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

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Golden Rule and the Pursuit of Happiness


I was reading a book on Six Great Ideas by Mortimer Adler. In his chapter on The Domain of Justice, he says that the natural moral law of “seeking the good and avoid evil” has three components. They are as applicable to one’s personal life, as applicable to acting towards others and as applicable to the general welfare of the community. That makes sense.

However, I was totally surprised to learn that “The pursuit of happiness is our primary obligation. Doing what is right with regard to others and doing what is right with regard to the community as a whole are secondary and tertiary obligations.” (Mortimer J. Adler Six Great Ideas. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1981. Page 193). Now, after all these years, I can understand why the words “pursuit of happiness” secured a place in the Declaration of Independence.

I can also understand how competition can become the driving force when morals are based on this premise. Having taken the position that our primary goal of conduct of personal life should be pursuit of happiness, Adler goes on writing pages and pages about how Truth, Justice, Liberty, and Equality should be interpreted  in the light of  this self-centered view. It is erudite. But it is empty.

What a restricted view to base morality and justice on? How much nobler it will be if we make the Golden Rule as the base instead? This will provide an exact opposite premise. If we want to treat others as we would want them to treat us, we have to acknowledge that we live with others. We do not live in isolated islands. What we do and say will have effect on others. We have to accommodate. We have to share. We have to collaborate.

That does not mean that we have to let others run all over us. Competition is built into our lives. We cannot escape that reality. Seeking food requires competition. Finding a place to live and finding a mate involves competition. We do not have to surrender our individuality and liberty to pursue these sources of happiness. It is just that we acknowledge the liberty of others to do the same.

Let us pursue happiness, by all means. But let us pursue not just material happiness. But also, spiritual happiness. That spiritual happiness is possible only when we pursue whatever we pursue with compassion for others and for the world we live in. I prefer morality and justice based on the foundations of love, compassion and universal welfare and not on competition and “survival of the fittest”.

If any of the readers think I got this all wrong, please share your thoughts and correct me.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Being the Center for a Circle of Compassion



Friends,

This is a follow up of my post last week. If you have not read, I hope you will read it when you get some free time and if you agree with the message, will pass it on. The more I think about this idea of a Charter for Compassion started by  Ms. Karen Armstrong, the more I agree with it.

Cycles of destruction and proliferation, of prosperity and poverty, and of peace and war are parts of the history of the world and of civilizations. At present, we seem to be caught in the midst of  too much negative news. Let each one of us counteract their influence by spreading positive messages of Compassion and the “Golden Rule” to bring harmony and well-being to all. We need this urgently for the sake of our future generation.

I have always been interested in the positive messages of  Peace, Harmony, Loving-kindness and Compassion. But I do not have the skills or organization to promote them as Buddha did or as Ms. Karen Armstrong is doing.  As I get older, I am also feeling a sense of urgency. Therefore, the least I can do is to join the movement and spread this message among members of my family and friends, hoping that this message will spread further through them.

How about each one of us becoming the center for a Circle of Compassion? 

May I add that I have signed on to the Charter for Compassion?

Thank you for reading this message. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

"Charter for Compassion"


Ever since I started delving into Buddha’s teachings, I have been convinced of the role of compassion as a fundamental unifying force of individual societies and of humanity. On reading sacred texts from other traditions it became obvious that compassion is a common theme for all of them. As a physician and a biologist, I learnt that our brain has structures and connections that facilitate fight or flee and also to cuddle and comfort. Many years of meditation also brought me to the Metta Meditation of Buddhism. Modern neurophysiology shows that it is possible to develop compassion even if one is not naturally inclined that way.

We are all made of stardust. Not the same particles; but similar, from one common source. Our life principle came from and is sustained by the same sources. “Your blood is red; so is mine. Your tears are salty; so are mine.”  You have part of me in you; and I have part of you in me. How can I hurt you without hurting a part of myself? How can I not make myself happy, when I make you happy?

That is what the Upanishad says: “ When you see all life forms in yourself and see yourself in all life forms, how can you go wrong?” “ That is what the Golden Rule says: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt. 7:12).  In Book 12, Chapter 251 of the Indian epic Maha Bharata, Bhishma says the same thing except it is written in Sanskrit.

Karen Armstrong, the celebrated scholar of world religions, noted that Compassion is emphasized in all world traditions. Yet, extremist views have overshadowed the application of this simple idea of compassion which is the essence of the Golden Rule. Therefore, she started a movement to encourage the application of the Golden Rule all over the world. She wanted to create a Charter for Compassion. Organizers of TED programs supported her efforts initially and now this has become a world movement. Several cities have adopted this Charter and initiated programs based on Compassion.  

In this era of hate, violence and negative news spreading fast and wide, let each one of us counteract their influence by spreading positive messages of Compassion and Golden Rule to bring harmony and well-being to all.  We owe it to the future generation.

