Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Great Opinion Piece by Pervez Hoodboy about Pakistan

Its a great article about Pakistan and I think it applies equally to India.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Meaning in a Meaningless World

For most of us, we think that life has some plan for us, a destiny so to say. I am a lawyer now because it was something I was meant to do, it is my purpose as far as I know. I'm not sure that life has an intrinsic meaning like that. There are only three certain things for all living beings: birth, death and change. We have no idea what the future will bring besides change and death, in fact sadly for millions of infants in the world that is the fate that they will experience. As human beings, who have developed our intellectual, emotional and psychological faculties, we desire meaning beyond the three certain things in our lives. We desire meaning, a purpose for our continued presence and even for our eventual yet inevitable demise. Most people find that meaning through the idea of God. In otherwords, we do not possess inherent meaning to our lives but only in light of and due to God and God's will.

As my previous posts might suggest this is not something I agree with but I think my rationale is a bit different from what is expected. I'm not saying that its not God who adds meaning to our lives but God is one of the supplemental factors. The meaning to our lives must come from ourselves, our inherent worth as the most intellectually and maybe morally evolved beings on this planet. Our meaning comes due to our relationships with each other and the bonds we possess as being born into the family of living beings and more specifically the family of beings with intelligent thought. We are the natural caretakers and guardians of each other and the world we occupy, due to which I have a natural duty to my fellow human beings to try and provide them with the most freedom and choice that I can coupled with the duty to try and help them find that best way to make our lives on this planet as wonderful as possible.

Our meaning is our guiding light and our foundation for growth in a world which seems to defy our methods to control it and predict it. It may sound confusing at first glance but I think its simple. I believe that once we as a collective species begin to place each other's fundamental freedom, well being and rights as paramount, the social world we live in will become more and more of a utopia that we dream of. Simple in theory and near impossible in practice. Why? Because of the nature of our existence as we currently understand it, the Ego or the part of us that separates us from each other and tries to pry us from the underlying unity that is reality, forces us to think of our individual selves, ideas or communities first. From this desire to see our individual selves, ideas or communities gain prominence we become attached to it and this attachment leads to our inevitable conflict with those we view as different.

So what does this have to do with the meaning of our lives? Well, we have to remove our egos from the equation and in the words of the Gita, act without attachment to the outcome. Act for the greater good, see ourselves as instruments or parts of a larger unity. All things are composites of numerous other things but in order to function they must act together with emphasis placed on the unit as opposed focused on the individual. The basic underlying point I'm trying to make here is that service to our fellow beings is the meaning that we must give ourselves, find your niche in the world and make sure its a niche that will benefit others and perform it to the best of your abilities and do it as a service to others. Doing that will bring light into the meaningless world that we lived in before and it is in that service that God can be found. Service of man is Service of God.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Michael J. Fox versus Rush Limbaugh

This topic angers me because I'm at a loss why people would even listen to Rush Limbaugh about something in which has no knowledge. It is clear when you watch the video of Michael J. Fox that he is not acting and he does not have control over his movements. People like him and Christopher Reeve have been fighting to find a way to cure these genetic problems for years. Its sad that we need to have some entertainer who develops the problem and then uses their influence and star power to fight for the cause. Whats sad isn't that they fight for a noble cause but that we as a society have a blind eye to it until such a person comes along.

It still fascinates me that ignorant people like Rush Limbaugh, Kurt Warner, Jim Caviezel and so on can come and stand against an issue that has the potential to save the lives of millions of people and relieve the pain and suffering of potential billions. The idiocy is that somehow these people think that stem cells are potential human beings therefore the stem cells should be protected from being cloned and used to make other cells. The reason that stem cells are considered to be potential human beings by scientifically ignorant and conservatives (somehow these two groups end up being the same group) is that they have the potential to become any human cell and the way they are extracted requires that an embroyo be destroyed. I previously discussed stem cells and so I won't rehash that entire discussion.

The Stem Cell debate is intricately tied into the Abortion debate, because basically the same argument that has been used for abortion has been used for stem cells. Essentially, what we have is policy makers and legislators, who have no foundation in modern science and thought. When we have the big decisions makers and we give airtime and weight to any joe moron with a opinion, we end up with a society that is more controlled by marketing and propoganda than actual evidence and research. I blame faith for this problem, faith which cannot be scrutinized without angry rebukes and criticism from those who possess such faith. The notion that God hates abortion but favors a war on terrorism, is ludicrious. How can religion in any objective manner provide us a basis to judge when life begins? or which lives matter?

Maybe this is a tangent from the topic at hand but I think it is connected. Let me try and explain my thought process. The metaphysical notion of God and God's relationship to His creation sets the framework of how we view ourselves and our relationship to the rest of creation. God made all the animals then made man, who is considered to be separate from all the rest of the creation. Man is not an animal but something entirely different as such we must have different rules apply to us. We have total dominion and mastery over all the creatures of the earth, hence we can kill this planet, its non-human inhabitants without any fear of reprisal. That might explain why we have conservatives who refuse to accept the reality of global warming, mass extinction of animal and plant species in the world and draining of the world's natural resources. We can experiment on mice who possess a fully functioning nervous system and thereby pain but we have opposition to using stem cells which don't possess any nervous system or any method of feeling sensations, in fact the idea of feelings or sensation cannot even apply to it. These stem cells can eventually lead to a cure for many of the diseases that plague us. There are millions of people on this planet who suffer from paralysis, children with multiple sclerosis, our elders who have alzhemirs, others with parkinsons and so many more disorders, which all can be eventually hopefully addressed by stem cell research. Thoughts? Comments?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hindu Mythology: Raama Part 1

One of the most powerful ancient methods of disseminating morals and knowledge was through the art of myth telling. The cultures of the ancient world used this uniquely human aspect to attempt to explain the world and the drama of human existence. Most people in the modern world know a few of the ancient myths such as the Hellenic myths: Illiad and the Odyessey. People also know the Teutonic myths of Thor, Odin and Loki. The least known myths are the myths of South America, Africa and ancient Sumeria and Persia. My particular area of expertise is Indian and Persian Mythology. So given that, I want to try and discuss a few of the characters that have been highlighted in Indian mythology beginning with Raama, of the Ramayana epic.

Raamayana means the Journey of Raama. There are numerous versions of the Ramayana but the original version is known as Valmiki's Ramayana, named after the first poet in India, Valmiki. Indian mythology has a unique feature in that the author of the epic also is a character in the epic, which also occurred in the Mahabharata with Veda Vyasa. Raama ("he who causes joy") was the first son of the monarch Dasaratha ("He who controls ten chariots"). He was born due to the intervention of the Gods. Dasaratha could not have children on his own so he performed a yagna or sacrifice in which he recieved divine nectar which he split up between his three wives. Raama was the oldest and first born. In later times, Raama became identified as the full avatar or manifestation of the Supreme Being, Vishnu. In Valmiki Ramayana, Raama was considered human but only in a few places was his divinity hinted at.

