Emotional Distancing and Intellectual Alignment


Emotional Distancing

Life is a journey from the known to the unknown. Yesterday is history and tomorrow is unknown. With the COVID – 19 pandemic across the globe, we are all going through new uncharted journey. Social Distancing, Community Spreading, Self-Quarantine are all terms now in our parlance which were unknown to us only a few weeks ago.

Copied below are a few lines from a very good article I came across recently:

Practicing social distancing means maintaining at least six feet of distance from others when possible. Under these guidelines, normal social interactions are practically impossible. Research shows that older people are happier than younger adults, in part because they care less about success and social status. Instead older adults tend to focus on things like spending time with family, volunteer work and hobbies. The guidance around preventing exposure to and the spread of Covid-19 makes these activities much more difficult to practice.

 The current situation and the social distancing it requires doesn’t just negatively impact the elderly. Humans are social beings, and we all benefit from connecting to others. While we absolutely should adhere to guidelines from medical officials, I also strongly believe that social distancing doesn’t mean we have to socially disconnect. In fact, the CDC also released guidelines on mental health and coping during Covid-19, which included advice to:

  • Connect with others,
  • Discuss your fears with friends and family and
  • Maintain healthy relationships.

Here are a few suggestions to stay connected:

  • Schedule virtual hang time with friends, family and coworkers.
  • Check on your neighbors.
  • Go outside, safely
  • Find creative ways to help others
  • Reframe your thinking

Each of the above is an excellent idea to practice for the next few weeks as we get through this crisis of pandemic.

I would like to focus a bit more on “Reframe your thinking”.

As we have noted many times before we as human beings exist in three realms – through our physical body and its functions and the activities we engage in; through our mind and the emotional response it creates and the intellect that fosters thoughts and ideas. Life is a collection of physical activities, governed by our emotions which in turn are influenced by our thoughts. Emotions lead to the feelings of fear/bravery, love/hate, like/dislike, friend/foe, etc.

Overcoming this duality is the goal of most studies in philosophy.  It arises from an emotional comfort within each of us. Becoming non-dual or being at ease without a profound allegiance to either of the dual positions and the resulting emotional comfort is the desired end goal. We identify such a manner of life as Spirituality in Practice.

But, where do these emotions come from? They are the end result of our thoughts. The brain which thinks of something translates that thought into emotions and feelings which reflect in our actions. In other words through control and management of your thoughts, you manage the entirety of your being. This is the essence of Buddha’s teachings. Baghawath Geetha summarizes this as:

Through Self-control one remains one’s own best friend; through lack of self-control one becomes one’s own worst enemy.                  B. G. 6.6.

It is best to keep the above advice in mind at this time of uncertainty and turbulent journey for all. Thus being one’s own best friend and not becoming one’s own worst enemy starts with reframing our thinking and managing our thoughts constructively and for our collective common good.

Here are a few suggestions with respect to “reframing our thinking”:

Our thoughts are likely to get intense as we are isolated. Such thoughts can be negative or positive in their impact on the self and those we interact with. Here are a few negative thought processes to avoid:

  1. Avoid repetitive thinking (Rumination) of anything and especially something negative:

Pay attention when your thinking starts to get repetitive or negative. When you notice rumination, make yourself break the cycle. Get up and do something else: Go for a walk or reach out and call a friend (but don’t continue the rumination out loud by whining to them). Don’t overeat or drink too much alcohol to avoid the negative thoughts.

Try to change your thinking to a problem-solving focus that is more deliberate and strategic.

  1. Avoid overthinking

Overthinking is when you go over and over different choices in your mind, trying to imagine every possible outcome and everything that could happen in the future, to make sure you make the perfect choice. Your focus is on avoiding mistakes and risk. The problem with overthinking is that it’s an attempt to control what is not controllable.

Limit the time you spend thinking about a decision before acting. Give yourself a deadline to decide, even if it feels uncomfortable. Only allow yourself to research a few alternative options — not everyone endlessly.

  1. Avoid Cynical Hostility

Cynical hostility is a way of thinking and reacting that is characterized by angry mistrust of other people.

Try to get some distance from your judging thoughts. Notice when you begin to think distrustfully. Deliberately think of alternative ways of seeing the situation.

Few suggestions for “reframing our thinking” in positive manner:

  1. You are in-charge:

Notice in all of the above negative tendencies to avoid we find that “you, your mind, your thinking” is at the core. In other words you are in-charge. Even when you are isolated and distanced from others (due to the current situation and circumstances) your mind and thoughts will be penetrated by others depending on what you see on the TV, hear on the radio or read in the paper or listen in your conversations. All of them are merely views and thoughts expressed by others. You can use them as inputs. But never lose sight of the fact that “You are in charge of your thoughts and hence your response to such thoughts”. This inner courage is essential and brings with it an unassailable stability in your thoughts and in your approach to life. If you already have such stability now is the time to practice it. This is also your time to learn this essential element of self-control.

  1. Structure your entire day into elements with a schedule:

Recently I read in a “Dear Friend” column advice given to an elderly person. This person felt isolated and did not know what to do with her time on a daily basis. The advice given was to structure her time into chunks for personal care (eating, cleaning, sleeping, exercise, Yoga, etc.), physical activities (like cooking, cleaning the house, arts and crafts, etc.), emotional activities (socializing, caring for others, meditation, etc.) and intellectual activities (reading, writing, solving puzzles, etc.). Once you make a list like that and schedule your activities, your mind gets freed up from thinking “What I should do next?” Such structuring the day at this time may become a better time management skill over the long run as we get out of this virus and the crisis it has heaped on us. Note that the physical, emotional and intellectual activities are all interconnected. Yoga as a physical activity is also meditation and channeling our thinking for that period of time.

  1. Practice Emotional Distancing and Intellectual Alignment:

In philosophy it is called “Na ithi Bhavam” or “Not this attitude”. For example every part of your body like your fingers, legs, heart, lungs, head, brain, etc. belong to you. Yet individually they do not describe who you are. Parts by themselves entirely do not represent the whole. This is the surprising reality of anything we know! Even after I describe you by your name, family, date of birth and other identifiers you are not fully identified. The identification may be adequate for certain purposes like credit approval or entry through passport control, etc. But you are never fully described. Certain aspects of who are may be known only to you and no one else! The point is this: learn to explore who you are in a larger broader context. You exist as a material or physical object (Annamaya), as a physiological and emotional entity (Pranamaya and Manonmaya), as an intellectual and thinking person (Vignanamaya) and as a liberated soul part and parcel of the larger universe (Anandamaya).

This thought process hopefully liberates you and your thinking into new dimensions and directions. Exactly what will be these thoughts and where will they lead you is very individual and situation specific. Yet, most likely it will lead you to feel as an integral part of a larger and limitless universe. You will slowly begin to see that everyone you know (and all those whom you don’t know) are all recognizable in the above five layers.

