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Friday, December 14, 2018

Meditation can be at several levels

                Thinking deeply about something – concentration (may merge, immerse) (?dharana)

                Thinking about thinking – metacognition

                Being a witness to thinking – mindfulness (Dhyana?)

                Total silence, aware of the silence - Samadhi

                A state beyond thinking and silence, not for ordinary mortals.

“Meditation is the first-person science of the mind” says Alan Wallace, in that we are observing the subjective reality of the mind itself. During meditation, objective sensory inputs and our perception of those inputs, become objects of inquiry. They form the substrate of deep-looking. At the same time, the thoughts and emotions that are generated by those perceptions become subjective experiences. The substrate for this subject-object nexus is the substrate consciousness (Thich Naht Hanh calls it Store Consciousness). Becoming aware of this substrate consciousness is meta-awareness.

Information is that which informs. What informs us is the input by sensory systems. We then interpret and modify these perceptions, codify and name them, using our thinking, memory, imaginations, bias etc. Whatever it is, Information about things is the content of the mind. When we reflect on it, it should be clear at the outset that Information about a thing is not the same as the thing. We can look deeper at what the connection is and what reality is. In deeper meditation, we learn to focus on the mental space without information. No one has seen space, atom, energy and mass. Nor has anyone seen information.

Both Buddha and Ramana ask us to reflect on the “I”. What stage am “I” at in this quest?

Who am I? On reflection, I decided to split this question into two parts.

1. Who am I? “I” am Balu, an impermanent, inter-being (as Thich Naht Hanh would define). In this sense I am a practical entity existing and interacting with the world around “me”. “I” am part of a whole. “I” interact with and depend on the whole and its contents and occupants. The whole resides in “me”, is part of me and in everything else. In this sense, "I" was there always and will be there in the future. In a more tangible form, "my" thoughts, words and actions will be the residues of this brief existence. But, who is asking that question?

2. What am “I”? “It” is a conceptual entity created by “my” mind as part of its function in dealing with the physical realities. It develops as I live and experience every moment, by owning up to each experience (saying that it is “mine”) and storing them for future reference. It also owns up to the actions of the physical body (“I did it”) in which it is generated. By repetition, it gives an impression of powers such as ownership and will which it does not have. There can be no more of “It” (Balu in “my” case) once the body and the brain (with the associated mind) are gone. 

That is where I am now.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Sermon on the Mount – Three Points of View: Part 2

Lord’s Prayer

 A famous passage called The Lord’s Prayer starts with the words: “Our Father which art in Heaven”. This prayer is used by Christians in their personal prayers and church services daily. It has a simple message of piety and thankfulness for all the good things we have. It has also deep spiritual meaning – not just requesting personal favors and material goods but seeking Spiritual realization.

 “Our Father which art in Heaven” is addressed to the Divine as if we are requesting our worldly father. Heaven is not somewhere else because the Kingdom of God is within us. Brother Lawrence said: “We must make our heart a spiritual temple wherein to adore Him incessantly.  He is within us; seek Him not elsewhere.”

Swami Prabhavananda interprets the words “Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done……..” to mean that the Kingdom of God is here and now and the disciple asks for His guidance to carry out His will. It is  for realizing our own limitations and approaching the Divine with humility. Besides, unless one is spiritually illumined and has become one with Him, how can one know what His will is?

“Give us this day our daily bread” refers to the bread of Divine Grace and not in the simple meaning of bread to eat. “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” is a pleading for His forgiveness for all our physical and mental actions. Hinduism and Buddhism will interpret the “debts” to mean our Karma, the accumulated consequences of our actions in this and prior births. Even without this concept of karma, we are responsible for the consequences of our actions. If we take that responsibility and do not blame others it will be easy for us to forgive others for their actions and the consequences. Only when we have this forgiveness in our hearts can we appreciate forgiveness from God.

“And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…………” is the next passage. In the Upanishad it says: “asato ma sat gamaya; tamaso ma jyotir gamaya; mrtyo ma amritam gamaya” meaning “O Lord, lead us from untruth to truth; from darkness to light; from death to immortality”.  It is an approach with humility to ask for help to resist temptations towards impermanent pleasures of the world. It is to ask help to go towards Light and away from darkness. It is to turn inwards towards the Kingdom of God and away from outward gaze of the senses.

