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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Life's lessons - Who taught me what? (5)

 Father (Hariharan)

My father was not as influential in my life as my elder brother was. The most important lesson he taught me, and my mother was the importance of forgiveness. (Rev. Thich Naht Hahn taught me the “how” - namely “how to forgive” - through his guided meditation on forgiveness)

Two other lessons he taught by example are: keeping promises and keeping trust.

My father’s mother had a much greater  influence on me and taught me more. That was my grandmother.

Paternal Grandmother (Chellathammal)

My paternal grandmother was an amazing lady who became a widow when she was very young and raised her two sons, one of them my father. She was a tough task master. But she was also full of love. She used to say: “The hands that punish you will also hug you”. That was true of her.

She showed me that wisdom has nothing to do with formal education. She did not have any education. But she was able to make wise decisions. How else could she have raised two boys as a very young widow and a single mother in the late 1800’s and early 1900?

Another lesson she gave me:  “Just because you are poor, you do not have the rights to take someone else’s belonging”.

She was old-fashioned enough that she did not encourage educating my sisters. But she insisted that “the only out of poverty was education” and supported the boys in the family – her sons, me and my brother.

She taught us Honesty. People in my street trusted her to do what she said she will do.

Although she was orthodox in her ways as a Brahmin, she treated everyone warmly and giving them due respect.  By her actions she taught us how to treat people with dignity whatever their social status. Here is one great example.

During the war, when rice was rationed, she will ask some of the poor folks to come at night (we were not supposed to give food?) and she will feed them. Therefore, I have seen them being loyal to her and come any time to help her, if asked. One such person was a poor lady who used to live selling yogurt. My grandmother will feed her every day.Therefore, the yogurt-lady was a loyal family friend. She was so loyal that when my middle sister became sick and was alone, that lady came from her village, stayed in our house and took care of my sister for a few days till someone else from the family could take over the care.

A local Priest (Sri. Narayana Bhattar)

Sri. Narayana Bhattar (we used to call him “bhattar mama”) taught me Sanskrit when I was 5 or 6 years old. I resented going to the class at that time. But am glad my family insisted on it. I did not know how much that Sanskrit knowledge will help me when I grew up.  Fortunately, I kept it up and now can boast of having read several passages from the Vedas and Upanishads in their original and even some Sanskrit classics such as Sakuntalam and Malavikagnimitra.

That experience taught me something about curriculum-setting in schools. There are some subjects which students would not like to learn because the subject is “dry” or they cannot see any point learning it. For example, in medical school, many students will not like anatomy or organic chemistry or statistics. That is  because they do not know of their usefulness in the future. People who have gone through the training and who are in practice should insist that some subjects should be learnt even if the student does not “like” it. The idea of students setting their own agenda/curriculum or taking all subjects as optional is questionable.

Srinivasa mama (“Dr”. mama)

Srinivasa mama was responsible for motivating me to become a physician. I need to write a few words about him so that the context (medical care in India in the first half of the 20th century) is clear.

He was NOT a doctor. He went to medical school for a year or two and was forced to leave for family reasons. He took a job in a Government Office. But, at a time when there were extremely few doctors and most of the care was provided by indigenous practitioners and ayurvedic doctors, it was common for “compounders” to practice medicine. Compounders were laymen who made up “mixtures” and “powders” (there were no prepackaged medicines in those days. Doctors mixed various medicinal chemicals in proper proportions. These were called the “mixtures” and “powders”) and ointments for doctors who practiced western or allopathic medicine.

During my high school years, I became sick with typhoid. There was no antibiotics in those days. I was so sick one night that my mother thought I will not survive as she told me that several years later. During recovery I was taken care of by Srinivasa mama. This was a defining experience because, this to my memory, was the beginning of my interest in becoming a doctor.

He not only sowed the seed for a desire to become a doctor, he also set a model of a compassionate physician for me to look up to.

