Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Three Verses from Advaita Vedanta

Bhagwad Gita 2.69

या निशा सर्व भूतानाम् तस्याम् जागर्ति संयमी
यस्यां जागर्ति भूतानि सा निशा पश्यतो मुनेः

What is night to all beings is the time of awakening for the seeker
When all are active and awake, that apparent day is like the night for the silent.

Bhagwad Gita 3.27

प्रकरते क्रियामाणानी गुणैः कर्माणि सर्वशः
अंहकार विमूढात्मा कर्ताहमिति मन्यते

All processes are due to the qualities of nature
An egoist deludes himself in thinking "I am am the doer."


Ishavasyam Upanishad, sholka one:

इशावास्यम इदं सर्वं यतकिन्च जगत्याम जगत
तेंत्यक्तेनभुन्जिथा माँ गृधः कस्यस्विद धनं

All that is, in this world or another, is enveloped by the Lord
Knowing this, be content, and do not covet anybody's wealth.

रात के मुसाफिर

The lyrics of the end titles song from Gulaal, a 2009 Hindi film:

ओ रात के मुसाफिर
तू भागना संभलके
पोटली में तेरी हो आग ना
... संभलके

चल तो तू पड़ा है
फासला बड़ा है
जान ले अंधेरे के सर पे खून चढा है

मुकाम खोज ले तू
मकान खोज ले तू
इन्सान के शहर में इन्सान खोज ले तू

देख तेरी ठोकर से
राह का वो पत्थर

माथे पे तेरे कसके लग जाए ना
... उछलके

ओ रात के मुसाफिर
तू भागना संभलके
पोटली में तेरी हो आग ना
... संभलके

माना कि जो हुआ है
वो तूने भी किया है

इन्हों ने भी किया है
उन्हों ने भी किया है

माना कि तूने ... हाँ हाँ
चाहा नहीं था लेकिन
तू जानता नहीं कि ये कैसे हो गया है

लेकिन तू फिर भी सुन ले
नहीं सुनेगा कोई

तुझे ये सारी दुनिया खा जायेगी
...निगल के

ओ रात के मुसाफिर ...

Monday, June 29, 2009

On Rationality

To be rational is to be sensible and reasonable, instead of being silly and emotional. To expect rational behavior is to expect that a person will behave in an optimal manner.

Irrationality should not be confused with being illogical. Something is illogical if and only if it is a contradiction in itself. A state of affairs in the world can never be inherently contradictory or illogical. Two separate events can be mutually conflicting, for example someone wanting quick money but being afraid of investing in the stock market, that is not a logical contradiction, only a circumstantial one.

However, since the "mind" is perceived as a single entity, contradictions, instead of being realized as conflicting impulses in the brain, are wrongly perceived as a brain in contradiction.


Emotions and passions are powerful but highly sub-optimal reactions to a situation. If a man or an animal threatens you, to shout at him with a great deal of anger and fear can deter him off. This kind of behavior, which obviously has a survival value, can be easily observed in higher mammals, including humans.

Affective punches are very potent because of their strong receptivity in other beings. A child can simply bitterly cry and have his unreasonable demands fulfilled. An adult can simply sulk or appear distressed and arouse sympathy and redressal.

Very strong affective reactions are usually non-conflicting, in that they overwhelm the brain and extinguish any conflicting impulses or thoughts. A surge of anger can feel very "right", a surge of affection can feel very "true" and so on.

Rationality is not the absence of conflict, for strong affective reactions are non-conflicting as well. Rationality is the optimal and non-affective response to a challenge. A conflicting set of thoughts can be properly weighed to evolve a optimal, and hence, rational response.

Suppose a 7-day vacation to a particularly preferred destination is too expensive to be affordable, a rational response might be to have a short vacation there, or to have a 7-day vacation at some other less preferred place.

A rational person can choose to act rationally (i.e. sensibly), but how practical is it to depend on other human beings being rational? It is not very hard to conclude that in a crisis most humans will behave irrationally rather than rationally (due to the very structure of the human brain and brain stem). Affective responses start operating prior to a rational response in the human brain.

In the modern world, in face of a passionate and socially reprehensible act by another human being, when appeal to reason fails, one takes recourse to the law enforcement authorities. It is assumed that the law enforcement will curb the passion and re-establish sensible behavior.