This understanding brings with it an Intellectual Stability. Your physical isolation will not limit your mind and your emotions and thoughts as they expand to include everyone and everything. Your physical distancing will not be a limiting factor for your intellectual integration and engagement with the universe at large. Thath Thwam Asi – you and the Universe are integral in each other. In this state of mind the notion of “I” or “you” gradually vanishes along with all the emotional constraints we are attached to. You develop emotional distancing from all those thoughts and experiences which constrain you to limit yourself.

  1. Creatively engage in activities that help others which in turn are also helpful to you:

Social Distancing and Self-Quarantine are no longer unassailable constraints when there is no difference or space between you and others (through Intellectual alignment) and if there is truly nothing in it for you (emotional distancing). Our mind gets liberated to think of ideas and actions we can implement today for the larger common good. We gain courage and confidence to propose new ideas, enlist others into our fold and advance such ideas into reality. Intellectual alignment and emotional distancing also gives new and personal meaning to the saying “Lord give me the courage to change things where I can, humility to accept where I cannot and the wisdom to know the difference between the two”! Let us keep this wisdom in our mind as we journey through these uncharted times of global pandemic.

Om Shanthi Shanthi Shanthi — Peace and safety for all!

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Spirituality in Practice – Living life with a Conscious Self-awareness.


Tennis

In our essays on Spirituality in Life, we see an undercurrent, a constant theme: Living life with a conscious self-awareness; engagement in life with a larger perspective that includes others (and everything) as much as we can.

 It is equally important to realize that life of Spirituality in Practice is not limited to those who study scriptures or live a religious way of life. Instead such manner of living is possible and may be natural for anyone with some self-reflection. In this essay we observe this perspective in the following excerpts from interviews with Professional Tennis players.

 “Ten Deutsche marks was like 10 dollars, and my father said, ‘This is all we have,’” Djokovic said. Novak  Djokovic  recounted what his father said when  Serbia as a nation was formed after a violent break up of Yugoslovia in the 1990s. “And he said that more than ever we have to stick together and go through this together and figure out the way. That was a very powerful and very impactful moment in my growth, my life, all of our lives.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/25/sports/novak-djokovic-australian-open.html

 In his view, Novak said that he is no longer playing tennis to prove himself but to improve himself and the lives of those around him. “I am really grateful for the career I’ve had, but for me right now, tennis is more a platform than an obsession about individual achievement. I don’t see tennis anymore only as I’m going to go there, and I’m going to win the trophy, do everything possible to achieve that, and once that’s done it’s done, and that’s the only reason I’m playing,” he said. “I’ve finished with that kind of chapter in my life. I guess through the evolution of my life I came to the stage where it’s more than that.”

 “If you see things from a larger perspective, it’s quite interestingly the same in terms of understanding what the next step in life is”.

 Novak Djokovic, less beloved on a global scale than his rivals, has been harder to pin down. Perhaps this description should spring from that elusiveness. “He is a searcher: It seems that the things are perfect, but suddenly he wants to change in some way.” 

That tonic or formula of success is like a holy grail for any athlete. How can I really optimize everything and be in a balanced state of mind, body and soul every season for the rest of my career and really be able to peak when I need to? “I think the No. 1 requirement is constant desire and open-mindedness to master and improve and evolve yourself in every aspect. Stagnation is regression” added Djokovic.

 Novak Djokovic in the interview after winning the 2010 Australian Open Semi Finals at Melbourne:

“When you are young, you want everything right away. There is no waiting! But with age you learn to trust the process and gain patience. You cannot be a perfect human being or a top tennis player from very young age. That is why we enjoy this beautiful thing called life!”

To be spiritual also implies treating winning and losing equally and put in your best effort. It is the only way forward if you want to maintain your composure and make progress. This realism is confronted by many of us and in many occasions in life.

Consider for example: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have now won 56 of the recent 64 Grand Slam events in the past fifteen years. “It’s unique in sports history that the three best players by far are playing in the same era,” Dominic Thiem said after his loss at the 2020 Australian Open. “That’s what makes it very, very difficult for other players to break through.”

There are many more of us in daily life like Dominic Thiem pushing hard to break through the glass ceiling to get to the top of the professional tennis world. It is required of us to treat winning and losing with equal regard and put in our best effort and yes, even when the winning happens or not.

Novak Djokovic in the interview after winning the 2020 Australian Open Finals and the championship at Melbourne:

Real understanding of life comes not when you win, but when you have time to reflect on it.

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Brahmam Okate’ : Everything is part of nature!


The knowledge gained from Vedas (Vedantha ) can be summarized in two statements:

  • Thath Thwam Asi (You – the individual – and the Universe are integral in each other)
  • Sarvam Brahma Mayam ( Everything is Brahman)

Universe is the Cognitive world of objects, emotions and thoughts of which we are part of. Each of us – and everything we know of (and all that we do not know) – merely exist in this universe in one form or another as:

  • material objects,
  • living beings,
  • emotional human beings with our thoughts and feelings,
  • analytical persons who understand and manage our physical body, emotional feelings and thoughts through Self-Control and Objectivity,
  • with a conscious awareness of the above four states (and hence in union with and respectful of the laws of nature (Brahman) that enable all these five states of being!

Brahman may be recognized through the Laws of Nature (known to us and the unknown) that is behind each of the five states or layers of our existence. Brahman may also be recognized as the Lord we worship in recognition of the marvel of the laws of nature.

The universality of nature (Everything is Brahman) is extolled, often in the form of poems for worship. Below is the translation of one such poem titled: Brahmam Okate’: The individual SELF and the Universal are one and the same http://annamayya-u.blogspot.com/2009/04/tandanaana-ahi-brahmamekkate-para.html

There are no differences of low and high. Lord (the soul inside all of us, the driving force behind everything) is one and the same.

Every form of creation is one and the same because the indwelling spirit in every creature is one and the same.

Be it a King or a Slave, everyone has to sleep. Be it a noble man or uncultured rude person, the earth they stand on or lie down to sleep is one and the same.

The sensual pleasure is one and the same for angels or for the insects and animals.The day and night are equal in duration to the rich as well as to the poor.

One could afford to eat tasty food and the other eats stale and wasted food.But the tongue and the sensory perception of taste is the same for both.

An object of fragrance or an object of bad odor, the air that carries the smell is one and the same. Be it an elephant or a dog, the sun shines alike on both of them.

The Lord who sits in judgement of the good deeds (Punya) as well as the bad or the sin (Papa) is one and the same. The laws of nature is one and the same even if see its effect as benevolent or violent.

In the following we illustrate the principle of Brahmam Okate’ (Laws of Nature are Universal) with some modern day images:

Brahmam Okate' 1

 

Branches and roots are alike in their pattern of growth; Branches seek the sun light and grow upwards, while roots seek water and nutrients and grow downwards

 

Brahmam Okate' 2  

Water is cold and molten metal is hot. But, the growth pattern of crystals is very similar in molten metals as well as in freezing water.

 

  Dendrites in Metals               Ice Crystals

Brahmam Okate' 3

 

Plants change color in Fall Season depending on the sunshine and intensity. But we can see trees amazingly similar in their shades of colors even if they are more than 3000 miles apart (in the East and West coast of USA).

