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

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.