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Friday, September 30, 2022

Addition to Wants and Fears

 When I posted the earlier blog on Wants and Fears, I was thinking of the fundamental drives behind human activity and of all forms of life - a need to get food to live, a need to avoid dangers and get eaten and in-built drive to procreate. I was also reflecting on the hand-postures called mudras of the vigrahas or images of Hindu pantheon of Gods. One hand takes abhaya mudra which indicates "Do not be afraid, I am here to protect you" and the other hand takes varada mudra, which indicates " I will take care of your needs and desires".

Needs and wants lead to a desire and will to act. Desires may be fulfilled or may not be. That leads to anxiety. Even if one gets what one desires, there is always the possibility of losing it. That is also cause for anxiety. Attachment to objects of desire accentuates this anxiety. And also leads to anger against those who are preventing us from getting what we desire or taking away what we have etc., 

All of this is common sense. What is amazing is how our ancestors wrote about them centuries back and taught us how to avoid these natural human tendencies and lead a spiritual life. This reminds me to refer to Bhagavat Gita Chapter 2; verses 62 and 63. It is a beautiful summary of how our mind gets into trouble.

"Those who keep thinking of sense-objects, attachment towards these objects grows. Desire arises from this attachment. From desire arises anger. Delusion is the result of anger. Delusion leads to confusion which results in destruction of intelligence and thus to one's ruins". 


Friday, September 23, 2022

Wants and Fears

 

It appears that the modern, consumer-oriented, commercial, competitive, and complex world, is driven by never-ending “wants” and an atmosphere of living in constant “fear”.  Both the “wants” and the “fear” are driven mostly by ads and messages in the 24-hour news cycles and in the social media. Fear is driven by the existence of violence in the minds of a few who hurt innocent people for no understandable reason and the availability of lethal weapons in their hands. This danger is so pervasive that children have to learn how to protect themselves from this danger at schools.

 We know from the writings of people of wisdom from the past and modern neurosciences that actions triggered by “desire” and “fear” are the causes of our suffering.

Will it ever be possible to create a society in which the basic needs of every person - namely a roof over the head, decent nutritious food, basic education, and basic health-care needs - are available and accessible? Will it ever be possible for children to go to school to learn without fear and parents to be able to send their children to school without fear of losing them? 

 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Dharma for the 21st Century - Revisited (2)

 This discussion on the importance of ethics and morals have been going on in Western philosophy also since the time of Socrates as documented by Jamie Susskind in his recent book with the title The Digital Republic. Most thoughtful people agree that the internet and social media are affecting human behavior in a self-destructive way and some rules and regulations are needed to make large corporations in control of Digital technology behave in a socially responsible way. How can such rules and regulations be developed and implemented in a democratic way, to allow private enterprise to thrive, to preserve First Amendment Rights and to build in boundaries for these multinational corporations? Jamie Susskind gives a thoughtful analysis and offers several ideas to consider.

My understanding of the book is that Jamie Susskind is clearly for developing some rules and regulations. He points out that moral standards based on societal values should guide development of these rules and regulations. In his discussions, the author points out how laws should be contextual. But details of what contextual means will be contested. Therefore, he says that exceptions should be clearly defined. This is where Jamie Susskind’s ideas triggered my thoughts on Dharma and how the principles of dharma include context, exceptions and rules for what those exceptions are.

Jamie Susskind also points out that moral standards and exceptions must come out of democratic deliberation by people who are affected (users of technology) and cannot be left to the corporations or politicians. The rules should not be solely for profits, feasibility, and ease of implementation. As David Attenborough pointed out People and the Planet should also be included in the equations, in addition to Profit. (He called it P, P and P).

When I thought about Dharma after reading the book, I realized that the following questions must be answered before developing and implementing laws, if they are meant to be fair, relevant, and practical. 

Does the law reflect societal values? This means participation by the public, which in turn requires a forum to express, freedom to express and public debate conducted in civility. In other words, ethical and moral values cherished by the society should be the guide in a democratic society. 

Is the law contextual? This requires revisiting it periodically, as context changes. As the semanticists will say “You cannot drive in a new territory with old maps".

 Is the law reasonably flexible and allow conditions for exceptions? Yes, not twisted like a pretzel beyond recognition but flexible to suit the specific situation. In other words, there should be agreed-on provisions for exceptions as had been suggested by Jamie Susskind in his recent book on The Digital Republic and by Prof. Gert in his book on Morality: A New Justification of the Moral Rules (Oxford University Press, 1988). The public should be involved in making the conditions under which the rules may be broken. 

What are the mechanisms to enforce the law?  

Will the law be enforced without "fear or favor"? 

