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Saturday, January 21, 2023

Realities as I see them and a Closing Statement

 I was thinking about absolute realities of life which I hope most people can agree on. Once they are agreed upon and accepted, it should be possible to develop some guidelines for individual (human) behavior and group (social) behavior. They can also help governments to develop policies conducive to encouragement of stabilizing, helpful behavior of individuals and of groups and organizations and discouragement of harmful and destructive behavior.

Here is a personal view of how we humans are made and behave. 

Our body is made with a neural structure primarily to protect itself and survive.

Therefore, we instinctively are self-centered and tend to compete.

We are endowed with varying level of intelligence and abilities.

Therefore, we tend to fall into different strata of the society.

This is also influenced by the circumstances of our birth, such as geography, socioeconomic conditions etc. of which we had no control. We are products of circumstances of birth.

We are also born with certain inherent abilities and temperaments, strengths, and weaknesses. We come as “a package”.

Given proper external conditions and internal tendencies, all potentialities can be developed in every individual.

We are males or females, white or black, vegetarians or non-vegetarians, speak whatever language we speak not by our choice.

But all of us are humans with the same color of the blood, experience similar vicissitudes in life, deal with same kinds of life’s dilemmas and face the certainty of death.

“Time is unidirectional” and everything changes over time.

We are bound to find ourselves in different positions of power and wealth. Physical and economic inequality is inevitable.

Power and wealth tend to corrupt which often operate to maintain social inequalities.

The powerful will tend to exert their power since basically their mind is made to be selfish, just as everyone’s.

Acceptance of equality in the Sacredness of Life itself, human dignity, and respect for every life is the antidote to such corruption.

Since our neural structure is basically made to behave in selfish mode, and some people will use their position and power to stay in their position of power and deny freedom to the weaker, there must be social controls agreed upon by the public.

There is nothing called absolute freedom. My freedom is always at the expense of lack of freedom for someone else. William Durant pointed out long ago that freedom and equality do not go together. That is one of the fundamental lessons of world history.

Societies will have to develop safeguards against excessive use of power by one group over other by consensus.

Once developed, there must be a mechanism to implement them with impartiality. There must be some “teeth” to the law.

In addition to a neural organization conducive to survival, our neural organization is also endowed with capacity to look inwards, understand the world as is and not what we think it is, nurture others and to develop empathy, compassion, and socialization.

It is possible to learn to actuate our natural abilities to be compassionate, even if not altruistic.

They must be developed by looking deeply at our inner self with honesty and humility and at the outer world with open mind, understanding and compassion. This is spirituality.


A Closing Statement 

Dear Friends,

With sincere gratitude to your support and feedbacks, I wish to sign off today. This will be my farewell to all of you who have been faithful followers of Time for Thought.

I made this decision to stop writing blogs for a few reasons. I enter my ninetieth year of life on this wonderful planet, our shared sacred space. I wish to bid farewell when my body and mind are functioning well. It is better to go out when one is ahead. I do not wish to leave someone else to clean up after me by waiting too long. It is also better to “let go” of things at this stage in life.

 I also found myself rehashing the same ideas in different forms. I have shared already whatever ideas I wanted to share. There is nothing new I wish to write about. You might have also noted that a I have made books out of these “blogs” and have conducted courses based on these “blogs”. There is one more book to come.

I cannot close these “blogs” without remembering Ramaa, my soulmate who was involved in planning this “blog site”, naming it and editing one of the initial posts. That was in 2008.

May you be well. May you be safe. May you be free from suffering.

May you have peace within and harmony with the outside world.

I close with the following Prayer for Universal Welfare. (Garuda Purana Uttara khanda chapter 35 Verse 51 is reported to be the source although I could not verify this source).

सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु मा कश्चित् दु­ह्खवान् भवॆत्

May everyone be well; May everyone be free of ailments; May everyone be safe; May everyone be free from suffering.

Thank you all.                                   Balu

P.S.  Although I will not post any new material, this site will remain open at least till the end of this year.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Subjective and Objective Classification of the Five Elements


From the objective point of view, this world is made of earth, water, fire, air, and space (which includes time) according to the Samkhya philosophy. These are classified as panca bhutas – five gross elements. What I missed was that this system looked at the world from subjective point of view also. We can perceive only what our sense organs can recognize. That includes sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Therefore, the classification includes gross elements as emanating from these five principles, which are called panca tanmatras.

