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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Ethics and Morals Vs Law

 I have always thought (and therefore wrote) that in our current stage in human civilization, legality has become more important than morality and ethics.  That is what Alexander  Solzhenitzyn meant when he said: “I have spent all my life under a communist regime, and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either”. This must change for civilization to flourish and create a compassionate society for all.

Let me explain. If individuals and organizations can act in immoral and unethical ways, and get away without any consequence, by winning court battles on legal points, the civilization cannot consider itself advanced.

A gambling organization cannot escape its moral obligation to the society just by inserting a disclaimer which says: “if you have gambling problems, call this number”!

Look at two other examples: the battle about the Affordable Care Act and the controversies about gun violence.

Reality is that insurance companies never covered preventive measures such as vaccinations or cancer screening. This despite clear evidence that these preventive strategies add “suffering-free” life for everyone (irrespective of their political views) and saves money for these insurance companies in the long term. Morality, ethics, and common sense tell us that it is wise to make these expenses paid for by insurance companies or by the government for everyone including, and particularly the poor.

Instead, what do we do? We go off the subject entirely, and quibble about “legality” of the “right to choose” or “freedom of conscience” and even more cruel idea of “if you need, you pay for it”! Then, there are those who refuse immunizations on the legal principle of “autonomy” and forget their ethical responsibility to their community.

Take the gun control issue. The legality argument on the  “right” to own firearms is held sacrosanct despite all accumulated evidence over centuries to the damage guns have done to individuals, society and to entire civilizations. How can this “right” be equivalent to the “right” for everyone else, specifically the innocent ones to live?

 We need law and order for certain. But if an act is clearly immoral or unethical, there should be some consequence to those who committed that act even if they are not held legally responsible. We cannot let legality take precedence over morals and ethics. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Which is Primordial - Life or Mind?

 

Dear Friends, this post is in two parts: A and B. As you can see, Part A is in Tamizh, my mother-tongue. Part B is my own translation into English of Part A.

For some reason, when these thoughts came into my mind one morning, they came spontaneously in Tamizh. As someone who has lived and worked in USA for over 60 years, my thoughts often originate in English. But I know I can think in Tamizh also. Since these thoughts originated in Tamizh, I recorded them as they appeared. Once I decided that I will post this as a blog and share these thoughts with others, I wanted to make sure that those who are not familiar with Tamizh can also read it. Hence the translation.

I present these ideas with reverence (மரியாதை)and obedience (பணிவு) to the Vedic tradition and to our ancestors. This is the stage where I am at present with meditation. Where I will be tomorrow, I do not know. Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts.

Thank you.

 

Part A:

ஆதிமூலம் உயிரா மனமா?

எல்லா ஞானிகளும் மனதை அடக்கு, மனதை அடக்கு என்கிறார்கள். அது ரொம்ப கடினம். எல்லோராலும் முடியாத காரியம். முடிந்தாலும் அந்த தியானத்தின் முடிவு நிலை என்ன? சாந்தம், உள் அமைதி.

அந்த நிலையை தேட அவசியம் என்ன? இந்த மண் வாழ்க்கையின், இல்வாழ்க்கையின் அநித்யநிலையும் சுகதுக்கங்களும்  இல்லாமல் நிரந்தரவாழ்வும், துக்கமே இல்லாத நிலையும் நாடுகிறோம். மனதை இயக்கி, மனதின் உதவியால் அந்த நிலையை தேடுகிறோம். மனதோ ஒரு நிலையற்ற நம்பமுடியாத சாதனம்.

நாம் தேடும் சாந்தநிலைதான் பிரஹ்மம். அது உன்னுள்ளேயேதான் இருக்கிறது. அதை தேடு என்கிறார்கள் பெரியோர்கள். எப்படி தேடுவது என்று கேட்டால் நான் யார் என்று கேள். கேட்டுக்கொண்டே இரு. அது உன்னை கூட்டி செல்லும் என்கிறார்கள். அது போதாது என்கிறது என் உள்ளுணர்வு.

