The word Charity is Uncharitable!

The week beginning October 2nd is being celebrated as Daan Utsav or the joy of giving week. I’m firmly against the expression giving or charity. We have a duty towards every being – conscious or unconscious. This includes plants, rivers, oceans, mountains etc. A father has a duty to his children and that becomes the right of the children. A husband has a duty towards his wife and that in turn becomes her right and vice versa. As a member of the society, everyone has a duty towards other fellow members who are in misery and that becomes the right of the latter. Simply put, one man’s duty is the other man’s right.

The entire universe is interdependent. We’re all constantly giving and taking help from each other. Viewed in this perspective, the word giving or charity is uncharitable. A more appropriate expression would be giving back since life is a continuous process of giving and taking.

Consider nature and the interdependence of flowers and insects. Bees / insects / moths help pollinate the flowers by carrying pollen from one flower to another of the same species (pollination helps to propagate its species). In return, certain species of flowers treat the insects with nectar or honey.
This can be interpreted as insects domesticating the flowers to produce honey for them or flowers exploiting insects for propagation. One can not separate the cause from the effect. It’s a win-win situation for insects as well as flowers. No one can say who is the giver and who is the recipient. Flowers can not walk and bees can not manufacture honey. Therefore the two need each other’s services for survival and propagation of their species. And how does one explain this intelligent behaviour? It is a brilliant strategy developed over millions of years of ‘Evolutionary intelligence’. This intelligence is obviously superior to ‘acquired intelligence’ of human beings. The latter depends upon logic, competition and ego. On the other hand, evolutionary intelligence has just one objective – that is to find various genetic modifications (by trial and error)and select the one most suited for survival and propagation of its species. It does not care who else is benefiting in the process.

It’s a fact that all giving is giving back. People who are successful in life receive a lot in abundance from the society and at some point they have to start giving back. Giving may be charity but giving back is a duty! Interestingly, in every giving there is receiving. When you give something of value to someone, the person receiving is in turn giving you an opportunity to grow as a human being!

Therefore, let us celebrate the upcoming joy of giving week as the joy of giving back week!

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Published in: on September 26, 2015 at 11:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Power of Words

Confucius, the famous Chinese philosopher of 6th century BC,  was once asked what he would do on priority if he were to become the ruler of the empire. He gave a reply which baffled everyone. He said: I’ll rectify the names for things.

At first sight, this sounded as trivial as our politicians renaming cities and street names. I understood the significance of this statement when I read a book by Steven Poole titled ‘Unspeak – words are weapons’. This book gives a great insight into how we get biased conditioned by words used by politicians and Multinational businessmen. Here are a few interesting examples of the power of words over us:

All of us have heard of Global warming. This word coined by scientists caused a lot of inconvenience to politicians and businessmen with vested interests in huge oil businesses. This lobby managed to rephrase the problem with a less intimidating expression ‘Climate change’. This successful rewording of the challenge justified virtual inaction on mitigation of global warming by reducing oil consumption.

Consider another controversy on Genetically engineered agricultural produce. American Multinational companies like Monsanto have a lot at stake in these dubious technologies with unproven safety. Inspired by these powerful lobbies, politicians managed to neutralize the negative connotation of the word ‘genetically engineered food’ using innocuous descriptions for these foods. Genetically engineered food was changed to a neutral description ‘genetically modified’ in the first instance which later became to a more desirable ‘Biotechnology foods’. The first change gave an impression to the layman that only a slight harmless tinkering was done while the second change seemed to imply even a beneficial effect of such foods.

In a similar fashion, if the arguments legalizing abolition were termed Pro-choice, the arguments against were termed Pro-life. It’s very easy to confuse issues for the layman by clever usage of words. For instance how can anybody be against life?

In the recent past the dirty words ‘Genocide’ was replaced by a more moralistic expression  ‘ethnic cleaning’. ‘War on terror’ was replaced by ‘Global struggle against violent extremism’. War on something appears unilateral and expresses one’s aggressiveness whereas the word ‘struggle’ has a sense of built-in righteousness.

