Ignorance Vs. Denied Knowledge


Denied knowledge

We have covered in many earlier essays that each experience is truly an outcome of our connection with that event through three connectors: Ignorance, Bias and Knowledge. It is the cumulative effect of these three connectors and their relative proportions that we perceive as our experience.

It is said that when a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does the falling tree really make any noise? Through inference (Knowledge) we can suppose that there would have been noise. But until we physically hear it or a recording of such noise, how can one be sure? I could well argue legitimately there was no noise!

The above may appear as academic. Consider a pothole on the road. There is a reasonable chance that the ignorance of the existence of the pot hole can lead to serious accident. A warning sign alerts the driver (knowledge) that prevents and avoids accidents. But what happens when the warning sign is removed or missing. In this situation the knowledge of the pothole is denied by someone else who had that knowledge. Is this a case of denied knowledge?

Before we accuse some one of ignorance we may need to look into the knowledge that has been denied. Objectively speaking if someone had the necessary knowledge, their choices – and hence experience – will be totally different. So, if there is desire to help someone else out of ignorance would it be better to focus on the denied knowledge? Teaching, preaching, mentoring are all approaches for removing ignorance. Those who strive for this lofty goal – the teachers (Guru) – are held in high esteem. May be their primary role should be to explore the denied knowledge rather than focus on the ignorance of their student apriori?

Denied knowledge has many practical implications as well. You say something in a conversation. You hear a comment back. You are surprised at the response and the reaction. Ignorance would lead to instant counter response. But if you take a moment to reflect on the first response, you may become aware of some additional information unknown to you. Integrating this new knowledge before responding would be objective. Willful ignoring of the new knowledge would be biased or turbulence. Continue to remain unaware of this knowledge would be denied knowledge? It is like removing a warning sign or ignoring it?

Being “in the moment” truly implies a conscious awareness and search for the denied knowledge. It is like using a radar or sensor. It is like a motion detector in our security system to remain objective and less subjective. But it requires a personal effort to seek out new knowledge. It is also a matter of open mind, being available when opportunity presents with new knowledge.

Denied knowledge, as much as it can be a matter of self-awareness, it is also a matter of social responsibility. Denied knowledge forces the poor and underprivileged to remain that way. Bigotry and racism are part of life for many when they are not exposed to the realities of their practices and assumptions. Religion promotes rituals. But denied knowledge of the meaning behind the rituals fosters segregation and isolation into religious sects and subsets. Leadership is required to shine light on this ignorance. But it may also require removing the veil of secrecy to the knowledge that already exists.

Bird in open cageThere is a story in the life of Adi Sankara, 7th Century Indian Saint and Philosopher. When he opened the cage, the parrot living in it for years would not fly away. He says,

“While there is wide open space and you have the capacity to fly away, you can not avail of it conditioned by your mind”.

Denied knowledge we suffer from is the conditioning of mind on our own and through the influence of others.

Everyone is familiar with the “elephant in the room” syndrome. There is a partial knowledge of the “elephant” with everyone in the room. When this knowledge is integrated, objective outcome will evolve. Such outcome will be acceptable to all those who are also objective (with their enhanced knowledge). It will not be acceptable for those with a highly biased (turbulent) mindset. But isn’t it denied knowledge, when nobody wants to speak up and expose their share of knowledge?

Denied knowledge permeates almost every facet of our society: at work place, within the family, among friends, etc. Overcoming the fear of engagement is required to break this cycle. Let us remember not to accuse anyone of ignorance as a substitute. We need to merely engage in the service of eliminating denied knowledge!

As family and friends gather in the upcoming holiday season, let there be open communication and sharing with each other of what we know without fear or apprehension. Let there also be a personal effort to listen and absorb new knowledge. May these help to diminish our individual and collective “denied knowledge”!

 

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Where is the stop sign when you are flying in the sky?


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“Stop” sign has a definite meaning when you are on the land. You are driving along and you come upon a stop sign. You have no choice but come to a complete stop. It is a point of decision – you turn right, left or proceed straight forward. All of us make such decisions as part of our life journey all the time. Nobody stood still forever at a stop sign!

But while you are flying in the sky, you have no choice to stop. You have to keep moving. There are no discrete choices. You can make a gradual change to your course, but there can be no sudden or discrete events or choices.

There are two conditions imposed on us by Nature: You can stop and go at will on the land but you have to be in constant motion to travel through the sky. The bird cannot stop in the midair nor a plane in flight. Even the helicopter that hovers in the air may appear to be still for short periods of time only as long as their propellers keep moving.

In a macro scale the earth, the sun, moon and the planets cannot stop their constant motion. At a micro level as individuals our heart cannot stop its function from the beginning to end. The discrete points where the heart starts and stops, we call them as birth and death!

What does all this mean?

There are times in life when we feel like we are in constant motion with no end in sight. Consider the situation where one is confronted with some serious personal tragedy. These are times of flight, with no place to rest and recover.  Also consider yourself as a passenger in a long journey. For that matter consider life itself as a long journey with a constant stream of events, most of which are beyond our control for one reason or another.

In all these situations the rational mind when it is genuinely objective can find the cause and effect of all the happenings, feelings, emotions and outcomes. Consistently rational and objective mind is a hypothetical and ideal state of mind. Our goal is to reach that state of mind. But there are times when such ideal seems far away. In those moments we still need to control and govern our emotional mind. IT IS LIKE MAKING A DECISION AT A STOP SIGN. This is when faith or implicit belief in a larger force or God is helpful.

