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)  
Tags: ,

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  
Tags: , , ,

The Business of Busyness

Recently I received a ”forward” in FB which says: “Being busy is the secret of happiness”. Look at the logic put forth. “The busiest people are the happiest people(really?). Being busy gives one self-esteem and confidence. The flow of adrenaline when one is busy gives a feeling of  exhilaration, purpose and achievement. Being busy means you are bettering yourself and pushing your boundaries. You don’t get time for negative thoughts. It’s indeed the only solution to all human maladies”. Isn’t this complete nonsense? On the face of it, it sounds great and who ever reads will get carried away and instinctively pass it on to others as if it’s a great discovery. In case you are wondering why I disagree with this completely, here’s my defence:

Let me start off on a lighter note and quote  Ronald Reagan ( American president during 1980s) who was known for his ready wit and wisdom. Well, I’m not too sure about his wisdom but I have no doubts about his ability to come up with witty one-liners like the one below. Some one asked him why he shuns hard work and gets away to his ranch to relax every week-end. He said: Well, I know hard work doesn’t kill. But why take a chance?”. I’m sure you will dismiss this defence and laugh it off. That’s the power of witty one-liners, though. The interviewer would laugh it off and move to his next question.

Let me now go to the other extreme and quote a serious thinker and philosopher Albert Camus. He says: Of all the ridiculous things on earth, the most ridiculous thing is to keep oneself busy all the time. In his book titled The myth of Sisyphus, he dwells into his philosophy of the absurd. He compares the present plight of the common man with that of Sisyphus, a character from Greek mythology. The story goes that the gods condemned Sisyphus to a worthless task of lifting a rock from the bottom of a hill and carry it all the way to the top of the mountain only to allow it to roll back again to the plains. Sisyphus would have to go back again to the foot of the mountain and start all over again. The punishment was meted out by the angry gods since he apparently leaked out the secrets of the gods. There was no escape from this punishment​ until his death. Albert Camus says this is the plight of the entire humanity today.

We seek happiness through purposeless drudgery. We are busy like a bee the whole day. When we come back home, we are too tired to do anything except watch TV. We then go to bed only to get up and start all over again. This is the curse of the modern civilization. Isn’t this dehumanizing? The comparison with a bee is perhaps not appropriate since bees are busy for a purpose.

The tragedy is we don’t get time to reflect on our plight unlike Sisyphus who gets time to reflect on his fate the moment he completes the task of carrying the boulder to the top of the mountain. That’s his period of introspection and awareness. For, when he is busy carrying the rock, he has no time to think. But alas, a guy working in a city today doesn’t get any time for reflection on his pathetic condition!

Coming back to the FB forward I received, there is a complete misunderstanding between excitement and pleasure on the one hand and real happiness on the other. The flow of adrenaline gives one temporary excitement and pleasure which dissipates within a short time and reality of boredom bites once again. Therefore, one is compelled to keep chasing more excitements for more adrenaline flow and pleasure and the show goes on and on ad infinitum. You are, in other words, escaping from reality which you cannot face. This was precisely the sad plight of Sisyphus in the Greek mythology and this is the tragedy of the modern man too.

Let me share a secret. The glorification of ”busyness” is a historical conspiracy of the intellectuals. Plato and Aristotle set the ball rolling when they declared that drudgery or hard work was meant for the slaves. It seems that in Athens, during 5th & 6th century B.C, 30000 aristocrats had nothing useful to do since 200,000 slaves were being driven to do all the hard work (The slaves were called the Barbarians by the Greeks). The intellectuals had nothing to do except​ to indulge in arm-chair philosophy besides activities like hunting. The influence of these philosophers could be seen almost until medieval times in Europe. People from affluent families, the so-called aristocrats, were not expected to do any hard work while the poor worked hard. But all this changed abruptly after industrialization to such an extent that even the richest billionaire today cannot afford to relax. Being busy is a matter of prestige and status in the industrialized societies irrespective of whether one is rich or poor. Today, Busyness is being eulogized as a virtue. By whom? Ironically by those who are not busy themselves  – the intellectuals who have plenty of time in hand and have nothing useful to contribute to society. They condition everyone into believing that hard work is the only way to succeed in life and success is again defined by them.  The net result is that  everyone else takes it as the gospel truth and keep working hard without any respite or purpose like our tragic hero Sisyphus of the Greek mythology.

