Mass Extinction of Life Upon Earth
Seems human greed, not Nature, not God, will eventually destroy the planet.
We cannot accurately estimate how climate changes will affect the earth,
how much of that change is caused by human activity and how much by the forces
of Nature. However, what is certain is that the continued destruction of plant
and animal life forms will significantly alter earth's ecosystem and endanger
our very survival.
According to an estimate we have already lost over 50% of wildlife in the last
40 years alone due to our need for food and recreation or due to the encroachment of their habitats by humans,
deforestation, mining, pollution of the seas and rivers and other activities.
In the last few decades, the marine population has also considerably depleted due to largescale fishing, resulting
in the mass migration of local communities that traditionally lived in the coastal
areas for centuries.
Indiscriminate, deep sea fishing by large trawlers has not only done irreparable damage
to life in the oceans but also uprooted many traditional fishing communities in Asia,
Africa and Latin America.
Next time when you sit at a table to enjoy sea food or fish soup, think of this.
An article published on the website of WWF states that two-thirds of the
world's fish stocks are either fished at their limit or over fished.” The UN
food and agriculture organization (FAO) reported that 70 percent of the fish
population is fully used, overused or in crisis.
According to a report by OCEANA, a nonprofit, international advocacy organization
dedicated to protecting and restoring the world’s oceans, "Destructive fishing
practices are destroying large portions of our oceans and the life within them."
The same report further states that, "Around the world each year an estimated
44 billion pounds of fish are wasted – 25 percent of the entire world catch.
Tens of thousands of marine mammals, birds, corals, and other forms of ocean
life are also caught and discarded. This massive destruction of sea life puts
our oceans at risk, and with them our food supplies, our coastal economies,
and even ourselves."
It is simple commonsense to predict how such a massive of destruction of
life forms will have an impact on humans as well as on all life upon earth.
Many in the scientific community believe that we are on the verge of sixth mass
extinction of plants and animals, which happens once in a billion or a few hundred
million years. This time, it is not caused by natural events, but by human beings.
Of the remaining 50% species that have survived human destruction, at least
half will perish or become extinct in the next few decades, leaving us and the
earth with unpredictable consequences.
It is rather strange that on one side we are planning to establish human
colonies upon other planets in the solar system and exploring the possibility
of mass migration to Mars, but at the same time doing everything here to turn
our own unique planet into another Mars or Venus. Are we truly intelligent or
just playing the part Nature intends us as the dominant species of the earth
ecosystem to self-destruct ourselves like the insect that flies into fire?
We may be skeptical about Climate change, but the destruction of life upon
earth is real and provable. It is going to become worse, as drone technology improves and
as fast-paced and highly efficient drones begin to invade the air space and
destroy many bird species. With humans on earth and the greed of the large corporations which are exploiting
our appetite for food, no life form on the land, in the sea and in the air is safe.
Dealing With Language Barriers
I often come across people who tell me that I should not use certain English
words to express Hindu concepts. For example, they keep saying that the word soul
is not the same as Atma or meditation is not the same as dhyana. They also find
fault with me for using materialism in contrast to spiritualism or the word “mythology”
to denote our ancient myths and legends from the Puranas. In a very limited perspective,
they are right. All cultures and languages are not the same. Everyone who engages
in cross-cultural and linguistic communication understands the problem and uses
commonsense approaches to deal with them.
The truth is that neither language nor religion nor culture is static. They constantly
evolve and acquire new features and perspectives as the world progresses, and as
our knowledge keeps increasing. Sanskrit is not an exception. Over the millenniums
it acquired many new words, while many original Sanskrit words disappeared or were
forgotten due to lack of popularity. The Sanskrit that we speak today is very different
from the archaic Sanskrit which was used in Vedic times.
The same is true with English. English is not the official language of Christianity.
None of the prophets mentioned in the Bible ever spoke in English. English happened
to be the language of many people who practiced Christianity, and thereby the language
acquired many Christian expressions. The same is bound to happen in case of Hinduism
English has been greatly influenced by India’s culture and religions, and they
will continue to do so in future also. As more and more Hindus speak in English,
it will acquire a flavor of Hinduism and English words will acquire more depth,
new meanings and connotations to convey the ideas that are peculiarly Hindu. Words
such as Yoga, masala, bazaar, pundit have acquired a life of their own.
Language is just a means. It will not dispel your ignorance. Ignorance is better
dispelled by study and knowledge, whatever language one may use. In today’s world,
it is difficult to live with just one language. In multicultural societies, people
do not speak one language only. No one in India speaks the chaste form of any language
except perhaps newsreaders or people who do it in jest. People mostly use a mixture
of languages in their daily usage to communicate with others. For example, Hindi
people do not speak chaste Hindi. Besides words from Hindi, they use words from
local dialects, local idioms, Urdu, English, Arabic, Persian, Punjabi, Gujarati,
The English soul and the Sanskrit Atma may not be equivalents, but with constant
use overtime people will understand what it means when a Hindu speaks about soul
or uses it in his or her writings. Many Sanskrit words found their way into Pali
through Buddhism and Jainism. For example, Atma is pronounced as Atta, Maitri as
Metta, Dukha as Dukka, Karma as Kamma, Dharma as Dhamma in many Buddhist traditions
and nations. Still, those who practice it and those who are well versed in Buddhism
and Hinduism or Jainism understand what they mean.
Words are mere clothing to a concept or idea. They are of this world, and cannot
be perfect. Just as every other thing in the world, they have their own limitations.
The meaning of words changes according to the context or situation or the mindset
of the person who is involved in the communication. Even if you use the right word,
there is no guarantee that your communication will be effective, because there are
many barriers to communications apart from language.
What is more important is a good understanding of Hinduism, or whatever religion
or faith you practice, besides your ability to communicate with diverse groups of
people according to the situation and context. Once, your fundamentals are in place,
the words do not matter much, as you will understand what they truly mean.
Therefore, let us not be too pedantic and arcane about these issues when we
communicate with Hindus who do not speak Indian languages or live in different parts
of the world. Let people, scholars
and writers use their own discretion and commonsense to communicate with their audience.
