Friday, September 20, 2013

Some notes on "Unconditional Love"

"Unconditional Love" is a phrase which probably entered the English language during late twentieth century.  This was the time when community structures were breaking down due to increases in state-sponsored welfare, policing and social security, chaos in family institutions, and evolving telecommunications technology.  The process must have started with the industrial revolution which led to the transition from a joint family to a nuclear family.

It was getting harder to have multiple people in one's daily life who loved one as a family member, so the demands of love started to get centered around only one person (usually one's spouse).  And it is a tall order for one person to love another all the time with the same intensity.  So when that love/validation was diminished, the love-hungry person felt a vacuum, a feeling of emptiness.  The lover's love felt non-fulfilling or somehow less than the ideal of love.

Love/validation is like a IV drip.  When it stops, there is a pang.  The pang demands that the supply be re-started.  That there must not be any reason to stop the supply.  That otherwise, the supply is conditional, not true, not altruistic enough, and so on.

Therefore the demand for unconditional, continuous, love.

It can be justifiably considered a power tactic.  The politics involved in "love me no matter how I treat you" is not too involved.  One is expecting a certain emotion in the other to continue while oneself is vulnerable to vagaries of mood and attitude.  If oneself is irritable and unloving at times, it is to be expected that the other, being a human being, will also have these phases.

"Love" is a not just an abstraction.  It must show itself in one's interactions.  If the interactions are unloving, claims of "love" and demands of "unconditional love" from the other will feel half-baked.

Gurus are fond of saying that they love the disciple's/seeker's "soul" (his/her real self), while actively denigrating/bullying the reality of the seeker's body/mind.  The seeker takes all kind of abuse because he is taken in by the guru's subterfuge.  The guru undermines the seeker's trust/faith in himself and asks him to believe in a higher form of love, which is not targeted at the body/mind.  The guru calls the loves of the body/mind as "dirty" loves, while the love of the seeker's soul by the guru is considered "divine".  If the seeker doesn't understand this love, the guru can always claim that the seeker is not yet at that plane of understanding.  After all, the guru is the guru and the seeker is the seeker.

In normal relationships, this spiritual term has entered to the peril of individuals.  Love is always conditional otherwise it will not be specific.  If a man loves a woman, then ab initio his love is conditional on the gender of the other person.  The woman must have been found lovable by him.  In a way it should be found very insulting by the woman if the man claims that he loves her unconditionally.  That means that he loves nothing specifically in or about her, but is generally a loving person who has happened to come across her in life and who is now flexing his spiritual muscle by loving her "unconditionally".

All human love is conditional.  Either through kinship, or through reciprocity, or through expectation, or through validation, or through lust, or through pity, or through fear, ...

If a love is not conditional, then it is more akin to "compassion".  Which is a bit condescending, if you really look into it.  Compassion immediately sets up a hierarchy where one person has the ability to "give" more (to be more emotionally generous) than the other, who is a fallible human being and a sink for emotional energy.

Parents disown disrespectful children.  Spouses divorce.  Lovers separate.  Siblings fight.  Friends deceive and are then no longer friends.  Each of these loves starts when the conditions are good, and disintegrates when the conditions are no longer satisfactory.

"Accepting" the other "fully" while in a relationship is a different thing.  It means that in day to day life, one understands the humanity of the other person, and that one doesn't expect the other to be perfect all the time.   Also, that one understands the idiosyncrasies and preferences of the other and doesn't try to change them.  If the flaws in the other, or the cracks in a relationship, increase beyond a threshold, then obviously acceptance and love will go for a toss.  But while in the relationship, it is generally good advice to accept the other person as he/she is.  If that is unfeasible and one finds it possible to only live with another who completely echoes one's habits and preferences, then let there be no relationship to begin with.  A relationship that starts with the hope that the other will change to be more like oneself does not have much of a chance.

To love another human being "unconditionally" can only happen if one no longer desires anything from that person, even love.  But then, is it really love?

Or is it more like a God blessing his little creations?

If you ask another for unconditional love, understand that they may then love you in a very non-specific, godly way.  Understand also that you are not then willing to give, but only to receive.