Here are a few links to the Charter for Compassion movement. I hope you agree that these links are worth sharing with members of the family and friends – particularly the younger generation.

https://www.ted.com/talks/karen_armstrong_makes_her_ted_prize_wish_the_charter_for_compassion

https://charterforcompassion.org/  

https://www.ted.com/talks/karen_armstrong_passion_for_compassion#t-4120

https://charterforcompassion.org/communities/participating-communities
Thank you.





Saturday, August 3, 2019

Mystical or Mysterious


To understand any material thing fully, one has to study it from outside and also experience it from inside, which is not always possible. To understand any concept, one has to study it from different angles including views opposed to it.

To understand the Universe fully, how can we ever study it from outside of it? I do not even know what “outside of the Universe” is. Our observations will always have a subjective bias since we are seeing it from inside of it. It is amazing our mind can think of such questions and come to a “stonewall”.

In one of the Upanishads a sage tells his disciple: “Eyes cannot reach there. Words cannot reach there. Mind cannot either. I do not know. I do not even know how to reflect on this question. How am I to teach you?”

To understand the mind and consciousness, how can we ever study it purely from outside of it, from objective point of view?  The thinker is part of the thought itself.

Neither the universe nor consciousness can be studied from outside of it. There will always be a component of subjectivity and can only be experienced.

It is mystical, in the sense of spiritual; but not a mystery, in the sense of something beyond understanding or inexplicable.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Our Perception and the Universe


 When I see something, that something became visible to me, perceptible to me.

Therefore, it must have been there already, before it became visible to my senses.

It will be there, would have been there, even if I do not exist to become aware of its existence.

It was made perceptible by light or touch or sound. It was made known to me. But I do not know how or when it came into existence.

It became known to me because it was in a sense “illuminated” by my perception. Then, it became my knowledge. But, how did I become aware of that perception and of that knowledge?  

Light makes itself known and also makes the object it illuminates to be known.

So does my conscience, making itself known as “my awareness” and making me aware of the objects and sound.

Sound, light and smell (which Samkhya calls Tanmatra) are common underlying universal properties. Brhadaranyaka upanishd asks: “Without the basic sound of the drum, how can you hear the notes of the drum? Without the basic notes of the lute how can you hear the music of the lute?”. But they are inherent in or property of matter and impermanent, although have a much longer permanence than our individual lives.

We and our organs which perceive light, sound and touch are impermanent.

The objects of perceptions are also impermanent.

Everything in this world evolved out of the Primordial One. Once they became part of the world of name and form  (naama-rupa) they became part of the cycle of  coming into being, growing, modification, decay and dissolution. When their presence and our presence coincide, they became part of our field of perception.

This world is real to those who live. It is not an illusion. Vedanta does not call this world an illusion or maya.  The word used is mithya, true from one point of view and not so from another. They are real in the phenomenal world. In a deep sense, they are what our perceptions make them to be. We make images of them. The images are reasonably close to reality. But we do not know them as they truly are.

If this is phenomenal world, what is the noumenon? We are always dealing with the objective world. Who is the subject? How can anyone know the subject as an object of perception? That was the central theme of Adi Sankara’s analysis and Upanishadic teachings.

According to Sankara and the Vedanta philosophy, “Subject is not a logical but a metaphysical term.” It is, in fact, “another name for self, soul, spirit or whatever name has been given to the eternal element in man and God.” (Three Lectures on the Vedanta Philosophy. F. Max Mueller. Longmans and Green & Co, London. 1904)  Subject and object  are diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive. Therefore, what is conceived as the object can never be conceived as the subject. “The You may be seen and heard and touched, but the We or the I can never be seen, heard, or touched."  
“How can we know THAT by which we know?” asked Yagnavalkya. In this view the subjective knower or the witness (also known as the Self or Atman) can never be known as an object of our thoughts. It “can only be itself, and thus be conscious of itself.” As soon as the Self is made into an object for study or observation, nescience or avidya starts. With that starts the phenomenal world, duality, birth and death. Self itself, as the subject, stands alone (kaivalya) and is immortal.

If this world is phenomenal, there must be something behind it from which it appears. For the phenomenal world that something is referred to in the Vedas as It (tat), The One (Eka) and Who (Ka). The word Brahman came in later. In the world of phenomenon there may be many gods but, they are not the real Real. Brahman is the real one.

Similarly, for the ego of the phenomenal world of human, the real one behind is the self or Atman.

There is only one. Brahman. In the world of pheonomenon It is the subject and object and the basis of our relative state of name and form. In Its absolute state It just Is.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

On Thinking further......


Whenever we use the terms such as “on thinking deeply” or “the truth is”, the implications are that there is an absolute truth we are aware of which the others are not and they have not reached the “truth” because they have not thought deeply enough.

I prefer to avoid these connotations and say simply, that “when I reflect further” or “when I keep thinking” I come to a new point, where I can see a different point of view, a different perspective I did not have before, a new insight, a panoramic view, an outside-in view or inside-out view or an unique view. Not anything deeper than someone else or closer to The Truth because I do not know what “deeper” means and what “Truth” we are talking about.