 I suggest an additional layer of consultation and discourse in developing societal values as I had written in my essay on Cabinet of Collective Conscience on January 29, 2013 (http://wwwtimeforthought.net). The summary of that essay is that every head of a nation may wish to consult with members of a Cabinet of Collective Consciousness of the people of the nation. This should be a triumvirate made of a trusted person who is considered best in expressing the moral voice of the nation, a respected poet and a humorist, someone who can look at the foibles of the people and of the leaders and express them with civility and humor (harmless satire, court jester).  (Concluded)

 

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Dharma for the 21st century (revisited) - 1

     I have always felt that morality should be more important than legality and that moral standards are needed to guide legal restraints.  I wrote about developing new set of moral values and ethical standards for the 21st century and applied the well-established Sanskrit word Dharma for defining them. (http://www.timeforthought.net, June 16, 2009) Later, I made it part of my book on Our Shared Sacred Space. A book I am reading currently (The Digital Republic by Jamie Susskind) stimulated me to update this idea.

Early societies functioned basically on moral values appropriate for the conditions of the societies in which they developed. Since the groups were small, everyone knew everyone else in the group or clan. Since the safety and welfare depended on everyone doing his or her “duties” properly without cheating, and the cheaters and disturbers of peace could be identified easily and ostracized immediately, there was no need for “laws”.

Laws came later when the groups became larger, jobs needed to keep the society functioning became diversified and complicated and particularly when people from outside the group came in as traders, warriors or seeking marital relationships. Before organized religions got established, these were unwritten laws or moral codes. These unwritten laws got codified by religious scholars and became laws sanctioned by religions. Those who broke these laws were ex-communicated or punished.

Written laws became necessary particularly to settle disputes on land, property ownerships, inheritance and bodily injuries.

All human societies have the same basic norms of moral conduct. The Golden Rule is the best example. The focus of this essay is on the Vedic Indian concept of Dharma and how ideas expressed in the book on The Digital Republic have been discussed for centuries in both the East and the West.

The strength of the Dharma concept resides in its foundational principles. Dharma acknowledges that human beings are different in their personalities. Their circumstances are different at different stages of life. Their roles and duties are different depending on their sex and positions in life. They perform different functions at different times in their lives. One rule cannot fit all. Therefore, Dharma allows for variables in setting rules of conduct.

These ideas are expressed in Maha Bharata Book 8, Chapter 69 in the form of a conversation between Lord Krishna and the warrior, Arjuna and later in Book 12 by Bhishma. Krishna points out that it is often difficult to discriminate between what should be done and what should not be in any given situation.  Between keeping one’s words and be truthful and having to kill someone because of that vow, killing is clearly worse. Krishna goes on to say that although truth is a great virtue, there are occasions when falsehood is acceptable as for example when life is in danger, or one is in danger of losing all of one’s property.

After giving some examples, Lord Krishna says: “Wish there is an easy way to know the difference between virtue and sin. Sometimes, scriptures help. But scriptures do not deal with all situations. Sometimes, you can reason it out. Whatever is inoffensive and whatever protects and preserves people is dharma”.

One other feature of the Dharma concept is that it is not rigid, the same for all times. It allows for exceptions to the rule and explains conditions under which assigned rules may be broken. The system also suggests methods to rectify for the lapses.

 Most importantly, the system prioritizes the importance of acceptable virtues. For example, not harming life is more important than telling a lie, if the lie was meant to protect a life. For example, if a helpless girl is running away from someone who is trying to kill her would you not want to help her by protecting her in your house? When the person chasing her comes to your house and asks for her, what is more important – saving a life or lying? Dharma concept says “saving life” takes primacy, by listing ahimsa (non-injury, protecting life) ahead of satyam (truth). 

(to be continued)

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Known, Unknown and beyond both

 Human mind categorizes everything, and categorization is always for a purpose. In general, it is to help understand a thing or a concept or a situation. This results in binary classification most of the time, such as “Black” or “white” and “good” or “bad”. Gradations in between are passed over or “pigeon-holed” into the nearest category. No wonder 0 or 1 algorithm originated with digital technologies created for a purpose.

But the real world is full of “may be” and “shades of gray”. It is more like the quantum world and indefiniteness of atomic particles and probabilities. Eastern traditions are better equipped to deal with uncertainties.

Now I can see that in meditation we are taught to think differently – rather observe things as they really are and not the way our mind categorizes. This kind of thinking will help our mind open to other possibilities such as

 “Life, no life, beyond both life and no life”

“Known, unknown and beyond the known and the unknown”.

“Measurable, unmeasurable, and beyond measurable”. 

“Beyond beginning and end”

“Universal self” in addition to individual life (jivan) and individual self (atman)