A large majority of religious writings, stories and anecdotes emphasize faith to govern our emotional mind. Traditions, rituals and religious practices codify and formalize methods to promote such faith. Calm and reflective mind in turn becomes rational and analytical leading to decisions and next steps, like making a turn or proceeding straight ahead at a stop sign. What appears to be an endless flight or unrelenting grief becomes a discrete event with next steps to follow as directed by the rational mind. But it requires a deliberate shift in our thinking from an emotional state to a rational and objective perspective. Belief in God or faith alone will not get you past that place. It requires a deliberate engagement of the mind to be reflective and the willful decision and actions that follow.

However one cannot prescribe rational thinking to an emotional mind. It requires guidance and persuasion. It is like the work of the pilot and the flight crew to guide the passengers – who are truly helpless – while flying through turbulent weather. The god-men and those who preach religion and the counselors who preach coping skills must keep this key role in mind. Their role is not to prescribe endless rituals and action plans. Instead it must be a process to help those under stress to slowly grow out of the relentless grip of their emotional upheaval. The end goal must be reliance on the rational mind – the ability to discriminate between Subjectivity and Objectivity.

Arjuna:     Lord Krishna, ……….. My limbs are getting faint, my mouth is dry, my body trembles and my hair stands erect.  My bow is slipping away from my hands, my skin is affected, I am unable to stand erect and my mind is extremely unsteady                                                                         Bhagawath Geetha 1. 28 to 30

Lord Krishna:     Arjuna! Your anguish at this time is troublesome. It is unbecoming of leaders; it deters one from greatness; it brings nothing but disgrace. Do not yield to cowardice as a result of your grief, as it is unbecoming of you.  Overcome this weakness at heart and rise up to the occasion.              Bhagawath Geetha 2. 2, 3.

 Arjuna:  The proper course is not at all clear to me. ….. My heart is filled with compassion; my mind is confused between the right and the wrong. I am suffering from a sense of guilt as I struggle to execute my duty.  With all this anguish I approach you.  Please take me as your disciple and teach me the proper course of action.               Bhagawath Geetha 2. 6, 7. 

Lord Krishna:          When your wisdom over comes the confusion in your mind, then you shall become objective and less under the influence of subjective feelings like grief, sorrow, anxiety, etc.   Even though your intelligence is confused as it is through your worldly learning, you shall attain enlightenment or insight, if you shall remain fixed in contemplation.     When one casts off all desires that enter the mind, then such a person is satisfied in all aspects within himself/herself. Such a person of undeterred mind is unaffected by sorrow,     Bhagawath Geetha 2. 52, 53.

In spite of the best efforts of a person, the turbulent and energetic senses (impulsive forces of sense organs and their effects) constantly influence his/her mind as it were by a force of compulsion.  A person whose senses are under control, his/her wisdom is unwavering or permanent. Having such control of your senses remain firm in your devotion to me (The Lord).                  Bhagawath Geetha 2. 60, 61.

 

 

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Is God with you?


It is not uncommon that some random conversations lead to profound outcomes. I came across such an experience last week. It has been a week of meeting many of my good friends. Relationships with some of them last over forty years. I was visiting one such friend for a short time. On his table was a book on Rig Veda. This was the context and the common interest which resulted in our very engaging conversation on the basics of Hindu Philosophy.

At the end of this conversation my friend said, “We know that all religions have such beautiful frame work. They are simple and not so difficult to understand and comprehend. With all that, why is it most people are drawn into rituals which merely promote vanity, foolish reverence and subordination to a few who are seen as the religious leaders?” While I do not wish to cast all religious leaders in such a negative light, one must admit adoration of religious persons for wrong reasons is very common.

My friend continued, “I can understand that poor, uneducated people falling into such traps. Why these highly educated professionals also indulge in rituals and isolate themselves into narrow groups and subsets in their worship and religious practices?” I reminded my friend that academic education and professional qualifications by themselves do not make a person wise, philosophical and spiritual. Wisdom and spiritual evolution comes from reflection, analysis and introspection.

Then I told my friend, “You are well aware of the basic principles of Hindu Philosophy. You are also concerned about the pitfalls of foolish allegiance to rituals and their blind following. Then why don’t you teach them to youngsters? Why don’t you engage the next generation in meaningful discussions so that they can follow religious practices and rituals with a clarity in their thought and a better sense of purpose”?

My friend told me how he attempts the same in his own way. To make his point he described a story: Once there was a teacher with many students. He told all of the students that God is within each of us as well as outside, everywhere. God is watching everything and all the time. After a few classes of repeated lessons on this theme, he did not offer them any food for a few days. Then one day he gave enough food to each student and told them, “I know you are starving and ready to eat the food. You can all eat your food under one condition: Make sure nobody can see you when you are eating”. The students ran away to far corners and hiding places and ate their food. When they returned the teacher asked “Have you all eaten your food?” One student replied “No sir. I have my food with me. I have not eaten it”. While all the other students were shocked, this student continued, “Sir, you told us not to eat the food when someone is watching. You have also told us that God is watching all the time. Then how could I eat the food no matter where I hide?”

God is a point of reference, to calibrate ourselves. God within each of us is reflected through the divine qualities in our action. https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2018/06/17/god-and-curry/      Such divinity within precludes vanity, greed and foolish allegiance to rituals. Such divinity always shines. It has no hiding place. It is not dependent on education, academic excellence or professional qualifications. Such divinity brings clarity for abstract concepts of love, compassion, forgiveness, kindness, helpful to the needy, etc. As a result they are applied in real life with happiness within and bringing harmony all around.

My friend continued, “I tell my children God is within. You can go the temple to worship or follow rituals as a matter of practice. They give you certain way of conditioning your mind and maintain a focus on the divinity inside of you. But do not lean on the rituals as a permanent crutch”. My friend added, “These days whenever we leave on a family travel, with all children inside the car, I ask them ”Is God safe and well positioned inside each of you?” When they say yes, we start our journey.”