The panca bhutas or gross elements are evolutions of the panca tanmatras, which are subtle.  Panca tanmatras carry or the source of the sensations which are perceived by the sense organs and made known to the mind and through the mind to the consciousness.

Starting with space (akasha) considered to be the first gross evolute, it is apprehended by its characteristic which is vibration or sound, and the corresponding organ is the ear. Next comes air (vayu) with its characteristic of contact which is apprehended by touch and its corresponding organ skin. Then comes fire (agni) which can be seen with a form and color.  The corresponding organ is the eye. Water is (apaha) the next gross element whose characteristic is fluidity, and which can carry taste. The tongue is the corresponding organ. Finally comes smell and its corresponding gross element the earth (prithvi).

Mind is given a special place as another sense organ since it is needed to perceive the messages coming through the sense organs. Beyond these are the sense of self/ego and then buddhi or awareness. Interestingly, consciousness is considered as separate from all the other faculties of the mind because without it we will not be aware of this world, or our lives or our mind. Consciousness is the subject, witness, and illuminator.

It is important to note that the five sense organs mentioned above are drawn towards the external world by nature. The mind has to control these pulls before it can turn inwards.

A related point is that controlling the senses and controlling the sense of ego and possessions (I, Me, and Mine) are considered essential steps in meditation and spiritual enlightenment according to the Indian and Buddhist philosophies.

A similar idea is expressed in Christian writings also. Kierkegaard says that one has to reach a state of despair in one’s spiritual struggle to destroy one’s ego. Only then can one find God. This is not much different from the Indian point of view – one must destroy ego before inner realization.

It is interesting that the Upanishads, which preceded the Samkhya philosophy, mention only three (and not five) elements as fundamental. However, all later writings including Bhagavad Gita, Vedanta and the puranas seem to have accepted the five elements of Samkhya system as their foundation.

Vedic texts start by saying that in the beginning there was only One, one without a second.  Going further, to explain how that One became many, Prasna Upanishjad (1:4) and Satapata Brahmana 2:2:4:1 say that the One desired progeny. This suggests that a desire was born in that One. Desire is a thought and obviously thought is essential before something can be created! Thus starts the chicken-egg dilemma.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Apparent Reality and Absolute Reality

 The words parikalpita svabhava in Thich Naht Hanh’s book on Transformation at the Base triggered several related words in my mind. The words parikalpita svabhava mean “constructed nature”. In other words, they are thoughts constructed by the mind to understand the object as perceived and not the object “as is”. The object “as is” is svabhava.

Human mind is made so it can understand the world in which the carrier of the mind, be he or she, lives. It does so by abstracting the messages received through different sensory modalities, categorize them to suit its needs and make sense of it. It is the way it is made to function. It cannot help doing so. It needs training to function differently, and it can be trained.

Scientific thinking takes this process to the extreme. It defines everything it sees, makes subsections of the object, and categorize those parts, and studies each part. As Anil Seth points out in his book on Being you, the goal of science is to Explain, Predict and Control. In the process, science divides the whole into parts, gives us a whole lot of rose petals but the rose is gone. Science finds it difficult to make a whole out of the parts.

To understand the whole is to understand the svabhava. Reason cannot get there. As Professor Nagel pointed out, you have to be a bat to know what it feels like to be a bat. That requires going beyond dualities and multiplicities with humility, intuition, and imagination.

If this phenomenal world of multiplicities is called mithya (apparent reality) as Adi Sankara did, the spiritual world of wholeness is the nithya (reality as is). What we see is sathyam, truth as we see it or parivikalpa svabhava and we need to see the rhytam or nibbana svabhava. Some spiritual texts, particularly advaita and Zen, say that it is possible to relate to the “truth as is” through meditation.

As I understand, the Advaita method suggests meditation on the oneness of atman (individual, apparent) and brahman (universal, real) and merging with the One. To me, this means letting go of this phenomenal world.

Buddhism suggests the method of meditation on their interdependence (paratantra). To me, this means living in this phenomenal world with full awakening and awareness.



