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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Collective Unconscious and Collective Conscious

 In defining “Collective Unconscious” Carl Jung is quoted as saying that ‘The form of the world into which [a person] is born is already inborn in him, as a virtual image’. There are volumes of papers and books on this topic by Carl Jung himself and other scholars. This is a theory to explain one aspect of human behavior, particularly behavior common to all humans from different cultures and lands.

Is there a “Collective Consciousness” also? This must also be inborn, an awareness of one’s own mind and of the “minds of others”. May be, “collective unconscious” is the same as “Collective Conscious” but Carl Jung used it for a different purpose and emphasized the absence of being consciously aware of our behavior.

Those were my thoughts when I was reading a pictorial essay on the “aerial acrobatics” of swarms of starlings. I have seen those swarms too (called murmurations according to the article in the National Geographic magazine). Obviously, each bird in the swarm knows the “mind and direction of movement” of its immediate neighbors and all of them interconnect so that they have a collective “mind”. Can it not be called a component of the collective consciousness of the starlings?

The same thought occurred to me when I was watching a group of birds flying alongside our boat for almost 15 or 20 minutes when we were sailing between islands in the Galapagos. They were flying in formation with two birds in the lead position. Periodically, two birds will move from the end part of the formation and take over the front lead position. How did they know?

Several years back, I watched an osprey couple raise their brood on the banks of the Choptank River. It was amazing to see the male and female taking turns watching the eggs. The female and male will take turns bringing “food” for the chick. The female will teach the chick how to fly and she will not leave the nest for good till the youngest one can take off on its own. How did the mother know it is her responsibility?

Is it not acceptable to call all this “collective Consciousness” of the species – built in and inherent in their body, brain, mind, and psyche? We, humans, certainly have a collective consciousness if only we know how to touch it. In addition, humans also have language which makes it possible to have a meta-consciousness, an awareness of awareness (in backward loops). Awareness implies a subject and an object. Taken to its origins, it is a state which ends in a Pure Subject. This is what the Advaita philosophy calls the Brahman.

How can we touch these states when the emphasis is always on the “I” and the “me”?

(Thanks to "Kannan" for a key suggestion)

Friday, October 8, 2021

Forces and Patterns (slightly revised)

 How does variety come out of limited numbers of basic units? There are only certain number of particles. Yet, the entire cosmos and our bodies are made of these particles. There are only 20 essential amino acids. Out of them come the entire varieties of viruses, bacteria, fungi, birds, amphibians, plants, animals, and human beings.

Patterns of arrangement of limited number of particles/units and “forces” acting between these particles make this universe happen.

We are told that three forces namely Electromagnetic, Strong and Weak forces and three particles, namely electron and  two kinds of quarks account for most of the universe (gravity is not on this list). Two “up” quarks and one “down” quark with a weak force make protons and neutrons and matter in general. Protons and neutrons acting with strong force relate to heat. Electrons and protons acting in the realm of electromagnetic force account for the light. 

Patterns as forms can be seen. The forces cannot be seen but inferred.

Is there a similar pattern to life on earth? As varied as life is, its material base is DNA made of the same 20 amino acids. Patterns weaved with combinations of amino acids and the sequence of arrangements of these same 20 amino acids give the codes for varieties of life forms we see. Form appears to have been explained.

But how did life and awareness appear? After all, most of the universe is made of inanimate matter. And, why life at all?

Defining life is a difficult task. We know it depends on and is based on active exchange of energy. Awareness is a puzzling emergent property of living organisms. This property is active exchange of information, which requires energy.

Just as we cannot see, but only infer, electromagnetic, strong force, weak force and gravity, we can infer “life energy” and “awareness energy” but cannot see.  It appears that the material forms are the relationship between a potential state and an emergent or manifest state requiring information and heat. The potential state can be inferred.

Material-to-life relationship (or inanimate to animate) is based on “life energy”, which operates in an individual life form and can be inferred from the existence of several life forms. From individual lives we infer a collective energizer.