In India we have politicians using terms like War on poverty, war on corruption, war on black marketing etc – what do they mean? Nothing much, if you look at them closely. By declaring war on inanimate objects, one loses focus on the real offenders. That is why we see so many criminals getting away without punishment. And Governments are fighting these wars indefinitely for over 4 decades! These are open-ended wars which we continue fighting without punishing the corrupt people, black marketeers or politicians.

Consider further the words like ‘Executive’, ‘Chief executive’, ‘Captains of industries’. All these are words of business and commerce  borrowed from the war industry . The use of the expression ‘Human resources’ for human beings meant that a set of men could be looked upon as any other resource like a machine and so can be ‘fired’. Likewise the term ‘launching a product’ gives one images of a rocket launch.  In other words, one is encouraged to look upon business as a warfare, no holds barred.

So, the great Chinese philosopher is right, after all, in saying that he would give priority to rectification of names for things. To quote the great philosopher: When the names for things are incorrect, speech does not sound reasonable; when speech doesn’t sound reasonable,things are not done properly; when things are not done properly, structure of the society is harmed; when the structure of  society is harmed, punishments do not fit crimes; and when punishments do not fit crimes, people do not know what to do.  The thing about the gentleman is that he is anything but casual where speech is concerned.”  What a great insight!

 

Published in: on October 12, 2014 at 10:39 am  Comments (2)  
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Random thoughts on the Independence Day

Today, on the day of Independence, one thought kept coming to me. Why is it that we have so much evil around? It appears there is no clear or convincing answer to this. A similar question was put to Ramakrishna Paramahansa in a slightly different way – Why did God create evil to coexist with good. Ramakrishna  paramahamsa is believed to have said: “To thicken the plot”! Or to make it interesting and mysterious. I am not sure whether he really said this or it was attributed to him. Basically there are no answers to such questions. A more relevant question would be what should we be doing to combat evil. I was having a friendly chat with a close friend of mine. In this piece I  will try to summarize our conversation:

My friend: Our scriptures do not seem to offer clear answers to this. We are invariably told there will be divine intervention when there are excesses committed beyond a point.

I said: I think it is a partial view of our scriptures

My friend: Well, if there is no divine intervention, Karma theory always comes in handy to explain away everything.  As a solace to the victims, we are told that the evil doer will reap the effects of his bad karma when the time is ripe. Amazingly, though, our scriptures are completely silent on whether or not  one should take the evil doer head on.

Surprised, I asked : Can you elaborate on this?

My friend: Consider, for instance, the following Upanishadic Shanti Mantra:

Om Bhadram Karnnebhih Shrnnuyaama Devaah |
Bhadram Pashyema-Akssabhir-Yajatraah |
Sthirair-Anggais-Tussttuvaagasas-Tanuubhih |
Vyashema Devahitam Yad-Aayuh |

It is an invocation seeking His blessings to make sure that we should hear or see only auspicious things. This echoes the proverbial principle depicted by three mystic apes in ancient Japan(or is it China?)  – SEE NO EVIL – HEAR NO EVIL – SPEAK NO EVIL – DO NO EVIL!  While one may entertain such wishful or fanciful thinking, how is it practically possible in today’s world which is full of violence, crime and corruption. We are bound to see or hear evil. Our scriptures do NOT tell us what we should do if we see or hear evil. Are we expected to close our eyes and ears and turn the other way?

I asked naively: Are you sure that is what our scriptures preach?

My friend: Yes, of course. Our scriptures are a prescription for inaction. No wonder, we are ill-equipped to handle such issues in a morally convincing way. Even if someone ventures to do something in retaliation, a sage advice given to him is –  KEEP AWAY FROM UNRULY ELEMENTS – (or  DUSHATANA KANDA DOORA VELANGU in Tamil) .

I told my friend: You are completely wrong in your reading of our scriptures. Look at what Bhagavadgita says. In the middle of a battle field when Arjuna faced an emotional crisis similar to the one that all of us are facing today, the Lord exhorts him to act. Gita is emphatic about the need to act, especially in times of crisis.

