Saturday, March 28, 2015

The ending of time - delightful dialogues between J Krishnamurti and Dr David Bohm

Yesterday night, I revisited a book -, a series of dialogues by David Bohm and J. Krishnamurti entitled "The ending of time". No two men could have been so diametrically opposite in their thinking, vocation and approach to life; but as chance would have it - in the summer of 1965, at Saanen, Switzerland - these two men got together as a part of a group having discussions on life, consciousness and its objective manifestation. It was evident to those who were present there that something phenomenal was taking place , and there was a definitive need to bring the both of them together alone , giving them space and time to unwrap their perspectives on life, knowledge and human condition. Thus was born the JK-Bohm dialogues. Two sharp, incisive, sensitive, deep minds - one, an iconoclastic philosopher ; and the other- a living genius in the field of quantum physics - trying to investigate into human predicament without any prejudices or leanings. It had been twenty years since the second world war had ended, and its aftermath had given birth to radical discontent in Man. Three hundred years of meteoric progress had propelled human civilization to unprecedented mastery of nature, but only losing his inner soul in the process. The culmination of this catastrophe were the two world wars, fought at a scale and magnitude that was unprecedented in recorded history. Not only was Man physically pitted against Man, but ideologies, illusions, religious beliefs, educated untruths converged to create an insane crucible of pain and suffering. And as the century slid along its second half, increasing lack of purpose, direction and a senseless abandonment was taking hold of Man the world over. Organized religion was losing its grip, science was misunderstood, and the general attitude in life was one of deep skepticism. It is in this context, that JK- Bohm dialogues took shape. Over the next twenty years ( until 1985), the two of them regularly met, discussed, struggled to bring about an understanding of truth in the light of modern understanding and existential facts. Three books were published out of those dialogues; and "ending of time" is perhaps the best compendium among them; spanning thirteen conversations that lead the reader through corridors of intellectual rigor and uncompromising pursuit of truth.
JK's fundamental experience is that Truth is a pathless land, and one must break with all accumulated traditions, indoctrination and accepted beliefs to "know" oneself, and Dr Bohm's scientific position was that the Nature of reality and consciousness are part of one holistic movement and never static. Both of them were seekers of truth with utmost integrity and respect for each other's viewpoint. As I read these dialogues, my heart swells with gratitude, and eyes become wet. Such Honesty, Such humility and magnanimity in exploring an idea without having to impose or dictate or stamp a particular point of view. Like a rose that unfolds its petals in the wild with sensitive beauty, their perceptions and insights gracefully open up with organic clarity that spreads, seeps through our being like a pristine gurgling stream winding its way in a dense woodland -watering, nourishing and gently chipping away banks of encrusted beliefs and prejudices - leaving behind a path that is ever fresh, ever open to newer riches.
The last dialogue took place in 1984 at Brokwood, England, where Krishnamurti had established a school and Dr Bohm was one its trustees. Recorded videos would show them as white haired, physically aged and faces furrowed with lines; yet their eyes are bright and luminous with realized and radiating intelligence, a conversational freshness that betrays any kind of conclusions reached; but only immersed in the sheer joy of discovering life anew in each moment - in each dialogue. One could viscerally feel that they understand each other deeply, and not just verbally. It was a connect that was beyond words. A look of recognition, a quick smile, a gentle nod - all of them pointed to a confluence of two of the greatest thinkers of our era.
Jk passed away in 1987, and Dr Bohm in 1992. Not much to separate them. They were bought together for a special purpose, and life had consummated its task. Over two thousand years ago, Plato initiated Western civilization to dialogues as a medium to understand deeper truths; and even before that the Indian tradition of Upanishads dealt with the subtlest of truths as an intimate conversation between people deeply interested in enquiry. JK- Bohm dialogues continued that austere tradition in the most refreshing way possible..
Read, or see them if you can. It can be a transforming experience.
God bless....

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"And so it goes" - A Movie review..

