Response to ‘Between Bhagwat and Bhagwati’

Two learned Indians have penned a response to Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati’s article in MINT. If Bhagwati’s article was disappointing, the response is distressing. Their specific ‘complaints’ are seven. They are listed below. I provide responses to each of them.

(a) six or more churches have been attacked or vandalized

Response:

Anand Ranganathan of News Laundry had written on this on March 18th:

“Delhi Police admitted to a spurt in crime against religious places but mostly of the Hindus and Sikhs. Data since 2012 indicates 36 and 69 theft cases at temples were reported in 2012 and 2013. Similarly, only 19 theft cases were registered against gurdwaras in 2012 and 2013, which substantially rose to 30 cases in 2014.  Three mosques were targeted by burglars in 2012-13, increasing in 2014 to 14 thefts. The 325 temples were looted by thieves between 2013 and 2015 in Delhi.”

Source: http://www.newslaundry.com/2015/03/18/media-or-modi-sarkaar-whos-the-bigger-threat-to-christians/

Original source : http://www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/Stealing-Communal-Advantage-Leaves-Cops-Fuming/2015/02/15/article2668964.ece

(b) a nun has been raped,

Response:

Investigations have now revealed this to be a case of a larger plot from across the border, from Bangladesh. The authors fail to mention that and take cognisance of that.

Sources:

http://m.timesofindia.com/india/Ranaghat-nun-rape-case-CID-probes-conspiracy-angle/articleshow/46648991.cms

http://www.newsroompost.com/180416/accused-nun-gang-rape-bangladesh-nationals-cid/

(c) the Union government has declared Christmas day as Good Governance day and the ministry of human resource development has asked students to sit for an essay competition on the subject,

Response:

The Union Government announced that Dec. 25 would also be a Good Governance Day. It must be a matter of satisfaction to Christians that 25.12 has been picked for reminding Indians of something that is essential for India. The authors would have been justified in feeling offended had the Government announced that the day would also be celebrated as ‘Sisupala Day’ or ‘Narakasura Day’.

It is both wrong and mischievous to state that MHRD had chosen that date for an Essay competition to be held. One, it was an on-line essay competition. The deadline was by Dec. 25. Students could have submitted the essay earlier too. The last date of submission was timed to coincide with the observation of ‘Good Governance’ Day. It was extended by a day to Dec. 26. It was a voluntary on-line essay competition with submission possible on any day up to Dec. 25.

Source: http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-mhrd-extends-good-governance-day-essay-competition-till-december-26-2047017

(d) the Chief Justice of India has called a meeting of state chief justices on Good Friday, a gazetted holiday which on the calendar is no less significant a day than Diwali or Bakr Id,

Response:

Assuming that the above news is true, the question is why should this be lumped together with other items? The authors must be well aware that the Government cannot and does not interfere with the decisions of the Supreme Court – administrative or otherwise.

The only common element between this item and the rest is that all of them are unjustified and factually incorrect.

(e) Mother Teresa has been charged with being in the business of conversion by no less a person than the head of the RSS,

Response:

Mr. Bhagwat said that the late Mother Teresa was interested in proselytising and evangelism. It is a statement of fact. It can be rejected or accepted, based on argument. Many Hindu Gurus too have been criticised. None is above scrutiny for their work as mortals. ‘Spreading the faith’ – whatever it means and by whatever means – was a legitimate goal of the late Mother Teresa.

(f) the Sangh Parivar is on a concerted and systematic campaign of ‘ghar wapsi’ across the country from Kerala to West Bengal to Uttar Pradesh, etc., and

Response:

They cannot have it both ways. If conversion is legal and legitimate, so must re-conversion be. Why this hue and cry over ‘Ghar Waapsi’? If the hue and cry were justified, then the hue and cry over conversion activity, in the first place, is more than justified too.

(g) the government took a long time to condemn the attacks.

Response:

Since when the Government of India had responded to acts of vandalism, theft and arson. As mentioned earlier, did the Government of India condemn the theft and vandalism in Hindu temples and Gurdwaras?

