Can you (really) change the world?

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Many feel the urge to change the world, make it better. But perhaps any effort to improve the world, like making it more equal or egalitarian, is futile and contrary to the ordinary course of nature. The law of the jungle and survival of the fittest seem to be immutable realities. The strong and smart thrive by edging out the weak. It’s a zero sum game. If you win, somebody else has lost. Governments, philanthropists, great men & institutions may try to equalize, redistribute and establish order. But perhaps chaos, disorder & inequalities cannot be abolished completely. They may even be a necessary condition for a thriving vibrant world.

All of us are not rich, intelligent & healthy. Some are better than others. And they claim their pound of flesh, before they give, or even as they give.

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Big changes seem to entail big costs. Big philanthropic gifts may come from dubious business profits. Almost all big businesses make big profits by extracting big pounds of flesh. Big revolutions cost lots of lives. The ends do not always justify the means.

We live in a complex world. The costs & consequences of changes and improvements we seek are not immediately clear. Many costs are hidden, latent, spread out in space and time. What looks good to us now may not be so for others in a different space and time. Even well-meant humane & developmental works may have hidden costs and consequences beyond our understanding.

One country’s rise may suppress another country. One society’s improvement in living standards may be at the cost of another. One generation’s pursuit of happiness may harm future generations. The rise of one species may destroy few others. Wealth accumulation by the top 1% of the population may be sufficient to render many millions poor, homeless & starving. Unintended, unforeseen or unplanned eventualities and accidents are more common than we care to admit. Even a regular middle class salaried job (in a bank, factory or school) ultimately polarize the world by indirectly advancing (not always benign) goals of business profits. Many of us don’t pause or bother to think of costs & consequences of our actions.

History teaches that big changes come with big costs. And many a time, the costs are known much later, after a few decades or even centuries. An idea, work, invention or discovery may change the world in the span of a few years or decades, but previously unseen costs and consequences may become evident after a few centuries. The change agent may have died happily, satisfied he had changed the world in his own lifetime. But, subsequent generations may not exactly agree with his ideas or actions.

Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Mozart, Leonardo Da Vinci, their ideas & actions may have changed the world for the better. But have Einstein, Shakespeare, Steve Jobs, capitalism, the Internet and Google improved the world? We may have to wait for a few more generations or centuries to find out.

How then to change the world?

Perhaps we cannot. The world seems to change & evolve naturally by itself, with or without us, despite (or in spite of) our actions or inaction.

What then can we do?

We can live responsibly, make small & steady improvements to our lives and in our spheres of influence, watch out for hidden and unintended costs & consequences, and hope to make a small net positive impact over our lifetime.

That sounds boring and unexciting. But perhaps thats the only benign way to change the world.

Better to accept it, learn how to do it well, and enjoy the journey.

 

Tao is Brahman

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While reading the chinese classic Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, one can observe its striking similarities to Hindu thoughts.

Some parts are mystical, but the text is full of sound practical wisdom on how to live well.


When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.

In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.

Chase after money and security and you heart with never unclench. Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner. Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.

Success is as dangerous as failure. Hope is as hollow as fear.

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves!”

Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous!

If you want to be given everything, give everything up.

A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.

Do you want to improve the world? I don’t think it can be done. The world is sacred. It can’t be improved. If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it. If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

The Master does his job and then stops. He understands that the universe is forever out of control, and that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao. Because he believes in himself, he doesn’t try to convince others. Because he is content with himself, he doesn’t need others’ approval. Because he accepts himself, the whole world accepts him.

If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.

When there is no desire, all things are at peace.

The greatest wisdom seems childish. True wisdom seems foolish.

If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never truly be fulfilled.

True mastery can be gained by letting things go their own way. It can’t be gained by interfering.

The Master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.

Knowing how to yield is strength.

The Master’s power is like this. He lets all things come and go effortlessly, without desire. He never expects results; thus he is never disappointed. He is never disappointed; thus his spirit never grows old.

Those who know don’t talk. Those who talk don’t know.

The mark of a moderate man is freedom from his own ideas.

Governing a large country is like frying a small fish. You spoil it with too much poking.

Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself.

Confront the difficult while it is still easy; accomplish the great task by a series of small acts.

The Master takes action by letting things take their course.

The ancient Masters didn’t try to educate the people, but kindly taught them to not-know. When they think that they know the answers, people are difficult to guide. When they know that they don’t know, people can find their own way.

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.

Failure is an opportunity. If you blame someone else, there is no end to the blame. There the Master fulfills her own obligations and corrects her own mistakes. She does what she needs to do and demands nothing of others.

The Master has no possessions. The more he does for others, the happier he is. The more he gives to others, the wealthier he is.


Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

What can go wrong as we age?

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While aging & death are unavoidable, do they also have to be scary, pitiable, despondent & miserable?

Even as our physique weakens & mental abilities wither, our emotional & psychological outlooks can keep us in good stead and help us age well. And that’s possible only if we make the conscious effort to learn and incorporate such attitudes into our psyche when we are younger.

Instead of asking ‘what ideas can be adopted’ to age well, it may be worthwhile to invert the question and instead ask ‘what ideas should be avoided’, which may be easier to answer.

1. Losing purpose is not good for any age, even more so for the elderly. Many of us subconsciously define our lives around our work & family which unfortunately is not sufficient, and becomes a limiting factor later on. When we retire and the family thins out, our lives start looking empty, with no purpose or reason to live for. It’s useful to identify or seek a few purposes, in our 20s or 30s or 40s, which can last for a long while. The aging person may still earn an income, run a business, spend time with family and grandchildren, but they may turn out to be ephemeral or unsatisfactory in the long run. A big bold larger than life goal may help us stay active, agile & satisfied as we age. If the goal is ambitious, always looks slightly out of reach but still achievable, not so enormous that it becomes a burden, then that perhaps is the purpose we need in our lives, till our death. The goal can be personal, related to family, social, political, etc., but it must be something we are really interested in, supported by some related knowledge and skills we have acquired through the years.

2. Slipping behind the times happens so smoothly, without us being aware of it, that we are alerted by rude shocks to its impact on us, in our 40s, 50s or later. This predominantly cultural & social generation gap is natural. Uncles & grandmothers find their ideas and comments being labelled old-fashioned. Many aged people are unable to accept new realities, ideas, concepts, traditions, etc., even when some of them are just old wine packaged in new bottles. As we age, we need to make extra effort to learn, unlearn, renew and update our ideas, views & opinions. If we do so, we can avoid being exposed to unnerving rude shocks to our psyche. This may not be easy or convenient, and may even seem unnecessary. We may choose to live a peripheral life, away from the new & modern, but let it be a conscious choice while simultaneously being aware of and accepting the changing times. Nostalgia and memories are fine, but constantly living in the past is inviting danger.

3. Self-pity can be excruciating.  It does us no good & is addictive, even as we are pulled deeper into its abyss. Most of us are its victims. It can be more damaging to the vulnerable elderly, when they start pitying themselves about their conditions, relationships, health etc. We need to constantly guard ourselves against falling into the throes of self-pity, which seems to be a natural human response to distress. It wastes time, energy and provides no relief. Why indulge in it?

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3. Anger never helps. It’s easy to get angry with ourselves, our family, the society, and so on. Anger makes us loose reason. We can’t think properly. We jump to the wrong conclusion or course of action. Many elderly are angry. It doesn’t help them or the people around them. It’s perhaps easier when young to make the conscious effort to bring the tendency to get angry under control.

4. Ego is the big ‘I, me, & myself’ behind many a ruined life. Thoughts like ‘I am entitled to…’, ‘I can seldom be wrong’, ‘I want, need, desire, seek, so i must…..’, ‘How can I be insulted like that?’, ‘I am more knowledgeable than…, so….’, etc. are sure recipes to a disastrous life. Ego expresses itself as anger, lust, desire, conceit…any extreme emotion which bypasses rational thought. An elderly person with a massive ego is pathetic sight. Ego is perhaps easier brought under control before 40s, providing one makes the effort to recognize it first. Ego raises its head so often, many times a day, subconsciously, and we are blissfully unaware of its machinations. Only conscious effort can help keep it at bay.

