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Saturday, December 14, 2019

Year End Message 2019



I will not be able to post new blogs for the next few weeks. When I return, I hope to write few blogs about a remarkable section in the Rg Veda. Although two passages from this section are well-known, very few know their origins or about their author, a rishi by name Dirghatamas. Based on the first few words of this passage, it is called Asya Vaamiya Sukta. It is full of remarkable questions, imaginations and deep respect for the mysteries of the universe. This is my second most favorite section of whatever small portion of our Vedas I have read, after the Nasadiya Suktam.

At the risk of self-promotion, I wish to let you know that I have put together edited versions of many of the blogs from the past several years into a book with the title Our Shared Sacred Space. I did this because in this age of information technology, interstellar travels and instant communication, we have the technology to experience this living, breathing landscape – Mother Earth. Now we have to learn to share Her sacred space in peace.

In this book I bring together ideas from the east and the west, from science and spirituality and from reason and faith to stimulate the minds and hearts of the future generation to learn how to live with harmony in this “Our Shared Sacred Space”. 

 If you read it and agree with those thoughts, please pass it on to the younger generation. Please write a comment or criticism at the website.

As the Buddhist meditation instructs, I say “May you be well. May you be safe. May you be free from suffering.”

I offer you loving-kindness, peace, hope and  harmony for the New Year.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Thoughts on Time


Why do I foolishly enter an arena which even the minds of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking could not decipher? But my question is “why should this subject be a field for only physicists and mathematicians to think about?” I certainly do not have knowledge of physics or astronomy. But I experience time, all the time, and think about it often. Why should I not reflect on time using common sense and intuition?
My intuition tells me that space is real. Time is phenomenal, a concept to comprehend movements and changes.
Life is a mystery. Time is a greater mystery. Time must have been present before “life” came on the scene. But there was no one to call it “time”.
Time is a constant of the universe. May be. It is eternal with no known or knowable beginning or end; may be cyclic, like Moebius strip. May be, both.
Once humans came into the scene and found ability to speak and name things, the word “time” was invented to explain 1. Changes that take place in front of their eyes, such as birth and death, sun rising and setting, moon growing and diminishing, trees blooming year after year and 2. The relationship between objects during movement, since movement implies space, and time to traverse the space.
Time is a constant of the universe, but only as THE PRESENT MOMENT. For the rest of the “time”, it is just that – TIME, impermanent. The other constants of the universe are matter, Energy, and Information.
Time seems to have two parts to our perception. So suggests the Tamizh poet, Kannadasan. Time is like a two wheeled cart. One wheel stays fresh. The other decays and reforms, ever-changing. It is only in reference to the ever-fresh TIME that we perceive the ever-changing time.
Plants and animals perceive time too, but in another sense. If it is not so, how can leaves change color at the approach of winter? How do birds start building nests long before they lay their eggs? All the plants and animals have built-in genes to cycle their metabolism to be in rhythm with sunlight.
In biology, time implies entropy. Everything complex requiring energy exchange tends to reach a level of equilibrium and inertness with time unless there is a compensatory mechanism. In essence this is time during biological lives. Trajectory towards increasing complexity and equilibrium inert state gives us the sense of time.
Time implies space and change. Does time cause change or do changes induce perception of time? Why do changes occur? If things were static without change, will there be time?
What was there before time? What a silly question? Is it? Do we not imply that there was a beginning when we say time? If so, how can time be there without beginning? If it had a beginning, what was there before? If there was a “before” when and how did it start? Why?
Time is stationary, like a string stretched to infinity. Or, may be like a membrane stretched into a massive round or elliptical ball reflecting the shape of the movements of the planets and stars and constellations. We move along the string, from birth to death through series of changes, and think time is passing.  But we are the ones passing or moving along the fixed dimension of “Time”.
In other words, Time is eternal. Time as experienced by a living organism is based on its perception of movement and changes (such as appearances and disappearances). Movement of the earth around the sun and the consequent days and night cycle was probably the first human observation of what we now call time. If we were to enter deep space, there is only darkness. What is time in such deep darkness?
Time is not an illusion, however. It is not maya of the Vedas but mitya of Sankara. It is neither real nor unreal. It is both, depending on the point of view. Since any movement in space implies “passage of time”, time exists in the background as an eternal, non-moving phenomenon. In that sense it is a fixed entity. But  it requires a human (or some such entity) with ability to perceive changes and movement to conceptualize it and give it a name. Thus, it becomes phenomenal and real for us.  
We know that only one piece of matter can exist in any one place, however small that place is. If two objects try to be at the same place, the assumption is that they try to exist at the same time. That will result in one of several outcomes – both get destroyed; they collide, lose parts of themselves and move in another direction; one eats up the other which also means one merges into the other with no remnant; a new “thing” comes into existence.
In the vast space of the universe, when something like a  planet moves, it will keep moving as long as there is no impediment. This will be true at the atomic level too. That unimpeded movement gives a sense of time for a sentient being like human. This is liner time.
If an atomic particle or a large object encounters another particle or object during this movement, there will be an event – destruction, change of direction or appearance of a new object. That will give a sense of cyclic time.
If light and dark appear alternately, that will also give a sense of cyclic time. If during  cyclic times of days and nights, new “things” appear and disappear or undergo changes, we experience cyclic time. In addition, our mind as it is constituted looks for causes and results. It also looks for beginning and end reinforcing the idea of cyclic phenomenal time.
Will we experience time if there are no changes in animals, plants, mountain, oceans and rivers? If changes occur in the mountains and oceans as they have been for millennia, and there is no one to perceive them will there be a concept of time.
Put it differently, space is real whether a sentient being is there or not. But time is not. It is a concept or a construct to explain movement and changes.
We cannot comprehend them fully and definitively given the limitations of our senses and the mind. May be the physicists and astronomers among you  have a better or different understanding. If so, please share your knowledge and insights.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