It has been a while that I written about a movie. Not that I have not been keeping abreast of my second love ( you know the first), but not been able to devote as much time to it as I would have liked - call it professional rigor or work life - whichever seems fancier to you. So today morning - a gorgeous Spring day in Atlanta - after I finished my customary weekend activities, I flicked through my list in Netflix hoping to slide down my Sofa with a packet of Potato chips, water and my digital writing app on my phone (to take down my impressions, notes, appreciations, sarcasm - whatever it may be) - to watch a "good movie". I was literally taken aback by the sheer number of movies in my wish list - some 200 odd films that I have added over the last six months. As I reviewed, I wasn't sure why some movies were on the list at all in the first place. There must have been definitely something about it that would have prompted me to add it when I did, but at this distance, I failed to recollect why? Anyways, my choice (after half an hour) of surfing narrowed down to “And so it goes", a 2014 movie that tickled my artistic nerve. The brief story line (Netflix does that part really well) whetted my appetite and the star cast impressed me. The choice was made. I pulled my French windows down, switched the thermostat to a cozy 68 degrees, arranged my pillows snugly under my neck and below my legs, a blanket pulled over my dhoti, just enough to cover up to my knees - and pressed the "Play" button.
The first thirty minutes set the tone of this old aged romantic drama - interspersed with emotions and thrills ranging from grumpiness, racial slurring, sex, filial love, existential fear and general bonhomie. In ninety four minutes director Rob Reiner - do you remember Rob? - The man who directed classics such as "A few good men"," When harry met sally,", The Stephen king beauty "Misery" - proves that one can really get away with a sloppy screen play, weak story line ; if you had a good cast and caliber of artists who can rescue scenes from morose depths of mediocrity. Michael Douglas as Oren (the rich old irritable realtor) and Diane Keaton as Leah bring all their experience, charm and effortless understanding of visual medium to pour some life and juice into this stereotyped drama. Oren is an embittered elderly widow, who loses his wife to Aneurysm, and Leah is the conservative old American lady (still retains her capacity for gentle physical innuendos) mourning over her dead Husband who succumbs to cancer years ago. They are neighbors, and around them are young families with kids or in the processing of having kids, who try and maintain good relations with everyone. The story takes an "unexpected" twist, when Oren's estranged son leaves his orphaned daughter with his Grandfather (Oren) and goes to jail for drug trade. The young girl yearns for denied love, and looks up to the two elders who are the only ones seemingly capable of giving it to her. Her childish, energetic presence brings out radical (predictable) transformation in Oren, and also makes it possible for him to rediscover passion and love in Leah. From here on, the movie moves on known, treaded ground, and one could almost fast forward to the end without missing a beat of action.
My problem with this movie was simple. The moment I got hang of where the story was heading to, I was distinctly and repeatedly reminded of Jack Nicholson's masterpiece "As good as it gets...”, where he plays the misogynist, quirky and irritable man to perfection. I don't think this character can be performed better than Nicholson's portrayal of it. He was all cut out to play that role, and his entire attitude suited every inch of it. Wait!!. That's when I realized that the story of both these films was written by the same person - Mark Andrus… No wonder!!! - He wished to attempt recapturing the magic that earned him an Academy award in 1998.
But in this case, it falls flat on its face. I am not sure what Rob Reiner had in mind when he took up this project, but he does justice to it as far it is artistically possible.
Well, please do not get the impression that this movie is not worth watching. It has its moments. The aging Michael Douglas still manages to speak and act through his eyes and voice. There is a visible tiredness to his bearing (possibly tongue cancer is taking its toll), but there is no questioning the charm he can muster at 70. I am not surprised that Catherina-zeta jones wants to move back with him. Diane Keaton has not always been my favorite actress, but giving due to credit to her, she has performed some incredible roles in her illustrious career - "Annie hall”, “Something gotta to give" are my favorites. There is nothing much for her to do in this movie, and whatever little she has to do, she does it with trained, and long acquired elegance.
At the end of the film, I wasn't feeling bad, but I wouldn't rate it as a "good" movie. And when I say that, I mean from a critique's point of view. It leaves you with a "feel good" factor, and that may be a true yardstick of a work of art than being mechanically critical of it. I loved watching Douglas again, after such a long time. And that alone is incentive enough to recommend this movie to my friends...
God bless...

