offers to help him escape, which is recored in Plato’s Apology and Xenophon’s Apologia.

The Imprisonment of Socrates

is also recorded in Plato’s Crito, who was a rich Athenian that came to aid Socrates while he was imprisoned. He told a very calm and collected and even happy Socrates that he was to be sentenced to death. Socrates responded with his visions of a dream of a goddess and her calling him to Phthia which is a reference to the Illiad, and was the home of Achilles.

Socrates (rubbing chin) and Plato (under tree) from a mosaic from Pompeii

One of the most powerful things that Socrates says is that opinions of the educated should be taken into consideration and that the opinions of those with subjective biases or beliefs may be disregarded. Likewise, the popularity of an opinion does not make it valid. Socrates uses the analogy of an athlete listening to his physician rather than his supporters because the physician’s knowledge makes his opinion more valuable.[20] The dialogue becomes lengthy and ends with Socrates refusing Crito’s help for the greater good of Athenian Society.

This gives us some brief insight into the life of Socrates and his insights into society, justice, and logic.

The Athenian Trial of Socrates

Socrates was an incredible human. He refused to escape prison until his dying breath and his trial still puzzles historians in the biggest way. The trial of Socrates in 399 BC contained two charges: asabeia (impiety) and the corruption of the youth of the city state of Athens. He was basically questioning the authority of the local government through their religious practices. His elenctic method of questioning was imitated by the youth and was a threat to the credibility of his competitor intellectuals credibility of men of wisdom and virtue. His trial lasted a day and he willingly drank poisoned hemlock to end it all; happily ending his life for the city that he believed in. Socrates’ death as described in Crito corresponds very closely to the Hindu concept of Moksa, or the release of a soul from Samsara after death in that he was released from the cycles of death and rebirth by breaking his karmic cycle.

We should all aim to be more like Socrates, willing to sacrifice ourselves for the greater good of our fellow man and for the youth of our society. Our karmic legacy is all that will endure.

THE END
Header Image by artiphoria.ai (thanks!)

References:

  1. Wikipedia – Socrates
  2. Queensorough Community College – Sophists
  3. MIT – Classics – Crito by Plato
  4. Famous Trials – Socrates
  5. Wikipedia – Socratic Method
  6. IPL – Socrates’ and Epistemology

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"Konfuzius-laozi" by Shih K'ang - http://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/Reln471/pix.htm. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Konfuzius-laozi.jpg#/media/File:Konfuzius-LaoTse.jpg

Lao Tse | 李耳 – The Founder of the Philosophy of Taoism

Lao Tse, The First Taoist

Lao Tse, Laozi, Lao-Tzu, Lao-Tze, or Laozi was a philosopher and poet in ancient China who is best known for founding Taoism by writing the Tao Te Ching. He is a deity in certain traditions and probably lived around 4-500 BCE, but is often dated to the time of Confucius  at 600 BCE. Lao Tse is one of the great teachers and influencers of early eastern philosophy and helped to give foundation to the great traditions of the East. He famously said, “Be still like the mountain and flow like a great river.” (his work is riddled with allegory and word plays)

Lao Tse is a title meaning “venerable” “master. Many scholars argue that he was many people rather than one, but most ancient texts mention him in 600 BCE. The first copy of the Tao Te Ching is from 400 BCE. In any case, Lao Tse is said to have spent his life revealing the Tao. Much of his work after his death was used by anti-authoritarian establishments throughout history.

Er Li was a scholar and Alan Watts believes that he was the man that we know as the great master, but other scholars have argued that the figure of Lao Tse must have been many people. He was mentioned by several historical texts after his death.

According to tradition, Laozi studied in the royal court of Zhou and attracted large numbers of people, legends tell of an encounter with Confucius, but Lao Tse never opened a school.

One story says that Laozi is a hermit who lived in the woods until he was 160 years old. One day he was stopped by Yinxi at a gate and Yinxi asked Laozi to record his wisdom. He wrote the Tao Te Ching in response. Many stories then tell of Laozi traveling all the way to India to teach the Buddha. Some say that he was the Buddha.

The Tao Te Ching is one of the most powerful works in Chinese history. It describes the Tao as the source and ideal of all existence and all of nature flows from it, so when humans defy their nature, they separate themselves from the flow of the Tao.

Laozi said that technology brings about a false sense of progress and taught about a method of existence called Wu-Wei, or non-action. What it really means is flowing with the moment, not forcing, acting spontaneously, not doing anything, or creating nothingness.

