NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is seen transmitting data back to Earth in an undated artist's illustration.  Photo: NASA/Handout via REUTERS
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is seen transmitting data back to Earth in an undated artist's illustration. Photo: NASA/Handout via REUTERS

An offbeat chronicle on how perceptions influence our understanding of happenings in our world — from asteroid mining developments in space commerce, major news happenings, events in personal and professional life.

For practical insights into machinery of the mind, mythical characters Kroh, Sergeant Higgs Boson and other Friends in The Village return for the last time, 15 years after they first appeared in a popular newspaper column.

Prologue: On November 3, Redmond (USA)-based Planetary Resources Inc CEO Chris Lewicki announced a pioneering commercial asteroid prospecting mission by 2020. The deal with Luxembourg came almost a year after the US government passed the Space Act of November 25, 2015. The US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act- H. R. 2262 gives citizens right to own asteroid resources, heralding the new age of space commerce.

“Lewicki calls himself Chief Asteroid Miner,” said Kroh, reading the 25 million euro investment and agreement. “Another door opens to the next great frontier beyond Earth, space commerce trillionaires and traveling to the stars.”

From his penthouse in the Bodhi Tree, Kroh sipped Arabica coffee and watched cooking fire smoke spiraling over The Village, like battlefield fumes after the political war to elect the Village Chieftain.

“Perceptions, Kroh” muttered Ronaldo the Rabbit, the Village Sheriff. “New ideas, unheard-of possibilities and pathbreaking mavericks smashing diplomatic conventions are like curious strangers arriving in the Village: some residents are welcoming, not all are realistically optimistic. The unknown may have great potential but few friends.”

“For more accurate understanding of happenings in our world,” Sergeant Higgs Boson said, “We have to be first aware how our mind works.”

Ronaldo the Rabbit enjoyed history’s ironies of perceptions: Asteroid mining and space commerce pioneers in 2016 sometimes face similar disinterest or skeptics as did Copernicus in 1543 discovering that the Earth revolves around the Sun, not vice versa (German theologian Martin Luther called him a fool). A Western Union internal memo in 1878 decided the ‘telephone’ has no practical value as a communication device. The radio has no future, declared leading British scientist Lord Kelvin in 1897. “What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?” wondered the Quarterly Review journal in England dismissing the idea of trains in March 1825. “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home,” pronounced Ken Olsen, American engineer and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation in 1977. And Thomas J. Watson, chairman of IBM in 1943, delivered perhaps the greatest understatement of them all: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

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Museum of Flight, Seattle, April 24, 2012. The November 2016 Planetary Resources- Luxembourg Govt Agreement comes four years after space entrepreneur Eric C. Anderson’s press conference to announce plans to mine asteroids. Co-founded with Anderson and Peter Diamandis, Planetary Resources investors include Google CEO Larry Page. Filmmaker James Cameron (‘Titanic’, ‘Avatar’) is among advisers.

Perceptions in the Mind Machinery

Perceptions rule, Kroh realized, whether asteroid mining prospects in the US$330 billion space industry, an unusual President-elect to the White House, Brexit, India’s demonetization move as part of an economy cleaning revolution.

Sergeant Higgs Boson once told Kroh how the ancient Romans called it ‘perceptio’ or ‘percipio’ the Latin origin for the word ‘perceptions’. Dictionary compilers say perception means “the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted”. It can also mean how something is misinterpreted, misunderstood.

“For a more accurate understanding of how our world works,” Higgs Boson said, “We have to first be aware how our mind works.”

In ancient India, Gotama the Buddha (not founder of a religion as wrongly perceived) rediscovered Vipassana, and saw perceptions as the second of the four major parts of the mind: 1) cognition of the world we contact through our sense doors, 2) our perceptions to this sensory contact, i.e., our evaluation based on past experiences, biases 3) a resultant pleasant or unpleasant biochemical flow of physical sensations, 4) sankaras — blind reaction of craving or aversion to these sensations, causing conditioning, habit-patterns of the mind.

These insights can be experienced in Vipassana practice, as Vipassana practitioners in over 100 countries, from all walks of life experience — the experiential wisdom from objectively observing the arising, passing of physical sensations (any tangible feeling in the body, such as pain, heat, throbbing, pulsations etc). This impermanent biochemical flow of sensations arise from mind-matter interaction.

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A masterpiece exposition of the mind-matter phenomenon. Burmese-born late Principal Vipassana Teacher Sayagyi U Goenka’s Day 4 talk during a 10-day Vipassana course, on the evening after Vipassana is taught. (N. B: To correctly practice Vipassana, taking a beginner’s 10-day course under a trained guide is essential. And then one continues the practice with self-dependence. This intricate operation of the mind cannot be learned merely through discourses, and books).

