Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Full of Sound and Fury, and Little Else (UPDATED: Action I've Taken)

Namaste readers. I'm probably guilty of preaching to the converted here, but in the off chance someone from outside my usual reader list sees this, I have something to say about the recent shooting in San Bernardino, California. It's wrong, obviously, but what I have to say needs to be said in light of it.

To those people who insist on making snarky, spiteful comments on social media, be it that Facebook, that stupid bird Twitter, or elsewhere, towards anyone when tragedy strikes like that in San Bernardino, CA, I have one thing to say to you.

YOU'RE NOT HELPING. Seriously. If you know one person who's been changed by your vitriol on social media, tell me now and I'll take down this post.

What we really need to do is stop making comments on social media about events like this (I know, I'm guilty of it myself, but there's a point I'm trying to make) and actually DO something about them. Unless you're famous, the only people listening to such comments are friends who agree with you anyway. So what good will it do? Stop preaching to just the converted and lead by example.

If you want something done about this, do something yourself. Attend a rally. Donate to an organization. Write to your representatives. Do something besides complain. By complaining on social media all you're doing is spreading the grief, sadness, and sometimes hate around. You might as well be one of the people using the pray-for hashtag.

I challenge everyone who reads this post to do something concrete about this problem. I'll post what I do myself on this blog. I'm not directing this to anyone personally. I'm just sick of seeing empty threats on social media making things even more toxic than they already are.

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

I promised that I would post what action I take against mass shootings like those in San Bernardino, and I'm posting what I just did.

I contacted the NRA directly, via their "Contact Us" webpage (which can be found at https://www.nraila.org/contact-nra-ila/) and I said in no small words that they need to allow gun control if they are to be taken seriously as an organization. My words are below:

"Hello NRA,

My name is Phillip Miner and I am a concerned citizen from Rochester, NY. And yes, while I may be writing in direct response to the most recent San Bernardino shooting in California, I'm not writing to say guns should be completely banned. What I am writing to you about is your seeming contradictory policies about supposedly preventing guns from falling into the wrong hands, and yet opposing any legislation that would do so.

There are common sense gun laws that should be enacted which would be in accordance with what you already preach to some extent about gun safety. I'm sure you're in agreement when I say that not everyone should have a gun - in particular those who intend on using them against actual people (convicted felons or those with mental health issues for example).

There are people who would endorse such common sense gun legislation without wanting to ban all guns. One such article that takes such a viewpoint is from the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/3fd8cb80-735f-11e5-9cbb-79…). In that article, there are three proposals that would do precisely what you say about keeping guns out of the hands of the wrong people:

  • National Permit to Purchase, including a background check.
  • Denying firearms to those likely to commit crimes with them, such as those convicted of domestic violence or other crimes which could escalate with firearms.
  • Making guns safer by implementing devices that would only allow them to be fired by the authorized user.

And yet, the NRA seems to take a stance to oppose all gun legislation, even those that stop way short of total gun confiscation. This seems contradictory to those goals the NRA supposedly preaches about.

And I've seen some of your messages about gun safety. I remember one famous infomercial by your organization that says, quite clearly to children watching it, "if you see a gun, don't touch it. Tell an adult."

If the NRA really has any concern about keeping guns out of the hands of the wrong people, then shouldn't it practice what it preaches and at least not block such common-sense gun legislation?

Think about this next time you gear up to take political action. Accepting some common-sense gun control legislation would do more to help your organization than just sticking to utter denial. Some people cannot be allowed to own a gun - if you truly believe that, put your money where your mouth is."

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Little Recommendation

Namaste readers! I know I haven't posted in a while and I do apologize about that. I don't know if the previous issue I posted about has come to any conclusion or not, and ergo I also apologize for the lack of updates about it. That being said, I want to talk about something happier for a change. :)

Those who read this blog know of my love for one particular divine figure in Hinduism - Shri Ganesha. He is the One who helps me get through everyday life, and I would be much worse off without Him. I've come to understand Ganesha through years of real world experience - that is, through my real life, of going to temples, interacting with His devotees (online and off), and studying everything related to Ganesha.