Srinivasa mama worked in that capacity as a compounder with the limited knowledge he had acquired during his time as a medical student. But he was considered a full-fledged doctor by the community. More important, he was a compassionate human being who practiced the noble qualities of a physician better than many other doctors I have known. He listened and understood the needs of the people. He took care of “the entire person”. People consulted him on every aspect of their lives, from choosing a college to choosing a bride. Most important, he knew when to send them to a bona fide doctor. (May I add, he played a major part in my marriage too!)

He certainly inspired me to become a doctor. I learnt humane approach to medicine from him and, also how to take care of the whole person with a disease, not just the disease. 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Life's Lessons - Who taught me what? (4)

 Brother (Nagam Athreya)

What did I learn from my elder brother (anna)? A better question will be: “Is there anything I know or was inspired to know which I did not learn from him?” None!

To write about my elder brother and his influence on me will take a book. He was my “father-figure” since he was older than me by 12 years. He was my Upadhyaya, acharya and guru. If I want to give him a Western-style designation, he was my Mentor, true to the definition of the word. He was one of my role-models.

He stimulated my thinking in every way. He taught me about the pleasures of reading and also techniques for reading with a purpose. He taught me how to read rapidly and still get the essence of a book.

He stimulated my interest in writing. I still remember his support when I started a “hand-written” monthly magazine when I was in High School. He suggested I name it “engal thottam” in Tamizh. (In English it means Our Garden). (Although the following lines are not related to the Title of the series, they are part of my memories of childhood in Ramanathaapuram. My brother wrote for this journal and made one or two of his friends to write also! Gurumanickam, a classmate, was the scribe. His handwriting was better than any print. The artist was “Chari”, grandson of Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar, the famous composer known in the music circle as “Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar”. He was not a classmate but a school mate)

My elder brother taught me “How to listen?”. I learnt that skill from attending a course he gave to executives of companies in India. We discussed this topic whenever we met and exchanged notes on how this skill is applicable in medicine and in management (He was one of the Founding Fathers of Management as a discipline in India).

He taught me Human Relation Skills. I learnt these skills from him both seeing him in action and by attending some of his seminars. In our personal discussions, this was also a recurrent topic.

He taught me about Helping Skills and about the “Client Centered Therapy” of Carl Rogers. We used these ideas in our respective professional lives and exchanged notes.

He taught me what the word “Excellence” means. In one of our discussions, we tried to define that word. We agreed that when managers evaluate employees on their job-performance, they look at the knowledge, attitude and skills of that person. My brother used the following words during the discussion: “Evaluating people is devaluating them”. We learnt together that the word “excellence” should include two other components in addition to Knowledge, Attitude and Skills. Those two are: Values that underlie the performance and Creativity. 

He is one of the people who taught me the importance of life-long learning.

 Vow! That is a long list of things I learnt from him. There is so much more…………

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Life's Lessons - Who taught me what? (3)

 Ramaa - Life-partner

It is impossible not to learn somethings from one’s partner in life.

My mother gave me life. Then came someone who gave “her life” to the family, our family. That is Ramaa.

Sacrifice is the value she taught. I know that she sacrificed her life’s ambition to be a top-level surgeon, so she can be a mother and wife. I could not have accomplished as many things as I did in my profession and the children would not have thrived as well as they have done without her sacrifice.

On family values, work ethics, professional values, and other matters of importance, we were one solid unit. We had common goals and values. That required give and take. She had her own views which she expressed with passion. She was also open to new ideas and for discussion on important matters. That is a valuable lesson.

She taught me love for Nature and particularly for plants and flowers.  She made me go with her to some of the well-known flower gardens and flower shows such as Philadelphia Flower Show, Chelsea Flower Show in London, Keukanof Gardens in Holland, Brindavan Gardens in India,  Butchart Gardens in Canada and more.

She was a voracious reader and pushed me to widen my field of interest and to new authors. She taught the pleasures of reading good books to our children. 

She loved to learn and try new things and new ways of doing things. Her usual question to children was: “Unless you open the door how do you know what is on the other side?” 

One other major lesson she taught me is best expressed in her own words: “ When you do something for someone and when you make some donations, do not diminish their value by announcing them to the world”. 

