Tuesday, October 8, 2019

An old friend

Netflix, Youtube, Instagram – never before has there been so much competition for books. Not surprisingly, the number of readers is constantly falling. 6 million less since 2012, just in Germany! So to be in the book business in the year 2019, you have to be either very courageous or very stupid.

Courage is knowing it might hurt, but doing it anyway.
Stupidity is the same.
And that's why life is hard.
(Jeremy Goldberg)

In 2005, I decided to write a book. For no other reason but wanting to write a book. Why not? I finished it, and it was pretty crap. The following year I wrote another one, didn't finish it. Then, in 2007, I wrote another one. I liked it and decided to publish it, despite being called a stupid time-waster. I don't know if it was a courageous act, but at least to me, it didn't seem stupid. I just did it anyway, why not?

Today, this book (including its three sequels) has sold over 200,000 copies and has been published in six countries. The book is called THE LITTLE BUDDHA. Not about the Buddha, nor about Buddhism, it tells stories about life, viewed through the eyes of a young traveller. In Germany and Austria, it's been a bestseller for the last six years, there are editions in India and Korea, and Russia is knocking on the door too. Furthermore, the first two parts were just released in the UK by Ammonite press, with amazing new illustrations by Kate Chesterton.




Looking at the current success, two things are easily overlooked. 1) I didn't just jump from 'stupid-guy-trying-to-write-a-book' to 'global-bestselling-author'. It was a difficult journey. And it still is. 2) Just because I wrote a bestseller, doesn't mean I can relax and drink champagne all day. With each new book, I still have to work hard and hope to find a merciful publisher. And not only that. If you buy one of my books for ten Euros, I get about fifty cents on average. Industry standard. I feel very privileged and grateful that I can make a living as a writer, but if you think I'm rich, well, do your own maths.

'Money is not everything' – a ridiculously simplified and totally overused phrase! And yet, there's a lot of truth in it. But this truth is so simple that we often fail to give it its deserved attention. Like many of those simple truths. Living in the moment, accepting change, sharing love.

One of my favourite reviews of The Little Buddha came from a good friend of mine. His summary: “It's basically spirituality for dummies.” It was a very honest and authentic comment, and it is true. The only question is, who isn't a dummy? Because really, we are all dumb sometimes. Thinking stupid things, doing stupid things and making the same stupid mistakes again and again. We often assume we know all life wisdom, but we don't. Or least we don't apply it.

Over the years, I received lots of messages from readers. Many told me that the books helped them during hard times; depressions were lifted, families healed and souls inspired. Some found new meaning in life, others were happy to find old answers. All of these messages mean a lot to me, because they are proof that the payment for my work doesn't only consist of money. Apart from hard cash, I'm also being paid with gratitude, love and the priceless feeling of making a difference.

The Little Buddha has become a really good friend. Every two years or so, I sit down with him, decide on a trip and set off. We travel to mountains and deserts, past rivers and through woods; we meet people on our way, beautiful ones and strange ones, like the generous chef, the blind witch or the crazy clairvoyant. We ask questions and sometimes we find answers. The first journey was all about FINDING HAPPINESS, then we were LOOKING FOR LOVE and learned about EMBRACING CHANGE. This year we were EXPLORING TIME, and the next trip will take us to...we'll see.

The first part of The Little Buddha is dedicated to friendship. I wrote it for my friends, not knowing at the time that the act of writing would create a new friend. A very special friend who keeps reminding me of the little life treasures that I keep forgetting. Someone who shows me with kind and simple words how vast my stupidity is, each time I don't learn my lesson, or each time I treat the beautiful gift of existence like an annoying ordeal. Life ain't that difficult. We make it difficult.

Long story short: Thank you, dear old friend aka THE LITTLE BUDDHA.



Facebook @ thelittlebuddha
Instagram @ the.little.buddha



Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Between hopelessness and hope

A few million activists demonstrated for more climate action last week; the vast majority of scientists agree that, while the climate is changing naturally, human action accelerates this change, making it much more difficult, perhaps even impossible for us to adapt to the new living conditions. And no, the Earth doesn't care about a few degrees more or less – it's all about us (and thousands of other species, but hey, let's ignore these for now, otherwise it will get too depressing).

