Category Archives: Reflections

Does Rain Have A Brain?

It is rainy season. It rains, sometimes continuously for days and sometimes intermittently through the day. The news channels are busy reporting the havoc caused by incessant rains in different parts of the country where normal life is seriously disrupted.

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Is the rain doing it on purpose? Does it have a brain so to say? Does it decide where to rain and how much to rain? Does it see from high above the clouds, as it surveys the landscape, and then does it decide on its target audience or target city and then with great precision, commences its attack on unsuspecting people, vehicles, animals, roads and buildings and only stops when it is satisfied that the planned damage has been accomplished?

It seems childish to credit rain with this kind of intentional activity but every now and then we do speak or hear others speak of the rain in this manner. For example, it happens to many of us that we start from home to go to our place of work and we note that it is not raining when we start. But as soon as we are on the road, it rains heavily as if the rain wants to get at us, especially me. And this thought is reinforced by the observation that the rain stops as soon as you reach your destination. Even if you are the most rational person, you might want to credit the rain with a devious brain when you see it doing this the third time in a row.

So does the rain really have a brain that is somehow tracking you and all other millions of people across the country, calculating all the permutations and combinations about how much to rain and on whom to rain; which roads to convert to potholes and which cars to drown? Obviously not. We all know that the rain is a function of the elements of the ecosystem. The hotter the summer, the stronger the rains – because the sun would have evaporated a lot of water from the water bodies and now all of that cannot remain in the clouds so it comes down. Where the rain hits is a function of the wind systems around the world and the tree cover on the land. So without going into the mathematics of the climate and weather systems, it would suffice to say that these are pure elements at work and rain does not care whether it is raining on bare land or on people or on cities or on forests.

Rains simply happen because that’s the way it is. It could not be any other way on that day at that time. If you are frustrated or angry because you got wet, it is not the rain’s fault. And in the same vein, it is not your fault either. Your brain reacts to the rain depending on your mind’s ecosystem – where the wind of your thoughts is blowing when it rains, how much the summer of being lost in activities of daily life evaporated your energy, and how much forest cover you have of your own self-awareness.

When it rains, you see adults taking cover while children coming out to play and dance. Simply a difference in the ecosystems of your mind.

Rains are an invitation to experience the senses – the smell of the earth, the feel of the water on your body, the sight of the clouds, intermittent sun and the occasional rainbow, the musical sound of the raindrops falling on the ground or even on the tin shed nearby and the taste of the hot tea or hot pakodas during the rains – everything about the rainy season is deeply sensual.

The rainy season stimulates the senses like no other season, if you care to pay attention and not get caught in news reports and thoughts about how the rain is scheming to upset your plans.

Rains are nature’s way of asking you to stop and observe the beauty of creation, the impermanence of everything around us that is continuously ending something and creating something new from that – the greenery with all the flowers that come up after rains, the crops that grow from rains and supply us with food and the rivers that nourish the land until the next rainy season – the power of nature.

So while I have argued from the point that rains do not have brains, I still am crediting nature with an intention in the above paragraph. That’s the way the mind works. Can’t help it!

 

 

 

Who Is Responsible For This?

There is an ancient story about a king who once ordered his minister in the middle of the night to fill up the royal swimming pool with milk so that he could swim in it in the morning. The minister was in a quandary on how to fulfill the king’s desire. It would take a long time to milk the cows to get such a large quantity. One of his courtiers suggested that if each person in the city could bring one cup of milk, then it is possible to fill the swimming pool. The minister liked the idea and immediately sent out messengers to all parts of the city with the order that everyone has to bring a cup of milk right away and pour it into the royal swimming pool. 

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Now there was this one person who heard the king’s order and thought to himself, “Everyone is going to bring milk. What if I take a cup of water? One cup of water will not make any difference in the large tank full of milk. And in the night, no one will notice what I am pouring in the tank”. So that’s what he did. He joined the queue of people who had come with their cups of milk and when his turn came, quickly emptied his cup of water into the tank. The next morning, as the sun rose, the minister was terribly shocked to see that there was only water in the swimming pool and no milk.