More Examples of Correspondence


Since I wrote the blog on Correspondences earlier this year, I have continued to read various texts on Rg Veda and Satapata Brahmana. After understanding the concepts of equivalence, correspondences and connections, I could see meaning in several more passages of these ancient texts. Now I also understand what is meant by the words “sa evam veda” (One who understands thus) which recurs so often in Vedic texts.

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, between the mental and physical worlds, and between thoughts and actions. The counterparts are defined by similarities and resemblances.

When reading Vedic passages one can see attempts by the rishis to make connections between  corresponding elements on this earth, prithvi, the microcosm and in the world of the Gods, the sky or dyau, the macrocosm. According to the rishis, the orderly functioning of this world (dharma) depends on the order (rta) in the world of the gods. It appears that rituals were designed to make a connection between the cosmic order and the order in this world of nature and in the social structure. The sacrifice was one such ritual.

I learnt that the word Upanishad itself was used in Satapata Brahmana as referring to equivalence. S.B. 10:4,5 says that the function of the Upanishad is to formulate that Agni is the Aditya or the Sun (10: 4:5,1) and Agni is also the year(10:4:5,22). Then it says that “ his head is the spring, his right wing the summer, his left wing the rainy season, his middle body (trunk) the autumn season, and his tail and feet the winter and dewy seasons”. The intent of the rishis in making the connections are clear. In 10:4:5,33, the rishi equates the layers of bricks in the fire altar to the sacrificer and his mind (desires). 

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?

Another example of correspondence refers to the Sapta Rishis (seven seers). Nirukta says that these rishis represent the rays of the sun in the celestial sphere of the deities. In the human sphere they stand for the six senses (eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue and the mind) and the soul (atman). (Lakshman Sarup, on The Nighantu and Nirukta. Motilal Banarsidaa Publishers, Delhi. 2009. Pages 195-196). Sapta Rishis also stand for a constellation (Ursula Major in the western system), seven rivers, seven levels of mind and beyond, seven colors of light and seven notes of sound.

Nirukta tries to decipher the meaning of Vedic mantras and mythologies and often gives one meaning “according to ritualist” and another “according to etymologists”.

One such example can be seen in the commonly used mantra in weddings. It is from Rg Veda 10:80:40 and 41. It says that the bride was first “married to” Soman, then to Gandharvo (two Asvins) and then to Agni before given to the human bridegroom. The meaning in correspondence is to say that a girl is under the protection of Soman or the moon during the early childhood of innocence. Next, she is under the protection of Gandharva during the age of enjoyment and play. When she attains puberty, she is under the protection of Agni, signifying passion until she goes under the protection of a human male.

The links can be made and are indeed made during rituals with postures and gestures. For example, in preparation for the sacrifice in olden days, 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 had to remain awake for several hours before the sacrifice, because Gods are always awake and vigilant.

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. 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 mrityurûpah)

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 using 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.”