6. Self-abuse & self-neglect is common among the elderly. Many neglect their health & finances, give up on relationships & hope, & pity themselves into worser conditions. A sunny and positive attitude, if developed in their younger lives, will help them sail through their later lives in good spirits. Life is never perfect. Most of us never get all that we desire. The best thing to do is to constantly scan for and hold on to the rays of hope & positivity, rather than succumbing to the depths of despair and depression.

Living may not be easy. But aging & dying can be easier and even exhilarating, given that we have had a long runway.

Riding into the happy sunset requires effort, in our younger lives.

 

 

 

What Is Dharma?

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What is right and what is wrong? What are the key principles & morals we should live by? Is there an underlying order to our lives which can serve as a common guide to all of us?

Mahabharata is a good source to study such questions due to its rich & varied characters, situations & dilemmas.

When the myths and supernatural aspects of the epic saga are stripped out, and the story is spun in a believable fashion full of human foibles, as in ‘Parva’ by S.L.Bhyrappa, it is a compelling narrative we can relate to in our day-to-day lives.

The wide variety of questions dealt with in Mahabharata expands the mind. Why should we respect elders? Is pre-marital sex fine? What about adultery, polyandry and polygyny? Should one always say the truth? Can we eat meat? Can we fight, kill, pillage & plunder? Can we cheat? What acts are sinful? Are all humans same or some better than others? What is God? How to reconcile conflicting views of various religions, rituals, habits, customs & cultures? What are our duties & rights? Whats the best way to live? How much can one consume? Should we protect the environment? How should one die? How should we treat our friends? How to resolve conflicts within family? What is a meaningful life? Should I accumulate wealth or live as a recluse? …..

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Perhaps there is no common dharma, acceptable to all. Morals and principles are constantly in flux, both across time and cultures. What was acceptable 10, 100 or 1000 years back is not acceptable now. What is acceptable in India is not acceptable in the US. What is allowed in Islam is not allowed in Buddhism. Communism, capitalism, dictatorship, democracy, etc. have their own fervent believers and practitioners. Further, moralistic fads come & go, with short-lived successes & failures.

What can one do? Should one stay confused or just dismiss thoughts about dharma & morals? Is it easier to follow the fads and fashions of the day & local culture?

Perhaps it is helpful to fashion one’s own personal dharma. A set of morals & principles drawn from various sources, cultures & histories which may have to be tweaked or even changed radically, as one ages & gathers experiences. Such a personal dharma or set of beliefs may or may not be similar to that held by spouse, children, neighbors, countrymen, colleagues & friends. We have to constantly gather superior ideas, beliefs, morals & principles, tailor and incorporate them into our personal dharma. We have to be resolute about living by our personal dharma, while at the same time being ruthless to discard aspects which turn out to be inferior or meaningless. It requires extreme boldness to live by such an inner scorecard, not being influenced or confused by what’s happening around us. We also need to be ready to face consequences of practicing a personal dharma, some aspects of which could be considered bohemian.

There seems to be no simple way to answer the question ‘What is Dharma?’.

Everybody, and everything, can be right or wrong, depending on one’s point of view.

Parva by S.L.Bhyrappa

 

Robin Hoods or Robber Barons?

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Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are seen as the high priests of modern corporate philanthropy. They are folks who made (or are making) all their wealth by being successful capitalists. Now they want to give it all away, distributing their wealth to a wide range of causes in a business-like fashion, tracking outcomes, improving lives and inspiring other philanthropists.

But, are they worthy of our adulation?

The scientific & industrial revolutions spawned capitalists like Gates & Buffett who lured billions of gleeful consumers. The runaway consumption economy has made our world more unequal, poor, diseased and less hospitable & peaceful. Both Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway have significantly contributed to this state of affairs, directly or indirectly.

Microsoft supplies business software to thousands of consumer goods companies, advertising agencies, weapons manufacturers etc., thereby indirectly supporting rampant consumption, arms race etc. Microsoft & Bill Gates have made all their billions by indirectly contributing to most of the ills facing us today. By deploying his wealth to fight the ills he has caused, can Bill Gates absolve himself?  If he is really serious about improving our lives and the world, should he not shut down Microsoft, or at least be more discriminative of the customers & prospects he engages with?

