Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

The important bits are at the end: If you believe someone is harming you on purpose, it hurts more. There is discussion of turning pain into pleasure : presenter quotes pleasure of riding a roller coaster as an example; I am not sure if adrenaline is also responsible for the pleasure here, if only partly. Eating chillies is also an example of turning pain into pleasure.

Following excerpt is from Vignana Bhairava Tantra, an ancient Hindu text. This particular translation and explanation is by master Osho. I was reminded of this when I was watching the video; the parallels and similar conclusions are uncanny. How are we feeling pleasure from an experience that should have resulted in pain? The answer is simple: pain and pleasure are within us, and we have the control to feel one or the other irrespective of the external situation.

Whenever there is joy, you feel that it is coming from without. You have met a friend: of course, it
appears that the joy is coming from your friend, from seeing him. That is not the actual case. The
joy is always within you. The friend has just become a situation. The friend has helped it to come
out, has helped you to see that it is there. And this is not only with joy, but with everything: with
anger, with sadness, with misery, with happiness, with everything, it is so. Others are only situations
in which things that are hidden in you are expressed. They are not causes; they are not causing
something in you. Whatsoever is happening, is happening TO YOU. It has always been there; it
is only that meeting with this friend has become a situation in which whatsoever was hidden has
come out in the open – has come out. From the hidden sources it has become apparent, manifest.
Whenever this happens remain centered in the inner feeling, and then you will have a different
attitude about everything in life.
Even with negative emotions, do this. When you are angry, do not be centered on the person who
has aroused it. Let him be on the periphery. You just become anger. Feel anger in its totality; allow it
to happen within. Don’t rationalize; don’t say that this man has created it. Do not condemn the man.
He has just become the situation. And feel grateful towards him that he has helped something which
was hidden to come into the open. He has hit you somewhere, and a wound was there hidden. Now
you know it, so become the wound.
With negative or positive, with any emotion, use this, and there will be a great change in you. If
the emotion is negative, you will be freed of it by being aware that it is within you. If the emotion is
positive, you will become the emotion itself. If it is joy, you will become joy. If it is anger, the anger
will dissolve.
And this is the difference between negative and positive emotions: if you become aware of a certain
emotion, and by your becoming aware the emotion dissolves, it is negative. If by your becoming
aware of a certain emotion you then become the emotion, if the emotion then spreads and becomes
your being, it is positive. Awareness works differently in both cases. If it is a poisonous emotion,
you are relieved of it through awareness. If it is good, blissful, ecstatic, you become one with it.
Awareness deepens it.

Ancient Hindu philosophers have mastered the internal, and their insight into human mind is amazing.

Telugu Calendar

Posted: December 23, 2012 in india, religion, telugu
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A dynamic Telugu calendar for the year 2013 has been published. It lists Telugu festivals such as Bhogi, Sankranthi. It is also handy when you want to look up Rahukala times.

Hafiz wonderfully summarizes, in his poem, my wanderings hither and thither. Examining God under a microscope, dissecting her with sharp scalpels, and searching in the vast sky with a huge telescope, it seems, are all futile activities:

A wine bottle fell from a wagon and
broke open in a field.

That night one hundred beetles and all their cousins
Gathered

and did some serious binge drinking.

They even found some seed husks nearby
and began to play them like drums and whirl.
This made God very happy.

Then the “night candle” rose into the sky
and one drunk creäture, laying down his instrument,
said to his friend  for no apparent
Reason,

“What should we do about that moon?”

Seems to Hafiz
Most everyone has laid aside the music

Tackling such profoundly useless
Questions.

~ Hafiz ~

(The Gift — versions of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky)

Spectator of life

Posted: June 22, 2011 in life, Quotes, religion
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At times he felt, deep in his chest, a dying, quiet voice, which admonished him quietly, lamented quietly; he hardly perceived it. And then, for an hour, he became aware of the strange life he was leading, of him doing lots of things which were only a game, of, though being happy and feeling joy at times, real life still passing him by and not touching him. As a ball-player plays with his balls, he played with his business-deals, with the people around him, watched them, found amusement in them; with his heart, with the source of his being, he was not with them. The source ran somewhere, far away from him, ran and ran invisibly, had nothing to do with his life any more. And at several times he suddenly became scared on account of such thoughts and wished that he would also be gifted with the ability to participate in all of this childlike-naive occupations of the daytime with passion and with his heart, really to live, really to act, really to enjoy and to live instead of just standing by as a spectator.