This experience I've gotten turned out to be the best for me. But to know Shri Ganesha better, there are many methods, and I want to tell you about one particular method I've found that I think can be useful for those who want to move closer to Ganesha - The Ganesha Experience.

To clarify - The Ganesha Experience has free information on Ganesha right on the front page. To my knowledge it is accurate, and there are ways it mentions to apply the wisdom in teachings about Ganesha to everyday life. The site also offers in-depth video courses that teach all about Shri Ganesha, and the philosophy, wisdom, and mythology associated with Him. These courses do cost money, but they might benefit those who really need knowledge of Ganesha presented in a structured educational format, as opposed to finding it all out on one's own (especially with all the misinformation on the internet).

Learning about Ganesha through this site and/or its courses is not going to automatically solve all your problems. But it can help you deal with them in a better, more uplifting way. At any rate, it does have free information on Ganesha, so going to the above link won't cost you anything, and you might learn something.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Support Deborah Schoenfeld and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation!

Namaste readers. The following blog post is going to be quite serious.

If the regulars to this blog know one thing about me, it's that one fundamental belief of mine is that any human should be allowed to become whoever they want to be, provided they don't hurt others on their path to doing so. I am a firm believer in freedom of association in that regard. It is this fundamental freedom belief of mine that has motivated me to become Hindu.

So when this freedom is denied to others, there is no surer way to boil my blood. This has happened recently with a US military service member, Deborah Schoenfeld, who was fired from a military dental clinic for being Hindu and practicing yoga.

Among the various forms of harassment she has faced:

  • Being called a "witch"
  • Accused of "summoning demons"
  • Admonished that she was going to "lose her soul"

This makes me angry on so many levels, for reasons that should be obvious by now. The fact that other white people want to stop whites from "being less white" is racist beyond belief, which is obvious but needs to be said. I've sometimes faced resistance myself from other white people in my community for being a religion other than Christian, and I've faced that kind of hate in far greater quantity than from people of Indian origin thinking I could never be a Hindu.

Thankfully, there is an organization that is doing something about this, an organization dedicated to fighting religious bigotry in the military. They are called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and they are made up of both US military and civilian members that fight to make sure church and state remain separated.

And you can help them out. The most direct way you can help them out is by donating to their cause. I would encourage anyone who believes in personal freedom to help this cause and fight this grave injustice.

(Please note that I am not affiliated with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation - the statements I make here are not necessarily representative of their viewpoints. I just happen to agree with them.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Time Keeps on Slipping

Namaste readers! Today I want all of you to ponder this question:

How long is a day to God(s)?

These days, here on Earth, we're obsessed with time. A few hours on the stock market can mean the difference between making a fortune or squandering one. So many professions make their living by setting deadlines. In online video games, the ping, or the time it takes for a signal to go from its source to its destination, can mean the difference between victory and defeat. Even in religion, time seems to be of the essence - think of all those end of the world prophecies espoused by the Abrahamic religions, for example the book of Revelations in the Bible.

While Hinduism has its share of those who believe the end is nigh etc. etc., its scriptures don't really paint the passage of time in such a negative light. One example of this is how in some scriptures and mythologies the passage of time is perceived differently by the Gods than by humanity. Shrimad Bhagavatam (please pardon me if I got the spelling wrong) for instance tells the story of a king and his daughter traveling to the abode of Brahma, the Creator, to meet him. After they meet Brahma, Brahma explains that in the short time they waited to see Brahma, 108 yugas, or cyclical ages of man, have passed on Earth, and indeed, when the king and his daughter return to Earth, they found it radically changed, with humanity seeming to be more "dwindled in stature, reduced in vigor, and enfeebled in intellect."

A yuga is a period of time that is part of a cycle - to my knowledge, four yugas make up a complete cycle, wherein the first cycle is the best period for dharma, and the following three yugas get worse and worse, the end yuga completing the cycle, culminating in a period of rebirth where dharma flourishes again. In this sense, while apocalyptic destruction is hinted at in Hinduism, it's never really truly seen as "the end."