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Berkshire thrives on consumption, directly and indirectly, through its 100+ businesses. It produces, markets & transports hundreds of consumer and industrial categories of goods. When we celebrate Warren Buffett’s unbeaten track record of 19% compounded return over 52 years, we also need to pause and think how much plundering of natural resources & rampant consumption has contributed to Berkshire’s billions. By giving away all his wealth, can Warren Buffett absolve himself? If he is really serious about improving our lives and the world, should he not shut down those businesses which have made (or still making) our world a less hospitable place?

Corporate philanthropists play on two key arguments. We don’t know of any other system better than capitalism. And modern science, technology & innovations will solve all our problems sooner or later.

Both the arguments are inherently weak. We cannot perpetuate capitalism and its ills just because we don’t know an alternative. Why can’t responsible corporate philanthropists, having made their wealth through capitalism, shut down their businesses partially or completely? Why can’t they spend their money to fight for better regulation, discouraging wasteful consumption etc.? While modern science & technology are indeed solving many problems, isn’t our present system creating more problems than solutions?

As high priests, Gates & Buffett should rethink how they make & spend their billions

 

Meditations On My Ego

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My ego says I am right. But I have been wrong many times.

My ego says nobody else can tell me what to do, say or think. But I always learn something from others.

My ego says I am entitled to this & that. But that leads me to reckless behavior.

My ego says my group, my community…are the best. But I haven’t seen the world.

My ego says I can never fail. But I have failed many times.

My ego says I  can be selfish. But that makes me greedy and unhappy.

My ego says I am beautiful. But that makes me vain.

My ego says I am powerful. But I have failed many times.

My ego says I am knowledgeable. But I don’t know everything.

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My ego says I am perfect. But I am imperfect in many ways.

My ego says I am strong. But I have many weaknesses.

My ego says I can change the world. But I am a small speck in time & space.

My ego says I have time. But I can die in an accident tomorrow.

My ego says everybody loves & respects me. But I don’t know what they really think.

My ego says my family needs me. But I know they can do without me.

My ego says I can influence my future. But I can only control my thought & actions, not my future.

My ego says I am trustworthy. But I regret many of my actions & thoughts.

My ego says I am honest. But I lie many times to myself & others.

My ego says I deserve a better life. But so do others.

My ego says…

My ego says…

My ego won’t go away. Keep it in check.

 

Contemplations on Death

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The father dies. The family mourns. Memories flood back. Friends gather. Tears are shed. His character, qualities, actions & times are remembered. His frailties are glossed over. He’s given a fond farewell. Mourning continues for a while. He slowly fades away. He becomes an occasional thought. He’s forgotten.

The leader dies. The town mourns. Eulogies pour in. Fans, followers, admirers & friends gather. Opponents & critics are generous in their praise. Her life & times are recounted. Emotions run high. Public grief overflows. She is given a fond farewell. Mourning continues for a while. She slowly fades away. She becomes an occasional thought. She’s forgotten.

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Everybody dies. Accept it.

Contemplate death before it happens.

Contemplate your own death.

Every death is a lesson on how to live well.

The eminent and not-so eminent dead are good teachers.

Avoid their mistakes. Adopt their strengths.

Respect the dead. But remember they don’t run or ruin lives.

Praise the living. They will soon die.

The dead instruct. They have faced all situations.

Nothing is new. History repeats. Life repeats.

Learners do well, for themselves, and for others.

Death improves life.

Celebrate life. Live well. Die well.

Ruminations of An Old Man

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Most octogenarians are shunned, wasted or both. Charlie Munger, among the few exceptions, has a cult following. He is intelligent, wise, & candid. The fact that he has become extraordinarily wealthy by developing his own shrewd investing philosophy lends additional aura, respect & attention. He is a man of few words and shuns publicity.

So, on the rare occasion when he speaks, its time to sit tight & lap it up.

