Tuesday, 14 July 2009

What pleasure do monks have? Nun!

I was listening to the religious programme Beyond Belief on Radio 4 on the way home last night. The subject matter was poverty and one of the speakers was a Jain monk. Jains take a vow of poverty and are not even allowed to stay in one location for longer than two weeks in case they become attached to the place – attachment being bad for the spiritual self.

It struck me that this peripatetic monkish lifestyle is incredibly self-indulgent, as it is almost totally reliant on the charity of others to fund one's personal spiritual development and enlightenment. Worse than that, those who follow this lifestyle choice trick the general populace into subsidizing them by telling them that their acts of charity are good for their own spiritual development.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this philosophy is predicated on a permanent existence on welfare benefits emanating from those who are probably least able to provide it, something we in the west frown upon due to the lifestyle being unsustainable if everyone were to adopt it. A monastery-based monastic lifestyle, on the other hand, is sustainable as monastic orders are self-sufficient, having little almost no reliance on charity, except as a conduit for passing it on to the poor.

Been reading a couple of interesting books recently; The Biology of Star Trek and The Physics of Star Trek. Both are written not from the position of Trekkie geekdom, but from what could and could not be possible according to science.

I think everyone would love to have access to Star Trek transporter technology; however, if my mass were to be converted to energy for the purpose of light-speed transportation, it would release the equivalent of about 1,800 1 megaton nuclear bombs, clearly rendering the action of beaming me up (Scotty) a bit of a nightmare to say the least. If that isn’t enough, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle would render any transported me a veritable jigsaw puzzle at the destination. Transporter technology simply ain’t going to happen – ever.

Another favourite theme of Star Trek is beings made of pure energy. These are not possible as sentient, intelligent life-forms due to the fact that intelligence requires memory, and memory requires matter in order to store and process information. This also has consequences for the continuation of one’s personality after death – it simply can’t happen, as the soul (if it can be proven to exist) is by definition immaterial and therefore incapable of storing memory. Additionally, energy travels at light-speed, so anyone who was converted to (or evolved into) a being composed of pure energy would immediately dissipate at the speed of light – literally disappearing in a flash.


  1. Interesting what you say about the "peripatetic monkish lifestyle". I am currently re-watching (for the n'th time) Bronowski's Accent of Man and he postulates that it was only when man became a settled village dweller that mankind could take a giant step forward towards civilisation. The very things that the Jain monks shun were the things that made mankind great.

  2. Alan: I suppose it depends on your viewpoint of greatness. For the Jain monk the aim is personal enlightenment; for people in general it's raising themselves from savagery as a species and co-operating in order to achieve that objective - and then building on it.

  3. Oh baby yeah; there are few genuine renunciates in this world, for sure. In terms of dependence on another, it's an intricate subject matter and one that requires either a huge cheating propensity, or great humility...the latter of the two being the genuine. In India, there's no dearth of these "renunciates" swanning around holy towns and usually begging or living the luxury life of no responsibility, no pressure, no nothing: it's not humility or renunciation, it's bone lazy and they're usually on the make for something. I wrote this a few years back---it's not a "poem" but is kinda, and should be spoken REAL fast :)

    White Boy Indian Rap

    Om, buddy, got a light? The bhang is cheap, the mantra's free well almost, but hey, this is India, we invented spiritual and now we've come to save you, come here thru this door duck your head, mind the saffron it doesn't mean much but it works for me, so does the ganja, trips to nirvana cost nothing well almost, but hey this is India you're searching
    I'm selling
    for you buddy, no problem
    no profit
    best price
    how much have you got???

    Still and all, I disagree vehemently with the rather unfounded and broadbased generalization by Alan that "The very things that the Jain monks shun were the things that made mankind great." I'd say he'd have to know in more depth precisely what the essence and mechanics of Jainism are before brushing it off that way.

  4. Very interesting, Bill. So transportation would increase my carbon footprint somewhat?

  5. Braja: Ultimately we all depend on each other. However, what enables this is that we all contribute to each other.

    Emerson: And warp drive would require more energy (and thus mass) than is contained within the known universe - by several orders of magnitude.

  6. Phorr! Used to really fancy that Captain Kirk as a kid! My Mum used to fancy Mr Spock!

    Sorry to drag a deep blog down to this level but couldn't help it. xxx

  7. Jenny: Not sure I've ever seen Capt. Kirk as a kid. You must be a lot older than me.

  8. Jenny: Are you sure your mum didn't fancy Dr Spock?

  9. When you think about it, those monks have a cool life. They have a licence to mooch off friends for up to 2 weeks at a time and can move on when they are ready. Not to mention what its like for them when they pull a bird in a pub. They can have fun for 2 weeks then say they have to move on for religious reasons and sorry about that dollface, nothing more I can do. My hands are tied.
    This seems like an eminently more attractive religious quest than a Jihad. Makes you wonder why we all aren't doing it.

  10. Dave: If we did, who would be sponge off?

  11. I was kinda waiting for the bit about the nuns....