Multi-user editing alert
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Has this ever happened to you? You are merrily editing your SilverStripe website, working on a large update to one of your pages. You finish your update, hit “save & publish” and walk away, thinking you did a great job. Then your boss phones and asks why the update isn’t live yet. At this point you are confused, thinking: “I could have sworn I hit that ‘save & publish’ button.” You log in to the CMS and your update is gone!

After much investigating, it turns out your co-worker Edith Concurrent was editing pages at the same time that you were, and she corrected a minor typo on the same page that you were working on, overwriting your changes.

How do you prevent that kind of thing happening? Well, now there is a solution. I’ve created a new SilverStripe module: Install the Multi-User Editing Alert module!

Once installed, you will see blue dots in the page tree showing you who is editing at the same time that you are. If you see a red dot that is a conflict where multiple people are on the same page. It’s up to you to use your favourite communication tool to talk to your colleague and discuss who should be editing and saving changes.

As simple as that.

 

 

The module works by pinging the server every few seconds with the page that you are currently editing. It also downloads the location of every other content editor in the same API call. To prevent the ping taxing server resources, I’ve made it run in under 150ms. Indeed, most of that time is SilverStripe overhead, the code itself runs in just 12ms.

How does it work so quickly, you ask? It doesn’t use a database—that’s how. It uses the SS_Cache on the local filesystem, or DynamicDB, if you are running on SilverStripe Platform, to save the current state of all editors.

Note: there are still database queries to verify your logged-in state, so can’t run entirely without accessing the database, unfortunately. Also, running a flush clears all the state, if something were to go horribly wrong with the module.

The view of who is editing where updates dynamically as people move around, so you don’t need to refresh the page to see an updated view. Also, all the parties involved in an editing conflict see the alert, if there is a conflict.

You can control the ping frequency with the SilverStripe config system. So, if you have thousands of people editing your site concurrently, then perhaps increase the length of time between each ping to prevent your server crashing. Also, if you are the only person editing at a given point in time, the default ping frequency goes from 3 seconds to 24 seconds to save some server resources. Though again, you can easily adjust these values to anything you like.

If someone logs out, or their browser crashes, the module removes them from the editing alert after 70 seconds of not hearing from them. Naturally, you can modify this timeout period using the config system.

Final extra bonus: the blue and red dots are SVG files that look beautiful zoomed-in on a retina display.

The multiuser-editing-alert module merely alerts you to other’s presence, it doesn’t lock anyone out of editing. If you want to lock users out from editing concurrently, then you can install the Edit Lock module instead. 

Or even install both at the same time, as the two modules play nicely together.

Tesla Model 3: the best low cost electric car
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Tesla Motors unveiled the Tesla Model ≡ last month. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while. Here’s my thoughts:

First of all, watch the unveiling by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Elon Musk famously never rehearses his presentations as he is too busy. He makes them up on the spot. This one seems a bit more rehearsed than “never”. Maybe he practiced it once. He has a lovingly awkward super-genius style of presenting. I think it’s great. 

Telsa Model 3

I thoroughly recommend reading the Elon Musk biography by Ashlee Vance. It gives a great understanding about how Mr Musk things and why is he so driven to do the amazing things he and his companies do.

So, what’s so special about this car? 

It’s relatively fast (0-100km/h in under 6 seconds), it has relatively long range (350km on one charge) and it’s going to be relative cheap (USD $35,000 for the base model). It’s also been pre-ordered by a bunch of people, so good luck getting on in the first few years of production.

The reason it’s so (relatively) cheap it that Tesla has built the Gigafactory, the biggest battery factory in the world. The economies of scale of that factory mean Tesla can product lithium-ion batteries cheaper and better than anyone else in the world. The Gigafactory will produce more batteries than the entire rest of the world’s battery production combined.

The design of the car has people divided. I think it looks great. Other people don’t like the unfamiliar front of the car, a design without an air-intake grill. Electric cars don’t have a hot-running combustion engine to cool, so the air-intake is unnecessary.

The car is shaped for maximum aerodynamics with a drag coefficient of 0.21. The lower the drag coefficient, the less wind resistance a car experiences as it drives at high speed. Less wind resistance equals better power efficiency, as less power is required to pushing the car through the air.

Volkswagen XL1 0.19
Tesla Model 3 0.21
Tesla Model S 0.24
Mercedes C-Class 0.24
Toyota Prius 0.26

The XL1 might be slippery, but, oh boy, is that thing ugly. The Model 3 looks wonderful by comparison. Note that Tesla will continue to optimise the aerodynamics of the Model 3, so the drag coefficient might improve more before release.

See how on the XL1 the rear wheels are covered over? That greatly contributes to an improved drag coefficient because the spinning wheels cause a lot of turbulence, adding drag and slowing the car down, but those wheel covers make the car look really weird. Tesla did something really clever to get the best of both worlds. They designed a special kind of turbine hub cap that redirects the passing air underneath the car, reducing the wheels’ drag.

Tesla hub cap

I’m a bit disappointed that the Model 3 is a sedan and not a hatchback (hidden details video has some explanation about why). Watch this test drive of the Model 3. At the end of the video they open the trunk/boot of the car. While it doesn’t have the extra storage space behind the rear head-rests that a hatchback would have, it does have an incredibly deep trunk and a frunk for additional storage. A frunk is a “front trunk”. Because there is no need for a big combustion engine under the hood of the car, there is storage extra space there instead. The battery is along the base of the car. 

2013 11 06 image 4

Finally, here is an excellent overview of the Model 3 and the Gigafactory with lots of great pictures of the new car.  

The quest for a safer motorcycle
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I’ve stopped riding my scooter to work. I was having too many accidents with it. In my most recent crash, the front wheel locked up on a slippery slick section of the road and I was thrown off backwards at 70km/h as the scooter tilted over. I was wearing full protective gear, so I only suffered a sprained wirst.

The problem with motorcycles is that they are the most dangerous form of transport. Take a look a these statistics – these are from Northern Ireland, but it’s similar everywhere in the world (credit to Wesley Johnston):

 12deathsbymodejourneytime

So, what can be done to make for safer motorcycling? 

1. Protective gear. Motorcycle gear is really good at protecting from injury. It can be the difference between a minor injury and critical injury or death. Here’s what was wearing when I rode (all great gear that I would recommend):

(Extra bonus: everything in the list except the gloves is vegan. With the exception of gloves, today’s vegan/textile motorcycle gear is just as good as leather clothing. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a model of motorcycle gloves that are vegan and also provide decent protection. There are vegan options, but they don’t seem to have decent protective features. I got my gloves used, to minimise the amount of animal death involved in protecting my hands. If anyone knows of any good-quality vegan motorcycle gloves, please post in the comments.)

2. ABS. Anti-locking brakes maintain traction when braking on slippery surfaces.  Most studies conclude that about 30% of motorcycle crashes could be avoided if the bike was equipped with ABS. The evidence is so clear that the European Union has mandated that all new motorcycle sold in the EU from 2016 have ABS. 

ABS generally doesn’t work well when a motorcycle is leaning into a corner. However, the latest ABS Pro from Bosch solves that. It works even while cornering.

If I ever resume riding, I certainly will want to do so on a scooter that will not loose traction quite so easily. So, ABS is an absolute must. I would advise anyone buying a motorcycle to definitely get one with ABS.

 3. Two front wheels.  It might seem a little strange recommendation, but adding an extra wheel to a motorcycle makes it so much more stable. Examples of bikes with an additional wheel are the Piaggio MP3 and Yamaha Tricity. The Piaggio claims the MP3 can brake in 20% less distance than other scooters. Also check out this awesome video of a motorcycle rider testing the Tricity and raving out it’s excellent handling over obstacles that would cause any two-wheeled bike to crash.

Three wheeled motorcycle can look unfamiliar at best, and some think they are the ugliest machines ever created. Still, many people seem to like them and they sell well. So well that Yamaha has announced they are developing the MWT-9, a three-wheeled superbike thing. It looks like something to crawl out of a Japanese anime horror movie, a feature that might actually be a nice selling point. Coming to market by 2018, so beware.

2015 Yamaha LMW MWT 9 Conce

So, give me a three wheeled motorcycle with ABS Pro and good protective gear, and I might consider riding again.

But for now: I’m switching to bus and bicycle for my daily commute. Wish me luck ✌ 

 

How to handle a challenging situation
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Have you ever been in a challenging situation at work?

Maybe a website went down and you had to fix it, while, at the same time, trying to appease an angry client? Maybe you had to give a presentation to a roomful of skeptical, intimidating people? Maybe you had a gruelling performance review after making a serious mistake? Or maybe a dragon attacked the office?

All of these situations are difficult. What can you do you to master these kinds of situations? How can you prepare for future challenges? Read onwards…

Learn to handle it

Watch this video of US marine drill instructors shouting at recruits. For the first 3 months of a recruit’s life, the drill instructs are basically shouting at them the entire time. Why do they do this? Are the drill instructors all sadists who enjoy torturing their soldiers? No (well, okay, maybe some of them do, but they don’t enjoy it, for the most part). So why?

Say what you will about the United States military, they are very good at killing the enemy and winning wars. Of the branches of the military the Marine Corps is particularly effective. After completing the training, a marine recruit will be going to a war zone. There will be explosions, people screaming, guns firing, engines rumbling, and officers shouting orders, and the young soldier will need to keep a cool head, listen to the orders and fight effectively. The drill instructor is preparing the recruits for this kind of situation with their constant shouting. The recruits eventually learn to handle the intensity. They develop the mental toughness that makes them able to handle the realities of war.

So, that’s what you need to do to prepare yourself to handle a challenging situation. Repeatedly put yourself in such situations, or situations that closely mimic the challenge. You will eventually adapt and learn to handle the pressure.

Specific advice

Speech

Slow down. We all tend to speak too quickly when nervous. Make a conscious effort to slow down your speech. It will help keep you calm, and it will also help those listening to you make sense of words coming out of your mouth.

Also, try to be helpful, not defensive. It’s easy to get close up and defensive when you feel threatened. Instead, let any insults, real or imagined, roll off you, and do whatever you can to help.

Interrupt

Sometimes, in a meeting, a notorious rambler will start speaking and won’t stop until many hours later, that is, unless you interrupt them. Sometimes everyone will want to get a word in, and if you wait until it’s your turn to speak, your turn will never come and no one will hear the important thing you have to say. That’s when it’s time to interrupt. Speak up and keep speaking until whoever is currently speaking stops speaking and you can get your point across. It’s hard to do at first, but it gets easier with practice.

Make eye contact

Look at the person you are speaking to. It’s far easier for others to understand what you are saying when they can see your face. The human brain interprets mouth movements to help understand what someone is saying. That’s why the McGurk effect works (check out the video demonstrating the effect—it’s quite amazing).

Additionally, your words will be more effective when their power is focused. You can better engage with one person by focusing your attention on them, and you can better engage with an entire audience by focusing on one person in that audience.

Internal attitude

Adopt a proper internal attitude when going into a challenging situation. Your internal thoughts about yourself reflect out into the external world and determine how people perceive you. So, internally you should be: confident, detached and firm. That is, you should be thinking: “Yeah, I got this. Bring it! Is that the best you can do? I really don’t care what you say. But regardless of what you say, you’d better listen to me!”.

External attitude

Encounter at Farpoint counselor deanna troi 24183640 689 530 

Image: Counselor Deanna Troi

As much as it’s nice to be internally confident and detached, there is no need to tell everyone. People might not appreciate it, especially if they have a problem that they themselves are really concerned about. So instead, be externally concerned and emphatic. Be like Counselor Deanna Troi from Star Trek The Next Generation: emphatically relate to other people’s feelings, and show real concern about their problems. Those problems are not your own and not yours to own, but you will do what you can to help. 

Tricks of the trade

When faced with a challenging situation, there are a number of little tricks you can use to help manage. 

  • Stall for time: sometimes you just need some time to investigate something without people shouting at you. So, ask for a break to reconvene the meeting after 15 minutes, or say you’ll have to get back to someone later, or simply excuse yourself for as long as you need.

  • Summarise: in a long meeting or complex discussion, it makes sense to summarise everything that has been said so far. That makes matters clear in your mind, and helps everyone else, too. It’s also a great way to fill awkward silences when everyone is out of ideas.

  • Escalate to tier-3 support: when faced with a website outage, say you’ll escalate the issue with tier-3 support. Tier-1 support usually answers the phone and does basic diagnostic. Tier-2 support is more specialised, and tier-3 support has the best specialists who know a particular area in-depth. Even if your company doesn’t have tier-3 support, you can still say you’ll escalate to them and then frantically run around the office, asking anyone you find for help.

  • Name emotions: if the discussion gets quite heated, or emotional, it’s a good idea to name the emotion, e.g: “It seems everyone is feeling quite angry about this issue”. Naming the emotion gives it less power. It allows people to take a step back from the situation and evaluate it objectively.

  • Suggest tasks for others: when you are under the gun, you can gain some headspace by delegating things to others. Even if a task isn’t something assigned to you, if you can think of something that might help a situation, suggest it and volunteer someone for that task.

  • Accept responsibility: when Apple Maps launched with iOS 6, it fell short of customer expectations. Apple CEO Tim Cook didn’t make excuses for the poor quality product. Instead, he said: “We screwed up. That’s the fact (source).” Be like that. If something goes wrong, and it was your responsibility or your company’s responsibility to prevent it going wrong, own up to the fact, accept responsibility, apologise and commit to doing what you can to improve the situation.

Recover afterwards

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Image: Meditation in nature

The challenging situation has passed. You might be a bit battered, but you’ve survived. Now you need to take some time off to recover. You won’t be productive right after a big challenge anyway.

So, take some time off, get out of the office, visit nature, meditate, listen to your favourite music, play a game, do whatever you do to regain your mental strength. Tomorrow is another day and another challenge awaits. Good luck, soldier!

How to be a better developer
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Head over to the SilverStripe team page and take a look at Hamish Friedlander, the SilverStripe CTO. Now take a look at me, then look back to Hamish, then back to me. What do you see? I think you will see that I am not nearly as smart as Hamish.

You might be thinking: “No way! Dr. Seidenberg, you have a PhD, you must be supremely smart!” But that’s not true, I assure you, I can’t match Hamish’s intelligence, not even close. But that’s okay. Why? Well, that’s what this blog post is about.

While it is very difficult to increase raw intelligence. There is much more to being a good developer (and getting a PhD) than being smart. So, for us lesser mortals, here are some tips for becoming a better developer.

Being a better developer is about four things:

  1. Qualities
  2. Attitude
  3. Techniques
  4. Communication

 

1. Qualities

Humility

C.S. Lewis once said:

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less”.

A great developer will act for the good of the software, not their own ego. The best ideas and the best code need to win, regardless of their origin. A great developer will listen to the even the most quiet intern who has a great idea for improving the project. They will say: “Oh, great point! I didn’t think of that. Let’s do as you suggest.”