 

Brahmam Okate' 4

 

When space is limited – like in a Medina in Morocco – Everyone has to share the same narrow lane; it makes no difference if you are a child, mother, horse or a tourist!

 

Brahmam Okate' 5A pair of  cats sleep  in the middle of the day and in the middle of Medina with its limited space, where  horse and donkeys are put to hard and heavy labor! The “lucky” cats and the “unlucky”donkeys and the horse are all part of the animal kingdom!!

Brahmam Okate' 6

 

Everyone is covered by the skin when we are alive. Some lose their skin after death to tannery for further use. Some while they are alive carry the skin of others who have passed away.

 

Brahmam Okate’ : Everything is part of nature!

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Enlightened Living: Progression from Self-Control to Total Self-Control to Un-attached active Engagement.


Enlightened living

Thendral is a monthly publication in Tamil Language published from Bay Area, CA. USA. Recently I read the following letter in a recent publication of Thendral in the column that provides advice to the readers:

“Dear friend:

I am 77 years old; my husband 84 years old. We have been married for 53 years. Ours is a “Love marriage” as opposed to the traditional arranged marriage. It was rough in the early days as his parents did not approve of our marriage. He married me despite such resistance from his family. “Opposites attract” is true in our case as we are both different in our habits and preferences. I am an extrovert and he prefers to remain contained within the family. He will adjust and go along with me, even if that was not his choice. I have also adjusted myself by giving up my work life and career. He had lots of work related travels. While at home we used to quarrel and argue a lot. But in the end he will give up when I shed my tears. This is how my life continued for more than four decades.

Now that he is retired and mostly at home, he is demanding attention all the time. I prefer to go out and do some social service, while he wants me to stay home and take care of his aging health. While he seems to have a sense of insecurity, I am getting old and easily tired. The future looks bleak. Our two sons are settled and far away. My husband appears to be depressed but refuses medical attention. We are both constantly at edge and angry at each other. There is no peace of mind.

Can you please help?”

This real life letter and plea for help reminded me of a Japanese movie “What A Wonderful Family! (English title) / It’s Tough Being a Family (literal title)” that I saw with English subtitles in one of the long trans-continental flights! https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1Tc3yRRE9pNGsv00uPuYaJ8_K7kCsvTI0 Without giving away the details of the movie, the summary of this 2016 movie:

Husband (Isao Hashizume) and wife (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) have been married for 50 years. For her birthday, the husband asks the wife what she wants for her birthday present. She replies that she wants a divorce. The wife’s request for divorce sends the entire family into chaos. https://bagikuy.com/what-a-wonderful-family-its-tough-being-a-family-i-ii/

Amazingly the details narrated by the 77 year old Indian house wife in her letter pleading for help are almost identical with the circumstances and background laid out in this Japanese movie!

Life is the same no matter where you live in the world or what cultural background one comes from!

What can be our advice to this 77 year old woman? Strangely the advice would be the same for a young or middle aged person under similar circumstances.

  • In the Japanese movie the house wife returns to her peace and happiness when she finds out that despite all her apprehensions and fear she has managed her long married family life largely based on mutual trust between family members.
  • This trust is restored when the husband signs the divorce paper and hands it over to the wife along with a series of reflective comments that expresses his genuine regret for taking his wife for granted; for not sharing with her his genuine thoughts of how much he loved her dearly; hence he would do anything that pleases her including the signing of the divorce paper!
  • With trust and mutual respect restored in her thoughts and in her mind, the wife shreds the divorce papers and returns to her life of peace and happiness.

Trust is an abstract feeling, a conditioning of the mind that overcomes anxiety and despair.

It may be only in the movie where we find the above acceptance and resolution of differences between two people. Rare indeed is it in real life. But that does not have to leave each of us helpless and miserable, reliant only on others to remove our anxiety and despair. Instead introspection and self-reflection can be the best starting point for any situation of anxiety and despair. Self-reflection is also the beginning of self-control.

Through Self-control one remains one’s own best friend; through lack of self-control one becomes one’s own worst enemy.             B.G. 6.6.

Self-control also implies disconnecting oneself from the personal nature of any activity. It creates a separation between “I” the inner person – who is reflecting and analyzing – and “I” the person who feels the suffering, misery and let down. Instead of having two individuals – the husband and the wife – we have now two different persons: The reflecting “self” Vs. suffering and seeking help “self”.  While the acceptance and resolution between two individuals – the husband and the wife – may or may not happen, the resolution between the inner “I” and the external “I” is well within the reach of each of us! This discipline for internal dialogue and finding answers on one’s own accord is described as “Yoga” or union with the self. Through such internal dialogue we create a separation or distance from the questions of “What am I doing? Why am I Doing this? How am I supposed to do this? Which is right? Wrong? Why?Instead these questions can be transformed into “What is “it” that I am worried about? How much do I understand the “it”? My connections through my knowledge, bias and ignorance related to “it”? We have described the connectors and the process of their use at: https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/anatomy-of-our-experiences-objectivity-the-end-result/ They are not mere hypothetical. Instead they are real and useful every day and in every situation.

At a time of crisis, if Knowledge / Understanding prevail, it transforms a person to tranquility (a higher plane of existence).            B.G. 14.14.

At a time of crisis if we are driven our bias leads to turbulence resulting in a relentless series of actions (through a chain of unfulfilled wants and needs) compounding our grief and misery.  At a time of crisis, ignorance shrouds a person with delusion and inertia which results in a lack of any sense of purpose or direction.             B.G. 14.15.

The challenge faced by any one of us: How can we put to use such analytical frame work for enlightened living when one is in the middle of a crisis? It is neither useful nor compassionate to suggest this analytical technique to someone in crisis but who has never practiced internal or self-reflection. That would be like encouraging someone who is drowning in the swift current of a river to swim well and get to the shores safely. Instead they need a safety net to be pulled away from their turbulent waters. That is the role of the family and society at large. At the same time those who are on safe ground and are unwilling to learn and practice such analytical frame work to manage their daily life may find themselves at some point or another in their life like the 77 year old house wife and her plea for help!

Self-reflection and analytical reasoning requires a properly functioning mind. Wisdom is also required to separate anxiety and despair caused by mental health vs. issues driven by lack of analytical reasoning. Such education, knowledge and wisdom may be needed in the society at large as we grow older and also as we focus on care for the elders in the family!

Every activity is the result of the culmination of five aspects:  Person(s) involved; Purpose or motive (requirements of Body, mind and Intellect and their functions); Means; Circumstances and Laws of Nature or Divine Influence.                         B.G. 18.15

This being the case, any person who believes – due to his/her limited reasoning – that he/she or someone else is solely responsible for that activity or outcome does not see the full picture.                B.G. 18.16.

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Year end reflections – 2019


Thank you for your support reading the blog posts and occasionally offering your comments. As we draw to the conclusion of the year 2019 (and hence this decade!) below is a summary of our blog posts through this year. Each summary is linked to its original post.