"நான் யார்?" என்ற கேள்விக்கு முன் கேட்கவேண்டிய கேள்வி ஒன்று இருக்கிறது. அந்த கேள்வியை ரிக் வேதத்தில் ரிஷி பரமேஷ்டி பிரஜாபதியும், ரிஷி தீர்கதமஸும் கேட்டிருக்கிறார்கள். அதுதான் உயிரை பற்றியது.

ரிக் வேதத்தில் 10வது புத்தகத்தில் 129வது பாகம் நாஸதீய ஸூக்தம் எனப்படும். அதில் 2வது சுலோகத்தில் ரிஷி பரமேஷ்டி பிரஜாபதி பிரபஞ்சத்தில் ஒன்றுமே இல்லாத நிலையில் அது வேறொன்றாலும் அசைக்கப்படாமல் தானாகவே ஊசல் ஆடிக்கொண்டு இருந்தது என்கிறார். அது தான் உயிரோ?

ரிக் வேதத்தில் முதல் புத்தகத்தில் 164வது பாகம் அஸ்ய வாமஸ்ய ஸூக்தம் எனப்படும். அதில் ரிஷி தீர்கதமஸ் 30வது சுலோகத்தில் நிலையற்றதும் நிலையானதும் ஒரேஇடத்தில் இருந்து தோன்றின. அதில் ஒன்றுக்கு பிராணன் உண்டு. அது அசையும். அதிலிருந்து மனம் கிளம்பும் என்கிறார். பிராணன் அசைவு மனம் சேர்ந்துதானே உயிர் நிலையை காட்டுகின்றன?

ஆகவே நாமும் நான் யார்?” என்ற கேள்வியை தாண்டி செல்ல வேண்டி இருக்கிறது என்று பயத்துடனும், பணிவுடனும் கேட்டுக்கொள்கிறேன்.  அந்த கேள்வி உயிர் என்றால் என்ன?” என்பது.

மனம் உடலை சார்ந்து இருக்கிறது. உயிர் உள்ள உடல் இருந்தால்தான் மனம் தோன்றும். மனதுக்கு ஆதாரம் உயிருடன் கூடிய உடம்பு. உயிர் அற்ற உடம்பு மாமிசம், பிணம். அதனால்தான் நான் யார் என்ற கேள்வியைவிட உயிர் என்றால் என்ன? அது ஏன் வந்தது?  எப்படி வந்தது?” என்ற கேள்விகள் முக்கியமானவைகளாக எனக்கு தோன்றுகின்றன

நான் யார்?” என்ற கேள்விக்கு பதில் நீயேதான் கண்டுகொள்ளவேண்டும் என்று ஞானிகள் கூறுகிறார்கள். கண்டுகொள்ள முடியாவிட்டால் அது உன் பக்குவமற்ற நிலையை குறிக்கிறது என்று குற்றம் சாட்டும் வட்டவாதமாக முடிகிறது

அந்த முயற்சியின் பலன் தனிப்பட்டவர்க்கு மட்டும்தான் உபயோகப்படும். மற்றவற்களுக்கு உதவாது. அந்த முயற்ச்சியில் ஈடுபட்டவர்கள் அன்புடன் பேசுகிறார்கள். அன்புடன் ஆன்மீக செயல்களில் ஈடுபடுகிறார்கள். ஆனால் ஒன்றிலும் பட்டுக்கொள்ளாமல் தனித்து நிற்பவர்கள். உலகமே மாயம் என்று நிற்க்கும் நிலை. அந்த நிலையில் ஆழ்ந்தவர்கள் மனதில் உலகத்துடன் ஈடுபட இடம் உண்டா?

உலகம் நம் மனத்தால் தான் தோன்றுகிறது. மனதை கிள்ளி எரிந்துவிடு. உலகம் மறைந்துவிடும் என்கிறார்கள். அது இயற்கை நியதிக்கு எதிராக இருக்கிறது. மனம் இருப்பதால்தான் உலகம் தோன்றுகிறது என்பது உண்மை. ஆனால் மனது இல்லாவிட்டால் உலகமே இல்லை என்பது தர்க்கவாதம். நம் உயிர் போனபின்னும் உலகம் நிற்கும். உயிர் என்ற ஒன்று தோன்றும் முன்பேயே உலகம் இருந்து கொண்டுதான் இருந்தது. எல்லா உயிர்களும் போனபின்னும் உலகம் நிற்கும்.

