Feb 27, 2010

The truth(or the falsehood) of Karma

All right.. let's get one idea right .. we have remarkably more control over our lives than we are generally prepared to accept. By implication, we also have full responsibility for our lives. The very idea that there is a greater divine agency controlling the outcomes of our lives and that too in consistency with a selection principle based on a human moral constructs like 'good' deeds and 'bad' deeds stinks of fear, insecurity, misunderstanding and of an escapement from the truth.

Lets get the prevalent and purported beliefs in order first. To put simply, the philosophical conclusion of the concept of 'karma', at least insofar it is held in the popular imagination, seems to lead to a order of nature where all the 'good' and 'bad' that one accumulates decides or weighs upon the causes and effects that unfold with your life. And apparently you generate these 'good' and 'bad' karmas through your actions,through your thoughts, through your words and also through the actions of others under your influence. It's sort of a current account, the balance in which is supposedly the principal determining agent of causation in your life. Of course, in trivial terms, it means that what goes around comes around or in other words still, if you do bad it falls back unto you as well as the good that comes back to you for the good you've accumulated. And get one thing straight, the believers ill tell you that this is a strict determinate law of life, and there will be others who say that over and above that it is permeable to god's will , i.e.,"god does not make one suffer for no reason nor does he make one happy for no reason, god is very fair and gives you exactly what you deserve". The long and short of it is that, at least in the hindu tradition, god is the dispenser of karma.

Now, there are absolutely overwhelming evidence in the reality of our lives to rid this idea of all logicality and hence its warranted assertability. We do this with the caveat that as the concept appears in Upanishadic philosophy, it is of little concern to us, as it appears in the faith of the millions who live it like a creed every moment of their lives. Lets get them right one by one:

1. For a universal system that ensures that everyone gets what they deserve, the precondition, or one of the many preconditions that must exist/be fulfilled is the existence of a universally applicable standard to judge 'deserving' from 'non-deserving'. More over, it also necessiates a universal, unbiased arbitrator to do so (we deal with god later). None of the above seems like a being in the realm of reality. Did Bhagat singh deserve to die? Yes from someones point of view who believes in a judicial system that punishes death by death. No from someones viewpoint who considers death penalty as a historical mistake that needs to be eliminated from all systems of justice. Yes again for the sympathisers of the british raj. No still by the indian who felt his freedom wrenched out of his life. The point behind my reiteration of differing instances is to demonstrate that the whole concept of 'deserving something' in a human construct. It is not present "out there" in the sphere of some absolute, transcendental reality but 'in here' enshrined in our own moral traditions which begin and end with an uniquely human and emotional interpretation of the world. It's an attempt to reduce reality to the limit of our understanding without regard to a metaphysical framework to support it.

2. Now lets come to the second point, which is that of the need for a universal, unbiased observer who is able to perceive all the things at all the times, is omnipotent and everpresent. Well, it will presumably have to be god. So its god who manages, powers and drives the whole karmic cycle ensuring that it follows the rule of fair return for 'good' or 'bad' that any human manages to generate. Now yet again, this implies an interventionist god, one that actively manages the affairs of this world, one that exercises almost complete control over the outcomes or the possibilities of our existence. Now please connect the dots and tell me that you are forced to conclude that god here is a bit of a misanthropic sadist. If he indeed controls all the outcomes and if its him who decides/designs the nature of reality then why did he in the first place make allowance for suffering in the scheme of things. Why dint he just give humans and everything else only a capacity for good. At the very least he is a very bad designer. At logical extremes, this argument is enough to rule out god's intervention in the supposed karmic cycle on account of internal contradiction that it leads us to.

3. Now, i hope we believe that there is no such thing as good, bad or deserve-ment/deserve-tion in any absolute universal sense. Then we also ruled out the possibility of god actively managing the whole show. Now lets turn inwards. I postulate here that this fatalistic belief is actually a defence/coping mechanism which took form of a religious/spiritual belief in response to some of the most profound and deep rooted aspects of our emotional experience of life. The need for us to believe that this is a fair world where all get what they deserve, the need for us to believe that there is something universally good that we must all strive for, the need for an emotional/spiritual incentive for us to take a righteous path in the face of a world where people gain prosperity at the cost of other people's prosperity and the need for us to have a common belief which can unite our lives by positively predisposing us towards doing good to others will go far in explaining the genesis and ontology of this prevalent belief.
It is much like how when man feared fire, thunder, floods or any other force of nature he started worshiping them (across all pre-modern cultures, across many modern cultures at some point in history), hoping that it would lead to some sort of sympathetic remuneration by the forces of nature. I mean, its abundantly clear that the weather pattern turned out and will continue to turn out in accordance with the energy equilibrium of the earth and will be described accurately by the laws of physics. No amount of incantations, rituals or prayers are going to play any role in changing what the interplay of geography and physics will decide. Still, to this day we notice many cultures venerating and consecrating these forces of nature in an exhibition of cultural retardation. The point is, it makes many of us live more peacefully in an otherwise absurd, uncertain and meaningless world. Thus the emotional instinct and the psychological affinity to construct such beliefs within which we can spend our time here in this world with peace.

