Please visit Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation by Athreya and Mouza at Springer.com

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Course correction for the Future (concluded)


The Future
How do we look to the future and make it safe for our children and grandchildren?
We need a new Dharma for this age of “Information Disorder”. Elements of this new Dharma should include Positive Values such as Compassion, Open-mindedness, Commitment to collaboration and cooperation, Forgiveness, Humility, respect for the dignity of the individual, justice, Truth-telling, sharing  of wealth and knowledge and Caring for the welfare of others, the society, other lives and the entire planet.
Each one of us will have to learn to separate useful information from useless and harmful information, learn to think on our own, find our own bliss and pass it on. There is no One Way. But we need to be humble since our way may not be correct and often unsuitable for someone else.
Our knowing and learning in the past few centuries  have been analytical and empirical. In science, we use sensory system to observe and measure. We use the collected data to analyze and synthesize using reason and logic. We then interpret and explain. This approach to nature's phenomena has enriched humanity. We need to build on science.  
In science we broke the whole into parts to study.We know lots of details. Now we have to put the parts together in the context of the "whole". We must connect to the “whole”, spiritually.
We have loads of information, too much sometimes. We must learn to transform that into wisdom. Wisdom is defined by its humility, ability to see the bigger picture, thoughtful and beneficial actions and above all to knowing the limits of one’s own knowledge.
Emotions and subjective knowledge have been de-emphasized  for obvious reasons. Emotions can mislead reason. But we cannot ignore them totally. We have to be objective. But the subjective factor in knowledge is equally important provided we acknowledge that our  knowledge may be wrong and the subjective knowledge of others is bound to be different. We need to be humble, open-minded and compassionate.
We cannot forget or ignore the fact that the subject is part of the thought itself. In spiritual matters  “the seeker is the sought”.
We need to supplement analytical knowing and thinking with Contemplative knowing and thinking. This allows one to be objective and at the same time help look at the object deeply with curiosity and without judgement. This allows letting go of habitual patterns of thinking, bias and dogmas and open the mind to new insights. It allows us to look at the part and the whole and recognize connections not known otherwise.
Contemplative knowing can lead to insights, intuition and inspiration. 
Every one of us will have to get out of the isolated island we live in and connect with others and with the world in compassion and with compassion.
We need new mythology and new symbols. The old ones have lost their relevance and not their importance. We need new world mythology. That is possible if we visualize the picture of the earth our space-scientists have given us.  One unit. Blue planet hanging in mid-air. It shows no borders. Only one border, between water and earth.
Joseph Campbell wanted us to use the ancient buildings and temples and cathedrals to talk to us about their spiritual information. We need cultural heritage tours of such sites to look at the substance behind the symbols.
We need to use Spirituality and Science similar to the way we use different lenses of the camera. We need spirituality for the mystery and science to understand reality.
We need to emphasize that morality is even more important than legality. That is to say that an action considered to be within the prevailing system of law may still be immoral. 
We need new symbols. May I suggest a few to choose from?  Earth seen from space; Exploding supernova; Wheeler’s Universal Eye.
We need new rites of passage (called Samskara in Sanskrit). It is particularly important for children entering adolescence. This should be more than a graduation party, or giving them a car key or cell phone.  But something to tell the child as suggested by Joseph Campbell: “you are ready to enter adult life; Go find your hero; go find your inner bliss. I am here to help you.”
We need a new motto such as those suggested by Joseph Campbell: “kill the inner dragon” and “Find your own bliss” and “Let others find their bliss” and “Love, everyone, unconditionally; Share; Forgive; Be Humble; Seek: Be Brave.”
We need common universal celebrations – for example, Thanksgiving Day and Mother’s (Nature’s) Day.
We must share  these thoughts and more with future generations so they grow up with respect for their tradition and at the same time respect for other traditions; so that they live in harmony with nature and with others in a peaceful world.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Course correction for the Future


Human mind is an amazing creation of nature. It demands an answer for the mystery of its own existence and even attempts to answer. Thanks to my medical profession and my own interest in diagnostic challenges, I have been thinking about the mind and its mechanisms for most of my adult life. In addition, immersion in meditation extended the realm of my thinking to another dimension. More recently my life in a senior home has given me yet another perspective, because of contact with residents with different levels of dementia.  Finally, information technology and its influence on our thinking at every level have given me an urgency to share the following thoughts. You are most welcome to offer corrections and other suggestions. 