Material-to-awareness relationship also needs an energy like an illuminating light. It is the meta-awareness, an invisible, emergent property of living organisms. Just as light gives illumination and, also lights up everything else to be seen, meta-awareness as an energy makes us aware of ourselves and of our own thoughts and of the universe that we live in. This can be experienced and inferred but cannot be seen. Neuroscientists will call it  an emergent property of neural networks. It has to be. But it is a property that cannot be seen.

Gravity, EM force, Strong force, Weak force, life-force and awareness force require matter to act on. Why these forces at all? We just have to meditate on them in awe and with humility. 

Oriental philosophers will say that these invisible forces cannot be described since they do not have “forms” and, also because they belong to a category on the basis of which we describe what we see in this universe. However, they can be “known” through our intuitive powers. Hindu saints say that they have experienced these invisible powers in deep meditation when they see their individual “self” merging with the universal “self”.

Our ancestors, in their primitive times and magical thinking started using metaphors and symbols to depict these invisible patterns and forces, since it was not possible to describe these forces. One of the best examples in Vedas is light equated with Sun and, also with consciousness. It is because the Sun shines on its own and makes everything else visible. So does consciousness (awareness) which by its presence reveals itself and, also everything else.

To understand symbolism of forms and forces in the Vedic literature, one should read the Upanishads and some passages in the Rg Veda. It is not obvious in a casual reading. It is unfortunate that our scholars did not develop tools to understand these metaphors, with a few exceptions such as Adi Shankara. Most of them developed systems of thought  and points of view (darshana) requiring unquestioning faith.

Here are some books which helped me to learn about the origins of these metaphors and symbols. Interestingly, all these books are by western scholars. The Artful Universe by William Mahoney, The The Golden Bough by Sir John Frazier, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life by Emile Durkheim.  For easy reading, there are many books on this subject by Joseph Campbell. Among the scholars from India, Sri Aurobindo's writings were helpful and more from the Indian context and with understanding of the culture, but sounded more like justification than explanation. If the readers know of Indian scholars who have dealt with this subject, please share that information in the Comment section.  Thank you. 

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Life's Lessons - Who taught me What? (15)

 Who taught me what after coming to Cokesbury?

After coming to the Cokesbury Village, two individuals influenced my thinking the most. I cannot even give the initials of these two gentlemen for privacy reasons. But I wish to write about what they taught me.

One of them is no more. He is no more because he lost the desire and the will to live. He taught me how to die gracefully. He was close to 100. His mind was sharp but, the body was worn out.  When this happens many in this age group lose their desire to live.  

I had the privilege of sitting and talking with him twice just before his death. It was a humbling experience. He spoke with calmness and assurance. There was no self-pity. He was saying “good-bye” in his own terms.

He told me that he became an atheist when he was around 23 or 24 following an accident in which he almost lost his life. Events around that accident made him realize the impermanence of life and life’s lonely fights. He had no regrets about the way he led his life. He also recommended that I read a book with the title “This Believing World” by Lewis Browne. I read it and learnt new ways of looking at religions in general.

The other gentleman is over 100 years old . He is my role model for growing old gracefully. He taught me that one way to live long with a sharp mind is to be socially involved, help as many people as possible, as many times as possible and lead an active, engaged life.

Lessons from Three Habits

Reading habit: During my five-year stay in US between 1958 and 1963, I was afraid of forgetting my mother-tongue and Sanskrit. Therefore, I made a habit of always reading one book in Tamil and one in Sanskrit throughout those five years. I am reaping the benefits now. The other reading habit was to always read one non-medical book, since so much of my time was taken up reading medical books and journals in those days. (I plan to write a series on Reading Skills soon)

Journal (diary writing) habit: This started when I was in Loyola College. I do not remember why I started it. It was not a list of what I did that day. I wrote only when something of significance ( at least what I thought at that stage in life to be significant) took place. Since my life for the first two years in Madras(college years) were stressful and unhappy, I used writing journal to express my disappointments and frustrations. I have lost most of my earlier notebooks. But I saved a few pages from the final years of medical school before coming to US. After that I have saved all my journals from the 1960’s. Some of the thoughts I have expressed in my blog site ( are based on my daily journals (diary).

Meditation habit: I started daily meditation in early 1972 or 1973. Initially, I learnt basic ideas from my brother and later from Ramaa’s dad. I also got initiated into the TM style. But I followed my own path and inner direction. Therefore, it kept changing. But, after I attended the first week-long session with Thich Naht Hanh, it became steady.

