Saturday, June 28, 2014

God - an investigation - part 6 - Immediacy of the "Self"

One of the compelling reasons for the presence of a “self” that is beyond the notion of change, happens to be the very fact of our physical existence and continuance. Pick a picture from one’s childhood, adolescence, youth or middle age and scrutinize the physical similarities. Except for a vague, fuzzy sense of resemblance – there is nothing that is common in the bodily mutation of oneself. Yet, we preserve, by a miracle, so to speak; the distinct identity of “My body “-amidst all this prolific, sometimes catastrophic changes it has undergone. Wherefrom does this organic unity come from? What is the overwhelming thread of wholesomeness that we carry within ourselves, as a deep self-evident truth of an individual body maintaining its state of homeostasis?

Again, the “I” ness that hums in the background of our existential singularity is not to be confused with the thought structure that we carefully nurture. A moment’s reflection will convince us of shallow premises and the sheer temporality of our “personalities”. Each one of us change, evolve into myriad different people over years. Our likes and dislikes, ethics and morals, right and wrong, aspirations and dreams – have incessantly transformed, and continues to transform with each new day. Yet, the organic “I'ness" persists throughout this kaleidoscopic change. It is there behind - a subtle presence, that is brusquely pushed aside by the cogitations of our ever occupied brain. If not for this saving grace, there would be chaos in the biological identity of Homo sapiens.

What is fascinating as student of philosophy and mystical literature is the fact that thousands of years ago, in the intense crucible of intellectual nourishment -  the authors of the Upanishads took an inward journey to understand this elusive, yet immanent factual reality of an identity that jettisons the psyche-biological unity of an organism with a nervous system and a brain. There was no metaphysics involved in their deliberations. They asked the most fundamental and simple questions, with no end in view - with a clear scientific temper of discovery. I will try and paraphrase the drift of their inquiry in the following paragraph:

The known data in daily life is three distinct states of consciousness - Waking, dream and deep sleep (In this case, consciousness refers to a “self-referential” awareness). The mental content in each of these phases is the quality of our identification with it. In the waking mode – we are irretrievably lost in the miasma of mentation; the dream mode offers a consolation in as much as the attachment is true and valid for the period of fantasy that we bask in; the deep sleep then is blissful, but there is an emptiness and no knowing awareness to vouch for its state... But the undeniable fact that pervades all the three modes of personal existence is a sense of “I”. Now this “I” cannot be the working identity that we normally take for ourselves, because the persona we put on is true only in one of its phases (the waking, and sometimes the dream state) and not the others. So it must necessarily follow that there should/must be a subsuming presence that stitches the disparate modes of knowing into an unitary stream; yet distinct from all of them. The Upanishads called this state “Turiya - which freely translated denotes “choice less awareness”. It is mode that preserves the well-being of the physical organism and its sanity.

I have condensed the essence of eight Upanishads in a matter of twelve sentences above. Those pregnant dialogues are the most subliminal, illuminating and reasoned thought structures in the annals of recorded religious history. The speakers in these conversations are often unknown; later commentators have attributed names to them; but they were irrelevant to the subject under investigation. Sitting in cloistered forests, or enjoying the marital comforts of a bed room, or within the electric atmosphere of a classroom - these protagonists, the pioneers of psychological truism blazed a path that is at once so very profound; and simple...

Will continue this inward journey later…

God bless….

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

God - an investigation - part 5 - The Self

The origin of the “Self” is shrouded in mystery. And Education has not helped in unearthing the beginnings of it. In fact, one of the most intriguing aspects of our upbringing is the subversive attitude to knowing ourselves. It is never made clear to us who we actually are. What is this substratum that we call “I” or “me”? In the ever-changing panorama of our personal lives, we adorn so many different roles, attach ourselves to a countless different persona’s, yet we are never allowed to get to the bottom of this distinct feeling of oneness that seems to be pervade our mutable organismic state. There is this thread of conscious continuity that weaves the multiple experiences together into a pattern of“self-hood” , that somehow remains distinct from the outwardly behavior and roles. What we call as character or personality has nothing to do with it, and are merely pieces of memory stitched together by education, imitation and indoctrination in society. The “I” that I am talking about is something totally different. It cannot be narrowed down to a specific point within me. It can only be deduced as a tingling sense of well-being that resonates when there is a harmony in the organism - A Holistic feeling of beatitude amidst chaos, a sense of balance and equilibrium in preserving itself.

