Friday, April 20, 2007

1 - Rollover 2000

Midnight @ Hill View, Purulia, 31st December 1999

Why do you insist on calling this a rollover when the rest of the world is going gaga over the millennium ?

Two reasons : First the millennium begins in 2001, not 2000 and second, what millennium ? Of Jesus Christ ? That is of very little relevance to us who are not Christians .... we could have started the count from any other avatar like Krishna or perhaps Gautama Buddha.

But why "rollover"

Because all the digits on the date -- day, month and all four characters of the year -- would change simultaneously. The dates would look quite different, there is a certain novelty about it but not worth traveling all the way to the Andamans to see the same old sun rise out of the same old sea. Are we not quite comfortable here at Purulia today ...

You may not celebrate but you still attach some significance to this date ... otherwise you would not be engaging in this dialogue and then writing it down as well

True. Having accepted the Gregorian calendar, I have no choice but to record the rollover.

So what stops you from celebrating the millennium ? or rather the pre-millennium.

This is a free country, we can celebrate anything on any date. We have accepted the Christian calendar for convenience, not out of any conviction -- just as is the case of English language. The global economy is after all dominated by the Christian currency, the dollar and now the euro. So it does not make sense to break step and be pushed over ...

So you do accept and acknowledge the might and majesty of western civilization and its impact on culture and society

I hate to be either comparative or defensive but once again there are two perspectives. First, the grandeur of western civilization is a recent phenomenon. In a history spanning millions of years, of which we remember perhaps the last 5000, rational science -- that forms the basis of today's grand edifice, has been in prominence for only the last 500 years. This is but a wink of an eyelid on the face of eternal time -- who knows what will happen in the next 5000 years. Secondly, western civilization is successful along one the potentially many dimensions of the human experience. A long stick loses its size when viewed from the end. A sheet of paper appears non-existent if viewed along the edge.

But the length of the stick is important -- to gauge the depth of a river and the spread of the sheet of paper is good to write on. What is wrong with that ?

Nothing. Rational science has many uses and they are too well known to be repeated here. But then a stick is no good to write upon and a sheet of paper is no good to keep things in. For that you need to move into another dimension. Similarly, rational science is necessary and sufficient for many of the wonders of the world. It may not be necessary and is certainly not sufficient for many other things.

Like ...

The mystery of the human mind, or rather the human psyche, and of course the biggest mystery of them all -- the question of creation. Who, if at all anyone, created all this and why ?

Are you kidding ? Science has progressively pushed back the layers of ignorance to reveal more and more of the unknown. The movement of the planets, the weather, the cause of disease and its cure. You name it and either science has solved the problem or is in the process of doing so. It is only a matter of time.

But all these are in the domain of the physical world. There are other worlds that are delineated by the mindscape -- both individual and collective -- of the intelligent being. These worlds are visible or perceptible to mystics and sages and sometimes to those who are under the influence of certain hallucinogenic drugs.

These "worlds", if you could call them as such, do not exist. They are simply the products of a vivid imagination.

How can you say that they do not exist ? You may not have seen or experienced them but countless others have, for example Gautama Buddha, Ramakrishna, Aurobindo, and if you step outside India, we have people like Blake, Meister and Jesus himself. These people were neither fools nor charlatans. Would you not believe them ?

This is not a question of belief. Science can prove things to me. I do not have to believe anything.

But are you ready and prepared to understand these so called proofs ? Do you understand the proofs of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity ? You need not be ashamed -- very few people do !!

I may not be able to fathom the proof but there are other more knowledgeable people who have tested out these things and I have faith in their words.

Aha. That brings us back to "faith". You say you believe certain people -- possibly scientists who are on the editorial boards of respectable journals or who carry out certain experiments -- who certify that Einstein's theory is correct, even though you have no direct evidence or proof. Then what is your difficulty in having faith on Vivekananda when he says that Ramakrishna showed him the face of god.

But if I am intelligent enough and if I spend the time to learn mathematics and physics, I will be able to understand the relativity. The process is repeatable and demonstrable. Can we carry through a similar process and arrive at god ?

Of course. In this case you would need, instead of intelligence, a measure of certain cognitive abilities and you must learn the ways of the adept -- the techniques of sadhana -- thoroughly. Then you can see what the mystics can see. But this may take a very long time and you must have the patience and perseverance.

That opens up two more issues : First, what are these special cognitive abilities that one must have and second, the physical world is something that I can touch and feel. It is real. Not so in the case of psychic world that you say exists for the mystics.