Humanity has come a long way and thanks to the advances in science and technology in the past 100 to 150 years, so many lives have been enriched. So much more is possible, if only we can reflect every day and use the gift of our awareness and thinking to direct our lives and set a model for the future generations. We need to take stock of where we came from and where we are now. We should look at what we gained and what we lost in the process. A course-correction is in order right now in this era of information overload and "Information Disorder".

Let us look at the Then and Now.

Then, early humans probably lived as small tribes, very much like the few hunter-gatherers, who still live in the Andaman Islands and remote regions of the Amazon river basin. Survival of the individual required being part of groups, small clans. They gave up (Individuals had to give up) some personal choices and freedom for the safety and survival of the group, which in turn protected the individual.  

They lived in harmony with nature and respected it for what it gave. They led a more collaborative life. They were better connected with others and with nature and were aware of those connections, intuitively. They expressed them in group ceremonies, festivals, arts and poetry. Tight community bonds kept them loyal to their group and kept them accountable for their moral and ethical conduct. Of course, all the love and kindness to fellow human beings were let go when other clans encroached on their territory and their properties.

Later, with the release from the demands for obedience from the religious institutions and monarchs, individuals learnt to think for themselves. Authorities were challenged. Individuality started flourishing. Individual curiosity and creativity started innovations. Science flourished and led to a more reliable understanding of the universe. Technology made it possible for more people to exit poverty and lead a safer life. But technology came with its own set of problems.

Now, with the focus on the individual, individual success and happiness have become the focus of our lives. Individual is trying more and more to be the center of the cosmos and of attention. Therefore competition has become part of our lives. When we compete, someone succeeds, and someone loses. Empathy,  humility and compassion take a back seat. Individuals feel as if they are on their own in this competitive world. They forget that it is their own making. They lose their connection with others, even with one’s own kith and kin, and with the cosmos.

We live inside concrete and glass and not amidst nature.
We live in a world of noise-pollution. It is very difficult to find a quiet place in any city. It is difficult to listen to oneself in the middle of all this noise and the constant interruptions.
We live in a world of light pollution. We are living in light all through day and night. It is difficult to see the milky way from most cities.
To use the words of T.S Eliot, we live in  the “wasteland” of others’ lives.
We have only sites for amusements. We do not have a sacred place to retreat to. Joseph Campbell asks: “Where is your bliss station?” 
We have shopping malls and entertainment complexes. Where is a quiet place to retreat to and experience what we are and imagine what we want to be?
Nothing seems to be sacred. We do not have any shared sacred symbol to relate to. We do not have any sacred relationships – not even marriage.
Marriage has become a contract and not a covenant. The ritual is there in excess and with added layers of show and pomp. The substance is gone.
Even the places of worship are not safe any more. We have to go through security points to enter major shrines of the world. 
We have national heroes and national loyalties. But no universal heroes or Peace Warriors.
Instead of taking part in the journey of life, we have become “consumers” and passive spectators.
The old myths made for old times have lost their relevance. We are still clinging to them and trying to merge science and myth.
What can we do to face the future and help the future generations? 

I am an optimist and care about the future generations. Here are a few ideas for The Future……… (in the next blog)  

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Light and Consciousness




How do we know the existence of light? By the absence of darkness. How do we know of the absence of darkness? By the appearance of objects to our senses. The light reflects off the objects and strikes our retina. The object was there already. Light made it visible. That is why an Upanishad says:

It shines; and it makes things shine.

Light shows objects and in the process shows itself. So does our consciousness. It makes things known as both an object and as the subject of that experience of the object. It removes ignorance and brings knowledge. That is why light and consciousness are special in the Vedic writings.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Essence of Being Human (Humanness) - (manidam)


There have been several prominent writers in Tamizh during the 20th century. Of these, five are my favorites: Subramania Bharathi, Kalki, Jayakanthan, Pudumaipithan (alias Vriddhachalam) and Kannadasan. Under different conditions, each one should have received a Nobel Prize in Literature. I wish everyone can read their writings in Tamizh and enjoy the beauty of the language and the beauty of the writer’s thoughts. Since that is not possible, I will try my hand in translating one piece by Kannadasan, who had the genius to express deep insights in simple Tamizh. Obviously, you cannot get the beauty of his use of the  language. Hope you get the beauty of his thoughts.



