Monday, December 24, 2012

From ‘The Language God Talks. On Science and Religion’ by Herman Wouk

Richard Feynman ….. said ….. “You know….. while you’re talking, you’re not learning anything.”

…. Weinberg, in his widely read book, The First Three Minutes, has put the bleaker agnostic picture with stark oft-quoted eloquence: “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless … The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.”

Churchill said….. “You can count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else.”

Richard Feynman’s biographer chose one of this many quoted sayings as the epigraph for his whole life story: “I was born not knowing and have only had a little time to change that her and there.

“Let China sleep,” said Napoleon. “When she wakes, Europe will be sorry.”

…… Montaigne … Great French essayist, nobleman, sixteenth century ….. In his essays he gnawed at the edges of disbelief, a risky business then …. ‘I write not as much as I know but as much as I dare, and I dare a little more as I get older.’

From ‘Pilgrim of the Sky. Travelling with Kinkar Vitthal Ramanuja: A Disciple's diary’ by Raj Supe (Kinkar Vishwashreyananda)

The superpowers are called Vibhutis. They are also called siddhis – and because the principal potencies are eight in number, they are called Ashta Siddhis ………..One does not need great austerity to gain these. These may be had by simply leading a pure life for twelve years or so. If you observe brahmacharya for twelve years or so, these powers will be yours.

Brahmachari is he who tries to gain Brahma. Householders who indulge in sexual intercourse once a month are very nearly brahmacharis. …….parents who observe restraint will beget a progeny that will be of better quality. Brahmacharya is a quality that runs in the line, in the blood. Restraint will come naturally to a child whose parents have practiced long restraint. That’s what the Shastras say.

Ideally, you should focus your attention on one single favourite deity – Ishta Deva. …..But worshipping multiple deities isn’t entirely devoid of merit…… But, it is desirable to stick to your Ishta (favourite deity)

He quotes from Patanjali. …… If you can sit in asana for three hours, the asana is said to be siddha. It is realization of posture. ….Every other position is good enough for some time and then it begins to hurt….. Padmasana or baddha padmasana or sukhasana won’t hurt

If you can exclusively fix your mind on an object for 12 seconds uninterruptedly, it is considered to be dharana, if you can extend your exclusive concentration twelve times (12 * 12 seconds i.e. nearly two and half minutes), it is dhyana and when you can extend your concentration further twelve times (12* 12 * 12, nearly half hour), it is Samadhi. …. One of the methods to induce dhyana is singing Hare Krishna Naam ….. Singing Hare Krishna Naam, performing japa, taking pure diet, and observing celibacy ….. all these are conducive to dhyana.

Many objects are mentioned for dhyana: Patanjali mentions the Sun and the Moon …. But the best object of contemplation is Guru. Dhyana on Siddha Guru is the best. .……
“But which part of Guru should we meditate on?”
“Charan – the lotus feet of Guru are wonderful and miraculous. Charan is most powerful because all the powers come down from the feet. Contemplate upon them……”

“ …..Where does one contemplate?”
“The general practice is to contemplate on the sahasrara chakra in crown of the head, ajna chakra between the eyebrows or in the anahata chakra in the heart ……. In sahasrara you meditate on Guru, in ajna chakra you meditate on the mantra and in the anahata, you meditate on Ishta (your favourite deity)…..”

One needs to practice austerity for a long time and in unbroken manner. It is also necessary to fix one’s seat. It is necessary to sit at the same place for long time, only then can one gain siddhi.

Sabase rasiye, sab se basiye, sab se lijiye kaam, haanji haanji karte rahiye baithaa apanaa thaam. Never leave your own place, just keep saying ‘yes’ to everyone, but do your own thing,” he counseled.

From ‘Did you spot the gorilla? How to recognize hidden opportunities’ by Richard Wiseman

The hardest thing to do is see what is right in front of your eyes.
-          Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German poet and novelist

Four things never come back: the spoken word, the spent arrow, the past and the neglected opportunity
-          Omar Idn Al-Halif, Arab scholar

Opportunities multiply as they are seized
-          Sun Tzu, Chinese general and the Author of the ‘Art of War’

In the fields of observation, chance favours the prepared mind
-          Louis Pasteur, French bacteriologist

What we see depends mainly on what we look for.
-          Sir John Lubbock British Scientist

People only see what they are prepared to see.
-          Ralph Waldo Emerson. American poet and philosopher.