This is not a thesis against hard work or being busy per se.  Life has many dimensions and one needs to appreciate that the leisure time activities are as important or even more important than just being busy for the sake of some imaginary concepts of success.

Social media “forwards” are often very misleading and the gullible fall for it. These “forwards” perpetuate myths by insisting on the readers to forward to all their contacts.

Published in: on April 1, 2017 at 10:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

A Drug (Ecstasy) without Side effects

Yes, as you might have guessed, I’m talking about Music for sure. A good divine music is indeed like the drug Ecstasy except that one doesn’t experience its side  effects. It’s addictive like a drug but  a good addiction without any hangover. When   you are exposed to it,  it slowly takes you out of the sea of samsara or bondage to the sea of ananda (ecstacy)and before you realise you will feel completely liberated and free from all the  a worldly worries. This is especially so with Hindustani music. The magic begins the moment a maestro introduces a raga from its lower octaves at a very leisurely pace. There’s  absolutely no hurry as the artist stays on each note for a long time. (In contrast, in Carnatic style the musician shows a sense of urgency in moving  from one set of swaras to another).

However, for the magic of music to unfold, one needs a special ambience and special performers to do the job. Here is an account of my recent experience.

It is said that the path to paradise begins with hell. The path  is strewn with obstacles which the faithful should overcome.  This was indeed my experience yesterday when I decided to go for an evening Hindustani concert at Nehru Centre in Worli. It’s an unusual programme in the sense that it started early in the evening at 5pm and ended at 11pm (A full six-hour programme). The programme is titled Teen Prahar. Teen Prahar literally means three quadrants.  Hindustani tradition divides 24 hours of a day into 8 quadrants of 3 hours each and Ragas are classified according to the time of the day. For instance there are early morning Ragas, morning Ragas, afternoon Ragas, early evening Ragas, late evening Ragas, night Ragas and so on. The notes of Ragas play an important role in this classification. For instance, Ragas with shudha madhyama  are normally preferred in the morning like Bhairav, for instance. This was okay in the olden days when people had plenty of time on hand to listen to music throughout the day. But in the present day scenario there are two problems: Firstly, most of the programmes are arranged only in the evenings. Secondly, people have no patience to sit for more than a couple of hours. The net effect is that one gets to hear only a couple of repetitive evening Ragas like Yaman, bhairavi or bhageshri which specifically cater to the mystique of the twilight hours. Teen Prahar is an initiative to cover at least three quadrants of a day and present Ragas which are normally not heard in evening concerts. When it started a decade ago in Bombay, the programmes used to start early in the morning and end only at 11 or 12 midnight. The programme itself was called bhairav se bhairavi Tak by people who are musically savvy. That is, you start with bharav raag,  say, at 6 am and end with bhairavi raga at 12 midnight. Nowadays, the same programme is compressed to 5 to 6 hours – from 5pm to 11pm.

Yesterday I ventured out to attend this annual programme held at Worli which is about 30 km away from where I live. I left home at 3.30pm with packed dinner in hand. The first question was whether to take my car or take public transport. There are pros and cons and I finally decided on public transport since it was a week-end. I got down at Dadar station.  But then, as I came out of the Dadar platforms on the west side, I saw a sea of humanity  eating roadside junk food from Vada pav to pizza, spitting merrily everywhere, buying and selling readymade clothes etc. There was filth and dirt all around all the way till I reached the taxi stand. There I hopped into an old fiat – the so called kaali peeli cabs (yellow & black cabs) – which are perhaps 40 years old with worn out and corroded body and the interior perfectly matching with the shabby exterior in all respects. God knows whether they clean or replace the seat covers ever. As soon as I got in, the driver from UP (who else, on earth, can toil so hard in filth!) turned on the metre and to add to my disgust spat out paan and tobacco which he was chewing all along. The entire scene took me back to Mumbai of 1980s.  So, has nothing changed ever since then in these parts of Mumbai? Our PM Modi should visit this place at least once to see the ground realities and understand why Swatch Bharat doesn’t work. It’s not about spending money, it’s about changing people culturally.

In any case, meandering through several lanes and bylanes, my taxi got out of this messy place. We then passed through more decent localities such as Prabhadevi, drove through posh buildings of Worli and eventually reached my destination.