Let us not sit in judgment on these issues and tell people how they should “behave.”
If they want to use the word “soul,” let them, or “Atma” or “Atta,” or whatever
their culture calls it.
Finally, let us not forget that Hinduism is known for its tolerance and diversity,
and there is no one path or right way to truth. If you cannot do it, it is better
to your native language and be content with your puritanism and chaste expression.
The Tenacity and Resilience of the Hindu
In my conversations outside India, people told me several times that they
met many Indians and found them to be "nice and gentle," but never rude. Some
even said that it was not the case with the people from neighboring countries.
They found them to be different in behavior and temperament and wondered why
it was so, since they too came from the same roots and had the same history.
It is true that a majority of Indians who live abroad are well behaved, agreeable
and gentle. They avoid attracting attention to themselves and live their lives,
limiting their attention to their careers, children, friends and family. They
are also tolerant and different in thinking and attitude from people of other
countries and cultures.
However, beneath that soft demeanor they are also tough and resilient. Their
gentle behavior should never be mistaken for weakness. Politically, India might
have been invaded by numerous foreign powers, but the people of the native faiths
(Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism) remained mentally and spiritually
invincible. They might have been defeated in wars by foreign powers in the past,
but most of them descended from ancient spiritual communities and warrior groups
who knew how to deal with suffering and live with humility.
The history of India stands testimony to this. It validates their tolerance,
courage, strength and commitment to their gods and their culture. India was
ruled by Muslim kings and emperors for about 900 years and by the British for
nearly 350 years. During this long period, Hindus withstood persecutions by
Muslim rulers, and religious and racial bias and discrimination by the British.
It is a wonder that although Hindus had no centralized religious authority
like the Church and although they were subjected to innumerable hardships and
discrimination for nearly a millennium, a majority of them remained loyal to
their ancestral faith and their ancient gods. The Muslim rulers of both the
North and the South killed millions of Hindus in wars and conducted systematic
persecutions, forcing many to convert under the lure of political or economic
privileges or the fear of death.
Despite such harsh measures, they could not shake the faith of the natives.
Most of them remained rooted to their culture and ancestral faiths. The British
outwardly remained secular but allowed missionaries, the Vatican and European
organizations to engage in religious propagation and conversions. However, neither
of those efforts were successful in converting the native Indians (who were
known as Hindus in those days). Until this day, a majority of them (80%-85%)
practice their faiths with pride and conviction.
India is the only country where its ancient culture and native faiths survived
centuries of foreign oppression, colonialism, imperialism, the Industrial revolution,
two World Wars, scientific rationalism, and an organized onslaught by well-funded
foreign institutions to undermine and degrade them. India is also the only country
that gave birth to at least four major world religions and innumerable religious
and spiritual movements.
Hinduism survives and continues its long journey because of its dedicated
guardians like this writer, the ascetics and the gurus, who volunteer as a service
and sacrifice to God to protect and preserve its knowledge, traditions and practices
for posterity. They ensure that from generation to generation Hinduism emerges
with increased strength, knowledge and wisdom to meet the needs, expectations
and aspirations of its religiously vibrant and diverse community. This has been
going on for centuries and will continue in future also.
I have no doubt that the people in the West who are now part of the Hindu
global community will enrich it further and ensure its future continuity.
Why is The Night Sky Dark?
Why is the night sky dark? If I ask you this question, you may wonder whether
it requires any answer at all because many people assume that the sky in the
night is dark because the sun is on the other side of the earth. I too
thought so, but I now know that it is not the right answer. The light of the
sun does not go beyond a little distance in our galaxy. The outer space is indeed
cold, dark and deadly. The universe looks still dark when you watch it with
a telescope beyond the sun or when you look far into space. The simple truth
is there is not enough light in the universe around us to make it look brighter.
Logically, the night sky should have been much brighter. There are billions
of stars in our galaxy and trillions in nearby ones. Then there are billions
of galaxies themselves. With so many shining stars and galaxies emitting so
much light, the night sky should have been flooded with a lot of light. However,
it is not the case because the space has been continuously expanding for the
last 13 billion years or so, thereby making it increasingly difficult for light
to travel in it and lit up the space.
According to astrophysicists, a few billion years ago, the night sky should
have been much brighter, as if there was a celestial celebration on a grander
scale. The younger universe was not only brighter but also hotter and deadlier,
with harmful radiation everywhere. Perhaps, if the space did not expand and
the stars and galaxies remained static, there would have been no life upon earth.
We do not know for how long the universe or the space may keep expanding. We
also do not know if the space itself is expanding, into what (dimension) it
is expanding. However, what we know for sure is that as time goes by the universe
will become increasingly darker and darker rather than brighter. Ironically,
it will be like the Age of Kali, darker and gloomier.
Learning From Nature Through Simple Observation
Whether it is on a sidewalk, in a desert or on Mars, the effect of wind on a
granular surface is always the same.
Nature is a set of causes, which are bound to rules, procedures, formulas
and principles, which are already inherent in it. They are universal, consistent
and verifiable. Hence, much of what happens in Nature is predictable and repeatable.
The Samkhya School of Hinduism rightly states that the effects of existence
are already hidden in their causes and manifest when their time is due, or when
favorable circumstances present themselves. Dharma, Karma and Rita, which ensure
the order and regularity of the universe, arise from this structured and programmed
aspect of Nature only.
Nature is preprogrammed. She is an automaton, a gigantic intelligent system,
which imparts some predictability and certainty to an otherwise unpredictable
and uncertain life. What disrupts that predictability is our own indiscipline
in the choices we make and the actions we perform out of desires and attachments.
Discipline brings predictability. The lack of it leads to chaos. The Asuras
lack discipline. Hence, they are masters of chaos. It is the gods who ensure
the order and regularity of the world.
This is what we learn from Hinduism. If you perform certain actions, you
will reap certain consequences. If you uphold dharma, dharma will protect you
by ensuring the order and regularity of your life, your family and the world.