It is very interesting to note that, even on a cursory investigation, one does not find any “I” that is rooted in the heart or the brain (depending on which religious background one comes from). Like a drop of dew that melts at the first touch of sunlight, the rock-solid “I” within us disappears without a trace when the light of attention is turned on it.  It is a fiction that has somehow convinced itself of its own reality.

One of the most convincing and spectacular reasoning to prove the illusory structure of our “self” – as we know and identify it, comes from our Upanishadic dialogues. The more I examine Eastern and western philosophies, the deeper am I convinced that for most part Humanity is barking up the wrong tree in the name of religion and God. There is perfect harmony in the universal wisdom of ages. It is just that we need touch the right source and drink deep from it.

In my next installment in this series, I wish to examine the principal thrust of the Upanishads, and the kind of questions that have been asked; and the answers begotten... It is a fascinating revelation….

Saturday, June 14, 2014

"Adore" - a sensitive exploration of relationships

I have always been intrigued by relationships. In a society that is so censorious of any attachment that is even slightly deviant from established norms, it is difficult to give vent to the throes of passion and yearning that could naturally arise in ones heart. Is age an impediment, will the formal structure of relationships prove to be a insurmountable barrier, Will we be transgressing the unwritten laws of ethical behavior by succumbing to the raw dictates of biological necessity.... Will Society label a relationship a "taboo", if it does not understand the nature and quality of the attraction?. These are some of the disturbing questions that "Adore" - the movie explores with a great deal of sensitivity.

Shot in the sun dappled beaches of New south Wales , Australia - the story revolves around two childhood friends who literally grow up in the lap of the blue ocean waves, drenched in its ebbs and flows; blossoming into two beautiful mature ladies; mothers of two fine looking young adolescents boys - Adonises both of them; sculpted and tanned in the ravishing heat and splashing waters, with close physical proximity to each other. The unexpected happens... the boys fall in love with each other's mothers. Their solitary lives find a fulfilling physical and emotional resonance in this perilous relationship. In the vast openness of the ocean, these deep emotional undercurrents are unnamed. They thrive on its virginal sublimity without the need for definition or characterization; the rawness of the magnetic pull between the bodies overrides any nomenclature .... As the story progresses, the boys mature and grow out of this vain infatuation. Life drags them to newer spheres of experience, yet they retain the sweet taste of their first forbidden relationship that signified the transition

from boyhood to Man....All that is left in the end, for the four of them, is a lonely ache in their hearts, a feeling of deprived love and an emptiness that is forced by the formal structure of society...

The film is loosely based on a work by Nobel laureate Dorris Lessing. and bought to life on screen by Naomi watts and Robin wright - two fine, talented ladies at the height of their artistic capabilities. The beaches of Australia do not need any special effects to make them look beautiful. The crystal blue waters, the transience of its lapping waves, the depth of the ocean and its detachment - provide a poignant backdrop to the emotional and physical conflict in the human heart.

I would not want recommend this movie to all my readers. It may affect your sensibilities and moral balance. Watch it only if you are open to the deep abysses of human desires, and realize how thin and weak are the psychological defenses that encapsulate and tame the instinctual urges of Man...

God bless...

Friday, June 13, 2014

God - an investigation - part 4 - the mystical poise

One of the puzzling ideas in religion is the process of Enlightenment. In every conceivable religious form, there has always been this deep veneration of Men and Women who have supposedly attained the heights of spiritual progress - the merging of oneself with God. They are considered to be the perfect specimens of Human kind; able to liberate themselves from the gross manifestations of matter into the elusive, misty and subtle echelons of Godhead. They have been given vested with unmitigated authenticity and authority to chart the path that mankind must travel to attain what they themselves have seen, experienced as the ultimate possible bliss in this Human existence. Their knowledge is said to be not of this world, but descends into them from a spirit that is far removed from the mundane trivialities that govern it. They are in short, christened as the apostles of Religion and torchbearers of the mission that Man has to fulfill in the scheme of things….

