Thursday, October 28, 2004

Spiritualization of daily life - shnning the "communal ego"

Spiritualization of daily life - shnning the "communal ego"

What is necessary is that there should be a turn in humanity felt by some or many towards the vision of this change, a feeling of its imperative need, the sense of its possibility, the will to make it possible in themselves and to find the way. That trend is not absent and it must increase with the tension of the crisis in human world-destiny; the need of an escape or a solution, the feeling that there is no other solution than the spiritual cannot but grow and become more imperative under the urgency of critical circumstance. To that call in the being there must always be some answer in the Divine Reality and in Nature.

The world-shunning monk, the mere ascetic may indeed well find by this turn his own individual and peculiar salvation, the spiritual recompense of his renunciation and tapasya, as the materialist may find by his own exclusive method the appropriate rewards of his energy and concentrated seeking; but neither can be the true guide of mankind and its law-giver. The monastic attitude implies fear, an aversion, a distrust of life and its aspirations, and one cannot wisely guide that with which one is entirely out of sympathy, that which one wishes to minimize and discourage. The sheer ascetic spirit, if it directed life and human society, could only prepare it to be a means for denying itself and getting away from its own motives. An ascetic guidance might tolerate the lower activities, but only with a view to persuade them in the end to minimize and finally cease from their own action.

Thus, in the vicissitudes of human thought, on one side the individual is moved or invited to discover and pursue his own self-affirmation, his own development of mind and life and body, his own spiritual perfection; on the other he is called on to efface and subordinate himself and to accept the ideas, ideals, will, instincts, interests of the community as his own. He is moved by Nature to live for himself and by something deep within him to affirm his individuality; he is called upon by society and by a certain mental idealism to live for humanity or for the greater good of the community.The principle of self and its interest is met and opposed by the principle of altruism. The State erects its godhead and demands his obedience, submission, subordination, self-immolation; the individual has to affirm against this exorbitant claim the rights of his ideals, his ideas, his personality, his conscience. It is evident that all this conflict of standards is a groping of the mental Ignorance of man seeking to find its way and grasping different sides of the truth but unable by its want of integrality in knowledge to harmonize them together. A unifying and harmonizing knowledge can alone find the way, but that knowledge belongs to a deeper principle of our being to which oneness and integrality are native. It is only by finding that in ourselves that we can solve the problem of our existence and with it the problem of the true way of individual and communal living.

There is a Reality, a truth of all existence which is greater and more abiding than all its formations and manifestations; to find that truth and Reality and live in it, achieve the most perfect manifestation and formation possible of it, must be the secret of perfection whether of individual or communal being. This Reality is there within each thing and gives to each of its formations its power of being and value of being. The universe is a manifestation of the Reality, and there is a truth of the universal existence, a Power of cosmic being, an all-self or world-spirit. Humanity is a formation or manifestation of the Reality in the universe, and there is a truth and self of humanity, a human spirit, a destiny of human life. The community is a formation of the Reality, a manifestation of the spirit of man, and there is a truth, a self, a power of this collective being. The individual is a formation of the Reality, and there is a truth of the individual, an individual self, soul or spirit that expresses itself through the individual mind, life and body and can express itself too in something that goes beyond mind, life and body, something even that goes beyond humanity. For our humanity is not the whole of the Reality or its best possible self-formation or self-expression,--the Reality has assumed before man existed an infra-human formation and self-creation and can assume after him or in him a suprahuman formation and self-creation.