If you want to experience peace and happiness, take responsibility for your
life, do your duties, meet your obligations and respect the laws that govern
your life. Through such simple observations you can learn from the hidden mechanism
of Nature, know about causes and effects, and accordingly make your choices
with intelligence and discernment.
These are the simple ideas that form the basis of Hindu theology, ethics
and belief system. The same observations with regard to cause and effect form
the backbone of modern science, scientific methods, theorems, hypotheses, research
and investigation. Everything about the world and the universe can be learned
through observation, understanding, and analysis and the knowledge so gained
can be used to secure your life to live in peace and harmony.
The Mystery of Life and Death
Imagine you are traveling in a spaceship at the speed of light. Day by day
you are moving towards a giant black hole, which is twenty light years away.
In retrospect you remember that your journey began few years ago out of nowhere.
You did not ask for it. You were asked by the supreme commander of the league
of nations to undertake the journey, without giving you any choice or time to
It was made clear to you from the time you entered the ship that you had
no chance of leaving the ship or avoiding the journey unless you decided to
die on your own. You were also not given any power to stop the spaceship or
turn it back because all controls are locked. You have no clue who controls
them, and why and what purpose you serve in the whole journey.
What you know is that you are on autopilot and you have some freedom to make
decisions about how you choose to live in the limited space. With a sigh you
stare into the mysterious void in front of you, knowing that you are trapped
in the spaceship, which is hurtling itself towards the doom and you can either
make the most of it or keep yourself engaged in numerous distractions to forget
the tragedy that your life is.
What will you do?
You may feel surprised if I tell you that you are already on such a journey.
Right now you are travelling in a spaceship towards the black hole. In fact,
it has been going on in your life ever since you were born. Your body is the
spaceship. You are trapped in it as its lone traveler. You have no escape. The
black hole is Death, the destination of all travelers in the journey of life.
You are a few years or decades away from it. You cannot avoid it, nor can you
escape from it. It is certain that at some point in future you will enter that
No one knows what happens there. You do not know whether you exist or cease
to exist. The same is true with black holes. Scientists do not clearly know
what happens when one enters a black hole. Does anyone survive? Does one enter
timelessness or eternity ora new dimension, which is unknown and vastly beyond
our knowledge and comprehension? Right now, we have no answers to these questions.
When you set aside your religious beliefs and pay attention to the universe
and its mysterious phenomena, life seems to be a purposeless journey. Still,
it is a miracle that we all want to make sense of it, find purpose in it and
manage to live without losing hope and zest for life. It is a miracle and a
blessing that we do our best to survive against odds in a seemingly meaningless
and purposeless existence.
Same Sex Relationships and the role of Karma
One of the central features of Hinduism is belief in rebirth. Each soul goes
through numerous births and deaths before it achieves liberation. Belief in
rebirth also leads to several other beliefs. For example, Hindus believe that
marriage is between two souls, who are bound to the cycle of births and deaths
(samsara). Their relationship is not limited to one birth, but may extend up
to seven. Hindus also believe that the soul has no gender. In other words, there
are no permanent male or female souls. Gender is determined by karma and which
body a soul assumes at the time of its entry into the womb.
All souls are invariably aspects of the Cosmic Being and masculine. Hence,
they are called men (purushas) only. As pure souls, they are indistinguishable,
eternal, indestructible and infinite, while they may assume different bodies
in the mortal world according to their karma. Some souls may take birth as animals,
some as birds and some as humans. Human birth is precious and arises after a
soul goes through innumerable births and reaches certain purity.
Thus, the form and gender of a soul in the mortal body are determined by
karma. In other words, a person who is born as a male in this birth does not
have to be born as a male again. He may take birth in a woman’s body. The same
can happen to married couples. In their next birth, depending upon karma a couple
may be born as before or as two males or two females or with their gender reversed.
That is, the husband may be born as the wife and the wife may born as the husband.
Some may even take birth as transexuals and in worst case scenario as animals.
Such possibilities explain why people of the same sex are often sexually
attracted to each other and enter marital relationships. Hindu Law books (Dharmashastras)
do not approve of same sex marriages or relationships since they consider procreation
as the basis for human marriages. From their perspective, same sex marriages
do not serve the aims of Dharma on earth nor confirm to the moral code it upholds.
However, if someone is looking for explanation how same sex relationships may
manifest in the world, and why some people feel compelled to make their sexula
preferences, this is one plausible explanation.
Symbolic Rivalry between Shaivism and Vaishnavism
Few years ago I happened to attend a satsang (a get together) organized by
a Hindu temple on the occasion of Mahashivrathri, which is a very sacred day
for the devotees of Shiva. The temple arranged a team of singers from the local
community to sing devotional songs on the occasion. They put the singers directly
in front of the main door that led to the sanctum, where the Shivaling was installed.
People could see both the singers and the Shivaling at the same time.
The singers were mostly Vaishnava followers of a particular sect. You could
tell it from the marks they wore on their foreheads. They were no doubt very
pious people, and you could see it from their demeanor. They played different
instruments and joined the chorus while one or two sang melodiously. However,
what was striking was their partiality for Vishnu. Although they started singing
a few songs in honor of Shiva, they ended up mostly singing the bhajans of Vishnu.
They did not care that the occasion was Shiva’s festival and was meant for him.
Not many people who attended the event and participated in the chorus took any
objection. They went with it, probably thinking that both the deities represented
the same ultimate reality.
The rivalry between Shaivism and Vaishnavism is as ancient as the history
of Hinduism itself. They are the two most popular sectarian traditions of Hinduism
and qualify as religions themselves, each having more following than even world
religions like Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism.
Shaivism regards Shiva as the Supreme Brahman, Parvathi as Shakti, and all
other gods and goddesses of Hindu pantheon as their numerous manifestations.
Vaishnavism holds Maha Vishnu and Maha Lakshmi as the highest. For a long time
in the development of Hinduism, the two sects remained at loggerheads with each
other, and often resorted to violence to settle their differences.
