måndag 25 april 2011

iPhone is Suffering

Mentioning suffering and the iPhone in the same blog article probably won’t land me a job as an Apple marketing consultant. Luckily, my interest in marketing is about as great as my interest in finger knitting, so I will proceed!

The Dalai Lama famously states:

“No matter our situation, we all share the same aspiration for happiness.”

Therefore, since I too think we all like being happy, and because one is not happy if one is suffering (duh), I will take the liberty of speaking a little on a method I know from personal experience has an extraordinary capacity to alleviate suffering. My hope with this article is that you might find the method useful as well, insofar as it can release suffering.

What is Suffering Anyway?

First, what is suffering? What is it we’re now going to try to alleviate? Personally I like to break down suffering into four categories, all which of course are arbitrary and very closely related:

Suffering from lack.
Suffering from dissatisfaction.
Suffering from uncertainty.
Existential (philosophical) suffering.

Let’s take a close look at various kinds of suffering below, and how they fit with these categories:

To have what one does not desire. (Suffering from dissatisfaction.)
Not to have what one desires. (Suffering from lack.)

To lose the good that one already has. (Suffering from dissatisfaction.)
Not to lose the bad that one already has. (Suffering from dissatisfaction.)

Longing for the good that one does not yet have. (Suffering from lack.)
To fear the bad that one does not yet have. (Suffering from uncertainty.)

To fear loosing the good that one has. (Suffering from uncertainty.)
To fear not loosing the bad that one has. (Suffering from uncertainty.)

To be in the state of confusion regarding phenomena and how they exist or don’t exist. (Existential suffering.)

I would like to use an iPhone to illustrate how suffering can be related to it, and then, how it can be alleviated. I use an iPhone because many people can relate to it, but by all means, if you are an Android, Blackberry, Nokia or Windows Phone user - please feel free to substitute iPhone for your own device. If you don’t have a phone at all, use something that's precious to you.

Now, let’s have a look!

iPhone is Suffering

Suffering from lack:

  • You don’t have an iPhone, but you want one.
  • You have an iPhone, but you want one more. 
  • You have an iPhone, but you need iPhone accessories and you need them now!

Suffering from dissatisfaction:

  • You have an iPhone, but you don’t want it. Or you want another one, maybe the white version, or the all-new model coming out in just a couple of months.
  • You have an iPhone, but you dropped it and the glass is all cracked.
  • You have an iPhone, but you feel the monthly subscription fee is too high.

Suffering from uncertainty:

Picture of a stolen iPhone

  • You have an iPhone, but you didn’t buy insurance and you are afraid it might get stolen, or that you might break it. Or you worry you might not be able to pay the subscription fee.
  • You have an iPhone, you enjoy and take pride in it, but you’re afraid your best friend might buy the newer, better model...
  • You don’t have an iPhone, and you are afraid you might never be able to afford one.

Existential (philosophical) suffering:

  • You have an iPhone, but you are confused about what an iPhone ultimately is. Does it exist, or does it not exist? Perhaps both, perhaps neither?
  • You have an iPhone, but you’re thinking a lot about what the mind’s relation to the iPhone is. Hmhh...

Let the Search Begin!

Oh boy, that’s a lot of suffering! But I think there’s a way to stop all this suffering from bugging you. At least, it works surprisingly well for me.

What if, just what if, you searched for the iPhone, and it curiously turned out that you simply couldn’t find it? What if you looked everywhere the iPhone could possible be, but no iPhone was found? If you couldn’t find any iPhone anywhere, then it’d seem to me all the suffering spoken about above simply wouldn’t have a chance to arise. You can’t possibly burn wood that you don’t find, right? In the same way, I think suffering can’t arise if you can’t find an iPhone.

So let’s carefully look for this iPhone. Let’s use our eyes, let’s point with our fingers, let’s use our minds.

The Same as its Parts:

If an iPhone exists, it is either the same or different from its parts. Let's start by searching for the iPhone as the sum of all its parts. The parts being the display, the battery, the antenna, the processor, the memory, the cameras, the home- and volume buttons, the casing, the audio speakers, etc.

Think intently about an iPhone. Is this an iPhone that is one with, and the same as, its many parts? This seems obvious enough. But let’s look a bit closer. If the iPhone is the same as its parts, there are two alternatives: either it is the same as all the parts as a whole, or is it the same as them individually. If it is exactly the same as all the parts as a whole, then what if one part goes missing? If the audio speakers goes missing, does that mean the iPhone becomes utterly nonexistent? It doesn’t seem that way. It would be an iPhone without audio speakers.

Also, just as the iPhone clearly is a single entity, so the parts would have to (absurdly) be a single entity. Because of these strange consequences, the iPhone can’t be exactly the same as all the parts as a whole.

But is the iPhone then exactly the same as all its parts individually? Well, if it was, then since the iPhone has many parts, it would have to mean that there are many iPhones! But clearly, we think about the iPhone as a single entity, not as several. We say “I just bough an iPhone.” We don’t say “I just bought iPhones” if we just bought a $659 iPhone.

Different from its Parts:

Strange! It seems we couldn’t find the iPhone as being the same as its parts. But there is only one alternative left, namely that the iPhone must be naturally separate and different from its parts. But, if the iPhone is wholly different from its parts, then why would it need its parts at all? Try to point at the iPhone. When you do, what do you point to? Always to the parts, right? You don’t just point out into space, or at a Blackberry- or an Android phone. But if the iPhone wasn’t the parts at all, it would make no sense to point at the parts, since the iPhone is suppose to not have anything to do with them...

