31 January 2007

Selective Abortions in Punjab

While in the village in Jalundhar, Punjab, Lisa and I interviewed teachers at the local schools. It was touching to see and hear how beautiful, candid, and bubbly these women were. These women relayed to us many of the social issues they face, and the lack of assistance available to them.

A very unfortunate and controversial issues is foeticide, or selective abortion based on the sex of the fetus. They indicated that it is not just a problem that belongs to poor or lower caste families; it is a societal problem with significant ramifications. The ratio of boys to girls is astounding in the states of Haryana, Punjab, and Gujarat. The teachers indicated both upper class, wealthy families and lower class, poor families have selective abortions. The teachers indicated that "poor families would starve themselves to save up money to buy an abortion under the table." They indicated the need for social services and education in rural areas is needed to help prevent selective abortions.

I recently read an article in the Christain Science Monitor about the astounding rate of selective abortion in India. The prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, stated that over 500,000 selective abortions are done per year to avoid births of girls!


A girl child is considered more of a 'liability' rather than an 'asset.' To marry a daughter, most times the family is obligated to give dowry to the groom's family. Also sons maintain the family's name and contribute to the family's wealth. Strict laws were passed to ban selective abortions in 1994; however the rate has increased and such abortions are generally done through bribes and other illegal means. There has been a crackdown recently on this illegal practice. Along with punishing perpetrators, the government needs to provide more social programs and incentives to families bearing daughters. It is too deep of a problem to simply punish. Reform of societal values and education in rural areas is vital.

15 January 2007

Dalai Lama on Buddhist Meditation

My Question to His Holiness on Meditation

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is visiting San Francisco this April '07. It is surprising how much he travels all over the world raising constant awareness for his people.

While we had our special meeting with him at a Tibetan Temple in Dharamsala, I squeezed in a final question for him at the end. Since I have a deep interest in Eastern philosophy, particularly meditation practices, I asked him to explain how he stays focused with so much going on around him. Following was the brief dialogue:

Me: When you meditate, how do you stay focused?

His Holiness: (chuckles) That is my problem! (The whole group and His Holiness laughing)...

Me: Sometimes I have that problem too.

His Holiness: I have to train simple point in mind. I use analytical meditation. According to Buddhist practice, there are two types of meditation: Samadhi and Vipassana. Samadhi is simple point in mind. Vipassana is analytical meditation. Everybodys do that, in different fields. When your mind analyzes, concentrated, involved fully and focused in analytical meditation, then other minds may not be very active... Your mind fully concentrated on other subjects like that. So that is very useful. I feel analytical meditation, or Vipassana is more important than Samadhi. Samadhi is just something like relaxed, your mind is focusing on one point and nothing else. So it is useful, important, but as far as changing our concepts, training of our mind or shaping new shapes of our emotions, analytical meditation is much better, much stronger!

Me: Thank you.

His Holiness: Good?!


Upon my arrival back to the US, I researched both types of meditation that His Holiness talked about. I have vague familiarity with both types, but not from the Buddhist perspective. Samadhi meditation is the concentration of the mind (one-pointedness of mind) and is the third division of the Eightfold Path of the Buddha's teaching. Samadhi is a calming, focusing, and pacifying meditation which has been incorporated into many traditions in both East and West. Yoga can be considered a form of Samadhi meditation.

Vipassana means insight, and it depends on direct experience and observation. Of most of the sources I researched, I like the approach Wikipedia offered in explaining Vipassana. According to Wikipedia, "The actual instructions for Vipassana meditation are not often published in clear terms in public venues. This is simply to avoid confusion and prevent incorrect technique. The instructions are not esoteric or difficult but basically involve retraining the mind to avoid its innate conditioned response to most stimuli. In order to obtain maximum benefit, it is recommended that this be learnt from a legitimate source as it does have deep cleansing effects...The purpose is also not to release past trauma, but to bring full awareness of the mind, body and all sensations and be fully present. This practice is thought to develop a deep, experiential understanding of the impermanence of reality and also brings to the surface and dissolves deep-seated complexes and tensions. The technique fosters development of insight and needs to be continued as a way of life in order to having lasting effects."

According to Buddha, The "mind is intrinsically pure. However, it becomes polluted by the absorption of impurities." It seems that all major religions have some form of meditation, or contemplation to cleanse and relax the mind. Various religions have different forms of meditation to achieve a certain consciousness. For instance, meditation could be used to bring and maintain the self in the present moment; or to free the mind of desire and other thoughts; or achieving concentration with the mind focused on God, or love; or focusing the mind on a single object (such as the breath, or a mantra); or an ultimate awakening of the mind, or reaching a higher consciousness, such as Nirvana (which I think is rare).

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