Thus it is that meditation as 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 replaced the sacrifices which only the elite, the rich and the kings could perform.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Stories on Prajapati


This essay was informed and inspired by the writings of the Italian scholar Roberto Calasso. His books Ka and Ardor should be required reading for anyone interested in Vedic thoughts.

Purusha of the Vedas, Prajapati of the Brahmanas and the Puranas and the Brahman of the Upanishad are the same. Prajapati is more colorful because there are so many versions about who He is and how He became Prajapati.

Prajapati is the “superabundant” from which everything came and also the “irreducible unknown” (Roberto Calasso).  He was unsure of his own existence since he was made of Sapta Rishis (seven wisemen?). He did not even know who he was when Indra, his son told him “I want to be what you are.” Prajapati asked “Who am I?” (ka aham) Indra said: “You are what you said you are. Ka.” The conversation sounds almost like the famous “Who is on first base?” by Abbott and Costello comedy team.

Prajapati must have come from “asat” because “in the beginning there was nothing” says Rg veda. But, asat is not non-existent. How can something come out of nothing? Asat must have meant “unmanifest” to the seers.

There was unmanifest energy of vital breath (prana) from which seven rishis came. They were the first creation, neither god nor human. But they could not procreate themselves. Therefore, they combined themselves into a single body, a person, Purusha. Two rishis formed above the navel; two below the navel. One formed the right and another one made the left. One formed the base. There was no head. The rishis extracted all their energies, put them into a pot (kalasam) and that was the head. Now, we have a full person That was how Prajapati was created. But we know that  Prajapati is also the creator.

But Prajapati is not THE creator. He is just the Process of creation. When he looked outward a female appeared. That was Vac. Vac is in a way a daughter. Vac is also water and word.  Prajapati united with Vac mentally and since nothing is external to him, it was he who became pregnant. Thus were 8 vasus of the earth or prithvi , 11 rudras of the sky or antariksha and 12 adityas of the celestial or dhyau  born. Then came the Visvadevas. That gives 32. With Vac, the count becomes 33.

But, Prajapati was left out. He did not even get oblations in the sacrifice in which all his offsprings were worshipped. Even when there was an oblation for Prajapati, the mantra was said in a murmur, not loud. In fact, the reason for silence during offerings for Prajapati is even more telling.  There was an argument between Mind and Word as to which one was more important, mind or word?  They went to Prajapati. He said “mind.” Therefore, word (vac) refused to take part in his oblations!

In creating the Universe, Prajapati wanted to create firm ground on which creatures can flourish. He created earth, sky and heaven. When he started doing penance with his arms raised, stars came out of the vault of his arm-pit. “He held his arms in darkness”. After a thousand years, the “wind” arose. Agni came from his mouth and asked for something to eat, an oblation. Terror struck Prajapati and his greatness escaped from his mouth in the form of Vac, speech. Vac is space. Vac is sound which dwells in space. The sound produced was his own. Prajapati said so when he said: Sva aaha. (sva is self; aaha is spoke). And sacrificed himself into agni.

From Prajapati’s upward breath (apaana) came the gods. From his inward breath (prana) came the mortals. Among living creatures, he created death. Prajapati and death (mrtyu) were like twins. Having been exhausted after creating the creatures, Prajapati himself was frightened of death. So he swallowed death.

Another version says that Prajapati was exhausted after producing all the gods. He became skin and bone. And indistinct, not non-existent. As we saw earlier, he is Complete (Poornam). Even after all the gods were created out of him and even after Indra obtained all his splendor, there was a residue because he could not let go of the “irreducible.”

Prajapati was too feeble to call for help. The gods realized that their “father” needed help and decided to build him back up with sacrifice. But they failed initially because they had all the counts wrong in building the sacrificial altar. When the correct number of bricks (10,800) were laid in proper shapes and layers, they were successful. (Those interested in the geometry and the mathematics of the construction of the fire alter can find several sources on the web. Documentary Education Resources has a 50-minute video on Altar of Fire with a 9-minute preview. Also, the University of Pennsylvania has articles with figures on Vedic Altar at ccat.sas.upenn.edu)

Prajapati sacrificed himself to create the world. The gods built him back through sacrifice.

In another version, Prajapati did not want to be alone. He “created” Ushas, a female. When he wanted to co-habit with her, she got scared and ran away. She became a mare; he became a mare; they paired. She became a cow and he became a bull and so on. In the process were born all the animals and human.