Sañña (pronounced sun-ya), the Pali language word for perceptions, can play havoc in life: leading to blind reactions (sankaras), hasty actions from wrong conclusions, of damaged relationships through misunderstandings, of harmful decisions, careers and lives ruined through assumptions and presumptions based on false perceptions.

A memorable example that Vipassana students hear in one of the evening discourses is of the artist who reacts with strong aversion or craving to his paintings: “I cannot live without this person”, he says.

“You mad fellow,” people scold him. “Your own creation, your own imagination and you keep reacting to it. No reality in it.”

“We draw positive or negative mind pictures of others from our evaluation of happenings based on past experiences,” said Ronaldo the Rabbit, the Village Sheriff. “And through this fog of bias, we blindly react to perceptions, these evaluations that may be far removed from actual reality. Some so dangerously removed from reality, they end up in the Village jailhouse, Kroh.”

Keep an open mind, be aware how the mind works, and beware of perceptions because it leads to sankaras or blind reactions, was the Higgs Boson code — whether in personal life, professional work, dealing with questions like whether mining asteroids for valuable minerals is a workable proposition.

Never underestimate incredible possibilities of life, Higgs Boson knew. For instance, who in the Village’s medieval history predicted that a deaf German composer could write some of the greatest music ever? The Piano Guys paid tribute to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, as haunting reminder of how genius of the ages enrich life in the cosmos:

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“The music of harmony with all beings”.

Asteroid kalapas and Vipassana Reality

“What is the connection between asteroid mining and the Vipassana process to clean the mind?” a bemused Kroh asked Sergeant Higgs Boson.

“The bio-music of harmony with all beings, all things in the Universe, Kroh”, Higgs Boson replied. “Both the vastness of outer space and inner space of mind-matter are connected in kalapas — the indivisible building block of all matter in the universe, subatomic particles arising and passing away trillions of times in a mind-moment. When you directly experience reality, as it is, as with Vipassana, Kroh, you go beyond false perceptions and wrong views, free yourself from doubt”.

Whether with individual inner space or cosmic outer space, evolution is a continuous process, said Higgs. After lunch, the Village Town Crier announced news of two US companies Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources having agreements with the Luxembourg government for asteroid missions. The 2015 Space Act, the Main Street Marketers forecast, will launch a multi-trillion dollar extra terrestrial industry and push our civilization frontiers.

What was once perceived as impossible or abnormal are now routine. Circa year 1816, the International Space Station was science fiction. Fifty years ago, space projects were rare events. In 2016, space faring leaders US, Russia, Japan, China, India and the European Space Agency launch space machines like confetti. The Indian Space Research Organization has announced sending a record 83 satellites in one single rocket in January 2017. We enter the new age of space commerce leading to space travel — journeying into the universe of outer space, just as we enter the Mind Age of exploring the universe of inner space.

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An image of a proposed spacecraft jointly developed by PD Aerospace Ltd., ANA Holdings Inc. and H.I.S. Co. is displayed on a screen during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. ANA invested in PD Aerospace, a Japanese company developing a craft to take people into space as early as 2023. It aims to be a potential rival to Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Ltd. Photographer: Yuriko Nakao/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Universal truths are experienced through exploring both mind and matter,” the internet Hermit told the Village Club under a shimmering full moon. “Physicists study matter, psychiatrists study the mind. Vipassana practitioners are scientists using their own mind and body as laboratory to study how mind influences matter, and how matter influences the mind. Vipassana enables gaining insights through direct experience, and not merely intellectual understanding.”

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The unique Global Vipassana Pagoda in Mumbai and the adjacent Dhamma Pattana Vipassana Centre  to share with all beings the inner wealth of being with reality as it is.

Terrestrial billionaires or trillionaires of extraterrestrial commerce, the true riches of life, Kroh realized, is developing the faculty of insight; the big ego reduces with experiencing the actual reality of what is this is impermanent phenomenon called ‘I’.

Life changes with the Vipassana practice of: 1) being objectively aware how this mind-matter phenomenon called ‘I’ continuously changes each moment and 2) mining priceless equanimity from deep within oneself to cope with the pleasant or unpleasant changes in life.

This crucial Vipassana faculty of insight beneficially changes life, Kroh realized — as gaining the faculty of eye sight transforms life of a person visually blind from birth.

Epilogue: For a  family, community, country to change for the better, the individual needs to change.  Vipassana, the self-realization of truths of nature — can be experienced by anyone willing to give a fair trial and invest 10 days of time — to change a lifetime. Vipassana courses worldwide are offered  free of costto enable experiencing deeper happiness, and realizing what is one’s real work in life.

Raja Murthy is an independent journalist who has contributed to Asia Times since 2003, The Statesman since 1990, and formerly the Times of India, Economic Times, Elle, and others. He shuttles between Mumbai and the Himalayas.