The Difficulty Of Being Detached

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Detachment is a core thought in Hinduism, Buddhism and philosophies like Stoicism.

The logic & benefits of being emotionally, materially, & psychologically detached are compelling and have been thoroughly debated over the ages. While it is not easy, a student seriously practicing detachment will realize the fruits, sooner or later.

However, the path of detachment can be filled with pitfalls which have to be navigated skillfully. Two common pitfalls are

  1. Being surrounded by family, friends & others who don’t appreciate or understand detachment. For the fully detached person, unreasonable reactions & extreme opinions of others may not matter. But the practicing student goes through a disturbing period before he graduates. Family members & friends may criticize. Relationships can get strained. Social circle may shrink. The student may suddenly find himself lonely or alone.
  2. Losing joy or cheerfulness. The student practicing detachment may not be exactly sad or gloomy, but she might find herself less joyful or cheerful. Family & friends may point out she is not enjoying life & herself as before. She is not openly expressing joy and happiness as often as before. Is she ill? Is she scared? Is she losing the ability to feel & express joy? Are being cheerful & detached incompatible? One may have progressed on being detached emotionally, materially & psychologically, but does it mean one also has to distance oneself from a vibrant & joyful life?

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Reading & observing masters of detachment shows they are cheerful beings too. They laugh & smile readily. They lead vibrant & active lives. They are fully engaged in their chosen paths, full of joy & cheer, but also steady in practicing detachment. Just think of Buddha, Krishna, Socrates, Seneca & Gandhi. They travelled & taught to a big following, were cunning & waged wars, mocked & forced people to think better, were deeply engaged in society & politics, mobilized mass support to fight for freedom. They chose not to shun society and take refuge in the hills (though that’s another common path with its own pros & cons). They had flaws. They were masters & accomplished practitioners of detachment. Yet they were actively engaged in life, joyous & cheerful. How did they do it? How did they manage to be detached and yet be cheerful?

The questions answer themselves after a little thought. The masters chose to actively engage in their paths. They knew they must remain detached in their personal & inner lives. But they also knew they must engage actively with family, friends & society, if they were to leave the world a little better than what they found it to be. When one chooses to engage actively with the external world, its contradictory (& futile) to remain aloof & sombre. Why not be cheerful & spread joy?

Be detached, be cheerful. Its contagious.

 

 

 

 

On Aging & Death

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Should we think about how we would like to age & die, when we are still young & active?

It’s not good if our body ages faster, but the mind is strong & active. Our body cannot do what the mind wants. We may want to read, exercise, be independent etc., but we cannot do much if the body has aged faster than the mind. Imagine a 70-year-old man, frail & ill, but with an alert & conscious mind, possibly bed-ridden, & frustrated. Pitiable state.

It is also not good if our mind ages faster, but the body is strong & active. Our body, though robust, becomes a useless shell. All the bodily physical activities we do don’t matter. If the mind is not alert & engaged, a strong body is of no use. Imagine a physically strong 50-year-old woman in a coma or some other form of disease which dulls the mind. Pitiable state.

Many of us are caught in between, where the mind & the body do not age together or in sync.

The mind & body, if cultivated well, can age the way we want them to, even though we may not have full control over them and the events that buffet us over our lifetimes.

How can we do that?  What are the best ideas & practices? Can we learn from others who have been (at least partly) successful in aging their bodies & minds beautifully?

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Yes, of course. When we pause to think about it, many of us may intuitively know what we need to do. Adhering to a potpourri of good diet, exercise, thoughts & actions is the simple recipe. Each of these – diet, exercise, thoughts & actions – have been actively studied over the ages. We could start by studying the master practitioners in each of these disciplines and learn progressively as we age.

Mortality and death can be more difficult to contemplate, compared to aging. Many of us are scared to die. It’s an unknown void. Despite our scientific, religious & philosophical beliefs, the inevitability of death and the uncertainty of what happens after death may scare us. The thought of our own death becomes more complicated and fearful when our body & mind have not aged beautifully.

If we have cultivated our body & mind well, put them through a disciplined mix of diet, exercise, thoughts & actions throughout our lives, we should be able to manage our death well. History is replete with examples of great masters who have faced & managed their deaths admirably, in many different ways. How Socrates or Seneca thought about & faced their deaths may be very different from how Jesus, Buddha or Gandhi did so. And there are many other masters from all walks of life to learn from. Death may become just another milestone in life to be managed well.

The frenetic pace of our lives can make our aging & death painful and traumatic.

We should pause & ponder.

