Monday, February 28, 2011

Inner Joy

The planet we live in, and the universe beyond has both beautiful and ugly things. Deep within us one may find the connection to the beautiful and joyous side of the universe. One may find this connection in a quiet moment beside a clear lake, in a beautiful green forest, in the company of a loved one, in meditation, sitting or lying in bed. Once we have found this connection it is possible to return to it frequently at will even when one is not in a green valley or in the company of a loved one. This inner bliss does not need a thing or place to connect to, although at first beautiful things may help us to make the connection. It needs a mind that is relatively free of thoughts, sense inputs and a consciousness that just experiences. The joy that comes from sense inputs is a temporary and different one. This joy is difficult to describe in words but wonderful to experience. It is free of fear, even fear of death because it knows that this consciousness and this universe of which it is a part will always be there, constantly changing yet unchanged at its essential core. Dear friends, I hope that you too have experienced this joy, or will do so soon, and can make a connection to it often.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Myth that Fruits, Flowers and Trees do not grow in Salt Water

Whereas most humans recognize that we live on an extremely beautiful planet consisting of mountains, oceans, rivers, forests and grasslands, most humans also recognize that some very ugly spots have developed on our planet as a result of adverse human activity. No other species on the planet has scarred the land more than humans through felled forests, jungles of concretes and unsanitary filthy human habitations. At the same time humans have the capabilities to restore the planet or parts of it to a healthy green state. One myth that stands in the way of greening the Earth is that trees and flowers do not grow in salt water and salty soils. Nothing could be further from the truth. While it is true that a large number of plants do not survive in salt water, there are also a very large number of plants that do rather well in saline conditions. The myth that plants do not grow in salty conditions needs to be busted. If it was so, the ocean floors would not be teeming with life.

Coconut palm, sea grape, pine oak, white ash,red cedar and the saw palmetto are all highly salt tolerant trees. No beach scene is complete without a coconut tree and these are excellent choices for planting near the sea, as are true date palms. Acacia Cyclops and Acacia Stenophylla will tolerate extreme salinity. There are madronas growing directly on salt-water sandspits and it is said, they won't grow unless within smelling distance of saltwater. It grows in climates ranging from those of California to Scotland. Salt cedar and salt bush do so well with salt they can be used to remove salt from the soil. The Beach Plum grows on the sand, along with Rosa Rugusa,which come in different sizes and colors. It is a fast-growing, giant evergreen, reaching 250'; and 6' in diameter, the Sitka spruce favors both freshwater and saltwater wetland areas where it often dominates. It is found along the Pacific coast from central Alaska to northern California and is common in Southern Alaska and northern British Columbia. It has has been introduced in Britain.

Ponderosa Pine is a magnificent, three-needle yellow pine. It grows rapidly, reaching 200 feet; with widths of 30 feet. They are excellent specimens for coastal planting, being very tolerant of salt spray. Pinus contorta is a fast growing, two-needle yellow pine closely related to Lodgepole pine. It is highly tolerant of poor soils and saline conditions, it occurs in the wild on sandy bluffs along the seashore and also in peat bogs at higher elevations, where it becomes a natural bonsai. Salix hookeriana (Hooker's Willow) is a a stout, stiffly branched shrub or small tree, to 20 ft, 4" showy catkins. It grows well near salt water.

Even some flowers can do well with saline water. Ice plant produces striking flowers and is an effective ground cover for erosion control on sandy soil. Other flowers that grow in saline water include sunflowers, groundcover gardenia and hellebore. Statice, also called sea flower or limonium, can even be grown successfully along the highly saline Dead Sea coast. Bougainvillea, jasmine and oleander tolerate saline conditions. Pomegranates are said to perform well in salty conditions too. In countries where drought is common and fresh water is lacking, it is becoming increasingly necessary to develop strains of saline-tolerant food plants. Researchers have successfully created strains of beets, spinach, sugarcane and rice that grow where the saline water table is high. Oil crops like rapeseed and livestock fodder such as sweet clover, white clover and lucerne can also be grown in saline conditions.

The list of plants that will grow in salty conditions as indicated here is by no means exhaustive. Even a cursory search on the Internet will reveal more. What is needed in different parts of the world where saline conditions exist and where only salt water is available for irrigation is to create experimental nurseries where different plants are grown in salt water so as to discover which do the best in the area. These can then be propogated in surrounding areas. With human ingenuity there is absolutely no reason why the Sahara and other regions near sea coasts that are presently barren should continue to remain so. The Arab countries need not be desert countries. A democratic revolution is on in the Arab world. Hopefully it will be followed by a green revolution.

A side benefit of growing such salt water forests will be that they will result in carbon capture from the atmosphere and help improve climate on the planet. Some recent studies indicate that climate extremes may be due to to reducing tree cover on the planet rather than increased carbon dioxide. Either way more trees and green will help. Therefore there is a need for the entire world to contribute in improving the planet as a whole. Perhaps it is for countries like Australia that have suffered the most from climate change to play a leading role in organising such international efforts. Much more results will be produced in this direction than in failed attempts to cap carbon emissions through burning of fossil fuels. That is something that will take place on its own as we run out of fossil fuels. The greening of the planet on the other hand will not take place for a long time unless man intervenes actively.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How Humans Punish Themselves and Each Other