Zhuangzi was Laozi’s disciple and was a central authority to monastic life amongst normal populations and drifting anonymously though society. Some modern politicians think that Laozi was the first libertarian, believing that people should be allowed to govern themselves loosely and without much governmental structure.

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yoga_dancer's_pose

The True Meaning of Yoga

Yoga provides exercises and experiences that allow you to experience life more fully and vitally. This means that the breathing exercises, stretches, calisthenics, abdominals, standing poses, back-bend, inversion, spinal twists, and hip-openers that you do during a yoga class are pretty useless by themselves. The idea is that they free you up inside to be present to everyday life and can therefore appreciate everything a little bit more and make you healthier to enjoy them. I think this is why looking at pictures of people doing yoga can feel so hollow, there is so much going on in that simple picture and you can’t really see the after effects of what the yoga is doing.

A human being performing an asana, or a positive postural alignment of their body is an incredible thing, if simply because the human being is alive and functioning in the compromised position, especially if they are doing ujjayi breathing. When you start to combine muscular stretches and skeletal alignments to focused the consciousness of that human in asana, postures can assist their body in realigning, strengthening, increasing flexibility and endurance. Yoga does this by innervating muscles that may not normally be flexed or contracted and distributing weight evenly among muscle groups while inversions provide your circulatory system with some much-needed filtration and release from gravity’s constant pressure. Yoga can help your body to recover from intense exercise and to stay young by keeping the fluid systems functioning properly.

Yoga is much more than an ancient Indian philosophy because it has evolved alongside American culture in today’s world, even if it is very romanticized in much of the western world’s culture of yoga studios, classes, teachers, etc. It is a part of the West’s culture now in a way that people really do appreciate and take advantage of in a good way. It is also a part of Hinduism and may be very old in India.

From science we have learned that the biggest benefits of yoga are usually the stress releases. Yoga is a powerful tool for mental and physical sensitivity, meaning that it gives you a good idea of how functional parts of your body are and how much endurance you have. It is especially useful in aligning nerves, which is why lots of people with sciatica find relief in yoga. We are just beginning to explore the effects of exercises such as headstand, shoulderstand, back-bends like camel pose, reclined hero pose, wheel pose, bow pose are all extremely powerful postures that science still has a lot to learn about. But it seems to have huge effects on nearly every system in the body because of the controlled levels of stress input and release and overall stimulation and fitness of the body’s muscular systems.

Yoga becomes an aspect of appreciating life. Sometimes yoga may come and go and I really think everyone experiences a little of this from time to time and that it isn’t a big deal. Sometimes life is just good and we are very happy and yoga can be in the background for a while, especially if everything is really good. But yoga is something that doesn’t really leave you. When you stand up straight, when you stretch your back while standing in line, the yoga is still a part of how you do things if you internalize it. The #yogaeverydamnday hashtag is kind of funny because I don’t think anyone does yoga 365 times a year. Even Ashtangis are supposed take the full moon of every month off.

Yoga doesn’t have to be something very formal, we don’t even really know much about the origins of what we practice now. Its not super religious, or ultra sacred, or anything more than what you want to make of it. You can practice in small quantities by yourself at home to really get things moving for your body in terms of flexibility and mobility. Teachers are good for more advanced things like inversions, breathing exercises, or advanced arm balances and advising you on how to advance in your practice. But its also something you can learn on your own and that can provide stability or whatever you may need it to be.

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Biggest Hindu Temple: Akshardham (the Hindusim & the Caste system)

The 5 Major Problems with Hinduism (esp. the Caste System)

Modern Hinduism

As humans, we like to idealize about things that we don’t necessarily experience. The grass is always greener where you aren’t.

Recently, this has occurred quite often in the way that Westerners view eastern religions in the yoga community. I definitely experienced this before I saw the religions in action when I visited southeast Asia.

Hinduism is one of the oldest religions on the planet and is the primary religion in Southeast Asia and India. It is the world’s third largest religion, after Islam and Christianity with one billion followers.

Hinduism is far more of an aggregation of diverse traditions, rituals, and philosophies rather than an organized religion. Despite this traditional disparity, which has unified since ancient times, modern Hindu philosophers have helped to universalize the religion into several core concepts:

  • There is a divine nature in all beings
  • Dharma and right living
  • Social Justice
  • Peace
  • Shared sacred literature

Together, these concepts combine to make up the modern philosophical view of the Hindu religion, which is really more of a category of rituals and traditions than an organized religion. The diversity of the religion is astounding.

