THE WAR WITHIN - BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL (RECONSTRUCTING MONEY, MORALITY AND MORTALITY)

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Submitted Date 11/01/2022
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The War Within –
Between Good and Evil
Reconstructing Morality, Money, and Mortality
Bhimeswara Challa

Dedication to a Daughter
In fond remembrance of my daughter Padma Priya Challa, who died, solitary through her life, at the age of 54, on 22nd March 2020. She was innately loving and giving, exceptionally endowed—a rare blend of beauty, brilliance, and above all, as a friend described her, an 'enormous heart'— much admired but much misunderstood.
She was a bundle of pure joy while growing up, scaled high academic and professional heights, but a slew of fateful setbacks, professional and personal, set in, and a life of uncommon promise went woefully wrong. She was carefree about her future, and whenever I worried, she used to heartrendingly reassure me: "Don't worry, Dad; I will die before you'. Doubtless, she is now in a far, far better and more caring place, surely to join the many she loved down here who are already up there.By the way she led her life, she helped me to settle my karmic dues of this life at her own expense, and, as per this book, by her very inability to sufficiently 'feed' the 'good wolf ' in its fight with the 'bad wolf ' in her 'war within', she aided me in waging my own war. What more can any daughter do? After saying thanks to her, even if posthumously—for thanks must be said
wherever they are due, as my mother once said—I will now meander in the remains of my time, bearing, in the words of the Greek philosopher Aeschylus (Agamemnon, 1602), "even in my sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon my heart". So long, my love! Rest in paradisiacal peace. And please take my hand when I come there. God! I implore on bended knees: give her your merciful forgiveness she longed and prayed for. Free her from all sin and future pain; and shelter her at your lotus feet.

Contents
Epigraph—Why Me?
What I Owe to Whom
The Beginning
The Twin Questions and Twin Inabilities • The Lure of the Forbidden and the Streak of Cruelty • Struggle for Supremacy Over Consciousness—the War Within • Homo sapiens to Homo Deus • In the Melting Pot of Life and Death • Coming Soon—'Machines-Better-Than-Me' • The Way Forward is the Way Inward.

Chapter 1: Musings on Mankind
The Human Animal • Empathy—Not a Human Monopoly • The Mood of the Moment • Governance Deficit • Helping: When Joy Comes Calling • Packaged Pleasures • Being Better Than We Were Yesterday • Scientific Insignificance and Spiritual Completeness • The Age of Loneliness • The Two Journeys—Outer Space and Inner Space • The Natural Need for 'Negatives' • Tikkun Olam—Healing the World • A World of Individuals • Seminal Choice—Merger with the Machine or Evolution from Within • Brain—the Beast Within • Man—Noble Savage, Civilized Brute, or Half-savage? • Has God Gotten Weary of Man? • Conclusion.

Chapter 2: The Two Cherokee Fighting Wolves Within—And the One We Feed
The Triad of Worlds We Live In • Forward—Outward or Inward? • Consciousness-change and Contextual-change • The Power of the Heart • The Evil Within • The Three 'M's and the War Within • The Cherokee's Two Wolves • Mind Over Mind • The Quicksand 'Within' the War Within • Technology and the 'War Within' • Court of Conscience • A Stinging Word and a Withering Glance • Sexuality, Gender-neutrality, and the War Within • Our Two 'Hearts' and the War Within • Kurukshetra—Arjuna's War Within • Empathy vs Reason • Of Head and Heart • Restoring the Heart to Its Rightful Place.

Chapter 3: Money—Maya, Mara, and Moksha—All-in-One
Money, Homo economicus, and Homo consumens • Epiphany of Modern Man—Money • Mind and Money • The Three 'M's • Money—Maya, Mara, and Moksha • The Many Faces of Money • Money—from Summum malum to Summum bonum • The Great Moral Issue of Our Age—Money Management • Money, Body, and Brain • The 'Good' That Money Can Do • Killing Kids for Money • Money, Poverty, and Morality • Materialism, Market, and Morality • Morality and Money • Money, Good Life, and Goodness of Life • The New Gilded Age and the Emergence of the 'One-Percent'.

Chapter 4: Towards a New Vocabulary of Morality
Malice and Morality • Enlarging the Circle of Compassion • 'Cast Out the Beam Out of Thine Own Eye' • The Doctrine of Dharma • Moral Progress and Animal Rights • Morality and Duty • Satya, Himsa, and Ahimsa • 'Moral Crisis' to 'Morality in Crisis' • Moral Gangrene and Unbridled Evil • Morality and Modernity • Moral Ambivalence and Serial Fidelity • Every Minute a Moral Minute • Kith and Kin—And the Rest • Monetary Affordability and Moral Accountability • Schadenfreude, the Modern Pandemic • If God Does Not Exist… • Nexus With Nature • Morality and Mundane Manners • The Five-Point Formula for Decision-Making • The Age of the Anthropocene? The War Within—Between Good and Evil

Chapter 5: From Death to Immortality
Death, Be Not Proud • The Mystery of Mortality • The Moral Purpose of Mortality • Becoming a Jellyfish, at the Least a Turtle • Immortality—Are the Gods Hitting Back At Us? • When Death Strikes Home • 'Desirable Death' and Anaayesaena maranam • Missing the 'Dead' • Morbidity and Mortality • 'Practical Immortology' or 'Immoral' Immortality • Immortality of the Soul • Four Paths to Immortality • Pandemics of Suicide and Homicide, and the 'War' • Death—the Default Mode • Morality of Murderous Weapons and 'Murderous Martyrdom' • Morality and 'Gamification' of Violence and War • Mrityor ma amritam gamaya: From Death to Immortality • Mortality and Famous Last Words • Climbing Heaven's Hill With Mortal Skin • Death and 'Worn-out Clothes' • Conclusion.The End of the Beginning Are Humans 'Worthy' of Survival? • Can We Win the War Within? • From Akrasia to Enkrateia. References and Notes

Epigraph—Why me?

If a writer is different from others because, simply put, he writes, then what does he seek by giving so much of himself with so little certainty of anything in return? The fact is that every book is, ipso facto, autofictional, if not a covert confessional, a kind of dancing star borne out of the intense chaos in the writer himself. That is perhaps why it has been said that "there is book inside every person".
Maybe that is what writing eventually crystallizes into—the 'book' inside the writer turns into the persona of a poem or prose. Many have spoken about why writers choose to put themselves in the firing line; why, so to speak, they want to choose to stand naked, to be probed and disrobed at a public haunt, why they don't flinch from facing, in Philip Roth's words, daily frustration, not to mention humiliation. There is always something of the siren call of the rolling waves and a Sisyphean struggle in their perseverance and pluck. There have always been much easier ways to earn a living, and, as they say, make both ends meet.
And so very often, every visible sign of success in the literary world turns out to be extraneous to the real value of literature; it has never been more so than now. Not only writing but even reading has taken a beating. That is a huge tragedy, for reading itself is an act of creation—writing can't exist as more than words without a reader, so to speak. In this day and age, few have the urge or élan or leisure to read anything in black and white, either for engagement, for entertainment, much less for enlightenment. The pen might be mightier than the sword elsewhere, but merit is certainly not mightier than money in the province of publishing. Although the intimate conversation between writer and reader—some yet to be born—is almost magical, the rude reality is that once the writing is done with, the writer is rendered marginal to the reading. As a result, as Kurt Vonnegut says, a writer has to be no different from a drug salesman, or maybe a dealer of used cars, to get to see 'what he says' in print.
And yet, there is still hope in humanity because countless people continue to write—and die, unknown and unwept. It is not that they are selfless souls or murdered martyrs. It is like death; every person knows everyone will die, but expects he himself will not. Similarly, everyone who writes hopes that he would somehow prevail, unlike many others, and live to experience the dawn of his dream; to be recognized, rewarded, and respected, to become rich and famous, and autograph copies of his book at a packed bookstore. And then the intoxicating euphoria: the world might come to an end, but the author himself would live on through his work. We can take some consolation from what Jorge Borges puts across: "When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation".

The crux of the matter is that the 'why' of writing embraces a rainbow of reasons but, in the end, it remains what George Orwell said: 'a mystery, something which one would never undertake if one were not driven by some demon that one can neither resist nor understand' (Why I Write, 1946). That 'mystery' is what underlies all my scribbling, besides giving me a chance, as Byron puts it, "to withdraw myself from myself", and to heal the wounds of a labored life spent in seeking in vain. It brought to my mind the famous poem of Rumi lamenting about the pain and sorrow in his heart: God tells Rumi, "Stay with it; the wound is the place where the Light enters you". For some, as long as the wound stays open, that light becomes life by way of writing.
In the preface of my previous book—Man's Fate and God's Choice: an Agenda for Human Transformation (2011)—I wrote, not yet aware of Orwell's words, that that book was a 'mystery to myself'. Fiction, I can somewhat relate with, to give life to what I truly am deep inside, through characters in a story. Even articles in journals can be explained away; they let me have my say on issues of topical relevance. But this sort of scholarly nonfiction on an esoteric subject is positively presumptuous, if not utterly audacious. Nothing of my life in this life had prepared me or deserved it. The mystery has deepened with the present book, to the point that I sometimes felt that I was possessed. Much to my surprise and delight, my first major nonfiction work was widely well-reviewed. I felt good when the ordinary next-door-neighbor kind of people said things like, "do people still write books like this?" And it was never clear to me what people meant when they asked, 'How did you write this book?' And I used to murmur: I did not write the book; the book got written by me. I meant the author is the unknown; I was only a scribe. It was not meant as a sleight of a phrase or a show of cleverness. I always felt I was more a conduit than a creator; more a monkey than the organ grinder. I am the builder, not the architect, in a reversal of what Herman Melville said about himself while writing Moby Dick (1851). After getting my first book 'successfully' published, I felt totally drained but relieved.
'That's it!' I told myself; 'I am now immortal; I can live on earth even if I die'.The rest, as Einstein said about the mind of God, are details. It has been said that the story of one's life ends long before one dies. I then thought my story ended the day my preceding book, being done with me, bid farewell to me. That being the premise, there was no need anymore to subject my wearied and worn-out body to the demanding drill of crouching before a computer, half-blind and with a broken back. It was time to move on, to go with the flow, and wait to wither away, and get prepared for, in Churchill's phrase, the 'meeting with my Maker', whether He was prepared or not. But it then seemed that the 'meeting' went into pause mode, either because the Maker was busy, or because He had other plans for me, other ordeals to put me through before I fulfilled my prarabdha.
Precisely when and how the idea of writing this book germinated is still a blur. Perhaps it could be the time when I read somewhere that Prophet Muhammad called the internal jihad—the fight against one's own self—the 'Greater Jihad'. This grabbed my attention for two reasons. First, post-9/11, the word jihad is usually identified with terror and fanaticism; the Prophet's interpretation turns it into a positive tool for human transformation.

Second, it seemed to reflect the troubled state of my own consciousness—I too needed to fight my own inner jihad, to exorcize the malice in my mind. It doesn't matter which creed or faith or religion one subscribes to; everyone has to battle his inner demons, and live with the wrenching sense of 'I am complicit no matter what I do'. However distasteful it might be, we must not flinch from facing the ugly truth that man alone is capable of 'motiveless malignancy' and 'vengeful violence'. It became clear to me, as scriptures and sages have so tirelessly told us, that everything is contingent in life—on power, on history, and most of all on flawed human nature—and good and evil are both intrinsic in our psyche, and that the way the conflict takes shape, defines our personality. If we can recognize that, we will also realize that those who commit the darkest deeds, and whom we so routinely dismiss as monsters, could be anyone: a sleeping partner, our next door neighbor, or even worse, ourselves, when things get very wrong in the war within. That is why we sometimes feel a sneaking sympathy, if not empathy, to schizophrenic villains. We must face the fundamental fact that while we have, to an alarming extent, succeeded in controlling the elements of nature, we have woefully failed—indeed made no serious attempt either—to control our own selves, the world within.

Furthermore, there is no such thing as our 'true self ': 'man is not truly one, but truly two'.1 How can we then take sides in the war within? It all amounts to one jolting insight. While there is much talk of apocalyptic or 'existential threats' like climate change, what is being ignored is that the most important and immediate of them all comes from our own two 'selves', and from the fight between them to control us. In other words, the only way to prevent or abort the much-debated 'end of the world', or a dystopian future is to 'win' the war within. Once such thoughts caught hold of my mind, I started studiously searching for sources and similar references, in holy books and classical literature,on the innate duality of good and evil. It soon became apparent that the conflict between good and evil is a connecting thread in literature, and is sometimes considered to be an essential template of the human condition. I realized that to understand man in all his dimensions, we must recognize, as Will Craig tells us,that "the life you life is the outward expression of your inner journey" (Living the Hero's Journey, 2017). That 'journey' must be at the forefront of human thought
and effort, which are now egregiously, almost grotesquely misdirected. But it also struck me that, more fundamentally, our principal problem is that we try to control that which is beyond our control. The ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, "Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us". What is outside us is not 'up to us'; whereas what is 'within' ought to be 'up to us'. What we do is the reverse; try to control others and everything around us, and ignore what is in situ and inside us. And this is the reason why so many of us feel that life is "terrible, hostile, and quick to pounce on you if you gave it a chance", like Virginia Woolf 's Mrs Ramsay (To the Lighthouse, 1927). So many of us today ask, "How could a man ever be sure of any other man?" to recall the words of Dorothy Hughes (The Davidian Report, 1952). Or, for that matter, of
his own self. I found out that although such a train of thought has long been a recurring refrain in the human condition, the scripture that most eloquently exposed this seminal 'inner conflict' was none other than the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata, and in particular its centerpiece, the famous Bhagavad Gita, which (1. Stevenson, R.L. 1886. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) Einstein said was the main source of his inspiration and guide for the purpose of scientific investigation and formation of his theories. In the Mahabharata, every major character was fighting his own 'war within' between two opposing moral imperatives, be it the Kuru grandfather Bhishma, the virtuous Yudhishthira, the star-crossed but noble Karna, or even the arch-villain Duryodhana.

The very first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is usually rendered as 'Arjuna's sorrow' or 'Arjuna's despondency', which could well be titled Arjuna's War Within. When the Pandava prince and mighty warrior Arjuna put aside his celestial bow and refused to fight, Lord Krishna (his sarathi or charioteer) instantly realized that to persuade the reluctant master-archer to participate in the horrific but necessary Kurukshetra war, he had to first help Arjuna 'win' his own 'war within'. For Arjuna, it was a profound conflict between his dharma (righteous duty) as a Kshatriya, the warrior class, and his delusions, dilemmas, and doubts about killing those he venerated. And that too, for something as transient as worldly gain and ephemeral glory. But for Lord Krishna, the agenda was two-pronged, and the audience more than Arjuna alone. One, he had to make Arjuna pick up his bow and fight and kill. But his second, and far more subtle, task was to dispel the delusions and dilemmas of future generations, to help them to fight and win their own wars within. In fact, some even say that the Bhagavad Gita was meant for us mortals, and that Arjuna's so-called sorrow is our predicament, and that Arjuna, himself semi-divine, and Lord Krishna the supreme godhead engaged in the dialogue of the Gita for the sake of humanity. That is why Krishna's words of guidance to Arjuna remain just as relevant today, eons after the Kurukshetra. Krishna knew that we, the people of the most immoral age, the Kali Yuga, would face even more daunting dilemmas than Arjuna, and that we would need what Aeschylus called 'the awful grace of God' to make choices, even though we may not know what the consequences of those choices might be. In our own times, as Mahatma Gandhi aptly said, everybody has a Krishna residing in his heart as the Indwelling Self, a guide who could be our own charioteer, to not only steer us but save us as we wander around confused and lost in what Jorge Borges called the 'labyrinths of life'. While the Bhagavad Gita was upfront among the scriptures relevant to this subject, I also realized that the idea of an eternal inner struggle for control of our consciousness is not confined to any particular religion or ancient culture or native tradition. A bedrock belief in Christianity is that all Christians are engaged in a spiritual battle of some sort on a daily basis.

Striking a similar note, Zoroastrianism mentions the two opposing forces, Ahura Mazda (Illuminating Wisdom) and Angra Mainyu (Destructive Spirit), which are constantly in conflict. But the more I persisted, the more I was astonished that the core thought of a deeper world and of a fierce inner struggle between good and evil—what Carl Jung called persona and shadow, and William Blake called 'angels' and 'devils'—had crossed the minds of many great sages, thinkers, writers, mystics, and philosophers almost autonomous of each other. Not only that, many famous people have openly talked about their own personal struggles, about their own divided self, their inability to live in sync with any specifically codified life philosophy. Tolstoy, for instance, experienced and indeed spoke freely about, a fierce conflict between his insatiable erotic appetite and a deep yearning for sanctity. Gandhi talked of a streak of cruelty inside him. But the reference each made was as a lament, something they regretted but could not help. Some of
these utterances find mention in the body of my book. It is baffling but true that billions of words and thousands of books on an avalanche of subjects have been written by many gifted and great writers, but not one on a subject of such importance as the war within—the war for supremacy of our consciousness.Instead of going within to fix what is internally amiss, we have long tried to make sense of what is wrong with us by, as it were, 'passing the buck' to all sorts of ideological 'isms'—capitalism, communism, liberalism, consumerism, materialism, militarism, etc. That is true cause of the climate crisis that now threatens human civilization and our planet. Simply put, without consciousnesschange,
we cannot combat climate change, and for consciousness-change, we need to wage and win the war within. And we need to cultivate qualities like prema (love in Sanskrit), chesed (benevolence in Hebrew) and maitri (lovingkindness in Pali), and lead a life of 'sharing and caring'.I realized what a titanic task it would be to write a book on such a mystic subject, as there was nothing in literature for me to use as a launching pad. I wondered: should I abandon this leap in the dark, spare myself all this trouble and turmoil?

At that stage, perchance or providential, I stumbled upon a Toni Morrison quote: "If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it". While I was mulling over the timing of this, another piece of sound advice came to my mind: "Don't write the book you know you can write. Write the book you know you can't write yet". And there is that fountain of wisdom, the Bible, which tells us that "to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven". But why were all these promptings crowding my mind? Was this time the chosen 'season' and the mere me the blessed means? Was this the book that I 'knew I can't write yet write I must'? From the solitary stillness of my soul, an inner voice whispered: Yes, yes ! So I scrambled and started. I was off and running. Yet it wasn't easy to,so to speak, alchemize lightning into light, to transform a stray thought into a scholarly story, and breathe life into humdrum prose. In the absence of any firm footing, I was forced to fall back on my imagination, which Einstein said 'is everything; a preview of life's coming attractions'. It was daunting and draining, exhausting and exhilarating. Down the road, many a time I felt like crying a halt; and doubted my ability to undertake such a monumental venture, to single-handedly write on something no one ever did. I asked myself: Who do you really think you are? Stick to your strengths, don't await a rude awakening of your limitations! Still, I hung on. Guidance and help came from whom we might call the 'supreme ghost-writer', and sources and
supplies came tumbling down like an avalanche. Like in the case of my previous book. In all honesty, I did not write that book too; the book got written by me. As it always happens, one source led to another, one search to many others. It also straightaway struck me that although the subject is essentially metaphysical and mystical, this attempt had to be firmly anchored around the ground realties. And whatever I suggested had to be 'doable' sans any special skills. For, human nature being what it is, however critical and crucial it might be, if there is nothing in it for a doer, nothing will get done. This meant that the book had to be, in one go, transcendental and topical, intellectually invigorating and physically practical.It has sometimes been said that 'there is a time to venture out, and a time to journey within'. Now is the time for both; we have to 'venture out of our cocoons of convenience and comfort', and 'journey within'. While embarking on this journey, we must recognize that it is indispensable but not easy.And let us be crystal clear: the thrust of consciousness-change is to liberate the consciousness from the near-monopolistic hold of the mind. And that is the only way we can redesign the present paradigm of intelligence, which perhaps is the most pressing need of the hour. We have to, as Joseph Campbell said, learn to 'rely on our intuition, our true being' (The Power of Myth, 1988), which means our heart, not our mind. While trying to get a grip on the fundamentals of this war, it became clear that while the war is within, the frontlines are two: the deep
recesses of our inner world, and the heuristic normalcy of everyday existence.

For one of the lessons of life is that for anything to be permanent it must first become the normal. As Annie Dillard reminds us, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing" (The Writing Life, 1989). If we spend it wisely and humanely, then not only will our life be well spent, but also the war within will tilt in favor of righteousness. All that we need to do is to cultivate conscious living and be awake and aware of whatever we do, aware of what we let in through our sense organs, and ensure that they are of the right kind. What all this brings out is the inherent comic tragedy of the human 'condition', that our salvation lies, of all things, in a venture so odious as war, which has long been denounced as mass murder, ultimate evil, outlet for the worst in us, and so on. But some say that much as we might not like to admit it, warring is very much a part of who we are, perhaps even a part of how we have evolved. That could well be so; for if war is a constant within, how can it not but get reflected outside? The paradox is that it is a war and, at the same time, not war in the classical sense. What we have to view as a 'win' here is very different from any other; strange as it may sound, the antihero is also a hero; the evil within is not a villain, no reprobate to be expelled. And, yet, this war embodies our only hope for the future; the hope to set right so much that has gone wrong for so long. And if we, like Arjuna, turn away and say 'we don't want to fight any more wars', much less something that cannot be seen or heard or felt, then nothing will change for the good in our world or in our consciousness. It is only by the active, even aggressive, acceptance of, and engagement in this 'war' that we can put an end to all our ills, biases, and prejudices, and enable each of us to be better than what we have been. And our behavior will become benign, and that will allow us to put an end to what so often we are tempted to do to each other almost reflexively—go for each other's throat in our outer life.

As a writer, I try to step aside and be an observer, to better grasp the focus and thrust of much of what we do, of what consumes our mind, attention, and action, without changing which we cannot change the context and character of human life. From that angle, it didn't take too long to realize that they can only be the interrelated themes of morality, money, and mortality—the 'three Ms'. Nothing of any significance in human life will become any better unless we can find a way to think through and deal with them very differently from their present paradigm. Indeed, that alone will make a decisive difference to the war. Moral is what we want to be, and often fail in practice, and bad thoughts and urges seduce us easily. Modern man lives in what someone described as a state of 'ethical brokenness', having to choose between existential destruction and moral capitulation. Good people always did bad things but not with today's banal ordinariness. We are living in tempestuous times when people are seriously soul-searching and asking such questions as: Are we worthy of survival? Is the human species 'expendable? Is the best we can do now is to stop reproduction? And, à la Bill McKibben, has the Human Game begun to play itself out? We cannot meaningfully address such questions without giving somber thought to two of our basic moral flaws: malice in the mind and what Jews call Sinat chinam (baseless hatred). We must work around money in a way that it ceases to be the chief source of human strife and suffering, and gets transformed into a potent source of moral power. With the advent of the digital economy, and in a world that is almost wholly 'financialized', it seems to me that there are new opportunities for money to work differently, both as a token of exchange and a store of value that needs to be flushed out. As for mortality, what has to change is our obsession with physical immortality, without regard to its ethical, social, and intergenerational implications.

The real challenge, it seems to me, is to strike a balance between obsessive care of our physical body—which the Dhyanabindu Upanishad says is a 'mud vessel'—and the ability to get detached from it, much like a snake treats its skin. I may mention in this context that the idea of focusing my second book around these three subjects, which I call obsessions, arose in my mind even as I was finishing the earlier work, and a mention to that effect was made in my first book. But it was much later that their centrality to the 'war within' crossed my mind. The bottom line is this. Even if the so-called technological 'singularity' occurs in our natural lifetime, or if there is a breakthrough in radical life-extension and the human morphs into a 'Homo Immortalis Omnipotent', and even if we do become a multiplanetary species, we cannot evolve in the right direction unless we turn our skills, weapons and wisdom inwards. The war within is a catalyst for internal liberation and renewal. If we want to get off the gravy train and escape getting consumed by the 'merit-based' rat race, the war within is our only glimmer of hope. We make multiple choices every day but not all are of equal moral value, and to do the right thing is an 'inside-job', to win the war within. Whether we like it or not, we are all proxy participants in this war through every minute, awake or asleep. To see that this war results in the right outcome, we don't have to become all-sacrificing altruists or super-heroes. It simply depends on how we routinely act and reflexively react to everyday situations and circumstances. As the philosopher Theodor Adorno famously said, "Es gibt kein richtiges Leben im falschen"—a wrong life cannot be lived rightly. For a righteous life to be still possible and for the good in us to prevail over evil in the war within, we need to change both the content and context of everyday life.Fact is that anything we see, hear, taste, touch, or smell can trigger unintended behaviors and impulses. Depending on what they are, they serve as the 'feed' to one or the other sides in the war within. This is the subtle subtext of human life. Whatever we want to achieve and whatever happens to us, hinges on the myriad choices, chores, and doings of daily life. If we—at least in numbers that amount to a critical mass—can summon the will and wisdom to conduct ourselves in the dharmic or righteous way, we can still avert what David Wallace-Wells, in his book The Uninhabitable Earth, calls the Great Dying, and save humanity from the ignominy of being branded by posterity as the "only species to have minutely monitored its own extinction", to quote Sara Parkin.2 This book, like its predecessor, is trans-genre and not an easy read. But its time has come.

I can put my neck out and say what the great Greek historian Thucydides said about his work: "My work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last forever". I do dream that this input, however minute it might be, will contribute to bringing about what Thomas Mann called a purer, more honorable way of being human. Nearly eighty years since, we will do well to re-read what John Steinbeck wrote: "There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow (2. Sara Parkin, green political activist and former member of the UK Green Party.) here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success" (The Grapes of Wrath, 1939). My current offering reminds us that in fact, such a 'crime' and such a 'failure' is 'within', that the present human story is a self-made meltdown. And we will not be the only ones who will face the fallout. It will be hundreds of future generations, an astronomical number of humans like us, or similar to us. If we cannot reverse the present trend in the war within and the forces of evil swamp the forces of good, then it is better that we collectively roll off the cliff. Being humans we don't know for sure but, in all probability, we are not yet quite there and, recalling the last scene in the classic 1959 movie On the Beach, we can all still take comfort from the Salvation Army street banner—"There is still time… Brother."

We all know that no man is an island, and that nothing in life can be done in anyone's life without the involvement of many others in some way or the other. We cannot live through a single day, even physically, without being obligated to a host of others. We seldom notice it, but in whatever we do, we constantly make each other, and merge the 'I' with the 'We'. If the purpose of life, as George Eliot once said, was to make life less difficult to those around us, be it one's spouse or a servant or stranger, or even a murderer, then writing too serves a 'purpose'. It is a way to encapsulate countless hours of one person's sustained suffering, introspective reflection and inspired imagination into a few fleeting hours of laid-back reading by the rest of humanity.

What I wrote in the preface to my previous book, I cannot do any better: "If 'no one is a stranger' on the voyage of life, any potential reader would be my soul-mate, those who yearn, as Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull) said, 'to make life come to life'… we know that a book does not just happen". In that preface, I also said, "Apart from the actual author and publisher, there are always unseen forces and invisible actors who facilitate the process and the product. Being invisible should not deny the right to be remembered; death should not annihilate deserved gratitude". In that context, I expressed my gratitude to my beloved parents and siblings, "who gave me boundless love, without which any urge for creativity would have long been smothered". I shall say the same again, and again. They are all 'up there' somewhere, save a sister, Kamakshi, waiting to envelop me in their embrace. And every day now seems too long; it is now a race between decay, debility, and death. And I hope the last wins.
But, among those who are 'down here', I must mention my family—my wife Nirmala, my son Ram, my daughter-in-law Margie, my grandson Varun, my daughter Padma and her 'son', the 'divine' dog Whiskey, truly the best of us. In particular, my wife's silent and steadfast cooperation greatly helped me to keep writing for so long, through thick and thin, when many other more mundane things got neglected.

What I Owe to Whom

Like the earlier one, this book is also entirely the fruit of my own solitary travail and the offspring of the promptings of the unseen author. But among the things that made this practically possible, I must highlight and salute the extraordinary and dedicated contribution of my editorial support, more appropriately my collaborator, Vijay Ramchander. He was a thorough professional as well as a person of the highest integrity, a rare blend these days. Without his painstaking effort, this book, indeed like the previous book, would not have seen the light of the day. There are several other individuals who anonymously assisted me in subtler ways, like the helper at home, the driver on the road or the friend
in need. Indeed for anything to be accomplished, many people contribute, whose very existence we might not be even aware of, bringing to mind the grace that Buddhists offer as a prayer before a meal: "Innumerable beings brought us this food. We should know how it comes to us." A book is no less. Last and most important, I would be committing one of the panchamahapatakams (most heinous sins) characterized in Hinduism—ingratitude—if I do not place on record my profound gratitude to the divine 'Author' who handpicked
me to be his human scribe in the writing of this book and made sure my life does not end entirely in vain.

The Twin Questions and Twin Inabilities

Why can't I be good? Why do I do bad? Such angst-filled questions and reflective ruminations have, ever since man became self-aware, crossed the minds of many among us, not only saints and rishis, epic heroes, and moral philosophers but even evil geniuses and plain folks. Notable among them is Saint Paul, acclaimed as one of the authors of the New Testament,1 Saint Augustine, the author of The City of God,2 and Sage Veda Vyasa, the author of the great Indian epic Mahabharata, which, it is often said, is the last word on the nuances of ethical dilemmas that harass human life.3 And the Pandava prince Arjuna, a central character in the same epic, asked Lord Krishna, "Why is a person impelled to commit sinful acts, even unwillingly, as if by force?" What is strange is that Arjuna's arch enemy and villain, Duryodhana, also strikes a similar refrain and confesses, "I know what is dharma,4 but am not able to practice it. I know what is not dharma, but I am not able to keep away from it."5 In our own times, Gandhi, the ardent advocate of ahimsa or non-violence, lamented, "What evil resides in me?" From Arjuna to Saint Paul to Gandhi, no one has been able to come to terms with who they seemed to be from the outside, and who they felt they really were deep within their own better selves. In the words of Ralph Barton,6 "the human soul would be a hideous object if it were possible to lay it bare". They (and all of us, too) cannot understand how they could be 'who they did not want to be', and, worse, felt compelled to do what they hated to do. We also don't understand why, when the ideals and imperatives of life are to be cooperative, compassionate, loving, and selfless, we are so competitive, callous, aggressive, and selfish. As Carl Jung noted, "Unfortunately, there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be".7 Jung aptly sums up the tragedy of the human condition and simplifies the direction of our aspiration and effort—try to do on the whole, more good and less bad in whatever we do routinely and reflexively. The primary reason why even great saints have been frustrated is due to the fact (which this book highlights) that we have not connected it to the war within.

The Beginning

Like it or not, we have a horrifying history of avarice, aggression, hatred, rape, torture, murder and war; a penchant for deeds so shocking and nauseating that the eternal question of 'Why?' seems heartrendingly inexplicable. This, in fact, was what Sage Vyasa was lamenting about: "When all the good things we want (wealth, pleasure, liberation) we can get by being good, why do we humans choose the bad way?" The answer perhaps is because the bad way is the easier way, the way of human nature. Some prefer to call human nature the 'human condition', some others call it a malaise or malady, an impediment to overcome to become whole. Statements like 'humanity must free itself from the human condition' are commonplace. The awful awareness that any of us can be wicked without will, that we harbor inside not just little weaknesses and innocuous foibles, but a directly positive demonic dynamism, has been traumatic and deeply unsettling. It is a terrible thing; our soul is in constant flux, we live in fear of what we might do any moment, which temptation might turn out to be too much, and what circumstance might make perfectly 'honorable' people do utterly dishonorable things. And we have no control over own competence, our own creativity can be both awesome and awful. For the first time in human history, we face a wrenching question: what are we all capable of and, even more,
what are we capable of being induced or tempted to do? At the heart of our gnawing yearning—and gaping shortcoming—is to bridge the chasm between one man and another. Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, "Identify myself with my fellow, and I feel that I am, so to speak, in him, it is in order not to suffer that I do not want him to suffer. I am more interested in him for love of myself ".8 To a large extent, it all comes down to why we have become, in the words of Jeremy Griffith (Freedom, 2017), extremely tortured, disfigured, soul-dead, and furiously angry real human beings. Ezra Pound once pronounced, "All ages are contemporaneous" (The Spirit of Romance, 1910). Similarly, all serious questions are contemporaneous.

And today's 'contemporariness' is infinitely more complex than the days of Rousseau or Pound, let alone St. Paul or Sage Vyasa. And that includes a fundamental change in the content and context of 'being human'. Historically, we have not found any 'serious answers' for any serious question, for the robust reason that addressing them requires us to tread the territory of thought beyond thought, a kind of candid introspection we have been dreading to do. What is strange and surprising is that, in our implicit acquiescence of evil as a permanent characteristic of our finite existence, we have tended to forget the existence of the world of the 'good within', what Jack Kornfield calls 'secret goodness' (The Wise Heart, 2008). Why it is 'secret' is hard to fathom; indeed, one of the most intriguing and unexplainable things about the human hallmark is why it takes such a struggle to show goodness, while it is so common for the human to be gross. So much so, even when we do good, we rarely feel that good, as much as we don't feel bad when we do bad. Fact is, we must be mad about doing good to do good, but bad we can do with much ease. Why evil is so shameless and good so shy is hard to understand. It may be because the good we do is subtle, suffused, and silent, while evil action is direct, stinging, and sharp. And we must never forget that, as Daniel Deronda (in George Eliot's 1876 novel by the same name) says, "No evil dooms us hopelessly except the evil we love… and make no effort to escape from". And the evil we denounce in our shambolic world is nothing but our refusal to see it as a reflection of our own self in others. Henry Wood says, "the highest attainment to be sought is the incapacity to see evil".9 And, evil is always only relative to good; but, paradoxically, if we refuse to perceive and resist it as evil, then it becomes evil absolute and utterly sabotages the very man who wants to live with it. What is missing is that we inexplicably ignore our own ordinary goodness; we fail to see that magnanimity is as natural to us as
monstrosity. That is why the lure of evil is so hard to resist. It is also because it is embedded impersonally in the institutions and conditions of our social, industrial, technical, and general life.

And then, we have what Herbert Marcuse (1965) once called 'repressive tolerance' in our civic virtue, a tool for maintaining the status quo and the current class power structure. Evil appears anonymously in our corrosive contemporary culture not only as injustice, indifference, and intolerance, but even as obscene affluence in an interpersonal realm; and it appears so insidiously that nobody can be held directly liable or responsible. And that 'anonymity' allows us to do evil while still feeling good about ourselves. Anyone can be a wolf in a sheep's clothing; even more unnerving is how everybody knows that it is a wolf but pretends not to know. Because we fear what we might actually see. One could
always become the other; one is forever hounded and haunted. Interpersonal and invisible evil10 has never been so pervasive and penetrative as it has been over the past century. It is so perilous that it puts the planet itself on the line. Man has always struggled with the question of how to feel connected with another man as a way to stay united, given the fundamental fact that we see, hear, and touch another person but cannot actually 'experience the experience' of that person. As JK Rowling11 pointed out, "we touch other people's lives simply by existing"— how, is the test of our character. We might also add that our existence itself is made possible by others' sacrifices. We come into the world separately and go out separately. The challenge is to 'internalize' others in ways that counteract our proclivity to scapegoating, and satiating our nihilistic and narcissistic impulses. The gap between 'we' and 'others' is now a murderous divide. For, that which we cannot 'internalize', we annihilate. But first, we must learn to 'internalize'
ourselves. For that we must shift our gaze from the distant stars to our deep soul. Contemporary evil, which is now primarily mediated by and incarnated through plutocracies, technocracies, bureaucracies, and corporations, far outweighs the classical evil perpetrated by individual humans, which captures headlines and breaking news. It has less to do with what we do, and more with how we live. And it depends on how the deed affects the environment. Nothing can be deemed moral if it has an adverse impact on the environment. Evil is so detached from the doer and so deeply impregnated in how we do anything that, as Andrew Kimbrell (The Human Body Shop, 1993) points out, "The very idea of our society being characterized by masses of evil people seems somewhat comical".

All in all, there is a striking paucity of modern Mephistopheleses".12 It is debatable if our serial killers and school-shooters and church and mosque-bombers and childrapists
and air-polluters qualify to be 'modern Mephistopheleses', or if they come anywhere close to John Steinbeck's character Cathy Ames, whom he describes as a woman "as close to pure evil as one is likely to get this side of hell" (East of Eden, 1952). But, even if it were not so, we are dangerously drifting to the place to which Satan's choice inexorably led in Milton's Paradise Lost: "All Good to me is lost… Evil be thou my Good". It is because evil is our good that even when we do evil we think we are being good, and, evil "has become the grey eminence infiltrating all areas of human existence".13 Still the bottom line is that both good and evil co-exist with equal legitimacy in life and in nature. It is interesting to note that in Paradise Lost, Milton establishes good and evil as constantly shifting forces that both God and Satan seem to mobilize in opposition to each other.

Some scholars even say that "the conflicting discourse between the two forces redefines Heaven's God as a being capable of evil, and Hell's Satan as a creature seemingly capable of good".14 In turn, the moral quandary inherent in the 'twin-questions' has gained added relevance and greater rigor than ever before. Indeed, few actually agonize;
many think that being good is no good for anything good; and being bad is not bad, certainly better than being dead. Perhaps more than either good or bad, or rather cutting across both, effectively we are deemed dead to all things but greed. And we now have an entirely new dimension to good and bad. Unlike in earlier times, everything man does affects the planet, sadly not for its good. Plunder and predation of the planet are the bedrock of our civilization to such an extent that many feel that nothing short of a radical roll back, if you will, can save the planet. It does not mean we have to turn our backs on industry, agriculture, and technology and go barefoot or back into the caves. It means that we need to evolve what we might call the doctrine of the 'paramountcy of the planet'—that is, what is bad for the planet nullifies whatever good there might be in anything we do. The climate crisis is a direct consequence of our twin-inabilities: not doing what we want to do (to change our predatory and profligate lifestyle), and doing what we don't want to do (polluting and poisoning the planet). These 'inabilities' affect everyone, not only the elite, the powerful, the corporates, the carbon lobby and the fossil fuel promoters. In this respect, the role of big business stands out. According to one estimate, only a hundred companies produce 71% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Our paralysis in the face of clear and present threats to our very existence is symptomatic of the fact that "something seismic, something utterly mysterious has happened in the human spirit and psyche at the deepest level, and equally mystifying is that we do not have the foggiest idea what it could possibly be".15 Not having the 'foggiest idea' and unable to find convincing answers to the twin 'questions', and perceiving a threat to its own paramountcy, the human mind has mounted a twin-strategy: self-righteousness and self-destruction. Being righteous is good, even 'godly'. Socrates, for instance, said, "Whereas, the truth is that God is never in any way unrighteous—he is perfect righteousness; and he of
us who is the most righteous is most like him".16 But being self-righteous is bad. Self-righteousness often stems from self-doubt, when we are on shaky ground.

A self-assured man is not self-righteous. As societies we are 'self-righteous because we are unwilling to accept that we really don't know much about fundamentals, have no clue or control over much that happens or prevent what should not happen. Self-righteousness gives us the cover to carry on, a bandage on an open wound. Inevitably it slips into self-destruction. The fact is that complexity underpins human nature. There is 'something' underneath our fierce survival instincts that pushes us closer and closer to the edge of extinction. Our drive to destroy is not restricted to ourselves, our lives, and our loves. It also gets externalized and forces itself upon the world. That is why we so mindlessly
destroy the biosphere and exterminate other species. The streak of self-destruction, what Freud called 'thanatos', we have always had. Whatever is the source and the cause, the truth is that something in our consciousness seems to seek to, so to speak, dismantle us from the inside out. For all we could guess, it could be that nature might have inserted it into us as a fall-back, an ace in the hole, as it were, to curb, contain, and if need be, to put us away if we become too much of a thorn in its flesh, too intolerably hubristic.

Sooner perhaps than later, nature will reclaim what once belonged to it, or it might, over time, 'scramble the coding that makes us want to destroy everything'. Self-harm and self-destruction are much broader and more insidious than being suicidal, the triggers of which are now almost the same as for any other action or reaction in everyday life; we no longer need a special circumstance or a warped mind or a wounded life. We have reached a stage when, as Camus wrote, "… in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself " (A Happy Death, 1971). We may still not be itching to commit species-scale suicide, but selfharm is now almost compulsive and contagious. And even suicide which most religions condemn as a sin—usurping God's disposition of life and death—is fast ceasing to be a loaded word or a cowardly deed. Many now posit that, in general, when people die, it is against their will, and the same is true for suicide, except that in the case of suicide the meltdown is emotional rather than biological. All through history, man's destructive capabilities were naturally contained, and even the prospect of some adverse unintended consequences was never a major deterrent, because they were never potentially apocalyptic. Human society was never under pressure to curb two of its greatest gifts, curiosity and creativity, for its survival. That safety net now stands shattered. The boundary between individual murder and the murder of humanity is getting blurred. Nuclear technologies, nanotechnologies, gene-editing, robotization, and man-machine-mergers carry grave and ghastly risks. But we must remember that all of them can do a lot of good if properly willowed and channeled; the real risk is how we use them. It is a
sorry state; it is a terrible state to be in. We can't trust ourselves to do what we can and want to do. And we don't trust another human. In response, we are creating a 'super-synthetic' man, hoping to offset and overcome what we don't like about biological man. Modern science was supposed to have made God redundant, but he keeps turning up in our latest technologies. We hope that, in the words of Ian McEwan, "we might have the joyful problem of rather nicer people among us" (Machines Like Me, 2018). Actually, our 'marrying' the machine is only another avatar of what modern man really wants to arrange: the marriage of science and secularism. The fact is, we have for long been fascinated by machines but we have also been fearful of what they might mean. As early as in 1942, Isaac Asimov laid down his Three Laws of Robotics, and warned that robots must be programmed not to ever hurt humans as otherwise we would be doomed. Today, as Kevin Kelly (Out of Control, 1994) puts it, "The realm of the born—all that is nature—
and the realm of the made—all that is humanly constructed—are becoming one.

Machines are becoming biological and the biological is becoming engineered". It brings to mind what EM Forster envisioned way back in 1909, when he wrote: "Cannot you see that it is we that are dying, and down here the only thing that really lives is the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It has robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation" (The Machine Stops, 1909). We are the only species that goes to great lengths to create something smarter than we are, and equally is terrified of what it might do to us once it sees through what we are. Instinctively, we feel inferior, fear the worst, but still cannot hold back. It is a part of the human nature, not only to look down on those we feel are inferior, but also to dread that which we look up to, to be wary of what we
worship, and yet want to be one of them like gods. That is why, merging into a machine and emerging as a god is at the apex of our agenda for the future. It
should also be at the top of our worries right now. When that merging eventually happens, we hope that, like the men of 'The Machine Stops', we will live with 'buttons and switches everywhere' for everything we need (including a button that produces literature, and some buttons to communicate with friends). In such a dystopian world, men seldom
have to move their bodies, and all unrest will be concentrated in the soul. It means that, in such a world, not only the rich, but all the rest will be infested with what Thorstein Veblen (1899) called the 'Leisure Class' parasite. Once we get infested, all of us will do what the rich do now: indulge in conspicuous waste, conspicuous consumption, and conspicuous leisure. It almost means that we want to abandon our very identity, our very humanness—which, according to Indian scriptures, a soul gains after passing through 8.4 million species (cockroaches, snakes, spiders, ants, sea creatures, etc.)—simply to be able to do nothing! It means that one of the things we prize most as humans, our ability to think of clever and original ideas and possibilities, in short, our power of imagination—which Einstein said is the 'true sign of intelligence, not knowledge'—cannot rise above becoming a 'clever' machine. And pray, what, in turn, do we hope to get in return? We hope to get everything from doing nothing: from redundancy to emancipation; from
oblivion to absoluteness; from gadget to godhood.

From Pygmalion falling for his chiseled Galatea, to maverick Frankenstein marveling at his 'modern Prometheus', to the man-meets-machine fiction of Philip Dick, humans have been enthralled by the possibilities of emotional relationships with their synthesized imitations. Over centuries, automatons have evolved from simple mechanical marvels to the electronic androids of the modern age. What is new, experts say, is that it will only be a question of years before automated creatures will "feel" what we do to them, and will feel the need to reciprocate or retaliate. The upshot is that devices we once deemed cold and mechanical could soon become the objects of real companionship and outlets
for human desires, including sexual. It is even being suggested that future people will be falling in love with and marrying robots, and that robots will be preferred candidates for 'arranged marriages', because they can be customized (in terms of physical and personality traits) to the liking of the parents and prospective spouses, and synthetic mates might be preferred as they could be trusted to be less jealous or more affectionate.17 This looks like a huge stretch of credulity because in the end, a robot is still an obedient tool, not a feeling person. But the take-away point is that the velocity and virtuosity of technological change is unstoppable and unpredictable; greed and glory can seduce anyone to cross the proverbial Lakshmana rekha, the forbidden line. One of them could be our quest to create synthetic or new 'forms of life'—to build reproducing organisms that will do the will of man. Another is our quest for the elixir of life. In fact, it has happened before. Of all things, gunpowder was invented accidentally in China, circa 850 CE, by an alchemist who was trying to find the elixir of life.18 That single invention might well have paved the path for the probable catastrophe that human race is racing towards. One wonders: what
possibly could be the unintended outcome of our present quest to become Homo Immortalis Omnipotent?

Greed and glory cause ineffable grief. Greed is wanting more than you need, deserve, or is good for you. Immortality is but greed. We want power for glory. But, we must realize that, as Tolkiens emphasizes in The Lord of the Rings, the force that distinguishes evil from good is a major corrupting influence of power. Mass killers, in the logic of their minds, want fame and glory. Today's mass culture and our own vicarious urges guarantee it. We all, in different degrees and various ways, like to 'peek' and 'sneak' and watch the flash of the blazing gun, the knife coming down, or the flesh being flayed off, and this urge to be aroused while passively participating, is almost worse than running the risk of doing the evil oneself. Wars are products of both greed and glory. Much of the disappointment and despair in human relationships stems from wanting more from each other than we want to give. If we are 'enough' for each other, as we are, then we enjoy each other, not resent each other. If 'enough is enough' then there is no need for more. It is greed that is the basis of our yearning for wealth, eternal youth, immortality; we want more than what humans are meant to have.

Basically, we want to outlive our own lives. Earlier, we were satisfied with 'virtual' or 'spiritual' immortality through progeny, name, fame, and soul. Now we want 'practical' or 'sensual' immortality through our own physical body and brain. What we forget is that we are defined by our thoughts, desires, dreams, regrets, and sorrows—not by flesh or meat, or bone or blood. The big difference between scripture and science is that the former exhorts us to shed our identification with the body—which Henry Wood describes as an "animated fleshly statue,visible, sensuous and material",19 and the Upanishads describe as 'ill-smelling and unsubstantial'—whereas science tells us that we are nothing but the body. For most of us, poor in spiritual perspective, the only practical reality is that the body—our physicality—is the only vehicle that enables our existence in the world. As Henry Wood says, man "has mistaken his own identity… believes himself material in his being…"20 The bottom line is that we want to live on in the physical body, even if it is puffed-up and wrinkled and wretched, as a way to be deathless.

Our obsession with our body, although it is now at its zenith, is long-standing. Plato believed that proportionality in the body was evidence of a divine design, similar to what could be found in the intricate and exquisite architecture in the natural world. On the other hand, the Upanishads tell us, "He who clings to the perishable body and regards it as his true Self must experience death many times". That is, even as we strive to become materially 'immortal', we are daily committing 'spiritual suicide'. The Lure of the Forbidden and the Streak of Cruelty Right down from Adam, we have always done what we should not have. As Mark Twain quipped, "It was not that Adam ate the apple for the apple's sake, but
because it was forbidden. It would have been better for us—oh, infinitely better for us—if the serpent had been forbidden". To contain and channel technological change we need 'consciousness-change'. Instead of consciousness-change, what technology is trying to do is to find ways to upload consciousness into what is called the 'Cloud'.21 That is because our consciousness is currently controlled by our mind, and as the Buddha said, "It is a man's own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways". Our brains have been completely rewired for the worse due to addictive technology. As a result, the more powerful technology becomes, the more vulnerable man might be to evil. In fact, according to Andrew Kimbrell, "we are witnessing the 'technification' of evil". And if we add 'globalization' then we can understand why so many of us are unable to resist the
lure of evil. Yet, there are others like Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells (The Rise of the Network Society, 1996) who argue the opposite, that [the information age] would dramatically increase the productivity of individuals and lead to greater leisure, allowing individuals to achieve 'greater spiritual depth and more environmental consciousness'. But such a view flies in the face of the past and present. Many in industrialized societies now have 'greater leisure', but it has not led to any greater spiritual awakening and is not helping in any way in combating the climate crisis. Although we don't notice, it is technologies like Facebook that are having a tremendous effect on behavior; they have, as someone said, turned us into products, into users, into their virtual employees.

Our behavior is so wobbly and wacky that there are no more taboos or forbidden zones or safe havens; we can, everyone of us, might do anything anytime to anyone; when
the crunch comes, we do not know whom to trust the least, spouse or stranger, relative or recluse, friend or foe, snake-oil salesman or a pseudo-spiritual guru. Without consciousness-change, technological-change might make our streak of cruelty more socially toxic. A man like Gandhi confessed to his own cruelty, while Marquis de Sade believed that 'cruelty, very far from being a vice, is the first sentiment that nature injects in us all'. In fact, as Jonathan Glover tells us, "The festival of cruelty is in full swing" (Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, 1999). And being cruel is not the exclusive trait of sadists and serial-killers or suicide-bombers. In fact, much as we want to insulate ourselves from such 'evil' people, the truth is that they are, in Philip Zimbardo's words "terribly and terrifyingly normal". David Buss strikes the same note and says,
"Most killers, in a nutshell, are not crazy. They kill for specific reasons, such as lust, greed, envy, fear, revenge, status, and reputation, or to get rid of someone who they perceive is inflicting costs on them. They are like you. They are like me".21 All of us are, in a variety of ways, sadists on the sly and metaphorical molesters in the mind, and instruments of evil. Killing is hurting fatally and it is possible to hurt as much without killing. We can, and do more than we realize, kill through spoken words. It is tantamount to involuntary manslaughter. In actual killing, there is no hurt once killed. But not in killing with words. The wound left by a word may never heal. Of all our sense organs it is our mouth
that can touch other people's lives, both to hurt and to heal. As King Solomon says, "Life and death are in the hands of the tongue."22 The Jewish Talmud says that negative speech is even worse than the sword, because it kills many people, even at a great distance. All this does not mean that we cannot do immense good or be 'effective altruists', that we are incapable of putting our lives on the line to save total strangers, even of a different faith. That is what makes being human so frustrating and challenging, exasperating and exhilarating. All of us have within us what it takes to do godly good and monstrous evil, but the trouble is we have no control over either. All of us are made of the same composite, and the same war is waging in our consciousness, and therefore any of us could be an Eichmann23 or a Schindler,24 a Godse25 or a Gandhi. Each of them in their own mind believed that what they did was not only right but also righteous.

Our mind, or our mental template, if you will, justifies or offers alibis for everything: greed or genocide, callousness to others' suffering, or unspeakable cruelty towards fellow-animals. As Dostoyevsky said, "No animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel". Indeed, to adequately express what we do to and with animals, we need to invent a new vocabulary and new words. Words like cruelty, sadism, and savagery do not capture and convey what they are supposed to. The irony is that when humans act cruelly, we call them 'animals', while the truth is that only humans behave cruelly. As Thomas Edison aptly said, "Until we stop hurting all our living beings we are still savages". It is a snapshot of how amoral and callous that we, as a society, have become. And of how, what Jaron Lanier27 called the 'culture of sadism' has become embedded
in us. What we have been doing so far to other animals is now spreading to other humans. What matters to our mind is what we want, what we think is beneficial to us, and for that everything is a 'resource'; that now includes man himself, a source of supply, support, or aid. Once we develop such a mindset, it is easy for the floodgates to fly open. If man is simply another mineral resource, then like any other we can be used or discarded or dumped according to the need. And then again, if we are a resource, why do we talk of the population problem as a time-bomb? No one complains of excesses of any other resource; it is always about scarcity. Indeed, the real problem is that we have not found the way to effectively and empathetically harness human potential for common good.

Basically we, unlike other species, are not positive contributors to our ecosystems. For example, ants, it is said, outnumber us and consume ten times more food than we do. And yet they are not contributing to the climate crisis because they are net contributors to their world, not rapacious extractors. It shows that with a different mindset towards the environment, we can perhaps grow to ten billion in numbers without making the planet pay for it. But for such a 'mindset' we need consciousness-change. To win the war on climate, and, for that matter, on anything else like poverty or pollution, we need to 'win' the war within. At the root of human destructiveness is his role as a consumer. In fact,
to consume is to destroy, to waste; that was why tuberculosis was once called 'consumption'. The human population is a 'problem' precisely because we are consumers; not creators, or efficient users of resources. And if a 'problem' can be resolved by 'dumping' the offending human, what can be more efficient? Instead, we must learn to view human beings as the end, and cultivate nurturance— emotional care and ample attention—as a skill, so that we can train ourselves to be compassionate individuals in a shared society. Compassion, it is useful to remind ourselves, is not 'condescending kindness' to a handful, but 'passionate engagement' with everything around you. To arrive at that objective, we should pursue compassion passionately, and temper our passions with compassion.

One of our shortcomings relates to what psychologists call 'collapse of compassion'— people tend to feel and act less compassionately for multiple suffering victims than for a single suffering victim.28 That is why we are quick to respond to individual suffering and injustice, and placid and passive in relation to mass suffering and injustice. We are also insensitive to intergenerational injustice like climate injustice. By our refusal to radically cut greenhouse gas emissions we are deliberately and willfully putting at risk the health and lives of our great-grandchildren. By our refusal to give up our needless comforts we are callously denying the basic needs of future generations. While we have to cultivate 'compassionate' skills, what we are perfecting are 'killing' skills. With natural death no longer acting as a creator of a level playing field—everyone in the end does not die, at least not the same way—killing has come to take its place—anyone can be killed anytime. Almost anything can be used to kill; bare hands, cars, knives, rocks, fire, pillows, ropes,
and even water have all been used to snuff life out of another person. As Philip Zimbardo puts it, "Before I knew that a man could kill a man, because it happens all the time. Now I know that even the person with whom you've shared food, or whom you've slept, even he can kill you with no trouble. The closest neighbor can kill you with his teeth: that is what I have learned since the genocide, and my eyes no longer gaze the same on the face of the world".29 We have always killed one another; we have never hesitated from taking another's life when we thought it would get us what we want. And contrary to how we view ourselves as normally moral and as a largely peace-loving species, the truth also is, as a recent study reveals, "we are the most relentless yet oblivious killers on Earth".30 But bad as it was, killing is no longer the 'killing' of the good old bad days, when it used to be the most morally abhorrent of actions, the rarest of rare crimes, the most sinful of them all. We now kill through everything we do, the food we eat, the
water we drink and the air we breathe. We kill when something we don't believe is believed by others, be it faith or ideology or even a disease like Ebola in the Congo. Governments kill, corporations kill, and all sorts of individuals kill in all sorts of ways.

As for the people affected, they are reduced to numbers, distanced into numerical units, moved into a balance sheet, profit or loss calculation. The people who work in these entities do not consider themselves as doing evil; in their mind, they are just doing their job, making a living. The evil they do comes under the purview of, in the words of Philip Zimbardo, "knowing better, but willingly doing worse".31 Our minute and specialized jobs separate and insulate us from ethical consequences of our collective work. We pretend we don't know; but it suits us not to know. As Andrew Kimbrell puts it, "Each of us is caught, therefore, in a kind of job blackmail… We sell our moral birthright in order to
"pay the bills".32 It is all the consequence of our current corrupted consciousness. Some even think that consciousness itself, rather, the evolution of consciousness, has turned human existence into a tragedy that need not have been, were it not for it. Otherwise, we would have lived like other animals, wholly, mating, eating, reproducing, and dying. That is debatable, but in any case we cannot travel back in time. At this point, nothing short of an alchemy of our consciousness can set right what is wrong with us. But we must also remember that consciousness is not our monopoly. We have a higher level of consciousness, but all sentient beings, including the vegetable and mineral kingdoms, possess consciousness. It means that everything lives and is conscious, but not all life and consciousness is similar to that of the human. As someone pithily put it, it is possible to poison a mineral and to murder it, much as you can murder a human being. Everything is a 'part' and a 'process' these days. Nothing is whole or wholesome. What everyone does, day in and day out, is a bit, a specific part; no one is allowed or interested to know more than necessary to get his paycheck.

For, 'the man who knows too much' is too much trouble. There is a growing growl that humans are 'untrustworthy and too 'temperamental'. The second lost 'capacity' is our repeated failure to see danger that is crystal clear except, or even,to the blind. Human history is replete with perils foretold and we have always 'good reasons' to disregard them. The latest and perhaps the most serious and almost insurmountable danger to mankind comes not from other species or nature, but from man himself. The problem is that human character is, as David DeSteno argues, not a black-and-white dichotomy of good and bad but a far more nuanced 'greyscale' continuum.33 All of us at times behave in a manner that we fear we have become, as RL Stevenson's Dr Jekyll writes in a letter to his friend Mr Utterson, "a danger that I cannot name". As if that is not alarming enough,
the fact is also that the causes and compulsions of all our crises are 'rooted in the ordinary, daily economic activity of our species' at this point in its history. And, that is not because, or only because, we are all 'bad' who do some terrible things now and then. One in fact wishes it were so. It is simple and surgical. Now, it is almost everything we do any time and every time to live as modern or postmodern,or some now call auto-modern, human beings.

Horrible as it is, actually killing in its broadest connotation is not the worst about us. When we pluck a flower, the flower bleeds, and when we uproot a vegetable, we are killing. No one doubts that trying to eradicate mosquitoes is not evil, although scientists caution us that we still don't know enough of their role in our ecosystem. But then, who cares for the ecosystem? More than killing it is cruelty that is the bigger and 'treatable' issue. Different shades of cruelty exist deep inside each of us, manifesting most often in our tendency to deliberately inflict pain, denigration, and suffering on others, although our mind usually comes up with one or the other of the three 'Es'—evasion, explanation, and
excuse—to escape the guilt and consequence. It is also necessary to remember that while every act of evil is the same—murder is murder, and rape is rape,genocide is enocide, whoever the perpetrator—, every individual is unique. In fact, why a particular person does something is also unique, even if that reason is horrendous. Some, like Polish philosopher Karol Wojtyla, who advocated the school of thought called 'personalism', even say that not recognizing evil itself is evil. And, even more, not recognizing that we are the source of evil is the chief impediment to fighting evil. The Greek philosopher Sophocles said, "With so much evil stored up in that cold dark soul of yours, you breed enemies everywhere you touch." But that 'stored up' evil makes us mistake those enemies for friends, and friends for enemies. That is why some celebrity serial killers of our own
twisted times invoke the Gandhian remorse as an alibi, and say it was the evil inside, or the devil within, which had made them do their terrible deeds. For example, Ted Bundy, the American mass murderer of late 1970s, is believed to have told his girlfriend, "There is something the matter with me… I just couldn't contain it. I fought it for a long, long time… it was just too strong".

We have long known, more by intuition than intelligence, that inside our essential being, in some nook, corner or cranny of our soul, sinister forces lurk, waiting for an opportunity to pounce and become deeds. It is deeds that in the end matter; they shape us much as we shape them, and they affect others. A recent study suggests that "dark personality traits—Machiavellianism, egoism, narcissism, psychopathy, sadism, and spitefulness—all stem from a common 'dark core'"34 that exists inside each of us. The study also says that while each individual dark trait manifests itself in widely different ways, they seem to have much more in common than initially meets the eye. If true, it means that we can no longer take refuge in thinking that there are evil people out there in the wicked world and the only thing to do is to flush them out and eliminate them. The fact is that we are all potentially capable, if things go awfully wrong, of behaving like that very evil 'person' we are looking for to ostracize from human society. Some killers and jilted lovers, in Nietzschean tones,35 raised themselves above the rest of us and proclaimed that their deed is so lofty that it was 'beyond good and evil'. Some others say that this doleful world anyway is all evil, and that a particular evil action just happened to come out because of certain circumstances.Although from the mouths of murderers that could be a ploy to evade responsibility, we do know that circumstance can sanitize evil, and certain acts, while appearing heinous or abominable, might actually have been committed for the benefit of others; here, the individual is not only free from moral offense, but may even gain great merit. In short, matter does not matter; motives matter and intent is all-important.

Yet what is striking is that saints and sinners alike, heroes and villains are saying the same thing: they are impotent before a more potent inner evil force which induces them to harbor evil thoughts and to indulge in unwholesome actions. Most of us in the moral middle, too, share the same helplessness—our almost pathological inability to do good when we want to, and, even worse,the compelling inability to refrain from doing bad. In fact, the Upanishads say that all organs in our body are susceptible to evil except our breath. We see it all around and in every relationship; we hear the sounds of the mocking laughter of evil. Evil has become irresistible because it is seen as the short-cut to the one thing that is irresistible: making money. What we are allowed to see and hear is designed for that, bringing to mind, upside down, what George Orwell told us in his classic book, 1984 :"The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command". Now we cannot even choose to 'reject' because once we see or hear we get hooked. We must avoid evil.But we do not know how and where to begin, and how to fight it. That is because what we see and experience are symptoms, not the root of the evil. It is like trying to put out the flames without putting out the fire. This tension and tussle saps our internal energy, and affects our behavior drastically and scars our psyche and
personality. We all live wounded lives, troubled by our own thoughts, unable to be at peace with our own emotions, or with fellow-humans. So powerful is the devil inside that when faced with a choice or a course, so many, despite free will or in exercise of it, choose evil and so many succumb to seduction so easily. We are distraught, feel terribly guilty and blame ourselves. Part of the reason is that sometimes in despair, we look upon the evil inside as a standalone, we think there is nothing else and therefore we think there is nothing we could do. But then, we do good too. It is often said that God created man with both good and evil inclinations, the two tendencies that pull him in opposite directions, and also that it is His command that we choose good over evil.

But if that were so,why is that we all feel, with little effort, the tremors of the presence of evil inside and not as much of the good? While all life is and everything we do is a binary
choice—between good and evil—why is it so taxing to choose good? The truth of the matter is that human behavior is plastic, open equally to both altruism and back-stabbing. In Shakespeare's words, "The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together" (All Is Well That Ends Well). Science now says36 "nothing is either good or bad, desirable or undesirable, or anything else except that it is made so by laboratories inside us producing the emotions on which we live." The fact is that there is some evil in the best of us, and some good in the worst of us. In fact everyone, even the most creative person is a blend of seemingly incompatible qualities. That spirit is what Rumi referred to when he said, "The human being is like a jackass, with wings of angels tacked on". We are all mixtures of good and evil, light and darkness, lower than the lowly animal, and as sublime
as the Supreme. There is something beautiful in the worst and hideous among us as illustrated in the story of Jesus kneeling before a stinking carcass of a dog and exclaiming "Praise be to God, what beautiful teeth this creature has". A great thinker can be a mean man and a lustful man can love dearly. No one is pure or perfect. And there is terror not only in the darkness of the unknown, but even more in the bright lights of the known.

Evil we usually associate with sadistic violence, cruelty, and viciousness. Sometimes, like in Hinduism, good and evil are equated with order and chaos, and the struggle between the two is the essence of our existence. Good and evil are extreme opposites, but they cannot do without each other. Gandhi, in his comments on the Mahabharata, said, "Human life is like a fabric woven with black and white threads—threads of good and evil"; and also that "None can be said to be evil personified". If everything is good then nothing would be good. The reality is that we all contain within ourselves the capacity for kindness, as much as for cruelty or evil. We have within us both the 'Kingdom of God' about which Christ spoke, as well as the cave of the devil. We like to embrace good and shun evil, but in the Bhagavad Gita, it is said that a sthitaprajna (person of steady
wisdom) sees the presence of God not merely in the good and noble, but also in the wicked and ignoble. The point is that we all are capable of being self-serving and generous, callous and compassionate, cowardly and courageous, treacherous and trustworthy. Indeed, anything anyone can be, all of us are. The spiritual guru Paramahansa Yogananda called evil the 'shadow of God', and said that 'the dark shadows of evil are interspersed with the pure white beam of the virtues of God'. The idea of a 'shadow' inside each of us was famously propounded by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. According to him, it is the deeper 'dark side' of our persona that consists of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously disagreeable human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, hunger for power,selfishness, greed, malice, anger, or rage. We must also note that some emotions
like anger and rage are not by themselves necessarily 'bad' or socially disruptive.If channeled in the right direction, they can do a world of good.

Way back in 350 BCE, Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics) wrote that "the man who is angry at the right things and with the right people, and further, as he ought, when he ought, and as long as he ought, is praised". In fact, the most pressing need of the hour is to have more good people really, really angry about inequity and injustice all around. Similarly, righteous rage can be more socially beneficial than passive acquiescence. Some, like biologist Jeremy Griffith, go to the length of saying, "What's needed on Earth is love of the dark side of ourselves" (Freedom: The End of The Human Condition, 2016). Our response generally is to either pretend as if such emotions and impulses do not exist or to repress them. But research and experience has shown that it only makes them stronger and erupt more intensely when they no longer can be contained. Experts suggest that by
'accepting' the reality of their reality, we can reduce the harm they can do. Then, how can you fight such an embedded evil, the sinister shadow? The answer is three-fold. One, however distasteful, we must recognize and realize that there is inside each of us, a dark patch, a part of the primordial past of our human inheritance. Second, we must strengthen the opposite goodness and Yogananda's 'pure white light' within. The way to strengthen the good within is by doing good in the world. We must always be aware of the fact that everything we do every day has a twin effect: it affects the world we live in, and acts as ammunition in the spiritual struggle between, in Steven Pinker's words, our 'better angels' and 'inner demons'. Third, although difficult to practice, we must strive to fight the evil, not the evil-doer. One of the problems why evil holds such sway over us is because we try constantly to explain it away and not fight it effectively. To fight it effectively does not mean trying to erase or expel it; it means to always retain an upper hand over the evil within. The outside world merely conforms to the moral condition of the human spirit. Evil in man is but a reflection of evil in the world, and vice versa.

Struggle for Supremacy Over Consciousness—the War Within

What we, like many generations before our own time, fail to comprehend sufficiently is that not only do we harbor both good and evil in our consciousness, but that these two, along with their allies, are constantly engaged in an epic and endless struggle for supremacy over our consciousness. What we have failed to recognize is that this 'struggle' is more than conflict or confrontation, even more than combat; it is analogous to what we characterize as 'war'. This 'failure' has been our hamartia, our tragic flaw that is responsible for so much that has gone horribly wrong in human history. We don't even know when it began—some say two million years ago, when man became a 'fully- onscious being'; some say as recent as three thousand years until the time of Homer's Iliad. It is one of those things 'we do not even know we didn't know'. Whenever it originated, this is an eternal internal war that goes on every minute of our lives. The two fighting forces are two sides of our own self. No impulse, even evil, in man is irreclaimable; nothing human is doomed to destruction. Man's manifest mission is to reclaim the negative dimension of his own personality. It is this 'complexity' that translates as the enigma of the 'human condition', and as the capriciousness of human behavior. No other explanation fully explains, not even, as Jeremy Griffith says, that it is a "result of us humans becoming conscious and at odds with our species' particular cooperative and loving, Edenic, moral instincts" (Freedom Essay 3: The Explanation of the Human Condition, 2016).

We must upfront recognize that this is not like any other war we fight in the external world, where we try to vanquish the opponent and emerge victorious; it is more like a Sisyphean internal struggle—thankless, endless, but necessary. And we must accept that our act of rolling the boulder up the hill is to make sure that neither side, not even the evil one, has to lose or get defeated. What we must focus upon is how to actively intervene and support the righteous side in this war; that is the only way to solve any problem, to better ourselves and to grow spiritually. Hiding from or avoiding struggle and conflict will only result in the triumph of evil. Merely acknowledging and 'accepting' that we all have a
'shadow' or a 'dark spot' or evil within us is not sufficient; it can even embolden and strengthen that very evil we don't want to win. We must constantly and actively ensure that it does not overwhelm the good, and the light within, in the war. But once we recognize this imperative, many things that made no sense, or made our heads hang in shame, and the very basis of our erratic behavior, will fall into place. And 'blindfolding' ourselves will no longer be the only way not to see what makes us sick in our stomach or not to go mad and slaughter each other just by seeing. But if we don't make that effort, and continue to deal with our problems as we have been doing, none of them can be resolved. And if we do,nothing else would need to be done. It is this war that the Bible alludes to, when it says, "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want".37 It is this war that Islam alludes to when Prophet Muhammad says the greatest jihad (struggle/striving) is to battle your own soul, to fight the evil within. This was the 'inner battle' that the American theologian Thomas Merton had in mind when he said that he 'felt in his bones that his own life constituted a battleground between conflicting interests, warring tendencies, mutually exclusive selves'. Actually, we don't battle the evil within. It is the good within that battles with it. For the 'we' in us includes the two sides, the good and the evil. They 'battle' each other, but 'we' need both for our wholeness as
humans. That is what is exceptional about this war. We should ceaselessly strive to ensure dominance of the good in the war, but should never risk the defeat and destruction of the 'evil within'. We do not know the beginning, but we do know that there can be no end. It is a war in which we cannot afford either victory or defeat. For we need both adversaries, the good and the bad, intuition and intellect, head and heart, in Jeremy Griffith's explanation, "instinct and conscious intellect", for our very survival. This war goes on unnoticed because no blood or corpses come out of our body, and we think there is peace within us. This war provides a plausible platform to many things that baffle us.