But it is also true that law enforcement apparatus in most countries is biased, convoluted, requires formal expertise and is therefore non-optimal. And in a country like India, archaic laws are still in operation (for example laws which forbid homosexuality).

In such a scenario, when appeal to the aggressor's reason and recourse to law both fail for a rational person, what is the sensible response? It has been said that shouting (as if in anger) at an unreasonable person can be resorted to without getting affectively charged, but such shouting can be curiously ineffectual. The affective punch is missing from the act. If an angry shout is resorted to as a deterring gesture, then pretending to be angry is obviously less authentic and punchy than actually being angry.

The question is: can a rational person survive and thrive in a pre-modern society where institutional support for controlling passionate behavior is lacking?

As another example, suppose a man attempts to rape a woman in a secluded Indian village. If a woman cries, or otherwise gets extremely distressed, the man can possibly let her go, out of guilt or remorse. But if she only pretends to be distressed, or cannot bring tears in her eyes, the man will assume that the woman is not too unwilling and will have less of guilt in his raping attempt.

Hence, rationality requires institutional support. Intellectual growth and human evolution can happen only with the confidence that it is safe to act rationally rather than passionately.

And that confidence can be developed only there are enough precedents of reprehensible or harmful passionate behavior being suitably deterred. Till then, perhaps exceptional human beings can develop their intellects, but the vast multitudes will continue to wallow in irrational but effective responses to aggravations.


I also find it curious that in Indian cities (unlike in Indian villages), when a human being is in a situation of crisis, people observe rather than help. Obviously the risk of legal entanglement is there, but then why the urge to watch?

I think it is easily explained if one considers that an Indian city (in the absence of institutional support) is a den of uncertainty and unexpected stress, whereas a village is more traditional and expectation-driven. In a city, therefore, people have a greater drive to learn about the various potential crises and of what works and what doesn't. The curiously dispassionate observation of a fight or of the plight of an accident victim is therefore an instinctual attempt to constantly educate oneself about the various dangers of city life in India. Such observation and learning is understandably done mostly by males, who are most in need of honing their city survival instincts.

It is simplistic to decry a human being living in a pre-modern society for behaving like an animal. He/she cannot afford the luxury of acting rationally. For him/her, behaving emotionally and passionately is optimal, and hence ... almost rational.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Girlfriend Experience by Steven Soderbergh

Now this is a very uncomfortable film about dehumanization and alienation, though one may be forgiven for considering it a titillating expose of the "escort culture". If Dubai and Manhattan sound like Mecca to you, and if success in business seems like an enchanting way to find happiness, and if you wonder what is loneliness, this film may provide a perspective which is deeply authentic.

This is a companion piece to Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut because it (just like that film) is ultimately a nuanced critique of ruthless capitalism and of a pathetic kind of hedonism. Capitalism is about banking on one's capital (be it in physical assets or otherwise) to create further wealth. And this requires a certain amount of ruthlessness for the agenda is of making as much money (profit) as possible by as little effort (cost) as possible.

Pathetic hedonism is a compulsive urge to partake of pleasure, and when that partaking leaves one as empty and dissatisfied as before. Both in Kubrick's film and in this, the pleasure seems an almost detached, dream-like activity with little depth. In both films, an act of pleasure is more of a distraction from stress rather than genuine pleasure or joy. If being a party animal is a silly way to unwind for nubile professionals, then both these films show how there is no unwinding as you get entangled more and more in living by selling.

Prostitution is just a very crude form of selling oneself. In The Girlfriend Experience, notice the following forms of selling:
  • Selling of appearance (by the personal trainer)
  • Selling of branded goods (by the couture industry)
  • Selling of wealth creation opportunities (by the investment bankers)
  • Selling of dining experiences (by the gourmet industry)
  • Selling of one's business ideas

    and finally

  • Selling of the Girlfriend Experience
What is extremely interesting is the hyper-reality of all the above experiences. They promise, in their artificiality, more than their natural counterparts. The appearance created through cosmetics, personal trainers, etc. is simply too good to be true. The names of the brands one wears are way cooler than one's own name. The atmosphere of wealth creation through buying and selling at the right time is heady, though completely virtual, for the primeval trader in us.