Yes, indeed, I did realize that the path to paradise is strewn not just with obstacles but lots of dirt and filth as well. And faithful as I am to Music, I managed to reach my destination which is even better than paradise.

So, did the evening fare prove to be as good as I expected? Yes, it surpassed all my expectations. It started off with Rahul Desh Pande’s Vocal recital in Shri Rag which one gets to hear rarely . This was followed by a great Santoor performance by Rahul Sharma who is the son of Pandit Shiva Kumar Sharma. He equalled or even surpassed his father. Towards the end of his concert, he attempted an innovation to bring in folk music. A Rajasthani folk musician came on stage and led the proceedings. He would sing a couple of lines and Rahul Sharma would follow it up with his own improvisations. It was a great contest to watch. This also showed how rich our folk culture is.

The grand finale to the evening was provided by Ustad Sujat khan on Sitar. Expectedly, he presented two great night Ragas, namely, bhageshri and bhairavi (bhairavi is the equivalent of sindhu bhairavi of Carnatic). Bhageshri is a night Ragas associated with the emotion  of a woman pining for her lover. There are a number of old film songs based on this raga. Here is one very popular Hindi song  from the film Anarkali based on this raga.

 

Published in: on March 19, 2017 at 11:27 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

The Flip Side of Social Media – A First hand experience

I had the first taste of the cost of social media during my recent trip to Singapore. I reached my hotel around 8pm on one evening and wanted to have a quick dinner as I was hungry. I didn’t have the patience to pick and choose a restaurant  nor did I have the time to travel to go to a place where Indian food is available. The hotel I stayed was in a place called Clark Quay Riverside, obviously a place meant for upwardly mobile Singaporeans. Nevertheless I decided to explore the place in search of an eating place. I walked around the Riverside which was great and refreshing but I had to cut it short as hunger pangs hit me hard. I looked around for an Italian restaurant and soon found one. I settled down in a cozy corner and waited for the waiter. The waiter came and gave me a menu card. I scanned through the card but needed some advice from the waiter.  ‘Firstly’, I told the waiter, ‘please understand I’m a vegetarian’ and added by way of abundant caution that I don’t even take eggs’. Strangely in many foreign countries egg is not considered as a non-vegetarian. The waiter nodded his head in appreciation and offered to bring pizza as his first option. But then I came to know  pizza size was too big for one person. I was, therefore, advised to take Pasta instead since the portions were small enough for one person. I settled for Pasta and started relaxing. Just then I heard a ping from my smart phone and I was curious to know who it could be from among my whats up groups. In retrospect, this was the beginning of my problem. Here’s how it unfolded.

I opened my What’s up chat groups and found that my family group was indeed active. I joined the group instantly to announce my arrival in Singapore. Just then the waiter came and asked me for my suggestions for toppings to Pasta. I said: put green vegetables liberally. I asked him to give me a list of vegetables available in the menu card. He said: Onions, sir. I said: fine and went back to my chat group. I texted a message to my daughter and son-in-law proudly announcing that my dinner had been ordered and it’s pasta in an Italian restaurant. The waiter in the meanwhile asked: Any other vegetable, sir?. I responded saying ‘Tomatoes’. As he noted down, I went back to my chat to reply to two comments already made – a wow from my daughter and one from my son-in-law with a hint of sarcasm. He said: yes, deep-fried pasta with a creamy cheese on top is indeed yummy! Defending myself feebly, I said: No, I’m told they only use virgin Olive Oil and returned to attend to my waiter’s next question on vegetables – do you want brocoli, Olives, cabbage and Brussels Sprouts too, sir?. I said: Yes, of course and went back to Whatsup chat.This time my daughter came to my rescue saying : Appa, don’t you worry. The vegetables and pasta are normally boiled in water for making pasta – not deep fried. My sister joined the chat and reprimanded my son-in-law saying: why don’t you allow him to have his dinner without feeling guilty about fat content or creamy layer and to encourage me added (more…)

Published in: on March 12, 2017 at 1:13 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

