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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Kama Gita - Maha Bharata Series 28

Editorial comment:       Dear children and friends, recently I came across something profound in my reading of Mahabharata. This was so interesting that I decided to share it with you sooner than later. This breaks the sequence of this series since I am jumping from Book 3 to Book 14.  But, I am sure you will find this thought-provoking.

               Coming into Book 14 (Ashvameda Parva), I just landed on a precious gem in Section 11. It is called Kama Gita (Song on Desires).  Have you heard of this one? I had not, till I landed on it. It is Lord Krishna’s address to Yudhisthra. It is about desires – day-to-day desires - of us common folks. It is worth reading and pondering about. Here is a summary and not a word-by-word translation.

Yudhishtra is still distraught about the loss of so many lives including those of his relatives and sons. He is feeling bad because he thinks he is responsible for the loss of so many lives. Sage Vyasa literally scolded him for being so despondent. It is now Krishna’s turn. He says: “Wisdom is not just understanding that all unrighteousness leads to destruction and all righteousness leads to Brahman. You have not lived out your karma and your enemies have not all been killed. I say this because you do not yet know the enemies lurking within you. (meaning, you have to win your internal battles yet). So, let me tell you about the war between Indra and Vritra”.

Now, we need to briefly note who Vritra is in Hindu mythology. Vritra is a demon (asura) with dragon-like features who envelopes everything. The belief was that Vritra was responsible for droughts, because he kept the clouds from letting their water down on earth. We can understand why this was important for people in ancient days, when they did not know the cause for natural phenomena and attributed them to the actions of gods and demons. As mythology goes, Indra struck Vritra with his thunderbolt and killed him so that clouds can give water to people in the form of rain. The rest of the belief resides in the fact that the gods depend upon yagnas (sacrifices) for their sustenance and people cannot perform yagnas without food and cattle. Thus people satisfy the gods and gods in turn give rain and prosperity to people.

“It so happened that Vritra encompassed the earth and since Earth element is the source of odor (Samkhya philosophy), there was bad odor all around. Indra got angry and shot a thunderbolt at Vritra. Although he was wounded, Vritra moved on and entered the realm of Water. Therefore, there was dryness all around. Indra smote Vritra again. Now, Vritra entered the element of Light and luminosity and therefore, form and color disappeared. Struck again by Indra, Vritra entered the element of Air and therefore the property of touch was lost. Indra struck again and Vritra entered the realm of Space (akasa). Therefore, sound which is the inherent property of space was lost. When he was struck again, Vritra entered the body of his attacker, Indra, himself. Indra was now afflicted by delusion until Vasishta advised Indra about his true nature. On realizing his true self, Indra used his invisible thunderbolt and killed Vritra from inside of Vritra”.

At the end of this story-telling, Krishna uses the words “this religious mystery”. Based on those words, and the context in which Krishna speaks with Yudhishtra, my personal interpretation is that this is the internal fight between ignorance and enlightenment within each one of us. We have to chase our own weaknesses and win this fight by our own efforts from within our own self.

Lord Krishna goes on to say: “There are two kinds of ailments – physical and mental. They are produced by the mutual interactions between the body and the mind. They act on each other. The ailments never arise without interactions between these two.”  Since the time Mahabharata was written came after that of Buddha, it is possible that these ideas were borrowed.

Then, the idea is taken further by Krishna (Vasudeva) to state that diseases of the body are due to imbalance between the humors. These are vada, pitta and kapa in our system. In the Greek philosophy, four humors are mentioned: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. Western medicine was dominated by this humoral theory until about 200 years ago. The ayurvedic system is still influenced by the three-humor theory.

On the mental side, Krishna says: “diseases of the mind and of the soul are due to the dominance of one of the three qualities of matter (prakriti) – sattwa, rajas and tamas”.  

“Happiness is overcome by sorrow and sorrow by happiness. When drowned in sorrow, some want to recall moments of happiness from the past. Others, in contrast, are dwelling in past moments of sadness, when in the midst of happiness. But, oh son of Kunti, you do not desire to recall your sorrows or happiness. What do you want to recall except this delusion of sorrow?” ( This  suggest to me that Krishna is saying that Yudhistra is not experiencing the present moment and the real pain, but wallowing in his delusional sadness. This is the concept of two arrows of Buddha. The first arrow is the pain. The second is our imaginations about the pain).

“Yudhsitra, may be you have been overpowered by events and are not able to recall the various insults. Have you forgotten the painful sight of Draupadi being humiliated in public? Have you forgotten your having to leave all of your comforts and go and live in the forests with your mother, brothers and Draupadi? Have you forgotten Jarasandha and Kichaka?:

“It is time now for you to fight the (internal) battle, which each must fight single-handedly with his mind. You have to reach the other side of this mysterious and unintelligible mind by the power of your own mind and the merit of your karma. In this battle there is no need for armaments and missiles, help from friends or any other person. In this battle which you have to fight alone (the implication is that even Lord Krishna cannot help him), if you are vanquished you will be in a wretched plight. Knowing this, knowing the destiny of all creatures and following the conduct of your ancestors, do your duty”.