Following are verses from Bhaja Govindam written in 8th Century AD, which truly reflect the essence of the above conversation:

  1. Oh, you man of foolish mind, offering your prayers to the Lord. What good will come of your meticulous observing of rituals, while lacking in an understanding of the principles behind them?

All religions and rituals teach us pathways to internalize the view that we as individuals are  mere microcosm and part and parcel ofof the universe at large (Thath Thwam Asi); anything and everything exists (or lives) enabled by and as witness to the laws of nature at work (Aham Brahma: I am Brahman). Such knowledge and awareness promotes Objectivity (which reflects as divine qualities in our actions, experiences and in our way of living).

https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/anatomy-of-our-experiences-objectivity-the-end-result/

  1. There are those with long (and matted strands of) hair, others with shaven head, some perform rituals of extreme pain (like starving) and others parading in religious robes. All these people, while proclaiming to preach religion and divinity do not truly see the all-pervading Lord (Brahman). Sadly all their efforts are disguises merely to make a living.

All forms of religious teaching or practice of rituals without a clear understanding of the basic principles behind them end up merely as efforts to satisfy the preacher’s  needs (desire) such as hunger for food, emotional or intellectual hunger. Every effort to teach (and learn) scriptures must be to gain the true knowledge of “What is life? How it should be lived? – in an objective manner fostering true inner peace as well as peace and harmony all around. This is the obligation of the students as much as it is an expectation for the teachers.

  1. One may travel in pilgrimage to holy places, observe vows, practice rituals and perform charitable work. But all such efforts while lacking in knowledge (and understanding that all rituals stand for certain principles leading to divinity in our daily life) do not liberate any one even in one hundred lives, according to all teachings.

Religious practices and rituals without  understanding of the basic principles lead to  intolerance and violence we witness in so many places and in so many ways. With a genuine understanding and appreciation of the basic principles behind them, religion and rituals promote peace and harmony within, tolerance, inter-racial cohesion, inter-religious collaboration, etc.

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God and Curry


God and Curry

Recently I was shopping at a chain store for groceries. This store gives out samples to taste as part of their promotion of special items. I must confess that I seek out such free-bie whenever I see one! Being a vegetarian I could not pass up the opportunity when I saw the vegetable samosa that was on promotion. Samples of small bites of samosa were available to taste. The lady handing out the samples cautioned every one “Be careful. It might be hot. It has curry in it”.

For those who are not familiar with the Indian spices – which is the case for most people outside of India – curry is the hot spice that adds taste and flavor to Indian dishes. This is a prevalent notion just as Yoga is a form of exercise for physical fitness or meditation is a process to keep your mind calm. None of these generic descriptions of these terms is accurate.

In reality curry is a generic name for a collection or mixture of spices. Even beyond that, the mixture of spices used by Indian cooks is never the same. While there is always a basic theme, the spices used and their proportions are generally left to the mood and creativity of the cook. This is what makes authentic Indian food far more unpredictable in its consistency for taste. While “curry” is used in various parts of India, the texture of the food as well as the taste of the same dish from the regions is different.

On reflection our understanding of God seems to be much like the understanding of curry. Everyone has a generic view of the “God”. Yet, each one of us have our own and unique view of God, conditioned by our knowledge, education, life experiences and introspection?

Everyone looks up to God as the last resort, someone to look up to when all else fails. “God save the Queen” is the national anthem of Britain. Politicians take their oath to God, when taking office “to protect and defend the constitution”. Every religion invokes God in one form or another.

For some, God as the savior of last resort – when all else fails – is the beginning and end. Fear of God makes them behave in certain ways. Faith in God gives them hope to strive and pursue their activities in the face of looming uncertainties. In due course God becomes their mystical super being. Concepts of heaven (as the place of God) and hell (as the place assigned to those cursed by God) dominate their thought and belief.

For some others God is more of a goal post, an ideal to strive for. They see God through divinity in their actions as well as in the action of others. For them the divine qualities are enabled by traditions and moral codes passed on through generations. Personal view of God as understood through religious teachings dominate their thought. When faced with changes in the society or natural order around them, they struggle to adapt to these changes.

Others try to learn and understand what will God do in daily life? They describe such manner of behavior as divinity. They try to understand when divinity comes into play in our actions and when divinity seems to dwindle. They learn that our opinions and judgement cloud our reasoning and analysis.  Higher levels of reasoning and action that is in the best interest of all – objectivity – is seen as divinity. They also recognize that “reasoning”, “action”, “interest”, etc. are all subjective. These are influenced by our limitations. In other words they seek objectivity, while conscious of the subjectivity of each of us as individuals.

Basic life processes – like breathing, digestion, assimilation, sensory perceptions are the same for each of us (Objectivity). But each of us experience or enjoy these processes differently (Subjectivity). We are aware that the laws of nature – governing the above human processes as well as all other aspects of the universe – are truly invariant and hence objective. The sun that shines, the wind that blows, the earth we sleep on are all the same for a king as well as for a poor  nobody. Yet, each of us, experience them in our own personal or subjective manner. Those who reflect on all these marvel at this paradox.

Those who can accept this paradox as the way it is, describe the source of the paradox, its evidences and effect as the laws of nature or “Brahman”. Those who cannot accept the paradox – that the laws or forces of nature merely exist – seek a source or creator for these forces of nature and call that as the God. Most of us can accept this invariant Brahman most of the time, but need an authority figure “God” that governs our variability in action, feelings and thoughts at least for a few moments!