"The girlfriend experience" is the epitome of this hyperreal pyramid. This experience (romantic love) is strictly about gratifying the ego, and how can one possibly convince oneself that a paid escort really loves oneself to the point of distraction? This is not just sex, this is the commodification of love itself. Enjoying a paid-for girlfriend experience requires a cognitive dissonance which is simply astonishing. And it automatically leads to a dependence on repeat experiences. The more contradictory a pleasurable experience, the more one wants to experience it in the hope that the contradiction is an illusion.

When you see this film, notice the extreme superficiality of everybody's responses, and the stress that that lack of spontaneity creates. Everybody, from the personal trainer to the "reviewer" (played by the famous film critic Glen Kenny), is curiously (but subtly) unnatural. This unnaturalness is the cost of success.

The only time the protagonist gives in to her true nature, and is spontaneous, she becomes stressed about the crack in the veneer and quickly jumps back into her successful persona.

This film is a treatise on selling, and on the inadequacy of what is sold.

Mark 8:36 needs no explanation.

The film is also remarkable for the visual artistry.

(in the above frame, notice the shadows instead of real people, and the obstruction between human beings)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Actual Freedom FAQs, my understanding

FAQs page on the AFT Website:

My understanding of the answers to some of the FAQs:

Short comments and feedback welcome on the blog, but for involved discussions, and if you are so inclined, please join the Actual Freedom mailing list: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/actualfreedom

Friday, June 19, 2009

Actual Freedom, suggested pages and links


(Update: Please note that I no longer advocate Actualism. Please see
http://harmanjit.blogspot.com/2010/03/epitaph.html and the comments to that article. For further elucidation, please read my articles on the human condition written in 2010.)

Do NOT proceed to practice Actualism without understanding what you are getting into.


People often ask me how they can find out more about Actualism.

Actualism is not an -ism in the sense of a belief system (e.g. Hinduism) , it is an -ism in the sense of a practice (e.g. tourism). It is based on the reports and writings of a man living in Australia who is known by the first name "Richard".

For anyone interested in what Actualism has to offer (to wit: a total freedom from malice and sorrow and being a "self"), I suggest that they read the following pages, in order:
  1. The AFT Website main page (the content before the links)
  2. Richard's section on the AFT website
  3. Richard's Resume
  4. Introducing Actual Freedom
  5. Actual Freedom is 180 degrees opposite to Spiritual Freedom
  6. Selected Writings on the Actualism method
  7. A Guide for Practicing Actualists
  8. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
  9. Commonly Raised Objections (CROs)
And then one can peruse the full extent of the website at length, perhaps starting with the Library and Glossary. The discussions on the website are sometimes complex, iconoclastic and quite heretical, hence it will be to the reader's benefit if he/she persists and does not hastily dismiss Actualism after a cursory read. Actualism may seem like a rehash of some other philosophy that you know, but it isn't. As far as I have been able to research, Richard is saying something radical.

I am in the process of writing about my own succinct understanding of the discussions and answers to the FAQs and the CROs (the last two links in the above list), which I will soon publish on this blog.

There are various other websites, live forums and archived discussions (which are not in any formal way related to the Actual Freedom Trust) that one can refer to:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

On Vengeance

The essence of vengeance is to inflict pain on another human being.

This infliction of pain is curiously pleasurable. Why?

"I am hurt" is felt as a justification for hurting others. Why?

"They must be taught a lesson."

"They must not go scot-free."

"I must have justice."

There are two kinds of damage: actual and felt. Examples of actual damage are to pick somebody's pocket, or to kill or maim someone. Examples of felt damage are to feel insulted, to feel unloved, to feel devalued, to feel uncared for, etc.

Actual damages need to be remedied by addressing the circumstance. Felt damages can be remedied only by addressing oneself.

However, humans being what they are, confuse the two damages as similar. As "I", as a psychic entity, am hurt, so I believe that I, as this flesh and blood body, am hurt.

And in confusion, a human being usually tries to address a circumstance in order to cure a felt hurt. To address the causes of a felt hurt in oneself is a very, very hard undertaking. It is much simpler to try and find the needle where the light is, no matter where it was lost.

Remedial action can be ill-addressed, but vengeance is even sillier. It goes further than remedial action in intending to inflict a felt or actual damage on the person who is believed to be the cause of one's pain.

However, the vitality of vengeful feelings must not be underestimated. Silliness knows no sense. One is willing to go through years of misery just so that one has a chance of hurting the other person.

So what is the kind of pleasure involved in inflicting pain on another? Why is vengeance pleasurable? Can perversity be rationally explained?