She taught me the difference between “classy” and “showy” (she called it glitzy). She taught me and the children that good quality is more important than trendy things and brand names. She used to say that “if Nike wants me to wear a shoe advertising their name, Nike should pay me”.

She was quick to say “Sorry, I was wrong”. That is an important lesson.  Towards the end of her life, she also said: “I could have done a few things better; but have no regrets.”

Above all, she taught me that a mother’s life is always one of sacrifice. How else can I explain that an intelligent and highly motivated woman who aspired to be a world-class surgeon, leave that goal and work in a different field (radiology) on three days a week only so she can spend time with children on matters of importance to their growth and development. When she was offered a full-time work with plenty of monetary incentive, her answer was: “ You keep the money and I keep my time”.

Some quotes on Learning

“To know what you do not know is the beginning” – Confucius

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live” – Seneca

“It is what you learn after you know it all that counts” – John W. Gardner

“Go, learn what you need to know; then, practice what you learnt” – A Sanskrit aphorism

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Life's Lessons - Who taught me what? (2)

     It seems proper to start this series with my mother, my first teacher. She taught me so many things without my knowing until her death at the age of 99 with her fairness, forgiving nature, curiosity, and life-long learning.

Mother – Meenakshi

She lived to be almost 100. She did not have much “schooling”, but she was an “educated and wise” lady. I interviewed her for close to 6 hours when she was 99 years old and recorded our conversation. When I summarized her message to the younger generation (she lived long enough to see the 5th generation) for a monograph, these were the lessons she taught:  Forget and forgive; Adapt to time and place; Be straight forward; Practice compassion; Use kind words and Be flexible.

She was a life-long learner. She used to read till her final days. At the age of 92, she found an error in an article published in a local journal. She wrote to the editor and the editor published the correction!

She taught how to write. Her letters in Tamizh used to read like short stories.

She taught me to be non-adversarial in my relationships. Two of her famous statements were:     1. “do not corner people during discussions. If you do, they will behave like a cornered angry cat. They will see no escape and will pounce on you and excoriate you”. 2. “relationships are fragile like mirrors. If you break it, you can put it back, but the image will not be the same”. These two points taught me to think about their applicability to human relations in general. I learnt that “once you take a matter to a lawyer and a court, reconciliation becomes impossible”.

She also taught me to adapt to situations without being rigid.

She thought that everyone, irrespective of age, sex, economic status, should be respected and treated with dignity. She practiced it.

In responding to questions regarding the life-style of younger generation, she used to say: “ We have lived our lives. It is now your time. Do what you need to”.

There are two other lessons both Ramaa and myself learnt from her. 1. After doing any housework, particularly cooking, she will not sit and rest until the kitchen and the utensils were all cleaned up. Her reason was: “ this work has to be done sooner or later. If you let things stay in the sink, they will dry up and cleaning is that much harder and will take more time”. 2. In giving gifts and giving away family heirlooms she used to say: “What is the use of keeping those jewelries till I die when I can see my children enjoy them now?”

And her wisdom was shown in her answer to two questions during my long interview. When  asked about her view of after-life, she said: “No one who left this world came back to tell me what it is about. So, I do not have a definite opinion”. When asked about major changes that have occurred in the society during her lifetime, she said: “The freedom women enjoy now compared to when I was young is the most important one”.

I plan to end each segment with some quotes on learning. Here is the first set.

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested”-  Francis bacon (The Complete Essays of Francis Bacon. Washington Square Press, 1963. Page 130)

“A room without books is like a body without a soul” – Cicero

“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries” – Rene Descartes

“That is the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet” – Jhumpa Lahiri

 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Life’s Lessons – Who taught me what? (1)

 

Dear friends, it is with great excitement I am starting to write this series of blogs.

I have been fortunate to have had great experiences in my personal and professional lives. I am fortunate to have been born in a family which gave me longevity, open mind, love for learning and great values. I was fortunate to find a partner who taught me many things and gave me “our” (my) family. Many of my teachers were not only knowledgeable in their fields but also were great human beings.  Some of them were upadhyayas (Sanskrit word meaning one who sits next to you and teaches), as in the schools. Some were acharyas (Sanskrit word for one who teaches by doing), particularly in the medical school. A few of them were my gurus (who influences you just by their presence). They were there when I needed and gave me wise counsel.  Many of my gurus were from other walks of life. I have had the pleasure of living and working with great people from whom I learned. In my work, I learned constantly from my young patients and their parents and, also from my students, trainees, and colleagues. Later still, my children taught me many things and introduced me to authors and books I would never have known.  