The passages on forgiveness (Matthew 6:14,15) are well-known and make the essence of the teachings of Christ. He said to forgive “until seventy times seven”. He asks us to forgive those who hurt us physically and verbally. Not to react to violence with violence; but react with forgiveness, compassion and love. He asked his disciples to love even one’s enemy. These are the same teachings as those of Buddha and Hindu texts. Gandhi, Mandela and King showed us how.

This is followed by advice on practicing religion and spirituality sincerely, not just for others to see. When Jesus says “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” he is asking his disciples to develop discrimination and seek abiding bliss in the midst of fleeting worldly pleasures. He says: “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven……”. This advice has been repeated by the wise in all traditions, all through history.

The remark that “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single…..” seems to suggest the need for one-pointed concentration and devotion. In other words, the advice is to let go of attachment to and pursuit of worldly pleasures of the senses and seek the Divine with single-minded focus, because “No man can serve two masters…………Ye cannot serve God and mammon” says Jesus.

In the next passage, Jesus advices his disciples not to worry about where the next food will come from, because He who made us will provide for us. Similar words can be heard in other tongues too as in Tamizh language “The one who planted the tree will water it too”. It is not practical. And it is also true that we have to make our efforts for His Grace to yield results. But, when one lives truly in a state of union with the Divine, live in the Kingdom of God within, questions such as “what will I eat? Where will I sleep?” seem to lose their weight and urgency. The advice is about maintaining poise in the midst of life’s uncertainties.

Besides, Jesus is not suggesting that we go starving, but says “ for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”.  In a similar passage in Gita, Krishna says: “…if a man will worship me, and meditate upon me with an undistracted mind, devoting every moment to me, I shall supply all his needs and protect his possessions from loss”. 

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”. This is a teaching on living in the present moment deeply involved in prayer and reflection, not worrying about the past and anxious about the future. This is same as the Buddhist tradition of being mindful of and in the present moment.

A famous poem in Sanskrit says:

“Yesterday is but a dream,
Tomorrow is only a vision.
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,and every tomorrow a vision of hope.”

In his advice “judge not, that ye be judged”, Jesus asks us to work on our own weaknesses and improve our virtues and not to judge others.  “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considereth not the beam that is in thine own eyes”.

The next advice on not to “give that which is holy unto the dogs and cast your pearls before swine” is also common in the teachings of other traditions. In the Vedic tradition, there is a passage in Gita in which Krishna says to Arjuna: “Do not tell this truth to anyone who has no devotion and self-control, who despises his teacher and does not believe in me”.  Mundaka Upanishad says that the knowledge of Brahman is to be given only to those who obey Dharma and who are pure in heart.

The famous passage in the Sermon which says “…….all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them…” is echoed in Maha Bharatha with almost the same words. This teaching is common in all traditions and religions.

After saying that the gate is wide and the way is broad for the path to destruction, Jesus continues with “….straight is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth into life, and few there be that find it”. In an identical passage in the Katha Upanishad: “Like the sharp edge of a razor, the sages say, is the path. Narrow it is, and difficult to tread”. This became the title of a book on the Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham.

Jesus closes his sermon by warning against following false prophets, which does not mean other religions. It means recognizing a realized soul as one who has studied the scriptures and who acts out of unbounded love for everything on earth and following what he preaches.

Finally, I like a simple summary of the Sermon on the Mount by Tolstoy (My Religion, page 87):

“Not to be angry and not to consider oneself better than others.

To avoid libertarianism, choose one woman, and remain faithful to her.

Do not bind yourselves with oaths and promises to the service of those who may constrain us to  commit acts of folly and wickedness.

Do not return evil for evil lest the evil rebound upon ourselves with redoubled force.

Do not consider men as foreigners because they dwell in another country and speak a different language”.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Sermon on the Mount – Three Points of View: Part 1

Sermon on the Mount is one of the most well-known sections in the New Testament. It is from Chapters 5,6 and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew. It includes the most important moral teachings of Jesus Christ and therefore, forms the central tenets of Christianity. Recently, I read three different interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount. They are Sermon on the Mount according to Vedanta by Swami Prabhavananda, Tolstoy’s interpretation and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis (German-Dutch Christian theologian of the 14th century). Here are some of my thoughts on reading these three versions and the original. 

The Sermon on the Mount, which is the essence of the Gospel, as given by Jesus was meant for non-Christians, because there were no Christians at that time in history. It starts with the words “AND seeing the multitudes, he went up into the mountain:  and when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him”. This is interpreted by a scholar as an indication that whereas Jesus taught many “tribes”, he reserved his highest teachings for those who were spiritually ready.