உயிர் என்றால் என்ன? எப்படிவந்தது? ஏன் வந்தது?” என்ற கேள்விகள் கேட்டால் பதில் கிடைக்குமோ கிடைக்காதோ. ஆனால் பணிவை கொடுக்கும். தவிர, இந்த கேள்வி எல்லா உயிர்களையும் பற்றிய கேள்வி. அதை தேடி சென்றால் உலகமே பொய் என்ற நியதிக்கு வேறுபட்ட, எல்லோராலும் ஏற்றுக்கொள்ள இயலாத தர்க்கவாதம் வேண்டாம். இந்த வழியில் சென்றால் நம்மை தனியே விலக்கி செல்லாமல், எல்லா உயிர்களுடனும் சேர்ந்து இருந்து உதவும் கருணை வழியில் செலுத்தக்கூடும்.

இந்த பிரம்மாண்டமான பிரபஞ்சத்தில் உயிர் என்பது இந்த பூலோகத்தில் மட்டும்தானா? ஏன் இப்படி கோடிக்கணக்கான உயிர்கள் வந்து வந்து அழிகின்றன? ஏன் இயற்கை அன்னை இவ்வளவு உயிரினங்களை உயிர்ப்பித்து, உயிர்ப்பித்து காய்ந்த சரகுகளை போல் பெறுக்கி எடுத்து கொளுத்துகிறாள், அல்லது புதைக்கிறாள்? இயற்கை நியதியில் உயிர் என்பது அவ்வளவு முக்யம் இல்லையா? அப்படித்தான் தோன்றுகிறது. அதனால்தான் நாம் நான் என்ற ஒரு நபரை பற்றியே நினைத்துக்கொண்டே இருக்கிறோமா?

உயிரை பற்றி கூர்ந்து ஆராயும்போது மூன்று உண்மைகள் தென்படுகின்றன

1.       உயிர் ஒரு பொருள் (matter) அல்ல. உயிர் ஒரு நிலை (a state, an event, an occurance). அது ஒரு உடலுடன் சார்ந்துதான் இருக்க முடியும். ஒரு பொருளிடமும் இல்லாமல் வெட்டவெளியில் (space) ஆகாயத்தில் மனஉருவாக (concept) மட்டும் இருக்க முடியாது. மனம்இருந்தால்தானே மனஉருவம் தோன்ற முடியும்? அந்த உயிர் சார்ந்து இருக்கும் உடல்  என்னும் பொருள் கண்ணுக்கு புலப்படாத சின்னஞ்சிறு கிருமியாக இருக்கலாம். ஆனால் உடல் வேண்டும். உடல் இன்றி உயிருக்கு என்ன வேலை?

2.       உயிர் உண்டாக, நிலைத்து இருக்க சக்தியின் சலனம், பரிவதனை, இடப்பெயற்ச்சி (exchange) தேவை. சக்தி ஒரு நிலையிலிருந்து மற்றொரு நிலைக்கு மாறுவது உயிரின் அடிப்படை

3.        உயிரின் இயற்க்கையிலேயே அமைந்த (inherent) குணங்கள் மூன்று.  நான், தான் என்ற எண்ணமே இந்த மூனறு தற்குணங்களால்தான்.

a.       தன் உயிரை, தனித்தன்மையை பாதுகாத்தல்

b.       அதற்கு வேண்டிய உணவு, சாதகம், சக்தி தேடல்

c.       தன் வகையை பெருக்கிக்கொள்ளுதல்

இந்த மூன்றுக்கும் மனம் தேவை இல்லை. தானாகவே தோன்றும் உள்ளுணர்ச்சிகள்.