There are many things that can be learned from this story.

It is apparent that everyone put in a cup of water in to the pool instead of a cup of milk. The reason why everyone did it is not clear because only one person’s thought is expressed. And it is not sure that everyone thought the same. It is possible that some did not have a cup of milk at home and therefore had to bring water because it was compulsory.

However, the crux of the story revolves around the thought that “No one will notice my lack of contribution because everyone is going to contribute”. And it is true that when all contribute to a task, then one person’s lack of contribution usually goes unnoticed. Take for example, in the game of Tug of War, if one person does not pull to his maximum strength or simply pretends to pull, then whether the team wins or loses, this act will go unnoticed. No one will be able to figure out who did not put his full effort into it.

Similarly in a team project, one person can become a “free rider” – someone who rides on the success brought about by others. A free rider is a person who enjoys a benefit accruing from a collective effort, but contributes little or nothing to the effort. It is sometimes difficult to identify such free riders in a large team because they pretend to contribute yet do nothing in reality.

The real problem happens when many people start becoming free riders because then it starts to affect the results, as in the case of the people who brought water instead of the milk. In the story, even if one or ten people had genuinely brought milk, that would go unnoticed in the whole pool of water. And it would seem that no one brought any milk.

Think from the perspective of the minister. When he sees the pool full of water, he would blow his top and would want to punish all those culprits who put water but that would mean punishing the whole city, which is practically impossible. Let’s assume he was a really evil minister. He would order the flogging of every individual in the city. This would mean even those who brought milk would face the punishment because they would have no way to prove their honesty.

With all this explanation, it is easy to draw parallels between the story and what we see in life around us. Just think of milk as taxes and you will be able to understand a lot. Think of people who evade taxes. Think of people who violate traffic rules. Think of why initiatives like Swacch Bharat do not become successful. If everyone contributed to making Bharat swacch, there would be no Swacch Bharat cess. Many other social evils like corruption can be understood from this angle.

Jesus spoke of being a good Samaritan 2000 years ago and yet we easily convince ourselves to let others be the good Samaritans while we go about our jobs. The story of somebody, anybody, everybody and nobody is important in this context.

Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody

Now there are two more important learnings in this story which are not so obvious. The first is that the whole activity happens anonymously. If the minister had checked each person’s cup before it was poured into the pool, he would have realized what is happening. There is a Hindi proverb – Doodh ka dooth aur pani ka pani ho jata – which is apt for this story.

Wherever there is anonymity, there is a scope for free riders.

Therefore, it is important to bring transparency in transactions. Not only in transactions but also in our own mind and thoughts. Awareness of one’s own thoughts can prevent us from doing wrong and acting in an inappropriate manner. Only when we believe no one is observing us, then we can think of doing wrong or not doing what is asked for.

The other important learning is from the perspective of the king. If the king makes unreasonable requests in the middle of the night, then he has no right to expect the results he wants. Supposing the request was genuine. For example, if the milk was needed for feeding poor children and there was visibility of that activity, many people in the city would have genuinely brought milk for them. However, I guess from this story that the king routinely announced such unreasonable orders to serve his personal luxury and therefore the people, having known this from past experience, acted in the fashion they did, thinking the king did not deserve their honesty. So as a leader, one must learn to make reasonable demands on one’s team in order to expect their full cooperation.

The most sticky situation is that of the minister (manager?). On the one hand, the king is going to be angry on him for not getting the job done and on the other hand, he cannot do anything to correct the situation.

So the question is – who is truly responsible?

 

Seeking For The Truth

Where Can I Find Truth

Lot of people seek for the truth.

But truth is not something that can be seen as some image.

It is not something that can be heard as some sound.

It is not something that can be smelled or tasted.

It is not something that can be touched.

So in what way do people expect to find the truth?

Is it an idea?

Is it some thought that is considered as the truth?

Is it an experience?

Note that in order to be sure that one has found the truth, one must be in a position to recognize it.