This is the "justice" instinct in operation, for lack of a better term. It can be easily observed that humans almost universally suffer from this instinct. If there be no justice on this earth, people are only too willing to believe in divine justice, the day of judgment, the hell that awaits the other person in the next life, and so on. The belief in an other-worldly record-keeper is almost endemic in the human condition.

To be vengeful is to become that other-worldly entity. One becomes a God of Justice, or its undertaker. The power and potency of the feelings of vengeance come from this identification.

What are the evolutionary roots of this instinct?

(By "humans" below I mean the genetic patterns of humanity)

Firstly, those humans have thrived in nature who did not have any compunction, or felt any guilt, in being malicious, or in being righteously angry. Those who didn't feel a righteous rage simply went extinct because rage was part of the survival package.

Secondly, in helplessness, one could find solace, and still feel powerful, by believing in the divine entities who would punish the other. This must have been such a strong psychological salve that those who did not believe in such an entity felt despondent, hopeless, existentially lonely, depressed and became extinct.

Thirdly, a strong counter to altruism is required if there be a psychological protection from the horrors of violence. During a violent crisis, pacifism born of altruism can make one give up one's own life for the aggressor's sake, but such altruism is obviously suicidal. And so, to resist the opposing instinct of altruism and pacifism when one is required to battle, it is important to imbue violence with a sense of deep meaning (cf the Bhagwad Gita, where Arjuna is asked to fulfill his Dharma, or Hitler's Lebensraum). I am not debating whether the violence is in self-defense or not, the point is that humans have opposing tendencies when asked to fight against their fellow human beings: aggression as well as altruism. Only he would win who can comfortably straddle the two. Others would simply go mad.

Fourthly, intentionality circuits kick into operation. To inflict pain is felt as "teaching" the other. It is part of our communal and parental passions.


And so, vengeance is a primeval force. It makes us gravely agitated, stressed and unable to focus on anything else, but then, blind nature is not concerned about our happiness, it is only concerned about the fight for survival.

Vengeance is natural. Are you willing to be unnatural? Are you willing to give up your humanity to be free of these debilitating feelings?


A few words about forgiveness. A human being who is afflicted with vengeful feelings can counter them with feelings of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a counter-affect. If there be no feeling of pain and hence of vengeance, what is the need for forgiveness?

And therefore one needs to carefully attend to Christ's last words. He was human when he said that.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Philosophical Problems with Relativistic Time

In the Theory of Special Relativity, Albert Einstein rejected the classical conception of time, which is:
"Absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature flows equably without regard to anything external, and by another name is called duration ..." (Absolute Time and Space)
Einstein's replaced classical time with relativistic time, in which, if there be two distant points A and B, there is no a-priori time relation between them.
We have so far defined only an "A time" and a "B time". We have not defined a common "time" for A and B, (On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies)
This absolutely remarkable statement, which has since become universally accepted in scientific circles, has received very little philosophical analysis, except in one book that I could find in an old library, Harald Nordenson's Relativity, Time and Reality, a critique of the philosophical underpinnings of Einsteinian Relativity.

The book is unfortunately out of print, but I have scanned, compressed and uploaded the first two chapters which are the most pertinent.

I invite anyone deeply interested in physics, philosophy and the conception of time to point out the flaws, if any, in Nordenson's critique. I couldn't, and neither could I find any article, book, paper which did.

On J Krishnamurti

Exhibit A1:
"If you are free of violence in yourself the question is, 'How am I to live in a world full of violence, acquisitiveness, greed, envy, brutality? Will I not be destroyed?' That is the inevitable question which is invariably asked. When you ask such a question it seems to me you are not actually living peacefully. If you live peacefully you will have no problem at all. You may be imprisoned because you refuse to join the army or shot because you refuse to fight, but that is not a problem; you will be shot. It is extraordinarily important to understand this" (Freedom From The Known, J Krishnamurti)

Exhibit A2:

K was persuaded not to go to India that winter because of the state of Emergency which had been declared by Ms Gandhi in June; during this, nothing could be published or publicly spoken without submission to the Censorship Committee. The last thing K was prepared to do was to water down his denunciation of authority and tyranny; there was no point in going if he did not speak and a real danger of imprisonment if he did. After the Brockwood gathering, therefore, he returned to Malibu, spending every weekend at the Pine Cottage, talking to the parents and teachers of the Oak Grove school. (The Life and Death of Krishnamurti, Mary Lutyens)