“‘We have a predisposition to believe in God” so says research conducted by several independent groups led by Oxford university. That’s what I read in the newspaper (none other than the TOIlet paper) this morning. They didn’t mention which journal this research was published in. Anyway, the  conclusion from this research is not a surprise at all. But I do hope they had enough data from people who weren’t exposed to the idea of God in childhood. They also seem to have come to the conclusion that children easily believe in superhuman abilities because it is hard to understand natural limitations.

We all know that frustrating feeling of being stuck with a hard problem that we just don’t know how to solve. When you are really lost without any hope, isn’t it comforting to know that there is someone who knows how to solve it, for eventually you can get a solution to the hard puzzle? That is exactly the role that an omniscient God plays when you begin to ponder over the mystery of the universe. Eventually you realize that no matter how much you learn or hope to discover rationally, the chain of reasoning never comes to a terminating point. It’s like peeling an onion that is infinitely big; it never ends. Let’s see how that goes:

You basically start with, how did we come into existence?
And you know the answer, it’s the making of evolution.

Oh yeah, how did the raw material come in place to start the evolution, you ask?
Exploding stars produced all the elements necessary to make you and me, and with a little help from gravity and sheer chance that was a certainty given the vastness of the Universe, those elements in clouds of dust formed into planets.

Where did those exploding stars get their hydrogen to start with?
It all started with a Big Bang of course;

Well then, how did it happen?
hmm; let’s say quantum fluctuations, or may be it was the collision of Branes?.

Really? how did that happen, and what was that nothing from which everything came from?
Sorry, we really don’t know.

You see, with these hows and whys we are always in an infinite regression without any foreseeable termination point that can answer everything. Because no matter what the answer is, you can always add a how or a why to that answer and keep the loop going. This realization dawned on me when I was quite young, perhaps even before I entered into my teens. And the only comfort I could find at that time from this constantly nagging question was in the concept of an omniscient entity. It was relieving to know that there are answers to those questions though I can not comprehend them at the moment. The promise of a solution that would be self-evident once you are privy to it, to this apparently intractable riddle was alluring. What more, there are known ways to access that elegant solution. You just have to be patient and follow what was demanded of you. That was how I was sold to the idea of God when I was just a kid in school.

I know, when you bring in God into the equation, the hows and whys don’t really go away; and of course God itself needs explanation. But the beauty of the concept lies in its ingenuity in answering all those questions with a single stroke. And that answer is: yes, there is an explanation for God as well, but you know what, you will have to work hard and realize God to gain the insight required to understand those answers.

Of late, I have new-found hope that some day we might even be able to find an ultimate answer to this riddle; what made me think of this possibility is not the amazing progress humanity has made in understanding the universe; I’m still convinced that the recursion can’t be broken by anyone however intelligent she may be, at the current level of human consciousness and the rationality that is afforded by it. I think it’s conceivable that evolution is running its course and our brains may acquire a completely new level of ‘intelligence’ that might be able to see things in such ways that we can’t possibly imagine now. Can a monkey even comprehend what it’s to have the consciousness that humans have, let alone theorize about it?. The development of our brains to their current state led us to this amazing understanding we have about the universe. That is a huge leap compared to our immediate ancestors on the tree of life. What would another such leap do to our brains?

Here is an interesting idea: our brains might already have such higher faculties but most of us might not be accessing them. Some gifted people might be able to use those brain functions easily while the rest of us may have to learn it the hard way to exercise and master their use. I am considering the possibility that spirituality/self-realization might be a way to access those higher functions in our brains, and unlock the secrets of the universe.

[meta notes: This post had been sitting in my drafts since Feb 24th; The conversation at Malavika’s blog prompted me to fish it out and finish. There is a little more that I wanted to talk about: the common denominator of Quantum mechanics, String theory, and spirituality is the apparent ‘weird’ things that they do to our world. I will talk about it some other time]

Why do we mourn?

Posted: March 22, 2011 in life, love, religion
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When you are heart-broken, being bedridden is to no one’s benefit. You need all the energy you can get to pursue your love and make it work or get over it and get on with your life. However we humans are designed to do the exact opposite. When you are to be out there persuading her, when you need to be at your best, all you want to do is stay in bed and reminisce about the past, and a future that doesn’t exist . W. H. Auden’s lines saying “dismantle the moon, and pour away the ocean, for nothing ever comes to any good” seem so appropriate at that moment. Same with mourning the death of a loved one. I know it is all touchy-feely to be this way;  after all, the suffering we go through after that loss is the manifestation of the love and affection we had for that person. And it’s easy to say that those emotions, and suffering are the hallmark of humanity.