When Adharma becomes one’s Swadharma…

Last week I came across two bizarre stories. Here’s the first one. I happened to meet an old acquaintance and casually asked him  about his future plans. He said he is going to quit corporate life in 4 years from now. I was taken by surprise because he is close to forty, doing reasonably well in his career and has a family to support. Moreover he is generally cheerful in his disposition. I mean he is certainly not a cynical guy. So I asked him what happened. He said he will go back to his village. “And do what”, I persisted. To my utter surprise again, he said he wants to become a pujari or a priest in a temple. He, then, revealed a secret of his life –  he was once a priest in a temple before qualifying himself and getting into the corporate world. Perhaps, he now feels life in his village is more peaceful than the rat race in a corporate. I asked him who is going to take care of his wife and 7-year-old kid. He said casually that his wife is a CA and can take care of his kid and herself. Moreover, he is leaving behind a 65 lakhs worth flat for her. Well, one may or may not agree with his choice but he seemed bent on his decision. He may be following his Swadharma. (I’m using the term in the sense of one’s aptitude or natural inclination).

If the above conversation didn’t shock me or the readers, here’s a real shocker. This came from my driver on the following day. He said he met an old friend of his on the previous day whom he happened to meet after a gap of 6 long years. Where was he all these years, I inquired. He was in a jail in Thane for 6 years and was released recently. What was his crime? I asked. My driver explained further: He worked for a gangster or an extortionist in his area and we all know how they operate.  A self-styled  leader would crown himself as the badshah (king) of the area. Every shopkeeper in the area would pay up a monthly fees to the guy as protection money. Protection from whom? A badshah will explain succinctly: Well, I will protect you from myself! So, these badshahs demarcate their areas of influence and operate within that area. The problem starts when a badshah gets greedy and wants to extend his area of influence. In any case, to cut a long story short, my driver’s friend was hired by one badshah to kill another badshah. The poor fellow was caught by the police during the encounter, beaten up and jailed for 6 years.

I said to my driver: Poor guy, he must have got mentally depressed after 6 long years of isolation. My driver said: Sir, you are completely wrong. This fellow is in great spirits. He is in great shape physically as well. As proof of his statement, he showed me his photo on his smart phone. He went on to add: He is unrepentant and says he will definitely follow the same career – a career of violence, murder and the accompanying excitement. He is used to the excitement of living on edge and is lured by prospects of easy money. Now he has better network having met lots of criminals in the jail over the past 6 years. In short, he has a very well laid out career plan. He has plans to work as an apprentice under a politician who are always in need of thugs like him. And eventually who knows, he could become a badshah himself if luck favours him.

What a contrasting story. Both the guys are following their hearts. My wife says: to each his own.

Both are following Swadharma.

Once a guy is a criminal, it seems he is condemned to become only a more hardened criminal. A part of the blame for this goes to the society we live in. Is anyone ready to employ a guy with a criminal past except of course a politician? No way. So Adharma becomes his Swadharma. He finds his excitement only in immoral and criminal acts. If this is the psychology of most criminals (I hope not), this is truly dangerous. We urgently need rehabilitation programmes for ex-criminals.

On the other hand, it’s not surprising to find a person with saintly roots to seek opportunities to reset his lifestyle to suit his disposition.

Published in: on March 5, 2017 at 12:17 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

A Trip to Vienna

Last week I was away in Vienna on a business trip but managed to take some time off to explore the city. In the limited time available, how does one choose places to visit in a city which is completely unknown to you? The only connection I had with the city dates back to 1977. My Ph.D thesis was reviewed by a well-known professor from the University of Vienna then and today I have no clue about where he lives. Well, under the circumstances Google comes in handy. Google says that Vienna has an illustrious history. It has a rich cultural life thanks to famous music composers like Mozart and several well-known painters.

I’m told that Mozart gave his first performance at the imperial court at a tender age of six. So I decided to see the royal palace as a priority. That turned out to be a great visit thanks to an interesting story of a queen who lived in 19th century.

Well, before I write on the palace and the story, let me share with you about my visit to an amusement park known as Prater Park on one evening. It’s a great place to unwind and take a stroll  after a hard day’s work. I will describe here a couple of things that might interest many. As I entered the park, I saw a huge brightly lit advertisement for an eating place called Roller-coaster Restaurant. Well, I was not particularly hungry to get into the hotel. However, what attracted me to the restaurant was this advertisement. It said: “You cannot buy Happiness, but you can surely buy our Pizza!”  This Ad did it! It struck me as a profound statement differentiating at once between Happiness and mere Pleasure.