If you seek human love, expect conditions.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"Hate the sin, love the sinner"

This quote is usually attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.

This is a distant echo of St. Augustine. His Letter 211 (c. 424) contains the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to "With love for mankind and hatred of sins." (from

What would a Buddhist say to this, since Buddhism considers "I" to be an illusion?  In Buddhist teachings, one frequently comes across the phrasing: "There is no actor, only the acts.", or "There is no dancer, only the dance."


I consider both formulations to be misguided.  That is because, in my opinion, the so-called "actor" is nothing but his body, mind, personality, traits, acts, interactions, knowledge, memories, skills, relationships, etc.

Whether we like it or not, these objects and processes are congealed into a single identifiable and persisting body/brain which is usually recognizable and labeled.

When such a body commits a bad act (say a rape, or a theft), we recognize (sensibly) that there must be something in that body/brain which must have led to that act.  Perhaps a wild or untamed instinct, perhaps a strain of immorality, perhaps a defect in conscience or a fault in the upbringing, ...

If the act is worthy of condemnation, then so is the origin of the act.  Both circumstances and one's tendencies should be considered as originating factors in a crime.  If the circumstances are such that a normal person could choose not to commit that crime, then we regard the crime as a matter of choice.  Therefore we target the choice-making mechanism in the criminal body/brain as worthy of condemnation, and therefore of punishment.

Condemnation as a cognitive response is merely disapproval.  Emotional condemnation is hate.

If condemnation, emotional or cognitive, of an act is justified, then so is condemnation of the origin of that act.  And as long as we are unable to identify and address the precise malfunction in someone's brain which caused him/her to commit the crime, we punish/condemn the whole individual.

Let us consider what would happen if we follow M Gandhi's advice.  The discourse would be as follows:

"He is a fine, sensitive, individual, but sometimes commits murders and rapes."

"He is woefully untrustworthy and has embezzled from hundreds of individuals, but is otherwise an honest man."

"She is a kind and lovable individual, though prone to rather frequent fits of anger and rage."

We may not be our acts (we are other things too), but we sure cannot back away from being responsible for them.

One can still, in some sense, love the sinner (in terms of being compassionate, wish for him/her to be reformed, etc.), but that's about the extent of one's relationship with him.

It is good to wish Angulimala well.  From a distance of course.  Beware of inviting him to your village kindergarten.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Shuddh Desi Romance by Maneesh Sharma

The tagline of the film is: "A story about the hair-raising minefield between love, attraction and commitment."

I got tricked into going to this film after reading the Danny Bowes' review on which started with: "Unless something very good comes out between now and December, "Shuddh Desi Romance" will be the best romantic comedy made anywhere in the world for 2013."


I think the film starts well, is nicely photographed with authentic shots of small-town India.  And then runs out of steam after about thirty minutes.  Yes, it is a bold film (for India) which shows live-in relationships and sex under the stars.  Awkward kissing, too.  In Jaipur, of all places.  Old codgers could be forgiven for thinking that these kinds of films are made to corrupt the minds of traditional folks in small towns, with places like Delhi and Mumbai having already gone to the dogs, culturally speaking.

There are some young men and women in this film who are somehow living as islands.  Where is their family?  Where is the community?  Where are the repercussions?  A stunt film warns its viewers not to even attempt to imitate what is shown on the screen.  Similarly, this film should warn its viewers that promiscuity and breaking off of engagements in small-town India can have, literally, deadly consequences.  Especially for a single woman who is living on her own.

I get it, it's a comedy.  But then, it tries to preach as well, by breaking the fourth wall.  A film can either be a social commentary, or a comedy.  If you are being ambitious and trying to do both, then get it right.  This film doesn't.

Yes, commitment scares the best of us.  And who doesn't like relationships with "no strings attached".  Except, of course, when shit hits the fan and we need the other and feel "abandoned".  Freedom is so nice, the film tries to say.  Only that no one in the film is forcing anybody to give up that freedom, or to commit.  It is all self-made decisions and then going back on those decisions.