Ironically though, even a cursory study of these mystics, reveal that none of them, who really had something worthwhile to say, have ever claimed anything special about themselves. They have been pretty ordinary people doing ordinary things. To many of them, the very concept of God was an anathema. The single refrain of their message has been that there is nothing to attain other than what one already “is”. From the Mountains of Sinai to the Sermon on the Mount; from the dialectic heat of Shankara to the calm equilibrium of the Buddha; from the passionate eroticism of Rumi to the esoteric revelations of the kabbalah; from the steady wisdom of a Confucius to the gross irreverence of Zen masters; from the becalming presence of Ramana to the uneducated brilliance of Nisargadatta – all of them are unanimous in that there is nothing other than one’s own subjectivity that needs to held on to. Spinoza called it the “Conatus”, or the inner equilibrium or well-being of a person. Neuroscience calls it “Homeostasis”; or the ability of an organism to return to a state of inner stability. Bliss or happiness or peace is not an external acquisition to be made, but more of an internal anchoring that brings Man back to his “essence”. All of us have had those moments when we were overwhelmed by an avalanche of peace and beatitude. Sometimes, even in times of intense pain, there is this glimmer of well beingness; we touch something deep within us that is quite unnamable and under its influence nothing else seems to matter except the present moment..

Anything that pulls us away from our center of balance is not conducive to our well-being. The Human body is the perfect example for such an adjustment. Each living cell is a testimony to the infinitesimal changes and triggers that pulsate through the ecosystem of the organism to restore its wholesomeness. Neuroscientists are baffled by the sheer complexity of this intelligence that acts just about at the right time and in right measure to correct a physical imbalance, and preserve the body from disintegrating. Even so emotions are also merely symptomatic of our need to reach an inner equanimity. They act as a catharsis, a vent to bring the self to a state of equipoise. Antonio Damasio, in his masterly work “Looking for Spinoza: Joy, sorrow and the feeling brain”, writes with an eye of a scientist on the role of emotions in evolution and its therapeutic value in helping one touch a wellness within oneself -  a heightened sense of awareness or consciousness..

Indian Mystics have a wonderful word to live a life of such inner balance. They call it “Viveka”. It is commonly understood as an attitude that distinguishes right from wrong, or good from evil. The root meaning of this Sanskrit word, however, is intelligent discrimination of events that affects the wellbeing of one self, and the ability to not focus on things that pulls one away from our sense of wholesomeness... Now, this “centering” that I have been talking about is not to be misconstrued as solid entity within us that lurks and moves within the body. It is more of a manner of speaking than anything else. Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching expresses this quite beautifully when he says:

“Thirty spokes,
  Meet in the hub,
  Where the wheel isn’t
  Is where it’s useful.

 Hollowed out,
Clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
Is where it’s useful.

Cut doors and windows
To make a room.
Where the room isn’t
There’s room for you.

So the profit in the what is
Is in the use of what isn’t.’’

Human beings then, have been bestowed this capacity of being aware of this center, and act out of it. Consciousness has flowered into self-referential act in us. And all mystics, point to that self-referencing “I” which runs through the totality of our experiences, the epicenter of our inner harmony; as the bhagavad gita poetically puts it: sutre mani-gana iva – like a cluster of gems strung on a thread…

More later….

God bless...