A conversation at Charlotte Airport...

Adi Shankara sings with profound anguish these deep words of wisdom in his philosophical masterpiece "Bhaja Govindam".
I was sitting in the Charlotte-Douglas Airport yesterday morning, making notes on this verse for an essay that I writing, when I was interrupted by an voice sitting beside me. He was an young Indian , with prematurely greyish white hair, clad in immaculate black suit with a glittering brown leather laptop case resting nearing his legs. He was saying:
" Interesting that you are actually studying this poem. Is this not a poem by one of those Acharya's who lived in India centuries ago, who institutionalized Hindu religion in four corners of India. My wife keeps listening to this song every day morning sung in the voice of old singer named MS Subbu or something. It is a morning ritual for her. She puts it on and goes about her daily work. I don't think she ever listens to it ( He chuckled!!). It just keeps playing in the background like some kind of drone. I was never into all this, until I got married a few years ago. My wife hails from Karnataka... Educated, but you know how it is, she carries family traditions with her (he chuckled again!!). This is one of it, I guess.. I have been in US for nearly fifteen years now, and all that I care is that these Hindu saints have now given a legitimacy to a BJP government who seem to profess their creed and pursuing an militant Hindutva agenda.."
I closed my laptop and the book and humbly asked him :" So what do you know about Adi shankara, or this poem in particular".. "
H seemed a little taken aback. He was hoping that I would respond to his political insinuations. He answered: "Nothing much, but I know he founded these Hindu Institutions.."
I smiled at him, and gently told him : "You see sir, this is the problem when you get judgmental without adequate understanding or knowledge. While Shankara may have established institutions of Learning across India, the idea was not to form a cult or a sect . It was more of a symposium to talk,discuss and contemplate on the mystery of Life - the non-dualistic mystical insights that had their genesis on Indian soil. Here was a man, who walked the length and breadth of India in a short span of 39 years - pleading, urging, chastising, proselyting - trying his best to awaken Man to a different dimension of living and working. His treatises, commentaries and popular poems resonate with deepest truth about Man's existence - without any distinction of race, religion or creed. Gnosticism, Sufism, Buddhism, Hasidim all other mystical traditions find the same thread of thought in Shankara's writings. It is unfortunate though (like you said) that we have lost the verve, inclination and energy to read and understand him - and relegated his words to monotonous repetition, and nothing else."
"This Poem - "Bhaja Govindam" is perhaps the finest and deepest outpouring of a human heart on the predicament of Human life in general. Each verse hits the listener like a thunderbolt, pregnant with meaning and common sense, rarely found in a philosopher. It is unfortunate that your only exposure this poem has been the daily ritual od hearing it being played in your living room, but My sincere request to you would be to read this poem with a commentary , and try and see if it makes sense to you. I am confident it will.. Our problem today is that most of us are becoming "second hand " human beings relying more upon hearsay, half baked opinions and biased conversations.
"And finally for heaven sake, do not equate the work of Shankara to Hindutva or what is happening in the name of religion today In India. It is not only extremely disrespectful of the man, but diametrically absurd interpretation of his wonderful life's work... Also, by the way the singer's name is MS subbalakshmi - and she was one of the finest exponents of Classical music in the last century. There have numerous renditions of this spectacular poem, but none to match the commitment, passion and voice that MS bought to it. If you listen to it attentively, it will feel the sound of eternity in her mellifluous tone..."
My boarding announcement was made, and I had to excuse myself.. I think he was a little taken shaken and not happy with my long monologue. He was probably expecting a placid acquiescence from me to his high-browed comments. Well, that did not happen..
God bless....