Originality is simply a fresh pair of eyes.
-          Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America 1913-1921

Don’t think you’re on the right road just because it’s a well-beaten path
-          Anon

To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions
-          Benjamin Franklin, American statesman and scientist

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect
-          Mark Twain, American novelist

We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing
-          Anon

Fish are the last to recognize water.
-          Anon

The world will not perish for want of wonders, but for want of wonder
-          J B S Haldane, British scientist.

I am neither especially clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious
-          Albert Einstein. Physicist and Mathematician

The less routine the more life
-          Amos Bronson Alcott, American educator and social reformer

Saturday, November 17, 2012

From ‘Dreams of the Dragon's Children’ by Navroze Contractor

The Chinese are as noisy in the mornings as we Indians. I was woken by sounds of people expectorating, gargling, spitting, buckets being dragged, mugs falling, taps running, coughing and more coughing and plenty of talking.

In South China people eat everything, and that includes snakes. We decided to try it. The proposal was shot down by our Chinese friends. They were all from north China and thought the southerners were barbaric in their eating habits. ….

The resentment between north and south in China is as old as its history. Under dynastic rule, the ‘business’ community was considered the lowest and was often banished to the south. In those days the southern men, unlike their northern counterparts, had long hair, wore earrings and dressed in strange ways.

We had noticed that when the Chinese travelled they ate, talked animatedly and then, all of a sudden, just fell asleep.

More from the China Daily:
A senior party functionary was caught hoarding rations in his house and reselling them at higher prices with forged documents. He was executed in public with a bullet paid for by his family
Ian Botham’s century is ‘deliberate’ as Australia is on the verge of winning the third cricket test

Another bucket had the white powder ajinomoto, or MSG. In India we were all against MSG, but in China they use it by the handful. I never stopped being amazed at the speed with which they chopped vegetables and meat.

The Chinese are loud eaters. They slurp and suck at the chopsticks and the ceramic spoons.

……Shenzen …..It was an animal market. Pigeons, chicken, duck, sparrows, eagles, hawks, parrots, some other unidentifiable birds, and crows. Everything was for sale and everything was being cut and feathered. Women and men stood around bargaining and the sellers would cut the birds up, feather them, skin them and stick them in front of faces that nodded approvingly. Further on there were dogs, mongoose, snakes, pigs, cats, rats, and monkeys, anything that crawled or ran was being sold and slaughtered. The shocking thing was that after a bargain was stuck a limb would be cut off or some other part carved out without first killing the animal. There were screams from animals all around – dogs yelping and howling in pain, rats squealing and monkeys shrieking. It was horrifying. I had never ever seen so much cruelty towards animals.

We had seen no birds during our two weeks in south China.

During the difficult period after the Revolution, food shortage plagued the country and people had been forced to eat anything they could lay their hands on. Since they didn’t have guns and enough sling shots to shoot the birds, they used to make a collective din using drums, vessels and wood boards and not let the birds rest. The birds fell down from the sky in exhaustion.

The best country in the world to be a child is probably China. Since they have a very strict one-child policy, children are spoilt all out of shape. We had seen children create havoc in restaurants and no one ever said a word. They were adored, cajoled, cuddled and loved like they were going out of fashion. When they cross a busy road all traffic stops, and passers-by stop and clap.

When you see a Chinese child smile you simply crack up.

China can make you romantic and Mao had mastered the art of making an entire nation seem romantic. Chinese films depicted smiling peasants working in the fields, smiling workers toiling away. In 10,000 kilometres of travelling I never once saw a peasant smiling in his field or a worker smiling when he worked. But on the other hand I never saw starving, hungry, groveling people either. So it is easy to become romantic about China and lose your hold on reality. The greatness of Mao lay not in the fact that he romanticized work but in that he had instilled an incredible pride in the workers and peasants.

No matter how great a nation China is, by trying to remove other cultures and systems it has become boring. All mono-culture eventually destroys itself.

