Things Are Not As They Appear and Frying Up Some Bear

Have been thinking about perception due to quite a number of blog posts on the topic and a book I am beginning to delve into called A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma
with Bhikkhu Bodhi being the general editor of the text. And especially watching Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls on television.

Abhidhamma has a lot to say about perception and states of consciousness.  It is quite unlike Western psychology in it’s explanations of the construct of mind and background in meditation is likely more helpful than background in psychology. Here are a couple of talks from youtube:

The Four Noble Truths through Abhidhamma by Pa Auk Sayadaw

And a somewhat more advanced discussion of Mental Factors by Sayalay Susila

There are quite a number more videos on this topic by these speakers and others as you will see if you do a search on youtube.

And here are some links for some of the information available on the internet

Peter Della Santina’s Abhidharma is a long discourse explaining some of the concepts

Nina Van Gorkom’s Abhidhamma in Daily Life also gives a lot of information

Abhidharma studies are not confined to the Theraveda branch of Buddhism. The curriculum for Tibetan monks at a local monastery here includes such topics. At the Ngagyur Nyingma College Institute of Advanced Buddhist Studies affiliated with the Mindrolling Monastery here near Dehra Dun one of the principle sections of study is Abhidharma. Here’s an overview of the curriculum. So while Zen and some other schools may not embrace this section of the Tripitaka with enthusiasm it is quite widespread in advanced Buddhist studies in a number of different schools.

As an aside here is an optical illusion.


The blue and the green are exactly the same color! The way the mind perceives is often fooled. Not necessarily on purpose but due to the structure and function of the brain. Senses can be faulty. And the minds organizing principles which tend to categorize sensory input into familiar patterns can also provide faulty conclusions about any of the input.

So what does all this have to do with Bear Grylls and his program Man vs Wild?

Sometimes, no make that often, these perceptive principles can and are manipulated intentionally by others for all kinds of reasons. In television programs and movies and advertising there is a point to be made and the elements are arranged in order to bring forward that point. Sometimes the point is related to the story presented and sometimes it is more related to the ego of the presenter.

There is nothing personal against Bear Grylls and his show Man vs Wild here. He seems to be an interesting and engaging host who does his work with some amount of sincerity. Having said that the program sometimes drifts into territory that has more to do with macho ego than the content he is demonstrating.  Ahem…check out Bear Grylls blog if you are a fan.

I’ve railed on about some of the survival “techniques” he’s demonstrated, and I can only say demonstrated because the show is fairly fictional in it’s setup, on my travel blog before but I want to get into it more specifically for a couple of reasons.

As someone who has spent a fair amount of time wandering in the Indian Himalaya I have found this program sometimes gives advice that could be outrightly dangerous to those with little outdoor and extreme experience.

Here are a few examples from previous shows.

Rather than crossing a landslide area in a horizontal, zigzag or diagonal he runs straight down the center of the main steep slope. Smart if you want to possibly bring down a couple of tons of rock on your head. I have crossed a lot of landslides and have learned this both from experienced mountaineering people I’ve been with and local people who live here in the high Himalayas. It is fairly common knowledge.

And drinking your own urine without filtering it somehow will give some nasty results since you would have to be terribly dehydrated to do that and the urine would be extremely concentrated-that is if any urine could even be produced due to the dehydration. He’s done this a couple of times including with urine he carried in a tied up fresh snake skin in the desert. Quite likely the snakeskin was not very clean and after being carried for several hours around his neck in the heat the bacteria mixed with urine would have been fairly well established by the time he drank it. Within hours the effects would likely have been diarrhea and vomiting leading to further dehydration and hastening death.

On last night’s presentation he was in the mountains of Romania. Usually his mountaineering advice isn’t bad. (I live with someone trained in mountaineering by the Indian army so I get an expert opinion) I’d follow him on a climb and not worry about my safety. He did summit Everest and that’s no mean feat. But for the program things just go over the top.

A couple of examples from the Romania program. He decided to take a shortcut through a cave. Having no flashlight he made a torch from some pine pitch and branches. In theory this is not a bad idea but caves are notorious for having pockets of gas (usually methane) which can ignite. To stick a fiery torch deep into an unknown cave is possibly a little dangerous.

In a second incident he was about 30 meters (100 feet or so) above a large pond and having no rope and it being the end of the show he just threw his rucksack into the pond and jumped in after it. The stupidity of doing such a thing is beyond belief. Allegedly he had no idea of the depth of the pond nor whether it contained rocks or submerged logs or the like. Every year hundreds of people are injured or killed doing this kind of ego glorifying  stunt.  A few caveats might have been in order in these situations.

But if you know anything about the program you know that the scenes depicted are staged and all the logistics are figured out ahead of time. No doubt someone had checked out the cave and measured the depth of the pond beforehand. And just so you know how “stagy” this program is take a look at this video from the “dangerous” edge of a Hawaiian volcano.


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