It was only in the last few centuries, after the emergence of popular Hinduism,
there has been a marked reconciliation between the two sects and people from
both sides had a change in their attitude. Most Hindus now revere both the gods
during domestic worship, on festive occasions or when they visit temples. The
differences and prejudice still persist in the extreme elements of both sects,
and perhaps it will continue.
My Early Encounters With Atheism
When I was a child, I knew a few atheists from Hindu families, who believed
in Communism and took active part in social movements and in castigating superstition,
blind faith and other problems. They considered themselves rational people,
admired Soviet communism, and gave chemical or neutral names to their children,
such as lavanam, meaning salt, svarajyam, meaning freedom, viplav meaning revolution,
or udayam, meaning dawn. Despite their names, loudness or their loquaciousness,
I did not think they were not Hindus. Their arguments amused me, but I believed
that someday they would open their eyes and return to their faith.
I also had a few close friends in my class, who one day in the middle of
the school playground vehemently argued with me that God never existed, and
I was a fool to believe in him. I tried my best to counter their arguments,
suggesting that they could not simply go by what they saw. I used the analogy
of air and electricity, but they were unconvinced. They were adamant and stuck
to their argument. In the end, as a final gesture of defiance, they threw their
notebooks on the ground, which had the images of Hindu gods and goddess on the
covers, and walked over them, daring God to stop them if he could or prove his
existence by doing something in response.
Nothing happened that day. We went back to our homes, after playing in the
same playground and forgetting all that. The next day, I saw two of my friends
returning to school with bandages to their feet. They told me that they went
for swimming that evening and jumped from a bridge into the water. There were
some broken glass pieces in the canal bed, which cut them badly. They thought
they were punished by God for what they did that day. They were convinced that
they had paid the price for trampling on the images of the gods.
I did not know whether God really punished them for what they did. I do not
think he would punish anyone for such frivolous reasons. More serious crimes
are committed by people, but nothing happens to them. However, the incident
ensured that at least a few of my friends never broached the subject again with
me. I believe they are now happily married with children and might still be
going to temples and celebrating Hindu festivals.
Telugu Language and It Connection with Sanskrit
Sri Krishna Deva Raya
One of the reasons I am able to translate Sanskrit texts into English with
some ease is that Telugu happens to be my first language, where I am automatically
introduced to the subtle nuances of Sanskrit. In Telugu many old and archaic
Sanskrit words and phrases come to life as how they were probably used when
Sanskrit was still the spoken language of ancient India among educated Indians.
Classical Telugu is very sweet. When used in poetry in metrical form it sounds
very rhythmic. I believe it is because Telugu language has Sanskrit as its base
both literally and grammatically. Telugu people and culture have a long history
that dates back to the Vedic times. It was probably Telugu communities who introduced
the Vedic traditions and culture in the South. The geographical location of
Telugus, and the large empire established by the Satavahana rulers, also suggests
that they and the Marathas were probably the connecting link between the North
and the South.
It appears that Telugu has been wrongly classified as a purely Dravidian
language, which remains unchallenged since the European scholars of the colonial
era classified it in justification of their Aryan, Dravidian theory. Telugu
should have been classified as a mixed language, having the features of both
linguistic streams. Classical Telugu in which most of its classical poetry and
Prabandhas were rendered has a greater affinity with Sanskrit, while many words
of daily usage and folk expressions have a lot in common with other Dravidian
and Prakritik languages. Because of its classical nature and subtle beauty,
Sri Krishnadeva Raya took to Telugu and used it as his court language. He even
said to have composed some works in Telugu and praised it as the best of the
native language (Desa bhashalandu Telugu lessa). Whatever may be the truth,
if you have a good knowledge of Telugu, you will understand many Sanskrit words
without the need to refer to a dictionary.
It is Doubtful Whether Mars Ever Had Large Oceans
Let me be the first one to say this. Considering whatever images and information
I found on NASA and other places, I can say that Mars probably never had large
oceans like the ones we see here on earth. Undoubtedly, it has many earth like
features, but looks are deceptive. Whoever is planning to go there and establish
large colonies, Mars will prove to be a big disappointment for them. Nuking
Mars to create atmosphere is a very immature idea. It may look good on paper,
but it will render Mars permanently uninhabitable, rendering its limited water
resources polluted for centuries. It is also not going to alter the extreme
temperatures on Mars. If it is so simple, why do not we test it here in the
Sahara or the Australian desert? It is not possible to alter the orbit of Mars,
its tilt, or its position in the solar system, which are the major factors in
shaping Mar's climate and atmosphere.
Mars is not cut out for human settlement. We must acknowledge the fact. We
should not mess with the universe, trying to transform planets, which is not
only economically not feasible, but even dangerous to our very existence. We
must take the planets as they come and use them to our advantage. The solar
system is our backyard, and we must intelligently use it and exploit it to our
best advantage. We may set up colonies but only for exploration and exploitation,
not for habitation. It is more practical to plan in advance and colonize the
space between the earth and the moon and build large cities, rather than altering
the inhospitable planets for human habitation. It is strange that the very people
who keep cautioning about climate change on earth are advocating the idea that
we can alter Mars climate and make it habitable. They should first test those
ideas on earth and help millions of people who live in inhospitable climate.
It will be better if we send robotic missions to Mars and establish mining
posts, and a space lift, to mine the planet for its resources. It is a better
option rather than pushing the humanity into an inhospitable world. The planet
seems to possess many metals, minerals and valuable resources that are commonly
found in desert like conditions, whch can greatly augument our depleting resources
on earth. Mars might have had rivers, lakes, and large water bodies, but not
oceans of the kind that exists on the earth. It explains why Mars surface looks
so inert and lifeless. Life is supported by water, but for life to evolve and
thrive on a large scale and for a long time, we need large oceans. We do not
find any signs of the existence of life upon Mars in the past. It might have
had, if at all, microorganism and viruses, but not complex life forms such as
plants, trees, birds, fish, and animals. Life happened on earth because of the
oceans. On Mars you do not find any telltale signs that it had oceans once.