In fact, successive Governments in India have done nothing to stop the theft of Hindu idols and sculptures; not made much effort to retrieve them while they are brazenly displayed in Museums in Western countries; successive governments in India have not done anything to make it safe for Kashmiri Pandits to return to their homeland. They have taken a very long time.

In these instances, the government was right to wait for police investigations to be over, for facts to be established before responding, if these events needed a response from the Government of India, at all.

The truth is that the PM spoke at a conference organised by the Church to celebrate the beatification of two Indians in February. He gave categorical assurances on the protection of minorities.

The authors fail to mention the efforts that the Government made, with remarkable alacrity, to rescue an Indian priest taken hostage in Afghanistan.

The authors fail again in acknowledging the rescue efforts of the Government of India in Yemen. Most of the Indians being rescued from Yemen are Christians.

Final comments (not necessarily only with respect to the article in question):

If supposedly educated and learned Indians can deliberately distort truth, omit facts, conflate issues and fail to acknowledge contrarian evidence, what does it tell us about their scholarship or intent or both?

What is the agenda here – intended or unintended? Why is paranoia being whipped up? Is it to paint India as an unsafe place to do business in and business with?

Is it to stop India’s economic recovery and revival and to ensure that the Modi-government is eventually judged politically and socially dangerous and economically incompetent?

What is the government’s response?

Shloka No. 7

Good friend Krishnan had sent me the link to a lecture by Swami Sarvapriyananda at IIT Kanpur on Shloka No. 7 of the Mandukya Upanishad. That shloka leads the student to an answer for the most important but difficult question of defining the Self. In his ‘Wisdom of the Upanishads’, Shri. M. characterises ‘Turiya’ as the fourth state. But, Swami Sarvapriyananda, in his lecture, says that ‘Turiya’ means fourth. It does not mean that it is the fourth state after ‘Jaagrata’, Swapna’ and ‘Sushupti’. It is the consciousness that acts in and through the other three states. He keeps the example of bangles, ring and necklace and gold in view, as he goes about explaining ‘Turiya’.

I have not seen or heard a more lucid explanation of ‘Turiya’ than this lecture. It is about an hour long. Time well worth spent. I am yet to listen to part 2 of his lecture.

The implications of understanding this in our daily life are enormous. After we listen to the lecture, it is clear as to why separating the form and substance is so difficult for us and why we lose ourselves in form, symbols, labels and identities. It is because reality is so much intertwined with these that it is virtually hard to separate the reality (truth) from these and since reality (truth) expresses itself through these forms, we mistake the form for real. So, realising and retaining the idea that much, most and all of our lives is ‘maya’ (illusion) is not easy at all. That is why very few get it.

But, in the waking state, the dream state is not real and in the dream state, the waking state is not real. Both are not enduring realities. The more we keep reminding ourselves of this, slowly, slowly and steadily, we may be able to achieve a certain sense of detachment, objectivity and shed various false identifications one by one. It may take many, many births too, for it to happen. But, a beginning has to be made somewhere.

This lecture is a good place to start.

As I found out that he teaches at the RK Mission’s Vivekananda University, I checked out the website of the University. Some of their lecture materials taught in Vedanta classes are available for free download.

 

India’s daughter – second post

Late on Sunday night (08.03), I circulated the following link to my mailing list with a strong recommendation to read. It has elicited some reactions with the number of those who disagreed with that post exceeding the number who agreed, by one. The total number of responses received is 5.

This is my response to the naysayers. It is possible for me to hold the following thoughts/views simultaneously in my head:

(a) Having allowed the documentary to be made, the ban is a big a self-goal. Should not have been banned.
(b) India has a law and order problem and a male attitude problem towards women. Probably most other societies do. But, that is besides the point.
(c) The Supreme Court is grossly derelict in its duties for having sat on the appeal of the convicts against their death sentence, for more than a year, especially considering that it has heard several relatively less important petitions at very short notice. Simply put, India has a big problem here.
(d) That there is mischievous western propaganda and there is hypocrisy in their attitude towards India and India’s weaknesses over theirs and inconsistency in the treatment of Indian issues compared to that of other societies.
(e) With (d) having been said, India and Indians should not come across as too touchy and sensitive to western gaze at India but find a way to respond intelligently and craftily. India and Indians are a long way off from finding that magic formula of ‘responding without appearing to respond directly.’
My sense is that R. Jagannathan shares some or all of the five above. Hence, my appreciation for his article.