How can one recognize the truth if one has never had an experience of it before, when one does not know what it is?

Some say that truth is to be found within

True we can search for it within but what does one expect to find.

When the search begins one does not know what one is searching for & there are many falsities masquerading as the truth. So how does one differentiate ?

What if truth is right there in front of us but we miss it & go on seeking somewhere else ?

These are some questions that every sincere seeker of truth must investigate.  He or she must not accept or discard anything without proper investigation.

 

Death on a Mountain – A Parable

As I was taking a stroll down a winding mountain path in the late hours of a pleasant evening in the hope of catching a glimpse of a beautiful sunset, I saw a figure in the distance standing perilously close to the edge of what seemed like a cliff. He was standing with arms outstretched overlooking the valley. A thought flashed across my mind that this person was about to jump. I ran towards him as quickly as I could.

I shouted. “Hey. Stop”

“Hey. You there. Wait.”

He heard my voice and turned around. I reached there almost panting. I noticed his face was calm with just a hint of a smile. I almost bumped into him as there was a slope near the edge of the cliff and if he would not have held me, I would have gone down the edge myself.

Catching my breath, I said, “What.. What were you going to do? I thought you were going to jump.”

He said, “Yes, I was going to when I heard you.” He answered as a matter of fact as if it was the most natural thing to do at the edge of a cliff.

I blurted, “WHAT!. You were going to jump.. You mean you were going to… commit suicide. No. No. You can’t. You cannot do that!”

“Why not?”, he asked in the same calm tone. Something about his calmness had an effect on me and I gained my composure.

“Uh. I mean, you cannot just jump like that and kill yourself. It’s illegal to commit suicide.”

“You mean to say I will be punished if I commit suicide and die?” he looked at me with amusement.

I suddenly realized the stupidity of my question. I tried to gather my wits. He did not seem to be in a hurry to do anything and in a way was even enjoying the moment. What kind of man was he who was going to commit suicide and did not even show any sign of being troubled.

“Why? Why do you want to kill yourself? Any financial troubles?”

“No.”

“Any trouble in your relationships”

“No.”

I did not know what to ask next. Most people who commit suicide do so under great emotional duress caused by financial or emotional problems and here was a man who claimed to have no such problems and yet wanted to die. I was confused and curious at the same time.

The sky was beginning to get dark and the moon was a shining crescent. But I wanted to get to the bottom of this. I knew if I left him now, he would certainly jump. So I decided to engage him in a conversation.

“So why do you want to end your life? Are you not happy?”

“Are you happy?”

The question took me by surprise. I did not expect that.

“No I meant aren’t you happy in life? Why are you committing suicide?”

“I can never be happy. That is why I am killing it.”

“Yes, that’s why I am asking. What is the reason for you being unhappy? Look. It is a beautiful life. One must live and not end one’s life just like that.”

With a deep sigh, he looked at me and then looked at the horizon which was now turning pink and orange just after the sunset. He sat down stretching his legs in front of him. I also sat down beside him.

He said looking at the clouds in the distant sky, “Sooner or later, everyone has to die”

I said, “Yes, that’s right. We will all die but let life take its natural course. Who are you to kill yourself?” I felt some inconsistency in my question the moment I asked it. Does one need anybody’s permission to die? Does my life belong to somebody else that I need to take approval for ending it?

Agreed that my parents gave birth to me and raised me and now the organization pays my salary. Still, I am an independent individual and I don’t think anyone else can have a say about my life, definitely not the government.

God maybe. After all, God or nature or whatever is that force that created me is the only one that can or has the right to take life away from me. I cannot complain to anyone when I die of old age.

Come to think of it, I have no clue when I will die and under what circumstances – old age, accident, cancer, who knows. But surely, I will not end my own life. I have many things to do in life. I want to travel and visit different countries, experience the pleasures of life and fulfill my responsibilities towards my family and society. I also have to complete that project on which I am working.

“Do you know the story of the businessman and the fisherman?” his words broke my thought process.