I continued: We justify our inaction quoting scriptures out of context. It is basically our fear, insecurity and above all selfishness which is the cause of our inaction. The middle class has made most of the gains during our great economic recovery in the past 2 decades and now they cannot afford to lose all they have gained painstakingly in the name of taking bold and adventurous steps.

My friend said: What do you mean, we are all selfish? Aren’t we patriotic? We are straightforward in our dealings. We pay our taxes. We even pay donations to NGOs. We talk against the corrupt establishments. We analyze issues threadbare. We write about them. What else can be done?

I said:  What will you do if your house is on fire, for instance? You will act instantly to douse the fire, right? You will not waste time analyzing questions like how it happened, who was responsible for it and so on and so forth. Most of our debates are focussed on criticizing the corrupt system and bad governance. There is hardly any debate about what the educated middle class ought to do collectively to take on the corrupt system. Let us face it. The root cause of our inaction is plain selfishness – nothing more, nothing less. How nicely we mask this and glorify it as patriotism?

PS: In case you are curious to know who this funny friend of mine is, he is none other than my  MIND, which is forever justifying inaction in different ways. Sometimes I wonder whether it is my friend or an enemy! Great are the guys who win this battle with their petty and selfish minds.

Published in: on August 15, 2013 at 4:25 pm  Comments (1)  
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Why Can’t we learn from others’ blunders?

Recently I came across an incredible corporate story from the US. Can you believe that an ex-Walmart business strategist Andy Ruben joined hands with a Walmart critic and environmental activist Adam Warbatch to set up a new venture with the sole purpose of reducing purchase of goods and materials worth 200billion USD annually? A company, Yerdle,  was floated in San Francisco in November,2012. Here is how it would work. You log in through Face Book to enter a well-designed marketplace carrying photos of items your friends and friends’ friends would like to sell or rent for free. That is, before making a new purchase, you would check out at YERDLE. YERDLE would offer their services to coordinate and ship out items on payment of a fee.

The saving of $200 billion is an estimate of the percentage of the $1 trillion in durable retail goods purchased in the U.S. each year.

So, you save money as well as reduce waste by sharing and reusing goods. This is a typical “Sharing Economy”. I believe this concept is catching on in the US as a number of startups like YERDLE are being planned.

Clearly, in the west there is a growing realization that they have taken a wrong route to civilization. Sometimes, in their enthusiasm to reverse the trend in life styles, the Americans overreact and resort to rather bizarre experiments in extreme living. For instance I read somewhere that certain American communities are committed to what they call Paleodiet. Paleodiet is the diet of paleolithics or the hunter-gatherers (ancient cavemen), who lived for more than 2 million years untill the onset of agriculture about 10000 years ago. The diet would consist of meats, fish, fresh fruits, veggies, Nuts and exclude all cereals, refined salt & sugar and dairy products. The modern scientific view is, of course, against the diet because we are not identical to our Paleolithic predecessors. While such extreme ideas are certainly not desirable, the experiment on the lines of YERDLE is surely compatible with our traditional culture of sharing and caring. Unfortunately, though, we are blindly aping the West in everything that we do. We are happy to follow the white men whose standard of living and life style is judged by how much he consumes. The more you consume or waste, the merrier for the likes of Walmart.

Even people from the West are shocked by our new culture of excessive consumption. Recently, one French woman and an environmental activist visited India to participate in Sustainability Summit. She was surprised to find that every YUPPIE(Young Urban Professional) in India is focused  on buying a car. She further added that in Paris, where she lives, most of her friends including herself do not own a car. Owning a car is such a hassle in metros like Paris. In Mumbai, where I live, the norm is to own 2 cars per family. If you have 2 cars – one SUV and one small car – you have arrived. Having one car may be justified considering the state of our public transport. But two cars? It beats all logic in a metro where there are no parking lots. Traffic congestion and bad  roads only add to our woes.

The situation is even worse if we look into our Mall culture. Consider the following statistics, for instance. In spite of  the slump in our economy, the number of malls has doubled during the past 5 years and the mall areas are becoming bigger and bigger. The logic of the mall developers is to bring all retail brands under one roof.