Shyamu with his son Golu in the garden
By chance, this morning, I examined the dining room cupboard that stores various items of crockery, cups and glasses etc. that are used on special occasions. The crockery that we use on a daily basis is kept in the kitchen. Probably more than five years have passed since I gave the contents of this cupboard a good look. To my surprise the cupboard has much unnecessary stuff, some that will probably never be needed during my lifetime. The story is not very different in the other cupboards, closets and stores of my home. Fortunately, the home is large enough so that all the stuff can be stacked away neatly, out of sight, and not cause clutter. I am also fortunate enough to have an extremely efficient domestic aide – Shyamu – who takes care of storing everything neatly and retrieving an item whenever required. However, now I am beginning to question the very basis of having acquired all the stuff in the first place. Everything that one possesses occupies a portion of one’s psyche, even if ignored. It is an unnecessary burden that one can do without. I do not deny that there are some advantages in owning stuff. One can produce the right cup or glass for the right occasion when the occasion arises – once in five years. It is also true that one does not have to run down to shop for more when an item of clothing or linen gets worn out. Another brand new set is found in the closets to replace the discarded item. But then, crockery can be improvised for an occasion, even a plastic cup would do and a home should really not be a shop. If a particular glass or cup is needed for a rare occasion it is not too hard to make a trip to the store once in ten years. Storing it at home means that the cupboards have to be cleaned and dusted carefully every so often. Rebb, has mentioned in her blog, how she has dealt with clutter wisely – just discarded it.

In contrast, one may envy a Buddhist Monk. His possessions are no more than a light cotton shoulder bag with which he can move from monastery to monastery scattered across the scenic Himalayas. It is not so with just monks. The newspaper recently carried a story of a highly successful financial analyst who possesses no more than a suitcase. He has to travel frequently and these meager possessions serve him very well as he moves from one hotel accommodation to another or a furnished dwelling for longer sojourns in a city. He is always nearly as well dressed as a Buddhist monk because he discards his crisp white shirts for new replacements as frequently as he can. The Buddhist monks too find clean new robes hanging on pegs outside the baths in their monasteries, whenever they need one. Another group of specialized monks manages that chore as all share in the duties of running a monastery.

Reflecting further on the rationale for my acquiring assorted possessions originally, I realized it was because of the widely held social belief that a happy home is one filled with stuff. With experience however, I realize that nothing can be further from the truth and that the Buddhist monks who proclaim that possession tie a person down and compromise happiness are right.

There are also a number of other beliefs that humans have propagated with gusto in order to punish themselves and each other. For example, a common blessing of one human to another they love is that they should have a long life – May you live for a hundred years. A good deal of money is spent on research and potions to enhance longevity and countries with the highest longevity figures are touted as those having the best quality of life. Observe a small child or infant though, and you will find how delighted they are with life and every new thing that they discover. My year old grandson (Shyamu's son) squeals with delight at every visit to the garden. Every flower, piece of stick, bird or insect he spots is an object of wonder and Joy to him. However, with every passing year this natural joy diminishes for a majority of humans. Certainly there are exceptions because every human life is different, but in the majority of cases the younger the person the more joyous life is. With advancing years come many sorrows, diminished energy and health so that for the very long lived persons even simple tasks like a visit to the toilet becomes a chore. In reality we do not bless anyone by wishing them a long life but rather punish them. If one believes in reincarnation, or a second life, as most mystics and spiritually inclined persons do, then the justifications for a long life are even fewer. It is best to enjoy the nicest parts of dinner on a plate and move on to a fresh plate rather finish the unpalatable side dishes.

In an earlier post I described how humans are afraid of heart disease and how the medical industry makes a great deal out of this fear. In reality there could be no bigger blessing than a person who leaves this world for greener pastures after a sudden heart collapse during sleep or otherwise. The alternative for others is to suffer a prolonged illness, pain and eventual cardiac arrest, as inevitable as the fact that we ever lived. Does it make sense to have a cardiac arrest after much pain and agony or suddenly without any pain or warning? Is heart disease a blessing or a curse?

Human Societies also make much virtue out of hope and expectations. Proverbs such as, “ where there is hope there is life” are widely circulated. Spiritual wisdom on the other hand suggests that at any given moment everything is exactly the way it should be and happiness lies in contentment. Expectations are the route to sorrow. Accordingly, the right way to live is to engage oneself in performing perceived duties and doing the right thing at all times, leaving the results and outcome in the hands of nature and expressing gratefulness and contentment with the decision of the Universe whatever it may be. Certainly one may come to the intelligent conclusion that a different outcome would have been preferable but then the route to it might be making a change within rather than without so that the universe leads one to a different outcome of an effort made.

The voice of the spiritualist is a voice in the wilderness.

More on the psychological and spiritual impact of our possessions is here

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Beautiful Definition of God

God has been defined in this blog in several places as everything there is, the entire universe and even beyond if there is anything beyond the universe, both the seen and unseen aspects of the universe. However that is a rather bland definition, perhaps a bit scientific. A new beautiful definition of God by Vincent has appeared at

A Presence, an attentive Presence, there in times of need; the need to give thanks and the need to beg, and the need to surrender one’s life to something higher.

I fully agree with this definition and cannot  improve upon it or perhaps a just bit by adding the additional words “A loving, truthful and attentive Presence, all powerful and fully in control of everything that happens in the universe instead of just an attentive presence. But perhaps then the definition would become cumbersome and lose some of its beauty. There is much older post in this blog about God here or if one is an atheist over here

The photo is from