By Suma Varughese March 2011 Facebook is not just bringing seekers together in unprecedented numbers but is also helping them evolve and grow. Can it be the pivot on which the new age is hinged? “Life is neither a battle to be won, nor a game to be played. It is a joy to be experienced.” – Ellaeenah “Often closer home our blindness is the deeper. Closest to home is our own self. It is worthwhile to discover our essential blindness.” – Kiran Gulrajani “The tree does not withdraw its shade from the woodcutter. So forgive the one who hurts you. They will realise your worth one day.” – Anil Suchak “No one has travelled the road of success without ever crossing the streets of failure. God never promised us an easy journey in life, but only a safe arrival.” – Nishant Bajaj “Witness is your deeper self (atman) who knows everything, so when you lie or cheat there is a struggle between that truth and your selfish mind. This stress does not let you realise your potential.” – Satish Kaku So who are these wise souls? Some unknown savants, sages or enlightened masters, doubtless? Well, actually, I know them better as facebook friends and this outpouring of wisdom is pretty much par to the course on my facebook home page. Facebook (fb) is everything to everyone, so it comes as no surprise that for the seeker, facebook is the new sangha. Where else can you find such an assortment of thoughtful observations, piercing insights, powerful experiences, transforming videos or photographs? Not only is all this wealth offered freely for our delectation but we can interact with those who offer it and thereby attain further clarity. Instead of imbibing wisdom from inaccessible gurus and godmen, we can do so from our very own facebook buddies, who may be gurus in their own right, but who are available to answer our queries and comments. To that extent, fb has removed the vertical structure of spiritual authority and enabled us to interact on a level playing field. Interactive field Divyaa Kummar, a Mumbai-based spiritual teacher and facebook regular whose posts on spirituality have impacted many, puts it eloquently, “Facebook is literally like coming across an interactive kinetically alive book…where one doesn’t merely read another’s sharing but can communicate directly not only with the author of any posting but also with so many others who comment and share their views!” Kiran Gulrajani, a Pune-based trainer admits that facebook “enables me to live life more fully since I enjoy connecting, conversing and co-creating and I haven’t seen a better way to do it online.” He adds, “Through facebook I can encounter the immense creativity inside people and myself because fb allows us a way to express and listen spontaneously, wonder and play instinctively, to laugh and love in ways that are new and now!” Nithya Shanti, a 30-something former monk and spiritual teacher from Pune enjoys enormous popularity on facebook. His fb profile is currently ranked 86th on a worldwide basis. His updates and observations, which are often as numerous as a dozen a day, are brilliant – pithy, thoughtful and insightful, eliciting numerous comments from his adoring fans. He says, “Facebook helps me connect to Source and reflect on life. Secondly, it creates a body of teachings, and thirdly, forms a community of like-minded, purposeful and supportive people.” Here is where you can go when reeling back from a hard knock and have scores of sympathetic voices hold you through an illness, a lost job, or simply a touch of the blues. One friend, for instance, cut her finger into two while cooking and was consoled by more than 75 caring voices. Another friend occasionally meanders into melancholy but finds herself anchored by the strength and support of her many fb buddies. One chum came down with sciatica and loudly (in caps) bewailed her malaise, prompting several to offer solutions and tips. Neha Tinwala, a Nasik-based journalist, says that she once counselled an fb friend and his life changed greatly. And who can deny the thrill you get when your birthday rolls around and hundreds of fb friends take the time to wish you. Facebook can make you feel loved, wanted, popular, even a bit of a star! Perhaps it is easier to like someone when you don’t live or work with them, don’t see their less attractive traits and don’t have a history with them. Whatever the reason, on facebook even the most withdrawn misanthrope can surprise himself with his social success. Says fb buddy, Premjith Mathew, “The most important thing is the feeling that I am not an island anymore.” The fb community The sense of community facebook generates in these rootless times is an almost priceless gift. In many vital ways we are all in the process of redefining our identities. More and more are ceasing to define themselves on the basis of their caste, community, gender and religion, a process which often sets us adrift, particularly in the anonymity of great cities. Through facebook one can discover friends who can anchor us through these times and help us discover values, causes and people more aligned to who we are. Vijaya Nadar, a journalist who moved into the mommy track and is striving to move back into mainstream journalism, found her way smoothened by the many supporting hands of her fb buddies. She says, “My biggest assignment last year, covering the Common Wealth Games, happened through fb. Fb has been a big help getting not only school/college friends back in my life but in helping me dig up rusty contacts to re-establish my career.” Armaity Bhabha, a follower of Pune-based guru, Nirmala Devi, speaks for many seekers when she says, “I’ve discovered that fb accords a ready platform to get my voice heard as it has a wide reach, and I get an immediate response.” Why facebook is so particularly attractive to the seeker in general is two-fold. In the first place, the seeker has things to say. He or she is on a journey, and along the way knowledge unfurls. For the first time she has something to say, but alas, mainstream media is deaf to her words. Fortunately for the seeker we live in empowered times, when thanks to social networking sites, blogs, websites and other fall-outs of the Internet, we can make our voices heard no matter how obscure we are. The second reason why seekers flock to social networking sites like fb is that in general they are a lonely lot. They have stumbled upon truths that are not yet part of the prevailing wisdom. All too often it puts them at odds with their circle of friends and family. Here at fb, they can finally find their way to friends who think and feel similarly and who validate their choices and goals. Thirty-year-old ThiThuy Nguyen from North East of France (one of the many non-Indians I have befriended thanks to fb) shares that for him facebook is the sangha that he does not have in real life. I can say the same myself. Right now, my circumstances do not permit me to spend too much time outside my house and am no longer a part of my weekly meditation group. A recent shift of office has also placed many of my friends and co-seekers out of my reach. Under the circumstances, facebook is my new virtual sangha, enabling me to reach out to a wide variety of old school and college friends, old colleagues, Life Positive readers, fellow journalists and a whole lot of others who seem to have gravitated to my space mysteriously. Even though I have the great privilege of expressing myself at length through the pages of Life Positive and other publications I write columns for, there is no equal to the thrill I get when I post a comment or a note and immediately get responses. One response leads to the next and pretty soon my friends and I are in the midst of an absorbing conversation that may link voices from the US, Europe, Russia, the Middle East and India. Instead of the two-dimensional experience of writing something and sending it off into the ether with no idea about how it will impact the reader, on fb, the answers are immediate, often thoughtful and help lead the discussion to deeper and higher heights. That is when you can experience the unsurpassed joy of feeling part of a meeting of minds that is simultaneously dwelling on a thought and responding to it. Says blogger, Mark W Schaeffer, “Pause for a moment and realise that you and I are experiencing a milestone in human history. A profound and spiritual milestone, I think. For the first time we have access to free, real-time, global communications. The ability to make these connections were not available to us just a few years ago.” Says Nithya Shanti, “Facebook has connected the whole race in an unprecedented way…at the speed of thought.” Mind matters In an article for Spiritual Revolution e-mag, Divyaa Kummar thoughtfully puts across the point that the virtual world that we inhabit through fb and other manifestations of the Internet are actually creating the real world we live in, because all material reality is based on thought. She says, “Physical reality is the reflection, and the virtual is the real! Thoughts literally become the matter of our physical world!” The mind is paramount on fb. Yes, our photos may reflect other aspects of our lives, but the real life of our page comes from our status updates and comments to others’ status updates, which show the nature of our mind. It is true that fb is unfairly biased towards those with strong verbal abilities, but that apart, what distinguishes us out there is the nature of our thoughts. No wonder even those of us not given to reflection start polishing up our wits and strive to come up with comments and observations tha
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