The World's Happiest iPhone Owner

Now this is strange! There are no more alternatives. Or if there are more alternatives, I’ve noticed they are variations or combinations of the two mentioned above, both of which were found to be unfeasible. So, with our eyes we looked for the iPhone, which obviously could cause so much suffering, but we couldn’t find it. We tried to point with our fingers at it, but we couldn’t, because no matter where we pointed, we couldn’t find the iPhone there. We tried to find it with our minds, but we didn’t seem to be able to form a solid concept of it.

To me, this non-finding is remarkable, marvellous, awesome! Because this means, as said earlier, that it’d be nonsensical to assume that the iPhone could cause you any of the four kinds of suffering. Just as it would be nonsensical to assume that a rope you, in a dark room, mistake for snake can bite you; or to assume that a desert mirage can quench your thirst.

I’ll close by saying that I believe that you, if you have an iPhone, can easily be the world’s happiest iPhone owner. The reason being that, in a very practical sense, you are not an iPhone owner, with all the suffering that comes with that. Nor will you ever  even if you lose your iPhone  be an iPhone non-owner, with all the suffering that comes with that.

Best wishes,
An urban monk

lördag 16 april 2011

Monk Retaliation

"I had to flee barefooted"
by violent man

Being a monk in Sweden is no longer safe! I just read in the newspaper a couple of Benedictine monks, living a tranquil life near Stockholm, received an unwelcome guest last Sunday night. "-The day of judgement has arrived!" a man shouted before he proceeded to wreak havoc in the monastery, in what seemed like a fit of religious berserkery.

Having barely escaped several punches Father Caesarius, head monk, attempted to flee the man's wrath, running out of the monastery barefooted and in nothing but a pyjamas. Despite having a large porcelain crucifix hurled at him, he eventually tried to calm the rampaging man down by pleading him to remember his desire to become a good Christian. Turns out the man was not a stranger, but a former resident of the monastery, at the time having been asked to leave due to unwholesome behaviour. The attack was a way for the man to demonstrate his sense of betrayal  a monk retaliation, in other words.

The excommunicated monk was caught by the police the same night, but released just three days after. The monks at Östanbäcka monastery now fear the man will invade again, and suspect he is hiding out in their remote forest hermitage. "-I can't believe the police released him" Father Caesarius said, pointing out the man is in need of psychiatric help.

In any case, I'm relieved the event didn't unfold in a shaolin monastery, or things might have turned out a lot worse.

fredag 8 april 2011

Worship 2.0

AN is sitting on the ground. Not waiting for anything. Not planning anything. Not doing anything. Not expecting anything. Not afraid of anything. Just sitting on the ground.


The wind is blowing. Some cars passing.

Schwoooooshh.... Vroooooom. Vrooooooumh! Schwhchsssssh.....

As AN listens, listening stops. As listening stops, AN bursts into a sudden and unprompted laughter! Laughter, laughter, laughter. The hilarity appears inexhaustible and boundless. Laughter, laughter, laughter. And then it just stops, as abruptly as it started.

With that, AN isn't sitting on the ground anymore.

The wind is blowing. Some cars passing. And AN enters into worship 2.0.

Photograph: Link

lördag 2 april 2011

The Monastic Cell

When we hear the word “cell”, what immediately springs to mind? Right, prison — a depressing storage room for humans. However, for many people, this isn’t the first association they make upon hearing the word. For, it can also mean the sacred space in which a monk enters into relationship with God, or truth.*

For a traditional monk, the cell is a private area existing within the larger context of a shared monastery. The appearance of the cell varies from tradition to tradition. In the Benedictine tradition, it is often just a small room, with a bed, toilet and a few books. That's compared to, for example, the Carthusian tradition, where each monk's cell is much more like a full-fledged apartment, complete with relatively large rooms, hallways, workshop, and even a private garden. 

For an urban monk like the Integral Monastic, the cell is simply his or her own city home, usually a modest apartment. In keeping with traditional monastic design, most urban monks choose to decorate their cell sparsely and non-extravagantly, so as to invite a spirit of contemplation, and to keep the mind from getting drawn constantly into worldly affairs.

Naturam sequere tuam  be thyself.

So, what are some of the practical benefits of the monastic cell, apart from just offering living space?

To me, the concept of a cell represents the opportunity for a person to be truly themselves, in the sense of not having to worry about whether or not one is conforming successfully to social norm and convention. Say you sit in the subway, contemplating the emptiness of phenomena, or enjoying a state of Kenosis. I've noticed that in these times, occasionally my facial muscles naturally relax to a high degree, resulting in me looking sick, dead, or pathologically tired from a third person perspective. Since looking in this way is, of course, not acceptable in terms of social convention, it's best not to appear like this in public, lest people will be afraid of you, or unwilling to strike up conversation, or call the ambulance.

Luckily, the cell offers a kind of sanctuary for a person to be able to be natural and authentic; one is able to temporarily let go of the need to present oneself to others, and allow one's mind and body to flow in whatever way seems natural for the moment. In my experience, this possibility offered by the cell  indeed, any space where one can be certain one's not observed by others  can result in a sense of tremendous freedom.

* The English word for cell comes from the Latin word "cella" which means "small chamber" and from the Greek word "naos" meaning "inner chamber of a temple".
Photograph: Unknown