Lord Krishna continues: “Liberation (moksha) is not obtained by giving up external things such as kingdom. It is attained by letting go of things which please the flesh. If you let go of external things but  still remain attached to pleasures of the body, you are feeding your enemies. Mrityu is the death of the soul and Saswatam is Brahman, the eternal spirit. The state of being addicted to worldly objects and the idea that this thing or that thing belongs to me is Mrityu. The absence of that feeling is Saswatam. Both are in the souls of all creatures, hidden and always waging war with each other. If it be true that no creature is ever destroyed, you cannot hold your responsible for the death of a creature by piercing its body. For one who is not attached to worldly pleasures after conquering the world , there is no concern. But for one who says he has renounced everything living in the forest but is thinking about all the pleasures , death is always there very near. Oh, Bharata, always be watchful of your internal and external enemies.”

Vasudeva continues: “There is no act without a desire behind it. Desires are like the limbs of our minds. Wise men know this and subjugate the mind and thus their desires. A yogi knows that control of the mind is the best way to liberation. Virtue is in the subjugation of the mind in meditation followed by Vedic learning, charity, asceticism and performance of Vedic rites. All of this is given in Kama Gita which I will now recite”.

Lord Krishna recites the Kama Gita as follows: “ No creature can destroy me without controlling all desires and practicing yoga.  If someone tries to overpower me by reciting prayers, I delude him by making him believe that I am the subjective ego in him. If someone tries to overpower me with gifts and sacrifices, I delude him by making him think he is the most virtuous person (making him arrogant, lose humility, delude) in the world. If he tries to control me by learning the Vedas. I make him think he is virtuous. For someone who is wedded to truth, and tries to overcome me, I appear to him as his mind and thus he does not recognize me (as the controller). If someone tries to overpower me with his asceticism, I appear in his mind as his asceticism and thus prevent him from knowing me. I laugh at the ignorance of a man who thinks he can know me by learning and knowledge.  Know me to be the eternal one without comparison, whom no one can destroy or kill. Turn your mind away from desires to virtues (dharma) and attain what is good for you.  Let not grief overpower you. You will never be able to see your family and friends killed in the battle. Prepare for performing the asvamedha sacrifice and give (dana) to the worthy and attain fame in this world”.

To me, this is one of the remarkable teachings in Mahabharata with a sharp analysis of the realities of life on earth and our efforts to make a meaning out of the mystery.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Vyasa’s discourse - Maha Bharata Series 27

The Pandavas are in exile, living in a forest. Yudhishtra is angry at the Kauravas and also at himself for being a gambling addict (playing dice). He is despondent, at which time Sage Vyasa shows up. He is sad to look at the plight of the Panadavas.

Vyasa is addressing Yudhishtra: “No one can experience unbroken happiness. Happiness and misery come in turns. Therefore, the wise are never carried away by either realizing, that life has its ups and downs. They learn to enjoy happiness and bear suffering as they come and with equanimity. Your asceticism will bear fruit. Sometimes, fruits of acts done in this world come only in the next.”

He goes on to say: “Purify yourself with truth, sincerity, control of anger and malice, justice and self-control. When you control your senses and the mind, you do not get perturbed and gain tranquility. By giving to others one attains happiness. Charity is the hardest virtue to practice since no one wants to let go of the wealth they acquire. But, even a small gift given in good spirit to a worthy person at the right time is of great value”.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

On Friendship

On  April 1, 2017, I received the following note from my good friend of 68 years! His name is Peter Fernandez. Doctor Peter Fernandez is a psychiatrist and still in practice at Chennai, India. His work with hypnotic therapy is well-known in India. His residential care for patients with schizophrenia is something to see and learn from. Despite the fact that I decided to settle down in US and he decided to stay in India and work, we have been in continuous contact for all these years. I visit him every time I am at Chennai. He visits me when he comes to US. At one time, he even brought his mother to visit us at Cherry Hill, NJ. My mother and my oldest sister enjoyed his visits always. Yes, our families got close also.

We met at the Loyola College, Chennai in 1949! We bonded immediately. The bond continues. And, how fortunate!

 What made him write the following note, I do not know. But, does that matter? Particularly when it is from a dear friend and about friendship? Peter’s inspirational note about friendship moved me so much, I wish to share it with all of you – and with his approval. Here it is:

“Many years ago, after I got married I was sitting on a couch on a hot, humid day, sipping frozen juice during a visit to my father. As I talked about adult life, marriage, responsibilities, and obligations, my father thoughtfully stirred the ice cubes in his glass and cast a clear, sober look at me.

"Never forget your friends," he advised, "they will become more important as you get older."

"Regardless of how much you love your family and the children you happen to have, you will always need friends. Remember to go out with them occasionally, do activities with them, call them ..."

"What strange advice!" I Thought. "I just entered the married world, I am an adult and surely my wife and the family that we will start will be everything I need to make sense of my life."

Yet I obeyed him; Kept in touch with my friends and annually increased their number. Over the years, I became aware that my father knew what he was talking about.