One idea that comes out of Vedic, Buddhist and Christian teachings is that enlightened spiritual leaders usually gave two sets of talks, one for the common folks to be applied to their daily lives and another to those who are serious about spiritual life and are more disciplined. Buddha was explicit. He gave just five precepts to follow for the lay-followers and more elaborate ones such as celibacy for the monastics.

In the Hindu tradition, the more ascetic practices are suggested for those who want to become sannyasins (ascetics) and to those at the end of one’s family life in preparation for liberation. The Upanishads repeatedly point out that a good teacher will tailor his lessons to the readiness of his pupil. In his interpretation of Rg Veda, Sri Aurobindo points out that the rk verses contain two meanings, one referring to physical world and worldly life and another to mental life at a higher plane. Sanskrit words make this possible by their very structure.

It is amazing - it should not be – that several passages in the Sermon and the Vedic teachings (Upanishads) are literal translations of each other.

One of the early statements (5:5) in the sermon is “Blessed are the meek; for they inherit the earth”. The word “meek” suggests an attitude of surrender, freedom from ego. The idea of surrender and humility are recurring themes in Hindu tradition also. Separation from the divine accentuates the ego. The ideas of me and mine come in. Both Buddha and Ramana ask us to find out who the “I” is. “Nothing belongs to us. We just borrow for our life time” says Swami Prabhavananda.

“Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy” says the Sermon. This is same as, or similar to, the teachings of Loving Kindness by Buddha. Patanjali says (The Yoga Philosophy Book 1 Sloka 33) that for peace of mind one need to develop benevolence, mercy, detachment and equanimity transcending vice and virtue.

“Blessed are the pure at heart for they shall see God” are the words of the Sermon. The Vedic system teaches observances to purify one’s mind. They include ten virtues (yama)based on abstaining from something, such as forgiveness, truthfulness, non-injury to all life forms. There are also ten other steps (Niyama) which require active participation such as charity, control of the mind, silence and fasting.  These are meant for the purification of the body and the mind. Letting go of the ego leads to purity of the mind according to Bhagavat Gita (2:61-64) and Buddha’s teachings.

Jesus said: “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25 and Mark 8:35)

Once we can see ourselves in others and others in ourselves, the teachings on “love thy neighbor”, “do not kill”, “make peace with your brother” (reconciliation) become easy to practice. Isa Upanishad (6) says: “He who sees all beings in one self and one’s Self in all beings feels no hatred”.

“Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called sons of God” says the Sermon. To send this kind of message of loving kindness to others, one must learn to forgive. Jesus said: “Forgive them for they know not what they do”. Buddha said the same thing before Jesus. There are some scholars who think that Jesus was aware of the teachings of Buddha.

There is a section on adultery and divorce in the Sermon which has been interpreted in various ways. They are contradictory to the basic teachings of Jesus about forgiveness and compassion. Therefore, Tolstoy made a deep study of this issue including verifications of the meanings of the words in the original texts and their translations in different languages and came to the following conclusions. The main point is that sexual passion can easily lead one to what Tolstoy calls “debauchery” or corruption of the mind and lewdness. Therefore, this advice in the Sermon is to help a man and a woman to live as pair, husband and wife and avoid chances for the corruption of the mind.

In summary, Tolstoy’s opinion is that it is best for a man and woman to be in stable relationship with an avenue for sexual satisfaction within moral and legal boundaries. If the wife is divorced by man for whatever reason, he is responsible since a woman then is exposed to sexual advances and she cannot protect herself.

After consulting several version of the Bible in several languages, Tolstoy states: “And thus once more I found a confirmation of the terrible fact that the meaning of the doctrine of Jesus is simple and clear, that its affirmations are emphatic and precise, but that commentaries upon the doctrine, inspired by a desire to sanction existing evil, have so obscured it that determined effort is demanded of him who would know the truth”. The same can be said of sacred texts from all religions.

What are the teachings in the other systems? In the Vedic system, adultery is discussed under self-control, self-mastery and control of passions. Buddha talks about control of passions also and in sexual matters is part of non-injury to a woman.

The sermon also points out, as do Hindu and Buddhist texts, that control of actions of lust alone is not adequate. Lustful thoughts must also be checked.