 

 

A Radical Way to Save the World

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We have been talking about escalating ills such as poverty, disease, income inequalities, & climate change for decades now. While the shrillness of the protests & discourses has risen, the measures we have taken to save us from ourselves are paltry.

We need to wage a war. A war against human greed, which perhaps is the single biggest cause of most of the ills buffeting us. By taking more from nature than what we need, hoarding more than what we need, owning & possessing more than what we need, desiring more than what we need, we are destroying the world & ourselves. And the one big reason driving all these is plain & simple human greed. Needs have limits. But greed keeps growing if left unchecked. For centuries, religion & philosophy have cautioned us against runaway desires & wants. Modern scientific progress & successive industrial revolutions in the last few centuries have fueled human greed immensely. The benefits of modern progress & development won’t matter if the monstrous growth in human greed is left unchecked. Even if we don’t bother about our children’s and grandchildren’s future, the quality of our own lives are being threatened by the ills caused by human greed.

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Can we take a few radical steps to save ourselves? Yes, if we think & act boldly.

  1. Ban advertising

Advertising abets consumption. Clever & ubiquitous advertising abets over consumption, aka greed. While capitalism is perhaps the best known model of growth & development we know of, its cancerous growth has largely been fueled by advertising of all kinds – through newspapers, magazines, TV, social media etc. Mobile devices & social media are now revolutionizing advertising further. We are fast becoming easier prey to bewitching advertisements & modern persuasion techniques employed by businesses. Our consumption and greed can only grow further & faster. What will happen if we ban all forms of advertising, except word of mouth? Trade & business will slow down, of course. The advertising industry will die. Some industries like media & entertainment, which largely thrive on advertising, may have to rejig their business models. The pace of growth & development will slow down. The benefits of scientific progress & innovations may not spread fast. Critical products & services, like life-saving drugs, may not reach needy people fast enough. But more effective governments and public administration systems can step in to manage a new world of zero advertising. Technology driven word-of-mouth (email, internet, social media etc.) can take over the basic function of advertising, ie., spreading the word, without spreading greed. Advertising is perhaps the biggest catalyst driving over-consumption. We should ban it. No half measures.

2. Impose high consumption tax

Unscrupulous consumption must be taxed heavily. Over consumption can be easily identified in rich & poor countries. Why should a single person or family need many houses, a fleet of cars, and so on? A progressive & evolving standard of consumption can be drawn up, perhaps unique to each country to start with. The consumption tax should be high enough to act as a severe deterrent, along with severe penalties. What happens if we have a high consumption tax, say, for buying more than 2 cars or spending more than a preset amount on housing? It will certainly slow down business & trade. Prices may come down. Cost of living will reduce. Human greed will come down. The downside is that reduced greed may not drive innovations, growth & development as fast as before. But do we need such a greed driven growth & development? We can, and need to, adjust to a slower pace of consumption & progress, as we did a few centuries before.

3. Reduce pace of economic growth

Why do countries want to grow faster & faster? India & China are not happy with 7-8% pa economic growth. Developed countries are not happy with 2-3% pa growth. Simple reason why every country wants to grow faster is to satisfy ever-growing human greed. Massive industrialization and fast improvements in quality of life in the west have fueled human greed in developing countries, which now are clamoring to claim their own share of the spoils. The ongoing race among countries to grow faster & faster will ultimately destroy us. We need to slow down. Can all countries grow a few percentage points slower? What will happen if China & India choose to grow at 5% or lower? The ensuing social & political disruptions may be difficult to manage, but still can be done with the right leaders at helm. We may find it difficult to live with lowered expectations. Business & trade will slow down. Incomes will go down. Buying that car and apartment may take a longer time. Scientific progress, innovations & human development may slow down. Governance & administrative mechanisms have to be improved to redistribute welfare and benefits equitably. But, look at the upsides. The pace of our lives will slow down. Reduced stress will lead to lesser lifestyle ailments. We may even begin to savor life, ourselves & the world better. More importantly, we would have saved the world from caving in on ourselves.

4. Shame & punish uber-consumers

Even as we embrace the above 3 steps, we will have dissidents. In a democratic setup, we may not be able to force all people curtail their greed. Consumption habits & behaviors may need a long time to change. We may still have the über rich who, despite a high consumption tax, may not be able to control or limit their consumption. Such a stubborn minority can even reverse the difficult steps taken for larger public benefit. Such people must be publicly shamed & punished into behaving & consuming responsibly.

5. Educate & institutionalize 

Despite strict measures, human greed can be strong enough to persist in murky corners. It can hide or lie low for 1-2 generations and erupt unexpectedly later, quickly reversing the situation. Greed catches on like a social wild-fire. We don’t want the next or later generations to step backward. Adults & (especially) children have to be educated, almost indoctrinated, on the above measures. Governments, businesses & other social bodies need to institutionalize these ideas to avoid reversions.