One could be forgiven for running away from a commitment which is forced upon oneself, and there are civil ways to break off an engagement.  But no, confrontation is for losers.  Running away is the winning way!

Smoking, drinking and fornicating is not the essence of a free life, despite what this film tries to show.

The film is one joke told three (or more, I lost count) times.

I am reminded of this para from the manifesto written by Theodore John Kaczynski:
75. In primitive societies life is a succession of stages. The needs and purposes of one stage having been fulfilled, there is no particular reluctance about passing on to the next stage. A young man goes through the power process by becoming a hunter, hunting not for sport or for fulfillment but to get meat that is necessary for food. (In young women the process is more complex, with greater emphasis on social power; we won't discuss that here.) This phase having been successfully passed through, the young man has no reluctance about settling down to the responsibilities of raising a family. (In contrast, some modern people indefinitely postpone having children because they are too busy seeking some kind of "fulfillment." We suggest that the fulfillment they need is adequate experience of the power process -- with real goals instead of the artificial goals of surrogate activities.) Again, having successfully raised his children, going through the power process by providing them with the physical necessities, the primitive man feels that his work is done and he is prepared to accept old age (if he survives that long) and death. Many modern people, on the other hand, are disturbed by the prospect of death, as is shown by the amount of effort they expend trying to maintain their physical condition, appearance and health. We argue that this is due to unfulfillment resulting from the fact that they have never put their physical powers to any use, have never gone through the power process using their bodies in a serious way. It is not the primitive man, who has used his body daily for practical purposes, who fears the deterioration of age, but the modern man, who has never had a practical use for his body beyond walking from his car to his house. It is the man whose need for the power process has been satisfied during his life who is best prepared to accept the end of that life.

Raanjhanaa by Aanand Rai

By turns cliched and confusing, this is a well-made film.  It could be a companion piece to Suraj ka Satwan Ghoda (Shyam Benegal, 1993), which also explores the question of class in romance.

Ostensibly a drama/romance, the film offers some genuine pleasures and is never predictable.

There is no question that it is a brave move for Mr Dhanush to star in a Hindi film with looks that will easily invite derision and ridicule, especially from most of North Indian population which is hung-up on looking Aryan.  He is neither fair, nor muscular, nor does he have a commanding presence, and his mannerisms and personality are clearly that of an underdog and of a thoroughly "beta" male.

It is admittedly hard to admire an actor but to loath his character.  The Indian audience, I daresay, is not yet evolved enough to tolerate unlikable traits in their "heroes".  The hero (and the heroine) has to be all perfect.  Perhaps because we go to movies for wish-fulfillment rather than edification.

This is the first mainstream Indian film that I have seen in which the romantic hero is, quite consciously, shown as unattractive and having little appeal.  Except of course for his passion for the woman, which, rather surprisingly, is not reciprocated.

There are scenes in the film in which the hero is brutally humiliated.  Sometimes by himself, and sometimes by his love interest.  There is a not-so-subtle strain of masochism and of wanting to sacrifice all for love.  Mr Dhanush plays a character so thirsty for love and validation that it does not matter to him how his groveling appears to whom whose love he needs so badly.

He perhaps knows that he stands no chance in this romance.  On the other hand we have a blue-blooded boy who seems to win this love (from the same woman) without so much as lifting a finger.

What about the woman, though?  What qualities does she possess, other than a somewhat chiseled face, that these two men want to endanger their lives for her?  We are not really supposed to know.

Except a minor quibble about Mr Dhanush's accent and about certain amateurish plot devices (discrediting a doctor suitor is a good instance of sloppy writing), I think the film generally works.  The film does offer some unrelated minor pleasures.There is a somewhat hilarious parody of leftist student politics, and the music by A R Rahman is pleasing to the ears.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Good and the Pleasant

One of the central teachings of the Katha Upanishad is the distinction between Preya (the pleasant) and Shreya (the good).