Why is our behavior so erratic and at times so appalling? It offers, if not an answer at least an explanation to the laments of great men like Saint Paul and Rishi Vyasa, among others. Above all, it lets us hope for a better future, a more moral man, and a basis to overcome all the problems that torment us. And, most of all, it gives an answer to the uestion we all ask: What can I do? The response is, win your own war within. Anything else is, in the words of the Danish 'Tolstoy', Henrik Pontoppidan, "a lifeless thing—nothing more than a broom handle, a crutch which might help a soul to forget its lameness for a while, but could never be a life-affirming construct."38 Many mystics have long wondered if some insidious external force is relentlessly impeding their spiritual sadhana or progress. Traditionally it was blamed on mysterious, malevolent beings like demons and devils. Now we know that these demons and devils are within each of us and are engaged in a fierce battle with their opposites. And, more important, yes, we can make a difference. We have long thought that we are all born with a permanent package of attributes and traits, some good and the mostly wicked, and that we have to more or less live with them, in our behavior.But, no; it doesn't have to be that way. That is only partially correct.Recent research is telling us that we can go beyond the grip of the 'givenat- birth', and cultivate, nurture and augment our positive qualities like kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude. Cutting across all these is sharing, which we must remember, is caring. The spirit of sharing could not only make us more responsible earthlings, but also enable us to boost the kindred forces in the war within.

'Warring' is part of being human; some say it is a part of how we evolved. Indeed, man has been at war with life since its inception, and the resultant struggle is what human society reflects. Many 'wars' we have fought before, including two World Wars, and many civil, ethnic, religious, as well as wars for independence and for secession. And many we fight now, on social ills like wars on terrorism, on drugs, on poverty, on discrimination, etc., but this 'war within' is the most consequential of all. Our failure to recognize this central reality gives rise to what in French is called plus ça change, plus c'est la même, why things might appear to change or improve, but beneath it all they remain just as bad as before. This is the 'Mother of all Wars', the real 'war to end all wars'. This war offers the overarching theory we seek to make sense of all that happens in human life that
seems so bizarre and even absurd; why we cannot do things in a way that is so self-evident. This is the war that determines how we behave and defines who we are, whether a purely material being or a spiritual being, and if it is a blend of both, which one will exercise greater influence on how we live. It is an eternal war because neither of the opposing forces can or will ever be able to, gain 'victory' or 'vanquish' the other. They are forever related in a state of perennial antithesis, each one requiring the other. The war is for control of the commanding heights of our consciousness. And whoever controls consciousness controls everything else. Everything else is secondary. Whatever happens in the outside war hinges on the ebbs and flows of this war. It is hard to understand why we get attracted to the unfamiliar and ignore the immediate, but that has cost us a lot. Our knowledge of distant worlds— worlds outside even our galaxy—is increasing day by day, but our awareness of the world within remains abysmal. And RD Laing noted that "our time has been distinguished, more than by anything else, by the mastery, the control of the external world, and by an almost total forgetfulness of the internal world".39
Scriptures—epistles from the gods—and the holiest of sages have tirelessly told us that everything we seek is within us; that all power is within. The Bible tells us, "A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of ". In other words, you can discipline yourself externally, but if you have hate or lust in your heart, you are still in trouble. As Rumi said, "All inspiration you seek is already within you. Be silent and listen". Unaware of the 'world within', let alone of this perennial war within, every time a terrible thing takes place and someone does something abominable, we wonder, 'why, why?', 'who really are they?', 'how could they do such a thing?!', not realizing that perhaps those people are acting against their own will, and that their actions
are a reflection of the struggle between the good and evil within their own being. Many religions tell us that every man is born with both a good and an evil inclination, and that most men will, at some time in their lives, succumb to their evil inclination. The traditional Jewish view on this complex subject is welldefined in rabbinic literature. Man's inclinations are therefore poised between good (Yetzer HaTov) and evil (Yetzer HaRa), and he is not compelled towards either of them. He has the power of choice and is able to choose one or the other side knowingly and willingly. The yetzer hara is not a demonic force, but rather man's misuse of things the physical body needs to survive. In fact, a Jew's very purpose in this physical and material world is to ultimately triumph in this epic battle. Islam too echoes this line of thought. Prophet Muhammad said that 'the greatest jihad is to battle your own soul; to fight the evil within yourself '.

This internal spiritual struggle, in Islam, according to many scholars, is the major struggle (Al-jihad al-Akbar), higher than the external 'holy war'. In other words, jihad also is what we now classify as a war within. If the major war against evil in Islam is within our soul, the Christian war is a 'war in heaven' between God and the Devil. It is also between flesh and spirit. The Bible says: "Walk by the spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh". Alyosha of Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov changes the scene of action and says that 'God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man', or, more to the point, the battlefield is our consciousness. Again, this is also the war between the princely cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, in the Indian epic Mahabharata at Kurukshetra. We must understand that all those who appear normal and lead seemingly
sane lives are also potentially capable of committing similar deeds, for we are all made up of the same bundle of passions and react to provocations and temptations essentially the same way. And whether it is a murderer or a mahatma, it all depends on how one of our unique attributes, the capacity to judge, evaluate, or decide the right from the wrong, actually works. But, as history shows and modernity brings into sharper focus, such a capacity often can go haywire, because it is easy to find what's wrong, harder to find what's right, and often the choice is not between right and wrong, but right from right and wrong from another wrong. All of us struggle with the dilemma how to tell correctly when everything around is so topsy-turvy and chaotic. And so corrupted is our consciousness that often, through whatever process, what we are inclined to choose is the wrong one.
When that 'wrong' becomes a simple mistake or a horrible massacre is hard to tell, because it all happens in the 'world within', out of sight and without our 'personal' participation. We are all equally as helpless about what is happening inside us. And 'what is happening inside' is nothing but, and nothing short of, what we call in the world outside 'war' between two sets of forces, one that comes under the rubric of good and the other evil, a war between two of our own 'selfs', better and bitter. When the forces of good were dominant in the previous ages or yugas, men were righteous. We now live in an age and at a time when the moral manifest of man is at its weakest and that translates into all the terrible things we see in the world. Men of earlier times might have been generally more virtuous and righteous than now, but evil was always waiting in the wings. That was the
reason why Saint Paul exhorted us41 to wear a 'breastplate of righteousness' in fighting evil. Evil now is not only stronger but also hydra-headed and more embedded in everyday life.

Evil is the way to grease greed and gratify consumerism, to appease hatred and abet injustice. It is not merely the absence of good or the mere shadow of light or darkness. And that was foretold in Hindu scriptures. It was written that in the present Kali Yuga, the penetration and infiltration of evil into the human world will be complete and unchallenged. That this would be a time when men would need a reason to be good, and none to be bad. It was written that, in this age, people will 'tend to be greedy, ill-behaved and merciless, and fight one another without good reason'.42 The scriptures like Srimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata even detail how individuals in various relationships behave in this age, and one must add that they are eerily accurate. The Srimad Bhagavatam says that 'wealth alone will be considered the sign of a man's good birth, proper behavior and
fine qualities', and that a 'person's spiritual position will be ascertained merely according to external symbols, and on that same basis people will change from one spiritual order to the next'.43 In fact, it is even said that since nothing is an accident, only those with karma appropriate to a sinful life are born in these ghastly times. These prophecies apply so aptly to current times that one is utterly at a loss. Does it mean we are doomed people fated to live in evil? One way we obfuscate evil, and give ourselves a moral cover for our bad behavior, is by depicting evil as a monstrous act or a profound immorality, like murder or rape or genocide or mass massacre. The forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner, who studies depraved behavior, says, "Everyday evil encompasses a myriad of everyday actions… the possibilities are literally limitless". Limitless because evil is now virtually indistinguishable from our behavior. It is not merely a twisting or corruption of good. What Hannah Arendt called banality of evil is more true than ever before. The fact is that evil has become banal, morality is chiaroscuro. And it is not confined to the criminal realm, and it need not even be illegal. Even more to the point, the very wellspring of the legal system in a society, the State, is itself a major source of what Arendt called organized evil. And it has been for a while. Tolstoy wrote, "The truth is that the state is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens". And so is the economic system in which we live and work and die—capitalism. Social evils like extreme poverty, extreme inequality, and exploitation are the products of capitalism, mainly though not exclusively. And technology is exacerbating ills like inequality through, for example, genomic technologies by propagating the idea that some lives or traits are not as desirable as others.

The key is 'access', equal access to power, privilege, opportunity, creative expression; this is what capitalism denies and subverts. Indeed, its critics say that capitalism sacrifices
humanity's well-being for private profit. Man has always been a 'working animal' and work has always been viewed as more than a means to make a living. It is what connects you to society; it is what lets you express yourself; it is what allows you to share your time and skills with others for a common purpose; it is what remains after you are, in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s phrase, 'stone-cold dead' (Cat's Cradle, 1963). But capitalism has made it a matter of life and death. In fact, in Japanese there is even a word for 'death from overwork': karoshi. It covers a range of ailments from heart failure to suicide, so long as the root of their cause is in working too hard. It is all about ambition, grit, and hustle. "Work, for its disciples never really stops and they don't want it to stop because it is the source of their rapture".44 The issue goes beyond finding a modus operandi between work and vacation and even beyond the impact of the 'Universal Basic Income'. It relates to the issue of how to use 'time' as a resource for spiritual growth and common good. It has become an immediate imperative, what with artificial intelligence and automation threatening to throw millions out of work. Will man then become more spiritual or sensual or suicidal? How will more time spent on inane entertainment and erotic titillation affect his mind? As has been famously said, an idle mind indeed could be a devil's workshop, and could be catastrophic in societies with more guns than people. Albert Camus once quipped that 'idleness is fatal only to the mediocre' (A Happy Death, 1972). But then, what else are we, and even more would be, as we are feverishly working towards making the machine synonymous with excellence, and we want nothing but not doing anything in return. Indeed, so much is our ardor for the machine that it covers up mediocrity, which itself is a spinoff of our excessive reliance on the machine. The reality is that even more than what evil, both hot and cold, can do, it is, in the words of David Wong, "warm, dense fog" or the "mass of flavorless mediocrity"45 that is a greater threat to human survival. Being the best of anything seems so pointless. Our lives and work are so intertwined that striving for excellence might even inadvertently strengthen the 'stupid boss' or the corrupt system.

To ensure that the forces of evil in the war within are subdued, we need to bring about a fundamental change in the context of human life. In this context, it is important to pay particular attention to a dimension of modern life that occupies so much of our minds, and we take great pride about: love of loyalty to one's country, patriotism. This is necessary because it contributes in no small measure to the dominance of evil in the world and that, in turn, strengthens the forces of evil in the war within. We value patriotism very highly and consider it almost a moral imperative. But many who run the State exploit that sentiment for questionable purposes; there is talk of manufacturing a patriotic cyborg superhuman, like the Six-Million-Dollar Man or the Bionic Woman. Way back in 1775, Samuel Johnson famously said, 'patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel'. We cannot talk for scoundrels, but even the sane and stable get their thrills in defense of their country, right or wrong. For some time now, the decline and impending demise of the nation-state has been speculated upon in the wake of globalization. Although the nation-state is not as sovereign as before, and its hold over its subjects is not as strong, it is still the most powerful political institution and the bedrock of global order and stability. It still evokes plenty of passions and abundance of emotions, and impels us to do things beyond our better judgment.It also comes in the way of cultivating a culture of planetary consciousness and an enduring sense of global citizenship. The absence of such a 'consciousness'
and 'citizenship' is a major reason for our inability to solve global problems like climate change. When naturalist David Attenborough warns of climate-caused collapse of civilization, our response is not to prevent such a 'collapse' but to strive towards transforming humanity into what is called a 'space-faring civilization'. Right now, the plutocracies that run national governments are the stubborn stumbling blocks; they believe that what is good for planetary health is downright dangerous for their political health. They get away with it because their citizens in their hearts believe that what their governments are doing is good for them even if it is poisonous to the planet! It is generally accepted, even by enlightened persons, that what a government considers to be the 'national interest' overrides every moral principle, and that governments can lie, kill or torture their own
people and that is not evil, or, at the least that is a 'necessary evil'. And that if we are 'law-abiding', no evil can touch us nor can we be held morally accountable.The unvarnished historical fact is that the worst horrors and atrocities were legal and perpetrated by 'patriotic' people. And then again, the fact is that more than genocides or mass massacres, small cruelties committed by common people—who pride themselves as good and just, and benevolent—have done more than most people realize to spread and enflame evil in human society.

We must also understand that we are the only species which exhibits not only malice but also Schadenfreude, delight at other people's misery. Researchers say that what appears to be at the core of Schadenfreude is dehumanization, the process of perceiving a person or social group as lacking the attributes that define what it means to be
human. The daily reality these days is that most of us experience evil in social and subtle forms like intemperance, inequity, ill-treatment, ill-will, taking advantage, trampling over others feelings, exploitation, and even, in the current milieu, rabid individualism and lavish living. Interpersonal evil is still alive and kicking but it is dwarfed by institutional evil. When such unsavory traits stay dominant inside in the war within, however much we try, we do bad. We live with them; we experience them as villains or victims—often the line gets blurred—but do not think we are evil. The way to alleviate evil is to do good proactively. The best defense against both interpersonal and institutional evil is to embed compassion into everyday living. The Dalai Lama says, "If we want to make others happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion". In Mahayana Buddhist traditions, compassion (karuna) is one of the primary qualities that a practitioner should cultivate. This, along with wisdom, is a necessary requirement for progressing along the Bodhisattva path. Compassion does not shut its doors to any one, not even to a cold-blooded killer. Indeed he needs it more because he has, in the language of the Bible, 'sprinkled blood'.46 And we know we too need it as we too have in us what scientists call the 'dark core', which is what impels men to do evil. And no one is immune or impervious.

History shows that some of our much-admired great thinkers, writers, leaders, and role models have had skeletons in their closets, that they have been callous, cunning, and cruel in their private lives. And exceptionally good men are also susceptible to very ordinary weaknesses. That does not necessarily negate their greatness or goodness; it only that they too were like any of us. It should make us more hopeful about ourselves: we too can be one of them. Despite the 'dark core', all of us are still capable of compassion, which science tells us can be sharpened like any other skill, similar to a muscle that can be strengthened with exercise, and enhanced through systematic training programs. It means that man is in no way predestined to evil, although he is constantly tempted by malevolent forces which, like a wild beast, lie in wait, ready to leap on its prey. We do not have to cringe and crawl in the face of the evil within; we can still lead a virtuous life if we muster the will and skill to do good. That will beef up the forces of good in the war within. Even though they have not explicitly focused much on the war within, all religions and scriptures, ancient archetypes and great men, spiritual and secular, have grappled with the prickly issue of good and evil in human life. For instance, the conflict between good and evil is one of the precepts of the Zoroastrian faith, first enshrined by Zoroaster over three centuries ago. It is central to Manichaeism, an Iranian religion, which the founder called the Religion of Light. Manichaean theology taught a dualistic view of good and evil. A key belief in Manichaeism is that the powerful, though not omnipotent, good power (God), was opposed by the semi-eternal evil power (Satan). Humanity, the world and the soul are seen as a by-product of the battle between God's proxy, Primal Man, and Satan. The human person is seen as a battleground for these powers.47 According to
Buddhism, desire is the root of evil; and Vedanta says that ignorance of our true nature (avidya) is evil. Nietzsche, on the other hand, said "Not necessity, not desire, no—the love of power is the demon of men". Whatever is the source of evil in the first place, let us face it: the evil we encounter in the world is more devilish and daring. It is tinged with malice, designed not to derive maximum gain but to inflict maximum pain and misery on another person.