In yet another version, Manu came from Prajapati. He created the first woman and united with her and thus came man, manusha.

If you think: “This is confusing. How many versions of Prajapati are there?”, you are right. 

We are told that the mind-born rishis were the first. They came from Prajapati. But, Prajapati was not the beginning because the rishis had to combine their parts to create Prajapati, as noted earlier. The rishis could not exist alone either. That is why they built themselves into parts of Prajapati.

 The point seems to be that when we trace back the origin of this universe and particularly the human, we end up in an impasse. Even if IT (tat, in Sanskrit) were a being like a rishi, two questions come up: 1. How did the rest of the animals and humans come without a female? If the first male cohabited with the first female, is it not an incest? 2. That IT had to have a mind first and experience a desire. How did it know about IT’s own desire? In fact, It said “so ham” or “aham asmi” or something to that effect.

The ritualists were aware of the residue whether they were talking about Bhu, bhuvah and svah as in the Brahmana, or about earth, sky and heaven as in the purana or about wakeful, dream and awake state in the Upanishads. They always wondered whether there was a world not touched by these three. What if there is a fourth, unseen world? That uncertainty existed always. That was Prajapati, the one they meditated on, the one to whom oblations were made in silence.

In other words, the First Entity said: I am. So, there is an I and something else lurking behind saying I am aware of my I. What is that? That is Prajapati. Roberto Calasso calls it the “id of what happens; a fifth column that spies on and sustains every event.” (Ardor. Page 94)


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 mrityurûpah)

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.”

Friday, September 20, 2019

Empathy in the age of Social media





I was listening to Dr. Sheryl Turkle of MIT who was an early supporter of Information Technology(IT). Her research has been on human- machine communication. She is now concerned about the negative aspects of IT, particularly the social media. She finds that people using social media all the time are losing empathy since they do not communicate face to face. She is correct. To develop connection with others we have to speak with them, face to face.  We have to understand their facial gestures and body language to truly understand them. This is completely lost when we are looking at the screen and twiddling with our thumbs and not looking at the person in front of us.

A young friend told me recently  that one of his social media pages has 687 “friends”. I asked whether he knew every one  of them. He obviously did not. I did not ask  whether any one of them will come if he needed help, if any of them will maintain long-standing and close friendship. Developing relationship requires face to face time and sustained effort. My guess is that he has very few intimate friends who can share his ups and downs and help him when he is in need. Probably my friend gets  a sense of “ Self-validation” to know that he has “687 contacts” or “followers”. I hope this is not the only way he gets his self-identity.  

It is no wonder that students who are endlessly texting are afraid of face – to - face transactions.
Many of them have lost social skills by spending time interacting with the tablet or phone instead of
with people. It is easy , of course, to deal with the machine or with someone somewhere else, since it
 is less demanding. May be this is one of the reasons that loneliness is a major problem among adolescents and young adults (millennials and Gen Z, I am told) growing up with technology and social media. They probably do not even realize what they are missing.

 I have written earlier that it is difficult to develop compassion in a world dominated by competition and pursuit of personal happiness. In living a life with focus on personal liberty and personal happiness, we forget others and their needs. Empathy and compassion take a back seat to aggressive pursuit of personal gains.

Now, technology has added another impediment to developing compassion and empathy. Technological devices such as smartphones tablets and social media hinder human to human  interactions. We spend more time with machines than with people and even when we deal with people it is through the medium of technology. Personal connections, better communication, empathy
 and compassion are more likely to develop through face to face conversations and sustained relationships. That requires time and effort.

As Dr.Turkle has suggested, our young friends need to spend less time interacting with screens and more time interacting with real people.  

Friday, September 6, 2019

Compassion - A personal statement


The posts during the past few weeks have been on the idea and practice of Compassion. Some of us have these as inborn traits. There is enough work in neurobiology to show that these traits can also be developed through practice. Metta meditation is one such practice. 



I have quoted several sacred texts and past masters on loving-kindness and compassion. How can I express these thoughts in my own words? Before I learn metta meditation, and to practice it, I need to keep the following thought in my mind during all my interactions: “How can I ever hurt you without hurting a part of myself? How can I not make myself happy when I make you happy?”

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Immortal in the Mortal




During my walking meditation today amidst tall trees, blue sky, vast space and relative silence except for nature’s sounds, I was able to be mindful of the fact that I was breathing the oxygen given out by those trees around me. They were in turn taking up the carbon dioxide I was breathing out to make energy for themselves. There was the sun looking at all this.