When children wake up, the sounds everywhere in the world are the same.

A conversation between mother and daughter began ………

But Mama, in the city there are so many things to see and do.
There are so many people, they spend all their time pushing others, trying to get ahead …
In the city I am never bored, there are cinemas, shops, restaurants, libraries, parks, museums …. whatever you want …..
Yes, yes, they have everything but people don’t care about you, no one knows anyone else, its so lonely …
That’s the best part, you can do what you want and no one will bother ….
Even if you drop dead on the roads ….
Who’s going to drop dead, for heaven’s sake ….
If not you, an old one like me may do …
Ma, you wont have to sit and make wan-tans at home for New Year; you can go and buy them from a shop …
Then I will have to do something else to have money to go and buy wan-tans from a shop, so I will have to do something …..
You could do something more meaningful ….
What is more meaningful than feeding people ….

….a Chinese saying: ‘One who turns disaster into victory, earns the help of men. One who lives modestly, earns the help of the earth. One who overcomes vanity, earns the help of the heavens.’

In China, if you are in a queue you are going to be pushed, then sqeezed and shoved and have to protect yourself from being crushed. The difference is there was no agro, it wasn’t meant to be rude. No one got mad and nobody broke the line except children. ….. I didn’t see a single parent reprimanding their kids, they were allowed to run amuck. I remembered what Mao had said: ‘If you want to plan two years ahead, grow rice. If you want to plan ten years ahead, grow trees. If you want to plan forever, have children.’

….ET…. said he had come very close to the Indian border ….. He remembered excitedly that there had been so many dogs and monkeys. They were considered a delicacy in China, but roamed in such abundance in India and nobody ate them!

In the old days the Emperor gave five punishments. For a lesser offence the crime you’d committed was tattooed on your forehead. Then your nose was cut off. Then your genitals were cut off. Then your legs were cut off so there would be no chains used on you and for the most heinous crime, after these punishments, your head was cut off. …. Till the nineteenth century in England there was death penalty for stealing anything more than five pence worth. I didn’t want to be in the old England or the new China, I wanted to be back in India.

We reached the check-in counter and the girl behind the desk gave us a big smile. We were shocked because no official had ever smiled at us.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

From ‘In the Hot Unconscious. An Indian Journey’ by Charles Foster

‘We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us, and call that handful of sand the world.’
-          Robert M. Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

….After all, Christianity is an Eastern religion that just happens to speak Greek
-          Charles Foster

‘The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away.’
-          Robert M. Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

The Self, said the Buddha, is the source of illusion, and its creatures. Destroy it, and one has cleared away the scum on the lake of the world. Then one can see Reality, glittering sharply, with fabulous multifaceted beauty, at the bottom of all experience. ‘Now I have found you,’ said the Buddha, when he burst through Enlightenment. ‘Never again will you build the house of Self.’

Sleep was elusive; I chased it and it wore me down.

He vomited as tidily as any duchess as we lurched round the bends into the clouds

The gardener stomped muddily down the corridor and kicked at my door ……showed me his earwig trap behind the potting shed. I was grateful, of course, but it was a flimsy foundation for friendship.

I sat, throwing out the thoughts as I’d been taught, and again, never wondering who was throwing them out.

There’s no question, though, that aloneness is a fine tool for exposing the multifacetedness of things: you simply have more time to turn over and over the toys we call facts. You can see how they glitter in the light of quiet.

That patch of sky over india had a musty, homely smell, like an old exercise book. It should have had inkblots and spelling corrections.

Pulling on a crumpled roll of marijuana in Varanasi, a sadhu said: ‘The truth is within you. Everything you search for is there. Its your own obsession with the “I” which blocks your view of those truths. Why do you look outside?’

‘What could anything on paper ever tell you that the tree which has been destroyed to make it could not? Nothing. Nothing at all.’

