Sunday, November 17, 2013

Atma - Bhagavat Gita: Going against your brain

Do you have 47 minutes? Do you think evolution is based on random chance? It isn't! This video explains how beautiful Darwin's explanation for life in this world is. Please watch it if you even have a slightest doubt about whether evolution is true:

So, then. I am going to narrate a long tale of woe. A personal experience in the last few weeks. Brevity isn't my friend for this post, so you'll have to bear with my writing for a long while if you want to hear this out, my friend.

I signed up for a very theistic sounding course a few weeks ago: Atma. It is about unleashing your potential through learning the Bhagavath Gita. I looked up the course name online, and it seemed like someone doing this on their own, no affiliations to any organization or cult came up. I should have explicitly asked about their affiliation.

I wrote to ask about the religiousness of the course, and got a response that specifically said that it wasn't a class with religious connotations (spoiler). This response also contained some random psuedo-scientific stuff. I thought hinduism was long evolved and that it was a way of life, and hinduism itself isn't against scientific progress or rational thought. Funnily enough, I've heard many religious hindus say that their ancient ancestors, before recorded history, were so evolved that they flew planes, flew rockets, and knew the world was spherical, and the 10 forms of vishnu was proof that they already knew about evolution. Most hindus are not science deniers, many I know are science claimers. I thought this was a case of that, so I didn't see that as a warning bell either.

I had a super secular, rational upbringing. Truth is, I now know, after living in the United States for many years, more about the 3 major abrahamic religions, a subset of buddhism, mormonism, scientology and a bunch of controversial cults than what I know about Hinduism. I liked the Mahabharatha after I grew out of my childhood. It is an epic that talks about moral dilemmas and all the gray hues that make up people. Ramayana, which is what I preferred as a child, is a childish book where there are good and bad people, and good people only do good things, and the bad people only do bad things. It offers no practical value to an adult life that's full of decisions that need to be made between one shade of gray and another. And, hinduism, at least the part I knew, was vague about lots of things. One could say, "I am god, and you are too" and it would in all likelihood be some recognized subset of hindu philosophy. Of course, I have seen and been a part of absurdly stupid rituals, extremely male chauvinistic ones and extremely nonsensical things that people believed in without any rational thought whatsoever. But this course didn't look like those things.

I signed up, and went in for the first session dreading that I was going to have to sit in this hall for an hour and hear about lord krishna. There wasn't mention of any lords! And, no mention of religion or gods either.

Did I like the first session? Yes, I did like the first session which spoke about crises and how the ways in which a person chooses to manage any crises can either make the person come out of it stronger, or dig themselves in deeper.

All good stuff, I though. A great setting for some ethical and moral questions that the Mahabharata does talk about, like any literary work worth reading.


Things started going downhill in the second session. The introduction of Atma (consciousness), as an eternal, infallible concept which was presented as the reason we are all here. The "evidence" presented for this "truth":
1. It's in our language: When someone dies we say "they passed away" implying there is something more to this life than this body alone. (correlation != causation)
2. We know it intrinsically, because everybody, even though so different, wants the same things: sat (eternity), chit (knowledge) and ananda (happiness). Since all of us want this, and this IS the property of the Atma (the root of consciousness btw), it exists. (we want something that they claim is true, so it's true?)
3. There are scientists who talk about the out of body experience. And this wasn't the most egregious thing they had to say. (why bring in 2 scientists here when a world of them aren't talking about it? This didn't sound so bad until later, when they dissed scientific reasoning, and said science cannot know of the higher plane of the atma)
4. The world would be all evil if people didn't intrinsically know that there is the eternal atma, beyond life. People would kill and rape each other if they didn't believe in the atma. (Oh, really? You would kill and rape and steal from your friend or random person on the street if they were only just flesh and blood but no eternal atma?)

In hindsight, this is when I should have stopped going. I should have taken the cue when they were talking about things that are "true" and they "know" to be true. And until we see it, we wouldn't know it. It's all on a different plane. And we as humans are in the plane of the material world which cannot easily see that other plane that they can see.