India’s daughter

The moment a filmmaker – with a cultural superiority and racist attitude – decided to make a movie on this, India already had a problem, regardless of whether the UPA Government gave or denied permission.

If the UPA government denied permission to her to interview the rapist, she could have made that into an ‘Embarrass India’ event. Of course, that India could and should ride out in future, simply based on reciprocity. Indian filmmakers do not even think of making films on systemic racial bias in American police or bigotry in the society or on British society’s ills. Of course, Indians in the film industry would not even dream of them. That is a different tragedy.

So, the first-best options are that India has far too few rapes to be talked about, that foreigners look at India with objectively or finally, Indian governments know how to deal with foreigners and their agendas politely, promptly and professionally but firmly.

Now that the permission was given and the movie was made, India was left only with second and third best options.

One is to ban and give the movie and the producer more publicity and more brownie points. That is the third best option

The other option is to let the movie be aired and just ignore it totally – from the government point of view, that is. This is the second best option and I prefer this.

In order to get the first best situation, what the government can do and should be doing are these:

Continue with actions to improve law and order, street lighting, education of young males and their parents (as the PM did in his Independence Day speech) and employment opportunities for men. This is a multi-pronged approach to the issue.

Discussions on Indian male patriarchy, misogyny and prejudices are neither here nor there. If one walked down that path, one gets needlessly defensive. There is no way to generalise these things.

All of us have our prejudices. A civilised society keeps them private. In all interaction with others – small or big groups – if all our thoughts are visible or audible to others, societies will grind to a halt or tear apart.

Hence, there is really no need to get defensive about prejudices nor is it correct for others to feel smug about their lack of prejudices. That simply is not true and in any case, unproven or unprovable.

By banning the documentary from being aired in India, the government chose the third best option. That is unfortunate.

The government, in the meantime, has to work on the first best options:

(1) Reduce incidences of rape (see some non-mutually exclusive approaches outlined above)

(2) Learning to deal with the West. Well, this one is a long story and has a long history.

Here is the link to a good and reasonable piece on the documentary by Smita Barooah.

The last journey in (soiled) India

Today is December 24. A week before, my father, who was 85 years, six months and a week old, passed away peacefully. He was at his residence, in his bed, when the end came. A moment before and a moment later, it is too late. It is inevitable, more so in ripe old age, after one has lived a full life. Yet, sadness envelopes. Human loss aversion is intrinsic. Human being without the soul is referred to as a mere body. The soul lives on, after death. We do not see it and hence we develop no attachment to it. It is what breathes life into the body. But, the physical form matters to us more and we identify with it more. Hence, the sadness when the physical body becomes lifeless. One more vindication as to the importance of the physical form in spiritual pursuits. Without the physical form to behold, spiritual pursuits are difficult for most.

Thanks to sane and sensible advice, we were able to give our father an end that was marked by as much dignity and peace as it could be possible under the circumstances. No one wishes their old relatives to be subjected to the indignities of modern medicine and treatment. It is such a poor reflection on both the modern, western medicine and its practitioners. Thankfully, there are quite a few practitioners with conscience and it is their sane and wiser counsel that guided me, as that of friends who had been there and done that.