Grit

After 4.5 years of researching Semantic Web ontologies, I was ready to quit. But I didn’t. I had some grit. Grit is the ability to pursue long-term goals despite numerous struggles and setbacks. I had enough grit, enough tenacity, perseverance and drive to push through and finish the PhD.

A great developer has lots of grit. You might try this self-test to see how gritty you are. Learn more about grit on this TED talk.

Enthusiasm

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Enthusiasm is necessary. No one likes a mopping developer who complains about everything. That brings down everyone’s morale. A great developer likes technology and finds programming fun, interesting and rewarding. If you are currently not overly enthusiastic, fake it till you make it. Soon you and the rest of your team will be genuinely bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm.

2. Attitude

Desire

The first step in any action is desire. Without desire nothing happens. Ask yourself: do you actually want to be a better developer? You might be surprised that for some people the answer is “no”. Some developers are content with their current skill level. For some people, it’s enough to have a stable job, do adequate work, support their family and pay the bills. That’s a perfectly reasonable life decision for someone to make. But that’s not who this blog post is for. This post is for someone who desires to be supremely awesome at their job.

However, say, for example, you don’t have the desire to become a super-developer, but you wish you did. Congratulations! That kind of recursive meta-desire is both a good first step and a very cool concept in and of itself. The way to develop desire is to associate with others who have a strong desire already. So, find some developers who really care about improving themselves, make friends and hang out with them. Soon their infectious desire will rub off on you.

Appreciation

A good developer appreciates beautiful code. Let me give you an example. Take a look at this code sample:

Can you guess what the code is? It’s the Quicksort algorithm implemented in Javascript. This algorithm was developed by Sir Tony Hoare in 1959 and is still in use today. Just look at that code. It’s beautiful. It’s poetry. So clever, clean, and concise. I love it!

A good developer must genuinely appreciate excellent code. To be truly good at programming you need to appreciate good coding when you see it – just like a good musician naturally appreciates good music.

Ask for help

There is no shame in asking for help. Some lone-wolf developers would rather hack away at a problem for days, rather than admitting that they could use some help. Don’t be that person. Ask for help. Sometimes a second set of eyes will point out the obvious to you. Sometimes just explaining your thinking to another person will give you the critical insight. Sometimes someone doing right kind of socratic questioning on you will make you think of something you hadn’t previously considered. Great developers love asking for help.

Ownership

The difference between a senior developer and an intermediate developer is that the senior developer takes ownership of the software they are creating. An intermediate developer will do a good job working on their assigned task, competently implementing all the requirements. A senior developer, however, will discover five additional requirements the person writing the requirements document hadn’t even considered and make sure those are done, too. The senior developer takes ownership of the software.

3. Techniques

Memory management 

No, not the computer’s memory. The developer’s memory. Humans can only hold 5-9 conceptsin their short term memory at one time. That is an extremely limited amount of RAM we have to work with. So, while programming, a good developer always uses abstraction and interfaces to make it possible for them to understand what one aspect of the application is doing without having to remember the whole thing. A good developer constantly juggles layers of information they hold in their memory while programming. Sometimes focusing-in on the details of a particular method, other times zooming out to arrange software components at a high level.

I would also recommend adding copious amounts of comments to remind oneself what one was thinking when one wrote a particular class or method. That makes zooming-in so much quicker.

Plan

It’s so tempting to dive in and start coding right away. Don’t do it! Any programming task can benefit from a bit of up-front thought. Maybe draw a little diagram, maybe sketch something out on a whiteboard, maybe write some high-level pseudo-code, maybe just think about your approach for an hour or two, whatever you do, do some planning.

ToDo is a NoNo

Have you written a comment something like this before?

//TODO: This is kind-of a hack, it might fail in a way that is unlikely to happen, but will totally break production when it does, and it will be impossible to diagnose. We should refactor this sometime.

Don’t ever do this. No one ever goes back through all the random todo comments in a codebase. I find there are two reasons why developers add todo comments:

1. They are lazy and can’t be bothered to implement something properly.
2. Doing something properly will genuinely take too long at the current stage of the project.

If you find yourself in scenario #1: easy, don’t be lazy! With scenario #2: don’t use a todo that no one will remember. Instead, use your project management software to write a task and make sure the Project Manager knows about it and why it is important, so they can prioritise the task appropriately.

Take a break

There is some false bravado in working long hours, hacking away at a problem. But the brain works in mysterious ways. Our subconscious is often much better at solving a problem without our conscious awareness, certainly better than our haze of sleep-deprived, caffeine-fueled forced-thinking.  It happens to me all the time: I’m faced with an impossible problem, spend the whole day working on it, get nowhere; then, after a good night’s sleep, I solve the problem in 10-minutes flat.

Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is to stop working. A good developer will know themselves well enough to know when they should work and when they should relax.

4. Communication

Teamwork

The productivity of the team is more important than one’s own productivity. A great developer will gladly spend the entire day helping team members who are stuck, even if it means they get nothing done that day themselves. This highly scientific formula explains it: (One developer working + five developers stuck) < (one developer getting nothing done + five developers working).

Talk

Talking in-person is a great way to communicate. Talking in-person allows people to communicate rapidly and use non-visual cues to focus on the exact knowledge that needs to be communicated.

Introverted developers like to focus on their computer, maybe occasionally using instant messaging, or email to communicate. But written communication is slow and easy to misunderstand. A good developer will know when it’s time to stand up, walk three meters to the next desk and talk to their fellow developers.

Pair program

Awesome developers have a secret superpower. It’s a power one level up from the awesome “talking in-person” superpower. Pair programming is this power.

Pair programming is something all developers should do when faced with a difficult programming challenge. Two developers working together can solve a difficult problem much quicker and much better than one developer working alone. Two developers can talk with each other, sharing understanding and vocalising their thoughts, they can keep each other focused on the task at hand, giving the task far more concentrated attention than a single developer could bring to bear, and they can constantly be checking each other’s work for bugs or oversights. Finally, at the end of the endeavour, both developers have a detailed understanding of the solution. It’s also just plain fun. So, be a great developer, use the pair programming superpower.

Get in the zone

Watch a Starcraft tournament sometime. Starcraft is a serious sport with the top players (all Korean) winning hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money and sponsorships. As you watch a Starcraft game occasionally the camera will show the players’ faces. The players are ultra-focused on the game. They are some of the most concentrated people you will ever see in your life. They are in the zone.

If you have experienced the zone, then you know it is blissfully absorbing. Your attention is completely taken away from other things. Your mind detaches from your body. You are fully in the moment, not conscious of the body, outside reality, or the passage of time. The zone produces an inner clarity where the activity you are doing becomes its own reward and you feel fantastic.

Needless to say, programming in the zone is super-productive. The best developers try to get into the zone as often as possible, and a long time period with no distractions is a prerequisite for entering into the zone.

So, if you want to enter the zone, arrange your day so all the meetings are clustered together and you have a big chunk of uninterrupted time. Also, use an obvious visual cue, like wearing big headphones, and explain to everyone around that it means: “if you value your life, don’t interrupt me unless something is on fire”. Then relax and enjoy your amazing zone-level programming productivity.

Conclusion

You don’t need Hamish-level intellect to be a good developer. Just develop excellent qualities, adopt the right attitude, practice good development techniques and communicate well; and soon you’ll be developing with the best of them. Good luck!

(previously published on SilverStripe.org)

Route Whitelist
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Say you have a SilverStripe website. Then along comes a bot probing your security vulnerabilities on your site. This bot could be written by a Chinese hacker, the NSA or, most embarrassingly, by a security firm you hired to tell you if your website is vulnerable to attack.

The next thing you know: your server’s load goes through the roof; the server runs out of memory; and the website crashes, failing to respond to any requests until you do a hard-reboot.

What just happened?

The inner life of security bots

Security scanning bots work is by sending requests to your website trying to detect potentially exploitable code. The bot has a long list of possible URLs that indicate your website is running xyz software. If xyz software is detected, the bot can try various exploits on that software. Since you are running a SilverStripe website, most of the probing tests result in a 404 responses. There is, for example, no “/wp-admin” on your website.

SilverStripe and 404 Page Not Found requests

Here is what happens when you send request to a SilverStripe site, and that request results in a “Page not found” response:

The request goes to Apache and then Apache runs rules to check for a static file matching the request.

  1. Apache passes the request to SilverStripe.
  2. SilverStripe spins up, loads 1000s of files, checks for logged-in users, etc.
  3. SilverStripe checks for routes that match request.
  4. SilverStripe checks for controllers that match request.
  5. SilverStripe does a bunch of database queries to try and match the request to URLSegments of pages in the database.
  6. SilverStripe fetches the “Error page” from the database.
  7. SilverStripe asks the “Error page” to construct a response.
  8. The response object is rendered to HTML.
  9. The server passes the HTML response back to the web browser.

That whole process typically takes somewhere between 200 – 1000ms, depending on the complexity and page count of your website.

If the bot has no request throttling built-in, it will send a flood of probing requests to your site, all resulting in 404 responses. Each of these requests will trigger multiple database queries, tying up server threads and preventing your site responding to genuine user requests. If too many requests come in all at once, then your server experiences a Denial of Service (DoS) attack and goes down in flames.

I wrote a simple script to simulate a bot scanning for security vulnerabilities. The script sequentially queries 880 potentially vulnerable URLs and reports how long the scan takes. The longer this mock-scan takes, the worse your website will do targeted by a real scan. The result here:

  • Large fully-featured SilverStripe website with 2000 pages: 302 seconds
  • Base SilverStripe installation: 138 seconds
  • Large fully-featured SilverStripe website with Route Whitelist installed: 8 seconds

Route Whitelist

Now I bet you are wondering: what’s this Route Whitelist thing and how does it makes the security scanning problem go away?

Route Whitelist is SilverStripe module that generates a whitelist of potentially valid URLs. That is, a list of URLs that may result in a 200 response. Any request not matching a URL in the whitelist will definitely result in a 404.

It is nearly impossible to generate a list of every possible valid URL for a large complex site. So, instead, the Route Whitelist module generates a list of only all top-level routes, all top-level pages and all controllers. The whitelist will include, for example:

/admin
/who-we-are
/Page_Controller

The module then adds a check to the very first step of the SilverStripe page serving process. That is, it adds an Apache htaccess rule to immediately serve a 404 if a request does not match a URL in the whitelist. That’s why it’s so fast. It cuts out 9 unnecessary steps.

But it only includes top-level items. What about subURLs like: “/who-we-are/our-team”?

Route Whitelist will match only on the first segment of a URL. A request for an invalid subURL (/who-we-are/zyx-cheap-viagra) still gets processed in the slow traditional way.

But that’s okay. We don’t need to speed up every possible “Page Not Found” request. Speeding up 99.9% of 404-requests is plenty good enough. It’s a pragmatic compromise to make this module work.

No fear of the big bad bot

In summary, by installing Route Whitelist you no longer need to fear that a security scanning bot might accidentally or intentionally take down your website.

If that sounds like something you’d like to have running on your website, then go ahead, download a copy of the Route Whitelist module.

(previously published on SilverStripe.org)

5 Principles to Optimise Your Website
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We all like fast websites, and doing website optimisation work is fun. This blog post will give you five principles that you can use to build blazingly fast websites.

Why optimise?

But before we begin we need to consider: why optimise in the first place? Or rather, how do you convince your boss/product-owner/client/spouse that you need to spend the time/money to make your website faster?

Take a look at some research Walmart did to convince themselves to speed up their website. The research shows: the slower your site, the lower your sales. Customers simply get bored waiting for your slow site to load and go elsewhere.

Also, Google now takes website speed into account when calculating your site’s search engine ranking. An analysis clearly shows, all other things being equal, the slower your website speed, the lower its ranking in the Google search results.

Finally, Facebook, frustrated with the slowness of the mobile web, has implemented Facebook Instant Articles. This feature makes certain supported articles in the Facebook news feed load instantly, giving a much better user experience, and getting users to spend (even) more of their time in the Facebook app.

So, without further ado, here are five principles you can use to increase sales on your site, boost your search ranking and increase user engagement.

1. Measure everything

It isn’t useful to micro-optimising something that was really fast to begin with. When optimising anything, it’s important to focus on the slowest part of the application first. Clearing such bottlenecks gives the most speed benefit for the least amount of work. There are a bunch of tools available to help you find the bottlenecks. 

Analyse and profile

An easy way to measure how long a website takes to load is to look at the red “Load” measure at the bottom of the Chrome Network tab. That tells you how long it takes for your page to fully load.

If you want to go a bit deeper, the Chrome dev tools also have an excellent timeline profiling tool available.

You can also run YSlow and PageSpeed Insights on your website to get a report of optimisations you can make.

The JSPerf website is a useful tool to benchmark variations in Javascript code snippets and across different browsers.

Facebook’s XHProf is a great tool for profiling PHP, and it can create nice graphs of the call stack showing bottlenecks highlighted in red and yellow. XHProf also gives you the ability to compare multiple runs, so you can see if and how your optimisation efforts are helping make the code run faster.

bottleneck image

Log slow requests

Configuring your web server to show you slow requests is a great way to zero-in on performance problems to focus your optimisation efforts. Here are some things you can do.

Log the request speed by adding the “%D” parameter to your Apache access log. Logging request speed adds a tiny bit of performance overhead, but gives you great visibility on what aspects of your website are running really slowly. Add this to your Apache configuration:

/usr/local/apache/conf/httpd.conf
LogFormat “%h %l %u %t “%r” %>s %b “%{Referer}i” “%{User-agent}i” %D” combined

Then you can, for example, get a real-time view of all http requests taking longer than 0.5 seconds by running:

tail -f /var/log/apache/access.log | awk ‘$(NF) > 500000’

You can also enable the slow query log in your MySQL/MariaDB database to gain some insight into performance problems stemming from slow database queries. 

Load test

A website might run fine when doing single requests, but fall over as soon you hit it with multiple concurrent requests. That’s why it is important to load test your website. Load testing tools give you a nice report of how your website performs under load.

Two load testing tools I like are Siege (guide) and Apache Bench (guide). Siege is better at simulating real-world requests patterns while Apache Bench is easy-to-use and comes pre-installed on almost any server.

2. Ignore your job title

Minimalist content and design

Are you a content author, information architect, or designer? Some of the biggest performance gains or losses result from decisions made by those disciplines. So, what to do if that’s not your job title? Easy, insert yourself into those discussions anyway and try to make a difference.

For example, try loading these two websites: Google and Dick Smith Electronics. Which takes longer to load? Oh, it’s not a fair comparison you say? The Dick Smith website has a whole bunch of huge banners, images, annoying pop-overs, lots of CSS and slow JS while the Google website is just one image and a search box. Yeah, my point exactly.

Scale horizontally

Are you an Infrastructure Architect? If you have a high-traffic website, then ignore your lack of title, put on your Infrastructure Architecture hardhat and make some changes. You can gain huge performance under load by horizontally scaling out your server stack.