But, I still wanted to know if they'll get to the ethical dilemmas handling which they said they will in the first session. I brought up that there are several interpretations of the book and maybe this one focussed on  the atma stuff, but the guy said, there was just one and it was this. (My husband, who is very familiar with hindu philosophy, later said that it was a clever way of dominating a field, by denying even the existence of others).

Then they came to this question in the next session: Why do good people go through bad phases? Because the laws of Karma are always acting. This is the law that governs the worlds and the passing of the conscious soul between different "gross bodies", or physical matter. We don't know in this life, what we may have done to deserve this in the past lives. Someone in the class asked why the world had to be created with these rules, and why did we all have the choices to start off karma? There was an utterly unconvincing answer about how this will all come together in the remaining classes, but that would answer everything we needed to know.

And finally, 2 days ago they started talking about the designer and put forth William Haley's argument: A watch has a specific order and it cannot have come about by random, it has to have had a designer. Since there needs to be a designer for a watch, there needs to be a designer for the planets. The rising and the setting of the sun is so perfect, it needs a designer. If a painting of a rose has a designer with a motive, so should the rose itself! If a robot needs a designer, so should a human being.

I wasn't really sure if they were actually denying evolution itself at this point, but, my BP already was on the rise. The absolute worst statements immediately followed:
We are taught that all this life and universe came about "by chance" in school, how ridiculous is that idea? We should "question" this kind of teaching. And we should be taught to "reason" about such things, instead of accepting such illogic. We are taught in school that these things happen by "random chance" and we learn to accept that, instead of questioning it. Krishna is the designer of all things.

Wait. What?!

First, they said evolution didn't happen. Because "random chance" couldn't make something so orderly. But fact is, evolution is NOT random chance, was never said to be, and that is the beauty of natural selection. Refer to the video above to know how evolution really works and how much of evidence is in favor of it. The open mind I'm forever asked to keep by my religious friends, I urge you to keep for 50 minutes while watching that video, and decide for yourself which sounds more reasonable and even elegant: darwinian evolution, or one all powerful person designing all the species in existence, and fossilizing so many more species that seem to be our ancestors, wanting us to think we were evolved?

And next, they said, we should be taught "to think" and "reason" AGAINST scientific reasoning? Against all the knowledge we've gained since this archaic book was written? Wow. I wonder how that would fly even with a fifth grader.

I was extremely perturbed at this point, and pointed out that this was false equivalence and that all the scientific progress we've made since Darwin, and that so many astrophysicists and the biologists got us here, precisely by asking "questions" about the universe and life, and that evolution was simply NOT random chance. They responded by saying that "Even evolution is just a theory. And, it doesn't answer how life started, so it's not complete. The reality of Atma is very complete if you open your mind to it". Also, "when there is a designer for all man-made things, and purposes for which we create them, there is no way there is no designer for everything in our world because it is all so precisely ordered". And, some more folks decided that it is better that I shut up "because this argument will go no where" and "like science is based on some axioms that are accepted, I need to allow these folks to allow them their axioms and develop their model".

So, they were denying evolution, since the bhagavat gita says krishna says that we all contain the eternal being within us. If only we could see our atma and act on that realm, and then our atma could get to eternal bliss, instead of being tied to karma and ill-fated to be reborn on this vile planet where we needed to undergo so much suffering. I had no idea why people raised hindu would ever buy into the ridiculous sinners idea!

And, they went on to say that the reason we are in this material world is that we want to play "master"(which apparently all of us who aren't enlightened are trying to do). That's why the world is in such a bad shape - because all of us are trying to explain away the existence of this designer and act like we are the masters. (I find it hard to believe that these people claim that they are surrounded by sinners and people who want to play god, but they also claim to truly know all the answers because their book says so. I personally have been surrounded by wonderful, humble people who know they don't know everything there is to know. It is the godmen, from cults that claim to know everything).