God is a generic name for a collection of views and understanding in each of us. Even beyond that, the collection of views on God is never the same for the same person! The way one relates to God at moments of despair is different from the way one approaches God at the safety and comforts of life. While there is always a basic theme, the approaches used and their proportions are generally dependent on the mood and circumstances of the individuals. This is what makes the role of God – as we relate to It – far more unpredictable.

Just as “curry” adds spice and flavor to the food, “God” adds a sense of purpose, direction and frame of reference for our life as individuals and as part of a larger order (the universe). Yet our understanding of the God is very much personal. Strangely our experience with curry is also very personal and our understanding of what is it is based on reflection as well! Such introspection may also broaden our perspective and appreciation of Yoga and Meditation?

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On teaching the basics of Spirituality to children and young adults


Soacrates

Recently during a discussion the following question was raised:  “We don’t think of self-reflection and philosophy until we grow old, after suffering through many aspects of life” — Is this the truth or opinion?

At the outset above phrase would appear to be true. Who wants to take the time when one is young to reflect on what is life and how it should be lived? This observation seems to be age old. In a poem Bhaja Govindham written in the 8th century (nearly 1300 hundred years ago) we see the following verses:

When you are young you are attached to your playing; as a grown up you are attached to your desires, passion and sensual pleasures; when you are too old anxieties rule over you. Any one attached to the Supreme (Brahman) at any time?                     Verse 7

Who is your wife, son, family? This family is indeed very strange. Who are you? Where do you come from? Oh brother, think of that Truth here and now.              Verse 8

It may be customary to think that we become “philosophical” as we grow old – and after we are beaten up in the school of hard knocks. May be that need not be the only way?

  • We teach children languages, culture, prayer songs, epics, moral instructions, etc. along with their secular education.
  • May be we can teach them a little bit of philosophy in simple language for their understanding and practice from early ages?

We are taught “Objectivity” at school (through analytical methods and “Science”  – cause/governing laws/effect – in every subject we study). We are taught the difference between Subjectivity governed by limited data, bias, opinions and judgments and Objectivity based on reflection, analysis and reasoning. We are taught that subjective decisions can be partial; hence we have the judicial (judge and jury) system to arrive at Objective decisions.

However when it comes to life and exploring the questions of what is life and how it should be lived, the analytical tools and objective outlook seem to be given up. Instead we become “subjective” – governed by opinions and judgments – unknowingly in our daily life and in all its activities. This starts from childhood! In due course life becomes a heap of “experiences”; not as an organized collection with a rationale for each experience and why it is that way? Is this the ash covering the amber glow of the objective self?

Spirituality starts with probing the following questions:

  1. Is life a clutter of experiences spread all over (like an untidy house)?
  2. Can life be fashioned into a well laid out and organized set of experiences (like a well-kept and a welcoming home? Like a well oiled and well maintained machine that serves the purpose for a long time?)

We start the journey of spirituality by asking the questions of “Who am I? What is life?” and finding the answers in the following order:

  1. Life appears to be a random collection or aggregate of experiences like material objects filling a house.
  2. Guna (Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance) and their roles identify the basis and nature of our experiences – like the contents in a house acquired based on identified needs.
  3. Standing back, introspection and reflection (Meditation, Yoga: Objective assessment) – we can find the experiences that need to be preserved and where they belong – like a house free of clutter
  4. Life is a balancing act between subjective experiences and their perturbations vs. the objective experiences and the harmony they foster.
  5. Vedanta teaches us that we are enabled by an objective life giving force – Brahman – all the time throughout our life. Focus on the laws of nature (Brahman) behind all of the experiences – makes life a well maintained and welcoming home with a common and unwritten purpose that permeates everywhere.
  6. There is no “Perfect” home, but a good home is easily recognized by all. Similarly there is no “perfect life”, but divinity in our action and manner of living is easily recognized when present.

The above are not difficult concepts to discuss and teach. Of course that requires an adult who understands the above – the teacher in the family. A 75 yearlong study at Harvard Medical School on longevity on life suggests the following conclusions:

  • People who are isolated from others and feel lonely live a shorter life.
  • It is the quality of your close relationships that determines the longevity in life. People with good close relationships from their 50s lived well into their 80s.
  • Good relationships protect our brains with better and sharper memory for a longer time.
    • ­Good relationships include active engagement. They do not preclude arguments and emotional exchanges
    • In all of the above consistency is the need and “perfection” is not the requirement

We are also told in the scriptures that learning, understanding and then practicing the basic principles of philosophy leads to:

  • Spirituality is noted when a person is reflective and analytical (and hence objective) at will and not driven by moods and circumstances (subjective)
  • Through such self-reflection one remains one’s own best friend. Through lack of introspection one becomes one’s own worst enemy.
  • Having cleared the mind and emotions of its cob web (by clearing out the emotional and biased view of life and its experiences) the spiritual person is at ease with any one, at any time and under all circumstances.
    • We witness this as divinity in his/her actions and way of living.
    • While this is an ideal situation – with any one, at any one and under all circumstances – “perfection” need not be the only yard stick to measure.
    • Are you at ease with many at any moment? Are you at ease within and harmony with others once in a while? Are you free of moment to moment mood swings and opinions even for a short time? —- These are also evidences of Divinity in daily life.

In other words Spirituality (as described in steps 1 to 6 above) promote engagement and away from isolation. They promote closer relationships with many. Since they are based on active engagement of the mind all the time – living in the present; looking for the balance between subjective vs. objective outlook – they are also good for the body as much as they are good for the mind.

Are you the adult in the family? Are you ready to teach the above to your children and other youngsters?

Are you the child or the young one in the family? Are you ready to seek out such education on Spirituality at your young age? – the earlier you start the better off you will be!