Let me address the second issue first. You say that the physical world is real and that you can touch and feel it. I will challenge your confidence here. Can you see, touch and feel the atoms and molecules that form this world. Our faith in the logical explanation given to us by scientists allows us to believe that they really exist plus of course we have certain indirect evidence. For example the images on the screen of an electron microscope or the marks left on a photographic plate. So there is a veil or middle layer between the observer and what is being observed that reflects or distorts the true picture. However this distortion is minimized by refining our tools and applying adequate intelligence and logical reasoning. The same is true in the psychic world. There is some truth out there but it is veiled and distorted by a middle layer of perception. This is picturesquely referred to as Maya. This Maya must be corrected by using some tools and techniques and by applying, not intelligence, but something else.

What is that ?

This brings us to your first question. The cognitive abilities that help us to perceive the psychic truth can, for the lack of better word, be referred to as intuition. Just as logic and intelligence are the tools that help us to understand the physical world so are intuition and insight when it comes to tools that help us to probe the mental landscape.

Intelligence and logical reasoning is available to varying degrees in all humans. What about insight and intuition ?

That too is available in different degrees with different individuals. Just as some people are more intelligent than others so are some people more intuitive than others.

That is a very generic statement. Can you prove it ?

I will but first let me protest at your need for a "proof". Proof is something that is very common in the world of logic and intelligence. Here we are deliberately moving away from that world. So proofs lose their significance. Instead of proving something we must move into the paradigm of "experiencing" something.

Fair enough, but I would still hold that you have made a very generic statement about the dichotomy between logic and intuition

The human brain has two halves: the left and the right. Many functions are duplicated, for redundancy, across both halves but the left half is dominated by the faculties that deal with analytical and rational activities. The right side deals with our emotional and intuitive abilities. This is well documented in the rational literature of modern science. To put it crudely, this means that in scientists and mathematicians, the left brain is more developed but in case of artists, musicians and mystics the right side is more active. So there is physiological basis for determining why some people are more logical, analytical and perhaps more "intelligent" while others are more emotional and intuitive. I am not talking blue skies here ....

That was a very long digression .... where were we ?

I was responding to your statement about the might and majesty of western civilization. Without denying your observation, I wish to highlight the Hindu perspective that is as, if not more, significant.

What is this Hindu perspective ?

The spiritual and mystic angle ..

You are falling back into the tired cliché of how Hindus are not materialistic, that they are a spiritual people. That is a joke. Would you call Harshad Mehta or Jayalalitha spiritual ? Or are you saying that our farmers, traders, engineers and computer programmers are spiritually inclined. They want money and power as much as anybody else. Their spirituality begins and ends with a tilak on the forehead.

Agreed. The vast majority of Indians are motivated by greed but there is a slim minority that is capable of transcending this level. This is no different from the situation that prevails in US and Europe. However there are two differences...

What are these ?

First, the proportion of spiritually inclined people within the population is higher in India and secondly this slim minority is heard and to a certain extent even respected by the rest of the population. All of us may not be able to emulate Vivekananda and become sanyasis but many of us have a great regard for his ideals and try to follow in his footsteps.

But even in the Christian world, people go to church. There are hundreds of church denominations, priests, bishops. The Vatican is an empire in itself.

I am not an authority on Christianity so I will not try to analyze this further. All that I say is that in the Hindu scheme of things, our goals are very simple -- the realization of what, for the lack of a better word, is called God --the Brahman.

Is that a physical entity ?

I wish I knew, but then I am far away from this realization. Those who have realized Brahman -- the Buddha, Ramakrishna or the anonymous sages who have written the Upanishads, have tried very hard to describe their realization. But all these descriptions are flawed and cannot give the true picture.

Why is that ?

These descriptions are based on language -- a construct that is rooted in our rational, left brain faculties. The realization on the other hand is at an emotional, intuitive level and is a right brain capability. There is a fundamental disconnect that is impossible to bridge. Hence the Brahman has to be realized, it cannot be realized.

But what is the use of realizing the Brahman ? Will it help me in any way ?

Utility, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Money or Power may be very important for someone. Fair enough, I have no quarrel with them as long as they do not hurt others in the process of acquisition. But money and power may not be important for others who seek beauty in art and nature. Happiness or pleasure can be derived from many things, but the bliss that is experienced when one realizes the Brahman is unparalleled.

How do you know ? Have you experienced it ?

No I have not, but I have faith in the words of those who have -- Vivekananda, Aurobindo

Why would you believe them ?

Why not ? If I come back from a trip to Darjeeling and tell you that the Kanchenjungha is a wonderful sight, would you not believe me ? Perhaps you will, but even if you do not, fair enough, do I really care ? Someone else will. I have no axe to grind and neither did the great sages.

We have digressed again, where were we ?

I was trying to explain why the Hindu perspective -- that seeks to realize the Brahman -- is important and significant.

Can we come back to that please ?