There were leaves on the path. They are younger than me. But they fell from trees older than me. Those leaves grew out of the soil, rain and the sunshine. Now, if no one removes them, they will become food for the next year’s crop. We are all made of things coming from outside of us. We are impermanent.

Standing in a corner with a beautiful view of the horizon, I was thinking what my 13-year-old grand-daughter was asking: “what is there way out in the sky beyond what we see?”. My  earth-evolved brain was thinking about what is up, what is down, what is in front and what is behind. This brain has to function that way to deal with space and time on this earth. If I can break out of this mind which is made to deal with this earth, I may be able to think of space and time without boundaries!

Even with the current constraints, my brain can imagine and visualize space beyond space and time beyond time. But it cannot experience it.

Thinking on these lines, I thought that looking for immortality and moksha or nirvana or liberation are distractions.  Instead, if we can experience this universe of limitless dimensions, it will be bliss. That requires a different kind of mind tuned to the messages of the Universe. Since we do not have it, we can imagine and visualize the universe not constrained by space and time. That is the best we can hope for given this earth-bound brain and mind.

Based on reason, I do not know how humans can be immortal. Prayers seeking immortality makes no sense to me.  Immortality is not escape from death or living after death. Neither is possible. For death is part of life itself. “Prajapati is death (mrtyu)” says Satapata Brahmana.

The only immortality we can hope for are through our physical progeny and consequences of our words and deeds.

Then I found this passage from the Rg Veda. In Book 1 (164:16), Sage Dirgatamas says that “the child is the father’s father.”

कविर्यः पुत्रः ईमा चिकेत यस्ता विजानात पितुष पितासत ||

What does that mean? I understand it to mean that the mortal (grandfather; it could as well be grandmother) passed on his immortal portion to his son. He might have died, but his life continues through in the son, grandson and so on. In other words, the role of us mortals is to carry the immortal in us and pass it on.  This body is mortal. But the immortal in us will live after this body is gone.

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.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Violence and Wars - Part 1




Is violence part of human nature? Can we ever prevent wars? These were the questions Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud discussed in 1932 and 1933. I learnt about this communication between these intellectual giants of the 20th century in an article on the effects of violence and wars on children. The source is https://www.public.asu.edu/~jmlynch/273/documents/FreudEinstein.pdf.


We need to re-read this dialogue, think about them and most important act on them – to do what each of us can do to reduce violence (elimination is impossible) and protect our children from the trauma inflicted on them throughout their lives.


The most important point for me from this dialogue was in Freud’s letter. He suggests that one way to bring peace is to develop the “tend-befriend” system, which is already part of our nervous system, through love and identifying with other lives. This is what Buddha and Jesus taught long ago.


The other point is what Vedic religion and Buddhism taught. It is to reflect on oneself, “purify” the mind so thoughts, words and deeds align towards peace and harmony. 


Here are some profound observations from those communications between one scientist who studied the mind and another who studied the universe.


Einstein’s comments: “Political leaders or governments owe their power either to the use of force or to their election by the masses. They cannot be regarded as representative of the superior moral or intellectual elements in a nation.”



“Is there any way of delivering mankind from the menace of war? It is common knowledge that, with the advance of modern science, this issue has come to mean a matter of life and death for Civilization as we know it…”



In this conversation, Einstein requests Freud to come up with some ideas to educate the people outside of politics to remove obstacles to bring about peace based on his research on the instincts of human beings. He proposes establishing an international legislative judicial body to settle conflicts between nations with an authority to impose them. He recognizes immediately that this is unlikely to happen. People in power will never agree to limitation of the sovereignty of their nation. “But at present we are far from possessing any supranational organization competent to render verdicts of incontestable authority and enforce absolute submission to the execution of its verdicts.”  He goes on to say: “The quest of international security involves the unconditional surrender by every nation, in a certain measure, of its liberty of action--its sovereignty that is to say--and it is clear beyond all doubt that no other road can lead to such security.”



Einstein wonders why people get so aroused that they sacrifice their own lives and kill innocent people. “Does humans have such lust for hatred and destruction?” He asks: “Is it possible to control man's mental evolution so as to make him proof against the psychosis of hate and destructiveness?”



