Business Ethics & Lessons from Ramayana

Yes, Ramayana has a few episodes which may have relevance to business ethics.

First let me narrate the relevant parts of the story from Ramayana which relate to business ethics.

Ravana, in Valmiki Ramayana, received several solicited and unsolicited advice from his kith and kin. Let us see who all dared to advise him on what is morally right:

It was the turn of Maricha to advise Ravana first. When Maricha was ordered to take the form of a golden deer to entice Sita,
he told Ravana in no uncertain terms that the power of Rama is unparallelled and therefore Ravana should simply patch up with the lord to save himself and his race. This advice was given in the background of the severe blows he received from Rama on a different occasion. However, when Ravana gave him an ultimatum, Maricha decided to go ahead and obey his command which ended his life.

However, not all Rakshasas gave him good counsel. Several Rakshasas including Mahodara(a renowned counselor of Ravana), readily supported Ravana glorifying his strength and giving him extraordinary confidence to face and defeat Rama. Vibhishana , on the other hand, had a totally different advice to offer. He talked at length about dharma and Rama’s divinely stature and advised what was the right thing to do for his own sake and for the sake of his race. As Ravana refused to budge and on the contrary rebuked Vibhishana for moralising, the latter had no hesitation in switching sides, though surreptitiously. Vibhishana, in fact, gave away valuable state secrets to the enemy camp!
Kumbhakarna’s response was markedly different and somewhat interesting. When Kumbhakarna woke up from his sleep lasting over months, Ravana explained the background to the situation leading up to Rama’s invasion of Lanka along with Sugriva’s army of monkeys. Kumbhakarna did not mince words and his immediate response was that Ravana ought to have consulted his ministers and close relatives before he abducted Sita, which is an immoral act. Curiously, though, after pointing out his immoral act, he threw in his lot with his elder brother and vowed to defeat Rama.
Clearly one can see a widely diverging viewpoints and advice being offered here.

I am tempted to draw parallels to business ethics in our corporates and the moral dilemma faced by senior executives. I am sure several of us, as senior managers, might have faced such ethical dilemmas wherein the organizations go astray and indulge in unethical and sometimes downright fraudulant methods to make money. Faced with such a situation,the moral dilemma is whether one should conduct oneself like Maricha & Kumbhakarna or like Vibhishana or like Mahodara? One might think the obvious answer is Vibhishana. But I am not too sure. One can readily dismiss Mahodara type of conduct. But it is difficult to support Vibhishana type of behaviour or that of Kumbhkarna or for that matter Mareecha. Vibhishana’s conduct is not above-board because of his secret dealings with Ravana’s enemies. Kumbhakarna condemned Ravana’s unrighteous act but decided to go with him for war against Rama because of a feeling of unquestionable allegiance to Ravana. I think Ramayana does not offer an ideal solution to such a problem. It would have been nice to see someone like Vibhishana with guts to cross over to the enemy camp openly. Perhaps the other great epic Mahabharata with its several intricate plots & counter plots would provide satisfactory answers.

The real dilemma in business arises because of the times we live in. In the present day context, it is hard to believe that any business can be run without resorting to unethical conduct in some degree. If a company deliberately chooses to conduct business unethically (like in the case of Satyam), it is obvious that one should desert the ship if one’s good counsel goes unheeded. On the other hand, in most situations, it would be difficult to apply absolute standards of morality and ethics, given the kind of business compulsions. To take one well-known fact about manufacturing companies, even when a company complies with all regulatory requirements, corrupt factory inspectors have to be bribed to get a clean chit.

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Published in: on July 29, 2017 at 11:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Euphemism Treadmill

It’s said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This is especially true in the context of words and the meanings they convey. Words convey our thoughts. However, very often our thoughts also influence our words and expressions. Euphemism is a great example of how thoughts influence our choice of words. This leads to the so-called euphemism treadmill. On a treadmill, we seem to be making progress as we keep walking but we are indeed staying at the same place without making an inch of progress. So too, words & expressions describing people or events may change without altering the underlying reality.

Here are a few examples:

Last week I attended a conference in Delhi……No, sorry, it was a conclave. Isn’t it something special? One may wonder how a conclave differs from a conference. Conclave, according to dictionary, is a private meeting of a limited number of  people of similar backgrounds. I have attended seminars, workshops, conferences and now a conclave too. I do not see any big difference in any of them. They are all mainly meant for networking besides having a nice time with special lunches and so on. It helps to rejuvenate or recharge yourself as you get away from your daily grind. If conference, conclave, meeting, seminar or workshop mean the same  why do we have so many words? I guess it’s a human tendency to keep inventing new names for the same activity to differentiate oneself from others or other groups.