It is the Christian bible that I believe states that "money is the root of all evil", to which Mark Twain added that it was the lack of money that was the real root of all evil ...

But I thought that you were trying to prove just the opposite ... that money is not all that important .

Patience .... that was just an illustration. I was trying to establish that the lack of happiness (that Mr. Twain equated to money..) is the root of all evil. This happiness -- true happiness -- can only come in the form of spiritual bliss. This absolute happiness can only come when we realize the Brahman.

I am confused. If happiness is my goal then what is wrong with pursuing the western model of rational enquiry that leads to civil order and economic prosperity.

There is not contradiction. The western model leads to a level of material prosperity and happiness but only up to a point. Not beyond that. When there is intense hunger and poverty we need the western model to bring a modicum of comfort, dignity and sense of well being. Without this, man is reduced to the barbarism of the animal world. But this basic level of comfort is not enough. Material comfort is not synonymous with true happiness. It is necessary, but not sufficient. To be truly happy, mankind, as a whole or at least specific individuals, must move beyond mere economic prosperity and into the domain of spiritual fulfillment -- the realization of the Brahman.

That was quite a mouthful. Let me take a simple test case. Do you mean to say that people in "spiritual" India are more happy than people in the "materialistic" United States ? I don't believe that. Had that been the case, there would not have been the long queue for the US Green Card.

You are making it too simplistic. The world cannot be described in pure black and white. We need the shades and nuances of grey...

Your are trying to duck the question.

No I am not. Let us begin be defining a level of economic prosperity -- a level that can be measured or expressed in various units like per capita income, per capita calorie intake or average disposable income. As long as an individual has not achieved this level of prosperity, his goal would be economic advancement. In India, the number of people below this level is huge -- both in absolute terms as well the fraction of the population. These individuals are always trying to do various things to improve their economic status and this includes immigration to the US.

And what about those who have achieved their desired goals of economic comfort ?

These are people for whom spiritual happiness is more important...and for these people, it is more advantageous to be in India. They can take advantage of the ambient environment of spirituality that makes this land and its people so unique.

But first we need to be as rich and prosperous like the Americans before we seek spiritual bliss ...

We need to be economically comfortable. This level of economic comfort varies with individuals. Some are comfortable with two square meals a day while others need a crore of rupees in the bank before they are comfortable. But whatever may be the level, it is necessary to achieve it before once can look for spiritual progress. However those whose expectations are low can hope to achieve this level faster and begin their spiritual journey much earlier. This is perhaps why some people admire "plain living and high thinking"

It has been quite a while since we have been talking ... but where have we arrived so far ?

There are two dimensions to human progress -- an economic dimension and a spiritual dimension. Rational behavior leads to economic progress but this is not enough for the highest states of human happiness. Man must take an emotional and intuitive approach to progress along the spiritual dimension and this will lead to the ultimate bliss -- when he becomes conscious of the nature of Brahman and himself becomes a part of the Universal Consciousness. That is Nirvana.

What must one do to progress along the spiritual dimension ?

I wish I had a clear answer to that question but all that I can say at the moment is that there are many ways to move forward. Different sages and seers have practised, advocated and taught different techniques -- all of which can be loosely classified under the broad concept of Yoga.

Yoga ! you mean the body contorting exercises that we see on TV and read about in magazines.

That is only a small part of the much larger domain of Yoga. Literally, Yoga means union of the individual consciousness with the divine consciousness. There are hundred of yogic techniques -- some physical, some mental and some psychic, that if practised diligently and sincerely will lead to the ultimate Yoga.

Can you teach me some of these practices ?

No. I am not an adept. I do not know enough. You must find some one who knows these things and take his help in moving forward.

How shall I find such a person ?

When the time is ripe and you have achieved the right frame of mind and an appropriate level of maturity, a set of circumstances will propel in the right direction.

You are being extremely vague and evasive. Can you please explain this "right frame of mind" business ?

It is an elusive concept and very difficult to articulate in words. A crude but effective analogy would be the sexual act. Unlike the purely physical acts of touching the nose or lifting a leg, a sexual state like an ejaculation or an orgasm cannot be achieved by mere will or desire. One must create a conducive set of circumstances -- that may involve thoughts, images, sounds and actions, under which the mind and body react in a manner that leads the individual to a state that is extremely pleasurable.

Are you saying that sex leads to spiritual progress ?

No. I am merely using it as an analogy. Pieces of glass can be used to represent diamonds, but diamonds are far more precious than pieces of glass.

But I believe that Tantriks use sexual techniques to attain spiritual progress ....

As I had said before, there are many ways of reaching the goal. Yoga is an umbrella concept. It encompasses many tools and techniques. Tantra falls within the overall ambit of Yoga but Tantra itself has many schools of thoughts. Some of these schools believe in using the sexual imagery.