What has happened, and is happening, is that the evil within us has gained the upper hand in the war within; it has infiltrated and corrupted our interpersonal life and is strutting triumphant in the world. We must bear in mind that life without suffering is a virtual oxymoron, and that in fact, our own body is the source of our suffering, subject as it is to decay and disease. And much of our suffering in fact emanates from our relationship with other people. What is now getting blurred is the boundary between what is called demonic or sadistic evil and everyday evil, between acts that are merely bad and those that are truly depraved. The evil we encounter today is raw, naked, unashamed, and unapologetic. That is so because it overwhelms the good inside us. And that is because the ground within is now more suitable to the seeds of evil. What evil stands for is what we want from life. That strengthens both the evil hiding in the crevices and corners of our conflicted and beleaguered soul, and in the thick and humdrum of our daily life. What is glaring is that evil-doers don't just do bad that hurt and harm others. They choose to make their actions even worse by behaving sadistically and by deliberately ignoring or intensifying the damage and suffering they cause. It is yet another sign that forces of evil and adharma have gained an almost unassailable dominance in the struggle within. What many of us do not nderstand is that not only do both good and bad coexist in each of us, but they combine with other kindred forces to wage a war to gain the upper hand in our consciousness. And the fortunes and fluctuations in this war eventually determine our behavior, what we do and what we don't—and no amount of laws and ethical codes can make any significant difference. One pivotal factor we should never lose sight of is that we cannot be moral simply because we want to appear good.
Morality per se cannot ward off or fight evil. And we need to widen the ambit
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44
of morality. Many evil perpetrators convince themselves that they are acting
morally in doing what they are doing. We also have to rethink who qualifies to
be a 'perpetrator'. Is it only the actual doer or should it include the 'mastermind'?
We often ask how a mass murderer can kill innocent people and children. At
least they have a twisted cause in their warped minds; what about 'official' mass
murderers who authorize launching of drones to kill a 'terrorist' suspected to be
hiding in the vicinity? Is the manufacture of a nuclear weapon itself or of toxic
chemicals, not only their use, a sin? Or the development of technologies that we
know we don't have the wisdom to put to good use? What is the best thing we
can morally do, saving ourselves, or sacrificing ourselves? Is morality a matter of
numbers or a question of intent? Can 'loyalty' to a family, company or country
no longer be deemed to be a virtue by itself? We have to redraw the boundaries of
what is right and what is wrong, and what is 'larger good' and 'lesser evil'. Should
there be anymore different moral norms applicable to the rulers and the ruled,
the state and the citizen? Which is a lesser evil, kleptocracy or kakistocracy? We
cannot arrive at precise and 'fool-proof ' answers; we have to constantly improve
and improvise.
The only way to minimize errors is to cultivate the right kind of mindset.
To checkmate, contain, and combat evil in the world we have to stem the tide in
the war and strengthen the forces of good inside. For that, we have to aggressively
enhance the good we do in our daily lives. We must remember that whatever we
do all day, whatever we put into our body through any of our sense organs, serves
and feeds one or the other of the 'two wolves' inside, wolves that are constantly
at war with each other. Everything we ingest is 'natural' nutrition to either of
them. Like everyday evil, we also have to have everyday good, a good that, in
the words of the humanist William Morris, we can do with a consciousness
that makes us act as if harm to one would mean harm to all. In fact, some say
that it is the purpose of evil to throw things into disarray, and that it is the
very reason why God created it and allows it to exist. We can do good in many
ways if we recognize that in human life, luck (or whatever one chooses to call
it: fate, destiny, karma) plays a huge role—from birth to death—, and that we
should make it our manifest mission to help the unlucky, the disadvantaged, the
handicapped, and to do what we could to make life less difficult for them and
lighten their burden. For, as George Eliot said, "what do we live for, if not to
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make life less difficult to each other?"48 And make life less difficult particularly to
the less fortunate among us. No other species is as disparate and divergent as the
human, and it is precisely that disparateness and divergence that offers immense
opportunities to do good.
The subject of what Lars Svendsen called the 'philosophy of evil', and
the fight between good and evil, has been a perennial theme in great literature
like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), Robert Stevenson's The Strange Case of
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1937–1955),
William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954), and John Steinbeck's East of Eden
(1952). The common theme in all of these is that humanity is continuously
immersed in a struggle of good versus evil. Steinbeck sums it up: "I believe that
there is one story in the world, and only one… Humans are caught—in their lives,
in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty,
and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil". Steinbeck
calls it, "the way in which this sense of opposed absolutes rises from deep within
man, representing something profound and inevitable in human consciousness".
Before Steinbeck, we have Shakespeare in whose entire oeuvre the fight between
good and evil is a recurring refrain. In Hamlet, he says, "for there is nothing either
good or bad, but thinking makes it so". And in Macbeth, throughout the play,
Macbeth and his wife, after the murder of Duncan, are engaged in a constant
combat between the good and evil within themselves. A much-acclaimed work of
this genre is Joseph Conrad's classic Heart of Darkness (1899), which highlights
the struggle that humans go through, with their own morals, and their own
battles with their hidden evils. In the Harry Potter books, there is no magic in the
world without a fight between good and evil. All things are limited to being what
they are and nothing more, and the world becomes a boring and burdensome
place. You have to escape to the realm of magic to make things interesting and
discover the potential for human flourishing and wholeness. Not only modern
literature but also scriptures underscore this issue. According to Jewish belief, the
focus of the battle between good and evil is not mastery over the outside world,
but over the soul of the human individual and the power it contains; a moral
struggle that takes place in the heart, not in the outside world. The contestants
are man's conscience against man's urges, man's spirituality against the physical
life force. The Indian scripture Katha Upanishad says that all life is a choice
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46
between two paths—sreyas (goodness) and preyas (pleasantness)—and implores
us to tread the former. The wise prefer the good to the pleasant; the foolish,
driven by sensual desires, prefer the pleasant to the good. Preyas sizzles with
sensual pleasure, while sreyas leads to spiritual joy. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna
compares sense-born pleasures to 'wombs of pain and sorrow.'49 But the reality
is that all through our lives we want pleasure, which we equate with happiness,
while pain we equate with misery. That is perhaps why so few are 'happy', and
studies indicate the emergence of yet another inequality: happiness inequality. As
Jeremy Bentham says,50 pain and pleasure are 'two sovereign masters', and it is
under their governance that nature has placed mankind. The two are a package,
inseparable. But all life, we travail in vain to embrace pleasure and shun pain.
In fact, Freud went to the extent of saying that what decides the purpose of life
is simply the program of the 'pleasure principle'.51 Some say that our difficulty
to tread the path of sreyas instead of preyas is a structural shortcoming of Homo
sapiens; that we are, as Kant said, 'made out of crooked timber'. Unable to face
up to the fact, we have been living in denial and despair. That denial has become
defiance in the modern era, and of late it is this defiance that is manifesting as
a direct dare to the gods to stop us, if they could, from becoming one of them.
Homo sapiens to Homo Deus
Our longing not to be a man anymore has become a desperate cry to be a god.
The crystallization of man's will to attain god-like powers is a result of his hubris
that he no longer needs, in order to live wisely, what the Greek poet Aeschylus
described as the 'awful grace of God'. At a time when the mantra is 'greed is good',
the ultimate 'greed' cannot but be the desire to be a god. It is this genre of desire
that Miguel de Unamuno implied in his book The Tragic Sense of Life (1912):
"Every created being tends not only to preserve itself in itself, but to perpetuate
itself, and, moreover, to invade all other beings, to be others without ceasing
to be itself, to extend its limits to the infinite, but without breaking them". In
effect, we do not want to cease 'to be human'—we don't want to be a God in
the flesh like Jesus Christ or Lord Krishna—but want to extend the limits of the
infinite, and become a god. Desire, as the Buddha said, is the source and cause
of suffering. We already have a multitude of desires that cause so much suffering.
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And we, as Adam Curtis says, "have become the slaves of our own desires".52 God
only knows if this desire is a delusion, and what it will do to us. How and why
did it arise in the first place? Is it an external implant, a sinister and satanic plot,
or is it part of evolutionary dynamism gone astray? 'Being like Him', as the Bible
says, or, 'For is He not all but thou', as Tennyson says (The Higher Pantheism),
or, 'Aham brahmasmi—I am God', as the Upanishads say, has always been man's
spiritual aspiration. Or, in the words of Aldous Huxley, "All is in all—that All is
actually each" (The Doors of Perception, 1954). The theory of evolution, in saying
that we all came from the same original source, rose from molecule to man, is
saying the same. The fundamental difference between that 'aspiration' and what
science is aspiring to do, is that the first one was a 'to be'—a state, a condition,
something which continues unchanged through time, whereas the second is
'to become'—an event, a transformation, a metanoia, a change of state. 'Being
like Him' is like 'being' a tiger, which is very different from becoming a tiger. In
seeking divine status, it is really the perks that matter, not the position. What is
ironic is that those very people who deny divine existence or say that He is dated,
if not dead, are those who want to make man a god. Mystics, saints, rishis, and
shamans throughout our troubled history have named our struggle as humans
in different ways—but they all pointed to the need for us to consciously grow
into our divine potential. As God within, it is, in reality He who is experiencing
through them what they experience in life, both pleasure and pain, good and
bad. What modern man is truly seeking is not the goodness of god, but His
divine powers and perks.
God or no god, the fact is that man has always felt shackled and humiliated
by his animal roots—Descartes called animals 'soulless automata'—and by his
innate impermanence and imperfections. 'Being a god' is shorthand to become
free from these two limitations. Some, like the great Indian yogi Sri Aurobindo,
say that perfection and imperfection are the same truth seen from two sides.
Some say that we are, in a sense, a species with 'perfection pending', which
includes moral perfection. There could be a sinless man but not a perfect man,
save perhaps a full and direct divine incarnation. Even Jesus, as perfect a man
as could possibly be, before his crucifixion, said "… on the third day I shall
be perfected".53 What we want is physical permanence and bodily perfection.
Many people, particularly the young, are suffering and dying under the thrall
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48
and torture of the phantasmic self they're failing to become. Our obsession
with body-perfection is a travesty of the spiritual path. In fact, the Advaita
Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy says that there is no need to try to attain
anything, even perfection; each of us already is God. The famous Upanishadic
aphorisms, Aham brahmasmi (I am God) and Tat tvam asi (You are God), are
clear indications of how, at the highest level, we have viewed ourselves in our
earthly existence. The Bible too has several passages that humans can become like
gods. Some Christians (Latter-Day Saints) believe that our earthly experience is
to progress towards perfection and ultimately realize our divine destiny. Yoga, or
union or oneness with God, is in spirit the effect of attaining the loftiest layer of
consciousness. Hailed as the oldest scripture, the Rig Veda proclaims, Prajnanam
brahma—'consciousness is God'. God himself, in Hinduism, has been called
Sat-chit-ananda, or 'existence-consciousness-bliss'. Each one of us, as souls, are
individualized Sat-chit-ananda, according to Paramahansa Yogananda. The word
chit is also interpreted as sentience, and Atman as sentient life energy.
Contrary to what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, men have not forgotten
God. On the other hand, in a weird way, God is all there is in the human mind.
For the devout, He is the only hope, the only one that stands between them
and despair and death, the only balm for their wounded hearts. For the secular
and scientific, their aspiration and ambition is to erase the boundary between
man and god. It is not only godly powers that we now covet; we have come
to conclude that only by becoming a god can we solve all our problems. In
fact, some say it is inevitable and irreversible and, even more, that it is the only
way the human can reach his full potential. In short, they say divinity is our
destiny, and fulfilling it is not defiance of nature but a service to its intent. But
divinity is in each of us. There is nothing wrong with man wanting to actualize,
or realize, God as Sat-chit-ananda, that is, 'truth-existence-consciousness-bliss'.
What is wrong is acquiring such powers without 'becoming the being', without
consciousness-change, or some kind of a rebooting, if you will. What science is
tempting us with, some say, is what Satan told Adam and Eve: if they would just
follow the 'promise' that Satan offered they could be 'like gods.'
To be fair, we are not that 'bad'; we don't mean to sit on his heavenly
throne; 'god' is really a nickname, or code-word for want of something more
accurate, for something we want to be. We don't want to be a god that appears and
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disappears, makes lightning or triggers typhoons, answers prayers or gives boons.
We don't want to attain, much less maintain, a state of godly bliss, sanctity, and
purity. For we might say, and even believe that man is a spiritual being having
a human experience, but we cannot live without sin! For long we have had an
idiomatic expression for those who hold our fate in their hands, gods, and that
is now who we yearn to become. For instance, the ancient Hermetic discourse
called The Key says, "We must dare to say that the human on earth is a mortal
god, but that god in heaven is an immortal human". What we have set out to
do is to bend fate and mend man into an immortal earthly god. Not only that,
like the 'heavenly' gods, we too don't want to be accountable for our actions and
misdeeds! But the 'being' we want to turn into, let us be clear, thank God, is not
God; not the all-pervasive, all-knowing Supreme Being, the Paramatman, as He
is called in Hinduism, or Allah in Islam or Jehovah in Judaism. But then, when
scriptures and saints and mystics strive towards dissolving into divinity or union
with God, they precisely mean that very Supreme Being. Furthermore, it is a
state of consciousness when one loses all sense of the personal self, when there
is no longer any aham or ego. It is the aham that leads to ahamkara (arrogance)
and to agraham (anger). That is why, it has been said by yogis that 'God equals
man minus ego'. Vedanta says that ego is the main culprit responsible for endless
self-centered thoughts, and the root cause of pain and suffering.
Ego, or ego-consciousness, is that which drives our material life and
makes us opaque to each other. It is both a necessity for survival and a barrier to
moksha, liberation. It is the core of our identity. Spiritual sadhana, what Vedic
rishis of India and Christian mystics and Sufi saints have strived to, is to dissolve
the limiting human self into the infinite divine Self. True to our times, we have
both trivialized and technicized this spiritual process. What science is planning
to do is to replace the divine by blending man and machine—which some call a
satanical machine, and some others, a spiritual machine—to attain the attributes
of gods or angels. Essentially it means that having, as we falsely think, transcended
the natural world we now aim to transcend the biological world and become
a kind of transhuman-'god', somewhat similar to what Dante experienced as
he entered into the sphere of the heaven, called 'transhuman-change'. Another
analogy that comes to mind is Goethe's Faust, who feeling like a 'wretched fool'
and no 'wiser than before' tried to transcend human knowledge in order to gain
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50
divine knowledge. Transhumanists expect that artificial intelligence, the advent
of cyborgs, and uploading people's minds into software will converge to make
the transition. Then, what do we 'become' and what will be our faith? The new
'religion' rooted in artificial intelligence is called the Way of the Future (WOTF),
whose aim is 'the realization, acceptance, and worship of a godhead based on
artificial intelligence'. And yet not cease to be man. Avaricious that we are, we
don't want to give up anything we have, including all that is distasteful about us.
We want to be 'smart' but still, when we choose, we stay stupid; we want to be
super strong but still feel the prick. We don't mind becoming a 'silicon body', but
not hold back on sex.
The model that roughly resembles what we seek is that of the Greek gods,
or of the devas of Hinduism. What attracts us is that not only do they live forever
but also suffer from some of the same flaws and desires as humans, like anger,
avarice, favoritism, and jealousy, and are even able to have sex, licit and illicit.
'Gods', like us, regularly fight amongst each other and engage in petty bickering
and senseless quarrels. But it is not all that novel or inventive. In fact, in our
prehistoric times, the chasm between man and gods was narrow; they used to
routinely talk and walk with gods. Indeed we want to do better; to acquire their
traits, but with a twist. Gods are immortal; they, whether they like it or not,
cannot die. We want to keep death as a choice and be able to bring the 'dead' back
to life, or perhaps become the 'walking dead'. It is driven by greed, our penchant
to always 'have-it-all'. We must remember that what we think we lack or view as
limitations are parts of the cosmic puzzle. Different species have different lengths
of life for reasons we may not know. If one species alters its life span artificially or
unilaterally, then the finely tuned balance in creation and nature's design strategy
that optimizes life support while minimizing the expenditure of energy, will go
horribly wrong. Even imagine if dogs have the same life span as humans. Perhaps
the world would be a better place but that is not possible! So is it not possible
for man to literally 'become' a god or any other species. What we should aim
to do is to be a 'humane-human', not transhuman. We should strive to become
more whole, more holy. We must also bear in mind that every species, however
minuscule or mighty, has a niche in nature. That this is particularly true in regard
to biodiversity is brought home by the new finding that the world's lowly insects
are hurtling down the path of extinction which, in turn, 'threatens the collapse
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of nature', and that to arrest it, we will need to change our ways of producing
food. Furthermore, even if science has its way and Homo sapiens does become
Homo Deus, it still does not mean that we will all, one fine morning, wake up as
gods or that everyone born hereafter, in the lab or from the womb, will be born
with the body of a god. Scientific godhood, like safaris in space, will benefit only
a fraction of humanity. We are poised at a critical moment when, once again,
science is unleashing its prodigious creativity without adequate engagement and
careful thought. And even if we become 'gods', many may still look up to the
only 'God' they are accustomed to worshipping. In the human mind, there is no
contradiction between becoming a god and believing in God. As Albert Camus
said, "Nothing can discourage the appetite for divinity in the heart of man". But
it is also good to remember that, as Emanuel Swedenborg reminded us, "a life
of kindness is the primary meaning of divine worship" (New Jerusalem and Its
Heavenly Doctrine, 1758). In other words, we can become 'god' by being good
to fellow-humans. This is what is implied in the Hindu aphorism 'Maanava seve
madhava seva', meaning service to man is service to God. It means, 'you will use
your life in service; you will be in service to life'.
In the Melting Pot of Life and Death
Science is trying to hijack God, render Him redundant by taking control of
the two things He had absolute hold over and we had none: birth and death.
It has been, from the very beginning, that 'giving birth' is tantamount to being
'given to death'. That is what modern man is intent on changing. We might, we
are told, soon be able to make life from scratch, even dispense with the male
to make a baby, and eventually even bring the dead back to life, at the least,
keep death at bay. We can design babies and delay, possibly even defy death.
The line between life and death is getting blurred, throwing into question longstanding
assumptions about what makes a sentient being alive, and we hear
terms unthinkable a few years before such as being a 'little less dead'. Such a
prodigious ability has led to a seminal turn of events at the deepest depths of
human consciousness. As a result, the way issues and choices related to life and
death are processed, assessed, analyzed, valued, and judged has radically mutated
in the human mind. It has given rise to a key question: for anyone who chooses
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not to die, is more life necessarily better? Is existence a sufficient reason for
continued existence? And what could be the reasons or causes sufficient for man
wanting to continue to live infinitely? Most of all we need to bring ourselves to
face the wrenching question: Has the modern human way of living itself become,
on the whole, an irreversible, 'unnecessary evil' on earth? And if so, what is our
duty as a self-avowed moral being? Man always wants to know what else there is
on the menu. A principal reason why we want immortality is because mortality
is not a choice; had it been so we might even want to choose death. In fact, that
is what is happening: death, even if involuntary, is becoming an alternative to
life. If man attains 'immortality', all deaths for whatever reason, will become
'premature'. All the turmoil and tragedies, slaughter and shootings, massacres
and madness, callousness and cruelty we witness and that cause us so much
distress and dismay, is but an outward manifestation of what someone called
'mental diarrhea'. Another, possible fallout we must take serious note of is the
social impact of immortality or of an exponentially lengthened life span. Eternity
is expensive, and so is dying with dignity these days.
We do not notice it, but a major stabilizing and soothing factor in human
society is our belief that, sometime or the other, before us or after us, everyone
in the end bites the dust—president or philosopher or plumber, powerful or
powerless, rich or poor, celebrity or common folk, friend or foe, spouse or
stranger. That 'reassurance' is what lets us endure and wait. That knowledge keeps
a lid on resentment, indignation, anger and rage; we tell ourselves 'so what; he
too will pass and meet the same fate; my misery is as impermanent as his success'.
If the underclass, oppressed, and exploited, even sections of the middle class
truly come to lose faith in death as the great leveler, then there is no knowing
what might befall; we have never had such a situation or experience before and
therefore even our imagination will fall short. Whether or not gods envy us our
mortality, mortality has a huge place in maintaining order and stability in human
society and in containing the darker drives inside us. We would do well to keep
this in mind while plowing in tons of money into research on immortality—at
the expense of other problems of greater priority, problems pertinent to what
Manuel Castells called 'the fourth world', which includes sub-populations that
are socially and technologically excluded from the global society. In the modern
world, individual decisions on how we, particularly the wealthy, use money,
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do matter, because an extremely wealthy man by the very way he lives, works
and plays and has fun, could impact on other lives, could help or hurt a lot of
other people. We must also not forget that the actual, at least for sometime,
beneficiaries of related research will again be the very plutocracy—the club of the
really rich—which runs the modern state. Life used to be seen as a gift. Now it
is being demanded as a right... Life is now no different from what we create on a
factory assembly line. Contemporary society creates fake wants, which integrate
individuals into the existing system of production and consumption via mass
media, advertising, and marketing. We live in twisted times when our collective
creativity focuses on creating and satiating wants more than fulfilling essential
needs of human existence. Pop star Robyn's lyric "No, you're not gonna get what
you need. But baby, I have what you want",54 pretty well sums up what is wrong
with modern culture. A stage has come now to rethink what we 'deserve to desire'
and whether we are 'worthy of our wants'. A few can get whatever their worldly
wants are—cozy comforts, slick gadgets, exotic yachts, instant entertainment,
salacious titillation—but a huge chunk of humanity lives deprived of basic
human needs—clean air, potable water, safe food, stable shelter, sanitation. What
is worse is that many of us also think that our aim ought to be to empower the
'have-nots' to get the same luxuries; indeed that is what they want. We do not
think their very making is immoral, that it entails the misuse of non-renewable
resources which could be used to fulfill more 'basic needs'.
Our thirst for wealth is such that we don't care how we get it. We condone
evil so much we don't care if we are the casualty. And yet, life has become so
meaningless and frightening even for those whose 'basic needs' are more than
met, that 'right to life' is now beginning to be viewed as inherent in the 'right
to die', and death is being seen not as the end of life but end of pain. It is being
argued that just as people have the right to live with dignity, they also have the
right to die with dignity. The huge gap between 'right to die' and 'right to kill'
is also narrowing, and many are beginning to see killing as a remedy, another
available option. We already implicitly exercise this 'right' through abortion.
Abortion takes place when parents or partners decide that bringing into life
another human being does not suit their interests; instead, it creates another lifelong
inconvenience or problem and therefore they have the 'right to kill', or, as
it were, nip it in the bud. Many now want to extend that 'right' from the womb
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54
to the world, arguing that what is moral inside cannot be moral outside. This is
not a case for or against abortion; it is to highlight the fact that norms and values
around issues of life and death are seismically changing. Genetic engineering,
nanotechnology, robotics, computer technology and artificial intelligence might,
in the not-too-distant future, enable humans to create or redesign life and produce
offspring 'suitable to our taste'… Recent scientific advances from genomics to
assisted reproduction have brought us to a stage when a tongue-in-cheek kind
of billboard advertisement like "before you drop your beans check your genes'
is not so flippant or out of context. And as a de facto 'god', we hope we will be
unshackled from God's confining commandments and moral restraints. These
are meant for those scriptural humans, not for the synthetic humans, or even to
humans of the millennial milieu. Nothing happens in a cultural vacuum. And
that, in turn, will generate new moral issues and dilemmas such as: How do we
ensure equity in an era when intelligence can be decided by gene editing, and
wealthy parents can 'customize' their offspring?
Earlier the classic moral dilemma was whether it was ethically correct to
kill one to save several. Now the dilemma centers not around 'saving lives' but
how many other lives are worth wasting to kill a wanted man. Even at the personal
level, the imperative is shifting. Many feel no moral qualms to pass by a critically
wounded person to be on time to keep a date, and equally in using killing to make
a living or to get an exam postponed or to get something you need badly like an
iPhone. What is happening at a deeper level of our consciousness is that while
we still dread natural death, murder is a blockbuster source of entertainment.
Our fascination stems from a desire to experience crime vicariously. What is
happening at a deeper level of our consciousness is that while we still dread
natural death, killing is losing its stigma and odium. If not yet stylish, it is
becoming simply another lifestyle choice. The unimaginable becomes casual, the
hideous becomes tedious, and the unbearable becomes ordinary. It is a seismic
shift in our mindset, far reaching and utterly unnerving in its implications.
We live at a time when there is a broad consensus that, as human beings,
all of us have certain basic innate and inalienable rights. One such right is the
'right to life'. As enshrined in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, it means the right to life, liberty, and security of a person. There is a
subtle shift to extend the reach of that right to include life without pain. Ending
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pain has long been the dream of man and medicine. But it is only now that it
is being extended to death. For, what can be more painful than death? Assisted
death is now legally permitted in some parts of the world on the premise that
a humane society has an obligation to assist a human suffering from incurable
and intolerable pain. Even with no particular pain whatsoever, there are some
who still want to die. For them, this modern life—of coarseness, consumerism,
shallowness, cynicism, loneliness, despair, decadence, meaninglessness—is the
incurable disease, and death the only logical cure. Many have come to agree with
Mary Shelley's words, "Let us leave 'life', that we may live" (The Last Man, 1826).
In the face of all this pain and misery, we call ourselves lords of creation and
masters of life and death. Some philosophers like Bernard Williams are arguing
that endless life would have nothing in it, that it would propel the immortal
forward into a future that would inevitably be beset with insufferable boredom.
When asked, "What do you do from morning to night?" Emil Cioran replies "I
endure myself " (The Trouble with Being Born, 1973). The 'disease' we have to
cure is our corrupted consciousness, and the cure is cathartic cleansing. But then,
what is tolerable to some is intolerable to others, and some stretch it to include
the pain of living itself and suffering of any kind. One can ask: 'Pain is personal;
why should I become a patient to end my pain and my life the way I wish it?'
And in the minds of some who want to end their lives for whatever reason, that
'right' entitles them to choose 'assisted dying' to solitary suicide. After all, they
argue, how we support the dying is central to who we are as human beings.
Some 'pro-choice' people see this as a logical extension of freewill and individual
autonomy over their bodies. It is a huge change from the scriptural injunction
that life is God-given and you had no choice in your birth, and therefore should
have no choice on how and when it has to end. It is medical technology that has
empowered man to combine two of our long-standing goals—life without pain
and death with dignity. And it is entirely consistent with our overall approach to
life: choosing the path of the pleasant, rather than choosing the path of the good.
What we should also note at this juncture is that even as science is
strenuously seeking the elixir of youth and eternal life, the rage and range of
violence in contemporary human life has made man more lethal than ever
before. Murder and fratricide have been around at least since Biblical times. Man
has always killed another man for a range of reasons like greed, gain, jealousy,
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56
malice, and profit. But never was the trigger as trivial and casual as it is now. The
revulsion and horror attached to killing is on the wane. Killing, under certain
conditions, not only in war but in civil life too, is getting the legal imprimatur.
A new human right is the 'right to die'. Some are even saying that if death in
itself is not bad, how can killing be any different. There are many who, in the
words of Thomas Ligotti, "despise the conspiracy of Lies for Life almost as much
as they despise themselves for being a party to it" (The Conspiracy Against the
Human Race, 2011), and for them death is the only refuge. Taking one's life is no
laughing matter; nor does it give sleepless nights. Killing is no longer a novelty;
every day, we are exposed to a media mĂŠlange of murders in graphic detail. There
is virtually no one and no cause or circumstance that is impervious to murder.
Anyone can now be a Cain (the first son of Adam and Eve), who disowned
his responsibility, justified it with his existential pain and fear, and became a
callous, corrupt, and murderous savage. But, by the same token, anyone, even if
gentle, good and god-fearing, can end up as an Abel (Cain's brother), a suitable
candidate for killing. Physical elimination is fast becoming the preferred mode
of problem-solving, and technology is coming in handy for the deranged and
distraught human mind. How any 'success', however dubious it might be, in the
search for immortality would affect the murderous human mind, is hard to tell.
But it only further underlines the need for a cathartic consciousness cleansing
and change. Only such a change will motivate the 'immortal' man to be moral
in leading his life forever.
What technology is doing to death is in line with what it does to life.
Today's technology has changed us in many ways. One that is little noticed is its
ability to make what is bad appear good, and turn the ugly into the beautiful.
Whatever technology is doing to us and however easily we surrender to its wiles,
in our hearts we still want to be moral, to do good and to avoid bad. In our
personal lives, we all try to lead a moral life and make moral choices, but most
fail to measure up. We adopt norms, codes and laws to keep us on the moral
track as a way to maintain social order, but again they are found wanting. Even
as this struggle goes on, new moral issues have cropped up. Our very existence
has become a moral matter. More often than not, our actions seem to hurt and
injure others even as we wish to do good. The reality is that whether we like or
dislike each other, the 'us' and 'them' are still there in the human world. We all
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have to live with "the sin of being another being", in Simone de Beauvoir's words
(The Blood of Others, 1945). It is because we view other beings as separate and
different that we hurt each other in multiple ways. Prophet Muhammad said,
"The best among you is the one who doesn't harm others with his tongue and
hands". And between the two, the tongue is more cutting. The Ecclesiasticus
says: "Many have fallen by the edge of the sword: but not so many as have fallen
by the tongue". More fundamentally, it all comes down to our perception of
ourselves in relation to fellow humans. It is our distorted perception that is the
bottleneck. As William Blake says, "If the doors of perception were cleansed,
everything would appear to man as it is—infinite" (The Marriage of Heaven
and Hell, 1790). Once, when the great Hindu Advaitic sage Ramana Maharshi
was asked, 'How should we treat others?'; he replied, 'There are no others'. In
our highly comparative and competitive lives, the whole world is nothing but
'others': what others think of us, how to outsmart others; how to be richer than
our neighbors, how to achieve relative advantage over our peers and compatriots,
etc. Only highly evolved souls can blur the border between 'us' and 'others'. For
the rest of us in the end, how we treat those who can do nothing to us becomes
the test of our timbre, and not hurting those who cannot hurt us is the most
basic of all virtues. The only permissible 'comparison' and 'competition' are with
our own selves; who we are, 'compared' to who we were yesterday. Has what we
have done today made the world any better than what we did yesterday? That is
the only 'competition'.
It is telling but true that despite the estimated 108 billion members of our
species who have ever been born and died,55 we really do not know what both life
and death are in their essence. A cynic might say that these are mutually exclusive,
you are not dead when you are alive, and not alive when you are dead, so what
is the big deal. The 'big deal' now is that the sense of solace is dĂŠmodĂŠ. Man has
never been more ill at ease being human than now; and never more hubristic
about his capacity than now. He still may not know what 'life' truly is or isn't but
he can 'create' life. In the world of the 21st century, the sheer weight of living
has become such a crushing burden that life itself is being viewed as an irritating
interlude between 'dying' and 'death'; there is no life nor are we 'living'. We
have come to such a 'deathly' pass that we seem to need pessimistic philosophers
like Thomas Ligotti to reassure us that 'being alive is alright'. Optimism, which
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58
Milan Kundera (The Joke, 1967) called the 'opium of the people', has become
oppressive. Not fully mollified, we seek reasons to live for, instead of looking for
something we are willing to die for. Paradoxically, we constantly look for triggers
to kill each other all the time, even killing for killing's sake, and yet we desperately
desire deathlessness. Indeed, even the doubling or tripling of the human life span
has become an intra-generational ethical issue. As someone put it, in our moneyis-
all-that-matters culture, the care of grandparents constitutes an 'absolute waste
of the grandchildren's college money'. We live in a throwaway age, and now
human life itself is seen as just another disposable good, and its termination,
as a way to overcome life's problems. Now, nothing is inconceivable as a cause
or trigger for killing. In a grisly way, typical to our times we are combining two
words which are antithetical to each other to describe a horrific event, murder for
revenge and call it 'honor killing'; a calculated murder to avenge or redeem the
'honor'—of the family, caste, ethnicity, country, religion. It is becoming more
and more difficult to decide how to characterize a killing (banal or bizarre?)
or how to apportion blame and empathy between the villain and the victim.
How does one, for example, categorize a killing of a schoolmate to get a dreaded
examination postponed? Truth is stranger than fiction, but this is exactly what
happened in a high school in northern India, in late 2017. The young killer's
intention was casual, but his deed was diabolic. Or, take the case of suicides by
Japanese schoolchildren towards the end of summer recess, as a way to escape
the ragging, bullying, and brutal school regimen. Here again, their desire to
escape the pain and humiliation is understandable; but their choice of the means
is a defining indictment of the world of their parents. So is murder-for-fame—
committing mass murder so that 'when they spill a little blood, the whole world
knows who you are'. In their own twisted minds, they are seeking, and getting,
'fame' and 'immortality' which we all seek in different ways. There will always be
killings because that is a part of being human, but making a killer a celebrity is
an open invitation for more mass killing.
Today, the human mind is the most murderous weapon, and the human
psyche, as David Buss posits, has evolved specialized adaptations whose function
is to kill. In today's dangerously deranged and destructive world, each of us is
most at risk, both of being murdered and of becoming a murderer. One study
says that "91 percent of men and 84 percent of women have had at least one
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vivid fantasy about killing someone".56 Someone who we thought will die for us
suddenly becomes our killer, and the deadliest incentive for cold-blooded murder
is none other than the most sublime of all human emotions, love, whether it
is a mother's love or a lover's love. Shocking but true, some wronged mothers
are coming close to resembling Medea of Greek mythology—the woman who
kills her own children, the 'offspring of her own womb', as a way to punish her
husband Jason. In her words, she does it to 'vex his heart', for his betrayal, and
says, in this play of Euripides, "Needs must they die in any case; and since they
must, I will slay them—I, the mother". If murder seems advantageous, we go for
it, regardless of who the person is, and what our relationship with that person
is. David Buss says, "The real mystery is not why killing has been so prevalent
over our evolutionary history, but why killing has not been more prevalent".
That mystery is on the way to be solved. Suicides and homicides are becoming
contagious pandemics.
Coming Soon—'Machines-Better-Than-Me'
Man is more murderous than ever before, but that has not halted his age-old
aspiration to acquire godly powers. At the very core of our divine ambitions,
indeed its very raison d'ĂŞtre, is life forever and eternal youth. Despite the billions
that have died and despite the failure of all attempts to evade death, we have never
reconciled ourselves to what the Book of Common Prayer says is our doomed lot:
'Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust'. We want to become invincible, a kind
of cyborg with a metal exoskeleton over our biological meat sack—and live forever
on earth. Like much else in the realm of human aspiration and its aftermath, we
could end up not as cyborgs, but as the cybernetic Cylons in Battlestar Galactica.57
In the TV series, this android race was originally created to serve human needs
(much like our machines), where the transfer of human consciousness into a
Cylon's neural network leads to the evolution of sentient, self-aware beings (the
Cylons), who are capable of interacting with and having intimate relationships
with humans.58 Ironically, the Cylon himself was not happy being a machine.
He lamented, "I'm a machine, and I can know much more, I could experience so
much more, but I'm trapped in this absurd body". Some fear that such creations
might run amok, but others hope that such machines would be docile enough
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60
to tell us how to keep it under control. There is heady talk that we and our
technological creations are poised to embark on what is sure to be a strange,
exciting evolutionary path. According to these so-called 'prophets of pending
paradise', humans will soon be able to farm the oceans, travel in starships, and
reside in both lunar and Martian colonies. That is, if we get to survive emergent
existential threats like climate change, our own self-destructive behavior, and
if nanotech, artificial general intelligence, and robotization do not run amok.
In fact, if there is any ET 'up there' observing what is going on down below on
earth, the metaphor that would spring to its mind could be moths racing to a
raging inferno, or Disney-style lemmings jumping off the seaside cliffs. By the
year 2025, robots and machines driven by artificial intelligence are predicted to
perform half of all productive functions in our workplaces, which, some fear,
might trigger what is being termed a 'job' apocalypse, a social and economic
tsunami resulting from automation. Several years ago, an informal group of
experts at the Global Catastrophic Risk Conference (Oxford, UK) suggested
that there is a 19% chance of human extinction before 2100. One wonders: why
are all these dire threats coming up at this time? Is there a 'conspiracy against
the human race'?59 If there is a conspiracy; what is it about and who are the
conspirators and why? We can only speculate. Like in a murder case we should
ask, 'Who benefits?' Could it be the gods or nature? Gods have a reason, given
our attempt to be like them and to usurp immortality. Nature too has a reason,
because we are tearing ourselves away from it, and turning on it. Both have
reason to believe that we are becoming reckless and too big for our boots, and
that we must be put in our assigned spot in the cosmic order. And what better
way could there be but to make man the enemy of man, and self-harm and selfdestruction
the modus operandi for our default mode of behavior?
We don't know which method they might choose, or maybe the actual
danger might come from somewhere or something else, an unknowable unknown
or something so well known that we overlook it. But the existential risks are
real, and the way to avert the danger is not to turn tail and run away or turn
the Nelson's eye. Whatever may be the nature of the existential crisis, the bitter
truth is that in their day-to-day lives, many people are more worried about the
problems created by the most obvious solution to the crisis than by the threat
itself. The name of the game, the long and short of it is this: with the kind of
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mental attitude it habitually manifests, if the human species becomes immortal
and interplanetary, it will then become a mortal peril to life in general in the
cosmos. Unless, of course, that species can acquire a 'planetary brain', a 'global
soul', or even, in the vocabulary of the war within, a cathartic 'consciousnesschange'.
Let alone a 'planetary brain', we don't even use our 'whole-brain'; we
rely almost wholly on the left-brain repertoire. Recent neurological findings,
according to David O'Leary,60 tell us that 'without the contextual resources of the
right hemisphere, the calculating, instrumental mind can nonetheless function
as an irresponsible automaton'. That precisely is what we will become through
our impending merger with the machine. We may berate our behavior for all
and sundry of our ills, but the fatal flaw in our approach to resolve any of our
daunting problems is that we really don't want to change, while believing that
everything else must change. We don't want to change because it requires us to
step out of the cocoon of our comfort zone, and that means risking our whole
world turning topsy-turvy. For instance, it is hard to tell if we are 'willfully blind'
or 'dangerously dumb', or if we are driven by a death-wish not to realize that
the climate crisis is deadly serious and potentially putting human civilization in
clear and escalating peril. Underscoring the gravity of the crisis, a new study says
it could be similar to the mass extinction that happened 252 million years ago.
And yet, our efforts so far, as someone said, are 'like an effort to put out a house
fire with a water pistol'. We will keep on hoping, Micawber-like, for miracles or
'deified markets' or magical technologies to deliver us from disaster. We cannot
be shaken out of paralyzing passivity in the face of moral precariousness by our
conscience. Because, as Pope John Paul said, the fact is that conscience itself is
finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what
concerns the basic value of human life.61 That is because on the one hand, the
boundary between good and evil is getting blurred and, on the other hand, the
two are the principal foes in the war within. What we need now is to transcend
both conscience and the very source of thinking. In the words of Stephen
Talbott, "Man is he who knows and transforms himself—and the world—from
within."62 Many thoughtful observers say that a radical transformation and rise
to a new level of consciousness is the only way to reverse the moral decline
brought about by the delusionary dominance of man's materialistic mindset.
Rather than treading such a measured path, modern man has chosen technology
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62
as the means—and machine as the model and ideal—to achieve this aspiration.
But that is due to our ignorance, or inadequate appreciation of what we ourselves
are made of, and what nature has equipped us with. We are wholly innocent that
'in our own being we are enough', and that, in order to travel on the spiritual
path, we only require learning how to embrace our inner buzz and harness our
inner strength.
The 'inner buzz', is "our personal idiom of experiencing our bodies, other
people, the animate and inanimate world: imagination, dreams, phantasy, and
beyond that to ever further reaches of experience".63 For it is possible to be a wellfed
man on the outside, but an impoverished infant on the inside. To nourish
the 'infant' requires what spiritual seekers call 'inner work', diving deep into
our inner self, a motley mix of our hidden feelings, memories, thoughts, beliefs,
prejudices, wounds, and shadows. Without it, there can be no purging, no selfemptying,
and no cleansing, healing, or true transformation. That kind of work
horrifies us, and looking for easy options, our mind chooses the primrose path of
merger with the machine.
Our intimacy with the machine is predicated by a huge hope—that the
machine, even after being made smarter than man, will stay fair and loyal to
him, as it is his creation, a kind of loyalty man himself seldom shows. The fact
remains that man and, in Stephen Talbott's phrase, his 'mechanical offspring',64
are bound together in an increasingly tight embrace. Yet, we have never been
able to, in whatever we do as a trade-off, 'guarantee our sense of the human',
to borrow the words of Teju Cole.65 Man has always turned to technology for
help when needed. The dark side of technology is also emerging into public
view. A stark example is reports of recent research concerning implanted heart
pacemakers. It is said that by tinkering with the software it is now possible to
remotely alter the functioning of these devices using a mobile phone, possibly
inducing instant death. It means that the specter of personal grudges translating
into seemingly 'perfect' remote killings is no longer the stuff of fiction. Modern
technology can make everything possible: make the false true and the unreal
real. It at once empowers our capability and enfeebles our capacity. It enables us
to cross over from the human realm, but erodes the core of being human. We
turn to technology so much for our day-to-day living, to perform such ordinary
tasks, that some, like Charlie Brooker,66 fear that there will be very little room
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for free will—our flawed but still important decision-making capacity—that is
a big part of being human. We are also at the same time trying to augment our
dysfunctional capability by harnessing 'intelligence' external to us, like artificial
general intelligence (AGI), virtually handing it over to the machines. In addition,
our 'decision-making' ability has got greatly compromised by our exposure to
media and propaganda designed solely to short-circuit our better judgment. We
now have to factor in more people and considerations into our 'decision-making'
than ever before, and our brains seem ill-prepared for that. Some fear that when
singularity comes, AGI-powered beings might well, like in the Netflix show
Altered Carbon, conclude that humans 'are not like us… they are a lesser form of
life'. In that event, they, not us, will be at the helm. We must remember that, as Ian
McEwan says, "if a machine seems like a human or you can't tell the difference,
then you'd jolly well better start thinking about whether it has responsibilities
and rights and all the rest" (Machines Like Me, 2019). We must also factor in
another aspect. We think of artificial intelligence (AI) as external only because
it is not internal. But that is not true. In practical terms, AI is another version
of human intelligence, because it is created by humans and they can only create
what their intelligence is capable of. Although we think AI is incorruptible, the
reality is that AI systems might well result in replicating the biases ingrained in
human judgements, rather than aborting them. Supposedly 'neutral' machinemade
decisions often end up augmenting existing social inequalities. Like about
everything else, experts disagree on the potential impact of AI. Some say it could
usher in a peaceful, prosperous world, and help solve our daunting issues. Some
like Stephen Hawking have said that it could eventually lead to our extinction.
We now have more information, if not knowledge, and choices, than ever earlier,
but our brain-damaged intelligence and skills seem hopelessly out of their
depth to arrive at informed and enlightened decision-making. The bedrock of
modernity is the epistemic line of thought that views the use of pure reason
as the foundation of truth, and as the sole measure and means for uncovering
reality. In reality though, our brain fights our attempts to be 'really rational' at
every turn. It has a tendency to see what it wants to see, or listen to what it wants
to hear, rather than what is really there. It hates being wrong so much, in fact,
that it will adjust our memories to make us right in retrospect.67 Not only that,
our brain's ability to meet our needs, according to philosopher Bertrand Russell,
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could get worse. In this view, "we must expect, at any rate for the next hundred
years, that each generation will be congenitally stupider that its predecessor".68
The essential point is not whether machines will be benevolent or turn
malevolent; it is that even if they do remain 'loyal' to their creator, human
malevolence could get a huge boost from 'merging' with AI-driven machines.
To prevent that from happening, what we need to do is not go back to the pre-
Industrial Age; we need to change the human mindset. We need not stop all
research on AI; we have to 'demilitarize' it, and channel it towards the needs of
the impoverished and the disempowered. Clearly we do need to do something
radical and drastic. The trouble is that instead of marshaling the other sources of
inherent intelligence like heart-based intuitive intelligence—which some call our
spiritual wisdom and the gut instinct; or the third heart or primal wisdom—we
are trying to mobilize alien intelligences. Cutting-edge research on the human
heart has shown that the heart is also an independent source of intelligence,
that it has its own nervous system and actually sends more information to the
brain than the brain sends to the heart. Even more startling is the finding that
the heart's electromagnetic field is thousands of times more powerful than that
of the brain. This is, in fact, scientific validation of age-old insights. More than
two millenniums ago, Aristotle believed in a 'cardiocentric' model of human
anatomy, where the heart was the true center of human intelligence and not
the brain. Joseph Murphy writes, "Within your subconscious depths lie infinite
wisdom, infinite power, and infinite supply of all that is necessary, which is
waiting for development and expression" (The Power of Your Subconscious Mind,
1963). Contrary to what we assume, everything we think is external, is also,
in its deepest sense, internal. It is brain power that science is focusing on to
achieve its ambitious agenda. One report says attempts are being made to
develop technologies that bridge the gap between computers and the brains of
humans and animals. Another report says a project is in the offing "to build
conscious robots using insect brains". The concern and disquiet is about not
just what robots might do to us, but what we might do to them, not to speak
of what they might do to us because of what we already do to one another.
Excessive reliance on artificial intelligence to save us or help us to evolve could be
an invitation for 'double-jeopardy'—we will be relying on that which we think
has been found wanting and, in addition, run the risk of, in the so-called Tech
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Mogul and futurist Elon Musk's phrase, summoning the 'demon', or the dragon
within. The conundrum is that the problems we want to address are brain-made,
the intelligences we mobilize, internally and externally, are brain-based, and the
decisions that intelligence arrives at cannot be any better. What science should
be focusing on is how to activate or awaken the other two 'brains' or sources of
intelligence—the heart and the gut, to bring to bear on our daily life.
The Way Forward is the Way Inward
At a practical level, we have to strive to practice empathy and compassion—the
capacity to share, understand, and care about what others feel—in our everyday
lives, as a part of bringing about contextual-change. The world we have built is
poorly suffused with the caring and sharing instincts that allowed us to build it
in the first place. It is these instincts that saved us when survival was at stake,
and now, we need them once again when our very survival is under serious
threat. But all is not lost; these are not frozen traits—something we are born
with or not—but rather skills, as recent research reveals, that we can all augment
through effort. It is also not automatic and entails making a choice to engage
with others' emotions. And our choice about choosing empathy, not staying
away from other's suffering, in turn, is not a 'free choice'; it depends on the state
of the war within. If kindred forces call the shots, we choose 'empathy', and if
not, we avoid it. Everything in life is 'contextual'. To truly understand something
requires attention to its context. We must be clear about how, through our own
lives, we can contribute to the change of the 'right kind'. There is no magic
wand, no supreme effort, nor a single titanic thing to do or not do, to trigger
empathetic contextual-change. Every day, we do multiple things and all those
trillions done by billions add up as context. And it all boils down to how we
view, treat, and interact with another human being, because there is always
another person involved whatever and wherever we do anything, at home, on
the street, at office, at play or while having fun or making money. Everything is
interpersonal: the good or bad we do, the help we render and the hurt we inflict.
In life, many things we do are a must and some are optional, but everything we
do, it is possible to do it differently; what the French call nostalgie de la boue,
to live a simpler, downsized, or less indulgent life. For, with everything we do
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we have a choice—to do it callously or kindly, maliciously or magnanimously,
helpfully or humiliatingly, insensitively or compassionately. Even when hurting
another person is unavoidable, it can still be done in a manner that minimizes
the hurt and harm. According to the theory of karma, we have no control over
what happens in our lives, but we have choices about how we react, and how we
react is what creates new karma, which can be either good or bad karma. If we
react with consideration, compassion and sensitivity, and try to see the situation
from the other person's viewpoint, good karma will be generated, and if not, the
bad. In other words, every day we make our own future. We must also remember
that everything in life is a habit, and it can be cultivated and nourished and
nurtured through what we do. That is why childhood and adolescence are so
important, to make sharing, kindness, and compassion habits.
We ourselves have no idea how we might react to competitive situations
that call for compassion. In fact, it is possible, as recent research has shown,
that situational forces and group dynamics can work in concert to make decent
men and women do horrible things. What you become depends on who you
happen to be, and who you are intrinsically. The social setting and the 'system'
can pervert anyone. But what is unclear is that while everyone is susceptible,
who would be more likely to crack or snap, and why. Or, who is more likely
to take advantage of the situation, or who is more likely to abuse their power.
The answer lies in what goes on within the person in question. Our specific
response to an external situation is but an indirect extension of the struggle for
control of our consciousness. Not able to connect the two, we are left perplexed,
befuddled, and saddened when we see how easily good people can be seduced
to act immorally and rudely, which reminds us that we might not be who we
think we are. We must also remember that although we view good and evil (and
the Upanishadic preyas and sreyas) as two hostile forces, the fact is that both
cohabit our consciousness and are constantly engaged in a power struggle, and
one cannot exist without the other. It is equally important to remember that the
border between the two is highly permeable, and almost anyone can be swayed
to cross it when pressured by circumstantial and situational forces. A good man
can do bad, and a bad man can do good.
In our troubled times, everything appears out of joint and upside down.
These days, "fair is foul and foul is fair", as the witches say in Macbeth. All that is
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good or fair to others, can be evil or foul to them, and vice versa. Many people,
even as they go with the flow to get along, sense in their bones that contemporary
human society is descending inexorably towards catastrophic collapse, and that
man himself is a ticking time-bomb. Capitalism, the dominant economic system
of the day, rooted as it is in the ideology of growth for its own sake, has turned
cancerous. Something must be terribly wrong with our world, when what has
so far served as a metaphor for sacrifice, the selfless love of a mother, is called
into question, when man is bent on making himself an appendage to his own
creations, and when we seem ready to face any meltdown rather than give up
the trappings of the good life—which we often confuse with having a 'good
time', the preyas or the pursuit of the pleasant—mediated by technology. It is
no longer a remote or improbable possibility. Scientists say that it is a now-ornever
situation, that to contain and combat climate change we need to bring
several drastic changes that include lifestyle changes like eating less meat, riding
bicycles, and flying less. Barring the pro-growth fanatics, we will all applaud and
agree but few, if any, will factor in climate change in their daily decision-making.
That is so unpalatable that we are prepared, in desperation, to undertake highly
risky experiments like geoengineering (the use of scientific methods to artificially
control the environment, particularly the world's temperature) in order to deal
with the problem of climate change. And it applies across-the-board to all other
serious problems that require changes at the individual level. We must remember
that any problem we encounter is at least partly of our own making, and the
solution must also include actions of our own making. Instead of moving on in
this direction, we, so to speak, pass the buck to technology and tell ourselves that
it is technology that got us into this mess and therefore it is again technology
that can get us out of it. The mind is the mischief-maker; it does not let us feel
responsible or that we can make any difference. So it looks as though we are
inexorably headed for a climate catastrophe or something similar or worse, in the
lifetime of today's adults, not of the generations to come. But like mortality, we
viscerally believe that we will escape the doomsday even if the world goes down,
that fire and brimstone might fall on everyone's head but we will still be standing.
In fact, our addiction to convenience and comfort might well accelerate
the impending apocalypse. What is worrying is that we are getting so damn good
at creating addictive, attention-grabbing diversions that it will gradually become
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almost impossible to avoid addictions to various forms of entertainment. The
key word is 'attention'. Everyone wants to hijack your 'attention'. For companies,
our attention translates into their profit. Gadgets are another example. We know
that excessive use is bad, particularly for children. It has come to the stage that
the very people building these glowing hyper-stimulating portals have become
increasingly terrified of them, and are trying to keep their own kids off them.
And so could our mind-less or mind-driven (it is hard to tell) obsession with
automation. For historians like Yuval Noah Harari, "The automation revolution
is likely to make some areas of the world extremely rich and powerful, while
completely destroying the economy of others". That would further widen the
already wide chasm between the rich and the poor, the elite and the lockedout.
There is a grave risk that killing could well emerge as another convenience
to get out of an annoying inconvenience or to circumvent an impediment.
Euthanasia—or physician-assisted death (PAD)—although still illegal in many
countries, is emerging as the go-to response in an ever-increasing range of
circumstances, many of which would have been considered not too long ago as
not meriting the extreme step. Some zealots say that anybody who is unbearably
suffering an intractable medical condition should have the option to die. No
more do we believe that there are causes worth dying for but none worth killing
for. We may start killing each other as indiscriminately as we now kill other
species. And then, as the Greek philosopher Pythagoras said, "for as long as men
massacre animals, they will kill each other". Like a wounded tiger that turns a
man-eater because humans are far easier to bring down, people might find it
simpler to kill one another. Killing in war, as Einstein said, is nothing short of
mass murder. And there are no more taboos left—that a mother can't kill, that
a child cannot kill, that love cannot kill, that a machine can't kill, ad nauseam…
And from nature's point of view, that would be the most convenient, and the
most natural. Injunctions such as thou shalt not kill, go against the very grain
of nature. Without any killing the natural order will go haywire. And man, far
from being a non-killing animal, has consistently been one of the most 'efficient'.
Nonviolence, not as abstinence from violence or withholding of wickedness, but
'as a way of being present', was never integral to human life. Violence is another
name for injury, and it is injury that is the essence of the human way of life. What
is new in modern times, is that the likelihood of violence turning lethal is now
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greater than ever before, partly because the available weapons of violence have
themselves become far more deadly. We can kill with bare hands but it requires
more effort. Earlier, the weapons available during social upheavals were relatively
rudimentary: swords, bows and arrows, and occasionally guns. And we have
developed a taste for quick-fixes, much more so when we lose our temper. We
have also developed a thick skin to stay alive. Every day, we are faced with a new
horror or atrocity that takes its toll—spiritually, emotionally, and physically—
on what it means to be human. We may mentally shrug it all off as of no direct
concern to us, but deep inside, it takes its toll and strengthens the forces of evil
inside, which are in a constant state of war with the forces of goodness, virtue,
and righteousness. The irony and tragedy is that we are, as Dr. Zaius of the film
Planet of the Apes (1968) says, "a war-like creature who gives battle to everything
around him, even himself ", while he is blissfully oblivious to the most important
war within his own consciousness. And we are equally oblivious to the fact that
it is the waning fortunes of good in this war that are responsible for much of the
turmoil, mayhem, and misery in the world. We must always be cognizant that
contradiction and collision define us both within and outside. We are always
at war inside and outside. We are at once the observer and the opposing forces.
How we orchestrate and oversee the war shapes what happens in life.
We are truly at a watershed in human evolution, a total rupture with
all that had preceded the present. Man himself has come to be a modern-day
Bhasmasura, the Hindu demon whose touch could reduce anything to ashes.
That power was given to him as a boon by the gods. But when Bhasmasura
turned around and wanted to test it on the very god, Lord Shiva, who had
given him the boon, Bhasmasura was induced to put his hand on his own
head, thereby burning himself to ash. Does a similar fate await us? What we
are doing essentially is to dehumanize everything we touch. Many believe that
things cannot continue like this forever and that the long-expected doomsday,
the apocalyptic event, is now unavoidable. And that belief affects our behavior.
And up front, none of us is innocent. Nothing simply is the same anymore—
not human nature, not human behavior. Everything seems topsy-turvy, and
all values are turning upside down. While divisiveness and acrimony pervade
present human society, harmony eludes us. Man today is restless, even as he is
more powerful than ever. He has always needed an anchor, a harbor, a crutch
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and a refuge to navigate through life. That role was for long performed by myth,
magic, mythology, religion, and God. None of them are passĂŠ but they are in
retreat, if not in disrepute. Our devoutness to the gods is in danger of getting
dwarfed by our devotion to gadgets. And as gadgets increasingly shape everyday
practicalities, there is mounting concern about the addictive nature of staring
at the screen or the 'black mirror'. The concern is not only that excessive screen
exposure breeds bad behavior but, even more, that it is reconfiguring children's
brains and, as a result, there is growing realization that gadgets should be treated
like tools, not toys. While, like with every tool, it depends on how we harness
it, it is important to note that visual communication is the most magnetic and
affects the brain most. The point though is that all technologies can be a boon or
bane. For example, it is generally considered that video games are addictive and
are bad for kids. But research suggests that empathy-training video games like
Crystals of Kaydor can change the brain and help adolescents recognize emotions.
It is never too early; studies show that including empathy into its curriculum can
help even preschoolers. If we can change the mindset of the young (toddlers to
youth), and make them more caring and compassionate, it can become a big part
of the contextual change in the war within. So, it once again depends on us, on
what goes on inside us, how we use a gadget or a game.
Technological change, powered by the fusion of traditional technology
and modern science, is the most powerful force sweeping across the world. We
would do well to bear in mind the cautionary words of Einstein about the dangers
of technological development without spiritual progress. It is technological power
that has transformed human activity on earth into both a geological superpower
and an evolutionary force, whose impact on the landscape, atmosphere,
oceans, and biodiversity has been devastating and rapacious. So rapacious that
it is estimated that we have "managed to erase a staggering 2.5 billion years
of evolutionary development by driving more than 300 mammal species into
extinction". Even if (a huge 'if ', by the way) "humans curbed these destructive
actions within the next 50 years, it would take between five to seven million
years" for mammal biodiversity to fully recover.69 To paraphrase Thomas Ligotti,
'if everything in existence is malignantly useless, can the human be far behind?'
And we are the only species about which one can say, "If this species were to
vanish tomorrow, nothing in nature will miss it; nature may even celebrate".
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What is obscene is that we search for life on other planets in our galaxy,
and callously and casually destroy life on the only planet that sustains us. Some
environmental toxicologists say that we have ushered in a chemical age that
is changing the very code of life on earth through 'unnatural selection'.70 We
routinely put into our body so many toxic chemicals that it is a miracle that more
of us are not sick or dead. The paradox is that, on the one hand, we want body
permanence and, on the other hand, we poison our body through multiple ways.
Ultimately not only what we use or ingest, but also what we make, ends up in
our body, including pesticides and plastics. A recent report tells us that 'humans
are now pooping microplastics'. But nothing will change; we simply eat whatever
we like (in any case we really have no choice), and hope that it will be in someone
else's poop.
Our mindset is such that we think we can do whatever we want but escape
its consequences. Despite our tendency to be soft on evil, throughout our history
we have long wrestled with two divergent moral variables: consequentialism and
deontology. In simple terms, consequentialism holds that the ends justify the
means, whereas deontology holds that what is important is the nature of actions
themselves, and advocates disregarding the possible consequences of our actions
when determining what is right and what is wrong, what moral rules we can break
and the ones we should not. Humans have never found a way to harmonize the
two opposites—even God in human form struggled. But the foundational fact
is that, as William Blake says, "Without contraries is no progression. Attraction
and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate are necessary to human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call good and evil" (The Marriage
of Heaven and Hell, 1790). Unable to harmonize, vainly seeking to eliminate
the 'evil within', and unable to contain the resultant tension, we have, in effect,
become a 'suicidal' species. Our mindset about Mother Earth is both suicidal
and homicidal.
What we do to the earth has a boomerang effect. The earth has become
a kind of material Kamadhenu, the celestial cow in Hinduism that is capable of
fulfilling every human wish and fancy. It was not too long ago that the earth was
viewed as holy. A beautiful poem told us that "Earth's crammed with heaven, And
every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes".71
We must recreate that sense of reverence. What is baffling is that we wish for
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things that are palpably myopic like human replacement at the workplace, not
recognizing that "without dignified, creative human occupation", people become
"disconnected from life", in the words of the 19th-century British humanist
William Morris.72 We must understand that technological 'connectivity' is being
achieved at the expense of human 'community'. And human community is, in its
most basic sense, local community . It is knowing others and being known; it is
not texting or e-mailing; it is to be able to smell each other. Someone described
it as "an insurance policy against life's cruelty; a kind of immunity against the
loss and disappointment and rage" that does come.73 We have reached a stage
when we should remember the age-old jest, 'beware of what you wish lest you
might just get it'. Every desire of anyone is no longer 'his' alone; because the
very pursuit of that wish has consequences that impacts not only 'his life', but
also life in general. The character of what we wish has moved from necessity to
contentment, from comfort to luxury and to superfluousness. That makes it very
important to be very, very careful in what we wish for ourselves.
The way to address this issue is two-fold. First, we must change, not kill,
our desire—not 'desire' as a generic force or energy, but 'desire' as a cankerworm
in our life, as an impulse to acquire material objects. It was such a 'desire' that
Wordsworth possibly had in mind when he wrote the sonnet, The World Is Too
Much With Us (1807), and the line, "we have given our hearts away, a sordid
boon". To get a grip on the 'sordid boon' in a consumeristic, capitalist society
is not easy. We must, at this stage, flag one important point. Desire, even a
material desire, is not bad; material life is not innately sinful; we don't have to
renounce the world and live for the spirit and not for the flesh. We do not need
austere asceticism, any more than one of, in Henry Wood's words, 'voluptuous
self-indulgence'. In fact, the key to a wholesome life is balance and moderation.
As Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg says, "If we would accept heaven's
life, we need by all means to live in the world and to participate in its duties and
affairs" (Heaven and Hell, 1758).
We need action on two fronts. Internally, the forces of goodness must
be dominant in the war within. Externally, we need to change the direction
of technological development. The right contextual change is not possible
without realigning technological change. To paraphrase Gabriel Garcia (One
Hundred Years of Solitude, 1967), we have lost direction while losing ourselves
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in the solitude of our fearsome power. Without contextual-change there can be
no consciousness-change, and without the latter, we cannot prevail in the war
within. Today's technological research and application is clearly out of sync with
the ground realities, and human society itself is increasingly being described as an
all-encompassing technological system.74 We have come to see technology as the
'magic lever' by pulling which all our problems will be resolved. What we ignore
is that every such 'resolution' creates new, and more intractable, problems. We
need to bring under close and constant public scrutiny not only technological
research and development, but also the sciences, bearing in mind that the science
of today is the technology of tomorrow. For the first time in human history,
collectively man has the knowhow, resources, and the tools necessary to give a
life of dignity and good health to every human on earth. It is not happening,
because of misdirection and misapplication, and 'insufficient funding'. On top
of it, powerful corporations bend research and regulations for their benefit. We
need close scrutiny and clear consensus over issues such as what we choose to
research, who funds it, who undertakes it, who benefits from it, who is put
at risk, and for what purposes. Organizations working to ensure that scientific
research is fair and beneficial to society must be publicly funded, subject to peer
review, and transparent to civil society. And society must also demand focused
public investment in independent research rather than expecting that corporate
funding will fill the niche without corrupting the process.
Without any such scrutiny and oversight, and starving many other
worthier priorities for the masses, 'Big Science', 'Big Think', and 'Big Money' are
now coming together and narrowing down the entire human organized effort
around two big projects: artificial intelligence (AI) and immortality. Some, like
Alex Zhavoronkov,75 say that human immortality might be found in the hands
of artificial intelligence; Some like Nick Bostrom, even predict that success in
controlling AI will result in a "compassionate and jubilant use of humanity's
cosmic endowment". As for cardiologist Eric Topol, AI "can make healthcare
human again". It could be the very thing that could save us from death. It could
be, but what is less noticed is that the two, in spirit, negate each other. On the one
hand, we are aiming to merge into a machine and, on the other hand, we want to
make the body last forever through technologies like cryonics. There is nothing
wrong with either pursuits; the problem is our obsession with them. Such an
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absurdly narrow research agenda constitutes a gross mismatch and distortion of
what ought to be the global priority agenda. We sometimes read of research that
could make a tremendous difference, like turning carbon dioxide into fuel for
everyday life, but nothing happens thereafter because they are not funded and
pursued. Underfunding and inadequate attention is also adversely impacting on
important issues like global poverty, glaring inequality, inequity, illiteracy, climate
change, and threats to global health. None of them is entirely new. Poverty, for
example, merited mention as one of the Islamic Ten Commandments. Signifying
Islam's sensitivity as well as its recognition of the gravity of poverty it says, "Kill
not your children for fear of poverty." That the Quran specifically identifies it
as one of the Ten Commandments indicates that such an awful practice was
prevalent even then. What is shocking is that despite centuries of civilization
and progress, and decades of economic growth, poverty, in some form or other,
afflicts one-third of mankind. What we now have is a cocktail of the ultra-rich,
extreme poverty, and the rebellious resentment and anger of the non-rich. We are
sitting on a powder keg, and into that we now have a new entrant, immortality.
While immortality is an age-old ambition, our fascination with AI, which
some like Elon Musk say is "potentially more dangerous than nukes", is fresh and
new. AI is now being seen as the magic wand to solve all of humanity's problems
and achieve all our goals, like ushering a global community. Like any tool or
weapon, AI can be used for good as well as for bad. But the issue is different. What
does it do for us as humans? And does it hinder or help in our quest to bring to
bear a new paradigm of intelligence to solve the problems created by the present
paradigm? Quintessentially, it is a sort of acknowledgment and admission. It
is to acknowledge that our brain is beyond our depth, that we will never know
enough of how it wholly works or how to optimally put it to use. And it is to
admit that despite our most determined efforts to grow, dissect, and boost brain
power, we are not confident we will succeed. The fact is that AI can do a world
of good provided it is carefully analyzed and applied—not indiscriminately but
selectively, to supplement, not supplant human effort, or to lighten the effort
where it is needed. We must also bear in mind that AI and computer intelligence
are basically no different from the intelligence that runs our lives. It is being
predicted that 'by the end of this century, the nonbiological portion of our
intelligence will be trillions of trillions of times more powerful than unaided
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human intelligence'. We are also told that 'conscious or not, artificial systems are
about to become much more interactive and personalized and, as such, will be
changing our lives dramatically'.77 But does that solve the problems we face today
created by that very brain-based intelligence? On the other hand, experts warn
that a future war fought by 'AI-gone-wrong' systems would be a fearful thing,
bringing to mind the Biblical warning about such an eventuality, which it calls
'the Great Tribulation'. What we need is intelligence of an altogether different
genre, which, with willful blindness, we fail to see is within each of us. It is none
other than heart-based and intuitive intelligence. The human heart is much more
than an efficient pump that sustains life.78 Pioneering research by the HeartMath
Institute has revealed that, contrary to what most of us have been taught in school
(that the heart is constantly responding to "orders" sent by the brain in the form
of neural signals), it is the heart that actually sends more signals to the brain
than the brain sends to the heart! And that these heart signals have a significant
effect on brain function—influencing emotional processing as well as higher
cognitive faculties such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving.
Our heart is also an access point to a source of wisdom and intelligence that we
can call upon to live our lives with more balance, greater creativity, and enhanced
intuitive capacities. We have to become, at the least, a critical mass of humans,
essentially heart-empowered individuals, for a better and more compassionate
world. But so smitten we are about AI, that it is being predicted, not without a
tinge of elation, that in the future "the human brain will connect to online AI to
become a hybrid of biological and nonbiological thinking".79
For generations we have prided ourselves as the species with the biggest
brain, enabling it to be more intelligent than anyone else. Suddenly, man now
feels inadequate in his intelligence in relation to his ambitions. And, rather than
optimize what nature has gifted, such as drawing upon his heart intelligence, he
has turned to artificial means. We tend to think that the machine is the opposite
of man, that it brings to bear qualities we lack, and that it is immune to human
vulnerabilities. There are indications that this not always true. First, the machine
is nothing if not man-made. And, some studies have shown that, intentionally
or not, artificial intelligence could pick up some of our worst traits like bigotry,
racism, and sexism. This is important to note, since AI is emerging not as a
subservient tool but as a decision-maker with equal rights. Already, robots—
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and it tells a lot if we remember that the word robot comes from the Czech
robota, which means 'forced labor'— have begun to join the boards of directors
of companies. In the future, even doctors and lawyers could be robots, not only
personal assistants. We are being told that soon one could buy 'sex-robots' off
the shelf. Sexuality is just another commodity, a product that can be bought
and sold. Concern is also being expressed on topics like 'robot morality', and
about outsourcing morality to robots as easily as we have outsourced so many
other forms of human labor. Some experts are talking of the Humanoid Robotic
Revolution, and it is hard to tell if they are telling us to be excited or worried.
In any case, we all know that all 'revolutions' throw up nasty surprises and
unintended consequences. One outlandishly 'revolutionary' theory80 says future
humans could be 'hybrid humans'—products of a hypothetical interbreeding of
aliens with humans. Such a hybrid species, it is hypothesized, could be capable
of surviving future catastrophic climate conditions on earth, and could serve as
problem-solvers or future leaders.
While digging his own grave on the one hand, by offering to the machine
that which he denied the divine—saranagati or total surrender—man, on the
other hand, is determined now to be immortal by becoming a god. Immortality
has long been a spiritual goal of man, centered on the soul. Now, it is medical
immortality and bodily survival after death that man seeks. He is not appeased
by spiritual immortality. He wants to achieve it by being able to do things like
freezing and repairing the brain, creating a new, artificial body, and transferring
the 'new brain' into the new body. The closest parallel in nature that man takes
inspiration from is the total transformation of an ugly caterpillar into a beauteous
butterfly. It is based on the questionable assumption that even though it has a
new body, it doesn't 'die', and yet is able retain some sort of memory of its past
life. Not only do we not want to die, but we also want to carry forward the same
physical frame, which means that we want to be like a winged caterpillar, not a
beautiful butterfly. Without commensurate consciousness-change, we might well
end up as some sort of an 'evil superman'. And why not, if MIT is able to create
the AI-driven psychopath Norman ? Like always, we go for the hybrid, a hotchpotch.
There is no transformation without termination and dissolution and
death. In practical terms, we want to give up nothing but get everything. Now,
it is the body all the way; 'body beautiful' is a multi-billion-dollar industry. But
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if the body still fails, we have the brain as backup. It is expected that computer
technology and artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and nanotechnology will
all converge to make it possible for us to download our minds and attain virtual
immortality. This is the exact opposite of what all religions have told us to let go,
and shed the body identification and attachment. The Roman philosopher
Seneca thought that death was a gift of God, and the Buddha thought that
clinging to life is as dangerous as any other form of ignorance. The odds of
outright immortality are beyond the bounds of possibility. As Michael Shermer
pointedly says, "The whole universe runs down, so, ultimately, even if you could
lengthen your lifespan indefinitely, the universe itself will eventually die in a
heat death".81 Biomedical research has helped global average life expectancy to
rise by 20 years since 1960. Some say science now can give us indefinite life, but
not literal immortality, not mathematical eternity. Semantics apart, practically
speaking, the fact is that, even doubling or trebling, let alone thousand years
of the average human life span, could have far-reaching social, moral, and
intergenerational and evolutionary implications. Any extension of the life span
of any particular species can disturb the equilibrium embedded in creation. And
that could have cascading and calamitous consequences. And there is a growing
growl that it is all for the rich at the expense of the poor and soon that growl can
become a roar, and the roar into revolt, not of the voiceless poor but of the new
majority in the world: the middle class. When that does occur it could dwarf all
previous revolutions.
To a large extent, the fulcrum of our morality is based on finiteness. That
everyone dies is the thread that keeps everything in their proper place: "Teach
us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom".82 If we truly can
live forever, who cares what we do to any other? And there is no guarantee that
it will abolish old age, and we may end up with no youth and extended old
age, something like Gulliver's Struldbruggs. Faced with the ennui of eternal life,
our future generations might, as in Jorge Borges' story The Immortal, seek an
antidote that allows them to die. While most think that longevity is a blessing,
not all long-lifers feel that way. One of the world's longest-living humans, at
nearly 129 years, Koku Istambulova said, "Long life is not at all God's gift for
me, but a punishment". Particularly if we might turn out to be a Tithonus (Greek
mythology), who achieved immortality but not eternal youth, and who later
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lamented, 'Only cruel immortality Consumes: I wither slowly in thine arms', and
beseeched, 'release me, and restore me to the ground' (Tithonus, Lord Tennyson).
It is important to remember that new technology does not merely give
something new to use or play with; it changes everything. Einstein's warning