Freud answered Einstein as follows. He acknowledges that this subject must be the province of politicians and political scientists and not of a physicist and a psychologist. Freud realizes that Einstein is asking for help and support to answer this question as a “lover of fellow men” and that he is not asking Freud to “formulate a practical proposal but, rather, to explain how this question of preventing wars strikes a psychologist.”



Freud starts by saying that war defines the relationship between “right and might” and quickly replaces the word violence for might. Generally, conflicts of interests are resolved by resorting to violence in animal kingdom and in human societies. In animals it is for territory and food. In humans, an added factor is conflicts in opinion. In small communities, group force help decide disputes on ownership and whose right prevailed. Soon disputes were settled with physical force; initially with crude instruments and then with more powerful ones. The defeated was totally crushed or humiliated. Sometimes, life was spared, and the victim was used for labor. If the vanquished were allowed to live, there was always the danger of them coming back for vengeance.



It started with brute force, violence backed by arms. It changed over the course of time from violence to law because people realized that “the superiority of one strong man can

be overborne by an alliance of many weaklings”; “the allied might of scattered units makes good its right against the isolated giant.” In other words, the majority lacking (losing) individual might, establishes its rights in the form of laws of the community. “Thus we may define law as the might of a community.” However, when anything was on its way, it too used the same method – violence. It was now communal violence, not individual violence.



But for the law to survive there has to be union of the majority, which is permanent, stable and well-organized. The law has to be enforced for the interest of the community. Such a state is difficult to maintain just by the nature of “elements of unequal power, men and women, elders and children, and, very soon, as a result of war and conquest, victors and the vanquished--i.e., masters and slaves--as well. From this time on, the common law takes notice of these inequalities of power, laws are made by and for the rulers, giving the servile classes fewer rights.”                                                                               (To be continued)

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Consciousness at the Base


A book by Rev.Thich Naht Hanh with the title "Transformation at the Base" is the stimulus for this essay on Consciousness.

My life is impermanent. So is my body. Time is unidirectional and linear as we experience it. It is cyclic according to some systems of philosophy. But this moment I am experiencing will be over by the time I strike the next letter on the keyboard. My thoughts come and go and therefore, are impermanent.

The only thing I can see stable in this body and mind is my consciousness. (Breath too is constant. Otherwise how can I be conscious?)It is always there, even when I am asleep. It will be there even if I go under anesthesia for 6 hours. It is constant and continuous, not changing even though my body is undergoing changes and the mind keeps changing its contents.

Consciousness is as close to a constant, if not to a permanence, as we can get. The other unique feature of consciousness is that it can be both a subject and an object. Everything else in this universe is an object of that consciousness. My body, mind, objects of my mind and even my mind are objects of my consciousness. Consciousness makes it possible to be aware of everything else including itself and the breath. That is amazing, puzzling and mysterious since it is a product of the brain and the mind.

Consciousness is like light – shines and makes other things visible. That is why Light is an important sacred object in all traditions. That is why Vedas use the metaphor of light to indicate knowledge and consciousness. Consciousness illuminates everything, including itself.

But, is there something called universal consciousness? And Universal breath? And, why consciousness at all? Why life at all? What about inanimate objects without consciousness?

We realize the impermanence of all created things at every moment. We see changes all around and in ourselves and with our own thoughts. We see births and deaths. Therefore, we look for permanence of life (specifically the present one). We start talking about our Soul which we think can live even after death and about rebirth.

We see happiness and misery and ups and downs. We, therefore, look for permanent happiness, a state of Bliss. We think we can get to that state of eternal happiness by one of many ways such as Faith and Prayer, meditating and “merging” and leading a life of asceticism.

How many mental gymnastics we are going to try to escape the inevitable? Is it not easier and more pragmatic to accept the reality as is? The body IS impermanent. Life, mind and our thoughts are all impermanent. Life will be full of surprises with ups and downs. Instead of thinking about another life or next life of which we can not be sure of, why not focus on this life, as suggested by several wise elders starting with Buddha?

And why not live a life of humility in the face of awe-inspiring mysteries? Why not live a life of equanimity with cheerfulness, usefulness, and a life filled with compassion?  Why wait for eternal happiness when it can be had here and now by meditating on the  state of Basic Awareness, a state of consciousness which creates the sense of I and shows it to us as on object of that Consciousness.

If we reach the stage of Buddha or Ramana, we may even be able to reach a stage at which we will be aware of the subject only, the Bare Awareness, without any object. That is probably the closest to eternal bliss we humans can reach.