Are these ideas utopian? No.

Are they doable? Yes.

Will the present governments & businesses support it? No.

Do we have leaders who can do this? No.

Do we need a revolution? Yes.

Who, when, how ???

 

 

A Chat with Brahman

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Me: Who are you?

Brahman: I am Brahman.

M: Can you describe yourself?

B: I am you, the universe and beyond.

M: Wow, really?

B: Yes

M: Thats not really clear to me.

B: I am also known as the consciousness or creator. I don’t have any physical form or shape, or any other attribute you can think of.

M: Thats not easy to understand.

B: Yes. Thats because you are not ready to understand me yet. Just call me Brahman and lets move on.

M: Did you create me?

B: You could say that. But, technically speaking, that would be wrong.

M: Why?

B: Because you are a part of me and I am a part of you. Technically, you created yourself.

M: Sounds fantastic.

B: Yes, but thats what it is.

M: Then, who created this world, other beings, planets, stars & so on?

B: The same logic holds good.

M: You mean to say I created all these stuff?

B: Yes

M: Or was it you who created all these?

B: Both you & me. Remember we are one.

M: Sounds too fantastic.

B: (silence)

M: You are laconic. Lets proceed anyway. Why did you, I or we create all this stuff?

B: All these are part of us. So, technically speaking, we didn’t create anything.

M: Wow, mind-bending stuff.

B: You can say that.

M: You are saying you, me, this world, universe and everything in it are all just one big thing?

B: Yes, thats Brahman

M: That doesn’t make any sense to me.

B: Thats why I said before you are not ready to understand yet.

M: Thats disappointing.

B: You are on a journey. You can understand as you go along.

M: What journey is it?

B: A journey you call life

M: Are you saying I will understand when I die?

B: Not necessarily

M: Hmm, you are a difficult guy. Please explain

B: You can understand even before you die

M: Are you sure?

B: Yes

M: How are you so sure?

B: Because thats how you designed it.

M: You mean thats how I designed this journey called life?

B: Yes

M: I designed this mysterious journey of life and I also decided to understand it as I go through it?

B: Yes

M: Why should I go through all this trouble?

B: You are not ready to understand that yet.

M: Back to square one. Lets change tack. Why do we die?

B: You can call it a design constraint.

M: Ah, now you speak a language I understand. I won’t ask you why we have that constraint because I know I will get your stock answer that I am not ready to understand that yet. But, let me ask you what happens after I die?

B: Nothing really

M: Nothing??

B: Yes

M: How about going to hell or heaven?

B: They are figments of your imagination. They don’t exist.

M: Thats interesting. Many millions will be shocked to hear that.

B: Yes

M: Then what really happens to me after I die?

B: We just become one, you & me, like we were before.

M: Thats very heartening to know. So, no penalties or punishments for all my sins?

B: You already suffer in this life.

M: You mean to say I, or rather we, designed this journey called life in such a way that we get punished for our sins before we die?

B: You could say that.

M: What do you mean? Am I not right?

B: You are right and wrong

M: You are making me dizzy. Please explain.

B: What you call life is not real.

M: What??

B: It is an illusion

M: You, and I, created this illusion?

B: Yes

M: All this world, planets, stars, sins, punishments etc. are not real?

B: Yes

M: You are kidding me. But why?

B: Thats the design

M: And you & I designed it such?

B: Yes

M: I am out of my depth here. Oh, help me God.

B: Only you can help yourself.

M: Oh, yeah, I assume all Gods are also mere illusions.

B: Yes

M: Wonderful. What a piece of work. I should pat myself on the back

B: (silence)

M: I wonder where this chat is leading to.

B: (silence)

M: Should we stop here or continue?

B: Your choice

M: I knew that’s what you will say. And my choice is to continue.

B: Sure

M: If everything is an illusion, what about you & me?

B: We, you & me, are neither real or imaginary.

M: I give up.

B: Thats not your nature

M: Really?

B: Yes

M: If you say so. Lets move on to worldly stuff which I may understand better.

B: Your choice

M: Yea, I know that. Its always my choice.

B: (silence)

M: When & how was all this known material world & universe created?

B: Many millennia back. It may not useful to dwell on when.

M: Ok. But how?

B: You & me created it.

M: Just like that? Out of nothing or nowhere?

B: Yes

M: Thats preposterous. How’s it possible?

B: Anything’s possible

M: I guess I just have to take your word for it.