A structure of the external life has been raised up by man's ever-active mind and life-will, a structure of an unmanageable hugeness and complexity, for the service of his mental, vital, physical claims and urges, a complex political, social, administrative, economic, cultural machinery, an organized collective means for his intellectual, sensational, aesthetic and material satisfaction. Man has created a system of civilization which has become too big for his limited mental capacity and understanding and his still more limited spiritual and moral capacity to utilize and manage, a too dangerous servant of his blundering ego and its appetites. For no greater seeing mind, no intuitive soul of knowledge has yet come to his surface of consciousness which could make this basic fullness of life a condition for the free growth of something that exceeded it. This new fullness of the means of life might be, by its power for a release from the incessant unsatisfied stress of his economic and physical needs, an opportunity for the full pursuit of other and greater aims surpassing the material existence, for the discovery of a greater and diviner spirit which would intervene and use life for a higher perfection of the being: but it is being used instead for the multiplication of new wants and an aggressive expansion of the collective ego. At the same time Science has put at his disposal many potencies of the universal Force and has made the life of humanity materially one; but what uses this universal Force is a little human individual or communal ego with nothing universal in its light of knowledge or its movements, no inner sense or power which would create in this physical drawing together of the human world a true life unity, a mental unity or a spiritual oneness. All that is there is a chaos of clashing mental ideas, urges of individual and collective physical want and need, vital claims and desires, impulses of an ignorant life-push, hungers and calls for life satisfaction of individuals, classes, nations, a rich fungus of political and social and economic nostrums and notions, a hustling medley of slogans and panaceas for which men are ready to oppress and be oppressed, to kill and be killed, to impose them somehow or other by the immense and too formidable means placed at his disposal, in the belief that this is his way out to something ideal. The evolution of human mind and life must necessarily lead towards an increasing universality; but on a basis of ego and segmenting and dividing mind this opening to the universal can only create a vast pollulation of unaccorded ideas and impulses, a surge of enormous powers and desires, a chaotic mass of unassimilated and intermixed mental, vital and physical material of a larger existence which, because it is not taken up by a creative harmonizing light of the spirit, must welter in a universalized confusion and discord out of which it is impossible to build a greater harmonic life.

A total spiritual direction given to the whole life and the whole nature can alone lift humanity beyond itself. Another possible conception akin to the religious solution is the guidance of society by men of spiritual attainment, the brotherhood or unity of all in the faith or in the discipline, the spiritualization of life and society by the taking up of the old machinery of life into such a unification or inventing a new machinery. This too has been attempted before without success; it was the original founding idea of more than one religion: but the human ego and vital nature were too strong for a religious idea working on the mind and by the mind to overcome its resistance. It is only the full emergence of the soul,4 the full descent of the native light and power of the Spirit and the consequent replacement or transformation and uplifting of our insufficient mental and vital nature by a spiritual and supramental supernature that can effect this evolutionary miracle.

At first sight this insistence on a radical change of nature might seem to put off all the hope of humanity to a distant evolutionary future; for the transcendence of our normal human nature, a transcendence of our mental, vital and physical being, has the appearance of an endeavour too high and difficult and at present, for man as he is, impossible. Even if it were so, it would still remain the sole possibility for the transmutation of life; for to hope for a true change of human life without a change of human nature is an irrantional and unspiritual proposition; it is to ask for something unnatural and unreal, an impossible miracle. But what is demanded by this change is not something altogether distant, alien to our existence and radically impossible; for what has to be developed is there in our being and not something outside it: what evolutionary Nature presses for, is an awakening to the knowledge of self, the discovery of self, the manifestation of the self and spirit within us and the release of its self-knowledge, its self-power, its native self-instrumentation. It is, besides a step for which the whole of evolution of the being touches a point where intellect and vital force reach some acme of tension and there is a need either for them to collapse, to sink back into a torpor of defeat or a repose of unprogressive quiescence or to rend their way through the veil against which they are straining. What is necessary is that there should be a turn in humanity felt by some or many towards the vision of this change, a feeling of its imperative need, the sense of its possibility, the will to make it possible in themselves and to find the way. That trend is not absent and it must increase with the tension of the crisis in human world-destiny; the need of an escape or a solution, the feeling that there is no other solution than the spiritual cannot but grow and become more imperative under the urgency of critical circumstance. To that call in the being there must always be some answer in the Divine Reality and in Nature.

