Ok, whether Hinduism is the world’s oldest surviving religion is debatable. But, like the question of whether Roger Federer is the tennis goat, it’s very much in the conversation.
The Upanishads lists 10 forbearances, essentially principles and activities that should be followed as sources of good karma and signs of virtue. They are:
Ahimsa – don’t do harm to any living being, human or other
Satya – always be truthful
Asteya – don’t covet another’s property
Brahmacharya – remain celibate while single, and stay faithful (broadly defined) in marriage
Daya – be kind, without conditions
Arjava – don’t deceive others
Kshama – always forgive
Dhriti – remain calm and modest in times of great wealth and poverty, whether of yourself or of others
Mitahara – eat, drink, and accumulate (money and belongings) in moderation
Saucha – clean the body and mind through both physical and spiritual actions
The suggestions pretty much boil down to this: think always of the Golden Rule, and apply it to others AND to yourself.
In just about every religion, you’ll see such lists, and you’ll see a LOT of similarities between them: Moses’s Ten Commandments. Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain. The Egyptian Book of the Dead. The Night Journey verses in the Qu’ran. And although I don’t remember such explicit directives in the Dao de Jing, you’ll find similar wisdom in Buddha’s Eightfold Path, in the Analects of Confucius…
The second week hit a personal best of 93%. Impossible to maintain, though, because it means I can only miss AT MOST one habit every day. So every day I’d need to wake up before 8am and write for 2 hours and etc etc, which also means I can’t stay out late or drink a lot of alcohol, etc etc. Of course 90+% is the long-term goal, but I’ve gotta stay realistic :)
Since August 5th I’ve upped the writing requirement to 2 hours. I may knock it down to 1.5 hours as a more manageable bump from 1 hour. My eventual goal is 3-4 hours of focused daily writing. From what I know of successful writers and artists, it seems few are able to sustain more.
The meditation criteria has increased, too, to 15 minutes. I’m slowly, very slowly, maybe too slowly, raising the bar. 10 minutes feel easy now. So it’s time to challenge myself again. The dream would be an hour every day. I’m almost giddy thinking about how focused yet calm it would help me become. :P
I removed cold showers from the list. This is almost an automatic habit now. I might even prefer cold showers to hot ones. It would be easy to switch back, since hot showers feel better in the moment. But cold showers almost always feel better afterward. Kinda like the process of exercise and meditation.
Last Sunday I went to my first Chinese church for morning service. Dragged mom along for good measure :)
Probably one of Shanghai’s larger churches, located in Pudong. Sunday morning service started at 10am and wrapped by 11:30. A relative goes regularly, and she invited us along.
The format was similar to US churches like Redeemer and GRX. Maybe a tad more formal. There was a 30 person choir and I don’t see that often.
The choir sang a few songs to start us off. Then the congregation sang along to a few songs. My grasp of written Chinese is not great, so I pretty much just hummed. Then a priest (not the pastor) led a few prayers including the Chinese version of the Lord’s Prayer:
Then the pastor gave her sermon. Yup. This was my first sermon from a female pastor! Interesting that it happened in China. She spoke about selections from the Old Testament, gave a fairly literate interpretation (from what I could gather). Maybe I was trying so hard to focus on her message that I forgot to take her picture :\ Part of me was also wondering if people were suspicious of this somewhat foreign looking guy, taking pictures and filming throughout…
The sermon lasted 30 minutes. Then the fun began. A kind of band came to the dais and led the congregation (perhaps 200 people) in a group sing for 3 songs. There was even an old school drum. The crowd was louder and more enthusiastic in their singing than the American churches I’m used to, where people are, for the most part, timid with their voice and trying not to embarrass themselves. A brief clip below:
Announcements followed. The service concluded with a final recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
The more I invest in religious practice and thought (of all traditions), the more at peace I am, both within myself and with the world. The more purpose I feel when I go about my day. This is only a personal experience, of course. And I’m sure there’s a point of diminishing returns, but I haven’t reached it. I’m becoming convinced that religion should be as much a daily habit as exercise and 8 hours of sleep and a healthy diet. Especially if, like me, you’re the type who always asks those big annoying questions without clear answers, and if, like me, you struggle to find meaning in many of the activities and pursuits that seem to satisfy others. Two big ones include climbing the career ladder (what I often call the overachiever highway) and materialism / consumerism / buying shit.