Our obsession with words and the concepts they convey gets too ridiculous at times. Take, for instance, the word toilet. It became a bathroom to start with, then turned into a wash room and finally a rest room. The expression rest room is even more ridiculous since it’s the last place one would think of for rest or relaxation! It’s our desire to appear sophisticated that makes us come up with an euphemism. But soon the new word gets tainted by what it refers to. Hence the search for yet another euphemism to replace the old one continues. This is an endless process with no net progress.

To take another example, a handicapped person became a disabled person and since this was also not acceptable, it changed to ‘ differently-abled’. This is perhaps well-intentioned. However, I wonder whether it has made any difference to our attitude to the disabled.

Look at the renaming spree of streets by obsessive politicians. It’s laughable. In Chennai, long time back, the government of the day decided to change the names of streets which had caste connotations. For instance, Dr Ranga Chary Road became Dr Ranga Road. But what about Dr Nair Road? Logically, it should become Dr Road, right? Well, mercifully it did not happen and the original name was retained. But I believe Brahmin Street was renamed as Street. I wonder if  it’s a fact. All the efforts at renaming streets has not made any difference to the caste realities and the associated politics.

What was a slum at one time turned into a ghetto which in turn became a more respectable Inner City. Has the reality of people living under subhuman conditions changed? No chance.

A negro has turned into Black American as if to bring parity with white American status. But soon this also became offensive and today they are referred to as African-Americans.

Another euphemism which falls in the same category is the acronym CRY. Originally, the acronym meant Child Rehabilitation & You. It was renamed aptly as Child Rights & You to reflect the sacred rights enshrined in our Constitution.

Politicians, the world over, use euphemisms, to exploit the emotions & sentiments of gullible masses. We are all familiar with George Bush’s infamous descriptions of Saddam Hussein’s stockpile of arms as Weapons of Mass Destruction. Using just one euphemism over and over, he got himself the moral authority to invade Iraq.

In India, as the word Hindutva got tainted, the Hindutva brigade now call themselves nationalists or patriots.

Communism became socialism and then democratic socialism for more respectability. Capitalism, likewise,  became Capitalism with a human face, whatever that meant. This is a clever jargon from Capitalists to give an impression that they are not cornering wealth and exploiting the poor.

Hitler’s genocide of the Jews got a respectable name – Ethnic Cleansing.

Military jargon also keeps changing to dilute truth. For instance what is Friendly fire? What’s so friendly about firing? This expression is used when you want to convey the news of a soldier being killed by his own men. Collateral damage is a nice expression to say that a lot of innocent civilians died when a military action was undertaken.

Is this euphemism Treadmill leading to real change in our cultural & moral attitudes? No chance. It’s a form of self-deception, as evolutionary psychologists say. That’s why the treadmill metaphor is used. On a treadmill, we keep walking briskly without going anywhere.

 

 

 

Published in: on July 22, 2017 at 11:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tales From An Infant

Here’s  our little Shyam(my grandson) telling his tales with pictures:

It’s time to wake up, I guess.

Hey guys, I’m just out of my bed. Give me sometime to start my day.

 

I’m certainly enjoying this cradle, but you cannot tie me down here for too long. There’s a world out there demanding my attention and waiting to be explored.

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Ready, Steady, Go…….

Steady

Go…….

Here I go to explore a largely unexplored world – that’s my mom’s kitchen? Yes, this seems like the most privileged space where they do not allow me. Who are they? They are the vigilantes, the moral brigade. I tried to reach that place several times but each time the vigilantes got active and dragged me back to where I started. But I’m perseverant and on one occasion,  I almost made it. I got hold of the broom lying at the door and started to feel its bristles and even affectionately caressing the dirt adhering to it. Just as I was exploring and before I could put it in my mouth, the moral police noticed it, came running and took me away again to my utter disappointment. This was accompanied by loud laughter and what seemed like some fun at my expense. I didn’t understand why they made so much fuss. And in any case what is so hilarious about stopping me and taking me away from a place I love so much? Don’t I have the right to eat what I love to eat? Killjoys, aren’t they? I made yet another attempt to invade the kitchen and this time I managed to get close to a waste bin. Before I could examine its contents, the vigilantes came running and in one swoop lifted me up and dumped me on a mattress with pillows all around to prevent me from making further attempts.