Raama was considered to be the perfect man, husband, father, king and son. I personally think this was the later thinkers imposed on the epic and character. Valmiki, I think, was trying to show that there cannot be a perfect human being that will appease all people. The crux of the entire Ramayana laid in the simple fact that each of the characters had to pick which duties they held to be superior. Dasaratha when he exiled Raama picked his duty as a husband and king over that of a father due to the promise he made to his third wife Kaikeyi. Raama, when he abandoned Sita in the forest during her pregnancy chose his duty as King over his duty as husband.

In the story, Raama abandons his pregnant wife Sita in the forest near the ashram of Valmiki because his subjects thought that Sita was impure because she was held captive of the Rakshasha King Ravana. Hindu thought at that time was that the King is both the civil, political, military and moral leader of the people. The king is to be a moral individual who sets the model for the rest of society. As Raama was king, he decided that he should be beyond reproach by his subjects that he left her in the forest. This is one of the few issues that I have always had with Raama, instead of changing the incorrect values of his people, he succumbed to them. Maybe this was the moral of the story because finally at the end of the story, after Raama realizes his mistake and tries to take back Sita, she rebukes him and returns back into the earth from whence she came.

Valmiki, I believe was trying to show that the choices we make are based on our priorities and sometimes our priorities conflict and during those times we might make the wrong choices. The Raama of Valmiki was a very conflicted individual, not in the emotional sense but in the sense that he had so many values he was trying to uphold all at once. He was a king, prince, man of his word, honest, a son who held his parent's decisions as paramount and so on. Valmiki's point was that there is no such thing as a perfect person, we can strive for that perfection but more often than not we will fail. In my next post, i'll try and delineate the qualities of Raama and show how he is an extremely complex character, who still has a lot to teach us about being human.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Big 27

So, I recently turned 27 or as they say in india, I'm running 28 (since in india they count your birthday from the day of your conception). Its rather funny because I think I'm supposed to feel different but I really don't, unless you consider that I'm graying a bit more and losing brain cells, hey as long as my hair doesn't fall out, i'm good to go. The one thing that birthdays do is to make you think about the past and with the lens towards the future. In that vein, I've been thinking about my life, where I've been, where I am and where I would like to go.

Life has been described as a book or a journey or a game. Its a book because what you have done is much like what has been recorded into a page, it cannot be changed (i'm guessing this metaphor was created before the invention of the eraser or white out). My life has been a rather interesting ride. I'd say I've experienced a lot more than many people and it is this ride that made me into the person I am now, good or bad thats for others to judge. I don't want to get into specifics because I'd rather people ask about it than me blog about it. My views on the world have changed drastically from high school and college. Maybe I've become more cynical but I think I've become more realistic. My idealism hasn't abated any because I still fundamentally believe in the potential of humanity to rise above selfishness.

The world we live in isn't ideal, its full of hatred, bigotry, anger, ignorance and selfishness. The depravity of the human condition really knows no bounds but neither does the splendor and goodness. Sometimes, just seeing that one kid in the street with nothing but is still content and happy with a beaming smile is enough to make you hope that maybe that kid will be the one who opens our eyes to part of us that connects us to everything else. The values our society pays to money and status is sometimes absurd. Seeing the amount of respect and attention we give to people like Paris Hilton or Donald Trump or other such people is sometimes borderline obscene when the teachers, thinkers, police, doctors, social workers and other such people are paid so poorly yet provide so much for our world.

As cheesy as it might be the line from batman begins really strikes a chord "It is not who you are underneath but what you do that defines you". A good person in my mind is the person who tries to help those that they barely know or maybe those they don't like. Helping people you care about as nice as it is isn't something that should be lauded but should be something we expect from each other. Ya, i've blogged about a part of this before but such thoughts do continue to linger.

So whats all this have to do with my age? I think I'm trying to find more ways to do more but I want to do things big. I want to do work in India help eradicate caste and ill treatment of women. I want to help improve health standards and medical problems. AIDS education, free medicine for the poor and education. I'm Indian and American, I want to find a way to live in both worlds and impact both worlds but its a thin line to find and even thinner line to walk. I guess my real birthday wish is that every year I'll be able to something more for people than I did the year before. Even though I'm not religious and question a lot of faith, I do believe that Dharma sustains uses and protects those who fight for it. Dharma is a living by principles of compassion, justice, honor, truth, dignity and knowledge. Those who stand and fight for these things are never alone and will always find support. Fight for what is right and don't back down even though the rest of the world might stand against you. Justice is never easy but is necessary. Compassion isn't a just a goal but a means, sometimes compassion does mean punishment but never hatred or anger. As long as you are honest with yourself you are honest with others, when you show dignity for others you reaffirm the dignity of yourself. Anyways, I have a bit more thoughts but not right now. Hopefully some of this makes sense. As always leave comments or suggestions.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The End of Faith and Beginning of Freedom

In the past couple months, I have started to become an avid reader, once again. I think this is due to the fact that I take the subway to and from work so I have about 40 minutes each way to burn. I pop on my earphones and start reading away. About 3 weeks ago, I finished a very pivotal and important book called The End of Faith by Sam Harris. To put it bluntly, it is a very controversial book if you rabidly cling to your faith, especially if you cling to Christianity, Islam and even Judaism. Although I do think that even other faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Zoraustrianism and others also should pay heed.

Harris makes strong and rather rational arguments towards explaining how Christianity, Islam and Judaism are rather irrational and furthermore bring about more negative than positive. To be honest, maybe a few years back I would have disagreed because I strongly felt that all religions have some kernel of truth. Now, I accept that they might have a drop of wisdom here or there but its mostly a vast ocean of hatred and oppression. Maybe it seems I am singling out the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths but its only because they make rather large and broad claims to the exclusive truth.

First, in the Old Testament, Yahweh is a very jealous and vengeful God, as He himself proclaims in Exodus 20:3-5 ("You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments" also see Deuteronomy 4:23-25. Secondly, in the Old Testament again, He requires his people to kill and destroy anyone who tries to convert them to other gods, see Deuteronomy 13:6-18. Similarly, He promises salvation and protection to only those who worship Him and Him alone. He requires His people to do what He says not because its the right thing to do but because He says it. Killing isn't wrong because its fundamentally wrong but because He says its wrong. The Lord, here doesn't want people to think or use the abilities that He apparently has given them but wants blind obedience. God as seen in the Old Testament was a very draconian God, much like the Laws of Hammarabi, God did not tolerate violators of His Law.

The God of the Christians, who was/is or at one point the God of the Jews, is still a very jealous God but a much more loving God, but with the caveat that now you must accept His only begotten Son, Christos Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. John 14: 6. It wasn't until recently with Pope John Pauls declaration that salvation can be possible for non-christians, that Christianity recognized that moral acts done without necessity of belief in God or the Christian God was ok.

You may ask at this point, why does it matter that God is a jealous and vengeful God. As I have blogged before, I think the notion of God must be a universal one, one that transcends the anthropomorphic nature that we assign to Him, such as human emotions. If God is truly God as understood by many of us as being Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent and so on then He cannot possess the petty and negative emotions that we possess. Anger, wrath, jealously, impatience, hatred, insecurity, fear and so on are all emotions we would almost universally dub as negative and as something not conducive to growth and attainment of good character. Why is it then that God is allowed to possess these qualities?