Facts are clear, consciousness is rising. But there are still far too many who think this is all exaggerated, or that it's some kind of master plan of the evil elite. The climate is fine, we are fine, let's just keep going and burn everything to the ground. Worst of all, our governments seem to think in similar ways. How else can you explain their complete failure of adequate action? In England they are busy with Brexit, in Spain they'll soon have the fourth general election in four years, and in Germany the coalition government just announced a new climate deal which is, quite frankly, a joke.

So what to do? Surrendering? Trying to be happy as long as possible, choosing some nice drugs and closing the eyes? It's definitely a possibility. But as a friend pointed out recently, if you give up on hope, what's the point in living?

But if we don't want to surrender, then what? Is it enough to change the plastic bag for a cotton one? To like a few posts on Facebook and get angry about the status quo? Surely not. As George Monbiot said in a short but very appropriate statement, we have to “stop pissing around at the margins of the problem”.

At this point, everyone who doesn't want to change usually blames China and India. "If they don't do anything, why should I bother?" This is one of the most ridiculous arguments ever! I think it's fairly obvious that the 'West' was the first to benefit greatly from resource exploitation and the consumerist growth madness which has become the new religion. If we were the ones who set the bad example, we should be the ones who now set a good example.

Who knows, we might be screwed already, but if you are not ready to give up hope just yet, here are three things which are said to really make a difference:

  1. Meat and dairy – changing to a plant based diet is a big one. Not only in terms of slowing down climate change and stopping unnecessary torture and killing, but also in terms of effort. It's hard to change your diet. Like smoking, it's a habit. No more burgers? No more cheese, juicy chicken and coffee with real milk? I'm not pointing the finger here, I still consume all of these things myself. But it's just not good enough to not do anything. So if you can't jump into the crystal clear but very cold water of veganism, why not starting with a few small steps? If everybody reduced their meat and dairy intake, the joint effort would result in a huge reduction. Not enough, but much better than nothing. If you eat meat every day, try a few meat-free days each week; if you eat meat three times each week, change to once a week. Try different milk (oat, almond, rice), buy less cheese and learn to make good humus. And don't try to be perfect, just better.

  2. Flights – there are about 200,000 flights in the world, each day! That's pure poison for the atmosphere, period. Do we really need to fly across the continent for a weekend trip? Do we need to have monthly business meetings in London or New York, when video conferences work brilliantly? Do we need to celebrate weddings in Bali?
    Admittedly, sometimes it's not easy to avoid flying in a hyper-connected world full of possibilities. If my daughter wants to travel the world one day, would I tell her she shouldn't do that? If you live in Europe and have family in Australia, should you go by boat each time you want to see your loved ones? What if you only have one week off work and don't have time to travel by train? Or the occasional business meeting which is really necessary, what to do?
    As with meat and dairy, the focus should be on reducing as much as possible. It's better to fly less, than not changing at all. And for those times when it can't be avoided, offsetting your CO2 output is also better than not doing anything. If you don't know about it, check out sites like ATMOSFAIR where you can compensate for your air pollution by paying a bit extra and thus contributing to reforestation and other ecological projects. Basically, you pay trees to clean up your mess.

  3. Activism – every single action is important, but without political change on a big scale, we won't save us. We're probably simply too selfish and too stupid to do it all voluntarily as individuals. And in order for big political change to happen, politicians need to be put under pressure. They have to be guided by the people. A critical mass has to be reached, enough people who say we need a drastic change of direction if we don't want to crash into the wall. One has to start, many have to join – Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for future movement is a great example. Extinction rebellion is another, and there are many more. As one banner on last week's demonstration read: 'The oceans are rising, so are we!'



And no, it's not all about the climate. It's about nature, our home. Most actions which slow down climate change also reduce the destruction and pollution of this planet. In other words, even if you don't believe in human-induced climate change – do you really want to live in a shithole?

I don't.







Monday, August 19, 2019

Free water

Summer, over 30°C outside and they cut off the water in our flat. The previous tenants didn't pay their bills, there were letters from lawyers and even the police came for a friendly visit. At some point the water company had enough and that was it. Since the responsibility lies with the owners of the flat – a company owning the whole urbanisation – they connected us to the communal water system until they solve the problem. Water is flowing, so all is good.