We have also posted a large body of reading material in a new page: https://sipractce.wordpress.com/sath-sangh-class-hand-outs/

Aging Vs. Maturing :    From birth to death we get exposed to new information, situation and circumstances. All these are sources for our experiences. Aging Vs. MaturingIt is the experience as felt or observed by us as individuals that distinguish each from the other. Then we probe and learn the techniques to decipher “Experience”. As we do, we learn that an objective outlook on any experience leads us to the laws of nature (Brahman) embedded in that event and experience. In this universal outlook we remain as part and parcel of the universe (Aham Brahmasmi). This reflective management of the mind – maturing – can occur at any age, at any time and with respect to any event or situation. In that respect maturing indeed is a choice while we age and grow old inevitably!

Bishma Complex :   Age is a natural process that results in follower-ship. BishmaBut old age and the opportunities it provides if they are not used wisely can lead to harm and hardship over generations. On the other hand practiced with objectivity and wisdom, old age creates unique opportunities for leadership leading to peace and harmony over generations. The balancing act between these two alternatives may be described as “Bishma Complex”?

The best effort of every person sets the standard for those who follow him/her.   B.G. 3. 21.

Diwali – Festival of lights: A philosophic reflection on oil lamp.

  • The earthen cup is stable. That nature of the world or the universe that is changeless on its own accord, we recognize as Inertia (Thaamasam).
  • The oil is volatile. Just like oil our emotions and bias based on partial or incomplete knowledge (Rajasam) are shaped by the container (our body, mind and intellect)!
  • The wick transforms the volatile oil in the stable container into the flame or illumination. It is our knowledge and understanding (Saathvikam ).

Thus we can see in the oil lamp or the candle we place at the altar the three ever present attributes (Guna) – and their interplay Diwali 2(i.e.) Saathvikam, Rajasam and Thaamasam which means Knowledge, Bias (Partial Knowledge and the turbulence it creates) and Ignorance we experience through our body, mind and intellect.

The flame creates the glow leading to illumination. Through illumination we see the inert lamp, the volatile oil and the transformative wick, the flame and all objects that are illumined. Sum total of all of these – the visible objects, the combustion that enables the flame, the flame that enables the illumination and the illumination that enables visibility is called Brahman. We exist merely enabled by and as a witness to this lamp and the glow and the vision derived there from – I am Brahman. 

I” the observer and all that around me (the observed) are all part of the same Universe – Thath Thwam Asi !

“The un-wavering smile of a Yogi (one of self-control and constant internal or self-reflection) is like the glow of a steady, un-flickering flame of the lamp”     B.G. 6. 19.

Ethics in AI: Use of three connectors

Ethics is a matter of philosophy. We need a sustained education on Philosophy and the related topics on Subjectivity Vs. Objectivity as part of AI Technology education.

An objective person is not swayed by his/her knowledge nor tends to understate or diminish the evidences pertaining to bias and ignorance. An objective frame of mind treats all three connectors (Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance) with equal weight or merit.

Focus on ethics at every stage of the innovation process requires engagement of professionals in areas beyond their comfort zone. Engineers and technical professionals – often computer scientists – think of their work as “technical” and leave all the rest to “others” to worry about. This bias and attachment to partial knowledge is often the source of problems that manifest as larger issues such as ethics. To overcome such limitations of bias, it is imperative to teach and train professionals on “System Thinking” and its comprehensive understanding:    https://stimsinstitute.com/2017/03/22/system-thinking-and-transformational-skills-the-basics-for-courage-and-empathy/

Ethics is not an afterthought, but built into every phase of the solution development and deployment. Such effort is preceded by comprehensive description and definition of the entire solution chain.  Ethics becomes a way of life, the life blood of every professional at every level engaged in the solution.

Repentance vs. Forgiving

When the relationship is strained there will be attempts to restore the same. People of good will can disagree, but to claim only one person is at fault is like twisting a dried wood further, not strengthening and restoring it. To restore the relationship requires internal reflection – soul searching – on two dimensions:

  • Repentance: Acknowledging the sources of strain and finding ways to overcome such strain. Repentance is the evidence of acknowledgement of the source of strain;
  • Forgiving is the evidence of the step towards overcoming the strain.

Repentance and forgiveness are important aspects of prayer in all religious worship practices.

If we truly believe that you and the universe are one and the same (Thath Thwam Asi) and everything is governed by the laws of Nature (Sarvam Brahma Mayam), Repentancethe pillars of Vedic philosophy then they should apply to repentance and forgiveness as well. The offender and the person offended are droplets of the same body of water (Thath Thwam Asi), if the offensive action and its negative effect can be isolated. This process of isolation and separation clarifies precisely what were the wrong actions and their effect. True acknowledgement and ownership of these actions and their effects are characterized as “Repentance”.  This process calls for genuine self-reflection (Yoga).

Any one – true observer who treats all three connectors with equal weight (Sagunathvam) – can arrive at the same conclusions on the actions and their impact. Decision to go beyond the acknowledgement and move further is characterized as “Forgiveness”. In this process repentance and forgiveness are not centered on either individual. Instead it is a collective outcome of the self-reflection of everyone involved on their own accord (Yoga). As a result the joyful outcome (Sath Chith Anandam) of reconciliation and progress is a collective outcome. It is not limited to any one person.

Either person who moves beyond the subjective to the objective process of analysis and reflection will be like the ship with its search lights on and brightly visible. While sailing through the dark waters (strained relationship) this ship will steer clear of others and also help to guide others, whether or not the other ship(s) have their search lights (Repentance and forgiveness) well-lit and visible.

The “spiritually refined person” (Yogi), with joy of internal contemplation is peaceful and delighted within like an internal beacon of light, reaches unification with Brahman and becomes Brahman himself / herself.            B.G. 5.24

 

 

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Repentance vs. Forgiving


ships

Relationship is a two way street. Mother loves her child and the child in turn is attached to the mother. The same goes for any parent and child, husband and wife, brothers, sisters, relatives, etc. In every case there are two parties involved. When both persons involved in a relationship see eye to eye, there is harmony, friendship, collaboration, joy and mutual benefit. But such relationship is ideal. More often than not the relationships are based on give and take. It is a matter of accommodation. It is not a zero sum game.

Often the relationship that starts with no constraints, fears and apprehensions – like that between the mother and the child or between two perfect strangers who like each other – become constrained and limited over time. The deep roots of a good relationship – like that among family members or friends – become subverted in our false attempt to preserve and “protect” the superficial or surface level connections. Like a river set in motion, relationships take their own course. To cultivate a “family” with meaningful relationships requires sustained effort. It is like the constant effort required for channeling the flow and harnessing the energy of the river.  It is like two ships in the dark ocean working together while using their respective search lights to steer clear and co-exist (in the same channel of water).

When the relationship is strained there will be attempts to restore the same. People of good will can disagree, but to claim only one person is at fault is like twisting a dried wood further, not strengthening and restoring it. To restore the relationship requires internal reflection – soul searching – on two dimensions:

RepentanceAcknowledging the sources of strain and finding ways to overcome such strain. Repentance is the evidence of acknowledgement of the source of strain; Forgiving is the evidence of the step towards overcoming the strain.