Use a load balancer, introduce multiple web servers, and create multiple database read replicas. It takes some doing to get right and costs a bit more money, but, in circumstances where a single server is struggling and you’ve done all you can to optimise your code, it’s time to scale horizontally and add more servers.

Hint: adding more servers is so much easier if you are in a cloud hosting environment likeAmazon Web Services (AWS).

Spend money, not time

Are you a CEO? Do you have budget approval to purchase third-party software that costs thousands of dollars?

Because most of us don’t have such budget approval, we hesitate to use high-quality commercial software components. For example, you might spend months implementing a charting solution for your website, or you could buy Highcharts. A month of your salary almost certainly adds up to more than the price of Highcharts, and yet I’ve seen developers struggle for months to implement a home-grown charting solution.

Don’t be a penny wise and pound foolish developer. Make use of paid software components and make your project come in early and under-budget.

3. Push to the left

Cache database queries

Take a look at this five-tier website architecture.

5 tier architecture diagram

The database is the slowest component and it is way on the right. You can get massive speed-gains by pushing content from the right to the left of the architecture. The fastest possible database request is a request that is cached by the application server and never actually reaches the database.

Use Nginx (other reverse proxy)

Using a reverse proxy server such as Nginx allows you to cache your static content at the reverse-proxy tier. Nginx is really good at efficiently serving static content (and yes, Apache can be almost as fast if you disable all the features that make Apache so good at serving dynamic content, such as switching Apache from prefork-mode to worker-mode and turning off htaccess file parsing; but doing those things defeats its purpose). Let Nginx handle the static requests and use Apache to handle your complex dynamic request, and you get the best of both worlds.

Use a CDN

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) takes your content and distributes it to end-points all over the world. It does this because the speed of light is too slow. Or rather, light is pretty fast, but light doesn’t travel through optical fibre at the actual speed of light, and there are a bunch of routers, repeaters and stuff that slow the light down. The end result is that a request from New Zealand to Europe has a latency of over half a second and there is nothing you can do to speed that up. Well, if you’re Elon Musk you can launch your own fleet of 4000 Low Earth Orbit satellites but, chances are, you’re not Elon Musk, so use a CDN instead (if you are Elon Musk, please give meTesla).

Some CDNs that have endpoints in New Zealand are: FastlyAkamaiIncapsulaCloudFlare.

If I were choosing a CDN right now, I’d choose CloudFlare. But your experience and requirements may vary. So, please do your own research.

Let the browser do the work

Taking the principle to the extreme, you can push your content to the far left. Push it all the way into the browser.

You can set caching headers so the browser caches content appropriately and doesn’t ask for the same content again. Use a cachebuster GET parameter to invalidate content, rather than trying to invalidate using ETags, content expiry settings, etc. You can even use this technique forimage references within CSS.

Do as much processing as possible in JavaScript. For example, an online calculator that does its processing in JavaScript is so much faster than one that needs to ask the server for the result. Doing stuff in the browser takes a load off your server and gives a better user experience to boot.

4. Deliver fast content

Pre-compute

A static request is much faster than a dynamic request. If you can pre-compute the result of a dynamic request and save it as static content, that greatly improves performance. You might generate a JSON file onAfterWrite of a SilverStripe DataObject, rather than generating it dynamically on every request. You might statically cache page HTML, so you can serve a page without invoking any PHP. Or you might de-normalise some database tables when joins are too slow.

Minify and combined

Take your JavaScript and CSS and remove all the whitespace, comments and line breaks. Then rewrite all your variable names to make them shorter. Now take all your files and combined them into a single file. A single http request for a large file is quicker than multiple requests for several smaller files, so combining files makes your site load faster.

Luckily, you don’t need to do any of these optimisation by hand. There are tools to help you. SilverStripe has the built-in Requirements::combine_files feature. If you want to do more fine-grained optimisation, then you should look into using a build system such as GruntGulp orWebpack.

Compress

Compressing textual content is an easy way to speed things up. All browsers support compressed content (even IE6 with SP2+). Test your site to see if it is already using compressing. If not, then you can easily enable gzip compression by vomiting up some punctuation into (adjusting) your Apache configuration.

Inline content

Consider the following scenario: you have a web page that displays a list of a few thousand items from a server database by loading in a JSON file (a file that you have cleverly pre-generated using the “Pre-compute” principle). You load your page, then the document.ready event fires off an AJAX request to load the JSON file and display it on the front-end, using JavaScript to page through it (cleverly using the “Let the browser do the work” principle). All is well, right? No!

You can speed this page up by having that data already loaded into the HTML of the page. That way the browser doesn’t need to wait for any events and doesn’t need to do any more HTTP requests. The data is right there so that as soon as the JavaScript is loaded, it can display the content.

You can do this by inlining the content directly into the HTML of the page. Be careful not to do this with libraries that might already be cached in the browser, or with files that you are reusing across multiple pages of the site. But, if you have content that sits in a single file and isn’t used anywhere else on the site, and you can efficiently write the file’s content into the HTML of your page, that gives you a nice optimisation. Be sure to json_encode your inlined content to protect against cross-site scripting attacks. 

Know your framework

Spend some time getting to know your framework. You need to know your tools like the back of your hand. Know all the little tricks and implementation details that let you make smart decisions and write efficient code.

For example: know that jQuery.find() is faster than jQuery.children(), because it is a native browser method; know that AngularJS ng-if is faster that ng-show, because it completely removes elements from the DOM instead of just hiding them; and know that SilverStripe <% cached %> partial caching is essential for efficiently generating a menu.

5. Cheat

Great performance isn’t so much about actual raw speed, but more about the perception of speed. If you can make something seem really fast without doing the hard work of actually making it fast, then, by all means, do that. I promise I won’t tell anyone you cheated.

Load in the background

Do you know how Facebook Instant Articles work? They simply pre-load the article before you actually click on it, using up all your bandwidth in the process. You can do that, too. If you have a single-page app, you can use analytics to measure what your user is most likely to click next and load that content before they actually click. The result: instant UI, without any actual increase in speed.

Similarly, you can load additional content as a user scrolls down a long webpage, resulting in so-called infinite scrolling. The old-fashion way would be to display a “next” button. But users typically don’t click onwards to the next page, so infinite scrolling can improve your user-experience in certain cases.

Queue

Sometimes you can respond to the user instantly while doing the actual processing in the background.

This happens, for example, when you send an email in Gmail, or try to order an iPhone on a launch day. Gmail tells you “message sent”, but actually just queues the message for sending at some later time. Similarly, Apple takes your credit card details when you order, puts them into a giant message queue, processes them later, then sends you a message if your payment validation fails, asking you to try again.

Both examples show how you can achieve the illusion of speed by using a queue to immediately respond to the user and delay some slow processing until later. That’s great user experience.

Run less code

Sometimes you don’t need that massive framework. Sometimes a few lines of PHP are all you need. You don’t need to include thousands of PHP files just to increment a counter, give an autocomplete result, or redirect to a different URL.

When you find yourself writing a feature that doesn’t need all the power of SilverStripe, cheat a little: betray your beloved framework, go behind its back and write a cute little stand-alone PHP file. 

Generalise the optimisation

You’ve done all this work, applying all these principles to create a perfectly optimised website. What are you going to do for your next project? Do it all again? Please, don’t do that. Instead, figure out a way to generalise all the great optimisation work you do, so you can take advantage of it for all future projects.

SilverStripe Platform is one way to do just that.

(previously published on SilverStripe.org)

5 tips for SEO with Silverstripe 3
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SEO or Search Engine Optimization, is the practice of getting your website to show up high in search results. SilverStripe 3 provides a number of great SEO features out-of-the-box. Here is a quick rundown of the most useful of these features:

  • Automatic and manual redirects
  • Clean search-engine-friendly URLs
  • Broken link reports
  • Ability to customize meta-tags on each page
  • Easy-to-use CMS UI to craft your website’s content
  • Powerful developer API to implement anything you want

This blog post is about the last two points. How you can use SilverStripe 3 to build a website that is nicely optimized for Google searches (yes, there are other search engines, but let’s face it, no one uses them).

Alright, let’s get to it. Here are some specific optimization techniques you can use to improve your search ranking.

Don’t be a spammer

Google makes 500+ changes to its search ranking algorithm every year. The last two major updates to this search algorithm were called Panda and Penguin. Both these updates focused on detecting low-quality content, content created by spammers with the purpose of tricking Google into ranking their website high in the search results, attracting lots of gullible visitors, displaying lots of ads and ultimately making lots of money. Google now employs many clever techniques to detect this kind of black-hat SEO and penalize sites that use it.

You need to make sure your website doesn’t look like a spam website to Google. That way Google won’t decide to reduce your search engine ranking and you will continue to enjoy lots of visitors coming to your site. Here is the one golden rule to keep in mind:

Build a website that looks like a human built it.

That may seem obvious, but let me break that down into some concrete recommendations:

  • Keep your page titles and headings short and descriptive
  • Vary the anchor text of your links
  • Place no more than 100 links on a single page
  • Avoid duplicate content like the plague (or use rel=”canonical”)
  • Use only a few carefully selected keywords on each page
  • Remove links to low quality “spam” content

Read more about the Panda and Penguin updates here:

Search Engine Watch

Search Engine Journal

Write compelling content

Ultimately, the most importing thing you can do for your website is to write good content. Great content is what attracts visitors to your websites, causing them to recommend your site to others, mention your site on their blog, tweet about it, post it to facebook, etc. I can’t offer much advice on what makes for amazing content. I can say: don’t be afraid to experiment. You can then use Google Analytics to track how many people look at each page on your website and thereby find the best content on your site from an SEO point-of-view and write more content like that.

Learn more about Google Analytics

Use the SilverStripe Google Analytics module to make installing Google Analytics easy.

Landing pages are your best friend

Create landing pages. They are a great way to rank highly in Google search results and they are useful for humans visiting your website, too.

A landing page is a special page on your site that you have optimized for one or two keywords that you want to rank highly for. It’s quite simple: all you need to do is craft a page that is a great resource for someone searching for a specific keyword.

The first step is to do some research to find the keywords you want to target. Then you can write an overview of the topic each keyword relates to, include a few links to other websites that people might find useful, include some deeper links into your own websites that go into more detail on various sub-topics and put all that on an attractively designed page. Keep the entire page short and uncluttered and be sure to link to it directly from your website’s homepage (keeping in mind not to put too many links on your homepage).

Check out the guide to creating a good landing page and some examples of effective landing pages.

Decide to go multi-site or single-site

An important decision about how you want to build your website is if you want to put all your content into a single website on a single domain, or if you want to spread it out across multiple websites on separate domains.

Multiple websites mean that you can take advantage of a special boost that Google gives your website if your domain is an exact match for what someone is searching for. E.g. if someone searches for “silverstripe cat food” and you happen to own silverstripecatfood.com, then you get a huge boost in your Google ranking. So, if your goal is to get as many people as possible to visit your network of websites, because more visitors means more advertising revenue for you, then multi-site might be the right way to go.

A single-site approach also has its advantages. If you put all your content onto a single website, then that website benefits from all your compelling content. The site can become the ultimate resource for whatever your organization is about. It might not attract quite as many total visitors as the multi-site approach, but if you are selling a product or service on your single website, then that is where you want your visitors to land. No use attracting visitors to numerous other websites, even if those sites have links back to your main website, if those visitors could just as well be coming directly to your main website.

Read more about the trade offs between multi-site or single-site website structures here.

If you want to go “multi-site”, then you can avoid many of the headaches that come with maintaining and administrating multiple websites by using the SilverStripe Subsites module.

Speed up your site

Website speed makes a small but noticeable difference in your Google ranking. This is especially true if your website loads particularly slowly. Besides hurting your Google rank, a slow website is extra load on your web-server, a bad user experience and risks that your website will go down if it gets an unexpected spike in visitors.

The good news is that we have optimized SilverStripe 3 to be faster. Here are some of the new features in SilverStripe 3 that increase its performance.

In addition to those benefits that you get simply by using SilverStripe 3, you can implement specific optimizations to further improve your websites performance. Here is a list of techniques. We can go into detail on some of these in future blog posts.

  • Static caching
  • Partial caching
  • Enabling gzip compression
  • Adding expiry headers
  • Optimizing your Javascript performance
  • Combining and minifying Javascript
  • Combining and minifying CSS
  • Creating image sprites
  • Resampling and re-compressing images

Read more about more techniques for improving website performance here:

http://developer.yahoo.com/yslow/

https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/

(previous published on SilverStripe.org)

Should you peel almond skin after soaking?
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Almonds are a great healthy addition to any diet. They contain monounsaturated fats, which are great for all kinds of things.

It is, however, essential that you soak almonds for at least 8 hours before eating them. See this chart of soaking times for all kinds of nuts and beans.

Nuts like almonds are naturally coated with enzyme inhibitors, which prevent the almonds sprouting and turning into almond trees until they get really wet. The almond is designed to only sprout when it is in the possible position to grow. Wet ground is such a position and the enzyme inhibitors delay the sprouting until they are washed off by the water in soaking wet ground. Crafty humans can wash off the enzyme inhibitors by simulate soaking wet ground and placing the almonds in a bowl of water.

Enzyme inhibitors also prevent the enzymes in the human digestion system from working. So, eating unsoaked almonds is really bad for digestion. At best you get lots of gas, at worst you get abdominal pains.

Soaking the almonds for 8 hours and throwing out the soaking water removes the enzyme inhibitors and makes the almonds safe to eat.

So, definitely soak your almonds.

After soaking you might wonder whether or not to peel off the almond skin. The answer is: no, don’t peel the skin off.

The skin interacts with the vitamins in the almond and reduces bad (LDL) cholesterol, thereby reducing your risk of heart attack. see this journal article on the topic.

The almond skin also acts as a prebiotic, feeding the good bacteria in the gut, and thereby helping digestion.

(picture credit)

 

 

Test drove a Tesla Model S and it felt like a simulation
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While on vacation in Germany a few months back I test drove a Tesla Model S. It’s quite an amazing car.

The Good:

Styling: the styling of the car feels like Maserati crossed with Mercedes. In fact, a lot of the knobs and switches are the exact same ones used in Mercedes cars. 

Instant throttle response: you press down on the pedal, the car accelerates instantly. With any normal car there is a delay while the engine revs up. The electric motor, however, has no delay between the driver giving the command the car accelerating. It makes the car feel very very fast.

Corner: is amazing. The 540kg battery (containing 7104 individual 18650 battery cells) is underneath the floorboards, giving the car a very low centre of gravity. As a result, it feels very secure in corners. Accelerating out into traffic from a T-junction is absurdly quick. In any other car you need to wait for a gap in the traffic then carefully pull out. In the Tesla it feels like you can pull out right behind another speeding car taking a 90-degree turn and accelerating up to at 50km/h in less than a second.

Configurability: using the 17″ touchscreen, you can control almost every aspect of the car. For example, you can change how stiff the steering wheel feels with the push of a button: comfort, standard, or sport. The steering is electrically assisted mechanical, enabling faster actuation than traditional hydraulic or mechanical systems.