There are four life stages in the Vedic ashram system. The first is Brahmacharya, the stage of dedication to the great quest – to realize Brahman in oneself. It is entered into by bright-eyed youths……Then there is Grihastha … the stage of settling down. Wives and mortgages are acquired, children are born, cars are polished, lawns are mowed, businesses grow, fortunes are made. Then when the children fly the nest, the wives sag, and the machinations of the firm become unbearably grey, there is Vanaprastha. The Hindu goes into the forest, and begins to prise from his soul the deadly things that have stuck to it over the years of domesticity. He pays off his debtors, and tries to pay off the demons too. He has been dying since he was born, and now is the time to do something about it. The house is sold, the business is given to the sons. He takes with him into the forest only the sacred fire, the cultic implements and, optionally and unusually, his wife. He lives off wild food; his hair and nails go uncut; his capacity for delusion is gradually ground down by austerity and meditation. Eventually he may see clearly enough to go into the final stage – sannyasa. Then he will wander alone through India, begging. The ties with the old life and the old self will have been severed, he will be teethering on the edge of enlightenment, or living in it……..
It is a stern system, now rarely followed. It has generated immense spiritual wealth.

‘I think what I really mean when I speak of the unconscious is the substance of the soul, the “centre” where all the faculties, sense, feeling, appetite, imagination, intellect, will, have their roots. Here all are merged in a deep, simple unity, open at once to God and to nature. Primitive man lives from this centre and that is why he is so “natural”. With so much grace and spontaneity in body and soul, so open to God and to the infinite, and yet so readily turning astray into immorality. As the faculties develop, especially the intellect and will, man grows out of this centre; he becomes specialized, one part is repressed at the expense of another, he becomes “unnatural”, complicated, disunited, yet develops a strong “moral” character to keep things in control. (This is typical of the British in India) ….’
-          Bede Griffiths (Letter, 1956)

She sat on a rock for an hour in the lotus position, completely still, and brought the stillness back with her to the hut. It was not the sort of stillness that you interrogate, but the sort that interrogates you.

There was sun somewhere up there, but so far away that it didn’t seem to matter. Eventually it went away, and then it did matter.

Santoshi Mata is a new Hindu goddess………. She was cheap to propitiate, and needed no elaborate rituals or professional priests. She was intensely practical. She did not insist that busy housewives stop scrubbing their potatoes and work instead on understanding that they and the potatoes were identical with Brahman. She responded quickly and sympathetically to requests for electric mixers, sons or television sets.

Many people sat and looked at a cross that sweated blood during Mass several times between 1551 and 1704, and waited for something. India is superb at waiting.

‘Who sees all beings in his own Self, and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear. When a sage sees this great Unity, and his Self has become all beings, what delusion and what sorrow can ever be near him?’
-          Isa Upanishad

…..Upanishads…..they are the products of well-integrated men – powerful codifiers, adept in linear logic, but sublime poets and frontier-pushing mystics too. There have never been many such writers ………The earliest Upanishads were composed between 800 and 400 BC. Most of the Upanishads are later thatn the four Vedas – the foundational texts of Hinduism. The Vedas are hymns containing detailed accounts of Hindu mythology, passionate exhortations to religious observance, bleak verdicts on the irreligious, and dazzling, kaleidoscopic performances by writers schooled in ecstasy and close to the heart of joy……
Literarily wonderful though they are, the Upanishads are rathe sniffily middle class towards the Vedas. They see the Vedas as the province of the uneducated and unwashed peasants who would never dream of listening to Bach or reading the New York Review of Books. They are plainly embarrassed that many Hindus take the colourful myths so literally, and want to put them right. The authors clearly regard themselves as having been favoured with special knowledge, which they might well have been.

The authors of the Upanishads were religious revisionists. They were the early Cromwells of the Hindu world…..systematically smashing up the idols of the Hinduism that they saw as outdated and primitive. ……….Give me wild Vedic Hinduism any day instead of the slightly self-satisfied University Hinduism of the Upanishads.

Hinduism can and should remind the Christians what their faith is meant to be about. Probably most worthwhile learning is actually anamnesis: unforgetting. Hinduism can help to remind everyone, eloquently and beautifully, that there’s a massive part of ourselves which we neglect at our peril, and which Christianity has neglected to its peril. It’s a detailed map of the seething Unconscious; of the raging sea of the psyche; of the myths from which we can never escape. It’s the book of the elemental.