 

Here’s my Glorious Moment which I cherish. It’s a sweet revenge against the moral brigade led by my grandfather.

For some strange reason, I was allowed to get on top of the dining table on all fours. Do you know what happened next. I had to answer the call of nature and did it right there and then not knowing that will provoke a lot of hullagulla. Having done the job to my heart’s content, I felt relieved. My big sister was the one to notice first and promptly complained to others. There was such a commotion all around that I simply kept gazing at each one of them by turn.

 

Here’s my big Sister all dressed up. Her happy smile shows she must be going out to some interesting place, for sure. I go close to her and look at her in awe and admiration as she walks out of the door in her cute dress:

 

 

Here I’m in a tearing hurry. In case you wonder what is my business, let me tell you it’s an important mission. I was in a hurry to tear away the newspapers which were lying within my reach. I love it so much. I like the sound the newspapers make when I hold in hand and wave in the air. As I hold the paper in both hands and keep waving, the paper first gets crumpled and I love that crumpled look so much. As I get more violent with the paper it gets torn making a noise which is musical to my ears. But then, do you think they would allow me to continue to do this? No way, the brigade got active again. They snatched the paper away from my hands and made hand gestures at me as if to tell: don’t you dare do it again.

Well, that’s disappointing as you can see me in the picture below with a grumpy face:

 

 

I completely relished this –  my replay of DANGAl with my sister as the victim:

Can you see my triumphant, celebratory smile?

 

I love my train ride, don’t I? Here’s the proof.

 

 

Published in: on July 1, 2017 at 11:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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On My Recent Trip to Europe

I was in Germany and Italy last week on a business trip. Was it hectic? No, far from it. We had just one meeting per day and the rest of the day was spent on travel, finding the hotel we were booked in and exploring for right places to eat for survival. All this, of course, takes a physical and mental toll.

Between the two countries Germany & Italy – the latter is easily the more likeable. In Italy, Indians would certainly feel at home. They are warm, friendly, chatty, and very lively people. In general, one finds lots of similarities between Indians and Italians. At times they are so noisy chatting, joking, laughing, giggling like school kids that it becomes difficult to conduct meetings. At one point of time,  the convener of our technical meeting had to intervene to bring them back to sanity. He said jokingly: “Our organization has a guideline for conducting meetings. Do not ever attempt to conduct a meeting if you find two Italians sitting side by side”. They got the message and it seemed to work at least for that session!

In Italy I travelled to Rome, Naples and Milan on business. I did not have the luxury of time to do any sight-seeing. However, only in Rome, we found time one evening to visit the famous Coliseum(pronounced as collaseo in Italian)which is part of ancient Roman ruins. This was constructed by Roman Engineers in the 1st century AD and is famous for its intricate engineering structure . It’s basically an amphitheatre built for the purpose of entertainment to Roman emperors and the public. Here are some pics of the place:

 

 

 

 

 

Can you see in the 4th picture above how wonderfully the stones are stabilized below the roof? The stones were set without mortar. They were held together and stabilized by an interesting interlocking mechanism.

The coliseum had a huge arena where the gladiators would play dangerous sports with wild animals like elephants, baby lions, leopards, rhinoceros etc. Battles & hunts were staged on the arena. The arena covered the elaborate underground structures where the animals were caged. The animals and the gladiators would get on to the arena from the tunnels underground before the show began. Criminals condemned to death were also thrown into the arena naked and without arms as the wild animals would literally tear them to pieces. The theatre had a capacity to seat  close to 80,000 spectators. (The coliseum, today, is a major tourist attraction in Rome. The last two pictures above are not part of coliseum. They are part of ancient ruins surrounding Coliseum).

On the last day of my trip, we went to Naples to meet a customer. We finished our business meeting in the morning and had plenty of time for lunch. In Naples do as the local Neapolitans do, right? What do they do? Eat pizzas – Neapolitan Pizzas, as they are called in Naples, are perhaps the most authentic. We managed to find one of the top 10 pizza places in Naples – Sorbillo Pizzeria. Pizza making is no ordinary art, as you would know. I believe the pizza making dough is prepared a day before to make sure the yeast does its job of making it fluffy overnight. This ensures the pizza is soft and light when cooked in special wood burning oven. For sure that place stood up to its reputation. That was easily the best Pizza experience I had. The soft Pizza base with the melted & mouth-watering mozzarella cheese on top and the special toppings of green peppers, onions, black olives – all made it a special experience. It was smooth, tasty and quite sumptuous. If you take one such pizza for lunch, you don’t need any other meal for the rest of the day. Sure, it packs a lot of calories. But who cares, especially when you are hungry and you know the place is famous for pizzas.