that technology, when it surpasses human interaction, might usher in a world of
idiots could not be more timely. Humankind might not end with idiocy; it could
be far more fearsome. Artificial intelligence and rampant robotization would, in
particular, have far-reaching consequences in the defense and military sectors.
Future wars will be unrecognizable from what they are today, and technology
will be the deciding factor. Moreover, war constitutes a gross distortion and
misuse of scarce resources—financial, natural, and creative—that could make
hundreds of millions of lives so much better, a cause worthy of moral mutiny. We
need a complete overhaul in the entire process, from conception to application,
including its funding and control. Context is the canvas of our way of life, of
everything we do to live like a human being. That includes the web of relationships
we work with, in particular nature. To sustain the cosmic balance, it is required
that the benefit each individual provides must outweigh the costs they entail on
the environment. By doing this, the system replenishes itself. This is true across
species and ecosystems, with the exception of the human. And having made the
machine more 'intelligent' than himself, man has decided to mate and merge
with it, and augment and enhance the capability and strength of every faculty
and organ in his body—from intelligence to genitalia. Some even hope to breed
and possibly create a new species of sapiens on Mars!
In any case, what is clear is that man now seems determined not only to
own the world, but to make absolutely sure that nothing worthwhile remains
after he is gone; present-day man is doing to his progeny what Genghis Khan did
to his conquered countries. Science is attempting to create a new man and a new
civilization centered around the machine, and is seducing us with the promise
to solve the greatest mystery of them all, the mystery of death. We have long
struggled with our mortality. We have made hell on earth and want to escape to
heaven without dying. The trouble is, as Milan Kundera puts it, "Man doesn't
know how to be mortal. And when he dies, he doesn't even know how to be
dead".83 But such 'not-knowing' has not hindered man from seeking immortality.
A famous prayer in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad seeks divine guidance on
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three fronts: from delusion to truth; from darkness to light; and from death to
immortality. Death is the creator of the world, states an Indian sacred text. But
what science is seeking is very different from this type of immortality. In effect,
what it is trying to do is to create and capture the power that raised Christ from
the dead, and be what eluded even Gilgamesh and Methuselah—life unending.
In fact, we want more; we want to make death reversible. Life forever clearly is
not possible, because forever isn't several lifetimes, or a few dozen, but billions
and billions of years. It means that like gods we cannot die even if we kill each
other or if are run over by a truck. The question we have to ask is this: with
man as he is, with the kind of mind-dominated consciousness he has, should
he be endowed with such prodigious capability even if that capability is not
immortality per se, but exponentially extended life span? Evil could become
exponentially much stronger in the world and in our consciousness. And we
would lose the war within. Human power now comes close to "power without
responsibility—the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages".84 For the first
time in history of life on earth, that is over four billion years, a single species,
the human, has acquired the awesome and scary capability to fulfill his every
wish and want. So much so we now face a new threat: the threat of some of
our wild wishes coming true. Furthermore, it is not as though every man is
equally powerful. It will further exacerbate the present inequalities, which will be
concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The plutocracy that runs the world will
further dig in its heels, bolstered by the inclusion of the immortal-rich. And yet,
no one is seriously talking of how to control and channel that power, and what
kind of public policies and frameworks are necessary. Instead, we are making
contingency plans to escape to the Moon or Mars! The current plans of Elon
Musk's SpaceX are to send the first humans to Mars in the 2020s, and establishing
a city there by 2050. More than 200,000 people applied for a privately-funded
mission, estimated to cost six billion dollars, and which is to be filmed for a reality
television series!85 Remember there is no return. In fact, it is not only Moon or
Mars we want escape to. 'Escape' is the metaphor and mindset of modern man.
How to escape from an assortment of conditions such as fear, dead-end jobs,
despair, responsibility, work, restraints, frustrations, convention, commitments,
etc., is what preoccupies many. To stay present to what is happening in the world
is to embrace anything that promises escape. Many seek what in Greek is called
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soteria (salvation), but unable to identify from what, they focus their ire on the
status quo, anything that is labeled, categorized, and institutionalized. Some feel
that surrender to society is a way of escape from that very society. The point is,
not only does power corrupt, but absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Lord
Acton famously proclaimed. Also, a few might even have not proven equal to the
power they come to possess. The person who will exercise the awesome power
of being virtually free from the fear of death will essentially be a 'machine-man',
driven exclusively by a brain boosted by selective manipulation and implanted
or uploaded into a computer. It means man, or more aptly macho machineman,
will have to exercise his almost divine power with essentially the same or
similar content and character of consciousness. Fact is, the human is always
found wanting in handling any power. It is good to remember what Robert
Ingersoll once said of Abraham Lincoln: "Nothing discloses real character like
the use of power. Most people can bear adversity; but if you wish to know what a
man really is, give him power". That being so, can we trust the human to be any
better than what he is now? Without radical consciousness-change of the right
kind, and with primordial and promethean power, this Homo sapiens will be a far
greater menace both on earth and in the cosmos.
The potential flip side is that, like in our driven desire to solve deep
mysteries we sometimes stumble upon deeper riddles, we might awaken sinister
secrets, with consequences we would be unable to apprehend or anticipate.
Quite apart from the risk of trespassing into the divine domain, immortality,
for instance, can fan the flames of immorality, and make us hark back to the
view held by some sophists in the fifth century, that practicing injustice was
the most profitable way to live. In our times, when profit-making and pleasureseeking
are the primary impulses behind almost all human endeavor, such a view
could be unstoppable. In fact, present-day man would rather seek the 'lower
pleasures', mainly connected with immediate physical gratification and delight,
as John Stuart Mill defined it (Utilitarianism, 1861), which are quite distinct
from 'higher' pleasures—the cultivation and enjoyment of art, literature, poetry,
and friendship. We are told that since death would not be inevitable, we would
not have to worry about after-life, judgment day, and so on, and there would be
no need therefore to be 'good' in the present life for a better post-death future.
The Bible says that death came into the world through one man, and spread to
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all men through sin.86 Science is saying there is no connection, and you can sin
and do not have to die! But neither has addressed the more basic question: why
is death bad ? Is it because of what we expect happens or because it does not
happen? Not only relief from the shadow of death, science is also promising that
through such technological manipulations as genetic engineering, better drugs,
and precise stimulation of various localities in the brain, human beings can live
in a sort of paradise, in which all unsavory states of awareness would have been
banished. That is the story science is telling us and selling us, as we struggle to
make sense of what we really ought to do with ourselves. It raises other serious
issues: is it ethical to disrupt our modern-human genetic heritage which has
evolved naturally over at least the last 200,000 years?
Another sea-change concerns life as we understand it. Life was touted as
priceless and the 'right to life' was deemed a fundamental human right. And that
meant the opposite of death. But no longer. Across the world, especially in those
parts where people have the time to worry about issues beyond the immediate,
there is a simmering sense that the right to life includes the right to die, and even
more, the right to be helped to die. Some are even arguing that everyone, including
a murderer on death row, has a 'right to painless death'. The logic is that society
cannot have it both ways: it cannot deny its citizens good health or a life of dignity,
and also deny the right to die in dignity. Indeed, dying with dignity is being hailed
by some as the biggest shift in morality in a generation. That is because dying is a
part of living, and one cannot be deprived, at the time of death, of the rights and
privileges one enjoyed while living. There is also a sense that society spends far
too much to keep a few alive, who often are the rich, at the expense of the basic
health needs of the poor. "The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human
animal like nothing else," wrote Ernest Becker in his book The Denial of Death.
We do still fear death but it is slowly getting compromised by the more fearsome
realities of life. What we are seeing is the unheralded emergence of death as a
kind of liberator. Death is asserting its independent right to be given its due on
matters of life. Death has often been called the ultimate leveler. Science says that
it might not soon be so. But it is a leveler in another sense. Whether one is rich
or poor, well-off or on welfare, healthy or sick, it doesn't always matter; anyone
can 'decide to die' and any human emotion can trigger it. Let us also note that
there are a growing number of thoughtful people who think that the best service
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man can render to the planet—and contribute to the holy work of mending the
world—is to stop any more human reproduction, and do everything we could
to become extinct sooner than later. A similar view was voiced by biologist EO
Wilson: "If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to
the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago". The meeting
point is that neither is content with the present disposition—those who advocate
our early voluntary extinction as a way to make moral amends, and those who,
on the contrary, want to live forever. What we consider the current reality has
become so morally fraudulent and egregious that, for many, the status quo is
no longer acceptable or suitable. And everyone blames everyone else for their
misery. As the 18th-century French philosopher and moralist Joseph de Maistre
said, "It is man who is charged with the slaughter of man". Everyone fears the
future, but no one is prepared to give up any of the goodies of good life to solve
any existential problem, or to bequeath a healthier world to their progeny. Down
the ages and through our march into modern times, we have been blessed by the
noble sayings of scriptures, by the presence amongst us of great prophets, rishis,
saints, and mystics. Among them were those, who "having reached the supreme
God from all sides had found abiding peace, had become united with all, had
entered into the life of the Universe".87 Those wise men were generous with their
instruction and advice on the path we have to follow. Even they could not arrest
the moral drift of mankind.
Things have only gotten worse over time. Why have we been so impervious
and hostile to what the wise have always exhorted us to do, to become better
human beings? How come the precious seeds they had sown and sprinkled never
sprouted inside us? They have always told us the same message: have a good
heart, harm no one, help all, do to others what you would like done to you,
fight injustice and evil. That is the path to both a good and virtuous life as well
as a better after-life. Most prophets and sages failed in their own lifetime not
because the message wasn't right, or that the messenger was flawed, but because
the intended audience was not ready. They, like us, lived too much in their head
and too little in their heart. The 20th-century spiritual master Ramana Maharshi
said that the essence of spiritual discipline is to plunge the purified mind into the
heart. The heart too must be seen and used differently. We must invest far more
on exploring how to harness the effective guidance from our heart's intuitive
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intelligence. We have to ask of ourselves: why is the seed wrong or the soil barren?
Have we, while paying lip service, chosen to ignore them, much the same way we
ignore the clear signs of climate change, because it entails doing something that
our mind does not want?
We are living in turbulent times when all assumptions about human life
are running for cover and we don't know what to expect from each other as
fellow-travelers. Most people feel besieged in their own lives, trapped in their
own bodies. We have so far sought to find the causes and factors externally and
intellectually, in our conduct and context of life. We need to go within—in
Anne Sexton's words, "Put our ear down close to our soul and listen hard"—and
ensure that what we wish to do, or avoid doing externally, is first facilitated in
the deepest, fathomless recesses of our being, before anything takes shape as
a thought or word or action. A thought or word or action is already an arrow
unleashed. First, we must stop endlessly debating which is stronger in human
nature: good or evil. We must accept that both are latent, and whether we do
good or bad depends on what happens within at a certain time. Having said that,
we must acknowledge that, in reality, we seem more and more prone to evil and
sin. As someone drily noted, we don't have to teach our kids how to sin; it seems
to come out naturally. But then that happens because the evil is stronger within
than goodness. Thomas Moser, psychological biographer of Joseph Conrad,
wrote, "In order to truly be alive one must recognize the truth, the darkness, the
evil and the death within".
What we must up front understand is that nothing is cost-free—to get
something, something else has to be given up. And that everything is 'doubleedged',
that we all lead 'double lives', and the one inside is where the real 'person'
is. Every serious struggle, competitive action, anything we deeply desire to
achieve, we call a war—such as, war on consumerism, war on crime, war on
drugs, war on terror, war on pollution, war on black money, war on Wall Street,
even War for Kindness.88 Some even characterize the cut-throat competitive
culture as a 'war of each against all others'. The truth, though, is that we think
we are 'fighting' these wars, but actually, through our actions and attitudes we
are fuelling them. We devour war movies and honor war heroes, who, sans the
halo of war, become mass murderers. Yet, despite being suffused with war in
our outer life, we know nothing of the war within. And we must understand
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that everything that happens, at least anything consequential—whether we do
good or bad, how we behave and relate with the rest of the world, even how we
think and feel—is but an extension, an expression of the state of the war within
ourselves at a given point in time. If we accept the actuality of this war, not simply
that we are capable of entertaining horrible thoughts and vile emotions, many
things that seem inexplicable—why is there so much evil and suffering? why is
our behavior so unpredictable?—begin to become intelligible. We must stop this
futile and tiresome debate about whether we are essentially good or bad, spiritual
or material, and why we behave so badly at times, and what to do to be better
beings. None of these have a firm footing of their own; they change according
to the vicissitudes of the internal and external wars. If the forces of good have
the upper hand, we will do good, and bad otherwise. And that 'within', the
inside of us, the core of our being, what Keats called 'the abyss of himself ', is the
spiritual space at our innermost depth. Lao Tzu famously said that a journey of
a thousand miles begins with a single step. Many limitations man has overcome,
but for what thwarts the journey within, he is at a loss to know how to take the
first step. We are launching things into space 'like crazy' but none into the inner
space. We need something like a 'spiritual SpaceX program' to explore the world
within. The fact is, as Pico Iyer (Global Soul, 2000) reminds us, "The Inner
World Is a Great, Undiscovered Terrain". With all the tremendous advances in
medicine we really do not know how the various organs in our body function
independently as well as in tandem with each other, how they together constitute
the physical body and make the difference between life and death. We know we
have a mind, but not much about what it actually is, and where it resides. We
know we have a consciousness, but not much about its content or character. We
know so little in the world of our inside—adhyatmika, in Sanskrit—because we
don't think it is important to get what we want from life, and because it does
not come in the way of our worldly pursuits. It does not bother us; so we don't
bother about it. And then, to know what goes on within, we need a whole new
wherewithal, which is spiritual, not scientific. Indeed man's chronic laggardness
in making spiritual progress is because of our utter ignorance of our inside.
Even if we ritually chant the Upanishadic mantra of shanti, shanti, shanti
(peace, peace, peace!) at every occasion and opportunity, there is no denying
that we love wars. Some say that even God is "pro-war", not only us, the deeply
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flawed humans. Maybe that is why we have never had any extended periods of
grace or peace in our history. We might quote the Jewish prophet Isaiah and
repeat that 'they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into
pruning hooks' as an ideal and aspiration. Plowshares and pruning hooks we
have always had, but not through any alchemy of swords; instead, swords have
become guns, bombs, missiles and atomic weapons and autonomous weapons. It
was believed that some Biblical-era wars were even declared as 'divinely-ordained'.
God, in the Old Testament, for example, ordered the complete destruction of
the Canaanites. About the great Kurukshetra war (in the Mahabharata), Lord
Krishna declared that it was necessary, when he was admonished for not having
prevented it even though it was in his power to do so. Why such a horrible
bloodshed was 'necessary' he did not explain. But one thing we must understand
is that we cannot apply human standards and norms to the divine. As Martin
Luther King said, divine justice is 'entirely alien to ourselves'. We cannot judge
that which is inherently incomprehensible, divine will. The world outside is
'incomprehensible' because the world inside is impenetrable and the factors that
come into play to 'comprehend' are now far more and more complex.
Wars do bring out the worst in us, but still nothing unites a people
better than a war. It raises our adrenaline, gives focus and purpose, and helps
in mobilization. Experts differ whether we are the only war-waging animal on
earth. Some say that ants and chimps come closest. How do we explain this
self-destructive human lust for war-making? It is because war, like nothing else,
offers avenues to manifest some of our deepest and darkest urges, passions and
prejudices. We must understand that war is basically a form of conflict but on
a wider and more violent scale. And conflict is not only natural to the human
condition but is also essential to our growth. What we should seek is not to strive
towards a conflict-free world which is impossible, even counterproductive, but to
develop models of conflict-resolution through dialogue, and by mentally putting
ourselves in the situation that someone else is in. Once we do not try to impose
our will and interests on another, conflict becomes a communion. We must not
also forget that all conflicts in the external world are but extensions of the basic
internal conflict, the war within. If we want to resolve conflicts in our life, which
are inevitable and necessary, then we must ensure that the forces of goodness and
conciliation are dominant in the war. It is also useful to bear in mind the nature
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of this war. This 'war within' is a war without beginning or end, a civil war, an
incestuous struggle for supremacy over the human consciousness. It is a war
without victory or defeat. It is a weird war in which we cannot afford what we
yearn for in any other war: the crushing defeat of the enemy; outright victory. It
is a war in which we do not want to kill the enemy; for without the enemy, the
other side too cannot survive.
And yet we are total strangers to this war. All living is a state of war, but
the war within is the most intimate and meaningful. We believe that in life we
must not stay neutral in the fight against injustice and evil, but we are mute
and quiet to the fight against these very foes in our own breast. Yet, in that very
breast, as William Blake tells us not to forget, "all deities reside" (The Marriage
of Heaven and Hell, 1790). It is not that we are altogether unaware that it is in
the 'cave of the heart', as the Upanishads call it, that the inner meaning of life,
the meaning of all human existence, is hidden. But that very ground deep within
is also the battlefield for the war within. It is a war that is often compared to
the great Kurukshetra war between cousins, the 'good' Pandavas and the 'evil'
Kauravas. What is special is that this war was fought with God in a human avatar
being present to ensure the victory of the good. An intense struggle continually
rages within our own soul or consciousness, but we don't know what to do, or,
more importantly, we don't relate it to anything happening in our lives. We
know little about this war, and we don't care to learn more, because, unlike other,
external wars, this is invisible and beyond sensory experience. Even though we
are blissfully unaware, we supply arms and ammunition to both warring sides, by
everything we do every day through our sense organs. And that, although we are
unaware of it, offers us a constant opportunity to change the course of the war.
Recent research tells us that even what we eat can have a bearing on the
war by helping one or the other side; some foods nourish positive emotions, while
some others nourish negative emotions. Indeed, the minutiae of everyday life,
things like what we buy, what we wear, what we make, what we consume, could
have a positive ripple effect not only on the world but also on the war within.
And indeed this is the only way any change can happen. If we cut out supplies to
the evil side and reinforce supplies to the virtuous front, we can ensure that the
war will wage on our terms. And if this happens, it will immediately affect every
war outside, and even more fundamentally, our mindset and behavior. We, or at
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least a critical mass of humans, could become compassionate warriors in real life,
warriors who not only help everyone but refuse to hate anyone, whose sword is
love and armor is cascading empathy, having the ability to put themselves in other
people's hearts. But how does one attain such a lofty mindset? The Upanishads
say that the way is for us to see all things in ourselves, and ourselves in all things.
One wonders which is more difficult. If we can become such warriors in everyday
life, we can change not only the context of life but also the character of the war
within. In the end, the context of life is how we live and do our daily chores and
choices. It is these myriad things, and how we perform them, that matter and
make the difference between a worthy life and a wasted life.
We do not need to be sui generis, or do Olympian things, to change
the context of life; it is enough to be humane and do the ordinary things that
we do as a service to God, as the Bhagavad Gita implores us, or as a service to
another fellow-humans, indeed to any other sentient being, as Bodhisattvas do.
That is one way of bridging the gap between our moral values and daily actions.
It is good to remember that a universal principle of the universe is that "what
we focus on, multiplies". If we focus on good, then the cumulative effect can
be overwhelming. One need not be a Bodhisattva to make the world a tiny
bit better. And we don't have to be a Saint Paul who offered, 'For I could wish
that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers,
my kinsmen according to the flesh'.89 It is enough to infuse every deed with
what Buddhism calls 'loving kindness'. It only calls for surrendering the sense of
ownership of things that we possess. Actually we don't 'possess' anything; in time,
things possess us. We can only 'own' that which we can absorb, appropriate and
appreciate; no more. The poet Padraig O Tuama, described as an extraordinary
healer in our world of fracture, said, "Belonging creates and undoes us both".
While we should shun the desire to 'own' material things, a sense of belonging is
important for a fruitful life. What Hannah Arendt wrote in the 1930s (Origins
of Totalitarianism), "The experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is
among the most radical and desperate experiences of man", applies equally to the
21st century. In the middle of frenetic activity, constantly being 'busy', many are
lonely, which is increasingly a trigger for suicides.
A related quandary many face is being part of what is described as the rat
race: we could either get caught up in a fiercely competitive struggle for wealth,
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excellence, and success at the expense of moral value, or exit the race and risk
social failure or broken relationships. We are smitten by 'success'; we want to be
'successful' in whatever we do, in our job, in our relationships, in making love
or war, or making money. We also believe that the obstacle on the way to our
success is another man. The essence of this way of thinking is that everything
is justified in order to be a 'winner'—never the L-word, loser—and that means
trampling over everyone else on the way. Our entire educational system and work
culture are tailor-made for that purpose; indeed, they feed upon it. It is a system
that trains the young to, in Einstein's words, "worship acquisitive success as a
preparation for his future career". The purpose of education ought to be to know
how to, as aptly put by journalist Sydney Harris, "turn mirrors into windows". In
a 'mirror' we see our image and the area around, but through a window the view
is limitless. Today, what goes for education even cracks the mirror and everything
we see through is distorted. It even distorts our own image. Education, therefore,
has to go beyond manufacturing cogs for the economic engine, beyond acquiring
the skills to make money.
Although we 'work' all the time everywhere, what we call 'work' is what
we do when we go, every weekday of ours, to a particular place, an office or
factory, and spend the entire day exhibiting a particular skill in the company of
others doing a similar thing, and for which we are paid wages or salary on a daily
or weekly or monthly basis. Although it requires sharing and working together
synergistically, the work culture is competitive and the driving motive is almost
always profit-maximization. What we need to do is to turn competitive culture
into cooperative culture, and factor in social good as a part of profit-making.
Nowadays, education is designed to produce fiercely ambitious, competitive
individuals who want always to succeed, regardless of the means or methods.
And that inevitably colors their whole personality and social behavior and their
role as family members. Soon, the whole of humanity becomes a conglomerate
of cut-throat combatants, who see everyone else as someone to overcome
for their own survival and success. The mantra is 'success', which is material
achievement and advancement, in order to get on to the gravy train. And it
doesn't matter how much suffering we cause to others and to our own selves.
How can we then play a role in mitigating the stock of suffering in the world?
If we are ruthless in achieving our goals, where is the room for sharing, which
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is one of the most important attributes that must be nurtured? The contextualchange
that is necessary for consciousness-change must include measures to deal
with the ravages of the rat race. We cannot seriously talk of spiritual growth if we
spend all our working life, and what goes as education, immersed in a culture of
ruthless one-upmanship, where one is constantly outfoxing each other. We need
to learn to admit that almost every problem we face is at least partly of our own
making, and that we are mad at others precisely because we see in them what we
are trying not to see in ourselves. We need to find and invent avenues outside the
current economic system to sharpen and strengthen man's latent better instincts
and to tame, what Freud called, 'the inclination for aggression', without which,
he said, man does not feel 'comfortable'. Those avenues must be such that they
are attractive and emotionally, if not economically, lucrative. It must start from
pre-school and continue through college, and include events like compassionate
retreats and empathy workshops. One must be able to live like a normal person
and make a living, and yet be a caring, considerate, and compassionate person.
That must be an integral part of education. What is called for is a judicious mix
of 'how to make a living' and 'how to live wholesomely'.
While the reality is that we are all sojourners on earth, each of us wants
to leave footprints that don't fade with time. We always want to win, to prevail,
to dominate, to control every situation and contingency. So dominant and
destructive is our desire to control others that Erich Fromm has called it another
form of necrophilia. Everyone except oneself, and everywhere except within.
That must change. The fact is that while we have traveled very far into outer
space—far into the void out there, between the planets, and beyond the solar
system—and gained much knowledge of the cosmos, our knowledge of the inner
space is abysmal. But what is this space, this within that we relentlessly refer to?
The Chandogya Upanishad describes it as the city of Brahman, a secret dwelling,
the lotus of the heart. It has an inner space within which is the fulfillment of our
desires. The Upanishad goes on to say that whatever we know in this world, or
not know, is contained in this inner space. We have focused entirely on technical
tools like Voyager 1 to wander into the far reaches of outer space, but have paid
no attention to find or innovate heart-centered spiritual tools and techniques to
delve into our own selves. We are expending enormous resources and human
creativity to develop what astronaut Andy Thomas described as "go-nowhere,
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dead-end" technologies to put humans in space at the expense of basic needs,
like food, water, shelter, and sanitation for a billion humans on earth. This has
been our greatest failing and greatest challenge. The fact is that the methods used
by mystics, masters, and rishis—like tapas, mind-control, intense prayer, prapatti
or absolute and unconditional divine surrender—are not easily adaptable to our
outrageous world. That must change. Plans are afoot for a round trip voyage
to Mars in thirty years, but the odyssey within, we haven't even started. And
that must change, too. Unless we learn to intervene and influence the internal
ebbs and flows, we cannot change anything externally. All the problems, be it
climate change or corrosive consumerism, the emerging pandemics of suicide
and homicide, mindless militarization or moral decline will only gain speed. But
if we can change the tide and ensure that the righteous forces attain and maintain
the upper hand, then we can have a pandemic of peace and virtuous infection
and contagion of compassion.
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once told a friend that 'all his life
there had hardly been a day, in which he had not at one time or other thought
of suicide as a possibility'. The Italian poet Cesare Pavese said it explicitly: "No
one ever lacks a good reason for suicide". For, otherwise they wouldn't do it any
way. In fact we all have 'good reasons', but for some that 'good' becomes good
enough to impel them to take their own lives. Now, we don't need a reason,
or every reason gets turned around to be good enough to entertain self-harm.
Actually, nowadays, no emotion or thought or feeling or passion can be ruled
out as a potential inducement or provocation for suicide. It has also become
a soulful cry for help, an assertion of autonomy over one's own life, a way of
protest or even a bargaining chip and blackmail. We also find that, in some
instances, the same conditions and context that provoke a suicide in one culture,
become a trigger for a homicide in another culture. In Japan, a disgraced man
will do hara-kiri; in USA, he might more probably go on a killing spree. Little
noticed and shockingly, across the world, more people die from suicide every
year than from conflicts, wars, and natural disasters combined. We don't realize
it, but suicides, which some call 'deaths of despair', can be contagious, like the
common cold. There are troubling signs it is already happening, for instance,
following a celebrity suicide. When a much-publicized suicide becomes a trigger
for a 'suicide contagion', it is called the Werther Effect, named for Goethe's novel,
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The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). If suicide is being seen as a viable way to
end suffering and sadness, homicide is being viewed as the viable way to end or
avenge dishonor, harassment, humiliation, and injustice. Fundamentally, deep
inside us, suicide seems to have shed its 'sin-skin', as an extreme step of the truly
desperate, depressed, and mentally unstable. It is now inching to the top as the
de facto default choice to get over any irksome situation, a route of escape from
a troubled childhood or relationship or marriage, or even as a way to punish
those against whom one has a grudge or grievance. And homicide is no longer
the 'heinous crime' perpetrated by really bad people or psychopaths or sadists,
or committed under intolerable provocation or in the heat of passion. But it is
useful to remember that both the growing casualness of suicide and the seeming
triviality of homicides are but symptoms of a larger malaise of the mind: moral
nihilism. Human beings are not seen as responsible for what they do, therefore,
each individual makes up the difference between good and evil. Nothing has
any intrinsic value, even life, and a negation of the basic laws that society has set
up—either religious or social laws—makes them meaningless or menacing. The
practical way is to simply destroy everything—anyone, oneself or others, nature,
planet earth, or other species. It is moral nihilism that makes us believe we can
barter humanness for efficiency—maximum productivity with minimal effort
and minimum time.
Efficiency, and its twin, competence, is what we seek and pursue in all
walks of modern life, and this leaves no room for any weakness or stiffness.
Increasing the 'efficiency of performance' is now a top scientific priority. In this
mindset, a murder is merely a 'contract job', and rape another form of 'rough
sex' gone a bit too far; and stealing is no different from sharing, and lying is a
way to wield leverage. For someone who feels left out of school, the school itself
becomes a symbol of failed society that can be 'fixed' with minimal effort. In the
same way, that person's focus shifts to other symbols of society or religion—a
church or mosque, a packed promenade or stadium—which could be targeted
for maximum destruction. To stem this macabre trend, we must change the
tides of the 'war within' through consciousness-change and contextual-change.
Whatever we do, we cannot tame the tide from the outside. Something truly
hideous has happened inside each of us. The point is not that technology is bad,
it is the obsessive human desire to control the uncontrollable, to pursue anything
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that obscures the reality of man's own life. It is there, in that dark corner of the
human psyche, where the monsters lurk. It is about this human tendency to
take just about anything and turn it into something awful. Whether it is God's
inscrutable leela or play, or the work of the Devil, or an 'occupational hazard',
we do not know. If we fail to tame the tide, homicides will become as common
as the killing of animals today. We feel no guilt or remorse in killing animals
because they are not human. In the future, we humans may cannibalize each
other because we are not animals. In addition to the existing killing triggers like
rage, revenge, religion, greed, we will kill each other for sport and fun, as avenues
of diversion and entertainment. As a society, we are constantly and endlessly
'entertained' by the preposterous, the absurd, the volatile, and the violent.
We have failed to hold a steady course and to resolve or manage the
many existential problems that we confront. Humans have consistently shown
that they are rather lax at any kind of risk management. We are not very good at
risk/return analysis, or at narrowing down possibilities into probabilities. That
is why we are always caught on the wrong foot when a crisis hits us, whether
it is a natural disaster or financial crisis or climate change. It is also because
experts never agree on anything and so we, rather our minds, simply pay heed
to the one that suits us and ignore the rest. A clear example is climate change.
Depending on who we are asking, it either doesn't exist, or is an engineering
problem, or requires nothing short of global mobilization, or could be solved
by simply nudging the free market into action. When it comes to risks that
threaten our very existence, and we have to take measures to monitor, minimize,
and control any adverse impact, our mind simply refuses to get involved. Our
own behavior belies us, makes us sometimes wonder: 'Is it really me out there?'
That is because whether it is risk management or behavior, they are the external
ways, whereas the source and the cause are internal. The way to move forward is
to shift the arena of action entirely from behavior and context to consciousness
and its content, character, and control. It is time to pause and ponder on this
word consciousness. Although a "word worn smooth by a million tongues",90 it
has remained the holy grail of our 'thought-tormented age', to borrow a phrase
from James Joyce (The Dead, 1914). In one sense and at one level, consciousness
is everything, a state of being, a substance, a process, a place, an epiphenomenon.
It is at once individual and universal, personal and cosmic. It separates as well
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as unites. Consciousness is what keeps us alive; it is what makes us do what
we do. Although some behaviorists have associated belief in consciousness with
superstition, there is general and broad agreement that we, and perhaps all
sentient beings, have consciousness. Freud said, "What is meant by consciousness
we need not discuss—it is beyond all doubt". And Tolstoy once said that death
is the disappearance of the object of consciousness. When we are alive, it is the
force that drives us, that impels us.
Scholars have long debated about the precise relationship between brain,
mind, and consciousness. Many believe that conscious awareness originates in
the brain alone, more precisely in the neocortex. A growing body of evidence
suggests that the heart plays a particularly significant role in this process. Many
spiritualists say that in addition to the physical heart, we all have a spiritual heart,
and it is this latent force that we need to re-awaken. They call for a heart-based
consciousness, using the heart as the organ of perception. While the physical
heart works to keep us alive, the spiritual heart acts as the center of control in
our spiritual life. The impulse for consciousness-change must come from this
center, and it will come only if the center is awakened. Recent research91 also
indicates that intelligence does not only reside in the brain, but also in the heart.
And that the heart is a conscious organ, and the 'heart' of consciousness exists
in the middle of the chest.92 To achieve one of our long-standing goals to bridge
spirituality and science, we need to turn to the heart, and building such a bridge
must be part of consciousness-change. A critical requisite for consciousnesschange
is to restore the right balance between our mind and our heart. As of
now, it is all about the brain, and it is through this path that science has been
furthering its agenda. And that is the grievous error. With the brain as the sole
navigator, anchor, guide, and beacon, we will never be able to introduce 'higher
dimensions of our consciousness into our awareness', as the Chinese philosopher
Lao Tzu pointedly told us. It is everyday awareness that makes us who we are,
and it is at that level that true change is needed. Native wisdom and nascent
research tell us that the human heart is a source and storehouse of intelligence,
memory, and energy, independent of the brain. It is the pump that keeps us alive;
its regression as a source of intelligence is the beginning of much of what ails us
as modern humans. If, as Einstein cautioned us, the same consciousness that
created a problem cannot solve it, then we need a cathartic consciousness-change
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and the heart must be at its center. The only revolution that can truly transform
the world is that of the consciousness within. Many now believe that it is only by
restoring the heart to its rightful and righteous place that we can cure our ills and
evolve further. This is the true alternative to our frenzied embrace of the machine
as our salvation.
But context too is critical, because whatever happens and whatever we
do in everyday life in the most basic form and at the rawest level are the arms
and ammunition that both sides use in this invisible and soundless war. In many
ways, context is content. If we do good, the forces of good in the war will be
stronger, and if we do bad, the forces of evil will gain an upper hand. Nothing
we do goes in vain or without impact. Context is life, and life is not solid. It is
fluid and constantly opens opportunities, new karma. In life, we pursue many
things and make multiple choices during the course of everyday living, but we
can't know for sure how our choices will affect the world around us. But if we
look closely, almost all hinge upon and impact upon three critical 'Ms': morality,
money, and mortality. Virtually every waking moment, and maybe even in our
sleep, one or the other preoccupies us. Even if our actions belie, we want to be
moral but on our own tricky terms; money-wise, 'having money' has become a
virtue unto its own, and it has reached such a stage that is even okay to make
money off actual murder. Max Weber93 once wrote that "man is dominated by
the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life". Simply
put, money buys whatever the owner of money wants. Money is no longer the
means to the 'rational pursuit of gain'; now any 'gain' sans money is worthless.
Even more, we are now told that money can get you a new body, even eternal life.
And even if we still have to die, money matters even after we die. It is a measure
of how much we love our children. It is by leaving lots of money that we want
to ensure that they will have a 'good life' even if the world around crumbles into
ruin; just as we wish to ensure that we will be able to pay their way to immortality
and interplanetary existence. We will do well to bear in mind Henry Fielding's
warning: Make money your god and it will plague you like the devil.
Today, on the moral scale, we are nosediving towards the nadir—and
money (or rather, in Mark Twain's phrase, our 'rabid hunger' for money) is, in
no small measure, responsible for it. Money has taken on such a mystical, Lordof-
the-Rings-ish quality, that the only way to escape its power is not to have any of
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it. One of the urgent tasks we have on hand is to build a consensus on what we
might call a 'new morality', a new framework for ethical living. At a time when
we are flooded with conflicting choices and technology is raising new moral
dilemmas, we need new guidelines in making the right choices that not only
safeguard the individual's interest but do not endanger humanity and the planet.
Technological pursuit itself, many argue, has to be 'democratized'. The morality
of the morrow must be more social and spiritual than personal and materialistic.
If the present trend continues, much of mankind will remain mortal, while a
small minority could afford immortality.
The way we think through and deal with the three Ms—mortality,
money, and morality—has gone awfully awry and is creating tremendous
negative energy in the world, resulting in untold misery. Unless we are able to
bring about fundamental, drastic, and directional changes in our interface with
them, we cannot bring about any meaningful change in the context of our lives.
The good news is that, if we can correctly orchestrate the changes, it would lead
to a world of good. Money and morality, for example, can do both good and
bad to each other. Morality minus money can be a force for good, and so can
money plus morality. If human life can be freed from the suffocating sway of
money, man will become more moral. If its grip is loosened and if it is properly
channeled, money can become a moral force, and suicides and homicides can
greatly diminish. And if man becomes essentially, if not wholly, a moral being,
then perhaps he will bring to bear a more measured approach to his deep driving
desire for immortality. Such a moral man would desist from taking all sorts of
poorly thought-over devices like merging with the machine, or turning into
bionic hybrids, with 'tiny robots scurrying around his brain to help him think'.
Instead, we should direct that money and mind-power to building the human
and moral infrastructures. The context of human life is vastly changing, primarily
due to technologies like the internet and artificial intelligence. We need a new
framework for a moral life that places greater emphasis on social virtues than
on personal piety, on environmental ethics than on family values. For instance,
adulteration and pollution must be seen as greater threats to the social order than
adultery and prostitution. For a better world or a better human, money must
stop being the sole agenda. The betterment of humanity must have much to
do with both morality and mortality. Death is now not so simple. Many moral
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issues are arising about what to do when one wishes to die or when one is no
longer in a position to decide. And with enough money, we might do to death
what we do to each other: cheat. That is, we could bounce back after a century or
two from deep sleep, and possibly even play with our grandkids of our own age.
These days, everything is up for grabs, available for rent or sale. We want
to take everything, give nothing. We are like a drowning man refusing to 'give'
his hand but prepared to 'take' the hand of the rescuer. Nothing is off the table
to get what we want, not even the womb or virginity; everything has a price and
nothing has any value. We want to be upwardly mobile, not morally upright in
our permanent pursuit of pleasure, power, and profit. The love of money might
still be the root of evil and corrosive corruption in the world, but the real problem
area is the mendacity of the human mind, not money. If money disappears, our
mind will invent something else. We must also remember that money looms large
everywhere because we are empty of any other moral capital—social, cultural, or
spiritual. Money must be made a moral tool, and a part of doing so is to dilute the
exclusive emphasis on how one makes money, and place greater emphasis on how
it is utilized. It does not mean we are ignoring the fact that money weakens every
other social bond; it only means that we cannot wish it away. When everything
is conditioned by money, then the scarcity of money makes everything scarce,
including the very basis of human life. Making it available to the deprived and
needy becomes a high moral act, even if the means and motives are unholy and
the money itself is tainted.
The big money being poured into research on immortality must be
redirected to where it could improve the well-being of billions who die due to
extreme poverty and human negligence. That is critical to winning the war within.
Without contextual-change, there can be no consciousness-change, and without
consciousness-change, we will continue to lose the war within. That is the only
way to steer both man's mindset and earthly behavior towards righteousness and
compassion for all. Both righteousness and compassion are important theological
concepts in many traditions including Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism,
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But they must germinate and sprout within.
The American psychologist and philosopher William James said over a century
ago that 'the greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human
beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer
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aspects of their lives'. But nothing happened since and, as a result, things are
getting worse. The empirical evidence is gaining increasing clarity and credibility
day by day: humanity is poised at a momentous moment, a tumultuous time,
perhaps unlike any other in human history. This generation of humans faces a
quandary that no one in the past has faced. Is mass suicide the 'categorical moral
imperative' of this generation—an action, so as, in the words of Immanuel Kant,
"not to disgrace the dignity of humanity" but to salvage whatever we still can?
For we have reached a stage, in Kant's words, when life's "continued duration
threatens more evil than it promises satisfaction". Let us be clear on what we have
collectively done to the planet: the earth is well on course to turn into an 'orbiting
cinder', and we are showing no signs of waking up from the climate coma. We
have repeatedly proven that we are not hard-wired to learn while doing, and lack
the courage to admit an error and to do the needful to set it right. That is why
we are in this muddle, and the planet in such peril. Has our own willful exit into
the sunset become the only responsible response? The choice before us is not
between going down with the sinking ship or jumping off it. It is how to save the
ship itself. If we want to stick around, then we have to morally mend ourselves
from bottom up. Has the digital age ushered in a new context for moral living?
Some say that modernity has rendered morality redundant. But the point is that
even if we turn the clock back, which is impossible, evil will still be with us and
morality would be in retreat. Morality, in the end, governs how we relate and
treat each other, particularly the weakest and the most vulnerable. Our moral
behavior is inseparable from our overall behavior. The model for such behavior
has to carry the spirit of an old Irish saying about trust: "Mo sheasamh ort lĂĄ na
choise tinne"—you are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.
The man of the moment is simply inadequate and inappropriate to
face the forces his own inventiveness has unbuckled. As he wades into the 21st
century, man is doubly dangerous because he is at once too powerful and too
enfeebled, too ambitious and too adrift, and that is a very ominous condition. To
survive, the human is doing all kinds of things in the name of augmentation of
his body and brain, while actually eroding his own core identity. He now looks
upon himself as a sum of his parts, not holistically, and that 'I' is at the root of
his lure of the machine. So besotted and in such a thrall we are with anything
inorganic, mechanical or electronic, that we have adapted the adage "imitation
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is the best form of flattery" and decided to be one of them. Instead of symbiosis,
what we are doing is to pay the ultimate tribute, offer the total surrender, which
we have denied to the divine. Our imitative admiration for the machine is such
that we have decided to adopt the same fragmented, piece-by-piece, limb-bylimb
approach to human betterment. As a kind of throwback to what is known
as de La Mettrie's doctrine,94 man has come to believe that logically it is but right
that the two—man and machine—should become one for mutual benefit. And
that he thinks is man's destiny and destination, the way to New Age nirvana,
to bypass 'natural selection' and become a god. Then man believes that he can
shed being earth-bound and be able to live in outer space. It is outer space that
modern man is now fixated upon. Going to Mars might soon be like going to the
North Pole now. None of it will solve any of our problems back home and make
man any less of a threat to himself and to all others around. If any, a mechanized
near-immortal man would be more brazen, and the malice in his mind more
metastatic. The real space sojourn is to go into 'inner space', the world within.
A man–machine merger may give us a new 'body', but what we need is a
new consciousness. It is more likely that it will be the machine that will call the
shots, not because it is smart but because we are stupid to try to make it smart.
And it is also possible that, as Elon Musk says, if the machine "has a goal and
if humanity just happens to be in the way, it might well destroy humanity as a
matter of course without even thinking about it. No hard feelings". That is what
humans do to other humans anyway. And then again, the man–machine merger
is but the logical extension of mechanization that started with the Industrial
Revolution, and, in the words of Kirkpatrick Sale95 "the ideal of industry is to
eliminate the living factor, even including the human factor". It is the culmination
of what Andrew Kimbrell calls, "living fully in the technosphere". The only way
to arrest this fatal attraction is to diminish the dominance of our mind in our
consciousness. That change must come in the world within as a part of the broader
consciousness-change. In the world outside, we have to orchestrate a contextualchange
that involves, in particular, the way the three Ms—morality, money, and
mortality—are currently being perceived, understood, and addressed. The three
are interconnected, and have to be dealt with in tandem with each other. For
example, for morality to be strong in the world, money must be weakened; and
for money to be a moral tool, we need a new framework for moral life. Mortality,
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rather our timeless thirst for eternal life, besides running the risk of yielding
unintended consequences, is emerging as a major make-or-break moral issue, a
source of a new dangerous divide and potentially the last straw on the backs of
the poor and powerless, the marginalized and the social left-overs.
The bottom line is that we humans, given the kind of consciousness we
have, are now simply too much of a toxic baggage for nature to carry around
too long. We are blissfully unaware but we are all potential 'suicide-terrorists'.
Mercifully, most of us might live through and remain 'potential'; but you never
know what could be the trigger or tipping point, ideology or inspiration, irresistible
temptations of evil or dark impulses looking for an alibi. The point is not that we
always mean bad, but we do mostly bad despite our best intentions. We can be
a murderer or a martyr or a mahatma, but we have no clue which of these three
will crash through our defenses. We can't get a hold on ourselves because we are
wholly clueless about the fierce fight between the two polar sides of our psyche
to shape and control our personality. Whatever we might call the process—
mutation, metamorphosis, transformation, transcendence, transmutation—
we must give way or go in, even without knowing the answer to the Vedantic
question, "Who am I ?" Because the answer to the question, self-evident as it
may be, is that human intellect is not only incapable of comprehending but fully
capable of subverting it. And if we keep doing what we are doing, we will keep
getting what we are getting. We must now shift the gaze from "What are we?",
to "What should we be?", and work out how to bring that about. It is important
because who we think we ought to be affects how we behave.
The world needs a 'New Man'—a humane human, not a humanoid
human, a new paradigm, persona and personality, a new mindset and a new
heart-driven consciousness. It is only through that way can we bring about a
blend between mind-driven rational intelligence and what in Sanskrit is called
'ritambhara prajna', or heart-centered intuitive intelligence. Technology, versatile
and invaluable as it is, cannot create such a man by blurring the boundary between
man and machine. The marriage or merger might not give us a god but a demon
with godly powers. We are like Oscar Wilde's fisherman who, for the love of the
mermaid, shed his soul on the advice of a witch, and we could face the same tragic
fate in our 'love' for the machine.96 Our 'witch' is technology, and the one we are
prepared to give up to 'marry' the machine is the very essence of being human.
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The fatal attraction for the fisherman was the mermaid's ethereal beauty, and
for us it is eternal life. Without consciousness-change, even radical extension of
longevity can make the human the greatest menace since life began on earth. The
man of the morrow has to be more a spiritual being than a material being, born
within each of us, raised from the rubble of the greatest of all wars—the invisible,
inhouse war in the battleground of the Kurukshetra of our consciousness. What
we must bear in mind is that, in the end, as the Greek philosopher Plutarch said,
"Whatever we achieve inwardly will change outer reality". If we can change what
is happening 'inwardly' in the right direction then we can change outwardly
in the right direction and bring about a better world. And as JK Rowling told
Harvard grads (2008), "We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all
the power we need inside ourselves already". This is the only war that makes it
possible to harness such a power; everything else is a skirmish, a sideshow of the
shadows. Unless we unravel the way to intervene and influence, if not control,
the fortunes of this war, the world will only wind down into a more horrific place
than it is now.
This book presents a mĂŠlange of ideas, options, and insights to make it
possible for the good in us to prevail over the evil in this war within.
101
Chapter 1
Musings on Mankind
The Human Animal
The state of the world today raises deeply troubling questions about the state of man. Now, more than ever, the unrelenting refrain is 'we are the world'. For, the human is the one who is singularly responsible for everything that has gone wrong, and for every crisis the world faces. Man the Unknown, is now Man the Terrible, the most feared beast on Earth, feared both by man and by fellow beasts. While our ancestors have been around for much longer, about six million years, the modern human, Homo sapiens, only evolved about 200,000 years ago. Quite apart from prehistoric civilizations and those inferred from religious texts, human civilization, as we know it, is barely 12,000 years old, and the era of industrialization started in earnest only in the 1800s. Yet, in this blink of time, we have managed to do quite a bit! We have quadrupled our number, in a little over 100 years, to 7.3 billion—which is projected to reach 9.7 billion by the year 2050, and 11.2 billion by 2100. Although new studies reveal a continuing slowdown in the rate of population growth, due to the near-global decline in fertility rates, the matter of greater concern ought to be human behavior, not human numbers. Instead of focusing on how many we will be in the future, what we should ponder over is this: how can a being, to describe whom scriptures slip into superlatives, and science goes into raptures, how could such a being behave so badly and so irresponsibly? Although we humans are just 0.01% of life on earth, man has become the exterminator of all other life on earth, the plague of the planet. In spite of being a diminutive harbinger of death and destruction on his planet, the human animal has been the most aggressive and murderous of all. Douglas Fields (Why We Snap, 2016) elaborates: "Violence exists in the animal world, of course, but on a far different scale. Carnivores kill for food; we kill our family members, our children, our parents, our spouses, our brothers and sisters, our cousins and in-laws. We kill strangers. We kill people who are different from us, in appearance, beliefs, race, and social status. We kill ourselves in suicide. We kill for advantage and for revenge, we kill for entertainment: the Roman
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Coliseum, drive-by shootings, bullfights, hunting and fishing, animal roadkill in
an instantaneous reflex for sport. We kill friends, rivals, coworkers, and classmates.
Children kill children, in school and on the playground. Grandparents, parents,
fathers, mothers—all kill, and all of them are the targets of killing…" It means
that human killing does not stem from our being a primate; it is endemic to our
species. Not only that, we view everything in human terms, anthropomorphize
animals, giving them human attributes and values.
Our attitude towards other forms of life on earth has always been at best
ambivalent. With a broad brush, we can classify that attitude in five ways. One,
we are directly made by the divine as an apex of creation, with the implicit
mandate to deal and dispense with the other forms as we will. Two, we too are
'animals' but, at the same time, we are so uniquely endowed that we are actually
a genre apart. Three, we are a 'higher-animal', and all the rest are 'lower' animals.
Four, we are just like any other animal and what we think 'unique' about us is
nothing but what is necessary to be a 'human animal', and every other creature
has its own 'unique' attributes. Five, judging from what the human has done since
his appearance on earth, we are the 'lowest' of them all. The moral and spiritual
dimensions cut across all five posits. If we are already and actually 'all-divine' or
made in 'His' image, we should be expected to manifest the moral qualities we
commonly associate with the divine: noble, good, kind, compassionate, just, etc.
If we are altogether a different 'make' of an animal, or the highest, one would also
expect our behavior to be qualitatively 'superior'.
Our historical footprints indicate, at least from a moral perspective, as
Mark Twain observed, that we are the lowest animal. Twain wrote, "… for it obliges
me to renounce my allegiance to the Darwinian theory of the Ascent of Man
from the Lower Animals; since it now seems plain to me that the theory ought to
be vacated in favor of a new and truer one, this new and truer one to be named
the Descent of Man from the Higher Animals". And that conclusion, he wrote,
he had arrived at through a 'scientific method' and 'actual experiments' made in
the London Zoological Gardens, and covered many months of painstaking and
fatiguing work. He also noted that covetousness, avarice, indecency, vulgarity,
and obscenity are 'invented' by the human animal.
In fact, we 'humanize' even the divine and feel disappointed when the
divine does not measure up to our expectations. As biologist Jeremy Griffith
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puts it, "…words used to describe human behavior… demonstrate that there is
a psychological dimension to our behavior; that we don't suffer from a geneticopportunism-
driven 'animal condition', we suffer from the psychologically
troubled human condition". Another study shows that our violence operates far
outside the bounds of any other species. A recent study elaborates that "human
beings kill anything. Slaughter is a defining behavior of our species. In addition,
humans do have this high propensity for proactive violence, which is basically
what is responsible for war. We kill all other creatures, and we kill our own". This
killing spree is gaining speed day by day. According to the World Wildlife Fund
(WWF), mammal, bird, fish, and reptile populations have fallen on average by
60% since 1970. The biggest cause of wildlife loss is the annihilation of natural
habitats followed by killing for food. It is not the wrath of God but the greed of
man that is more fearsome. Whatever 'good' we did do was actually saving the
planet from humans. According to a recent study, since the dawn of civilization,
humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants,
while livestock kept by humans abounds. And so dominant and overpowering
is human presence on earth and so affected the planet's environment, geology,
and climate, that the present period in human geological history is now officially
called the Anthropocene era.
That honor, or dishonor, of accelerating extinction that is bestowed
on us is due to what is referred to as the Great Acceleration of human activity,
which is closely connected with the sixth major phase of extinction that we are
witnessing on earth. The way we have decimated and denuded the planet is so
predatory, that, in the words of astronomer Martin Rees, "the darkest prognosis
for the next millennium is that bio, cyber or environmental catastrophes could
foreclose humanity's immense potential, leaving a depleted biosphere" and a
crippled planet. Comparison of mammal numbers of the time before humans
became farmers and the Industrial Revolution began, reveal that just one-sixth
of wild mammals, from mice to elephants, remain. That ruthless destructiveness
equally cripples the human world. And much of all the gut-wrenching things
that shock and distress us are consequences of that very streak of destructiveness
of man, much of it the ruins of our path to progress, prosperity and 'good life'.
It is 'destruction' that matters, no matter who or what is on the way, even our
own selves. Some use 'destruction' to find themselves. In Hermann Hesse's book
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(Siddhartha, 1951), Siddhartha, with his lofty spiritual goal in mind, says "I will
no longer mutilate and destroy myself in order to find a secret behind the ruins".
We do that routinely for sensual purposes. Our response, rather the lack of it, to
clear and present existential threats like the climate crisis, is another form of selfharm.
In fact, self-harm is the signature of our species. We seem to have almost
a fatal attraction to things that harm us, even kill, especially if the substance
is slow-acting and pleasure-giving. Mentally, we keep a distance and think of
anything unpleasant or dangerous as 'this thing over there'. That is part of how we
manage to kill ourselves without even being aware of it. The net result is that we
have become a soft, suicidal and savage species; we shun pain and we seek instant
gratification with little effort; we like short-cuts and quick-fixes; we want luxury
and laziness at the same time; we crave for conveniences and comforts. Our
growing addiction to gadgets stems from being a soft species. It is technology that
has made us soft by giving us an appliance or appendage to every task, even the
most routine, to help us or replace us with. There is a kind of a brewing backlash,
and some parents, while they continue to be consumed by appliances of all sorts,
are convinced that "the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our
children".1 They fear that screen time is going straight to the pleasure centers
of the developing brain. It remains to be seen how the Apples and Samsungs
of the world will react to the trends, because, if kids actually start growing up
without looking at or into screens, then these companies will go out of business.
We must also be aware that if we don't use, or grossly underuse, what nature has
gifted us, then sooner or later, nature will make constructional adjustments to
reflect the reality. For nature abhors both vacuum and redundancy. It may even
transfer our unused capacity and faculties to other species. In fact, that is implicit
in natural selection. And we have in us a stubborn streak that simply turns the
Nelson's eye to anything that is uncomfortable, anything that threatens our ride
on the gravy train. We are now being told that we have just a 12-year window
of opportunity to set right things to avoid a climate catastrophe. But how many
of us are willing to loose any sleep or worry about what might happen after 12
years? We just hope that the experts are wrong or, on a rebound, make merry in
the meantime. The human mind resorts to one of the three 'E's to escape from
a tricky spot: evasion, explanation, and excuse. And that destructive capability
is daily mounting with every technological advance. The actual 'doer' might be
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someone else for a certain horror, but we are all participants, perpetrators and
beneficiaries. The question to ask is not 'who are they?' but 'who are we?'; not
'who is he?', but 'who am I?' This question is the mother of all questions; it is at
the heart of the Advaitic Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy, and of all spiritual
sadhana or pursuit.
We must remember that anything that we make happen in the world
outside, first happens in our own mind, and in our consciousness. Man, at the
morrow of the 21st century, has become so schizoid, suicidal, narcissistic and
nihilistic that one wonders whether he has had evolution or atavism, ascent
or descent, from our animal roots. Comparisons are surely odious, but every
species has its strengths and foibles. With a mix of condescension and conceit,
we tend to think that nonhuman animals are little more than clever automata
with a toolkit of preprogrammed behaviors that respond to specific triggers. In
fact, it is this line of thought that lets us get away with all the unspeakable and
horrendous things we do to animals. The truth is that being human is to be
all-animals; neither higher nor lower. God might have run out of ideas when it
came to creating man, and He might have just jumbled up the attributes of other
animals, and, feeling a little bit sorry, added a bonus—made him in His image.
At different times, we can be any other animal: tiger, elephant, lamb, fox, dog,
wolf, vulture, snake... We never can tell which animal or divine character we
will show up as, and we seem utterly helpless about it. That is the predicament,
promise and peril of 'being human'. That is perhaps why philosopher Peter Zapffe
said that man is a tragic animal. For, a tiger is a tiger, or a dog is a dog, but there
is no such thing as 'man is a man'. Man is exceptional not because he has any
exclusive attribute, but because he has in him all conceivable attributes. There
is one dimension of our existence that bears some attention: it is our claim that
we are a 'spiritual being', implying that other animals are not. One of the things
that signify our sense of insecurity, not superiority, is our almost compulsive
comparison with animals—the refrain that we can and they can't; that we are
and 'they' aren't. Firstly, to judge whether other creatures on earth are 'spiritual'
or not we should have yardsticks and norms to apply, which we do not have.
Everyone has their own understanding of what a spiritual life entails. Secondly,
while other animals do exhibit some of our worst traits like aggression, violence
and even cruelty, they do that as a part of their swadharma, necessary to their
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ordained way of life. In our case, those traits are optional, and not necessary for
our swadharma or survival. And then, we alone are endowed, or blighted, with
the worst of all attributes in nature: malice (wishing ill without any gain), and its
toxic twin schadenfreude (deriving pleasure from others' misery). The closest in
nature that resembles us in this respect, strangely, is in the plant kingdom, the
Pisonia tree. This ruthless tree, found in the tropical waters of the Indian and
Pacific oceans, produces extremely sticky seedpods that get stuck onto any bird
that flies into them, either trapping it in the tree's branches or weighing the bird
down so much on the ground that it is completely unable to fly. The bird usually
starves to death, if it doesn't fall easy prey for crabs or other predators.
What is baffling is why this particular tree alone has this malicious
streak, and what evolutionary purpose its horrible trait serves. It is all the more
surprising when we bear in mind that it takes man mutations through several
generations for any trait to be fully formed and become functional. In that sense,
one can argue that animals minus malice are more 'spiritual' than humans.
Recent research suggests that animals too can have spiritual experiences. We are
all animals, birds of the same feather, but each one having a different blend of the
same menu of components. But, what about divinity, which we have unilaterally
appropriated to ourselves? If animals are 'better' than us in terms of how they live
and die, how can we be divine and not them? The fact is that all sentient beings
are divinely designed and it does not make any difference, if we are good or bad;
in any case, no one is all good or all bad. And nothing can exist without His will,
even evil. The only difference is that other animals live solely by instincts specific
to their nature of life; we, on the other hand, are made of a much broader range,
and live by choice. And that leads to a struggle between our own intrinsic traits,
tendencies, and dispositions. The world as it is, and what each of us does in this
world, are but sparks and shadows of this struggle.
We have expectations of a just and moral world. Man requires meaning in
a meaningless world. And we don't think we are endowed enough to be what we
want to be—an interplanetary immortal being. That is why we are prepared to
commit mass hara-kiri and meld into a machine. Life is now all about 'business'.
Taking a cue from that business strategy for growth, what is called 'M&A'
(merger and acquisition), we want to do the same with our life. We have come
to believe that by merging with a machine—and thus blurring the boundary
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between animate and inanimate matter—we can acquire the elixir of eternity.
Every sentient being, even a worm or ant, is special and exceptional and fulfills a
niche in creation. But truth be told, we are quite a heady mix. Mean, malicious,
and murderous, we surely are, but also, we humans have cooperative and loving
moral instincts. As Charles Darwin said, 'The moral sense perhaps affords the
best and highest distinction between man and the lower animals'. But others
maintain that there are no animals that are as evil as humans. It means that we
have in us what it takes to be the noblest and the meanest, the most virtuous and
vicious. Thus far, we really did not know when which of the two would show
up in our behavior, and what we could do to contain them. Only now do we
realize that the answer is within, that these two opposing sides, good and evil,
along with their respective allies, are waging a full-blown but bloodless war, the
war within. It is the flow and course of this war that manifests in our behavior
as good or bad. Although the good is by no measure gone, it is evil that seems to
be steadily gaining ground in the war. It is this war that Jeremy Griffith alludes
to when he talks about a "battle for the management of our lives… between our
already established, gene-based, naturally-selected, instinctive orientations, and
our newly emerged, nerve-based, understanding-dependent, self-adjusting, fully
conscious mind",2 which, he says, began 2 million years ago when we became
fully conscious.
While this fierce war wages in the human consciousness, the human
condition is being transformed so fundamentally by the sweep and velocity of
cutting-edge technologies that, soon, when we meet one another on the street,
we will wonder if the other person is human. By the end of this century, it
might well become difficult to define what human means, and who among us is
human, and who is a hybrid, or cyborg or android or robot or a monster. The
human could possibly not be the strongest or the smartest, and it is debatable if
that is good or bad from a planetary perspective. If man's dominance on earth
weakens or ends, would the world be more moral and safer if non-humans or
part-humans are in control? Would nature, so mercilessly mauled by man, regain
its resilience and grandeur? Some idealists might call that the ultimate altruism,
while realists could condemn it as foolhardy masochism.
We really don't know, and that is the cause for concern. With all his
endowments and accomplishments, culture and civilization, self-awareness and
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ability to learn, improve and improvise, why is modern man so starved of wisdom,
good judgment, even enlightened self-interest? What makes us so willfully blind
to the obvious, and unable to work together for meeting common challenges?
The question arises: Is it all the effect of the passage of yugas, and the advent of
the Hindu Kali Yuga or Dark Age, when, as foretold, righteousness is said to
be in retreat and evil is both banal and bold? Indeed, paradoxes in the human
context abound. We are both wild and divine, made of the clay of the earth and
cosmic dust, dancing away in deep space. We are a 'self-conscious nothing' (as
Julius Bahnsen said) while being a geological force to reckon with. We are all
human; but few are humane. Most of us think we are virtuous; but few are bereft
of vice. We are all uniquely blessed with the power to know what is important
and what is immediate, what is soothing and what is healing, and yet so few of
us can manifest that capability to make myriads of choices of daily life. Many
of us feel we are moral and good even if, we grudgingly admit, a few times we
got carried away and did things we are not proud of, but very few shrink from
hurting the weak and vulnerable. We think we are peace-loving and non-violent
because we have not physically assaulted anyone, though the truth is we do more
hurt by our mouth than by our hand. We are endowed with the unique power
of reason, viveka (wisdom) and vichakshana (discrimination), but most of us act
with aham (ego), ahankara (arrogance), and agraha (anger). All told, the human,
until he turns into something else, is quite a thing to chew over. That is why man
has been called all sorts of things: the unknown; the species in denial; thinking
animal, begotten by God Himself, organic machine, a work in progress, and so
on. But the bottom line and the baggage we want to shed is the beast.
Empathy—Not a Human Monopoly
Our strongest claim to species-superiority is that we alone are a 'rational', moral,
and compassionate species, with the unique ability to judge right and wrong. But
alas, that too is now being scientifically challenged. For example, primatologist
Frans de Waal has argued that "many of what philosophers call moral sentiments
can be seen in other species…" Even reciprocity and willingness to follow social
rules. According to him, "Dogs are a good example of a species that have and
obey social rules; that's why we like them so much, even though they're large
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carnivores". He also says, "To endow animals with human emotions has long
been a scientific taboo. But if we do not, we risk missing something fundamental,
about both animals and us". Being systematically more brutal than chimps and
more empathic than bonobos, we are by far the most bipolar ape. Our societies
are never completely peaceful, never completely competitive, never ruled by
sheer selfishness, and never perfectly moral. We are told that if a squirrel finds a
baby squirrel without parents, it will immediately adopt it! In chimpanzees and
other animals, we see examples of sympathy, empathy. And, cows choose other
cows as best-friends and spend all their time together.
Making a huge leap forward in this direction, researchers are now reporting
that some primates not only "do each other favors even if there's nothing in it for
themselves", but also feel compassion for us, suffering humans. We see that trait
among domesticated dogs, which we also know mourn for the loss of their loved
masters long after their death; in some way maybe more than humans. The fact
is, as Frans de Waal says, "no one doubts the superiority of our intellect, but we
have no basic wants or needs that are not also present in our close relatives. But
it does not mean that we or any other animal is a 'moral animal'; nor are we evil
incarnate. The truth is that every creature on earth contains within it everything
that is there in nature. Why some species and some among us are 'more or less moral,
or more or less evil' is a different matter. It has much to do with the war within.
What is alarming about modern-day self-destruction is its virtuosity,
range and reach, which is even beyond species-scale, as we have become the preeminent
exterminators of all other forms of life. We are, aided by technology, not
only trying to transform ourselves into an impregnable, immortal species, but
we are also exterminating other species at such a dizzying pace that evolutionary
natural selection is not having enough time to adapt and allow other species to
survive and take their place. We are told that, despite greater public awareness "a
quarter of the world's mammals, a third of its amphibians, more than a tenth of
its birds, a quarter of its warm-water corals, and a quarter of its freshwater fishes
are globally threatened with extinction". Only a third of wild animals now exist
compared to forty years ago, and there are only 3,500 tigers still surviving in the
world today!
Fact is that we have long nurtured a misplaced sense of pride that man
is a one-of-a-kind marvel, that humans are unique and 'exceptional' to all other
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earthly creatures, that modern man is the best there is, or could be. The more
we know about both man and beast, the more it is becoming clear that animals
are more humane than the human, and that man is more animalistic than the
animal. According to Mark Twain, who considered man as among the lowest of
animals, "the passion of revenge is unknown to the higher animals".3 Indecency,
vulgarity, and obscenity are our exclusive traits. Twain also said that, of all the
animals, man is the only one that is cruel. For humans, we should note, cruelty
is not entirely a personality trait and a habit. In other words, even if there is
another way, we choose the cruel way. It is such a 'habit' that when a word
suffices, we use a cutting word. When silence is sufficient, we sneer. When we can
live with condescension, we cannot resist callousness. When rebuke is relevant,
we seek revenge. When envy is pardonable, we unleash malice. Even if the 'ratrace'
is inevitable, we brook no 'prisoners'. To buttress his point, Twain cited
two instances: one in which an English earl organized a buffalo hunting party
in which they killed seventy buffaloes but ate only a part of one, and left the
rest to rot; the other, in which seven calves were left in an anaconda's cage, and
the 'grateful reptile' immediately ate one of them and allowed the rest to live
side by side. We claim we alone have a soul. Whether or not it is true, as James
Herriot puts it (All Creatures Great and Small), "If having a soul means being able
to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of
humans". And quite possibly, as Henry Beston says, "In a world older and more
complete than ours, they moved finished and complete, gifted with extensions
of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear".
The message to carry forward is simple. Whether or not other animals have a
soul, or consciousness or conscience or something far more evolved, is beside
the point. In fact, there is growing evidence they do. Recent research even hints
that consciousness-like phenomena might exist not just among humans or even
the great apes—but that insects might have them, too. Every species is one of a
kind, has a special place in the cosmos. In contrast to the human animal, other
animals meld effortlessly into the landscape of life on earth. Humans do have
some particular abilities that others lack, stemming largely, if not entirely from
our brain, the portion called the neocortex. We really do not know if that, by
itself or more probably in tandem with unknown others, makes us what we are,
the most complex, convoluted, cunning and confused being on the planet. We
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also harbor the most mixed of all bags of emotions, feelings, sentiments, and
passions, and our reactions and responses are also more unpredictable. Most of
them exist as pairs of opposites, like love and hate, kindness and cruelty. Since
they are inherently incompatible, the consciousness itself has become a warring
zone. Scientific research shows that many animals are very intelligent and have
sensory and motor abilities that dwarf ours. Many animals also display wideranging
emotions, including joy, happiness, empathy, compassion, grief, and
even resentment and embarrassment. In many ways, human emotions are the
gifts of our animal ancestors. As a last-ditch attempt at showing our 'superiority',
it is now claimed that we alone have 'self-awareness', defined as metacognition,
the awareness of one's own ability to think. Well, we really do not know. Instead
of endlessly trying to discover or invent cases and reasons for our superiority
over other species, the more prudent way would be to err on the right side and
treat other animals as fellow-animals, and try to bring to bear on them the same
qualities we expect for ourselves from our fellow-humans.
We must shed that skin of superiority not only with regard to other
animals but also in relation to our own ancient predecessors. In fact, a truly
'superior' person has no need to feel superior. That apart, the plain fact is that
there were similar forms of life on earth long before the advent of the Homo
sapiens. Calling ourselves sapiens, the 'wise ones', is either symptomatic of, it is
hard to tell, our self-righteousness, or satirical sense of humor. We are not the
wise species; we are the wild one. While the earliest humans were not conscious
of nature as something distinct from themselves, modern man has convinced
himself that confronting nature is not only his 'natural' right, but also the only
path to human evolutionary 'progress'. He treats nature as he treats another man
over whom he has some hold, with condescension and contempt. Yet, nature,
forgiving and non-discriminatory in showering its grace and generosity, has
tolerated such behavior primarily because much of human activity did not, in
pre-modern times, fundamentally undermine the basis of the cosmic balance.
Our chosen course of confrontation with nature has brought the full tapestry of
life on earth to a perilous point: just one species, among an estimated 8.7 million
species on this one planet, is threatening to cripple nature and make the planet
infertile for life itself. The startling revelation is that the food we eat, the timber
we cut, and the water that man alone draws, amounts to an astounding one-third
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to one-half of the production of our entire ecosystem. The earth's 'biospheres'
are extremely fragile, and depend on myriad interactions and interdependencies
that, once broken, cannot be replaced. Human presence for long has been
both transformative and terminal to nature, but it has never been as bellicose
and esurient as it is today. So much so that human activity has overtaken
nature as the paramount force in shaping the earth's landscapes, atmosphere,
ecology, and all forms of life. The primal question that all this human rampage
brings up is whether life is worth preserving at all, and whether there is no
longer any choice except to extinguish human life altogether. Is that the most
moral of all choices that each one of us, regardless of who or where we are, must
face today?
That, in turn, brings up another thought: what about the 'mind of God'?
Einstein once said that that [the mind of God] 'is all that matters; everything else
is a detail'. We can only hypothesize but we do know that nature as His proxy and
alter ego reflects His 'state of mind'. Whether or not there is any link between
divine design and human activity, a time might well come when nature itself will
have to make a choice it has never really required to make thus far: between its
own integrity, and human audacity. Some still believe that a blend of dĂŠtente and
entente is still possible, and such a harrowing choice might not be needed yet.
Even if it were so, the point of no return is clearly not too far away. This does not
mean that nature is all moral and we are all amoral (if not 'evil'), or that nature
is peaceable and pure, and humans are depraved and debauched. What we must
never let slip from our conscious-awareness is that what sustains the order in
the living, incarnate cosmos and creation is what is called dharma in Hinduism,
our 'moral-base'. Dharma is impossible to translate; it is many-splendored and
encompasses many virtues. But if one has to identify one single variable, it has
to be justice, not mercy. If you err and commit a wrong, you must pay for it,
you must be punished, no matter who or how mighty you are. That is why, in
Hindu epics, all divine avatars killed the adharmic or evil people, who were not
shown any mercy. In fact, that included those who were personally dharmic
or virtuous, but were obligated to opt for the wicked, like Bhishma and Karna
in the Mahabharata. All struggle, whether in the far corners of the world or in
the deep depths of our inner being, is for the moral high ground. Any struggle
implies two opposing sides: we are all made of a cocktail of dichotomies such
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as self/other, mine/yours, good/bad, love/hate, kindness/cruelty, indifference/
compassion, worldly life/spiritual life… and trying to lead a moral life is part
of the effort to extend greater support to the better half, our loving side, than to
the bitter half, our hateful side, within and outside. Here, it is important to draw
attention to a subtle but important point. All dichotomies (dwandas, as they are
known in Sanskrit) are 'real' at a relative level. They are 'unreal' in absoluteness,
that which the Upanishads call purnamidam,4 and Buddhism calls sunyata or
emptiness.
We need to accept and embrace ourselves in our entirety, not selectively
as we do, for the simple reason that who we are is precisely what nature needed
us to be, for its own completeness and fullness. None of us is an accident or an
aberration. Instead of self-acceptance, so many suffer from self-loathing and that
is responsible for so much of violence and unhappiness in the world. Unable to
accept, we turn on others as a reflux. When this 'better-bitter-balance' is severely
out-of-balance in the mass of mankind, Lord Krishna avers in the Bhagavad Gita,
God will intervene to restore a reasonable dharmic 'balance'. But it still does not
mean that 'evil' will be, or should be, erased from the earth. That is because there
is nothing intrinsically and absolutely good or bad, positive or negative, and it
is the intent and purpose that makes the difference. Even the smallest, tiniest,