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On Altruism


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Dear all:
Wishing each of you and every one in your families a Very Happy New Year (2018). Best wishes for good health, happiness, joy and a true inner peace.
Our blog posts initiated in April 2010 has now 157 essays of which 14 essays (including this one) have been posted in Year 2017. While the early ones were not coherent we have settled on essays on  “Spirituality in Practice” in a true sense for the past several years.
Thank you for your continued reading and occasional encouragement through comments, or through personal contacts. Much appreciated.

Un-attached active engagement: Is it the same as altruism in action?

Every chapter of Baghawath Geetha offers some practical guidelines as well as some abstract concepts.  In BG Chapter 12, unattached active engagement (Karma Phala Thyagam)  is presented as the minimum required to acquire divinity. One would think that such minimum requisite  must be easy to accomplish. May be it is the most difficult to comprehend? How can anyone engage in any activity without the desire for the outcomes?

Psychologist Abigail Marsh describes an incident early in her life. While driving on the highway her car skidded and spun on off the road and to the other side as she lost control. With a dead engine and totally in despair she was facing the oncoming traffic. Another driver from a passing vehicle raced across the highway, running across lanes daring the traffic and pulled her out to safety. Without notice he took off continuing his travel. She wondered who was this brave person risking his life to save her life and yet left no trace to connect with him? All she could do was thank this altruistic person in public in her TED talk “Why some people are more altruistic than others?

Abigail’s experience is not far from my own experience. After my undergraduate education I was heading to the U.S. for studies at MIT. I had to travel by train from Chennai to Mumbai to catch a flight to London and onward to New York and ultimately to Boston. As our train pulled off the station at Chennai, I noticed that my briefcase was missing and along with it every form of identification. That included my passport, visa, admission papers. Everything! As the train was moving, I and my father who was accompanying me, could do nothing other than convey the news and the shock to my relatives still at the platform. Making the story short, when my relatives went home they found a person waiting for them holding my bag! This stranger had seen a thief who had stolen my bag – a young person – holding my bag.  He was trying to get change from passersby in a major road in Chennai at a location not far away from the train station. In those days the $5 bill looked more like 5Rs. note, both green in color! Looking at the dollar bill the stranger grew suspicious, grabbed the bag and found all my details including my personal address. He promptly proceeded to my home in Chennai and delivered the bag. He left leaving no trace of who he was! Till to date, I have no  information of this total stranger who has defined my higher education, career and even the course of the rest of my life without expecting or seeking anything in return. All I can do even now is to say “thank you” in public through this blog post!

Why do some people help others at times and at extraordinary cost, risk or sacrifice to their own self-interest? We call such actions “altruistic”, which Abigail defines as: Voluntary, costly behavior motivated by the desire to help another individual. It is a self-less act motivated only to help others.

Psychologists describe human beings as a spectrum of those who cannot recognize the distress of others (Psychopaths) to those who can instinctively relate to the needs of others (altruists). One example of altruists in our daily life are people who donate their kidney or other body parts during their life time to total strangers. There are about 2000 of them in the US today according to Abigail’s studies. When they were asked what motivated them to do such selfless act, invariably they said “nothing; it is not about me”. In other words they are altruistic for its own sake and not for any other reason! As one can see unattached active engagement (Karma Phala Thyagam) is not all that abstract concept for these altruists!

Altruism may be noted in the specific acts of individuals and at specific times. Hence there may be a tendency by psychologists to develop a causal connection between certain aspects of our brain or economic wellbeing as the prerequisites for altruism. In many respects this diminishes the role of human being simply to biological species.

Human beings are more than mere biological species governed by tangible causality alone or function only in response to specific means such as brain, economic conditions, etc. Selfless acts of charity and kindness are not limited to a few or based on their economic circumstances alone. Genuine love, empathy, compassion and forgiveness are not bound by results or expectation of some needs to be full filled as the pre-requisite.

Conditioned by our mind and our actions over the years or during our life time, we believe that nothing can be done just because it is the right thing to do. Through such conditioned mind and self-limiting approach we fail to see the true joy of life or the universality of opportunities to participate in. If we are truly part of nature – Thath Thawam Asi (You and the universe are integral in each other) – and not a self-limiting biological species then there are many evidences for us as examples of altruism: The sun does not shine to create light; it merely shines. Rain does not happen or wind blows for any specific reason other than it is just part of nature. The breeze in the spring time spreads the fragrance that we enjoy. But, the breeze merely responds to pressure gradients unaware of the fragrance or it being spread around or the enjoyment of such sweet smell by others.

Let us continue to respect and admire the altruistic acts of others. But let us also condition our mind to be altruistic – for unattached active engagement. It is not the ultimate accomplishment, but the minimum expectation for Spirituality in practice according to Baghawath Geetha. Caring for neighbors, kindness to elders and strangers, a smile at a baby nearby, acts of charity, donation to needy causes, volunteering to help those in need (and in no way connected with us) are all examples of unattached active engagement. Even help and support for any one known to us – starting from the near and dear in our families – such as raising our children or putting food on the table can be done because they are right thing to do and not because there is a personal connection or obligation for such actions. In other words “duty” is the right thing to do without attachment and not an obligation with an expected end benefit.

May be altruism – unattached active engagement – is much closer to us than we realize? In that case it can indeed be the minimum step towards spirituality in practice?

Arjuna: What is the best pathway to attain divinity?       B.G. 12. 1.