I must make a special mention of Italian coffee too. The coffee I got in Italy was far superior to that in Germany or the famous filter coffee we get back in India. Everything about the coffee was perfect. The aroma, the taste, the appearance of smooth, thick & shiny foam added up to one of the finest  experiences with coffee. Note that there should be no visible bubbles as one sees in a typical south indian coffee. It’s a combination of technique and coffee formulation, I suppose. I would rank Italian coffee among the best in the world. So, coffee lovers, if ever you get an opportunity to taste Italian coffee, do not miss it.

My idea of a perfect day would be a traditional South Indian breakfast with Italian coffee and for lunch a super sized Neapolitan pizza . One can then skip dinner or have some simple soup and go to bed.

Published in: on June 25, 2017 at 10:56 pm  Comments (2)  

A Holiday in Horsley Hills

Have you ever heard of this charming little hill station in Andhra Pradesh? It’s​ unlikely unless you’re​ living in Tirupati or Chittore district.  I never heard about this hill resort till I googled for info on hill stations in Andhra Pradesh. I was planning a summer get-away with my folks and considered the usual places like Ooty and Kodai at first. I soon realised that these popular tourist destinations are crowded and too far away from Tirupati requiring good planning well in advance. Therefore I decided in favour of a lesser known place Horsley Hills and made an online booking without even making enquiries about the place. When I later read the reviews, they were not encouraging at all. I gathered that May end is the very fag-end of the tourist season for this hill station . Desperately looking for some favorable news about the place we were going to visit, I inquired with a neighbour who knows the place well. But he didn’t say anything different. He said it’s as warm as Tirupati in summer.  I, therefore, forewarned my folks not to expect any great hill-station experience. I let them understand that we should be happy if there is no heat wave on the hills as in Tirupati or Chennai. With this background and toning down our expectations, we set out on our journey on one not so fine, warm day. We booked a well maintained Innova for our journey making sure the AC of the vehicle is in good working condition. That was a relief as we had a comfortable journey in spite of heat wave conditions on the way.

Travel always brings surprises – some pleasant and some unpleasant. In fact this unpredictability is what drives people to travel, I suppose. The first surprise was our stopover for tea. We stopped at a Rajasthani Dhaba for a much-needed tea break. Looking at the place and the ambiance, we did not expect the tea to be of any quality. To our pleasant surprise, though, the tea was excellent and beyond expectations. I would rank that tea on par or even better than what one would get in a decent 3-star hotel.

More surprises were in store for us as we reached our destination well before sunset. The place, it turned out, was much cooler than we expected. It was heavenly indeed. The guesthouse which is named as the Governor bungalow lived up to its name. Everything about the bungalow is posh – the size, the greenery around, huge corridors, clean & spacious rooms etc. I would highly recommend this bungalow for anyone planning a trip to this place. The huge corridors and a spacious sit-out made sure there was enough space to move around. This is especially important when one is travelling with kids. Besides, to our luck, there were hardly any other guests in the Bungalow which meant that we had the entire building at our disposal with an attender to take care of us. The only complaint we had for the bungalow was that the maintenance of the place was not up to the mark.

The sit-out was extremely cool as there was incessant breeze blowing across.  This was accompanied by a constant roar of the whistling wild winds making us wonder whether we were anywhere close to a seashore. It was an exhilarating experience especially because we were coming from Tirupati which was like a hot oven during this time of the year.

The following day we visited all the splendid view points. Here are a few pictures of the viewpoints:

I would venture to say that the view of the valleys and mountains around are comparable in their majesty with what one sees in Ooty or Kodai.

When we were not sightseeing, we had plenty of entertainment. My  7-month old grandson was our chief entertainer. He kept us company during his entire wakeful hours. Inspired, perhaps, by the ambiance, he showed splendid perseverance and picked up the technique of crawling for the first time even as we kept applauding. Here are a few pics of him entertaining us:

On the whole, the trip was memorable​ in several respects –  majestic viewpoints typical of any hill-station, a pleasant ambience with green vegetation all  around, a great bungalow to stay and finally a great entertainment centred around my grandson.