insignificant happenings in the world have an effect on this 'struggle', a struggle
that has no end, despite periodic divine intervention.
The irony is that while man now claims to be the master over other
forms of life and nature, he is too willing to surrender it all to a contraption
made by his own mind. Although its import and implication is wholly hazy at
this time, what is happening is this: modern man has convinced himself that to
fulfill his destiny, he must be at war with nature, mate with the machine, and
attain a kind of existence that will be what is being dubbed as Life 3.0.5 His
new creation, the machine, promises to acquire a 'mind' of its own, and mimic
human brains in pace and processing capability.6 For all we know, it might then
outclass us, and possibly, even be able to have sex with an other of its kind, or
with humans, like in The Matrix, if it so chooses, to evolve and spawn a superior
species. The human of the present kind, if anyone still manages to linger and live,
will then be an adjunct or acolyte of the machine. And by then, humans will be
imitating machines to be more successful in life. In any event the nature of our
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nexus with technology in general, and with the machine in particular, will be
the most fateful in human life, perhaps even more than between the divine and
human. The euphoria is such that technology will, according to transhumanists
and technophiles, allow Homo sapiens to discard the legacy of our evolutionary
past, usher in the 'naturalization of heaven', eliminate aversive experience from
the living world, and completely eradicate the biological substrates of suffering,
and replace malaise by the biochemistry of orgasmic bliss.7 And the divine
connection could become marginal to human life. Intelligent machines would
then be the new godhead, perhaps, the very avatar of Vishnu prophesied in
Hindu scriptures to contain the rise of evil on earth in this Kali Yuga or Dark
Age.8 Whether the machine will turn out to be a 'Vishnu' or a villain, the ground
reality is that the rate at which machines are evolving in capability may far
exceed the rate at which society is able to deal with them. Moreover, as
philosopher Herbert Marcuse noted, technology creates new, more ingenious
and effective, even more pleasant forms of social oppression, making classical
totalitarian control through terrorization unnecessary. It obliterates the
opposition between private and public existence, and between individual and
social needs. The wish to preserve life as we know it, even at the cost of dying, is
quintessentially human and timeless. In an elemental sense, we are all dying all
the time, but what we want to avoid is immediacy and inevitability. And dying,
as Sylvia Plath said, is "an art, like everything else". We can leverage it to liberate
us from the restraints of the realities of living. Mark Twain, for instance, begins
his autobiography with the words, "I speak from the grave rather than with my
living tongue, for a good reason: I can speak thence freely". We are encoded with
the determination to remain exactly as we are, forever; and having hit a wall so
far in that quest, we now feel that we have finally found not only the path but
even a scientific short cut... We are so mesmerized by our cognitive creativity
that we almost instinctively look for 'technical' solutions to complications
created by that very technical capability, whether it is the nuclear arms race or
climate change or artificial intelligence, something that Einstein foresaw and
warned against.9
Technology is not static—it is a showpiece of human ingenuity. It can
take any form we want it to. So then, why does the ever-increasing number of
technological devices around us give us so little contentment and confidence?
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What we need now is not so much 'technical' empowerment but moral
empowerment, not technological fixation but ethical, endogenous capacitybuilding.
In an ironic twist, those who are rooting for the machine say that it is
the only way man can be more moral, that once the machine becomes self-aware
and self-learning,10 free from human programming, it might be able to more
judiciously distinguish between what is 'good' and what is 'bad', and act more
humanely—not humanly. With full command over what machines do, it will
be free from one of our age-old helplessnesses: as a good man, why do I do bad
things? The essential point to ponder over is that the value of any life lies in the
kind of choices the 'being' (whether it is wholly human or hybrid or humanoid)
makes with it, not only with what intention, but with what result and how
that result affects others. That point now is even more critical, since science
has exponentially expanded the sweep and span of human choice-making. We
might soon be able to 'choose our baby the same way we pick a new outfit from
a catalogue'.11 And we can choose whether or not to continue to live, if we want
to end our life, choose when to die, and choose if we want to come back, and
if so when… If we can do all such magical deeds while still being human, why
then do we need a machine as our mate? And what could possibly be the yield of
such a union? Some say that our decision to dissolve into machine is perhaps the
most enlightened and humanitarian of all decisions man has ever made, precisely
because it could entail our early extinction. But, what is the expected pay-off
of this mating or cross-breeding? Is it a signal that man has finally given up on
himself and on God? And is the perennial aspiration of God-realization now
going to be off the human agenda? Is it to save the human from implosion and
extinction? Is it to give us jelly-fish-like immortality? Or is it really to unwittingly
pave the way for the advent of a morally more mature form of life? What is
the expected outcome here? What it translates into is that we will no longer be
burdened or bothered by flesh, blood, or bones, but be just a scan of our brain
on a machine, enabling it to will any form, and then live ever after. It is being
predicted that before the end of this century we will be able to upload our brains
to the 'cloud' or internet, essentially preserving our minds as a form of software
for eternity. For long, human longing has been to rise above the animal nature;
now it is to rise above human nature itself. It means we are prepared to, de facto,
give up 'being human' to be something different—but what that should be, we
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don't think is important enough to know or at least be clear about. It raises a
most fundamental question: what constitutes the core of being human? Is it our
physical appearance and body build, our minds and our capacity to think, or is
it our feelings and capacity to love or to hate, or is it something less tangible, our
values and character, or is it the soul or spirit?
The brain is 'what makes me me'. In the words of the acclaimed
neuroscientist, David Eagleman, "you are your brain". Logically, therefore, to
understand human nature we only need to understand the human brain. If
that be the case, why do we want to go beyond the brain for what we want to
get from life? The answer again is the ease of convenience, which is what most
millennials and the so-called Generation Y want in life. By opting to mate our
'brain-selves' with a machine, we probably hope to beget a super-intelligent and
immortal generation—which can colonize another home in the cosmos, when
our Earth, in about a hundred years or so, becomes unlivable. Such a storyline
for so complex a phenomenon as human nature is not only simplistic but, even
more, it paralyzes us from looking into the root causes. It is not just the chemistry
of the brain, but that desire to cater to every craving, no matter how harmful it
could be to the body, mind, society, and the planet. If there is one thing that we
must do urgently, it is to move away from this storyline. When it is becoming
increasingly clear that the kinds of thoughts, perceptions, misconceptions, and
biases that the brain germinates, incubates, and nourishes, are not necessarily
the kind that give us an accurate picture of reality, it is cockeyed to put all the
eggs of humanity in the basket of the brain. And that, we must note, carries a
consequence with a thick theological tone. What we have steadfastly denied to
God—prapatti or saranagati, or complete surrender, as it is called in the Hindu
Vaishnavite tradition—we are now prepared to offer on a platter to the machine,
just when science has made us more mighty than ever before. While earlier we
used to measure up a mechanism against man, now in a weird twist, we measure
ourselves against a contraption like the computer. Some say that in about twenty
years, there will be no such thing as a computer, since there will be nothing that
is not a computer. An ironic reversal of roles, "We're like the thing that used to
be like us. We imitate our old imitators, in one of the strange reversals in the long
saga of human uniqueness".12
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The Mood of the Moment
As a result, most people feel deep within, even if only fleetingly, a sense of despair,
that things are not what they ought to be, that life has become both shallow and
surreal, materialistic and meaningless, and that no man can be trusted in any
relationship. We wonder if the 'problem' is an endemic 'design' deficiency or an
exogenous 'development' default. Framed differently, are we made that way or
have we made ourselves this way? Put in theological terms, is it the machinations
of a 'mischievous' God or the masterwork of a malevolent mind? In more
practical parlance, would man have been a 'better being' had he been left to his
own 'nature', wit and whim, without the influence of any external 'knowledge',
religious, metaphysical or ethical? And finally, in a strategic and spiritual sense—
what should be the direction of our travail? This is a critical niche of inquiry,
having a vital bearing on human behavior and destiny. Whatever resources,
faculties and energy we can muster, on what should they focus upon? We know
the problems; but what should we do in a way that is socially compatible and
spiritually progressive? This is not a new dimension or debate in the history
of human thought. For long, scriptures, sages, mystics and philosophers have
grappled with it. Of late, science has joined the fray. It has acquired new or
added urgency because the crisis has reached a critical point and the stakes are
escalating almost daily. We know that we begin our life with a built-in 'handicap';
a design-default, one might term it. Our sense organs are designed to let us relate
with the outside world; and we are told that we use but a small percentage of
their potential. That has made us who we are. Aldous Huxley said that 'man is
intelligence in servitude to his organs'. What is 'inside', what goes on 'down
there' is the deepest mystery but it is what determines our behavior.
We must never forget that all through the trials and travails of life, our
beliefs don't make us a better person; it is our behavior that is crucial. We use the
words 'belief ', 'disbelief ', 'unbelief ' and 'non-belief ' to signify the state of the
certitude or uncertainty of our knowledge. 'Belief ' has come to be the defining
divide in life and that is why we put the whole of humanity in two warring
camps: believers and non-believers in God. 'Belief ' is personal; behavior is social
and spiritual and the link between man and God. Finally we are judged—indeed,
we should judge ourselves—on how we view and treat other living beings, and
how we weigh in their well-being, their rights as equal co-creations of God,
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entitled to the same needs and privileges that we claim for our own selves, in
every choice and decision that we make. No man deserves all that he wants; and
when we begin to think that we alone are entitled to something, we begin to
exploit others. Entitlement can slip into 'embezzlement'.
We must bear in mind that every choice we make speaks more about
ourselves than about the choice itself, and by our choice, we construct what we
most fundamentally are. God is not unduly worried about how we treat Him in
our mind; He will make up his mind on how we have lived, based on how we made
a difference to the lives of His fellow-creations. Because, whether we like it or not
we do make a difference; it is impossible not to do so; even indifference can make
a difference. There is no neutrality in life. The question is, to what effect? Have
we, through the myriad things we do, voluntarily or involuntarily, made the lives
of others better or worse, made their burden lighter or heavier? That is the only
thing that matters, here and hereafter. Although what we do matters, it is also
only a visible extension of what goes on 'down there', without our knowledge or
control. The body is merely a medium and the instruments are the sense-organs.
Unless we can somehow get a peep beneath, get to know what happens before
we speak or act, we cannot change our behavior. Many a thing we attribute to
the 'inside'—brain, mind, heart, soul, spirit, conscience, consciousness, and so
on. Man needs all those to work in symmetry for a harmonious life. Each has a
part to play and the interplay between these gets translated into behavior. That
inside is where thoughts originate, feelings are formed, emotions coalesce, words
germinate and actions incubate.
All scriptures and wise men have emphasized the need for a clean 'inside'
life, in order to live a life in harmony with the outside world. The Maitri
Upanishad eloquently advises: "Let a man strive to purify his thoughts. What
a man thinketh, that he is: this is the eternal mystery. Dwelling within himself
with thoughts serene, he will obtain imperishable happiness". Gandhi echoed
the same, "aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well".13 The
Buddha said that 'with our thoughts we make the world'. Emerson said that
'thought is the blossom; language the bud; action the fruit behind it'. Descartes
famously uttered, "Je pense, donc je suis" (I think, therefore I exist). So, who,
then, is the thinker? According to the Kena Upanishad, the thinker is the 'Self ',
described as 'bodiless within the bodies, as unchanging among changing things',
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the divine spark within all living beings, which is not different from the Divine,
which the Upanishads call Brahman. The Kena Upanishad further says, "the Self
is in the ear of the ear, the eye of the eye, the mind of the mind". The basic
premise is that if we want a certain fruit we should sow the right seed. We cannot
harbor impurity inside and expect purity to permeate outside. Hindu scriptures
advocate three types of purity for a spiritual person: purity of consciousness
(chitta suddhi); purity of nerves (nadi suddhi); and purity of body (bootha suddhi).
Our 'within', the theater of our life experiences, is like a blender; what comes out
depends on not only on the ingredients but also their relative weight. The brainmind
has come to occupy a huge chunk of the 'inner space' and that, in turn, has
distorted human society.
Governance Deficit
Human society has never been able to arrange, organize, and manage its affairs
in an orderly and harmonious manner. Whatever is 'unique' about the human,
in relation to other animals, the paradox is that we alone need 'governance', and
we alone are utterly ungovernable. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, we cannot
repose "confidence in man", and we need to "bind him down from mischief in
chains". But we never found a way without turning the chains into suffocating
shackles. What we have ended up with is that man is more unruly than ever; man,
more than ever, needs to be restrained, and all the governance experiments we
have tried—from City-state to Nation-state—have fallen far short. Indeed, they
have had a perverse effect. This has led to what is often referred to as 'governancedeficit',
which afflicts man at once internally and externally. We are in the dark
about what goes on inside, and have no control about what we do outside. Both
lurch with a momentum of their own. But life hurtles on, without a pause either
for the query or the answer.
The sacred word says that the solution is to explore the deepest depths
of our own being, to conquer our internal enemies, to tame our dark passions,
to tap into the nobler side of our consciousness. Vedanta expands it and says
that to become and behave wholly human, we should know or realize, at the
deepest level of our awareness, that we are wholly divine. Science has a oneword
answer to all human personality problems: the 'brain'. By striving to use it
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better, and by dissecting and diving into its depths, science believes that the brain
will empower us to fashion new technologies like nanotechnology to eventually
help us become invincible, invisible, and immortal. Various technologies make
us believe that we can live outside 'normative nature' and give rise to what are
called 'revenge effects'. These are not merely side effects, but are consequences of
technology (or of human interaction with the technology) that partially negate
the advantage that the advance was supposed to bring.14 Although in one sense
all technology is enhancement of one or the other of our natural abilities, what
is being attempted is qualitatively different. We are attempting to overcome our
biological limitations when we try to cultivate x-ray vision, and exponentially
increased the 'speed of cerebration'. This raises an ethical question: is there any
point at which human 'enhancement' is just wrong? Or are these just tools like
any other—and part of our inevitable future?
Helping: When Joy Comes Calling
The subtle secret, the eternal enigma of nature and life is this: we cannot control
events, but we can control our responses to events. We cannot choose our destiny;
but we can choose how we face up to it. How we react to what happens is more
important than what happens. Eknath Easwaran says, "It's a perplexing paradox:
so long as we try to make ourselves happy, life places obstacles in our path. But
the moment we turn away from ourselves to make others happy, our troubles
melt away. Then we don't have to go looking for joy; joy comes looking for us".
We cannot do much about our own suffering, but we can do a lot to help others
to absorb their suffering; when it is reciprocated, our suffering too dissolves like
snow in summer sunshine. Help is service by another name. We should try to,
in Swami Vivekananda's words, "look upon every man, woman, and everyone
as God. You cannot help anyone, you can only serve: serve the children of the
Lord, serve the Lord Himself, if you have the privilege". We can do very little to
avoid getting hurt, but a lot more not to hurt others. A huge hinge of human
suffering is built into the very sinew of human society; individual human beings
instinctively act in self-serving ways that are not conducive to the commonweal
or to his spiritual growth. That becomes easier if we remember that what 'others'
want from life is the same as what we yearn for—harmony, love, meaning, peace
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of mind, good health. As Raoul Vaneigem (The Revolution of Everyday Life, 1967)
puts it, the reality of our life is that "we seem to live in the State of variety, wherein
we are not truly living but only in appearance: in Unity is our life: in one we are,
from one divided, we are no longer… While we perambulate variety, we walk
but as so many Ghosts or Shadows in it, that itself being but the Umbrage of the
Unity". One of the classic dilemmas in human life arises from the situation in
which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally, will eventually
deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is transparently apparent that it
is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen. Our consciousness can
only grasp what is demonstrably—and dramatically—of utility to us, and the
awareness that that leads to long-term detriment eludes us.
The current crisis of climate change is an illustration. Man, in the space
of a handful of millenniums, has drastically changed the composition of the
atmosphere—which now contains much more carbon dioxide—and of the
oceans, which are more acidic because more of that carbon dioxide is dissolving
into them. And, because carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, we are changing
the climate by melting glaciers and raising sea levels. At least 75% of the world's
land surface has been modified by humans. It is human activity that is reshaping
the planet's rocky material—mining and other excavation shifts four times the
amount moved naturally by glaciers and rivers. As the world's population has
grown from 2.3 billion in 1950 to over 7 billion today, some 3 billion hectares of
the world's original forest cover—nearly half—has been lost. The world's forests,
the lungs of the earth, have shrunk by some 40% since agriculture began 11,000
years ago. Three-quarters of this loss occurred in the last two centuries, as land
was cleared to make way for farms and to meet human demand for wood. The
World Resources Institute (WRI) reports that, of the forests that still stand,
"the vast majority are no more than small or highly disturbed pieces of the fully
functioning ecosystems they once were". There are now more trees on farmland
than in forests, and if we were to weigh all of earth's land vertebrates, 90% of the
total would be made up of humans and the animals we have domesticated. And
yet much of the world is caught between climate zealots and climate skeptics.
Only human 'intelligence' is capable of quibbling about what it all means. On
matters not even comparable in gravity and enormity, we say 'prudence is better
part of valor', or 'when in doubt, err on the safer side'. But when it comes to the
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very survival of the species, we opt for complacency and risk self-destruction. We
assume that the earth's resilience and replenishment capacity is endless, and that
it will always bear our burden and backstop human life. But we should not forget
that the earth's environment has not always been so benign, and, for roughly half
of the earth's history, the atmosphere lacked oxygen and was replete with noxious
gases, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and methane.
Another human flaw is our chronic, if not congenital, inability to
harmonize individual interest and common good, the immediate and the
important, the beauty and the beast, and most of all, the mind and the heart.
While Vedanta says that it is so because we fail to recognize that we are parts of
the Cosmic One. Modern thinkers like ecologist Garrett Hardin (The Tragedy
of Commons, 1968) wrote that 'ruin is the destination towards which all men
rush, each pursuing his own interest, in a society that believes in the freedom
of the commons'. The truth is that the myriad things that define life are such
that almost none of them are possible without coming into conflict with other
things equally necessary for our lives, and often for other lives. That means that
at every step of our way in life we leave behind, as it were, a 'dead body' or a
'wounded soul'. Indeed no karma, or action, is possible without any kind of
papa or sin; without causing some sort of harm to another life, perhaps even
killing. That, in the holistic sense, is another dimension of interconnectivity and
interdependence of all life—and death—on earth. To be alive is to live for others;
the only way to get 'relief ' is to make our life useful to others. In every death
we also 'die' because the 'dead' were a part of the holistic 'We'. And in the 'life'
of other people we also live. We are partners in the success and failure, triumph
and tragedy of everyone else. We abhor death, fear death and profess ahimsa
but it is at best an anthropocentric view; the fact is we cannot move from any
place to any place, perhaps not even breathe or till without some killing. While
'killing' is deemed as the ultimate crime and a sin, the fact is that we inflict
more lasting pain and suffering on others through our very way of life. One
might even say we exaggerate 'killing' and underrate other forms of harm, hurt,
and injury. Non-lethal physical violence can last a lifetime. Subtler forms of
violence like exploitation, humiliation, abuse, neglect, indifference to injustice
can cause deeper and more sustained damage and hurt. Even imposing our will
on others, even if well-intended, is violence. By that test and standard, few, if
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any, have been non-violent. Even Gandhi, the apostle of ahimsa, was, in that
sense, 'violent' as he wanted his wife and children to do what he did or follow
what he said, whether or not they were convinced. 'Self-righteousness' is another
implicit form; it does violence to other's views, beliefs, and sensitivities. Likewise,
intolerance and inequity are alternative forms of violence.
We are also privy to different forms of 'collective violence', social, political,
religious, and economic. All it means is that even with the best of intentions
and due diligence and care we cannot but impair the lives of other people, not
to speak of other creatures. Clearly our capacity to hurt others is immense.
Scriptures are themselves replete with violence. Acts of violence are sometimes
not only condoned, they are even celebrated. That is the noble premise behind
a Jain ritual—Samvastsari pratikraman (ritual for washing away sins). Jains seek
forgiveness from all the creatures whom they may have harmed knowingly or
unknowingly, by uttering the phrase Micchami dukkadam, which translates
as, "If I have caused you offence in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in
thought, word or deed, then I seek your forgiveness". Dag Hammarskjold wrote,
"Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who 'forgives' you—out of
love—takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness,
therefore, always entails a sacrifice".
We must also touch upon another variable that has greatly deepened
and sharpened human suffering. It springs from the age-old clash between two
human impulses: cooperation and competition. In all life they coexist, and while
for much of our history we were able to maintain some kind of detente, during
the past few centuries our competitive drives have overwhelmed the cooperative
imperative. Competition, confrontation, and conflict have come to dominate
daily human life. Cooperation is necessary to achieve any objective beyond the
capability of an individual, but it needs to be backstopped by harnessing the
competitive energy. History has shown that a society based purely on cooperation
(the Marxist model) or competition (the laissez-faire model of capitalism) is
unsustainable. One might even say that we are 'naturally' more competitive than
cooperative; it drives every aspect of human life. That is why we need collective
restraints and that is necessary not only to contain human avarice but also to
restrain human hauteur exemplified by our onslaught on nature. Our unbridled
competitive impulses have also aggravated global suffering. Although we talk of
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competition as the essence of the 'free market', in truth there is nothing 'free'
or even 'fair' about markets, or anything 'competitive' about competition. We
all love oligarchy, monopolies, and domination; we brook no rival, not only in
matters of market or money, but even in matters of power, love, and sex. Our
instinct is to possess something or someone so completely and exclusively that
they cease to exist. We want to prevail in every situation and that necessarily
makes someone else suffer. In the current fierce competitive culture, there are
few winners and many losers, and many, often the majority, are discarded,
marginalized, impoverished and denuded of their due as human beings. That
'suffering', which affects our self-image, is more intense than 'natural' suffering.
That leads to anger, envy, hatred and violence. It is not only the body that suffers;
it is also the psyche. History has shown that the human mind cannot 'humanely'
handle power over others. It is apt in the case of economic power, the capacity
to impose one's will over others through economic means. The root of social
economic power is the idea of 'private property'; the sense that one can possess,
own, monopolize a piece of property, of land. Bertrand Russell wrote, "It is
preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from
living freely and nobly" (Principles of Social Reconstruction, 1917). And Sigmund
Freud said, "By abolishing private property one takes away the human love of
aggression". As someone reminded us, 'even the tiniest piece of land is four
thousand miles deep, and that is quite a bit of ownership'.
Till recently, man was content with changing the inorganic environment;
now he is changing and enhancing himself. In a sense, the trend started with
the direct method: when the ape-ancestor first used a stone, he was modifying
his bodily structure by the inclusion of a foreign substance. A hallmark of
technology-driven culture is speed; we want to do everything, go everywhere,
attain everything in the swiftest possible way, in the shortest possible time.
But we also know that speed kills and shortens life. Yet, we are powerless. The
Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu wrote a long time ago that 'to a mind that
is still, the whole universe surrenders'. Trotsky aptly summed up this aspect of
human nature: 'As a general rule, man strives to avoid labor. Love for work is
not at all an inborn characteristic: it is created by economic pressure and social
education. One may even say that man is a fairly lazy animal. It is on this quality,
in reality, that is founded to a considerable extent all human progress; because
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if man did not strive to expend his energy economically, did not seek to receive
the largest possible quantity of products in return for a small quantity of energy,
there would have been no technical development or social culture. It would
appear, then, from this point of view that human laziness is a progressive force'.
We may not know what we want to do or where we want to go; only that it must
take as little effort and time as possible. Such is our obsession with speed that
we might actually be accelerating the speed of our extinction, far ahead of what
nature might have intended.
We might soon, if we are to believe the prophecies of some futurologists,
'sleep-walk' into a future that blurs the boundaries between living and nonliving
beings, and our bodies and the rest of the world. It is being said that
'our technological progress has by and large replaced evolution as the dominant,
future-shaping force' and that we, humans, have 'become optimized, in the
sense that we now control the future'. Some researchers peering far, far into
future say that 'as genetic engineering becomes the norm, man will take control
of the human form away from natural evolution and adapt biology to suit his
needs'. This includes, apparently, an ever-expanding forehead to accommodate
his growing brains, implanted communication devices, and eyes so large people
will resemble tarsiers. Some others say the human by then might well resemble
'cyborgs (or robots) imbued with machine mind'. Many are worried if humanity
can survive this century. In fact, some scientists say, "the ability to really muck
about in the human genome is only decades or centuries, not millenniums,
away".15 A millennium can take its time; century is what counts. Disturbing
as this is, the more practical question is what should we, as individuals whose
lives have a ripple-effect, do to mend our own 'behavior', to find peace within
and harmony outside? Whatever man might look like far in the future is not
the matter; how he behaves is the rub. There has always been a chasm between
our sacred thought and secular behavior, and between scientific solutions and
ordinary lives. With the suffocating sweep of materialism on the one hand, and
the growing zeal of rabid religiosity on the other, the two chasms have widened
but the lines between the two have got blurred. In this logjam, through this
impasse, how do we break through, get a grip on our rudderless lives, our windlike
minds and our wolfish behavior?
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Packaged Pleasures
To get that 'grip' we need to get a grip on our mind. Our mind is elusive but our
brain is tangible. The human brain, we must remember, evolved over almost 90%
of human evolution, to adapt to the life lived by humans of that time, whom we
derisively describe as 'hunter-gatherers'. In fact, the 'modern man' is no different.
The men of that age hunted and gathered for survival and subsistence, for food.
We do the same… the quarry being pleasure, profit, and power. Man has always
craved for pleasure and shunned pain. What is new is the change in the character
of modern-day pleasure. It has become what Gary Cross and Robert Procter
described as a "revolution—as significant as anything that has tossed the world
over the past two hundred years": packaged pleasure.16 Modern technology has
tectonically impacted upon human consumption and sensory exposure and
experience. We not only ceaselessly crave for pleasurable experiences but also want
them to be immediate and without any time-lag between event and experience,
sensation and satiation. We want to grab and gorge on sight, 'often to the point
of grotesque excess'. What is new, as Cross and Proctor point out, is that while
pleasure was born in paucity and is sustained by relative scarcity, that context has
fundamentally changed. The 'modern consumer culture', or 'packaged pleasure
revolution', reinforced by the gale of globalization, has upset the 'ancient balance
between desire and scarcity'. It has led to an unbridled onslaught on finite natural
resources, which is like the 'earth eating itself to death'. Our gluttony for goods
and services is also leading to a breakdown of traditional moral norms and to
greater tolerance of tyranny and oppression.
We have a hunter's instinct to ruthlessly prevail, to subdue and control
other people, many times sans any self-gain. The one difference is that despite
being 'hunter-gatherers', those humans were more in balance than the modern
ones. The parts of the brain that were responsible for 'negative' emotions were
largely in a state of symmetry in relation with the parts in the brain that were
the focus for 'positive' emotions. In the hunter-gatherer era, 'negative' emotions,
which were centered inside and around the amygdala in the brain, were activated
by perilous situations of real physical danger, such as when a tiger chased the
human. The 'positives'—bonding, affection, empathy, and sharing—were also
present in those times, but the 'negatives' were more needed and therefore
were stronger. Today, those same neurological mechanisms are still ensconced
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in our brains, but our circumstances have changed unrecognizably. One of the
consequences of the growing hold of the negative forces, or in the words of Adam
Smith, 'unsocial passions' like greed, jealousy, malice, hatred, intolerance, lust
for wealth, sex and power—the false gods—is that we have muted, in the words
of Martin Luther King Jr., the 'inaudible language of the heart'. The upshot is
that our stress responses are ill-adapted to the modern living context; the same
reactions that a hunter-gatherer had to the threat-perception of a lurking predator
are now triggered when somebody cuts in front of you on the highway, as well
as in many other examples in the daily life of today's chaotic, complex society.
It is these unconscious processes, what are described as 'thinking below the level
of awareness', that propel us to think, speak, and act in multiple ways. What we
don't know is what exactly goes on deep down there—'inside'—that makes us
think in a certain way, say a particular word or behave in some way. All animals
are as autonomous and interconnected as we are, although we label ourselves as
the only 'social animal' and 'rational being'. One of man's great failings is that
he has never found a way to realize, recognize, and organize himself as a member
of an interdependent and interconnected collective community, where the wellbeing
of other members need not be at the cost of his own. We have never been
very good, Marx notwithstanding, at deep social thought—how to participate,
share and optimize social 'capital'. On the other hand, despite our breathtaking
contemporary connectivity—even boasting platforms like Facebook, Twitter,
LinkedIn—we are assiduously eroding that very capital. Social media is powerful
but double-edged. It can shatter social barriers but also strengthen sectarianism.
It can foster brotherhood of kindred spirits but it also enables us to hide our true
personality, cheat others and project a false image. The irony, and tragedy, is that
no man who ever lived before had the means to bring about human synergy,
the whole becoming more than the sum of the parts. And no one before us has
wasted that opportunity more than we have.
That being said, it is easy to point the finger at technology and digital
devices, but this is another ruse of our mind: to throw a red herring, a
diversionary tactic. The problem is 'within', not within any appliance. What
lures so many to suicide is not the smartphone; often they have one, but if they
do call, they get to talk to a machine; it is because no one cares to give a shoulder
to cry upon. It is because of what happens within, not because of social media,
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that our most charitable view of a fellow-human is as a 'necessary nuisance' or
an 'opportunistic option'; more often, an irritant-fly to be eliminated. If our
'within' is cleansed, the very same devices can become bridging or bonding social
capital, and we can turn that very 'problem' into a platform, a launching pad,
for human brotherhood, man's eternal yearning. Our decision making, despite
our much-hyped 'surgical' analytical capability, has never been our real strength.
You may say that we are most afflicted with what experts call cognitive errors,
which are systemic and spontaneous; the choices we make, generation after
generation, are seldom innocuous, more often toxic. We can only mend the
process marginally, because it is the source that is sullied. For, a certain seed can
only yield a certain fruit. It is the brain that is the source and however magical,
plastic, and organically adaptive it might be, it cannot, so to speak, change its
spots. We know precious little about the processes at work before an animal
barks or growls, grunts or attacks; but what seems to set us apart is that while
other animals' insides are largely a 'collection center', for humans it is also a
cauldron. 'Other animals' are largely predictable; humans singularly are not.
Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with
the surrounding environment but we humans deliberately do not. That is why
we are more erratic and dangerous than other animals; one never can tell how
humans will, individually or collectively, react to a given temptation or common
provocation. People make commitments—to a nation, faith, calling or loved
ones—and endure the sacrifices those commitments demand. Often this involves
fighting against natural evolutionary predispositions. One of our predispositions
that is at the root of much of our misery and suffering is divisiveness, our view
of everything as opposites, that the good of one is necessarily bad for the other.
In short, we view life as a zero-sum journey, which we can only survive at the
expense of another person. That must change if we are to stop killing each other
at every opening and opportunity. But that must come from 'within'. We have
for long turned to scriptures for moral guidance but, whether objectively we can
agree or not, we cannot altogether ignore the fact that there is a growing sense
in some 'intellectual' sections, that 'it is not possible for the religious doctrines
derived from holy books to be the catalyst for moral evolvement'.17 One might
perhaps qualify it and say that this is because of the way these books are filtered
by the modern mind and interpreted by the zealots of different religions. And
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the idea of science, or scientism, as some like to call it, the idea that any question
that can be answered at all, can best be answered by science, is fast becoming
another dogma. And despite its seductive claim that it can fix morality by fixing
our brains, it seems more probable that by the time science is done with our body
and brain, the verdict might well be: 'operation successful; patient died'.
We need to rethink, or re-feel, what 'being a person', not only being
human, ought to be in today's world. And about what we tend to view as a
'problem' and as a 'solution', and the criteria and the terms of their use and
application in the contemporary social and moral setting. The 'problem' is often
the problem, or what we think is. If we are clear and correct about the cause of
the 'problem', the solution springs forth; sometimes more than one. That is why
Einstein said that 'the formulation of the problem is often more essential than
its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental
skill'. He also said that you cannot 'solve' a 'problem' with the same mindset
that caused it. And, too often, the true 'problem' is 'we', not 'others'; within us,
not outside us. The problem of how to deal with 'others' has long baffled moral
philosophers. Should we place them on equal moral footing with ourselves?
And if so, what kind of constraints must we place on ourselves in dealing with
them? It is the mindset that matters most and predetermines a person's responses
to and interpretations of situations. Our mindset is now the mind, and that
is the real problem. We are using the same 'mindset', or the mind, to answer
questions about itself, about the 'problem' of the mind and its place in the human
consciousness. It carries huge implications; even beyond how we address global
issues such as environmental crisis, climate change, good governance, or mass
poverty. It defines who we are, what happens in the 'war within'. And conditions
how we live, view life situations, and our attitude and aptitude, and the contours
of our moral universe. Morality is now a hostage to the mind. One more thing
is becoming very clear. For long, scriptures and sages have emphasized the need
to control and master the mind as an essential aspect of spiritual seeking, or
sadhana. That is still desirable but barring a handful of truly evolved souls that is
beyond the reach of the rest. When a moral sense is not ingrained in a mindset,
history teaches us, it is a sure sign that civilizations are ripe for decline and fall.
Our attitude towards money, like sex, it too riddled with anomalies. Just as sex is
a medium of both intense love and burning hatred, money is something we both
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love and hate almost at the same time. We talk about the corrupting influence of
money, but all our life we seek that very power. We want lots and lots of money,
but we don't want to be known as the 'rich'. It would take a lot of imagination
to imagine what we would like to do with our life if money were to cease to be
the object and the objective. If money continues to occupy the same suffocating
space in human consciousness and if it is viewed in the same light as of now,
it will be well nigh impossible to move towards the goal of 'humane' human
transformation, or to turn the human into an essentially moral being.
Being Better Than We Were Yesterday
One of the main impediments to human 'betterment' is our practical inability
to answer the question, better than what? or better than who? That kind of
'betterment' takes us into the slippery terrain of competitive comparison, which
is self-defeating. Transformative technologies are expected to enable us to edit,
delete, add, and replace, activate or suppress specific genes inside the human
body, with which it might be possible to change the genetic basis of particular
traits. Scientists are also using gene editing in human embryos. New gene-editing
technologies, some scientists warn, could be turned into a biological weapon
by transforming a common virus into an unstoppable drug-resistant killer. This
raises once again the fundamental question: can human creativity be trusted with
such awesome power? Can we just go wherever our creativity takes, where no
man has gone before, not into outer space but into the more vital space of 'being
human'? Techniques like brain-training, boot camp for the brain, are expected
to allow us to crash through the 'cognitive glass ceiling, a number tattooed on
the soul',18 and significantly modify and enhance human 'fluid intelligence',19
signaling a startling change from the earlier perception that they are a 'given'. But,
transformative as the implications are, the more fundamental questions remain.
We may become more intelligent, but does it change the way we understand,
the way we ingest and digest information, the way we conduct ourselves in the
interpersonal world? In short, more of the same kind or genre of 'intelligence',
being bright, scholarly and intellectually agile, with high cognitive capacity, does
any of that contribute, if not lead to human transformation or a nobler mindset?
The fact that the 'more intelligent' persons with high IQs of 150 or more behave
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no better than the remainder belies the premise. Great or 'beautiful' minds are
double-sided coins; their very 'extraordinariness' becomes a burden on others;
their very high intelligence impacts on their integrity. Most of them have what
we usually call a 'shady side', being a nasty spouse, infidelity, pettiness in private,
etc. Granting that there is no perfect human and that these are generic judgments
without understanding the contexts, the point is that creativity and character,
intelligence and integrity are not always compatible companions. The question
frequently crops up: how and what do we measure ourselves with, and what is
the direction of betterment? Because if we don't know that, as Einstein said,
we may be expecting a fish to climb a tree, and finding that it could not do so,
conclude that it failed. Perhaps the best answer is, 'the only person we should be
better than is the person we were yesterday'. And, "there is nothing noble about
being superior to some other person. True nobility lies in being superior to your
former self ".20 That is the only way to be better, the only way to monitor and
measure our moral and spiritual progress. It is incremental and it requires constant
effort for continuous improvement. And for that the qualities we associate with
'being intelligent' are not good enough; sometimes they are impediments. Many
religious and spiritual leaders and saints were not, purely in terms of intelligence,
different from their devout lay followers. For example, Siddhartha did not have any
formal education to be transformed into a Buddha. What is becoming increasingly
apparent is that for us to become better 'problem-solvers' and 'decision-makers', we
need consciousness-change, and for that we need to go beyond the confines and
character of what we currently consider as 'intelligence'. Even if we concede that
at some point in the future we don't have to be stuck with the brain we now have,
and that we could attain 'cognitive control', 'manipulate our working memory' by
using 'smart pills' and 'thinking caps', and even substantially boost or build our
brain power, which scientists claim might be possible biologically, in some sort of
'boot camps for our brain',21 that is unlikely to mitigate the malaise or solve and
problems we are now grappling with.
As for the 'physical body', which is what we have to cope with all our
life and whose care preoccupies our mind, it is being predicted that "the future
is likely to bring us astonishingly advanced, and increasingly unusual ways to
enhance our bodies", giving us the capacity for 'body-modification', 'elective
bionics' and 'designer babies'22. The vision and aim is to make the human being
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'perfect' by making him impregnable, invincible, invisible at will and with x-ray
vision, super-intelligent, strong like Superman and eventually immortal. The
unstated expectation, the hidden hope, is that such a 'perfect' human, liberated
from mundane worries about disease, disability, and death, will be minus
malice, more moral, more responsible, and will then have a reason not to be
self-destructive. The bedrock of such belief is that the brain is the sole source
of 'intelligence', and what we call mind and consciousness are its other names.
And by inference, 'consciousness-change' is nothing more than, and equivalent
to, 'boosting-brain-power', and fixing it where necessary. This is a fatal fallacy, as
other frontiers of scientific research testify—the heart has its own intelligence,
memory and nervous energy, and the mind is more than the brain.
The worrisome thing is not only where such scientific effort will ultimately
take shape, but also what such an effort, in and by itself, might entail and yield.
And does it amount to changing the basic character of being human, equivalent
to turning a cat into a dog, and if so, can we get away with it? Can humans
do whatever they want to? Does it amount to changing the cosmic balance,
the balance between multiple forms of life on earth, with different capabilities
and vulnerabilities, each playing, even if unnoticed, a specific, irreplaceable,
and positive and negative role in the grand scheme of nature? Are we crossing
nature's invisible but real 'Lakshmana rekha'?23 Or, like in the real Ramayana, no
such line is drawn or exists for our 'chosen' species? Furthermore, man has never
respected any line or limits and that, in fact, is the essence of 'being human'.
And then, it is often said, we should live in harmony with nature, implying
that we should stay within our 'natural' limits or laws of nature. But then, all
medicine, in one sense, amounts to defying the laws of nature. Such warnings
have always been sounded and man still went ahead, with no ill effect, at least
visible. Indeed, we are where we are because of that. And yet, in every game there
are rules, and every play has a script, and every species has an assigned role in
maintaining the cosmic order, disobeying which will lead to chaos. But chaos is
needed for creativity. One of today's hot-button issues is: how far we can push
our planet's natural systems and deplete its resources, beyond which we will incur
a major blowback? Does man's tireless effort to be 'immortal' amount to one
such 'rekha' or forbidden line? By extending human longevity, are we not, in
principle, crossing it? One could passionately and persuasively argue from both
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sides. But the essential point is this. Even assuming that scientific technology
can make man a mini-Methuselah, give him angelic youth and x-ray eyes, make
him 'invisible', and enhance every body-part, it cannot change the quality of his
consciousness, or the way he now acts and reacts, reflects and responds, thinks
and feels. And without that man will be a marauding menace. If our sensations,
responses, reactions, impulses and instincts remain unchanged, then we cannot
resolve any of the serious problems the world faces. Contrary to what we assume
man has become, if not the 'monarch' of the earth, at least the dominant species,
ushering in what has come to be called the Anthropocene era is but a fraction of
the time we have been around, at best a few thousands out of a million. That
struggle for survival and the wages of modernity have taken a huge toll on all
human relationships and on human consciousness itself, and have corrupted our
cognitive capacity, the very process of knowing, information-analysis, reasoning,
judgment and decision-making.
For us to have the capability to move towards a cathartic change in our
social behavior we must cleanse the 'entire process'. We must also at once bear in
mind another crucial factor. When we talk of 'behavior' we refer to our physical
activity. While ultimately everything becomes action, more often than not, it is
through our words that we relate with other people. Much of the good we can
do and the hurt we can inflict come from the words we use. The advice of a
saying variously attributed, from the Buddha to Mary Ann Pietzker,24 is worth
bearing in mind: before we say anything we should be reasonably certain and
ask ourselves, "Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?". Perhaps one could reverse
the order; fact is, much of what we say is 'needless', even noxious. Too often we
speak when we have nothing to say; and when we do have something worth
saying, words are hard to come by. As for 'truth' and 'kindness', it is also worth
remembering another advice: "And never say of any one; What you'd not have
said of you" and, most important, "No ill of any man to say; No, not a single
word". But 'word', spoken or written, is a mighty force. In fact, Hindu scriptures
say that the entire cosmos emerged from the sound 'Aum'. Before the beginning,
the Brahman (absolute reality) was one and non-dual. It thought, "I am only
one—may I become many". This caused a vibration which eventually became
sound, and this sound was Aum or Om. Creation itself was set in motion by the
vibration of Om. The closest approach to Brahman is that first sound, Om. Thus,
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this sacred symbol has become emblematic of Brahman. The vibration produced
by chanting Om in the physical universe corresponds to the original vibration that
first arose at the time of creation. The sound of Om is also called Pranava, meaning
that it sustains life and runs through Prana or breath. Curiously, an American
neurosurgeon, who, after he 'died' and went to heaven and came back, described
hearing the sound of the word Aum and identified God with that sound.25
One of the necessities of living is cleansing, a process by which we discard
the filth and toxin we gather in the sheer process of living. Even in the purest of
'living' we attract and accumulate impurities through our body as well as mind.
The problem has become more acute in modern times. We are constantly exposed
to potentially dangerous toxins through the food we eat, the air we breathe,
and the water we drink. There is almost nothing uncontaminated that we put
into our bodies. Humans are the biggest producers of rubbish. Huge amounts
of plastic now roam the oceans, where they threaten marine life by blocking
out the sunlight that nourishes plankton and algae. It is estimated that over
100 billion gallons a year of fresh water is turned into toxic fluid that contains
multiple chemicals. And the almost insane irony is that we want to live forever
but still poison our bodies through everything we put into them for the sake of
'making more money'. We need to detox our body, mind, and consciousness;
and, perhaps even our soul; and it has to be constant and continuous. Still, it
is easier to cleanse what we put inside than control what happens inside. That
is because we have no tools to go 'in'; to know what happens before we act; to
know what takes place in the melting pot of our consciousness. The tools that we
now have are scientific, which have made a tremendous and tectonic difference
to human condition and well-being. But it has also brought us face to face with
many problems the world now faces, forcing many to think that maybe we have
gone too far and deep in our reliance on what is called the 'scientific method',
and that we have strayed too far from the scriptural and spiritual path. There is
also a gnawing unease about the nature, content and character of our very being
as a living entity, that our lives are bereft of both depth and what psychologist
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the 'flow'.
Superlative and seductive scientific claims are being made, and we find
ourselves bewitched and bewildered. We are being told that computer software
is so reorganizing the world that "with our bodies hemmed in, our minds
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have only the cloud—and it is the cloud that has become the destination for
an extraordinary mental exodus".26 That millions of people are finding their
lovers [and mates] in the cloud, that though geographical distance separates
our bodies, the distance between our minds is being measured geodesically, that
is, in terms of "the number of degrees of separation between two nodes in a
social network".27 And that soon we could soon live in "cloud towns, then cloud
cities, and ultimately cloud countries".28 But then we all know that the cloud is
hardly a place to build an edifice. We no longer have to be perturbed about the
'energy problem' and 'our own' sunup in the sky can bale us out… Some spiritual
teachers say that this body itself is a piece of earth powered by the sun. Each one
of us is a solar-powered life. In terms of the solar and lunar cycles, the human
body is perfectly poised. Mystics have long believed that the sun is not a mass of
exploding gas, but the gateway from the physical universe into the astral worlds
from which life energy is ever pouring forth to enliven our solar system.
Another nagging problem has been the very way our brain 'thinks' that
makes us bad, but we are assured that soon we will be able to 'fix' our brain
and smother our meanness, that we could soon swallow a 'pill' and become
compassionate, that we will finally achieve our long-sought goal of understanding
human nature and even "change the way we think about each other". What are
we, the non-scientist, not-so-smart people of the real world, to make of all such
scientific stuff? And what are we supposed to do? If all of these do happen,
substantially if not entirely, man could become, in behavior, if not in spirit, a
true satvik,29 a semi-saint made by science. But the real reason why we feel so
reassured is not because of such a prospect—no one wants to be a 'saint', of
all earthly things—but it could mean 'business as usual'; that we can merrily
go on messing up the earth and environment, and feel no need to make any
'adjustments' in our parasitic lifestyle. Clearly, if there is one thing evolution and
history teach us, it is that in nature and in life, short-cuts are treacherous terrains,
and silver bullets and golden hammers and holy grails are ever elusive.
Scientific Insignificance and Spiritual Completeness
The dilemma is that, even if we want to move away from the 'scientific method',
we see no path that is easy to tread. By making our life comfortable and
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pleasurable, and by minimizing our bodies and brains to have a 'good life', it
has made us unfit for any alternative life. Science has also, more fundamentally,
altered our perception of ourselves on the cosmic canvas. It has given us both
perspective and a sense of insignificance that is further complicating our search
for a choice. It is good to be cut to size, but if we are 'nothing', then what use
is anything? If something is yours, whether it is body, mind, or soul, then the
logical inference is that that which is 'yours' cannot be you; and so, who are
you? The truth is that, as Advaita tells us, we are 'no-thing' but 'not nothing'.30
Zen puts it differently, 'there is no better thing than no thing', meaning that no
matter how wonderful anything is, there is nothing more wonderful than no
thing. Even science says that 'nothing', even empty space is nothing. In other
words we are the 'nothing', or the Thing beyond all things. And that Thing is
nothing but what the Upanishads, summoning the highest of human thought,
describe as "the ear of the ear, the eye of the eye, and the word of words, the mind
of mind, and the life of life". And as the One who sends the mind to wander afar,
who first drove life to start on its journey, who impels us to utter these words,
who is the spirit behind the eye and ear. The fact is that, as John Updike (1985)
puts it, "Our century's revelations of unthinkable largeness and unimaginable
smallness, of abysmal stretches of geological time when we were nothing, of
supernumerary galaxies and indeterminate subatomic behavior, of a kind of mad
mathematical violence at the heart of matter, have scorched us deeper than we
know". And, "standing on our microscopic fragment of a grain of sand" (James
Jeans),31 we have stumbled into this 'terrifying universe' if not by mistake, at least
by 'accident'. Jacques Monod, author of 'Chance and Necessity' (1971), said, "the
universe was not pregnant with life, nor the biosphere with man. Our number
came up in the Monte Carlo game", a random happening.32 Max Tegmark said,
"Our lives are small temporally and spatially. If this 14-billion-year cosmic
history were scaled to one year, then 100,000 years of human history would
be 4 minutes and a 100-year life would be 0.2 seconds".33 The philosophy of
cosmicism, advocated by the scientific indifferentist, HP Lovecraft, echoes the
same idea. But it is not only science that instilled the idea into our head. Eons
ago, the Greek God Apollo said: "Insignificant mortals, who are as leaves are,
and now flourish and grow warm with life, and feed on what the ground gives,
but then again fade away and are dead".34 Such a vision stems from what some
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call a "banal metaethical confusion",35 and they persuasively argue that issues
of scale have little impact on meaning, significance, and value, and if certain
things possess intrinsic value, then their value is not diminished or eliminated
by the largeness of anything else, even that of the cosmos. But in a different
way, 'scale' does matter. One of the problems we now face is that everything is
so gigantic that we lose our identity as a part of it. 'The ever-expanding scope
and scale of the global economy obscures the consequences of our actions. In
effect, our arms have been so lengthened that we no longer see what our hands
are doing'.36
We may be 'insignificant' from a scientific or cosmic view point, but
from a spiritual perspective, each one of us is cosmos itself; there is nothing in
the cosmos that is absent inside each of us. Indeed, Vedanta proclaims Aham
brahma asmi—I am the Brahman, the supreme Soul, the transcendental Being.
Vedanta follows up with Tat tvam asi—That thou art, where 'that' stands for the
almighty Ishvara or Brahman, and 'thou' stands for the jiva. It means that you,
I, and we, they, each of us is as 'significant' as the cosmos. Even from a purely
'power perspective', mankind is far from insignificant; we now have god-like
powers to create life, as well as to possibly destroy all life on earth. And we are led
to hope that eternal youth—like a snake we might be able to shed our wrinkled
skin and don a youthful 'second skin'37—and physical 'immortality' are within
grasp. At the least, we hope to 'die young as late as possible'. All that still does not
make a difference to our spiritual comatose existence or cosmic insignificance.
The way to be fully awake and to surmount 'cosmic insignificance', and our
sense of irrelevance and everyday impotence, is by imbibing the spirit of 'cosmic
consciousness', which as Richard Maurice Bucke38 put it, is "a higher form
of consciousness than that possessed by the ordinary man", which is more of
an intuitive knowing than a factual understanding. The Buddhist Nirvana is
sometimes described as nothing more than being awakened to the enlightened
nature of our consciousness. The Upanishads say, "those wise ones who see
that the consciousness within themselves is the same consciousness within all
conscious beings, attain eternal peace". It comes very close to what William
James called 'mystical experience' or 'mystical consciousness'. Swami Sivananda,
a 20th-century Indian spiritual guru, describes it: "This new experience bestows
new enlightenment which places the experiencer on a new plane of existence.
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There is an indescribable feeling of elation and indescribable joy and bliss. He
experiences a sense of universality, a Consciousness of Eternal Life. It is not a
mere conviction. He actually feels it. He gets the eye Celestial… The little 'I'
has melted. The differentiating mind that splits up has vanished. All barriers, all
sense of duality, differences, and separateness have disappeared. There is no idea
of time and space. There is only eternity. The ideas of caste, creed and color have
gone now".39 Some call mystical the opposite of the 'mundane', on the analogy of
paranormal and normal. Some even say that mystical or paranormal experiences
are really 'normal' and 'ordinary', and that the rest of us operate at suboptimal
or subnormal levels. People we variously call diviners, shamans, prophets, sages,
mediums, and inspired artists are some such persons. It is also said everyone has
such latent powers, but they lie dormant 'within'.
Cosmic consciousness, in one word, is perfect awareness of the oneness of
life, the awareness that all living beings are parts of the cosmic body, and therefore
there is no such thing as inclusion or exclusion, separation or integration. It is not
an alien state; as Sivananda says, "it is an inherent, natural faculty of all men and
women". But sometimes we feel like an 'alien' in a different sense. The Tibetan
Lama Tarthang Tulku says (Love of Knowledge, 1987) that the self lives in the
world like an illegal alien, always afraid that its identity will be questioned.40 It is
partly a reaction to this feeling of insecurity that makes us so possessive, predatory,
and exploitative in our attitude towards the earth and our fellow-humans. In our
behavior we are both 'collectors' and 'correctors': we 'collect' everything we can
lay our hands on, and we 'correct' everyone else... A prerequisite to a higher state
of awareness is that we must be able to rise above the limitation of everyday
sensory perception. The capability is already present in us. It is inactive, or nonfunctioning
in the majority of human beings on account of the force of avidya
or ignorance. It is a state of consciousness that prophets, rishis, messiahs, saints
and mystics have attained since time immemorial. It is that which separates
the rest from such realized souls. The first step to take, on the road to cosmic
consciousness, is to change our perception of our own selves, not as human beings
trying to have a cosmic experience, but as cosmic beings experimenting with
human existence. We not only 'exist' because we are 'conscious', but everything
in the cosmos, including we humans, are expressions of cosmic consciousness.
Such remembrance will also help us shed our sense of limitedness, insignificance
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and temporariness. However infinitesimally small or infinitely finite we might be
on the cosmic scale, and however miniscule human presence might be on earth
(less than 1%) in astronomical terms, "humans have become a force of nature
reshaping the planet on a geological scale—but at a far-faster-than-geological
speed".41 "As species go down in our presence, we're not only altering earthly
existence. We are also altering the very potential for earthly existence".42 The
paradox is that while humans might be peripheral in the natural world, human
actions are not. Human beings have the capacity to influence physical reality
through intentional behavior; they are 'elemental in their force'. As Mark Lynas
puts it, "Our collective power already threatens or overwhelms most of the major
forces of nature, from the water cycle to the circulation of major elements like
nitrogen and carbon through the entire earth system. Our pollutants have subtly
changed the color of the sky, while our release of half a trillion tons of carbon
as the greenhouse gas CO2 into the air is heating up the atmosphere, land, and
oceans".43 It is important to mark the last more prominently, the ocean, about
which we scarcely spare a thought. Man is now turning his greedy gaze on the
ocean. We are told that China is planning a massive sea-lab 10,000 feet below
the surface of the sea. Perhaps of all the ravaging we are doing to nature, the
one to the oceans is the most worrying, as it could lead to the breakdown of the
'mystical bond between man and ocean'. We should remember that three-fourths
of the oxygen going into our lungs comes from the ocean. The acidification of
our oceans—due to absorption of more than 20 million tons of carbon dioxide
from human activity every day—could eventually cause the loss of biodiversity,
as well as food and financial security for the entire planet.44 One of the prime
causes of the greatest extinction of our prehistory was, besides global warming,
the acidification of the oceans. Is it a curious coincidence that it is happening
now? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that current
carbon dioxide levels are highest in 400,000 years. Many seemingly innocuous
things we do as a part of technology-driven modern living like emails and tweets
also contribute via their high electricity consumption. A study has shown that a
single email is estimated to add about four grams of carbon dioxide equivalent
into the atmosphere. The bitter fruit of all this rapacity is this: whichever way we
might want to look, the truth is here to behold: pristine nature—creation—has
disappeared forever.
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It is vitally important to dispel the delusion that man is a product of a
freak accident and wholly a terrestrial creature, and of no particular consequence
to the cosmos. That might be true if man is "a creature not of Earth alone, that in
both a spiritual and scientific sense we should regard ourselves as simultaneously
Earth citizens and 'heaven dwellers'…", and that we are "active agents of our own
evolution, capable of rationally directing—or misdirecting—our human and
planetary future".45 The truth is that we are all 'historical figures' and everything
we do, even the minutest, is a part of the flux of history, the stuff of the stars.
That is why every choice is a cosmic choice.
Despite our delusions of grandeur and presumed preeminence, which
is getting chipped away every day by new discoveries, there has always been
a certain unease—'something don't feel right'46—about the way man makes
choices that affect fellow-humans, non-humans and nature. That 'unease' has
now grown into what is being described as an 'existential angst', a gnawing
gut feeling that the clutch of certitudes that sustained us for so long are passĂŠ,
and we wonder, 'what good would living do us?' Simone de Beauvoir aptly
describes: "Men of today seem to feel more acutely than ever the paradox of
their condition. They know themselves to be the supreme end to which all
action should be subordinated, but the exigencies of action force them to treat
one another as instruments or obstacles, as means. The more widespread their
mastery of the world, the more they find themselves crushed by uncontrollable
forces. Though they are masters of the atomic bomb, yet it is created only to
destroy them. Each one has the incomparable taste in his mouth of his own life,
and yet each feels himself more insignificant than an insect within the immense
collectivity whose limits are one with the earth's. Perhaps in no other age have
they manifested their grandeur more brilliantly, and in no other age has this
grandeur been so horribly flouted".47 Unable to give anything meaningful or give
up anything meaningless, not knowing what the core is and what is appearance,
always falling short of what they want to be, a growing number of people have
begun to doubt the validity and viability of their very existence. Essentially, we
'cling' to things we should discard and 'crave' for things that give momentary
elation and lasting sorrow. It is these two attributes—clinging and craving—that,
according to Buddhism, are like fuel to the flames of suffering. 'Samsara' is the
process, not a place, by which clinging gives rise to suffering; if the fuel supply
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is cut off, the flames abate and we attain nirvana. In fact, it was by 'giving up'
all that—which we, lesser men, would cherish: privileges of a pampered prince,
comforts of heavenly palace, a devoted wife and the thrill of an infant son—
that Siddhartha transformed himself into Gautama. Craving, we associate with
material objects, but the more pervasive 'burning longing' in the modern world
is for affection and love, even attention and appreciation. What most people
fear most in life is rejection, a cause of a great deal of violence in the world. But
our material way of life constantly replenishes the fuel of a 'comfortable life'. As
a result, we find ourselves in what Viktor Frankl calls 'existential vacuum', or
what philosophers and psychologists call 'existential angst', or mystics call 'abyss
experience'. Whatever term we might use, it encompasses a canvas that covers
emotions, feelings or thoughts that include deep disquiet, a sense of a 'sinking
heart', anxiety, anguish, fear, dread, despair about not only one's own existence,
but of the world at large. Are we in the death throes of a doomed species? Is this
finally it, the much-anticipated or feared 'end of the world'? And, are we secretly
happy that, at last, it is getting over?
Above all else, this malaise, this state of consciousness is what afflicts
modern man. Almost everything else is but a symbol and a statement. It is at
once a fountain and a fulcrum, cause and consequence. The irony is that what
should have been an introspective inward odyssey—to know what our priorities
should be in a lifetime, and how we should harness our time and space in this
life—this spiritual quest is now turning out to be a life-threatening emotion and
a suicidal drive. Many young people are taking their lives, desperately groping for
a meaning to their existence, unable, as a Christina Aguilera lyric laments, to find
a way to 'dry their tears' and become 'free to fly', or 'find a place where nothing
is harder than it is'. They are coming to the conclusion that 'life meant nothing
to them'. Many people, disoriented and disconnected and dysfunctional, find
life, in the words of Sylvia Plath (The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 200),
a 'monumental, grotesque joke', and that the 'unreasoning barbaric purity' of
our 'uncivilized' days were better. They are disenchanted with what they see in
the mirror and disgusted with what they see around; they feel that their future is
slipping out of their grasp and lose themselves, in the words of William Thomson
"in an orgy of consumption, crime, and immorality".48 They may savor the
good things of life, but they do not like the way they are now accessible. What
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Thomas Freidman called 'merger of globalization and information technology
revolution' is also leading to what he called the 'globalization of anger'. We may
add intolerance, bigotry, extremism, and racism too. Contrary to the expectation
that the more people communicate and get to know each other, the more they
will be accommodative of differences, what is happening is the opposite. It
may well be that globalization has had a perverse effect because that is what we
really are—the more differences we can discover, the easier it is to exploit. That
merger, through mediums like television, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn,
etc., has also globalized 'greed'; everyone is now exposed and naked to every
enticement, to the same temptation. Everyone is exposed to what King Solomon
cautioned his son against: "Greedy for gain, which taketh away the life of the
owners thereof ".49 The cultural and classical moral defenses of many people are
crumbling. Our dependence on gadgets and laxity in morals is aptly expressed
by a Hollywood actress who said, "We live in a world where losing your phone
is more dramatic than losing your virginity".50 As one of those experiencing such
angst puts it, 'Nothing provokes an emotional response anymore; fear, happiness,
anxiety, are all feigned. I've truly forgotten what it feels like to love or to laugh or
really to just be sincere'. That is a terrible state: forgetting how to be 'just sincere'.
Sitting and staring at screens all day long is making many youngsters socially
sterile face to face, inept interpersonally.
Thwarted and tormented, frustrated and frightened, they try everything
from corrosive consumerism to reckless road rage, from liberated libido, to use
of levitating drugs like LSD or Ecstasy, all to get some 'relief ' from the draining
drudgery of daily life. They want to be suffused with what they describe as
'the stream of joy', to experience the 'high'—a short-cut to a higher state of
consciousness, a new and improved religious experience. And, in the words
of Albert Hoffman (LSD: My Problem Child, 1980), to realize that 'what one
commonly takes as 'the reality,' including the reality of one's own individual person,
by no means signifies something fixed, but rather something that is ambiguous—
that there is not only one, but that there are many realities, each comprising also
a different consciousness of the ego'. That is the essence of all scriptures, and if
one can really transcend to that level of consciousness, the world will be rid of all
that afflicts it. Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1962) elaborates: "I
believe that with the advent of acid, we discovered a new way to think, and it has
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to do with piecing together new thoughts in your mind. Why is it that people
think it is so evil? What is it about it that scares people so deeply, even the guy
that invented it, what is it? Because they're afraid that there's more to reality than
they have confronted. That there are doors that they're afraid to go in, and they
don't want us to go in there either, because if we go in we might learn something
that they don't know. And that makes us a little out of their control".51 That
might well be true; our lives are so suffocated and strictly controlled by tradition,
culture and order that we shrink from anything that even appears to threaten
that state. One could certainly agree that the world desperately needs go beyond
'just thinking' to a new plateau of consciousness for man to evolve and reach
his full potential. The problem is that, while it might be possible to experience
a momentary euphoria through experiments through synthetic drugs, it is facile
to think that that is the route to human transformation. Instead, what seems to
happen is that the existential vacuum implodes, the quest comes to a crash, a bud
gets crushed before it can flower, fracturing its fragrance. It often leads to what
French sociologist Emile Durkheim (Le suicide, 1897) called 'anomic suicide', a
"product of moral deregulation and a lack of definition of legitimate aspirations
through a restraining social ethic, which could impose meaning and order on
the individual conscience".52 Durkheim explains: "One cannot long remain so
absorbed in contemplation of emptiness without being increasingly attracted
to it. In vain one bestows on it the name of infinity; this does not change its
nature. When one feels such pleasure in non-existence, one's inclination can be
completely satisfied only by completely ceasing to exist". It makes inroads into
those minds that are fragile or overly sensitive—the adolescent and the early
young; and those who cannot handle either emptiness or excessive fullness. At
another level of awareness, we want both 'fullness' and 'emptiness'. We have a
'secret streak', to discard, to empty ourselves, to be fully free, to feel weightless,
to fly like a bird. That is why, even though there is no need to, we get naked,
shed all our clothes, even ornaments, when we 'make love', give ourselves fully,
to 'unite' with, to dissolve into, a beloved. If only we can show even a shade of
the same 'giving' towards the rest, we can find peace within and outside. Trapped
in the coils of a coarse and corrosive life they conclude that the only way out is
all the way out. Durkheim elaborates: "It is too great comfort which turns a man
against himself. Life is most readily renounced at the time and among the classes
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where it is least harsh". In the early 2000s, it was reported, for example, that
suicide was the third cause of death among youth fifteen to nineteen years old,
and second among college students in USA. In that country, by 2016, suicide
surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years.53 What is alarming is not only the
growing numbers but even more their all-encompassing casualness, ordinariness,
and matter-of-fact-ness. The fact remains that with all the advances in psychology
and ability to peep into human emotions, we still do not know what pushes
one person to resort to what the papers euphemistically call 'taking the extreme
step', and another person, similarly situated, to be able to cope with it. Equally
alarming is that more often than not, suicides end up with homicides, often with
people taking their loved ones, their own children. While explanations abound,
we must once again turn our search for answers inwards, and treat this situation
as yet another tell-tale sign that we are fast 'losing' the war within.
Traditional safe-havens like religion are no longer able to offer a shield
against the merciless maelstrom of life. Most people might still see their roots in
their religion and do what is expected of them, but that does not seem to answer
the existential questions they struggle with. We are much like the pilgrim in
Dante's Inferno, who finds himself in a dark wood, at a dead end in the midst
of life, with a sense that all the ways to move forward are shut. Or like Arjuna,
in the Mahabharata, who finds himself with no way out of his predicament of
either killing those he venerated, or being called a 'coward' by his own divine
mentor. There is a growing sense that although our brain/mind has made man
the monarch of earth, it is also to blame for much, if not all that is wrong with
the world. There are also serious questions about identifying the brain with
the mind, and the mind with consciousness. And grave doubts if completely
targeting the brain to better ourselves is a wise thing at all.
Many fear that the force within that has guided us in our march to
modernity is pushing us to the brink, to the edge of the abyss, towards premature
earthly passage and, in spiritual terms, to the ever-widening chasm that, in
Thomas Merton's telling phrase, separates "us from ourselves".54 And let us be
very, very wary: this 'enemy' is not the enemy that Jesus exhorted us to love.55
This 'enemy', make no mistake, is 'real' but invisible, lurks and hides deep in the
depths of our consciousness, always waiting for a tempting opening to take over,
make us do things we detest. Oscar Wilde quipped, "a man cannot be too careful
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in the choice of his enemies". Maybe, we have been—in trying to be too careful,
and perhaps trying to find a 'worthy' external enemy, and not finding anyone
'suitable'—egged on by the internal enemy, and turning on each other. One
explanation is the theory of karma; we are all 'heirs to our karma'; we have to do,
or not do, certain things, regardless of our wish or will, because only in that way
can a particular prarabdha karma can be acted upon. The package of prarabdha
consists of very diverse components. When other people hurt you it is their
karma; and how we react is our karma. To exhaust them we play multiple roles in
life, as parent, spouse, son and daughter, sibling, lover, friend, foe, professional,
and many other some seemingly trivial. If a certain role is not required for a
particular prarabdha of a particular person, we will not play that role. For example,
some remain unmarried or un-partnered; some have no siblings; some have no
children; some are still born; some die in a few days; some die very young and
some live long. It is because that particular prarabdha requires before it completes
this life. How we perform each role and whether we give or receive happiness
or unhappiness depends also on which way a particular prarabdha requires. It is
said in Buddhism, "Yadisam vapate bijam tadisam harate phalam"—as we sow,
so shall we reap. The same theme is replicated in the Bible, "Do not be deceived:
God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap". If one suffers,
then the cause lies in him, and it is futile blaming someone else or believe that it
is the wish of an Almighty Creator God, or is due to an original sin. According
to Buddhism, there are several causes for any one event or happening. Karma is
a vital factor that plays an important part in the life of beings in making their
life miserable or fortunate. In the Karma CafĂŠ, it is said, there is no menu; you
get served what you deserve, and until you fully partake of it you cannot leave.
The other explanation is how we behave, act or react, respond to circumstances
is a direct reflection of the ever-shifting and fluctuating fortunes in the 'war'. We
must stop debating and wasting our energy and intelligence of every kind about
'this' or 'that'; if we are 'spirit' or 'flesh'; 'good ' or bad'; 'selfish' or 'altruistic'; and
so on. We have always been, we are, and we will always be all of 'them' and more.
Every one of us does some 'good' or 'bad' all the time, consciously or otherwise;
we are capable of both causing and relieving pain and suffering, even saving a life
or taking a life. But we still do not know when we become capable of which or
what. That is because it reflects the state of the 'war', and we have no control over
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it. The attendant issue is, "which of the two—doing good or doing bad—is more
natural, easier, more effortless, more spontaneous, and reflexive. The answer too
is the war. If the 'good' opponent has a clear 'winner' in a battle, not the war, then
the good we want to do occurs without much laboring; if it is the 'bad', then we
do bad more banally and brazenly.
To 'survive' and to 'succeed'—these are the 'mantras' we chant and the
ones we have come to accept as the only goals in life, which eclipse everything
and anything else. But the Buddha offered us a model that is both ethical and
practical: "To prosper in harmony, your success must not result on the failure of
others. Your success must not harm others. Your success must not make others
unhappy. Your path to success must be a way to nurture everybody".56 What
matters in the end is, how our 'time' on earth affects others' 'time', and that often
ends as travesty or a tragedy. Joseph Addison, in his essay, 'The Vision of Mirzah'
(The Spectator, 1711) voices it well: "Alas, said I, man was made in vain! How
is he given away to misery and mortality; tortured in life; and swallowed up in
death". We might quibble about morality, but about mortality we think we are
more sure-footed. We are told that we are on the verge of a scientific 'second
coming', as it is being dubbed, namely 'death control'—to make death obey our
dictum; to hasten or halt death, to postpone or prevent any earthly ending, to
cure the 'disease' of death, not to become one not-so-fine morning as though we
have never been.
Whichever way we are headed as a species, the 'troubles' are what we
wrestle with every day in our mundane, meandering and muddy lives. That,
according to the Bible, is what God allotted to the human lot. It says, "Mortals,
born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble".57 Perhaps to ensure that we
cannot fight the 'troubles' too easily, God put the epicenter of our 'troubles' as well
as the know-how to overcome them tantalizingly close, but beyond our routine
reach: deep inside our own consciousness. It means that for all our 'troubles', we
will have no one to blame but ourselves, nowhere need we go but inward. The
fact is that before we 'behave', before we say a word or take any action, before
even a thought crosses our mind, a whole lot happens somewhere within our
own mortal body that determines our relationship with the rest of the world,
and how we connect with fellow-humans and with other creatures. Whatever
we do, whatever happens at any given point of time, depends on who or what
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gains an upper hand at that point. If we are doing 'good' deeds, it means that the
goodness in us is prevailing at that time, and if 'bad', because the negative forces
are ascendant at that time. In one sense we are much like 'programmed puppets',
'manipulated marionettes', if you will, by an internally 'external' force over which
we are outwardly powerless. Perhaps puppets or marionettes are better performers
because they are wholly mechanical and are free from self-consciousness. And
that 'internal', 'inside', 'interior', 'within' is what we loosely call 'consciousness'.
What we see and experience is the screen projected by the real action deep in the
depths of our being. And, either by divine design or traits innate to the human
condition, we have no insight into what we might call the 'infrastructure of our
inside'. Advaita Vedanta compares it to watching a movie on a screen in which
we actually see and experience buildings burn and turn to ashes, but the screen
itself remains unburnt. The screen is real and the action unreal.
The Age of Loneliness
The big temptation has always been to dismiss all that is wrong with us—any
behavior that troubles us too much, that makes us uncomfortable—as a random
malevolence, deviant aberration, the deranged doings of a crazy nut, of a genetic
freak, or as acts of momentary madness; everything except identification with
our own 'untamed' selves. That has always been a grievous error, never more than
now. This streak of destruction is also responsible for our assault on nature. It
is important to note that human beings destroy their living environment at the
same time as they destroy one another, and that healing our society goes hand
in hand with healing our personal, elemental connection with the world. If our
relationship with each other is rooted in what Buddhists call 'loving kindness',
then our connection with nature will cease to be destructive. The defining drive
in contemporary life is a cocktail of disaffection, discontent and despair, and
if everyone of that ilk seeks to avenge them through destruction of those held
directly or indirectly responsible, the human world will then slide into a horrific
hell-zone.
While such a 'cocktail' can be a positive force for 'progress' and excellence
if properly directed, the truth is that it has become another manifestation, or
'operationalization', of unbridled greed, which is now getting blurred with
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another 'unique' human feature: the feeling of 'entitlement'. Greed is wanting
much more than you need or due, but 'entitlement' is to view what you want as
what is your right. Deserving is different from entitlement, just as greed is from
desire. It undermines contentment. But contentment has also a downside. It can
lead to complacency and conformity, to love of the status quo, and to the 'slow
but sure stamping out of individuality' (Ă  la Dylan Thomas), to a life that is but
a bargain, that is no more than, 'so much per week, so much for this, so much for
that'. There are a growing number of people in the world who think they deserve
whatever they want, and when they don't get it they conclude that it ought to be
the fault of some other person or society. A growing number of people, covering
a broad spectrum of society, not only the weak-minded or having psychological
problems, are convincing themselves that that which is denied to them is their
due, if not a right, be it money, love or sex, or power, and that if they cannot have
it, no one else deserves to have it. It is a ploy of our mind to shift the responsibility
for our failures from ourselves to another person or society. In one sense, it stems
from the fear of failure, or the fear of being the loser. Like with sex, our sense
of 'morality' is obsessed, and afflicted with, success and scorn at 'failure'. John F
Kennedy, following the Bay of Pigs fiasco, rued "success has many fathers; failure
is an orphan". Nothing we dread more than being dubbed as such. 'Failure', even
more than the belief that we have 'failed', deals a mortal blow to our sense of selfworth,
social standing, and that dread drives many towards suicide—shockingly,