Plato's Phaedrus contains similar thoughts:
In every one of us there are two ruling and directing principles, whose guidance we follow wherever they may lead; the one being an innate device of pleasure, the other an acquired judgment which aspires after excellence. Now these two principles at one time maintain harmony, while at another they are at feud within us, and now one and now the other obtains mastery.
There are at least two questions involved.  Firstly, is there something meaningful that's being said?  And secondly, as a philosopher, if there is indeed a difference between the two: How can one distinguish between these two, and how can one ascertain if one is following the path of pleasure or of "excellence"?

I believe there is indeed something valuable being said.  Acting on impulse, or react in a knee-jerk manner, or to satisfy an appetite as soon as it arises might be pleasant but we do not admire a person who has these proclivities.  We admire a person who does the opposite: one who has self-restraint, one who is mindful and thinks before acting, and one who does not live merely to fulfill his appetites.  By appetites, I mean the urges for sensual or "shallow" egoistic pleasures: insulting someone, getting others to agree to oneself out of fear or respect, etc.

Darshan Chande, who writes at, has written a few posts on "contentment-happiness" versus "excitement-happiness".  He would, I think, classify "pleasant" acts to lead to excitement-happiness and "good" acts to lead to contentment-happiness.

It has been said, perhaps in some arcane text that I no longer recall, that pleasant acts lead to feeling good in the short term but regret later, while good acts lead to a non-pleasant feeling in the short-term but provide much happiness later, and for a longer term.

As we grow in age, experience and wisdom, we learn to identify which acts have consequences which we will later regret.  And if we are sane and psychologically healthy, we avoid those acts or behavior patterns.

That's one of the keys to distinguish the "good" from the "pleasant".  But there is more.  Sometimes there are choices from which our conscience chooses one way while the pragmatic mind chooses the other.  An accident victim on an Indian highway needing our help.  An official demanding a bribe to address our issue faster.  In these scenarios, there is a faint guilt if we choose to follow our pragmatic side over our conscience.
That guilt is the conscience feeling let down.

If the conscience is let down too many times, it can withdraw into a shell of self-defense.  Just like an infant which is chided once too many and the infant then grows fearful to even utter a word.  Then the capacity to distinguish the "good" from the "pleasant" can no longer be found inside oneself.  It is all either "pleasant" or "unpleasant".

I am not going to talk much about the origins of conscience, but it has a genetic as well as a social component.  A healthy individual in a healthy environment would feel at peace with his/her conscience: neither suffocated by it, nor suffocating it.

Some religions eschew the pleasant altogether in favor of the good.  They consider any pleasure as a symptom of bondage to the "corporeal".  I believe, however, that such religions can be a toxic influence and lead to all kind of neuroses.  Religions which value life on earth and the pleasures it can provide, albeit secondary to a life of goodness, are healthier than those who consider renunciation as the human ideal.

Pure goodness with no pleasure is as inhuman, and pathological, as a life of pure pleasure with no consideration of goodness.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Some Quotes by Byron Katie

"If we hurt someone, we suffer."

This quote, and its corollary - that we shouldn't therefore hurt others - seem profound and a deep spiritual truth.  But if we probe it a little, it becomes obvious that the worldview of this quote is all about myself, and others are merely the supporting cast in the movie that I call "my life".

To hurt others is wrong because it hurts others, not because it would make "me" suffer.

To avoid hurting others because it would make "me" suffer is to regard one's own experiencing as the real criterion of one's behavior.

What about others?  "Oh, that's their problem."

Why not just express the tautology: "If we hurt someone, they suffer"?  Why isn't this enough to impede someone from hurting others?  Probably because the culprit doesn't think of others as much as he should.  The advice should be simply that he should become more empathetic and considerate.  The Byron Katie quote is to manipulate his inherent selfishness to make him behave better.

Ms Katie goes further with her wisdom in the following quote:

"If I think you’re my problem, I’m insane."
    Again, seemingly profound and wildly liberating to anyone who finds expectations and relationships too much to handle. But adapting this can only lead to the self abiding in itself with no meaningful relationship to anyone else.