Hinduism has had a profound effect upon India and has helped to form the social and cultural norms that have spread throughout southeast Asia. In reconciling the religion’s philosophical ideals with the modern culture of India and other Asian countries we can start to see some major problems with the religion’s traditions in regards to the functioning of humanity within their society.

These problems begin to show up in the structure of a society, as well as cultural tendencies, individual habits, and norms that are commonly accepted by the population. The following are the six major problems with the philosophical tradition:

  1. The Caste System
  2. Ahimsa
  3. Samsara
  4. Moksha
  5. Marriage
  6. Responsibility

The Caste System

The caste system, or separation of classes is probably the largest problem within the Hindu philosophies. People are born into their caste and cannot change it. There are five social classes defined by the Vedic philosophies: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, and Dalits. Varna, meaning class, and Jati, meaning caste, will help us to understand how the caste system is structured and implemented.

Brahmins are priests and teachers and are engaged in obtaining the “highest” spiritual knowledge. They are traditionally holy men with training from the age of 5, but can also be warriors, fishers, or other such professions. One usually continues the profession of their father and ancestors.

Kshatriyas are military elite and rulers. During wartime they protect and during peaceful times they rule. These were typically not chiefs, but the ruling elite.

Vaishyas were the class of farmers and cattle rearers until the more modern period where they transitioned to become money lenders, traders, and land-owners. There are lots of sub-castes in Vaishyas and there have been revolts by the class throughout history.

Shudras are the final caste in the system besides untouchables, or Dalits. Their duty and function is to serve the other castes, which has many potential problems for the members of the class. Some scholars believe that members of the caste were rejected by the other classes and therefore became the lowest class on the metaphorical totem pole.

Dalits are arguably not a caste, but rather untouchables and those rejected by society at large and make up about 20% of the population. India has passed several laws to protect this group of people because they are historically very discriminated against. They are also known as the casteless people.

One is born into a caste based on their family and are derived based on their occupation, though it wasn’t always the caste (get it?). The modern version of the caste system is a result of the colonial British Empire and served to provide administrative structure for the regime. It is essentially similar to slavery and modern India’s government has fought this discrimination with affirmative action, job reservations, and government jobs for the lower castes.

It’s pretty easy to see how the caste system promotes slavish living conditions and discrimination. It has influenced other religions and other countries, especially in the Indian subcontinent and is very visible in the social structures of most of the southeast asian countries. The promotion of the caste system is the biggest problem in Hinduism.

Ahimsa

Ahimsa is the concept of non-harm and means not to injure and applies to all living beings. Although the concept has many positive functions in human society, it promotes passivity for injustice and is probably one of the largest contributors to the reason that the caste system exists at all. Non-harm in nature is not possible, as the consumption of living matter is completely necessary for the sustenance of life. I am not saying that peacefulness isn’t possible, but life itself is somewhat of a violent process.

Certain individuals require meat for optimal nutrition. Animals shouldn’t feel guilty about living according to their nature, which humans have defined as immoral. So Ahimsa is a great ideal and peace is something we all should strive for, but it’s not necessarily possible in the reality we live in. Even your body is a battlefield for bacteria and micro-organisms. It is simply the way of things in the world.

The concept itself beckons respect for all of life. This is something that is very positive, as it denotes appreciation and promotes consideration of the divinity of all beings. Therefore, if you hurt a living being, you hurt yourself, according to the concept. However, in practice, you must injure other beings to feed yourself. Plants, trees, fish, and all of life is used for humanity to prosper so why are animals different?

Essentially, Ahimsa renders people very peaceful, which is positive, but it can also lead to passivity and acceptance of things that probably should not be acceptable. An example of this is the caste system. As we go down this list, you will start to see some patterns arising that play off of each other and contribute to a climate that is the Hindu religion in modern India. Gandhi was one of the primary promoters of Ahimsa.

Samsara

Samsara is the repeating cycle of birth, death, and rebirth believed by most eastern religions. The idea is that your current life is one of many past and future lives that all affect what you are experiencing now. Karma is what affects your destiny, but the Buddha taught that there was no beginning to the cycle, just an end that comes with Moksha, or liberation from the cycles of deaths and rebirths.