When examined from a purely scientific perspective, there is no survival advantage that a species  gains by mourning. So, why is it there? It probably is a side effect of the bonding and attachment that we develop with those we love. Without it being of no use on its own, shouldn’t we have lost it by now? Especially when there are downsides to mourning. Prima facie a species that expends energy and time mourning a loss is at a disadvantage compared to a species that doesn’t mourn. Why then is mourning hardwired in our DNA? May be it was an effective strategy against communicable diseases? after all if a family member’s death was due to such a disease, it is likely others in the family have contracted it, and may spread it in the community if they are active. If they don’t go out for a while, mourning the death of someone in the family, it might have had the effect of quarantining them? But most cultures seem to have the concept of everyone visiting the deceased to pay their respects, effectively nullifying any quarantining effect that resulted from mourning. Did this cultural phenomenon of paying respects to departed souls develop recently in human history?

Last week I happened to chance upon this interesting post about someone’s personal journey from atheism to faith. I was surprised to see evolutionary theory mentioned as one of the reasons for that switch. It got me thinking about God and science, again :). One of the threads led me back to one of my earlier conclusions that we, Homo sapiens, might have evolved to believe in God.

About three years ago, I watched this amazing talk that Jill gave at TED, about her stroke and the insights that she had drawn from that experience. When she lost her left brain functions due to brain hemorrhage, she couldn’t distinguish her body from her surroundings. Her experience of being one with the universe, losing the boundary between her body and the rest of the world, which she described as nirvana, was akin to spiritual experiences described by Yogis and other mystics. That’s what got me closer to the idea that spiritual experiences can result purely from our brain functions, or the lack of them as was in Jill’s case.
Recent neurological studies have demonstrated that stimulating certain areas of the brain can induce spiritual experiences in the subjects. There are documented cases of religious experiences resulting from temporal lobe seizures 1. This means one can have the wonderful experience of being in unity with the rest of the universe, without requiring some external supernatural entity to bestow it on oneself. At the very core level that is what eastern philosophies like Hinduism, and Buddhism teach. Ancient Indians have found ways to train our brains and induce such experiences as those that Buddha had, through meditation. It is not very clear if meditation, temporal lobe seizures, and the electrical stimuli that induce religious experiences are all closely related in the way they operate on our brains; More importantly, do they all achieve similar results by exciting the same set of neurons in the brain? There was some initial speculation on the subject suggesting there might be a dedicated component in our brains that is responsible for our belief in God etc. , The popular press went ahead and called it ‘God module’2. But it seems it is more complicated than initially thought, and is perhaps linked to many other functional parts in the brain3.

Irrespective of how complex it is or how thinly spread across it is in our brain, it is certain that there are groups of neurons in our brains that are responsible for our emotions and experiences related to God and spirituality. It can be argued that we gained those brain faculties through evolution, just like the rest of our brain functions. This implies that we have evolved to be spiritual/religious and believe in God. So what, does it have any implications on the existence of God itself? none that I can think of at the moment. Thus I still can’t figure out how evolutionary theory can uphold faith in God. However if that link can be established, it would get a lot of support from monotheistic religious groups that are fighting theory of evolution tooth and nail, and perhaps wipe out the whole intelligent design (creationism) hypothesis.

References:
1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2003/godonbrain.shtml
2. http://www.naturalnews.com/023055_the_brain_religion_consciousness.html
3. http://www.pnas.org/content/106/12/4876.full

Please God, please be there

Posted: September 21, 2010 in abstract, life, Quotes, religion
Tags: , , ,

For the most part of my life, I had believed in some form of God. It ranged from a close, personal God that I almost talked to, to an abstract entity that was probably just realization and understanding of the Universe. As I grew up, and started examining God under the lens of rational sense, there were more questions than answers. At the same time, I also started understanding the scientific view of the world better, and went through the history of many breakthroughs that form the foundation of our current understanding of the universe. God, even at the very high philosophical level doesn’t seem to fit into the scientific framework that informs us of the workings of the universe, and forms the very base of our modern life. The conflicts of God theory with modern science were obvious. As I went through the quest to understand life better, I slowly started leaning towards the scientific view, and started letting go of God. A couple of years ago that process reached its culmination and I have more or less abandoned God completely.