In one breath we are told that God is perfect and yet many of the acts that are imputed to have been committed by God, if done by any human would be seen as evil. For example, in Exodus God unleashes a series of plagues, ten to be exact, to force the Pharoah to release the Israelites and also to display his awesome power over the Gods of Egypt thereby proving his exalted and supreme status. The last and worst of the plagues was the Plague of the Firstborn, where God descended upon Egypt and directing the Angel of Death to kill all the first born sons of Egypt including the Pharoah's but sparing all the children of the Israelites (who had obeyed God's decree and marked their doors with lamb's blood after sacrificing to God, this event is celebrated as Passover). For argument's sake, say that instead of God doing this some human freedom fighter decided that to gain rights for his people all he needed to do was kill all the girl babies of the ruling power. If he were to follow through with this action, would that not be a heinous act worth all of our condemnation and retribution?

I believe the answer has to be an astounding yes. Why shouldn't a deity who proscribes such laws and morality upon us also be held to such standards? If God is the perfect being, shouldn't God be the example we should be emulating? Furthermore, for a truly universal God the Egyptians and their first borns should be just as important as the Israelites, in fact both are His children.

Islam divides the world into Dar al Islam or the House of Islam/Peace and Dar al Harb or the House of War. Dar al Islam refers to the places where there is Muslim rule and submission to Allah. Dar al Harb is all non-muslim and secular rule. First off, this division is not found in the Koran or Hadiths but is a subsequent division but nonetheless it does have germs which reach into those texts. For example, The Quran/Koran makes a few strong divisions between Believes and Non-Believers; further separates Non-Believers into the People of the Book and Infidels. People of the Book are Jews and Christians, who are believed to have misinterpreted the truths of Allah and taken a mistaken path. They are allowed to live and practice their faith but must pay a jizya or religious tax. It must be pointed out that according to Islam, Allah does not approve of any other lifestyle which is not in conformity with Islam. [3:85] And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers.

I'll end part one of this long post with this and will pick up with my thoughts in the next post, hopefully soon time permitting. Please drop me any comments or ideas.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Last night I just saw an early premiere of the new Man of Tomorrow movie. For those of you who know me you all know that I have been anticipating this movie since as far as I can remember. Superman and Batman are endearing embelms of American culture and values to me. I found a connection with both of these iconic characters and their corpus of mythology. Superman represents all that is good and amazing about ourselves. A god amidst mortals who deeply desires to be one of the mortals but cannot. Who desires to be normal but isnt and who does good just to do good. Not out of some sense of duty, not to right a previous wrong, not to balance the scales or take revenge. He simply does it because he is good. He will always make the right choice and help others. Hence he is called a boy scout and many people find him boring because of that. I don't. I think I have imbibed in many of his values into my life. He represents integrity and time honored values of honesty, truth and compassion. Things I think that are sometimes thrown to the wayside by many of us in pursuit of our own joy and happiness.

The new movie attempts to bring Superman into the new age of gray that we live in. Without giving away plot details, Singer manages to capture a lingering feeling from the first two superman movies and present an entirely unique and evolved Superman. The first two Superman movies highlighted Superman's duality between Clark Kent and Superman. This movie is more about Superman than Clark. It is Superman's return and his place as the savior of the world. Superman protects people from physical harm and inspires them to look up to the skies. The special effects are astounding in this movie but I think for me they took a back seat to seeing the Man of Steel grace the screen and continue the story which had me wearing tights and capes all through my childhood, jumping off the stairs and standing in front of a fan so that the cape will flutter behind me like i've seen so many times. The Superman theme song still gives me goosebumps. Singer gives us a more divine Superman, a Superman who bears the burden of being super and knows it but nonetheless accepts it because this is who he is.

Superman has been made into something larger than life by Christopher Reeve who in the last decade of his life became Superman in more than just name. He used his fame and influence to try and fight for research to combat paralysis. This movie was made in memory of Christopher Reeve and his wife Diana Reeve. It is a fitting tribute.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Stem Cells and Motor Function

A recent study conducted by Douglas Kerr presents more evidence with the growing mountain of data as to why stem cell research is vital and necessary. (link: Neurons from Stem Cells) The article basically reports that Kerr and his team developed stem cells until they became neural precursors. Before I go any further, I just want to explain what a stem cell is and why there is so much fervor over it. I'm not a scientist but I have a basic background in science and read a few books on it, so if I make any mistakes just correct me. Stem cells are cells that are essentially undivided and undifferentiated, meaning that they haven't "decided" what type of cell they will end up becoming. Usually stem cells are taken from either the placenta or umbilical cord after birth or they are taken from an recently fertilized embroyo with around 50 to 150 cells already divided. These cells can then be therapeutically cloned so as to produce more stem cells and thereby have a chain of cells which are a genetic match of the donor organism. In short this process of cloning involves removing the nucleus of an egg and then replacing that nucleus with DNA from another organism. The egg will then be cultivated with the new DNA and begin to divide as if fertilized. After a week or so the cells are now now as totipotent stem cells as they can become ANY type of cell. As they divide and begin to become more differentiated they can be used for limited purposes. That is a very rudimentary overview of stem cells and at this stage it is about as much as I know, hopefully I'll read some more on it and gain a larger body of knowledge.

So in this study, Kerr took the eggs of a rat and cultivated them using the above method until they developed into neural precursors, which basically means cells that haven't developed into specific nerve cells or neurons. Kerr developed about 60,000 of these cells and injected them into the spinal column of paralyzed rats. These precursors developed into motor neurons and develop more based on the types of chemicals that they interact with. Essentially what occurred is that these cells, reformed the a few nerve connections in the spinal cord. These reformed connections even though only 1% gave the paralyzed rats partial recovery and movement. Consider the impact, now there is a possibility that paralyzed people might be able to move and regain control over their bodies. To put it into perspective, this was only done on rats cells and haven't been attempted on human cells yet. Next time, I'll discuss the controversy revolving around the stem cell debate.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Logic and Rationality, Part 1

Its been a while since I've last posted and a lot has happened which has been food for thought. So let me start with this topic. I've been reading a lot of political polemics and debates. These people love to use the term logical or rational in almost every argument. It makes a lot of sense when you consider that many of the people engaging in polemics are lawyers and as such they love to use the term logic or rational to buttress their arguments. The sad part is that they don't know what logic really means. Usually, the term logic or rational as used in these types of argument refers to simple inferences. So the question arises what is logic and rational?

Logic is simply a method of reasoning but there are three types of logic: deduction, induction and abduction. Deduction is deriving the conclusions from the premises. Here is an example:

Premise A: All men are evil
Premise B: Plato is a man
Conclusion: Plato is evil

Its a simple syllogism of three steps. The conclusion is necessary from the premises, in other words, there is no new knowledge gained in the process. The statement itself can be perfectally valid, meaning if you don't assume the existence of anything outside of the statement. The problem occurs at the empirical level, the statement might not be true when applied to the real world. Like above, not all men are evil so the conclusion is not necessary because Plato might or might not be evil. In other words, deductive logic doesn't fully work in the real world but makes for a powerful tool in philosophical discussion and speculation.