It is hard for me to describe how I went through the rites that prepare the body for the last journey (Veedu varai uravu; veedhi varai manaivi; kaadu varai pillai; kadasi varai yaaro). God gives the strength. The cremation ground in Madurai – and it is must be true or truer for most cities – is a sight to behold for its gloomy, depressingly unclean, unkempt and unhygienic condition. It is not fenced. It is strewn with litter and garbage. Stray dog and stray sheep roam the cremation pits, looking for the leftover food that are fed to the dead relatives. It is in such surroundings that one bids good bye to the soul, wishing it a peaceful afterlife. My relative who accompanied me the next day when we went back to collect the ashes felt traumatised by the conditions and wondered why any sane person would come back the next day, instead of cremating the body electrically and collecting the ashes the same day. Simply put, these things could and should be done differently.

Modern science and past-life regression studies now validate most of the thought processes and assumptions behind rituals associated with the soul’s last journey before it reaches the other world. The soul needs to be nourished and supported on its journey. The rituals are as moving as they are meaningful. It is a different story as to how far people of our generation can expect our children to perform these rites for our last journeys. This does not mean that they are any less affectionate. Simply, the longer and more steadily we move away and move our children away from their roots, the more difficult it is – in simple practical terms – to bring them back to the roots. Unless, of course, their vasanas bring them back on their own. That is something that we know not much about and over which we have very little control. More importantly, physical facilities, arrangements and conditions such as the one described above are not going to motivate them one bit, to do so.

The breathtakingly wonderful contribution that this civilisation, religion and philosophy had made to the cause of human evolution and elevation is completely nullified and offset by the collective indifference and even hostility to the material conditions that are needed to foster spiritual practices, advancement and evolution. May be, let me pause a bit here. Or, is it that these conditions drive one to the point of vexation with material living in this country and drive them either towards spirituality or to a well-practised insensitivity and indifference or send them overseas?

System reset

On Monday evening (Dec. 8), I arrived in Madurai on an unscheduled visit after a frenetic weekend.  In the second half of last week, my father (who is 85 years and six months old) had suffered two (minor) falls and had become disoriented. His routine and that of my mother had been thrown off-gear as a result. There were no major injuries, fractures, or blow to the head. Yet, some damage has taken place. Mostly due to the age factor.

My aunt’s mother – who lived to a ripe old age – used to remark that old age was a curse. For many, it is mostly true. It is hard on them and it is hard on others. The society – especially the so-called modern society – has not evolved a proper template to deal with old age – especially ageing and passing away (or, letting them pass away) gracefully and with dignity.  The lack of template is not merely an issue of health or medical care.

For the most part, modern allopathic health care in India, especially for the aged, is insensitive and is a financial drain on caregivers. Hence, there is a need to balance the ‘need to be seen as doing something’ vs. what is optimal for the care-receiver. One has to discount the potential future scenarios too, to the present. It is not easy. That is why it makes sense to have some templates, develop some principles and concepts to deal with these issues when there is no need for them.

When things begin to go wrong, even the so-called educated, the spiritually inclined and the aware people in care-giving positions are at their wits’ end. Consequently, there is a risk that they overdraw on the ‘spiritual’ or ‘good karma’ balance in their accounts. Further, no matter how inevitable death is and especially so in ripe old age, a pall of gloom descends. The mood is a bit morbid. Emotional batteries drain little faster. One needs to be aware of it and find ways to keep charging them too.

Dan Ariely’s popular TED talk reminds us that in situation involving complex decision-making, we are unprepared. Stress, anxiety, frustration and anger are our natural responses to the complexity of the decisions involved. Obviously, they are unhelpful.

My good friend Bharath Krishna Shankar came up with an excellent social intervention initiative for teaching Life skills to high and higher secondary school students. Perhaps, he should do another programme for those who are in their forties to sixties now, as to how to grow into caregivers and care-receivers, as they age. It could be called ‘Ageing Skills’.  He called his Life Skills programme, ‘Thalir Thiran Thittam’ in Tamil and he could consider naming this, ‘Narai Thiran Thittam’. At the minimum, ‘Narai Thiran Thittam’ syllabus should deal with managing (to put it bluntly, lowering) one’s expectations from the world around us as we age.