I remembered the story quite well. A businessman advises a fisherman, who was happily relaxing under a tree to work harder and harder until one day he could earn enough money to happily relax under a tree. The fisherman asked him – what do you think I am doing now?

I said, “Yes, I know that story. What about it?”

“You see, Alexander conquered the whole world and still died. Julius Caesar was king of the world and still died. Genghis Khan dominated the whole world and still died. Everyone who ever wanted to rule the world ended up dying. In the course of their conquests, they became the cause of the death of millions of people. What is the meaning of their life?”

I almost began to explain how their life is a great example and what a great achievement it is to conquer the world but I stopped. The way he framed that question against the outcome of their conquests made me hesitate and reflect.

History is usually presented to us as a one sided story. No doubt, Alexander conquered the world but it is also a fact that he killed millions of people in his way. To prove what? Were these people posing any problem to his kingdom? Definitely not. I instantly lost all regard for all the people engaged in war and battles through the ages. There was a contradiction created in my mind. I was arguing that it is not right to end one’s own life and here I was unconsciously appreciating all those who killed others. If I cannot end my own life, what right do I have to end someone else’s life?

He saw the puzzled look on my face and smiled. He got up and started to walk away from the cliff back towards the mountain path. I quickly got up and started following him. I was relieved that he might have changed his mind about jumping off the cliff. Some stars were visible in the sky now although it was not completely dark.

“Every person is born in a certain environment, a certain atmosphere imbued with certain potentials.” I heard him saying. Although he was a few feet ahead of me, I could hear him clearly.

He continued, “Alexander was born in an environment where he had swords and spears as his training tools and playing toys. Young men in his time aspired to be in the army as that was honorable and prestigious. Further, even if he had the idea in his imagination, he could not have come up with a usable rifle or a battle tank. He was limited to horses. Follow me?”

“Yes, I do.” I said. I could see some sense in what he was saying. My thoughts started associating. Alexander Graham Bell could not have invented the iPhone. The technology simply was not there in his time. All he could do in his time and age was to invent the telephone. The industrial revolution of the early 19th century would have inspired many desirous young men at the time to get into the rapidly growing manufacturing industry to seek out a fortune.

In our times, we see young men aspire for a life in computing or information technology. We have now a well-established school curriculum to inject students with all the knowledge needed to be able to make a career for themselves. Most end up doing jobs and some enterprising ones become successful in creating new companies and new products.

“In the end everyone is going to die.”

Did I say that or did he say that? I was not sure. Was he reading my thoughts?

I asked, “What did you say?”. He did not reply, just kept walking.

I tried to connect the ideas. We are born, we are influenced by our environment, we pursue those ideals which the atmosphere around us projects and ultimately we die. Like there is no fun in watching a suspense movie when right from the beginning you know who the culprit is, there is no fun in living a life when you know the end result.

If I am anyway going to die someday, why not today? Why not end this? What is the point of accomplishing a hundred things and then dying? Like the fisherman said to the businessman – what do you think I am doing now, I asked myself, what is the point of living if I am going to die?

Suddenly he turned around and coming closer said, “Exactly. That’s the question.”

We had reached another higher spot on the mountain. The wind was blowing fast and I had started to feel cold. I wish I had brought my windcheater. Obviously I had not planned on meeting this person and staying out so late. As I saw him moving closer to the edge of the precipice I felt another chill. Had he changed his mind again? He probably wanted to jump off from a higher spot after all. Maybe he was aspiring for a higher death. Shut up, I said to myself.

I decided to divert his attention by asking, “Hey tell me one thing. I do see the point that since I am going to die anyway, I see the futility of all the struggles and achievements in life even if all my craziest desires are fulfilled. But at the same time, something in me is definitely not convinced that the only option is to end my life right now. So if suicide is not an option and living is also not an option, what option do I have?”

“Did you have any choice in your birth – to what parents to be born to, in what year and age to be born in, in which country to be born in?”, he asked.

“No.”