B: Yes

M: Since I am not ready to understand it yet.

B: Yes

M: Thats a easy answer. Are you not prevaricating?

B: No

M: Are you hiding something deliberately?

B: I, or you, cannot hide anything from ourselves

M: Why can’t you explain to me in a way I can understand easily?

B: You will understand by asking more questions to yourself.

M: Which means you won’t explain to me

B: That doesn’t help

M: I need to find out myself?

B: Yes

M: I guess thats how we designed it.

B: Yes

M: Wow, we are crafty guys, aren’t we?

B: (silence)

M: I know you won’t answer that.

B: (silence)

M: Ok, lets move on…to more practical things. Now that we have created this journey called life, and I am deeply immersed in it, what should I do?

B: You will have to go through this journey.

M: I know that. I mean how should I go about it? How should I lead my life?

B: Study the Vedas

M: Really? Is it so simple as studying a few texts?

B: Yes

M: What are the Vedas exactly?

B: Something like a design cum user manual.

M: Excellent. I like that description. Who wrote them & when?

B: They came about along with life.

M: Who exactly?

B: No one in particular

M: How’s that possible?

B: (silence)

M: Ok, I get it. I am not ready to understand it yet.

B: (silence)

M: Ok. Atleast tell me when were they created?

B: (silence)

M: Hmm, you really want me to read your thoughts, don’t you?

B: (silence)

M: Ok. I take it the Vedas were created when we, you & me, created this illusion aka world aka journey called life. Lets move on. What do the Vedas say?

B: They tell you how to lead your life.

M: To tell you the truth, I had a cursory look at them. They don’t seem to be as simple to understand.

B: You need to study them.

M: You mean study them really deep & hard?

B: Yes

M: But the Vedas seem to be vast & complex. I may need a whole lifetime to understand them

B: Yes

M: Don’t confuse me. Are you agreeing they are complex or admitting a whole lifetime is required to understand them?

B: Maybe both.

M: Don’t be difficult. Please explain

B: The Vedas are as complex as you think they are. They take as long as you think you need to understand them.

M: That sounds like one of your stock replies. Are you saying the Vedas are only as complex and as time consuming to understand as I choose them to be?

B: Yes

M: Does that also mean I can go through life and die without understanding them?

B: Yes

M: I can also die with just a partial or incomplete understanding of the Vedas?

B: Yes

M: I can also fully understand them and live an enlightened life?

B: Yes

M: You, I mean, we, you & I…we are awesome, aren’t we?

B: (silence)

M: We have designed, created something which is so illusory, complex and yet very open ended.

B: (silence)

M: I can choose to understand or remain ignorant.

B: (silence)

M: All this sounds fantastic. Lets push ahead. Can you give me the gist of the Vedas?

B: Vedas provide the ideas, models, & best practices.

M: What about the many rituals, codes of conduct, abstract hyms, myths, stories and so on?

B: You created them

M: You mean my ancestors?

B: Yes

M: But those rituals, beliefs, stories etc. sound boring or meaningless.

B: Everything has a meaning…reason.

M: Are those hyms, slokas, etc. really useful?

B: Try them

M: What if I find them meaningless or empty…or just plain superstitious?

B: They are not the only way

M: The only way? For what?

B: To understand yourself..understand me.…us.

M: What are the various ways?

B: Try faith, devotion, discipline, logic, reason…

M: Wow, all of these?

B: Not necessary

M: Just one will do?

B: Yes

M: What if I don’t try anything at all?

B: Thats your choice

M: I shouldn’t have asked that question when I knew the answer. But some people live life blissfully unaware of these ways.

B: Thats’s their choice

M: But they didn’t consciously choose that life. They just are ignorant, not literate enough, or just mad or diseased or something like that. What happens to them?

B: Nothing really

M: Aren’t they less favored or less equal than others, who are at least aware of such ways to a superior understanding of themselves?

B: You can help them

M: Ok, what about congenital idiots and people disadvantaged from birth?

B: Remember the illusion.

M: Are they all illusions?

B: (silence)

M: I know you said this whole life is an illusion. But the pains & travails of this life seem so real, complex, confusing & frustrating.

B: (silence)

M: Should I just ignore them all and focus on the ways to understand myself?

B: Yes

M: Then what about various religions which seem to prescribe different ways?

B: You are free to choose your way

M: What about philosophy, science, & other methods of enquiry?

B: (silence)

M: Ok, I get it…same answer…my choice. But is there a superior, faster way?

B: You can find out

M: Ah, you want me to wade through all the multitude of possibilities and choose the one way good for me?

B: Yes

M: Can’t you make it easier?

B: You can.