A few days ago I was watering the plants on the terrace when it suddenly dawned on me: this water is free! No matter how much I give to the plants, how long I take showers and how thoroughly I wash the dishes – for the time being, I won't pay a single cent. So my first thought was 'great, I can use more water than I usually do!' My second thought, however, was 'why would I want to waste water?'

We're living in wasteful times. If there is an offer of 50% extra tomatoes for free, instinct yells 'take it!' The 50% extra tomatoes will probably rot in the fridge, because most people don't need 50% extra food. Same with clothes: buy three shirts, get one free. I only need one, but hey, I'd be stupid if I didn't grab the opportunity. We waste food and packaging; we fly on weekend trips around the continent because it's so damn cheap; we enjoy millions of songs on Spotify, accepting that artists receive next to nothing for their work; we demand free banking when there is no such thing as free banking without investments in highly profitable (and ruthless!) war business.

Somewhere, someone is paying for the stuff we think is free. The farmer, for example, who gets less for his harvest from the supermarket wholesaler, or the employee who is under pressure to sow more shirts. Countless souls pay with their sweat and time and the planet suffers and cries.

Now, you could say it's no big deal to waste a bit of water. It's not. The big deal is the underlying mindset which leads us to believe that free stuff is actually free. It's a delusion of separation – thinking that we aren't connected to everyone and everything else. We assume it's okay to waste some resources because our small actions don't make a difference anyway. But far from it! It's one big hyper-connected world in which all actions do make a difference. The only question is: does my action make it a tiny bit better, or worse?








Thursday, July 11, 2019

I love this world

It's a bizarre place we're living in, the world of humans. And it's seriously fucked up, too. There are many examples, but recently I stumbled across something which beautifully illustrates the level of madness we've reached. It's rather comical, at least the beginning of it.

Have you heard of the MLE? The first two letters stand for Major League – there's a Major League Baseball (MLB), a Major League Soccer (MLS), a Major League Wrestling (MLW). So what about the E in MLE? Equestrianism perhaps? Elephant riding? No. It's Eating.

Major League Eating (MLE) is an organization that organizes professional competitive eating events. (Wikipedia)

Basically, a bunch of weirdos come together once in a while, get served a certain type of food and whoever eats most in a set time, wins. Thousands of dollars of price money are handed out and millions watch the battle on TV. Here are some of the records of recent years:

Hot Dogs – 74 in 10 minutes
Pasta – 4.5 kilos (Spaghetti and sauce) in 8 minutes
Eggs – 141 hard boiled eggs in 8 minutes
Onions – 3.8 kilos in 1 minute (picture yourself doing it)
Cheesecake – 5 kilos in 9 minutes
Frozen Yogurt – 4.7 kilos in 6 minutes
Mars Bars – 38 in 5 minutes

If you want more examples, just check out the MLE records. And if you haven't vomited already, here's a yummy video of the 74 hot dogs record.

Does anyone still think we've evolved since Roman times? The clothes are different and there are cameras today, but otherwise it's the same sickening feast as two thousand years ago. Probably even worse.

Now, in a fair and just world, it wouldn't really be a problem. If everybody had enough food, we could laugh at twenty people behaving like pigs. The thing is though, the world is far from being fair and just. Yes, we've made some impressive technological progress, but beyond that, the human race is as stupid as ever. And as ignorant.

People who died of hunger in 2019 (first six months): 18,820,789

Just step out of your own daily drama for a moment and look at that last number again. Over 18 million human beings have starved to death this year, while in a different part on the same planet, in the so-called civilized world, people are heroes because they eat 74 hot dogs in 10 minutes. I mean, if you met a friendly alien and he or she asked you about it, what would you say? Didn't know? Didn't care? Shit happens?



Of course it's neither your fault nor mine. Or is it? True, neither of us has eaten five kilos of frozen yogurt. We'd probably be dead. And neither of us has let a fellow human starve to death in front of our doorstep. But fact is, in a world which has enough food for everyone, every second a person dies of hunger. This is just sick. And in one way or another, we help to keep this sick system going. Through ignorance, through greed, through selfishness. It's really really sad and heartbreaking, it makes me angry and disillusioned and I wonder whether we actually deserve to live. So much unnecessary suffering and so many people who don't give a shit. Hope? Almost gone.

