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Friday, February 25, 2022

Shared information and Shared experience

 Starting at about the middle of the 20th century, there was so much migration of people from villages to towns in all countries and from one country to another, that the experience of families being together in good times and bad faded into history. In my own situation, I was not there in India when my father and then my mother died. I was not there for many marriages in my family either. Without sharing the joyful moments and sad moments how can we truly be connected?

Of course, in this era of information technology and social media, we share information about events. Now, we can see each other in virtual space. But it is not the same. When my son-in-law was in the hospital for a major surgery in another country, I could not be with my daughter to hold her hands when she was waiting for more than 12 hours all alone. When I had my heart attack last year, no one was there with me during the entire admission. During the first five years of my life in US, I did not even have phone communication with anyone in my family, even when I was in the hospital once. I did not even write to them afterwards, because I did not find any meaning in causing them worry. We can manage – and we all do. But…………

I realize that shared experience is different from shared information. Text messaging shares information. But cannot share the emotional content of shared experience. Text messaging can share contact. But it requires a shared experience to create bonding and relationships. I knew that when I decided to move to US several decades back. Yet, it hurts.

This is also the point Dr. Tatum makes in her book on “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?”  One feels most comfortable in the company of others who have had the same life experiences and bonds with them. We have even portions of the brain and hormones assigned for this social function. That is the basis of family groups and clans.  

Friday, February 18, 2022

Role of Definitions in Thinking

 In my essay on Means of Valid Knowledge ( on February 16, 2009), I left out an important element in the cause for differences of opinion between different schools of philosophy. That is definition of words and concepts.

In formulating discussions on concepts, the problem is often with definition. Scientific philosophy emphasizes definition of concepts and objects so that others can repeat experiments using objects with the same or similar properties and confirm or refute the conclusions. Other systems do not. Therefore, concepts in metaphysical systems are not amenable to verification and confirmation.

If soul is defined as that which occupies a body and it can exist outside the body, all future discussions on the topic will revolve around that definition, whether that definition is acceptable to everyone or not.

If self is defined as that outside of objective world and cannot be analyzed or understood but can only be experienced, all discussions start from that point, assuming that self has been defined accurately.

Any discussion on such concepts will be circular, just by the nature of the definitions. “I said so; therefore, it is”.

Both these examples make the definition such that they cannot be tested empirically. They depend on faith. Therefore, they get to be established dogma just by repetition.

In general, if definitions are not based on objective, verifiable facts (observations, data), there will be differences of opinion and it will be difficult to have any meaningful discussion.

It is also true, that many a time, a concept is visualized before empirical studies can be done. Scientific advances are full of such example – “ether”, “atom”, quantum……

In some aspects of life, faith is the only option. I have already written about the role of faith in our thinking repertoire, when to use faith and how.


Friday, February 11, 2022

Creating New Mythology for the 21st Century - A suggested pathway. (6)

 To develop a new mythology, we need to celebrate the sacred object with a special image, a special day, special rituals, special ethics, and special prayers. How do we operationalize the idea of sacredness of Mother Earth?

Here are my suggestions. After making Mother Earth as our shared sacred space, may I suggest that all of humanity set aside one day a year for celebrating “Our Shared Sacred Space”. Instead of designating another special day, we can make Thanksgiving Day or Mother’s Day special for this purpose. Let us appreciate the world we live in and pay our gratitude to her on that day, all of us together.

An image we can use for this universal day of gratitude and thanksgiving can be a picture of this blue planet from space. Or, a picture of the milky way taken by the Hubble Telescope, or picture of a supernova. May be, all three?

 We need new rites of passage (called Samskara in Sanskrit). It is particularly important for children entering adolescence. This should be more than a graduation party or giving them a car key or cell phone. But it should be a day when the parents tell their children words such as : “you are ready to enter adult life; Go find your hero; go find your inner bliss. I am here to help you” as suggested by Joseph Campbell.  We need a new motto such as “Find your own path and let others find theirs” and “Love, everyone, unconditionally; Share; Forgive; Be Humble; Seek: Be Brave.”

For personal ethics and morals, Gert’s list of 10 should do (Gert B. 1988).  They are: Don’t cause death, Don’t cause pain, Don’t cause loss of ability, Don’t cause loss of freedom, Don’t cause loss of pleasure, Don’t deceive, Don’t cheat, Keep your promise, Obey the law, Do your duty.

For universal ethics, re-iterate what all the saints have said, common to all traditions:  Universal love, Compassion, Peace, Forgiveness, charity, Humility, Truth and Justice.

 Rituals to follow on that special day can be borrowed from a popular celebration in each society. It could be a day to visit temples and monuments.

Actions to be undertaken on that day could be some sort of service and acts of gratitude – like feeding the poor, planting a tree, cleaning up the mess we have created, creating new habitat for plants, birds, and animals.

Prayers and Readings for that day can be based on teachings from personal and local traditions which emphasize universal welfare, the commonality of life, sacredness of all lives, peace and harmony and the Golden Rule of compassion.

We need to examine areas of discord and develop a common pathway to reconciliation as suggested by Gautama Buddha. He knew that 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. Buddha’s early students (bhikkus) came up with seven steps to bring harmony in the Sangha. These steps are applicable even now and are needed more than ever.

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 and not forcing others to follow our viewpoint.   

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 must 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 community of nations. We need 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. We must share these thoughts and more with future generations, so they grow up with respect for their own tradition and at the same time respect for other traditions; so that they live in harmony with nature and with others and other live forms in a peaceful world.

I end this series with parts of my introductory remarks. This series of essays is probably the most important message I have for children of the future, and I consider this as my legacy for the future generations. It is to introduce the idea of shared mythology for the entire humanity and a suggested pathway to get there.