Induction is deriving the conclusion from the most probable facts. For example:

Premise A: Where there is smoke there is fire
Example: Like in the kitchen
Counter Example: Unlike in the water
Observation: There is smoke on the hill
Conclusion: There is fire

Induction is a system of reasoning based on what is observed and what will most probably be the conclusion. The five step syllogism above comes to the conclusion based on observable and knowable situations. If there are situations where there is smoke but no fire the conclusion will not be absolute but might still be valid. In otherwords, the validity of the conclusion is not entirely based on the internal validity of the statement but with external validity found in the real world. While in deductive logic the premises must lead to the conclusion, in inductive logic the premises coupled with our intuition will most probably lead the conclusion. Inductive logic is the logic of probabilities. It is used by scientists to show the most probable conclusion.

The final system of logic is Abduction. Abduction begins with an hypothesis then works backward to find the if the hypothesis is correct. It is the method of reasoning used by scientists and researchers. For example:

Facts: If i throw something up it will come down
Hypothesis: There is an force which pulls objects towards each other


Facts: Human beings possess 98% genetic similarity to chimps
Hypothesis: Human beings over a period of time evolved away from chimps

Basically both those hypothesis are not more or less valid, from a strictly logical necessity prespective, from an idea that God does all the gravity or created us to be related to chimps. Essentially, Abduction is an attempt to develop a rationale for the facts, in fact Abduction does not possess any real logical validity. Induction is probabilities and deduction is internal structural necessity.

So what is rational? Rational has less to do with deductive logic and more to do with common sense based on the wealth of knowledge availible to us. For example, 3000 years ago it was rational to believe that lightning and thunder was rained down by Zeus or the rumbling volcano are the mighty Titans of myth trying to break out of the chains that have them bound in Tartarus. This is not the case if we apply the same explanations nowadays, we would consider such thoughts or ideas from individuals in our time and from big cities to be irrational based on ignorance. Such thoughts can be logical on the otherhand as long we set up the syllogism appropriately such as:
1. All thunder and lightning is caused by Zeus
2. there is thunder and lightning in Florida
con: The lightning and thunder in florida is caused by Zeus

The statement is logical but utterly irrational. Just something to think about next time we try and use logic and rationality in our arguments.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


One of the most comforting things in human existence is the feeling of belonging. Belonging to a family, circle of friends, relationship, community, culture and so on. The simple explanation why we gain comfort from this feeling is that it allows us to connect and feel we are not alone in our journey and lives. Life is unpredictible and turbulent ride but maybe worse its a lonely one because thats our nature. Our individual experiences are just that OUR experiences, it is nigh impossible to convey those experiences to others. Our words can't do them justice, in fact it is only a rudimentary approximation of our experience. For example, when someone licks a scoop of ice cream it is a totally different experience from another person. Why, since most if not all of us might have had chocolate ice cream? When each of has some of the ice cream we all have a history with it. Someone's first experience of ice cream might have been with their parent who is no longer with them, so that taste of ice cream triggers that memory and emotion in them aside from the simple taste. Another person might have a memory with their lover and suddenly that same ice cream has a sensual element to it. How can we convey that to each other? Well, I don't think we can, if we can't convey our full experience of something as simple as ice cream how can convey those parts of us that are so much deeper and fundamental to what makes us, us.

I'm not saying that we cannot connect with each other, quite the opposite, I think most of us can connect very strongly with each other in a very surface level. Most people find the least common denominator to make that connection. Hence, the cultural connections or community connections but most of these connections are superfical at best because people don't understand the background or the basis of that connection. For example, what does it mean to be American? Freedom, liberty, love of america, democracy? Or how about Indian? bollywood, religion, one of the thousand languages of India, indian ancestory? People don't ask these questions to themselves because they fear what the answer will be: that they don't know.

Whats even funnier or sadder is that many people that don't question this part of their own identity are the strongest to defend their "cultural" superiority and impose upon themselves restrictions based on these cultural factors. For example, many Indians align themselves along caste, linguistic or religious lines and refuse to cross it when it comes to marriage, even when they don't know anything beyond the base level of those distinctions. A gujarati hindu patel will only pursue a gujarati hindu patel even when they don't know anything besides the gujarati language, as if language cannot be learned or a culture adopted. (yes, i am speaking in generalities but one need only look at any of the thousands of matrimonial ads that are spread across all indian newspapers and my point will be shown).

To be fair, the problem is not that these people who stick to such rudimentary connections are fundamentally wrong, rather it is they are ignorant and as we all know ignorance is the source of fear and fear is the fountainhead of insecurity and when people are insecure they cling to whatever they think will make them feel a sense of comfort. People with a wider and more diverse experience of the abundance that is human existence coupled with an inquistive mind will more often than not be open to expanding their identity beyond what they know or feel comfortable in. What is my point in this long monologue? I guess what my friend is trying to say is that true love is blind....(an Old School reference) . j/k. My point is this, our base identity should be something that is inclusive and allows us to genuinely enjoy and experience the splendor of all human culture, and if I may make a grander jump to experience all of the natural world's cultures of our animal brethern, instead of viewing them as something we lord over. Once we gain a larger and more "universal" identity, other people's experiences will start to become yours, you'll be able to empathize and at some level understand them better. Or maybe the other alternative is to nullify our identities and just be, as is the goal of eastern thought and that ends this session of the Mukunda Monologues....

Universal Religions?....

Of late I've had a few thoughts on the nature of religions and their various claims to truth. All the major religions of the religion all assert that their religion is the exclusive possessor of the truth and thereby understanding of the true reality. They furthermore assert that their faith is the universal faith, that the Divine spoke to their people and to their people alone espoused the truth. Now, lets try and examine this claim. So in essence, the one supreme all powerful all knowing Being who is the foundation of all existence chose such and such people in all the universe/s to the exclusion of others to know and propound the truth? There is a certain level of hubris and irrationality to such a view.

Let's try and take Christianity and Judaism and see how this idea above is exemplified in it. According to Christianity and Judaism (here i'm refering to almost all branchs of Christianity including catholicism and orthodox), God created the universe and chose out of the infinite number of universes and planets to build a special relationship with one group of people and they are considered the chosen people, favored by God. Given the vastness of existence/universe, it flys in the face of logic, probability and the idea of a universal Supreme Being to behave in such a manner. In otherwords, all other peoples and beings in the universe are conversely not the chosen people and as such they are denied entry into the kingdom of God.

Considering the role of Jesus in Christianity makes the universality of Christianity even harder to accept. If you can only get to the Father through Jesus then what happens to all the people in the world who haven't heard of jesus? The church takes the stance that people before Jesus will be judged by their hearts and deeds but people after Jesus must accept Him in order to be granted the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. The true key to a universal religion is that it must be universal, surprising? Any person anywhere should have a chance at having access to the Divine in order for the religion to be universal. An hypothetical alien on the other side of the universe must be able to gain that divine access if the religion is to be considered universal. Such isn't the case with Christianity, Islam and Judaism because they are throughly dependant upon the history and personalities (Jesus, Mohammed and Moses) that were born on this earth in a specific time and culture.

This begs the question if a faith isn't universal then can it accurately present the truth and can it have the true understanding of reality? I think the answer is no, a claim that involves a universal truth such as the nature of reality or God must necessarily not be limited by time, location or people. What was true at the beginning must also be true in the middle and the end. What is true to earth must be true to the rest of the cosmos. This is why science is accorded the status of a universal method of reasoning because it establishes rules/principles that govern the natural world. The principles that are true for earth are true for mars, or any other planet in the universe.