We can learn a lot of information from reading books. We can do so even better from the Internet. We can learn skills on any subject - from how to cut onions to how to make dangerous weapons - from watching Videos. But we can learn how to think logically, how to make wise judgments, how to develop lasting values, how to work with others, how to listen and how to communicate effectively with sensitivity and compassion ONLY from our interactions with family members, our teachers, our friends, our co-workers, and our children. In other words, we learn life’s most important lessons only by living, observing, and listening.  

That is why Gracian Balthazar (17th century Jesuit priest) said: “Spend the first act with the dead; the second with the living and the third act entirely belongs to you”. What he meant was that we should read as many books as possible (written by authors who are no more) in our early years. During the second part of our lives, we should be learning from people we live and work with. In the final third of life, we should spend time reflecting.

I feel like I have plenty to share with the future generations, which is a common weakness among  elders. What is worse for the younger folks is that we want them to listen to our stories and “wisdom” (bore them, from their point of view). I am no exception.  I will feel like a miser if I do not share what I have learnt over the years. As pointed out by someone wiser than me: “there are two things one cannot take with oneself at the time of death – money and knowledge”.

Life is a lesson by itself. Life is also full of lessons, if only our eyes and ears are open, and we are ready to learn. We must all be life-learning learners. A passage from a book called Subhashita, which is a collection of words of wisdom or an epigram, states:

अनन्तश्च शास्त्रम् बहु विदेतितव्यं स्वल्पश्च कालं बहव­­श्चविघ्नाः     This translates to state that there are so many sciences, there is so much to learn, but the time is short and obstacles are many!

So here I go with a list of several people in my life from whom I learnt and what I think I learnt from them. The list also includes some events and books which influenced my personal philosophy.

            Let me start with two legendary figures. One is Dattatreya and the other is Buddha.  I have written about them in my blog on September 18, 2010 (Time for Thought: Search results for Dattatreya).

Dattatreya is a mythical figure. He is mentioned in Uddhava Gita (Chapter II: Sloka 33-34) as one who considered 24 things of Nature as his gurus. He points out what he learnt from each of these gurus.

1.Earth taught him tolerance and patience. Earth also taught him about giving (plants, river etc.,).
2. Space is wide and limitless like our Atman, the inner self.
3.Fire burns both the good and the bad, gives warmth when it is cold outside, but burns when touched.
4. Water is nice, cool and clear and our mind should be like that.
5. Wind carries bad odor and good smell but is unaffected by them.
6. The moon seems to diminish but not really so. Similarly, our inner self is always there although the body diminishes.
7. The Sun takes in the water and gives it back as rain. We need to take and give with our hands but do not grasp and hold on to them.
8. The Ocean stays at same volume and although it receives all the rivers
9. A boat reminds us of the rafts we need to cross this river/ocean called life
10. A Child has a simple mind without pride or prejudice
11. Young girl removed all her bangles except one so that they do not make noise, teaching the importance of solitude and silence.
12. A Marksman showed how to focus on the target.
13. Elephant is very strong and yet will listen to command.
14. Dog shoed him what  loyalty is.
15. Deer (any animal) taught him how to be satisfied with what is available to eat, not worrying about tomorrow, and how to care for the young.
16. Python became a teacher because it eats only when food is available.
17. He learnt about the philosophy of mistaking rope for a snake due to ignorance, when he observed a snake.
18. He saw Chameleon’s ability to change itself to suit the circumstances.
19. Ant was a teacher because of its tireless work ethics.
20. Mosquito reminded him of bad people who are always hurting others.
21. Bedbug reminded him of people who do bad things and hide.
22. Spider spinning and drawing back its silk reminded him of how this universe manifests from and disappears into Brahman.
23. Bee collects honey from several sources and taught him about learning from several sources.
24.The two wings of birds taught him about the need for knowledge and determination.

Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, is a historical figure whose life has been well-documented. There is an episode in his history about a lesson he gave to Rahula, his son. In the passage, Buddha says: “Rahula, learn from the earth. Whether people spread pure and fragrant flower or discard filthy, foul-smelling material, she receives them all without clinging or aversion. Learn from the Water. When people wash dirty things in it, the water is not sad or disdainful. Learn from fire because it burns all things without discrimination. Learn from the air. It carries all fragrances whether sweet or foul”.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Information - Energy Guzzler

 I have been interested in the topic of Information as a fundamental unit of nature on par with space, time matter and energy, although I am not a physicist. My understanding of Information is at a layperson's level. But my interest is deep from a philosophical point of view. It is also because of my interest in understanding how our mind works.

I just realized that our mind (brain) has been telling us something important about gathering, processing, storing, retrieving , transforming and transmitting information. Mechanistically speaking the brain is a complicated, efficient information-processing machine. The entire operation requires enormous amount of energy! Our brain uses up 20% of our metabolic energy.

This is what scientists working in Information Technology are finding. Scientists are saying that  we  require enormous amount of energy to handle the exponential increase in collection and storage of data and new technologies to analyze and utilize the data such as A I. Generating that amount of energy may even cancel out our current efforts to mitigate the rapid heating of our planet!

Monday, June 21, 2021

Health and Well-being – Everyone’s need

 

Every life is precious.

Every life is sacred.

All forms of life come from the same source.

All forms of life derive energy from the same source.

Every form of life seeks food and safety.

Everyone – young and old; women and men; rich and the poor – can get sick and wants to get well.

Health and well-being are inherent needs of all human beings, just as the need for food and water are.

Safety from getting sick and opportunity to get well and stay well should be available and accessible to everyone.

It is a moral imperative and not a commodity.

If the current COVID pandemic did not teach this, what else can?

When else will we learn?

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Gautama Club - Topics to Think about (Part 2)

 

Session 2:  On loving-kindness, love, and compassion

                How many meanings are there for  the word “love” in the English language?

                What are equivalent words in other languages?

                What does “loving-kindness” mean?

                What does the word compassion mean?

                How does one express loving-kindness and compassion?

                What are some pre-requisites for developing compassion?

                How does someone know that you care for him/her, love him/her?

Session 3: Listening skills

                Are you a good listener?

                Do others think so?

                What do you mean when you say: “good listener”?

                How do you feel when someone keeps interrupting?

                How do you feel when you think that the “other person” is not listening?

                What are some good listening habits?

                What are some bad listening habits?

                What are your own “good” and “bad” listening habits?

Session 4: Fundamental questions

                What do you think are the fundamental units of nature and of the universe?

                What do you think Life is?

What do you think are the fundamental features of a living organism?

What is Consciousness?

Was the Universe started or was it always there?

If it was “started”, who or what started it? And why?

Where was He or It when the universe started?

If the current theory of expanding universe (Big Bang) is correct, what is it expanding into?

                 What was there before the Big Bang?

 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Gautama Club - Topics to think about

 Several years back, I came across a book . It is a small pocket-diary size book, by William Zimmerman. It was a book with just one  question at the top of each page. The rest of that page and the next page were empty. It was meant to record our own thoughts and answers to those questions. “It is a “Journal of Thoughts” as the author intended it to be.

The book had interesting questions such as: “What is your most valuable treasure? And why is it so?”; “Were you ever lost? What happened?”; “What kind of person do you want to be? How, if at all, would you change?”; “What are your hopes in life?”. And so on. I answered all of them somewhere in the 1980’s. Then, a few years later, I revisited them to learn about myself. I added a few newer thoughts.

Later, during my career as a medical educator, I created a set of questions for physicians in training to answer. They were focused on medical career. It included questions such as: "Do you think you are a good listener? Do others think you are a good listener?" and “If a patient does not follow your advice what will you do?”. At least one student wrote to me to say that this was the most helpful “homework” she ever did. 