Saturday, December 31, 2022

More of the same

 Atman is the “knower”, functioning in all individualized lives. Brahman is the collective aspect of Atman. Atman and Brahman are the same according to Advaita.

The “knower” cannot be the object of knowledge, because knowledge depends on the “knower”.

Atman, the “knower” is a witness to

                Several states of mind such as “I am sad”, “I am happy”.

                Several states of awareness such as “I am awake or sleeping or dreaming”.

                Aware that “I know this” and “I do not know that”.

That is about the essence of what Adi Sankara said. Learning to experience that state of being a witness is the essence of meditation. But Buddha is wrongly quoted as saying that there is no such thing as "atman". What does one meditate on then - a void?

In opposing the Buddhist view of anatman, he went on to say that if Atman and Brahman are illusions, not real, “all that remains are a group of impermanent things; permanent happiness and someone who can realize that permanent happiness cease to exist”. He further said: “Emptiness (sunyata) and absence of self (anatman) of Buddhism are dark and bleak concepts. If you can see Brahman in everything it is blissful and full of light”.

In his critique of the Buddhist ideas that we have only moments of consciousness and there is nothing called a “perceiver”, Gaudapada says: “In the absence of a common unchanging substratum it is not possible to be aware of change of consciousness from moment to moment. If there is no substratum, how can one be aware of momentariness of thoughts and the experience of pain and misery?  If all that exists is void, there must still be a perceiver of the void. Otherwise, who or what is there to assert that void?”

Learning about these intellectual discussions does not contribute one bit in one's spiritual journey, except to keep the flame of self-discovery going.  

Saturday, December 24, 2022

All Pervading, All Penetrating

 In Buddhist meditation, deep reflection on true nature of things should include meditation on the “I” as a body with form, name, life, and consciousness. Consciousness makes it possible for the “I” to be conscious of the “I”.

A component of “I” (the big and universal) is its own consciousness because without it “I” (the small, particular) does not arise. Conversely, a content of the consciousness is the “I” it is illuminating.

I do not know the purpose of life in general. But the purpose of consciousness is to help the individual life in which it operates to live. That means consciousness helps the “I” relate to the external world to survive through the mind and sense organs and organs of action. That means desire is a crucial inherent property or character of the mind. To survive is to eat and breath and not be eaten by someone else.  Survival instinct requires the individual to be curious and explore.

Exploration and curiosity are part of seeking a mate also. But that is a different story.

Exploration may yield something useful to survive which means hope is part of it. But exploration may not yield anything useful to survive but may land the “I”, the individual, in danger. Therefore, curiosity is always tinged with caution and anxiety. That is how the “I” learns to survive by trial, error and memory of past events.

In the process of taking care of individual needs to survive, the individual forgets that other individuals are also struggling with the same realities of life and living. The individual also forgets that the construction of the external world is the creation of the “I”, not the external world as it is, in its “suchness”.

Since “I” am partly made of my own consciousness and since consciousness arises in “me” and since the particles and energy I am made of pervade the entire cosmos (sarvavyapi) and also pervade every part of my inside (antaryami), why not consider my body as similar to a mud pot immersed in water, as had been suggested in the Vedic thoughts. The water inside the pot is the same as the water outside. When the pot breaks, the water remains as before.

Or consider myself as the wave, as the Buddhist teachings say. The wave is the water. The wave is a transient thing with a form. When the wave disappears it becomes one with water which was its base. 

At the core, everything is made of particles of matter and the associated energy which they carry. Reason does not lead us to a primordial cause, because if there was one, where did that come from? How can something come from nothing? Can there be a causeless cause? Since scientific studies suggest that the cosmos we live in and experience are made of particles and energy which have been there eternally making up the unseen aspects of the universe, why not call that particle-energy combination as the Brahman or whatever name any culture wants to call and merge with that? And why not concentrate on the present moment which is part of that eternity?

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Consciousness (chitta) and Mind (manas) (corrected version)

 In Sanskrit literature, the words Chittha and Manas are used interchangeably. Even the word pragna is used in the same sense as these two words. In addition, the definition of these words varies between different systems of philosophy. For example, the word Chittha may stands to mean (translated into English) consciousness, mind, thought, intellect, ego, and awareness.