I have meditated consistently for over 40 years now. I do both silent meditation in the Vedic style and insight meditation as in Buddhism. Meditation has been a great source of relaxation and mental stability and has helped me look deeply into myself and into events around me. Without meditation I could not have survived the year Ramaa was critically ill and the years since I  lost her.

My brother, Adi Sankara, Buddha, Ramana Maharishi, Thich Nath Hanh and Tolstoy are probably the most significant figures who influenced the direction of my meditation and spiritual journey. 

End of stories!

PS: In 2006, I shelved this project since it is self-centered.  I asked myself: “Who is going to read this anyway?” Few years back Sheela said that she wanted to interview me and make a recording.  Pranav also started interviewing and recording me. Therefore I decided to complete this and completed it on June 11, 2021. 

Thanks for your interest. Hope there were a lesson or two you found useful. 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Life's Lessons - Who taught me What? (14)

(continuation of lessons from travels)

 Speaking of air travels, two co-passengers who sat next to me in two different flights taught me remarkable things. I have communicated with one of them and have saved his thoughtful response.

One was an actor in the London theater. We were talking and he said: “You are very relaxed”. I said: “ Yes, what made you say that?”. He said: “I am an actor. I know when I am acting with someone who is new on the stage. They are so nervous that their mouths get dry. Therefore, when they say certain words, I know they are new on the stage because of the way their tongue sticks to the roof of the mouth”. I have used this observation successfully in my practice when I speak with mothers. On many occasions I was able to recognize they were very anxious and that made it possible to help them better.

The other one was an insurance inspector for the Lloyd’s of London. He specialized in investigating fires in airplanes. We were discussing how he investigates fires as to their origin, the spread and possible causes. I shared with him how we investigate origin of symptoms and causes in children. He taught me that it is all based on astute observations followed by systematic logic! Just like Sherlock Homes. We agreed that the process is the same whether we are investigating fire in a physical structure or disease in a human being!

Ninety-nine dollar tour of USA: During my first trip to US, I stayed for five years. At the end of the 4th year (May – June of 1962), I wanted to travel through USA and see the country before I went back to India. At that time, my intention was not to return to USA. My resources were limited. (The monthly salary at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was $50.00 and free boarding and lodging. And, at the University of Chicago, the salary was $120.00, without boarding and lodgings) When I was thinking how to make my dream come true, I heard from Jim Johnson of Binghamton NY(I have mentioned about him earlier), as if he read my mind. He asked what I planned to do for vacation. I said: “what can I do with the money I have?”. Jim must have sensed my frustration. He sent me a check for $200.00 and said that I should travel around the country and enjoy. He also said that I need not return the money because he intended to write it off as unpaid bills in his practice!

It also so happened that I knew one Mrs. Updegraff in Philadelphia. She worked for the Greater Philadelphia Council of Churches. She was a missionary in in a village near Pune in India at Pune and knew Dr. Malathy Jadhav of the Christian Medical College, Vellore. She said that she can give me contacts in several cities where I can stay with families who had grown up children in the adolescent age group. The only condition was that I have to speak about India at the Churches these families attend. I agreed.

In those days there was a special ticket for $ 99 in Greyhound . This allowed one to travel anywhere around the country as long as one does not retrace the steps. In essence, it was a around-the-country travel. I travelled mostly during nights to avoid hotel bills. The contacts given by Mrs. Updegraff was useful in several cities, but not in all. Therefore, in some cities I stayed at the YMCA hotels for  $3.00 for a night. 

During this trip, I saw for myself the size and beauty of the country. During day-travels, I enjoyed the beauties of nature. I experienced the friendship of people in small towns and villages. I found how helpful they were to strangers like me. I became friends with some of the people I stayed with. They taught me about various aspects of life in America.  Mr. K of Portland, Oregon taught me about dairy farming. He owned a dairy farm and even took me with him one early morning when he went to milk his cows. (One of his cows won the competition for the most yield of milk in that county and I still have a photo of that cow!) 