Exhibit B1:

Meanwhile, Krishnamurti's once close relationship with the Rajagopals had deteriorated to the point where Krishnamurti took D. Rajagopal to court in order to recover donated property and funds, publication rights for his works, manuscripts, and personal correspondence, that were in Rajagopal's possession. (Wikipedia article on J Krishnamurti)

Exhibit B2:
... the Krishnamurti Parties acknowledge that the documents they sought to recover from the Rajagopal Parties in the prior lawsuits are, in fact, Rajagopal’s documents and may be kept by Rajagopal. (Case No. 79918, D. Rajagopal, et al. v. J Krishnamurti et al., Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Ventura).

Exhibit C1:
So are we, the elder people, prepared to bring about through education a good human being, a human being who is not afraid - afraid of his neighbour, afraid of the future, afraid of so many, many things, disease, poverty - fear? And also are we prepared in the search of the good, or in establishing the good, prepared or help the child and ourselves to be integral - integrity? The word 'integrity' means, to be whole, and integrity also means to say what you mean and hold it, not say one thing and do something else. Integrity implies honesty. And are we prepared for that? Can we be honest if we have got any illusions, any romantic, speculative ideas, or ideals. If we have strong beliefs, can we be honest? (First public Q&A meeting of J Krishnamurt in Ojai, 1980)

Exhibit C2:

Following this, Roslaind's letter, written in June, was an account of her and Krishna's former relationship and was sent in a sealed envelope to Vanda Scaravelli for Krishna to read in her presence. Krishna handed it to Mary Zimbalist to read and she made a note of the scene in her diary, saying the letter was titled, "A Sad, Sad Story". Mary wrote that it was a self-serving account and a justification of what Rosalind might be "driven in desperation" to say in court. Regarding an accusation in the letter that Krishna was a "congenital liar", Krishna told Mary that he had lied "they" attacked and brutalised him. he was revolted by the letter, saying it was "unclean". Mary said that she felt sickened by its tone and would never have anything to do with "these two people" after the case had ended. The letter was later reported to have been torn up in front of Vanda. (Jiddu Krishnamurti: His Life and Thoughts, C V Williams)

Exhibit C3:

(when asked why he hid his relationship with Rosalind Rajgpoal, the wife of his friend D Rajgopal. This was a relationship involving multiple surreptitious abortions, as detailed in the book by Rajgopal's daughter, Radha Rajgopal Sloss.
Q: Still, I must admit that, for me at least, I have to believe in the integrity of the teacher.

K: Wait a minute, Sir. What do you mean by integrity? How do you know?

Q: Well let me put it this way. What the teacher teaches must be applicable to what happened to him.

K: How do you know? Wait a minute. Let’s see. How do you know?

Q: I don’t know but I feel that this has to be true for me to feel motivated by his teaching.

K: Ah, ah. I’m not interested. I am only interested in the teaching. Nothing else - who you are, who you’re not. Whether you’re real or honest. It is my life that I am concerned with, not with your life.

Q: Well, but this is a teaching that states things about human beings. The man who made these statements must know of what he speaks by his life.

K: Apparently. No. What I am trying to say is this, Sir. How do you know whether he is honest or dishonest? Wait. I’m just going seriously into this. How do you know whether what he is saying is out of his own life or he is inventing? Inventing in the big sense? Or he’s leading a double life?

Q: Let me put it the other way round. I can’t know whether he is leading a double life, but if at any moment I believe that he is, that affects his teaching for me. Do you see the difference?

K: I understand. I would say: “Please, leave the personality completely alone.”


Generally speaking, the anger that the various saints, sages and seers have come out with from time to time has been designated as 'Divine Anger', for example, and I was allowing the possibility that any anger displayed by Mr. Jiddu Krishnamurti may have thus been exempt from the normal or garden variety. Specifically written into the question is, basically, that there is the ideal (sitting together as two friends under a tree discussing matters) and there is the reality (taking out several lawsuits to obtain legal possession of a former associate's documents) of course there is implicit in the question that anger was involved ... it is anger that clouds clarity.