This is not a policy statement but a wish list. It is not for policy-making or political actions – but for individual efforts. It should be a spiritual effort. I hope each one of you will develop your own plan, implement it, and share the message with the younger generation.


 Ash, T G. 2017. Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Attenborough D., Hughes J. 2020. A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future. Grand Central Publishing.

 Athreya, B. 2020. Cooperation, Collective Welfare, Common Good and Common Purpose. Blog site. Wilmington, DE, June 19. Accessed December 19, 2021.

 Athreya B. 2017. Our Shared Sacred Space. Wilmington, DE: KDP - Amazon.

Bak-Coleman, Joseph B, Mark Alfano, Wolfram Barfuss, Carl Bergstrom, and et al. 2021. "Stewardship of Collective Behavior." Proceedings of the National Acaddemy of Sciences.

Dunn, R. 2021. A Natural History of the Future: What the Laws of Biology tell us about the Destiny of the Human Species. New York: Basic Books.

Editorial. 2021. "Clarion Call from Climate Panel." Science 373: 719.

Garret Hardin. 1968. "Tragedy of the Commons." Science 162: 1243.

Gert B. Morality: A New Justification of the Moral Rules. 1988. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Goodall, Jane, Douglas Abrams, and Gail Hudson. 2021. The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times. Oxford: Celadon Books.

Thunberg, Greta, Adriana Calderon, Farzana Jhumu, and Eric Njuguna. 2021. "This is the World left to us by Adults." Opinion Column. New York: New York Times, August 19.



Friday, February 4, 2022

Shared Mythology for the 21st century: Pathway to a Shared Sacred Mother Earth (5)

 What is a path forward?

After I started writing this document, I read two books written by two well-known figures. Both are past the age of 80. Both  have spent their entire life in the midst of nature, studying nature out in the wild and in the ocean.  They have an urgent message for civilization. Both feel hopeful despite all the devastations we humans have done to Mother Earth. We better listen to them. 

One is Jane Goodall. Her book talks about hope. The other is David Attenborough. He gives practical suggestions on how we can give shape to that hope and save this planet.

Jane Goodall and David Attenborough are well-known figures with force behind their words. They can influence national and international policies. 

My voice is a small one. But I am not trying to influence policies but hope to influence individual behavior.  If each one of us will take up one idea to mitigate the disasters experts are predicting and do something, just a little, to implement that idea, it will make a big difference. It may be small at an individual level, but collectively it will be like lighting so many candles that makes this planet glow and make the future generations smile. 

My mission in this exercise is to state the facts (which I have done in earlier paragraphs) and make sure we agree on the facts first. Then I hope each one of us will develop some ideas of our own to safeguard this planet with care and respect, to develop a shared sense of respect and dignity for all lives, to live in peace and harmony with each other and with nature and make the world safe for future generations. In this effort we must synthesize science and spirituality and develop a new set of Dharma (rules of conduct) emphasizing collective welfare, cooperation, compassion, and sacredness of Mother Earth. We need to develop a sense of shared sacredness for all of humanity. I have already written about our earth as Our Shared Sacred Space (Athreya B, 2017). 

This present manual is a follow-up and blueprint for the future with some suggested ideas. Hopefully, every reader will find his or her own ideas to develop and make this earth a shared treasure. I am not asking others to do something I have not done. In addition to some small steps that I have taken in my personal life, here are some ideas I offer to celebrate Our Shared sacred Space – Mother Earth. 

Peter Knudtson and David Suzuki suggest a need for “Global Environmental Ethics” based on Gratitude, Sanctuary, and Sacrifice in their book on “Wisdom of the Elders”. I suggest adding “sacredness” to this list. 

Each group and nation and tradition has its own sacred symbol and its own sacred image and its own sacred text.  Sacredness is a status conferred on an object by us humans. Once an object is considered sacred, our attitude changes. We treat that “sacred object” with respect and care. 

This observation is voiced in a report on “Preserving and Cherishing the Earth: An appeal for Joint Commission in Science and religion” presented at the Global Forum on Religion and Ecology held at Moscow in 1990. In that statement signed by several respected scientists such as Freeman Dyson, Hans Bethe and Stephen Jay Gould is the following passage: “As scientists, many of us have had profound experiences of awe and reverence before the universe. We understand that what is regarded as sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so regarded. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a vision of the sacred”.

I suggest that we combine these ideas with those of Joseph Campbell, Scott Momaday and Stuart Kaufmann and consider Mother Earth as “our shared sacred space”.  She has given her bounties for all lives to live for millennia and continues to do so. What better way to thank her and reciprocate her generosity than to treat her with respect and care? 

We need a shared sacred to replace the isolated, parochial one. Scott Momaday, a Native American poet who has written an essay with the title Re-inventing the Sacred and Stuart Kauffman who wrote a book on Reinventing the sacred point out that items and places that are sacred are considered to be so to specific individuals and to specific groups. Obviously, once an idea or an image becomes sacred it becomes inviolable. It is an isolated or exclusive sacredness, to one person or to one group. Both Kauffman and Momaday suggest that we reinvent the sacred, a shared sacred in addition to the isolated, parochial ones. 

Joseph Campbell suggested that we need new mythologies and recommended cultural heritage tours of ancient temples and monuments to learn about the substance behind the symbols. The old mythologies have lost their relevance and not their importance. We need new mythology and new symbols. We need new world mythology. That is possible if we visualize the picture of the earth our space-scientists have given us.  One unit. A beautiful blue planet hanging in space with only one border, between water and earth.