    Relationships are built upon expectations and on synergy. At times, this synergy will be found lacking. In those times, to not focus on the relationship (which is to focus both on oneself and the other) but to retreat into oneself ("I will not deal with anyone else's problems, not my job.") is a recipe for spiritual upliftment but a total failure in one's relationship.

    Of course, if always it is one person who is trying to build synergy which is undermined by the other, then perhaps the relationship is somewhat doomed.

    "When I walk into a room, I know that everyone in it loves me. I just don’t expect them to realize it yet."
    Therapeutic nonsense is so beautiful at times. And so silly.

    Tuesday, September 10, 2013

    The Soccer Match

    Anybody could come and play the game, they said.

    The soccer games in Brat were known to attract and produce players who were good for nothing.  They only thought of self-promotion, advertising and women.  Playing soccer was the thing farthest from their minds.

    Some concerned citizens of Brat were understandably upset over this state of affairs.  They wanted their soccer team to be a good team.  They wanted their top players to command respect in the global soccer arena.  They wanted the corrupt and money-minded players out.

    Whenever they asked the organizers of the matches, they were told that it was an open system.  Anybody could come and play.  Those who won formed the team.  It was as transparent as anything, they were told.  There was no stopping any "real" player, or anyone interested only in playing, from playing.

    A bunch of well-intentioned young men took up the challenge.  They trained hard.  They made their bodies hard and strong.  When dribbling, the ball became an extension of their foot.  The match was a few weeks away and they wanted to leave nothing to chance.

    The day of the match came.

    At the starting whistle, the forward player of current team of the good-for-nothings handled the ball and threw it towards his partner who was up ahead.  Obviously foul play.  The captain of the current team winked at the elderly referee, a well-known mandarin of the community.  The referee smiled and looked away from the scene of play.

    A goal was scored, against the new team.

    The new team tried to equalize, but every time they tried to take the ball to the other end, they ended up injured, held by the other players, while the referee continued to ignore the fouls.

    The commentator also had been paid and he continued to sing the praises of the current team.

    The new team felt helpless and dejected.  The score at the end was 0-5.  The fans of the current team cheered and roamed drunk through the town that night.  The few fans of the new team were bullied and beaten up.  Nobody came to their rescue.

    It is said that the new team left town to play somewhere else.  This was not a town which was worthy of them.  No matter what a few people said, Brat truly wanted the team that it already had.

    Friday, September 06, 2013

    On Judging Others

    An earlier essay on "judgment" here.

    The Bible contains an interesting statement: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." (Matthews 7:1)

    Of course people judge others all the time.  There are whole institutions built upon the activity of judging.  As long as there has been community life, some form of law, and a process for judging and punishing the violators, has been in existence.

    I don't think the Bible is talking about that kind of judging.

    We all know a certain kind of person in our circle of acquaintances who doesn't let go of any opportunity to complain, whose eyebrow is almost always raised in approbation, who sees the older generation to be a burden, the younger generation to be immoral, the folks of his own generation to be good-for-nothing, who sees any new technology or tool as something which will encourage laziness, distraction or lack of virtue, who is extremely hard to please and is easy to annoy, ...

    I think there is an old English word for such an individual: "censorious". Other synonyms include: critical, severe, carping, disapproving, scathing, disparaging, judgmental, cavilling, condemnatory, fault-finding, captious.

    It is stressful to be around such a person.

    I think the Bible is trying to put the fear of God in an individual with this unlikable trait. Anyone who asks such an individual to be more forgiving, charitable or otherwise "chilled" will find, to their surprise, that this individual does not consider himself judgmental, but rather, the provider of a useful social service by taking every opportunity to correct others, whether or not they are inclined to be corrected.

    In such a person's estimation, society needs to be saved, and he is one of the last saviors left. Without him, there would be anarchy, licentiousness, immorality, a breakdown of the social contract, a total absence of manners, war, food left on the plate, a piece of underwear worn for two days in a row, and so on.

    If we try to convince this individual that one should "pick one's battles", "let it go", "let things slide", "enjoy life", "live and let live", "not be a drill-master", or simply, "relax", this individual would not be found enjoying the conversation. He would classify us as a defender of immorality and sloth, and to let go of his judgmental-ness would be tantamount to his giving up his very reason for existence.