Lord Krishna:                                                               B.G. 12. 12

  • Controlling your mind to develop an objective outlook is the best.  Gnana Yoga
  • Controlling your emotions though faith in the larger order (God) is next best.    Bhakthi Yoga
  • Carrying out daily activities with a genuine commitment to your duty is acceptable as well.     Karma Yoga
  • If you are not able to do even that, at least forego the self-driven needs (attachment to the results).      Un-attached active engagement.
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Leadership Through Spirituality in Practice – Part 2


Leadership and Spirituality models

Internal and external focus (Yoga and Meditation):

Yoga and Meditation are two dimensions of exploring the “self” or the “inner person”

  • Yoga or union with the self can be through reflection on a set of activities:
    • Yoga lifts us from a subjective outlook to an objective frame of mind.
    • As explained earlier objectivity is increasingly larger, when we move from Gunathvam (Recognition of connectors and their roles) to Sagunathvam (Equal treatment for all three connectors and their roles to enable the identification of the dominant one) to Nirgunathvam (Connectors become irrelevant when every action is observed merely as a reflection of laws of nature at work – I am Brahman).
  • Meditation or calming the mind to focus or concentrate.
    • Such calming of the mind is necessary to engage in Yoga (described above).
    • Meditation has three stages:
      • Focused Attention (limiting the thoughts on a specific activity like breathing, prayer, etc.)
      • Open Mind (where the mind is calm on its own accord without relying on any object or event mentioned above)
      • Love and Kindness (where the mind is open and expansive – inclusive of any one and anything and excludes none).

Leadership can be seen in two dimensions of any person: External focused (X – Axis) as well as internal focused (Y – Axis).

  • The inner reflection (deep within) of the connectors and external focus (through a calm mind which is inclusive of any one and anything and excludes none) can be seen as the two dimensions of evolution for any person.
  • These are also the two dimensions of evolution for any one as a leader.
  • This two dimensional evolution of anyone (and how it includes “leadership” as seen in work place management) is illustrated in the figure below with some explanation.
  • We have discussed this figure in some detail and how it can be used in any aspect of life (from education to research to jobs and careers to personal life from childhood to old age!).

Leadership 1

External focus can be activity centered, goal centered or for the good of the humanity at large. These three stages are described as Focused Attention, Open Mind and Loving kindness. These are also three stages of meditation. These three stages are also the basis for all religions in their effort to spread harmony across the society at large.

The more one explores the inner self, one can progress from being impulsive to becoming reflective. A reflective person can see a larger order and hence transforms into a visionary. More details can be seen in books on philosophy.

Internal focus may be Subjective (opinion driven) and hence personal or Objective (non-personal) and hence generally agreed upon by many (like the judgment in a jury system or the analysis and conclusions in scientific research). The goal of any form of education is to move away from subjective to objective treatment of the matter under study.

Lao Tsu the 5th Century B.C. philosopher describes four kinds of leadership styles, as a relation between Knowledge and Power.

  • One without knowledge and power (ability to influence others) is timid and not respected;
  • One with power but without knowledge intimidates others and fear prevails as the leadership style.
  • Leader with knowledge but without power is merely respected
  • A true leader combines power with knowledge which enables others to act on their own, since they feel empowered by the leader.

It apples well for leadership styles focused on specific activities, where power can be seen as the ability to influence others (external to the self) and knowledge pertains to the activity in focus.

Activity centered leadership seems to be the basis for much of the leadership education. But, one can see a larger space for exploration of leadership. This additional space for leadership is available to anyone.  This larger space may also be the realm for limitless exploration for leadership in life, through Spirituality in practice and beyond professional work? It is the highest level of internal focus together with limitless inclusion of everything and every one results in the best among us. Those rare few are described as the enlightened person. They set the ideal and the beacon for others to emulate and follow.

https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/anatomy-of-our-experiences-objectivity-the-end-result/

The model for leadership evolution and how it applies to what we have learned thus far in Sipractce is shown in the figure below.

Leadership 2

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Happy Diwali – 2017


Dear reader:

Our sincere and very best wishes for good health and happiness to you and for every one in your family.

Festivals like Diwali (Deepavali) are also occasions to rejoice and share the blessings in life we have with every one who matters to us. They are also occasions to think of all those around us whose lives we can make a little better through a kind word, small help or merely through a gentle smile in our heart wishing good will to all and ill will to no one. When in our mind those who “matter to us” becomes limitless though an inclusion of all and exclusion of none, then divinity within each of us shines like the illumination from every lamp we light for Diwali.  May these thoughts fill your body, mind and intellect as you celebrate this Diwali.

Diwali is a festival of lights. Attached are images from two lovely greetings I received today. Below are links to two of our earlier posts on the significance of lamp as a symbol to reflect on Spirituality:

https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/symbolism-of-the-lamp-at-the-sanctum/

https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/learning-the-basics-of-hindu-philosophy-from-an-oil-lamp/

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Desire, Anger and Passion – the forces that we need to contend with.


desire.fire012

Driving on the road is also a great time for observations, reflection and inferences on Spirituality in Practice. We have already noted this in a few essays earlier:

https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/on-merging-into-traffic/

https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/why-should-you-vote/

https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/anatomy-of-our-experience-understanding-the-connectors/

https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/habits/

https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/non-attachment/

Recently I was again reminded by my friend on how we can observe events during driving to connect with the larger aspects of life. He narrated an experience he came across during a recent long distance drive:

The traffic was smooth on the highway and clipping along at max. speed (which is customarily a few miles per hour over the speed limit!). Suddenly the traffic came to a screeching halt. No one knew what had happened ahead. Several ambulances and fire engines got through the stranded traffic and went head. After nearly an hour or more the traffic started inching forward. Finally as the traffic moved forward the situation became clearer. The police had blocked traffic on two lanes of a three lane highway. The traffic trickled through one lane, past a serious accident scene. A huge truck had crashed into another ahead of it and both were jack knifed and piled into each other. The blood and other signs indicated it was not a mere collision, but lives may have been lost. “The accident scene could not but leave a lasting impression” told my friend.

