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Saturday, January 21, 2023

Realities as I see them and a Closing Statement

 I was thinking about absolute realities of life which I hope most people can agree on. Once they are agreed upon and accepted, it should be possible to develop some guidelines for individual (human) behavior and group (social) behavior. They can also help governments to develop policies conducive to encouragement of stabilizing, helpful behavior of individuals and of groups and organizations and discouragement of harmful and destructive behavior.

Here is a personal view of how we humans are made and behave. 

Our body is made with a neural structure primarily to protect itself and survive.

Therefore, we instinctively are self-centered and tend to compete.

We are endowed with varying level of intelligence and abilities.

Therefore, we tend to fall into different strata of the society.

This is also influenced by the circumstances of our birth, such as geography, socioeconomic conditions etc. of which we had no control. We are products of circumstances of birth.

We are also born with certain inherent abilities and temperaments, strengths, and weaknesses. We come as “a package”.

Given proper external conditions and internal tendencies, all potentialities can be developed in every individual.

We are males or females, white or black, vegetarians or non-vegetarians, speak whatever language we speak not by our choice.

But all of us are humans with the same color of the blood, experience similar vicissitudes in life, deal with same kinds of life’s dilemmas and face the certainty of death.

“Time is unidirectional” and everything changes over time.

We are bound to find ourselves in different positions of power and wealth. Physical and economic inequality is inevitable.

Power and wealth tend to corrupt which often operate to maintain social inequalities.

The powerful will tend to exert their power since basically their mind is made to be selfish, just as everyone’s.

Acceptance of equality in the Sacredness of Life itself, human dignity, and respect for every life is the antidote to such corruption.

Since our neural structure is basically made to behave in selfish mode, and some people will use their position and power to stay in their position of power and deny freedom to the weaker, there must be social controls agreed upon by the public.

There is nothing called absolute freedom. My freedom is always at the expense of lack of freedom for someone else. William Durant pointed out long ago that freedom and equality do not go together. That is one of the fundamental lessons of world history.

Societies will have to develop safeguards against excessive use of power by one group over other by consensus.

Once developed, there must be a mechanism to implement them with impartiality. There must be some “teeth” to the law.

In addition to a neural organization conducive to survival, our neural organization is also endowed with capacity to look inwards, understand the world as is and not what we think it is, nurture others and to develop empathy, compassion, and socialization.

It is possible to learn to actuate our natural abilities to be compassionate, even if not altruistic.

They must be developed by looking deeply at our inner self with honesty and humility and at the outer world with open mind, understanding and compassion. This is spirituality.


A Closing Statement 

Dear Friends,

With sincere gratitude to your support and feedbacks, I wish to sign off today. This will be my farewell to all of you who have been faithful followers of Time for Thought.

I made this decision to stop writing blogs for a few reasons. I enter my ninetieth year of life on this wonderful planet, our shared sacred space. I wish to bid farewell when my body and mind are functioning well. It is better to go out when one is ahead. I do not wish to leave someone else to clean up after me by waiting too long. It is also better to “let go” of things at this stage in life.

 I also found myself rehashing the same ideas in different forms. I have shared already whatever ideas I wanted to share. There is nothing new I wish to write about. You might have also noted that a I have made books out of these “blogs” and have conducted courses based on these “blogs”. There is one more book to come.

I cannot close these “blogs” without remembering Ramaa, my soulmate who was involved in planning this “blog site”, naming it and editing one of the initial posts. That was in 2008.

May you be well. May you be safe. May you be free from suffering.

May you have peace within and harmony with the outside world.

I close with the following Prayer for Universal Welfare. (Garuda Purana Uttara khanda chapter 35 Verse 51 is reported to be the source although I could not verify this source).

सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु मा कश्चित् दु­ह्खवान् भवॆत्

May everyone be well; May everyone be free of ailments; May everyone be safe; May everyone be free from suffering.

Thank you all.                                   Balu

P.S.  Although I will not post any new material, this site will remain open at least till the end of this year.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Subjective and Objective Classification of the Five Elements


From the objective point of view, this world is made of earth, water, fire, air, and space (which includes time) according to the Samkhya philosophy. These are classified as panca bhutas – five gross elements. What I missed was that this system looked at the world from subjective point of view also. We can perceive only what our sense organs can recognize. That includes sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Therefore, the classification includes gross elements as emanating from these five principles, which are called panca tanmatras.