No petrol/gas required: the car runs entirely on electricity. You plug it in, charge it up and go. Zero pollution, and substantial cost savings, especially if you sign up with a power company that gives you cheaper off-peak rates for electricity and you set the car to only charge itself at night during off-peak times. Or, if you install solar panels on your root, you can charge your car for free with the power of the sun.

Tesla Model S charging

The Bad:

Price: while fun to test-drive. At starting price of €78,000 (in Germany), that is way too expensive for me. It’s a luxury car, meant to compete with the Mercedes S class, not something for regular people. Tesla’s mainstream car is the upcoming Model 3. Let’s see how good that one is when it comes out.

Windscreen: the windscreen seems narrow and visibility out of the car isn’t great. It’s like looking through a small viewport rather than a large windscreen. The Tesla Model X fixes the issue by including a giant panoramic windscreen.

Simulation: the combination of the small windscreen, the lack of any noise and the instant throttle response, and lack of lean during corners makes the Tesla feel like driving a computer simulation of a car. I had to keep remind myself that I wasn’t sitting in car-simulator, but was driving an actual car on an actual road.

Size: it’s a long car. The Model S is longer than most other cars and sticks out of a normal parking space. Good if you want to carry lots of stuff, but bad for tight corners in cramped city streets. 

Tesla Model S long car 

Turmeric and ulcerative colitis
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I have Ulcerative Colitis (or perhaps Crohn’s Disease – doctors can’t quite make up their minds). It is chronic inflammation of the intestine. Nasty white ulcers form on the inside of the intestine, causing bleeding, cramping and preventing me from digesting food.  There is no apparent cause and no cure.

I thought I had the disease under control with a strict diet and regular acupuncture. However, last month I had a major flair-up. I was in hospital for a week, unable to digest even water. My body gradually recovered with the heal of life-saving steroids. However, steroids have lots of side-effects and shouldn’t be given long-term.

Speaking with one of the chief gastroenterologists at the hospital, and saying how I was into natural medicine, she remembered that she had read a journal article about the amazing ability for turmeric to help heal the inflammation caused by colitis. 

The researchers did a double-blind scientific study where they gave 150 people with colitis, who weren’t responding to conventional treatment, either 3g of concentrated curcumin per day (curcumin is the ingredient in turmeric that has the beneficial medical effects), or a placebo. 50% of those given the curcumin got better, while none of the placebo group improved. This is huge!

Turmeric root contains about 2% curcumin, but most of the curcumin is filtered out by the liver. However, taking the curcumin with a healthy fat like coconut oil, or with black pepper helps it bypass the liver and enter the blood-stream, where it can have its full anti-inflammatory effect. By taking curcumin extract with the fat or pepper, a 1g tablet gives the same benefit as taking 1kg of turmeric root. There is an excellent Nutrition Facts video on boosting the bioavailability of curcumin, and another on the healing power of curcumin

I did the research on what curcumin supplement is best and my conclusion is: Doctor’s Best Curcumin C3 Complex with BioPerine. (BioPerine is black pepper). I’m taking this every day now. Many thanks to the Margaret’s Corner blog for the recommendations.

(Warning: Curcumin and BioPerine do have some side-effects. Curcumin is a blood thinner and can increase the risk of bleeding, it can cause hypoglycemia for those with diabetes, it isn’t recommend for someone with gallbladder problems, and it shouldn’t be taken during pregnancy. BioPerine can prevent certain pharmaceutical medicine from working. Most notably antibiotics don’t do anything if taken with BioPerine.)

 

Spiritual technology
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Chicago, 1972 ­– a group of students milled around an orange robed, shaven head monk who had travelled to America to share spiritual wisdom. He had made the journey from his home in India when he was sixty-nine, suffering two heart attacks along the way. Many thought he wouldn’t make the full journey. But His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was determined to share the knowledge of Krishna consciousness with the West. Within a year he had established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) whose aim was to do just that.

A university student named Roger was part of the group meeting with the extraordinary spiritual teacher that day in Chicago. Everyone was asking questions, and Roger was waiting for his chance to ask his. When there was a lull in the conversation, he raised his hand and asked: “Swami, could you tell me about Vedic technology?”

Vedic knowledge comes from the Vedas, ancient spiritual texts packed with advanced knowledge. This knowledge is the basis of the spiritual system known as Krishna Consciousness.

Roger had read many books describing sophisticated ancient technologies, and he expected Prabhupada to give more information on the topic. But instead, Prabhupada simply responded, “Vedic technology is the system of passing spiritual knowledge from teacher to student.”

Huh?

This was not at all what Roger was expecting. Here was Prabhupada, a man with vast knowledge of all the Vedic writings. Prabhupada would teach spiritual knowledge all over the world, write over sixty books, found over a hundred temples and create the vision to build the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, the largest temple in the world, currently under construction in Mayapur, India.

He could have talked about Amazing Ancient Technologies such as:

 vastu mandala

Vastu, the ancient science of architecture and city planning. The Vedic writings explain how to arrange a building for maximum positive energy and comfort; how certain geometric symbols influence the energy-dynamics in a house; how to insulate a house with baked bricks; how to construct a multi-level house with an inner courtyard that is cool in the summer and warm in the winter; how to construct an underground sewage system, and much more. This remarkable science was available in 5000-year old literature. So, why didn’t Prabhupada mention it?

Pyramid of The Sun

Or, how about sonic levitation? The Vedic writings explain that specific sounds spoken in exactly the right way can produce wondrous effects. One use of the sonic technology was to levitate objects. This technology from India may have spread all over the world and enabled the building of great pyramids by the ancient Mayan civilisation in Mexico, where stories mention “needing only to whistle to bring together stones in their correct position in buildings.” Or, in ancient Greece, where Amphion built the city of Thebes, “using sounds from a harp to move large stones” has been described. Furthermore, the Swedish engineer Henry Kjellson observed monks using sonic technology in Tibet in the 1920s: “The monks played trumpets and drums, chanted rhythmically, and four minutes later, a stone block wobbled on the ground then rose into the air, and, in an arc-like pattern, travelled to a ledge 750 feet above. There the stone crashed to a halt, sending dust and gravel flying in all directions.”

nuclear bomb blast

And why didn’t Prabhupada discuss the ancient Brahmastra nuclear weapon? The Mahabharata, a 5000-year old historic chronicle, describes the elite warrior Arjuna, who had the ability to use specific spiritual sound vibration to unleash a nuclear explosion upon his opponents. The text describes the effect of such a weapon:

“An incandescent column of smoke and flame, as bright as ten thousand suns, rose with all its splendour. The corpses were so burned as to be unrecognisable. Hair and nails fell out, pottery broke without apparent cause, and the birds turned white . . . After a few hours all foodstuffs were infected . . . To escape from this fire the soldiers threw themselves in streams to wash themselves and their equipment.”

Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who headed the Manhattan Project to create the first nuclear weapon during World War II, was a student of the Vedic literature. When he saw the mushroom cloud rise after the test firing of the first nuke in the New Mexico desert, he quoted a verse from the Bhagavad-gita (part of the Mahabharata) saying:

“Now I am become Death, [Time] the destroyer of worlds.” (11.32)

Later, when asked if that was the first bomb of such power ever created, he responded: “Well, yes, in modern times.” Oppenheimer had read the stories of the Brahmastra weapon and recognised that he had merely recreated a technology previously known in ancient India.

Given these mind-blowing examples of Vedic technology, why did Prabhupada deem it only worthy of mentioning the system of knowledge transmission? Let’s try and understand.

Knowledge Transfer System

There are three ways of learning something new:

  1. By direct observation
  2. By logical deduction
  3. By receiving knowledge from a teacher

All these are valid means of discovering knowledge, but learning from someone who already knows is the easiest and most reliable way of learning. Our eyes can deceive us when observing something, and our logic can be flawed, but a qualified teacher, provided they genuinely know what they are teaching, has none of these shortcomings.

In this way, the Vedic knowledge has been passed down since time immemorial from teacher to student. Originally, the knowledge was passed down as an oral tradition. Then, as writing was invented and memories faded, the text was written down.

A sophisticated feature of the poetic Sanskrit language used in the Vedic knowledge is its built-in error-correction system utilising rhyme and rhythm. If a student makes a mistake while reciting the text, the rhythm is off and it is immediately obvious. This helps ensure that text is kept accurate, and the knowledge isn’t distorted.

Technology to Stop Death

The definition of technology states that for knowledge to be technology it must have a practical purpose. So, for something to be the best technology, it must have the most practical of purposes. Vastu, levitation, and nuclear energy, as amazing as they may be, do not address how to get to the root of the problems we are faced with today nor do they promote life’s real aim. Therefore Prabhupada did not consider them important.

In a conversation in 1976 Prabhupada said:

“Artificial necessities of life do increase your so-called comfort, but if you forget your real business, that is suicidal. We don’t want to stop the modern advancement of technology, although the so-called advancement of technology is suicidal.”

The “real business” Prabhupada was concerned about was the knowledge of the eternal self as different from the temporary material body and the self’s transmigration to a new body at death. The technology he taught was the ability to control that transmigration, to transform the self into a being of pure consciousness and thereby stop death. The death of the material body is inevitable, but the consciousness powering that body can transform into its pure original state with proper application of this spiritual knowledge. As a result, the consciousness of that body doesn’t reincarnate into another body, and the cycle of repeated birth and death is broken.

That technology to stop death was originally taught by Krishna, the Supreme Person, who is himself beyond death. He is therefore uniquely qualified to be the original teacher, and knowledge passed down from him is the perfect technology for understanding our eternal nature. That purpose understanding our true self is, indeed, the aim of life, and this knowledge was taught to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita for the benefit of all humanity. Those who could theoretically stop their body from dying would still be killed at the end of time when the universe collapses in on itself. But Vedic technology is designed to provide a truly unlimited lifespan, beyond the lifetime of the universe, by restoring the self to its true form of pure consciousness, unimpeded by the material body.

“Inconceivable!” you might say. “How can anyone possibly do that?” Srila Prabhupada gives some answers:

“Arjuna was a fighter, and he remained a fighter, but he changed his consciousness. We want that. … We are not against [material] technology. No, but we try to teach this Krishna consciousness to people.”

To restore ourselves to pure consciousness we need to change our consciousness. That doesn’t mean we need to reject lesser technology or necessarily change our occupation. Instead, we simply need to apply Krishna consciousness, the greater technology that will transform our consciousness.

Sound to Transform Consciousness

ChantingonJapaBeads

Krishna consciousness involves chanting the ancient sound vibrations known as mantras. Sound vibrations have the power to levitate giant boulders and create nuclear blasts, but they also have the power to transform consciousness. A mantra’s sound vibrations can help transform a person, eliminating behaviours that are unattractive to the self. For example, by adopting the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, cravings for spiritually unhealthy activities abate automatically. A spiritually unhealthy activity is any activity that binds us to this material world and forces us to reincarnate into a body made of flesh and blood. By stopping such activities we loosen the ropes holding us to our material bodies. However, it is exceedingly difficult to stop all spiritually unhealthy activity only by using one’s personal will power.

Krishna consciousness mantra meditation can help strengthen a person’s will power. In this way a person no longer desires spiritually unhealthy activities. It’s not that we are forced to give them up artificially, but that we simply do not desire them anymore. By adopting the higher taste of the Hare Krishna mantra, the lower taste of activities that cause harm to oneself and harm to one’s environment naturally cease.

Once our consciousness is sufficiently purified by the mantra’s sound vibration, we no longer need to accept another material body at death. Instead, one’s self is ready to enter a world of pure consciousness. You become a person of such high character that you are welcomed into the company of other such highly elevated saintly souls in the spiritual dimension that is Krishna’s home world.

The ideal Vedic teachers instruct their students in this science of consciousness transformation using the system of spiritual knowledge transmission. This applied spiritual technology is Srila Prabhupada’s greatest contribution to the modern world, a timeless gift that helps address the root cause of the world’s problems.

“Yes. You can stop your death. That technology we are teaching.” – Srila Prabhupada

Tale of an accident
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I thought I had it all figured out.

My wife and I were living in South Auckland, but I was working in the CBD, twenty kilometres away from home. I was horrified at the prospect of buying an expensive car, paying for insurance, registration, and maintenance, then, every week, paying for fuel and parking. Parking in Auckland city costs seventy dollars per week. Fuel is another seventy dollars, more or less, depending on the car. And have you seen the traffic on the southern motorway in the morning and evening? It is a continuous traffic jam, taking as long as one and a half hours to get into town. No way!

Then there is the train. It takes you straight into the city, without needing to worry about parking. So far so good. However, you need to first get to the train station, a twenty-minute walk, then you need to wait for a perpetually late train to arrive, another ten minutes on a good day. After that, you need to endure thirty-five minutes sitting on a crowded train with a bunch of depressed looking people.

The train eventually arrives at Britomart station, then you must walk another ten minutes to the workplace. Altogether it takes an hour and fifteen minutes to get to work. Oh, and you need to pay fifty-six dollars per week for the privilege. Catching the train would certainly be better than driving a car, but still, a huge chunk of my day would be spent commuting.

So, what to do? I thought I was smart—I knew just the thing: a scooter. Not a piddly little sewing machine on wheels, but a big 300cc scooter weighing two hundred kilograms. This scooter is basically a motorcycle with an automatic transmission (CVT) and a more comfortable feet-forward riding position. It’s a bike powerful enough to travel on the motorway; a bike that is more fuel efficient than even the most efficient car (fuel costs me twelve dollars per week); a bike that gets free parking in various locations all over the city; a bike that can ride between the lanes to bypass the continuous Auckland traffic jam; a bike that can get me to work in thirty-five minutes flat, no matter how bad the traffic. It was the perfect transport solution.

Before long, I had completed a motorcycle driving test and bought myself a used Sym Citycom 300i for $3,500. It is such a nice scooter, cheap to purchase, has lots of storage space, and it’s fast, reliable, and stable at high speeds. What could possibly go wrong? And did I mention motorbikes get free parking in town? Great! 

So, there I was, riding into town each day, rain or shine. When the traffic slowed I would pull right in between the lanes and bypass the queue, a practice known as “lane splitting.” Splitting is perfectly legal in New Zealand, as long as do it safely and responsibly—you don’t go too much faster than the surrounding traffic and you pull back into the lane once the traffic is going forty kilometres per hour or faster. Splitting also helps you avoid one of the most common types of motorcycle accidents, being rear-ended by a car.

I was happy and content, having conquered the Auckland traffic, until one day on my way to work, something unfortunate happened.

accident diagram

The lanes of traffic on the motorway were moving at different speeds and I was lane splitting between the fast and middle lane. As I was riding, a gap between a truck and car closed up quickly because of the speed differential. I saw the gap close up just five metres in front of me. I grabbed for the brake, but it was too late. I came up between an impossibly tight gap. While braking I tried to swerve left slightly to avoid smashing into the car, but I overcorrected and got my handlebars entangled in the side of the truck. By that time my speed had slowed sufficiently that the truck was now travelling faster than I was, and he drove off, raking the side of my bike and throwing me off balance. Before I knew what was going on, I fell left, into the middle lane, right into the path of another truck. My shoulder slammed into the asphalt, my bike entangling itself with my leg as it skidded to a halt. The driver slammed on his brakes and stopped with a few metres between his truck and me.