Sri Aurobindo - The Future Evolution of Man -

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Courage: Our November Theme

I am beginning some reflections on the November theme: Courage and Freedom from Fear. It seems only appropriate to quote Mahatma Gandhi - as he wrote eloquently about the demands a Satyagrahi, practitioner of Ahimsa or nonviolence faces - that of extraordinary courage. - Sri

'Gift of life' is the greatest of all gifts; A man who gives it in reality disarms all hostility. He has paved the way for an honourable understanding. And none who is himself subject to fear can bestow that gift. He must therefore be himself fearless. A man cannot then practice ahimsa and be a coward at the same time, The practice of ahimsa calls forth the greatest courage. It is the most soldierly of a soldier's virtues. General Gordon has been represented in a famous statue as bearing only a stick. This takes us far on the road to ahimsa. But a soldier who needs the protection of even a stick is to that extent so much the less a soldier. He is the true soldier who knows how to die and stand his ground in the midst of a hail of bullets. Such a one was Ambarish who stood his ground without lifting a finger, though Durvasa did his worst. The Moors, who on being powdered by the French gunners rushed into the guns' mouth with 'Allah' on their lips, showed much the same type of courage. Only theirs was the courage of desperation. Ambarish's was due to love. Yet the Moorish valour, readiness to die, conquered the gunners. They frantically waved their hats, ceased firing and greeted their erstwhile enemies as comrades. And so the South African passive resisters in their thousands were ready to die rather than sell their honour for a little personal ease. This was ahimsa in its active form. It never barters away honour, A helpless girl in the hands of a follower of ahimsa finds better and surer protection than in the hands of one who is prepared to defend her only to the point to which his weapons would cary him. The tyrant, in the first instance, will have to walk to his victim over the dead body of her defender, in the second he has but to overpower the defender, for it is assumed that the canon of propriety in the second instance will be satisfied when the defender has faught to the extent of his physical valour. In the first instance, as the defender has matched his very soul against the mere body of the tyrant, the odds are that the soul in the latter will be awakened, and the girl will stand an infinitely greater chance of her honour being protected than in any other conceivable circumstance - barring, of course, that of her own personal courage.

If we are unmanly today, we are so not because we do not know how to strike, but because we fear to die. He is no follower of Mahavira, the apostle of Jainism, or of Buddha or of the Vedas, who being afraid to die takes flight before any danger, real or imaginary, all the while wishing that somebody else would remove the danger by destroying the person causing it. He is no follower of ahimsa ( I agree with Lalaji) who does not care a straw if he kills a man by inches by deceiving him in trade, or who will protect by force of arms a few cows and make away with the butcher, or who in order to do a supposed good to his country does not mind killing off a few officials. All these are actuated by hatred, cowardice and fear. Here love of the cow or the country is a vague thing intended to satisfy one's vanity or soothe a stinging conscience.

Ahimsa, truly understood, is in my humble opinion a panacea for all evils, mundane and extra-mundane. We can never overdo it. Just at present, we are not doing it at all. Ahimsa does not displace the practice of other virtues, but renders their practice imperatively necessary before it can be practised even in its rudiments. Lalaji need not fear the ahimsa of his father's faith. Mahavira and Buddha were soldiers, and so was Tolstoy. Only they saw deeper and truer in their profession, and found sharers with these teachers and this land of ours will once more be the abode of gods.

God Gene

At our July retreat with Dwarkoji, Bob Block with one of the breakout groups, came up with the news from the future: “Science proves conclusively the existence of One God. The Kingdom of God arrives on Earth.” We have some news, not that far yet. See excerpt below for the scientist's account of the search for the God gene. - Sri

Are we born with a God gene?

Molecular biologist explores idea that we're hard-wired for faith


Religion News Service

Since the dawn of our species, spirituality has been deeply woven into the human experience.

More than 30,000 years ago, our ancestors in what today is Europe painted the walls of their caves with images of strange chimeras representing sorcerers or priests. Across millennia, religion has produced innumerable acts of charity and unspeakable acts of violence. Today, the forces of fundamentalism -- whether Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Muslim -- are sweeping the globe, from the Middle East and Africa to South America and Asia.

Why is spirituality such a universal force? Why do people from all walks of life, regardless of their religious backgrounds, value spirituality as much as, or more than, pleasure, power and wealth?

The answer is, at least in part, hard-wired into our genes. Spirituality is one of our basic human inheritances. It is, in short, an instinct -- rooted in a "God gene" folded deep in the intricate strands of our DNA.

This may sound like a controversial assertion, but it reflects the startling advances of modern biology. The question of "Is there a God?" may be beyond science, but a deeper understanding of why we believe in God may be within our grasp.