One of the many good uses of God is, this enormous positive energy that you can freely draw from. No matter how bad the situation seems to be, you can be eternally optimistic and never lose hope. When there is an omnipotent entity that is taking care of you, there is no reason for you to worry about anything. You just go about doing the right thing, and you will be fine. The obvious downside of not believing in God is that you have to generate your positive energy internally, and keep marching forward against all odds without any help whatsoever from some form of destiny or whatever that is; basically you are on your own, and no matter how well you do what you are supposed to do, no matter how impeccable your planning is, no matter how scrupulous you had been, no matter how hard you worked, no matter how well you deserved it, there is no guarantee that you will get anything that you aspire for. As Robert Burns put it,  “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”, and there is nothing that you can do about it except keep fighting with an unwavering determination.

I was well aware of what I was getting into when I had let go of God. I had a few really serious setbacks, and went through some very tough times in the past few years. But I managed to cruise along without ever losing hope or turning to God for help. Recently, I went through some really hard times when suddenly everything seemed to go wrong.  It was like all the hell broke loose at the same time, at a time when I was least expecting it, and I was almost reduced to a passive entity without any means to fight back. In the midst of all that I fell ill, and what started off as a harmless fever lasted for more than a week. The sickness, and the antibiotics that I had to take made me very weak. The antibiotics killed off all the good bacteria in my body, and I got a fungal infection in my mouth. I couldn’t eat anything at all, and of course that made me even weaker. I was staying in bed under multiple blankets, with my sweater on, but I was still shivering. I could not remember the last time I was this sick. Blood tests seemed to give conflicting results. There were several unexplained symptoms that could potentially point to very scary and serious health issues. My only  reasonable hope to get out of the situation seemed to be something positive happening on its own. And why exactly would something positive happen on its own, when things that certainly had no chance of going wrong were utterly going wrong though I had taken care of every contingency humanely possible? I was exhausted both physically and mentally , and drained out of energy. I almost broke down. That’s when it occurred to me how much more easier it would have been if there were a God that I could turn to, and transfer my burden over. Even if there was no answering service, even if God is not really going to do anything for me, just the fact that i have faith in a powerful entity that would take care of me, would have been an enormous morale booster, and lifted heavy burden off me. But then I can’t just fake faith into some entity that I have no reason to believe in; can I?

I knew I had to pull myself together, and draw on my own willpower to keep moving forward. Even if I utterly failed at everything that I was doing, even if my worst fears came true and I were to be diagnosed with some monstrous disease, there was no reason to lose hope, it was not the end of life. Well, even if it meant the end of me, there was no point getting depressed about it. I had to keep living in the moment, enjoying every little thing that life offers, remaining as happy as ever. After a week, fever seemed to come under control. After another week, I could manage to take little food, and slowly started recovering. All the diagnostic reports came out, and there seemed to be no reason for panic. After around a month, I’m almost back to my normal health except for an alien bitter, salty taste on my tongue due to the infection. I got back to doing my things, and started working to make the best of the challenges staring at me.

In my last post I mentioned that the US govt. is funding terrorism by giving billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan. Yesterday, Wikileaks released documents that show that the US establishments knew about ISI-Taliban links, and Pakistan government’s involvement in terrorism. It’s hardly news to anyone interested in these matters. However what needs explaining here is the reason why US is doing such a stupid thing. I’m no expert in these matters, but I see several possible explanations:

  • Military–industrial complex: It makes good business sense for defense suppliers to keep the US army engaged in a perpetual war. And this is ensured by doling out money to Pakistan knowing it would keep Taliban active. Atanu provides a very good analysis of this phenomenon.
  • Another explanation that I have come across is that by giving Pakistan money to buy weapons, US keeps fueling the arms race between Pakistan and India. India ends up spending a lot of money to acquire weapons, and that translates to lot of business for US companies.
  • Pakistan is outmaneuvering the US, and it is hapless in Afghanistan. US keeps giving money to buy whatever little co-operation it can get from Pakistan.

It is likely that a combination of all the above mentioned scenarios interacting in complex ways with a lot of other geopolitical power plays is the actual reason for the current situation.