As the traffic moved past the accident-scene traffic speed picked up. It took some time for the constrained traffic to resume its normal full speed, even though all three lanes were open. But there were few among the drivers who wanted to get ahead of everyone else. They were changing lanes and cutting across each other to gain marginal advantage in speed and acceleration. In this process they could have created another horrific accident similar to that they had witnessed only moments earlier.

My friend was wondering “What impels those few drivers to subject themselves to such harm and also put others in harm’s way? Why is it that they do not remember what they had seen only moments earlier? Impelled by what forces these few lose cognition of the possibilities of serious accident and harm to themselves, even after being a witness to the same to others?”.

While my friend reflected on his experience during his drive, it is perhaps a common observation to almost all the readers.

It need not be just a traffic accident either.

There are many incidences that we witness in the life of others. We see the anguish and grief they create. Yet soon we forget that and get into the rush of life. In this rush we repeat the same actions before we realize that we are also engulfed in grief and anguish. There seems to be an abundance of repeating the same mistake. One can wonder why?

The same question is asked by Arjuna and answered by Lord Krishna in Bagawath Geetha as noted below:

Arjuna :

Why is a person compelled to commit acts leading to grief, death and destruction (also described as sin), even when he/she is unwilling (based on earlier knowledge or reasoning) and yet compelled by a force, as it were?                        B.G. 3. 36

Any action carried out even without malice but results in anguish and grief to others should be thought of as a sin (Papam), according to the scriptures.

Lord Krishna:

Desire (to exclusively meet one’s personal needs at all cost), anger (as a consequence of unfulfilled desires) and uncompromising affection (passion) are the forces that are the outcome of the turbulent/agitated nature (Rajasam) of a person. They lead him/her to the path of grief and destruction. These are the enemies of any person. B.G. 3. 37

Fire, the source of energy is covered by smoke. Mirror gets covered by dust. The embryo, the source of life is surrounded by the womb. Each of these aspects of nature – fire, reflecting mirror or embryo – are influenced by the objects that envelop them. Similarly the knowledge of an individual gets enveloped by the connectors (Guna) and hence influenced by their forces.               B.G. 3. 38

 Arjuna! Knowledge or wisdom gets covered by un-relenting desire, the insatiable foe of the wise. Body and its functions through sense organs, mind and the intellect are the seats for these forces. Through these means they obscure the knowledge and negatively influence the person.              B.G. 3. 39, 40.

Therefore Arjuna, controlling these instruments of body, mind and intellect, destroy these forces – unbridled desire, anger and passion – which otherwise take hold of both the knowledge and the ability for reasoned analysis and decision making.     B.G. 3. 40

It is said that controlling the body and the sense organs is good. Having control over the mind is better. Controlling the intellect may be the best. The enlightened person controls all three and yet actively engages them without being affected by them. Such a person is considered to be the most superior of all.   B.G. 3. 42.

Thus, having become aware of the true nature of the enlightened person who uses total self-control as a means to manage oneself engage yourself vigorously in your efforts to destroy your enemy presenting itself in the form of desire.           B.G. 3. 43

 Next time you see someone driving in an unreasonable fashion putting others into peril, let us ask ourselves “What desire, anger or passion might be impelling such sin-full action”? Also next time we have an urge to drive in an irrational manner let us ask ourselves “What desire, anger or passion is impelling such action?”

Such reflection need not be limited to what we observe while driving . Instead  such conscious awareness of desire, anger and passion and their regulation must be applied during any aspect of life. Such reflection and regulation of our daily life is an aspect of Spirituality in Practice?

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Leadership through Spirituality in Practice – Part 1


Many of our blog posts address specific topics in the practice of Spirituality in our daily life. Here is a brief review. We end this essay with a comprehensive model for evolution in leadership (see figure at the end), which can be practiced from child hood to old age, for education, at home, work place and everywhere!

Introduction:

Philosophy is an in-depth study of any subject. The purpose is to develop an analytical understanding of the subject in a manner and outcome consistent for all situations and context. It is exploration of the “truth” pertinent to the subject under study.

In Sath Sangh, we explore the “truth” as it pertains to life. The expected outcome is a manner of living that is free of perturbations and the moment to moment disturbances created by our emotions and attachments. This non-attachment as an undercurrent or basis for life and its activities is considered as the “liberation”. Reference: Sathsanghathve’ ……   Bhajagovindam, by Saint Sankaracharya.

Life is a product of our experiences:

Life is a collection of experiences. These “experiences” are unique and personal to each of us. They determine the differences recognized between each of us. These experiences also create a sense of “I” as an individual distinct from “you” and others. (e.g.):

  • From birth we are conditioned to look at ourselves through these experiences – name, parents, family, education, work, accomplishments, friends…
  • My parents, children, my property, my education, etc. (even though everyone has parents, possessions and knowledge gained from their education)
  • I like this, I don’t like that, I love her, I hate him, etc. (even though all materials and people co-exist as part of the universe at large)!

If we can understand how these “experiences” are created then we should have a good handle on what is life? In that case, managing our experiences also become the tools for managing our life.

Tools to understand the basis of our experiences:

Life is also a collection of activities. No one exists without engaging in some activity or other. This is true for a fully active family man or a mendicant sitting under a tree or a home-less in street corner!

Every activity is an engagement of our body, mind and/or intellect in the world around us. Engagement of these three tools in every activity results in a connection with the inner person (I) – the soul or consciousness. This connection is the perceived experience (Vasana) resulting in our sense of individuality.