M: Oh, I can?

B: Yes

M: Hmm…I hope so. Lets go back to the Vedas. You asked me to study them. When & how should I start?

B: Study the masters.

M: You mean stand on the shoulders of giants and discover truth by building on previous discoveries?

B: Yes

M: Excellent, I love that. Should I start early or late in life? Now, please don’t say its my choice. Please be precise.

B: Earlier the better

M: I don’t have to wait until retirement?

B: No

M: Maybe that will be too late?

B: Maybe

M: But the illusion of this life is too persistent and compelling. How to come out of it?

B: Explore the ways. Study the Vedas. Contemplate.

M: But kids & young people can’t do it. They got to enjoy life first.

B: Study the vedas

M: Ok, ok…back to square one. Let’s proceed. Why is life so difficult, complex and disappointing sometimes?

B: You made it so

M: I made it so? How?

B: Because of your ego

M: What?

B: Your ego’s desires and self-importance keep growing if left unchecked.

M: What happens then?

B: It creates more complexities, attachments, disappointments and suffering.

M: Why did we, you and me, create ego at all? We could have removed it when we started all this.

B: We didn’t create it.

M: But then…how? Oh, I get it. It’s an illusion. Ego is an illusion.

B: Yes

M: Wow, we are awesome designers. So what next?

B: Control or ignore your ego.

M: Is that possible?

B: Yes. Study the Vedas and the masters.

M: Is it fun leading a life without ego?

B: That’s your natural state

M: What is life without desires and attachments? It sounds so dull, unpleasant, and uninspiring. Is it worth it?

B: Study the Vedas and the masters.

M: What happens when I control or ignore my ego?

B: You will achieve your natural state of tranquility?

M: You mean eternal happiness?

B: No

M: I can’t achieve eternal happiness?

B: Happiness and sorrows are illusions.

M: Oh, I forgot. They are part of our design of the illusory universe.

B: Yes

M: So I can achieve tranquility. Neither happiness nor sorrow. No ups and downs.

B: Yes

M: That sounds boring, almost inhuman.

B: That’s your natural state.

M: I am not so excited or eager to achieve that state.

B: You are not ready yet.

M: Hmm, I was hoping you would say that.

B: (silence)

M: What can I do about the increasingly chaotic life? It has grown more complex over time. Disappointments and suffering are perhaps growing faster now. What should I do?

B: Study the vedas.

M: Ok. How about others? How about the world? How can I change or make the world better?

B: Study the vedas. Study the masters.

M: Can I change myself, others and the world?

B: Yes.

M: Ok. I guess I should trust you, or rather myself.

B: (silence)

M: Ok. I start with controlling my ego and desires. Should I become a hermit and retire into the forest?

B: Not necessary

M: But how to control ego and desires,  and also live in this illusory material world with all its distractions?

B: Study the masters.

M: Give an example.

B: Krishna

M: Wow, but was he not a god?

B: (silence)

M: Oh, I get it. Gods are illusions. So Krishna is a good example and a role model.

B: Yes

M: And there are other masters I can lookup?

B: Yes

M: So that’s what the Vedic stories tell us. About various masters and their paths to mastery?

B: Yes

M: So what’s special about Krishna?

B: Think it over

M: He was seen as a god or demigod in a material world full of good and evil, desires and attachments.

B: Yes.

M: He perhaps led a self-indulgent life in his younger days, if we go by the stories. But he became a yogi and mahapurush later.

B: Yes

M: He acquired godly powers. Maybe he became one with you, brahman. He was you and you were him. He fought the evils of the material world – desires and attachments. He chose to live in this world and make it better.

B: Yes

M: You make me say fantastic things. Is it really true?

B: (silence)

M: You don’t answer anything directly, do you? You want me to figure it out myself.

B: (silence)

M: Ok. let’s play it your way. So you are saying I could follow Krishna, copy his methods and ideas, and I may have a good chance to become one with you, achieve tranquility etc.?

B: Maybe

M: Why maybe? Is it because Krishna is a tough act to follow or you don’t have confidence in me?

B: Follow your own path.

M: But take inspiration from the masters?

B: Yes

M: Sounds practical. So I can live in this material world, study the vedas and the masters, change myself and the world.

B: Yes

M: I can start with controlling my ego, desires and attachments?

B: Yes

M: Looks like it’s going to be a long journey

B: Not necessary.

M: I know. It’s my choice. I can make it long or short.

B: Yes

M: I guess I can consult you now and then, as I go through this journey of life.

B: I am aways available.

M: Thank you. Will talk to you again soon.

B: Sure.