Hinduism and Buddhism would be more universal faiths in that regard because their history, personalities or culture don't limit their view of reality and the Divine. Krishna and Buddha are the two personality associated with the respective faiths. The difference between these two personalities and the above mentioned ones are that Krishna and Buddha did not require others to accept their divinity or status to have a connection to the divine. Krishna says unequivocally in the Gita that however anyone worships the Divine (Krishna claims to be that Divine Supreme Being) in that same way the Divine will appear before them. In essence, Krishna even affirms the perceptions of divinity that Christianity, Islam and Judaism because he states that he is the source of all divinity and as such appears in an infinite number of manners based upon the experiencer. Buddha is different because he isn't concerned so much with the theological and metaphysical views of the universe but is more concerned with the way to end suffering. As such he approaches divinity as freedom from suffering and bondage of dualities. This is the same goal in Hindu thought freedom from what is known as samsara or the cycle of bondage/ignorance. The goal isn't salvation from sin but the goal is knowledge and through knowledge the intuitive understanding of reality which will free one from the perspective of mundane existence.

This is not to say that Hinduism and Buddhism do not have religious experiences to them. They have very strong religious experiences such as worship and prayers to various divinities. Hinduism has strong adherence to the Vedas or Puranas or Agamas. The Vedas are considered apaurushya or "unauthored by man". They are considered the very breath of the Supreme because within them is considered to contain the understanding of reality. They are not dictated by God but are viewed to have been the eternal truths experienced by ancient seers, who in deep commune with the Universe experiences these truths. Furthermore, the Vedas themselves say that they can only give one an outline of reality because reality is beyond words and language.

The difference is that both Hinduism and Buddhism recognize that there are infinite paths to the same location and the paths are based upon the capabilities and inclincations of the individuals. In other words, revelation is not limited a specific people or accepting a specific set of beliefs or specific time or place. An alien outside the milky way galaxy can gain the same insight as someone from our own world whether or not he knows of or accepts Krishna or Buddha or any of the other personalities or divinities accepted by Hindus or Buddhists. For in Hindu or Buddhist thought does not require such acceptance. In other words, FREE YOUR MIND and allow it to inquire and question existence, find your kernel of truth but know its only a part of the truth. Even if there is an objective external reality or truth outside of us, we will never know it if we continue to stay confined to our specific perspective.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


When someone you know dies, we naturally think about death in relation to us and those we care about. It is a selfish and entirely self-motivated exercise. We, superfically place ourselves in the mindset of the person who lost their loved one so we can try and empathize. It might be the only way we can relate to someone who has to endure a loss. Recently, my dad's best friend's wife died of cancer. She was strong woman who fought off breast cancer, then brain tumor but couldn't fight off lung cancer which finally beat her this past friday morning.

Her son was one of my best friends as a kid. His father and my father went to college together and were best friends, they got married a day apart. They went to their honeymoon together with their wives. His son is a month older than me and we grew up together. The first thing that popped into my mind when I heard was the typical "I can't imagine what they are going through". That was followed by how would I feel if I was in his position but even that thought was superfical because I didn't wanna follow through with that thought because how can it feel to never see the person who brought you into this world and protected you from the world before you could even control your limbs. The person who no matter what you do will never turn their back on you and from whom you can always receive comfort and love. She would sacrifice her life and everything else just to make sure you are happy and safe.

I'm not sure what he can be going through and it made me think more about how much we take for granted our parents and at some level assume their immortality in our lives. The amount of stress and pain they've endured for us, is something amazing. Our parents came from India into a world they didn't know and found a way to give us a stable life and happiness. We can't fully understand the mental turmoil that they endured because we didn't come from a entirely different culture and have to assimilate into an unknown world. The sacrifices they made will will never really know but we take for granted. I think more and more I'm understanding why the mother is considered the most important individual in anyone's life. Our understanding of God comes from our understanding of our mother. She is unconditional in her love for her child, sadly most of us recognize that and we take advantage of it. We do things we know will hurt our parents and we do them anyway because we know for the most part they will always be with us. They are the only thing in our lives that give us that unconditional love and when they are gone...then what? I called my friend and said whatever I could given that you don't know what to say to someone who has just lost the person for whom they were the entire world. To never see, touch, smell, hear or feel again.....except in memory and even that fades. I could add some wisdom but I'm not sure there is anything to say outside of a rationalization in our own minds but I think the emotions that one can feel if you place yourself in those shoes are more than enough.....

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Consciousness: The Final Frontier (Part 2)

Continuing from the previous post let me give a few more interesting facts about consciousness and the brain. Ramachandran describes in his book patients whose had Capgras Syndrome, which in which the connection to the fusiform gyros (the part of the brain that deals with our facial recognition) was damaged. This patient, whose memory was intact and was able to perceive and recognize faces, would think that his mother was not his mother whenever he saw her. He thought that she was someone else who had come to deceive him because whenever he saw her he did not have the emotions he normally does upon seeing his mother. So this poses another problem for us, is the emotional factor something that is integral to the definition and understanding of consciousness? Is it an epiphenomena or necessary element?

Another interesting syndrome is synesthesia, which is when the individual's brain has some cross wiring and they experience different things than we do for normal stimuli. To clarify further, when we listen to music we hear it but those with the above condition will see a color. Another example of this is mixing up pain and pleasure, if you hit someone and cause pain, they will laugh. Again this shows that our perceptions and how we understand the world is entirely under the dominion of our brains/mind.

Clearly emotion is connected to the mind but the question is how? It is a function of the brain, probably due to our evolutionary past, fear probably being the most base emotion from which all emotions may spring from. Anger is correlated with the activation of various cortizols and adrenaline in the body and the recirculation of blood flow to prepare for fighting. Fear does the same but to flee. Happiness is correlated with activation and emission of endorphins and other neurochemicals. Recent studies also show that genes might play a vital role on happiness. The brain controls all these functions of emotions, in an unconscious way.

Ok, well now lets try and address the questions I came upon above. First, from the above I think it appears that consciousness is the property of the mind/brain. The examples given above show that what we normally term to be key arguments for the existence of soul such as laughter, emotion, perception and so on are all dependent on the brain. If a few things in the brain are damaged or meddled with we will have a vastly different experience than we do now. Emotions can be "removed", our perceptions can become contradictory (seeing colors when we hear notes, laughing when being hurt), experiencing God and so on. Doesn't this all destroy the notion of soul?

Well, now we get into the realm of philosophy because it does destroy a few conceptions of the soul but not all. If the soul is linked with emotions, perceptions, memories individual identity and such then it strongly calls into question if such a soul really exists. Descartes notion of mind/body distinction is rendered untenable because the evidence shows that a mind/body distinction doesn't really exist. Our minds exist entirely dependent on our brains, and for the most part are the same thing (unless one day we can "download" our minds into computers and other things/beings but that is the realm of science fiction for now). Are we infact machines and only machines as Dawkins and Dennent contend (super simplification of their very powerful and intricate arguments)?