If it had oceans, there would have been large deposits of salt on the ground.
We do not see any salt there except perhaps in small quantities. I am therefore
highly skeptical that we will ever be able to find any life on Mars.
Infinite Possibilities in Small Infinities
No one lives forever, except perhaps in the memory of certain people. Even
that no one can guarantee because those who remember also do not live forever.
Our lifespan upon earth is limited. Some may live longer and some for a short
while, but in the end everyone has to die. Thankfully, most of us do not know
when we are going to die. We are saved from that ordeal by Nature. What is most
painful and fearsome? It is knowing when exactly you are going to die, or how
long you are going to live. For most of us, unless we have numbed our senses,
it is unbearable. It happens in fewer cases, when someone is facing a death
sentence or suffering from terminal illness. Coping with a situation like that
requires immense courage, and coming to terms with death itself. A person whose
death is imminent has fewer options to deal with it. Whatever that one can do
in such a situation can be only done at the mental or spiritual level, by accepting
it, surrendering to it, and becoming indifferent to it. It means one needs a
fundamental shift in thinking, attitude and free the mind from the longing to
live to acknowledge the inevitability of death.
There is an important scene in the movie, The Fault in our Stars, which touches
upon this subject. The movie is about two teenagers who are stuck with cancer.
One of them is about to die, and the other knows that at some point she has
to leave, although she does not know when it may exactly happen. The hero of
the film, Augustus Waters, arranges his own (pre) funeral in a Church in anticipation
of his imminent death. He invites only two of his best friends to read their
eulogies. One of them is the heroine of the film Hazel Grace Lancaster.
In her eulogy, she uses a math analogy to express her gratitude for an opportunity
she has to know him and love him, and in the course of it she touches upon a
brilliant concept. A person's lifespan upon earth may be limited, but within
that limited lifespan is hidden an infinity. That infinity may be smaller or
bigger than other infinities, but each one has an opportunity to experience
it and feel grateful about it. Hazel Grace begins her small, prepared speech
by saying, "I am not a mathematician, but I do know this. There are infinite
numbers between zero and one. There is 0.1. 0.12, 0.112, and an infinite collection
of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite between 0 and 2, or between
0 and a million. So our infinity is simply bigger than other infinities. A writer
that we used to like taught us that... But Gus I know how thankful I am for
our little infinity. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and for
that I am eternally grateful."
Her speech reflected the manner in which she came to terms with her limited
lifespan and with the imminent death of her boyfriend. She did not feel sorry
for the turn of the events, but felt grateful for the memorable moments she
spent with him. She looked at life in terms of moments and the infinite possibilities
each moment offered. She felt that their infinite was bigger than some other
infinites because they were able to live longer than some who died much younger.
In that limited number of days, she had an opportunity to experience true love
and express it. It was her way of coming to terms with what life might offer,
the inevitability of death, and accepting what had become her fate.
Information and Its Role in Today's World
In this age, information is power. Those who control the flow of information
control the world. And it usually rests with those who have the money to buy
and sell influence as news, publicity and entertainment. Some companies have
minted money by doing it before others even realized it. Some are trying to
catch up with them or know their secrets with crooked means by hacking, etc.
Expect the competition to intensify in the coming years and each country clamoring
for its own internet rather than global internet. As time passes by, laws will
be introduced to monitor social messaging, and restrictions will be placed upon
people to access websites that are situated outside their countries. It will
happen first in totalitarian states and feudalistic democracies who do not want
people to know too much or have too much freedom. For the common people in most
parts of the world freedom will remain an illusion. They will have the freedom
to do and to live according to the limits set by those who control their lives.
The information age has not made people informed or set them free. It has
turned them into a global market that can be programmed and influenced to watch
certain movies, buy certain products, and support certain values and ideologies
that will sustain and extend the same culture. Since human beings as groups
have the tendency to make worst choices as we have seen in the past under the
impression that such choices are always about someone else, the situation is
not going to improve anytime soon.
Are We Truly Living in an Information age?
We call our age information age. However, let us think
about it honestly. Undoubtedly, today we have access to a lot of information.
Within minutes, you can find any information you want. Each day, billions of
words are written and posted on the social networks, websites and message forums,
and millions of videos and images are uploaded. However, with all that information
at our fingertips, are we becoming any better and more intelligent? To me it
appears that most of the information an average reader scans during the day
is of very inferior quality. It is generally about who killed who, who said
what, or who slept with whom. It is as if most of us are in deep sleep, and
unless there is a huge explosion like noise, no one will wakes up and look around.
People are not looking for information but entertainment, love, sex, chat buddies,
and companionship. A lot of youngsters in every part of the world do not know
who their rulers are, where important historic sites are located, what happened
to their countries in the past, or how they can improve their lives. Many students
cannot even spell basic words correctly or construct complex sentences properly,
and much of it goes unnoticed because we have spelling and grammar checking
software. When you see people who cannot answer simple questions about their
religion, history, literature, region, society, or their leaders, one cannot
but begin to wonder whether this much collective ignorance is a new trend peculiar
to our times or whether all the technology and information that we have built
are just putting new light and focus upon the hidden truths of the humanity
and their numerous weaknesses and self-destructive tendencies.
Is Collective Wisdom Better Than Individual Wisdom?
There is a general belief that two people are better than
one, three better than two, and so on. This is done to promote the idea of unity,
synergy, and team work. It is true that the sum of parts is better than any
individual parts. However, it looks like we often over stretch the idea and
ignore the importance of individuality. I have serious doubts about the argument
that more means better and having more people working together guarantees better
results. I have seen in my life how collectively people can be self-destructive
in their choices and act against their own collective interests. Now, no group
would willingly appoint a person as a driver who had never driven a bus or driven
but just a two wheeler, and then have the audacity to not only appoint him as
their chosen driver but also travel in it when he drives. If it happens you
will consider the group insane. However, collectively people in real life have
done it many times and elected incompetent and inexperienced leaders with little
or no political or leadership knowledge and experience. They not only elected
such people once, but gave them more chances by reelecting them as if to make
sure that the person they chose had a magic wand which he or she forgot to use
the first time. It is a wonder how people can collectively hand over their lives
and destinies to someone who has no practical experience in running a country
and influence the future of millions of people for generations to come.