 

Vedas & The Mind Of God

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Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati was a very lucid commentator on the Vedas.

He says the ultimate goal for each of us should be to become one with Brahman, the One reality.  The universe & our individual selves are illusions. The Vedas provide ideas & methods to help us realize this goal. The benefit of becoming one with Brahman is a state of eternal tranquility. That is our natural state we should strive for, with faith, devotion & discipline. We are going through a cycle of rebirths because of our past sins. Following the vedas can help us break out of this cycle and become one with Brahman.

Assuming the above is true, the big question, which is not answered very convincingly, is why did Brahman (or God) create such an elaborate illusory world at all, with struggling humans?

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This Brahman is intriguing. It’s no doubt a superior mind. A mind which cannot indulge in petty games. It must have created this illusory world for specific reasons. What can be these reasons?

  1. The first possibility is that we simply cannot understand this superior Mind & reasons. It has created us with our limited minds and we cannot fathom our creator. We possibly can understand the superior Mind and its reasons only when we achieve oneness with Brahman.
  2. All other reasons we can think of can only be speculations, but let’s do it.
    • The Brahman (or God) created this illusory world for our own benefit. The travails of life are an education. We will understand the purpose of this education only when we become one with Brahman. This reason is not convincing. Why would a superior Mind create an imperfect world with struggling creatures like us and then make us go through a difficult path to attain enlightenment?
    • The Brahman (or God) created this illusory world for its (his) own benefit. It (or He or She) wanted some entertainment or education or both or something else beyond our understanding, and so created this universe. This reason smacks of selfishness, an attribute which is difficult to associate with a superior mind.
    • The Brahman (or God) created this illusory world to study or prove something. While this sounds intellectual and possible, its difficult to see why a Superior mind has to study or prove anything at all. The Brahman is all-knowing. What is the need for the Brahman to prove anything to anybody?
    • The Brahman (or God) created this illusory world to fight something. To fight evils & demons and protect us. This reason reeks of self-indulgence. A superior Mind would not create an imperfect world with evils & demons, and then step in to fight its own creations. It is also difficult to believe an evil force exists outside this illusory world and this force has a strong influence on us. The Brahman (or God) is the One reality and all good & evil should be within the confines of this superior Mind.

We can speculate further. Will it be useful or futile?

Perhaps the Brahman (or God or the Superior Mind) & its reasons cannot be understood easily.

The Vedas provide enough material and multiple vantage points, to stand on the shoulders of giants, to study the superior Mind & its reasons. The study may lead us nowhere, or somewhere. But, it’s certainly fascinating.

Hindu Dharma – Discourses

 

 

The Joys Of Quitting The Rat Race

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If we define the modern urban rat race as an endless, self-defeating & pointless pursuit of material wealth through a busy unsatisfying career ending in a bored retired life, many of us can identify with it.

While the race may have its moments of excitement & rewards, I suspect very few of us can truly admit to be enjoying (or have enjoyed) it.

What happens when we quit the race?

The thought of quitting may not even occur to many of us, as we keep running with blinkers on. A few thoughtful souls may bump into the idea, but drop it because of various reasons. Very few take the bold step to quit the race.

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Quitting the race requires boldness because its a compromise. A compromise not on the quality of life, but on the many material, psychological & emotional comforts the race bestows on us. Quitting means we may have to make do with less material goods & services. We detach ourselves from the crowd which dances to a different beat, but had so far provided us the psychological comfort of being with the majority. We go through an emotional turmoil when we think of quitting, as doubts & threats – big & small, self-imposed & from outside – assail us.

Two questions loom before us – is quitting feasible and is it worth it?

Quitting requires material, psychological & emotional strength. We need the psychological courage to take the road less travelled and the emotional courage to wage war on doubts & threats along the way, both of which are largely a personal struggle and a little support from outside can help. But the bigger courage we need is to overcome material comfort. Can we live in a smaller house, subsist on a smaller income or corpus, make do with lesser material goods & services, reduce our needs & desires?

Assuming we quit, is it worth it?

Like with many things in life, the joys of quitting are best experienced, largely. We can think about it, read about it, watch other people do it, but we need to quit to experience it. The smart person may choose to quit for a while to figure out its worth. But if she has been too involved in the race before quitting, she may soon feel listless and get back to the race. The joys of quitting are gained only when it is well thought out. We need a fair (if not exact) idea what we will do in a post-race life. We need the same material, psychological & emotional strength even after we quit, to pull us through the initial periods of doubts & threats.