I find this to be an important concept to me for many reasons. The cyclical, unending nature of time is a liberating concept to me...it really does make possible the concept of redemption, after a fashion. With time, perceptions of humanity change as well. I bring up those aforementioned points because of how guilty I felt in the past - of being a white male, a Westerner, someone who consumes like a modern-day Westerner, etc. - it reminds me that not only can I change...but people around me can change, too. I don't have to be saddled with this guilt forever, because things change, and they change in cycles.

The things I do here on Earth...well, they matter and they don't. If you think on the scale of this planet, yes, they matter, but if you think of a universal scale, they don't, and it's a way of keeping perspective in times of crisis.

In terms of time, though, ultimately it might not be time that matters...I remember emailing a blogger from Iraq during the war that was going on at the time (the year was 2004), about how guilty I was feeling at the time for being an American, etc. The response she sent me put the ultimate perspective of time in front of me, for what she said was this:

"In the Quran, the world is said to end when there are no good people left."

I find that to be very true, because, well, the fact we still exist is evidence that there are good people still left in this world. And I don't think time is going to eradicate goodness and virtue.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Bring Back Forgiveness

Namaste readers...this is a rant that's been brewing in my mind for a while now. I figured I'd finally put it to paper (or blog post, anyway).

You know what's truly dead in today's world?

Forgiveness. No one forgives anymore. If I've learned anything about modern humanity, it's that today's humans are spiteful, vengeful, petty, and unforgiving. No one gives or believes in second chances these days. If you want any evidence of this, take a look at both sides of the political spectrum where the de facto rallying cry is "never forgive." The hacktivist group Anonymous is a perfect example of this - part of their creed is "we do not forget, we do not forgive." Forgiveness is dead in every religion as well. It's rare these days to find a follower of any religion (Hinduism included) that truly forgives people.

The common excuse that's provided for why people never forgive these days is that it's supposedly an excuse for people to repeat their sins over and over. Forgiveness is seen as weakness - that you're supposedly granting the person you're forgiving a "free pass" to harm you again and again. This is the creed of terrorist groups of all stripes and colors everywhere, that to forgive is to let your enemy walk all over you. And this philosophy is seeping its way into the consciousness of the everyday human.

I don't have a solution for this. I have no idea how to get people to forgive again, nor do I have any idea how to get forgiven people to stop doing harm to others. But what I can say is this - forgiveness is not just about the so-called "enemy." It's about the forgiver. The forgiver is taking the moral high ground by forgiving. They are preserving their innocence by forgiving. The forgiver is investing in himself or herself to never become like the enemy they so despise.

I wish forgiveness would come back in today's world. I want to bring back forgiveness. Sadly, I have no idea how, except to be a forgiving person myself. And I have to admit I'm finding that a harder thing to do with each passing day.

I know Ganesha forgives...and it is my wish that I can channel His forgiving nature.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Animal Welfare/Meat Eating on National Dog Day

Namaste readers! On this day that's been declared National Dog Day for reasons I don't know, I decided to make a quick blog post on animal welfare and how best to promote it, at least here in the society I live in.

This may be old news, but it's still relevant to what I'm talking about here: over 400 million animals were spared last year in the United States due to people eating less meat.

Experts, at least like the one quoted in the above article, are attributing this to meat reduction campaigns, like Meatless Mondays. Of course, hardcore vegans are saying that meat reduction campaigns are not only not enough, but they may be contributing to the problem of eating meat because such campaigns still encourage meat eating.

I want to say to such people, can't you take success where you can find it? Yes, there may be more to do, but putting a negative spin even on progress such as this isn't helping anyone. If anything, in my opinion, poo-pooing an obvious success like this is only showing that you're unreasonable.

I know I shouldn't be one to talk on this topic because I still eat meat...but I wish people could recognize that I am cutting down. I try to avoid beef whenever possible (I don't always succeed, and for that I'm sorry). I cut down where I can, and will continue to do so. Will I be vegetarian or vegan one day? I can't predict the future on that. But I just want some acknowledgment that I am making a difference. And I think the above article is proof.

If meat reduction campaigns weren't successful, then wouldn't news like the above not occur? Wouldn't meat eating rates stay constant? Yes, there is more to do in order to promote a more compassionate humanity. But if you lose your compassion towards your fellow human because they happen to eat meat, what's the point?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Support my Blog on Patreon!

Namaste readers!