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Evolutionary "contingency" - Darwin's heritage

Evolutionary "contingency" - Darwin's heritage
In many ways 1859 was a seminal, epochal year in Human history. Charles Darwin published his “origin of species”, after ruminating over it for nearly twenty years. He never meant it to be a purely “scientific” book, but a general account of what he considered to be evidence for natural selection and its effect on growth or evolution of species. The purpose of his book was to lay the foundations and necessary proof for a “Creator-less” design of human life, which meant a complete severance, abnegation of a cherished belief held over millennia. Only 1250 copies got printed, and most of them were distributed, or gifted to scientists, friends and libraries. Left to himself, one wonders, if Darwin would have ever gotten to take his work to the Printer - he was forced to – because his colleague and friend Alfred Russell Wallace was perilously close to usurping the grand theory that he had conjured over decades of observation and study. More and more members of his scientific fraternity were beginning to rumble with experimental evidence gathered from different species on genetic heredity and capricious design. His could not stall the process of publishing his book any longer. During Darwin’s life time, the book went through six editions, with corrections, modifications, additions and rephrasing happening in each one them. It is only in the fifth edition, printed in 1869, ten years after the original publication, that Darwin chose to include the controversial term ( a term that has haunted debates on progress, direction and ethics of our race since then) - “Survival of the fittest”..
It is amazing how a book or an idea can be twisted and battered into something that was never proposed or advocated in the first place. The idea that Man is a culmination of a long series of futile attempts by “Nature” to produce a near perfect specimen endowed with the power to rule over his dominion - is a direct result of this misconstrued, misinterpreted concept of “Survival of the fittest”. If one were to read the book (which many debaters, creationist crusaders or conversationalists even today really don’t), it is pretty obvious that Darwin had nothing of this sort of Human progress or hegemony in mind when he wrote about it. In fact, he had serious doubts of Man’s place in the scheme of things. His simple observation was that nature acted on the principle of natural selection in a given geographical area, and the species that is best suited to adapt to local conditions will end up surviving and flourishing well for a given geological time period. The fossil records and evolutionary history of the world is replete with instances of mass extinction, unproductive lineages, and failure of design. To Darwin, survival of the fittest meant not to demonstrate the superiority of Human species, or a vindication of a “Creator’s” crowning glory, but merely a principle that favored the flowering of Human species at a right point in Earth’s history. Curiously enough, in the 500 odd pages of his tome, not once does Darwin mentions that Man is a progressive adaption of an Ape. The illustrations that populate and proliferate in scientific text books with a picture of an Ape, followed by a Guerrilla, then a Neanderthal man , culminating with proud Homo Erectus as the crown jewel of nature’s engineering, is perhaps the worst possible tragedy that could have befallen Darwin’s work and understanding. The reason why he refrained from publishing his work for such a long time (his famous voyage aboard the Beagle happened between 1831-36) owes largely to the fact that Darwin was a devout Catholic, and he believed that there was a divine design in the way organisms were created. All his observations, data and detailed analyses belied such premises. The fact that Man may just be a twig in a branch of a prolific evolutionary tree, with no special privileges except for a new element introduced in its design – consciousness - stuck Darwin very early in his career as a naturalist and Geologist. He knew he had stumbled upon something profound and radically unsettling. It was also worth noting that during the same period, the concept of time also underwent major transformation. The Western world was ruled by biblical time- which meant that the world was created 2000 years ago with a specific goal of putting Human beings on this planet. But geologists such as Sir Charles Lyell, started postulating time ranges based on their study of Earth’s strata that Earth’s origins may go back to millions of years, and life could have had genesis in a time that is ancient and cannot be fathomed at this distance with any amount of certainty. For the kind of “evolution” that Darwin was proposing in his book, life required such long spreads of geological time to make those small incremental adjustments in design, for whole scale mutations or extinctions - that would make life as we know it, possible on earth.