Is this Choice or over-choice? In the book titled PARADOX OF CHOICE – WHY MORE IS LESS, the author argues forcefully how over-choice can lead to depression and loneliness. He says – there are too many choices, too many decisions and too little time to do what is really important!

Choices give one a false sense of well-being and happiness. As an analogy consider the late 1990s science fiction thriller THE MATRIX,  This film is about humans who are enslaved by machines  but made to believe they are free under the influence of an artificially created  virtual reality. Extending the analogy of the film, I think the malls are creating the illusion of freedom by giving us unlimited choices under one roof but are actually enslaving us. They create bondage by getting us addicted to walking around malls, create desires for unwanted luxuries, and condition us to do impulse buying. We eventually get mal-adjusted to the mal-content resulting in mal-functioning! What is the solution to the mal-ady? Very simple. The answer lies in going back to our roots, our good old tradition of simple living and great thinking!

Published in: on August 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On Simple Living

Recently I wrote a blog in my other Blogging Site on World Oil Supply and Consumption Patterns. This has  interesting statistics comparing developed countries with the developing countries. Without going into too many details, I will just give you some startling figures relevant to this Post. Given below are the per capita consumption of  Oil in 2010:

USA: 22.6 BPA(Barrels per annum)

EU: 15.4 BPA

China: 2.5 BPA

India: 1 BPA approx

Look at the gap in consumption levels. Isn’t it startling?  It reflects the fundamental differences in lifestyles, cultures and societal values. The western civilization is built on excessive greed, exploitation and wasteful uses of energy. It can be easily proved that most of the consumption in America is discretionary in nature and for mere pleasures. In contrast the developing world is struggling to use oil for their very basic development needs to feed their poor. The history of Greed of the American Oil Entrepreneurs dates back to the year 1750. American traders chased and hunted Whales in deep Sea for the sake of the whale oil. Whales were killed to extract oil and wax for lighting up candles and illuminating streets in America. The result was  that Whales  almost became extinct. This madness continued until  Edison came up with his invention of the electrical light bulb around 1880 and mercifully whales survived as a species.

American thirst and greed for energy did not stop at that. The dreams of cheap oil were ignited by  the discoveries of  Oil in Texas (the famous Spindletop) and later in Pennylvania. The subsequent stories of  how America and  Britain exploited Arab Oil by creating division in the Middle East is all too familiar.

The problem is that an entire civilization has been built on wasteful use of energy. Now any attempt to reverse this will be painfully slow and cause tremendous economic and social misery. Entire society got addicted to a lifestyle based on wasteful consumption of everything including energy.

Thanks to this greed, today the world is facing two major crises – one relating to global warming and the other related to dwindling oil supplies. How are the Americans reacting to it? They have used more advanced technologies in the recent years and discovered cheap sources of Natural Gas called  ‘Shale gas & oil’. The technology to extract gas from Shale Sand is known as HYDRO FRACKING, which I have described in some detail elsewhere. What are the consequences? No One knows how it is going to affect natural resources like water. So many chemicals are being used in FRACKING without much knowledge of consequences on ground water pollution and ecological damage.

Unfortunately, the developing countries are also falling into the same trap by following the western model of development. By all means we must use technologies. But this should be  only to serve our basic needs. Ultimately there is no substitute for Simple Living, advocated by our scriptures !

Published in: on September 16, 2012 at 10:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Kaala Dharma

Here is an interesting story about kaala dharma that I heard on a TV channel (you will not find this in any standard text of Mahabharata):

During Yudhishtira’s rule in Hastinapur, 2 people ( a farmer & a landlord) came to his palace to resolve a dispute. The dispute revolved around a piece of land.  As the story goes, the land was given on lease to the farmer for cultivation for one year. While ploughing the land the farmer happened to find a huge treasure of gold and as you would have guessed, that was the reason for the dispute between the two guys. Yudhishtira listened to their story and wanted to know what was the dispute. To his utter surprise, the landlord said:  “Lord, I had given my land on lease to the farmer for one year with all rights on the land during that period. As per our deal I am only entitled to my share of the crop grown on the land. But this guy comes along and hands over the treasure to me saying that it belongs to me. I cannot accept it since whatever is found on the land during the lease period rightfully belongs to the farmer”. Now it was the turn of the farmer to defend himself. The farmer argued : “The land was given to me only for  growing crops – nothing more, nothing less. Whatever else is found buried in the land truly belongs to the landlord”.