kids have killed themselves for not getting good grades in a school test. Such is
the humdrum human mindset about 'success' and 'failure'. And both are defined
and measured by immediate results and material well-being—passing an exam,
getting a job, getting a promotion, a happy relationship. Most of us might not be
able to put to practice Samuel Beckett's vision of 'heroic failure' as a way of life,
which he expounded in his acclaimed work Westward Ho! (1983): "Fail again;
Better again; Or better worse; Fail worse again; Still worse again! Till sick for
good, Throw up for good". He himself 'failed' to hide his 'success'. No one really
knows what 'success' and 'failure' in the totality of life is, but that does not deter
us from venerating 'success' and vilifying 'failure'. Generally we think 'success' is
to have a good career, make a lot of money, have a good marriage, or 'partners', or
'raise' a good family and so on. The absurdity and agony of human predicament
is that we do not know what else to judge our life with. Our 'intelligence' is
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not good enough for us even to 'know' how to assess our life, in all four stages,
childhood, adolescence, youth, and old age. And that failure is not an end point
but an essential component of a cyclical process. So many have lived worthless
lives, so many buds did not blossom, so many flowers smothered; so many have
killed themselves, so many have been wrongly applauded, all because of this
'mother of all of failures'.
Education, career, home, and workplace pretty much gobble up our life,
and how we do in these places has, by default, come to sum up our success or
failure. If we don't do well in education—which means getting good marks in
the hundreds of tests and exams we take over a period of 15 to 20 years through
our childhood, adolescence and youth—then our family, friends and society will
pronounce that we are, if not a failure, certainly not a success. We don't get a job,
therefore we are a 'failure'. If we don't have a good career, do not get one, or don't
rapidly climb up the professional ladder, or worse get laid off, we are deemed a
failure. At the workplace, failure has a heavy price, can cost you the job itself.
However, some researchers are arguing that venerating success and looking down
on failure is shortsighted even from a business point of view. Ron Friedman's The
Best Place to Work58 makes the same point and suggests that companies wanting
to be competitively successful and on the cutting edge of innovation need to
embrace failure in their employees, and "accepting failure doesn't just make risktaking
easier, but "in a surprising number of instances, it's the only reliable path
to success". Often what we call failure is part of the learning process. Thomas
Edison said, "I failed my way to success". A Chinese proverb says that 'failure
is the mother of success'. JK Rowling in her address to the graduating class of
Harvard (2008) said, "You might never fail on the scale I did. But it is impossible
to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might
as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default". In fact, many
great achievers—Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Vincent Van Gogh, The Beatles,
Michael Jordan, to cite but a few—failed repeatedly or were considered mediocre,
before tasting success.
Success or failure also has a huge bearing on the morality of means. These
two are also another dwanda, part of the inherent duality of life. We should not
be elated by success or afraid of failure. We need take the two in their stride but
should not be possessed by them. Even in our own personal lives, looking back at
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what we once thought was a setback would have later turned out to be a stepping
stone to success, a set-up for a comeback; and what we then considered a success,
we might now wish it didn't happen. Most times, it is other people's opinions
that shape our own view whether we are a success or not. We should not extol
success or look down upon failure. That is one of the qualities of sthitaprajna
(steady wisdom) as detailed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Most of us
cannot reach those heights; but even if we cannot reach the peak, at least we can
go to a higher plateau. The stranglehold of success and the burden of failure in
our culture need to be loosened and lightened. That could save many innocent
lives and make life way less miserable to most people. And that could be a big
step towards eliminating a huge moral temptation from our lives. For too often
we sell our soul for success. We might not know that but it exacts a terrible
toll on our psyche. An agonizing number of people, particularly young adults,
already tired to the bone with what success entails in today's ruthless world, are
behaving as if they are 'constantly torn between killing themselves and killing
everyone around them', and they seem to feel that these are 'the two choices;
everything else is just killing time'. Such are the states of mind that breed mass
murderers and lead to senseless school shoot-outs. We can't derisively dismiss
them as twisted minds and crazy loonies. Too often some of them are some of
our most promising; their mindset is a product of our tormented times, wages
of our warped values.
The Two Journeys—Outer Space and Inner Space
Man has long had two 'dreams', both integral parts of the 'human story'. One
is to go higher and higher into the far reaches of space, and the other is to go
deeper and deeper inside our own selves. The outer space is the cosmos, limitless;
the inner space is physically bounded but still limitless. The real 'beyond' that
is most impenetrable is not outer space but the inner space. The Chandogya
Upanishad eloquently explains: "As great as the infinite space beyond is the space
within the lotus of the heart. Both heaven and earth are contained in that inner
space, both fire and air, sun and moon, lightning and stars. Whether we know
it in this world or know it not, everything is contained in that inner space.
Never fear that old age will invade that city; never fear that this inner treasure
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of all reality will wither and decay. This knows no age when the body ages; this
knows no dying when the body dies. This is the real city of Brahman; this is the
Self, free from old age, from death and grief, hunger and thirst. In the Self all
desires are fulfilled".59,60 Advaita Vedanta says that "to keep the mind constantly
turned within and to abide thus in the Self alone is Atmavichara (self-enquiry)".61
The 16th-century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the
Cross described it as a journey through 'the dark night of the soul'. Marcus
Aurelius described it as 'to retire into yourself '. That is a way to get a grip on
our own selves, our mind, our consciousness, to awaken and bring to bear the
best out of us in the service of man and God alike. This is the essence of what
the Upanishads call 'Self-realization', what the Buddha implied in his vision of
Nirvana, what Lao Tzu referred to when he said that 'He who knows others is
wise; he who knows himself is enlightened'. It is the idea behind the Delphic
axiom 'know thyself ' and the ancient dictum 'man, know thyself '. Paramahansa
Yogananda says that "self-realization is the knowing—in body, mind and soul—
that we are one with the omnipresence of God… God's omnipresence is our
omnipresence". The principal reason that none of us is content with what we
have, is because we do not know who we truly are, and that is because what goes
on inside us is a mystery to our own selves. We are strangers to our own selves,
always surprised by our own actions, bewildered by our own behavior. We are
foreigners to our own passions and the compulsions, temptations, and terrors
that impel us, sometimes seduce us—to do what we do, or not do what we want
to do. The world confronts two kinds of 'terror': terror for a fanatical cause; and
terror of sheer 'living' with dignity. Both terrors have a single source: the within.
Often times, we 'know' more about another person than about ourselves. In one
sense, the person that stares back at you in the mirror is more of a 'stranger' than
a stranger on the street. Ironically we can, if we want to, share a smile with the
external stranger than the 'internal' stranger with a smirk on his face.
Human reach has extended into outer space, and peering through, say,
the Hubble Space Telescope, we can see galaxies billions of light years away. And,
we are told that "we can only realistically expect to send spacecraft to within the
boundary of our own solar system". Going to the Moon, like climbing Mount
Everest, is no longer breaking news. The destination now is Mars, the aim is to
put up a permanent space colony on that planet. NASA, for example, is now
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mandated and tasked to 'get humans to Mars by 2033'. We have several plans
to send manned missions to Mars, with a view to "eventually settling on and
terraforming the planet, while utilizing its moons, Phobos and Deimos".62 The
space entrepreneur Elon Musk built the rocket company SpaceX from scratch, in
order to take us to the Red Planet. An initiative of several distinguished scientists,
including the late Stephen Hawking, aims to send a spacecraft to Proxima
Centauri b, the planet closest to Earth outside the solar system. The motive is not
only to experience the thrill of going 'where no man has gone before', but also,
as Elon Musk envisions, to reduce the 'risk of human extinction' by making life
multiplanetary, which he calls a 'strong humanitarian argument'... It is to jump
the ship before it sinks and land on an island, so to speak. We have traveled to
Pluto, and we are well on our way to the Kuiper Belt, the region of the solar
system that exists beyond the eight major planets. We have even traveled into
interstellar space. About our outward odyssey, with remarkable prescience, the
French novelist Jules Verne had written, way back in 1865, that "in spite of
the opinions of certain narrow-minded people, who would shut up the human
race upon this globe, as within some magic circle which it must never outstep,
we shall one day travel to the moon, the planets, and the stars, with the same
facility, rapidity, and certainty as we now make the voyage from Liverpool to
New York".63 That indeed might come true and we might even, as someone
predicted, be 'honey-mooning on the Moon' in our own lifetime. But that might
not prevent us from burning a bride for dowry while on the Moon!
For, on the very face of it, we have made more headway on our outward
journey, 'investigating the heavens', than on the 'inward' voyage, to explore the
cosmos within. The Upanishads proclaim that the little space within every living
creature is a replica of the cosmos and contains "The sun and the moon and the
stars. Fire and lightening and winds are there, and all that now is, and all that
is not". Our 'inner space' has remained more impenetrable and unfathomable;
more of a black hole than those out there in outer space. But, like outer space
black holes, it is the brightest spot in our inner universe. We are making more
'progress' and are able to go deeper into distant space, and know more about the
stars, galaxies, and universes in the cosmos, than in our timeless thirst to travel
inside to know what makes us who and what we are. Without 'going down', if we
'go up', as we do now, there is a huge risk; with the mindset man currently has,
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he is likely to behave no differently on Mars, or the Moon, or on any 'new earths'
than how he behaves on this earth. The fact is we have largely exploited everything
we can over here, and knowing it is going to come to an end, we are looking for
another place to exploit. We will exploit other places also the same way and move
on to yet another place. Unfortunately, we are looking at space exploration and
human migration into space as a technical, technological or economic (how to
bring down the costs) challenge. Through all his long evolution, man has been
earth-bound and that is not simply a physical fact; it is also psychological and
psychic. The earth is in each one of us, not simply the ground on which we
stand. We are often disoriented, even if briefly, if we even relocate our place of
residence. We must also bear in mind the 'mental' implications of our outreach
into the womb of outer space. The human mind, prevailing for the most part
in the 'war within', having, 'colonized' our consciousness, is now trying to
conquer extraterrestrial space. Even more worrisome is that the 'content' of the
human mind itself is under threat of radically being modified through applied
neuroscience, drugs, computerized implants, brain-machine interfaces, by
nano-scale devices, or other advanced technologies. There is little doubt that all
these will leave an impact on human consciousness and human behavior but,
unfortunately or by divine design, our 'intelligence' is not good enough to guess
in which direction. Another way of putting it across is to say that that human
'power' has broken the defenses of the world beyond, but it is still knocking on
the outer rampart of the inner world.
Human 'intelligence' has unraveled many 'secrets' of nature, or so it
believes, but has come a cropper in regard to the 'war within'. We must remember
one thing and grasp its full import. Man has become awesomely powerful and
much of it is misdirected. We must remember that much of the power man
has acquired is to do exactly what he wants, which often translates into what is
dubbed as the 'conquest of, or over, nature'. And, as CS Lewis explains: "Each new
power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker
as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs,
he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car".64 And it is inherent in
human 'culture' to use every power we have, to test and use every weapon we
make, even if it is self-destructive. Maybe one day, sooner than we can imagine,
some nutty democrat or true dictator will 'test' our missiles on celestial objects
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or other planets. Control over 'outer space' without control over 'inner space' is
hazardous. Although the 'Outer Space Treaty' clears forbids states from placing
'nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial
bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner', clearly when a
country becomes capable of doing so, it will do so. Already, there are reports that
Russia is planning to build a 'nuclear space bombing machine'.65 There is another
danger. Why does man want to migrate to Mars or the Moon or whatever? Is it to
escape from earth or seek new fortunes, to conquer new land, or to dig for gold?
Would the lure of getting away from our seemingly doomed earth, decimated
by man himself, act as a spur to further ravage our dear earth and play havoc
with its ecosystem and environment? That is a real probability, given man's track
record. Without getting rid of malice, if man 'colonizes' other 'earths', as some
eminent scientists like the late Stephen Hawking have advocated,66 what is being
described as 'space settlement', those earths too will meet the same fate as our
own. Even if we train to become the 'Mars Generation' we will, consciousnesswise,
still be the same toxic humans we are on earth today. We humans have
not been able to make something so simple as wishing others well an effortless
habit; with what gumption do we want to spread ourselves elsewhere! Or, even
call ourselves the 'most evolved' species or 'essentially spiritual' species. The same
greed, possessiveness, and predatory behavior that have brought this earth to the
brink will drag the 'others' too to the same fate. And if our passions remain what
they are directed towards, and if we try to 'humanize' the universe, it might lead
to unforeseeable and unwelcome consequences. Then there is the question: could
the huge resources spent (a single space shuttle outing costs over half a billion
dollars) be better utilized down here on priorities like eradicating mass poverty,
cleaner environment, etc.? Whether or not Man, as a species, is the 'measure and
mirror of all things', as we proudly proclaim, Man, as the individual, is certainly
the 'measure' and 'mirror' of mankind. Man is his only limit and that limitation
comes from within. The Sufi mystic Jalal ad-Din Rumi said, "The garden of
the world has no limits, except in your mind". More appropriately, it is our
'inside', our 'within', of which the mind is but a part. Margaret Mead once said,
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change
the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has". While an individual is the
basic unit, and it is not possible to affect any radical alteration on a mass scale,
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what is needed for a cascading and self-propelled momentum is a 'critical mass'
of connected kindred spirits. For, "when an idea reaches critical mass there is no
stopping the shift its presence will induce".67 And we do not need to be heroes to
align history; we only need to mend the way we 'live', 'make a living', 'deal' with
other people, with other creatures and, most of all, with nature. And everyone
can be an agent of change, as Mother Teresa said, by casting "a stone across the
waters to create many ripples".
The Natural Need for 'Negatives'
Looking at all the horrors of the 20th century, and even more at what the ordinary,
normal people—whose names, in the words of John Keats, are 'writ in water'68—
do these days to their own selves and to fellow-humans, one wonders: How can
human beings behave in ways that so thoroughly violate both reasonable and
rational norms, and are obviously self-destructive? That includes not only what
we are doing to each other but also to the environment, earth and nature, which
can only be explained away as another form of self-destruction. But such are the
laws of nature that, as GK Chesterton said, 'nothing is more effectively hidden
in the farthest recesses of the oblivious than the obvious'. We blush about our
own behavior, because we are blissfully oblivious and unobservant of what goes
on within our own selves. Nothing seems so mysterious or a riddle or an enigma
than our own behavior, both individually, collectively, and as a species. Aghast at
his own behavior, man has always struggled to know why he does things he hates
to do, to rid himself of his negative traits like prejudice, violence, ill will, hatred
etc. The true answer is this: we are mixing up ends and means, the instrument
and the direction. Nothing in life is unitary, or single-edged. Everything has a
dual-purpose. In nature too, what we call 'negatives' exist, they are essential;
without them creation will cease. Violence has a place, even anger, envy, rage,
lust; it is the intent, person, principle, purpose, and whom it benefits that make
the difference. In the wrong hands, and at the wrong time and circumstance,
anything can be harmful; anything in excess, in isolation can do more bad than
good, defeat the very purpose. If everyone is calm, incapable of anger, if we
are all passively peaceful, mind our own business, that would give free reign to
'evil', which also is a powerful part of nature. Similar is it with another that we
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are advised to guard against—doubt. But often it is not doubt by itself that is a
negative. We can make grievous errors if we are 'doubt-less' and too sure; Ezra
Bayda tells us: "Provided we don't get lost in the negative beliefs that arise with it,
it [doubt] can lead to a deepening of our quest".69 Divine avatars never hesitated
to use what we usually view as 'negatives' as means to achieve a 'positive' end. We
often miss this central point. We need both 'positives' and 'negatives to survive
and to help maintain equilibrium, within and outside. It is our 'behavior' that
is so baffling; it is because we are not able to ensure the 'equilibrium' in the 'war
within'. We have crafted a way of life, the human way, that feeds, abets and aids
almost wholly our 'negatives'. There is no 'equilibrium' any more in human life.
That must be restored, an exercise that some call 'spiritual struggle'.
Our 'behavior', whether 'autistic' or altruistic, benign or malign, is, in
turn, nothing but a replica of the ever-fluctuating fortunes of that epic struggle.
Every event in our life, every triumph and tragedy, every success and setback,
the way we deal with every situation, has already happened, even if it is a few
seconds sooner, before we actually 'do' or 'experience', enjoy or bemoan. All our
past and present, everything that happened and is happening, every atrocity,
all great human accomplishments, everything as a species we are so proud of,
is but an outward projection of the state of this eternal war within, particularly
of the people concerned at that particular point in time. If we can grasp this
fundamental fact, nothing will surprise or shock us, and everything becomes
explainable and comprehensible. The same will hold good for the future too.
If we want to see that our future is better than our present, the only way is to
positively affect the flow of the war.
Tikkun Olam—Healing the World
To affect the flow of the war, we have to affect the flow of our daily life. We cannot
predict the future, but what history tells us is that what seems promising can
become a nightmare; things can go horribly wrong and we can encounter what
are called 'tail events' and 'black swans', events so out of everyday observations
that we will fall short of what is required of us to meet such events. It all comes
down to how human consciousness acts upon these 'possibilities' at a certain
point of time and place, in the shape of certain human beings. We must also
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come to terms with another reality. We cannot any longer trust, or turn to, what
Mark Twain called our 'sleepy conscience', what Gandhi called the 'inner voice',
as our moral watchdog or as a tool to aid us in judging right and wrong. That
'sleepiness' is so deep and prolonged that it has made us virtually comatose. We
need to turn our attention from conscience to our consciousness. We need such a
tool to imbibe and internalize the simple message from nature: a life not useful is
useless; or in Goethe's words 'an early death'. The famous motto of the Christian
Methodist faith expresses this thought beautifully: "Do all the good you can, by
all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the
times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can". In Hebrew, the
purpose of life is Tikkun olam, helping and 'healing of the world'. Carl Jung said
that the 'sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of
mere being'.70 A beautiful poem, Another Reason to Live, by Zen monk Seido Ray
Ronci says it all: 'To hold the hand, to kiss the forehead; to wipe the face, to clean
the soiled sheets of the dying'.71 Swami Vivekananda simplified it in his usual
way: 'he alone lives, who lives for others'. There is another reason why we have
to make our lives 'useful to others'. Because we depend on others for our very
existence, even just to be alive. Einstein expressed this thought when he said,
"Many times a day, I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon
the labors of my fellowmen, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert
myself in order to give in return as much as I have received. My peace of mind
is often troubled by the depressing sense that I have borrowed too heavily from
the work of other men'.72 Fortunately, we do not have to struggle too hard to
do that. That 'being useful', that 'living for others' can take multiple forms and
ways, depending on the nature of the need, not the person. The simplest way is
to try one's very best, use every might, 'to see that every single act you do creates
or contributes to what you care for, at least does not dilute. Whether the person
is weak or strong, wretched or privileged, wicked or virtuous, does not matter.
In Emerson's words, 'to leave the world a little better, and to know that one life
has breathed easier because you lived here'. And we don't have to do something
heroic or extraordinary. In a figurative way, we have to be 'doctors' and relieve an
other person's pain and suffering; and it can be physical, mental, or even spiritual.
It is said that there's a passage in the Pali canon where the Buddha talks
about himself as a doctor. He was indeed a peerless physician for the spiritually
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sick. Regardless of who the 'patient' is, we should simply heal and help in every
way we can, and not worry about how that help is used or misused and what
comes in return. That could be a good point of departure for us when we are
caught up in life's balancing act. We are all bound to each other, and by helping
others, we will discover an unacknowledged, undervalued part of our own selves.
When we acknowledge that suffering is our common ground, it enables us to
feel as though everyone we see has been our mother, father, daughter, or son
or a friend or foe in one or other of millions of lives, not only in the human
form. Sometimes in separate lives, some kind of a karmic role reversal takes place
between husband and wife, parent and child, master and servant, even owner
and pet. What in Buddhism is called the Bodhisattva path is dedicating one's life
to the benefit of all beings, doing whatever we can to help ourselves be happy and
free. According to this 'path', helping yourself, when your goal is to help others,
might seem contradictory, but in fact it is the only way it can work. In the end,
the notion of putting oneself last is really an inside-out form of self-cleansing.
One such injunction even states, "when somebody whom I have benefited, and
in whom I have great hope, gives me terrible harm, I shall regard that person as
my holy guru". The person becomes a 'guru' because, by his actions, he tests our
resolve and patience. The great 9th-century Buddhist Sage Shantideva taught
that all the joy that exists in the world comes from wishing for the happiness
of other sentient beings, not merely other human beings, and all misery from
narrow egotism. He was prepared to exchange his happiness for the suffering of
others, and he says, "May I become a servant for those sentient beings who need
a servant". Perhaps the most impossible thing to do in human life is to be, and
behave, like any other person, the exchange of 'self with the other', or one's life
for another life. That is the ultimate separation. But, without at least bridging the
gap, we cannot really fully share our life with others or look at a problem from
another's perspective. Great souls, and Bodhisattvas and rishis, have struggled
with this issue of how to create the space to put ourselves in someone else's skin
to the best of our ability, imagining what they're going through, and how they
perceive us, and identifying how we might help. A side benefit of seeing ourselves
from another's perspective is that it is a great way to keep the ego in check, if
not to abandon altogether. Ramana Maharshi says, "The individual being which
identifies its existence with that of the life in the physical body as 'I' is called
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the ego… This ego, or individual being, is at the root of all that is futile and
undesirable in life".73 He also says that the common religious view of the three
fundamentals as separate entities of world, soul and God lasts only so long as
the ego lasts.74 And that so long as the ego lasts, human effort is necessary, but
when the ego goes, actions become effortless. One of the principal 'undesirable'
manifests of the ego is to make us always look for self-gain and to desist from
doing anything that could possibly be of any help to anyone.
In Einstein's words, 'only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile'.
It is ancient wisdom too, as voiced by Marcus Cicero: Non nobis solum nati
sumus— not for ourselves alone are we born. In the Mahabharata,75 the dialogue
on statecraft between Dhritarashtra and Vidura has this to say: 'One should
wish for the prosperity of all, and should never set heart on inflicting misery on
any group. One should pay attention to those who have fallen in distress and
adversity; One should show compassion to all creatures, do what is good for
all creatures rather than a select few'. Buddhism even calls for compassion to
someone who tries to kill you. It says that 'when someone is trying to physically
injure us, the practice is to meditate on patience for oneself and compassion
for our enemy'. Martin Luther King Jr brought all this esoterism to a simple
question, and said that life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are
you doing for others?' The answer to that question, if we ponder over it for a
while and be truly honest to ourselves, has to be: "what we are 'doing to others'
is currently the chief source of suffering; none of us can claim that we caused no
suffering to anyone". Two things are inescapable: we all 'suffer'; and we make
others 'suffer'. That is Man's Fate and God's Choice. Lord Krishna calls the world
of life 'Duhkhalayam asasvatam', the place of suffering and the non-permanent.
Buddhism says that all suffering is delusive like the death of your child in a
dream. The great paradox, and also the great opportunity, is that it is easier to
help people than not hurt them; it is easier to alleviate 'suffering' than not cause
it; it is easier to be nice than not being nasty; it is even easier to save; but not
nag, nibble, and negate others. In general, one might say that life is such that
cultivating 'positives' is less arduous than avoiding 'negatives'.
Before we wander any further into the woods and get lost in Auden's
'lovely, dark, and deep woods', it is important to note and never forget another
fact of life: that everything, all knowledge we possess and are able to have access
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to, indeed everything in life and life itself, is provisional, conditional and, at
best, an approximation, a good guesstimate, if you will. Everything in life is
impermanent, qualified, finite, but it, as Vedanta affirms, is all an 'appearance'; it
seems so; not is. And, ironically, it is 'appearance', the way we look, the image in
the mirror, that dominates modern life. It is 'appearance', not the reality, which
we want to change, to 'improve', to 'augment', to 'enhance', to make whole. To
cater to this 'need', to satiate this thirst, we have a surfeit of help at hand: plastic
surgeons, navel and nose fixtures, fitness gurus, diet doctors, therapists, life
coaches, body-shapers and fashion consultants and so on. Vedanta says that the
Absolute alone is real; this world is only 'appearance', maya or illusion. Vedanta
says the way out is to become the 'Absolute'. What modern man wants to do is
to use his knowledge and intellect to not remove, but to perpetuate the 'illusion'
to work on his 'appearance' and make that the 'absolute'. What he wants, in
practical terms, are better jobs, a better love-life, better clothes, better cars, better
relationships, better social statuses, better financial situations, etc. But at the
end of the day, few are satisfied and many are bitter, angry, lonely, alienated, and
disillusioned.
A World of Individuals
We must bear in mind that when we talk of the world in abstract, we are actually
talking of a 'world of individuals', a conglomerate of 'units of life', each 'unique'
and 'not being anything else'. It is the sum total of what the multitude of
individual men and women feel, know, imagine, reason to be, and of whatever
is knowable to a human now or ever. For long, philosophers and scholars have
debated who is supreme: the individual, or society, the unit or the conglomerate.
Some say that the liberty of the individual is the greatest thing of all, and that
'the submission of the individual to society—to the people, to humanity, to the
idea—is a continuation of human sacrifice… the crucifixion of the innocent
for the guilty'. Others argue that it is our inability to go beyond the bounds
of what psychologists call 'individuation', described as a process by which
individual beings are formed and differentiated (from other human beings). That
'individuation' is the cause, root and reason for all the travails of mankind. And,
individuation is greatly influenced by 'intelligence'. We still do not know what
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intelligence in the operative sense means. And who is 'more' or 'less' intelligent
than another person? Someone who is a genius in one field of awareness or activity
might be a novice in another aspect or area. And we know all too well that a most
'intelligent' man amongst us, whose hallmark is 'reasoning' capacity, might act
most 'foolishly' at times. In fact, many of the problems that mankind faces spring
from the exaggerated confidence in reason. That is because we are more than
'intelligence' or 'intellect', and we ignore the other two dimensions: the psychic
and the spiritual. The great rishi Sri Aurobindo said that a 'true transformation'
of man can happen only through a triple transformation—psychic, spiritual,
and supramental. He writes, "The forces that stand in the way of sadhana are the
forces of the lower mental, vital and physical nature. Behind them are adverse
powers of the mental, vital and subtle physical worlds. These can be dealt with
only after the mind and heart have become one-pointed and concentrated in
the single aspiration to the Divine". The aim of the sadhana is "to transform
the whole nature, so that the being may live in union with the divine, and the
nature becomes a field for the action of the divine Knowledge, divine Power and
the divine Ananda". What is necessary for man to do is to surrender some of his
individualism for the collective good. Indeed, as Tagore says, "creation has been
made possible through the continual self-surrender of the unit to the universe.
And the spiritual universe of Man is also ever claiming self-renunciation from
the individual units".
Such are the soaring visions of realized souls—what the human form
is capable of, and needs to work towards. Sri Aurobindo himself says, "He can
succeed in this only if he makes it the supreme object of his life and is prepared
to subordinate everything else to this one aim. Otherwise all that can be done is
only to make some preparation in this life—a first contact and some preliminary
spiritual change in part of the nature". Yet, at the level at which we live our lives,
the connecting thread of all human thought, scriptural and scientific, sacred and
secular, is veneration of life and vilification of death. Death, our 'intelligence'
tells us, is dirty, dreary, dreadful, and an unnecessary—and unfair—end to being
born human. And even if we have no clue what happens next, whether we go
nowhere or somewhere, we believe that any sort of life with any amount of
misery and depravity is better than any sort of death. We are even prepared to
'die' temporarily if we can escape death 'permanently'. That is why we abhor
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'killing' of any kind or for any purpose. Without 'killing' there is no death; we
are 'killed' either by bacteria, decay, and disease or by an insect, animal or an
appliance, or another man. And every 'death' is at once natural and induced;
'natural' because everyone dies; induced or enforced, because no one wants to
'die', even the one who commits suicide. A suicide note often simply says 'consider
my death as normal' and describes it as one's 'last wish'. Alongside the instinct for
self-preservation, we also have the urge for self-destruction. Freud hypothesized
that humans have a 'death drive' or 'death instinct', which he called Thanatos,
but it appears to be accelerating. What Camus called the ultimate philosophical
question, is fast becoming the ultimate 'final' solution to life's problems. It takes
a trifle of an effort to 'die' than to 'live', many are coming round to feel. For a
growing number of distraught and desperate people, the very thought that they
can actually do something, anything—it just doesn't matter what—, that actually
puts an end to an intolerable relationship, a pestering problem, a debilitating and
draining condition, a crippling loss of a beloved or even of a crop, or just the fear
of having to live out life in this world, is becoming a temptation too strong to
resist. The searing commentary on our modern life is that suicide has become, in
the minds of many, not an extreme step, but a reasoned response to the ugliness
of modern life, which is defined, in the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, as
"physical bloom, happiness, and leisure, the possession of material goods, money,
and leisure, toward an almost unlimited freedom in the choice of pleasures". All
this and the 'psychological detail' entails "the constant desire to have still more
things and a still better life and the struggle to this end".
The allures of the luxuries of life, and the uncertainty of after-life, cease
to be deterrents in that frame of mind. And it is seducing many young lives, not
only those who are anyway at the end of life's journey. It is an issue that requires
deep introspection and close attention of psychologists, religious leaders and of
all thoughtful and caring persons. The basic facts of 'death' are stark and simple.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad explains: "When body and mind grow weak, the
Self gathers in all the powers of life and descends with them into the heart… By
the light of the heart, the Self (which is hidden in the lotus of the heart) leaves
the body by one of its gates; and when he leaves, prana follows, and with it all
the vital powers of the body. He who is dying merges in consciousness, and thus
consciousness accompanies him when he departs, along with the impressions of all
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that he has done, experienced, and known". And it offers an analogy to illustrate
the process: "As a caterpillar, having come to the end of one blade of grass, draws
itself together and reaches out for the next, so the Self, having come to the end of
one life and dispelled all ignorance, gathers in his faculties and reaches out from
the old body to a new". Simply or simplistically stated, one moment we are 'alive'
and the next we are deemed 'dead'; 'life', or whatever it might be, departs, the
body disintegrates and decomposes and is quickly disposed off and never again
to be seen, and the rest of mankind get on with their lives till their time 'comes'.
The 'dead' are 'gone' but not altogether forgotten. While some believe that the
dead drift into the domain of fading photos, in some cultures and traditions,
the 'dead', our ancestors, are ritually remembered through requiems; and even
'fed' every year, which it is believed is a day for the 'dead', for their sustenance
wherever or whatever they might be or become. 'Death' defies logic, and there is
no intelligible rhyme or reason, save, to some extent, the theory of karma, why
at any given point one person is 'alive' and another is 'dead'. Maybe what we call
'death' is what we think is 'life' and vice versa. Then again, while death is 'earthly
departure' in human terms, a matter of dread and regret, what about 'earth'? Is it
a matter of 'relief ' and 'celebration', the lessening, however infinitesimally little,
of the human burden on earth? We can surmise and speculate but we cannot shy
away from the fact that with all our intelligence, knowledge, scriptural wisdom,
scientific insights, messages from mediums from the other side, 'we have never
found either a modus vivendi or a modus operandi with mortality', a way to accept,
accommodate and absorb 'death' into our earthly existence. Every 'death' of a
known person intrudes into and affects our affects our lives. We visit the 'place',
attend rituals, comfort the bereaved even if we really do not know what to say
and say good things about the dead that you did not tell them when they were
alive. The sun does rise the next morrow and we do our oblations as a part of
'being alive', and the 'dead' go wherever they go, or nowhere and henceforth they
remain a part of our past.
Seminal Choice—Merger with the Machine or Evolution from Within
But the irony is that while we all blame brain-led human behavior as the source
of all the problems of the world, we are also trying to solve the problem only
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by augmenting that very brain-power artificially. Our present mindset is that
whatever we want and for whatever is wrong with us, we can get a fix through
ersatz, artificially or synthetically. That is not confined to either organs or
intelligence. It includes even overcoming our moral flaws through what is being
described as 'artificial morality', a research program for the construction of
moral machines. Suddenly, the name of the game in town, the flagship issue, the
panacea for all our troubles is the 'machine'. Alexis Carrel suggested, "Humanity's
attention must turn from the machines of the world of inanimate matter to
the body and the soul of man" (Man, The Unknown, 1935). We are doing the
opposite. The irony is that while the machine is man-made, we trust it more
than ourselves. We are seeing virtues we think we ourselves lack; we think that
a machine can act as a cover for our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The guiding
philosophy so far has been, in the words of Henry Ford, "for most purposes
a man with a machine is better than a machine without a machine". But the
question is, 'better' for what? In any event, we are about to make a quantum
leap, a paradigm shift in our relationship with the machine. The accelerating
advances in synthetic body parts, artificial intelligence, stem cell research, and
genetic engineering, it is expected, will move us to a new era, where humans
mingle with humanoids, cyborgs, and artificially intelligent robots. We not only
want to make more and more sophisticated machines, appliances and gadgets
to make our life 'better'; we want to go all the way like what scriptures told
us to do with God—merge with it; dissolve into it. What adjustments we are
forgetting is that in the man-machine symbiosis, it is man who has to make all
the adjustments and compromises; the machine can't, or does not need to. It is
through such a 'merger' or 'dissolution' that we want to become immortal, travel
to and live in outer space, colonize the moon and Mars. Besides the machine,
what we bank upon is the brain. In fact it is the blend of the two that is the magic
wand to solve all our problems. The fact that we still do not have a 'fine-grained
understanding of the neural structure of the brain' does not deter us from finding
ways to merge our mind with the machine, which is the aim of projects like
Elon Musk's Neuralink, the neurotechnology initiative that is reported to be
developing implantable brain–computer interfaces. Instead, what we ought to
be working on is how our brain and heart can better work together to broaden
and better the base of our 'intelligence'.
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We are now stranded in a state of 'materialistic slavery'; we have long
ago almost lost what we might call the innate capability to live without some
mechanical help. We rebel and fight against all kinds of slavery, personal, social,
political, but we wallow in this slavery. To get freedom from this slavery too we
need help, not materialistic but spiritual help. For long, having some sort of a
machine allow us to do work with less muscle effort and greater speed, has been
a part of human life and history, perhaps even pre-history, from the time of our
human predecessor Homo habilis, which means 'handy man' or 'capable man'.
But it has always been a supplement, complement, something that reinforces
us. Now, if the present trends continue and forecasts come true, the machine
might replace us; we will be reinforcing the machine, helping it to do its work
better, with less 'machine' power, by offering our muscle power. There are a
number of religious leaders who are greatly concerned about this trend. Pope
Francis, for example, says that "work is a necessary part of the meaning of life on
earth, a path to growth".76 And we are doing it willfully, eagerly, even 'lovingly';
looking at the machine as a kind of a modern Messiah, a savior, to bale us out
of our own trap, to solve every problem created primarily because of that very
machine—which we now call android, cyborg, robot, biorobot, etc.—, to make
us 'immortal', to take us to the next level of evolution. Cyborg might sound
new and novel, but as Andy Clark points out, "human beings already are—
and have been for quite sometime—cyborgs", but "not in the merely superficial
sense of combining flesh and wires but in the more profound sense of being
human-technology symbionts: thinking and reasoning systems whose minds and
selves are spread across biological brain and non-biological circuitry".77 And he
goes on, "we cannot see ourselves aright until we see ourselves as nature's very
own cyborgs: cognitive hybrids who repeatedly occupy regions of design space
radically different from those of our biological forebears".78 We are now at a crest
of time facing a critical choice: to tread the path of the machine or the path of
what we might call 'evolution from within'.
But what foxes us most is this: 'But WHY?' Why are we so persistent to
make the machine our problem-solver, as the vehicle for achieving all that we
want to achieve as human beings? We must get one thing straight: without the
'human', we are not human beings, whether it is good or bad is another matter. It
is sometimes characterized as a 'great social calamity of our time'.79 The growing
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role of the machine is not new. It started with the Industrial Revolution. It was
well captured by Samuel Butler in his classic work Erewhon (1872). In that he
wrote, "There is no security against the ultimate development of mechanical
consciousness, in the fact of machines possessing little consciousness now. A
mollusc has not much consciousness. Reflect upon the extraordinary advance
which machines have made during the last few hundred years, and note how slowly
the animal and vegetable kingdoms are advancing. The more highly organized
machines are creatures not so much of yesterday, as of the last five minutes, so
to speak, in comparison with past time". The same thing was also anticipated by
Alan Turing in his 1951 paper Intelligent Machinery: A Heretical Theory. John
von Neumann later talked about "approaching some essential singularity in
the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could
not continue". Because the capabilities of artificial intelligence exceeding
human intellectual capabilities and control are impossible to comprehend, the
technological singularity is an occurrence beyond which events are unpredictable
or even unfathomable. None of such warnings or forebodings have had any effect
on the march of the machine or on the mechanization of human community.
When we think of technology we usually mean industry, or manufacture,
or mechanization. But it is also equally agriculture, particularly mechanization
of farming. The philosopher Martin Heidegger went to the extent of comparing
the mechanization of the food industry with the "fabrication of corpses in gas
chambers and extermination camps, the same as the blockade and starving of
the peasantry, the same as the fabrication of the hydrogen bomb".80 While most
would agree that it was a huge stretch and a wild exaggeration, the fact should
not be ignored that it was a watershed even in man's harnessing of the power of
science-based technology. After the industrial revolution, technology has become
the preeminent force in human life and has virtually pushed aside every other
factor and force to the sidelines. Birth and death are no longer what they were a
century ago. It is already possible, through a variety of prenatal tests to determine
whether a child will be a boy or a girl, retarded or crippled, or the victim of some
fatal genetic disorder. The question is: what does one do with that knowledge?
As for death, now we do not know when we are officially 'dead', and—if science
has its way—we could 'die' when we want to and come back to life in the same
body at a time of our choice. Medical technology is re-sculpting the human
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body, and mechanization is marginalizing the role of humans in human life.
One of the 'realities' that man has long been uncomfortable with has been his
own body. He thinks and feels he is different, but his body is not. Ernest Becker
puts it this way: "Man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox: he
is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed
in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still
carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is
alien to him in many ways—the strangest and most repugnant way being that
it aches and bleeds and will decay and die".81 That is what we are trying to
undo. We can now transplant almost every organ in our body. Since the first
heart transplant done by Dr. Christiaan Barnard in 1967, it is now no longer
so novel. Every year, it is estimated that more than 5,000 heart transplants are
performed annually worldwide. Science, we are now told, might cross the final
frontier—human-head transplant. In 2016, two surgeons, Dr. Xiaoping Ren and
Dr. Sergio Canavero, wrote about full human head transplants being within the
realm of the possible.82 As for the goodies of 'mechanization', we are told that we
can engage a Rosie83 at home who can be 'primarily a personal assistant but also a
photographer, security system, and household efficiency monitor'. Some reports
say that it would soon be possible to have with us a 'Mother' robot that could
build babies out of mechanized blocks, and then create new ones that evolve
from the previous generation; robots would then be able to evolve on their own,
in the same way in which animals and humans have done.84
It might be possible, in the not-too-distant future, to envision machines
being made of bones, muscle, and skin tissue, and possessing all the capabilities
of normal humans, while being man-made, with programmed brains. 'Brain',
maybe, but how about, as they say, 'having a heart' and a consciousness and
conscience? And let us not forget that, as John Bernal pointed out, "the human
mind evolved always in the company of the human body, and of the animal body
before it was human. The intricate connections of mind and body must exceed
our imagination, as from our point of view we are peculiarly prevented from
observing them. Altering in any perfectly sound physiological or surgical way the
functionings of the body will certainly have secondary but far-reaching effects on
the mind, and these secondary effects will be still unpredictable at the time when
the physiological changes take place".85 The so-called 'mind-body' problem, the
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'relation between conscious experience and the physical world', has long been
beyond our grasp, but some strides have been made in the past decade or so.
Although it may require "revision of some deeply-held presuppositions" the
obstacle to a breakthrough is, it is said, "not in our genes but in our suppositions",86
and with that as a point of reference, some cognitive scientists and observers are
hopeful of solving this riddle soon. Two other factors we must also grasp. Our
'fatal attraction' to the machine is also an adverse off-shoot of the state of the
'war within'. Two, it is not, as commonly presumed (at least not only) to relieve
or replace human labor or to have workers who do not 'throw down their work
and gnash their teeth', or not go on sick leave or to make our life less burdensome
or boring. It goes much farther and deeper, and that is why the machine was
so irresistible. Even those who are not 'replaced' are exhorted to become more
machine-like, compliant, obedient, tireless, temperament-less, single-minded, or
more accurately, mind-less. We are 'mechanizing' not only the workplace and
offices, but also our homes, hotels, hospitals classrooms, communications and
commerce, colleges… everywhere where human beings interact with other such
beings.
Such a trend is in line with one of the fantasies that man for long has
entertained—about mindless, self-propelled helpers to relieve their masters of
'toil'. It is rooted in the very core of human nature, our almost pathological
drive and desire to control, no matter who or what the object is. It is to extract
'obedience' from our partner, children, fellow-humans, other species, the earth,
even the skies. The human is, in his mind, a control freak. Given a chance, we
obsessively try to dictate how others, particularly the vulnerable, are supposed
to be, to think and to feel, and impose our views on others. We try to dictate
how everything is done around others. We all, in different degrees, are 'selfobsessed'
and afflicted or infected, with what psychologists call the 'narcissistic
personality disorder'. The greatest temptation we cannot resist is to find fault
with and 'control' every one else, except our own selves. In fact, it is our utter,
pathetic inability to have any control over ourselves, over what we say or do,
that makes us so aggressive in our desire to control others. The latest 'advance' in
this direction is something man has long wanted: to 'control' the other animals.
And scientists say that a new brain-interface device that helps translate brain
waves into commands could let us 'control animals with our thoughts'.87 It is the
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desire and ability to influence or direct people's behavior or the course of events.
It is almost pathological, this temptation. Few of us are devoid of this desire.
And much of the trouble in the world comes from this obsession to control:
of individuals over other individuals; of groups over other groups; of races over
other races; of nations over other nations. And technology is promising a 'future
where everything around you can be controlled'. Needless to say, for the good of
our own future, we must try to 'control' our power of control. Power and control
are the two legs on which modern man walks. They are a part of everyday life,
that we, in some measure or the other, exercise in every situation and setting
and in every relationship. Power makes us feel superior to others, freeing us
to shift our focus away from others to our own goals and desires. It can be
heady, intoxicating and once tasted, or exercised over another, be it a spouse or
colleague, or stranger, it can become even involuntary and addictive. Sometimes,
'being controlled' can also be compulsive, we may even derive 'pleasure', as in the
Stockholm syndrome. But, properly focused, power and control can empower us
to make a moral difference for the greater good.
There is no denying that technology has also given us the power to
exterminate all other species on earth. We are doing this on the mistaken premise
that they are of no use or consequence. As the Norwegian philosopher Arne
Naess put it, "We are dependent on every, practically every kind of… every
species. We don't know which species are of no consequence for us. So, the
more seriously you take the non-living… the non-human beings, the better".88
We have no control over ourselves, our desires, our passions, our prejudices,
our avarice or anger but we want to control and conquer everything else. The
master-slave relationship gives us another form of control. Even though formal
slavery stands abolished globally, some sort of soft or subtle slavery is very much
a part of human life everywhere. We just can't give it up, slavery in spirit; it
is good for our oversized ego, only those who cannot do not. And man, even
'slave', is turning out to be too unreliable, too temperamental, too demanding,
particularly when they close their ranks. And then, any sort of slavery raises
'prickly' issues like human rights, labor laws, unions, and minimum wages and so
on. Now, with a machine no such issues arise. That is why we are trying to create
a new class of 'new and improved' mechanized slaves, who are more 'efficient',
and who, we assume, will be more compliant and devoted to our whims. The
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'female' might even be prettier, and the 'male' more masculine than the human
one, experts assure us. Slavery will stage a comeback; but no one will protest.
For governments, it will give more muscle to make 'war' without human cost;
for corporations it will mean more profit, more productivity, less labor trouble,
and haggling with unions; for individuals, it will offer more comfort, safety,
and more robust and trustworthy domestic 'help', with the likes of 'android
servants'. Maybe we might then be able to clean up the environment! Our choice
of the word robot is revealing and a give-away. The word robot comes from the
Czech word robota, which means servitude, forced labor. We are indeed making
'progress' in that dubious direction. Thousands of patients are already reported to
be using some kind of a brain implant, to treat brain-related disorders. A future
robot, or cyborg, or maybe something else of the same genre, might turn the
tables on us like in Karel Capek's 1920 play R.U.R (Rossum's Universal Robots).
The future that is being dangled before us is that robots might become
autonomous and outnumber humans, like today's cell phones, in the next thirty
years;89 or become as common as computers even sooner. And some say that
every home will own a drone by 2025.90 As robots become more autonomous,
there could be a real possibility of computer-controlled machines facing ethical
decisions, like the one faced by the fictional computer character HAL9000 in the
1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. If robots are electromechanical representations
of our entire selves—minds plus bodies, as some say, and if they outnumber us on
earth, what could possibly be the impact on human life, or how do we define them
as human? What would that do to human evolution? Could we embed ethical
systems into robots, so that they mechanically make the judgments that seem
right to most people. How would that affect human-to-human relationships?
First, those who now hire humans would prefer robots and we cannot blame
them as that is a 'logical' extension of what we prize most: rational choice.
Some might even prefer a robot mate to a human partner, or a robot nanny to
a babysitter. Humans could be unemployed or be reduced to helpers and semiskilled
labor. If robots are going to have the same kind of mindset that we have,
then they would be no better than us; probably worse, because they will have no
heart as a balance. If they are more 'intelligent' than us, and as self-destructive as
we are, we can end up being their 'robots', or be eliminated altogether. They can
become killing machines, and we would never know why, when and how they
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might turn killers. In 2015, a technician was killed by a robot at a Volkswagen
plant in Germany. This could have been a freak accident, or a straw in the wind.
But can robots be held responsible? And if they are 'intelligent', should they be
treated as 'persons'?
As in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, our greatest gift, creativity, in a
monstrous twist, is reinforcing, in the words of Joyce Oates, "humankind's
predilection for self-destruction".91 The evidence is all around. Possibly an
ultimate in this direction would be sexless reproduction; to synthetically replicate
ourselves. According to a report, a Chinese company, which has the world's
largest cloning factory, already has the technology needed for human replication
through cloning.92 Fundamentally, cloning is asexual—a child becomes a product
of one, not two, as nature has intended, turning procreation into manufacture.
Some society women feel it releases a female from what is euphemistically called
'to make out', the torture of 'someone sticking something in you… for a thing to
grow in your body… which eventually tears itself out, leaving a trail of blood and
destruction'.93 We 'create' weapons, wasting precious human and scarce natural
resources, being fully aware that they are too destructive to be used but which
can fall into the hands of those who are too deranged or desperate not to use
them. We constantly enhance the lethal power of hand guns so that one crazy
man can, with every new version, slaughter, more easily and with less skill and
effort, more than he could have done with the previous model of the weapon. We
'create' machines with the dedicated objective of rendering us useless. What we
fail to understand is that once something gets made, it is foolish to imagine that
their use is exclusively our prerogative. Machines have a 'life' and a dynamic of
their own. The Creator created us; what we create is also His creation. The same
thing goes for so-called inanimate objects. As Jennifer Worth puts it, "Inanimate
objects have a life of their own, especially when they are the daily companions of
a living soul". Our very life depends on these 'things' and therefore they deserve
respect, if not reverence. That is why, in Hindu festivals, there is a ritual called
the 'Ayudha puja', where one remains respectful of all things that one commonly
uses, be it a plow or a tool or a knife or a car, or a book—and in today's world, a
cell phone, or a computer or a gun or drone, or a missile—depending on who we
are and the work we do to make a living. We are supposed, on that day, indeed
every day, bow down to that object and pay obeisance and use it respectfully.
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Unless one approaches something with a certain sense of reverence, and a deep
sense of involvement, it will not yield hope for an outcome. Anything that we
use, we have to see it as something above ourselves, and bow down to it so that
it evokes a deep sense of involvement. Once such involvement is there, we will
handle it well, and will get the best out of it. But what we are unaware of is that
everything in Creation, even if it is an 'inanimate thing', has a life in its own
way, and is so integral and indispensable to our 'life' that it deserves respect
and reverence. The two principal 'instruments', or 'implements' with which we
spend all our lives, from birth to death, are our body and mind; so pervasive and
fundamental they are that we have to be reverential. Being 'reverential' means
both taking care and keeping some distance, or being detached. Which is what
scriptures advise us to do: don't be too attached to your body and mind; they are
'your body' and 'your mind', and therefore not 'you'.
A broader question that crops up in this line of thought is this: if everything
we 'create' is also God's creation, and nothing can happen in the world without
His grace, does it include nuclear weapons, and weapons of mass destruction?
And did God make man to be self-destructive, or did He allow the 'finest' of his
creations, as the Bible says, that which is made on His image—mago dei—, to
spend all his time on earth being self-destructive. To put it differently, how does
Joyce Oates' predilection for self-destruction fit into or play out in God's Grand
Scheme of creation and destruction? Just like in creation, are we also doing His
work on earth in all the 'cides' we indulge in—suicide, homicide, infanticide,
ecocide, fratricide, patricide, matricide, and so on? Quite logically, come to
think of it: how can we—frail, flawed, slaves of our senses, venal, under the
thumb of materialism and malice-filled mind—acquire the awesome capacity to
accelerate human extinction and to blow up the planet if He did truly not want
it? Technology, in that light, is a divine avatar, both in its ability to lift lives and
to exterminate life itself. And, from this perspective, how should we view our
latest 'creations', machines in general and robots in particular, that are predicted
to be even more central to human life in the future, in war and peace, at home, at
the workplace, in communications, transportation and in the struggle for global
strategic power? Are they meant to be acts of creation or destruction? Many
humanoid robots already exist like Darwin Op, Darwin-mini, NAO Evolution,
Pepper, Romeo, iClub, Kuratas, etc. Some are very expensive, costing more than
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a million dollars, while simpler ones can be obtained for just over a thousand
dollars. Robots are no longer used just in industrial environments, factories,
warehouses, and laboratories. These 'intelligent' human-like machines are
already becoming part of our lives, of the society we live in. The passage of time
will bring lower costs and new technologies, which will narrow the intelligence
gap between robots and humans and will enable their widespread purchase.94
The question is: what is 'human-like', and what does 'more intelligent' mean?
Will these creations have self-consciousness and what is their driving 'thinking
force' that makes them do what they are capable of doing? And what is the glass
ceiling when it comes to these robots: will man become completely redundant or
be reduced to a side-kick, or will he still call the shots?
Whichever scenario might unfold, man will still matter, and the makeor-
break point to bear in mind is not how versatile, 'intelligent or powerful a
robot might become. The more important question is, after the tinkering and
reinforcing that science promises to do with our body and brain is done with,
what will be the state of 'human' consciousness of that human being? And if we
'transfer', 'upload' the brain/mind that we currently have, into that 'being', it is
hard to predict whom the future has to dread more: the 'modified' man or the
humanoid? Mary Shelley's Frankenstein leaps to our mind as a possible paradigm.
The humanoid will be the 'monster'; and Victor Frankenstein, the 'new man'.
We will be like the creator who despised his own creation and forced that form
of life to behave like a monster, ending eventually in his own destruction. Like
the humans of today, Victor (the creator of the monster, in the novel) in fact
wanted to make one 'like himself '; certainly not the hideous creature it turned
out to be. As for morality, it is arguable who was moral or who the victim was:
Victor, who abandoned his own creation, or the monster who murdered many
people as revenge for his creator' callousness? We are in fact a bit of both. Like
Victor, we too are filled with hubris and dreams of glory, and have the power
to 'play God'; and like the monster, we harbor deep longing for goodness, love
and, above all, friendship, which the Buddha said is the 'whole of holy life'. The
monster might have a good reason to feel like that, but, in our world too, with
far less justification, everyone, even the villain, even a mass murderer, thinks he
is a victim, and like Victor they too run away from any moral responsibility for
what they do. We may not like to own up, but the fact remains that for every
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crisis the world faces, all of us or each of us, is 'responsible' for the 'disfigurement
and destruction of creation'. Another character that we are increasingly coming
to resemble is Duryodhana, in the great Indian epic Mahabharata. Duryodhana
was the architect of his own destruction, as well as of his entire clan. Despite
being the heir apparent of a huge kingdom, he was consumed with greed, malice,
hate, and extreme ambition. Even more telling is that he openly acknowledged—
which we still do not do—that he was following the path of adharma or evil,
but was unable to restrain himself. If we can come to terms with who we are
now—a hybrid or the monster, Frankenstein, and Duryodhana—and if we
are still capable of some sacrifice, should we then welcome what scientists
describe as the 'human-robot-symbiosis' as the road to choose at this crossroads
of history?
Brain—the Beast Within
We must first grasp one central fact: whether it is a computer billions of times
more powerful than unaided human intelligence, or a rogue or sentient-robot,
they are all brain-bred and mind-made. But the beast within all of us is the
brain. All of us have what is often called a 'reptile brain', that links us down
the ladder to the fight–flight–freeze mechanisms inherent in all mammalian
(and earlier) life. If we do not want the future to be a 'logical' extension of the
present, whether and when singularity95 happens or not, and whether or not
man becomes a slave of, or merges into, a machine, for man to evolve in the
right direction, human 'intelligence' must also evolve into wisdom and for that
it has to be more broad-sourced. We don't have to be 'brain-dead'; for that, we
would need to complement, not supplant, the brain/mind. We have to create or
discover an additional source, not externally but internally. Every thought we
entertain, everything we see and perceive, every word we utter and every deed we
do is wholly mental. This is not a new discovery or revelation. So synonymous
is mind with man and so limiting, that it has even been said by spiritual masters
that 'man minus mind is God' or, positively, 'God plus mind is man'. Not only
spiritualists but even some great scientists have echoed the same thought. For
example, Einstein wrote that "behind anything that can be experienced there
is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches
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us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection".96 That 'feeble reflection' must be a
shining star, a beacon of bright light.
But the mind too, like everything else in life and nature, can be both 'good'
and 'bad'; contingent on the 'state of mind' of the mind. The mind manifests
as logic, reason, and intellect. They have played a huge role in human survival
and supremacy. But they have their own character and limits. The biggest of
the challenges mankind faces at this hinge of history was best summed up by
Alexis Carrel (Man, The Unknown, 1935): 'Those who desire to rise as high as
our human condition allows, must renounce intellectual pride, the omnipotence
of clear thinking, belief in the absolute power of logic'. The great 8th-century
Indian philosopher and theologian, Adi Sankara, assuredly one of the sharpest
human intellects ever and an unsurpassed spiritual master, expressed the same
skepticism when he asked, "have we not exaggerated the power and role, the
clarity and reliability of reason?" He said that it is not 'cold logic' that can lead
to self-realization; it is insight that we need, which is "the faculty of grasping
at once the essential out of the irrelevant, the eternal out of the temporal, the
whole out of the part".97 Voltaire said, "Judge a man by his questions rather than
his answers". A Chinese proverb adds: 'He who asks a question is a fool for five
minutes; he who does not ask a question is a fool forever'. The poet David Whyte
wrote about, "questions that can make or unmake a life… questions that have
no right to go away". They won't 'go away' but cannot also be settled the way we
want it. After twenty years of what he himself called 'presumptuous research',
Raimon Panikkar reached his 'humble conclusion' and asked, "How can human
thinking grasp the destiny of life itself, when we are not its owners?"98 Whether
our 'natural' destiny was to 'squat in caves and shiver, then die'99 or conquer
the stars and be immortal, as we dream to do, our task on earth ought to be
to make the planet a safe place for future generations to live upon. And, we
must acknowledge that all ultimate 'questions' have no infallible answers, and
all human ability to 'know' is tightly circumscribed, for good, or godly, reasons.
We must also never allow ourselves to go soft on another central fact.
While perennial questions concerning the origin of evil, what is evil, and whom
we can call evil, and under what circumstances will never 'die', the reality is that
in the innermost recesses of our being there are seeds of both good and evil, and
that an epic struggle is constantly raging between the two for the conquest of
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our consciousness. And yet, one cannot exist without the other. We must bear in
mind that even if it is a struggle we don't witness or feel or experience, it is real
and if we want to rise to our full 'humane' potential and become a more benign
being and seriously address any of the existential threats the world is facing, then
we must prevail in this mortal combat—at the least manage a positive stalemate.
In all of us there are two men, two personalities. One is one whom some call,
a bit unfairly, the 'animal man', or more accurately 'self-centric man', slave of
the senses, driven by desire and pursuit of pleasure; the other is the 'spiritual
man', essentially struggling or seeking to turn his existence into a tool to be
useful to others. What we call our 'behavior', which often surprises, saddens
and maddens us so much—how could we, we wonder—, is but an external
extension or reflection of the 'state of that struggle' between these 'two men'.
Call it the karma of Kali Yuga, our current age, or whatever else, over the recent
past, the personality of 'self-centric man' has become the dominant force in our
consciousness. And that, we need to change, using every means at our disposal,
every trick or trade, to induce and bring about an internal 'regime-change', a
revolution in the psyche of every human being. But such a revolution cannot
be brought about solely by any external entity alone, be it religious, political, or
social. Yet context matters. To change something we must be open to change. In
fact, that is a central fact we tend to ignore. Nothing in nature, nothing in life
happens, or can happen, out of context, or in isolation. Everything that happens
in life has to happen for something else to happen, or has happened. All morality,
all virtue, all religions, all scriptures, all science, all thinking are contextual,
outcomes of space and time. We venerate scriptures as sacred, and a truly religious
person is expected to live by the Book. They might be the very word of God, but
the medium, even if he is a prophet, is the human consciousness. Some scholars
even say that different portions of the same Book have different things to say,
reflecting the ethos of the time of the specific part. For example, it has been
said that the peaceful Quran passages were revelations that began in Mecca, and
the war-like ones were from Medina. When context changes, content changes.
And if it doesn't, it becomes irrelevant and injurious. It is our constant failure
to accept and adapt this truism that is responsible for so much of what went
wrong in human history. We cling to ideal concepts, ideologies and beliefs that
demonstrably do more harm than good. What has thwarted our aspirations to
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lead happy, harmonious, and fruitful lives is due to another central fact. We have
been completely clueless and powerless to do anything about anything 'within'
and that 'helplessness' has a huge bearing on how we lead our lives in the karana
jagat, the causal world.
Man—Noble Savage, Civilized Brute, or Half-Savage?
If we are 'moral'—or spiritual, for that matter—then we wouldn't be so reflexively
self-righteous, a trait that rationality again rationalizes. After all, the line between
'self-belief ', or 'self-esteem', which we deem a virtue, and self-righteousness,
which is bad, is very thin. It is rationality that draws the line. The 'moral' state of
man at birth has long been a subject of scholarly and speculative debate. Some say
that "men come into the world with their benevolent affections very inferior in
power to their selfish ones and it is the function of morals to invert this order".100
Others aver that we are essentially 'good' at birth and it is culture and civilization
that corrupt us. Whether we are a 'civilized brute', 'noble savage' or, to borrow a
phrase from the American television serial Star Trek (Arena) 'half-savage'—there
is hope. The fact is that we have always been, are and will always be, morally
mixed-up and messed up, although the make-up of the 'mix' varies from time to
time and person to person, even within the same person, sometimes dramatically
and drastically. Everything that is in nature—the good, bad, and ugly, noble and
nasty—they are all there within each of us. They constantly collide and fight
for supremacy. There is almost nothing that has always and everywhere been
deemed either 'good' or 'bad'. When the necessity and context change, the focus
of what is moral and what is not also changes. What might appear as immoral
or cruel now, like slavery, patricide or infanticide, for example, were at another
time conceived and viewed as acts of mercy and morality. Furthermore, if man
had been wholly selfish or selfless, he would have been extinct a long time ago.
And whether any such 'event' would have been good or bad for life in general is
another question. Another point we must remember is that all morality heavily
hinges on the assumption that we have a good measure of freedom of choice
between good and evil. The point is that none of us is so right or righteous that
we can walk through our lives sniffing and mocking at others. Our 'morality'
too is double-faced. One for us and for our 'near and dear'; another for others.
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Although a bit too biting, in one sense, there is still some sense in Oscar Wilde's
quip that "morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we
personally dislike". But even that 'double-face' is a part of evolution. Had we
been entirely morally even-handed and treated everyone alike, we would again be
extinct by now. That is how generations succeeded each other in an uninterrupted
continuum.
What we should never lose sight of is the supreme, and subtle, secret of
nature. In fact, it is no secret; it is overt, open, and apparent. It is two-fold. To
harness nature we must first befriend it. Blavatsky's The Voice of Silence (1889),
a translation of The Book of Golden Principles says, "Help nature and work with
her, and nature will regard thee as one of her creators and make obeisance. And
she will open wide before thee the portals of her secret chambers; lay before thy
gaze the treasures hidden in the very depths of her pure virgin bosom". We have
been exploiting nature's treasures, not by 'working with her' but by 'groping'
her 'bosom'. What we see is its backlash. The 'second' is that everything in the
cosmos and creation, comes as a dwanda, a pair of opposites, like light and
darkness, positive and negative, good and evil, leaving and clinging, hardship
and hope… And that, the great Sankara, the foremost exponent of the Advaita
philosophy, says, is also due to the power of maya, the cosmic illusion, sometimes
called the Indian Sphinx.101 Everything is dual, but knowing it is not, is wisdom.
The conundrum is that nothing is 'standalone', all by itself, and yet any action
should be performed as if it is. In a basic sense, they are not 'opposites'; nothing
in nature is opposed to another; each is different; and that 'difference' has a
cosmic purpose. Each is distinct, indeed exists, only because the 'other' is out
there. In fact, they create each other; like 'being' and 'non-being'. Without
darkness there is no light; if there is no error there is no truth; without vice
or evil there is no virtue or goodness; without a road up there can be no road
down; and without death there is no life, and so on. Inside each of us and in life
at large there is a dwanda. In fact, the Jewish Kabala describes the Infinite God
as a 'unity of opposites'. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita that He is the
dwanda-atheetha, the One beyond any 'pair', beyond any compound. He tells
Arjuna, "By the delusion of the pairs of opposites, sprung from attraction and
revulsion, O Bharata, all beings walk this universe wholly deluded".102 Becoming
an 'atheetha' ought to be the goal of life. That, in effect, is a state of harmony. But
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then, what is the certainty that 'delusion' itself is not an appearance of illusion?
The fact also is that even a 'negative', properly used, can be positive. The same
snake venom kills but also saves. Context also changes the character of the same
action, positive or negative, virtuous or sinful, legal or illegal. The parent of all
paradoxes is that the 'parent' of all pairs, the dwanda, is the one within. The way
to 'support' it is by the way we 'live', which, in turn, is greatly influenced by the
balance in the internal 'dwanda'. Being different is good; being indifferent is
bad. Indeed, "we are all equal in the fact that we are all different. We are all the
same in the fact that we will never be the same. We are united by the reality that
all colors and all cultures are distinct and individual. We are harmonious in the
reality that we are all held to this earth by the same gravity".103 People have lost
interest in people; it is things that matter. We may not even notice this about
ourselves, but none of us are truly interested in anyone; it is only that which we
think will be pleasurable and comfortable for us to be familiar with that we care
about. If we can grasp and comprehend this fundamental truth, everything falls
into its proper perspective, like looking at the earth from the moon, and will
give us what we need most in life—a launching pad for lift-off, an anchor to
wrap ourselves around. Even our existential experience in daily life tells us that
our cognitive capability is 'necessary but not necessarily sufficient' even to lead
our mundane and meandering lives. We are creatures conditioned by context,
molded by space and place; so is knowledge.
Has God Gotten Weary of Man?
Three of the foundational questions that have long haunted humankind are:
"Who in the world am I?", "Why am I doing what I am doing?", and "What
ought I to do to become what I ought to be?" More practically, how much of
what is amiss and remiss, innately illicit, deficient, and decadent in us is our
fault, and unique in particular in each of us, and what should be the source of
the change from within that changes the way we relate and connect with the
world? Given the inroads that the machine has made into human life and turned
man into a means for its perpetuation, and given our dismal terrestrial track
record, we must wonder if the 'human machine' has become so irreparable and
fatally dysfunctional that we should accelerate our efforts to lighten the 'human'
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part and heighten the 'machine' part. Some argue that "a moral machine is
better than a flawed human being".104 Should we now actively work to install
an 'autonomous' robotic-machine as our natural biological successor on earth?
Are we safer with 'synthetic biology', said to be already in transition from field to
reality?105 The emerging field of synthetic biology envisions engineering the living
world. Record sums are being invested in research in this direction. Although the
premise is that it will deliver novel biofuels, drugs, foods, materials, bio-products
like organs for transplant, chemicals, and even perfumes, clearly it will also yield
unexpected other offshoots. A field of such potentially huge significance requires
informed social and ethical attention.
Besides all the timeless questions of theology and philosophy, we must
now add another one: has God finally given up on man, the one who, as the
Bible says, was 'made in His own image'? And, has God left him naked to the
malice of his own mind? We have no way to know, but what we do know is that
we are getting disdainful of God. Many mock and ask "what has God done for
me lately?"106 Pope John Paul II said that "the limit imposed upon evil, of which
man is both perpetrator and victim, is ultimately the Divine Mercy".107 Is that
why evil, these days, has a smirk on its face? We have performed, in Nietzsche's
words, 'divine decomposition'. Whether avowedly atheistic or not, whether or
not we have 'faith' and/or 'belief ', we so conduct our lives as if God is either
helpless to help us or to hurt us, and therefore skeptics conclude that a "God that
matters, in the 21st century, is all but extinct". And an ad is out for a "God who
matters and can be trusted".108 By 'to be trusted' we mean to do our bidding, to
be at our beck and call—that is what we want from God. Even if we believe in
God, we have come to convince ourselves that to please the extant God we need
not be good and virtuous, that by being ritualistically devout, worshipful and
'charitable' with God, we can sanitize, if not sanctify, our bad behavior, and we
can wash away our evil. From the prehistoric times to the modern day in human
consciousness, God, religion, and morality are, as a recent study reveals, deeply
intertwined with what it means to be human, for better and for worse.109 At
the practical level, most of us no longer feel any discomfort in being 'pious' and
ritualistically zealous in our theological life, while being immoral and malicious
in our interpersonal universe. We are able to indulge in all this duplicity, doubletalk,
jugglery, and are able to get away with it, and to a large extent are able to
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'have it both ways' because we are in practical terms slaves of our mind. Our
mind is so cunningly nimble that it can explain away anything and turn a mass
murder into a holy action. And it is not only 'fanatics', whom Vivekananda
called 'the sincerest of mankind', and 'extremists' who are led to do such things;
even 'responsible, 'deeply religious', god-fearing 'leaders' have justified gross evil
as righteous acts, 'just wars'. Another instance is President Truman calling the
atomic bombs, which he ordered to be used over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as
'merely another powerful weapon in the arsenal of righteousness'. He did not
say, as many have said, that it was a 'lesser evil' or 'necessary evil', or that he was
doing his 'duty'. All his life, he never doubted why he did. The bomb was not
dropped on Tokyo, where the people who were waging the war were living, and
there was never a credible explanation. One view was that dropping the bomb on
Tokyo would have led to 'lesser' damage, as it was already a rubble, and another
very curious, if not cynical, reason was that they did not want to kill those—
the war-wagers and leadership—with whom they had to negotiate surrender!
Purely objectively, how can we 'rationalize' it, reconcile an individual's presumed
'goodness' with cold-blooded murder of thousands of innocent people? The
mind can make us anything, and make us believe we are 'moral'.
It is our artful ambivalence about God, divine disconnectedness, and our
broken relationship with nature, that has led some perceptive observers like Mark
Juergensmeyer, Dinah Griego, John Soboslai to conclude what is responsible
for many of our thorny problems like the current environmental crisis110—and
most certainly for the current 'morality crisis'. Ivan Karamazov of Dostoyevsky's
Brothers Karamazov111, 112 says, "Without God everything is permitted now, one
can do anything". Or, according to a different translation, "If God didn't exist,
everything would be possible". The key word is 'if '; the premise is predicated
on the non-existence of God. It does not mean that Ivan believed in that; in
fact (in the book), he later confesses to Alyosha that he does believe in God.
But the quote is often used to signify that sans belief in a supernatural, supreme
power, we cannot anchor our moral truths or truly know right from wrong, even
right from another right, and wrong from another wrong. The positive take away
could be that we then know we are on our own, are socially responsible for our
actions, with no alibis or evasions, nothing to explain away with. If we have full
faith in God, however we visualize and wherever its, or His, locus might be, we
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have a solid anchor, a clear focus to 'realize' Him, to live life according to His dos
and don'ts as revealed in the scriptures. Most of us are in the world in between,
neither with implicit faith and belief nor with explicit denial. What we 'know'
is so ludicrously little either to affirm or deny. We want the divine on our own
terms in our own den; we think that God owes us much in return for our belief
in Him. And we think that devoutness can be an antidote to immoral behavior
and acts as a buffer to injustice and oppression. We use worship to try to placate
or even bribe God into overlooking how we ill treat and exploit other people and
torment and torture other species. This is not a nascent trait or tendency. One of
the Hebrew prophets, Amos, for example, warned against this and posited that
God's absolute sovereignty over man compelled social justice for all men, rich
and poor alike.
Conclusion
Things seem so awfully out of control in the world primarily because the human
animal is out of control. He is out of control because control over human
consciousness is in the wrong hands. That is, in the hands of the mind. So long
as that remains unshaken, it doesn't matter if we become 'immortal' to migrate to
Moon or Mars. If any, things will get far worse. And that is why the war within
is doing so badly. That is why human behavior is going from bad to bizarre. The
planet itself is in peril primarily due to human activity, but man, instead of owning
responsibility and redressing the situation, is making plans for lunar or Martian
escape. So then, if things are like this, can it get any worse? Is the 'weary' God, to
paraphrase Rick Yancey (The 5th Wave, 2013), divesting humankind of humanity
to rid the earth of humans? Has self-immolation become the sacred and solemn
duty of every caring human being, to rid the planet of what Agent Smith (The
Matrix) calls 'the cancer of the planet', a plague? But if we don't do that and we
choose to stay on the slippery course, will we become a multiplanetary species,
and who could that 'we' might well be? Will the post-modern man become the
Biblical Methuselah (and live very, very long)? Or, will he become the Puranic
Markandeya of Hindu scripture, and live forever? Or will he become someone
like the Immortals of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels—people who do not
die, but age and become ill, demented and hunger for death? Put differently,
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the darkness that is currently enveloping us the time before dawn or the time
after dusk? Is it the death throes of a doomed species or, as the Bible says, 'the
beginning of the pangs of birth'? Can we turn the gilded age into the dawn of
a golden age? Will money further exacerbate the greed, rancor, and injustice in
the world and trigger a catastrophic collapse and a social meltdown, or can we
transform money into a moral tool to usher in a more just and egalitarian human
society? Will morality continue to offer a cover for social ills, or would we be wise
enough to consensually create a 'new framework for ethical living that is socially
and spiritually topical? Will technology succeed in its goal of turning the human
into a Deus or god, or will it turn us unto a hybrid of zombie and walking dead?
Or will it help erase absolute poverty, mass illiteracy, and ill health from the face
of the earth, and arrest and reverse existential threats like climate change? Will we
continue to look for new ways to nag and nibble, torment and terrorize, divide
and destroy ourselves, or realize the oneness of all sentient life, that we are all
manifestations of the same Supreme cosmic consciousness, which, in the words
of Richard Bucke (Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human
Mind, 1901) as entirely immaterial, entirely spiritual, and entirely alive? Will
we continue to be the butchers of biodiversity and terminators of terrestrial life,
or recognize, as William Blake said "everything that lives is holy" and that every
form of life, from ant to elephant, termite to tiger has an irreplaceable niche in
nature, and that their premature passing could cripple the ecosystem and life in
general, and that the human, whoever technology will turn him into, is by no
means immune? No one knows for sure. The answer can be anything. It depends
on what happens in the womb of the world within, and how the war therein
shapes up, and which side of us—divine or demonic, good or evil, wise or wild,
noble or nasty—comes to control the commanding heights of our consciousness.