Repentance and forgiveness is an important aspect of prayers in Hinduism. May there be peace and harmony for all (Sarve’ Janaha Sukino’ Bhavanthu) is the prayer through which Hindus seek repentance through the blessing of the Lord and His forgiveness to all. Let there be the protection of the Lord (Ishwaro’ Rakshathu) is the refrain through which Hindus seek strength for their forgiveness and comfort for those who need to repent.

We find similar approach for repentance and forgiveness in other religions. Repentance and forgiveness are seen as complimentary need in the Christian faith. One can repent for his/her failures and seek forgiveness through confession. One can also come to terms with the failure of others (external to the self) and seek forgiveness for them through prayer, when repentance may or may not come from the other person. But, through prayers the worshiper finds his/her own reconciliation.

Life is a collection of experiences. Each experience is composed of the three connectors (Guna) and their inter-play. These connectors are Ignorance, Bias and Knowledge / understanding.  Under the influence of these connectors we acquire “experience”. When we understand the role of these connectors, the ever present rules or laws of nature at work relevant to that situation become abundantly clear. We are devoid of the related experience. This is the Connector – Science or living in union with the Conscience.

If it is true that any aspect of our living is governed by the three connectors (i.e.) Ignorance, Bias and Knowledge / understanding, then repentance and forgiveness must also be under the influence of these connectors. The inter-related nature of repentance and forgiving superimposed by the three connectors is schematically illustrated in the figure above. We have also described earlier that while all three connectors co-exist, the behavior as well as the outcome are determined by the dominant connector. These outcomes are also outlined in the figure above, which provides a good analytical / subjective frame work.

If we truly believe that you and the universe are one and the same (Thath Thwam Asi) and everything is governed by the laws of Nature (Sarvam Brahma Mayam), the pillars of Vedic philosophy then how do we treat repentance and forgiveness? Let us look at the “objective” nature or the process behind these outcomes.

The offender and the person offended are droplets of the same body of water (Thath Thwam Asi), if the offensive action and its negative effect can be isolated. It is like removing the dirty cloth and placing it aside. This process of isolation and separation clarifies precisely what were the wrong actions and their effect. True acknowledgement and ownership of these actions and their effects are characterized as “Repentance”.  This process calls for genuine self-reflection (Yoga). Any one – true observer who treats all three connectors with equal weight (Sagunathvam) – can arrive at the same conclusions on the actions and their impact. Decision to go beyond the acknowledgement and move further is characterized as “Forgiveness”. In this process the repentance and forgiveness are not centered on either individual. Instead it is a collective outcome of the self-reflection of everyone involved on their own accord (Yoga). As a result the joyful outcome (Sath Chith Anandam) of reconciliation and progress is a collective outcome. It is not limited to any one person.

Let us pause here for a moment. The process of identifying the clean clothes or shining jewel that brings us happiness is just the same as isolating the dirty cloth which brings us grief and placing it aside! In other words the method for objective analysis of any event or experience is the same irrespective of the fact it brings us happiness or sorrow!

I can identify the dirty clothes (repentance) and wash them (forgiveness) and move forward. As we all know there are limits to which I can convince you if certain of your clothes are dirty and need washing, even if I am willing and available to wash them! This becomes more complicated when the “offense“ pertains to matters beyond clothes (body) such as emotions (mind) and thoughts (intellect). The reverse may be equally true, where I am not open to acknowledgement (repentance) and/or forgiveness. This gap in repentance and forgiveness is a true measure of “subjectivity” that we experience in our relationships. If both the partners in the relationship continue to engage in such subjective interaction, then the outcomes will be as described in the figure above! Either person who moves beyond the subjective to the objective process of analysis and reflection will be like the ship with its search lights on and brightly visible. While sailing through the dark waters (strained relationship) this ship will steer clear of others and also help to guide others, whether or not the other ship(s) have their search lights (Repentance and forgiveness) well-lit and visible.

The “spiritually refined person” (Yogi), with joy of internal contemplation is peaceful and delighted within like an internal beacon of light, reaches unification with Brahman and becomes Brahman himself / herself.            B.G. 5.24

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Ethics in AI: Use of three connectors


AI and Ethics

There are times when my professional work and my writings on philosophy intersect. Here is an example. Happy Reading!

Recently I attended an on-line seminar on “Ethics and Artificial Intelligence (AI)” by Roberto Zicari (Prof. of DBIS) – Goethe University Frankfurt) on the need of an Ethical AI Due Diligence. http://cognitive-science.info/community/weekly-update/?utm_source=ALL+Active+ISSIP+Users&utm_campaign=020be710c1-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_06_06_06_14_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1b14cc9881-020be710c1-91822821

It was an interesting seminar that addressed the issues relevant to measurement and management of ethics in the development and use of AI Tools. As a result of this seminar, I was motivated to ask the question: Ethics is a matter of philosophy. Do we need a sustained education on Philosophy and the related topics on Subjectivity Vs. Objectivity as part of AI Technology education? The speaker acknowledged the need and pointed out some effort in this direction in the academic circles.

Following are some reflections on ethics and philosophy:

We have discussed earlier that Philosophy is an in-depth analytical study of any subject matter: https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/anatomy-of-our-experiences-objectivity-the-end-result/

It is not a mere coincidence that the highest degree awarded in any field of study is called “Doctor of Philosophy”. The best researcher in any field has the best KNOWLEDGE of the laws of nature at play in that field, the limitations (IGNORANCE) of such knowledge and possible wrong or erroneous interpretations (BIAS) of the same! The same can be said of any true professional – the best engineer, doctor, surgeon, musician, carpenter, etc.  The knowledge, bias and ignorance are the three connectors through which we relate to the subject matter. The process of understanding these connectors, when it is explicit and analytical and quantitative, we call the process as “scientific”. The more intuitive and inferential the process, we call it as “Common sense”.  

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

The relative proportion of the three co-existing connectors – Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance – with respect to the subject on hand and the dominance of one is not always easy to identify and separate out. If we observe carefully, we find that our “education” of every kind is intended to facilitate our skills to identify these three connectors, their relative proportions and how to sort them out! One who is good at this skill (to identify these connectors in any given field) becomes “expert” in that field of study.

This process of search for the three connectors and their relative proportions can be precise, only when there is equal weight placed on all three connectors! Consideration of all evidences with equal weight and emphasis on all three connectors – knowledge, bias and ignorance – is called “Objectivity”. An objective person is not swayed by his/her knowledge nor tends to understate or diminish the evidences pertaining to bias and ignorance. An objective frame of mind treats all three connectors with equal weight or merit.