It was a tremendous moral dilemma for Darwin who belief systems leaned towards an intelligent divinity; and here was evidence staring straight at one’s face- that life on earth was purely a matter of chance, evolving into various forms based on contingencies that really don’t seem to be adhering to any divine plan at all. When Darwin closed the final chapter of his book in the 1859 edition, this is what he had to write:
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
There is no mention of a “God” or a “creator” in this conclusion. Public were outraged, Catholic Church was upset and still visibly recovering from the catastrophic effects of Copernican revolution. First, Earth lost its place as the center of the Universe, and now Darwin was pulling the carpet under Man’s supremacy. Darwin himself, struggled to make sense of his findings. Though, he had begun to lose faith in organized religion after his Daughter’s untimely death in 1851, he still continued to harbor a subtle belief in intelligent design overseen by a superior force. When his analyzed scientific evidence projected no basis for such an assumption, this short, amiable gentleman was pulled in both directions. Personally, he was a convinced agnostic, but publicly he had to concede to popular beliefs and ideas. His quiet contemplative nature wouldn’t allow him to hurt anybody’s sentiments - more so his wife, who remained a devout Catholic all her life. Hence, in the second revision of his book, which appeared in 1860. He rephrased his concluding remarks thus (paraphrased):
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one…… from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved…”
Observe the introduction of “Creator” in the sentence. It was clearly an afterthought necessitated by the need to confirm to established ideas, than on any scientific basis. While Darwin’s study certainly propelled understanding of genetics, heredity and a greater understanding of life forms; the flip side of it was the fact that his work inadvertently gave impetus to a bloated sense of egotism and supremacy in Human race. If the last 250 years is any indication to go by, it is amply clear that we have crowned ourselves as supreme achievements in nature’s unfolding drama. Rampant disregard for ecosystems, unabashed material progress that tramples over other life forms, a bloated sense of individuality that reckons itself to be immortal - all these and more, surely indicate a false understanding and interpretation of evolutionary principles.
Stephen jay Gould, one of the finest evolutionary biologists of the last century writes in his beautiful book “It’s a wonderful life - a study of Burgess Shale”:
“Life is a copiously branching bush, continually pruned by the grim reaper of extinction, not a ladder of predictable progress.”
Also, he goes on to say that if the tape of life were to be rewound, then chances are very unlikely that it will follow the same evolutionary path as it has now. Contingency plays a very important role in adaption and evolution of organic forms. Frankly, if Progress towards complexity if a measure of progress (Human are supposedly highly complex organisms), then single-celled organisms must be hailed as its apogee, simple because they have held way over planet earth for more than three fourths of its history. Multicellular life forms are a very recent entrants to this drama, and in the scale of evolutionary time, they are not of any consequence at all.
Well, this has turned out to be a rather longish essay. Before I conclude, it must definitely be pointed out that despite all my ramblings on contingency and anti-progress : Man is only species capable of understanding and analyzing this great process. In his design, life has breathed in “consciousness” – a self- awareness, which is probably not bequeathed to any other known species. This gift has also led to symbolic thinking, language and an ability to master basic laws of nature. The pulsating life or raw existence still shines within us in its primordial brightness, but unfortunately, we have given ourselves over to its symbolic manifestation in the form a self-encapsulating thought structure. And that may prove to be our nemesis as a species.
Adi shankaracharya, in Vivekachudamani – one of the finest condensation of Vedantic wisdom begins his second verse thus
जन्तूनां नरजन्म दुर्लभमतः
Freely translated, it means: “Of all births, attaining a human form is rare…”
He was dead right. We are here because of any special privilege accorded to us by this Universe. We are lucky to be here, and do what we are doing. In the grand roulette of cosmic design, we just happened to have manifested. So Let’s cherish existence and live it as a blessing, and perhaps with a little humility as well.
God bless…