This blog post will be short and sweet. In a nutshell: I'm starting a Patreon page for my blog! You can find it here.

What is Patreon? For those who don't know:
Now that you've got a primer, check out my Patreon page linked to above to get an idea of what I want to do. For starters, I'm hoping to move my blog to a space where I can make it much prettier without having to learn to code - I want to migrate the blog to Squarespace.

Unfortunately, Squarespace charges subscription fees. Which is why I've set up the Patreon campaign - I want to transform this blog not only into something that's not an eyesore, but something genuinely useful to those who read it.

Financially supporting my blog is completely optional, of course. I can still write great content on Blogger. But wouldn't it be nice for it to look nice, too? :)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I'm a Subraminion!

Some of you have probably seen this before, but I want to share it regardless:
I didn't make this image, obviously. But it still strikes me in a good way. I mean, it's yet another collision between Western pop culture (in this case the Despicable Me movies) and Hindu tradition (more specifically the South Indian deva/deity Subramanyam...I hope I spelled that right). I've seen several of my Indian friends share this on Facebook.

There are still sometimes I still wish I was born Indian (or any other skin color for that matter). But I've come to realize that if I'm unhappy with the skin color I was born into in the first place, odds are being born a different skin color wouldn't have changed anything for me. The self is the self, and while you can change yourself, you have to be the one to do it. So there's no point to lament the body or mind you were born with. Change won't come that way. Self-confidence is the key to changing yourself for the better.

It is through self-confidence that I know I'm a Minion of Ganesha by now. ;)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Hidden Test of Strength

Namaste readers.

I'm typing this blog entry calmer than I was a few moments ago. Let's just say something...major happened. I don't want to disclose too much of what happened, but it was a home security issue and police were involved.

The reason why I'm writing about it now is because I managed to emerge through it all not only unscathed physically, but also unscathed emotionally. I was shaken up, for sure - what happened in my apartment would shake up any sane human being - but...I felt in control. In other words, I didn't get distraught, inconsolable, or even panic.

If this had happened even a few months back, this wouldn't be the case. But through faith in Shri Ganesha, and applying what I learned over the years from the Art of Living and a life coach that I've been seeing, I managed to calm myself and stay calm. I think I have concrete proof that Shri Ganesha is watching over me, because the potential for this ending far worse was almost limitless.

Maybe that's the reason why I feel so Zen right now after the fact. Something might have gotten stolen, or I could have been hurt, or worse. But none of those happened. Not only that, but I have proof that my own emotions can be mastered.

Obviously what happened wasn't anything good...but I feel good having gotten through it. It was a test, and I apparently passed.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Music Review: My Sleeping Karma - Moksha

Namaste readers! For those of you who have read some previous entries of my blog, you may know of some of my interests - some more obvious than others. One interest that should be blatantly obvious by now is my interest in Hinduism and its associated spirituality. Another interest that is less obvious is that of heavy metal and its subgenres in music. I've written on how I perceive the two areas of Hindu spirituality and heavy metal sometimes intersect in a couple of previous posts, both of them titled Heavy Metal/Hardcore Music as a Universal Language. (The other post is here.)

Now, I'm not trying to make heavy metal sound mystical, nor am I trying to make Hinduism somehow tied to heavy metal/hardcore music. What the point of those posts was is to demonstrate how it's possible to have a foot in both worlds without having to compromise one's own beliefs. And I've just encountered music by a band that apparently believes in the same thing: a band called My Sleeping Karma.

While I haven't done that much research into the band itself, I think I can safely assume that they have their foot on both sides of the divide as much as I do. After all, they openly claim influence from classical Eastern music, especially that of South Asia, and it shows right down to their album artwork, especially from their most recent album, Moksha:


The album art here clearly depicts the Hindu god Ganesha, albeit in a form that is obviously seen through the artistic eyes of the band. On the left side of the album cover, you can see Ganesha holding up the "horns" that have become a universal hand gesture among heavy metal enthusiasts. Interestingly enough, that hand gesture is similar, but not identical to, a mudra in Hinduism, that is, a hand gesture with spiritual significance. More specifically, it shares its resemblance to the apana mudra, as pictured below. Again, they are not the same, but I'm pointing out the similarity to prove my point.