I went inside the hotel and decided to have one chocolate brownie for my little pleasure. This is a real fun place to go and eat. True to its name, as you sit in the restaurant and order food using a tablet, the food is served at your table, by a robot racing down a roller-coaster! See the picture below to get a feel of what I tried to describe. It was a wonderful experience indeed.

img_20170223_181708734

img_20170223_181558890

img_20170223_183338952

img_20170223_181558890 img_20170223_181550665

 

The following day, I decided to explore a couple of royal palaces belonging to late 18th and mid 19 the centuries.The Hofburg palace houses the famous Sisi museum. Sisi refers to the queen Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary. The museum is practically dedicated to the queen. Her sad story is worth narrating here. She was born into a Bavarian royalty and got married to the emperor of Austria Franz Joseph at a young age of 15. As a child she grew up in a completely carefree atmosphere and enjoyed complete freedom in her actions. The upshot of such an upbringing was that she was completely unprepared for her obligations as the first lady or even as a mother. Her duties as the queen involved rigid protocol of endless ceremonies and she hated it all from the day one and could not reconcile at all throughout her life. She would go through bouts of depression from time to time and write poetry eulogizing freedom and condemning rituals of the royalty. To cut a long story short, her life ended when she was finally assassinated by an Italian anarchist when she was traveling incognito in Geneva. Her story was like a typical fairy tale. A good fairy would bless her with all the good things in life while a bad fairy would appear next and deprive her of all the mental qualities and temperament required to get happiness out of the goodies.The question is: do we sympathize with her for losing her childhood freedom and getting trapped in a royal setting or do we blame her for not making the best out of her new situation? The queen’s story perhaps reflects a common human failing.

Oh, yea, I forgot to mention about one very interesting spectacle I saw while I was at the amusement park. It is Indoor Skydiving which is a newly invented sport. I believe in 2015 the first world cup of indoor skydiving was held. Inside a flight chamber made of glass and with the help of wind speeds of up to 280km/hour, one can experience flight that is comparable to a jump from a height of 4000 metres. Here are a few photos of divers in action captured on my smart phone:

img_20170223_173510643

 

img_20170223_173629326

 

Published in: on February 26, 2017 at 11:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Dismissing Atheism – the Upanishad Style

Atheism and Atheists have existed all the time. One may be under the impression that this is a modern phenomenon caused by science and in the ancient days everyone was a believer. Far from it. Even during the Vedic period there were several atheists. That was the reason why Upanishads had to make certain statements to dismiss atheism.

The Taitriya Upanishad dismisses atheists in its inimitable style. It needed only two lines to do this. Let me quote this here:

Asanneva sa bhavati asad brahmeti ved chet asti brahmeti cedveda Santanam tato viduriti

A simple translation is: If anyone knows Brahman as non-existing, he becomes nonexistent. If anyone knows that Brahman does exist then they consider him as existing by virtue of that (knowledge).

Surely, a preliminary reading of the translation is confusing. What is the Upanishad trying to say here? In simple terms, it says: If you say there is no God, then you yourself do not exist and if someone knows God as existing, he comes into existence too. This is still confusing. Isn’t it? One can get further insight into this statement by understanding how the Upanishads explain God. In fact the quoted mantra appears in Taitriya Upanishad after a detailed discussion on Brahman (or God). Let me try to summarize the discussion in this post:

Upanishads use different teaching methodologies to convey truth. The method employed in this Upanishad is known as KARANA – KARYA PRAKRIYA.  This may be translated as a methodology describing cause and effect.

The key to understanding Brahman(a Vedic terminology for Eswara or God) is just one famous line in this Upanishad, which is: SATYAM JNANAM ANANTAM BRAHMA. I will restrict myself to explain just this line in this post. I may not be able do complete justice to the discussion, considering that commentators have written volumes analyzing this line alone. Nevertheless, let me try.

Let us start with Jnanam or knowledge. Sastra says jnanam or Knowledge is Brahman, that is ‘Total knowledge’. It’s not knowledge of a particular thing. It may be understood as total integrated knowledge.