If more people means better, our democracies must be producing the best of
the leaders with great knowledge and wisdom. In my life, I hardly saw any great
leader being elected by people purely on merits. If they did, it was mostly
by mistake or purely out of frustration when their choices were proved wrong
beyond doubt. I believe people elected better leaders half a century ago, when
they were less literate than the people now even though they are comparatively
better educated and better informed. Visit any social network site. Who enjoy
Maximum following and adulation? It is painful to see that more people are driven
by what is between their legs than by what is between their ears. These choices
do not necessarily prove that the collective wisdom of the humanity is any better
than individual freedom. The progress of our civilization is made possible mostly
by brilliant individuals who refused to go with the majority opinion. They were
largely ignored by their communities, and frequently ridiculed, persecuted,
threatened, and even burnt on stake.
So far, all the major experiments in collectivism, communism and socialism
produced mixed results and in some countries proved to be a miserable failure.
Yet we have many empty heads in our universities who try to brainwash their
students into becoming little Mao's. The conclusion, crowds and communities
can collectively pull of off magic and produce good results under some circumstances.
And so do exceptional individuals, when the crowd is willing to give them a
chance and let them be. There is some truth, when they say, "Too many cooks..."
And there is some, when you hear, "Two brains are better than one." However,
I am not sure if a thousand brains are.
Why make Commercial Movies Only When most
of Them Fail?
Almost 95% Indian films are gaudy, bawdy, decadent and completely
detached from reality. It is almost painful to watch characters that are created
according to specific stereotypes with undertones of racism, regionalism, and
gender discrimination. Critics argue that Indian films are made so with commercial
interest and those who invest money need to recover their investments. It is
true that film making is a commercial effort. A senior actor recently commented
that Indian film making has become a money making effort. However, this argument
does not make sense, when you consider that almost 90% of the movies made in
India do not make any profit at all. Out of the hundreds of movies made in India
in different languages, only a handful end up becoming box-office hits. The
rest fade away from theatres within a few days after they are released. Therefore,
it makes no sense why so many films need to be made with commercial angle when
most of them fail to make any profit. Formula films have the same chance of
succeeding as films that are made with good stories and artistic values. Hence,
instead of focusing upon formula films only, producers and directors should
focus upon making quality movies with limited budget with educated middle-class
audience in mind. Good movies can be made with limited budget as in the west
with local actors since there is no dearth of acting talent in the country.
The success and failure ratio may be the same but there will be the satisfaction
that artistic values have not been compromised. Besides, overtime it may bring
a definite change in the perception and perferences of the people and pave way
for a better future for the industry.
Killing Elephants and Wildlife
No planet in the solar system has the potential to sustain life
in a natural habitat. Yet we keep destroying all wildlife indiscriminately.
In the next fifty years we are going to wipe out most of marine life, and many
birds and animals that are going to become extinct forever. However, it seems
many people are not troubled by any of it. Some of them are still debating whether
they have God given right to kill and eat animals. A politician takes a gun
and shoots a moose for a television program. The children of a business tycoon
go to Africa, hunt an elephant and take photographs holding its tail. Is there
any manliness in killing captive animals? If these paper heroes want to have
excitement they should face a lion, bear, or tiger with bear hands and fight
it. The king of a country in Europe goes on a wild hunting party to kill a she
elephant, a mother to a baby elephant. Newspapers have published photograph
of its baby weeping for her mother. The news said that she kept weeping for
her mother for five hours. Are we really that stupid? Don't we have hearts?
How can a king, an old man, ready to die in a few years, who should live in
gratitude for being born a king with no responsibilities, has the heart to kill
an elephant, which is mother to a baby elephant? How can he feel manly about
his dastardly act? What is happening to this world? Why are we letting such
cruel people have their way in business, society and politics?
Failure in American Culture
Failure is not easily appreciated in American culture. American
enterprise thrives on individual success. There is not much importance for seniority
or experience. In fact, there is a discrimination against aged people in several
companies although they will never openly tell you that. People value equality
of opportunity and freedom of the individual in the context of pursuing individual
goals and achieving the American dream. There is little doubt that Americans
are the most hard working and enterprising people in the world. They also take
great risks and go to great lengths to make their dreams come true. No other
nation in the world gives you as much freedom and opportunity to excel. You
can set up a company with minimum hassles and do business. If you have a product
or an idea that can sell, sky is the limit. I can vouch from experience and
observation that they support any commercial venture or business that gives
them the best service and quality irrespective of who owns it.
While failure is not much appreciated, people do appreciate cultural themes
centered around personal failures and human tragedies. I recently watched two
movies, both of which are about failed fathers. Both depict how people suffer
from past mistakes and deal with the social pressures, while fighting their
own personal demons and family conflicts. The movies are Touching Home, and
Nobody's Fool. Paul Newman acted in Nobody's Fool for which he got an Oscar.
It is about a failed father who abandons his family, hates his own father, and
lives a lonely life in a small town in New York. He forms a bond with his son
and grandson, learns to appreciate the few friendships he has in his life and
makes a new beginning. Touching Home is based on a real life story about two
baseball players and their alcoholic father, who would not give up his drinking
habit although it destroyed his life and that of his sons. The sons are frustrated
with their father and their own difficulties, but eventually they make peace
with him and succeed. Although the movies are about failures, both movies do
not neglect the importance of hard work. The protagonists are not easygoing
people. They work hard and live on their own meager income, even when they have
physical and psychological problems and suffer from alienation, remorse and
Who is an enemy of God?