Which is why I suggested that you look again at what I wrote because the issue I was addressing is the distinction between the ideal (under a tree) and the reality (a litigious relationship) and the distinction between the ideal (having eradicated anger) and the reality (of pacifistically sitting out a war). I was drawing a parallel by providing an example to demonstrate the issue in action in real-life ... and a pacifist is a person who changes their behaviour in lieu of eradicating the anger (or aggression, hatred and etcetera) which causes the behaviour in the first place. As law and order is everywhere maintained at the point of a gun a person that is free of malice and sorrow can both utilise physical force/restraint (be involved in a war) and take out lawsuits (be involved in litigation) where clearly applicable ... there is no difference in kind between the physical force used in a war and the physical force used in a court-case. Lastly, what is indeed 'hypocritical' is advising others to do what one has not done oneself. Vis.: [Hermann]: 'K, when asked during WWII to condemn the enemy, always advised the questioners to look into themselves and eradicate anger there. Not many people listened'. [emphasis added].

And it is the 'not many people listened' statement which is the telling comment ... Mr. Jiddu Krishnamurti did not listen to his own 'Teachings'. But, then again, he oft-times distanced himself from the 'Teachings' ... as do the many and varied saints, sages and seers (popularly phrased as do not look at the finger but look at what the finger is pointing to). Mr. Jiddu Krishnamurti made it very clear where his peace lay ... the 'answer' to all the ills of humankind is not to be found in the world: [quote]: 'I have found the answer to all this [violence], not in the world but away from it'. (page 94, Krishnamurti 'His Life And Death'; Mary Lutyens; Avon Books: New York 1991).

Eastern spirituality is fundamentally all about avoiding re-birth ... not about peace-on-earth.

(From a discussion on the Listening-L mailing list about J Krishnamurti, written by Richard circa 2001)

Monday, June 15, 2009

On Anger

Righteous anger is harder to eradicate than malicious anger.

Anger makes one a God of Justice at the cost of ceasing to be a peaceful human being.

Anger is born of the helplessness to do something substantive about a painful situation.

It is painful, for a normal human being, to nip anger in the bud, for that is nipping "me" in the bud. What am I if not my feelings?

It is more pleasurable and glorious, for a normal human being, to die of blood lust than to live without anger.

Needy love turns to anger as it finds its needs unfulfilled.

Anger seeks to make others angry, for that provides sustenance for it to escalate.

Take heed, for this moment is the sum of your life till now. If you are not experiencing life as good as the best you have experienced till now, it is time to take pause.

This moment ... can be the moment you've been waiting for.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The International by Tom Tykwer

The film doesn't break any new ground in action sequences, but is somewhat remarkable because this is the first time I have seen a big-budget studio film have a character utter the word "Communism" in a respectful and almost wishful tone.

And though the Guggeneheim sequence is painstakingly constructed, it is still a gimmick rather than a cinematic flourish.

I generally like films which depict the tragic and cold ruthlessness of big money, as if showing the dirty Kobayashi base of an exquisite bone-china cup. And such films are better if they contain as little action as possible. For example, Michael Clayton, or Syriana, or Traffic.

This film is a middling venture veering midway between being a critique of globalization and capitalism and being a crowd-pleasing action film (complete with Blackberry product placement, product placement being the last thing one expects in a film criticizing the corruption of big business).

A film should know where it stands. Eastern Promises was an unabashed exercise in style, We Own the Night was a character drama, The Bourne Ultimatum a whirlwind ride through masterful action sequences.

I enjoyed many technically superlative (though conventionally so) compositions in the film, and this film can be a good study in lighting of faces and objects.

And I have to say that I appreciate the pessimistic (and hence realistic) end of Syriana, Traffic or of this film.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Helmets for Women in India

Helmets are mandatory for two-wheeler riders in India. In most of India, an adult passenger on a two-wheeler also has to wear a helmet. However, in most cities, women are exempt from this rule, whether they are riding alone or as a passenger. It is a strange exemption that I have witnessed only in India, and there seem to be widely differing justifications for this rule.

Here are some of them:
  • Sikh women claim religious sensitives prevent them from wearing helmets, as they can only wear turbans (which hardly any of them do). As a driving license does not list the religion of the woman, all women can claim exemption under this. Sikh women today seem to be peculiarly opportunistic in following the Sikh code of conduct, as they generally cut their hair, wear elastic underwear, pluck their eyebrows, don't use "Kaur" in their full names, but when it comes to wearing a helmet, they seem to be remarkably devout.