Obviously, this can breed complacency in life as well. There is no evidence to suggest that any of this is real (subjective data is not evidence) and it can lead, again, to acceptance of behaviors and circumstances that might otherwise be fought against. It also takes away from the present moment and can allow an individual to blame circumstances outside of reality for their current predicaments.

Moksha

Moksha is the concept of liberation from Samsara. This is the end goal of the Hindu ascetic’s karma and life. This is essentially an equivalent to heaven for the Hindu and denotes enlightenment, though it differs from the Buddhist ideals of enlightenment because in the Hindu religion, Moksha requires death. It represents self-knowledge, self-realization, and freedom, but also the completion of a fulfilled life of Dharma.

Again, this can create complacency, but on the flip side it can create acceptance for difficult circumstances and hope for the future. It also lends itself to an idealization of the end of life, rather than the present which can be negative. Moksha is a powerful idea, but again there is no evidence to suggest that reality does in fact work this way, so it can lead to delusional behavior.

Marriage

Hindu marriage is a traditional union where two individuals join together to pursue Dharma and Moksha and is recognized by law. Consummation is normally required for the marriage to be validated and most rituals lead to the consummation of the marriage. Marriage is normally arranged by the family, but is not necessarily an indicator of higher divorce rates, or unhappiness in the relationship. Modern India is changing this, as individuals are starting to appreciate choosing their spouse, rather than having their marriage arranged.

Marriages are arranged according to a variety of factors including: astrology, genealogical records, parental relationships, and wealth. Normally, parents arrange the marriage, but in modern urban India, this is changing rapidly.

There are eight types of Hindu marriage, but their differences are mostly ritualistic in nature. Divorce is supposedly extremely rare in Indian marriages.

The biggest problem with Hindu marriage is that there is almost no choice in the relationship. Though many individuals are happy, there are certainly those that aren’t and that are required by their culture and religion to maintain the relationship. If you take the view that marriage should always be eternal this might be a positive thing, but if you believe in free-will and individual happiness you might think this is negative. Hindus tend to be very accepting of their marital circumstances so normally they don’t disclose the circumstances of their relationship freely and tend to be oppressed because of gender roles in India.

Conclusion

There are always positive and negative aspects of philosophical concepts, depending upon how they are implemented. Many of these problems can also be very positive, such as increasing acceptance of circumstances and ability to cope with harsh realities. However, some also lead to very negative things, such as not caring about the environment, massive pollution, separation of people by genealogy, and extreme poverty for those who are not accepted by the culture’s standards. Discrimination is relatively normal in the Hindu religion and especially in southeast Asia and the Hindu religion definitely contributes to this.

Many aspects of Hinduism are positive, but these are the major negative issues with the religion. Philosophy is often paradoxical, so if anything is unclear please comment below. Additions are also always welcome!

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rickshaw Dhaka

Acceptance

There is a certain point where I realized that there was nothing I could do to save anyone. There’s no saving. There’s always suffering. And thinking otherwise is simply idealizing and overgeneralizing.

Suffering is an unavoidable aspect of this world. You are not a victim, but instead an inhabitant; viewing suffering as against you or attacking you will only increase its power.

Instead we should acknowledge our state of suffering and enjoy it; if everything was easy, life would be so boring, so monotonous, so pointless. We wouldn’t have to learn, adapt, change our behaviors, or do all of the amazing things that humans do.

Accepting the state of suffering is the only freedom we have in the world. To enjoy the sun, a nice meal, the people around you, despite where you are, the ailments you have, or the desires that go unfulfilled. No one can do it for you. And the experiences of others are pretty irrelevant to you; you are a world in and of itself. A consumer of the highest order, no matter what you forego when you eat or the type of lifestyle you live. Accepting this leads is a key to realizing what you are. To know the truth is to set yourself free from the hatred of suffering, instead you are able to enjoy it.

When times get hard, appreciate them. This is the forge of character, shaping your being into what you need to be here. When times are easy, be grateful. Ultimately, gratitude is the greatest gift you can give yourself. With it, you are free to accept your suffering as an aspect of reality instead of fighting and pushing your self deeper into states of anger, frustration, greed, and jealousy.

Acceptance and gratitude together are freedom that only we can give ourselves. No one is going to save you or do it for you. Eventually, we will all be gone. Clinging never helped anyone that was too heavy. We will all fall in the end. Enjoy the climb.

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