It is my conviction that an atheist is not an enemy of God. An
atheist does not believe in God. And there is no sin in that. You cannot blame
someone if they want to trust their senses rather your and my word. In my opinion
it is another kind of faith in the non-existence of God. In Hinduism, we believe
all beings are subject to ignorance and delusion. So not having the right knowledge
or mistaking one for another is part of our natural existence. You do not incur
any sin for holding such beliefs, as long as you do not harm others based upon
such beliefs. One becomes an enemy of God when one's ignorance becomes a source
of evil to others. From this perspective, an enemy of God is one who practices
an active hate campaign against religions, who tries to undermine their importance,
who makes light of God's eternal teachings, and who lives solely for himself
and his ideology in total disregard to the values of humanity, with a single-minded
obsession is to replace the institutions of religion and ancient traditions
with their antithetical ones.
The politicization of Islam
Anyone who is familiar with Islam agrees that it has many positive
features such as its emphasis upon unconditional surrender to God, and submission
to His will, its commitment to a certain way of life that would purify the mind
and heart, a child like faith in the word of God, emphasis upon purity, discipline,
virtue and mortality, and so on. However, unfortunately, since its origin Islam
has been misused by political authority for personal ends. Since the first Caliphate
was formed, the power to regulate the religious lives of people remained vested
with the rulers, unlike in Christianity where the kings had to contend with
the Pope in matters concerning faith. As a result, from the beginning Islam
had been used and misused by rulers to enforce their rule. In doing so, they
did not claim divine authority, but the authority of the scriptures to invoke
their authority and for them it was easier and more convenient than claiming
a direct affinity with God. Thus, rulers and dictators alike used the faith
of the people to impose their will and authority upon them and subject them
to oppression and innumerable hardships. One of the great features of Islam
is its emphasis upon having a direct relationship with God instead of through
middlemen. But Islamic rulers insisted that they would act as the middlemen
and stand in between people and God to see if they were practicing their faith
rightly. Thus, they became the self-styled guardians of faith, to punish whomever
they disliked for personal, political or religious reasons. Personally, these
rulers represented the worst of humanity. They had many vices and there was
nothing divine or humane about them. You can say they represented the lowest
denomination to which human beings can descend in any aspect of life. Yet, they
believed, and still many do, that they had a right to act as the moral guardians
of the people they oppressed. Whether it was Genghis Khan or Aladdin Khilji,
Timor, Aurangzeb or Mohammad Tughlak, they have been personally responsible
for the deaths of millions of people in the name of religion and all they cared
was how to strengthen their rule and extend their power so that they could collect
taxes from poor people and use that money to wage more wars. Yet, each of them
pretended that they were upholding a faith, which they never really practiced.
Thus far, for the selfish rulers Islam has been both the shield and the weapon
to stay in power and avoid being challenged.
My Aim is not to teach or preach
My aim is neither to preach nor teach, but inform about what I
believe in and stand for, and about my choices and convictions. I do not care
what religion you practice and in whom you believe. I have no quarrel with you
just because you are in a different mindset and hold different opinions. Your
life is yours. It is your God given right to be who you are. No one has the
right to impose their opinions upon you unless you are willing to let that happen.
Every human being is unique, and as society, we must allow that to express itself.
We must preserve and protect the uniqueness of human beings as individuals.
Whether they make good or bad choices, as long as they are NOT hurting or harming
anyone, we must let them be. Then only we will enable and empower the diversity
of creation to enrich our collective knowledge and wisdom.
Is fanaticism tolerated in Hinduism?
I would prefer to answer this from the perspective of the scriptures
not from the perspective of Hindus since Hindus are not an organized community
and their numerous opinions on this subject cannot be summarized or generalized.
The Bhagavadgita says clearly that those who do not disturb others are the best
and the dearest to God. They are the most qualified for liberation. Similarly
non-violence is regarded as the highest virtue by the scriptures. Lastly fanaticism
stems from either rajas or tamas or both, but certainly not from sattva. From
sattva arise divine qualities, while demonic qualities stem mostly from rajas
and tamas. They promote delusion, egoism, sinful actions and bondage.
I therefore do not think fanaticism will do us any good. Fanatics are more like
Duryodhana, Dussasana or Dhritarashtra rather than Arjuna or Dharmaraj. They
may think that with their aggressive behavior they may be serving the religion
or the dharma. In truth, they serve none but their demonic nature and their
delusional sense of self-importance. I often come across Hindu fanatics. I can
understand their zeal, but I cannot agree with their views or their methods
of suppressing other people's opinions. Hinduism is not a dogmatic religion.
So a thousand views can coexist in our religion, even when they are contradictory.
These views, whatever they may be, do not represent absolute truths, but only
the diversity and the delusion to which we are subject. They suggest the predicament
of human existence and the limitations of the human mind in understanding transcendental
truths. We should defend our religion by practising it and upholding its values
and vision. A religion lives through its people. Its greatness is reflected
in the character of its adherents. Therefore do not argue with me that your
religion is great. Show it to me through your character and behavior.
Religion vs. Spirituality
First, you have to decide is whether you are a religious person
or a spiritual person. If you are a religious person, you have to see how far
you will take your religion seriously. For me religion is a stepping stone,
a phase in the spiritual life of an aspirant. Religion is a mixture of spiritual
and social themes, which thrive on group dynamics and the collective aspirations
of its adherents. It may become an obstacle, as it happens in case of many,
if you develop egoistic attachment to it and identify yourself with it or begin
to take pride in it. It is a pity people commit most heinous crimes in the name
of their religions. We learn from history that religions can be dangerous tools
in the hands of impure and evil people. Religion can corrupt your mind and lead
you astray if you lack discretion (buddhi). Playing with religion is like playing
with fire. It can burn you or sustain your life depending upon how you use it.
Therefore, take what you can from your religion for your spiritual growth and
self-transformation. If you are a spiritual person, learn to live freely without
fear or compulsion of any injunction. That is the purpose of spiritual life,
to become free, to live freely without encumbrances. Your aim should be to become
detached from everything that binds you and makes you act in certain predefined
ways. It includes religion and all the sentimentality it brings. If you are
a spiritual person, follow your conscience, practice virtues that lead to your
inner growth, exercise your discretion (buddhi), and if you have chosen a guru
out of wisdom (not ignorance, greed, desire or fear) follow him or her in letter
and deed. The idea is you should be free eventually from all that binds you
and keeps you in chains here. So do not try to replace old chains with new ones
in the hope of becoming free. If a religion cannot make you a better human being
morally and spiritually what is the use of following it?