Mind is considered to be one of the sense organs (in addition to the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin) in the Indian and Buddhist systems of philosophy. This sensory mind is different from the parts of the mind involved with thinking, intellect, ego, and action.

Given that our current knowledge of brain, mind and their functions have advanced immensely, it is better to peg the word chittha to consciousness and the word manas to the mind.

When we do that, we can talk about Chitta (consciousness) with its level, content, usual states, altered states and functions.  Similarly, manas defined as mind, has its component functions. Both the mind and consciousness require a life for their emergence.  If there is no life, there is no mind, there is no consciousness. Therefore, it appears that the primary function of the mind and the consciousness is to take care of the needs of the body with which they are connected.

To take care of the “individualized” life with which consciousness and mind are connected, both must relate to the world outside and to the inner person. They must relate to the outside world and interpret them through sensory inputs and proper interpretation in a way conducive to the welfare of the body and the mind of the individual. They should also be aware of the internal responses of the individual to external events and make sure they align with the perceptions generated from outside and from within the body.

The basic construction of the brain and therefore of the mind is primarily oriented towards selfishness – self-preservation. Given the higher faculties we humans are endowed with, including the ability to use language to express concrete and abstract ideas, it is our duty to train the mind not to be purely selfish and learn to look inward, relate to the rest of the world with love and compassion and reflect on the commonality of life and consciousness. In other words, develop spirituality.

Spirituality is using consciousness (chitta) to train the mind (manas) so it can

1.       Relate to other lives and the cosmos

2.       Recognize that our perception is not compete since we cannot know what it is like to be the other (true nature of things as they truly are) and therefore

3.       Develop compassion

4.       Recognize that my perception includes me as the subject of that perception and cannot be separated and therefore selfish by nature

5.       Try to see the outside world for what it is, as is, and not as I think it to be

6.       Recognize that everything I see and feel are separate with a form and a name, are impermanent and inter-dependent

7.       But, at the core, are part of the same whole

8.       Realize that happiness and suffering are part of life

9.       Therefore, not to create an imaginary world of permanent happiness, a land of honey and milk, a land somewhere else to escape to

10.   To acknowledge and accept that life and consciousness are mysteries to surrender to, admire and become humble

11.   To look for conditions for happiness here and now

12.   To acknowledge the fact that lives come and go and even Buddha, Shankara, Ramana, Jesus and Ramakrishna had to leave this earth

13.   To develop our own purpose and direction for a meaningful life

14.   Of humility, loving-kindness, compassion, sharing and caring AND

Live a life of Peace within oneself and Harmony with the rest of the world and the cosmos.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Virtue, Dharma and Moral Relativism

 I came across several items under the term Virtue in Western philosophy. In the Classical teachings, there are seven cardinal virtues. Four of them are general and include Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice. Three are theological: Faith, Hope and Charity and I have read somewhere that Charity is the only essential virtue in this category. In Christian theological literature, charity stands for Divine mercy or grace.

Modern-day psychologists have a modified version of virtue (s), which they say is practical. That list includes Wisdom, Temperance, Courage, Justice, Transcendence and Humanity.

It is too bad that Western philosophy has become too academic and not grounded adequately on living this life in this complex world. In addition, in this era of scientific approach to problem-solving, the emphasis is on how to modify these qualities into measurable items, as if they become scientific and acceptable once a number is given. Look at the multitudes of scale to measure psychological traits just as empathy and compassion.

In addition, western ideas suffer also with the need for “yes” or “no” answers. Shades and nuances make people uncomfortable.

Why not the western world incorporate the Indian idea of Dharma in its vocabulary with a full understanding of what that word means? It has already accepted words such as karma, avatar and guru! Thinking about the word Dharma, it is clear that in the English language there is no one all-encompassing word to capture all the components of that concept as expressed in that Sanskrit word. Some close approximation may be found in words such as virtue, meta-ethics, and moral relativism. 

Dharma allows for a range of options depending on the circumstances. It even says that when there are competing “good” answers, choose the one which will cause the least harm. That becomes moral relativism in the western school of philosophy and therefore suspect. Is it not possible to develop rules of conduct but with exceptions built in based on strict definitions arrived at by consensus and developed with input from the members of the society?