Well, i certainly do not wish to, not that i think i'm capable of, shake any one's belief out of recognition here. What i do wish to do here, and hope have been able to do, is to demonstrate that assertion of your beliefs onto others , or construction and perpetration of you idea of life based on notions handed down by generations past is not the wisest idea. It almost necessarily renders our conception of life a little behind what the passage of time and progress of ideas would justify. Perhaps most importantly, the point i make here is that your own unique, personal emotional reaction to the fact of existence is what should be the starting point of all your beliefs. Remember, its us ourselves who are completely responsible for our lives. There may be millions of factors outside your control which causally interfere with your life, but they are all in this world. There is'nt a divine magical engine driving it. Make what you have to of your own life.

Feb 24, 2010

I really should've been a Virus

A virus is just a strand of RNA molecule inside a cell membrane. The concept of life and death does not even apply to it in a clear cut fashion. What a life (or the lack of it)!! I sincerely wish i was a virus, perhaps a benevolent one, not the kinds which spread diseases, but the kinds which is content just  to be.. just plainly, simply exist. I mean how many complications can you imagine in the life of a 'thing' which is'nt even a full cell. All you would have to do ....is nothing at all. No consciousness to worry you, no reproductive motive driving you, no need or utility for material things, no social traditions to follow. Damn, no birth and death to punctuate time for you.

Well i am certain there is'nt a way to disprove the hypothesis that viruses are better off than us(while there may not be to prove it either). In fact they may quite be the best exemplars of transcendent beings beyond whole happiness-sadness spiral. It all leads me to think that viruses are perhaps the only 'things' which may come into being having pre-attained the hindu ideal of salvation/moksha in some form or shape, even before religiously qualifying for it by being born. Damn!!

Feb 19, 2010

Thinking a purpose of life 101: A Primer

The whole driving force behind thinking is to transcend the process of thought itself. 

Disambiguation ,i.e, separation of "one" from the "other" , is the basic unit of thought 

....and thinking thus yields a disambiguated picture of what is the mind independent objective reality that we intake through our sensory perceptions and that’s where the problem starts. Reality "in itself" is an integrated whole, it is a cognitive limitation of our thought process to see it in terms of constituents. So thinking has to be balanced by "feeling", that is to say, one has to think life and live life at the same time. Thinking independent of living and living independent of thinking is the same, both useless. Yet again to be "useless" or "useful" in life... one has to define a "use" first, now that’s a fundamental problem.

Most of us define it narrowly in the manner that we our conditioned by our environment through numerous reinforcements (both positive for certain things and negative for certain others). If one tries to break away from the context of his life, only then one makes some sense of life which is absolute, but in the context that our life inherits, this sense of realization may transform from being absolute to being absolutely "useless". Perhaps the need to take care of the context of one's life (parents, society, money, country, culture, systems etc) as a hygiene factor, i.e., something which needs to be done in order to be "not sad". Then, once one reconciles the context to one’s envisioned absolute purpose (self-actualization maybe??) by say earning enough money, having enough sex, having enough of an ego trip etc, so as to be able to move to a higher level of existence without the contextual needs bothering you, only then can one aim at being "happy". I suspect most people in life, by chasing grades, sex , money, ego etc are just trying very hard to be "not sad" under the illusion of chasing happiness. From their lives, “happiness” is missing. While on the other extreme there is a minority chasing "happiness" by focusing on the sublime and the transcendental and disregarding grades, sex , money, ego etc wishing all the time that they be "not sad" , but of course that never happens. From thier lives "not being sad" is missing. One needs to be both "not sad" and "happy" to feel free of the dread of existing meaninglessly. A need is a felt sense of deprivation. A sense of deprivation felt most often and most precisely can be characterized as a basic need, like food, clothing, shelter and in the modern society add communication/transportation...and go on in that order. One feels deprived of food every few hours and one knows what one has to do to relieve that need - one has to eat.
A sense of deprivation felt less often and more profoundly is a perhaps a higher order need. E.g. one often feels an indefinable anxiety, one does not even feel it in discreet units, it is almost like a leitmotif of life, like a background noise out of your control rendering everything less of meaning and satisfaction. One does not even have the wherewithal to define it. And that’s when you don’t even know what the hell to do about it. Now the fact is, in reality, unlike Maslow would have you believe, these needs don’t come in serial order, all the needs our present all the time, we just miss some and focus more on others. One has to keep everything in mind. The clarity one achieves along the course of life of the sense of deprivation one has is what dictates the action one takes to mitigate that deprivation. 

So, I guess, the best one can do is, to at least undo all the sense of deprivation one clearly feels and knows what to do in order to be free from it, and it’s my belief that by doing so this arrangement of different deprivations will become clearer in a stepwise fashion, like ice melting off layer by layer, and revealing a deeper truth every time