One may think that science has created knowledge. No – scientists have merely discovered existing laws. Newton did not create the law of gravity nor did any scientist create the laws of thermodynamics. They always existed. Everything in the Universe that exists is an expression of Eswara’s knowledge. In other words Eswara or Brahman is the cause of this knowledge.  If nothing can exist without knowledge or everything that exists is nothing but knowledge, then that total knowledge has got to be limitless or ANANTAM. The total knowledge, that is Brahman, manifests as different and distinct objects in the Universe. The very fact of manifestation or existence of an object requires knowledge as a prerequisite. In this sense Satyam (which is existence) and Jnanam are synonymous.

Sastra says: Satyam alone was present before the Universe began to manifest (Sadeva Soumya Idamagramasit: Chandogya upanishad). Satyam, as we have seen, is same as the Total Knowledge or Jnanam. The laws that scientists keep discovering from time to time are themselves manifestation of this all-knowledge which is Brahman.

For example, First law of thermodynamics which  says categorically that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, is a law which is followed in the entire universe. Similarly, law of gravitation governs the entire universe. Likewise, the theory of evolution and the rules behind cell division and multiplication, and all other theories of biological sciences explain how life evolved on earth – all existed much before scientists stumbled on them. All this indicates that there is a Universal order governing every piece of existence. That is, all life and its evolution, nature and its laws governing its existence and the laws by which scientists and technologists exploit nature are all based on a certain order. Science can only try to understand the order and these laws little by little in small steps. They don’t create any laws or knowledge but use those laws to create new materials.

Scientists like Stephen Hawking are struggling to identify the nature of this all-unifying knowledge without success. Stephen Hawking talks about the possibility of discovering a theory of everything.  Although scientists haven’t found such a theory, they do appreciate that the fundamental laws of nature are universally obeyed everywhere in the universe and there has to be one unifying law governing all laws.

Therefore, the Total knowledge which is Brahman, exists in everything that one finds in the universe (or Jagat). Without that knowledge nothing can exist. Since knowledge is a prerequisite for everything that exists in the jagat which is vast and infinite, the knowledge can as well be described as Limitless or Anantam.

That is why Sastra says that Brahman is both the efficient cause as well as the material cause. That is, Brahman has made the universe with Himself as the material. This is easy to understand if one looks at Brahman as all-knowledge. Knowledge exists in everything and everything is made by knowledge. That is, Knowledge is the maker as well as the material because the maker and material themselves are nothing but knowledge.

Brahman, which is all-knowledge, is self-existing. Everything else draws its existence from Brahman. Brahman is self-evident and everything else becomes evident because of Brahman. Brahman is self-revealing and everything else is revealed because of It.

With this understanding, it’s easy to demolish an atheist’s point of view which says Brahman doesn’t exist. If Brahman doesn’t exist, clearly the speaker himself doesn’t exist. In other words, the very fact of one’s existence is proof of the fact of Brahman’s existence.

 

Published in: on February 18, 2017 at 11:18 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

Chasing Reality

This is the story of my 3-year old granddaughter. She moved to our place along with her mother who was expecting her second child. She was super excited to be with her pampering grand parents. But soon she realised her father could not be with her. However, she  settled down with her new routine and was thoroughly enjoying her preschool where she was being taught singing and dancing. Then one fine day her father came over to visit us and she was on top of the world. This didn’t last long as he had to leave with in a few days. Her world plunged into darkness as she couldn’t understand why he had to go back. Flexible as kids are, she got over her sorrow within a couple of days. She was back again on her feet enjoying every moment. Her next moment of excitement came when her mother went to hospital for delivery and gave birth to a baby boy to play with. Her excitement did not last long, though. She saw a rival in the new arrival as she found her mother’s attention was more towards the new baby. With jealousy comes anger and we could see her throwing up tantrums over trivial things. She overcame this as well over a period of time. But she could never reconcile to her father appearing and disappearing time and again. Although she could not express, she sure must have faced several unanswered questions such as: What is real – Me living with my parents or with grandparents? The school is the reality or home with pampering grandparents. If parental love is real, how come my mother doesn’t show the same love after the arrival of the new baby. Does reality which is constantly changing has any meaning.

Her young mind would have found some convincing answers when she finally moved to her father’s place along with her mother and the newborn. Having finally found the warmth of love from both parents, she may finally conclude: Yes, this is the ultimate reality – not my grand parents, not my friends, not my school.