The biggest joy of quitting is we are not in a race anymore. We are not in a race to earn more. We are not in a race to acquire more. We are not in a race to sacrifice our dreams to fulfill somebody else’s dreams. We are not in a race to pursue unsatisfying activities & goals. We are not in a race to destroy ourselves and the world around us.

Once we quit, we start living. We live the life we want. We don’t have to envy. We don’t have to compare. We learn more, better & faster. We understand ourselves better. We understand the world better. We can improve ourselves & the world. We may still choose to run a race, but that will be a race with rules & limits we set for ourselves. That will be a race more satisfying & enriching than the modern urban rat race.

 

 

The Book Of Five Rings

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When a 60 year old man, after having lived an interesting life, shares his worldly wisdom, we should lap it up.

Miyamoto Musashi, a legendary samurai swordsman in 17th century Japan, who won many combats & battles, wrote this brief treatise on the strategy of swordsmanship & fighting, interspersed with general observations and wisdom. He was also well versed in poetry, calligraphy, sculpting and painting.

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Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death

The essence of this book is that you must train day and night in order to make quick decisions. 

The Way of strategy is the Way of nature. When you appreciate the power of nature, knowing the rhythm of any situation, you will be able to hit the enemy naturally and strike naturally. 

The Way of the warrior does not include other Ways, such as Confucianism, Buddhism, certain traditions, artistic accomplishments and dancing. But even though these are not part of the Way, if you know the Way broadly you will see it in everything. Men must polish their particular Way. 

You should not have a favorite weapon. To become over-familiar with one weapon is as much a fault as not knowing it sufficiently well. You should not copy others, but use weapons, which you can handle properly. It is bad for commanders and troops to have likes and dislikes. These are things you must learn thoroughly. 

There is timing in everything. Timing in strategy cannot be mastered without a great deal of practice. 

This is the Way for men who want to learn my strategy: 

• Do not think dishonestly. 

• The Way is in training. 

• Become acquainted with every art. 

• Know the Ways of all professions. 

• Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters. 

• Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything. 

• Perceive those things, which cannot be seen. 

• Pay attention even to trifles. 

• Do nothing, which is of no use. 

Step by step walk the thousand-mile road. 

Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men. Next, in order to beat more skillful men, train according to this book, not allowing your heart to be swayed along a sidetrack. 

Any man who wants to master the essence of my strategy must research diligently, training morning and evening. Thus can he polish his skill, become free from self, and realize extraordinary ability. He will come to poses miraculous power. 

The important thing in strategy is to suppress the enemy’s useful actions but allow his useless actions. 

Using the wisdom of strategy, think of the enemy as your own troops. When you think in this way you can move him at will and be able to chase him around. You become the general and the enemy becomes your troops. You must master this. 

In my doctrine, I dislike preconceived, narrow spirit. 

Without the correct principle the fight cannot be won. 

The spirit of my school is to win through the wisdom of strategy, paying no attention to trifles. Study this well. 

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Book of Five Rings (translated by Victor Harris)

 Book of Five Rings (translated by William Scott Wilson)

Propaganda & News

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First-time readers of Noam Chomsky may be startled, as he rips apart many popular beliefs & ideas in public affairs, carefully cultivated by the ruling elite through propaganda of all sorts.

His new book ‘Who Rules the World?” is no different. It reviews & updates many of his previous ideas, adding a few new insights as well.

It’s useful to read his exposes of the darker shades of public intellectuals, successive american presidents including Obama, politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, subject matter experts etc.

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An alternative view of public affairs is useful because our beliefs & opinions are largely shaped by these individuals, in subtle & not-so subtle ways. We may refuse to accept we have been influenced, persuaded, convinced, and (many times) exploited by (otherwise) respectable men & women in power, but a careful study of history and some independent thinking can dispel the ignorance. Chomsky’s meticulous bibliography provides good references for the curious reader to further his education.

Such an education becomes all the more important as the biased propaganda by people in power is typically spread through popular media – newspapers, magazines and now also through social media. The unsuspecting public may sometimes pause to question & debate, but the rush of modern life gives little time for sustained critical thought & action. The result is we are constantly being cajoled and persuaded by what we read & watch in popular media.

While Noam Chomsky is largely focussed on US politics & policies, the situation is no different in other countries. People in power have always tried to take advantage of their position, knowingly or unknowingly. Whatever be the regime – democratic, authoritarian, dictatorial or anything in between – popular media has always served as a good vehicle to influence public opinion, throughout history.

One remedy, as recommended by the irrepressible Nassim Taleb, is to avoid the popular media completely.  Avoiding daily newspapers, TV, news feeds from Facebook & twitter etc. is a tempting exercise worthwhile trying, but maybe a difficult habit to sustain.

