Pause for Thought with Terry Wogan. 26/04/2007
Getting here was a bit of a struggle this morning Terry. It’s madness on the underground. There were long queues just to get into the station at Euston. Once I had managed that and finally reached the platform, I stood and watched a succession of trains come and go with no possibility of getting aboard. At last I got on and was able to make the very close acquaintance of my fellow travelers, studying the finer points of their physiognomy from a distance of two or three inches.
Commuting is a stressful business and people find different ways to cope. I don’t know if you saw the recent study by researchers from Warwick University, Terry, but they listed nine different ways of dealing with the daily grind to work, among which was “self generated audio coping”, which basically means singing to oneself. Thankfully no one near me was doing that this morning. The researchers also suggested admiring attractive fellow passengers, “reflecting positively on the day’s events” and praying. And if all else fails, going for counseling.
It’s not just commuting when we have to travel, of course. Life today is full of journeys, it seems. Most of us could hardly survive without our cars; usually two or even three of them are required for a family these days. But in the midst of all this moving around we should not forget that life itself is a journey. All of us are travelling continuously through time, observing so many changes as we go. In fact the Bhagavad Gita tells us that by simply realizing this we can understand that we are eternal beings. We go from childhood, to youth to old age, but through all these changes we remain the same unchanging spiritual person.
I was realizing this myself this morning Terry, as I tried to bound up the stairs to your sixth floor studio. I feel like the very same person that I was when I was twenty, when those stairs would have presented no problem. But, despite my trying to do the same things I did then, my body has moved on a bit, and a rather more sedate ascent is required.
Vedic teachings tell us that this body and this life are but one small part of a great journey. It ends when we reach the Lord, where we really belong, and knowing this we should prepare for that end by cultivating our spiritual life. By prayer and meditation we can come to see the truth of the self; that we are eternal souls, different from the bodies we inhabit. And when we see this our stressful travels will be finished forever.
So Terry, I shall now gird my loins for the journey home, but I will make sure that I am praying as I go.
Pause for Thought with Terry Wogan. 19 April 2007
My trip to India brought a few surprises, Terry. It’s been some twenty years since I was last there and things are changing fast. The cities are still the same bustling mess of teeming madness, much like anywhere else I suppose, but it’s in the outlying rural areas that I was most shocked. In my many visits to India I’ve always headed straight for a small village called Vrindavan, the most sacred place for Hindus where Krishna appeared some 5000 years ago. Last time there I remember taking pleasant rickshaw rides down a sandy road, greeted by welcoming cries from friendly locals as they drove their oxcarts or pedaled their pre-war bicycles with their entire familes somehow perched aboard. Cows and bulls lay peacefully in the centre of the road and barefoot women strolled by with two or three large pots of milk or yogurt balanced perfectly on their heads. On all sides temple bells rang out along with the prayers and chants of hundreds of holy men.
I had naively imagined that this timeless scene would never change. After all, India has withstood many invasions over the centuries, shrugging them off to maintain a lifestyle unchanged for millenia. But now it seems it faces its greatest challenge. The road I remember is now a wide paved affair, with horn-blaring four wheelers constantly jostling the rickshaws. Radios blast out rock music, and mobile phone shops and electrical goods sellers are replacing the tea stands and cloth shops. The holy men have retreated back to some distance, and all in all my attempts to soak in the spiritual mood and meditate on the Lord’s ancient activities proved rather more tricky.
Some might see it as a good thing that countries like India are coming on-line with the latest scientific advances, but I am not so sure. Going there to get away from all that for a while, I have always been uplifted and inspired by the tranquil atmosphere, the peaceful people, the simple lifestyle and above all the profound spirituality in evidence everywhere. It doesn’t appear to me that any of this is being at all enhanced by the rapid embrace of technology. No one seems happier, prices have shot skywards, and life has become generally more difficult for all.
We have our own experience of course. Everything is available to us in abundance, but does it really improve our happiness? John Ruskin said, “every increased possession loads us with new weariness.” Among the happiest people I saw on my pilgrimage where the simple monks who lived by the Ganges banks, possessing nothing but the clothes they wore and a pot for collecting water. Their days are spent in prayer and meditation, seeking union with God by constantly chanting his names.
I don’t think I’m quite ready for that, Terry, but I did manage to immerse myself in something like it for a couple of weeks and it certainly made a pleasant change from the high tech life back home.