Friday, June 6, 2014

God , an investigation - Part 3 - the origins

If I were to scan my autobiographical memory to regress to a point when I first became conscious of “GOD”; I have to confess that I do not know. But I am fairly certain that I was not born with that idea. My childhood memories are ones of general “well-being” and nothing more than that. And I am sure, that many of my readers will concur with me on that. As a child, I am sure, I cried a lot when in distress, and smiled uninhibitedly  when caressed, and do not remember feeling guilty of either. Each emotion was played out with equally ferocious intensity with the gay abandon of a pulsating organism. I do not also remember recognizing a Mind/Body dichotomy arising in me at the tender age. All that prevailed then were a series of biological urges and its immediate satisfaction; a slow understanding of bare emotions that helped me to survive; and a steady habituation of words that formed around the general contour of sensory perceptions…

So the question then is, when and how did I get the notion of God into my system. Was it an act of imitation, or indoctrination, or education? Was I shown the beauty of heavens and led into believing that a divine father or Mother or both rule the skies? Was I taken unsuspectingly to a temple and asked to fold my hands together in obeisance to an authority positing a power far in excess of my parents? Was I taken to a witness a death and then surreptitiously made to understand that those who do good deeds die peacefully reaching heaven safely, and others rot in hell? Did my teachers inculcate in me that each day had to start with a prayer to a Deity, depending upon the kind of school I was studying in? Did the idea come from the fact that I was taught that most festivals or holidays had a God imbued meaning of Good and evil, right or wrong or an invaluable lesson in Moral science?; or did the incredible stories and myths on impossible exploits of the vast pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, repeated incessantly, awoke in me a feeling of empathy to believe in those legends and hope that they are indeed true and factually possible… I really would not know. The actual impetus for my belief in a Godhead conveniently lies buried in the hazy mists of time. All that I know is that my psyche was impregnated somehow with a personal notion of God or a supernatural force and its root were sunk pretty deep in me at a time when I had no choice in determining what I needed: attribute it to emotional vulnerability or intellectual dependence, the fact of the matter is that they played a very important role in instilling the first stirrings of a “God notion” in me..

Anyways at this distance in time, it is clear to me that one is not born into any religion but rather molded into it. And this molding does serve a practical need in binding man to live in a particular society, where he needs to have some kind of higher sanctions to keep his impulses in check for general welfare. Though inwardly resenting authority of any kind, we did realize early in our history that a notion of God is the strongest glue to hold a community, state or race together; and force Man to adhere to an ethical life. Karen Armstrong demonstrates in her book “The case for God” that all religions were born out of such a primordial urge to ascribe a supernatural sanction to ordinary acts of daily living. Religion also has also been a way of circumventing the mystery of Nature and life around us by explaining it away in the name of God, and also a nagging sense of comprehension of Man’s insignificant place in it.

The genesis then of four principal organized religions in the world namely Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam were all born out the above premise. There is nothing inherently wrong with such a conception, but then as one intellectually matures, it becomes imperative that we understand the structure of this indoctrination and take an “outsider” view of it. Otherwise, our inner growth gets stunted; and we keep groping around in circles to free ourselves of habits of conditioning. And Religion, which essentially, and should by definition be enlarging our vision ends up becoming a constricting, divisive influence - fracturing the psyche, making us unsure of our beliefs, and move us to observe with pitiful agony the march of one’s physical body towards its annihilation, without ever giving ourselves a real chance of validating the veracity of our entrenched hopes and ideas that were sown in the innocence of childhood.

The kind of religion that I have talking about in this essay is the ritualistic, idolatry and based on codified beliefs. But, every faith have had its outcast's as well. The Men and Women whom we largely classify as mystics - whose words and actions always seem to repudiate the conventional beliefs and ideas of established religions. And it seems that these mystics across ages, cultures and civilization have always spoken the same language: - “if you meet GOD on the way, kill him”. They are the renegrades of religion. The orthodoxy have always bought down the inquisitorial sword over their heads, and perpetually attempted to twist and turn their insights into a stream lined system, but somehow these “God intoxicated Atheists” have managed to slip through the web of formal structure and present to us a vision of religion and spirituality that is not based on fear, insecurity or imagination. The emphasis, for them has been the individual, his notion of alienation and its fallacy; and a distinct possibility of redemption from this skin encapsulated ego in this very life, nay- this very moment…

It is in their wisdom that I hope to find pointers for my search….