    To tell someone their opinion is wrong is still tolerable, but to ask someone not to have an opinion about something, or even worse, to keep quiet about it, is taken as an abridgment of free speech. "How dare you?"

    The Bible recognizes this ailment, and therefore instead of directly confronting the malcontent, indirectly scares him. After all, the incessant complainer knows within him that he is no paragon of perfection either. Just that he manages to keep his shortcomings hidden while these precocious others are so shameless as to parade their flaws as if they were almost proud of them.

    So the "censorious" one is sought to be restrained from his favorite activity by telling him that his flaws are also going to be judged, so he better lower his brow and thereby others' blood pressure.

    Beyond that, I don't know. Perhaps eventually God does judge those more who are judgmental. But given that God is the ultimate judge of 'em all, is it divine to judge, or not to judge?

    The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha, last part

    Part 10 here.

    Buddha's lasting legacy is a peace-loving, inward-focused religious community in East Asia.  His commandments and teachings continue to be revered and followed by Buddhists as well as by other secular or humanist individuals and communities.

    In an era of increasingly powerful weapons and industrial degradation of the environment, the Buddhist principles of non-violence appeal to sensitive individuals.  The Buddhist conception of eventual justice (Karma) appeal to those who find, to their distress, that cruelty and untruth win the day, again and again.

    In the 20th century, many non-violent movements (especially in India and in South Africa) popularized the concept of "peaceful resistance", coupled with a religious or spiritual righteousness.

    Buddhists are generally not known to be ambitious in a worldly sense.  Their ideal is renunciation, after all.  Therefore Buddhism particularly appeals to people disenchanted with structure and authority, introverts, anarchists, counter-culture enthusiasts, and those who justly consider the modern world to be increasingly stressful and unhealthy for the mind and the body.

    Buddhism can be considered to be individualistic, but it also stresses on the Sangha (the community of monks) and on larger ramifications of one's acts (the ethical edicts in the noble eight-fold path, especially "Right Livelihood").  Though many consider Buddhism to be non-hierarchical and democratic, its monastic communities are known to be otherwise.  Though Buddhism seems to encourage inquiry, in practice it is as faith based as any other religion.  Doubt is considered a hindrance on the path to Nirvana (it is one of the "Five Hindrances").

    Religion serves many extremely useful functions in a traditional society: cohesion, faith, a foundation for ethical behavior, consolation for sorrow, rituals and prayers, a philosophical/mythological basis for temples and monasteries, and so on.  Even if on philosophical grounds, Buddhism fails to make the mark, it deserves commendation for making meditation and inward-awareness (or mindfulness) a fundamental part of religious practice.  Meditation, whatever flaws it might have, is a great way to remain calm and relatively free from stress and from agitating impulses.

    The Buddha, as is known, will continue to be regarded as a great philosopher and a compassionate teacher.  His teachings may be flawed, but his intent to lessen human suffering cannot be doubted.

    Buddha's four Noble Truths and the noble Eight-fold path are the philosophical bases of Buddhism, but as is common for religious teachings, only very serious seekers need to look at these with an investigative eye.  Most Buddhists and people interested in Buddhism do not bother with the philosophy but imbibe the attitude and practice of non-violence and mindfulness.  And they are, I surmise, better individuals thereby.

    My intent in subjecting the four noble truths to scrutiny is to exhibit that as a philosophical treatise Buddhism is ancient, archaic and ambiguous.  That it contains assumptions which are no longer scientifically tenable.  Something need not be true to provide comfort, however, and I have no intention of dissuading someone away from Buddhism or a Buddhist meditation practice if they find it useful.

    However, for anyone who wants to re-orient one's entire life towards the spiritual goal of transcendence, or someone who seriously considers renunciation of "worldly desires", or monk-hood, as a valid path to achieve peace of mind, I hope my analysis can make them reconsider both the end and the means.

