Welcome to my very first email. Thank you for being interested in what I have to say.
Highlights of this week:
- Attending two talks by Sakya Trizin Rinpoche, a highly regarded figure in Tibetan Buddhism
- Seeing Jane Goodall, the legendary scientist and conservationist live at her Rewind the Future tour
- Been reading Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate
This week I had the fortune to attend two talks by the 42nd Sakya Trizin Rinpoche.
There are four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism; the Nyingma, Kagyu, Geluk and Sakya.
Sakya Trizin Rinpoche is considered the leader of the Sakya school and is revered by Vajrayana Buddhists throughout the world. There were many Buddhists at these events all of whom treated him with the highest regard, bowing as he entered the hall - despite this, he presented himself as a very ordinary, mild-mannered human being.
His first talk was titled: The Beautiful World of Interdependence.
All phenomena are said to be connected by a web of cause and effect.
Everything that arises are the result of conditions that have arisen in the past, and is in turn a condition for phenomena in the future to arise.
We are helplessly shaped by the past — in both nature and nurture — and in turn are helpless but to shape the future.
But what's the point of understanding this?
If we see the causes for phenomena as they are, the reasons behind our anger, hatred and various negative emotions dissolve.
Rinpoche explained using a quote from The Bodhichayravatara.
"Although it is the stick that hurt me, I am angry at the ones who wield them, striking me"
When we blame someone for our suffering, we focus on a single link in the causal chain that led to it.
A person may have caused a stick to hit you, but their anger caused them to hit you with the stick and events in their past have caused their anger.
He was adamant that our anger was not only arbitrary in this way, but ultimately meaningless.
He gave the analogy of two people that both knew they would be dead in a few hours. How pointless would it be for them to waste what little time they had left by starting a fight?
This is precisely the situation we are in, albeit with more people and hopefully more time...
His second talk was titled: How to be happy in a world of turmoil.
Basically he was saying that we need to realise that other people are just like us. We are all in the same existential condition with needs, wants, hopes and desires. By realising that others yearn for the same things as us we can develop compassion towards them and cease to view them as hostile. We all share the same goal.
He also spoke passionately about the importance of refraining from getting angry at those we live with. He argued that to get angry at them is much worse than an acquaintance.
His reason was that if we are angry at people we see everyday, then our anger will arise more frequently and develop into a habit pattern that will be much harder to get rid of.
So I bought last minute tickets to see Jane Goodall that I saw on a twitter ad. I'm not one normally to buy at such late notice, but I thought it would be a precious opportunity to see her in my lifetime.
For those unfamiliar with her, she is the foremost expert on chimpanzees in the world. She's spent years living in the amazon among them observing their behaviour.
It was her that first discovered the use of tools in animals. Once upon a time we believed we were unique in the animal kingdom in this regard. When she witnessed a chimpanzee using a stick to lure termites from their mound, this all changed.
The talk started with the story of her life, in the first half she had the fortune to study chimpanzees in the wild and receive a PhD in Ethnology (animal behaviour). In the second half, she has focused on activism and the conservation of our rainforests.
You can read more about her efforts here.
Notes from the talk:
- Jane had an affinity for animals from a young age. Her mother once found her in bed covered in earthworms at the age of one and a half. At four she visited a farm and out of curiosity, crouched by a hen for four hours in order to witness it laying an egg.
- She had known that she wanted to live in the jungle and live with animals since being a child, she recounts having read Tarzan at age 11 and lamenting "why did he have to marry the wrong Jane?"
- Her professors reprimanded her for naming the chimpanzees she'd studied rather than numbering them and describing them as having personalities, minds and feelings
- She was originally accused of lying about her findings. On her second trip to the Amazon, she was accompanied by the photographer Hugo Van Lawick and brought back footage of tool-use in chimps.
- She stressed methane as being much more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas and explained that meat-eating was a direct cause of it.
- We don't need nearly as much as we have to be happy, and our lifestyles in the west are unsustainable. She referred to her time in the Amazon as being some of the best years of her life and also mentioned the Gross National Happiness measure by Bhutan
- When the topic turned to climate change, the host Josh Szepps mentioned that five years ago in surveys the environment was the fifth most important issue among voters. Recently the same poll revealed that it is at #1.
- Josh Szepps encouraged the audience to watch her documentary Jane on Netflix. Jane responded "It's on Netflix?!"
- Szepps asked her "What will be your next adventure?", to which she cheerfully replied "Dying".
I've also been reading The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker. It's an excellent read and I feel it has summed up the essence of most disagreement in the political spectrum precisely.
A lot of our political views stem from how we view human nature...
It seems I've already written a fair bit, so I will end now. I would like to expand on this later though.
You can reply to this email by the way. In fact, I'd be delighted to hear from you.
Until next time,