The C family in Klamath Falls, Oregon exposed me to logging in the Oregon area and made me visit Klamath Falls which is one of the most beautiful, mystic and spiritual places on earth. Of the many places I have visited, I will add two more to this list - Kuai Island and Bali. 

 The most enduring friendship was with Jim and Lucy in Colorado Springs. Later I visited them with Ramaa and Bama once. We visited them once more with Bama, Hari and Sheela. By that time, Jim and Lucy had grandchildren. Bama, Hari and Sheela had a wonderful time with them and  experienced life in a cattle ranch and countryside, which included hayrides. Sadly,  Lucy and Jim are no more. But I had communicated with their son until recently.

 I learnt a thing or two about life-long friendship across cultures from these visits. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Life's Lessons - Who taught me What? (13)

            This post is a little different. This is not about "who" taught me, but "how" travels taught me some important lessons. That includes travels in general and specific travels.

What did Travels teach me?

Travels taught me many things about life and living.

The most important lessons were about being open-minded and flexible. I learnt that there is no one correct way to deal with daily tasks and life’s issues. There are many ways, each suitable to its place and context. For example, Chinese end their dinners often with soup or salad. The western culture starts dinners with soup. Indians mix soup with their main dish. (Incidentally, the word soup in English, Zuppa in Italian are similar to the word soopah in Sanskrit. This is an example of how travels gave me an interest in linguistics)

It is good to be prudent and plan, but not plan so much that spontaneity is lost. For example, when we (Ramaa and me) were in Turkey, we broke from our group and walked on our own. It so happened that this was near a University Campus. We stopped at a bookstore. A student who was working there wanted to practice his English. He told us many things the tour guide did not cover. More important, he introduced us to a Turkish writer most admired by Turkish people. The author’s name is Irfan Orga. We bought one of his books (Portrait of a Turkish Family) and found it fascinating.

This leads me to another lesson both Ramaa and myself learnt. Whenever we went to a new country, we wanted to experience three things – their food, their language and their music. To get these experiences, we must have an open mind and some amount of adventure. (Ramaa was more adventurous and, I had to keep her under some control for her safety) If we are going to stay within our own comfort zone, how can we understand another culture?  

We used to ask the locals what their “signature” dish (food) is, who their best author is and who their most admired musician is. Yes, we have tasted vegetarian and non-vegetarian food in every country we had visited. We have read at least one book by that country’s famous author in English translation. We often bought one tape or CD of each country’s famous musician. This is cultural education, even though that is not enough to give us a deep understanding of any culture. Ideally, we should immerse ourselves  in that culture by living among the locals for a few months. 

 I would like to share this habit, this lesson we learnt with youngsters. This will help open their minds to develop respect and tolerance to other people’s points of view and ways of doing things.

Travel with Visu: The very first travel experience without my family members was with Visu. It is one of the most memorable. I was in high school at that time. My brother made it possible, as usual. We had a marvelous time. We stayed in modest hotels and ate cheap but hot meals. Visu taught me how to find good places to eat, how to negotiate price and how not to panic, if things do not go as planned. Once we missed a train – almost. Visu’s comment: “So what? We take the next train going our way!”

The most remarkable memory was our visit to Ramana Ashram and the darshan of Ramana Maharishi. What an impression it left! I did not know at that time he was suffering from some tumor of the bone and had surgery on his arm “without anesthesia”. I learnt about that several years later. But I remember that he passed away a few weeks after we had the darshan. The peace in his presence and the glow of his body are still fresh in memory. They still influence me during my meditation times. The other lesson was: “ Ramana was also a human being. No one can escape illness and death. If a soul as serene and divine as Ramana can get cancer, what other human being can escape disease?”

The first trip to USA was a memorable one. That was the first time I travelled by plane. It was not jet age yet. I flew by TWA, “Super-constellation” and it took 3 days from Bombay to New York! It was hop - step - and - jump with several stops for refueling. It was monsoon season and naturally it was pouring rain at Mumbai. But I was so excited about the future, the present moment became exciting.

I learnt for the first time how to eat using knives and fork and how to open a milk carton. There was no one to teach, except the one in the next seat.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Life's Lessons - Who taught me What? (12)

 Friends, again I am writing two posts this week. The first one is the continuation of the series on Life's lessons. I was "moved" to write the second one during my meditative moments. 