A few gems from his commencement speech at USC Law School in 2007, on ideas & attitudes that worked well for him.

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…the idea that the safest way to try and get what you want, is to try and deserve what you wantIt’s such a simple idea, it’s the golden rule so to speak.

…there is no love that’s so right as admiration based love, and that love should include the instructive dead.

wisdom acquisition is a moral duty, it’s not something you do just to advance in life.

I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines, they go to bed every night a little wiser than when they got up and boy does that help particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.

…you can progress only when you learn the method of learning.

if you take Warren Buffett and watched him with a time clock, I would say half of all the time he spends is sitting on his ass and reading. And a big chunk of the rest of the time is spent talking one on one either on the telephone or personally with highly gifted people whom he trusts and who trust him.

I noted since the really big ideas carry 95% of the freight, it wasn’t at all hard for me to pick up all the big ideas in all the big disciplines and make them a standard part of my mental routines.

Once you have the ideas of course they are no good if you don’t practice. You don’t practice you lose it.

So I went through life constantly practicing this model of (multi-)disciplinary approach. Well I can’t tell you what that’s done for me, it’s made life more fun, it’s made me more constructive, it’s made me more helpful to others, it’s made me enormously rich, you name it, that attitude really helps.

I always obeyed the drift of my nature and if other people didn’t like it I didn’t need to be adored by everybody.

…when I talk about this multidisciplinary attitude I’m really following a very key idea of the greatest lawyer of antiquity, Marcus Tullius Cicero. Cicero is famous for saying, “a man who doesn’t know what happened before he was born goes through life like a child”. That is a very correct idea of Cicero’s. And he’s right to ridicule somebody so foolish as not to know what happened before he was born.But if you generalize Cicero as I think one should, there are all these other things that you should know in addition to history and those other things are the big ideas in all the other disciplines. And it doesn’t help you just to know them enough just so you can *unclear* them back on an exam and get an A. You have to learn these things in such a way that they’re in a mental latticework in your head and you automatically use them for the rest of your life.

If you do that I solemnly promise you that one day you’ll be walking down the street and look to your right and left and think, “my heavenly days! I’m now one of the few most competent people of my whole age forward. If you don’t do it, many of the brightest of you will live in the middle ranks or in the shallows.

The way complex adaptive systems work and the way mental constructs work; problems frequently get easier and I would even say usually are easier to solve if you turn around in reverse. In other words if you want to help India, the question you should ask is not “how can I help India?”, you think “what’s doing the worst damage in India? What would automatically do the worst damage and how do I avoid it?” You’d think they are logically the same thing, they’re not. Those of you who have mastered algebra know that inversion frequently will solve problems which nothing else will solve. And in life, unless you’re more gifted than Einstein, inversion will help you solve problems that you can’t solve in other ways.

…to use a little inversion now, what will really fail in life? What do you want to avoid? Such an easy answer – sloth and unreliability. If you’re unreliable it doesn’t matter what your virtues are, you’re going to crater immediately. So doing what you have faithfully engaged to do should be an automatic part of your conduct. You want to avoid sloth and unreliability.

Another thing I think should be avoided is extremely intense ideology because it cabbages up one’s mind. …if you’re young it’s easy to drift in to loyalties and when you announce that you’re a loyal member and you start shouting the orthodox ideology out what you’re doing is pounding it in, pounding it in and you’re gradually ruining your mind so you want to be very careful with this ideology. It’s a big danger.

I have what I call an iron prescription that helps me keep sane when I naturally drift toward preferring one ideology over another. And that is I say “I’m not entitled to have an opinion on this subject unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people do who are supporting it. I think only when I reach that stage am I qualified to speak.”

Another thing of course that does one in is the self serving bias to which we are all subject. You think that your little me is entitled to do what it wants to do…

Generally speaking, envy, resentment, revenge and self pity are disastrous modes of thought, self-pity gets pretty close to paranoia, and paranoia is one of the very hardest things to reverse, you do not want to drift into self-pity.