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Chapter 2
The Two Cherokee Fighting Wolves
Within—And the One We Feed
The Triad of Worlds We Live In
All of us talk routinely and reflexively of the world we live in as if it is a stand-alone, homogenous, harmonious entity. We actually live in three parallel, yet interdependent, worlds. And our inability to harmonize the three worlds is the source of much misery. The first is the world as another name for Planet Earth—seen as a pale blue dot from space—which harbors and houses over seven billion humans, and many more billions of non-humans. It is a 'dark, dreary, and dangerous' world that catches our eye and engages our attention, but we never truly believe we are a part of it, that what happens to it is of any relevance to our life. Practically speaking, we don't live in one big world. We live in a collection of small worlds. The second is the world of near and dear and neighbors, family, friends, and foes. This is the world that truly matters, and yet we are affected by what happens in the first world. The way we have tried to overcome this ambivalence, this 'irksome inconvenience', true to our genius, is to have it both ways: to be caring and cooperative towards a few, the ever-shrinking 'near and dear', and be competitive and callous towards the rest. Caring for the 'few', as the Dalai Lama noted, is 'emotional attachment', not 'genuine compassion'. As he puts it, "true compassion is universal in scope"—one might add, not subject to reciprocity. The Dalai Lama goes on: "The rationale for universal compassion is based on the same principle of spiritual democracy. It is the recognition of the fact that every living being has an equal right to and desire for happiness… Compassion and universal responsibility require a commitment to personal sacrifice and the neglect of egotistical desires". Jesus said, "You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate". And compassion is simply 'returning a favor', a quid pro quo, if it is shown only to those who are 'good' to us'. True compassion comes into play when it is extended to those who do 'harm' to us. In the karmic, if not cosmic, sense, those who harm others, 'suffer' more than the others do. Human nature is such that if we do, or think we do, 'good' to
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other people, it is natural to expect recognition, if not gratitude, from them. And when we do not get it, as it so often happens, we feel hurt, even resentful. And that sours our own mood and mind and affects our future responses to similar situations. Expectation always leads to disappointment, and it is very hard for a person of average abilities to do anything, particularly an act of altruism, without expecting something in return, even a simple and sincere 'thank you'. Scriptures and sages tell us that we should try to transcend that spiritual 'limitation'. Prof. Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, a philosopher, reformer, and educationist, whom the Sage Ramakrishna himself hailed as compassionate, was once informed that someone was abusing him. Prof. Vidyasagar reportedly answered, "Why so? I do not remember having done any good to him". Compassion is not only for 'others'; we need to be 'compassionate', at least 'considerate', towards our own selves. Too often people try to cope with their suffering with low self-esteem or harbor a sense of inadequacy and failure. They fall into patterns of stressful and destructive self-loathing which just multiplies into misery. Self-compassion is different from self-love, which is injurious to others; compassion, wherever it is directed, can only do 'good'. It is also different from random acts of kindness; they lull us into thinking that we are 'good', that it balances our 'bad'; which might even embolden us to be more brazen. Compassion essentially is a state of sublime consciousness, and once we cultivate it in our whole mindset, our behavior and personality changes. We do not need to become a Buddha or Christ or even a Gandhi to be compassionate. At its core must be the dictum that our lives and those of all beings are connected as in a giant web spread right across the planet and indeed beyond. If we can imbibe the sense that we are all made of the same stuff, subject to the same natural processes, all sailing in the same 'existential boat', we will naturally feel compassion towards all other life and forms of life. As the Buddha sings in the Karaniya Metta Sutta: "Have that mind for all the world, get rid of lies and pride, a mother's mind for her baby, her love, but now unbounded". It is relatively easy to accept this intellectually, to feel good about ourselves and stay stranded in the smug status quo. For it to have any practical effect it has to become our reflex reaction.
The third and the most important, is the world within, our inner world, invisible, impervious, and impenetrable. The first world is our only home. Although the world outside, the phenomenal world is the same geographical zone
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of activity, different people perceive it differently. For some, the world is wondrous
and the people are good, while for others, it is, in Arthur Schopenhauer's words,
'such a miserable and melancholy world', where the people are deceitful and
sinful. It is so, because the outer world is the projection of our inner world. But
somehow, we see ourselves apart, and separate. The paradox is that everything
is globalized in this world but not our mindset. We stay connected regardless
of distance or culture, but lose touch with our own inner or deeper selves.
Everything any of us does affects everyone else, and yet we all behave as if we are
an island unto ourselves.
Deep down we just believe that the 'fate of the earth' is not our fate; and
even if it is, we will somehow survive it, triumphant amidst the smoldering ruins
and burning ghats of a dying earth. That is the headwater of all that is amiss
with humanity today. It is this facile, if not false, faith that lets us go to sleep at
night, and do all the sundry silly things the morning after and feel good. And
that is why the second world is the real world we actually care about, because
everyone in this world is but an extension of 'I, me and mine'. It is from this
world that we derive our sense of identity, or sorrow and well-being, rather than
from the first world or the third, the world within. The lives in the second world
crisscross ours, give us joy or sorrow, delight or despair, make life tolerable or
toxic, meaningful or malignant. It is what happens in this world that seduces us
to suicide, and impels us to homicide. What is upsetting about death, in fact, is
the prospect of getting separated from the second world, not the first, universal
world. The 'third world' is the inner world, the most consequential and the most
meaningful. It is this world that Matshona Dhliwayo calls the 'greatest temple
in the universe' (Lalibela's Wise Man, 2014). Both the first and second worlds are
but its reflections and extensions. But our inner world is invisible, and yet, as
George Eliot says (Middlemarch), 'the true seeing is within'. The biggest change
mankind has to make, is a paradigm shift in its preoccupation and focus from the
external to the internal, from the without to the within, from outer space to the
inner space, and, most of all, shift his focus from the wars outside to the spiritual
war within. The world within is the world of our consciousness, and the 'war'
that rages is for gaining control of its commanding heights.
The paradox is that there is no consensus on the definition of what
constitutes this 'third world', except that it is not the much-talked-about 'Third
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World', the economically underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin
America. This is not a geographical or physical world; it is the spiritual world.
Although we used to think that it is exclusive to the human world, many scholars
and researchers are now positing that it is inherent not only in the animal
kingdom, but also in the vegetable and mineral kingdoms, although human
consciousness is higher than that of others. And that spiritual growth calls for
attaining higher levels of consciousness. Consciousness is both universal and
unique; unites and separates. Both unites and divides. All of us are fragments
or sparks of the divine or cosmic consciousness. And yet, as individual forms of
life, we all have our particular consciousnesses. The dissolution of the particular
into the universal or cosmic consciousness is the ultimate spiritual goal. Views,
however, vary on where we are consciousness-wise at this juncture in our history.
Some say that although everything appears dark, grim, gloomy, and depressing,
there are tell-tale signs that we are actually poised at the dawn of a global or
planetary consciousness. From the other end, others argue that all the stomachturning
things happening in the world, perpetrated by us humans, indicate how
depraved and debased human consciousness is. If that were so, how does one
explain the good things people still do? In truth, both are true. Our individual
consciousness houses all our emotions, feelings, and inclinations and dispositions
and passions and, depending on their intrinsic nature, they all fall into two
camps or sides or opposing sets of forces: good and bad, darkness and light,
constructive and destructive, raga (attachment) and dvesha (aversion), positive
and negative, righteousness and wickedness, altruism and selfishness, mind and
heart. And the opposing forces battle for control of the consciousness. We do
good when the forces of goodness attain an upper hand, and bad when the bad
adversary dominates. The good, the bad, the ghastly that happens in the world
is simply the external manifestation of this war, and it has its ebbs and flows,
and fluctuations and swings. It is an intense and fierce struggle for control and
conquest of this planet and the human consciousness. In spiritual terms, the
fight is between our two 'selves', higher and lower. And the final goal is not to
'defeat' or 'eliminate' one or the other, the good or the evil, the raga or the dvesha,
but to transcend them. That is what the Bhagavad Gita suggests—raga dvesha
viyuktaihi, transcending the opposites—as the way to cultivate tranquility and
divine grace. But in the intermediate state in which we live, the 'fight' goes on.
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What is striking is that nothing grabs our adrenaline more than war; it brings out
man's true nature—good and bad, noble and ignoble, heroic and horrendous.
And yet, we are utterly oblivious and unaware of this deterministic of all wars
within. In the words of the Christian evangelist Billy Graham, "The wars among
the nations on earth are mere popgun affairs compared to the fierceness of battle
in the spiritual unseen world. This invisible spiritual conflict is waged around
us incessantly and unremittingly". It is our consistent and persistent failure to
recognize and pay sufficient heed to this greatest of all wars, the war within,
that is the root cause of all our troubles and problems, and for all the venom,
virulence, and violence in the world that causes so much despair. This explains
the stubborn persistence of organized violence in the human world. War-making
is a major aspect of modern life, and research indicates that this has been the case
for the past several millenniums. In recent decades, numerous anthropological
studies have presented compelling evidence that interpersonal violence and
warfare, in varying degrees, have been an integral part of humanity's history.
Current studies suggest that some of the earliest humans did engage in organized
violence that appears as approximations, forms of, or analogues for what we now
view as warfare. Some scholars even suggest that it could have been a significant
driver of human evolution.
As for the 'war within', we really don't know when it began—estimates
vary from two million years to three thousand years. Many scriptures have
referred to the evil within, and the paramount need to fight it, and some saints
have lamented their inability to do what is right, but no one has painted it in its
true colors. We have been waging all sorts of wars for several centuries, but few,
if any, have realized that the most important of them all is going on right under
our noses, inside the citadel of our own consciousness. We have long wondered
why we behave so badly at times, but never even suspected that the cause as
well as the remedy is in the sanctum of our own soul. It is a matter of everyday
frustration that we are often paralyzed into passivity in showcasing qualities like
what the Buddhists call 'loving kindness and compassion' in stressful situations,
but it never occurred to us that it is because these very qualities are on the losing
side of the war within. Human transformation has for millenniums been the aim
of our spiritual sadhana (practice), but it always gave us the slip because we chose
to ignore the fact that true transformation must rise, like the Phoenix, from
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the ruins of the war within. When 'breaking news' tells us of a bloody massacre
somewhere in the world, we ask, like an alien up in the sky, 'what is happening to
humankind?', but it never crosses our mind that it is the ascendancy of this very
mind in our consciousness that is responsible. And so the capacious charade goes
on: we get on with the myriad mundane things of our meandering lives, always
surprised, shocked and saddened, but feel helpless even as the forces of anarchy
and evil gain strength, fed by our own actions. The answer to the question why
we do nothing individually, even as a blind man can see that the climate crisis is
real and potentially capable of making the planet uninhabitable, is that without
consciousness-change, climate change, like the ill-fated Titanic, is headed towards
its own iceberg—our willful blindness.
All too often, we feel overwhelmed and besieged by what life entails, and
we get stricken with a sinking feeling, like a raft let loose in a stormy sea. It is
because our gaze, attention, and energy are wrongly directed. We gaze at the stars
instead of 'seeing within'; we voyage to outer space, instead of 'going within'; we
marshal all our forces to wage all kinds of wars, driven mainly by ego, avarice,
and malice, instead of directing out attention to the 'mother of all wars', the
War Within. And this war, unlike other wars, has two frontlines: consciousness
inside and context outside. We really do not know when this war began. Some
say it was there all along, and that it gained speed and shape only with modern
man. Others say it began when human evolution evolved to the present selfaware
level—what Julian Jaynes calls the 'breakdown of bicameralism'—about
three thousand years ago. But the fact is, whether it was a war or not, a struggle
or fight between two sets of intrinsically inimical forces, good and evil, light
and darkness has been a constant through the ages. To 'win' this war—which is
to facilitate the ascendancy of the forces under the rubric of good over those of
evil—we need to induce and orchestrate a radical modification of the character
and content of our consciousness in the contemporary 'human way of life'.
Forward—Outward or Inward?
Framed differently, the question is: is the way forward outward or inward ? Do
we turn our gaze and energy to engage with the universe within, or do we
exploit and enjoy the world without? Almost instinctively, we view them as
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separate, even alternatives or opposites. The idea that everything in nature comes
in pairs of 'opposites' permeates Greek philosophy too. The most prominent
is the 'Table of Opposites' of Pythagoras, which, among other items, includes
good and evil, and light and darkness. Such examples are 'day and night' in
Heraclitus' philosophic theory, 'justice and injustice' in Anaximander's, and
'love and strife' in Empedocles' philosophy. The paradox is that both 'opposites'
are two primal cosmic energies, two poles which are opposite but, at the same
time, complementary to each other and which are both manifestations of the
one and only reality. How to harmonize the two without destroying either is the
challenge we face, which is at the heart of the war within. We tend to think that
science deals with the world 'outside', and spirituality with the realm 'within'.
We assume that the within is a given, but unknowable unknown, about which
we can do little. But the outside, we feel, is within reach, which we can mold and
manipulate to our advantage at will, to make human presence on earth eternal
and unchallenged. The fact is that they—the worlds within and without—
are holistically connected, even functionally interdependent; neither can exist
without the other. And the 'world within' is a veritable gold mine of all that
we seek and long for. In the Indian epic Mahabharata, queen Gandhari, who
willingly marries the blind king Dhritarashtra, chooses to blindfold her own
eyes for the rest of her life, to show her oneness with her husband. Henceforth,
she does not see the world without, but she receives the "choice blessings of
the world within" and acquires great spiritual powers, strong enough to throw
a curse on Lord Krishna himself. The macrocosm is within the microcosm, as
much as the microcosm is within the macrocosm. That is the central message
from the Upanishads. Swami Vivekananda explained, "The microcosm and the
macrocosm are built on the same plan. Just as the individual soul is encased in the
living body, so is the universal Soul in the Living Prakriti [nature]—the objective
universe". The inward–outward dichotomy is also used to define the man–God
interrelationship. Meister Eckhart wrote, "The more God is in all things, the
more He is outside them; the more He is within, the more without". Everything
that comes out is but an extension, reflection, and projection of what is already
inside. And the 'already inside' is itself an outcome of an internal struggle. We
may think that only wars of the world are real, but spiritual warfare too is very
real. Warfare happens every day, all the time inside us. Whether we believe it or
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not, all of us are in a state of war. Eknath Easwaran says, "Spiritual life too is a
battle. Mystics call it the war within; the clash between what is spiritual in us and
what is selfish, between the forces of goodness and the powers of destruction that
clash incessantly in the human heart". He also says that the subject of the great
epic Bhagavad Gita is "the war within, the struggle for self-mastery that every
human being must wage if he or she is to emerge from life victorious".
The arena, the theater of operations, where we can find any leads to solve
our problems can only be within the microcosm—the individual man. WB
Yeats wrote in his poem Cuchulain's Fight with the Sea, "I only ask what way my
journey lies". Jalal ad-Din Rumi said, "Everything in the universe is within you.
Ask all from yourself ". But the outward-to-inward journey is more complex; it
requires more effort. For, how we live in the world outside influences what goes
on inside. The inward journey has been characterized as the longest journey,
the path to God, the internal pilgrimage, etc. The 'inward' is the world beyond
perception, the world of intuition, emotion, and feeling, the world of seekers and
noble souls. The destination is the nihitam guhayam, the One hidden in the 'cave
of the heart', the Atman, the Self. And the obstacles are the senses and 'mindbody-
identification'. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna draws the analogy of
a tortoise to convey the message. He says, "When, again, as a tortoise draws in
on all sides its limbs, he withdraws his senses from the objects of sense, then is
his understanding well poised".1 Just as our brain and body are connected, so are
our inside and outside. We are fairly clear that what appears as the outside is the
phenomenal world in which we exist, work, play, live, and die. The conundrum
is that while we must undertake a journey inwards, we do not know the way; we
only know the way outward, but it leads nowhere. We must transcend our robotlike
existence that devours all our energy and attention, even imagination, mostly
just to stay alive, to fulfill our obligations, to earn a living, to raise a family, to have
fun. In the end, we feel only inadequate, going from crisis to crisis, while time
ticks away to an end that ends it all. Most thoughtful people concur that what
mankind needs is a cathartic cleansing of consciousness. With our consciousness
composed of different stages or levels, some say we are now at the stage that
manifests as the 'me-first', materialistic, and aggressive behavior; but there are
signs that we are on the threshold of a leap up the ladder to a consciousness
driven by 'trans-rational intuition'. Scientists tell us that man is certainly at the
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same time the most aggressive and altruistic animal. In other words, different
individuals, or the same individual at different times, can respond differently to
different situations, and temptations and provocations. It is said that "evolution
didn't just shape us to be violent, or peaceful, it shaped us to respond flexibly,
adaptively, to different circumstances, and to risk violence when it made adaptive
sense to do so. We need to understand what those circumstances are if we want
to change things".2 If we want to tame human aggression we have to create
appropriate circumstances. Many might argue that the circumstances we are
shaping will make us more aggressive; others opine that once the consciousness
threshold is crossed, man could become a more introspective, tolerant, socially
sensitive, and environmentally harmonious person. When that threshold is
reached, consciousness does not dissolve; it is the limits that dissolve. The final
stage, reached by prophets like Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha and Mahavira,
by mystics like St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, by masters like Ramakrishna
Paramahansa, and by teachers like Sankara and Swami Vivekananda, is when we
are able to erase the boundary between the creator and creation, between one
living being and another living being, and reach a level at which humanity itself
becomes one tribe, living in harmony on sacred Earth. We might indeed all have
clairvoyant consciousness, dormant but extant, with which the living can talk
to the dead. While we can speculate about the evolution of aggression of the
human, the two critical factors that everything hinges on are consciousness and
circumstance.
Our chief living limitation is our instinctive interpretation of our own
selves as limited and lone beings. It is our inability to comprehend the import of
the Upanishadic mahavakya, 'Tat tvam asi', (Thou art that), and come to terms
with what Martin Buber3 called the 'Ich und Du' (I and Thou) relationship. We
think, feel, and behave as autonomous individuals; all pleasure and pain, happiness
and misery is experienced by our 'standalone' selves. However, most religions
tell us this is the greatest misconception. The truth is that everything is united,
everything is connected, nothing is separate, and the substratum, the ground
underneath is all divine. What we have to overcome is not a malfunctioning
brain or a wayward mind or even a corrupted consciousness; it is to move into
a different realm of reality. The realm we are comfortable with is the one that is
physical, observable, measurable, and repeatable; in short, borne of the scientific
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method. We have ignored the spiritual realm. We possess all the pieces of the
jigsaw puzzle but it is so huge that we never see it as whole.4 And we wonder why.
Could it be because of the brain that nature has given us? The brain—the 'three
pounds of strange computational material found within our skulls'—is master of
the body. For happiness and harmony it should work in tandem with the body,
but for over a million years of our evolutionary struggle for survival, the leftbrain,
which is the seat of what we call reason and logic, became the dominant
part, and the right-brain, the source of emotion, intuition, love, and empathy,
became a passive passenger. We are now poised at a momentous crossroads.
The kind of intelligence we will nurture towards what direction and purpose
will shape human destiny. Intelligence is the one thing that separates man and
other species, and man from man, and contributes to making us how successful
we are.
The aim of artificial intelligence (AI) research is to develop thinking
machines that outdo and overtake all human cognitive capabilities; leaving
mankind, in the words of Donald Michie, Britain's leading AI researcher, "living
in the interstices of uncomprehended, incredibly intelligent electronic organisms,
like fleas on the backs of dogs".5 The irony is that we are increasingly more
comfortable in the company of thinking machines than of thinking men. There
is growing concern that technologies like the internet are not only intrusive, but
might be making information so easy to obtain that it is atrophying our very
ability to think.6 In effect, it means that 'we have two people living inside our
heads, the person you call 'you' and a total stranger who lives in the other half
of the brain'.7 Another view is that it is not that we have two brains but actually
two minds, 'one of which has far greater powers than the other'.8 A certain sort
of 'ancestral harmony' existed in human evolution between the 'two minds' that
allowed smooth flow of communication between them, and enabled man to
lead reasonably well-ordered and symmetric lives. Problems started when this
flow was interrupted, or became one-way, from the objective to the subjective.
Einstein said, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a
faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has
forgotten the gift". A radically different viewpoint is that it is not a matter of two
minds, but a matter of head versus heart. We have two autonomous but interreinforcing
sources of energy, memory, and intelligence, centered around the
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mind and heart; and that until recently it was the heart that was the dominant
partner, and man was a happy and harmonious being. For reasons not quite
clear, the mind acquired ascendency, the heart went into eclipse and all our
troubles started. Such a view is no longer confined to scriptural thought; it is now
emerging as a scientific possibility. Julian Jaynes called the 'dual-centered' human
consciousness a 'bicameral mind'. We all know that we have something that we
have come to call 'consciousness', but we do not know what it really is and how
it operationally relates with the brain, mind, and heart. Yet another hypothesis is
that we all have a 'Laurel and Hardy type of consciousness', two different selves
that constantly spar with each other. In addition, we also have, according to this
view, a third person inside, a robot, who or which performs all repetitive tasks
of life.9 Some argue that we all have hidden, dormant, occult powers. These are
more pronounced in some people, and were possessed by our ancestors but have
been lost as they were no longer needed. While we live in the visible physical
world, there is another invisible, 'normal, original, eternal, spirit' world.10 Our
ancestors were in constant contact with the 'spirit world', and literally conversed
with the gods. The complete severance of this communication is responsible
for our diminished human lives. Rudolf Steiner even says that if we do not get
closer to the world of spirits, "something completely different from what ought
to happen will happen to the earth".
As if we are not sufficiently befuddled we are also told that that what
appears remote and marginal is "often what the soul inwardly needs".11 But then,
some researchers tell us, about 'the power of thinking without thinking',12 that
more often than not, right decisions are taken not after deliberative thought, but
by instinct and blind feeling. Chesterton wrote that you can only know truth
with logic if you have already found it without it. Whether we rely on intelligence
or intuition, the question that arises is that if life's road, in the harrowed phrase
of Emily Bronte, 'winds uphill all the way', a Sisyphean struggle, then why not
quickly slide down and end it all? To whom should we turn for help—the 'you',
the 'stranger', the 'robot', the 'hibernating heart', the 'hidden self'?—and for
what purpose, and how? Does the solution to all our problems, personal and
civilizational, lie in harnessing our hidden powers, described as 'a sign of our
evolutionary potential'?13 And if so, how? How do we untie the knots that hold
us back? If we want to turn our lives around and become modern-day 'miniThe
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mystics' or 'miniature-mahatmas', or simply men without malice, what is the
road map?
Consciousness-change and Contextual-change
The real suffering, and its only solution, is embedded 'within' each of us. And,
each of us requires each one of us. The deepest secret of sentient life, particularly
human, is very simple. We can achieve everything, fulfill every desire, and
dream, not directly but through a detour; not explicitly but implicitly, through
the medium of another person. Anything done solely for self-gain is pyrrhic;
anything we do for another's well-being is a win-win; you benefit more than the
beneficiary. Only by sharing can we become whole; and make life less difficult
to someone else, anyone from spouse to stranger. All our life, we search for a
meaningful life when the 'elephant' is next to us. We seek the divine everywhere
when our true 'identity' is the divine within, the immortal aspect of our mortal
existence, the Atman as the Upanishads call it. It is something that we cannot
'see'. There is a growing realization in the world today, especially in the New
Age movement, that the only way to avert a cataclysmic catastrophe is a gradual
shift in global consciousness, that without such a paradigm shift nothing else
will work, nothing else will save us… Before we even ponder over such weighty
issues, it is important to offer some cautionary caveats. Like in all issues relative
to the future of Homo sapiens, it is possible, even highly probable, that all our best
answers are tantamount to tilting at windmills; for the truth is beyond our mindmediated
capacity of perception. The capacity we need is to be able to 'see things,
ourselves, other people… differently', à la Beau Lotto.14 But this much is still
true: whatever might possibly happen in the future is contingent and congruent
upon the direction of the transformation not of the world around, but of our
inner life—a process that spiritualists call 'consecration'. And just as in worldly
life we don't win or lose, but live, so it is with our life within. We cannot 'survive'
either victory or defeat, triumph or capitulation. What we should aim at is a
constructive stalemate, a favorable deadlock. All creativity is transformation. In
fact, without transformation there is no life. The key question is transformation
from what to what, and how. While we are witness to and passive participants
of external transformation, we are wholly clueless and utterly unaware of what
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goes on inside us, and that results in a disconnect between the two: external
transformation and internal transformation. As a direct consequence, many of
us try to deal with this 'disconnect' by resorting to all kinds of distractions and
amusement. American writer Scott Fitzgerald portrayed the 1920s as a decade
that began with 'the general decision to be amused'. This applies even more
sharply to the 21st century. What is important to note is that these distractions
and delusions do not end at amusing or entertaining us; they act as nutrients to
our internal destructive passions, and feed the 'wrong' army in the war within.
One of our biggest obstacles to bringing about a holistic approach to
address the challenges of our time is that, although we talk of 'one humanity'
and 'one world', we all exist in our own personalized worlds, which are specific
and special to each individual, a fraction of humanity. As the Mexican saying
goes, cada cabeza es un mundo ('every head is a different world'). In fact, it is
the head that gives form and shape to everyone's world. And that is the chief
problem man faces. We mistake it for an answer, whereas it is really a question. It
is the main handicap and hindrance to better the human condition, and stands
between morality and man. Perhaps the greatest 'delusionary illusion' is to think
and act as if there is an unbridgeable chasm between our life's inside and outside.
The fact is, for something to happen outside in the external world, that activity
has to be caused by something inside in our internal world, and vice versa.
The war within is also the answer to the question why, despite being
essentially a 'spiritual being', man has become an economic animal. If we can
change the direction of our desires, it will change the direction of human effort
and creative power. We will then be able to radically alter not only the context of
our life, but even the content of our consciousness. However, the 'consciousnesscontent'
cannot be changed unless the 'context-content' is changed. And then
again, what does God, up from the sky or deep inside each of us, think of all this?
While it is sheer stupidity or utter naivety to rule out any possibility, a note of
caution will be in order. Logically then, we should all somehow cling to life, hang
on for a quarter century, by which time, it is expected that people will start lives
that could last a thousand years or more. The down-to-earth reality, however, is
far more modest and matter of fact: so far, whatever science has done in this field
is to prevent premature deaths and thus increase the average life span; it has not
really extended our actual life span, which is generally believed to be 120 years,
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even by a single year.15 The irony that eludes our acumen is that on the one hand,
man, unable to come to terms with the demands of modern life, is struggling to
find reasons not to die, and, on the other hand, science is dangling the carrot of
immortality before us. Perhaps the greatest indictment of contemporary life is
that so many are finding it easier to end life than to continue living. If ever the
era of immortality does descend, we might well see a reversal of roles; just as we
now long for immortality, men then might yearn for mortality.
What we are outside impacts on what happens inside, and what goes on
within our consciousness makes us who we are. Most of us live outside and strive
to achieve some goal, some ideal, through our external effort. But the truth is
that there is nothing 'out there' unless it already is 'in here', within the confines
of our consciousness. We may not know exactly what consciousness is and its
link with the brain and mind, but we do know that it is, in large measure, the
difference between being alive and being dead; and that it is what both unifies
and differentiates us as living beings. If we want compassion to be our compass
in navigating through life, we need a compassion-dominated consciousness, and
for that we need to nurture a compassionate context of life. What we need right
now is a new compass to set our direction and steer us through the stormy seas
of our own consciousness. And, it is important to note that it carries some basic
evolutionary implications. Natural selection has been a governing principle in
creation for over four billion years. As Elizabeth Kolbert points out in her book,
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014), whether we intend to do it or
not, we are deciding which evolutionary pathways will be shut off forever, and
which can be left open to flourish. We are moving towards what is being described
as 'evolution by intelligent direction'.16 We are also being told to brace ourselves
for the seismic possibility that the human, or whatever remains of him, is about
to transcend Darwin, and that evolution will be, in the future, mediated by man,
not natural selection, which has held sway for over three billion years. What does
it all amount to? And what does that mean for the much-talked-about New Man of
the New Millennium? If the species has been static on the evolutionary scale, since
the monkey became a man, and if an equally seismic man-mediated change that
rivals such an event is coming soon, how should we react and, more importantly,
try to influence such a change? If we are approaching a tipping point in which
all things that were hitherto impossible suddenly become commonplace, and
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if everything we wish we could actually make it happen, then are we yet again
eating another forbidden fruit? And does this prove or disprove the all-knowing,
all-powerful Almighty? Whichever answer appeals to whoever, the stark fact of
the matter is that mankind is tottering on a balancing beam, and there is a more
than a fair chance that it is about to get thrown off the beam. And man is not
even sure what is down below. The scary thing is that while the outside world
is brimming with hair-raising events, profound mutations are happening inside
our consciousness, even as we go about living, working, mating, multiplying,
murdering, and, most of all, making money. And that entails much more than
going to work everyday and getting a periodic paycheck to buy groceries and
gadgets; it has an enormous ecological cost. Even spiritually we are all at sea, as
uncertainty meets us at every step. Is mortality the sinful fruit of our Biblical
fallen nature? Or is it a golden gift of life, the envy of the angels, or an epiphany
liberating us from life's fait accompli? All this rumination within trickles down
to three matter-of-fact matters: world-weary as we might well be, how do we
live so that life is worth its whole? And, on the individual level, as long as I am
alive, how should I relate with other sentient beings who are anyhow as alive
as I am, both in its limited and larger sense? And then, what is this I am that is
so intrusive and insolent, at once threatened and vulnerable? So, who is that 'I'
(or 'me' or 'mine') that we so pathetically and pathologically cling to as sentient
beings? According to the Vedanta school of Indian philosophy, all troubles start
the moment we utter the 'I'; everything else is an illusion.
To this ageless list of questions we need to add one more, probably the
most momentous, the most fateful of them all: can such issues be considered
academic or superfluous now because we might not after all be around for too
long? We seem to be, in our preternatural hubris and inebriated haughtiness,
crossing two dangerous thresholds—the Darwinian and the Divine. The first, by
trespassing into the forbidden zone between animate and inanimate beings and
trying to turn machines into 'conscious beings', or living things. The second, by
seeking 'death-less' life and mimicking, or mocking, God. Once man himself
was described as the 'ultimate machine', a 'complex machine created through
nature by God'. The tragedy is that, instead of optimizing and fine-tuning,
harmonizing fully what this natural 'machine' is endowed with and is capable
of, we are diverting our entire energy and creative power to making external
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machines to get what we want from life. We must understand that every form
of life is a blend of attributes, and trying to enhance any particular 'ability'
might be counterproductive, and could upset the balance in nature. That applies
even to the length of life span. It is said that we are on the verge of uncoupling
intelligence from consciousness, and machines might come to know us better
than we know ourselves.17 Whether that 'knowing better' is good for us or not
is a wholly different issue. Now, man wants to create 'conscious machines'—
possibly moral machines18—outside the realm and reach of nature, and turn
himself into a 'god' by linking up with it. A huge chunk of man's ageless effort
has been to go beyond being human, or to be more than human. That 'more
than' has now crystallized into becoming a 'god'.
If there is one common thread between all religions and most cultures,
it is the sanctity of human life. It is based on the premise that 'life' is priceless
and the human is special, closest to the divine. Scriptural injunctions like the
Jewish Talmud say, for example, that since all mankind is descended from a
single person, taking a life is like destroying an entire world, while saving a life is
like saving an entire world. But these have largely ceased to be serious restraints
to taking a life… While we are, on the one hand, trying to achieve breakthroughs
in living without ageing, and living as long as we wish to, without regard to
cost and consequence, we seem, on the other hand, to have lost our nerve and
self-confidence. Such is the depth of our self-belief that we have, for all practical
purposes, given up on ourselves and our own internal power, and cast our lot
with external powers, be it artificial intelligence or thinking computers or robots
or androids or cyborgs, to help us out. And it is not science-fiction—about
4000 Swedes are already "cyborgs", part human and part machine. Implanted
in their hands is a tiny identity chip, which they can use instead of ID cards or
credit cards. We have cognitively concluded that without hooking up with an
external contrivance we will not be able to achieve anything. The surprising thing
is that every time we have to believe something, say God, we want proof, but
when it come to technologies like artificial intelligence, we trust them even if we
don't understand how they actually work. And although we associate proof with
rationality, not everything can be proven true or false. In Kurt Godel's words,
"You'll never be able to prove every true result… you'll never be able to prove
every result that is true in your system". The 'fact' is that facts on their own don't
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tell you much; in fact, they can lead you astray. It is only when coupled with
what you desire and with whatever gives you pleasure or pain, that they can guide
your behavior. That is why it is so important to desire the right desire, and want
the righteous want. In real life, the dividing lines between proof, fact, opinion,
and truth overlap and crisscross. It is important not to underestimate the power
of hatred, like love, in the world and within all of us. It gives, albeit depraved,
a sense of purpose larger than life, of working for the greater good. Purpose is
highly personal and subjective, and yet it always develops in a social milieu and a
consciousness-context. To have a right purpose requires a right mindset and that
requires the right balance and mix in our consciousness. It means that what we
need now is not a cognitive but a 'consciousness revolution', powered by both
cognition and intuition, mind and heart in the right combination. While the
two have to work in harmony, not in hostility, we must make sure the command
and controls are with the heart. A sprinkling of brilliant minds can vest us with
promethean powers, but a few beautiful hearts are not enough to ensure that we
are worthy of having them. The new word to put us in our proper place is that
humans are organic algorithms.
Literally everything around us today runs on algorithms. They power the
internet, make all online searching possible, they direct our email, work silently
behind the scenes when we use our GPS systems, etc. Smartphone apps, social
media, software… none of these things would function without algorithms.
Altruism itself is based on algorithmic calculation of cost and expected payoffs,
which are vital for self survival. The humble algorithm is now being anointed as
the New Almighty of the techno-religion, omnipotent, omniscient, and invisible
but all-pervasive. As Yuval Harari puts it, "More than a century after Nietzsche
pronounced Him dead, God seems to be making a comeback. But this is probably
a mirage. Despite all the talk of Islamic fundamentalism and Christian revival,
God is dead—it just takes a while to get rid of the body".19
The Power of the Heart
The power to effect a consciousness revolution must rise from within. And that
'power' is none other than our own heart. We learn early in life that it is good to
have a kind and caring heart—and it feels good, too. The intuitive intelligence
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of the heart could tilt the scales in the war within. The spiritual story of the 21st
century will be, at a deeper level, the drawing and redrawing of the battle lines of
the head and heart, between what you know and what you feel in the war within,
of how Homo sapiens is trying to broker a kind of dĂŠtente between the two, to
ensure the survival of both but in a different blend. We live in a world where
the logic of the head is at odds with the emotion of the heart. For a wholesome
and harmonious life, we need to listen to both the heart and head, but too
often, the voice of the head almost silences that of the heart. We are now pretty
much focused on our head, or brain, which James Watson20 called the 'grandest
biological frontier, the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe'.
While pretty much ignoring, and taking for granted, the even grander frontier—
our heart. The relatively new concept of 'coherence' is emerging, pioneered
by institutions like the HeartMath Institute;21 it is a highly efficient state in
which all of the body's systems, in particular the heart and mind, work in sync,
ensuring that the whole of us is more than the sum of our parts. To be fully
human, we must ensure the development of the heart and the head. It is in this
spirit and with this objective that initiatives like 'activating the global heart' are
being taken to bring about a shift in the content of global consciousness, a work
in progress. In his work The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield, for example,
wrote that 'over the past half century, a new consciousness has come to the
human world'.
We need to blend both our strengths and weaknesses in the right
proportion to have the right consciousness. The renowned 20th-century Indian
philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti said that "intelligence comes into being when
the mind, heart, and body are really in harmony".22 He also underlined the
utter inadequacy of thought and thinking. He believed that it was thought that
gave us religion, and it is thinking that separates us as individuals from one
another. But to overcome the impediment of their 'insufficiency', we don't have
to abdicate thinking and eliminate the mind. What we need is a new balance and
baseline in our consciousness between the two primary sources of intelligence
and energy—the mind and the heart. We must also bear in mind that everything
in the cosmos, from trees to humans, is energetically connected. But like in
every situation and between any two things, there cannot be perfect equality;
one or the other has to be a dominant partner even if it constantly changes. And
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203
it applies to the head and heart, too. We have to make a kind of choice no man
has ever been called upon or required to make: which of the two must be at the
commanding heights of our consciousness—the head or the heart? Science is
working in both directions, although the bulk of the effort is brain-centered.
And that has to change; science must have a greater heart-centric focus. Only
then can we achieve what we glibly call a paradigm shift, and move towards
what some mystics call transcendental consciousness, or cosmic consciousness,
which induces awe, supreme joy and the highest, unalloyed felicity, free from
pain, sorrow, and fear. It is, in its effect, a divine consciousness, a state of sublime
spirituality attained by prophets, ancient rishis and great saints and sages. The
Upanishads proclaim it as all-embracing, one that keeps the stars, the sun the
moon… all in their place in a state of close communion. Most of us cannot
attain that state, but we can certainly move towards it in different degrees. That
is the kind of consciousness-change that mankind should strive towards. Only
that will enable and empower us to see ourselves differently about our place on
the planet, and only then can we alter the causal course of human creativity. If
we do that, and if we do let the heart control the mind, then 'we are off to the
next galaxy, both inward and outward'23, and will almost permanently prevail in
the perennial war within. Man by himself is incomplete for that task. In Hindu
scriptures like the Vishnu Purana, it is said that the final or tenth avatar of Lord
Vishnu, called the Kalki avatar, will not only restore dharma to its rightful place
on earth but also awaken the minds of those who live at that time. Our age is
that time and it could mean that the advent of the next divine manifest on earth
could well entail and result in a profound consciousness-change. That is because,
unlike in earlier divine avatars, evil on earth is not personified in some of us. As
Nwaocha Ogechukwu says, "No one can deny that each one of us has an aspect
of the devil within us" (The Secret Behind the Cross and Crucifix, 2009). But for
God to restore dharma on earth, He cannot simply slay modern-day rakshasas
(demons), which most of us are in different degrees. He has to help us win the
war within, and that will lead to a consciousness-change. And that is the only
way to what the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu called, "the introduction
of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness", which theosophist
Annie Besant compared to the snake shedding its skin and the butterfly emerging
from its chrysalis.
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As a species we are at a critical crossroads and have to make a decisive
directional choice between two divergent paths. The Katha Upanishad speaks of
the two-fold path available to mankind: the Pravritti marga (path of material and
bodily pleasures), and the Nivritti marga (path of goodness and righteousness).
We can frame it differently for the 21st century: today's pravritti is augmentation
of cognitive intelligence through artificial intelligence (AI). And, nivritti
is exploring and energizing the awesome but dormant power of the heart's
intuitive intelligence. AI is now clearly at the cutting edge of our creativity (and
big business, too), whereas we know very little about the heart as a source of
intelligence and energy independent of, or in tandem with, the brain. Heart
intelligence is 'the flow of intuitive awareness and inner guidance we experience
when the mind and emotions are brought into coherent alignment with the
heart'.24 The inner dynamic working of the deep consciousness is altogether
different from the dynamics of the rational mind, which we are familiar
with. We have been conditioned to perform all our cognitive, analytical, and
synthesizing activities of knowledge at the rational level. This conditioning is so
deep that we have forgotten the faculty of intuition that we possess inside our
heart intelligence. That is why our choices and decisions are so skewed. Recent
cutting-edge research suggests that the "heart also is an access point to a source
of wisdom and intelligence that we can call upon to live our lives with more
balance, greater creativity and enhanced intuitive capacities."25 Both the brain
and that thumping organ in our body are powerful tools that not only sustain
life, but help us experience the world in a profound way at a deeper level. A
proper alignment of the heart and mind can help us make better decisions and
live more balanced and peaceful lives. And that calls for a fundamental change in
the content and balance of our consciousness. Consciousness is the master key,
and every crisis the world faces—political, economic, climatic, social—is but a
reflection of a 'crisis of consciousness'. It is, in Jiddu Krishnamurti's words, "a
crisis that cannot anymore accept the old norms, the old patterns, the ancient
traditions. And considering what the world is now with all their ill will and
destructive brutality, aggression, and so on, man is still as he was: brutal, violent,
aggressive, acquisitive, competitive, and he has built a society along these lines".26
When Pope Francis said that the "ecological crisis is also a summons to profound
interior conversion",27 he meant consciousness-change, a fundamental shift in
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the command and content of our consciousness. Climate change is more than
ecological crisis; it a mirror to what is wrong with the human way of life.
Nothing deters us from dreaming to be the masters of the universe, of
birth and death, of brain and body, and willing to be, as Thoreau once said,
'the tools of our tools'. Some may not flinch from death, but they still want
to make our lives free from fear, worry, pain, and anxiety. The fundamental
question this generation of humans must ask itself is, what must we desire or
hope to have? For hope is no longer so harmless, and desire can be decisively
destructive. Earlier, in the main, our dreams and desires, hopes and aspirations
and ambitions were largely individual-centric and local, and our failures and
setbacks were individualistic and isolated and the fall out was also limited and
contained. To meet, to really connect, and to encounter another as deeply as
possible—this has been an abiding and enduring human aspiration. Now we
can have the unlimited ability to technologically communicate, combine,
connect, and cooperate on a species-scale. But that immense 'ability' to better
the human condition largely remains untapped. But it is not merely technical
or technological; it is spiritual too. In Karen Armstrong's words, "We urgently
need to examine received ideas and assumptions, look beneath the sound-bites
of the news to the complex realities that are tearing our world apart, realizing, at
a profound level, that we share the planet not with inferiors but equals".28 What
we ought to strive towards is consciousness-to-consciousness, and heart-to-heart
communion, not mind-to-mind communication and microchip-implants.
To arrest the drift and drag, and to change the course of our civilization,
we need another internal revolution: a consciousness-revolution, an inner
alchemy that allows us to go beyond the boundary of thinking itself and restores
or reawakens the role of heart intelligence. The very evolution that led to this
impasse has to be re-directed within. We have to contain the predominance of
our mind in molding the way we live and that requires drastically diminishing
the mind's internal monopoly. For that, we need an internal counterweight,
which can only be the heart in its role as a major source of energy, memory, and
intelligence. The real reason why we have failed to make any breakthrough in the
face of problems that threaten our very future—like climate change, terrorism,
moral paralysis, runaway mechanization, materialism, and militarism—is our
abysmal inability to take cognizance of the fact that there is a whole universe
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206
within, and that what happens there has a decisive bearing on what happens in
the world in which we are born into, live and die. Spiritual literature is replete
with words like 'inner world', 'inner self ', 'power within', 'inner seeking', 'inner
awakening', 'inner journey', and so on. We have been repeatedly told that we
can find everything we search for if we can reach inward into our heart: truth,
strength, love, hope, happiness. And inward is not a direction or depth but a
dimension. As Rainer Rilke said, 'the only journey is the one within'. For Rumi,
we enter 'a mine of rubies and bathe in the splendor of our own light'. All such
are noble thoughts and wise advice, but the reality is that we are stranded at the
gates of our own skin.
We are living at a time when events around us are occurring at such a
dizzying pace in many parallel and diverse directions, that our cognitive capacities
are unable to put them all together, to clear the detail from the design, the structure
from the substance, and read the portends and grasp their true significance. Our
evolution has not equipped our brains to handle such a blinding blitz from so
many quarters simultaneously. We no longer know if the ground beneath us is
solid earth or swirling sand, and the more we know, the more we come to know
how little we know. Our very sense of reality, even the feeling that we ourselves
are authentic and 'living' is in question in our own mind. Is reality itself real or
relative? Are the feelings, thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and situations that
make up our ordinary human experience obstacles or opportunities, or alarm
bells to our growth as essentially spiritual beings? According to the Upanishads,
'The wise man should hold his body steady, with the three upper parts—chest,
neck and head—erect, turn his sense, with the help of the mind, towards the
heart by means of the raft of the Brahman to cross the fearful torrents of the
world'.29 In short, if man wants to change his behavior for the better or to make
spiritual progress or move towards a higher level of consciousness, the way of the
heart is the only way.
The Evil Within
While we externalize the clash between good and evil, it actually is an incestuous
affair. As Carl Jung puts it, "Nothing is so apt to challenge our self-awareness
and alertness as being at war with oneself."30 Even if we do win all external
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wars, it will be a vacuous victory; it would be, as the Bible says, tantamount to
losing the soul.31 Among our contemporary great thinkers who have pondered
long and hard over this war, the one that springs instantly to mind is Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn. In his monumental 1973 work, The Gulag Archipelago, he brings
out its immediate context and its intricate complexity, and writes, "If only it were
all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing
evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and
destroy them!". And he goes on, "In my most evil moments, I was convinced that
I was doing good; and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was
only when I lay there on the rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the
first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating
good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political
parties either—but right through every human heart, and through all human
hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within
hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even
in the best of all hearts, there remains… an un-uprooted small corner of evil.
Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world.
They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being).
It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety but it is possible to
constrict it within each person".32
These are very weighty and wise words. We can 'constrict' the evil within
each of us only if we can positively influence the war within. However, we have
almost convinced ourselves that if we do not want to end up on the scrapheap of
scapegoats, or be labelled as a loser, we must at the very least acquiesce to evil. Once
we allow ourselves to wallow in that line of thought, the temptation becomes too
much to resist to cover up for all our misdeeds; 'necessary' becomes 'necessity'.
Such a necessity is the necessary evil that even if we behave badly towards other
people, we still think we are 'good' people. Our moral nonchalance and ethical
apathy to what happens around us—which is unfair, unjust, exploitative—
and our inability to instinctively or impulsively respond to other's suffering,
has become so ingrained in daily life that it has taken a tragic toll on human
personality. Thomas Hobbes tellingly wrote that 'all in their natural condition
are possessed of the will to injure others, to tyrannize over other men; each has
thus to fear the other'. And by ignoring the within, we are injuring ourselves,
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putting our well-being, even health, at risk. It is now even being said that 'cancer
is thus a breakdown from within'.33 It means that not only evil, but illness too
is within. A Rwandan proverb reminds us, 'You can out-distance that which is
running after you, but not what is running inside you'. The world outside is the
periphery, but the epicenter is within. We can control the periphery if we control
the center. What we do on the outside influences what happens inside, but it is
the center that prevails. We talk of good people and bad people, and that if we
can get rid of the baddies, the problem would get resolved and the world will
become a place of peace and harmony. One actually wishes there are identifiable
bad people; it would then be easy to exterminate them like what we did with
smallpox and polio. Alas, that is not only too simplistic but also false. We know
that all of us are both good and bad at different times, or to different people at
the same time. And we do not always feel bad about being bad to a person who
is not considered bad. Our idea of someone being good or bad hinges purely on
how that person behaves towards us, not on what others think. The burden of
our suffering often is to 'suffer' others. If everything about morality is so sliding,
slippery and subjective, or as-you-like-it, how then can we know how we're
doing, and if we cannot, how can we become better? Contrary to what Spinoza
tells us that 'to act in conformity with virtue is to act according to the guidance of
reason…' it is a good which is common to all men, and can be equally possessed
by all in so far as they are of the same nature. And contrary to what TS Eliot said,
"So far as we are human, what we do must be either evil or good; so far as we do
evil or good, we are human; and it is better, in a paradoxical way, to do evil than
to do nothing: at least, we exist",34 we do both 'good' and 'evil', and evil today
is so stomach-turning that 'doing something' to combat is better than 'doing
nothing'. The accent here is on 'doing', not 'being'. It simply means that every
time we do anything, we must try to do the 'good' thing that is good for our
soul and does no harm to anyone else. But to do that does not depend on 'us',
the breathing, walking person who stares back at us with a smirk in the mirror;
it depends on the 'war within', inside our own deepest depths. The truth of the
matter is that inside each of us "Dragons are there, and there are also lions; there
are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels,
the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the
treasuries of grace—all things are there".35
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We must bear in mind that this is not something metaphorical or symbolic
or figurative that we can ignore or condescendingly nod our head and do nothing
about. Starkly put, everything we do in our life, agreeable and disagreeable,
good, bad, ugly, has an effect on the War Within. In the language of worldly
war, they are the 'supplies' and logistical support that gives the wherewithal to
both sides to wage the war. This War is as literal, real, actual and authentic as
any other on the ground; if any, it is even more tangible, as it underpins every
other war. It is not a 'star war', or 'war of the worlds', or some remote 'tribal war'
about which we can, in the comfort of distance, read in the papers or see on a
screen, be entertained or get our adrenalin worked up, and feel smug that we
are not on the frontline or have to bear the collateral consequences like in the
external wars. Everything about this war is about us; the place, the fighting, the
forces, the fallout, they are all 'us'. This 'war' rages inside each of us with every
breath we take, all the time, without a lull or break, relentless, remorseless, with
no shut-down at sundown. And more ominously, every shift in the course, and
the flow and every turn of the tide impacts on us in every thought, word or act
that we entertain or engage in. Every 'happening' or activity in what we tend
to call 'our everyday life' affects the war. It determines 'who we are' and what
and how we do, and what we create and for what purpose. We tend to think
that what we think is 'life' is different from our 'everyday life'. We want our life
to be 'beautiful', but lead everyday lives in ugliness, pettiness, and perfidy. We
view everyday life as some kind of a prison and yet we crave for eternal life of
the same genre. Our 'within' is both a 'black hole' and a 'war zone'. The 'black
hole' inside each of us, the blacker and darker, is more impenetrable and more
difficult to get in than any in the cosmos. The perplexing part is that, unlike in
any other war, we have to take sides in this war; help one side any way we could,
but we cannot let the other side get annihilated. God can sit on the sidelines
with a smug; that is why he is He and we are not. Nothing happens to Him,
everything happens to us. All our problems arise because, for a long time, the
'other side'—the evil within—has gained dominance. There are clear tell-tale
signs. Some of these are the steady surge in senseless suicides, cutting across
all ages, particularly children, the casualness of homicides, mass murders, and
suicide-bombings. Every religion has projected its own vision of God and we
have had so many religious wars—some people even blame organized religion for
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210
most of history's killings, and Christianity alone is blamed for the deaths of some
17 million people36—but what is needed now is a change in our perception of
and posture towards God. Scriptures and sages have told us to treat God as our
savior, refuge and shelter, and to surrender to Him wholly—called prapatti or
saranagati in the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism—and absolutely, but now we
want Him to submit to our 'strength' and we ask 'clever' questions such as 'what
has God done lately for me?'. This line of thought is closer to what the great
anarchist Mikhail Bakunin said—"If God really existed, it would be necessary
to abolish Him"—than to Voltaire's aphorism, 'If God did not exist, it would be
necessary to invent Him'. We turn to god-men and gadgets to help us out, not
to God. With them we have more patience, and even faith, than God. All this is
due to the fact that, wittingly or unwittingly, both by what we do and, perhaps
even more, don't do, we are doing the opposite of what we want to do—lending
support to the endogenous forces of immorality, wickedness, and evil. What we
should constantly strive to do is to support the nobler part of us so as to empower
it to have an upper hand over our nastier side. Henry Miller wrote, "every day we
slaughter our finest impulses". We 'slaughter' by constantly singing the 'sutra of
success', which usually translates into academic excellence, professional progress
and making a lot of money. 'Success' is also associated with 'control' and 'power',
and we act on the premise that 'every increase of power means an increase of
progress'. Sometimes our success might be similar to what Mary Shelley wrote
about Victor Frankenstein's 'success' in creating a monster: "Success would terrify
the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. He
would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated
would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would
subside into dead matter".37 But like Frankenstein, we too cannot escape from
the 'success of success'. We can 'succeed and fail' and 'fail and succeed', and
we can never really know, if in either case we are failing or succeeding. That
is because both are relative and contextual. Our obsession with 'success' is so
overpowering that when 'failure'—the antithesis of what success stands for—
stares us in the face, be it a term test in school, or in keeping a job or in love,
and the whole world crumbles, life itself becomes both worthless and wearisome
and the 'sutra' turns out to be one for self-destruction. The 'success sutra' is
exacting a terrible price from society. The lead character in Greg Egan's story The
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211
Infinite Assassin (Axiomatic, 1991) proudly defines himself as "'I' am those who
survive and succeed. The rest are someone else". That 'rest', that 'someone else'
is, above all, the stranger within, the alien inside. But 'success' is a measure as
decided by others, which we ourselves deploy when dealing with others' success.
We must also bear in mind another little-noticed factor. It is about what we
take for granted almost routinely: 'everyday' existence; what it could do to us;
its grind and drudgery, what it entails, how much of our psychic and physical
energy it extracts. In modern society, an individual cannot see himself, as Albert
Camus wrote, beyond the routine and the ritual. All life is nothing but so many
'everydays'; every new sun a new beginning. Everyday has a name, a particular
day of the week, and a number on the calendar; the day and date is the setting
for every triumph, the mundane and the magical. Nature gives so many chances
to relive our lives; it makes every morning a new birth, to start all over again,
and to die when we sleep. And no matter what we do, or don't, the War goes on.
The 'war within' is not only a war for the control of our consciousness;
it is also within the consciousness. In fact, they are the two aspects of the same
war. The fight is really between 'mind-controlled consciousness' and 'heartincubated
consciousness'. This 'war' is crucial for mind-control, and crucial
for the cathartic cleansing of our inner cosmos. And for better behavior and
for a world in harmony with itself. Unlike external wars, the aim cannot be to
ensure 'permanent' victory or total defeat of either of the two 'blood-brothers'.
The human genus cannot afford the luxury of total and comprehensive victory
of either of the two. Were that to happen, sooner or later, the human will be
extinct. Not only do we need love, compassion, generosity, altruism but also
things like anger, aggression, avarice, at the proper time and place. If they are
not necessary they wouldn't be there in the first place. Duality is not necessarily
hostility. We have the tendency to view and label things either 'good' or 'bad',
and wish to get rid of the 'bad'. They are as much a part of us as our 'better' ones.
They are essential for the existence of the other. Without chaos there can be no
order; without darkness we cannot experience light. In fact, even the so-called
'negatives' if rightly redirected, can do us a world of good. If we are all and only
'good' inside then too there will be trouble. What's good may not always be
good, and what's bad may not always be bad in the world outside. On that most
can assent. Some say that 'being kind and caring is a good thing—as long as the
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person you are kind and caring towards deserves your kindness'. Being forgiving
may produce contentment—except when the forgiven has no plans to make
amends. Even that may sound sensible. But in the crucible of give-and-take
living, we find it very difficult to forget our hurts and forgive our tormentors.
But as Jack Kornfield puts it, not-forgiving is tantamount to 'giving up all hope
of a better past'. In that sense, forgiveness is really not about someone's hurtful
behavior; it is about our own relationship with our past. All this sophistry misses
a central moral point. Why do some people go out of the way to help someone
whom they hardly know, and why do many others pretend not to see or turn a
Nelson's eye?
The tragedy of our life is that it might well be possible to live a life
without consciously helping anyone, but it is not possible to live without hurting,
intentionally or unintentionally, anyone anytime. All of us, sometime, hurt
someone or the other, almost routinely and almost every day. We need to forgive
and be forgiven. A withering glance, a wounding word, even killing one's own
self can hurt another human being. It can happen anywhere, at home or at work.
Anyone who has suffered a grievous injury knows that when our inner world is
disrupted, it is difficult to concentrate on anything other than the person who
caused it. Forgiveness is easy because it is unilateral, an act of compassion towards
the person who, not you, has to pay the price. The 'good' we feel about ourselves,
many psychological studies have shown, is tremendous. But in practice, we find
it very hard to 'forget' or to 'forgive'. And that includes forgiving ourselves,
sometimes harder than forgiving someone else. Instead of forgiving, we play the
blame-game. In fact it is easier to 'forgive' than to 'forget'; for forgiveness comes
from the heart and forgetting from the mind. Indeed, the heart is the fountain
not only of forgiveness but also of love, kindness, and most of all of mercy.
If we can manifest these qualities in our life we will also be strengthening the
'virtuous' forces in the 'war within'. If, for example, as Pope Francis implored,
mercy—which he described as the ultimate and supreme act by which God
comes to meet us—becomes 'the basis of all our efforts'38, then the very 'context'
of our daily life will become compassionate. The opposite of compassion, we
must remember, is not cruelty; it is complacency, which is what afflicts the most
'good'. Sometimes we face questions such as these: Can we be compassionate
without taking sides in a dispute? In other words, can we be compassionate for
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both sides? And does that amount to encouraging evil? A thorny issue that all
of us, even God, face, is how to balance mercy and justice, and which assumes
paramountcy, in the infinite possible variations of human life. Mercy too at a
point becomes unjust. Jesus, when asked how often one should forgive, said, up
to 'seventy times seven'.39 Lord Krishna, in the Mahabharata, promised that he
will forgive Sisupala ninety-nine times and slays him the hundredth time. Simply
put, what we do and what happens has a huge bearing on what happens after
death. This message comes out strongly in what has been called the Myth of Er
in the last chapter of Plato's Republic. Socrates says that not only do justice and
justness and injustice and unjustness, good and bad, play a huge role after death,
but also implies that Er was chosen to be the messenger to humanity about what
he has seen take place between death and new birth. In the words of Socrates,
"For each in turn of the unjust things they had done and for each in turn of the
people they had wronged, they paid the penalty ten times over, once in every
century of their journey… But if they had done good deeds and had become just
and pious, they were rewarded according to the same scale".40
We can also see the 'war within' in the form of a clash between 'mercy'
and 'justice', or 'intuition' and 'intellect'. Einstein once said, "The intuitive mind
is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a
society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift". That again is a fallout
of the internal war. What we need is a harmony and 'positive' balance in the
consciousness. If we can shift the center of gravity of our consciousness away from
intellect to intuition, our vibration begins to change; we begin to feel greater levels
of peace and well-being in our life. If we can induce such a 'shift', as it were, we
will begin to realize that we are a powerful spirit, experiencing 'being human' for
a period of time, and not a human being striving for a spiritual experience. The
stakes are simple but stark: whether the human continues to be the most malicious
creature that ever walked on earth until he implodes or immolates and cripples
earth itself, or if he will mend course through a 'conscious' consciousness-change
and becomes a benign being, a soothing, 'spiritual' presence on earth. Many
great thinkers have long recognized that imperative and some have predicted
an impending leap in human consciousness. In 1974, the American professor
of psychology Dr. Clare W Graves wrote an article for The Futurist magazine,
titled Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap, which he described as "The
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214
most difficult, but at the same time the most exciting transition the human race
has faced to date. It is not merely a transition to a new level of existence but the
start of a new 'movement' in the symphony of human history".41 Some predict
what Terence McKenna called The Archaic Revival, of the emergence of a 'Global
Tribe'. Everything else other than 'consciousness-change', the shape and form
it will take, are but mere details. But then, as is said, often the devil is in the
detail. Those 'details' are our daily deeds, what Coleridge describes as the "petty
things of daily life".42 As for 'God', man's mind has effectively rendered him an
'opportunistic option'; no longer even a 'necessary nuisance'. We have turned the
aura of 'divine sanction' to whip up our darker urges and come to believe that
if we are 'pious' we do not need to be pure at heart, if we are devout we do not
have to be decent, and if we try to get closer to God we can be callous to human
suffering. Nobody wants to 'suffer'; everyone shuns it except those who see it as
a way to constantly seek God. In the Mahabharata, the mother of the virtuous
Pandavas, Kunti, prays to Lord Krishna to bless her with perpetual sorrow, as
she realizes that if sorrow deserted her, she would cease to seek Him. It brings to
mind what Keats said about sorrow: "But cheerly, cheerly, She loves me dearly;
She is so constant to me, and so kind: I would deceive her, And so leave her, But
ah! she is so constant and so kind… But now of all the world I love thee best"
(Ode to Sorrow in Endymion, 1818).
Once we recognize and accept and come to terms with this bedrock
reality of this 'war within', and its implications and impact on our life, all
contradictions, confusion, and conundrums will dry up. Our task will then
become very simple and straightforward: to do all we can and could to help
the kinder, gentler, better-half be the dominant partner. The ebbs and flows of
the war are so continuous and shifting that we become unsure of everything
because our fortunes and misfortunes reflect the state of the war at that time.
That keeps us always in an ambiguous state, always on the edge, and prevents us
from 'making up our mind' and to act upon what we even know to be the right
thing. To illustrate, even assuming that 'being moral' is good for our own wellbeing,
we are plagued with nagging questions. Is it universal and timeless or is it
subject to time and space? And if it is both or neither, how does one distinguish
the timeless from the time-bound, and the perennial from the particular? Does
a 'higher' moral end justify 'lesser' immorality, or in dharmic terms, should we
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215
sacrifice the 'lesser' dharma that is enjoined upon fewer people at the altar of
the 'greater' dharma that contributes to the cause of the 'greater' good? This
is the question that emerges out of the Indian epic Mahabharata. So much
scholasticism has accumulated on this subject that there is a whole winnow of
metaphysical knowledge, generally called moral philosophy or ethics, that deals
with questions such as the right and wrong of what we do and how we ought to
live our lives. And it is so closely interwoven with religion that morality without
religion is deemed not only dangerous but also blasphemous. The entrenched
belief is either God crafted the moral sense during creation or inspired religion
to show us the path to morality. There are others who argue that there is nothing
divine about morality, that habit is purely a human expediency and an atheist
can be equally, if not more, moral than a theist.
One cannot deny that religion has helped man to become a better person,
but we must not also ignore that the corruption that has engulfed religion has
also sapped the moral sensitivity of man, and a great deal of evil springs from
the realm of religion. And it springs not only from religious zealots, or as we
call 'fundamentalists', but, even more, from all of us. The real problem is not
any religion per se but its selective attribution and misinterpretation, looking
for isolated passages to do what we want to do and turning it into the Only
Truth. More fundamentally, religion, like any knowledge, is corrupted because it
is filtered through our consciousness, which is dominated by the human mind,
and the attributes of the mind—malice, self-righteousness, intolerance—get
attached to religious practice. No moral self-righteousness and intolerance is as
lethal as the religious type because it is clad in the authenticity of God. Of all
the human attributes, perhaps the only one which is not double-faced, which
scorches what it touches is, malice. If malice is our defining signature and if we
are the most endowed of all forms of life on earth, then what human or creative
purpose does it serve? Einstein once said that 'the Lord God is subtle, but He is
not malicious'. But how does one explain our inherent divinity with our unique
attribute of malice?
A major watershed development over the past century is that human
power, which for long has maintained some sort of balance between its
constructive and destructive dimensions, is now out of sync. One of our greatest
failings as a species is our inability to live in a state of cooperative cohabitation
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216
with other members of our own kindred kind. We find it so hard to work with
others, labor and live together as a cohesive species, something that other notso-
intelligent species seem to do almost instinctively. Even worse, we alone are
capable of willing each other harm, even without any expectation of self-benefit.
Although biologically we all belong to the same species, in practical terms our
main qualification is that we still interbreed, out of which come out future
humans. We must learn that sometimes compassion takes the form of stepping
aside, letting go of our need to be right, and just being happy for someone. Now
we can ill afford ill will. The Buddhist Medha Sutra meditation says, "Let none
by anger or hatred wish harm to another". Now, not 'wishing harm to others'
in itself, is no longer lofty as it is, a moral precept; it has become an existential
'essential'. The choice between 'harm' and 'help' in our social life is no longer a
'personal' or 'private' matter, to be judged elsewhere or hereafter. Edgar Cayce
alluded to the rewards of hereafter when he said, "You'll not be in heaven if
you're not leaning on the arm of someone you have helped". That may well be
so; indeed it must be so. Modern life, with all its downsides and drawbacks,
coarseness and insensitivity, carries a huge hope. It has changed the motive and
dynamic for helping each other into an imperative; it is no longer an option.
Every one of us is now indispensable for all of us to be what or who we want to
be. In one sense, each one of us is the proverbial 'hundredth monkey' to all of
us, potentially a critical member whose behavior could help us reach the tipping
point. Technology has so intertwined our lives that our actions affect others and
others' actions affect ours. Technology accelerates everything, and has, according
to some psychologists, a 'profound effect on the way we experience time'.
Technologies like communication technologies shrink time and distance and
inform us instantly about any happening anywhere and empower connectivity
for any cause, noble or noxious. The speed of intercontinental travel—soon,
we are being promised, we can go around the globe in sixty minutes—is also
turning infectious diseases into pandemics, and also creating a level playing field
of potential victims. Pathogens with the means to travel respect neither class nor
position, neither race nor religion, neither the rich nor the poor. When it comes
to susceptibility to new organisms and biological weapons, in a hyper-connected
world, we are all equal prey. In fact, technology is slowly but surely replacing
human interactions and has come to mean so much that "we actually expect more
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from technology and less from each other"43—probably even from God! Since
we think that technology will 'fix' every problem, our behavior is also becoming
more reckless, profligate, and predatory. Even what we used to do earlier like
conservation we are not doing now. Technology is also relentlessly replacing
human labor, which happens when, in the words of John Keynes, "unemployment
due to our discovery of means of economizing the use of labor [outruns] the
pace at which we can find new uses for labor". It has profound consequences,
far beyond the ambit of economics; it goes to the very root of 'being human'.
Although we have reduced work as wage-earning, it is a tonic to both body and
brain. Mass scale and prolonged human idling can become another existential
threat. An idle mind, it has been said, is a devil's workshop, and if a man's hands
become idle what would the world be like? The ever-accelerating technological
change, in particular digital technology and automation, threaten to idle millions,
even billions, depriving not only the means to make money but also depriving
identity and dignity of life, potentially triggering a kind of catastrophic social
conflagration. We no longer can be sure who is a neighbor and who is a stranger,
who is a native and who is a refugee. It essentially undermines our humanness—
what makes us who we are as 'persons'—and of being the human species—who
we are collectively. It is distrust that drives automation. And automation, as has
been said, breeds automation. Fundamentally, our love of the machine comes
down to one thing: we don't like others who we have to live with or work with
to be who we are, and exhibit the same qualities we have—be he or she a spouse
or servant, colleague or a concubine, worker or a whore. What is being called
'digital damage' is affecting nearly every kind of human relationship, and the
'digital divide' is wider than the economic divide, cutting across every society.
Too much digital participation, it is feared, is corroding human empathy. For, as
Baroness Susan Greenfield, author of the book Mind Change, says, "If we don't
speak to each other, it is harder to establish empathy". Empathy, the ability to
comprehend and share the feelings of others, is central to moral life. Everyone
needs it, rich or poor, powerful and powerless, villain and victim, and if we
let that go then any hope for human betterment would become a mirage. For
empathy is more basic than sympathy or compassion.
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The Three 'M's and the War Within
While consciousness-change entails altering the current content and character
of our consciousness so that the very dynamics that drive our thinking, feeling,
and experiencing change, contextual-change encompasses change in the way we
create our living context. In that context, at this tumultuous time, the three most
important constituent parts are the triad of the three 'M's—morality, money, and
mortality. Unless we are able to totally and comprehensively rethink, reconfigure
and renew our conception and understanding of what they ought to mean in
modern life, we will continue to lose the war within. On all three fronts, we
need to go back to the drawing board, so to speak, to break out of the box
and turn the three obsessions into openings and opportunities to tilt the scales
in the war within. These are so intricately embedded in human consciousness
that there is nothing we can do without the underpinning of one or two or
all the three. Of the three, it is the magnetic might of money that is now at
the frontline of both human transformation and planetary destruction. And the
time has come to comprehensively rethink its role in human destiny. Invented
as a means of exchange, money has no intrinsic value, but allows us to ascribe
relative values to all things. Money is more portable, more durable, more easily
exchanged and hence more sought after than other goods. It is almost a clichĂŠ to
say that time is money, but time is also life, and we ought to demur at putting a
price on our own lives. Money's very pervasiveness and transformative power also
makes it a translucent instrument, a spiritual tool. Money, righteously earned
and shared, can make the world so much better. There is no doubt that 'money
makes the world go around'. The deterministic role of money was long foreseen
in scriptures. In detailing the traits of the age of Kali Yuga, it was written several
millenniums ago that 'In the Kali Yuga, people will seek only money. Only the
richest will have the power. People without money will be their slaves'. And even
more tellingly, 'The leaders of the state will no longer protect the people, but
plunder the citizenry through excessive taxation'. There is hardly a moment in
our life when money ceases to be a factor in earning, saving, spending and even
more in thinking. We will have to rack our brains to think of anything bereft of
a money angle. And there is hardly a crime without a money-motive, and money
is a big factor in many suicides, even homicides, that occur these days. It is manThe
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made but it has become the most 'finite' of all finite resources and everyone is
short of it, individuals, business, countries and the material world.
Money is hydra-headed, each head sensitive to the purpose and
circumstance. It is salary when an employer compensates you for your work,
wages for your sweat; dowry if a father pays it to get his daughter married; bribe
if it is illegally paid to do a favor; dividend if a company pays it to a shareholder;
interest if a bank pays for keeping your money; donation if it is given to charity;
ransom if given to kidnappers; alimony if it figures in a divorce, and so on. In
multiple ways we discriminate race, caste, color, religion, ethnicity, but they all
vanish if one has 'enough' money. It gives respectability to everything we seek,
and every position and power—political, social, economic—comes within reach.
Making money do what we want, and not doing what it tries to make us do is
morality. In reality, man is now marginalizing morality and trying to overcome
mortality. When one does not have 'money', the only other alternative, as some
are discovering, is to go back to the body; use it to trade for money to live,
and to 'make a living'. Mortality has been called the ultimate leveler in human
life; that all men are finally 'reconciled' in death. That whatever we achieve or
fail to achieve, rich or poor, powerful or powerless, acclaimed or anonymous,
everyone will end up the same way, become a cold corpse, which the living
hasten to destroy lest it linger and not let us live. Money is now threatening
to undermine that central tenet. If you are really rich you can afford to extend
your life span far more than that of others, if not to become immortal. Money
can make man do anything, even murder one's own 'near and dear', a spouse,
one's own child, a friend. And money by itself can do almost anything, can
empower a life of dignity, erase social deprivation, even save a life; or make us
greedy and gluttonous, erode sensitivity and compassion. Money and murder are
increasingly getting interconnected, and no 'relationship' is immune, intimate or
professional. Spouses have killed each other, children their parents, friends their
friends, business associates their colleagues, and so on, when greed turns deadly.
What are called 'dowry deaths' and 'contract killing' are murders for money.
The insatiability of money is such that no one feels he has 'enough' to satisfy his
desires, dreams, and delights. The 'limit' that worries our mind is not things like
'limits to growth'. Everyone feels 'limited' by money, individuals, the ultra-rich
to the dirt-poor, corporations, even nation-states. It is at the heart of every crisis
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we face, environmental, economic, and moral. It is to have 'more' money that
we put poison into the air we breathe, into the water we drink, and into the
food we eat, and at the same time to become immortal. Fritjof Capra makes a
telling point when he says, "We accept ever-increasing rates of cancer rather than
investigate how the chemical industry poisons our food to increase its profits".44
And yet, it is but a tool, an instrument, a means, and a medium, although of late
we have made it the end in itself.
Money occupies our mind but it doesn't have a mind, at least not yet.
As of now, the master is the mind, what Swami Vivekananda described as a
demon-possessed, scorpion-bitten, drunken monkey. Buddhism uses the
psychological metaphor of 'monkey-mind'. Adi Sankaracharya, in his famous
poem Bhajagovindam, called it mudhamati, the 'foolish mind'. It is such a
'monkey' that controls our consciousness, and is at the helm of our life. If our
mindset, or as some like to say, 'mindsight', remains frozen about the 'three
Ms', and if consciousness remains static, then both 'changes'—consciousness or
contextual—will remain static. Because, if we do not learn to deal with them
differently, one might say 'spiritually', then it makes no difference what else we
can do. We must also at once note another dimension. It is that the very place
and position of man in the cosmos has fundamentally changed. The human is no
longer merely another biological being. He is now an 'ecological serial killer',45
'the deadliest force in the annals of biology',46 a geological force. And humans are
"running geologic history backward, and at high speed".47 In biologist Edward
Wilson's words, man is a "geophysical force, swiftly changing the atmosphere
and climate as well as the composition of the world's fauna and flora". That is
happening alongside another important 'happening'. That very force that made
man 'such a force' has also biologically enfeebled him, as compared with his
ancestors,48 and the trend appears to be accelerating. For instance, we are told,
today's 'children are growing weaker as computers replace outdoor activity'.49
Not only our bodies but our brains too will become weaker with computers
and other gadgets doing much of what we used to do before, and they will
leave us even stupider.50 The irony is that we are trying to become more efficient
'decision-makers' and aiming to go 'beyond the brain' and, at the same time,
the 'brain' has come to the conclusion that being 'beyond' in situ is too much
of a bother and, in line with man's lure of short cuts, it is easier to go external.
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And that also fulfills another craving of the human—the urge to mate or merge
with, or dissolve into something or someone like the divine or the beloved. Now,
we say the divine and the beloved are too troublesome, too opinionated, can
be too demanding, and in any case, life is short and we have no time to waste
on such loony pursuits. As a rebound and as an extension of our materialistic
mindset, that 'urge' is manifesting as the machine. For, unlike the 'beloved', we
can embrace it without being rebuffed, and unlike the 'divine', we can insult it
without inviting its wrath. The ultimate spiritual aim and end of all life, even
creation, is unity, merger, and dissolution, to lose one's distinctive identity. It
manifests in many ways both spiritually and sensually. Prophets and wise men
aim at 'dissolution' to serve humankind. Some call transcendence spiritual
dissolution. The 5th-century Chinese philosopher Lieh-Tzu said that division
and differentiation are the processes by which things are created. Since things
are emerging and dissolving all the time, you cannot specify the point when this
division will stop. Indeed death is dissolution; we dissolve, or merge into the
elements. One such 'sublime' experience while we are alive is what we call 'being
in love'—we say things like 'I am you, we are the same one'; 'I am thee also now.
You are me now'. We just want to dissolve, merge or vanish into the one we are
in love with. Man's ultimate goal is the same: to dissolve into the divine. Indeed
that is the purpose of human birth, which, therefore, makes it very important
not to waste it, or 'leave it empty-handed'. Modern man, exasperated with his
fellow-humans and disenchanted with the divine, has 'fallen' in love with his own
child: the machine, much like Pygmalion, the Greek mythological figure. That
process is called whole brain emulation (WBE) or mind-uploading—simulating
a human brain in a computer with enough detail that the 'simulation' becomes, for
all practical purposes, a perfect copy and experiences consciousness. Pope Francis
described this as turning human beings into 'ghosts trapped inside machines'. The
apprehension that people might actually fall in love with their smart pet appliances
like 'responsive robots', with whom or with which they spend far greater amounts of
time each day than with humans, is now being taken seriously by psychologists and
social scientists. Incredible as it may seem, according to one study, men cannot
stay away from their smartphones for more than 21 seconds, while that time-lag is
57 seconds for women. John Lennon once said, "If everyone demanded peace
instead of television sets, then there will be peace". Now, we should substitute
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'smartphone' for a TV set. And we tend to think that peace is for politicians to
worry about, not us. But the truth is that what we 'demand' depends on what
happens in the world within.
We need to ponder over where human creativity (technological in
particular) is headed. We have become so addicted to technological 'appliances'
that life is unthinkable without them. In fact, the aim is to 'exploit human
vulnerabilities to engineer compulsion', to create an 'app that both triggers a
need and provides a momentary solution to it', to 'cement into habit as users turn
to your product when experiencing certain internal triggers'.51 The underlying
idea and strategy is that 'reducing the thinking required to take the next action
increases the likelihood of the desired behavior occurring unconsciously'. Clearly,
machines can never substitute a human partner for the deepest form of biological
love. But given man's present muddled mindset and disillusionment with
what biological mating and marriage entail—temper tantrums, kids, divorce,
alimony, violence—he might well find that 'romancing with the machine' might
be the closest he can get to, to cater to his need for bonding, intimacy, and
companionship. So far, man had no choice, but among the many choices that
technology offers, is this one too, which is to end human monopoly over 'benign
love'.
Technology is also messing up all the three 'M's and pushing humanity
headlong into murky, unchartered waters. Death is thus far the final finality,
and must be dealt with first among the three. It is also at the frontline of the
scientific agenda. It is to confront and defy nature and negate the three things
that nature has ordained for all animate life on earth: decay, disease, and death.
That we cannot escape it is exemplified by the lives of prophets. A particularly
good one is the life of the Buddha. On his way to becoming the Buddha, he
conquered the mighty Mara, which actually means killer, liberating himself from
the frailties and forces within him that rendered him mortal, and yet he too
suffered the pangs of old age, and finally died from disease. Even Lord Krishna,
revered as the complete personification of godhead, died stricken by the arrow of
a hunter due to mistaken identity or, as some say, to pay for an adharmic act in
his previous incarnation as Rama… Science is, in effect, saying that what avatars
and prophets and sages could not surmount, science can. Not only that, we can
have it both ways: we can be both 'be dead' and 'be alive', and even if a loved
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one is clinically 'dead' we can 'virtually' keep that person alive in a machine and
be able to interact with him or her, whenever we want! It is also claimed that
"the avatars would be created using a process called 'photogrammetry' which
can accurately reconstruct a virtual 3D shape of a human being from existing
photographs and video. Computer voice synthesis will take into account local
and regional accents to deliver a more accurate representation of what they
sounded like. The digital lifeform would also be linked up to social networks and
large databases so they would be kept 'up to date' with their relative's activities
and could communicate with them about their day".52 All this is still 'sciencefiction',
but by now we should be wary of such stuff; they can surprise and show
up. But all this once again raises the question: What constitutes a 'person' and
which of that is to be 'uploaded'? Are we a clump of molecules moving and
interacting in a way to create what we call 'Homo sapiens', 'brain', 'personality',
'you', or is there an unknown X-factor? What about consciousness? Will that be
'transference' or 'transformation'?
The Cherokee's Two Wolves
But no new moral reconstitution will even remotely become probable unless we
go 'within' and shift the fluctuating fortunes of the 'war within', the greatest, the
longest and the most fateful of all wars. The idea that even as we fight external
wars we ourselves are a war zone, that two sides of our own psyche fight for
supremacy, has long been a part of ancient wisdom and indigenous folklore.
Notable among these is a Cherokee story, in which a grandfather tells his grandson
that inside each of us, a constant battle goes on between two wolves. He says
that one 'wolf ' is Evil: it is anger, jealousy, greed, malice, resentment, inferiority,
lies, and ego. The other 'wolf ' is Good: it is joy, peace, love, hope, humanity,
kindness, empathy, and truth. Hearing this, the boy ponders for a while and
asks which wolf will eventually win. The grandpa replies, 'The one you feed'.
In another version, the grandpa says, "If you feed them right both will win",
because a starving wolf will become more dangerous, but 'make sure the 'good
wolf ' is fed more'. This is how the battle unfolds in our 'within'. We feed the
'wolves' inside us by the way we live, the way we relate with other living beings,
and that in turn, depends on who calls the shots inside us. We must realize that
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every day we make choices, important choices that are liable to be overlooked
as being trivial—and these choices define us; they constitute the 'feed' to the
wolves. They are a statement of who we choose to be in this life and what impact
we will have on the world around us. Philosophers like Marcus Cicero put it
differently: "the enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own
folly, our own criminality that we have to contend". We are left bewildered by
our own behavior. We could discuss and debate on moral principles and ethical
objectivity and on how to anchor our conduct, and if that should be the greatest
good of the greatest numbers or by the application of a universal 'litmus test',
or by balancing conflicting moral obligations and duties. That is futile as we
have known all along because the methods and means we mobilize for the task
are themselves inadequate, even improper. That is why most of our choices and
decisions are flawed. For, the real 'choices' and 'decisions' would already have
been made in the cosmos 'within' before we get down to it. It is like trying to
put a Band-Aid on an internal bleed, or closing the stable door after the horses
have bolted. If we are to find a way forward and make man a better being and
even to make earth a less endangered planet, we must shift our gaze within and
recognize that the most seminal of all struggles is in our own self. The nearest
yet farthest space is inner space; the most impenetrable barrier is the periphery
of our very body. The tragedy is that we all have the answers to all our questions
within ourselves; it is just that we haven't learnt how to get in touch yet. It is
like starving with the food we need in a locked room next door, and the key
lost in the ruins nearby. We have to find the lost key or break through the wall.
For that we must 'go within'. A Buddhist saying goes, 'Look within, thou art
the Buddha'. Marcus Aurelius said, "Look within. Within is the fountain of the
good, and it will ever bubble up, if thou wilt ever dig". To dig within or, in Yeats'
poetic phrase, 'entering into the abyss of himself ', or in the words of Tennyson,
'temple-cave of thine own self ', is a recurrent refrain, and a central message in
all religions. Jalal ad-Din Rumi described it as the 'long journey into yourself ';
and for the poet-philosopher Iqbal, it was to 'pass from matter to spirit'. Carl
Jung said, "Your vision becomes clear when you look inside your heart. Who
looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens". Many simply call it 'spiritual
journey', the journey which, as human beings, we are expected to go on, a journey
not to go somewhere but, in Aldous Huxley's words, "in the dissipation of one's
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own ignorance concerning one's self and life", which is "the finding of God as a
coming to one's self ". It is only through such a journey that we can achieve the
greatest of all conquests, the conquest of the self, and the highest of all freedoms,
the freedom of one who has overcome himself. It is only through such a venture
that it will become possible to, as ancient wisdom exhorts us, 'rouse thyself by
thyself '. It is only by undertaking, at least consciously choosing to 'go within'
that we can discover the kind of alchemy we need most of all, the ability to
cleanse our consciousness.
Some evolved souls experience 'divinity' by cultivating what has been
called a 'two-fold existence'. Swami Mukteswar, the guru of Paramahansa
Yogananda, explains that "saints who realize their divinity even while in the flesh
know a similar two-fold existence. Conscientiously engaging in earthly work,
they yet remain immersed in an inward beatitude". He described the interior of
our being as an 'Eden within'. It is also the darkest and brightest of places; dark
as it harbors of our negative impulses, and bright as it not only offers a home to
our positive feelings and emotions but also to the Almighty. According to the
Upanishads, transcending the bounds of knowledge into the realm of realization
is the spiritual journey man is born to embark upon. 'Bounds of knowledge', in
effect, means overcoming or overpowering the hold of the brain/mind over our
consciousness. This is the trick or prank that nature has played on us. On the one
hand, it has given us the marvel of a brain, which has enabled and empowered
us to outflank, outsmart, and prevail over physically much stronger species. On
the other hand, it has ensured that our overwhelming dependence on this very
'marvel' keeps us confined to those very 'bounds of knowledge' that we should
cross to fully realize human potential. And, as William James noted, we live 'halfawake'
and 'habitually fail to use powers of various sort'.
Mind Over Mind
The key is to go 'beyond' our five senses, which, as the scriptures never tire of
telling us, hold us captive. They say that unless we can subdue, if not master, our
senses, we cannot make any significant spiritual advance. Some commentators
say that the secret of the Bhagavad Gita was that Lord Krishna was exhorting
Arjuna to pick up his gandiva, his mighty bow, not so much to fight the Kauravas
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arrayed on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, but actually to fight with his five
'enemies' inside. But these five are themselves not free; they are captives of the
mind. The mind is a major constituent of our consciousness. The other major
constituent is heart intelligence. Neuroscientists have recently discovered that
there are over 40,000 nerve cells (neurons) in the heart alone, indicating that
the heart has its own independent nervous system—sometimes called 'the brain
in the heart'. In addition, the heart has an electromagnetic energy field that is
far greater than that of the brain, and this field can be measured up to 10 feet
beyond the physical body. This provides support for the spiritual teachings that
tell us that humans have energy fields that constantly intermingle with each other,
enabling healing (or negative) thoughts to be extended and exchanged. The heart
is increasingly being seen not only as the organ that keeps us alive but also as the
one whose intelligence is independent of the brain, and the one that keeps us on
the moral path. It is, in fact, the imbalance between the brain and heart that has
warped human personality. The war within is also then a fight between the heart
and brain for control of consciousness. One of the most important challenges
both spiritualism and science are concerned with is how to enhance the role
of heart intelligence and diminish that of the brain/mind. At the same time
research is also underway to boost brain power and to acquire 'mind control'
(called sama in Sanskrit). While the scriptures have talked of 'mind-control' as a
spiritual tool to control one's own behavior, science is now trying to break into
other people's minds, to manipulate their thought processes and induce them to
do what others want them to do.
Man has long sought the power of mind over matter. Mark Twain
quipped, "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't
matter". Now, man is seeking the power of the mind over mind. It is an awesome
power. Politicians, corporations, industrialists, even terrorists want it to achieve
their ends. Politicians want it to govern without dissent, to get elected and reelected.
Corporations and managers want to improve worker productivity and
to earn more profits. Terrorists want to penetrate the minds of their recruits to
turn them into 'killer robots'. However, we must realize that if mind-power gets
more potent, then the 'negatives' will receive more nourishment and become
stronger. But let us not overly get carried away with this dichotomy about the
'goodness' of good and the 'badness' of evil. The 'negatives' are as essential as the
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'positives'. Indeed we would have been extinct long ago in their total absence. A
lot of people think like Mr. Spock (the half-human, half-Vulcan character of the
television serial Star Trek), that some people become exceptional leaders because
it is their negative side which makes them strong, that their evil side, if you will,
properly controlled and disciplined, is vital to their strength. While clearly it
is our mind-power that drives our lives, we are also told that humans have, or
have had, finer faculties. These are variously called intuition, the sixth sense,
paranormal powers, occult energy, psychic abilities, anomalous experiences, and
so on. Some theosophists say that such powers, latent but now dormant, are not
supernatural or abnormal but natural; and the layer at which we are functioning
instead is subnormal and unnatural. We are below par, below our potential.
They predict that such game-changing capabilities will one day be used as
a natural means of cognition and navigation, and once that happens, it will be a
giant step towards human spiritual transformation. But that depends on the state
of our consciousness. It is also generally believed that the locus of these intuitive
powers is the human heart, which is a tremendous source of intelligence, energy,
and memory independent of the brain. What happened, however, in these
modern times is that as the brain grew bigger and tightened its hold on man, the
heart went into enforced eclipse and became simply a pump that we only want
to keep ticking without ever stopping. That, in turn, has disturbed the inner
equilibrium and strengthened the negative forces in the internal war, which
has corrupted, if not conquered our consciousness. In his book Shambhala: The
Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says, 'It is not what you
fight against that matters as much as knowing what is worth fighting for. Wake
up and dream'.
The Quicksand 'Within' the War Within
The war within, unlike other wars that end at a certain time with a victor and
a vanquished, is a continuous continuum, and will never come to a definitive
closure. It is a war with millions of mini-wars, or little battles that are fought
every day, every hour or every minute, in which there is a transient winner. Such
is the level of our ignorance that what we are surmising about the war within is
actually internalizing what is happening in the world outside. That is the basis
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for the premise that it is an epic struggle between good and evil. We may not
know much but we do know enough to know that what goes on deep down
inside, shapes what we are, and how we behave, and it has a vital bearing on
what goes on in the world beyond our bodies. It is this war that decides if we will
rise up to our noblest potential or go down to the lowest, meanest depths. What
we call our 'behavior' is purely a reflection, indeed a mirror image, of the seesaw
battles with fluctuating fortunes. How we behave, how we act and react are all
mini manifestations of the state of the war at that point and time. We do not see
the battles or the rubble; we don't feel it or experience it; we hear no rumblings of
guns blazing, or the shouts of the winner or the screams of the loser. Life goes on
with innumerable chores and choices, delights and disappointments, triumphs
and tragedies and all the while we think these are all our doings—of our free will,
or of Fate or God. Yet, they do play a part, pull a string or two in the 'karmic
kathputli' (the karmic puppets), but they do that in the internal theater. All that
we witness in the world—all the terrible horrors, insanity, cruelty, terrorism—
are but a display of the state of the war within and the perpetrators. And all
the wars, conflicts, wickedness and viciousness in the world are but sparks and
skirmishes in comparison with this insidious internal incinerator. Being at war
has been the state of the world. According to one estimate, during the last 3,000
years, the world has been at peace for only 240 years; that is less than 10% of
the time. This is but an enlarged reflection and extension of the internal war. We
must understand that there is no question of winning this internal war. We need
the negative as much as the positive to continue to exist within us to survive
in the world outside. The ideal state of this war is a state of stalemate, with the
virtuous forces having an edge in most of the daily battles within the war. If
we somehow manage to ensure that the good that is in us prevails in these
mini-wars, then all the intractable problems we are grappling with will become
manageable.
The universe within, we variously call mind, consciousness, subconsciousness,