Why am I setting up this preamble? Because, the following thoughts are where I am now. They may change tomorrow – may be even later today “when I keep reflecting further”. What are they?

We look for permanence of life, we want to live forever even after death!

We look for permanent happiness.

Both are impossible. We are chasing wrong goals in life.

Life is impermanent. Life is a mixture of happiness and misery. It is wiser to accept these realities and live this life usefully with mindfulness, justice, compassion and charity. Future of humanity depends on  living together through communication, consensus building, compromise, and collaboration (Instead of competition and/or retreat into isolation). 

Reflecting on all this and more, my current thoughts on the welfare of humanity can be summarized as follows. One may ask why I am interested in this and what my qualification is? The answer is simple. I am a retired pediatrician, a father and grandfather and am interested in the welfare of future generations.

My Main message is a plea for Practice of Loving-kindness and compassion - unrestricted, unconditional and universal, Humility and an Open mind for differences in fellow human beings whose “blood is red and, tears are salty” just like mine and yours (as pointed out by Buddha many centuries back).

The hindrances to the practice of these virtues seem to be: Ego/self-importance, a sense of “I am right; you are wrong”; Desire – uncontrolled for more than what is needed to live,  and a desire to control others; Fear of the future, real and imagined and Unnecessary comparison and competition.  
Two other guidelines for Peaceful living I can think of are realizing that Unity of purpose and of “heart” are more important than Uniformity in external appearances as pointed out by Kanchi Periyaval and that Equality and Freedom do not go together too well as pointed out by Will and Ariel Durant.  Therefore, we must work for equality of opportunity and freedom to think and freedom of expression, for all.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Violence and Wars - Part 2 (concluded)



Freud goes on to point out that the ruling class will try to set themselves above the law and the “ruled class” will establish its rights and its societal gains by insisting that no one is above the law by injecting codes into the law in the name of equality of all. If those in power resist and do not adjust, there will be civil strife and insurrections.  It is possible that over time there is a cultural evolution of identity between members of the community, common interests are valued, and the laws are accepted and complied with. But, “exercise of violence” even within a group, “cannot be avoided when conflicts of interests are at stake.”  He goes on to give several examples from history. 

Within large empires, the central power squashes conflicts quickly; but eventually they fall apart. “For humanity at large the sole result of all these military enterprises was that, instead of frequent, not to say incessant, little wars, they had now to face great wars which, for all they came less often, were so much the more destructive.” 

“There is but one sure way of ending war and that is the establishment, by common consent, of a central control which shall have the last word in every conflict of interests, says Freud. “For this, two things are needed: first, the creation of such a supreme court of judicature; secondly, its investment with adequate executive force. Unless this second requirement be fulfilled, the first is unavailing.”  Freud thinks that the second condition is unlikely to be met and says “It has no force at its disposal and can only get it if the members of the new body, its constituent nations, furnish it. And, as things are, this is a forlorn hope.”

Deeply rooted sense of unity shared by all members of community is needed to avoid conflicts of interests. We are still looking for some such unifying notion but in vain. Such cohesion is brought about more often by compulsion than by shared sentiments. “And, in our times, we look in vain for some such unifying notion whose authority would be unquestioned.” That is because we ignore the unfortunate fact that right is founded on force and need violence to maintain it.

Freud agrees that man has an active instinct for hate and violence which is easily kindled. But he also points out that it is a necessary instrument for survival. It is not alone because it is a part of the polarities of nature, namely Love and Hate. Humans have, what Freud calls “those that conserve and unify, which we call "erotic" (in the meaning Plato gives to Eros in his Symposium), or else "sexual" (explicitly extending the popular connotation of "sex"); and, secondly, the instincts to destroy and kill, which we assimilate as the aggressive or destructive instincts.” They act in concert. Self-preservation is of erotic nature, but it requires aggressive action to gain its end. In addition, these two instincts do not act in isolation; they act in concert with several other factors such as ideals and motives and opinions. 

Finally, Freud suggests that one way to control the destructive, violent instinct is through engaging its opposite, its counter-agent namely Love. “All that produces ties of sentiment between man and man must serve us as war's antidote.” These ties are of two kinds: such relations as towards a beloved object without the sexual connotation, or love in the sense it is used in religion; and sentiment of identification with other members of the community. 

This amazing conclusion reached by Freud should be no surprise. This is what Buddha and Jesus and all spiritual masters have been saying for centuries.

There is another method Freud suggests and calls it an indirect approach. He suggests that “men should be at greater pains than heretofore to form a superior class of independent thinkers, unamenable to intimidation and fervent in the quest of truth, whose function it would be to guide the masses dependent on their lead. There is no need to point out how little the rule of politicians and the Church's ban on liberty of thought encourage such a new creation. The ideal conditions would obviously be found in a community where every man subordinated his instinctive life to the dictates of reason. He remarks immediately that such a course is “utterly utopian.”

He ends his letter with the hope that our dread of the potential destruction of wars and cultural development may help mankind get rid of wars.