Fast forward almost 50 years to my post retirement years. I wanted to organize sessions with friends thinking about what I consider to be “important questions in life”, which will help us all grow. I even gave a name to that group – The Gautama Club, after Gautama Buddha. The idea never took off, although I tried more than twice. 

I had prepared a set of questions to discuss in Socratic style and in the style of our ancient Rishis. The idea is for each one to reflect on these questions and to share their thoughts. The idea was not necessarily to convince others of our way of thinking but to learn different ways of thinking about the same issues.

I believe that it is important to reflect on these questions for many other reasons. There is great deal of reliable, evidence-based information on the physical aspects of the universe, on life sciences, heredity, and genetics and on functions of the human brain. There are hundreds of volumes on philosophy, religion, morals, ethics and so on. In fact, we have too much information now. This is the age of Information overload.  

But we are also carrying outdated information from the past out of respect for traditions, out of habit, or because it is convenient to follow and are afraid of letting go.

We need to merge reason with faith. We need to let go of dogmas and think with an open mind. We need to realign old ideas and beliefs with current knowledge. We need to develop new ideas on dharma (Ethics and virtues) for the 21st century and new ideas on sacredness common to all of humanity. 

Instead of burying the questions I had prepared for these session, I have now decided to put them in these blogs, hoping someone else will find them useful to think about. There are questions for 4 sessions. The following is the first set. If any one is interested in starting such a discussion group,  I will be very glad to help and participate.

Session 1: Four sets of Four  Questions:

                First set:               What is life?  

                                            What is the meaning of life, in general? 

                                            What is the purpose in life, for me specifically?  

                                            Who am I?                                               

                Second set:         Am I sure? 

                                            Am I present here and now? 

                                            Am I just following my “habit energy”?  

                                            Who cares 100 years from now?      (from Rev. Thich Naht Hanh)                                                                                               

               Third set:             What are my nourishments? Are they wholesome, noble, helpful? 

                                            What are the nourishments For the body? What do I eat and drink? 

                                            For the mind? What kind of books do I read, TV and other visual things I                                                  see, music and talks I listen to, and things I think most about? 

                                            For personal aspirations and goals in life: What I do, how I do, what I                                                        support and what I oppose? 

                                            For the community: Am I  working for the common good with a sense of                                                cooperation and compassion?                      

                Fourth set:         If I am reflective, and spend time in meditation and “deep looking” without                                               justifying myself or tying myself into a knot? 

                                         Why am I meditating? 

                                        What is the goal: silence, curiosity, to know myself  better, to know the                                                     world around me better, for peace and harmony, to merge with the ONE?  

                                        What method am I using? Am I on my own? With a “guru” or a guide and a                                            coach? Is this the best for my personality and needs?  

                                        So what? What do you do with the insight?

                     

     




Friday, June 4, 2021

Life cannot be defined

 Carl Zimmer is a famous science writer. He writes columns for The New York Times, National Geographic and other journals and has published several books. The latest book is Life’s Edge, The Search for what it means to be alive (Dutton. 2021). It is an extremely interesting book exploring humanity’s quest to understand what Life is. Obviously, it is an important question but defining life is an impossible task. In one passage he quotes a scientist – philosopher by the name of Carol Cleland as saying: “ We do not want to know what the word life means to us. We want to know what life is”. She follows that statement by saying: “ we need to give up our search for a definition”.

Reading this book stimulated my thoughts about life. I have written about this topic in my blogs and in my book on “Our Shared Sacred Space”. I am not a scientist or a philosopher. But I believe that all of us should be able to think about this question. We are alive, we want to live forever, we want to look for life in other planets and we are afraid of death. Don’t we want to know what life is?

The earliest awareness of a living creature must have been one of “being” and of “hunger”, which indirectly must have meant to that individual creature “ I am” and “alive” at a non-verbal level. The next awareness must have been “that other one is also alive” or “not alive”. That awareness is required at a primitive level for preservation of its own “life”. Life, awareness, hunger, and fear seem to be the order of evolution of the sense of self.