A few seconds later, shocked and dazed, while I was trying to take in what had happened, the driver of the truck came running to my aid. I opened my helmet visor, disentangled my foot from my bike, and stood up, with his help. Miraculously, I seemed to be unharmed—or so I thought.

Meanwhile, the driver of the car I had narrowly missed crashing into got out and inspected his vehicle, seemingly unconcerned with my well-being. He was driving a flawlessly gleaming Audi sports car. As I fell to the side my tires must have clipped the Audi, making a black scuff mark on the side door. The owner, an older man, kept angrily pointing at the scuff mark. I was thinking: “I nearly died here, and you are worried about some minor damage to your car? It’s crazy how some people are so entangled in a materialistic illusion. An illusion that convinces them they are non-different from their car; the car is them, the car is supreme, the car is holy. But my head was in too much of a jumble to express my thoughts. I just shrugged my shoulders and ignored the man.

Meanwhile, the friendly truck driver had lifted my bike up and was offering it to me. I looked it over and saw no obvious damage. I hit the starter button and the engine came to life. “Hmm,” I thought, “that could have been bad, but perhaps I can just continue on to work. No need to call the police. The scuff mark hardly qualifies as damage. Great!”

So I thanked the truck driver, continuing to ignore the irrationally angry man, and drove off. However, within a minute, my left foot started to hurt. I ignored it for a while, but it was getting worse and worse by the second. In increasing distress, I took the next exit, turned around and headed back home.

As I pulled into my street, I was chanting to myself, “Hare Krishna, just keep it together; Hare Krishna, almost there, Hare Krishna, just a few more metres.” In acute pain, I parked the scooter, pulled off my helmet, and collapsed onto the floor, sobbing, as my concerned wife came running, holding my one-year-old son.

Some minutes later, I collected myself enough to explain what had happened, and my wife took me to the hospital in her car.

CD in hospital

Many X-rays later, the diagnosis was a severely bruised foot, but with no obvious bone damage. A nurse encased my foot in a cast, and I was discharged later that day.

A week later, I went into the clinic to get some more X-rays. The doctor, examining my foot and seeing severe bruises, told me that I probably had Lisfranc tendon injury and that I would need an operation to reattach a severed tendon. I might never gain full use of my foot again. He ordered a CT-scan to confirm exactly how bad the tendon damage might be.

I was shocked. “Oh no! What will I do? I’ll never be able to walk properly. Let alone run. But I love running. How can the world be so cruel? I’m ruined!”

My wife calmed me down and gently reminded me of the basics of Krishna conscious teachings. “Remember, you are not the body,” she said. “You are not your foot. The foot may be damaged, but the eternal soul that is your consciousness is not harmed and indeed cannot be harmed.”

“That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul.” (Bhagavad-gita 2.17)

“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. It has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. It is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. It is not slain when the body is slain.” (B.G 2.20)

“It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable and immutable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.” [B.G. 2.25]

Hearing this, I said to my wife, “Oh, right, of course! I remember reading these Bhagavad-gita verses many times. Yes, I actually have nothing to worry about. I’m so lucky to be married to a wise lady who can remind me of such things.” I was actually just as much in illusion as the angry Audi driver. He thought he was his car, and I thought I was my foot. Both of our conceptions were silly.

 So, I accompanied my wife home, at peace with my plight.

Another week passed. I had the CT-scan and was waiting in the doctor’s office for the diagnosis. I felt quite content with my situation, happy to accept whatever my condition might be.

The doctor called me in and showed me a 3D model of my foot, courtesy of the scan. The image showed a previously undiagnosed chipped ankle bone and fractured sesamoid bone, but no tendon damage. The two fractures would heal by themselves within the next six weeks. No operation was necessary.

I was wearing full motorcycle armour when I crashed: a helmet, armoured jacket, pants, gloves, and boots. The German Sas-Tec armour pads in my jacket protected my shoulder completely. It was not even sore. The boots (Sidi brand—aptly similar to the Sanskrit word siddhi, which refers to a mystic power acquired by long practice of yoga) saved my foot from more serious damage. My foot would have been ripped open, if I had not been wearing an armoured shoe. Within a month I could walk again and within two months I was fully recovered.

I’m still riding my scooter to work. It’s just too convenient to give up. I am, however, much more careful when lane splitting, always watching the lanes for possible gaps that might suddenly close up.

Today, gazing down at my foot, I still remember the crash. I am most happy to recall how the accident helped me practically realise that my body is not the be-all and end-all of my life. With such a conviction, any hardship can be endured, and any misery is diminished. Studying the Bhagavad-gita has taught me that my body is a wonderful machine, but nothing more. It is a vehicle that I can use to get my soul, my consciousness, into its rightful home beyond this material world, into Krishna consciousness.

“By thus engaging in devotional service to the Lord, great sages or devotees free themselves from the results of work in the material world. In this way they become free from the cycle of birth and death and attain the state beyond all miseries.” (B.G 2.51)

“For one thus satisfied [in Krishna consciousness], the threefold miseries of material existence [miseries caused by other living beings, natural forces, and one’s own mind] exist no longer; in such satisfied consciousness, one’s intelligence is soon well established. (B.G 2.65)

I consider myself fortunate to have had an opportunity to realise the significance of these verses. If practical freedom from misery can be obtained, even in this life, with knowledge of the Krishna conscious teachings, then certainly, with a lifetime to learn and practice, such a state of being is readily available in the next life. Now and forever.

 

Curing death
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Would you like to live forever? Does it sound attractive? For me, I would totally jump at the chance to become immortal. I would imagine that most people, if given the choice, would gladly choose not to die.

A View from Science

With the advancement of science, some people think the cure for death is just around the corner—people like billionaire investor Doug Casey. He shares his view in an interview with fellow investor James Turk:

Technology has been advancing very quickly today. […] We’re at the stage that you can basically grow new ligaments, new veins. This is advancing and compounding […] in a very finite length of time […] if you can survive only another twenty years, perhaps, you might be able to grow a brand new body. And not just any old body! Maybe one that resembles Bruce Jenner’s who won the Decathlon a few years ago. This is the best reason I can think of for becoming wealthy. Because you want to be able to afford wonderful things like that. And it’s as it should be. Why? Because, the way you get wealthy is by producing goods and services for other people. You get wealthy by creating wealth. So, of course, people that have money should be rewarded with being able to buy these things. 11th November 2011

What do you think? Do you agree with Casey’s point of view? Wouldn’t it be great if we could cure death? Shouldn’t the rich be entitled to get first dibs with any anti-death treatment?

A View from Ancient Teachings

Let’s compare and contrast Casey’s enthusiastic account of the possibilities of curing death with a section from A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada’s commentary on the Sri Isopanisad, a book of ancient Indian philosophical wisdom:

By its so-called advancement of knowledge, human civilization has created many material things, including spaceships and atomic energy. Yet it has failed to create a situation in which people need not die, take birth again, become old, or suffer from disease. Whenever an intelligent man raises the question of these miseries before a so-called scientist, the scientist very cleverly replies that material science is progressing and that ultimately it will be possible to render man deathless, ageless, and diseaseless. Such answers prove the scientists’ gross ignorance of material nature. In material nature, everyone is under the stringent laws of matter and must pass through six stages of existence: birth, growth, maintenance, production of by-products, deterioration, and finally death. No one in contact with material nature can be beyond these six laws of transformation; therefore no one—whether demigod, man, animal or plant—can survive forever in the material world.

Material scientists and politicians are trying to make this place deathless because they have no information of the deathless spiritual nature. This is due to their ignorance of the Vedic literature, which contains full knowledge confirmed by mature transcendental experience. (Sri Isopanisad 14)

So, who is right? These are clearly two opposite views of the world. Let’s keep exploring.

 

What If We Could Cure Death?

How about a thought experiment conceiving of what would happen if Casey’s view of the world were to come true? Let’s suppose we could cure death. The exact mechanism of such a cure is unimportant. It could be a new body grown in a vat, a drug that stops the ageing process, nano-tech machines that repair cell damage, or any number of other techniques. Let’s just suppose there were some way to prevent death.

The rich will almost certainly be the first to get the cure. They have the power, resources, and influence to become deathless before anyone else. However, as soon as the news breaks that scientists have cured death, everyone will want the cure. Very quickly, a black market of salesmen will promise the cure in exchange for people’s life savings. Some genuine, most fraudulent.

People will riot in the streets, demanding the anti-death treatment from their governments. You can almost hear them shouting: “Why should only those upper 1 percent get cured? We want it too!”

In a couple of years the cure will become reasonably available to everyone in the western world. It will guarantee that you will never die a natural, peaceful death. Only violent destruction of your body can truly kill you. Socially, the cure will cause massive changes. Almost immediately the institution of marriage will go out the window. People can cope with being married to the same person for ten, twenty, or thirty years. But three hundred years of marriage, or three thousand years? Can you imagine spending the rest of eternity with the same person? The divorce rate is already at 50 percent, but with the cure for death it will increase to 100 percent. Marriage vows will be changed from “until death do us part” to “until we get bored of each other.”

The traditional religions will protest against the cure, probably while secretly partaking themselves. They have everything to loose. What use is the promise of an after life, if the current life lasts forever? New religions will be established, religions not based on fear of death, but based on celebration of life. People will welcome humanism as their saviour, not God. A new saviour, a well-intentioned saviour, a saviour whose solutions, unfortunately, come with some unexpected and unfortunate side-effects, such as those described in the following paragraphs.

There will be no more retirement. What reason is there to ever retire? However, since no one is retiring and children are still being born, unemployment will skyrocket. How do you get a job as a young person if all the other applicants have five thousand years of experience?

Soon, everyone will have done everything there is to do, a million times over. You’ve taken every drug there is, you’ve gotten drunk in every bar on the planet, you’ve slept with every conceivable type of partner, you’ve played every sport ever invented, you’ve visited every tourist destination in every country in the world. You’ve done everything, and so you seriously ask yourself: what’s the point of it all? What goal could you possibly strive for? Intense boredom sets in: boredom leads to despair, despair leads to suicide. A wave of suicides sweeps across the population.

Still, even with people committing suicide in unheard-of numbers, overpopulation will become the number one problem in the world. Currently, without a cure for death, scientists like Hans Rosling estimate that world population will increase from the current seven billion until it stabilises at about eleven billion people by the year 2100. With a cure for death, however, there will be as many as eighteen billion people by 2100, and the number will keep going up and up, until famine or war alleviates the pressure of excess population.

You might think: “Hey, not my problem, I’ll be dead by…oh.”

The increase in population will lead to intense shortages in natural resources. Oil will, of course, run out. Or rather, not run out per se, but become so expensive and energy intensive to extract, that it is no longer viable to mine. Access to clean drinking water will become a closely-guarded privilege for the rich. Food production, reliant on clean water for irrigation, will become more difficult, and food shortages will ravage the world. Countries with strong militaries will try to invade less powerful nations to steal their resources, at first with some pretense of “fighting terrorism” or “peace keeping,” but soon everyone will realise the wars are entirely for natural resources. Most people won’t care.

Governments might even encourage these resource wars, because lots of people dying in wars effectively helps reduce the world population. Suicide might also be encouraged for the same reason. People who kill themselves might be seen as “helping their fellow man.” Perhaps there will be governmentsponsored suicide centres where people can safely and humanely end their own lives.

Ultimately, some nation, pushed to the brink of collapse by all the above pressures, will take to using nuclear weapons in a desperate attempt to kill off the ever-growing population. Other countries will follow suit, and humanity will self-destruct.

Perhaps curing death is not such a good idea, after all?

What Would It Take?

What would it take to cure death, but not destroy everyone’s life in the process? What would a hypothetical scenario be that could let people live forever, without any negative side effects?

We would need unlimited resources, or 100 percent recycling to ensure that resources never run out. Also, people would have to have deeply meaningful, satisfying and rewarding things to do all day, every day, for eternity. We would have to have a total population of saints without any kind of selfish desire, no desire to enjoy at other people’s expense. People would also have to be free of desire to harm themselves in any way. Laws and police wouldn’t be able to achieve this; that would only create a police state. Instead, people would need to freely and willingly choose a saintly lifestyle, ultimately causing laws to become completely unnecessary. With such a society, and a cure for death, we might be able to realistically live forever.

Fantasy? Fiction? Fallacy? Let us turn to the Vedas, the spiritual literature of ancient India, a literature that suggests a realistic method to actually achieve the above scenario.

Spiritual Solution

The Bhagavad-gita, foremost spiritual literature, gives us an initial hint:

“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (2.20)

There are two aspects to this statement. First, the soul is eternal: it is never born and it never dies. There is no overpopulation, because the total number of souls remains constant. Birth and death only happen to the material body, a body controlled and owned by the soul, but ultimately apart from it. There are no resource shortages, because the soul is not a physical thing and does not require any limited material resources to survive.

 

Second, there is reincarnation: the soul can move from one material body to another. A new body gives a new chance in life, a chance to learn from past mistakes; learn, with the previous life being remembered subconsciously.

How do we know there is a soul, a thing that makes eternal life and reincarnation possible? Well, how do we know there is a sun in the sky? We perceive both the soul and the sun by their symptoms. The symptom of the sun is light; we see the light and conclude that there must be a sun. The symptom of the soul is consciousness; we observe our own consciousness and conclude that there must be a soul.

It seems therefore, that, if we accept the Bhagavad-gita, we have nothing to worry about. Our consciousness, our soul, never dies.

“Wait just one minute!” I can hear you saying, “Living forever isn’t enough. People’s qualities also need to be transformed. Otherwise you end up with the distopian future mentioned earlier. How are you going to do that?”

How to Do It?

How do you do it? How do you develop spiritual qualities? How do you practice real yoga, going beyond mere physical exercises? How do you develop into a being of pure consciousness?

The secret is to practice the original and greatest form of yoga: bhakti-yoga, the yoga of loving devotion to Krishna. It’s yoga practice that will gradually transform the heart, mind, and soul, ultimately leading to an eternal life of bliss and knowledge.

This transformation very much makes your life better in the here and now. You develop good qualities, qualities that lead to health, happiness, and fulfillment. Obtaining an everlasting, ever-cognizant, ever-blissful spiritual body in the future, is just a welcome side effect.