Can anything be a ‘satisfactory blueprint’ for something as majestic as the whole of a human life?
The answer, obviously, was no. Existence is far too big, colourful and complex to be capable of being governed by any statement of belief. The greatest Christian creeds have explicitly recognized this, acknowledging …..the dismal inadequacy of language and accordingly creeds themselves…..
All great creeds end by asserting that creeds won’t do. That’s what you’d expect. If they cant even tell us satisfactorily what God is like, they are bound to fail to tell us adequately how to relate to Him, Her, Them or It.

…..the great Ranganathaswamy temple….. You feel the competition for temple colour and temple size between neighbouring villages. They are a lot more interesting than the thatched huts in which everyone lives. Regardless of my theology, if I lived in one of those villages, my eyes would want to go to the temple everyday for some relief. The temple statues speak of epic possibility in a world where there’s no possibility at all. Their attraction at all levels must be immense.

Kanyakumari’s a happy, tacky, carnival place. Most people are on a holiday lightly disguised as a pilgrimage

‘I see you looking at my book. Perhaps you are searching?’
‘Aren’t we all?’
‘Very true. Very true. What do you look for? Perhaps I can take you there?’
I came to like this very much indeed about India – that you could go in a single sentence from asking a name to asking one’s life purpose. In London it would have taken years and a dozen drunken dinner parties.

………India’s a theatre of cruel slapstick. Wherever you look, emaciated men in loincloths are falling off bicycles, vanishing down holes in the road, being pulled screaming behind auto-rickshaws, absent-mindedly putting their hands into flailing machinery, being savaged by dogs or stepping barefoot in the piles of human dung that are everywhere.

On the bus going out of Kanyakumari there was a dazzlingly lovely girl with flowers in her hair, immaculately made up, earnestly highlighting a handwritten handout called ‘Human effluent: the basics’. Its impossible not to like this country very much indeed.
So why are all the long-term Western travelers here worn, harassed and running in a way that’s unusual amongst travelers in Asia? There’s more transcendental calm in Disneyland than in the backpackers’ doss-houses backing onto the big pilgrimage sites of India. Whatever they’re looking for, they haven’t found it, or if they have, its not doing them much good, and they’d be better off asking in a New Jersey mall.

I sat on the laughably named Super-Express Deluxe bus, watching fat men woo and win beautiful women on the subtitled video. ‘If she becomes an ice cream,’ counseled one singer, in quarter tones, ‘become a spoon.’ ‘A satellite knows about the earth’s fertility,’ a moustachioed Romeo assured his beloved, as he leapt unwisely between some Mogul battlements, ‘my palm knows your features.’ It seemed to work as a chat-up line, for she immediately urged him, ‘Come to dash your nose with mine.’
Randy…….clambered onto the bus and slung himself beside me. I pretended to be asleep, but the video was too fascinating, and he found me out. A few miles down the road he tried to rummage through my soul, and when I said no, took his out and started talking me through it.
He’d been in India a good deal. He knew a lot of the language of Hinduism, and sprayed it incontinently around.
………I looked longingly at the video, where a couple were skipping round a tree singing, ‘You are my first rain. You are the first tide in my heart, I was a dry leaf until you touched me. When you touched, I grew wings.’………. The video relationship had hit rocky times: ‘We asked for flowers,’ the weeping girl was moaning, ‘who threw these pebbles? I want to pull down the cloud, spread it in a basket, and sleep in the sky.’ I knew how she felt.
…The bus stopped at the Asia Big Chicken Centre, a roadside shack that sold tea and bananas, but not chicken.
……He swelled with the peculiar, and peculiarly emetic, pride that that comes when someone is about to be humble and self-deprecating.
……the video couple were united…..They had given way to a sterner, more philosophical pair, who were assuring one another……..that ‘our caste differences are because of our ancestors.’ Once they’d got that out of the way, they felt able to move on quite quickly to the magnificently mixed romantic metaphors of Tamil cinema: ‘A flower comes with swaying arms. Your eyes started to blaze. Why this heat in the vicinity of your eyes?’ And then to the very legalistic bottom line: ‘If you give consent we can exchange our bodies.’