இந்த வகையான தியானம் எல்லோருக்கும் எளிது. மாயம், மறுபிறப்பு முதலிய தத்துவங்கள் தேவையில்லை. எல்லா உயிர்களையும் சமமாக நோக்கும் நிலையை கொடுக்கும். கருணையில் ஈடுபடுத்தும். அடக்கத்தை தரும். அப்படிப்பட்ட சாந்தநிலை இந்த வாழ்நாளிலேயே கிடைக்கும்.

"அது எப்படி?" என்றால் நான் என்பது தனிப்பட்ட உயிர். உயிர் ஆதிமூலத்தின் அம்சம். எல்லா உயிர்களுக்கும் பொதுவானது. அந்த உண்மையை அறிந்துகொண்டு அதை நம் உள் உணர்ச்சி ஆக்கிகொண்டு விட்டால் எல்லா உயிர்கள் மேலும் மரியாதையும், அன்பும் தானாகவே தோன்றும். "நான் என்ற தனிப்பான்மை பின்னே வந்தது, சுயநலத்தை சார்ந்தது" என்பது புலன்படும். நான் என்ற எண்ணம் தானே பின்வாங்கிக்கொள்ளும்.

     Part B

Which is Primordial – Life or Mind?

The wise ones tell us: “control your mind, always”. That is easier said than done. How many of us can truly control our minds? It is an almost impossible task. If you can truly control the mind, what is the reward? The wise one say: “It is bliss”.

Why do we seek such a state of bliss? It is because we know that this life is full of ups and downs, happiness and sorrow. We wish to seek a state of no suffering and eternal bliss. We try to do so by using our mind. But the mind is fickle and unreliable. It can imagine non-existent states and things just as well as it can think with known facts.

“Bliss you seek is Brahman. It is inside of you. Seek it and you will find it” say the wise ones. When we ask how to search for it, they say: ”Keep asking who you are. It will take you there”.  This is not satisfactory to me. I think we need to go beyond and ask an even more important question.

There is indeed a question that needs to be asked before we ask: “Who am I?”.  That was asked or suggested by Rishi Parameshti Prajapathi and Rishi Dirghatamas in the Rg Veda. That was about Life.

The 129th Section of the 10th Book of Rg Veda is known as Nasadiya Sukta. In the second sloka, Rishi Parameshti Prajapati says: “ At a time when nothing was manifest, IT was moving to-and-fro on ITS own without being moved by anything else”. Was he referring to “breath” and “life”?

In Book 1, Section 164, known as Asya Vaamasya Sukta, Rishi Dirghatamas says: “ The mortal and the immortal came from the source. In the midst of immortal was the mortal which had breath (prana), movement and from which the mind came”. He refers to the combination of breath, movement and thoughts, which distinguishes the animated mortal.

Therefore, I believe in all humility  that we also have to go beyond the question of “Who am I?” to reflecting on “What is Life?”

Mind depends on life for its appearance, manifestation. Mind appears only in a body with life. Without life, the body is “dead meat”. That is why I think that questions that come before “Who am I?” should be “What is life? Why life? How did it come about?”

Those who say that you have to find the answer for the question “who am I?” also say that I have to find the answer for myself. They also go on to say that “if you do not succeed, it is because you are not ready for it or you did not try the correct way”. That is not a helpful answer. It is not a compassionate answer.

Efforts along this line of self-discovery, when it is successful, helps only that person. Those who have attained that state also tend to be recluses and remain aloof, although their actions are pure and words are full of loving kindness. That aloofness comes to them because they think that this world is an illusion. Some of them are condescending. Some start their own cults. Is there a place for worldly involvement in that state?

They say that “this world is a creation of our minds. Get rid of the mind and the world as it appears also will disappear or become insignificant”.  This seems to be contradictory to nature. It is true that the mind creates the image of the world for us. But the opposite statement “therefore without the mind there can be no world” can be true only for those who are in deep sleep or coma or badly brain-damaged. For us ordinary humans, the world will be there even when there is no mind, and it was there before life appeared on this planet.

I do not know whether we can ever find the answer for the questions on the “why” and the “what” of life. But asking that question will give us humility. Besides, this question is about all of life, all lives. Pursuing that question will not lead us to the unacceptable argument that this world is only mind’s creation and an illusion.  Trying to pursue the question will make us more considerate and compassionate towards all life-forms.