The characteristic features of Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance have been outlined earlier:https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/anatomy-of-our-experience-the-connectors-gunas/

Knowledge Bias Ignorance
Features or key characteristics of the three Connectors (Guna). Knowledge adds illumination and clarification of the situation or problem on hand Bias arises out of personal needs and wants and our attachment to them. Ignorance is driven by illusion, fantasy or irrational expectations.
Knowledge binds a person through genuine sense of happiness Bias binds a person to endless chain of activities Ignorance binds one through lack of directions.
Knowledge can be recognized through the happiness and contentment based on the well-being for all. Bias can be recognized through associated endless chain or recurrence of additional activities, without a sense of closure, satisfaction or fulfillment. Ignorance shrouds the knowledge and leads to lack of direction.
How can one perceive the dominance of each connector? When knowledge, illumination or comprehension is perceived in every aspect of the subject matter and its functions, one can recognize that through the tranquility that follows. When Bias is dominant the subject matter or activity is drawn into greed or desires of endless nature, driven by intense personal needs, initiation of innumerable activities due to a lack of satisfaction or contentment, unease and longing. When stagnation or inactivity prevails, the result is ineptness, lack of direction or sense of purpose and illusion (attraction born out of ignorance).
At a time of crisis or when a decision needs to be made,  the dominant connector leads to: True Knowledge transforms a person to a higher plane of existence (of total self-control and unattached active participation). Bias leads a person to more activities, merely as a means to satisfy growing personal wants and desires which continue to remain as unfulfilled. Ignorance leads one to the vicious cycle of being shrouded by ignorance
The result or fruit of dominance of each Connector: Proper or virtuous acts and purity or clarity  Sorrow. Depression and despair
Each Connector Leads to:  Knowledge and understanding  Greed Lack of direction and illusion
Accomplishment of the intended purpose by the persons under the influence of each connector: Rise to the higher level (through greater levels of engagement of self-control and the reasoning and logic that occurs as a result) Stay in the middle (due to the self and its reasoning being constantly over ruled by attachments and its insatiable needs and wants) Sink to the lower level (since the reasoning and logic of the self never occurs, like the fire being shrouded by the ashes eventually gets quenched).

Now let us discuss the relevance of these three connectors with respect to “Ethics”. Whatever we learn on this aspect would be applicable as it pertains to “ethics in any subject” including AI.

Let us begin our discussion by first defining the subject matter. AI is often thought of a solution using the tools of Machine Learning and Data Science. The AI proliferates depending on the data, its collection methods, tools for analysis, etc. To keep it simple let us state that the end result is a “solution” and its use. Ethics will be of concern during the development of the solution, its application / use, benefits achieved of value to the developer of the solution as well as the user and finally the impact of the solution and its benefits to the society at large. This chain of events is illustrated in the schematic diagram as noted above.

While ethics is often thought of as the impact of the solution on the society at large, such focus will be like attempting to lock the cattle inside after the barn door has been left open for a while! In many respects this might be the ignorance as it pertains to ethics and its management. In fact, ethics must be taken into account at every stage – from solution development, testing and USE or deployment – keeping in mind the impact to the developer, user and the society at large. This emphasis on benefit at large (which in turn also leads to the benefit to the self) may be described as the Emotional Intelligence for innovation. For details: https://stimsinstitute.com/2015/01/03/670/

Focus on ethics at every stage of the innovation process also requires a passionate engagement of professionals in areas beyond their comfort zone. It is natural for engineers and technical professionals – often computer scientists – to think of their work as “technical” and leave all the rest to “others” to worry about. This bias and attachment to partial knowledge is often the source of problems that manifest as larger issues. The same can be said of ethics and how it is impacted by the bias or task oriented approach to solution development and implementation of AI solutions. To overcome such limitations of bias, it is imperative to teach and train professionals on “System Thinking” and its comprehensive understanding: https://stimsinstitute.com/2017/03/22/system-thinking-and-transformational-skills-the-basics-for-courage-and-empathy/

Once we have minimized the ignorance and bias as described above Knowledge pertaining to ethics permeates. Ethics is no longer seen as an afterthought, but built into every phase of the solution development and deployment. Such effort is preceded by comprehensive description and definition of the entire solution chain. Ethics is no longer a thought or task to be carried out. Instead ethics becomes a way of life, the life blood of every professional at every level engaged in the solution. Taken in abstract, this statement may sound Utopian. But, when efforts are made and education is provided to minimize the ignorance and bias as described above, ethics as a way of life, ethical solutions as the only acceptable solutions become a natural and accepted practice.

System Thinking and Emotional Intelligence are part of a set of seven Transformational Skills described in two books: https://stimsinstitute.com/20151207books/

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Diwali – Festival of lights: A philosophic reflection on oil lamp.


Diwali 1

BEST WISHES FOR HAPPY DIWALI!

Deepavali or Diwali is the festival of lights. Colorful lamps are placed to illuminate every corner of the house. Fireworks and their sights and sounds highlight the glow of light and its power to illuminate. Lamps are placed at the inner sanctum, near the idols in the temple. Candles are lit at the altar in many places of worship in all religions. But, may be these lamps and lights also reflect deep philosophic thoughts?

Diwali 4  Diwali 3  Diwali 2

“The un-wavering smile of a Yogi (one of self-control and constant internal or self-reflection) is like the glow of a steady, un-flickering flame of the lamp”     B.G. 6. 19.

In an oil lamp, the earthen cup or the brass container holds the oil. The wick soaked in oil provides the channel through which the oil is drawn from one end to the other, where it burns to create the flame.  While much of the oil is consumed through burning or combustion there is also a small and gradual transformation of the wick into carbon, which burns into ash as well. This transformation leads to the flame, its glow and the illumination. The glow of the flame illumines the surroundings. As a result we see the lamp as well as all the space that is illuminated. The glow from the oil lamp is same as the light from a candle or any other source of illumination.

The components of the oil lamp are the base or the cup, the oil and the wick.

The earthen cup is stable. Unless broken into pieces or cracked, the cup can be used for ever. There are lamps and candle holders that are several centuries old used even today. This stability of material objects is amazing in a world where change is assumed to be normal and even expected. That nature of the world or the universe that is changeless on its own accord, we recognize as Inertia or Thaamasam. It is also a symbol of our “ignorance” which does not change on its own accord?

The oil is volatile. It freezes into a solid at low temperatures or vaporizes at higher temperatures. Ambient conditions – the surroundings – have a great influence on the properties or behavior of the oil. This is another aspect of nature. We call this property as “Rajasam”. It is also a symbol of our bias or emotional response, which change with time and circumstances. Just like the oil our emotions and bias (based on partial or incomplete knowledge) are shaped by the container (our body, mind and intellect)!

The wick transforms the volatile oil in the stable container into the flame or illumination. It is called Saathvikam (knowledge and understanding). Thus we see the oil lamp as a representation of the three ever present attributes (Guna) – and their interplay (i.e.) Saathvikam, Rajasam and Thaamasam which means Knowledge, Bias (Partial Knowledge and the turbulence it creates) and Ignorance.

The flame creates the glow, leading to illumination. Thanks to this illumination we see objects in and around the lamp. We become aware of their presence or existence. Through this illumination we see the inert lamp, the volatile oil and the transformative wick, the flame and all objects that are illumined. Sum total of all of these – the visible objects, the combustion that enables the flame, the flame that enables the illumination and the illumination that enables visibility is called Brahman. We exist merely as a witness to this lamp and the glow and the vision derived there from – I am Brahman. I the observer and all that around me (the observed) are all part of the same Universe – Thath Thwam Asi !