All this was what they "knew". This is a more complete model of the universe and our existence, and purpose, this therefore must be true. Science doesn't answer how it all began. Atma answers everything, so it's awesome! Of course, all questions can be answered in a nice made-up fairy land. That there is nothing to corroborate even a millimeter of their *theory* somehow, in their minds, diminishes the method of proving things itself! They ask folks to put away our mental faculty, the one thing that seems to distinguish us humans from everything else on this planet. They ask us to have faith in their theory, which is in direct contradiction to every progress the human kind has made since 1859. The year humanity was shown a first glimpse of the magic of how we have come to be through the book On the Origin of Species.

All new religions & cults claim that we have sinned. Now, or in the previous life, or in the decision we made when their god started the clock for reasons that are very clear to them. The reason why they know we have all sinned, is because their book tells them so (it's also easiest to exploit a person already on a guilt trip). We need to believe in the eternal soul, and not worry about this materialistic world. And then we'll be peaceful and can gain a better life. But very conveniently (for them), only after death (so we can never question if their methods worked). According to the folks who spoke in these classes, we go to this other realm where there is eternal bliss. And, it cannot be attained until we act on the higher dimension of atma. I wonder why so many cults often resort to psychedelics.

Why did I want to write this? Spreading these types of ideas that we should have faith that X is true because Y says so, is dangerous. Whether Y is Krishna, Allah, Jesus, any book or golden tablets.

Why is this dangerous?

Because this is believing everything Krishna, Allah, Jesus, a book or golden tablet has to say, without questioning it. This is one very tiny step away from giving up your life for a master who claims to know "the teachings", who tells you he knows your life isn't blissful, and promises to get you to a realized state, where you can realize your purpose, to attain the better state (after death). There is tons and tons of historical precedence that this master will then go on to exploit you in every way possible.

Whether Y is Krishna, Allah,  Jesus, a book, golden tablets, or the godman next door, you cannot believe them just because they say so. I hope I have convinced you that this is truly dangerous. Gullible people get stuck in these cults and give up their lives to a master. This sort of thing is growing in India, with so many godmen and godwomen, gaining massive amounts of money and power, purely through deception of the masses.

Just because someone claims that they know the truth, they don't. Especially if they say you cannot understand it because you are unwilling to suspend your disbelief. Especially if they ask you to use your heart and not your brain, make sure you put all your mental faculty at work to deal with these charlatans.

My recipe for life is simple. Live life for what it is. Be genuine and be good. If you are reading/ writing this, life cannot really be as hard as these brainwashed people make it to be. Learn from your mistakes, you will make them along the way. Help other folks when they need it, and be genuine while doing so. And when you need help, you'll have people around you to help, and you can overcome all difficulties by thinking through your options and patiently taking one step at a time and letting time heal.

There aren't simple answers, but you'll find your answer, if you work on it.


Post Scripts:
  1. When I sat to write this I did an online search for the name of the person who was running this course and the name the course. Neither by itself yielded anything interesting, but both together revealed a cult affiliation. Ughhhhh. I'm ashamed to admit that my search skills were of no use in saving me from this nonsense that I've now wasted hours on.
  2. I did some more search on the use of drugs in organizations such as these, and came upon a very interesting study that I totally recommend: addictive organizations. This is way beyond what I had expected when I started looking for this topic! Very, very interesting read.
  3. It seems to me, ironically, religions survive or die out based on darwinian principles, so they evolve too. The older a religion has survived, the better it is at accepting other people, cultures and science, because there is no way any sane person in the modern day will believe in an extremely dogmatic religion that doesn't allow an open mind. That's why the pope thinks evolution can co-exist with his religion and the adam & eve are just symbolic. Because otherwise you'll get only nutjobs to believe in your religion, making it worse for your brand. New cults, on the other hand, seem to be science deniers. They'll learn too, or just die out, which is what these cultic organizations truly deserve. How I wish their Karma worked on them, at the very least!
  4. For folks who say, "But I need religion, otherwise I'll be depressed because I'm going through a lot": You may want the feel good factor of trusting that someone has all the answers. That they seem to know that everything has an ultimate good purpose. During times of distress, this is a crutch we all like to have. Realize this is a "feel good" temporary crutch. It is not the truth. There can only be one truth, and no one knows what that is at this point in time, and we may never know either. This is ok.
  5. I am not going back for the rest of the course. You guessed that one right, didn't you? Even though I've endured quite a lot of bullshitisms that I've never previously needed to endure, I must say I have a perverse attraction to go there till the very end end if only to see how much further along the delusion scale they are on. I just don't think I can stand their "holy know it all"ness anymore. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A hot topic for Indians