The first step in this practice is to start a regular programme of mantra meditation, chanting the great mantra, the maha-mantra, a mantra that transforms consciousness:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In the comic to follow, Dadhici teaches us that if we falsely think the material body is our true self, then we will act selfishly to preserve the body at all costs. However, the body is only a temporary covering of the eternal spirit soul. If we neglect the needs of the soul and focus solely on pleasing the body, we will inevitably be frustrated, as the body will certainly perish. With this understanding we take care of the body for a higher purpose—the purpose of spiritual enlightenment.

vrtra new small

The Zone
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<p>Have you heard of the zone? It’s a state of mind sometimes called “flow state”. Humans experience it when they get really absorbed in an activity, such as sports, music, art, computer programming, and gaming, etc. It is the mad scientist’s state of mind when he is so absorbed in his invention that he hasn’t eaten, washed, or slept in three days; it is the child’s state of mind when she is so absorbed in playing that she doesn’t realise that she has gotten hungry or tired; and it is the StarCraft champion’s state of mind when he is playing the computer game so intensely, executing ten actions per second, hammering his mouse and keyboard, ultimately defeating his opponent through superior focus and “micro”, but has to retire at the age of twenty five because his reflexes become too slow.</p><ul><blockquote><br/><a href=”http://wiki.teamliquid.net/starcraft/Micro_and_Macro”>Micro and Macro in Starcraft</a> <br/><a href=”http://youtu.be/vTt9L3mMTbw”>Video of someone who is in the zone playing micro Starcraft</a></blockquote></ul><p>If you have experienced the zone, then you know it is blissfully absorbing. Your attention is completely taken away from other things. Your mind detaches from your body. You are fully in the moment, not conscious of the body, outside reality, or the passage of time. The zone produces an inner clarity where the activity you are doing becomes its own reward and you feel fantastic.</p><p>Many Eastern teachings, including the art and science of Krishna Consciousness, explain that we are not the body, but are, in fact, beings of pure spiritual consciousness. The zone closely resembles our original state of pure consciousness and is therefore a state of such great happiness. It is not, however, automatically a spiritual experience. It can be spiritual, but more often than not, it is simply the material mind getting absorbed in a material activity without any direct spiritual connection.</p><p>For all its wonders, there are some problems with the zone. For one, it is difficult to get into. It requires an activity that you are very skilled at and that is very challenging at the same time. Such activities are hard to come by, and the more you master them, the less likely they reliably lead you into the zone. </p><p><img class=”left” src=”http://deltaflow.com/assets/_resampled/resizedimage500500-zone-diagram.png” alt=”getting into the zone diagram” title=”teststashapp” width=”500″ height=”500″/></p><p>(source: <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)”>Wikipedia</a>)</p><p>The zone is also very much a temporary state. You might loose track of time for a while, but sooner or later you emerge from the zone and enter back into mundane reality—the bills, the work, and the usual routine.</p><p>The yoga texts of ancient India elaborately describe Krishna Consciousness’ path into the zone. The texts present a practice of meditation that leads to greater and greater absorption in relationship with the Supreme Consciousness, to Krishna Consciousness. This path starts with hearing sacred sound vibration, then repeating such sounds as you have heard them. This repetition can be done either quietly in “japa” meditation, or loudly in “kirtan” singing. The more you repeat the sacred mantras, the more they embed themselves into your consciousness. Soon, you start to remember them throughout the day, and your mood lifts. With determined practice, the mantras (sounds that represent the many names of the Supreme) become second nature, until you remember them in every situation. Prolonged practice of such Krishna Consciousness leads to a state known as “samadhi”, pure spiritual trance, or fully awakened consciousness. In that state you completely understand your relationship to the Supreme and inhabit a body made of pure spiritual consciousness. You are no longer of this material world. You are completely happy, fully and permanently in the spiritual zone.</p><p><img class=”left” src=”http://deltaflow.com/assets/_resampled/resizedimage450254-Hannold2.jpg” width=”450″ height=”254″ alt=”” title=””/></p><p>Below are some amazing videos of Alex Honnold, supremely expert free-solo climber. He climbs vertical walls without any tools, ropes, or support. I think part of the reason he does this is because he can reliably enter into the zone when doing such climbs and there is great happiness in that state. Alex has an amazing skill and I have the greatest respect for him. Still, as you watch the videos (notice your hands start to sweat as you watch) think to yourself how much safer, easier, and more accessible path into the zone you might find by seeking out a friendly group of spiritual practitioners, practitioners engaged in chanting japa and kirtan, practitioners on their way into “samadhi”.</p><ul><blockquote><li><a href=”http://youtu.be/SR1jwwagtaQ”>60-minutes report on Alex Honnold</a></li><li><a href=”http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/adventure/featured-videos-adventure/adv-beyond-the-edge-honnold/”>Short version of Alone on a Wall</a></li><li><a href=”http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMjM3MTcyOTgw.html”>Full version of Alone on a Wall</a></li><p> </p></blockquote></ul>

The Zone
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Have you heard of the zone? It’s a state of mind sometimes called “flow state”. Humans experience it when they get really absorbed in an activity, such as sports, music, art, computer programming, and gaming, etc. It is the mad scientist’s state of mind when he is so absorbed in his invention that he hasn’t eaten, washed, or slept in three days; it is the child’s state of mind when she is so absorbed in playing that she doesn’t realise that she has gotten hungry or tired; and it is the StarCraft champion’s state of mind when he is playing the computer game so intensely, executing ten actions per second, hammering his mouse and keyboard, ultimately defeating his opponent through superior focus and “micro”, but has to retire at the age of twenty five because his reflexes become too slow.

Micro and Macro in Starcraft
Video of someone who is in the zone playing micro Starcraft

If you have experienced the zone, then you know it is blissfully absorbing. Your attention is completely taken away from other things. Your mind detaches from your body. You are fully in the moment, not conscious of the body, outside reality, or the passage of time. The zone produces an inner clarity where the activity you are doing becomes its own reward and you feel fantastic.

Many Eastern teachings, including the art and science of Krishna Consciousness, explain that we are not the body, but are, in fact, beings of pure spiritual consciousness. The zone closely resembles our original state of pure consciousness and is therefore a state of such great happiness. It is not, however, automatically a spiritual experience. It can be spiritual, but more often than not, it is simply the material mind getting absorbed in a material activity without any direct spiritual connection.

For all its wonders, there are some problems with the zone. For one, it is difficult to get into. It requires an activity that you are very skilled at and that is very challenging at the same time. Such activities are hard to come by, and the more you master them, the less likely they reliably lead you into the zone. 

getting into the zone diagram

(source: Wikipedia)

The zone is also very much a temporary state. You might loose track of time for a while, but sooner or later you emerge from the zone and enter back into mundane reality—the bills, the work, and the usual routine.

The yoga texts of ancient India elaborately describe Krishna Consciousness’ path into the zone. The texts present a practice of meditation that leads to greater and greater absorption in relationship with the Supreme Consciousness, to Krishna Consciousness. This path starts with hearing sacred sound vibration, then repeating such sounds as you have heard them. This repetition can be done either quietly in “japa” meditation, or loudly in “kirtan” singing. The more you repeat the sacred mantras, the more they embed themselves into your consciousness. Soon, you start to remember them throughout the day, and your mood lifts. With determined practice, the mantras (sounds that represent the many names of the Supreme) become second nature, until you remember them in every situation. Prolonged practice of such Krishna Consciousness leads to a state known as “samadhi”, pure spiritual trance, or fully awakened consciousness. In that state you completely understand your relationship to the Supreme and inhabit a body made of pure spiritual consciousness. You are no longer of this material world. You are completely happy, fully and permanently in the spiritual zone.

Below are some amazing videos of Alex Honnold, supremely expert free-solo climber. He climbs vertical walls without any tools, ropes, or support. I think part of the reason he does this is because he can reliably enter into the zone when doing such climbs and there is great happiness in that state. Alex has an amazing skill and I have the greatest respect for him. Still, as you watch the videos (notice your hands start to sweat as you watch) think to yourself how much safer, easier, and more accessible path into the zone you might find by seeking out a friendly group of spiritual practitioners, practitioners engaged in chanting japa and kirtan, practitioners on their way into “samadhi”.

 

Scientific Spirituality
→ blog

<h3><strong>Science is Great</strong></h3><p><span>Science is great! Science helps us understand the world, cure diseases, build great things like computers, mobile devices, skyscrapers, and jet airplanes. It is useful, fascinating and magical. Indeed, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, as the physicist and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke</span> <a href=”http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Arthur_C._Clarke/”>famously said</a>.</p><p>Moreover, additional benefits of science include wonderful inventions like coal-fired power plants, automobiles, and industrial farming, all allowing humans to do great things like <a href=”http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/entire-rainforests-set-to-disappear-in-next-decade-585840.html”>destroy the rainforest</a>, <a href=”http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-spm.pdf”>raise the temperature of the entire planet</a>, and <a href=”http://innovationwatch.com/extinction-the-causes-and-consequences-of-the-disappearance-of-species-by-paul-and-anne-ehrlich-random-house/”>cause mass extinctions</a>, clearly undesirable side effects of science. However, science will surely be able to solve the problem it has created. Take the Toyota Prius, for example, a wonder of technology, a hybrid car that is extremely fuel efficient. While it still uses fuel like any other car, it is much better than the gas-guzzlers of yesteryear. So good that its “fuel efficiency” is <a href=”http://fatknowledge.blogspot.com/2005/05/horses-vs-cars.html”>close to that of a horse</a>. With a few more years of scientific advances, we will surely be able to make cars that run on nearly nothing, re-grow the rainforest and clone extinct species back into existence. So, science is great. Right?</p><h3><span><strong>The Horsemen Approach</strong></span></h3><p>Have you heard of the Four Horsemen? The <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Horsemen_of_the_Apocalypse”>Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse</a>, <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conquest”>Conquest</a>, <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War”>War</a>, <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Famine”>Famine</a> and <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death”>Death</a>, are described in the last chapter of the Bible as harbingers of final judgement of God over all people. However, I’m not speaking of these horsemen. Rather, I’m referring to the self-styled Four Horsemen known as the torch-bearers of the “New Atheists” movement: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. These four scientists claim to represent critical thinking, knowledge and reason. Disagree with their thinking and you must be an irrational, delusional religious fanatic. After all, they represent science. </p><p>The most famous of the Four Horseman is Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University. A prolific author, Dawkins is best known for his book “<a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0618918248/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=julianseidenb-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0618918248″>The God Delusion</a>”. He also occasionally gives <a href=”http://www.richarddawkins.net/events”>public lectures</a>. I remember hearing of one of his lectures a few years ago. </p><h3><span><strong>The Horseman Speaks</strong></span></h3><p>I was sitting in my office in the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester, an office with narrow slits of windows letting in a little daylight, a building that is perpetually either too hot or too cold, having been designed with a monstrously over-powered air-conditioning system for the vacuum tube computers of years gone by. This building, the hallowed halls of learning, the zenith of Western Civilization, is not named after <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing”>Alan Turing</a>, the famous scientist from Manchester who came up with a universal theory of computation. Instead, it is named after <a href=”http://www.computer50.org/mark1/kilburn.html”>Tom Kilburn</a>, the engineer who built the first stored program computer, highlighting the difference between science and engineering. Scientists come up with ideas, but it is the engineers that make them actually work and create technology. Engineering is applied science. </p><p><span>While sitting at my desk, Mikel, a friend and fellow PhD student, came in wearing a large backpack. I waited until he sat down and caught his breath, then asked him where he just came from. He explained he was at Oxford University for a public lecture by Richard Dawkins. I then asked what he thought of the lecture, expecting a rant about how Dawkins was brilliantly condemning religion, especially the Catholic Church. Mikel was a staunch atheists with a special axe to grind against the Catholic Church, an organization quite prominent in his home country of Spain. I enjoyed these rants, as they were quite entertaining and often led to interesting friendly arguments between the two of us.</span></p><p><span>Much to my surprise, however, Mikel said he was disappointed by Dawkins’ talk. Mikel explained that he was expecting Dawkins to make some good arguments for atheism, but instead the Professor was using emotional language and preaching like a Bible-basher. According to Mikel, Dawkins sounded as much as a religious fanatic, as the religious leaders he was speaking against with such “religious” fever.</span> </p><p><span>I remember this incident because it taught me of the insidiousness the Western materialistic scientific worldview. Matter is imbued with extraordinary secret powers. The material universe can come from nothing by magic, life can arise from matter by accident, and consciousness can arise from the brain by biochemical reaction. These claims are true, because, well, they just are.</span></p><h3><span><strong>Science is True</strong></span></h3><p><span>Let us examine a few of the ideas of materialistic science. I was quite astounded when I first learnt of each of these, reacting with a “wow, I would never have thought!”</span></p><p>It is common knowledge that the Earth orbits around the Sun. The Earth as the center of the Universe is an archaic idea, an outdated concept, one that no one believes in anymore. Western scientists as far back as <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaus_Copernicus”>Copernicus</a> have discovered that actually the Sun is in the center and the Earth <a href=”http://csep10.phys.utk.edu/astr161/lect/retrograde/copernican.html”>orbits around that</a>. </p><p>But not so fast. If we dig a bit deeper we learn that accepted wisdom is false. The Earth actually orbits around the gravitational center of the solar system. Large planets such as Jupiter and Saturn, pull on the Earth with their enormous gravitational force. This causes the central point of orbit to vary greatly. Indeed, it is almost <a href=”http://mechanicalintegrator.com/?p=148″>never being centered directly on the Sun</a>. We can go further still. Let us take into account that our entire solar system is orbiting around the galactic core, and our galaxy, in turn, is probably moving and orbiting in some undiscovered pattern around other galaxies. So, why do we believe one childish simplification of the structure of the universe (Sun is the center) in favor of another (Earth is the center)?</p><p>To <a href=”http://our.ownpointofview.com/?p=1″>quote Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi</a>:</p><blockquote><p>”Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our <a href=”http://www.obimomkenobi.com/2008/06/many-of-the-truths-we-cling-to-depend-greatly-on-our-own-point-of-view/”>own point of view.</a>”</p></blockquote><p><span>There is more scientific “truth” that falls into this hazy realm, a realm of generally accepted scientific wisdom, a place of theories that no one has ever verified by observation and theories which are impossible to verify by observation.</span></p><p><span>One such hypothesis is the big bang theory. It proclaims to explain the origin of matter, time and space, but it seems highly unlikely that anyone will be able to stage an experiment to verify what actually happened at the beginning of the universe.</span></p><p>Then there is macro-evolution. A species is defined as a group of life-forms that <a href=”http://www.pnas.org/cgi/pmidlookup?view=long&amp;pmid=15851674″>can interbreed producing fertile offspring</a>. Evolution claims that species evolve into other species, yet scientists have <a href=”http://www.icr.org/index.php?module=articles&amp;action=view&amp;ID=867″>never observed</a> any animal evolving into a new creature that no longer can interbreed with members of its previous species).</p><p>The last question we will tackle is the origin of life, and the <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/026269221X/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=julianseidenb-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=026269221X”>origin of consciousness</a>. How best to get to the bottom of these mysteries and know for sure? Could such a thing even be possible? Believe it or not, I see very good reasons to be optimistic about solving these conundrums.</p><h3><span><strong>Science is becoming more Scientific</strong></span></h3><p><span>Why do I see reasons to be optimistic? Two reasons, each converging on the other, as if seeking to merge in a wonderful fusion of spiritual and material knowledge.</span></p><p><span>On the spiritual side: we are rediscovering ancient spiritual knowledge that gives a detailed scientific account of life, the universe and consciousness. More on this a bit later on.</span></p><p>On the material side: some scientists are beginning to remove the blinders of materialism, considering that perhaps there might be more to the universe than just matter. Chinks are beginning to appear in the armor of the Western materialist worldview. People are beginning to realize that <a href=”http://www.springerlink.com/content/k477132777n3660v/”>money does not buy happiness</a>, unlimited economic <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/155963071X/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=julianseidenb-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=155963071X”>growth is unsustainable</a>, and something as subtle as consciousness plays a <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-slit_experiment”>significant role in the laws of physics</a>. Scientists are realizing there is a great need for scientific research to answer fundamental questions such as: What is consciousness? How can we become more conscious? What is happiness? How can we become more happy?</p><p>In short, science is realizing that true science can and should be open to the <a href=”http://pypacademymiami2011.wikispaces.com/file/view/BRADY+Eng.pdf”>study of everything</a> and scientific spiritual knowledge is eagerly waiting to be rediscovered by open-minded scientists. Wonderful! </p><h3><span><strong>Vedas: Knowledge of Everything</strong></span></h3><p><span>I first came across the Vedic wisdom ancient India in the year 2000 while studying at the University of Southampton. I stumbled upon a university club dedicated to studying and applying the knowledge contained in the Vedas. “Veda” literally means knowledge, and the many books that encompass the Vedic literature indeed contain a great deal of knowledge.</span></p><p><span>One of the many pearls of timeless Vedic wisdom is that real spiritual knowledge should be scientific. The Vedas teach how to use scientific methods to study and understand spirituality. This was an intriguing proposition. I had always admired the rigor of scientific knowledge, and here was a way to apply that methodology to the big questions of life (who am I, why are we here, etc.)</span> </p><p><span>The Vedic wisdom explains the mystery of conscious as follows.</span></p><blockquote><p><span>“O son of Bharata, as the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness.”</span></p><p>- <a href=”http://vedabase.net/bg/13/34/”>Bhagavad-Gita 13.34</a></p></blockquote><p>That is the basis of scientific spiritual teachings. The body only functions when there is consciousness, without consciousness there can be no life. At the same time, the conscious entity is a separate thing from the material body. Some interpretations of quantum mechanics lead to <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0199753814/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=julianseidenb-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0199753814″>similar conclusions</a>.</p><h3><span><strong>Happiness, proof in the pudding</strong></span></h3><p>Everyone wants to be happy. The United States of America was founded on the promises of the right to the “<a href=”http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/”>pursuit of happiness</a>.” Yet it offers no clue on how someone might go about finding happiness. Indeed, that is one of the great mysterious of life. What will make me happy?</p><p><span>It turns out that happiness is one of the key factors in the scientific approach to spiritual knowledge. The Vedic knowledge explains a step-by-step process for finding happiness, happiness with a very distinct flavor, happiness unlike any previously experienced, happiness that is, quite literally, out of this world.</span></p><p><span>Here is a quote from a Vedic scripture on the topic of happiness.</span></p><blockquote><p><span>“Some say that people will be happy by performing pious religious activities. Others say that happiness is attained through fame, sense gratification, truthfulness, self-control, peace, self-interest, political influence, opulence, renunciation, consumption, sacrifice, penance, charity, vows, regulated duties or strict disciplinary regulation. Each process has its proponents.”</span> </p><p>- <a href=”http://vedabase.net/sb/11/14/10/”>Srimad Bhagavatam 11.14.10</a></p></blockquote><p><span>All the persons I have just mentioned obtain temporary fruits from their material work. Indeed, the meager and miserable situations they achieve bring future unhappiness and are based on ignorance. Even while enjoying the fruits of their work, such persons are filled with lamentation. </span> </p><blockquote><p>O learned Uddhava, those who fix their consciousness on Me [Krishna], giving up all material desires, share with Me a happiness that cannot possibly be experienced by those engaged in sense gratification.”</p><p>- <a href=”http://vedabase.net/sb/11/14/12/en”>Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.14.12</a></p></blockquote><p><span>This quote acknowledges various approaches to attaining happiness, ultimately recommending the approach of fixing one’s consciousness upon Krishna, Krishna being the Supreme Personality of Godhead, universally revered throughout the Vedic literature. The happiness experienced during this practice of “Krishna Consciousness” is markedly different from the happiness experienced through so many other activities. Here we have a scientific hypothesis: happiness in Krishna Consciousness is distinct from the happiness experienced when pleasing the senses.</span></p><p><span>“Hold on!” you might say, “happiness is a subjective experience, not something that can be objectively measured. Science only deals with things that are objectively measurable.” True enough, but consciousness is an entirely subjective experience, and that is exactly what we are trying to study here. We have to cast off the shackles of materialistic science to make progress is this exciting new field of spiritual science. Just because something is not objectively measurable does not mean it does not exist, and certainly does not mean we should not endeavor to study it. Otherwise, if we neglected to study anything new and unknown, how could we make any progress?</span></p><h3><span><strong>Process</strong></span></h3><p><span>So how does one make process in this exciting realm where science and spirituality coalesce? The Vedic wisdom suggests an approach.</span></p><blockquote><p>“Now hear, O son of Pṛthā, how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt.”</p><p>- <a href=”http://vedabase.net/bg/7/1/en”>Bhagavad-Gita 7.1</a></p></blockquote><p><span>Here Krishna is speaking in the seventh chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita. He is explaining a scientific yoga process for understanding His nature. This process is more than just physical exercise. Yoga is a complete system for self-realization where the physical yoga postures are only one small part of the routine, there to make the practitioner fit to dive deeper into the complete system, culminating in complete absorption in the spiritual energy, resulting in full consciousness of Krishna beyond any doubt. So, at the end of a systematic process we have scientific proof.</span> </p><p><span>The process Krishna mentions involves integrating Krishna consciousness into everyday activities, aligning them with Krishna’s desires. Krishna recommends, reading about him, chanting of special Vedic mantras, contemplating the spiritual science and ultimately dedicating all one’s actions for a spiritual purpose. At the end of the process, the result should speak for itself.</span></p><p>As the Nobel Prize winning quantum physicists <a href=”http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1932/heisenberg-bio.html”>Werner Heisenberg</a> has famously said: </p><blockquote><p><span>“The first gulp from the glass of the natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”</span></p></blockquote>