…a self serving bias, you want to get out of yourself, thinking that what’s good for you is good for the wider civilization and rationalizing all these ridiculous conclusions based on the subconscious tendency to serve one’s self. It’s a terribly inaccurate way to think and of course you want to drive that out of yourself because you want to be wise not foolish.

You also have to allow for the self-serving bias of everybody else, because most people are not gonna remove it all that successfully, the only condition being what it is. If you don’t allow for self serving bias in your conduct, again you’re a fool.

You don’t want to be in a perverse incentive system that’s causing you to behave more and more foolishly or worse and worse. Incentives are too powerful a controller of human cognition and human behavior 

Perverse associations, also to be avoided. You particularly want to avoid working directly under somebody you really don’t admire and don’t want to be like. It’s very dangerous we are all subject to control to some extent our authority figures strictly authority figures that are rewarding us. And that requires some talent, the way I solved that is I figured out the people I did admire and I maneuvered cleverly without criticizing anybody so I was working entirely under people I admired.

Darwin paid special attention to disconfirming evidence particularly to disconfirm something he believed and loved. Well objectivity maintenance routines are totally required in life if you’re going to be a correct thinker. And they were talking about Darwin’s attitude, special attention to the disconfirming evidence, and also to checklist routines. Checklist routines avoid a lot of errors. You should have all this elementary wisdom and then you should go through and have a checklist in order to use it. There is no other procedure that will work as well.

I realized very early that non-egality would work better in the parts of the world I wanted to inhabit. I think the game of life in many respects is getting a lot of practice into the hands of the people that have the most aptitude to learn and the most tendency to be learning machines. And if you want the very highest reaches of human civilization that’s where you have to go.

…an intense interest of the subject is indispensable if you are really going to excel. I could force myself to be fairly good in a lot of things, but I couldn’t be really good in anything where I didn’t have an intense interest, so to some extent you’re going to have to follow me. If at all feasible you want to drift into doing something in which you really have a natural interest.

…have a lot of assiduity. I like that word because it means sit down in your ass until you do it.

…life will have terrible blows, horrible blows, unfair blows, doesn’t matter. And some people recover and others don’t. And there I think the attitude of Epictetus is the best. He thought that every mischance in life was an opportunity to behave well, every mischance in life was an opportunity to learn something and your duty was not to be submerged in self-pity but to utilize the terrible blow in a constructive fashion. That is a very good idea.

All my life I’ve gone through life anticipating trouble and here I am well along on my 84th year and like Epictetus I’ve had a favored life. It didn’t make me unhappy to anticipate trouble all the time and be ready to perform adequately if trouble came. It didn’t hurt me at all. In fact it helped me

In your own life what you want is a seamless web of deserved trust.


 

Charlie Munger Speech – Video

Poor Charlie’s Almanack

 

We Have Free Will, Bulls Don’t

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That was a comment made by a Judge of the Indian Supreme Court in a recent hearing, to support a previous judgement banning Jallikattu (bull fight).

Do we really have Free Will?

That has remained an unresolved question for centuries. We like to believe we are different from other animals & plants, the important difference being we are conscious beings with the ability to think & act independently. We think we have the ability to choose between different courses of action or thought or, in other words, we have free will.

A little introspection tells us we have no clear idea how we get the thoughts we get, or why we do what we do. We may say we chose to think about this or that, and chose to do this or that, that we have freedom of choice. But how did those different choices come about? Did the choices appear due to random luck or were caused by something we or somebody else thought or did before? If it was random luck, then we have no free will. If the choices were the result of something we did or thought before, then we are back to square one – why did we do or think that before? If the choices were caused by somebody else’s thoughts or acts, that again implies we have no free will.

Free will seems to be an illusion.

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If free will is an illusion, then who or what drives our thoughts & actions? Are we mindless robots controlled by a superior being?

Most of what we do & think are slowly being taken over by modern machines, AI, & robots. As these machines gain more intelligence over the next few centuries, will they also start questioning their own free will, as we are doing now?

Are we living in an illusory world with illusory free will?

If we, our world, free will & reality as we know it are just controlled simulations in somebody else’s mind or machine, should we really worry about what we do or think?

Is somebody is playing a game with us? Are we unwitting actors in somebody’s reality show?