Reinterpretation of the Samkhya Philosophy in Modern
Life is a combination of these three: random events, mechanical
processes and intelligent actions. Probably the random events are also mechanical
processes; but at this stage we do not have the knowledge to know as such. Because
we are made to be unpredictable, we can interfere with the design of the universe
and change it with our intelligence. We are the “if and when” of the universe.
The rest is all designed to be automatic and mechanical. Matter becomes intelligent
consciousness through transformation (parinamam) of the energy components. Then
it takes over the leadership of the world and things and becomes accountable
and responsible for its actions resulting in bondage and rebirth. To escape
from it we need a still higher intelligence that is not subject to Nature. Samkhya
says intelligence preexists eternally in the form of individual souls. Our intelligence
arising from Nature is their reflection only. This intelligence helps us to
be free from all events, both random and intelligent and takes us back to our
original state, which we call liberation. This is a somewhat reinterpreted modern
account of the ancient Samkhya.
May be at a later stage we may add more complexity to our lives by creating
artificial intelligence, which may interfere with the mechanical processes as
well as our intelligent actions, resulting in more uncertainty chaos and confusion.
It looks like artificial intelligence is the next level of evolution waiting
to happen here upon earth. Since Nature is an automated mechanical force, it
is possible to imitate it and recreate the same effects it produces naturally.
If that happens, we may unleash forces beyond our control and set in motion
a chain of events, which may culminate in our loss of leadership and further
bio-diversity. What we are now doing to Nature may then happen to us. We are
the Frankenstein monsters of Nature (I.A.M. 1.0) and we are on the threshold
of creating newer versions of this intelligence, which is part creative and
part destructive, part divine and part demonic. (* I.A.M is my acronym for Intelligent
Animal Man who will then create I.A.M. 1.0 that is Intelligent Artificial Man)
Reply to a Racist and a Religious Bigot
Someone from Iona College, Brisbane, Australia, an independent
Catholic Boys School, owned and administered by the Missionary Oblates of Mary
Immaculate, sent me this hate mail, "I am racist and I hate you, how does this
make you feel?" Here is my reply, “I feel sad because you study in a religious
school and learn only racism and hatred. I feel sad because you do not have
respect for the very religion and its values. I feel sad because you who live
in Australia hate someone who lives in the US and never met you or harmed you
or intend to harm you. Where has gone your humanity? I have never met Jesus,
but I have a good knowledge of his teachings. I know my beliefs and values agree
a lot more with his teachings than yours. Although I am a Hindu, I secured the
love of a Muslim Sufi saint who promised to look after me and take care of me
even after he left from here. He never asked me to change my religion or my
beliefs. I could feel his love over flowing and touching everyone who came his
way. Although I am a devout Hindu, I studied all religions to overcome my own
prejudices. I have a picture of Mary and Jesus on my desk, as a reminder to
me every day that I have to treat all religions with respect. I know Jesus will
be sad too for his sheep have gone astray into the wilderness where he was once
troubled by the dark shadows. He will be sad because some of his followers are
becoming the very people who tortured him and then crucified him. My dear, with
hatred in your heart, you will not be allowed to cross the bridge of doubt and
enter the gates of heaven. You have to resolve that delusion of hatred here
upon earth, if you want to travel by the sunlit path to the world of immortals.
Yoga and Hinduism
Sometime back, I presented a video on the origin and history
of yoga in which I made a statement that yoga was India's unique contribution
to the world. I also added that it was a more intense form of prayer and religious
worship, and a way of reaching out to God through intense personal effort. These
words came to me effortlessly, when I began working on the video and I added
them without hesitation because I grew up with those convictions, having seen
yoga as an inseparable aspect of Hinduism, and never doubted them. Some people
did not like those statements because they thought I was trying to add a theistic
element to an otherwise secular and atheistic philosophy of yoga. Many people
outside India do not know that yoga is interwoven with Hinduism and it is essentially
a spiritual practice meant for liberation by cultivating purity (sattva) and
stabilizing citta (dynamic consciousness), concepts that are essentially Hindu
and alien to the religions and philosophies that originated outside India. Yoga
was not a Buddhist practice. The Buddhist adapted it, just as they adapted many
concepts of the Vedic tradition, including the names of Hindu divinities and
concepts such as dharma, karma, reincarnation, mantra and tantra. The Upanishads
deal with the subject of yoga, yoga techniques, types of yoga and the six fold
yoga. The Bhagavadgita is rightly known as Yogasastram, a scripture on yoga.
The title of every chapter either contains or ends with the word yoga. Yoga
is one of the ancient philosophies (Darshanas) of Hinduism. The word Iswara
mentioned in the Yogasutra is essentially a Sanskrit word of Vedic origin. Patanjali
was a Vedic scholar and the scripture was taught in the Vedic schools and gurukulas
of ancient India.
If smoking marijuana is legalized for recreational purposes,
it will go down in history as one of the worst mistakes of the 21st century
made by any country with far-reaching consequences for the physical, moral and
spiritual wellbeing of the entire nation. Every country has a collective karma
and its people have to pay dearly for the mistakes they make collectively. Those
who are anxious to legalize the recreational use of Marijuana should read the
history of 18th and 19th century China and know how it ruined that country for
several generations. Once you legalize it, you cannot discriminate against drug
addicts in matters of employment and if you were an employer, you would not
be comfortable hiring them. You cannot also stop people and companies making
derivative products, including food and drinks, out of it for profit. The only
people who will benefit from such perverted decision would be the drug dealers
from across the border and all the enemies of the USA. It is important to remember
that whether it is sports, recreation or life-style, the USA sets the trends
worldwide. If Marijuana is legalized for recreational purposes, it will set
bad precedence for other cash strapped countries to follow because it is a potentially
good source of revenue.