Till such time we think for ourselves, Noam Chomsky and his ilk provide an important & compelling alternative view of world affairs.

Who Rules the World? by Noam Chomsky

Basic Income

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Great ideas don’t die, even when completely ignored or derided for decades.

Basic income – an unconditional government payment given to all citizens, as a supplement to or replacement for wages – is one such idea.

It’s an interesting idea because it acknowledges the drudgery of meaningless work, wage slavery and the need for more leisure. That most of us don’t really enjoy the work we do and we do it only to earn money is both anecdotal and the finding of many surveys. When we stop to think about it, we secretly acknowledge our disapproval of the rat race we have got ourselves into.

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Modern capitalism, human growth & development efforts need the labour force. Workers (or employees) at all levels have their own needs and so require a regular income. However, when the needs invariably become greeds, a regular income is no more sufficient. We get into a vicious cycle of growing needs & the need for higher incomes. Over time, while a lucky few enjoy the work they do, the rest of us are pulled into the whirlpool of modern wage slavery with jobs we don’t like. There is no escape, with little leisure. With less leisure, we are unable to pursue our true passions. We end up being less satisfied with our lives.

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Rapid technology development has introduced another dimension – automation & robots can replace & displace human labour. If we don’t continuously re-skill ourselves, we may soon be without jobs & incomes.

If the government provides a basic income, we may or may not want to work. Some of us may cut down our needs, choosing to live a simpler life with no or little work. Others may choose to plod on, to earn more money. However, basic income provides us the freedom of choice.

But, like many other great ideas, basic income is not easy to implement in today’s world and may have to wait its turn. Governments may not be able to afford it. Businessmen will oppose it. The still developing parts of the world may get stranded. We may not yet be ready to accept a world and people without work. More importantly, we may not know how to spend the extra leisure time fruitfully.

Even as the Swiss citizens will soon vote in a referendum on whether their government should adopt basic income, and few other countries are planning limited experiments with the idea, we may not be ready for a mass adoption yet.

But still, we can practice the idea individually. We can choose a basic income for ourselves. We can choose a job or vocation which provides that basic income. We can choose to avoid getting sucked into wage slavery. We can choose to have more leisure. We can choose to live the life we really want.

Are we willing to choose for ourselves, or let others dictate our lives?

 

Karoshi

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That the world is a strange place and we live in interesting times are not exactly modern thoughts. The world surprises all generations all the time.

Japan is witnessing a record number of compensation claims related to death from overwork, or karoshi, a phenomenon previously associated with the long-suffering “salaryman” that is increasingly afflicting young and female employees

When most of the world is plagued by unemployment, Japan has about 1.28 jobs per applicant. Still, Japan is battling with the evils of overworked employees, unscrupulous employers and ineffective labor laws.

The concept of work is alien to human nature. Just look around. How many people you know – friends, family, colleagues – genuinely relish their work and can’t wait to get back to their workplaces the next day morning? The few who do enjoy their work are clever or lucky to have got into a profession they like & love. The rest, the vast majority, trudge along.

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Our natural inclination is to be at leisure. Leisure doesn’t mean we have to be lazy and do nothing. It just means we are free to do what we like to do, whenever we feel like doing it, without any external pressure forcing us to ‘work’.

The ideas of leisure are not new.

John Maynard Keynes, the man whose ideas have influenced industry & government for a century, wrote on the “Economic Possibilities of our Grandchildren” in 1930. He visualized a world in 2030 when mankind would need to work only 3 hours a day. This would be possible because of science, development & accumulated wealth. We would have so much leisure time on our hands that we would have trouble figuring out how to spend it wisely. Of course, he was disastrously wrong. Our nonstop greed will force us to work nonstop.

Charles Darwin, the scientific hero, was a gentleman of leisure. His family was well-off and he didn’t have to work for a living. Yet, or perhaps because he had the luxury of leisure, he produced revolutionary works. Darwin has company. Many other renowned scientists, writers, artists, musicians, religious & political leaders were gentlemen of leisure.

Leisure may not be directly correlated to great achievements in life, but I would bet it does have a positive impact on peace & happiness, for the individual & the society. And while leisure implies some degree of boredom, its really not as bad as it sounds.

Bertrand Russell, the preeminent thinker & polymath, praised leisure & idleness.

“The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.”

A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young.”

Leisure is not beyond reach, even for the salaried and poor. We just need to tone down our expectations, needs, desires, and say to ourselves ‘I got enough’. Its easier said than done. It requires deliberate thought & practice.

Its a pity if we don’t achieve & enjoy leisure.

In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell

Essays in Persuasion by John Maynard Keynes