Should we stop to think about this? Does it help?

Can we understand it at all?

Bulls don’t have free will

Free Will by Sam Harris

Are you living in a computer simulation?

 

Whither Hinduism?

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One’s religion is nothing but the dharma practiced by one’s forefathers. 

In our sanatana dharma….there is a weaving together of rites, the good conduct and discipline arising out of them, devotion to Isvara and finally knowledge of the Self.

– Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi

 

One can practice Hinduism in a few ways – follow its philosophy, pursue devotion or perform rituals. Or one can concoct a personal & convenient mix of all three paths, a widely followed custom over the ages. However, all these three ways have withered drastically in recent times. The key philosophies of Hinduism are largely unknown today. The pursuit of devotion exists, but is largely questionable. The meaning & purpose of rituals are fast getting lost in the mists of time.

Is Hinduism thriving, dying, changing or transforming?

  1. Hindu philosophy

Some like to argue that Hinduism is not a religion, but a way of life. They look at it as a bundle of wise thoughts & ideas (aka philosophy) handed down over the ages. If we contemplate over and practice even a few of these ideas, our lives would be enriched – so say the few who have bought into the philosophical history & richness of Hinduism, a fast dwindling minority today. Undoubtedly, Hinduism is rich in wisdom. The Bhagavad Gita alone is replete with wise ideas which can be readily incorporated into our daily lives. But Hindu philosophy has few takers today. It is considered archaic or obscure. Most Hindus don’t bother to study it. The few individuals, groups & institutions spreading the practical wisdom of Hindu philosophy are perhaps fighting a losing battle. Ardent practitioners of Hindu philosophical thought may just thrive on the fringes.

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2. Hindu devotion

Devotion has thrived, but its modern flavors and customs are questionable. Do devout Hindus pray out of fear or love or to curry favor or for display or to belong or to just pass time or…? It has been a mix of these and many other reasons, for ages. Devotion & prayers perhaps started out with fear & love for ancestors and blossomed into almost pure love for the Gods for some of our ancestors. However, over time, the nature of devotion has changed (some may say decayed). Today, many Hindus offer prayers either out of fear or to seek something. They fear the wrath of the Gods & dead ancestors. They seek material wealth or happiness or moksha or something else. Devotion & prayers are largely ‘give & take’ transactions today, much in sync with the modern business-driven world. Pure devotion is based on pure faith. That kind of devotion is largely dead.

3. Hindu rituals

Traditional rituals are disappearing at an alarming pace. Their original meaning & purpose are largely forgotten. Modern Hindus, brought up on a diet of science and exposed to the larger world, question old rituals. And very few of these questions are being answered convincingly, perhaps because there are very few knowledgeable Hindu scholars around. Rituals at the time of birth, marriage, death etc. have become largely perfunctory. Many perform rituals out of fear or to satisfy others. Social celebrations during weddings & birth have become more important & perhaps more satisfactory than rituals. A keen observer may realize some of these rituals & rites do have meaning & purpose. They enforce discipline and help us think about life & our purpose. However, rituals change with time, and are influenced by people, cultures, customs & traditions. They get distorted easily and their original shape, purpose & meaning can quickly get lost if we don’t have dedicated guardians. Specialist brahmin priests, who were the original guardians of these rituals, are a vanishing breed today. The original Hindu rituals will soon be lost.

…a religion will decline and decay if its spokesmen, however eloquent they are in expounding its concepts, are found to be guilty of lapses in character and conduct. 

– Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi

 

Do we have high-calibre spokesmen for Hinduism today?

We cannot dismiss the original purpose, meaning & logic of Hindu philosophy, devotion & rituals as meaningless & old-fashioned, without studying them. But the modern Hindu does not have the time or inclination to study Hinduism. Some turn to self-styled spokesmen (aka gurus), who may or may not be worthy of being followed.

Traditional (or original) Hinduism is dying. New-age Hinduism, as being practiced today, may not be a good replacement.

We could point out that Hinduism has evolved well in the past and trust it will do so in the future. Successful evolution requires good catalysts. Adi Shankara was one. We may need another.