Is “life” unique and peculiar only to this earth and this universe we know of, or is there life elsewhere? On this earth why is it that over the eons, many billions and trillions of lives have come and gone? Why is it Mother Nature treats as if life is not her primary interest or concern by the way she creates and destroys them? She treats life as if all life forms including humans are dry leaves at the end of autumn to be cleaned up and burnt or buried!  May be life is not as important after all in the big picture. May be that is why each one of us focus on our individual self and talk about the “I” and the “Mine”.

Thinking deeply about Life in general, there are three  basic undeniable evident characteristics:

1.       Life is not matter. It is a state, a state of being. It can exist only in  a body made of matter. It can not exist in vacant space, unlike matter and particles and energy fields. It cannot exist just as a concept only. How can it exist as concept without a living body? The body may be very minute like a virus. But it must have a body to manifest itself. There is no function for the mind without the body.  

2.       For life to be present, there has to be exchange of energy. It is movement of energy between two bodies. Basis of life is exchange of energy.

3.       Three important inherent characteristics of life seem to be:

a.       Self-protection and escaping danger

b.       Seeking food and  a dependable source for energy

c.       Reproduction of the species

   These three do not require a mind. They are innate.

Reflecting on these lines is not difficult. These reflections do not require concepts such as maya (illusion) and rebirth which do not appeal to many. This line of thinking will make one look at all of life with equal respect and lead to compassionate thinking. It will lead to humility in the face of unanswerable questions and faith in some superior force(s) without using unacceptable logical tools. This will lead to a peaceful state in this life, here and now.

How is that possible? Because we realize that life is a part of a Superior Primordial force which is beyond our comprehension.  “I” is just a part of that whole Life. By reflecting on the fact that Life is common to all life-forms and making that thought an integral part of our own mind and our own self, we can develop respect, love and compassion for all lives. We will realize that the concepts of “I” and “mine” came later.  Hope this selfish view of life will retreat to the background and let us see the brightness and uniqueness of LIFE as a whole.

 

 

 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Prophecy and Prediction

 

Prophets and prophecy seem to play significant roles in the Abrahamic faiths. When I read the Bible and  and the Qua’ran, I noticed an extraordinary emphasis placed on prophecy and prophets. 

 In trying to understand the definition of the word, prophecy, I came across the following passage from David Deutsch’s book on The Beginning of Infinity.

Prophecy is anything that claims to know what is not yet knowable. “Trying to know the unknowable leads inexorably to error and self-deception”, as pointed out by Deutsch.

Contrast this with definition of Prediction. “Prediction is a conclusion about a future event that follows from good explanation.” Prediction is testable or verifiable and therefore, more reliable.

Astrology and astronomy are good examples. Astrology is prophecy. Astronomy allows prediction. Predictions are more likely to turn out to be true. If not, the idea is discorded. But people cling to prophecy.  

All cultures and traditions believe in miracles. In the Indian tradition, although miracles performed by Krishna and Rama are described, the emphasis is NOT on the miracle but on the compassion and love of Krishna and Rama. In other words, the emphasis is on Krishna’s and Rama’s love for their devotees, and the extent Rama and Krishna will go for the sake of their devotees. It is that Divine love which has to be believed and cherished and nourished, even if you do not believe those miracles.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Discord and Reconciliation

 Siddharta Gautama, alias Gautama Buddha, recommended the use of Sangha (community) as one of the two boats to cross the ocean of life with peace and equanimity. The other was Mindfulness.

Human nature is such that when there is a community of people, variations in personalities lead to conflicts and clash. Indeed, this happened during Buddha’s life among his disciples. In order to bring harmony in the Sangha, the bhikkus (early students of Buddha) came up with seven steps. They are:

                Sharing common space (home and land)

                Sharing essentials of life

                Observing the precepts together

                Using ONLY words that contribute to harmony

                Sharing insights and understanding

                Respecting other’s viewpoint

                Not forcing others to follow your viewpoint

Fast forward to the current scene in US, it is painful to hear people in general, politicians in particular, talk as if  they do not belong to the same country. When I reflect on some recent developments on discourses between people, I can see trends in thinking and messaging which have led to these deep discords.