Yudhishtira was perplexed and didn’t know how to respond. But at the same time he was very pleased to learn that people of his kingdom were not greedy and led their lives guided by basic principles of dharma. Attempting to resolve the issue, he looked at Krishna for advice. Krishna said:  “Ask them to go back and return after 5 days”.  They left the palace and returned after 5 days to see the king again as instructed.

To Yudhishtira’s surprise, when they returned after 5 days, they were almost at blows with each other. This time around they made a complete 180-degree change in their stand: Landlord insisted that the treasure belonged to him while the farmer was equally adamant that he was the true owner of the treasure of gold, since he found it during the lease period.

Yudhishtira was pained at the sad turn of events and again sought the advice of Krishna. Krishna replied:  “Kaliyuga is fast approaching – just 5 days away. Both the guys are already getting influenced by the approaching new ‘yuga’.  Once  Kaliyuga arrives, they won’t even come to you to resolve the dispute. They will be taking Law / Dharma into their hands. Therefore, it is time for both of us to pack up and go”.

This is a story dealing with kaala dharma and tells us how time influences our behaviour and our views of what is right and what is wrong.

One might wonder what is the relevance of this story in today’s world? Does it mean that one has to tune one’s principles of life according to times? I am not so sure. While certain basic values such as Honesty, Integrity, Truth, Non-violence, Love, Compassion are not negotiable, I am not so sure about certain other virtues like Modesty, needless sacrifice, selflessness (at all times), charity (at all times and places), forgetting & forgiving those who have committed grave harm etc. I guess the validity or applicability of these virtues will depend heavily on situations and circumstances.

P.S:  I would invite reader’s views on the last paragraph.

Published in: on July 8, 2012 at 3:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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Economic downturn and lessons in value based living

Quite a lot has been written about the present economic downturn,its causes,consequences,the brighter side of it etc. Everyone is unanimous in the opinion that it is going to inflict tremendous pain to millions of people. The rich will see significant erosion of their riches while the poor will become poorer and eventually suffer the most due to loss of jobs,homes,poor health care or even insufficient food and so on.
In a crisis like this,the onus of making a smooth transition into a more viable future squarely lies with the rich and prosperous businessmen, industrialists and of course the governments. It will necessarily be a tight rope walk on the part of these men because on the one hand they have to keep their enterprises afloat (which will require tremendous cost reduction) and on the other hand ensure that the measures they take will inflict the least pain to the people who depend on them. This will require very innovative solutions and equally importantly a fundamental shift in our value system. Otherwise the transition is guaranteed to be extremely painful for everyone of us.

When we look for lessons in values in life, we will be invariably drawn into a study of our scriptures,which are the obvious sources of rich values. To illustrate this point I have taken a few ‘slokas’ from our scriptures as examples.

Let us first explore the meaning of a couple of Upanishadic Shanti Mantras.
One of the popular Shanti mantras is:

“Sahanavavatu Sahanau bhunaktu saha viryam karvaavahai tejasvi navadheeta mastu ma vidvishavahai, Om Shanti Shanti Shantih ”

It translates as: “Together may He protect us.Together may He possess us. Together may we make unto us strength and virility. May what we have studied be full of light and power to us. May we never hate”.