That means the earliest creatures were capable of “knowing” a living from a non-living “other”. They probably also knew intuitively a living “other” who stopped being “alive”, which means “death” in our language. “Non-living” could have never been a living thing (was always inanimate in our words) or a living thing which ended up not being alive (dead). Even animals and birds seem to have a sense of what death is, by knowing that the dead one was with life, earlier.

Life is manifest in a form limited by time and duration. Humans understand end of life to be inevitable. In a sense, death defines life. Is death the other end of birth, de-limiting the duration of life and part of a cycle or is it the end of life? Cultures differ in their answers to this question.

We cannot define life. But can understand it when it ends with death in an individual by observing the absence of some activities: Not moving even to feed or avoid danger; Not seeking food; Not exchanging energy and not reproducing by itself or by other means. Absence of all of these is not essential to define death. Nor can any one item in isolation define death. A recent report documents the existence of a bacterium which remained dormant under the seabed for millions of years and then came to “life” and reproduced when it was “fed”. (Scientific American June 2021, page 78)

In other words, we cannot define death. And we know life cannot be defined either.

Life is a phenomenon. It requires an individual “body” to manifest when “causes and conditions” are there. Life has an end in an individual. But as a phenomenon, Life was always there; will always be there, here on this planet. Also “life” probably exists in other parts of the universe in different forms with different characteristics.  That is why Astrobiologists are trying to define life so they can recognize it when they find one!

Life is a mystery. It is a gift.  It will remain so even after scientists and philosophers find a suitable definition and list its characteristics.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Reading the Classics

 My generation growing up in India during the first half of the 20th century learnt about India’s own culture mostly through the writings of western scholars. Even when we came across interesting sections in Tamizh classics such as Silappadikaram and Manimekalai, the emphasis was on the language, poetry and morals. I do not remember any teacher telling me that Silappadikaram had plenty to teach about music and drama, about musical instruments and how they were made etc. I did not hear about the fact that Manimekalai had passages about foundations of knowledge such as perception, inference, and logic. The fact that these Tamizh classics were written around 500 CE means that scholars in India were already aware of and teaching these foundations of knowledge.

When you see our artisans make bronze figures in Swamimalai, you realize that long before western scientists developed metallurgy as a special branch of science, our ancestors knew how to melt a metal, how to make wax caste and even how to recycle molten, unused metal. (Please view this video from the University of California at San Diego: Masters of Fire: Hereditary Bronze Casters of South India - YouTube)

It is high time children in India are taught not only science such as metallurgy but also how metal objects were made in India long before metallurgy developed into a science.  It is high time we teach classics in Tamizh and other languages to children not just to memorize but also to learn historical facts. For example, when the teacher talks about the description of foreign traders in Kaveripoompattinam in Silappadikaram,  why not talk also about trade with the Roman empire and about sea travels in those days based on Arikamedu excavations and other sources?

Here is a section from the Tamizh classic, Manimekalai from the 6th century, which prompted these thoughts. There is an entire section in which Manimekalai goes about asking teachers from various schools of thought about their views on the origins of this cosmos. This section is a review of  systems of philosophy well-established in India by the 6th century. They include the Vedic ideas, Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Ajivaka, Nigantha, Jain and Saiva Siddhanta.

Various philosophical and metaphysical views are listed also in other classics in other languages such as Mandukya Karika (Gaudapada), Sarva Darshana Sangraha (Madhvacharya, brother of Sayanacharya) and Neelakesi. I have read the first two, not the third one (Neelakesi) in Tamizh.

As I have written in the past, when we read classics in literature and in spirituality, we can learn so much about other areas such as the language itself, how the language has evolved over the years so that the same word means a different thing now, the culture and customs of the people amongst whom the classic originated, geography, history and more.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

What is Wisdom?

 

Is wisdom defined by the characteristics of people who have been widely recognized as wise, such as Buddha, Jesus, Adi Sankara and Mahatma Gandhi? Or is wisdom defined by the components of mental functions such as intelligence, expert knowledge, and judgement? In the era of science, everything gets measured. Can wisdom me measured?