    Spirituality and religion is useful to lay-people, who are not concerned with philosophy, as a complement to the stresses and sorrows of worldly life with its worldly goals.  When spirituality takes over one's life and becomes the goal, then I think one has lost one's way.  Let me elucidate with an analogy.  Exercising for an hour or two every day is great for health and enables one to achieve one's goals with more energy and health.  But if one discards other goals as secondary and just focuses on exercise and fitness as a means to "health Nirvana", then one would be considered neurotic.

    Buddhism is fine, as long as one doesn't take it too seriously.

    The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha, part 10

    Part 9 here.

    The last three folds in the noble eight-fold path of the fourth noble truth are about spiritual effort and practice.

    Right Effort is, on its face, rather simple and uncontroversial: It is to avoid unwholesome thoughts and desires, and to cultivate wholesome thoughts and desires.

    However, it is not particularly clear as to what "effort" means here.  If one is angry or lustful, does "Right Effort" include suppression of this anger or lust?
    He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds and exerts his intent for the sake of the abandonment of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen.
    There is nothing particularly wrong with patiently riding off a bad feeling without acting on it.  In many mindfulness practices (such as Vipassana, or the "Choiceless Awareness" of J Krishnamurti), one is not to judge or choose one's mental state.  One is to observe a feeling or a thought dispassionately and remain unmoved as it arises, and ultimately passes away.

    That dispassion might require some effort, because the normal tendency is to act upon a feeling.  But "not acting" upon a feeling is rather different from trying to rid oneself of that feeling, which is quite opposite to the teachings of mindfulness.  Which brings us to the next fold.

    Right Mindfulness is to purely observe phenomena in the body and mind.  However, it is a limited kind of observation in Buddhism.  Instead of investigating the mental contents or the body processes, one is to "simply" observe the arising and passing.

    This kind of mindfulness will lead naturally to the realization that physiological and mental processes do not last forever and give way to other processes.  Not a very groundbreaking realization on its own, but if one interprets this to be a confirmation of Buddhist impermanence (anicca) and that there is no persisting "self" since all is fleeting, then it can become a significant basis of one's ideology.

    It is not quite clear that something insightful comes out of mindfulness.  Being non-reactive for a while can lead to a feeling of deep silence and calmness but that cannot be confused with a better understanding of oneself or of the world.  Moreover, a part of mind is involved in observing the mental processes and it can be very tempting to think of oneself as being a para-normal "witness" (drishta) while the other mind and body processes are just "the body and mind".  It is a form of depersonalization and some people take it too far by referring to themselves as "this body" or by their name as if referring to a third person (J Krishnamurti frequently referred to himself not as "I", but as "K").

    Also, recognition of mental processes requires some cognition at least.  Most mindfulness teachers advise that mindfulness ends where recognition and language begins.  If there is a thought or a feeling, one is not supposed to label it as "good", "bad", "anger", "love", etc. but to simply observe.  It is not that straightforward, however, because thoughts anyway are involving language for their formation, and it is not immediately obvious that the process of thoughts labeling themselves can be avoided.

    A better explanation might be that the purpose of meditation, or "mindfulness", is for the mind to reach a state of silence and non-reaction.  By constant labeling and evaluating, the mind does not progress towards that state but remains in its normal mode of functioning.  Hence, even if first-order language propositions ("She is a good girl") are occurring, it is advised to desist from second-order propositions ("That's a loving thought").

    The question of whether one can "simply observe" second or higher order mental propositions is an interesting one, because a higher order proposition might just be the witnessing of the lower order proposition.

    The last fold, Right Concentration, is more about the four jhanas or absorption states of deep concentration than about any wisdom of insight.  It is well-known in meditation circles that by sustained practice, one can enter altered states of consciousness of deep silence and bliss.  Sometimes these altered states persist for a few days before their effects evaporate completely.

    The jhanas are something specific to Buddhism, with Hinduism talking about stages of Samadhi (say in the Yoga sutras of Patanjali) in different terms.  Many people who have experimented with these states claim that a state of deep Samadhi is an interesting state but otherwise quite useless as one has no cognitve or motor ability, and it is more akin to being in deep sleep but being aware of it.

    (to be concluded in next part)