So far, so good, so what? The ideas that My Sleeping Karma explore - that of using South Asian classical influences in their music and artwork - is nothing new. After all, Tool have been doing it for decades. But there's one key difference I think will shut down MSK's critics on this point - Tool haven't released an album for almost 9 years. MSK have certainly been more prolific than that, having released a total of five albums (including Moksha) in less of a time period than Tool have been around. Man cannot live on Tool alone, so MSK can fill the void.

How so? While MSK have inevitable similarities to Tool, there are some key differences that prevent them from being just another soundalike. For one, there are no lyrics. While the vocals of Maynard James Keenan certainly lend the music of Tool some of its uniqueness, the absence of lyrics from MSK's music can actually give the music itself more importance, and more focus. Also, MSK's exploration of the themes of Hindu spirituality are far more prominent than that of Tool. For instance, all the track titles on Moksha (save for the interludes) are titled with words from Sanskrit (for instance, the title track "Moksha" is Sanskrit for liberation, at least in the spiritual sense of liberation from the cycle of birth and death). MSK is also more consistent with their influence from South Asia, at least with the album Moksha, than Tool have been - where Tool's influences are scattered all over the place, borrowing (and sometimes appropriating) from any culture that has a perceived "mystical" element to it, MSK sticks more to this one influence, so in a sense it pays the traditional spirituality of South Asia more respect and gives a more grateful homage to it than Tool have done.

All this being said, the South Asian influence comes into play more on Moksha in the key notes and beat structures than actual instrumentation. There are only rare instances of actual South Asian instrumentation being used on the album, and they're confined mostly to the interludes between tracks. However, there's still enough sound experimentation on Moksha to give the listener an otherworldly impression, and it's got more substance to think about than many heavy metal songs with lyrics. Pretty much the only straightforward instrumental rock piece on Moksha is the closing track "Agni." All this comes across, once again, as paying homage to their influences rather than being so dependent on them that it would be seen as appropriation. One needs to toe a fine line as an artist when attempting to borrow influence from another culture that it doesn't seem like you're disrespecting it by overtly stealing from it, and that's a line MSK have seemingly mastered to balance upon like a tightrope.

I would highly recommend Moksha if you're a Tool fanatic who's about ready to do something stupid in the absence of new Tool music. MSK's music can not only fill the void, but also give you new sonic elements to ponder and be stimulated by. Moksha adds to the proof that heavy music doesn't have to be simple and/or stupid to be enjoyable. My Sleeping Karma are most certainly not the first pioneers into this intelligent territory. But they're pioneers worth your time and attention.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Helping Nepal

Namaste readers,

As you might know already, there has been an earthquake in Nepal, that has had a devastating toll of lives. It's been estimated over 4,000 lives have been lost as a result of the earthquake.

The most pressing question for those of us outside Nepal, right now, is: how can we help?

I know many people will say "pray for Nepal." If you want to pray for Nepal, that's all fine and dandy - sometimes prayer is all one can do in the face of disaster. Prayer can give those who otherwise can't help situations like this at least some comfort that they're keeping these disasters in their minds and the minds of others.

Still, prayer should be backed up by action. I'm not one to say that prayer does nothing...honestly, I'm no expert on prayer whether it helps or hurts situations like this. What I will say is that there is real action you can take, and should you be able to take this action, you should, as a supplement to your prayer.

One action is to donate to Global Giving's Nepal earthquake relief effort. Global Giving is among the most reputable sources of charity that one can donate to, as they are very transparent about their efforts and where the money goes. Donating to them can help them give to emergency services in the region that are otherwise stretched.

Another place to donate to is a Nepali immigrant association in New York City that is called Adhikaar. They have direct connections to organizations that are aiding Nepal on the ground right now, and they've started an Indiegogo campaign for helping them out.

Again, I will say this - pray if you can't do anything else, for at least that keeps the victims in your mind and the minds of others. But back it up with real action if you can. Anything can help at this point.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fighting My Own Brain

Namaste readers...

Yet another long gap in my posting to this blog. I really don't have any excuses at this point... Some good things have happened. Some bad things too. But there seems to be one truth about myself that I have yet to come to terms with.