On the flip side, food was not up to the mark. As there was very little choice, we had to completely depend on the food served by the restaurant managed by the AP Tourism department. Needless to add it was lousy.

Published in: on June 7, 2017 at 12:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Smile that can make the day

Here’s​ my six months’ old grandson with a beaming smile without any provocation. (Click on the link below)

https://youtu.be/ObztIc5rV04

While smiling he looks at you fully focused and completely​ absorbed in the act. He invites a smile back and you have no choice but to oblige. You smile back as he gets even more ecstatic making all kinds of sounds. Then again you have no choice but to join him in the chorus or cacophony. It’s music set to no particular tune to all sitting around.  In fact it’s more than music as the infant weaves a magic all around and one quickly gets under his spell. It’s often said a smile is infectious but how about an infant’s smile? Won’t it launch a thousand smiles if not thousand ships? It’s a great blessing to start the day with an infant smiling innocently.

The enchanting smile of my grandson reminds me of a Shanti mantra which goes like this:

PoornaMadah poornamidam

poornat poornamudachyate

poornasya poornamadaya

poornamevavasishyate

This mantra is all about poornam. A simple translation of poornam is completeness. This mantra says everything is complete – this jagat, you, me. Each one of us is complete- as Rajaji says in his famous composition KURAI ONRUMILLAI. Yes, how can there be any regrets if you are complete by yourself. That is Poornamidam, the second line of the mantra. The first line says something which is easy to accept. It says Poornamadah – Brahman or Eswara or God is complete. The third line is reconciling the above two lines and says – Poornat Poornamudachyate, that is, from completeness is born completeness or completeness begets completeness. The fourth line says the obvious, that is, if you add poornam to another poornam, the result is also poornam. This is all pure Vedanta. A lot of  Vedantins have written commenteries on this. Here’s how this profound mantra applies to our interactions with a child.

I will replace poornam in the Shanti mantra with happiness or Ananda. This is acceptable because what is poornam is certainly ANANDA personified. With this substitution, the mantra, in its verse form, will look like this:

Happiness personified is the child – And so is the man, for, happiness begets happiness – Add happiness to happiness –  you still end up with happiness.

There is nothing like more happiness when you add happiness to happiness because there’s no scale for absolute, unconditional happiness. The child experiences this and transmits, as it were, to the elders. It’s unconditional because the child smiles without any reason or agenda and in turn we reciprocate by showing our happiness with an equally intense smile.

If only we can emulate a child, the world would be a very happy place to live in.

Published in: on May 26, 2017 at 12:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bahubali 2 – Full of Sound & Fury Signifying Nothing!

Last week I saw this film in Chennai . It’s a blockbuster no doubt considering that the theaters are running houseful even after more than two weeks of release. How does one classify this film? Is it a fiction based on history or a thriller spiced with romance or a film with special effects or about moral and ethical dilemmas or simply an entertainer? To me it’s none of these although it attempts or rather pretends to present all the above. Of course one thing it has common with all special effect movies is the high decibel noise. I’m always suspicious of the so-called special effect movies. They try to make up with big sets and big sound what they lack in content or a story line. This film is no exception to this rule.

We reached the theater well in time and even as we were searching for our seats, national anthem started suddenly without any notice. We instinctively stopped walking and stood like statues awkwardly in  the dark walkway. One wonders whether a cinema theater is the right place for our show of patriotism. The ambience is just not right for playing our national anthem.

After this ritual, we eventually found our seats and almost settled down before the movie began. But then will the movie allow us to settle down? No way – it starts literally with a big bang and there is no respite either for your ears or eyes as the banging continues all the way till the end. OMG, what an experience it was! May be I’m a little outdated in my views.  The noise was so unbearable that I had to run out of the hall for shelter towards the end of the film. I must have missed the last half hour of the movie – not that I missed anything worthwhile! I often wonder why people pay to get tortured like this. Well, it’s a philosophical question with no satisfactory answer. To each his own, I suppose.

Let me now turn to the plot of the film. In Bahubali 1, I’m told the heroin Ramyakrishna (who played the role of Rajmata) was portrayed as a strong personality with high moral standards. In striking contrast, in Bahubali 2, the same Rajmata was shown in a very poor light in ethical & moral conduct. While she commanded respect in Bahubali 1 for her strength of character, in Bahubali 2 she fell from grace as she failed to take morally correct decisions. Her decisions were clouded by her bias in favour of her biological son. To me this inconsistency in characterisation of the heroin is not convincing.