In as much as time and nature carry out their designs and mysteries on a man, friends were the bulwarks of my father’s life.

After 50 years of life, here is what I learned:

Time passes.
Life goes on.
The distance separates.
Children grow up.
Children cease to be children and become independent. And to the parents it breaks the heart but the children are separated of the parents.
Jobs come and go.
Illusions, desires, attraction, sex ... weaken.
People do not do what they should do.
The heart breaks.
The parents die.
Colleagues forget the favors.
The races are over.
But, true friends are always there, no matter how long or how many miles away they are.

A friend is never more distant than the reach of a need, barring you, intervening in your favor, waiting for you with open arms or blessing your life.

When we started this adventure called LIFE, we did not know of the incredible joys or sorrows that were ahead. We did not know how much we would need from each other. Love your parents, take care of your children, but keep a group of good friends. Dialogue with them but do not impose your criteria.

Dedicated to all my Friends

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Life as a Focus of Meditation

For a long time, I have been thinking and writing that “life” is more fundamental to admire and think about than “consciousness” for the simple and evident observation that there can be no consciousness without a live body. One can say the same thing differently: “Prana (animating principle, breath?) is more deserving of our attention and admiration than Atman (self)”,  or put differently, “Anima is more deserving of attention than the soul”.  Kaushitaki Upanishad did point this out. Recent meditations have led me deeper into these thoughts.

Consciousness is not unique to humans. All “lives” have some form of consciousness. Even metacognition may not be unique, although metacognition using language is unique to humans. It is so marvelous that we are carried away. I am aware of myself and of my thoughts. I go to sleep and wake up, and “I” am still me.

In addition, when thinking about the origin of this earth and live forms, the mind suggests the word “creation” and immediately it asks “if created, who is the creator? And what was his motive?” This immediately implies that knowledge and intention associated with the mind are more important than and precede the beginning of life itself. It may be so. But, we will not even know we have “life” if we are not aware. So, our ancestors emphasized mind and consciousness of that Supreme Awareness, which is the basis of all awareness.

Even accepting that line of thinking, how can there be consciousness without a live body with an organ for thinking? Given what we know now about the biology of “life” and “consciousness”, it is time to rethink our focus. I believe I should meditate on the mystery and the wonder of “life” using the consciousness that comes with it, rather than on the consciousness which depends on life.

What is life? And, why? Daniel Koshland (Science 2002: 295: 2215-2216), a distinguished scientist, who used to be the editor of Science magazine identified seven common thermodynamic and kinetic factors by which “life” and living systems operate. He described them in the acronym “PICERAS” and called them the “Seven Pillars of Life”. They are: 1. Program – organized plan describing both the ingredients and the kinetics of interaction between the ingredients. 2. Improvisation – allowing the programs to change if and when the environment changes. 3. Compartmentalization – providing special containers in which concentrations of essential chemical ingredients can be maintained in an ideal state and protected from the outside. 4. Energy – availability of continuous source of energy and ability to exchange energy in an open system. 5. Regeneration – includes regeneration of essential constituents and reproduction. 6. Adaptability – different from improvisation in that this is a behavioral response from within the existing repertoire and not a change in the fundamental program itself. 7. Seclusion – of pathways that “allows thousands of reactions to occur with high efficiency in the tiny volume of a cell, while simultaneously receiving selective signals that ensure an appropriate response to environmental changes.”

If we look at the earliest unicellular life forms, they did two things: exchanged energy and divided. Therefore, can you call anything that divides and exchanges energy as living? Are both of these functions necessary conditions? What about a virus which does not do either but is capable of both, using someone else? What about spores which have “slow” or suspended metabolism and do not divide? In other words, if a “thing” has the potential for metabolism and division, does it have “life”?

What about ovum and sperm? They have metabolism but cannot divide until they unite. Does life start when they unite or even earlier, since they do have the potential?

And, given that the natural course of events in this world is for energy to equilibrate with its environment, how did such an inefficient mechanism of life evolve? It requires considerable energy to keep the chemical reactions going in a cell to keep it alive? We know it is able to do that by using energy from the sun. But, why?

The words “course of events”, imply time. Yes, TIME is a factor in this chain of thoughts.

If I define “life” with these questions in mind, I see that life exists in a body which consists of elements from nature that come together. As Buddha said “We are made of elements other than us”, “We are inter-beings”. It has to use energy from outside to maintain its integrity as a living thing. It has to multiply. But, this is not an absolute requirement; but a characteristic. The most important limiting condition for this living thing is  TIME – it comes at a time and gets out at a time. There is nothing called “immortal”.  And, it has no control over when and where it comes into being and how and when it will get out of the scene.

In essence, life has no choice in its presence or in its duration of existence. It happens and stays for a while and goes. That is the mystery. But, Why?    

Given that life gives us the benefit and gift of Consciousness, we need to use consciousness to reflect on that mystery called life. We can connect with all other lives (compassion) and with the Cosmos (humility) through our consciousness and wonder at the marvel. That wonder is mysticism and spirituality. It is better than using the mind and consciousness to create dogmas, “imaginary” worlds and “echo chambers”.