Alternatively, there is ample merit in the proposition that, when we are lucid, we could write down a ‘manual’ or checklist for our children as to how to deal with us when we become incapable of deciding or articulating our thoughts, emotions and logic.

Most relatives want the sick, old person to be restored. But, the question is ‘Restore to what state?’ In Microsoft Windows, if a newly installed software or device malfunctions, there is an option to restore the system to the state that prevailed before the installation was attempted. The hope is that the system would be stable. With humans, it is not possible. But, emotionally, people want to try to do a ‘System Restore’. With humans, the new equilibrium will most likely be unstable and the next system crash could be more damaging to them and to the caregivers.

By no means does the previous paragraph suggest ‘abandonment’ of the old (the sick and the infirm) to their fates. Apparently, a friend of my friend had told him (my friend) that he would give his children the right to administer the ‘Pillow’ treatment to him, in seemingly irretrievable or impossible situations. I am not suggesting anything as specific as that or any other specific measure.

It is about having a clear idea of what one wishes to accomplish, of its execution, of the methods, of the resources, of the costs (material and other costs) and, more importantly, of the counterfactual. These are not easy things to do even in situations where no emotions are involved. They are doubly harder in emotional situations, especially in the Indian cultural context.

At a societal level, India with its huge numbers, is about to face an old-age epidemic. In a few Southern States, demographic trends are already comparable to those in greying Western European countries. There is both a business opportunity and a social need in providing for comfortable old age – whether healthy or not – with sensitivity and attention to detail. As it is, we are woefully ill-equipped.

A vital silver-lining in the cloud is the presence of a capable, confident and considerate nurse made available by Lifeline Nursing from Trisoor which is a not-for-profit institution. The service does not come cheap. But, it is worth it. Such a facility is needed for the benefit of the health of the remaining caregivers in the family as much as it is needed for the person being cared for. You can look them up here.

Tail-piece: About nine months ago, I wrote a blog post about Shanti Sadhan. This is the residential enclave in Madurai where my parents live. Perhaps, it is time to rename ‘Shanti Sadhan’ ‘Sulphur Sadhan’. The vehicle population has exploded. It will be interesting to take a reading of vehicular pollution inside the enclave. School buses picking up students could do so from outside the compound. But, Indian roads have no bus-bays. These buses are liberal polluters in the morning hours. In one way it is good that internet (with good connection speed) is not available. Children come out and play. But, the vehicular pollution is bad for their lungs. Behavioural science has recorded that humans are myopic. Are Indians more so?

Spirituality and the jigsaw puzzle

What prompted me to wake up with the thought of looking for ‘Julian Baggini’ (I had forgotten his name)’s quote on optimism on Saturday morning on November 1, I cannot explain. But, it is true that I did. After some efforts, I located the quote I wanted to re-read:

What positive psychology gets right is that when we confront reality, we always have some control over how we then respond to it, and that a lot of misery is avoidable if we try to make the best rather than the worst of things. In practice, however, this sensible advice often degenerates into an excessive optimism, in which reality is whatever we think it to be. But you can’t make the best of a bad situation if you pretend it’s really just a good one in disguise.

This was part of his long review of four books that dealt with ‘Happiness’ written more than four years ago (15 January 2010).

That somehow led me to the review of a new book by a well-known atheist, Sam Harris, ‘Waking up: a guide to spirituality without religion’. I suppressed a smile on reading the title and read the review. The reviewer concludes his review with the observation that the book presents a fragment of the emerging picture of ‘post-Christian spirituality’. Excuse me?! Post-Christian spirituality?! It is pre-Christian and pre-Christ spirituality. Merely because some of these atheists are waking up to the limitations of their logical self and trying to transcend it (I do not know what they mean by ‘transcendence of the self’ nor am I sure if they know what they mean), does not mean that these ideas are post-Christ or post-Christian. That, in itself, is a suggestion that one is a long way from spirituality. The universe is not just made up of our limited conceptions and experiences.