Two episodes in the movie stood out – one in line with women’s lib movement and the other completely out of line. In a commendable episode, Amarendra bahubali takes law into his hands as he hands out summary justice  by chopping off the head of a guy who molested several women in a public place. This scene was shown with much fanfare and melodrama. However the message is quite forceful in our present times when molestation and rape are everyday happenings.

If Bahubali showed courage of conviction in handing severe punishment to a sexual offender,  the powerful queen did everything to give just the opposite  message. The Rajmata orders the capture of a young princess on whom her biological son develops a crush. As it turns out, one wrong doing leads to another and yet another untill she finally gets Amarendra Bahubali killed. What a fall – a queen shown as a strong character in Bahubali1 is now shown in a completely different light and it’s not convincing.

If the movie shows any resemblance to a famous English film Lion King, be rest assured it’s only a coincidence! Don’t jump to the conclusion that the story writer or the director is guilty of plagiarism. The first coincidence is that in both the films there is an evil uncle who tries to outmonoevre and even kill the nephview.

The second coincidence is when Ramyakrishna, in the penultimate scene, lifts the baby bahubali(Mahendra bahubali)and announces to the public that the little fellow would be their future king. Here again, the close resemblance to a similar scene in Lion King is unmistakable. I will point out one more parallel and rest my case. The scenes where Mahendra Bahubali was brainwashed to fight back and win the kingdom is similar to Simba, the little lion being inspired by an old friend to take revenge for his father’s murder by his uncle.

Here’s my bottom line on the film: Overall, the film is full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

 

Published in: on May 21, 2017 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Well begun is half done

Someone asked me recently how long I would take to recite Vishnu Sahasranama. I said: Hardly 2 seconds. He thought I was kidding till I explained my logic which is the following: Vishnu Sahasranama starts with: Viswam Vishnu……, Right? If we understand the meaning of this properly, where is the need to recite the rest of the mantras? These two words capture the quintessence of Vishnusahasranama and even Vedanta. Here’s the explanation: These two words mean that the Universe is Vishnu. Once we say the Universe is Vishnu, nothing else needs to be told. The universe with all its diversity, the living & the nonliving, the sun, the moon, the planets, the entire cosmic order , the mind & intellect, the psychological order etc  are all manifestations of Vishnu. So evidently, the rest of the Vishnusahasranama is merely a matter of detail. You can check it out.

This is the beauty of our scriptures. The beginning lines of many of our scriptures are so well written that it becomes easy for any reader to follow the rest of the text. Here are a few more examples:

Consider Bhagavadgita, for instance. It starts with the lines: Dharma Kshetre Kuru Kshetre……It’s so beautiful. The field of an epic battle is being described as Dharma Kshetra. This is where Dharma will win and get established eventually. Entire Mahabharata is about Dharma and Gita makes a bold statement of this fact in the opening line itself. The rest of Gita deals with Dharma & Karma in all its dimensions and explains how it can be a vehicle for attaining the ultimate Purushardha, namely, Moksha. What a brilliant  beginning to the sacred text!

Consider yet another brilliant work of Vyasa – Bhagavatam. Here’s how it starts: Satchitananda Roopaya, Vishva Utpathyadi hetave, Tapatraya Vinasaya, SriKrishnave Vayam Namah. This opening verse contains the essence of the entire Vedanta. Krishna is described here as Satchidananda roopa.  The same terminology is used in Upanishads also to describe the formless Brahman. From this it’s clear that Hiduism, while preaching worship of form(idol worship), emphasizes the basic formlessness of the God. Itself being formless, It accommodates all form. In other words, It manifests as diverse forms in the Universe. The Sloka quoted above says precisely the same thing in the first two lines. The third & fourth lines reveal the Lord Krishna as the manifestation of Satchitananda Brahman who alone can rescue us from the sea of Samsara or bondage. To me, this is yet another brilliant beginning for an epic which is all about Lord Krishna.

I will take a couple of more examples from Upanishads and rest my case.

Let us take Taitriya Upanishad. It starts off with the line: Brahma Vit Apnoti Param. Tadeshabhyukta. Satyam Jnanam Anantam Brahma. It says: One who knows Brahman attains the highest Goal(Param).Then it goes on to describe what is the attribute of Brahman. It says: Satyam Jnanam Anantam Brahma. Volumes have been written to explain just this statement alone which defines Brahman.  If one understands this one line properly, entire Taitriya Upanishad is as well understood and assimilated.