The implications will no doubt prove unsettling to many people. Nonbelievers will argue that finding a God gene proves there is no God -- that religion is nothing more than a genetic program for self-deception. Believers, on the other hand, can point to the existence of God genes as a sign of the creator's ingenuity -- a clever way to help humans acknowledge and embrace a divine presence.

But these arguments mix theology with neurobiology. The one thing we know for certain about spiritual beliefs and feelings is that they are products of the brain -- the firing of electrochemical currents through networks of nerve cells. Understanding how such thoughts and emotions are formed and propagated is something science can tackle. Whether the beliefs are true or false is not. Spirituality ultimately is a matter of faith, not of genetics.

Proving a link between our genes and spirituality is not a simple task, and probably no single line of evidence will be completely convincing. I have been exploring this subject for years, independent of my work as a geneticist at the National Institutes of Health, and I have concluded that proof depends on the whole array of evidence.

The first challenge in my research was to work out a way to measure spiritual feelings and not just traditional religious activity. This is an important distinction, because people who are involved in their church, mosque or temple are not necessarily spiritual, and deeply spiritual people are sometimes skeptical of organized religion.

For this, I used a scale called "self-transcendence," developed by psychologist Robert Cloninger, which provides a numerical measure of people's capacity to reach out beyond themselves -- to see everything in the world as part of one great totality. Mohandas Gandhi and Albert Einstein would score highly; Genghis Khan would not. This might seem a little bit flaky to some people, but it passes the test for a solid psychological trait.

The second step was to determine if spirituality is inherited, and if so to what extent. This was tackled by comparing identical twins, who have the exact same genes, to fraternal twins, who are only as genetically similar as ordinary siblings.

Data collected by scientists in the United States and Australia show that spirituality, as measured by the self-transcendence scale, is indeed significantly heritable. The extent of genetic influence is similar to that for many personality traits, and even greater than it is for some physical characteristics.

In other words, there is a strong genetic link. By contrast, the shared cultural environment, such as Sunday school, sermons and parenting, had little effect on spirituality -- even though they were major factors in more traditional religious views such as belief in the Bible.

The third step was to search for specific genes involved in spirituality. By comparing self-transcendence scores with DNA patterns, one such "God gene" stood out. It's called VMAT2, and it is linked to a protein that controls the amount of crucial brain-signaling chemicals. Interestingly, these same brain chemicals can be triggered by certain drugs that can bring about mystical-like experiences.

The chemicals controlled by the God gene -- known as monoamines -- have many functions in the brain. They appear to influence spirituality by altering consciousness, which can be broadly defined as our sense of reality -- our awareness of ourselves and the universe around us, including thoughts, memories and perceptions.

The hallmark of mystical experiences is alteration in consciousness. According to a theory developed by the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Gerald Edelman, the key role of monoamines with regard to consciousness is to link objects and experiences with emotions and values.

The final step was to account for the evolution of God genes. If Charles Darwin was right and natural selection favors some traits over others, what reasons can we find for the persistence of human spirituality? This is a matter for educated guesses, rather than exact science. But one of the important roles that God genes may play in natural selection is to provide human beings with an innate sense of optimism -- the will to keep on living and procreating, despite the fact that death is ultimately inevitable.

At the physical level, studies show that optimism seems to promote better health and quicker recovery from disease, advantages that would help us to live long enough to pass on our genetic heritage.

There is a tendency to pit science and spirituality against each other as if they were intrinsic enemies. They are not. As Einstein said, "Religion without science is blind; science without religion is lame."

We might also recall one of the basic lessons of genetics: We have no say over the exact constellation of genes that we inherit, but what we do with those genes is very much up to us.

Dean Hamer, a molecular biologist, is author of "The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired Into Our Genes."

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Year of Fear

Op-Ed Columnist: The Year of Fear:

"My advice to voters in this political Year of Fear, as well as to journalists and our sources, is from Joshua 1:9: 'Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.' Courage and freedom will win, and the purveyors of panic will lose."