Wrote this a while ago, but getting to publishing it now. 

Coming across this article late, but right after a recent debate at work about reservation (affirmative action) in India.

But, when someone says, "why should I pay for it?", when they, having given up a seat in a college for someone from a lower caste, to be admitted in a college that is ranked ever so slightly lower, I now know I should calmly reply with this, a huge driver for me personally since the minute I heard it seven years ago:
"So long as the millions die in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor, who, having been educated AT THEIR EXPENSE, pays not the least heed to them" - Vivekananda.

And exit the debate.

Because, many very privileged Indians, don't and will never realize all the privileges we have, and have always had. And how we cannot compare with the folks who have none of those privileges. Here are a few:
  • All schools in India have to be non profits, thus tax exempt. We may have paid money (some or lots of it) to the school, but that's because we were born to parents who could afford it, nothing we, ourselves deserve. And, I'm just plain lucky to have been born to my folks, instead of in a below poverty line household that made up much more than (the official) 40% of India? (roughly the same the year I was born). The private schools we went to, did not pay taxes
  • Folks who went to private schools, we are already, easily, among the top 27%. The % of children who receive a private school education, and, public schools are extremely bad in India, and no, we would shudder to think of getting schooled there. Only poor kids would go there
  • Our parents, and probably grandparents were going to school, and maybe even college, when ~80% of India was illiterate in 1947. That generation, those that got an invaluable education should have made things better, but they didn't. Someone has to pay up for that. I would think, it would be us and a few more generations to come.
  • Were we encouraged, atleast once a week, about going to school and working hard to do well there? That's undefinably more than what a first generation school going kid probably receives - zero encouragement and discouragement at many, many levels. There is possibly encouragement to DROP OUT of school once a week. "How are you helping at all by going to school? Why can't you get some money home to get some food on your plates?"
  • And the kid of our school's cleaners (ayahs), probably had to drop out of a government run, no-one-would-even-think-of-going-there-school-if-they-had-any-money school in middle school to find work for that reason. And no, *of course*, they didn't get to go to the same school were their parents worked. A pittance of our fees went to those invisible folks 
Then, we, who fall well in the top 10% of the socio-economic ladder talk hours against setting aside 69% of college seats for these people, the ones we would rather not go to school with. Because, of course, there is the question of "merit", and "deserving". "Merit" which we have gained at their expense, and "merit", which the author of the above linked post says is our wall of privilege. And "deserving" that they don't and, we, quite automatically, do. "Deserving" which we didn't either, when we got those parents and went to those schools.

And, as Dr. Ravishankar rightly states in this article about folks who say they will be okay with reservations based on economic criteria:

"A note on reservations based on economic criterion - It is quite surprising that the advocates of economic criterion bring up the point only in retaliation to caste-based reservations, and not as a desired step in itself. When the Delhi govt. proposed 25% reservation for the poor in schools, again everyone was up in arms. Also, genuine economic-based reservation in proportion to population percentages would still leave the FCs with a very small number of seats. (i.e if 95% people have less than a lakh income per year, then 95% of seats are reserved for such people, and so on). Perhaps what people mean is a token "10% reservation" for economically backward, so as to shut the debate?"

What are we trying to fix?

