Frisson de Shambhala 

mountains-1553330_1920-2

Over the course of our journey through time, we have come to believe in many legends. The most thrilling ones, are those surrounding lost Utopian civilizations and cities. Their influence can be felt in the social commentary of authors like Thomas More. Some of them even led to conquest and colonization (think Spanish Conquistadors). To mention a few examples; the submerged city of Atlantis, personifying Plato’s ideal republic; the mystic island of Avalon, where Excalibur was forged for King Arthur; the hidden city of El Dorado, full of gold and precious treasure and the ancient Thule, an Aryan island located far north and bathed in perpetual daylight.

My favorite one however, is that of Shambhala, a mythical Tibetan kingdom, said to be located either in the Himalayas or in the Altai mountains. Kalachakra Tantra, a Buddhist text, prophesies that Shambhala will be ruled by Maitreya, a future Buddha or enlightened being. Interestingly, there is a similar belief in Hinduism. Vishnu Purana mentions that, when all is lost the great god Kalki shall emerge from Shambhala to vanquish evil and restore order to the world.

Shambhalan folklore probably predates both religions. The story goes like this. King Manjusrikirthi of Shambhala expelled sun worshipers from his kingdom for not embracing Buddhism as their religion. When he realized his folly, they were invited back. Some of them chose to go back, but some wise men and women went on to establish the magical realm of Shambhala, another kingdom, hidden from all. Legends say that it can only be found by the pure of heart. The people of Shambhala, know no suffering. They enjoy constant youth and long lives. The law is just. The land is rich in its abundance and the air is pure. Men have no need for privacy as they have nothing to hide. Their spiritual wells are deep and their understanding of the universe perfect. Their science is so advanced that to lesser beings it seems magical. On the whole, it is the domain of happily ever afters.

Thrill of exploration and spiritual promise of Shambhala have fueled many expeditions to discover its location, including more sinister ones engineered by Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Hess. The Nazis sought to retrieve the wisdom of Shambhala and its closely related underground neighbor, Agartha (said to be inhabited by demons) and use it for their usual world destroying purposes. No surprises there. As far as we know, none of these explorations yielded any concrete results. Authors like Victoria Le Page, argue that Shambhala exists on another plane of reality, while those like Edwin Bernbaum, explore its symbolic meaning. James Hilton, describes a Shambhala inspired fictional place called Shangri-La in his novel, Lost Horizon. Even Fullmetal Alchemist, the best anime ever (If you disagree, we can argue all day), has a story arc devoted to Shambhala.

Our collective history is a saga of war, carnage and inexplicable cruelty. In such a world it makes sense to believe in a promised land full of wise men and women who have overcome materialism.Even if these lost cities have no basis in fact, they are appealing and they fuel our imagination. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, is a spectacular piece of fiction and illustrates my point splendidly. I remember losing myself in tales of adventure and discovery as a child. Palpitations, goosebumps and shivers down your spine. What could possibly be better than that?

Ancient

Fiercely Viking

viking-1557803_1920

My love for vikings comes from three principal sources. How to train your dragon, a lovely animated feature set in a fictional viking village named Berk. Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, a fun filled adventure novel and a great window into fascinating Norse mythology. Trashy viking romances, full of titillation and a large vocabulary of penis related words.

I figured correctly, that I was being exposed to highly romanticized versions of a historical culture. Struck by fierce curiosity, I dug around on the internet (think Wikipedia, source of sweet and at times inaccurate wonder). They say, “Do not meet your heroes”. I disagree. Real people are much more interesting.

For the uninitiated reader, vikings were a Scandinavian seafaring people known for their numerous, appropriately carnage filled raids into the rest of Europe from 8th to 11th century, before being assimilated unwillingly by organized religion and technological superiority. They were expert ship builders and traded with most of the known world, mostly exporting high quality wool and precious amber and importing everything else.

The viking women, on almost equal footing with men, were no damsels in distress. They could inherit property, divorce husbands, remarry, cohabit and have legitimate children outside the bond of marriage. However, their husbands were chosen by the clan. They could practice medicine, exercise religious authority as priestesses and oracles and even serve as merchants. That might not seem like much to the liberated masses, but it is as good as it got in the 10th century.