                Name-calling those who do not agree with “our” viewpoint was the first development. This phenomenon was there always in human history. But it became a political tool around the early 1980’s.This is facilitated by a special brand of specialists called the “word-smiths”, who develop emotionally charged words to refer to those who look or think differently.

                Repeat a word thousand times ( make it a slogan) hoping it becomes the truth in the minds of people. This is also a well-known tool in propaganda. We have experienced many examples of this phenomenon  in recent years. When people cling to the "slogan" and do not open their minds, we know what the consequences are. Semanticists have been warning about this for many decades.

                Social media which incubate, propagate and disseminate these and other “mental viruses” is the most recent vehicle for “echo-chambers” and discords.

                One more phenomenon causing discord among people is the general lack of trust of each other. We do not know whom to trust. Even respectable professions such as medicine, respectable organizations such as the Church and our own elected representatives have behaved in ways to undermine our confidence in them. We think we are on our own. Therefore, we seek our own sources of information and end up in “echo chambers” and conspiracy-theory factories.

Now going back to Buddha’s teaching on how to bring harmony in a community, the first step in reconciliation is acknowledging the problem and be open to reconciliation. we must stop calling others with derogatory and demeaning names. We have to stop speaking harmful things and spreading misinformation and rumors. We need to speak the truth. We need to respect each other. We should respect other's viewpoint and their right to have them. We should convince others with facts and reasoning, not by bullying and shouting.

We should remember that we belong, to the same humanity, to the same nation. We have to compromise to get things done.

We must think for ourselves and not be led by propagandists and “word-smiths”.

We must follow the Golden Rule.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Adi Sankara and C S Lewis - comparison of their concepts

 It is surprising that so many people know Aristotle but not Adi Sankara. Adi Sankara’s intellectual prowess has to be experienced by reading his philosophical discussions. His devotional writings (hymns) are equally impressive particularly for its poetry. Even what little I have read is amazing.

In our relationship to this world and cosmos, Adi Sankara asks us to jump from the world we experience through our sense perceptions to a different plane which requires intuitiveness,insight and faith. Logic cannot move us from the world of asat (not Real), tamas (ignorance) and mrtyu (death) to the world of sat (ultimate reality or truth), jyoti (light or knowledge) and amrita (non-death or bliss). We do not even know what that place is, because “ eyes cannot get there, nor can speech, nor mind”.

To Sankara, this world is real but “apparent real”, from one point of view. But from another spiritual cosmic point of view, it is not  “real” . It is a ‘”reflected real” like the same sun showing up in different pots of water. He used a special word called mithya, which is not the opposite of real, but an “apparent real”.

 Chandogya Upanishad says: “All this is Brahman”. Sankara said; “ brahman is the only real (satyam); the cosmos is mithya. Jivan is nothing but Brahman”. He said so because, everything exists on a base which is beyond and behind this cosmos. That constant is nirguna brahman. That is envisioned by our senses in  forms as saguna brahman, when individual life (jivan) comes into being. If there were no jivan to think about all this, cosmos will still exist.

For a jivan to reach the brahman, it must first comprehend the atman, which is the spiritual awareness factor in oneself and then jump to the Brahman. Sankara argues that atman (Self) is different from the mind because this Self (atman) understands several states of mind such as “I am sad, I am happy” etc., It is also common experience for all of us to feel “I know this” and “I do not know this”. Therefore, knowledge and absence of knowledge themselves are objects of knowledge of a “knower”. The Self of man (Atman) is that knower. Thinking cannot reveal Atman because the process of knowledge depends on a knower (Atman). Atman must be posited before knowledge. Atman is the “witness” and the light of the witness.

Now, I jump to a modern Christian scholar C.S.Lewis, one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He taught at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He has written several books, most of them in support of his faith in Christianity. His most well-known book is The Chronicles of Narnia. In his book with the title Mere Christianity, he spends the first two chapters establishing that just as there are Natural Laws (for example, Laws of Gravity)  in the physical world there are Natural Laws in the moral sphere. It is amazing that his logic in establishing the existence of an unseen moral force is similar to that used by Vedic scholars and saints, notably Adi Sankara.