We are drifting into details. Can you please give me a broad picture of the various approaches that one might take...

That is not difficult. I think it was Vivekananda who had enunciated the classification : (a) Karma Yoga -- the path of work and service without expecting any reward, (b) Bhakti Yoga -- where the seeker drowns himself in pure and unalloyed belief, devotion and adoration. (c) Gyana Yoga -- that involves a thorough study and deep knowledge of all available sources of spiritual guidance, and (d) Raja Yoga -- where the mind is used a powerful instrument to look within itself and see the reflection of the divine. These four streams of Yoga are not mutually exclusive. Many sages traverse a creative combination of two, three or even four paths.

Can you explain each of these paths in greater detail ?

No I am not knowledgeable enough to explain the specific nuances of each of these schools of thought and even if I could, it would take too long.

If you were to choose a path, which one would you take ?

I am too lazy to be a true Karma Yogi and I have not been initiated into the path of Raja Yoga. As a student of science I am more comfortable with handling Gyana or knowledge but I believe that Bhakti or devotion is the final catalyst.

Are you sure that this is the right path ?

Perhaps I am wrong but let me tell you what the Healer had to say to Satyananda in the closing chapters of Bankimcandra’s novel – Anandamath :

The true Hindu rule of life is based on knowledge, not action. And this knowledge is of two kinds – outward and inward. The inward knowledge is the chief part of the Eternal Code, but unless the outward knowledge arises first, the inward cannot arise. Unless one knows the gross, one cannot know the subtle.[1]

What is the outward knowledge ?

It is the knowledge of science and technology based on rational enquiry and investigation.

Now wait a minute ! You had started this dialogue with the premise that my faith in the might and majesty of western civilization is misplaced. That its impact on contemporary society and culture is transient. And now after all this you have the cheek to come and tell me that science and technology – which is one of the cornerstones and crown jewels of this way of life – is important. Am I missing something ? Somewhere ?

The world of full of paradoxes and perhaps it is best that you learn to live with them.

Is this a paradox or is this a contradiction or – if you allow me to be generous – a confusion on your part ?

Thank you for your generosity but let me clear this confusion for you. As I have just said, or quoted from Anandamath, the knowledge on which the Hindu rule of life is based consists of two kinds of knowledge : internal and external. The rivers of this ‘external’ knowledge have unfortunately run dry in this country. So we cannot follow their course back to the fountainhead, the well spring of ‘internal’ knowledge, where the Truth in all its crystalline clarity, gushes out to quench our thirst. That is why the Hindu way of life – the Sanatan Dharma, the Eternal Code, has become confined to this dry ritualism of polytheistic idolatry.

So what do you suggest ? Go back to science and technology again ?

Yes. You need to master these techniques, rejuvenate this external knowledge or at least know and acknowledge them before you can have the confidence to walk along the path that leads to the inward or subtle knowledge.

Can share the experiences of walking along this path ?

I am not yet ready for the journey so let me prepare myself and then we can meet again ..

When ? and where ?

Meet me after seven years … at the chai-shop on the Road to the pSingularity – the primordial Singularity

[1] Anandamath or the Sacred Brotherhood, Bankimcandra Chatterji, translated by Julius Lipner, Oxford University Press. Part IV, Chapter 8, page 229

2 comments:

leprechaun said...

No comments on such a fine dialog?

First, I will point to a mistake in this sentence:

"Hence the Brahman has to be realized, it cannot be verbalized."

You repeated "realized" both times.

Anyway, reading your words I recall the Latin saying:

Primum vivere, deinde filosofare.

Meaning that first we must be able to live before we can engage ourselves in philosophical issues.

Or else, there should be an appropriate balance between our material and spiritual needs. May be now that will become possible with this approach of Eastern and Western cultures.

I have never been to India, but I cherish this great nation that developed such a masterful spirituality, and gave birth to so many sages and seers, from may be 3000BC till now.

So I keep on reading you...

Rui leprechaun

(...this singularity rings true! :))

leprechaun said...

Another small incorrection:

"The world is full of paradoxes..."

You repeated "of" instead.

By the way, I was thinking lately of the possible contributions that Indian civilization had made to scientific knowledge. Meaning, besides the spiritual endeavor that the religious books proclaim, I suppose that they also contain practical advice on other matters. For instance, the so called ayurvedic medicine, that Deepak Chopra has been promoting lately.

Also there is a cosmological vision in the Vedas with huge cycles or time periods. Besides the fact that the numerals were first used in India. And the atomic character of matter was also enunciated by an Indian sage, Kanada, even before Leucippus and Democritus in Greece

So I would really like to know more about what that intuitive knowledge has to say concerning the physical reality... I'm curious as can be! :)