Saturday, March 7, 2015

India's Daughter - revisiting a tragedy

A young lady was brutally raped, beaten and violated with perverse intensity, beyond the farthest limits of irrational human behavior. Her intestines were pulled out with a rod,; penetrated multiple times; every known and visible part of her frail , stunned body was broken, bruised and torn beyond repair or medical help ; her body thrown out to die on a pavement from a moving bus like a piece of putrid flesh - all this without an iota of compunction, mercy or even the slightest tinge of remorse in the minds and hearts of those young men - who now face a death sentence in Tihar jail.
This is not only about rape. It is about the quality of a Human mind that can descend to such levels of depravity. As I watched the controversial documentary - what stuck me was the composure of the man who justified his act along with his friends. He was very clear in his mind that the young girl deserved what she got. His reasoning was not based on any rational system of thinking, or an ideology, not even an act of vengeance - No. It was a simple brute manifestation of pent up anger, frustration and a sense of lowliness in a society where glaring differences are visible. Yes, they were intoxicated, out of their minds, triggered by the effrontery of the young couple - but none of that justifies the sheer magnitude of their act. It had to be something else - probably, a symptom of a mental disease that is slowly taking root in urban India caused by the deep chasm between the haves and have not's; a feeling of alienation and helplessness caused by their marginalization over 60 years of independence. It is probably a state of mind that knows that there is no way upward in social ladder, and all that remains for them is sheer physical survival under harsh conditions with an occasional respite in cheap indulgences. Or perhaps, it is symptomatic of a society where a traditionally male dominated culture is threatened by a new surge of feminism that has rubbed shoulders with the West, and but not yet found their bearings, and threaten to upset age old value systems. It could also the proliferation of pornography, which in its worst form projects sexual violence as an acceptable form of physical intercourse; Or It could be sheer insanity and nothing else.. Anything is possible. My point is : These men have to be heard and studied. A documentary like "India's daughter" is an eye opener, and not to be brushed under the carpet or shouted out of circulation. We should hear them speak, allow their prosecutors come up with their convoluted arguments, watch their family and friends relive their agony over and over again. After all this - probably, we may perhaps begin to understand the root of this problem. This is the chastisement that we need.
We have already condemned the six men to their death, now why should deny them an opportunity to speak out their minds. By not doing so, we are merely closing our minds to a deeper understanding of this malaise. Let us take a leaf from how Developed countries handle this kind of insanity. Between 1970
and early eighties Ted Bundy - the most insane and brutal serial rapist and killer ever recorded killed over 50 young women all over the West Coast. When he was eventually caught, the American public could not believe what they saw or heard. Bundy was not only intelligent, educated. politically connected, but represented all that is best in American tradition. Flamboyant, well spoken -none would have believed that behind that façade of charm lay a perverted mind so demented and seething with hatred. He was obviously found guilty and electrocuted in 1989. But not before they studied, understood the motivation and mind of such a beast. Numerous documentaries, private interviews, psychological evaluations and profiling were catalogued on Ted Bundy leading to far reaching legislations in many states on pornography and its use. Or take the case of Richard speck, who on a single nightmarish day in 1966, brutalized, raped and killed six nurses living in a dormitory for no reason whatsoever - but out of uncontrollable rage and drug abuse. A detailed study of Speck, based on his interviews and dialogues led to a deeper understanding of genetic makeup of violent behavior, which has since then become one of the standard profiling techniques to identify potential killers. I am not for a moment suggesting that all these documentations an studies have led to a decrease in crime or violence against women , but every such case allows us to adjust as a society to saner ways of living together.
The case of Nirbhaya , in many ways has removed the veil of social stigmata that is normally attached sexual violence in India. There is now a greater awareness on the need to curb such insensitive acts; but unless we allow the men who carry out these acts to speak their minds; it is not possible to learn, understand and redefine our practices or laws for a better and more safer India.
I request every one to watch this documentary and introspect. It is important to remember that society is only an abstraction. It is individuals, like you and me that matter, and are real. Every act of violence personified , is in some way a reflection of collective attitudes and beliefs. So let us try and find out the conditions that could have possibly driven a bunch of youngsters to cross the lines of sanity, and commit so atrocious a crime as this. All of us have to find answers within, and let this documentary trigger in us the right questions.
God bless...