Just as there are physical laws of nature, there are laws of Human Nature. C S Lewis starts by stating that we all know that we cannot choose to disobey laws of physical nature. If we do, the results will be definite and disastrous. But we can choose to disobey laws of human nature, which deals with human behavior in relation to others, other lives. These laws relate to whether we behave decently towards others. Most normal people will know that they are disobeying decent norms of behavior when they actually do. That is why they will ask for an excuse (excuse me), or explain why they did what they did, get into an argument to show that they are on the right (which means they know what wrong is) or tell you that you are wrong. In other words, that person was aware of right and wrong.

Or take an example of a situation in which I could have helped you but did not, because if I did I would have gotten into difficulty.  In other words, I ought to have acted one way; but I did not. When I behave in a way I ought not to have, “something” tells me that I was wrong. That “moral” voice says that I should have overridden my selfish “inhibition” and done the morally right thing.

Where did this knowledge of moral principle of right and wrong come from and how? In C S Lewis’s words: “There is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of human behavior and yet quite real – a real law which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us.” He then asks; “What is behind this?”

He answers as follows: “ Obviously there is a law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey”. This cannot be found by observation of facts alone. It is inside us. It influences us and commands us. It is shown in our behavior.

That unwritten origin of moral law of human nature, we know intuitively is a universal mind which is conscious and “has purpose and prefers one thing to another”. Though not exactly the same as the description of Atman by Adi Sankara, this definition of the moral force, which C S Lewis calls God is not much different.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

"Head and Heart"

 

Intellect is always asking questions. It is as it should be. It needs to grow, evolve, and mature. But it tends to get arrogant.

“Heart” knows – just knows. If only it is open and humble and listens without judgement and without avoiding or suppressing, things can be so much better.  It needs to calm and transform.

Intellect needs to check with the “heart”. The “heart” needs to know its weakness and listen to the intellect. We need both.

when they are balanced, life runs like a chariot on a smooth pathway – just as Vedic texts of the east tell us and just as Plato envisioned in the western tradition.

That does not mean that there will be no ups and downs or happiness and sadness. They will be there. But they can be handled and managed better with equanimity. 

Saturday, March 6, 2021

“ The seeker is the sought; the journey is the destination”

 As a child, I was started on the Bhakti marga (devotional path) by my family. I was given Lord Muruga to worship and relate to. I am thankful to my family for that start. But I have moved past that stage and devotional path does not work for me anymore.

How can it when I do not think there is a human-like figure in the form of Muruga or one with six faces and two wives, sitting in some hidden place considering every move of mine? Even if I believe that, it is arrogant to think that Muruga has nothing else to do than following every one of my actions. That is giving too much self-importance to an impermanent inter-being.

If I believe, there is a divine person with form called Muruga somewhere, and He is known only to a select few born in south India, what happens to the so many millions over millennia who were born in other lands and in other faith traditions? “Who” takes care of them?

However, I do believe in a Supreme Divine Force. The concept of Muruga as a representation of that Supreme or the Divine was very helpful for spiritual development. I am thankful for that; but must proceed on the spiritual journey on my own, without Muruga – with humility and thankfulness.

What is that journey? It has to be meditative, reflecting on the mysteries of life and of cosmos. Where did life come from? Where did cosmos come from? Where did this awareness, consciousness come from? If they “came” where were they before they “came”? What was the source?

My intuition says that there must have been some force from which all of this came. That is the conclusion of all Sacred Texts, all the spiritual masters and all systems of philosophy.  The desire in every human’s “heart” (mind) to reach that source suggests that there has to be an answer. As pointed out by C S Lewis, every innate desire of human beings has a natural solution to it. We are hungry and there is food. We are thirsty and we have water to drink.  We seek our source, like pacific salmons do. There has to be an answer for that desire.

What is it that seeks answers to the mysteries of life? Where is it located? In one sense, it must be located inside of me, because the question comes from within. In another sense, it has to be outside, since it permeates every life. If so, it needs a switch inside of me to turn on or as a biologist would imagine, it needs a receptor inside of me to get attached to and activate.