Scientific Spirituality
→ Home

Science is Great

Science is great! Science helps us understand the world, cure diseases, build great things like computers, mobile devices, skyscrapers, and jet airplanes. It is useful, fascinating and magical. Indeed, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, as the physicist and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke famously said.

Moreover, additional benefits of science include wonderful inventions like coal-fired power plants, automobiles, and industrial farming, all allowing humans to do great things like destroy the rainforest, raise the temperature of the entire planet, and cause mass extinctions, clearly undesirable side effects of science. However, science will surely be able to solve the problem it has created. Take the Toyota Prius, for example, a wonder of technology, a hybrid car that is extremely fuel efficient. While it still uses fuel like any other car, it is much better than the gas-guzzlers of yesteryear. So good that its “fuel efficiency” is close to that of a horse. With a few more years of scientific advances, we will surely be able to make cars that run on nearly nothing, re-grow the rainforest and clone extinct species back into existence. So, science is great. Right?

The Horsemen Approach

Have you heard of the Four Horsemen? The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Conquest, War, Famine and Death, are described in the last chapter of the Bible as harbingers of final judgement of God over all people. However, I’m not speaking of these horsemen. Rather, I’m referring to the self-styled Four Horsemen known as the torch-bearers of the “New Atheists” movement: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. These four scientists claim to represent critical thinking, knowledge and reason. Disagree with their thinking and you must be an irrational, delusional religious fanatic. After all, they represent science. 

The most famous of the Four Horseman is Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University. A prolific author, Dawkins is best known for his book “The God Delusion”. He also occasionally gives public lectures. I remember hearing of one of his lectures a few years ago. 

The Horseman Speaks

I was sitting in my office in the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester, an office with narrow slits of windows letting in a little daylight, a building that is perpetually either too hot or too cold, having been designed with a monstrously over-powered air-conditioning system for the vacuum tube computers of years gone by. This building, the hallowed halls of learning, the zenith of Western Civilization, is not named after Alan Turing, the famous scientist from Manchester who came up with a universal theory of computation. Instead, it is named after Tom Kilburn, the engineer who built the first stored program computer, highlighting the difference between science and engineering. Scientists come up with ideas, but it is the engineers that make them actually work and create technology. Engineering is applied science. 

While sitting at my desk, Mikel, a friend and fellow PhD student, came in wearing a large backpack. I waited until he sat down and caught his breath, then asked him where he just came from. He explained he was at Oxford University for a public lecture by Richard Dawkins. I then asked what he thought of the lecture, expecting a rant about how Dawkins was brilliantly condemning religion, especially the Catholic Church. Mikel was a staunch atheists with a special axe to grind against the Catholic Church, an organization quite prominent in his home country of Spain. I enjoyed these rants, as they were quite entertaining and often led to interesting friendly arguments between the two of us.

Much to my surprise, however, Mikel said he was disappointed by Dawkins’ talk. Mikel explained that he was expecting Dawkins to make some good arguments for atheism, but instead the Professor was using emotional language and preaching like a Bible-basher. According to Mikel, Dawkins sounded as much as a religious fanatic, as the religious leaders he was speaking against with such “religious” fever. 

I remember this incident because it taught me of the insidiousness the Western materialistic scientific worldview. Matter is imbued with extraordinary secret powers. The material universe can come from nothing by magic, life can arise from matter by accident, and consciousness can arise from the brain by biochemical reaction. These claims are true, because, well, they just are.

Science is True

Let us examine a few of the ideas of materialistic science. I was quite astounded when I first learnt of each of these, reacting with a “wow, I would never have thought!”

It is common knowledge that the Earth orbits around the Sun. The Earth as the center of the Universe is an archaic idea, an outdated concept, one that no one believes in anymore. Western scientists as far back as Copernicus have discovered that actually the Sun is in the center and the Earth orbits around that

But not so fast. If we dig a bit deeper we learn that accepted wisdom is false. The Earth actually orbits around the gravitational center of the solar system. Large planets such as Jupiter and Saturn, pull on the Earth with their enormous gravitational force. This causes the central point of orbit to vary greatly. Indeed, it is almost never being centered directly on the Sun. We can go further still. Let us take into account that our entire solar system is orbiting around the galactic core, and our galaxy, in turn, is probably moving and orbiting in some undiscovered pattern around other galaxies. So, why do we believe one childish simplification of the structure of the universe (Sun is the center) in favor of another (Earth is the center)?

To quote Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi:

“Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.

There is more scientific “truth” that falls into this hazy realm, a realm of generally accepted scientific wisdom, a place of theories that no one has ever verified by observation and theories which are impossible to verify by observation.

One such hypothesis is the big bang theory. It proclaims to explain the origin of matter, time and space, but it seems highly unlikely that anyone will be able to stage an experiment to verify what actually happened at the beginning of the universe.

Then there is macro-evolution. A species is defined as a group of life-forms that can interbreed producing fertile offspring. Evolution claims that species evolve into other species, yet scientists have never observed any animal evolving into a new creature that no longer can interbreed with members of its previous species).

The last question we will tackle is the origin of life, and the origin of consciousness. How best to get to the bottom of these mysteries and know for sure? Could such a thing even be possible? Believe it or not, I see very good reasons to be optimistic about solving these conundrums.

Science is becoming more Scientific

Why do I see reasons to be optimistic? Two reasons, each converging on the other, as if seeking to merge in a wonderful fusion of spiritual and material knowledge.

On the spiritual side: we are rediscovering ancient spiritual knowledge that gives a detailed scientific account of life, the universe and consciousness. More on this a bit later on.

On the material side: some scientists are beginning to remove the blinders of materialism, considering that perhaps there might be more to the universe than just matter. Chinks are beginning to appear in the armor of the Western materialist worldview. People are beginning to realize that money does not buy happiness, unlimited economic growth is unsustainable, and something as subtle as consciousness plays a significant role in the laws of physics. Scientists are realizing there is a great need for scientific research to answer fundamental questions such as: What is consciousness? How can we become more conscious? What is happiness? How can we become more happy?

In short, science is realizing that true science can and should be open to the study of everything and scientific spiritual knowledge is eagerly waiting to be rediscovered by open-minded scientists. Wonderful! 

Vedas: Knowledge of Everything

I first came across the Vedic wisdom ancient India in the year 2000 while studying at the University of Southampton. I stumbled upon a university club dedicated to studying and applying the knowledge contained in the Vedas. “Veda” literally means knowledge, and the many books that encompass the Vedic literature indeed contain a great deal of knowledge.

One of the many pearls of timeless Vedic wisdom is that real spiritual knowledge should be scientific. The Vedas teach how to use scientific methods to study and understand spirituality. This was an intriguing proposition. I had always admired the rigor of scientific knowledge, and here was a way to apply that methodology to the big questions of life (who am I, why are we here, etc.) 

The Vedic wisdom explains the mystery of conscious as follows.

“O son of Bharata, as the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness.”

Bhagavad-Gita 13.34

That is the basis of scientific spiritual teachings. The body only functions when there is consciousness, without consciousness there can be no life. At the same time, the conscious entity is a separate thing from the material body. Some interpretations of quantum mechanics lead to similar conclusions.

Happiness, proof in the pudding

Everyone wants to be happy. The United States of America was founded on the promises of the right to the “pursuit of happiness.” Yet it offers no clue on how someone might go about finding happiness. Indeed, that is one of the great mysterious of life. What will make me happy?

It turns out that happiness is one of the key factors in the scientific approach to spiritual knowledge. The Vedic knowledge explains a step-by-step process for finding happiness, happiness with a very distinct flavor, happiness unlike any previously experienced, happiness that is, quite literally, out of this world.

Here is a quote from a Vedic scripture on the topic of happiness.

“Some say that people will be happy by performing pious religious activities. Others say that happiness is attained through fame, sense gratification, truthfulness, self-control, peace, self-interest, political influence, opulence, renunciation, consumption, sacrifice, penance, charity, vows, regulated duties or strict disciplinary regulation. Each process has its proponents.” 

Srimad Bhagavatam 11.14.10

All the persons I have just mentioned obtain temporary fruits from their material work. Indeed, the meager and miserable situations they achieve bring future unhappiness and are based on ignorance. Even while enjoying the fruits of their work, such persons are filled with lamentation.  

O learned Uddhava, those who fix their consciousness on Me [Krishna], giving up all material desires, share with Me a happiness that cannot possibly be experienced by those engaged in sense gratification.”

Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.14.12

This quote acknowledges various approaches to attaining happiness, ultimately recommending the approach of fixing one’s consciousness upon Krishna, Krishna being the Supreme Personality of Godhead, universally revered throughout the Vedic literature. The happiness experienced during this practice of “Krishna Consciousness” is markedly different from the happiness experienced through so many other activities. Here we have a scientific hypothesis: happiness in Krishna Consciousness is distinct from the happiness experienced when pleasing the senses.

“Hold on!” you might say, “happiness is a subjective experience, not something that can be objectively measured. Science only deals with things that are objectively measurable.” True enough, but consciousness is an entirely subjective experience, and that is exactly what we are trying to study here. We have to cast off the shackles of materialistic science to make progress is this exciting new field of spiritual science. Just because something is not objectively measurable does not mean it does not exist, and certainly does not mean we should not endeavor to study it. Otherwise, if we neglected to study anything new and unknown, how could we make any progress?

Process

So how does one make process in this exciting realm where science and spirituality coalesce? The Vedic wisdom suggests an approach.

“Now hear, O son of Pr?th?, how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt.”

Bhagavad-Gita 7.1

Here Krishna is speaking in the seventh chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita. He is explaining a scientific yoga process for understanding His nature. This process is more than just physical exercise. Yoga is a complete system for self-realization where the physical yoga postures are only one small part of the routine, there to make the practitioner fit to dive deeper into the complete system, culminating in complete absorption in the spiritual energy, resulting in full consciousness of Krishna beyond any doubt. So, at the end of a systematic process we have scientific proof. 

The process Krishna mentions involves integrating Krishna consciousness into everyday activities, aligning them with Krishna’s desires. Krishna recommends, reading about him, chanting of special Vedic mantras, contemplating the spiritual science and ultimately dedicating all one’s actions for a spiritual purpose. At the end of the process, the result should speak for itself.

As the Nobel Prize winning quantum physicists Werner Heisenberg has famously said: 

“The first gulp from the glass of the natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

Deltaflow Reincarnated
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<p>Hello everyone. Deltaflow is back! After two years of no posts, I’ve dusted off the old blog and will be posting regularly from now on. </p><p>To mark the occasion, this website has a fresh new modern design. A fully responsive design (that means it adapts dynamically to different screen sizes, so it looks right on a huge 27″ display, as well as on a tiny Retina iPhone—try resizing your browser window to see what I mean). I had lots of fun creating the new site. The site runs using the SilverStripe CMS. Check out the software if you want to build yourself a sophisticated website: <a title=”silverstripe” href=”http://www.silverstripe.org”>http://www.silverstripe.org</a></p><p>Enjoy the new and improved deltaflow. Speak to you soon.</p><p>- Julian / Candidas</p>

Deltaflow Reincarnated
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Hello everyone. Deltaflow is back! After two years of no posts, I’ve dusted off the old blog and will be posting regularly from now on. 

To mark the occasion, this website has a fresh new modern design. A fully responsive design (that means it adapts dynamically to different screen sizes, so it looks right on a huge 27″ display, as well as on a tiny Retina iPhone?try resizing your browser window to see what I mean). I had lots of fun creating the new site. The site runs using the SilverStripe CMS. Check out the software if you want to build yourself a sophisticated website: http://www.silverstripe.org

Enjoy the new and improved deltaflow. Speak to you soon.

– Julian / Candidas

Hare Krishna Questions and Answers website
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<p>I have created a proposal to create a new Question &amp; Answer website for Hare Krishna devotees and need your help.</p><p>The proposed website will be built on the same software as stackoverflow.com, a hugely popular site where over seven million computer programmers help each other with difficult programming problems. On Stack Overflow the audience votes for the best answer. Answers with the highest number of votes automatically rise to the top, to be read first. People answering questions gain reputation from each “up” vote for their answer, encouraging them to answer questions well. I can see this proposed site turning into an equally amazing resource. </p><p>We need a certain number of people “following” the proposal before the people who run StackExchange see it as important enough to make it into a real website. So, please help out and click the “Follow It” button on this website and enter your email address:</p><p>http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/10537/hare-krishna?referrer=oBZN-v_zajmdB6M–FAu3g2</p><p>Please forward this to all your devotee friends and get them involved, so we can get our Q&amp;A site launched very soon.</p><p><a href=”http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/10537/hare-krishna”><img src=”http://www.deltaflow.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/exchange.jpg” alt=”StackExchange Hare Krishna Questions and Answers Site” title=”exchange” width=”313″ height=”148″ class=”size-full wp-image-515″/></a></p><p>Detailed information about what I’m trying to do here:</p><p>The primary aim of the site is to give devotees a way to get good answers to all kinds of questions, as well as for more learned devotees to share their knowledge. If an answer is online, then google can find it and it becomes a permanent record for the future. That is much better than a devotee answering the same question over and over again on various forums. It is also better for the person looking for the answer, because the voting highlights what the best answer is, placing it at the top.</p><p>I got the idea for this kind of website after a conversation with another devotee. We were talking about facebook and blog controversies and the inability of devotees to do much about them. I thought about this a lot and had the idea for a devotee Q&amp;A site that could address both local and global controversies in an authoritative way that doesn’t look like it is just one person’s biased opinion. A good answer on such a site will visibly have the stamp of approval from a whole group of devotees. Then, a few weeks ago, this StackExchange thing came along and did all the hard work of designing such a site for us. So, I’m very keen to take advantage of this opportunity.</p><p>To my knowledge every other devotee attempt at an online community either gets neglected over time, limited to a few hundred people, or has a confusing interface which is too bewildering. This is not any individual’s fault. The fact is that building a website that people will use for valuable high-quality social interactions is very difficult. The best essay on the topic is this one “A Group is its own Worst Enemy”</p><p>http://shirky.com/writings/group_enemy.html</p><p>The author explains in great detail why so many social websites fail. The StackExchange model is exactly in line with the principles recommended to make a site successful. It is expertly designed with identity (once the site is launched, anyone that contributes needs to have an identity and is therefore accountable for what they write – no anonymous answering), voting (the community polices itself), reputation (a way to identify those members of the community that are in good standing) and a barrier to entry (you need a certain good reputation to be able to vote to determine what is a good answer). All this means that a website based on the StackExchange technology can still be useful and manageable with millions of users.</p><p>Please help make this amazing resource a reality by clicking “follow” on the proposal and writing some good and bad example questions to go on the site. Bad questions are those off-topic questions that we don’t want appearing on the site to keep the site focused on topics related to Krishna consciousness. We need examples of such bad questions in the proposal stage to define what the site will be about.<br/>(sign up to the site using your Gmail or Yahoo email address – that is what is meant by OpenID).</p>

Gaura Purnima / Golden Avatar Festival 2010 Photos
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<p>The Golden Avatar Festival (Gaura Purnima) 2010 was held in Wellington last week.</p><p>I have uploaded the photos from the event to the gallery on this website. (Note that the photos at the start of this album are from a previous Krishna Fest; actual Gaura Purnima photos being after the “Golden Avatar: Rhythm &amp; Dance!” display board photos).</p><p>View the photos <a href=”http://deltaflow.com/pictures/v/gaurapurnima2010/”>here</a>:</p><p><a href=”http://deltaflow.com/pictures/v/gaurapurnima2010″><img src=”http://www.deltaflow.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/gaurapurnima2010.jpg” alt=”gaurapurnima2010″ title=”gaurapurnima2010″ width=”300″ height=”199″ class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-510″/></a></p>

Spiritual Recharge Festival 2009/2010
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<p>Every year Hare Krishna devotees from around Australia and New Zealand get together for an 11-day Spiritual Recharge Festival. Lots of feasting, chanting, seminars and association (and my wedding – see previous post). This year there were 130 guests at the retreat. The biggest ever! So much opportunity to meet many wonderful souls. </p><p>At this festival I also got Brahminical-initiation (the day before the wedding). So, I am now a Brahmana (teacher/intellectual) by Varna (occupation) and a Grihastra (householder) by Ashram (stage of life/shelter).</p><p>I took so many photos. It took quite a while to narrow them down to the 280 best pictures. But that process is now complete … and here they are. Please browse them to your hearts’ content:</p><p> <a href=”http://deltaflow.com/pictures/v/retreat2009/”><img src=”http://www.deltaflow.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/2009-12-31-imgp0167.jpg” alt=”Spiritual Recharge Retreat Festival 2009 2010″ title=”Spiritual Recharge Retreat Festival 2009 2010″ width=”199″ height=”300″ class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-503″/></a></p>

Gaura Haven photos
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<p>Have you heard of Gaura Haven? It is in the Otaki gorge region (1 hour’s drive North of Wellington, NZ). Lots of work has gone into the place over the past year. It is very beautiful and many new crops have been planted in the garden. I took a bunch of pictures of Gaura Haven and its surroundings.</p><p>Take a look at the wonderful natural beauty:</p><p><a href=”http://deltaflow.com/pictures/v/gaurahavenjanuary2010/”><img src=”http://www.deltaflow.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/2009-12-30-imgp9968.jpg” alt=”Gaura Haven January 2010″ title=”Gaura Haven January 2010″ width=”300″ height=”199″ class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-499″/></a></p>

Rotorua (and Huka Falls) vacation
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<p>After my wedding my parents, wife and I headed up to Rotorua for a vacation. We toured the powerful Huka Waterfalls and visited the strange and wonderful volcanic landscapes of Rotorua (and had some fun riding down the “Luge”.</p><p>Lots of photos of all that. Check them out here:<br/><a href=”http://deltaflow.com/pictures/v/rotorua/”><img src=”http://www.deltaflow.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/2010-01-05-imgp0716.jpg” alt=”Huka falls and rotorua” title=”Huka falls and rotorua” width=”300″ height=”199″ class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-496″/></a></p>

My wedding (with photos)
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<p>It seems about time I posted something on this blog. I has been quite a while. News of the moment: I have gotten married. On the 1st of January 2010 I, Candidasa dasa, married the lovely Visnumaya devi dasi. Or, if you prefer, our western names: Julian Malik Seidenberg and Susan Elizabeth Burrows (now Seidenberg).</p><p>Lots of great pictures from the event (thanks to Thakur Saranga and Sukanthi Radha for taking the pictures):</p><p><a href=”http://deltaflow.com/pictures/v/wedding/”><img class=”size-full wp-image-491″ src=”http://www.deltaflow.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/candidasa-visnumaya-wedding33.jpg” alt=”Candidasa Visnumaya Wedding” title=”candidasa-visnumaya-wedding33″ width=”300″ height=”169″/></a></p><p>The wedding was traditional Vedic/Hare Krishna style. Here are some of the fun traditions depicted in the photos:</p><ul><li>showering the deities with flowers (pushpa abhishek) and then showering those flowers over the audience and married couple to counteract any bad astrological influences</li><li>the groom leaving the wedding with his Bhagavad-Gita and umbrella to meditate in the forest as a celebrate monk (brahmacari) for the rest of his life (but being convinced otherwise by the spiritual master – representing the father of the bride)</li><li>exchanging garlands</li><li>tying the hands together with a flower garland and sealing it with water<br/> tying the couple’s clothing together with a knot</li><li>a fire sacrifice (agni-hotra) where various grains, seeds and fruits are thrown into a fire to purify any bad karma reactions</li></ul>

Vedic System of Self-Development
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<p>I recently gave a talk at the Krishna Fest at Gaura Yoga on the “Vedic System of Self-Development”. Thanks to Sivarama Swami for the <a href=”http://www.sivaramaswami.com/?p=3929″>inspiration</a> for this talk.</p><p><a href=”http://www.deltaflow.com/wp-content/vedic system of self-development.m4a”>You can view the talk synchronized with slides here</a>.</p><p>or download the source AAC file <a href=”http://www.deltaflow.com/wp-content/vedic system of self-development.m4a”>vedic system of self-development.m4a</a></p><p>or download the source MP3 file <a href=”http://www.deltaflow.com/wp-content/vedic system of self-development.mp3″>vedic system of self-development.mp3</a></p>

Reinventing the Sunday Feast
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<p>I was listening to the following podcast:</p><p><a href=”http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail4002.html”>Darrel Rhea: Marking During an Economic Meltdown</a></p><p>The title is deceptive. It is more about analyzing a market or activity holistically and reinventing it to taking into account the complete picture. With a complete view of all the factors, motivations, desires, side-effects and intentions, one can transform into a truly customer focused organization.</p><p>Darrel Rhea gives example how he helped do this for Apple Retail Stores, Electrolux Kitchen Appliances, the Australian Tax System and Hospital Stroke Treatment.</p><p>How about we think about the classic Sunday Feast in this way? In New Zealand the Sunday Feast has already been adapted and reinvented to a certain extent to make it more accessible to newcomers, but without changing any of the core values of Krishna Consciousness. But more can always be done to improve it even further.</p><p>(Learn more about the “Krishna Fest” as it is in Wellington, New Zealand: <a href=”http://gaurayoga.co.nz/festivals/”>Gaura Yoga – Festivals</a>)</p><p>Think of the usual kind of person that might attend a Krishna Conscious center: curious, wary, ignorant of any kind of philosophy, averse to ritual, averse to religion, proud, attached to the opposite sex, not able to sit on the floor for long periods of time, short attention span, self-conscious (unless intoxicated), concerned about spending too much money and concerned about the environment (although not actually doing much about it).</p><p>So, using that picture of the typical guest, how would you reinvent the Sunday Feast with a fresh outlook, unencumbered by past traditions? Things that might be changed: name, time, music, types of events, sequence of events, physical layout of the room(s), decoration of the room(s), devotee numbers, devotee dress &amp; accessories and devotee language &amp; attitude.</p><p>Please leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.</p>

End of Year Retreat 2008
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<p>I just got back from a 10-day Christmas retreat. Most of the Hare Krishna devotees in New Zealand attended this festival of inspiration, rejuvenation and association. Over 100 devotees were there, in total.</p><p>The retreat was held in the Otaki region of New Zealand (1 hour North of Wellington). We rented out two retreat centers: <a href=”http://riverslearetreat.co.nz/”>Riverslea</a> and <a href=”http://www.waihoanga.co.nz/”>Waihoanga</a>; and also used our own retreat center <a href=”http://gaurahaven.co.nz/”>Gaura Haven</a> for accommodation.</p><p>The 10-day passed quickly. There were so many brilliant talks, inspiring presentations, delicious spiritual food (prasadam), and nice people to talk to. A slight downer was that everyone (and I do mean everyone) got sick. A nasty flu virus managed to infect everyone’s bodies. It lasted about four days in most people. Nevertheless, it was a brilliant time.</p><p>I took about 900 photos over the course of the retreat. A <a href=”http://www.deltaflow.com/pictures/v/retreat2008/”>selection of images</a> is available in my picture gallery.</p><p><a href=”http://www.deltaflow.com/pictures/v/retreat2008/”><img src=”http://www.deltaflow.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/imgp4401.jpg” width=”300″ height=”199″ alt=”IMGP4401.jpg”/></a></p>