And yet, strange as it may sound, despite all cruelty and stupidity, I still love this world. It's beautiful and special and I'm happy to be here. Each and every moment, somewhere on this globe, people help each other, care for another and love each other. Someone is planting a tree right now, believing in a fruitful future; some are sharing food, others are changing their selfish attitude. It's not always easy to see, but loving action, coming straight from the heart, is practised by millions all the time. And as long as there's love, it ain't over yet. For love can make it better.






Monday, June 3, 2019

Green dictatorship

Do you care when a product suddenly costs 5 or 10 cents more? Say a bar of chocolate, 5 cents more; or some fresh pasta, 10 cents more. Would you stop buying chocolate and pasta because of a few cents? Probably not.

The other day I was in a supermarket, standing at checkout and watching what others bought. Most customers, when asked if they want a plastic bag, nodded and usually even ordered more than one. It was 10 cents per bag. Students, pensioners, socialists and fascists – no one hesitated to pay a little extra.

So, here's the question: What's the point of charging 10 cents for a plastic bag? Supposedly it's a 'green' thing, trying to convince people to save the planet. But no one cares about 10 cents, so it's not working, is it? If you want to make a difference, dear politician and supermarket owner, charge one Euro per bag. Or even better, two or three. If people had to pay that sort of money for a single bag, you'd bound to see a miracle: within a few weeks, everyone would suddenly remember to bring a reusable bag from home. Problem solved.

Another question: Is it essential for a happy life to have cheap flights? Yes, it's nice if relatively poor people can afford a weekend trip to Lisbon, too, but is it necessary? No, it's not. And so why is kerosene not taxed? In Europe, no airline pays tax for the fuel they use, but, even worse, every train operator does. Perhaps not the best strategy to promote environmentally friendly travelling...

People are stupid, unfortunately we can't change that. We are selfish and short-sighted beings, and very slow learners. That's just the way it is. However, can you really trust seven billion monkeys to make the needed changes so they don't destroy the planet they live on? I'm all for individual responsibility and grassroots action, but...we are monkeys. Some are kind and some are clever, but even the kindest and most intelligent ones are still facing the limitations of their stupid and selfish nature. Mind you, I wouldn't be surprised if some real monkeys out there would feel offended by this comparison, because I don't think real monkeys would cut down the forest they live in. So let's forget monkeys. We're actually much inferior. More like brainless bacteria.

Now, how can you make sure that the human bacteria doesn't eat up its home? You need a dictator! A good, green dictator. Someone who decides that, from today, bags are 3 Euros each. 5 cents go to the Supermarket, 2.95 Euros to reforestation and ocean cleaning projects. Flights will be at least five times more expensive than the same journey by train. And like this with everything else. Cheap meat? Nope. Cheap clothes? Nope. Cheap plastic plates? You've guessed it.

Of course one could argue that rich people wouldn't be affected by this green dictatorship. No matter the price, there'd be still many who'd be able to pay for 10 bags on each shopping tour, fly around the globe for weekend trips, eat meat and fill their wardrobes until they burst. It's a problem – lack of fairness always is. So maybe it would be better to simply ban all of these things. I don't know. But any first step is better than no step.

The real problem, however, would be to find a perfect dictator. Remember, humans are brainless bacteria who voluntarily vote people like Donald Trump and, soon to come, Boris Johnson as their leaders. Sure, not all are that bad, but if we look honestly at the situation, there simply might not be a perfect dictator amongst us. So now what?

Well, I'm afraid, we're screwed. All we can do is shake our heads and hope that friendly aliens will come and rescue us.








Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Make migration great again

The way things are going, it's quite unlikely that the human species, or any species for that matter, will survive. If you consider the continuous growth of consumption and environmental destruction, I don't think anyone will be here in one thousand years. And chances are good that we won't even last another hundred.

But if we do survive, what is it going to look like? Will it be much fun to continue with all the wars and abuse and the hateful existence? Living between dirty rivers and hostile walls?

Here's a little Utopia:

Huge environmental disasters will trigger the establishment of a global council of the wise. Like the UN, just without corruption and with real power when it comes to pollution of the land, the water and the air. And yes, all those passionate conspiracy theorists out there, if you want you can also call it a New World Order, I don't mind. Something NEW is definitely needed. Actually, the choice we now face is between something completely new or something completely dead. In this little Utopia, we chose the new.