 There is nothing good or bad about ignorance or bias.  They are the aspects of nature that enable life as we know of it. Lamp as a source of light, acquires all its merits only because of the stable or inertial container and the turbulent or volatile fluid contained in it! Without these two – stability as well volatility (change) – there is no flame and hence no light and thus nothing for us to recognize as the lamp! Similarly without ignorance and bias (leading to emotional responses) we cannot imagine the daily life as we know of it! While knowledge and understanding is good and useful, it arises only when we overcome ignorance and bias. Hence to acquire knowledge one has to be respectful and aware of our ignorance and bias. This analytical mind with equal regard for knowledge, bias and ignorance leads to “Objectivity” (Sagunathvam).

Everything we know and comprehend (and describe as life or universe) is enabled through our knowledge, ignorance and bias. Our understanding (Wisdom) of these three features enables us to become aware of everything in and around us. One who reflects on such self-reflection seeking objectivity is called “Yogi”. The ideal person of such objectivity in self-reflection is described as GOD (Yoga Ishwara – Chief among the Yogis).

The wisdom of such reflection which enables everything else is called Brahman. I exist merely as a witness to the role of these three features (Guna), the vision derived there from – I am Brahman. I the observer and all that around me (the observed) are all part of the same Universe – Thath Thwam Asi !

The wick is relatively insignificant part of the lamp, in terms of its weight, size, volume, etc. It is very easy to ignore or dismiss the existence of a wick. It does not serve any purpose unless it plays its transformative role – of transporting the oil, creating a space of controlled combustion and being consumed gradually as part of this transformation! The same can be said of our intellect. Which part of our body is the home for our intellect? If you say “mind”, then is it not the home for all our emotions and upheavals? In our daily stress and pressures, it is possible to relegate the mind and its role largely for our emotions (turbulence). It requires a concerted effort to make a small but significant role for the mind to engage in thoughts and the transformation it can create for our emotions and body functions for enhanced knowledge. This process of self-reflection and contemplation is Yoga.

The flame of a lamp enables us to see all the objects in its glow. The same is true of our thoughts and ideas and their transformation into knowledge. It is our understanding – the glow – through which we comprehend everything around us and also the very enablers of such knowledge (i.e) of our body, mind and intellect. Illumination is perceived only as long as there is the glow of the lamp. Darkness and illumination are complements of each other. The same goes for knowledge and ignorance on any subject. Where there is illumination there is no darkness. When the illumination is not adequate our vision diminishes and we rely on guess work or judgment. This uncertain nature, with respect to our knowledge is the source of our bias or turbulence! Every aspect of above statements is conceived as Brahman – self-evident truth or laws of nature that merely exist.

Just as the illumination through the flame of the lamp, makes all else visible, all that we know is the result of our understanding though our knowledge of the nature and their governing laws. This knowledge – that accepts everything as parts of nature and everything is enabled by the laws of nature – is the only true knowledge (Brahman). On comprehending this knowledge, one acquires a stable frame of mind from which one does not return to the life of perturbations caused by our limited knowledge, bias and ignorance. In an ideal sense God is seen as the repository of such undeterred universal comprehension. Perhaps it is such reflection, analysis, understanding and symbolism that is suggested by the following verses:

The sun does not shine, nor the moon and the stars, nor the flashes of lightning nor this flame of the lamp. All of these shine through His luster.              Katha Upanishad 2.2.15

Neither the sun nor the moon nor the fire shines there; having reached that place no one returns; that is My abode.                                                                  Bagawath Geetha. 15.6.

These are also the verses chanted at the end of all Hindu worship services with the offering of light (Deepa Aradhana).

Happy Diwali !

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Bishma Complex


Bishma

Epics are stories that convey the life and history of a time in the past. They are described as “Ithihasa” meaning the way it was. Ramayana and Mahabaratha are the two well-known epics from Hindu literature.

The story of Ramayana is used to tell the way Rama conducted his life from childhood till he ascended the throne as a king with strict adherence to the discrimination between right and wrong. While no one can be perfect including Rama (considered as the human incarnation of the Lord), the story of Ramayana describes the challenges faced by anyone as he/she searches for the right vs. wrong in every step of life.

Mahabaratha is a much more elaborate story with many characters, their strengths and weaknesses reflected in the complex canopy we call “life” which includes the self, family, friends, community and society at large. The central theme of Mahabaratha is Baghawath Geetha – the conversation between the warrior Arjuna and his friend (who doubles as the charioteer) Krishna (considered as another human incarnation of the Lord). The conversation in the middle of the battle field is metaphoric to the life and the battles to be faced in it by every one of us. The reflective and conscientious Arjuna wonders “if he should fight and why?” with the potential for the huge calamity and loss of life to follow, even though as a warrior it is his duty to follow orders and fight as required. Krishna uses this conversation to explain to Arjuna (and by inference each of us) answers to several questions such as: Who is “I”?, What is “duty”?, What is “life”?, What is “Objectivity?”, How a life of subjective experiences leads to all our perturbations?, how it can be transformed into a life of objective tranquility?, What is spirituality?, etc. We have written many blogs on these and many such questions in this blog site.

In addition to their central themes both these epics – Ramayana and Mahabaratha – provide an array of characters whose behavior, choices and way of life can be analyzed. They are very rich sources of learning. One key character in Mahabaratha is Bishma.  His role is writ large in every aspect of this complex story. In summary, Bishma displayed many virtues throughout his life: At a very young age, he took a vow to never become a king, so that his father could have another child who could become the king. He also took a vow never to marry so that there will be no threat to the kingdom from his own children thus preserving the valor of his earlier oath. For this noble act he was rewarded with a long life that will not end even as many generations passed by. In a sense this boon of long life ended up as a curse as well! His long life forced him to perform many acts considered as “duty” in a narrow sense. He participated in war like aggression to gain brides for his half-brother so that his dynasty can continue. In the process he destroyed the tender love of a young woman without being aware of it. He stood by many evil acts of his clan who were now ruling the kingdom, even though he felt they were incorrect as well as incompetent to serve as rulers. He stood by an immoral act of disrobing Draupadi (the main character and the heroine) since he felt powerless to stand up against his own family members. Yet, he assumed the power to lead his clan into a war, even though his heart was not for it and his clan was mostly unscrupulous and conniving at best. Finally in his death bed lying on a bed of arrows he recites the thousand names in the glory of the Lord, which is recited even today by devout Hindus. Anyone interested in the details of Bishma as a character and in his expansive role in Mahabaratha can read:

https://www.academia.edu/2614138/BHISHMA_IN_THE_MAHABHARATA_A_CHARATER_ANALYSIS

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/unheardshepherd/bhishma-a-myth-of-the-past-or-a-reality-of-the-present/

Every one of us is certain to grow old. Many of us desire to have a long and healthy life. When blessed as such it also brings with it challenges and complexities that need to be addressed objectively. Response to events largely based on subjective preferences dominated by attachment and bias (Rajasam) and unaware of this implicit bias (ignorance or Thaamasam) can lead to untold disruptions and tumult not only for the elder person but for the entire family (as illustrated in Mahabharata). We refer to this behavior by elders in the family and the impact as “Bishma Complex”.