There have been many erudite discussions on the passage in the Sermon which says: “Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black”. This comes soon after Jesus asks us “Swear not at all”, neither by Heaven which is His nor by the land which is “His footstool”. In his book on Confessions, St. Augustine spends several pages on this passage. According to Swami Prabhavananda,  this passage only means that we are full of ego and think we own this world and we can make what we want and explain everything. In fact, we do not own ever our own body and cannot fully control what happens to it. We must realize that He is the owner and the doer. In other words, this passage is to teach humility.

In the subsequent passage Jesus does not favor the custom of revenge of the Old Testament (eye for an eye) but asks his disciples to resist evil by not striking back but “turn to him the other cheek”. He asks his disciples to forgive, love the neighbor and, also the enemy. He says “what is the use of being nice to your kith and kin only. Anyone can do that. It requires special character to be nice to an enemy”.

This is exactly the teaching of Buddha 500 years earlier. This is the principle of non-resistance towards people who hurt you and who are unjust. It is not to be interpreted as bending to evil. It is offering resistance to injustice and cruelty without striking back. Buddha did this to Angulimala. Jesus did.  Mahatma Gandhi did. Nelson Mandela did. Martin Luther King did. Only those who have mastered themselves and are compassionate can do this.

In later passages Jesus asks his disciples to do charitable things, help the poor, pray in a humble way, in private, quietly and not with pomp and show for the world to see. There is a similar passage in Vidura Niti of Maha Bharata in which eight virtues are listed. (Chapter 3, sloka 69). They are sacrifice, charity, study, penance, truthfulness, forgiveness, mercy and non-covetousness. You can practice the first four for pomp and show, to look good in the eyes of others. The latter set of four are inherent only in the virtuous.

In interpreting Matthew 5:48 which states: “Therefore, ye shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect”, Swami Prabhavananda says that it is to encourage the disciples to seek inner perfection, a Divine perfection by realizing God within. It is to indicate that all the perfections we seek in this world are imperfect and impermanent.

Jesus teaches us to seek the Kingdom of God within each one of us, here and now. Vedas teaches us the same thing. The original source, the Father, the Divine is called Brahman; the individual soul is called Atman. Brahman is inherent in Atman. In other words, in us. “The Spirit of God dwelleth in you” says St.Luke.  Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahman, the Primordial) says the Upanishad. The true nature of the Spirit is not in the body or in the mind. It is that which illuminates, energizes both. “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you true” says the Bible.

Therefore, the goal is seeking perfection or realizing the divine within us. That is the teachings of these Sermons and those of the Vedas. When the Bible speaks of rebirth, it need not be interpreted as the rebirth of Jesus or of us individuals. It is the spiritual rebirth by each one of us by merging with the source. The same can be said about the concept of rebirth in the Hindu philosophy.

This perfection of god-realization is called Samadhi in Hinduism, Nirvana in Buddhism and the Kingdom of God in Christianity. This state can be sought in different ways. Hinduism says that we are all made of different personalities and a method which works for one may not work for another. Therefore, Hinduism suggests four different paths, namely Karma marga or Path of Actions, Gnana Marga or the Intellectual Path, Bhakti Marga or the Path of Devotion and Raja Marga or the Path of Meditation.

 Most branches of Christianity emphasize faith and piety as the preferred mode and some as the exclusive mode. However, there are passages in the Bible which seem to support the path of action, and path of intellectual discrimination. For example, karma yoga or the path of action is nothing but offering all our actions to God as a sacrament. When Jesus said “In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these brethren, ye have done unto me” he suggested that serving others is worship of God.

In Gnana yoga the emphasis is on discrimination between the eternal and ephemeral. Both the Upanishads and Buddha ask the aspirants to reach for virtue and eternal bliss (Shreyas) and not for worldly rewards (preyas). Jesus said the same thing in: “..lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, whither neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through to steal……..Ye cannot serve God and mammon”.            

In Raja marga, the aspirant stays focused like a laser on the Supreme until he attains complete absorption with that One. This is called Dharana in Yoga sastra and St. Paul calls this “prayer to be offered without ceasing”. In recent times, Thomas Merton speaks of this approach as Contemplative Prayer. He calls it “a wordless total surrender of the heart in silence”. Jesus is also reported to have gone into the mountains for meditations in solitude.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Comparative study of Cultures

 Churinga is an object, which could be a rock or a bird or an animal and which is of religious significance to one indigenous tribe in Central Australia. In his book on the primitive religions of the world, Emile Durkheim describes an initiation ceremony. During the ceremony, the initiate is shown a Churinga, when the following words are spoken: “You are this body; you are the same thing as this”.

