blog

Jayaram's Blog

Now and then, I will write here about my views and responses to whatever that attracts my attention and interest. If you want to participate, please send me your opinion through the contact form available on the site.

Mass Extinction of Life Upon Earth

Dead fish

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

Diversity

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 also.

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, etc.

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 stick to your native language and be content with your puritanism and chaste expression.

The Tenacity and Resilience of the Hindu

Ancient Indians
A Mural.

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?

Night Sky
The Space.

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

Dunes
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

Black Hole

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 think.

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 black hole.

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
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

Mars Landscape

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

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?

elephants

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

elephants

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

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 guilt. 2/28/2014

Who is an enemy of God?

creulety

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 terms

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.

Legalizing Marijuana

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.

The Concept of Sin in Hinduism

Sin is the most dominant theme of every religion and religious philosophy. In Hinduism, sin is a formation or a consequence of desire-ridden actions, evil nature, karma, Maya and dereliction of Dharma. The idea of sin forms the basis of Hindu ethics and morality. Its purpose is to facilitate the order and regularity of the world...

Prioritize Your Wellbeing

What is the most important thing in your life? It is your own wellbeing or your personal happiness, and how you feel about yourself. Whether you are rich or poor, what matters in the end is the state of your mind and your feelings towards yourself and your self-worth. In end, if you are unhappy, after all your success and accomplishments, what is the point in striving for them? Do they matter at all if you are unhappy or sick or stressed?

Death and Afterlife in Hinduism

Hinduism believes in the rebirth and reincarnation of souls. The souls are immortal and imperishable. A soul is part of a jiva, the limited being, who is subject to the impurities of attachment, delusion and laws of karma. Death is therefore not a great calamity, not an end of all, but a natural process in the existence of a jiva (being) as a separate entity, a resting period during which it recuperates, reassembles its resources, adjusts its course and returns again to the earth to continue its journey. In Hinduism, unless a soul is liberated, neither life nor after life are permanent. They are both part of a grand illusion.

Life’s Lessons from Mother Nature

In Hinduism, Nature (Prakriti) is known as the Mother Goddess. Energy or Force (Shakti) is her essential nature. She is the source of all movements and modifications. Prakriti means that which is found in its natural state. Whatever is modified is no more Prakriti, but Vikriti, the deformed one. Nature has numerous aspects.

What Happens After Death?

This is one of the major conundrums of life. No one knows the answer with certainty. You may find some answers, but you will not be sure whether they are right. I heard at least two famous spiritual gurus trying to answer it. Each spoke for about half an hour or so. They went round and round the subject, but were not forthright. Either they did not know or they were trying to avoid a definitive answer.