The milk is white: an interview with Ian Garnder

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A few years ago, Karen blogged about a Mandala she found on the Internet; called the Quo Vadis mandala, it was created by Ian Garnder, an Australian author of Sri Lankan heritage. Gardner included the mandala in his book, The Milk Is White, a philosophical treatise he wrote to share his thoughts about being and truth and happiness. “Quo Vadis” eventually became the name of a whole section of the book — called the Quo Vadis File — which is filled with short, wide-ranging aphorisms about life and its purpose.

“By what is normally termed ‘chance’,” as Gardner put it, he came across our blog and got in touch. He’s since expanded the Quo Vadis File with new material, and we figured it might be fun to ask him some questions about his work. (Both The Milk Is White and the new Quo Vadis File are available, free of charge, on Ian’s website.)

Can you tell the story of how you came to create the Quo Vadis mandala?

One day the words Quo Vadis entered my mind and I took little notice as this sort of thing often happened to me in relation to unusual and/or botanical names. However, when these particular words continued to present themselves I started to wonder if there was any significance to it. It occurred to me that it was a question asked of Jesus by Peter, and that I had seen a film with that title. By this time I had had enough experience to know that the puzzle would be solved in due time, and left it at that. A week or two later, when I was involved in the boring job of hand washing sheets in a tub – a job that seems to leave the mind vacant – thoughts started forming and culminated in an incomplete vision inside my head of lines radiating out of the centre of a bright light, accompanied by an increasing compulsion to stop what I was doing and commit it to paper. Eventually, I had no option but to wash and dry my hands and go to my desk.

At the start I had no clear picture of what was in the light but, once I started, as I drew I saw more. When the outline was almost complete I looked at a space near the top, below the flame, and exclaimed, “THAT is where the “Quo Vadis?” goes! This was what had been developing over some six weeks. The text that follows was a flow on from the drawing. When I related this series of events to a young friend of mine, and he saw the mandala, he said, “But that is a life’s compass!”

What does the mandala symbolize?

It is said that we should love our neighbour as we would love ourselves, and that we should not do to others what we would not like done to us. That these two standards of conduct are the main teachings of all major ‘religions’ is fact but, to us, it what others such as Jesus, the Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna, Baha’u’llah and numerous others said, and we take little or notice. This attitude conveniently distances us from responsibility in this regard and we can, therefore, go on our merry way. However, if we pay heed to what our conscience tells us so often; if we stop to listen when we hear it speak, we will realise that what it is telling us is precisely what is said in the paragraph above.

In other words, we have it in us but we just do not want to hear. When Jesus was asked why he spoke in parables he said, “…because they listen but do not hear.” Not hearing, or not wishing to hear, is so true of most of us and is due to our evolutionary state. When our individual time is right we will hear and resume, or quicken, our progress.

In physics every action has a reaction and, similarly, every action has a reaction in what we think or do. Every moment of our waking life we think or act, the act being the result of thought or instinctive, in a way that affects us and others. We have, therefore, the capacity within us to live up to these fundamental precepts of life – a plurality that can be defined in the singular as Love but there is no one to steer our boat but ourselves. It is we who must choose.

Some of us, due to our upbringing, personality, or simple lack of thought, are not aware of good or bad acts, but we can learn by noticing our own responses to the acts of others and their effect on us or others.

We all have a conscience, be it a small suppressed one, a large one in a thoughtful mind or one somewhere in between; and we all have the capacity to free ourselves from the fetters that bind us and prevent us from being better people.

This mandala symbolises:

By the candle flames at the bottom and top, the inherent good that we have in us and that which we can attain.
By the south/north line, the spiritual path we will complete sooner or later.
By the chain, the previous lives we have lived in the quest for full enlightenment.
By the central light, the light we possess within us to decide in which way to act in every situation, in thought, word or deed.
By the radiating lines, the direction we choose each time.

It is, therefore, a reminder to us that it is we, and only we, who steer our course. Unused it is worthless; used, it is worth the extent of its use.

Why did you decide to link the phrase Quo Vadis with œwe must choose?

The phrase just came with the vision. It is also a fact that life is a succession of choices. The link was inherent in the whole experience.

As you note in your book, Quo Vadis means where are you going. Can you expand upon the significance of the words, and what they mean to you?

It means, “Whither goest thou?”
It symbolizes the thinking and analysis of a free mind.
It is no religion, yet it is all religions.
It has no leader, for you are your leader.
It has no priests, for you are your priest.
It gives knowledge for acceptance or rejection by you.
It requires nothing but an open mind.
It offers to the closed mind, opportunity!

Can you talk about the mandala’s graphical elements, and what they represent? Why do you see it as a mandala, and not (as per the words of the “young friend” you quote above), a life’s compass?

The elements of the mandala and what they represent are set out above. What you see is a mandala by definition; in its use it could be a life’s compass.

What inspired you to continue developing the Quo Vadis Files? Are there any other projects you’ve been working on lately?

Nothing “inspired” me as such: I just did! 🙂 What followed the “vision”, and still does, was what I now term neoptions – literally “seeing without eyes”* – which “manifest from within” unprompted and have to be put into words by me. In regard to other projects essentially the answer is ‘No’ because the activity I start on the many web sites I have, or am in, on the Internet have the single purpose of guiding people along the Path.

* Note: To differentiate between the Sanskrit darshana, generally meaning anything seen and sometimes meaning something not seen with the eyes; a vision, which has many interpretations; an epiphany, which implies something instigated by God; and a realisation, which has a mental as well as a spiritual connotation, I have coined the word neopt – pronounced nay-opt – and its various derivatives from old German and Latin. See below.



neopt (nay-opt) vb. neopts, neopting, neopted. to see without the eyes. [from ne (D) + ops (L) = no + eye]

neoption n. something seen without the eyes.

neopter n. one who sees without the eyes.

neoptic adj. a neoptic incident, occurrence etc.

How has the writing process affected your own search for truth?

The writing process is the result of the neoptions and insight fostered by years of meditation an ever-improving mentality (state of being)*; the result of my search for the Truth.

* Note: the word mentality, meaning state of mind, already exists in the English language.

For more information and some links about Ian, see his Google profile.

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