“Do you have a choice in your death – with what illness to die, at what age to die, in which country to die, in which accident or disaster to die?”

“No.”

“Then what makes you certain you have a choice in anything that happens between the two points of birth and death?”

I frowned. I did not understand what he said but I knew he had said something of deep significance. I reflected on it. I am born in this year and age, to my parents in the social and economic environment of my times. All my aspirations and desires are molded by the atmosphere in which I live.

If today for instance, I decide to take a sword and spear and announce my mission of conquering the world, I would be caught and put in an asylum. I do not desire a telephone but an iPhone because that is what is available.

I may desire to travel to space one day because that is on the horizon of being a reality but I cannot desire something that I have no idea about. I have a desire to earn money but now the atmosphere is in the process of creating the desire to earn cryptocurrencies.

I started to feel a strange sensation. I realized that I am aware of the atmosphere and the environment more clearly than I am aware of who I am as a separate entity from the rest of everything. I knew a lot about the universe, the earth, countries, languages, economics, politics, history, science, mathematics, people in my life, my experiences and memories. But who am I? This I do not know.

“You want to know?” He again seemed to have mysteriously read my mind.

I did not have to answer. He knew I wanted to.

“Come up here.” He asked me to come close to the edge where he was standing. It was already night and the lights from the city down below was the only way to know how far up we were on the mountain. It was scary.

He stepped back and asked me stand on the edge. I hesitated. He asked me to close my eyes to keep the fear away. The cold wind was blowing hard on my face.

All of a sudden he pushed me from behind. Was it that he pushed me or was it that he entered my body. I could not make out. I was not falling. I opened my eyes instinctively.

The sky was full of stars like never before I had seen. Every inch of the sky was filled with stars. I could feel as if in slow motion I on this earth was moving in this celestial vast emptiness of space. I did not feel my body or hands or legs. Just plain awareness of being. Infinite. Timeless.

That moment I realized, there was no birth, no death, neither me, nor another.

“Stop reading those spooky stories”, my wife shouted from the bedroom. “Switch off the lights and sleep. Have to wake up the kids for school at six”. I quickly closed the book and jumped into the blanket with her.

May the Real Birthday Stand Up

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Another birthday. Another year gone by. Another revolution around the sun completed today. Come to think of it, we never imagine ourselves having completed a trip round the sun whenever we celebrate our birthdays – but that’s the truth of the matter. A year has gone by and a year is defined by the time the earth takes to go around the sun. So we are on this gigantic spaceship called earth hurtling into space at incredible speed and once every revolution, we celebrate the event. But what is so exciting about completing one circle around the sun? Of course people wish you – many many happy circles to go (returns of the day) – have a great rotation (day)

A birthday is a very slippery concept if you go a little beneath the skin. We are all made to believe that we were born on the day we emerged from the mother’s womb. But if birth is the same as coming alive then were we not alive the day before we came out of the womb or even a month before that? We were quite alive even then. So when were you really truly born / become alive? There are many possible answers.

  • You are born when you come out of the womb. This is the most widely accepted day as birthday. But here also there are slight complications. What if you are an American baby born in India. If you are born on 16th in India, it is 15th in America. So is your birthday 16th or 15th?
  • You are born when you became a fetus from an embryo – typically around the 9th week after the start of pregnancy. A fetus is recognizable as a human being while an embryo is not. This is the point of debate between those who think abortion is a choice versus those who think abortion is tantamount to murder.
  • You are born when you were conceived. i.e when sperm met egg. Why not? After all, both sperm and egg are living cells with the unique DNA that will determine what color your eyes will be. So if a cell is a living thing, why wait till it becomes a fetus to declare it a person?
  • You are born when your mom and dad thought of making a baby. Every action is born of a preceding thought. So it would not be totally wrong to say that you were not born as a thought first. If they had not thought about it, you would not be born.
  • You are born when your ego is born. Till then you are only a vegetable. Psychologists say that a child develops his ego / personality by the age of 5 which more or less remains the same through the rest of his / her life.
  • You are born when you are told you were born. Till that time you did not even know there was a thing like birthday. People tell you – you were born on 16th and therefore you accept that. So this is the semantic origin of birthday.
  • You are born when you become conscious of yourself. Now this is a tricky proposition. It is very difficult to determine that. Most people live their lives unconsciously and therefore the spiritual masters say that you are truly born only when you die (ego death). And so many people are attempting to give birth to themselves by struggling to kill their ego.
  • You are born when your soul is born. They say that the soul is never born and never dies but only changes bodies as if they are clothes. So unfortunately, your soul can never celebrate its birthday.