With environmental protection being the number one priority, the selfish interests of countries will lose importance. That doesn't mean that culture will become unimportant too – culture is beautiful and hence it should be treated accordingly. But most countries are too big to really represent culture. Go to Andalusia and then to Galicia – same country, but culturally they're worlds apart.

So in my little Utopia, small regions are celebrated and respected, while at the same time a global nature government protects the interests of planet Earth. Also, culture will be seen as what it really is: A living organism which is evolving like all other living organisms. People – all people! – can roam the world freely and are welcomed with curiosity, rather than rejected out of fear. No one will ask a differently looking person for his or her migration background, but for his or her migration foreground – because migration is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that should be hidden away; after all, it's what makes life colourful!

There will be more cooperation and less competition, plenty of Fusion festivals and no fascist marches, clean rivers and friendly border patrols. And who knows, perhaps, if people start to heal the hate within, there will be even peace...




I know, just a silly Utopia by a guy who had a tiny moment of hope. But hey, what would we do without Utopia? Surrender to misery?

Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. 
I walk another ten steps and then horizon runs ten steps away. 
As much as I may walk, I'll never reach it. So what's the point of Utopia? 
The point is this: to keep walking. 

(Eduardo Galeano)




Friday, April 19, 2019

Jesus was a Buddhist

Today, almost 2000 years ago, Jesus died on the cross. He was buried and two days later he came back from the dead, sent by God. Known as the resurrection, it's an event that is the foundation of the Christian faith. But was he really sent by God? And did he actually die?

There is a period in Jesus' life which is called The lost years, or, more poetically, The silent years. From the age of 12 to 29, there's a gap in his timeline, It's an accepted fact – 'modern mainstream Christian scholarship holds that nothing is known about this time period in the life of Jesus' (source). There are all sorts of theories about these missing years, the most common ones saying that he had worked as a carpenter in Galilee or that he had studied in the desert. But there's another one which sounds at least equally plausible – including a fascinating twist of the known resurrection story! Here it goes:

To 'improve and perfect himself in the divine understanding', Jesus went to India. He studied with Brahmin priests in Odisha and later travelled to the Himalayas where he spent many years in monasteries, learning about Buddhism. There is an interesting documentary from the BBC about this, where historians say that, in those times, it was a fairly simple journey from the Middle East to India. I also read somewhere that Jesus was seen as crazy in his teens, and well, if people think you're crazy, what better place to go to than India?
With 29 years, he had learned enough and returned to his homeland in Galilee.

I've spent quite some time in India in my early twenties – I know what it can do to a young man. It certainly can make you even more crazy! But it can also initiate a spiritual revolution within, it can take you to beautiful deep places that basically change the way you look at life. And yes, there's Buddhism too.

To me this theory makes absolute sense. A young, curious guy goes to India, spends many years learning and practising Buddhism, and then he comes back with a bright smile and teaches what he's learned. People are first intrigued, then fascinated and finally they follow him around, because they want to be like him: happy.

Now, monks who are very experienced with meditation are able to alter their body temperature and also to lower their heart rate significantly, resulting in an almost absent pulse and no heart sounds. So what if Jesus, the Buddhist hanging on the cross, had applied the breathing and meditation techniques he had learned in the Himalayas? He would have been declared dead (no one could have double-checked with an EEG back then), put in a tomb and everyone would have thought he's dead. Two days later he climbs out and is the hero. Not that he cared to be the hero (true Buddhists seldom do), but it was perhaps the only way to escape death at the cross. Can't blame him for this little trick, can you?

If you strip the teachings of Jesus of all the religious add-ons, at the core of it all he talked about pretty much the same stuff as Buddha. Love, compassion, peace. Therefore it's totally possible that Jesus was actually a Buddhist, inspired by Buddha, sharing love and wisdom with his fellow people. That he wasn't the son of God, but instead a soul-searching Dude who got into meditation. Could have been you or me...

So why does this matter? After all, it's just another story. Yet that's exactly why it matters. They're all stories. Nobody can travel back in time and find out for sure.

We need stories. They inspire us, comfort us, give us hope and help us to connect with each other. But the importance of a story isn't the historical setting, it's not the details of events and characters and it doesn't even matter whether any of it has actually happened. All these things are irrelevant. What's important is the message.