I'm not so sure. Now is the time as in all my posts that I bring forth some ancient Indian wisdom and philosophy, I mean after all India did invent everything :). Vedanta, end of all vedas or knowledge (VEDA = knowledge and Anta = End) delves into determining what is the soul and what is consciousness, it is not scientific but rather speculative and logical. Shankara in his great Vedanta Sutra Bhasya (commentary on the aphorisms of Vedanta) delves into the discussion of what is the soul. He and other Indian thinkers came to the base concept that the soul is the I, not the Individual Identity but the notion of I, first person experience. Similarly consciousness is the "I"ness, the very act or ability to know or experience. Emotions, Identity (Individual), memories and such are all products of the mind. The mind is distinct from the soul. The Samkhya system of Indian philosophy postulates 8 senses: sight, scent, touch, taste, hearing, intellect, mind and Ego. The Ego is ones personality and individual identity, this is understood by Hindu thinkers to be connected to the body. The Individual Identity or Self is an illusion, has no real existence. Shankara also takes it one step further and says that even the notion of first person experience is an illusion and all there is pure consciousness, this is where many Hindu schools of philosophy differ. But that is another topic.

Similarly, Hindu thought also places free will into the realm of illusion because in truth there is no action. I'll avoid the theological explanations and stick to the philosophical view (although they do go hand in hand). The notion is that we are not really acting because we are really instruments of Being and are also free intrinsically of "bondage" only we don't know it cause we are deluded by the world of illusion we live in. Illusion in this sense is not a ontological illusion (meaning its not inherent in the universe itself) but its a psychological illusion. The I thinks its acting because it experiences the universe in relation and through the brain and body, as such it mistakes the body and brains action for its own. Furthermore, the "I" sees itself as separate from all things and independent of all things when it is caught in state of interdependence (theologically it is also considered dependent on the Supreme Spirit). The idea is that true nature of existence is the "I" or consciousness both as a quality and substance. The I experiences the world through the body and brain but is not touched by it. Its difficult to grasp so I'll try with another example much like the water exists in the world but condition by the form (solid, liquid and gas) yet remains untouched and water still, so does the soul or "I" exist in bodies and brains yet remain untouched. Hopefully that offers some thought and insight or brings more questions, which is great. Any comments are appreciated.

Consciousness: The Final Frontier (Part 1)

Its been a few weeks, well, actually a month since I've last wrote but in the interm I have been doing some reading and thinking. More reading than thinking because my cognitive process is pretty sporadic and short lived. In the last few weeks, I've been reading a lot about biology. Specifically, evolution and neuroscience. First off, my disclaimer I am not a scientist nor an individual who does research or possesses any technical knowledge about these areas. I am merely someone who reads as much as possible about these issues and thinks about them. One of the issues I've been reading about a lot and thinking about is consciousness.

For many years the study of consciousness has been lacking and ignored by the scientific community but in the past couple decades it has come to the forefront. It has been heralded by many scientists as the next great revolution in scientific thinking and progress, the first four being Copernacian, Darwinian, Freudian and Einsteinian/Bohrian (my own addition). I am going to try and be methodical and structured about my thoughts on this subject. So bear with me.Consciousness refers to the quality of the mind to perceive and possess subjective experiences such as thought (in general), emotions, language, awareness and self-awareness. Before we delve into consciousness, I think a basic discussion of the mind is needed.

Most of modern thought and even more adamantly western religion has believed in the dichotomy of mind and body. The mind is fundamentally different from the body and vice versa. This was most staunchly defended and argued by Rene DesCartes . This is called the Cartesian Dualism or the Mind-Body Distinction. His argument is rather intricate and delves into res cognitans and res extensia so I'll avoid that. In brief he argues that just as the body has its root in all things extension (material) so does the mind have its root in all things thinking (mind stuff) which is another name for the soul. They are connected through the pineal gland in the brain or so goes his theory. He even goes further and disavows perception and only admits deduction as how to know a thing. In otherwords, he (the thinking thing) is all that can be affirmed, his longer argument for why he can accept his perceptions involves his view of God and will not be needed here.I only used Descartes to show the philosophical basis for having mind as the object of consideration. Descartes and even most western thinkers place the mind and the soul as synonmous. It is the soul that thinks and the soul that acts and the soul that does all. This is a concept we will return to later.

Now, modern science agrees that the locus of study for consciousness should be the mind and the basis of the mind is the brain. Yep, all 3 pounds of an average human brain is the basis of the mind. Science is and should be about what can be observed, tested and explained. With that foundation, neuroscience attempts and has been providing evidence and data that our minds are nothing more than the bundle of synaptic exchanges in our brains. For example, a study by Ben Libet shows that 500-600 milliseconds before you "decide" to move, the unconscious part of your brain has already begun the action of moving. In otherwords, your thought of moving comes after beginning the movement. So what of free will? I'll come back to that later.

In the book Phantoms of the Mind, Dr. VS Ramachandran of UCSD presents evidence of various experiments that he has conducted in regards to the question of consciousness. He and other researchers have shown that feelings of devotion and spiritual sensations can be stimulated in people by sending electrical impulses through the patient's temporal lobes, they call this the God module. This God Module can either be used to support or contest God. Religious supporters say that its how God makes himself known to us while detractors say it is nature's way to make people more subservient and clan oriented. Another thing is that when parts of the brain which control our spatial perceptions (for us to interact in this 4-D world the brain has to be able to "read" all the spatial-temporal information and create in our minds what we see) are probed or affected, the patients experience of the world expands and the patient has feelings of oneness with the universe and being everywhere at once. This is the basic science stuff in the next post I'll try and deal with issues that all of this brought forth.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Plague of Casteism, Part 2

In the last post I began talking about caste in Indian Society. Caste was a way to control what was considered by the Indian world to be the greatest resource, knowledge. Knowledge is the doorway to enlightenment and moksha, which is why it seemed to so important to control. Secondly, caste became a way to explain all the inequalities in the world. Why are some people born in poor and uneducated families? The caste system explained that it was due to the fruits of previous lives. An untouchable is an untouchable because they committed evil deeds in their past and therefore had to be born as an untouchable to reap those fruits. It is a very self-affirming system.

The first three castes (brahmana, kshatriya and vaishya) were also called dvijas or twice born. Upon reaching maturity dependant on the caste, these three castes were invested with the sacred thread which allowed them to gain Vedic Education and entry into Spiritual Knowledge. Sudras and the Untouchables were denied this and thereby denied the ability to gain moksha and spiritual knowledge, according to the traditional view. They were considered impure and spiritually inferior. Shankaracharya, the 8th century mystic and paramount philosopher, also felt that non-dvijas and women cannot receive salvation because they were denied access to the Vedas and Vedic Knowledge. It was not until Ramanujacharya, a 11th century mystic, reformer and philosoper, that the orthodoxy threw open the doors of salvation to all people. Ramanuja argued that devotion and self-surrender was the key to salvation and all people are entitled to that. Following him were scores of reformers who tried to eradicate caste from Hindu and Indian mind but sadly it hasn't had the effect that is needed.