The panca bhutas or gross elements are evolutions of the panca tanmatras, which are subtle.  Panca tanmatras carry or the source of the sensations which are perceived by the sense organs and made known to the mind and through the mind to the consciousness.

Starting with space (akasha) considered to be the first gross evolute, it is apprehended by its characteristic which is vibration or sound, and the corresponding organ is the ear. Next comes air (vayu) with its characteristic of contact which is apprehended by touch and its corresponding organ skin. Then comes fire (agni) which can be seen with a form and color.  The corresponding organ is the eye. Water is (apaha) the next gross element whose characteristic is fluidity, and which can carry taste. The tongue is the corresponding organ. Finally comes smell and its corresponding gross element the earth (prithvi).

Mind is given a special place as another sense organ since it is needed to perceive the messages coming through the sense organs. Beyond these are the sense of self/ego and then buddhi or awareness. Interestingly, consciousness is considered as separate from all the other faculties of the mind because without it we will not be aware of this world, or our lives or our mind. Consciousness is the subject, witness, and illuminator.

It is important to note that the five sense organs mentioned above are drawn towards the external world by nature. The mind has to control these pulls before it can turn inwards.

A related point is that controlling the senses and controlling the sense of ego and possessions (I, Me, and Mine) are considered essential steps in meditation and spiritual enlightenment according to the Indian and Buddhist philosophies.

A similar idea is expressed in Christian writings also. Kierkegaard says that one has to reach a state of despair in one’s spiritual struggle to destroy one’s ego. Only then can one find God. This is not much different from the Indian point of view – one must destroy ego before inner realization.

It is interesting that the Upanishads, which preceded the Samkhya philosophy, mention only three (and not five) elements as fundamental. However, all later writings including Bhagavad Gita, Vedanta and the puranas seem to have accepted the five elements of Samkhya system as their foundation.

Vedic texts start by saying that in the beginning there was only One, one without a second.  Going further, to explain how that One became many, Prasna Upanishjad (1:4) and Satapata Brahmana 2:2:4:1 say that the One desired progeny. This suggests that a desire was born in that One. Desire is a thought and obviously thought is essential before something can be created! Thus starts the chicken-egg dilemma.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Apparent Reality and Absolute Reality

 The words parikalpita svabhava in Thich Naht Hanh’s book on Transformation at the Base triggered several related words in my mind. The words parikalpita svabhava mean “constructed nature”. In other words, they are thoughts constructed by the mind to understand the object as perceived and not the object “as is”. The object “as is” is svabhava.

Human mind is made so it can understand the world in which the carrier of the mind, be he or she, lives. It does so by abstracting the messages received through different sensory modalities, categorize them to suit its needs and make sense of it. It is the way it is made to function. It cannot help doing so. It needs training to function differently, and it can be trained.

Scientific thinking takes this process to the extreme. It defines everything it sees, makes subsections of the object, and categorize those parts, and studies each part. As Anil Seth points out in his book on Being you, the goal of science is to Explain, Predict and Control. In the process, science divides the whole into parts, gives us a whole lot of rose petals but the rose is gone. Science finds it difficult to make a whole out of the parts.

To understand the whole is to understand the svabhava. Reason cannot get there. As Professor Nagel pointed out, you have to be a bat to know what it feels like to be a bat. That requires going beyond dualities and multiplicities with humility, intuition, and imagination.

If this phenomenal world of multiplicities is called mithya (apparent reality) as Adi Sankara did, the spiritual world of wholeness is the nithya (reality as is). What we see is sathyam, truth as we see it or parivikalpa svabhava and we need to see the rhytam or nibbana svabhava. Some spiritual texts, particularly advaita and Zen, say that it is possible to relate to the “truth as is” through meditation.

As I understand, the Advaita method suggests meditation on the oneness of atman (individual, apparent) and brahman (universal, real) and merging with the One. To me, this means letting go of this phenomenal world.

Buddhism suggests the method of meditation on their interdependence (paratantra). To me, this means living in this phenomenal world with full awakening and awareness.