Books that influenced me most

“Bhagavat Gita” is clearly the first on the list. I have read the original in Sanskrit. I have read three major interpretations, one by Bal Gangadar Tilak, one by Vinoba Bhave and one by Kanchi Periyaval. The translation by Kannadasan in Tamizh, is a gem for its language and unaltered meaning of the original.

The two most important lessons I have always carried in my thoughts are: 1. Sloka 43 from Section 2. Our concern should be to carry out our duty (dharma) without looking for the rewards. I can also say I have tried to apply it in real life as much as possible. I did not do so once; that was when I saw clearly why this lesson is very important. 2. Sloka 63 in the final chapter where Lord Krishna tells Arjuna “I have shared with you the deepest of knowledge (about this Cosmos). Think about what I have said and act as you think is best”. He did not say “Do as I command”. What a way to teach?

The second most important lesson came from Sir William Osler, considered the Hippocrates of modern medicine. He says: “When you want to learn about a subject, go to the most original writing on that subject. Then, read the most recent review on that subject”. He was talking only about medical subjects. But I have used this idea for several decades not only in reading medical literature but when learning about any new topic, to immense pleasure and profit.

For example, this habit led me to read one of the earliest descriptions of tetanus in an Egyptian Papyrus manuscript (Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus. I read it when I was at the University of Chicago). I can say with reasonable confidence that I have read the original descriptions of most of the diseases such as Mumps (Hippocrates), Chorea (Sydenham). Mongolism (now known as Down Syndrome) and the so-called Salaam Epilepsy. I have read the original descriptions of all the rheumatic diseases, particularly the one which established that connective tissue and blood vessels are part of all the organs and therefore connective tissue diseases are multi-system diseases.

This habit of reading the originals solidifies description of diseases in our memory. We learn why the original author thought this was important and what did he/she see unique which made him (her) describe it. Every time you read about the condition in modern literature, you just add new facts to that old memory unit like a “coat-hangar” and, also can visualize gaps in knowledge.

As I mentioned, I have used William Osler's advice in subjects other than medicine. For example,  searching for the source of the metaphor of two birds on a tree in the Mundaka Upanishad led me to a treasure house of wisdom in Asya Vamasya Sukta in Rg Veda. That led me to read the entire Sukta in Rg Veda 1: 164. That led me also to the source of the famous quote:  “The truth is one; learned men call it by different names”. This is also in the Asya Vamasya Sukta.

It is impossible for me to describe the value of this one lesson from Sir William Osler and how much this practice has enriched my intellectual life.

On Becoming a Person is a book by Carl Rogers. This pioneer in psychology taught me about how to listen and what the fundamentals of helping professions are. I have written about this topic in my Handbook of Clinical Skills.  I have tried to apply those principles in my role as a physician, as many times as possible.

Soon after I came to USA in 1958, when I was trying to adjust to the cultural shock, the book that helped me was “A Mirror for Man by Clyde Kluckhohn. This is a book on cultural anthropology which made me understand how to appreciate cultural differences. The primary lesson was that one should observe other cultures to learn and NOT to judge. One should not label cultural behaviors as “good” and “bad”. But one should understand what it is for, how and when it originated and what the advantages and disadvantages of those practices are. That way, we can adopt them if they are beneficial and reject them if they are no more valid under current circumstances (place and time) or not suitable for our needs.

This book has a chapter on how americans think and act. This was very helpful for me to adopt and behave appropriately in the new settings. It also influenced my tolerance for other ways of doing things. This book was written almost 50 years back. Obviously, the book is outdated and behavior of people has changed.  But  many of those observations made by Kluckhohn  are still true.  

This book influenced my sensitivity to cultural factors in my medical practice. This made me understand my own culture also better. 

What is in a word?

 Friends, again I am writing two posts this week. The first one is the continuation of the series on Life's lessons. I was "moved" to write the second one during my meditative moments. 

“War on poverty”

“War on drugs”

“War on terrorism”

Words hide passions

Wars show passions

We are praying for Peace,

Why are we worshipping “wars”?