To this day, caste exists even though it is a legal non-entity. It exists in the mind of many hindus and if it exists in their mind then it will issue out into their actions and social views. Caste is the one massive anchor which is weighing Hinduism down from achieving its place as the Universal faith. Caste is social, spiritual and religious evil that has plagued hinduism for nearly 2600 years. It is about time that it is destroyed and wiped off the face of this earth. We have to confront this evil as we would any other evil or oppressive force, with unwavering conviction and courage to fight it with all our abilities. The weapons to combat this evil are education and compassion but ultimately it is acceptance of this evil and the ability to show its proponents how caste stands in opposition to everything Hindu Spirituality is. The task is set but now is the time to began the battle.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Plague of Casteism, Part 1

Caste, is quite possibly the next worse thing next to slavery in terms of what society as a whole can do it to its own people. The western world has some idea of caste if you have read the Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Basically, it is a division of society based on birth. In Brave New World, the civilized world is divided into Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. This division is based on ones genetics, the people with the best genes are Alpha, better than average is Beta, average is Gamma and below average is Delta. Each caste can only take certain jobs and mate with people of their own caste. This is what the Indian caste system was like but worse.

The Indian caste system is based on the idea that one is born into a certain caste due to karma from previous lives. There are four castes in Hinduism: Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra. Brahmanas are the priests, philosophers, teachers, intellectuals and religious leaders. Kshatriyas are the warriors, nobles, soliders, kings, rulers and so on. Vaishyas are the farmers, merchants, money lenders, voyagers and so on. Sudras were the artisans, servants, menial workers and laborers. Finally, there are the outcastes or the untouchables, these people were treated just as their names imply. They were given jobs such as sewage cleaners, funeral workers and other such jobs. The castes according to medieval indian society/texts were not allowed to intermarry and in some cases interdine. Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas were given superior education and spiritual roles/rights. Sudras were not allowed to partake in many of the religious training or rituals, let alone untouchables. Untouchables were considered soo polluted that if their shadow fell on you, you would have to take a bath. Next time i'll continue with this.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Freedom of Speech vs. Religion

Unless you have been living under a rock or are totally oblivious to the international world, you would have heard about the current issue affecting Denmark and the Islamic Community. A newspaper in Denmark requested their artists to draw caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed to see if there would be self-censorship. These caricatures have been reprinted by a few news and press organizations throughout Europe. The caricatures depicted the Prophet and one caricature even had him depicted with a bomb for a turban. These drawing drew the resentment and anger of many Muslims for a couple reasons.
1. Under Shariat Law it is blasphemous and sacrireligious to depict the Prophet, other prophets or Allah.
2. The drawings showed the Prophet to conform to stereotypes of modern Islamic fundamentalists.

Now, the press organizations or at least the ones who believe themselves to be standing up for free speech say that it is their right to engage in political and religious commentary. The Muslims argue that their religious laws and sentiments should be respected. Both make strong points but lets try to break it down. Freedom of Speech is not absolute neither here in the United States nor in Europe. For example, here it is illegal to yell fire in a theater or similar place. This debate isn't based on legal limits of free speech but on "moral" or "ethical" limits. Is it right to poke fun at a faith that has over a billion adherents?

My answer is that there is a level of respect that should be given to all faiths but its a level that the people of the faith themselves portray. Meaning this, there is no doubt that many many Muslims are peace loving, God loving and human loving people but what can explain the sheer number of violent acts and intolerance that occur in the world from the Islamic Community. This is what the people of the world see. We see the acts of terrorism, suicide bombers, intolerance to Hindus and Jews, desire to convert the world to Islam and so on. The problem is that the rest of the world cannot curb radical Islam, Islam must curb Islam. There are a lot of religious apologetics in the world. Christians like to portray themselves as loving all humanity but their history shows otherwise. They supported slavery for hundreds of years and spent over a millennium killing other religions such as pagans and Muslims. Hindus have professed to be an enlightened and spiritual people but they have oppressed their own kind for thousands of years using the evil of the caste system, yet some people say that its not the true spirit of Hinduism. Well, thats not entirely true. The religion allows for it and in some places supports it. Much like Islam supports killing of infidels and non-believers. These are elements that can only be fixed but must be done by the religion and its own adherents.

The Danes by printing these drawing showed they too only focused on this part of Islam, the part that the terrorists and fundamentalists portray. Furthermore, the past few days have gotten worse because the radicals and fundamentalists have helped to prove this point again. They have killed and attacked innocents in Lebanon and Syria and many other Islamic nations. A few peace loving clerics and muslims have tried to oppose them but without much success. If the Islamic community wishes to be respected and given the tolerance they desire, they must do the same to others, respect does not come at the end of a sword, bullet or explosion of a bomb but it comes with mutual respect. It is akin to this, when we see two sportsman play against each other and one beats the other, we can respect them but if a sportsman plays a child or nonsportsman and beats them they don't gain any respect. When Islamic terrorists attack innocents and cities they don't gain respect but gain anger and resentment. Just my two cents. let me know what you think.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Bhagavad Gita and War

This week I decided to reread The Bhagavad Gita or also known as the Song of God. It forms a small but pivotal part of the world's largest epic called the Mahabharata, which is about 13 times longer than both the Illiad and Odyssey combined. I speficially read the Gita and commentary by Ramanuja, one of the finest logical and mystic minds of India. The Gita is a discourse between Krishna, the Supreme Being/Reality/God who has taken incarnation or avatar on earth, and Arjuna, the greatest archer to exist at that time. Essentially, the circumstances that surround the Gita is one of war. Arjuna is one of the Pandava Brothers, of which there are 5 total. They are engaged in a civil war with their paternal cousins the Kauravas, of which there are a 100. The Kauravas have "unrighteously" refused to return the kingdom to the Pandavas who are the kingdom's rightful rulers. After many attempts to peacefully resolve the dilemma, the Pandavas who were even willing to rule only 5 villages and yet denied, decided to go to war. The Pandavas enlist the aide of their maternal cousin, Krishna. He promises the Kauravas that he will not fight in the war but will only be Arjuna's charioteer. So the sides are assembled and they meet on the field of battle. This is where the Gita begins.

Arjuna request Krishna to draw his chariot in between the two armies so that he can see who is on each side. When Krishna complies and draws the chariot in between the two armies, Arjuna is overcome with emotion. He sees his cousins, uncles, grandfather, friends, teachers and kinsmen all arrayed against him. He is overcome with compassion and sympathy. As a warrior, he understands that most of these people will not leave the field of battle alive. He knows that he might even kill many of them. His body shakes and he drops his bow. He tells Krishna that winning all of creation let alone a mere kingdom is not worth killing all of ones friends, family and loved ones. He says how can I enjoy all the riches of the world after I've killed all these people. With that he resolves not to fight and sits in his chariot.

Ok now we have a basic background on the Gita. What follows is Krishna's teaching about the true nature of the soul, karma, God, Reality and ethics. Here, I just wanna focus on the ethics primarily because most people only view the Gita as a spiritual and religious text. The context is both spiritual and also "mundane". Krishna is trying to enlightened Arjuna so that Arjuna WILL fight the war. Krishna advocates war but not just any war but a righteous war. What exactly is a righteous war? Well, a righteous war as we can decipher from hindu texts is a war that is based on the conflict between dharma and adharma. Dharma means many things and it is hard to explain in english but it means both natural law and righteousness. Adharma means opposite of dharma. Natural Law, here isn't the same natural law as seen in western world. Natural Law refers to a balance here, all people have duties to themselves and others. A King to his subjects, parents to children and vice versa. If these duties are breached then the balance must be scaled.