Esa vasyopanishad is another great example of a great beginning. The opening line of the opening verse is: Esa Vasyam idam Sarvam.… It declares straight away that Eswara pervades the entire Universe. This statement is similar to Viswam Vishnu of Vishnusahasranamam which we saw in the beginning.

I suppose one can go on and on with several examples from our scriptures on the importance of a good & insightful beginning to any great work.

The title of the post is an old saying attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Not satisfied with this proverb, the famous poet John Keats, in one of his letters, points out that a more appropriate saying is: ‘Not begun and yet half done’. I think this applies to Upanishads in a sense. All Upanishads begin with a Shanti Mantra or an invocation. These mantras, with their very profound meaning, set the tone for the main Upanishad text. The Shanti Mantra puts the student in the right frame of mind to absorb the Upanishad message. Thus the teacher’s job is already half done.

More on the Shanti Mantras in another post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on May 1, 2017 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Self-Deception and Cognitive Dissonance

Can you hold two completely opposing or conflicting thoughts in mind at the same time and still be in peace. Not a chance. Human mind needs a resolution of conflicting points of view to maintain equilibrium. Otherwise it will be under tension. This is true of important existential issues as well as trivial day-to-day issues. To take a trivial issue first, consider our current political discourse. People who supported PM Modi after he took over as PM go all out to defend him even on an issue like demonetization which is hardly defensible. When you already have a mental picture of Modi as a pragmatic PM, you cannot entertain another conflicting idea of the same man taking politically motivated decisions. How does the mind resolve this conflict? It will ignore all facts of the case and defend someone who cannot be defended. Likewise, people who supported AAP in the beginning have every reason to feel disgruntled later based on his performance. However, they resolve the conflict in their minds by inventing new meanings to his actions. Basic point here is that the human mind can function in peace only when opposing points of view are resolved. If this happens without a proper inquiry this is self-deception?

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological state where two conflicting thoughts trouble the mind. This is often resolved by self-deception.
In a way one buys peace, however temporarily. Let me give an everyday example. Traditionally we are all conditioned from childhood to believe in God. But then as we grow up, our education makes us doubt this belief. This is a classic case of cognitive dissonance. I went through this phase. Every time  I went to a temple, my doubting mind which is educated would tell me: “Can’t you see how you and many others are wasting time in the name of a blind faith?. At the same time if I skipped any ritual enjoined by religion or  tradition, my innocent mind would quip: “Hey, you’re missing out on something important in life. Don’t be misguided by your science education”. The resolution came late  in my life after setting up a proper inquiry into all issues. Now whatever I do, I do with clarity and awareness. The point I’m trying to make is very simple. Can we resolve conflicts without self-deception? If we can’t, we end up leading lives without any direction. To resolve conflicts, we need to set up an inquiry and study all points of view objectively. The inquiry, in the particular example cited above, can either lead one to becoming an atheist or a firm believer. It may be right or wrong. But at least the internal conflict is resolved and one lives in peace and without cognitive dissonance.

Here are a few more interesting, if trivial, examples of self-deception and Cognitive dissonance in our daily lives. Let us say that our dietician convinces us to take a low-fat, low-carb diet. But then when we see a spread of yummy cakes and ice creams on a table in a wedding party, our mind is in a state of conflict or dissonance. How do we resolve it? We eat it anyway and justify that saying things like: “We live only once. Let us live it up. In any case, exceptional violations of diet rules should not matter”. This is a classic example of post hoc rationalisation. That is, you do a forbidden act and then find ways of justifying the act.

The other day I was reading an article on American history (after the 2nd world war) which provided the following interesting case of post hoc rationalization: Franklin Roosevelt, after the second world war, uprooted hundreds of Japanese Americans based on a mere suspicion that they would indulge in sabotage. Having committed the atrocities, a govt spokesperson says: the very fact no sabotage has taken place strongly justified the action against them.

Here’s a trivial example of post hoc rationalization: let us say you have missed your favourite music concert you wanted to attend badly. After the event is over, you will perhaps look for every bit of news which will minimise your disappointment. For instance, you will be pleased to hear someone say: “The artist was not in his elements this time….. Also, there was a big traffic jam on the route to the concert hall and it’s good you didn’t attempt to go”. And finally an irrefutable philosophical justification will ensue: “Whatever happens is for the good”.