Scientists point out that each cell in our bodies is replaced once every 7 years. That means we are a new person every 7 years and must celebrate our birthday only once in 7 years. Too less!

Going further the Meditators say that everything changes every moment, so from that view, we are born every moment and die every moment so every day is a birthday. Too much!

I am sure wise people would have deliberated about all this and coming to a consensus, would have arbitrarily decided one event as the birthday.

Now that the decision is made, whatever it may be, a birthday is definitely a time to feel good. Many people remember you at least once a year and reach out to wish you. It is a nice feeling. There is cake and the snacks and all the friends and family with you as you become the center of attention. Probably that’s the origin of the saying – every dog has its day!

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

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George Bernard Shaw

This is a powerful quote from G B Shaw’s play Man and Superman. Werner Erhard uses this quote often in his talks and why not? In less than 150 words, Shaw manages to highlight the petty mindset of humanity and at the same time calls for finding true joy in making the maximum contribution one can before one dies.

George Bernard Shaw often remarked that he hated Shakespeare and so it is interesting possibility that the remark that life is no “brief candle” is a retort to a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth –

Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Self Help

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We all need help in some or the other way in what we wish to achieve. Right from childhood, someone has helped us to walk, to eat, to read, to write, to speak and to play. We have also been told directly (through instructions) and indirectly (through actions) how to live life, how to understand things, how to draw conclusions and how to make sense of what happens to us.

When we do something wrong, we are told what is right and how to correct it. When we are young, we blindly accept everything we are told by parents and teachers. As we grow up and as our knowledge increases, every new information that comes our way is evaluated on the basis of what has already been told to us. So we start to agree or disagree with new information. To change our mind, we demand more concrete proof.

Once the knowledge is engraved in rules and policies, it is even more difficult to make changes. Many people cannot change their views despite all the proof to the contrary. However, help is always available when someone wants to listen. As the saying goes: You can take the horse to the water but cannot make him drink it. In the same way, help is available when you are thirsty.

Help does not have a specific form. It is not necessary that what helped one person will help another in exactly the same way. It depends on where the person is, in what state of mind, and what he has achieved before. It is a common realization for many people that they find new insights from the same book when they read it the second time and a third time. The book is the same but in the first reading, not all levels of meaning were apparent. As the level of the reader increased, he discovered more meaning in the second reading. In rare instances, if a reader has deeper understanding, he can gain new insights from a book which even the author had not intended to express.

To awaken we need help in different ways again and again. In the final analysis, it is you yourself who has helped you, not anyone else. We can learn immensely from books, movies, stories and metaphors

BOOKS

What is life without books! Reading is our only source of knowledge – knowledge which we cannot experience ourselves. And we must read a lot – different styles, different subjects, even from different ages. The more the variety we read the more our minds open up to new concepts. While it is true that concepts imprison us, it is also true that only through other concepts the road to freedom opens up.

MOVIES

Movies are not just for entertainment. There are some movies that help us reflect on our lives and show us things which the usual movies don’t.

STORIES

The purpose of telling a story is to convey a coded message. While the story can serve to entertain and pass time, it is the responsibility of the listener to grasp the meaning which is woven in the story, even if the story teller does not make it apparent. Stories serve to develop the faculty of attention in the listener.

METAPHORS

Metaphors and analogies are excellent means for explaining a concept. Drawing a parallel from what one already understands, makes it easy to grasp what one does not understand.

I wish you good luck in your endeavor.