Is it not amazing that these words are practically the same as what the Upanishad says: “Thou art that”? In this ceremony, the churinga stands for the universal, primordial force. It is a symbol of the infinite, a totem, an icon.  

This is one of the benefits of comparative study of customs, myths, rituals and religions of different countries, societies and tribes. In ancient time, when travel was confined to relatively short distances these customs and myths evolved with very little admixture. With increasing ease of travels and of communications we became aware of several societies and their customs and comparative studies became possible. These studies have shown the commonalities between societies and their concepts of the universe. These studies show that knowledge is not a private property of any one society and great ideas have arisen from different sources. Hopefully this awareness will lead  to better understanding between cultures, customs, beliefs and religions.

What we find is that every culture faced the same set of problems in different settings and solved them in its own way suitable to its contexts. Human conditions are the same all over. Our solutions are different. No one solution is better than the other. Each solution is appropriate to its context and level of understanding. All solutions belong to all of humanity. There is no need to feel superior or inferior. It is wiser to be open and tolerant, not be possessive or clannish about ideas, treat others with different point of view with respect and learn from all cultures.

An Indian philosopher-poet said: “Wisdom is in accepting truthful knowledge, whatever its source”.

For those who wish to look at the origins of human societies and understand the common substance behind the outward symbols which divide us, I suggest four books.

                Emile Durkheim   The Elementary forms of Religious Life. (Karen Fields Translator) 1995

                This believing world   Browne L. (1926)

                The Lessons of History – Will and Ariel Durant (2010)

Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind (published in 1802) - Marquis de Condorcet (Kindle Edition 2010)

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Depth of Thoughts in the Vedas

When I delve deeper and deeper into Rg Veda, the Upanishads and Panini in the original, I see what a beautiful ancient temple the Vedic system is. Because it is so old, more than 3,000 years to be exact, it is covered by so much overgrowth by the interpretations and myths built around it.  It is difficult to see the original structure, very much like what has happened to the Angkor Vat temple. If we are bold enough (or, foolish enough, like me) to venture into it on our own, a veritable feast awaits us.

Thanks to a retired life and a basic understanding of Sanskrit and sound understanding of Tamil, I have been roaming inside this temple. My aids are curiosity as the primary vehicle and some dictionaries as the lamps. When you read the classic texts in the original, and let go of all the crust and dust that have accumulated, what we experience is a sense of awe and deep respect for our ancestors.

I am no scholar and am sure that I am losing many nuances and deeper meanings in these texts. But, the beauty is there for all to savor. The brilliance of those thinkers is dazzling.  I can savor the thoughts of our ancestors in the original to the level of my understanding on my own without others interpretations and admire. 

The following are some examples.  

The idea of mind as one of the six senses and differentiating the functions of the mind, intelligence, self or ownership and consciousness. This allows meditating on the mind and its contents and dealing with the Self (I) as the subject and also as the object. Western science is yet to catch up with this concept. 

The concept of sphota; the word means "bursting forth". It is the science of how meaning bursts forth when words are uttered. It divides speech into three stages: conceptualization of an idea (pasyanti), medium in which it is expressed (madhyama) and the final utterance (vaikari). There have been several treatises and books on this subject over the centuries and you will find reference to these concepts in Lalitha Sahasranamam (Sloka 81)

The idea of inherent sound (naada) and the movement needed to produce audible sound (sabda); the idea of inherent sound in the abdomen and the produced sound (vaikari) resulting from the banging around of the sound waves in the chest, throat, mouth, tongue and teeth. The kinds of sounds (and the alphabets)  produced based on these movements are given in detail both in Panini and Tolkappiam. Our musical system has elaborated on these ideas. 

The concept of samavaya which means inherence as in fire and heat; ice and cold. 

The admonition that we humans are forever prevented from “knowing the original” because we are “covered”. Emphasis on the humility to accept that we can never know the origins. As Nasadiya Suktam states "even the Gods do not know because they came after".

 The blunt statement by Yagnavalkya that others are important to us not for themselves but only because of their value to us.  (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.5)

 The profound statement:  “Thou are That”.  (tat tvam asi

And, so many more. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

“What meaning does life have for you?”

                                     “What meaning does life have for you?”