"Mr. Shinde said he has asked all DGPs to introspect on the poor rate of conviction in crimes against women and work towards effective policing." - The Hindu

This is NOT the only thing we want fixed. This incentivizes police personnel to not even register new cases, and not register them and track down the wrong doers. This happens all the time in the best neighbourhoods of Chennai, because the crime rate is "low" in those places, police personnel just don't want to register crimes happening in these areas.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Divine Interventions

Not everything is sacred. But, doesn't everything have a potential to be?

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Strong opinions, lightly held"

On Tuesday, my most Zen colleague said he'd heard someone saying this, "It's ok to have strong opinions. But lightly held", at a work meeting.

Later that very evening, I was at a "Opinions and Truth" meditation class at IMSB, and the talk was about - ditto! I told my teacher this quote after the talk and she liked it so much that she wanted to include it in her teachings, and sat to write it down!

And, I guess, nature was conspiring for me to get that message. And it couldn't be clearer nor come at a more appropriate time! How much I needed it! I certainly want people around me to be that way, but, let me start with the easiest one. Me :)

It's all alright-o! :)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A life changed...

2011 has been long, with many tides of changes in me.

It began with a vacation. 10 days of being with the Hawaiian family that taught me that an important thing in life is to look and take notice. And that happiness is ours to take.

Mindfulness Meditation taught by Shaila Catherine. I meta think now. And I have surprised myself ever since.

Design thinking at the with TeachForAmerica. I learned what I am not. And know and accept better what I am.

A health plan, that includes me becoming stronger, warding off that family diabetes, and hiking when at 70 :)

Friends. One taught me that sometimes, people need to let go. And all things heal. One taught me that sometimes, I need to let go. And let things settle. The rest continue to show me how much beauty there is.

People. Some who taught me to trust and heed to my own emotions, explicable or not, more than I cared to. And then the many who made me realize that random kindnesses abound. One who told me that if I weren't starting each day by being thankful for the abundance I'm surrounded with, then I start each day with a lie. I wake up to the truth ever since.

And a partner, who has been found. Together, Bala and I, we're making a precious young eternity.

And that brings me to the quote, from a book that I've just begun to understand, for which 2011 has been proof enough:
Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity - Paulo Coelho

And the elder says, "I predict your 2012 is going to be super interesting with lots of new things and people :o)". Whatta seer! I'm all set for 2012 :)

(And today, Friday 13, has been one of the happiest days ever! The doc got through a top-notch med-school. Nothing deserves jumping in joy more than this!)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

And this last week...

Flew back on Sunday after a long trip... Home, sweet home. Or is it, room, sweet room, for the unsettled nomad who is me?

One of the dinner menu's at A & P's last week was rasam, vazhakkai fry and beetroot halwa (with cashews n raisins, but no ice-cream :/). After a breakfast of egg dosa and a lunch of capsicum rice that same day. How much I miss my Tucson company!

Met M after more than a year! How much has changed! And A now is the official know-er of all my friends who live in the US, thanks to all the hosting done! :)

De-cluttered my room! It's now more spacious. Being minimal isn't easy, even for a person like me who doesn't like to spend. I also really need to start sending away some of my will-never-read-again books at PaperbackSwap. And reallly need to finish reading all the half read ones.

Watched Idomeneo, supposedly Mozart's favourite opera. It was too long (3.5 hrs, with 2 intermissions) for a week night opera, but the music was so good! Infact, my fav part was watching the violinists. They looked like dancers, and the sounds were so pleasant! And, it was a free ticket from the employer. My favorite remains La bohème, though it made me cry. Which was a surprise BDay gift from S & Y, and in the second row, center seat! Nothing beats that :)

After stressing a ton last week, I realize now, how lucky I am... And a friend puts it this way - there are good problems, and there are bad ones. These are the good type of problems to have! :D

And as you already know, survived a slamming of my fingers in a car door excellently well!

Maybe, I should write more often again. It's been missed (by me! ;).