Our actions from childhood will have good and bad aspects attached to them. Eventually others around us will look up to the elders in the family, community or society. Will our behavior and decisions be conditioned by our lessons learned, tempered with judgement and reasoning that is reflected in our objectivity? Or will they be driven by attachments and personal pet peeves which lead to more anxiety and upheaval as was the case in most of Bhishma’s life? Or will there be blind loyalty to traditional values (e.g.: family, religion, nationalism, etc.) that dominate over larger common good (across families, religions and nations)? These are not hypothetical questions.

In the past few decades globalization, peace and prosperity has spread across the globe. As a result, there are many families that have grown out of poverty into better education, employment, immigration and migration leading to more favorable circumstances. As economic standards and affluence improve, the elders who pushed the boundaries for better economic growth in their youth may need to find new dimensions and challenges to pursue for their younger generations. At some point one need to realize that money and power is not everything. Having struggled for these over many years, transitioning to broader themes of love, kindness and affection for all may not be easy.

The politics of climate change, the stagnation across political parties, religious intolerance, the leaning towards extreme right or left are all indications of blind loyalty. They may also be evidences where the older generation act as a voting block and insist on their blind allegiance to traditional values. In this regard the Bishma Complex may be more real and present today, than a fictional interpretation from an ancient epic.

The best effort of every person sets the standard for those who follow him/her.   B.G. 3. 21.

Age is a natural process that results in follower-ship. But old age and the opportunities it provides if they are not used wisely, they can lead to harm and hardship over generations. On the other hand practiced with objectivity and wisdom, old age creates unique opportunities for leadership leading to peace and harmony over generations. The balancing act between these two alternatives may be described as “Bishma Complex”?

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Aging Vs. Maturing


Aging Vs. Maturing

Recently a family friend gave me a birthday card. It read “Aging is inevitable; Maturing is optional”. The card is priceless just as the close relationship with friends and the warmth and joy they add to life! It was a well-chosen card and set me thinking on aging and maturing.

Incidentally, I had received another birthday message that read “Wishing you the very best as you journey around the sun once more in the coming year”! How true it is! All of us as objects of nature and as part and parcel of planet earth, continue our journey around the sun precisely once a year (excluding the small correction we need to make once every four years)! In terms of full disclosure I have thus far made seventy revolutions around the sun! It is this journey as part of planet earth and the journey around the sun that we identify as “aging”! In this respect all of us and everything we know of age with time. It is natural! There is no choice in that. It is inevitable.

What is maturing? Is it optional? Why? I believe that depends on the meaning and our understanding of the term – maturing.

A fruit bearing plant grows from its seed. It is considered “mature” when it yields a good crop of fruits rewarding the farmer worthy of his efforts. Hence in some regard “maturity” is a matter of benefits derived or delivered as a natural course of events. But it is also a matter of perspective or judgement. Excessive use of pesticides and chemicals which are ecologically unfriendly for the society at large may be seen as immature, even with the high yielding “mature tree” for the farmer. The fruit bearing trees that grow in the wild are not seen as “mature” even if they bear lots of fruits. They will be described merely as “part of nature”. This human centered view may be in contrast to the joy and satisfaction of all the animals in the wild nourished by the fruits of the mature wild tree. In other words to be recognized as “mature” both the results and the beneficiaries have to be visible and compatible? In Bhajagovindham Verse 5, Adi Sankara warns us on this subjective view on “maturity”:

As long as you are seen as a productive member of the family you are wanted and welcomed. When you become old and unable to contribute, no one wants to speak even a word with you!

“Maturity” or fruitfulness need not be limited to material things (like the trees yielding fruits in our analogy above). We are endowed with our body, mind and intellect. Hence maturity can be witnessed through our actions, emotions/feelings as well as through our thoughts and ideas. In every case seeking the outcomes of larger common good – using common sense and making adult decisions – is a measure of maturity. Hence choices with respect to maturity can span a wide range of means (physical, emotional and/or intellectual), outcomes as well as beneficiaries. Unlike other objects of nature, we the human beings are endowed with a mind that can both think (of thoughts) as well as feel (the emotions). Maturity can also be seen as the ability to deploy our mind through our thoughts to control our emotions or feelings while recognizing their inter-connected nature. This kind of maturity can evolve with age (and hence time), but it can also come at any age from our objective outlook gained through self-control. In this regard one can be mature and useful even at the ripe old age through the mind and its control towards empathy and wisdom of value to others ?

As part of nature we exist in five parallel layers (Pancha Kosham): Material objects (Annamaya), animate or living objects (Pranamaya), individuals with emotions and feelings (manonmaya), with ability for rational or objective analysis (Vignanamaya) and an enlightened or universal perspective. This final layer in which all four preceding layers (and even this fifth layer) is enabled by and exist as witness to the eternal laws of nature at work (Brahman) is described as Anandamaya.

Four of these layers are superimposed on the first (i.e.) Material object. It is the only permanent aspect of any of us, all of us. Yet, influenced by our emotions, feelings and inability for rational thinking we belabor on the notions of birth and death as if the material object (body) begins with birth, ages and ceases to exist (after death)! In reality our body even if it changes with time, but as a material object is the only permanent? Is this thought and understanding a measure of maturity? It is also our choice?

We see guidance in the scriptures on the role of our mind and its control. This is understood as a measure of maturity:

Bagawath Geetha:             Through Self-control (of the mind and its engagement) one remains one’s own best friend

Katha Upanishad:           The notions of death and birth are determined by the state of mind.

Buddha:             Learn to control your mind. Everything you experience is determined by the conditioning of your mind!

Adi Sankara:                  Learn to focus your mind on the enlightened view of the Universe (i.e) everything is enabled by the same laws of nature, described in totality as Brahman.

In Hindu scriptures four stages of maturing are described. They are: Learning stage – Brahmacharyam, Engagement or Application of the lessons learned – Grahastham , Exploration of the “Experience” –Vanaprastham and Objective outlook – Samnyasam.  These four stages of life are also described in terms of their literal meaning of their Sanskrit words as “Childhood or learning”, “family life”, “receding into the forest” and “monastic life”.

From birth to death we get exposed to new information, situation and circumstances. All these are sources for our experiences. It is the experience as felt or observed by us as individuals that distinguish each from the other. Then we probe and learn the techniques to decipher “Experience”. As we do, we learn that an objective outlook on any experience leads us to the laws of nature (Brahman) embedded in that event and experience. In this universal outlook we remain as part and parcel of the universe (Aham Brahmasmi). This reflective management of the mind – maturing – can occur at any age, at any time and with respect to any event or situation. In that respect maturing indeed is a choice while we age and grow old inevitably!

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