                That was the question Will Durant wrote and sent to prominent people in different walks of life in the 1930’s.  The list included Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Will Rogers and H.L.Mencken among others. The responses were included in a book with the title: On The Meaning of Life. 
 The answers were obviously different. They included faith in something beyond what we know, able to work in an area one is passionate about, such as art and writing and creativity, doing things for others and society, desire to share and appreciation of nature. Some thought that there is no purpose in life unless we find one for ourselves. One advised Will Durant not to think too much. Most approached this question with optimism and humility.
George Bernard Shaw answered: “How the devil do I know? Has the question itself any meaning?” Will Rogers answered: “The whole life is a “racket”, so get a few laughs, do the best you can, take nothing serious…. live your life so that whenever you lose, you stay ahead.”
Some of the most interesting thoughts were those of a prisoner who was spending life-sentence in the Sing-Sing prison. His remarks suggest that he was a thoughtful man, who had read a lot and had thought about life in general. Why he was chosen for this task is not clear. But, here are some of his remarks.
It (meaning of life) “depends upon my ability to recognize its (life’s)great truths and learn by the lessons they teach me. In short, life is worth what I am willing to strive to make it worth”.
In discussing what Durant has written about Truth, he says: “Custom and tradition have caused us to confuse truth with our beliefs”.  Later he says: “Confinement in prison does not cause unhappiness, else all those who are free would be happy. Poverty does not cause it, else the rich all would be happy”.
“That life was accidental is a theory I am willing to accept; but it does not follow that it need be meaningless”.
“In the knowledge that I am an inalienable part of this great, wonderful, upward movement called life, and that nothing, neither pestilence, nor physical affliction, nor depression – nor prison- can take away from me my part, lies my consolation, my inspiration and my treasure”. Profound thoughts indeed. 
My personal thoughts follow.
The meaning of life in general is different from the meaning in one’s life. In general, life does not seem to have any purpose or goal except to reproduce. Why would so many species of plants and animals appear and disappear in large numbers in repeated cycles?  Therefore, each one of us must make meaning out of our lives. 
Tolstoy came to the same conclusion. He says that work, family life and nature gave meaning to his life. This is probably true for most people.
The answer to the primary question will also depend upon one’s stage in life and circumstances. For me, at this age and stage – Being and bringing Peace, being useful, and sharing effort, knowledge and wealth give meaning to life.  
How does one develop meaning in life? Some avenues are the same as what gave meaning to Tolstoy’s life – working on things that is of interest to you or that are helpful to others, spending time with family and friends and enjoying nature. But those are not adequate by themselves without adding values and virtues (dharma). 
Connecting with other lives and with the universe are great avenues which will force us to develop values and virtues. In addition, we (the isolated me, the wave) need to connect with the whole (the cosmos, the ocean). I cannot understand the function of a part without understanding the whole from which it came. The cosmos will be there without “me”; but this “me” cannot exist but for the cosmos.
Other questions suggested by Will Durant worth thinking about are: What keeps you going? What help, if any, does religion give you? What are the sources of your inspiration? What is the goal or motive force for your toil? Where do you find your consolations and happiness? Where in the last resort does your treasure lie?   
Of course, one need not think about these at all to be happy. But, I am more with Plato when he quoted Socrates as saying “An unexamined life is not worth living”.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Humility and Surrender

Humility and surrender are mentioned repeatedly in the literature of all religions that I have read. That led me to think about these two mental states.

Humility (In Sanskrit, it is vinaya (masculine gender), namrata (feminine) and amanitva (neutral). It is panivu in Tamizh) comes out of realization of one’s limitations. It comes in the presence of a mystery or in the presence of someone who knows more than you. It is self-arising. It is a positive state and leads to a better understanding or to wisdom of knowing one’s limits. It leads to an open mind and spiritual tolerance for ambiguity.

Surrender (In Sanskrit, it is saranagati or prapanna; in Tamizh, saranadai or oppuvi) is a state of mind in the sense of defeat. It may come out of fear or frustration or a sense of weakness. It is external and often demanded. It leads to obedience.

May be, I am wrong. To my thinking, humility is a healthier spiritual mode than surrender. It has another strength. It is its inherent contradiction. When I say: “I am humble”, I have lost it. That is why in an analogy I have read eighteen human virtues are compared to an army of foot-soldiers. Humility is the very last one, because it is the read-guard to protect us from attack from behind by arrogance.