There is another paragraph that should elicit a smile from some of the readers:

With his very particular definition of spirituality as “cutting through the illusion of the self”, it is unsurprising that Harris considers eastern religious traditions to be greatly superior to the monotheistic faiths of the west. Indeed, he argues that the difference “resembles that found between Eastern and Western medicine”, only “with the arrow of embarrassment pointing in the opposite direction.” Although he recognises the “global comedy” of westerners going east to pursue enlightenment while easterners are coming west in pursuit of jobs and education, he ultimately suggests that we join it. [Link]

It appears that Mr. Sam Harris even gets the direction of the ‘arrow of embarrassment’ wrong with respect to medicine just as he seems to have made a belated discovery of the spirituality of Eastern religious traditions.

Once you transcend self, once you ‘cut through the illusion of self”, where does one reach and where does one land?

The reviewer is correct to point out that “religious rituals might help us in myriad ways to find meaning and solace on life’s journey”. The secret to the value and utility of rituals in illuminating the path to spirituality and transcendence of self is balance. Otherwise, one can remain entranced in rituals. Of course, that could/might help the person  scale spiritual heights in subsequent births.

One does not know what Mr. Harris has written about reincarnations and karma in the book. Well, it does not really matter.

Transcendence of the self can mean that one finds meaning in serving others and living for others. But, in terms of spiritual evolution, it has to be transcendence of the ego. As written in an earlier blog post, that is not possible without a belief in a superior power. In page 87 of his lovely introduction to the Upanishads, ‘the Wisdom of the Rishis’, Shri. M writes:

In the beginning of sadhana, the attraction to the form is often necessary in order to be guided into the formless. This is a question of practical sadhana because one cannot jump to or fix one’s mind on the abstract reality , something in thin air, although ultimately is the formless that we seek. On the other hand, if on learns to gather one’s energies into one centre or one form, or one ideal, then at some point, one may reach a stage when one may drop the form. So a form, especially an attractive form, is necessary for one to be able to fix one’s mind on one point, and then, when one comes to a certain state, one may choose to discard it. It is like making an image out of clay. Clay has no shape as such. You put the clay into a mould and press it until the image sets, and then you break the mould for the image to emerge. (Page 87).

The very fact that I woke up with the thought that I should look for Julian Baggini – and I had no clue as to how the thought entered my head – is one immediate proof that we are not in control of our thoughts and decisions. Daniel Kahneman has written a tome, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ demonstrating how little, if at all, control we have over our thoughts, actions, decisions and conclusions.

If that is too much to wade through, go through this lovely TED talk by Prof. Dan Ariely on how much (or, how little) we are in control of our decisions.

The moment atheists contemplate the existence of a higher power, they are at a loss to explain all the injustices and unfairness in this earth as though God is obliged only to dole out freebies to all of us. Therefore, they find that it is logical to posit that there is no God.

There are two counterarguments to that in ‘The Wisdom of the Rishis’ by Shri. M. I am in the middle of it and I find the book a great starting point for further explorations into the higher wisdom of the Upanishads:

When one prays, does one get blessings? Sometimes one does and sometimes one does not. It depends not only on how much one prays or what energy one puts into it; it also depends on the circumstances. Often we pray for things that we want, but they may not be the things we need for our evolution. There is a difference between what you want and what you need to evolve spiritually. Since the Supreme Being is concerned with your need to evolve rather than satisfy your want at that moment, sometimes prayers are not answered. (Page 98)

Then, there is another paragraph in page 105:

Let us say that there is a giant jigsaw puzzle; and the person who makes the jigsaw puzzle, the one who draws the picture and paints it and then cuts it up into little pieces – he knows what the ultimate figure looks like. Suppose the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are taken apart and the different pieces lie here and there. I pick up one piece in isolation. I see that it does not even have a regular geometrical shape, and say, “This is meaningless. What is this?”. If I can put all the pieces together, then I see that there is some meaning to it. And the one who has made the jigsaw puzzle knows what it is.

Most of us – theists and atheists – are holding one piece – and trying to explain the puzzle of the creator. The problem is not only that we do not know but that we do not know that we do not know.