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Quantum and Relativity

In my mind (or to my understanding) Einstein's Theory of Relativity is distinct form Quantum Theory. Firstly, relativity explained particles that travel at high speeds, close to the speed of light. It is rooted in the intuition that speed of light is a constant, relative to the frame of the moving particle. Quantum Theory says energy (in the small) is quantized, that is comes in discrete packets. Einstein never reconciled to QT, esp the idea of chance events that make particles "jump levels". Read below about Nash, yes, of the Beautiful Mind movie, discuss his claim that relativity explains all; QT is not necessary in his view. If this gets looked at seriously by other scientists, then a paradigm shift would get shifted again. Interesting that an Economist can speak to Theoretical Physics researchers.

Conclusion: Science does not progress monotonically ever getting closer to truth. It is all slip sliding away, back and forth.

Full Article link

The last scientific presentation is by Prof. John Forbes Nash who bagged the Nobel prize in economics in 1994. He’s probably the most famous of all Nobel-winners in the recent times, thanks to the gripping saga of his life. Having done his pioneering work — the so-called ‘Nash Equilibrium’, which is a kind of optimal strategy for games involving two or more players — he fell prey to schizophrenia while still at the famed Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, US. For several years he spent his days in and out of mental asylums and his wife, Alicia, stood by him during those hard times. Eventually, Nash came round and was awarded the Nobel. Their story was poignantly captured by the former New York Times economics correspondent Sylvia Nasar in A Beautiful Mind, the celluloid version of which — directed by Ronald Howard, who cast Russell Crowe in the lead role — won several Oscars.

By a strange coincidence, the film is shown on a movie channel the night before Nash is supposed to present his paper. And the scientists celebrating the 40th year of ICTP realise that Hollywood is a better ticket to fame than a call from Stockholm. The students from local schools and colleges swarm the auditorium — many of them sit on the stairs of the aisle — much before the appointed hour. And Nash gets an unprecedented ovation, a big hand as soon as he is called to the podium.

His paper, titled ‘An Interesting Equation’, however, doesn’t match the overblown expectations, especially of the youngsters. For half an hour Nash discusses the so-called tensor geometry, the concept that Einstein employed to arrive at his celebrated General Theory of Relativity. Local press photographers have a field day with Nash beside a blackboard full of unintelligible squiggles, but the faces of the experts in the hall simply tell a different tale — they can’t really fathom Nash’s brainwave.

Why? Nash claims to show that his “interesting equation” makes quantum mechanics redundant as a description of nature. Relativity, he asserts, can explain all phenomena. “I don’t understand quantum mechanics,” he comments with a touch of sarcasm, “especially that bit of ‘unknowable’ attached to it. We all know that Einstein too didn’t like the concept.”

Relativity describes the behaviour of stars, planets or falling apples, but it fails in the realm of the ultra-small — subatomic particles. Although quantum mechanics reigns supreme in that world, many of its counterintuitive diktats baffle scientists, like the one that Nash finds so repugnant — the idea that it’s impossible to know the exact position and velocity of any particle at a given instant. Physicists have lived with irritants of this kind for too many years now to fret about them, more so because experiments confirm the bizarre implications of the concept. Which is why hardly any serious question is hurled at Nash by the experts after his talk is over. They simply ignore his claim.

But that doesn’t minimise the applause as Nash comes down from the podium.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The New York Times > Health > Can Prayers Heal? Critics Say Studies Go Past Science's Reach

Can Prayers Heal? Critics Say Studies Go Past Science's Reach:
Read the full article by clicking above - needs registration
Since we did the retreat on Science and Spirituality, this item came up at New York Times. Science is known to have kept itself values-neutral - which was a virtue for quite a few centuries. Yet as Dwarkoji says in his wonderful analogy of "motor car" which has steering and accelerator - Science is a great accelerator, but lacks the steering as it has left values behind. Now that Science is investigating Spirituality - the question arises, can that enterprise succeed if Science remains without values. Here is an example of how things can go wrong? This has serious implications for how to get the integration we seek - it won't come just by applying scientific methods to spiritual matters. It also needs ... you fill in the blank. - Sri

In 2001, two researchers and a Columbia University fertility expert published a startling finding in a respected medical journal: women undergoing fertility treatment who had been prayed for by Christian groups were twice as likely to have a successful pregnancy as those who had not.

Three years later, after one of the researchers pleaded guilty to conspiracy in an unrelated business fraud, Columbia is investigating the study and the journal reportedly pulled the paper from its Web site."