Krishna makes it clear that war is to be fought between warriors/soldiers. A warrior's duty is to fight a war when it presents itself. Attacking non-warriors, un-armed people and non-combatants is considered adharmic in Hindu rules of war. So clearly the Gita nor Hinduism advocate terrorism on civilians. War is always the last option. The Mahabharata clearly establishes this as the numerous attempts by the Pandavas to avoid war and still lay claim to their rights. The key point about Gita and war is that war must be fought for the right reasons without really attaching oneself to the ends. Meaning this: Fight because its the right thing. Krishna says that we have the right to action alone not the fruits of the actions. A war to defend your rights or safety is just but a war to further your interests or desires isn't. The Gita takes the position that war is an inevitable part of nature because fundamentally we are all beings with ego. Hindus view the state of nature as one of warring, or as they say the larger fish feeding on the smaller fish. War should not be taken lightly but must be limited and controlled, hence the many rules of warfare. Fighting must only occur during sunrise to sunset, must take place away from cities and town, non-combatants cannot be hurt, unarmed people must be allowed to surrender or let go, no attacking another while they are fleeing, all fights must be one on one and so on. Now, the warriors in the Mahabharata broke almost every rule in the book. The rationale given was that they were entering Kali yuga or the age of darkness, where people won't have honor or righteousness. anyways, thats just a lil bit of my rambling on the subject. I'm too tired to write more. late

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Beauty that is Mother Nature

As beautiful and fascinating as the opposite sex is, they cannot compare to the grandeur and splendor of Mother Nature. In simpler words, I've been watching a lot of animal planet, discovery channel and national geographic. Mostly the shows I have been watching were shows on animals. Monkeys fascinate me, not in that sick beastiality way or the King Kong woman love thing but its more of how much they are like us, fine, me. Recent scientific discoveries give strong evidence to the idea that the great apes have specific calls for each other, meaning they can name each other. Furthermore, we know clearly that they are self aware, only humans, great apes and dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror. check this: apes. All other animals cannot do that (some monkeys that aren't great apes can do it, like chimp and baboon), something as simple as recognizing yourself in the mirror isn't so simple to most animals, infact damn near impossible. They might not have the same level of self awareness we do but they do possess it. This brings into many moral and ethical considerations: if these beings can be aware of themselves, should we treat them more akin to us than other animals? This is a discussion I will pick up when I bring up consciousness and the brain, which is another fascinating topic as it deals with the notions of self, soul, God and human understanding.

Back to the topic, Nature has given each animal the ability to survive in their environment. The golden eagle of scotland can see a mouse in the grass from a mile away, its eyes have "tissue" windshield wipers to keep its eyes moist and from freezing. The pitt viper has an additional sense aside from sight, smell, taste, touch and "hearing", it can sense/see heat. Right below its nose is a heat sensor which allows the viper to see the world in heat signatures, allowing it to be ready for any warm blooded animal that comes around it. The blue whale which is the largest animal to ever live, yes even larger than the dinosaurs, weighs about 150 tons and is the length of 120 feet or length of 3-4 school buses. As the blue whale dives deeper and deeper it becomes more and more dense the oxygen in its body condenses to allow it to survive the pressure. It can even make sounds that travel thousands of miles allowing them to "communicate" with each other. Crazy huh? By the way, for those of you who are wondering is there really such a thing as a liger, yes there is. They are lion father and tiger mother's child, they are sterile and weigh up to 1000 lbs and oddly they are not sterile and can reproduce, it happens a lot in singapore. Only female ligers are fertile, the males are sterile. There is also a tigion, tiger male and lion female offspring but it weighs 350 lbs smaller than both a lion and tiger. so there you go.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Darwin v. God

Its been an interesting week. Last weekend for New Years a group of us went to Mercury Bar up on 33rd and 3rd. It was a good spot, no cover and higher girl to guy ratio which is always good. It was a fun. Essentially I had been going out from thursday night to wednesday night, 6 days straight. It was crazy, plus the USC-Texas game was awesome, Vince Young is an animal. Anyways, the highlight of the entire week was probably going to the Museum of Natural History, which happens to be about 20 blocks from my apt.

My cousin Sudharashan, his friend Ashok and I went to check it out. Specifically we went to see the Darwin Exhibit. It was pretty fascinating, the sheer amount of research and work that went into his theory, given the technological level of his time period. He traveled around the world to every continent and studied hundreds of plant and animal species. The most powerful discovery of the past 300 years I would say. He did something amazing, which in our day seems so simple and obvious, human beings are animals and are connected to the world and other species. Not only are we merely connected but we are the bearers of billions of years of development and growth in the world. It is mindblowing to see the fetuses of a bat, pig, horse and human, in the first few months they are all indistinguishable. Human beings as an embroyo possess a tail, the entire evolutionary processes occurs from conception to birth. The specifics of the evolutionary process are still being debated and discovered to this day, this is only my uber brief discussion on darwin, which I will return back to more and more as I read more and more.

Now, does Darwin's revolutionary and dangerous idea destroy all that we know or understand about consciousness and God? I don't really think so but apparently such is the view in this country. Evolution is seen by many fundamentalists as anti-God and is seen as an affront to religion. The problem is that God isn't something you can prove or disprove. Evolution is a natural process which can and should be studied because it can give us insight into how we came to be. The current political and religious debate on evolution is known to most given the Christian viewpoint against evolution is all over the news and was at one point even taught in schools. So let me try and explain the Hindu view.

Consider this, the ten avatara's of Vishnu: Matsya (Fish), Kurma (Tortise), Varaha(Boar), Narasimha (half-man/lion), Vamana(dwarf), Pasurama(tribal warrior), Rama(human), Krishna (divine/superior human), Buddha (enlightened human), Kalki (supreme human). For many Hindus this shows the evolutionary tale of beings. From aquatic animals to supreme humans. The Hindu theory of life and evolution goes like this: The Supreme Being known as Narayana (he who is the abode of all beings) among infinite other names, possesses all things within Him(or It but I'm using Him). He wills that "May I become many" and then the infinite universes issue out from him. The universes all issue out through intense vibrations and energy (argued by many Hindu's and physicists as the Big Bang). Energy then becomes matter and as matter develops so do the life forms, of which there are 8,400,000 types of life forms (Not sure if this means species or distinct types of beings). Hinduism says that the soul cycles through these 8,400,000 life forms based on one's karma.

The key point to remember in Hindu thought is that since ancient times Hindu scholars and experts all have held the belief that many things in the Hindu scriptures are metaphoric and allegoric because the explain reality one must experience it and mere words can't do it justice but can only point one in the right direction. The example used by Hindu logicians is this: I can describe the moon to you in various manners like, the white orb between seen between the two branches or the bright circle in the night sky but unless you look for yourself you will never understand what the moon is. So according, even the mythological elements were seen to have that idea. For Hindu's, human beings are not anything special outside of nature but are seen as animals with the ability for self awareness. Thats it for now, but i'll come back to this later. Any comments?