That truth is not straightforward, and definitely not simple. But it's a truth that's become apparent to me these past few weeks. It may not seem true to others, but it's true to me.

My brain is trying to kill me.

Why would I say something like this on the internet, where my words are free and open for anyone to twist around and use against me?

Because I want to prove a point.

The point I want to prove is one that took me a long time to figure out, and I want others to benefit from my experience. This point is that one should not hate oneself under any circumstances. You can be your own worst critic, and yes, criticizing and questioning oneself is a good thing.

But you can't let that turn into self-torture. As for what that has to do with my brain trying to kill me...I've come to terms with that fact, that my brain isn't necessarily faulty, but it's separate from my soul. That is a very Hindu teaching, that the mind and soul are separate entities. The mind is part of the body, and one should take care of body and mind. But the soul is something completely different, and it is the most beautiful part of ourselves.

I know I'm sounding like a cliche New Age hippie here, but these facts I listed above are what kept me alive as I studied Hinduism and yoga these past few years. And they've helped me accept myself...including the part of my brain that wants me to die.

In order to prevent that part of my brain from killing me, I had to accept that it was there. I couldn't simply push it out, because it would bounce back stronger than before. I had to acknowledge it, and then ignore it.

Yes, I have had help from psychiatric medicines (I take a list of them that's a mile long) in doing this...and that has been part of the acceptance (and subsequent ignoring) of this evil part of my brain. Sometimes psychiatric medication does help. That doesn't mean it will help everybody (and that's why I object to the marketing of anti-depressants, and not anti-depressants themselves - ads for those make it seem like everyone would benefit from them, when that is simply not the case), but it's good that it's there for the people that do need it. Like me.

I know I'm rambling at this point, but I wanted to share what I've learned so that others can benefit. I'll stop this post with one simple statement:

There's hope for all of us.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Am I Good?

Namaste readers...this next post might sound slightly narcissistic, but...I think it's for a good reason. Or at least a reason that makes sense to me.

Sometimes I wonder what good I have done in this world...or even if I've done any good at all. Obviously I know better by now than to think I can change the world by myself. But...sometimes I feel I can't even change the world of my immediate surroundings. And sometimes I feel like I haven't been good for any positive change. Like I'm just...ineffectual, even maleficent sometimes.

I know it's not good to want a reward for being good. And I'm not asking for any. It's just...I want to see if I have done any good! All this time people have told me about bad or incompetent things I have done. And I certainly haven't seen the results of anything I've done that may be considered "good." Am I simply incapable of doing any significant good?

Being good is its own reward, I think. But...when I don't see if I'm doing any good...it's like in my mind I am doing no good at all. It's like I need affirmation that I'm doing good to keep doing good. Otherwise it seems like, why bother?

I want to consider myself a good person. How am I supposed to do that when others don't think I'm a good person? I know I can't please everybody in terms of being good. But...why does it feel like I'm pleasing no one?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Fair Weather Meditator

Namaste readers! *coughs a bit* Wow, it's dusty in here...I know, it's because I haven't updated for a long time. Let me fix that...

Things have been an emotional roller coaster for me, full of giddy highs and abysmal lows. Thankfully there are more highs than lows going for me at this point, but the lows are still significant, and sometimes debilitating. The reason I titled this blog post the way I did is because it seems like my usual meditation routine has been...affected by these highs and lows. By that I mean my meditation seems to amplify whatever I'm feeling at the time, when I get around to practicing it. For instance, I did mantra chanting to Shri Ganesha yesterday, and I was depressed already. I got even more depressed! Yet earlier this evening when I tried the mantra chanting again, although I wasn't exactly happy (I was still somewhat depressed but less so) I got the happiness boost I was looking for.

Maybe this is because I haven't been able to be regular with meditation lately, and that the effects might be more consistent if I did it more often. I'm not sure. A wise person once told me that without suffering, I wouldn't know what joy felt like. I know that's true, and I appreciate that fact.

However, I just wish I had more control over when I feel suffering or joy. I know it's impossible to feel joy all the time, but can't I have a little more control over when I suffer?

At any rate, I'll try to post to this blog more regularly. Jai Shri Ganesha!