Did the elders fare any better in the emotional drama? Far from it. The parents and grandparents were equally or more affected than the kid herself. Their heart sank along with the kid’s and their spirits got elevated as the kid got excited. Not just that. When both the grand kids finally left them, they could not take it in their stride. The silence in the house was overpowering. The house felt desolate and lifeless without the usual noises.

Look at the contrasting experience after the kids left. During their stay, time was in short supply. Now there is plenty of time on hand. There was plenty of noise then. Now there is deafening silence. There was plenty of fun, then. We all would laugh, make faces, whistle, sing & dance to no particular tune. Now that is replaced by meaningless monotonous work, matter-of-fact conversations, gentlemanly behaviour and plain boredom. Every piece of work had a purpose then, while now whatever work we do seems meaningless.

What is reality? They living with us or they living away from us? If the elders understand the realities, why do they find the separation unbearable?

The fact of the matter is that none of the things that we see as reality are real. All that we see in the human drama are mere emotions. Emotions come and go. They are not real. Whatever is changing with time is not real. And we are chasing the so-called reality which is constantly changing. What then is the reality that does not undergo any change? Awareness or Consciousness which lights up all the seemingly real things is the only reality. It’s that without which the relative world of experiences and emotions cannot exist. One may call it God, or Eswara or Brahman ( as in the Vedic terminology).

Published in: on February 11, 2017 at 5:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Ethics in the Context of Cruelty to Animals

Last week I wrote a post condemning the cruel sport Jallikattu involving bulls. The post was incomplete in some respects. For one thing, I did not elaborate my stand on cruelty to animals. I thought I will do that here.

Before I do that, I should point out that I’m a little surprised to see unequivocal support for Jallikattu coming from several religious leaders on grounds of culture. My surprise arises from the fact that Hinduism strongly advocates the principle of Ahimsa or nonviolence. Our scriptures declare – Ahimsa paramo dharmah, meaning, nonviolence is the highest virtue or value. Here’s how it is considered as the highest form of dharma? Ahimsa prohibits violence in all forms – thought, word and deed. And all other values – love, compassion, sympathy, empathy – are derived from this all-encompassing value.

One has to go back to our history to understand how this value got distorted over time. Hindus always talked about preferential treatment to be given to cows. That is, within the animal species, we select cows as being holier than any other animal. The question is why don’t we extend this protection to all life forms. Failure to do so has led to practices like Jallikattu, bullock cart races or cock-fights (famous in Andhra Pradesh) with religious sanction.

In a way human beings have all along been taking  similar morally indefensible positions in different degrees at different periods of history.Racists are convinced that the race they belong to is far superior to those of others and hence they deserve a better deal. If this defines a racist, do you know who is a speciesist? A speciesist is one who thinks that members of human species or Homo sapiens  deserve better treatment over other species like animals.

When a white man says life is precious or sacred, he means it’s the life of the white man that is sacred. Likewise speciesist are conditioned to believe the life of a human is more sacred than that of an animal. With a similar logic, a hard-core Hindu would believe that among animals, the life of a cow is more holy.

While Hindu scriptures discussed dharma at length, the philosophers of the West tried to systematise their thoughts on ethical values only in the last few centuries. Peter Singer, a contemporary philosopher who is regarded as the philosophers’ philosopher, in his famous book titled Practical Ethics, captures the essential principles of ethics spelt out by philosophers of the previous centuries like Emanuel Kant, Stuart Mill, John Rawls, David Hume etc and adds his own definition of an ethical action. He proposes that an action should be judged ethical based on the criterion of what he calls equal consideration of interests. Let us try to understand and apply this principle of ethics to, say, Jallikattu or any other similar animal sport. The interest here is the experience of pain by the bulls. The principle of equal consideration implores us to consider a bull’s pain on par with that of a human. It could be a bull in Jallikattu or a cock in a cock-fight. The same considerations should hold regardless of which species it belongs to. Normally, most of us don’t take into consideration the effect of our actions on animals which also have well-developed central nervous system to respond to pain or pleasure, although they do not have the language to express the same.

So, clearly, ethical principles are well laid out whether one relies on our scriptures or studies the philosophers from the West. It’s only our lack of sensitivity that makes us ignore and indulge in actions to suit our whims and fancies.

Published in: on January 29, 2017 at 10:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,