To eloborate,a teacher of the Upanishads,in those days would invariably begin his teachings with a Shanti Mantra like the one quoted above. This particular mantra invokes the blessings of the Almighty and the blessings are sought for all the human beings – not for a selective few chanting the mantra. And what are the blessings for? It is for learning and getting enlightened together. It is for strength and virility for all. It is for divine grace and protection for everyone of us and finally it is also for His blessings to all to follow the path of non-hatred (‘ma vidvishavahai)’). The intentions of the teacher can be at once seen to be noble as it prays and seeks the wellness of the entire humanity.
And isn’t it pretty much similar to our economists and statesmen talking about ‘inclusive growth’ which has the objective of distributing the benefits of economic progress even to the poorest of the poor?
Let us analyse another well known Shanti mantra ” Bhadram karne bhih—-“. This mantra is full of suggestions for us all ‘to hear ,see and utter only auspicious things’. This is an exhortation to one and all to put to use all our God given resources in a highly positive manner instead of wasting them on meaningless sqabbling and rumour-mongering.

These two mantras basically set the tone and the framework within which all our activities and actions have to be undertaken. These values are for all times and occasions and particularly relevant to the present global crisis.
The present day leaders have to ensure that their policies benefit all sections of the society. They should declare this intent in their policy statements.

More specifically,our sciptures also define and prescribe the criteria for right action. I wil quote a sloka from Bhagavadgita to illustrate the point. In Ch 3 Lord Krishna talks at length about ‘Yajna’,which may be translated as Sacrifice. Swami Chinmayananda gives a brilliant interpretation (to Sloka #12 of Chapter 3 of Bhagavadgita),which is relevant to the present day. The sloka is:
“Ishtaan bhogaan hi deva daasyante yajna bhaavitaah.tair dattan aparadayai bhyo Bhunkte stena evatah”.
Literal translation is: “The devas nourished by the sacrifice will give you the desired objects. Indeed those who enjoy objects given by ‘devas’ without ‘offering’ is verily a thief “.
The sloka is explained by Swamiji thus : A member of a society who consumes without producing is a liability to the nation and should be deemed a thief.
This outright condemnation of selfish people in such strong terms is indeed highly significant in the context of the present crisis. The mega corporations and the men behind those corporations responsible for causing the present global crisis deserve to be condemned in such strong terms.

Proceeding further with the ‘sloka’ under discussion,the words ‘Deva’ and ‘Yajna’ are given very special interpretation. ‘Yajna’ is defined as “any self sacrificing work undertaken in a spirit of self-dedication for the blessing of all”.
‘Deva’ or the presiding deity is nothing but the productive potential in a given field. The potential which lies dormant can be invoked only by dedicated and sincere efforts(‘yajna’).

Let us try to apply the concepts behind the words – ‘Deva’ and ‘Yajna’ – for the present situation. We need to examine what is a ‘selfless action’ or sacrifice (‘Yajna’)and what is the productive potential to be realised(referred to as ‘deva’ in the sloka) in today’s context. Some eloboration of this is attempted below:

We all know that more than 2000 billiion US dollars of stimulus package(that is the cumulative figure from across the nations of the world) is being doled out to save the global economy from depression. Now the question arises as to how best this money should be spent.
-Are we going to use it for bailing out undeserving companies who caused the damage in the first place?
-Are we going to use it for subsidising the same old projects responsible for green house gas emissions?
-Are we going to use it on projects related to Green technologies?
-Are we going to use it on Pro-poor policies and projects for rural areas(improving agricultural yields,teaching farmers in the developing world on drought resistant crops etc)?
-Are we going to use the money on much needed basic health care and education infrastructure development?

The revival or stimulus package has got the potential to bring about transformation in any of the above areas. Obviously the first two options are selfish and self serving resulting in huge waste of our resources.

Selfless attitude(or ‘Yajna’ or sacrifice) will require us to spend the stimulaus package on projects of benefit to the disadvantaged and handicapped sections of the population. The last 3 options are typical examples which not only benefit the poor but also can provide employment to millions of people rendered jobless due to the recession.

It looks like the Governments across the globe will have to play a pivotal role in channelising the money for constructive projects of common good. For the first time,perhaps,after
the collapse of the Communist nations,governments of the Capitalist nations are being called upon to play a role wherein they can dictate terms to the private companies on how the money should be spent in accordance with principles of basic morality and social justice.