The inner person can be thought of as the “Resident” and the external (which is recognized as the individual) as the “Residence”. As an analogy we identify the driver of the car with the car (e.g.) the man in the red Porsche. As long as you are inside the car, you move and travel with it. The car and you are part of the same journey. You are the driver and the car is the driven.

The inner person – consciousness – is the driver and the external person (identified through body, mind and intellect) is the driven. The nature of connection between the consciousness and anything other than that, creates our experiences.

In any electric circuit, the bulbs glow in various shapes and in different colors enabled by the electrical energy and governed by the laws well known to physicists, electricians and electrical engineers. Similarly consciousness is the enabler and its role is reflected through our experiences. Consciousness is an aspect of nature. Just like electricity, consciousness has no identifiable properties. No one has seen the “consciousness” independent of living objects just as no one has seen “electricity” on its own.

A droplet of water is merely part of any body of water. Our consciousness is merely part of the larger body of the universal consciousness. The gravitational force on an apple is no different from the force pulling us towards the earth. The consciousness enabling our life and its activities may be no different than the life force enabling a worm to exist or a bear to survive the cold polar winters. This consciousness which has no properties and it merely exists through all identifiable objects and living beings, we identify that as Universal Consciousness.

Laws governing our experiences:

The laws governing the connection between our consciousness and its reflection as our experience is described in detail in Chapter 14 of Bhagawath Geetha. Following is a brief summary.

At any moment we exist through a collection of activities

For each activity

  1. Our consciousness is connected to the external through three connectors:

Knowledge, Bias (attachment to the belief that partial knowledge is the whole) and Ignorance.

  1. All these three connectors (Guna) co-exist ALL the time. But one dominates over the other two.
  2. The dominant connector determines our “experience” with respect to that activity at that moment.
  3. Life can be subjective – driven by impulse, opinions and lack of coherence – when viewed only from the experiences without comprehension of the connectors and their roles.
  4. Life can become “Objective” – driven by reflection, logic and coherence and hence with a larger perspective and in harmony with the world at large – when the connectors and their roles are explored.
  5. Such reflection of the connectors and their roles is called Yoga (union with the self).
  6. Reflection of the connectors is intimate and personal (While there can be dependence on others for teaching or guidance no one can serve as a substitute!).
  7. Objectivity in turn leads to a steady and tranquil state of mind, while actively engaged in the many facets of life.

Your effort should be to understand the above laws and apply them even in small incremental efforts.

Do not get overwhelmed by them or over analyze them. Are you subjective (driven by feelings and opinions and desires that change from moment to moment and perpetually)? Through the application of above laws can you find a steady and stable frame of mind in anything small and discrete? Can you step back and check your impulses? Can you follow it up with some reflection and analysis based on the above laws? Then you will begin to see the distinction between subjective and objective frame of mind.

  1. Objectivity is enhanced through the recognition of the connectors, their co-existence and treatment of all three connectors as equal in weightage.
    • Ignorance is accepted, bias is not underplayed or knowledge is over stated.
    • Such equal treatment of all three connectors is called Sagunathvam.
    • In due course even the connectors are seen as irrelevant (since any and all activity is understood as mere reflection of the laws of nature). Such state of mind is called Nirgunathvam.
  2. Such progressive evolution in objectivity in any person is also the evidence of divine nature in him/her.

Objectivity helps us to listen more and speak less. Listening and reflection makes us less judgmental. The speaking that follows is helpful and not mere words that fill the time. Reflection leads to “living in the moment”, with a genuine sense of gratitude for what we have and a desire to help others (not as matter of benevolence but merely as the right thing to do) for the given moment and as the situation calls for.

  1. Several features are described to identify such a person of divine qualities. Few examples:
    • Equal to friend and foe – the reasons and factors are understood for friendship and enmity. These are not seen as the permanent marks of any person.
    • Equal in treatment of clay and gold – each is seen as objects of nature, with their appropriate role and place.
    • Such a person lives like a lotus plant that thrives in a body of water, but is not wetted by it!
    • For such a person life is like a breeze (an object of nature that merely exists and by its movement spreads the fragrance for all to enjoy).

Relating our life experiences to the connectors and their evidences:

  • Details of the connectors – their definition, features, observing connectors before an activity, during and activity, at the end, at any moment of decision making – are all described in Chapter 14 of Bhagawth Geetha. See Table provided for details.
  • Any aspect or activity of life is amenable to reflection and analysis to observe the role of the connectors. We have discussed a few. For example:
    • Giving gifts
    • Food habits
    • Happiness
    • Work place events
    • Impulsive response – just as getting angry – which is regretted afterwards.
    • Parenting
    • Events during vacation or holidays
    • Love
    • Reading scriptures
  • Hinduism is full of symbols and symbolism. They can be used to remind us of the connectors, their role and their inter-connectedness. (e.g.):

Picture2

  • The symbol Aum can be seen as:

3 – to remind us of the Body, Mind and Intellect through which we exists, the hook as an extension away from these three to look at the connectors at work and the “o” which completes the Aum, but is not physically connected to the rest as the soul, Athman or Consciousness. Together Aum signifies the entirety of our existence.

Oil lamp edited

  • The lamp can be seen as a symbol:

Lamp has three parts: The changeless earthen pot (Body), the volatile oil (Mind) and the wick that transforms the oil into the flame (Intellect) AND the glow which merely exists creating illumination. The glow has no properties of its own (Consciousness) and it exists as witness to our body, mind and intellect.

We need to learn to connect the frequently used symbols in any religion to the basic principles of philosophy. Hope the above two are your starting points.

Sep. 17, 2017

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