  • Women think they look manly with a metal helmet, and therefore do not want to wear a helmet, since they may want to catch the eye of a suitable groom while vrooming.

  • Women in India maintain elaborate hairstyles with lots of pins and jooda and a helmet would not be "suitable" nor fit properly over such a head.

  • Women sometimes carry a child in their lap or in their arms while riding pillion and if they wear a helmet, cannot take care of the child, nor be able to kiss it properly if it starts crying.

  • Helmets are expensive and one household can only afford one helmet, which should be bought as per the head size of the man and worn by him exclusively. If the man dies, the woman will be left destitute, whereas if the woman dies, no hard feelings and the man can remarry.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On Responsibility

As human beings, we are born with a biological program to survive and thrive, at any psychological cost. And after birth, our large brains absorb a lot of new programming provided by our parents, society, teachers, culture, etc.

As the programs have evolved towards optimizing survival and prosperity, human beings are naturally competitive, greedy, lustful, fearful, insecure, sorrowful, aggressive, and so on. To expect a human being to be happy as a default state is to deeply misunderstand the biological and social forces operating within him/her.

As an adult, a human being is a flagrantly parasitical, malicious and sorrowful creature, and uses his large brain to exploit other human beings, and to amplify his malice as well as his sorrow. This malice and sorrow, as part of a human being's survival program, are the deepest core of his being and carry great potency and vitality.

To be responsible for one's psychological states is the first tiny step in the journey towards total freedom from one's in-born humanity. This responsibility means one understands that humanness is a sub-optimal state, that one was not born innocent, that one is not a victim of a corrupt world, that one is not a leaf blowing in the wind, that one is not at the mercy of other people's consideration. This responsibility means one acknowledges that one is naturally a sorrowful, malicious, bored, parasitical, passionate, emotional, needy and selfish creature.

This responsibility means one does not blame one's spouse for the jealousy that one feels, this responsibility means one does not demand another to fulfill one's desires, this responsibility means one does not take out one's anger on other people, this responsibility means one does not rob others for fulfilling one's greed, this responsibility means one does not plead others to be close to one if one is being sorrowful and lonely.

To admit responsibility for one's psychological states is the the first step towards freedom from the blind nature's survival program and from society's many silly dictates. Till then, one is busy changing others, demanding that they fulfill one's wishes and desires, demanding that the universe revolve around them, demanding that others love oneself as one loves oneself, ...

It is not selfishness to not fulfill others' whims and desires. Nobody need be burdened with making anyone else happy. On the other hand, it is the height of selfishness, and a parasitical selfishness to boot, to use others to fulfill one's own desires, and to ask others to pander to one's passions and insecurities.

To admit responsibility for one's psychological states is the first step towards freedom from malice and sorrow.

And this responsibility ends with oneself. "The only person one needs to change, and indeed can change, is oneself."

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Star Trek by J J Abrams

There are films which are thought provoking, and there are films which aren't. This one isn't.

Star Trek, when it debuted on TV, captured the minds of a generation by provoking questions about science, the future of humanity, our roots and limitations, and about the wide but essentially human spectrum of experience in the universe.

This film has been directed by J J Abrams, whose most well-known action film is Mission Impossible 3, a film, to put it mildly, not considered a legend.

The director and the screenwriter play to the gallery by including many redundant and vulgar action sequences, and by pitting the infantile egos of three people against each other. I didn't have respect for any character in the whole film. Scenes of heroism should linger and focus on the character, not on pyrotechnics. Kirk's father did something heroic, but the filmmakers couldn't resist cutting to a loud (in space, of all places) fireball instead of lingering on the silent and agonized face of the hero.

The film does provide a nod to 2001 A Space Odyssey in the jump sequence by Kirk and Sulu, and the sequence showing Spock's education as a child is genuinely fascinating. Unfortunately, Spock is shown more as a repressed person having a fetish for logic rather than a person who is truly rational and understands human frailties. The dichotomy between Kirk and Spock is not between the mind and the heart/body, but (unfortunately) between an anal-retentive kind of repression and a risk-taking, impulsive spontaneity. Since both are silly attitudes to have in general, their mixture will be either silly this way or that way, and will succeed only by sheer chance.

It is also noticeable how certain aspects of personality which are unfamiliar or amplified provide comic relief. Observe Sulu's antics, observe the Russian's accent, observe Spock's fetishistic dialogues, observe the doctor's agitation, and so on and so forth.