After all, human mind, in spite of evolution over millions of years, still has several limitations. Let us accept that the human mind is still a work in progress. But an awareness of its limitations helps us to recognise instances of self-deception at least on serious existential issues and take corrective actions.

 

Published in: on April 22, 2017 at 4:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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Crystal-gazing into Future

Human beings are fascinated by thoughts of future. A part of the reason for the fascination is that it triggers one’s imagination on the exciting possibilities and scenarios. This explains why have we so many books dealing with future. In this post, I’m going to introduce you to a young and upcoming author, Anirudh Chakravarthy, who has dealt with this topic in a unique and daring way with a narrative of his own in his book titled Kalki’s coming.  It’s daring because the author is able to visualize a future scenario when India becomes a super power. Well, more on that later in the post. Let me give a very brief review of the book:

Sometime in the far future, in a world ravaged by third world war, India becomes the number 1 super power with China at number 2 slot. While I like the idea, I would have liked to see more thorough and logical explanation of how this happens. Super power status is not a game of mere numbers or of demography.  However, granting that, the author certainly spins a nice web of plots and subplots around a few key characters. Through these characters, the author forcefully presents a case for banning science and technology as the twin evils out to destroy humanity. The ethical and moral dilemma for and against such a ban was discussed & well presented – Can one individual decide what is good for humanity? Does he know enough? What about the ethics of means adopted to keep out technological literature out of reach of the common man? Also having denied the humanity this knowledge effectively, is it sustainable?

It’s not clear to me, though,  how anyone can own all knowledge for himself and ban it for the rest. Further, will any one person along with his cohorts, be in a position to oversee the banning after a devastating world war? One cannot also expect an imperialist China to abandon technology and then steal the knowledge of weapons from India.  These are some of the grey areas which have to be addressed in an otherwise well-written book.

The story begins with the introduction of a self-styled messenger of God who is the ruler of India after the 3rd world war. He happens to believe strongly that as a ruler his primary responsibility should be to purge all evil represented by knowledge, science & technology. He justifies several sins and atrocities he commits in  the name of  protecting the human race from self-destruction in the future. It’s a case of just one man claiming to know what is good for everyone. One is reminded of what one witnessed in the communist countries after the 2nd world war. The ruler of India, in the present story, kills several who oppose his ideas. He projects himself as the saviour of people and a messenger of God. He resorts to exhibiting carefully orchestrated magical powers to impress gullible people and to convince them about his divine status.

The story takes an interesting turn when an alien is introduced. The alien with his supernatural powers is in a position to swing the balance of power in the ensuing conflict between good and evil*

While the story is simple, it’s handled well. The pacing of the story with rapid fire dialogues in some places, a fair amount of suspense till the end and a bit of romance makes it easy to read. The style of the language is very good and quite consistent. The dialogues are purposeful, have depth and offer insights into the questions of human nature, morality and ethics.  Here are a couple of examples: Kalki, the ruler of India, puts on the mask of a God’s messenger to hoodwink people into believing he has the divine right to rule. To counter that, we have another character who puts on a real mask and declares himself as an angel. A character in the story exclaims: “Don’t we all put on masks of one kind or the other in our daily lives?” How true!

To give another example of an insightful statement, a character in the story says that time is the ultimate winner after all. One may think one has achieved the ultimate good hiding technology away from people. But then, over time, another equally crazy guy would appear and undo what has been done before. Not to be outwitted by this logic, Kalki, the ruler says: I believe that God gives each one a certain role. We play the role as best we can, leave the stage and don’t worry about what happens later in time.

But then what is the final message of the story, I wonder. Is it that Human beings are stupid collectively but brilliant individually. This is perhaps implied in the story but has not been made clear. The stupidity of human beings arises out of the weaknesses like, envy, greed for power, perpetuation of power by any means and a condescending attitude to the common man. And these collectively cause the downfall of human beings.

Greed for power, revenge, one-upmanship​, love, hatred, compassion – virtually every emotion is on display in the story. The plots and subplots are nicely woven together and the author manages to bring to light certain profound facts about human nature.

 

*Portrayal of magical powers through Alchemy is perhaps avoidable considering that Alchemists involved in transmutation of base metals to gold were historically regarded as pseudo-scientists, counterfeit artists or quacks. Moreover, gold cannot be considered as a strategic resource to swing balance of power. One can perhaps think of more imaginative ways in which aliens can influence matters on earth.

Published in: on April 15, 2017 at 9:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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