That “something” outside is like the sun which gives light just by its inherent nature. As the Upanishad says, it shines and makes everything known and visible. Our eyes see objects made visible by the light of the sun. The sun illuminates and the eye sees.

So it is with the mind and its capacity to know. It knows that it knows. It is also capable of knowing what it does not know. It knows the past and the present; cannot know the future but can guess and imagine. It knows during the wakeful state and dream state. But not in deep sleep, when the sensory organs are shut out. When it wakes up, it knows it was asleep.

What is that universal state (called turya) on the basis of which the mind knows? To which, the mind wants to connect?   As pointed out by the Upanishads, “that which does not think, but that by which mind thinks” is that Sat, Brahman.

At a physical level, there is the lingering question. Why does that awareness depend on a perishable body and the brain? When the brain is damaged, that capacity to imagine the connection with the cosmos is gone. That capacity is not there at birth and takes time to develop. It tends to diminish for many of us as we get older. Why this barrier?

My reasoning says that I should stop questioning at that level and accept that mystery and the barrier. I should reach for that elusive, eternal  hidden source behind all that we see, hear and experience, while am still alive and the mind is functioning. As suggested by our ancestors, there is correspondence and inter-relationship between microcosm and macrocosm (particular and general). My effort should be to make the connection between the particular and the general, between the individual and the collective and between the wave and the ocean.

My meditation must be an effort to connect the body with matter, life force with energy and awareness with knowledge or consciousness. The goal is not moksha or release because I do not know what moksha means. Besides, moksha is after death. When it is possible to experience the connections here and now, why wait for death? Why not take the journey now towards That source hoping to experience IT if lucky?

Our rishis said it best: “ The seeker is the sought; the journey is the destination”.

 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Papam and Punyam (Sin and Virtue)

 Papam and punyam are two commonly used words in the Indian culture. The words mean the same in Sanskrit and Tamizh. They are the driving forces behind samkskaras (rites of passages) and dharma teachings.  

Papam means sin, evil, wicked, destructive action with bad consequences. Punyam means virtuous, meritorious and right conduct with good consequences.

Kanchi Periyaval  (vol 2: Daivatin kural page 818) says that we  accrue papam through our mind, speech and body. Bad thoughts, bad speech and bad actions result in papam. We have to suffer the consequences of those thoughts and actions. “The 40 samskaras are designed to decrease that accrued papam”, says KP.

The idea goes back to the Vedas. Chandogya Upanishad states explicitly the consequences of evil acts and virtuous acts and uses the words papam and punyam in Book 5  Section 10.

Puranas and Dharma shastras codified these acts of papam and punyam for use by common folks in daily living. These books list noble/ wholesome and cruel/unwholesome activities  through various characters in the mythological stories. Asuras are those with unwholesome and cruel qualities. Divine incarnations are described with wholesome qualities such as compassion.

The Puranas and Dharma shastras also say that if you perform good acts (punyam) you get rewarded at death and go to deva loka (heaven) for enjoyment or  to go to asura loka or hell (narakam) for punishment of bad acts (papam). But the stay at heaven or hell is temporary. Once you use up the credit either in heaven or in hell you will be sent back to earth. Earth is the only place for you to work out your karma. In other words, humans do get a chance to redeem themselves through good actions in this world. This world is the only place where humans can work out their fate!

The ultimate teaching though is release from this birth-rebirth cycle through meditation and full merger with Brahman.

It is important to note that we designate some acts as punyam or papam and so they become punyam or papam. Papam and punyam are sins and virtues with religious connotations because the consequences are rewards in heaven or hell. They are judgmental.  

I prefer defining actions on the basis of their effects on ALL LIVES, as Buddha suggested. Ask whether an action is harmful or beneficial?  Not, whether they  are papam or punyam? Not whether you will go to heaven or hell by performing specific acts.

Look how many people do horrible things (papam) and then go to the temple to propitiate or go on a pilgrimage or make donations to temples to obtain punyam! That is bartering with God.