And let me not even begin to talk about the paradoxes of time travel trivially side-stepped by the film.

A science fiction action film today is mostly a juvenile enterprise, with an overabundance of light and sound, egotistical screaming and just-in-time escapes from death.

There are action films which are muscular, and there are those which are cerebral and surgical and which understand that violence is tragic. Two of my favorite films, Heat, and the original The Day of the Jackal deal with violence as a bitter choice, not as entertainment.

And it is not a question of box office performance. Heat was a hit, despite its mature themes.

An attempt to create an epic cannot focus on providing shallow entertainment. When will directors and screenwriters understand this?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Little Bird and the God

Once upon a time, there were a group of birds living in an old, shattered building. They did not know how to live freely and fly in the open skies.

One of those birds, a little bird to be sure, wanted to fly in the open skies. But the group of birds forbade it, citing that it was not allowed and that it would hurt their feelings immensely if they saw one of them flying in the open sky.

The little bird tried to reconcile itself to the restricted life, but it could not extinguish its pursuit of the open sky and went out, flew a little, and seeing a tree for the first time, ate some green leaves of that tree.

One of the birds suspected, by smelling the breath of the little bird, that something must have happened. Immediately the suspicious bird called a meeting of all the group members excluding the little bird, in which the punishment of death was decided for the little bird if it admitted to the lapse. The little bird however did not know of this and was sound asleep.

It was approached in the morning by its tiny son, who was in cahoots with the whole group, and who asked the little bird to tell the truth as to whether it had gone outside the building or not. The son told the little bird that by telling the truth it would win the hearts of the whole group and everybody would be happy.

The little bird was called to the meeting. Knowing the nature of the group, it was in two minds about telling the truth. On the one hand it held freedom and truth to be the highest values in its life, on the other hand it was sure it would be killed if he admitted to the excursion.

It went ahead and bravely admitted that it had gone out of the building the previous day.

Immediately the whole group pounced on it and tore every last feather from its body, and while the little bird was trembling, face to face with certain death, it was asked one more question in a stern voice: did it try to fly when it went outside the building?

The little bird looked at its tiny son with its only remaining eye, the other one hanging out of its socket and out of which blood was slowly seeping out. The son averted its gaze and looked instead proudly at the chief of the group, who had promised the tiny son the choicest morsels of food that day.

However, one of the other birds, knowing the nature of the little bird, asked the little bird to still speak the truth, saying that that was the only way it would be allowed to stay alive. The little bird, with whatever faint life that it had left, tried to open its lips to say that it had indeed flown. But in that instance, just as it was going to speak the truth, it, and only it, was stuck with a curse by the God of Truth and Freedom and was killed.

When the little bird went to the other world and asked the God why it had been cursed when it was so devoted to truth and freedom, the God of Truth indulgently smiled at the little bird, but with a little sternness, said, "I curse those who offer my most cherished devotee to be butchered."

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The First Sentence of the Brahm Sutras

Notwithstanding my rejection of spirituality, the first sentence of the venerable Brahm Sutras, one of the principal texts of Vedanta, the non-dualist stream of Hindu philosophy, is a sledgehammer of an injunction to anyone who is regressing into complacency and is proceeding towards living an unexamined life (1).

The sentence is just two words:
अथातो ब्रह्मजिज्ञासा (Athato Brahm-Jigyasa)
Its meaning is simply this: "Now at last inquire after the supreme."

And the simplicity of this injunction is its power. The injunction has been interpreted in various ways. Whether it is about the opportunity offered by one being born as a human being, or whether it is about having had enough of mindless gratifications, or whether it is a rejection of all superficial knowledge (of rituals etc.) in favor of knowing the Absolute, can be debated.

Similar to the intent of this sentence was the letter written to me by my erstwhile spiritual teacher (translated here in English):
Sri Satguru Parmatmane Namah, Shivo Hum

Beloved Atman,

Nature had given to man in every way: an organized body, subtle intelligence, understanding, beautiful eyes, clear receiving ears, sensitive skin, nostrils etc.; it had given him all the organs, and it had provided him with enough time to evolve. He was given a good environment, great awakened ones were made available to him. He could have enkindled his own lamp with the light of theirs,

But what happened to him?

This body as your part,
Swami X Y

(1): The unexamined life is not worth living (Apology by Plato, attributed to Socrates)