Neuroscience had ventured into studying all fields of mental functions. That includes happiness, self, and also, Wisdom.  For example, Meeks and Jeste have proposed a neurobiological model for defining wisdom based on available studies.  (Neurobiology of Wisdom: A Literature Overview Thomas W. Meeks, MD; Dilip V. Jeste, MD   Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009;66(4):355-365) Since components of wisdom such as cognition, emotional control, judgement, and empathy are involved in the definition of wisdom,  they suggest that wisdom requires an optimal balance between functions of phylogenetically more primitive brain regions (limbic system, in the lower part of the brain) dealing with emotions and newer ones (prefrontal cortex, in the upper part of the brain) dealing with the so-called executive functions.

In an article on Wisdom as Expert Knowledge System: A Critical Review of a Contemporary Operationalization of an Ancient Concept (Human Development 2004;47:257–285), Monika Ardelt defined wisdom as a three-dimensional personality characteristic. The three components include cognitive, reflective, and affective domains and wisdom is an integration of personality characteristics in these three dimensions.

She further points out with research and with examples that the presence of characteristics from these three dimensions is not only necessary but sufficient to consider a person as wise. She also points out that the absence of any one of these components may show the person as one with expert knowledge or thoughtful and self-aware or compassionate, but not necessarily wise.

Dilip V. Jeste and Ipsit V. Vahia studied conceptualization of wisdom in Bhagavat Gita (Psychiatry 71 (3): 197 – 209, 2008) and noted the following components: “Knowledge of life, Emotional Regulation, Control over Desires, Decisiveness, Love of God, Duty and Work, Self–Contentedness, Compassion/Sacrifice, Insight/Humility, and Yoga (Integration of Personality)”. This is similar to the major components of wisdom in the personalities of those considered to be wise, namely a great understanding of life and its vicissitudes, insight and ability to make good judgment under difficult conditions, control over emotions and compassion. A difference that stands out in the eastern philosophy is emphasis on control of desires for worldly things and renunciation of material pleasures.

 Here are some interesting quotes about Wisdom:

Knowledge is proud it knows so much; wisdom is humble that it knows no more”  (William Cowper)

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?  (TS Eliot  The Rocks)

Lord, give me the courage to change things I can change,

Give me serenity to accept things I cannot change  AND,

Give me the Wisdom to know the difference   (Reinhold Neibhur)

“Some day we will all die, Snoopy” says Charlie Brown. “True, but on all the other days we will not” says Snoopy, the wise philosopher, in one of Charles Schultz cartoons.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Mantra and the Zoroastrian tradition

 

The word mantra has several meanings. Most commonly it is understood to be a sound, or a phrase uttered within oneself as part of almost all religious traditions. The root word is man which in Sanskrit means “to think”. One definition says that mantra is one which protects an individual when uttered as part of a spiritual or religious observance. (manannat trayate iti,mantrah), which means that which protects when meditated on.

Use of mantra in religious services goes back millennia. In the Zoroastrian tradition, chanting mantra is referred to as part of Yasna. Yasna is akin to pujas and rituals in Hinduism. In Yasna 31:6  this is mentioned. The word used is different though. In the version I read, it is spelled mathra.

Going further into yasna, I read that it is meant to “maintain cosmic integrity” and was originally associated with preparation of a sacred drink called “haoma”. Knowing that the “ha” sound of Zoroastrian is akin to “sa” sound of Sanskrit, this sounds very much like the preparation of soma in the Vedic sacrifices.

In an article on this subject in Zoroastrian.org.uk, I read that Ahur Mazda, the supreme benevolent master, conceived the universe in his mind (vohu mana, in Vedas it is manas), fashioned it in His consciousness (daena, in the Vedas this is dhyana or dhi) and manifested it through His creativity (spenta mainyo, this is similar to the maya of vedic texts). He then set it in motion in accordance with his eternal law.

This eternal law in Zoroastrian is called asha, which is variously translated as truth, righteousness, God’s will and Laws of nature. In this, the corresponding words in the Vedas will be rta and dharma.

There are many more examples like this for some scholars to suggest that Hinduism has its roots in Zoroastrian tradition.

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.