Thanks for reading! If you have a religious practice (of any kind) or want to chat about religion, please email me. I’m writing a book about habits. One of the habits that most interests me is what I call “the soul habit”.
Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin? – Trainspotting
I’m not saying you should choose heroin. But, to paraphrase the Chris Rock joke about OJ Simpson, I’m not saying I’d do it…but I understand.
To learn more about choice and why too much of it makes you unhappy (if you’re reading this, then you definitely have too much choice in your life :), here’s a great frank talk by Barry Schwartz, who coined “the paradox of choice”.
An immortal scene. One of those only-in-the-movies moments.
“It’s not your fault,” Robin Williams intones. “It’s not your fault.”
It’s not your fault.
The scene is even more poignant in light of Robin’s unexpected death. Did Robin the actor feel the weight of Robin the character’s words? Did he feel at some level like he was trying to reach himself?
We increasingly think everything IS our fault. In America, in most of the rich world (I’d put urban China here, too), life is easy and good. We have everything at our disposal. We can eat whatever we like, whenever we want. Our jobs keep us busy and they pay us and treat us well. We take one week jaunts to Greece and weekend trips to Vegas like it ain’t no thing. And every day we have more and more social connections on Facebook and matches on Tinder.
Sure, we blame slow Uber drivers and complain about weak wifi and get mad at the slow people in line, but we know better. These aren’t REALLY what plague us. When we’re alone and honest with ourselves, we know that most of our problems are not real problems. No scary enemies. No painful hardship.
We should be happy. Thankful. Grateful. We should feel like we’ve won. 100 years ago, people would’ve killed for what any of us enjoy today. Even today, billions of people still dream of having our lives.
And yet we don’t feel happy much of the time. We’re thankful and grateful, but only in moments. More often than not, we wake up bored and listless. We have a good job but constantly wonder if there’s a better one, one with more “meaning” and “purpose”. We have good friends but we don’t see them nearly enough. We’ve never had more choice in our career, our dating life, even where we vacation to next, and at the same time we’ve never felt more lost.
So we blame ourselves. This must be my fault, we think. We turn the bad energy inward. But we do it quietly and privately.
It’s this internal blame that contributes to our rising depression levels. To our endless hunger for pleasure and escape wherever we can find it. We seek distraction and relief in Netflix binges, in recreational drugs, in weekend getaways, in binge drinking, in buying mountains of stuff that we don’t need or use.
Of course none of these solutions work. But we don’t know what else to do.
“Not only do people have ridiculously high expectations which are almost never met, but when they aren’t met, they attribute the responsibility for that failure to themselves. And self blame is a critical component of why we are experiencing an epidemic of clinical depression in the United States. At a time when we’ve never been richer or had more choice, people seem to be getting sadder and sadder.” – Barry Schwartz, in a talk about the Paradox of Choice
His language is a bit strong, but his point is so right.
BUT. Don’t blame yourself. That’s the worst thing you can do. It’s not useful. It certainly won’t help you get better.
There are times when we SHOULD accept responsibility: when we’re late to a meeting. When we say something mean behind a person’s back. When we prioritize our schedules over our friends and family. Things that are specific and concrete and can be fixed and are about being a good person.
And there are times when we MUST learn to let go. Let go of those vague and heavy feelings of unease and emptiness and lack of purpose. Drop the guilt that you should be happier than you currently are. Move past the fear that you’re falling behind and everyone is racing ahead of you.
It’s a fine line, but we must learn how to draw it for ourselves and for those around us.
When I jokingly re-enact the scene by telling a friend “It’s not your fault” (which for some reason I often do when I drink), seven times out of ten their reaction is more serious than I expect. Those words are powerful. They strike at an exposed spot. People are afraid, vulnerable. We need someone to tell us, sincerely, over and over: “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”
Okay, done being Donnie downer. And done with the cheese. Thanks for reading! :):)