From Kannadasan’s book with the title: Andhi, Sandhi, Ardhajamam 


Man invited Mother Nature

She came.

Man asked:

“Mother, give me a boon”

“Son, what boon do you want?” asked Mother Nature

“I want unlimited wealth”

Mother Nature poured wealth on him

She gave gold

She gave property

She gave dazzling mansion

With brilliant lights

And she gave him all kinds

Of vehicles

Wardrobe full of clothes

Mother Nature receded


The man got immersed in his wealth

Spent his money like water

Days passed

Wealth was there

But the man diminished

Roamed around for peace

Wanted love

Invited Mother Nature again

She came

Man asked

“I want something else”

“What do you want?”

“I want love”

Mother gave him beautiful girls

With stunning looks

Like artist’s portraits

Sculptors creations

Mother receded again


Man enjoyed, indulged

Made day into night

Night into day

Forgot the world

Stayed inside the mansion

The body started going down

Mind started to tire

Suddenly

There was no difference between

Touching a girl and touching a handful of sand

Man called for his Mother again

She came

“Mom, I want more”

“Son, what is it you want?”

“You gave me wealth; I enjoyed.

You gave me girls; I enjoyed.

But I am still

An ordinary man.

I want to be a king

I want to rule the land”

Mother gave that too.


Now, the Man is the King

If he hummed a request

Thousands came to serve

If he ordered

More came to obey and follow

The earth trembled at his command

He made people into puppets and peons

Got drunk on power and ego

People got mad

And got together

And shouted:  “Where is the King?”

And started chasing

The King ran

And called for Mother again

“Mother, Mother”

“Son, what is it?”

“My body is shaking; boiling; always angry. Refuses to cool down”

“OK, what do you want now?”

“You gave me everything. But I need one more last thing”

“What is it?”

“The essence of being human; humanness”


The Mother laughed, and said:

“Son, everything other than humanness is inside of me. Humanness is only in you. You have to get it from inside yourself”

And She vanished!












Saturday, October 12, 2019

Connective and Substitutive Thinking


Speaking of Correspondence and Connections, no one has given a better description than Roberto Calasso in the final chapter of the book Ardor. He describes the sacrifice of Soma and describes King Soma arriving with his retinue. The retinue is made of poetic meters (chandas) and the footprint of the cow described in the mantra is speech or vac. These sound silly, meaningless flights of fancy, “meaningless hallucinations” to the secularist and modern ethnographers. “Not so” says Calasso.

Calasso discusses two kinds of thought processes. One is what he calls connective thoughts. The other is substitutive thoughts. Connective thoughts are about continuities and similarities and are based on analogy. Substitutive thoughts are about discrete parts, gestures in rituals and events. Vedic rituals including sacrifices are about resemblance and similarities. They connect the humans with the invisible through symbols and gestures.

 The word symbol itself is not the correct translation of the word used in Sanskrit, because there is no appropriate word in English – just as there is no correct word in English to correspond to the words dharma  (universal process of establishing order, but translated as morals and ethics) and vigraha (that which cannot be contained, but translated as idol).

The word symbol stands for what is called bandhu (that which connects), sampad (equalization of similar things or concordance) in Sanskrit. These Sanskrit words are used in prescribing various rituals in sacrifice as suggestive of similarities between two elements such as agni and gold or corresponding elements in the celestial sphere (moon and Soma) and in this world (mind).

In ancient times, people thought that earthly events were influenced by celestial beings and events and that every earthly object and event had a celestial counterpart. For example, myths in Hinduism relate the milky way and the constellations to earthly events and Vedic rituals. For example, the seven rishis and seven sisters of mythology probably correspond to the constellations Saptarishi mandala (Ursa Major in the West) and Seven sisters(Pleiades in the West). The seven steps ceremony in Hindu weddings is a corresponding and connecting act in individual life.

Sacrifices are meant to connect humans with the invisible, using impermanent things to connect with the permanent. They require detachment from our own possessions (na mama, is the mantra meaning “this is not mine”) and destruction (of a plant or an animal). In the process the gestures and rituals are meant to recognize the correspondence between discrete items on this earth and the Completeness of the universe.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Correspondence and connections in the Vedas


Meditation is a mental activity trying to imagine, intuit and experience the links between the visible and the invisible, the immanent and the transcendent, the mundane and the divine and also between different levels of reality.