I was surprised to learn of the viking social structure. The society was divided along socioeconomic lines into three classes. Thralls were slaves, either captured in battle or born to slaves.  Karls were peasants who owned farm land and cattle. Jarls were the nobility. Thralls were owned by the other two classes and the usual mistreatment ensued. Hard household chores, laborious construction and death by sacrifice once their Jarl was en route to Valhalla or Folkvangr, depending upon the type of dispatch. None of my highly credible (ahem) ‘sources’ ever mentioned this. I suppose they were too busy building up the fierce, ax wielding, battle hardened, yet kind and honorable protagonist.

It is not up to us to rain judgement down upon a civilization we do not understand. However, we do know human nature. I’m no expert, yet it is hard to miss similar trends and underlying attitudes in various civilizations that evolved independently. Untouchables of India, pyramid builders of Egypt, serfs of Sparta, gladiators and miners of Rome, African plantation workers in the Americas; all slaves in one way or another, deprived of free will, subject to the whims of their overlords, objectified and at times traded, ignorant of possibility and unprotected by religious texts of the time.

History is rife with grief of the oppressed. A grief that resonates through time and remains relevant to this day. It is relevant, because it is a caution against complacency and insensitivity to violations of human dignity outside our home turf. It is a reminder, to be vigilant and to inculcate a deep sense of compassion and civic duty. We are the most fortunate homo sapiens in 200,000 years, give or take a 100,000. My friends, we must fiercely guard our freedom and liberty for ourselves and for the generations to be.

 

LazyHaze: Year One

Dear Visitor,

If you have accidentally stumbled upon this blog, do not expect anything more than shameful self centered soul searching and morbid self pity.

If you are into this stuff, expect more questions than answers.

You have been warned. Continue at your peril.

So….Hi, I might be the laziest person in the world. You see, I wasn’t always this way. I have lost the zeal for life.

Why should one live in the first place? Why am I programmed with this competitive urge to be better than others? Why must I prove myself repeatedly to retain some sense of self? When death is the one ultimate absolute to life. All the mundane things I do seem, well, inane.

Tried religion and spirituality. Stuff helps with inner peace. Bhagavatgita, a manual on how to live successfully says, do your duty impartially, without thought to the fruits of your labor. Pretty good advice. However, it doesn’t address my problem. Religion is primarily aimed at people who wish to make something of their lives. Don’t get me wrong, I like religion. It helps keep our minds off death with a torture and rewards program tacked on to afterlife. Perhaps our puny minds need that to keep from self destructing. I don’t have enough life experience to draw a definitive conclusion.

Perhaps, just perhaps, there is no purpose to our existence. It is a devastating truth to be confronted by someone raised on wholesome Disney. After some reflection, I feel a profound sense of relief. If there is no set destiny, then its all up to me. I get to define my purpose. This unfortunately puts the onus squarely on my shoulders. What a crushing responsibility. Just the thought inevitably leads to binge watching the latest Netflix produced super hero series. Escapism is addictive.

Well for now that is where I’m stuck in this thought process. Figured some blogging, the definitive soul cleansing tool of my generation, might help clear this block.

Love,

Selfdestructo

PS: I used the the word ‘I’ 14 times in this post and I was jobless enough to count. Hence the name, lazyhaze.

PS2: Year one is a batman reference, just in case a curious soul wonders!

Priorities & Trade Offs

scales-308063_1280

I had the good fortune of learning from  wonderful teachers and professors. They were all experts in their chosen fields and their dedication is inspiring. The very thought of emulating them is to me, tempting and terrifying at the same time. I’m assaulted by self doubt. Is it possible to devote myself to my profession above all else? Is absolute devotion necessary to advance the field? Is it worth it? When I asked my nanotechnology professor he said ‘Yes’. Not even a single moment of hesitation. Then again, he is divorced.

Having given some thought to it in the past, I have come to believe that for most ordinary people like myself, raising a family and gaining expertise in a field of study are two separate, full time jobs. Hence it is important to list out our priorities before hand. If profession comes out on top, then perhaps its a good idea to hold off on family for awhile. At least, till we can find a partner who has complementing priorities. It is also important to honestly reevaluate these priorities when in doubt.

I personally agree with my professor. However, at the end of the  day, we should choose what makes us happiest even if there is a trade off involved. We need not be super heroes juggling a million things at once.  Judgement from well meaning family members, friends and colleagues be damned.