It appears that the Vedic rituals were designed to make connections between items of correspondence, between counterparts in the celestial world and the human world. Also between the mental and physical worlds, and between thoughts and actions. The counterparts are defined by similarities and resemblances.

The links can be made and are indeed made during rituals with postures and gestures. For example, in preparation for the sacrifice, the sacrificer had to retreat to a lonely hut and lie in a fetal position. He wore a white cloth over his head to “resemble” being hidden in amnion.

Since the sacrificer wants to be like the devas (gods), he has to remain awake for several hours before the sacrifice, because Gods are always awake and vigilant. He has to remain awake during the rituals lest errors creep in and the oblations are taken away by evil spirits.

Another example of correspondence lists Dawn, Sun, Wind and Fire in the earth (prithvi) and the corresponding deities in the celestial world namely Ushas, Aditya, Vayu and Agni.  

The links may even be based on words which sound similar. For example,  Ka is sukha for bliss and/or dukka or shoka for suffering. Ka is also Prajapati.

Since Prajapati is Time, seasons are Prajapati. So is mrtyu or death. So are the gods and the creatures that came out of Prajapati. Since the human who came out of Prajapati performs the sacrifice and sacrifices himself, he is himself Prajapati.

Prajapati and Death are like twins. Prajapati eats mrtyu and makes death part of himself. Satapata Brahmana: 10.5.2.23 says: “Now, that man in yonder orb (of the sun), and this man in the right eye, are no other than Death; and he becomes the body (self) of him who knows this: whenever he who knows departs this world he passes into that body, and becomes immortal, for Death is his own self.”  (purusho mrityur├╗pah)

In the process of performing the rituals, the Rishis saw the incongruities of killing of life. They gradually replaced the killing with chanting of mantras with sticks, clarified butter and grains and with rituals requiring internalization and mental activity. As they moved from the sacrifices of the Brahmanas with the meditations of the aranyakas and Upanishads, they internalized the external fire with internal ardor, tapas, intense mental activity. Satapata Brahmana says (11.2.6):  “He again draws in his breath: thereby he establishes that (fire) in his innermost soul; and that fire thus becomes established in his innermost soul.”

The connections made between corresponding domains are clear in the following description of Asvamedha sacrifice. This section is in the beginning of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (1.1.1). “The head of the sacrificial horse is the dawn. The eye is the sun. Its vital force is the air. The open mouth is the internal heat (vaisvanara)…. The back is the heaven and the belly is the sky. The hoof is the earth…….The vessels (guda) are the rivers. … the hairs are the herbs…… Its yawning is lightning. Its shaking the boy is the thunder. Its making water is rain. Its neighing is the speech…”.   How much clearer can the connections be established?

We must remember that this is the transition period between the age of sacrifices and the age of metaphysics. The sages were interested in convincing the people that rituals are not as important as an inward journey. They were trying to stop the killings and rituals and move towards meditative practices to see the Brahman inside. In the process they were developing this concept of correspondence between the celestial world and the mental world.










Thursday, September 26, 2019

The First Thought and the First Desire



The most significant ability of the human is the ability to “imagine”, make a mental diagram of something that he/she wants to do, an ability to envision. Before that happens, there has to be a desire to make something or do something. This was well-known to our earliest ancestors. In Pancavimsa Brahmana, the One Primordial says: “I will give forth this word so that she may produce and bring forth into being all this world.”

 In the chapter on Genesis in the Bible, “Then God said ‘Let there be light’. And light appeared” (Genesis 1:4,5). In Genesis 1:26, “Then, God said: ‘Let us make a man’.”

A mind with thoughts and desire comes before any creation. That is so for the human. Therefore, man thinks that it is the same for the gods too.

We humans desire something, imagine or visualize and then do. Our ancestors knew this and that is why when they developed creation stories, they attributed the same faculties to the gods. But desire and thought require a living figure. How did that figure appear and from where? Who gave that god life and a mind to desire? That is where Rg Veda went deeper and asked “Do the gods know? May be even they do not know because they came after.”