soul inside, and so on. The locus and focus of our effort has to be
in that bounded but limitless space. That 'space' is also sometimes compared to
dry quicksand; every step we take to get out gets us deeper down. As Jess Scott
says, "It was alarming, how humans could spend entire lifetimes engaged in all
kinds of activities, without getting any closer to knowing who they really were,
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inside" (The Other Side of Life). Without such cathartic cleansing and churning
and looking within, we cannot morph the fundamentals of what it entails to be
human on earth. We cannot go forward on any of the problems and issues, or
mend our behavior unless we recognize that the greatest and most tenacious of
all wars is taking place right within each of us, and we are barely even conscious
of it. Even 'external' wars and 'natural disasters' are brought about by the inner
vibratory balance of good and evil being disturbed by an ascendancy of harmful
vibrations and resultant human actions. If we can rectify and restore the 'inner
equilibrium' in each of us, or at least in the 'critical mass' of mankind, then
such outbreaks will be far fewer. But we need minimal but sufficient numbers
to succeed, to change the direction of human endeavor. Swami Vivekananda
said, "A few heart-whole, sincere, and energetic men and women can do more
in a year than a mob in a century". How many are those 'few', and what the
threshold is, crossing which unleashes an unstoppable momentum, we do not
know, and perhaps will never know. That 'threshold' can be any of us, and so
we must believe and behave. There is also an important change in the dynamics
which we must take note of. Human evolution has entered a new phase, a new
direction: the blurring of the boundary between individual and community.
Henceforth, things can get done, problems get resolved only through men living
in tandem for the common good. Even the next 'avatar', the cosmic savior, might
be a conglomerate, not an individual entity. The Buddhist monk and author
Thich Nhat Hanh in fact foresees that: "it is possible that the next Buddha will
not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of
a community—a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a
community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we
can do for the survival of the earth". An individual is necessary but not sufficient
for human transformation.
The most 'negative' of all—the main malaise of man—is malice, which is
the most destructive of all emotions, distinct from envy and jealousy, and perhaps
the only truly 'unique' thing about this animal. There is nothing 'self ', or even
'selfish' about malice; it is all about 'others'; wishing them ill without any selfgain;
capable of feeling unhappy about others' happiness; of rejoicing in another's
misfortune. In that sense, unless we can get rid of the malice in our mind, we
are not even equal to other animals emotionally. Recent neurological research
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has revealed that in many individuals, the amygdala and its associated systems
in the brain, which are responsible for the 'negative' emotions, are becoming
prominently enlarged, at the expense of other areas such as the hypothalamus,
which is responsible for people's sense of well-being and happiness. We have
always had within both the 'negative' as well as the 'positive' emotions like love,
kindness, tenderness, compassion, sharing, solidarity, and connection to others.
But they were for long in large measure evenly matched, in a state of balance.
It is the breaking of the balance, starting a few millenniums ago, that marked
the beginning of corruption of the human condition, alienation from nature
and solidification of the sense of separateness. The tragedy is that although, as
neuroscience tells us, our brain's very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn
into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person,
our competitive culture has come to identify our very identity with separateness.
In a practical sense, we have different bodies; therefore we are 'separate'. There
is inevitably some 'distance' between any of us, but that gives an opportunity to
share the space in between. But it has become a crippling disability that deters
complementing each other. We exist, work, and live always with other people,
but we have not found a way to build bridges between being 'near each other'
and being 'together'.
The madness and mayhem on this planet is largely due to our inability
to achieve a balance within, and with, ourselves. For a more harmonious and
happier human being, the restoration of this 'balance' is an imperative. For better
human behavior, we have to ensure that the 'positive' emotions prevail in the
process of decision-making. The only way for that is to alter the course of this
eternal internal war. Outwardly, the 'war within' manifests as a moral injury or
trauma, which is the clutch of the throat, twitch in the stomach, which we feel
whenever we violate what each of us considers right or wrong. But we quickly put
it away, lest it become too bothersome. That, in turn, translates into the plethora
of ills that we experience in everyday life: indifference, intolerance, injustice,
callousness, cruelty. All or some of them have existed in human society from time
immemorial, but never before have all found a safe haven at the same time in our
'within', nor has their virulence been so scorching. The war is fought not only
between two forces; its influence and impact are also two-fold. The war, and the
myriad battles within, affects, even determines the content of our consciousness
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as well as our earthly conduct. And, on the side, we can influence the course of
the war through our will and behavior.
Another contributing and complicating factor is that the very 'intelligence'
that propels our personality itself is not of the right kind. The paradox is that it
was the evolution of 'intelligence' that marked the arrival, and eventual ascent of
man. Other non-human animals too had brains, some even bigger (dinosaurs,
for example). It is the relative proportions of brain and body that matters. It
was the 'neocortex', the so-called 'gray matter', which enabled the human to
perform complex functions, sensory perception, logical and deductive reasoning,
and conscious thought. While that kind of 'intelligence' empowered man to
survive, prevail and ultimately acquire the power to lord over all other forms of
life on earth, once that stage was reached, it became not entirely appropriate for
his further growth and stability of the human world. One of our paradoxical
perplexities lies in that part of our consciousness which gives rise to what is
often called 'collective intelligence', the 'combined intelligence' we bring to bear
as members of a group, or community. Although we are not fully aware of it,
the fact is that we are the sum total of our previous past and of the people we
interface and interact with in the world, our family, peers, or co-workers, even
the man on the street. And what we learn, all comes through the doors that
other people open for us. It is also being said that a sense of shared identity—
that thinking as we, rather than as I—is good for our mind and body. Lifeexpectancy
is reported to have declined in modern societies in which people
live isolated lives. On the other hand, the reality also is that although we are
often described as 'social animals' we lag far behind other social organisms like
ants and termites in the way we organize and live communally. In our case,
unlike ants, for example, the whole, or the cumulative energy and intelligence,
has often been less than the sum of the parts. Not only have we fallen short in
converting individual energy into social synergy; we expend a good chunk of
our energy to undermine others. That is the primary reason why we have never
found a perfect formula, or model for a 'just' society. We are 'social animals', but
we also fail most as constituent parts of society, of a collective whole. And that
is why every 'constitution', which often ironically starts with soaring but shallow
words, 'We, the people', have all been found wanting. From the 'city-state'
to 'nation-state', from kingdoms to empires, from oligarchies to ochlocracies,
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theocracies to dictatorships, to democracies, they have all failed. That is because
there is no way to predict, preempt human wantonness and wickedness, no way
to curb individual avarice and evil while giving autonomous 'social space' to
every individual. Man cannot be trusted with any 'authority' or power over other
people. The conundrum is that the human being is too complex a form of life to
be contained, but contained he must be, for the good of others. That 'complexity'
also stems from the fact that we have no clue or control over what happens inside
each of us. While the arena for action, change and control is inside, we focus
on our external behavior. Although scientists and theologians might argue why
there is something rather than nothing and what is it that proves or disproves,
nothing for sure comes from naught and the fluctuating fortunes of the 'war
within' determine how we act and react, how we treat each other. And if we, as
individuals, have no hold on our own behavior, how then can we be 'governed'
externally, which essentially calls for sharing and complementing and willingly
subjecting ourselves to external controls for the larger good. In the words of
Swami Vivekananda, "external nature is only internal nature writ large". If we
do not have internal coherence and internal peace, we cannot have peace and
order in the world. The Buddha said, "Peace comes from within. Do not seek it
without". The men that 'govern' as well those being 'governed' are human, subject
to the same foibles and limitations. For, as James Madison once noted, "If men
were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men,
neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary". While
external governance depends on internal governance, internal 'good' governance
hinges on the course of the 'war within'.
Some of us can be 'super men', or even achieve 'supra-mental intelligence';
but we can never become a super-organism (broadly described as a collection
of agents which can act in concert to produce phenomena governed by the
collective, phenomena being any activity that 'the hive wants', such as ants
collecting food or bees choosing a new nest site). We are essentially unable to 'get
it all together', what we have within each of us as a species; or, 'get along with
each other' synergistically. Adding to our woes, we make use of, in the words
of William James, "only a small part of our mental and physical resources"—
one might add of our spiritual potential. Nor have we achieved 'intelligent'
internal coherence. Our 'intelligence' is fractured inside and fratricidal outside.
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Human 'intelligence', or intellect' as some like to call it, is multidimensional and
includes not only the cognitive power, but also emotional intelligence, intuitive
intelligence, and spiritual intelligence. We are way off the mark even with regard
to the source of our innate and operative 'intelligences'. It is, contrary to the
popular view, not all centered in the brain; the heart has its own independent but
interdependent intelligence; the gut has its intelligence; perhaps even the cells
in our body. All 'intelligences' are designed to work synergistically for a human
life of harmony. Somewhere, sometime, things went horribly skewed, the mix
got messed up. And the power of 'rational thinking', or of the 'left-brain mode'
of thinking, identified with critical thinking, logical reasoning and objectivity,
has come to dominate, or even monopolize, our conscious lives, at the cost of
other innate but dormant or underutilized capabilities like emotional thought,
intuitive insightfulness, and spiritual awareness. Consequently, man has become
a dysfunctional and destructive being. Unless we can rejig the 'mix' and configure
a new blend of our 'intelligence, we will, as Eckhart Tolle says, "always end up
re-creating the same world, the same evils, the same dysfunction".
But then the essential point is that we cannot behave like ants or bees
because we are human animals, not eusocial mammals, not even chimps. Just as
we cannot be a tiger or a leopard, so we cannot be an ant or a bee or a butterfly
or a bird. We can certainly learn from the way they submerge or sacrifice their
'individuality', and become, to borrow a phrase from RenĂŠ Girard, interdividuals,
for the good of the colony or hive, but we cannot do what a caterpillar can:
become a butterfly. That which is in the lowest, more accurately different, state
of existence, like the mineral, has no right to grumble, saying, "O God, why
have You not given me the vegetable persona?" In the same way, the plant has
no right to complain that it has been deprived of the attributes of the animal
world. And an animal cannot complain of the want of the human qualities.
Every form of life or existence is unique in itself, and has an irreplaceable place
in the theater of creation. In the Bible, it is said, "But who are you, a human
being, to talk back to God?" Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it,
"Why did you make me like this?" Does not the potter have the right to make
out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for
common use? What we should focus upon is how to optimize, harmonize what
we have, and who we are as human animals, to the last detail to achieve the goals
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and guideposts we set ourselves to achieve. We cannot 'evolve' into something
like a 'cell in a giant social body', from an individual into a colony, with a perfect
'division of labor'. We cannot, either as individuals or as a species, be any other,
but we must be true to ourselves and be the best we can as we are. But what is
truly, unchangeably, exclusively human 'capability'? It is difficult to codify as it
is, on the one hand, timeless and, on the other hand, changes from time to time.
And then we have different 'capabilities': physical, mental, spiritual and so on.
And it varies from person to person. Given all these difficulties, as a species we
must learn to emulate the behavior of 'colony organisms', and drastically reduce
conflict, enhance cooperation, develop and nurture a 'hive mind' or collective
consciousness', a shared identity. Not knowing how to handle conflict has been
the source of strife and sorrow. Conflict is everywhere in nature. Conflict is both
internal and external. There is conflict in our consciousness, which is the war
within. In fact, it is this internal conflict in Arjuna's consciousness that has given
us the great Bhagavad Gita. Externally, diversity means difference, and difference
leads to disagreement, and disagreement into argument, and argument into
acrimony, and acrimony into anger, and anger into, as the Bhagavad Gita says,
to loss of control over the senses and to ruination. It is self-righteousness, the
I-know-it-all and I-am-right feeling, that is the cause of conflict. And that does
not let us see the other or alternative point of view. That does not let us concede
or compromise or yield. Conflict becomes bitterness, violence, hatred, and war.
Conflict is now embedded in our mindset, now the prism through which we
view everything. Our consciousness itself is in a state of conflict and that is why
we have the war within.
Technology and the 'War Within'
Whether technology per se is ethically inert or morally malevolent, its power and
potential has other implicit consequences that we barely take note of. The antitechnology
mass murderer Theodore Kaczynski (also known as the 'Unabomber')
explained in his manifesto: "Due to improved techniques the elite will have
greater control over the masses; and because human work will no longer be
necessary, the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system. If the
elite are ruthless they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity. If
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they are humane, they may use propaganda or other psychological or biological
techniques to reduce the birth rate until the mass of humanity becomes extinct,
leaving the world to the elite". That scenario is certainly a possibility; so are
potential risks in technological advances and frontier technologies like genetic
re-engineering, nuclear power, and so on. But there are dangers in the current
'low' technologies also, indeed even in 'primitive' technologies. How we use any
technology, or any technique or tool, depends on who the user is and how it is
harnessed. To be fair, there are a number of thoughtful and spiritual persons who
think that modern science-based technology could do wonders to mankind and
that the much-dreaded 'marriage' of man and machine might be for the mutual
good. The Dalai Lama recently quipped, probably in a lighter vein, that he would
not rule out the possibility of one day reincarnating as a computer! He says that
man is also a 'machine with a consciousness'. Now, if a man-made machine, with
man's help, acquires something akin to what we describe as 'consciousness'—
ability to feel emotions, for example—then will it transform into a 'living entity'
like any of us? The question is not if technology, like everything in the universe
is God's creation, and therefore spiritual. And not also, as the Dalai Lama says,
that man too is a 'conscious' machine. Both assumptions and inferences might
be true or false; it does not matter much. The essential question is: what kind of
'consciousness' might it have and how does it get it? If it is from man (probably)
and if its 'consciousness' is anything like what man has now (most likely), then
we are doubly-doomed. What kind of 'machines' we might make and how we
put them to use all depends on the state of human consciousness, particularly
of those who are on the frontline of scientific research and spiritual search.
We know that technology has not only been the defining force behind the
'military-industrial complex', but it has also unrecognizably altered the character
of war and made the enemy-land (there is no such thing as warzone anymore)
into a theater of massacre, an open-ended graveyard, a smoldering giant
burning ghat. Even 'spirituality' can be a negative force, if it is practiced by the
wrong people.
Everything we do, even how we harness human creativity, depends on
the state of the 'war within'. A huge chunk of that creativity is not in the arts or
letters, literature or painting, but in technology. The debate whether technology
is double-edged or not, boon or bane, will never be settled. What is increasingly
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becoming apparent is that human consciousness, at the level at which it is
operating, seems more hospitable to its negative power because consciousness
itself is corrupted. As a result, technology is being put to use for elitist and
divisive and destructive purposes. It is widening the chasm between plutocracy
and the people, the elite and the masses to such an extent that some say that a
no-holds-barred global class struggle is inevitable, spearheaded this time not by
the working class but by the middle class. We are living at a time when serious
people are seriously saying that "there is not a single aspect that doesn't have
the potential to be totally transformed by these technologies of the future". The
decisive impact that technology will make on our future hinges on this epic
struggle inside. Our tireless and ceaseless endeavor should be to reinforce and
strengthen the 'positive' forces like love, caring, compassion, sharing, humility,
gratefulness, tolerance, and temperance that are caught in an epic struggle in our
consciousness. Some say that the real combatants are gods. They say, "There are
gods at war within each of us. They battle for the throne of our hearts, and much
is at stake". This is why idolatry is the most discussed problem in the entire Bible.
Behind every such struggle that you and I have is a false god that is winning
the war in our lives. Don't give in to the myth that gods are only statues that
people of other cultures or people of long ago worshipped. Pleasure, romance,
sex, money, and power are just a few of the gods that vie for our allegiance
in today's society. Loss of self-control, both as individuals and as a species, has
always been man's biggest problem, but never more needed or absent than now.
It is at the root of all problems, from casual sex to catastrophic climate change,
gluttony to the greenhouse effect, broken homes to social breakdown. No one
seems to be in control over their lives, emotions, feelings, desires, dreams, and
drives. The less control we have within, the more we need it outside. And that
lack of inner control is at the core of concern about our behavior. But there are
some who worry what might happen if we are able to gain control over ourselves,
that is, if we are able to intervene, meddle, and manipulate what goes on inside
our consciousness. If we are free to make ourselves however we wish to be, if we
are able to modify our motivations, what would we do? If we have the power, on
whose side in the 'war within' would we tilt towards? Would we become more
'humanely' human or more 'inhumanly' human, more compassionate or more
callous?
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The bottom line is that our 'behavior'—which in practical terms means
the kind of things we do to stay alive, to share the living space on earth with
fellow-beings; to make a living, to amuse and entertain ourselves, to compete
and to progress—defies our claim to be a rational race, or as the species with
a carte blanche direct from God to rule over all life on earth. The irony, and
tragedy, is that no other species and no other man of any other time, with all the
dazzling add-ons at his elbow, is more 'busy' than man of this day and age. Yet
his life, after it is done with 'being busy', is more barren and bereft of 'meaning'
than of any one before. Man has long wrestled with the question: Life being
'given'—a blend of 'divine beauty', brutality, and barbarism—what then should
I do with myself? Carl Jung, in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections,
agonized over this question. He wrote, "I know only that I was born and exist,
and it seems to me that I have been carried along. I exist on the foundation of
something I do not know. In spite of all uncertainties, I feel a solidity underlying
all existence and a continuity in my mode of being". He quotes Lao Tzu, "All
are clear, I alone am clouded", and interprets it as Lao Tzu being a man with
superior "insight who has seen and experienced worth and worthlessness, and
who at the end of his life desires to return into his own being, into the eternal
unknowable meaning". He ends with a hope: "Life is—or has—meaning and
meaninglessness. I cherish the anxious hope that meaning will preponderate and
win the battle". The battle, or the 'war', is in his own being, his 'within'. If Jung,
with his great insight into the human psyche, was left with nothing more than
'anxious hope', what hope do we have?
Many, particularly the very young, often referred to as Gen-Y, are
experiencing the pangs of the terrifying gravity of inner emptiness, the 'unbearable
lightness' of heavy hopelessness, the dreary drudgery of 'making a living'. And
many feel, looking at the coarseness of contemporary society, a numbing sense
of moral despair at the enticing trappings of our soul-less civilization. We are
more on the move than moving towards where it matters. We produce to discard,
and what we consume does no good to anyone. We 'take' and 'take', and 'take'
everything that appeals to our senses, give no thought to how what we 'take'
comes from, from where, and what it entails. If it is in the 'market', and if we
have 'money', nothing else matters. How many fellow-humans are exploited, how
much child-laborers are involved, how many trees are cut, and how many animals
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are tortured and slaughtered to get the things we 'take' from the market place
or the shelf of the store, we give no thought to. Our clothes, fine or cheap, are
our second skin and reflect our personal sense of style, taste, personality, culture,
and even beliefs and values. But do we know, or care to know, how and where
they are made? It is a huge industry, and the world clothing and textile industry
(clothing, textiles, footwear, and luxury goods) generates several trillions of
dollars annually, backstopped by sweatshop labor of women and children in poor
countries or totalitarian states, who work long hours in toxic environments at
abysmally low wages. Fast fashion is the second biggest polluter in the world,
second only to oil. We don't see them and we don't know them and we don't
care. We feel good wearing 'sweat-and-blood'-soaked fancy clothes, and we
have enough money to get them, and that is all that matters. The moral alibi is,
that which is not within the immediacy of our knowing we cannot be held
accountable for. Everything is a matter of 'marketing' on the mass media.
Everything that happens, and even every image of horror, has to compete not
only with other 'horrors' but also with images of consumer goods, toothpaste,
cameras, luxury houses, etc. Because our attention span is limited, and sometimes
seconds on the fleeting screen can cost millions, the 'image' must grab our eye and
mind instantly or else the money goes bad and all in vain. Repetitive exposure
to such viewing has a numbing effect, and we need—and the sponsors and the
marketing-gurus, who 'specialize in the production and specialization of such an
image' know that—each next time more gripping and more 'horrific' horrors.
And watching them is when we relax, enjoy and be entertained! Distance mass
production and mass marketing gives us the cover not to think of the process of
production—where, how and by whom it is made—and of the attendant moral
and ecological costs, and then we think that what stands between the image and
an item is only money (if we have it we can get it) and the moral aspect gets
marginalized.
Court of Conscience
It is again the mind that chooses how to put technology to use. The same robot
that can be used in warfare can also enable a paralyzed man to lead a life of dignity.
Since many remote areas of the globe lack all-weather access, scientists have
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invented transportation systems that use electric autonomous flying machines
to deliver medicine, food, goods and supplies wherever they are needed. The
message down the ages and across the oceans is always the same: everything
in nature and everything man can make could be used constructively for the
common good or destructively for collective doom. It is the make-up and mix,
character and content of human 'intelligence' that is the arbiter. The problem is
not either with scripture or science, culture or civilization. It is the nature of the
beast, intelligence. And one of the drawbacks in our left-brain intelligence has
been its inability to break the barriers between different religions, philosophy
and science and to inject what Abraham Maslow called 'being values', or metavalues,
into other attributes like 'logic', 'devoutness', 'sincerity', 'passion' and
'fervor'. That is how the religious personality can live in comfort with cruelty and
callousness towards other people, and an 'honorable' and 'upright' scientist can, in
'good conscience' make weapons that kill thousands of people whose names and
identities he will never even know. And the rest of us can lead normal lives with
multiple personalities, which allows us to use a mask to cover our inconvenient
faces! We are living in unsettling times and our mind-driven consciousness has
annihilated, or abolished, what we used to call our 'conscience'. No one considers
he is accountable, in Gandhi's phrase, to the highest court of conscience. We feel
no moral ' pricks', hear no 'voices', no tugs of our gut; and it is not because it
is all 'quiet on the inner front', but because all our seeking, all of our journey,
our hunger for adventure is outwards and upwards. After all, we only want a
good life, good sleep, good carrier, good recreation and eternal life even if we are
already dead within.
And we have failed to notice that what we are searching for in the universe
is right within the 'inner universe': within our own selves. Ancient traditions and
many religions have long told us that our heart and our gut are independent,
though interconnected, sources of intuitive intelligence, which many animals
too have, but have become comatose for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Scientists say that there are more neurons in our gut than anywhere else except
within the brain, signifying that it is more than a place of ingestion, digestion,
and excretion. The gut, along with the heart is called the 'intuitive brain'; these
two organs are separate but are holistically connected with the 'brain' in our head.
If we can somehow awaken and activate them—the heart and the gut—they can,
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along with the brain, bring about the right blend in our 'intelligence'. We have
chosen to set aside the 'help' available within and we have lost the 'dart of longing
love'. What our creativity is laboring upon is to harness the machine to overcome
the inadequacies of our brain-incubated 'intelligence'. The rationale that is often
offered is that the human brain is increasingly unable to cope with the complexity
and contradictions, range and scope of factors that need to be harmonized for
sound decision-making in the contemporary context, and, as a result, we have
little choice but to rely on computers to supplement or even supplant human
intelligence. And that computer systems that have access to, and are able to store,
analyze and process, mountains of data almost instantly and objectively, can be
better at decision-making than humans with their foibles, prejudices and with
their tendency to look at every issue through the prism of personal benefit. The
fact, they say, is that most people are severely limited in terms of the amount of
information they could process at any particular moment in time, and are unable
to carry out the mental operations necessary to make calibrated decisions. While
that is a reasonable inference, the question is: are computer-aided or computermade
decisions truly objective non-human decisions? Some experts say 'not
necessarily'; they say that it is wrong to think that computers are neutral and that
algorithms reflect the biases of their creators, which means they too are subject
to the same limitations of human decision-making capabilities. This means that
whether it is scientific activity or political problem-solving or computer-aided
calibration, the orchestrator is the brain, and the intended purpose of insulating
or marginalizing our choices and decisions from the weaknesses and vagaries
of our brain/mind will not be achieved. That again means that if we want to
improve human problem-solving capabilities we have to induce and orchestrate
a paradigm shift in the very infrastructure of our intelligence that drives our lives.
And such a shift has to happen 'within' generations.
In embarking on this adventure, we must also realize that what we call
'intelligence' is not the monopoly of man. Every creature from ant to ape, from
a plant to a dolphin has its own insignia of intelligence, 'unique' to that form
of life, created in its own world, called Umwelt. There are as many 'umwelts'
out there as there are organisms, perhaps even many more, although they all
share the same environment. We 'think' that we are the most 'intelligent', an
assumption increasingly in question. It is now reported that crows, ravens, and
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rooks possess higher intelligence. We do not know about other creatures but
man has multiple 'intelligences'. We wrongly identify 'being gifted' with having
a high intelligence quotient (IQ). So prized is the IQ that even one-year-olds are
being subjected to tests to determine their score, so as to enhance it as a way to
stay or succeed in the endless, self-defeating, or pointless pursuit. We want our
kids to be smart, in fact smarter than others, as we believe that that will empower
them to prevail in our highly competitive world. The key factor in life, we have
come to believe, is to be 'smarter' than others. And we credit our very survival
as a species to that single attribute. For many millenniums, we humans have
considered ourselves superior, primarily due to our large brains and our ability
to reason, that we humans are exceptional by virtue, that we are the 'smartest in
the animal kingdom'. It has been believed that human superiority is the decisive
definition of man's place in nature and that it is ingrained in the genetic code of
all of us. Even Aristotle, whom Encyclopedia Britannica called 'the first genuine
scientist in history', echoed this view and wrote that nature had made animals for
mankind, 'both for his service and his food', and 'there is no such thing as virtue
in the case of a god, any more than there is vice or virtue in the case of a beast:
divine goodness is something more exalted than virtue, and bestial badness is
different in kind from vice'. Spanish philosopher Ortega Gasset reassures us that
'the greatest and most moral homage we can pay to certain animals on certain
occasions is to kill them'. If 'killing' is a way to pay 'homage'—it may well be so,
from nature's point of view—then why not humans? And that, incidentally, is
what we are doing!
There are different voices too about human 'uniqueness'. Some say that
we might not be as smart as we think, and that animals can have cognitive
faculties that are superior to those of human beings, and that "the fact that
they may not understand us, while we do not understand them, does not mean
our 'intelligences' are at different levels; they are just of different kinds".53 If
further substantiated—and even if not generically more 'intelligent', if it can
be established that our animal-cousins can do some tasks more 'efficiently' than
human animals—this could be one of the most sobering of 'spiritual' revelations.
Even more far-reaching and profound, it indicates the desired direction of
evolution of human thought. It is to focus our attention on ways to bridge the
abyss between human and non-human animals, to learn to treat them as fullThe
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fledged forms of life, like our own kin and kindred, not inferior beings deprived
of all feelings, emotions, pain, empathy, and camaraderie that we are capable
of. That is another path to realize and 'know' God, the common Father and
creator.
Whether or not we are the most 'intelligent' and smartest of all animals,
cognitively or functionally, is not really germane to the instant point. It is that
our current brand of 'intelligence', which is left-brain incubated, is a big part of
the problem, and not the solution. At its most basic level, it has not enabled us
to cooperate and complement each other, at least to simply 'get along' with each
other. What we need to do, and what we should do to our kids, is not to deepen
our extant 'intelligence', but to broaden it to include others like emotional,
interpersonal, social, and spiritual intelligences. The fact is that which particular
'intelligence' dominates at any point determines what kind of 'world' we create,
live in, experience, even imagine. Change of 'intelligence' changes everything. In
our case, it is the intelligence of the brain/mind that dominates us and the 'world'
of our experience, marginalizing others like emotional and spiritual intelligences.
But it was not always so and it need not be forever. So if we want to change the
world for the better we have to change the brand of our 'intelligence' that drives our
lives. It is not a matter of becoming 'more intelligent'; it is about being 'differently'
intelligent. And that source of 'differently' must be in situ, germinated within our
own selves, not exogenously or artificially, but outside the ambit of what we call
the 'mind'. The measure of how intelligent we are—our intelligence quotient—is
what essentially differentiates man from man, the upshot of whatever we do as
'conscious beings'. While a high IQ has obvious advantages in the human world,
the idea that higher IQ is better, and that a certain level of IQ is required to
achieve certain goals in life, has been proven wrong again and again. Ironically,
a very low IQ, too, can be a life-saving alibi; it can literally save one from the
gallows. Whether it is high or low, intelligence has come to mean the difference
between success and failure, recognition and ridicule, genius and garden-type.
Most of all, 'intelligence' is prized for its problem-identification-solving capacity.
The basic assumption is that our intelligence enables us to assemble and analyze
all relevant facts, to take into consideration all the pertinent factors, and allows
us to frame and make right choices for the right course of action. At this pivotal
point in human history, which itself is a chronicle of human bungling and faux
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pas, and attempts made to cover them up, where many are aghast at what man
has wrought on earth and where he is headed, it is this dimension that calls
for careful study and reflection. First we must recognize that the scope for our
'choice-making' is very narrow. On the really important issues we have no choice.
We have no choice over our earthly arrival: to whom we are born to or the place
and time of our birth. We have no choice over the birth of our progeny. We have
no choice over the time and place, even the way, of our earthly departure: death.
And yet all our life we try to ward it off; and sometimes to embrace. If death is
predetermined, then is our drive towards physical immortality tantamount to
divine defiance, a dare to nature?
Even within this meager 'menu' the actual 'choices' we make are highly
circumscribed and conditioned; they appear as 'choices', but we are, in reality,
the executors, the instruments. 'Choices' make us more than we make them,
and over time, we become what the real 'choice-makers' want us to be. Jean-Paul
Sartre simply said, "We are our choices". We make a 'choice' among the choices
offered to us, and they themselves are loaded. What is not on the table doesn't
really exist and the 'table' itself is so crowded with such pseudo 'choices' that the
difference between them is actually, 'Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee'. Still,
every choice has a ripple effect, both on our character and, something we scarcely
are conscious of, on society.
The most worrisome aspect is that we have turned out to be, with all these
caveats, poor 'choice-makers' and 'problem-solvers'. In fact, we tend to identify
intelligence with 'problem-solving' capabilities and that the better we are at
problem-solving the more intelligent we are. 'Problem-solvers' are usually highly
regarded and rewarded. Yet the fact is that all through our history, problem-solving
has been our weakest spot: skewed-prioritization, flawed decision-making, faulty
harmonizing of competing demands. It is this that has led to all the problems we
have faced, all the wars that we have waged, all the misery we have endured as a
species. If we want more harmonious humankind and a more stable world, the
'problem' about problem-solving has to be addressed. The real problem is that
often we cannot even agree on what the 'problem' is; let alone how to 'resolve' it.
Basically the 'problem' is that our brain, more precisely the left-brain, consists of
many specialized units designed by the process of evolution by natural selection for
fragmented tasks. While these modules occasionally work together cooperatively
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and seamlessly, they don't always, resulting in impossibly conflicting beliefs,
vacillations between patience and impulsiveness, transgressions of our selfsupposed
moral imperatives, and pompous views of ourselves. We have always
been reasonably good at narrow advocacy and compartmental conception, and
weak on holistic 'thinking', integration, and harmonization. In modern times it
has gotten worse, because today's problems are more complex and convoluted,
and require precisely those very skills we lack, or we do not possess in sufficient
measure. To the point that we are unable to agree on what needs to be done to
address any of our issues, what Shakespeare called 'sea of troubles'—political,
social, economic, technological, environmental, psychological, and cultural.
For example, what we see around us is chaos, creeping shadows, darkness, and
horrors, but what we cannot make sense of is what the mute message is. We are
lost in the darkness, but whether it is the darkness before dawn or the darkness at
the midnight of the new moon, whether or not the 'darkness' is of the 'maternal
womb of a new consciousness', or of the chilling confines of a cold coffin, we can
only surmise.
That mankind is on the threshold of an epic transition, we all concur. The
trouble is that we are confused if what we see and experience in the world presages
the dawn of a Utopia or the dim darkness of a Dystopia. Views vary if, as many
fear, we are experiencing the death-throes of impending self-extinction or the
faint birth-pangs of a new 'Axial Age' of 'spiritual unfoldment', which could lead
to a profound consciousness-change or when 'singularity' comes calling. Human
brains are chipped, or linked to computers, and a kind of 'man-machine' merger
is occurring. These three different scenarios appear, all are plausible, but there is
no way to tell which one will be the 'winner'. Here again, it depends on who, or
which attributes, prevail in the 'war within'. During the long length of human
pre-history, our brain and our emotions were by and large, in tune, in a state of
subtle balance. That 'balance' was between what we call 'positive' or 'negative'.
Our negative emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, hate, and aggression were
used for survival and hunting, and for the defense of the group or community
against predators and rivals. They were entrenched and embedded within long
after their need was not so strong, and have become more powerful through
the inputs received from the outside world. The positive emotions such as love,
kindness, compassion, and solidarity to others were brought to bear as a means
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to synergy in the community. And they have become weaker as they were starved
of the nutrients from the external world. The principal reason for much of the
aggression, wretchedness, wickedness, and hatred, which seem to be on the rise
every day, is the growing ascendancy of the 'negative' forces in the ' war within'.
A Stinging Word and a Withering Glance
The core issue though is this: is human aggression and violence, in its destructive
and demeaning sense, genetically hard-wired, or is human violence the somber
'software' of our struggle for survival in the 'living world' and the worldly wages
of our culture, civilization and modernity? Opinions vary, and we will probably
have no up or down answer. What we must recognize is that mankind will never
be free from all violence, and the fight to overcome violence is part of the war
within. Just as peace is not merely an absence of war, non-violence is not simply
refraining from violent acts. We instinctively associate violence with physical
actions, but in truth, non-physical violence, hurting without hitting, is far more
pervasive. The medium need not be the hand; it can be our mouth, even eyes.
A slap on the face may be less hurting than a stinging word. A looks-can-kill
glance can send shivers down the spine more than a whiplash. Taking advantage
of the other's vulnerability is violence. Gandhi said 'poverty is the worst form of
violence'. It can be an abuse, psychological, emotional or verbal, or a deliberate
snub, a scalding scolding. Gaslighting—mental abuse in which false information
is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory,
perception and sanity, is violence. In fact, "people ganging up on someone by
spreading rumors, humiliation, and verbal abuse are just as bad as thugs who
physically beat someone to cause injury or death… People are comfortable
using non-physical violence because their actions cannot be measured like
physical injuries".54 The same action or speech or gesture can be 'violent' or even
'affectionate'; it depends on the intention and attitude. A curt and dismissive
word can hurt, but simply listening with empathy can heal. There is a vast
difference, for example, between mercy killing and murder, between contract
killing and the executioner's execution, between consensual sex and commercial
sex, even between seduction and rape. Even in the same relationship, the same
act can be violent or loving. Some even say that "Violence itself is not physical,
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though the delivery system very well may be. Violence is energy—invasive,
penetrating, abrupt, creepy, and unrelenting. It is the filth you cannot wash off
with a shower".55 Even 'passive resistance' and every form of 'protest' is a form
of violence, in the sense it tries to force people to do something that otherwise
they will not. But violence is sometimes needed for the voice of moderation to
be heard. According to Hannah Arendt, "Violence… is a much more effective
weapon of reformers than of revolutionists".56 The argument against violence is
that, although justified and even necessary under certain conditions, it is often
counterproductive, that it leads to more violence, and that, in Arendt's words, the
'means overwhelm the end'. Non-violence can be cowardly in certain situations
and 'being truthful' can do more harm than good at times. If we are 'kind' to
a psychopathic killer and do not tell the truth we might be responsible for the
murders of more people.
Every religion has recognized and warned us of this 'war within'.
Zoroastrianism calls it a war between the god of light and god of darkness, and
it advocates the simple formula of 'good thoughts, good words and good deeds'.
Its founder Zoroaster was, in the words of Tagore, the "first man who gave a
definitely moral character and direction to religion and at the same time preached
the doctrine of monotheism which offered an eternal foundation of reality to
goodness as an ideal of perfection".57 And he 'showed the path of freedom to
man, the freedom of moral choice'. Christianity describes the 'war' as a fight
between God and Satan. However one might view it or call it, deep inside all of
us there is struggle, tension, fight or war, which determines how we act or react,
how we behave. There is in everyone a Dr. Jekyll and a Mr. Hyde; and perhaps
many 'Jekylls' and 'Hydes', particular to every situation and relationship. The
'universe' is within and the forces are internal but the stakes are universal. It is not
confined to the well-being and liberation of each of us; it directly and decisively
affects the whole of humanity and the fate of the earth. The fact of the matter is
that if we cannot control what happens inside we cannot control what happens
outside. A 'suicide' is also an outcome of a 'war within'. When some people say
that something 'broke inside', what they mean is that they lost the battle, and
that, in turn, led to 'ending it all'. The irony is that while we have no qualms
about species self-destruction, we have always been ambiguous about individual
self-destruction. Our stance has wildly wavered between 'noble', 'heroic' and
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'honorable', to 'mortal sin', 'heinous crime' or 'cowardly', between an 'act of
genius' to a ' form of insanity'. On the species-scale not many agonize, because
the individual mind cares as much or as little about the human as any other.
The 'war is within', so are the barriers. Rumi wrote, "Your task is not to seek for
love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have
built against it". The chief barrier is our own mind. Joseph Campbell said, "The
ultimate dragon is within you".
All 'wars', between individuals or tribes or nations, are 'within' our own
selves, and we have to win that 'war' for the future evolution of mankind. The
Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that "since wars begin in
the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be
constructed". Those 'defenses' have to be erected within. War, it has even been
said, is a "biological necessity of the first importance… not only a biological
law but a moral obligation… an indispensable factor in civilization".58 Similarly,
"War is not a pathology that with proper hygiene and treatment can be wholly
prevented. War is a natural condition of the State, which was organized in order
to be an effective instrument of violence on behalf of society. Wars are like deaths,
which, while they can be postponed, will come when they will come and cannot
be finally avoided".59 At the outset of the First World War, Thomas Mann wrote,
"Is not peace an element of civil corruption and war purification, a liberation, an
enormous hope?"
All 'wars' of all sorts, in the ultimate reckoning, are about 'control'. It
is our irresistible urge for control that consumes our lives and causes so much
misery and mayhem in the world. Control gives the feeling of power, satiates the
desire to prevail, it allows us to humiliate and to feel superior. We want to control
through knowledge, through privilege and position. In every relationship, there
is an element of control. Through control, we exploit each other and it is innate
to every dimension of the human way of life. The fact of the matter is that we
virtually cannot live without exploiting someone or the other sometime or the
other; at least we should not heap humiliation—the feeling of being put down,
made to feel less than one feels oneself to be—not rob them of the dignity,
not to invade and violate their personal space. Deep inside our psyche, almost
everyone harbors 'humiliation'. Wayne Koestenbaum (Humiliation, 2011) says,
"I have lived with humiliation all my life, as I think all human beings do". WH
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Auden wrote in his work In Solitude for Company, "Almost all of our relationships
begin and most of them continue as forms of mutual exploitation, a mental or
physical barter, to be terminated when one or both parties run out of goods".
What Donald Klein calls The Humiliation Dynamic is, in his words, "a pervasive
and all too often destructive influence in the behavior of individuals, groups,
organizations, and nations… from an early age, inescapable". As Klein puts it, it
is not only the 'experience' of humiliation but also the 'fear of humiliation' that
dominates human lives. It is implicit in every relationship of mutual dependency.
The fact is that there are many things we do in life which serve no purpose or
self-interest except to humiliate others and get some 'kick' out of it. Essentially it
is a show of power, of sadism. It can be belittling and berating and browbeating
of the defenseless. It can be as simple or 'innocuous' as raising one's voice, finding
fault, admonishing, giving a dirty look, a withering glance; anything that hurts or
injures another person's self-respect and sensitivity is humiliation. And much of
it comes from the near and dear; more from the 'near' than the 'dear'. Prolonged
proximity removes the veneer we hide behind and oftentimes brings out the
worst in us. We become naked not only in the bathroom or bedroom, but also in
the immediacy of intimacy and that can rob one of respect. Power corrupts more
when the other person seems powerless. Imposing our will on anyone, even if for
'their own good' can trigger a feeling of humiliation. Gandhi said, "It has always
been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honored by the humiliation
of their fellow beings". But there is a catch here. Sometimes we may be thinking
we are honoring someone by our actions while in fact we are humiliating that
person. Gandhi himself is a paradox. He imposed his will on others including
his wife, and in one instance, coerced her to clean toilets. He might have been
nobly motivated, but was he right to make someone do what they did not want
to do? Perhaps there is no perfect answer. We do impose our will on someone or
the other, sometime or the other, knowingly or unknowingly, for good or bad
reasons. If no one tries to 'control' anyone else, does not impose their will on
others, there will be no conflicts, no exploitation, no violence, and no wars. But
that is as much an ideal as a violence-free world. But the difference is that while
violence is inherent in nature, Ă  la the big fish eats the small fish, 'control' seems
to be endemic to the human species. Perhaps with few exceptions, other animals
kill their prey primarily for food, not to seek to control or humiliate or hurt for
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their own sake. But 'exploitation', like violence, need not be only physical or
materialistic. It can be—indeed it is more—psychological, mental, emotional.
Sexuality, Gender-neutrality, and the War Within
At a fundamental level we are caught between twin 'realities'; our identification
with our physical self, and our urge to 'connect' with other humans. What we
call family, friendship, relationships, and society are means to couple the two.
Our sexuality is another instinctive drive towards the same end. Few areas of
human life appear as confusing, contradictory, and convoluted than sexuality. It
is at once the greatest mystery and the most magical. It is a 'mystery', as we really
cannot figure out what God primarily intended it to be, to amuse us or to do His
work of creation. It is 'magical' as we cannot decode how such a 'messy' act can
yield such ecstasy. It is all around but no one has 'enough'. It is supposed to 'free',
needs no capital or investment, but it exacts a heavy price in every way, and kind,
we get it, on the marital bed or in the marketplace, straight or surreptitious.
Whether sex is like any other drive, desire or attraction, and if not, how it differs,
has long been discussed and debated both scripturally and scientifically. For
example, in Jewish law, sex is not considered shameful, sinful or obscene. Sex is
not thought of as a necessary evil for the sole purpose of procreation. Although
sexual desire comes from the yetzer hara (the evil impulse), it is no more evil
than hunger or thirst, which also come from the yetzer hara. In Hinduism too,
sex is not a taboo but sacred. Not only do many Hindu temples explicitly depict
sex—and the celebrated Kama Sutra is still on the frontline of erotic books—
but even the Upanishads have explicitly referred to it as an act of worship.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, for instance, refers to a woman's lap as the
'sacrificial altar'. More mundanely, or as a matter of fact, sex is sometimes
compared to other desires, attractions and basic needs. Marquis de Sade,
from whose name the words sadism and sadist are derived, wrote that 'sex is
as important as eating or drinking and we ought to allow the one appetite to
be satisfied with as little restraint or false modesty as the other'. But there are
obvious differences. We do not die if we are deprived of sex for a prolonged
period; but, on the other hand, the sensation of orgasm is a 'little death', which
the French call la petite mort.
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Whether it is pristine or profane, passion or instinct or impulse, drive or
urge, it is most creative (creates another human being) and destructive (sexual
jealousy is highly destructive), and acts as a kind of temptation that few can
resist. Even saints and religious men have been seduced by women. Many
powerful people and celebrities have confessed, or were later exposed. Some
highly creative people are known to be heavily sexual, raising the question if
there is any connection. Beside its outward attributes, sexuality is the closest
we can get to erase separateness. It is an unquenchable longing, to unite 'flesh
and spirit', to join another human being so intimately and intrusively that at
least momentarily the two become one, and, in so doing, become an instrument
of nature and to give life to another being. Charles Eisenstein says, "when we
humans engage in sexual intercourse, we recover, for a few moments, a state of
being that was once the baseline of existence in a time of greater union and less
separation". Incidentally, we are now being told that it was not love that led to
sex, and that our sexuality has, literally, if you will, fishy origins, that as far back
as 385 million years ago, armored fish called placoderms, discovered, or stumbled
upon intercourse.60 Whoever might have started it first, after all these millions
of years and billions of copulations and procreations, we still have not figured
out if sex is sacred or simply a skill, whether it is doing god's work of creation
or merely another bodily function. Sexual behavior is seamless, a driven desire
to 'unbound' oneself, to liberate oneself from the confines of one body and one
life. The great paradox of life is that we can go to the moon, cross the stars but
we cannot cross the barrier and boundary of our own body, but much of 'being
moral', being caring and compassionate requires precisely that: to go beyond and
beneath our body. And that is what 'being in love' means and empowers—to put
another human above us, to subordinate our pleasure and happiness to someone
else's. Eisenstein says, "When we 'make love' we let down our boundaries on
many levels. The euphemism is appropriate, love being nothing other than a
release of the boundaries that separate us from another being".61
It is the 'sensual' version of spiritual longing, for wholeness without
conscious awareness, a sharing of sexual energies to achieve 'oneness', and to ensure
the continuum of creation. What sexually we do instinctively and passionately,
we require supreme effort to replicate it in a social, non-sexual setting. When it
comes to sex we are less fastidious of these divisions, barriers, boundaries, and
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borders. All walls that create so much tension, intolerance, violence and hatred
do not matter, or become porous, when it comes to sex. Those whom we consider
'inferior', in terms of race, religion or faith, or ethnicity, or social status, whose
men we are prepared to slaughter, are welcome where sex, the most intimate
physical contact, is concerned. In war, men are killed, and women are raped,
and only then killed or held captive. Masters have gone to bed with their slaves,
including the great Thomas Jefferson. No one is an untouchable. Even someone
who is considered an 'untouchable', a Sudra in Hinduism, is not untouchable
where sex is involved. In that sense it is a leveler, a unifier. Those with whom we
might not even be willing to share a meal, we do not mind uniting with in bed.
We don't mind deriving 'pleasure' from those we hate. And the 'sex-goddess'
Marilyn Monroe simplified it "Sex is a part of nature. I go along with nature".
What then really did God/Nature intend? Did it create two sexes
primarily for sex? Could it not have found a more elegant way to tempt man
to multiply himself than virtually creating two 'sub-species', who had to spend
much of their lives trying to figure out how to deal, mate, and outflank each
other? Why is it so difficult to complement each other instead of copying? Is
there any hidden agenda? Is sex only heterosexual, as same-sex sex cannot make
babies? Is sex all physical, sensual, and orgasmic? Is it nature's insurance to ensure
the uninterrupted cycle of creation? What is 'natural', or 'unnatural' sex? Maybe
nature wanted to have some fun at our expense, creating us individually with a
hidden hunger for unity, and then watching us struggle to satisfy our hunger, in
the process making an ass of ourselves. And to ensure that we never get 'enough'
of it, or get tired of it, it has invested it with intoxicating recreational pleasure.
And having done that, it felt 'safe' enough to link it with procreation, as the
Bible puts it, as the way 'to multiply' mankind. Or, is there a more subtle, more
profound purpose beyond our depth in the cosmic scheme of creation? All these
questions are now assuming moral, political, nationalistic, and demographic
overtones. Sex between members of the same gender, long considered as illegal,
illicit, and immoral, are now accepted in many societies through the legalization
of marriage within the same sex, male or female. The question if it is meant
primarily for reproduction or recreation has become a hot button issue in many
advanced countries. On a global scale, it is generally believed that the current
human population of nearly 8 billion is excessive, and that to satisfy our appetite
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for natural resources at the current levels we might well need another earth. But
the very countries that advocate 'population planning', a euphemism to pervert,
or drastically reduce, future growth, and to reduce the overall numbers, are
aggressively urging their own people to increase their birth rates.
This issue, along with the climate crisis, dramatically illustrates the
dichotomy between national and global perspectives, that what might be good for
the world might not be good for a country, and when there is a clash the national
need prevails. And it underscores the ills of 'nationalism' and the imperative of
a strong and effective global institution whose decisions are mandatory. Many
'developed' countries are worried not only about declining birth rates but also
about changes in the 'sexual-profile' of their people. While on the one hand,
modern society is sex-suffused, many are starved of sex, which some say is more
than food-starvation. Some talk of 'an epidemic of sexless marriages'. One
report goes on to say, "In the midst of a sex-saturated culture, overflowing with
dramatic images of the female anatomy, a new phenomenon has developed: men
losing interest in sex"62 Many young people are eschewing not only marriage but
sex altogether. One study found, "Japan is in danger of heading for extinction
after researchers found that more and more of the country's young people are
shunning the idea of marriage and having children. One in four unmarried men
and women in their 30s say they have never had sex, and the majority of young
women prefer the single life".63 In 2007, Russia declared 12th September as
the National Day of Conception, hoping that a day off to do a 'patriotic duty'
will reverse the trend. Scandinavian countries, long known as some of the most
liberal, tolerant, and progressive societies, and as responsible members of the
global community, have left one's sexual preferences and purposes to individual
inclination, based on the idea that a sexually 'satisfied' population is a hipper and
more productive society, and, in so doing, implicitly underplayed sex as a means
of procreation. But things have changed. Alarmed that the birth rate is below 2.1
children per female, the number required to replace the current population—the
Danish birth rate is 1.7—many are openly egging couples to have more sex, and
offering financial and other incentives for more babies. From a global perspective,
and a more egalitarian alternative—and a more cost-effective way—would have
been to welcome and encourage more migration and immigration from 'poorer'
countries. That they did not choose this way is a reminder that the ideal of
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common humanity and global citizenship are as far away from realization as
ever before, despite globalization and communication technologies. Technology
has also revolutionized human attitude to sex. One can have secret trysts with
strangers through the web, or buy sex toys in the anonymity of online shopping.
Condoms, contraceptives, and pills… we now can have sex freed from both fear
and responsibility. Recreation has won over procreation. Wherever there is a
new technology, the sex industry is quick to adopt it. It does seem that modern
man is content with the ecstatic pleasure that sex provides, which has so far
stood the test of time; here too gadgets, toys, dolls, and tools have made inroads
and threaten over time, like robots in the workplace, to replace the human in
the bedroom, and to indulge our kinks. It is said that 'the previously taboo,
everything from hook ups to queer sex and kink, have become more accessible'.
A time may come when people find it less of a hassle and less taxing and more
effortless to 'buy' a 'mate' of latex than go through the grind to get a human
partner. It is being predicted that future sex is going to feature lots of sex with
robots, and that 'it is going to be perfectly normal that people will be friends
with robots, and that people will have sex with robots'. And no one will need
to actually physically touch each other ever again. Technology could eventually
eliminate the need to be in the same room with your sexual partner ever again.
No ones knows whether all this innovation in the bedroom will make us sexually
enlightened or lead to a dystopian future where humans give up on biological
sex. Some experts have commented: "If a robot can give you more pleasure than
a human, maybe the human should be trying harder". Try harder—to do what,
to be who? The defining question of the next 10 years, we are told, is likely to be
whether technology is used more to maintain intimacy with partners over great
distances and enhance relationships, or create insular worlds where we can please
ourselves—and to dispense with human intimacy for sexual satisfaction.
In one sense, our 'obsession' with copulating is perhaps symbolic of our
desire to undo our accidental or intentional or enforced separation from each
other in being born alone. In truth, we began as One, became multiple and in the
end go back to the One. The first 'life' burst out in the tiniest little cell. The single
cell organisms started combining and working together to form multicellular
organisms, not through aggregation or aggression but through a magical complex
of interrelationships maintaining a perfect cooperative co-ordination of disparate
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functions. The enduring tension between separateness and singularity, unity and
multiplicity is perhaps symbolic of this 'original' separation and the yearning
to become 'one' once again. The physical 'separateness' between man and man
cannot be eliminated; two 'bodies' cannot fuse into one; what truly separates one
from another is mental and psychological, which manifests as selfishness, selfcenteredness
and self-righteousness, slander and malice. In short, on pursuing
the spiritual goal of 'oneness' of all forms of life with the awareness that we are
all waves of the same ocean, the sparks of the same flame, we must realize that
a giant step towards that 'goal' would be to eliminate, at least greatly diminish,
the 'psychological space' between one man and another. For that, we should
devise mechanisms to deepen and strengthen our emotions like consideration,
compassion, kindness, and altruism so that physically we might remain different
and distinct but functionally and emotionally we banish the various forms of
divisiveness in the human world.
Our present times are considered, particularly in Western countries,
sexually most liberated and promiscuous and permissive, and teenagers feel that
sex is not only normal, but expected in any relationship, almost immediately. It is
said that today's young people are the first generation 'raised' on pornography—
there are an estimated 4.2 million porn sites in the world and the number is ever
increasing—and many teens are less inhibited than they were 20 years ago. Sex
has become pervasive and embedded in every walk of human life, be it social,
political, for entertainment or marketing or media. And yet, one survey says that
only 44% are 'sexually satisfied'. Sex is increasingly interwoven with violence and
crime; it seems to draw out our darker side. We read news reports of children
as young as two or five being 'raped' and murdered. Many working women,
including in the armed forces, are complaining of sexual harassment by superiors
and colleagues. Human sexuality increasingly appears out of control, and more
and more people seem unable to resist their darkest desires. Although all statistics
are questionable, many share the view that sexual violence is on the rise and that
it is taking different forms including ethnic rapes and religious rapes. Another
emerging trend is blurring the boundary between the sexes, leading to what is
called 'asexuality' or 'neutralization of mankind'. There are few truly masculine
men and feminine females. Men are showing feminine qualities and women
male traits, thus acting against nature, which intended that the sexes, by being
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constituted wholly different in body, brain and bent, do not normally come into
rivalry and antagonism in the fulfillment of their respective life-roles. We are, in
effect, trying to refute a fundamental basis of creation: everything exists as a 'pair
of opposites', the most fundamental of which is male and female. It is on 'duality
in unity' that the cosmic order operates. It is hard to imagine what would be the
evolutionary consequences of this phenomenon of gender-neutrality?
Sex, and its attendant rituals, have always been a very important part
of all ancient cultures, and some customs are bizarre, but the most noteworthy
feature is that it is the female who is given more options and choices. Whether or
not what we generally consider as sexual 'fidelity', or 'exclusivity' are hard-wired
or not is arguable. Some researchers, based on surveys and on anthropological
records, as well as their study of the behavior of our closest primate cousins,
chimpanzees and bonobos, make the case that humans actually evolved to
be promiscuous. They attribute our modern sexual malaise to the mismatch
between our Paleolithic libidos and the monogamous straitjacket into which
we have forced ourselves. Technologies of all kinds like the internet have been
central to the ways in which sex is understood and experienced in contemporary
societies. And we can now connect with one another with unprecedented ease.
Prowlers can see more potential mates in an hour on Tinder than any of our
ancestors encountered in their lifetimes. Although one feels greatly distressed at
such terrible happenings in today's world, it is no comfort to be told that much
of this was foretold in ancient Hindu texts like the Ramayana, Mahabharata,
Srimad Bhagavatam, Linga Purana, etc. These were written in the context of
descriptions about moral decay in the current 'age' of Kali Yuga, described as an
extended period of increasing sin. Some of the following predictions seem to fit
into the contemporary scene with uncanny accuracy.
The desire for sex in this age of Kali Yuga will be one of the most
captivating of all preoccupations of the human race. It will distract most
of society from the real spiritual purpose of life. People will want to
satisfy themselves in this way and then use up so much energy, physical
and otherwise, to meet their sensual desires. It will sap them of their time
in life when they could be using this existence in much more important
ways. Even pre-teenage girls will get pregnant. The primary cause
will be the social acceptance of sexual intercourse as being the central
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requirement of life. Men will have lustful thoughts, and so will women.
Lust will be viewed as being socially acceptable. Prostitution or frivolous
sexual activity will take away one's sense of bodily and mental cleanliness.
It will increase addiction to trivial bodily pleasures, which will accelerate
degradation and disease in society. For quick profits, debauched men and
even women will capture and force many young girls, and boys as well,
into a life of prostitution, which will often leave them hurt, wounded,
diseased or ruined for life. Such exploitative culprits, who engage in
human trafficking and force others into such an existence of engaging
in the sex trade, will multiply like a virus in this age. And like any virus,
if they are not destroyed completely, they will only reappear later in a
different place. Womanliness and manliness will be judged according to
one's sexual expertise. Marriage will cease to exist as a holy union. Men
and women will simply live together on the basis of bodily attraction and
verbal agreements, and only for sexual pleasure. Women will wander from
one man to another. Young women will freely abandon their virginity.
Some men will violate the wives of others and some, in the indiscriminate
rage of lust, will go (wherever she may be) with any woman.
We can engage every single word in the above expose to describe the
prevailing scenario and situation in the world today. It makes us wonder how
anyone can so vividly sketch what is going to happen several thousands of years
in the future. So, what does this, and other dire forebodings, mean? Having
been born in these times, are we simply fated to be immoral and evil, that we are
being driven by forces of implacable fate in everything we do? Does it, therefore,
absolve us of feelings of shame and guilt? The question that needs to be thought
through is this: how will our libidinous behavior impact human future and
evolution? Will carefree copulation become the 'chosen' instrument of ultimate
self-destruction? Will humans ever be liberated from the basic biological needs,
especially sex, that drive our evolutionary past, and how will it affect human
behavior? Will human sexuality, unbridled and on the rampage, further corrupt,
enfeeble and defile human passion and personality and accelerate decay and
destruction? Or will we find a way to direct that awesome energy towards human
redemption and renewal? And, as many now are saying 'humans are still evolving
today', how will the current dedication of so much of our mental and psychic
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time and energy for sex influence that evolution and our desire to be better than
we were yesterday? For, our desires and passions know no reason nor respect any
bounds or boundaries. For long, they were driven by the struggle to survive.
Now that it is not so compelling, how will they reflect and react? How will the
imminent 'sexual revolution' play out? Will mechanization of sex relieve us of the
tension of human sexual pursuit, and release psychic and spiritual space? Or, will
it, coupled with intra-gender sex, make us more mad in our mindset as it is not
the kind of human sexuality that nature has intended, and further strengthen our
destructive impulses?
The bottom line is that our sexual behavior is but a part of our overall
behavior, and our 'behavior', as we have been stressing, is but a reflection and
extension of the state of the 'war within'. Sex being a primal passion is more
susceptible to its influence and impact than other aspects of human life. Every
human attribute and emotion gets magnified manifold in the company of sex.
Pleasure, pain, passion, jealousy, revenge, they all are more intense than in
any other state of awareness. They can make man a maniac and, if properly
propelled, a mahatma. The fact is that we are all sexual beings; it is through that
very route that we are all born, but we are more than that. The path of sexual
transformation is not about rapidly indulging in sex, denying sex, running away
from sex, or even overcoming the desire for sex. From ancient times, many have
envisioned transforming sexual energy into a spiritual tool, more than as a means
of recreation or procreation. Besides Tantric and Taoist sexual energy practices,
there are several other references to the secret powers within sex. The Jewish
Kabbalah for instance, refers to sexual desire as the deepest spiritual expression,
and in yoga, our sacred sexual energy lies dormant until awakened through
what is called the Kundalini way. Psychologist Carl Jung wrote about the notion
of sexual alchemy (similar to Freud's sexual sublimination). All of this implies
that, with the right will, we can transform the raw passion from our libidos
into sublime creativity. But, sadly, all that is happening in matters of sex offers,
more than any other, evidence that the fortunes of that which is good, noble
and righteous in us, is waning and getting weaker, and the evil in us has gained
advantage and ascendancy. It is but natural that it affects the most basic of all
urges that has always been a dominant force in human affairs, even in prehistoric
times. If we want to gain some control over our sexuality, without which we can
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have no control over the direction of human development, the only way, and a
powerful way, is to reverse the fortunes of the war by strengthening the forces of
good. It is a critical key to 'winning' the war.
Our Two 'Hearts' and the War Within
The question about morality of war has long been discussed. Morality is a
crucial dimension of human life. We have long agonized over what we ought
to do, should do, must not do, or may do, to make our life fulfilling and at
the same time, make sure that it does not jeopardize others' lives. Is 'morality'
man-made, a social convenience and necessity, or is it a divine injunction? If so,
where is it codified and what is its irreducible essence? What is moral behavior
and when is it morally right to do wrong things? Is a religious person inherently
'moral'? Should any 'war', which necessarily is violent and involves mass killing
and maiming, be deemed moral, immoral, amoral, or evil? It has been said that
'morality has no place in the assessment of war'; or perhaps, more factually, we
can say: morality, by definition and design, has no place in war. And hence the
question of 'assessment' does not arise. In fact, one might say that man invented
'war' precisely to abandon 'morality' of every kind; to give license to evil of every
imagination. But almost all religions that do not condemn war per se, sanction war,
if not glorify it, in certain circumstances. There is also an implied sense that wars,
which essentially entail the sudden death of large numbers of human beings, are
necessary as a way, or the only way, to maintain the life-balance on earth. It is a
part of the package of 'being human', nature's ruse to counter the human survival
capacity. Basically 'war' is really a composite of two of our worst traits: avarice
and aggression in an organized and virulent form. Some have argued that human
beings, especially men, are inherently violent and, while this violence is repressed
in normal society, it needs the occasional outlet provided by war. When we are
not actually at 'war', our inherent urges like avarice, aggression, and violence
get exposed in other non-war-like ways, no less lethal and more embedded in
our daily life. Many have suggested that war-making is fundamentally cultural,
imbibed by nurture rather than nature. Still, we cannot say it is another animal
instinct; like that of a tiger, who needs to kill to live. It means that it is not
germane to being human but is now as much 'human' as anything else. What is
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intrinsic is the 'war within'. The 19th-century Tibetan Lama Jamgon Kongtrul
characterized the 'war' thus: "From the outside, we appear to be genuine dharma
practitioners; on the inside, our minds have not blended with the dharma. We
conceal our afflictions (called klesas in Sanskrit) inside like a poisonous snake. Yet
when difficult situations arise, the hidden faults of a poor practitioner come to
light". In fact, the 'war without' has become such a huge part of human history
because the wrong side is winning the war within.
What incubates inside is 'perception' and what happens outside is
'behavior'; both of which influence each other reciprocally and simultaneously.
What we perceive is what we become. The ancient rishi Ashtavakra says, "The
reason why we grow old, age and die is we see other people grow old, ageing,
and dying. And what we see we become". Our predicament is that we do not
know exactly what goes on inside us, but we do know that some kind of turmoil
is constantly at work. We seem pulled by different forces, even from 'outside' we
can sense it and feel it; as if someone other than 'we' are calling the shots. We do
not know exactly how but we do know that our brain, body, and behavior are
connected and even our heart. We use almost involuntary expressions like 'I just
feel that way'; I am in two minds; I have the gut feeling; I hear voices within or
an inner voice; and I cannot prove it but I believe it, etc.—all symbolic of the
'war within'. When Hermann Hesse said he listens to 'the teachings my blood
whispers to me' he was referring to a voice from within. When we say 'I doubt
it', it could well be someone suggesting what we call a 'second opinion'. When
we say 'I am not so sure', it could be a word of caution offered by a more sober
internal impulse. The trouble is that the inner voice talks to us in a soft whisper,
and we cannot hear it in the downpour of the din of modern life. That is why
many mystics and saints stay silent, to be able to listen to what the Bible calls the
"still, small voice within". Our external 'wars' are bloody events interspersed with
periods of 'peace', or absence of a war. The 'war within' is a continuum, without
any interregnum or interruption, sometimes intense and fierce, and sometimes
subdued and subtle, but always involuntary and effortless. If we do not know
who is fighting whom and what the rules of 'warfare' are, how can we take sides
or try to influence the outcome? But, maybe, it is extreme naivetĂŠ to think of
the inner struggle as a 'fight' or 'war', in the sense in which these words occur
in the external world. Both imply that one side must vanquish or destroy or
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decimate the other side, or the opponent, and that we would be 'better off' if
we manage to eliminate the 'bad' side. This is a unique kind of 'war' that should
not conclude with a total victory or defeat of either of the two; that would be
a greater catastrophe than the war itself. 'Both sides', the 'good' and the 'bad'
have legitimate roles to play as they are the two sides of the dwanda, and it
would be a catastrophe if one side manages to totally wipe out the other. Indeed,
one might even say that one can drive creative power from the tension of the
opposites, from the dialectics of dwanda. What has gone awry and what needs
to be promoted is 'cooperative co-existence' and 'inner harmony'. This brings
up the timeless question: why do humans fight when they can share and live in
a spirit of synergy? Is it biological or evolutionary? We fight because we don't
like sharing, whether it is food or shelter, fame or fortune, success or glory. It
is this inability to partake that is at the root of all friction, conflict, and war in
the world. We want to possess, own everything. Our mind likes exclusivity, not
inclusiveness.
Nature is providing us within our own selves what we 'rationally' seek
in daily life: choices, and alternatives before we 'make up our minds'. The
only difference is that what we decide outside is a 'conscious' act, and what
happens within is opaque and impervious to our will and wish. We do not know
whether it is also 'conscious' but at a different level or depth of consciousness
or the 'unconscious', which also is in fact another dimension of consciousness.
Whichever is the way, we have to reckon with two realities: we have almost no
say in what transpires in the womb of our being, in the vortex of our vitals; and
whatever happens there manifests in the way we perceive, relate and connect
with everything external to our own selves. The key therefore is to get some hold
on the war within for a better world. That is why the Buddha said, "It is better
to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It
cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell".
Kurukshetra—Arjuna's War Within
An analogy often invoked to mirror the war within is the great Kurukshetra war
in the Indian epic Mahabharata. This war, which lasted 18 days, took place at
a place in North India called Kurukshetra. What is unique about this war was
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that it happened in the direct presence of the Divine, Lord Krishna, the only
perfect incarnation of Lord Vishnu. It resulted in all that horrific bloodshed,
killing of a brother by a brother, of a student by a teacher, of a grandson by a
grandfather, not to speak of tens of thousands of others. It was a war that not
even Lord Krishna could prevent, although it is open to question whether really
He could not or did not want to prevent. In the very end, Krishna asks Arjuna,
"O Dhanajaya! Conqueror of wealth, have you heard it with an attentive mind?
Have your ignorance and illusions been dispelled?" Of course, Arjuna said 'yes'.
It is important to recognize that what dispelled Arjuna's moral qualms about
fighting was not the answers and arguments of Krishna, but the absolute and
unconditional surrender of his ego at the Lord's feet. It is also important to digest
the truth that Krishna's real target audience was not just Arjuna, but all humanity
for all times. The goal of the Bhagavad Gita was not only to induce Arjuna to
'win' his war within, but also to help us 'win' our own inner spiritual wars.
The Kurukshetra war offered an opportunity to Lord Krishna to propound
the great Bhagavad Gita, which has served as a beacon and a balm for tens of
millions of people, some of whom, paradoxically, were pacifists like Tolstoy and
Thoreau and Emerson. Thoreau called it the 'First of Books'. Gandhi said, "I have
received more nourishment from the Gita than my body has from my mother's
milk". Tens of thousands, including the 'Narayana sena' (Krishna's own army),
were killed, through means fair and foul. Here is an important moral issue worth
noting. Krishna gave His own army to the evil Duryodhana, when the latter,
along with Arjuna, came to seek Krishna's help. The intriguing question is, why
didn't Krishna refuse to provide any assistance, and say that He would only help
the righteous side? The answers to such questions are that there are no absolutes,
even when it comes to good or evil, and one must choose sometimes among
conflicting compulsions. The right course for one person might not be right one
for another person in the same circumstance. And it is possible that for the same
question there could be more than one right answer, which is what quantum
physics now tells us. Each one must decide for oneself. That is why, it is so
important to have the right consciousness, and that is why, consciousness-change
is so important for correct decision-making. The moral message is that whether
we do good or bad, it is the motive and purpose that matters, and has to be done
regardless of whatever consequences, good or bad, that might follow. To a limited
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extent, it does mean that the question of end versus means has to be resolved
contextually, governed by the overarching principle that the larger good should
prevail over the lesser need. That was why the grandsire and 'godly' Bhishma,
who was duty-bound, fought for the evil side and justified his own 'unfair' defeat
as his penance, and as necessary for the safety of Hastinapura, his motherland.
It was Bhishma, not only Krishna, who could have prevented the war had he
forsaken his vow of obeying whoever sat on the throne of Hastinapura. Bhishma
held his personal honor higher than what was best for society. That was why,
despite being a great man and despite having the gift of choosing his own death,
he had to experience such a painful death, lying on a bed of arrows for 58 days,
with the arrows protruding from his own body. Bhishma's moral quandary holds
lessons for us. It means in our own daily life, where we all play limited roles, as
employees or workers, in large organizations, we are still morally responsible for
the final outcome, based among others on our own contribution and work. It
means who you work for is as important, if not more, as what you actually do.
In other words, even if you have no control over what you do, whatever you do
in your own narrow niche carries moral accountability.
It was said that where there is dharma there is Krishna, and where Krishna
is there is victory. The Kurukshetra, both in mythology and in the popular mind,
symbolizes the victory of dharma or righteousness and justice over adharma, evil
and injustice. The first verse of the Gita refers to the Kurukshetra as the dharmakshetra,
or 'the field of dharma'. One wonders how a place of war, bloodshed,
and massacre can be called a holy place. The implication is that nothing is either
good or evil per se, nothing is sacred or sinful on its own. Everything is relative,
contextual; even mass killing. It is the intent and the purpose that determine
what it is. But then, who determines? In the minds of both opponents waging the
war, it was 'justified' and 'necessary'; or else there would have been no war. And it
does mean that at times the ends do justify the means. And Kurukshetra was not
just the location of the brutal carnage. It is also the birthplace of the Bhagavad
Gita, about which the great Adi Sankara said, "From a clear knowledge of the
Bhagavad Gita, all the goals of human existence become fulfilled". Albert Einstein
said, "I have made the Bhagavad Gita the main source of my inspiration and
guide for the purpose of scientific investigations and formation of my theories".
In turn, it was expounded by Lord Krishna to help the prince Arjuna to 'win' his
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own 'war within'—between the forces of doubt, despair, demoralization, apathy,
and moral ambivalence, and the forces of resoluteness, decisiveness, ethical duty,
and moral clarity—so that he could wage and win the war between dharma and
adharma, between good and evil, in the external world.
Gandhi called the Gita an "Allegory in which the battlefield is the soul,
and Arjuna, man's higher impulses struggling against evil". Swami Vivekananda
further remarked, "This Kurukshetra war is only an allegory. When we sum up
its esoteric significance, it means the war which is constantly going on within
man between the tendencies of good and evil". We must remember that all the
characters are flawed one way or the other, and the war is not for the triumph of
flawless good over absolute evil, but of the lesser evil over the greater evil. And as
Carl Jung noted, "in the last resort there is no good that cannot produce evil, and
no evil that cannot produce good". Inside each one of us there is a Kurukshetra;
and all the characters in that epic are also within each of us: a Dhritarashtra
(willfully blinded by moha, undue attachment), a Duryodhana (knowing what
is right, but unable to resist the wrong due to jealousy), a Sakuni (scheming and
trying to settle scores), a Karna (noble at heart, but ruined by misplaced loyalty),
an Arjuna (righteous but wavering), a Dharmaraja (noble but vulnerable), a
Kunti (virtuous but fearful of society), a Draupadi (who was born through fire,
whose humiliations act as a trigger for the battle of Kurukshetra). And perhaps
a mini-Krishna, too. No character is flawless, just as no human can be. Which
particular character, or a mix of characteristics, manifests at what time is hard to
tell. At the end of the Kurukshetra, what remained were the decimated Kauravas,
a despondent Dharmaraja, the bereaved Pandavas, a 'cursed' Krishna, and a river
of blood. And Krishna justified all that, and even the use of unfair means, for the
triumph of dharma. It is sometimes said that great wars take place to reduce what
is called 'bhoobharam', the burden of Mother Earth. If that be the case, and if a
horrendous war like the Kurukshetra was required then, in the Dwapara Yuga,
what might be needed now, in this Kali Yuga, the most immoral of all yugas, with
most of over 7.7 billion humans choosing the path of preyas (pleasure) over the
path of sreyas (goodness)?
The archetypal meaning is that within each of us a battle rages between
selfish impulses that ignore the claims of justice and justness, and a realization
that ultimately we are all connected in a unity that embraces all humanity and
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the whole world. Arjuna is our conscious mind, which must make the choice
of how we will live. The wicked cousins are our impulses to self-centeredness,
lust for wealth and avarice, and anger and hatred. Krishna is the divine essence
within us, our higher Self, which is always available to rein in the horses of
our feelings and thoughts, and to guide us in the battle of life, if we will only
surrender and seek that help. It tells us that we each have within ourselves the
answers to all our questions and confusions. We only have to call upon that
inner power to discover who we are, what we can trust, and how we should act.
Sri Aurobindo compared Arjuna to a 'struggling human soul'. The Kurukshetra
must be viewed as a gripping and gory battle between dharma and adharma, good
and righteousness and evil. Just as the Pandavas and Kauravas were first cousins,
so are our inherent 'tendencies'. Like the Kurukshetra, our 'war within' too is
a fratricidal war, both are endogenous and both are legitimate. In the spiritual
sense, as Swami Nikhilananda says, "Arjuna represents the individual soul, and
Sri Krishna the Supreme Soul dwelling in every heart. Arjuna's chariot is the
body. The blind king Dhritarashtra is the mind under the spell of ignorance, and
his hundred sons are man's numerous evil tendencies. The battle, a perennial one,
is between the power of good and the power of evil. The warrior who listens to
the advice of the Lord speaking from within will triumph in this battle and attain
the Highest Good". At the end of the battle, the 'evil' Kauravas were defeated and
destroyed and the 'virtuous' Pandavas, led by Yudhishthira ascended the throne
of the Hastinapura kingdom. In that battle, the real 'hero' or the 'Sutradhari' is
Lord Krishna, who, without himself bearing arms guides the Pandavas to victory
through a variety of ruses. How do we apply that principle to our time and age?
We face two moral imperatives. On the one hand we do see raw and ravenous evil
even in our daily lives; on the other hand, our moral choice-making has become
extremely complex with competing priorities and claims: family, professional,
social, national, economic, ecological, religious, and so on. The human mind
has never been good at harmonizing conflicting obligations; it is now all at sea.
The more perilous development is that we are unable even to separate 'evil' from
'good'. Thomas Merton says, "The greatest temptations are not those that solicit
our consent to obvious sin, but those that offer us great evils masking as the
greatest goods".64 And the 'self-righteousness' of individuals, races, religions,
and nations is a primary source of a lot of evil. Our 'righteousness' about selfThe
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righteousness is awesome, blinds us to others' righteousness, and breeds conceit
and callousness and robs us of a robust sense of guilt. We must also not forget
that 'it is the evil that lies in ourselves that is ever least tolerant of the evil that lies
in others'. The inference we should draw from our history is that much of evil has
been committed not by those people who wallow in evil, but by those convinced
of their own righteousness and equally of the evil of their victims.
We experience this phenomenon in our own lives. That is how we are
able to carry on with our lives while hurting, humiliating, and trampling over
other people. If we are convinced of the righteousness of our own unrighteous
actions, then we feel no guilt; indeed we think we are the 'victims' and the
'victims' are our oppressors. The other aspect, often underemphasized, is what
is called 'institutional evil', committed by 'conscientious' individuals as a part
of or on behalf of, institutions in legitimate discharge of their duties. A recent
post explains: "The institutions seem to be set up to put pressure on underpaid
district managers, to make cheating easy, and to make it easy for the corporations
to turn a blind eye to what's going on. The culpability of the whole is greater
than the sum of the culpabilities of the parts".65 A huge slice of contemporary
evil is in this category, and the institution that ranks first is the State itself. The
workplace, more than the home, is the locus of evil, and the institutional evil,
more than the explicit individual evil, is the instrument. Although everyone
condemns 'evil' most also agree that an evil-free world is impossible. After his
'experience with God', Dr. Eben Alexander writes, "Evil was present in all the
other universes as well, but only in the tiniest trace amounts because without it
free will was impossible, and without free will there could be no growth—no
forward movement, no chance for us to become what God longed for us to be.
Horrible and all-powerful as evil sometimes seemed to be in a world like ours, in
the larger picture love was overwhelmingly dominant, and it would ultimately
be triumphant".66
We cannot get rid of 'evil'. We must live with it in some form or the
other; everyone is capable of some sort of evil sometime or the other. So few
seem capable of declining an 'invitation of evil'. Evil is not alien to any of us; the
war within is the war between good and evil. All this is a truism but what does
it mean in our daily life? We cannot willingly become an instrument of evil; we
must fight tooth and nail both within and without, not because God wills it but
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because 'being bad' doesn't let us feel 'good' about ourselves. As a balance or a
counter we must nurture and cultivate 'love' which man is capable of 'naturally'.
Love is so enchanting that "for the sake of love heaven longs to become earth and
gods to become man".67 Rudolf Steiner says that "spiritual beings must love; but
only human beings can choose to". Viktor Frankl (Man's Search For Meaning)
wrote, "Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core
of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another
human being unless he loves him". Erich Fromm (The Art of Living, 1956) says,
"Love is not a sentiment which can be easily indulged in by anyone, regardless
of the level of maturity reached by him". It is an 'art' that has to be learnt the
same way any other art has to be. Whether love is an art or science, an emotion
or energy, the fact is applied in daily life extremely narrowly or divisively. Love is
giving, not taking; it is inclusive, not exclusive, and not reciprocal. Much of 'love'
has come to represent what it is not supposed to be. We love someone but loathe
someone else that person loves; we love our religion but decry another religion;
we love our country but at best we are indifferent to any other country. We 'love'
humanity but very few people we actually are able to love. That is why there is so
much insensitivity, intolerance and hatred in the world. And that is why evil is
both banal and brazen in our world.
Brazen, stark, direct, revolting evil most of us can and must avoid; but
we must strive ceaselessly to refrain from banal evil. And to be on guard against
what Hannah Arendt wrote about the 'interdependence of thoughtlessness and
evil'. But human life, perhaps all life, is such that it is impossible to 'live' without
hurting anyone anytime, consciously or unconsciously. What one could do is
to minimize and mitigate it and 'make it up' by helping anyone that needs and
wants help. And it is useful to bear in mind what Dante said, "He who sees a
need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he had refused it". Even if
we cannot always be able live up to that soaring standard that ought to be the
direction of everyday effort. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Life's most persistent
and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" He also said the moral
question is not, 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?', but, 'If I
do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?' The practical question
is: under what circumstances are we, individually and as a generation, morally
justified in violating norms and ethics, and for what kind of higher causes or
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ends, in today's context? Who is to make the call? But when once we accept, one
moral transgression justifies and permits another, even if 'minor' immorality,
then we lose all control over our behavior, which is what the 'war within' is all
about. The key is constant, willful, relentless effort. Martin Luther King said, "In
the final analysis, God does not judge us by the separate incidents or separate
mistakes that we make, but by the total bent of our lives. In the final analysis,
God knows that his children are weak and they are frail. In the final analysis, what
God requires is that your heart is right. Salvation is not reaching the destination
of absolute morality. But it is being in the process and on the right road".68 What
are important are right intention and right effort, which also happen to be two of
the eight elements of the Buddhist Eight-fold path. Hinduism calls them 'chitta
suddhi' and 'abhyasa'.
There are three important differences between the battle at Kurukshetra
and our own 'war within'. One, while the war of the Mahabharata was an eighteenday
bloody battle, the war we wage is a continuum, without a break; in fact a
chain of billions of battles. Two, as there is no final end, so is there no final victor
or vanquished. It is a see-saw battle, with fluctuating fortunes, and with different
'victors' even every day and in every situation. Three, there is no Krishna, to
guide and help the 'Pandavas' of our consciousness. And just as without Krishna
the Pandavas would have been defeated, so is it now. There is another 'troubling'
outcome of the Kurukshetra that we should not ignore, but out of which it is
difficult to draw any clear message. In one sense, there was no 'victor'; no one
was 'happy'. King Yudhishthira went into deep depression after realizing the
carnage the war caused, including the killing of his own elder brother Karna
(he did not know then). And the real finale of the war was not the coronation
of Yudhishthira but the destruction of the entire clan of Lord Krishna himself
by their own hand, caused by a curse of the queen Gandhari, the mother of the
'evil' Duryodhana and his ninety-nine brothers. So, if the war was nothing but
wholesale killing, not only of the evil forces but also of the dharmic or virtuous,
then what does it mean and what lessons should we learn from it? At one point,
Krishna justifies the massacre as necessary to lighten the burden on Bhoomata,
that is, Mother Earth. So, was it evil people who constituted the 'burden'? And
if so, why was it that the righteous too had to be sacrificed? And if it was simply
a question of reduction of human 'numbers', which was minuscule at that time
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as compared to present times, should we 'welcome' another war or a nuclear
Armageddon? Some scholars even say that the world's macabre fascination with
nuclear war is just the latest repeat in a series of blunders that human technology
seems obsessed with repeating, and many of today's deserts were the pre-historic
battlefields of 'nuclear' wars. Perhaps, dreaded weapons such as the Brahmastra
were actually nuclear warheads, at least what we very recently termed weapons
of mass destruction. Without such weapons, it would be highly unlikely that in
eighteen days, millions could be killed with swords and primitive arrows.
Whether or not any of this is true, the point to ponder over is this: if the
Almighty—about whom the Quran says, "To Him belongs what is in the heavens
and what is in the earth. He is the Lofty, the Mighty"—was at that time 'directly'
and 'physically' present and still a wholesale slaughter was unavoidable to restore
the moral balance on earth, what about now, with over seven billion humans hell
bent on destroying nature and directly endangering earth, the very Bhoomata
to save which Krishna said the great massacre was needed? The Mahabharata
war, it was said, was caused by Duryodhana's greed, jealousy and hatred of the
Pandavas. Those three attributes, plus malice, are now running amok on earth
and have seeped into the deepest crevices of human consciousness, and have
fundamentally altered the human psyche itself. And this time around, Mother
Earth herself is in the direct line of fire. The fact is that none can tell if we are
all, each of us in our daily lives and in the minutest choices we make every day,
simply playing our deemed parts towards a pre-ordained end, as everyone in
the Mahabharata did. Could it be that, like then, so now, there are no 'villains'
(or everyone is) and no 'heroes' (or perhaps everyone is)? If everyone is playing
a pre-ordained part, whether that 'part' was a 'reward' or 'penalty' for what we
did before or what Fate ordained for us as a part of a Cosmic Play, what can
we do now, except to play that part as well as we are supposed to and derive as
much 'pleasure' as we are allowed to have? It means that we should do everything
'professionally' and not take anything 'personal' too personally.
Empathy vs Reason
One can sketch many utopias and dystopias about the future of humankind,
but two things are increasingly becoming clearer everyday. One, we must get
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some kind of grip on technology and on its seemingly unstoppable momentum
and direction. But that need not be, even should not be, what Bill Joy described
as 'technological relinquishment', that is to abandon all technological research,
to save us from otherwise certain early extinction. Two, it is now becoming
increasingly clear that the human organism, as it has evolved, is simply not suited
or equipped to make the kind of adjustments and sacrifices necessary to solve
any of the 'existential risks' humanity faces, like climate change and potential
pandemics of suicide and homicide. There is also an enhanced awareness that
sensory capacities alone cannot impel us towards empathetic engagement with
others. Adam Smith articulated that view and wrote, "Though our brother is
upon the rack, as long as we ourselves are at ease, our senses will never inform
us of what he suffers. They never did and never can carry us beyond our own
persons, and it is by the imagination only that we form any conception of what
are his sensations. His agonies, when they are thus brought home to ourselves,
when we have this adopted and made them our own, begin at last to affect us,
and we then tremble and shudder at the thought of what he feels".69 It means
that our mode of perception, our sensory experiences, our impulses and reflexes,
which condition our way of life, do not by their own momentum lead or let us
become empathetic beings. We do not know whether or not there is another
world, called Noumenon, a realm beyond our sensory capacities. It exists, so it
certainly seems, as Kant opined, 'completely unknowable to humans'. As a result,
some have suggested that the only way humanity can overcome the present
potentially cataclysmic crises is for man to re-engineer himself—'to fiddle with
physiology and tinker with the inner mechanisms, mechanics of life at its most
biologic level'—into a 'new man' who will be not a 'bionic man' but a 'better
being', more empathetic and less environmentally demanding. In other words,
to 'fiddle' and 'tinker' with what nature intended; which is what medicine is
all about. We do not let the disabled and the sick die 'naturally' without any
external interference so that nature eventually produces more suitable and better
specimens down the line. The effort so far has been to make man stronger,
smarter, angelic, and empower and enable him to live eternally or make every
man a potential modern-day equivalent of Bhishma of the Mahabharata, who
was given the boon to determine when he should die. The problem is that that
will not equip us any better than the 'existential threats' we face. If any, they
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will probably turn them from potential to probable. If our purpose is to so remake
man so that he is 'most probably' more capable of becoming a 'problemsolver'
then 'problem-aggravator', then we need to alter the direction of our
dreams. Such a 'man' will have to have a body smaller in size with a built-in
aversion to meat eating, and automatically and effortlessly capable of living with
fewer resources, capable of withstanding hardships like heat and cold without
air-conditioning and heating… Some suggest what is called 'pharmacological
enhancement of empathy and altruism', as a way to overcome that which retards
positive personal change, which will empower us to conquer 'weakness of will',
about which Arjuna and St. Paul complained, and enhance our empathetic
and compassionate capabilities through drugs. It is even being proposed that
if humans could be 'fitted' with cat-like eyes, we would not need so much
lighting in the night, and we could greatly reduce global energy usage!70 The
basic premise is that the only way to make our behavior socially, environmentally
and generationally sensitive is to radically mutate our body and brain. Some
scientists say, drawing on the analogy of computer hardware and software, that 'it
is possible to reverse-engineer the biological software and then modify it however
we like. This means we can re-engineer the human body to behave however we
want (or at least, to do anything that is physically possible)'. But the essential
question is: does it amount to consciousness-change, which is what is required?
We are really in a fix. We know that if we are really and wholly left to our
own wits and 'wisdom', most of us cannot change in the direction we want to
change. Our minds are too feeble, too conditioned and corrupted for us mobilize
the 'iron will' we need. We need to cleanse our consciousness of a multitude of
toxins but we do not know how, and even if we do what they entail is simply
beyond the capabilities and resilience of our body and brain. No longer can the
proverbial prick of conscience save us from moral temptations. We have long
been told that goodness and good feelings, empathy and benevolence never go in
vain, and those who show them benefit as much, if not more, as the recipients.
While that has been traditional wisdom, exemplified by the statement 'evil is
empathy erosion', researchers now offer as usual a mixed picture, confusing our
already confused minds. As a case in point, empathy fits very well. Even if we do
not lead a life of empathy, we do instinctively believe that what the world badly
needs is more 'empathy'.
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We have recently had a flurry of books making the same point, two among
them being, The Empathic Civilization (2010), by Jeremy Rifkin, and Humanity on
a Tightrope (2012) by Paul Ehrlich and Robert Ornstein. They make the powerful
argument that empathy has been the main driver of human progress and that we
need more of it if our species is to survive. Ehrlich and Ornstein want us "to
emotionally join a global family". Rifkin calls for us to make the leap to "global
empathic consciousness". But some who spend a lot of time and thought on the
subject say that empathy can do a lot of good, but also lot of bad too, and that
it is ill-suited to confront today's problems like genocides and global warming,
and that "empathy will have to yield to reason if humanity is to have a future".71
Psychologist Paul Bloom complains that empathy is "parochial, narrow-minded,
and innumerate". But it is 'reason', not empathy—the brain, not the heart—that
made human decision-making so flawed and human society so fragmented. The
implication in the 'case against empathy' is that empathy is good but empathy
can induce, or seduce, us to make moral judgments or support social policies that
might be harmful. The anti-empathy logic posits that empathy is such a powerful
and potent moral emotion that, instead of being an uplifting force it can be a
destabilizer, and that it can draw away our attention from more important issues
to less important, narrower cases of specific individuals or groups. The premise
is that empathy cannot cover the whole of humanity, and the problems we face
are worldwide and therefore empathy is not the appropriate tool. Put differently,
our 'empathy' to a few, usually the 'near and dear' can be potentially deleterious
to the rest. Our very reaction to death differs from the near and dear to the rest
of mankind. Their death shakes us and we are not consoled by the reality that it
is the common lot of humanity. Tennyson wrote, "That loss is common would
not make; My own less bitter, rather more". The divide between the two—the
ones we care for and those we don't give a damn about—is morally the most
corrosive of all. All our life is consumed by immediacy and intimacy. We cannot
ensure equal treatment of all and it is natural to be partial towards those who
are a 'family' or a friend. But it need not lead to callous indifference and to
behavior that is toxic to the rest of humanity. The fatal flaw of this thesis is
that empathy is treated as a finite resource, and that an empathetic individual is
not socially relevant or can be an input into collective effort to solve common
problems. On the contrary, such a person can be a more powerful agent to create
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and coalesce a kind of consciousness and mindset, which is indispensable for any
species-wide transformation. 'Empathy' is not like fossil fuel; it is like sunshine.
The epicenter may be local but its reach can be global. And contrary to the postulate
that empathy and morality are not connected and that the less empathetic are not
necessarily morally apathetic, the two are mutually reinforcing. If we can enhance
and deepen 'empathy' we can make ourselves better beings, more sensitive, more
responsible and responsive, and that certainly will be helpful in solving global
problems. 'Empathy' might not be the 'open sesame' or the magic bullet, but to
say that with more 'reason' we can change our lifestyles, be energy efficient, turn
away from the use of fossil fuels and become 'global citizens' does not stand to
any test of 'reason-based' reasonable assumption. The mother of reason is our
brain/mind, and at least for the past three thousand plus years we have been
virtual slaves of our minds. That which dominates us cannot but be responsible
for what and where we are as human beings; it is our exclusive reliance on logical
reasoning, capacity that caused the problems. 'Empathy' comes from the heart
and it is to the heart we now have to turn, for our very survival.
Of Head and Heart
The real problem that has thwarted all attempts towards finding a modus operandi
for human transformation is that the human is neither inherently 'moral' nor
'rational'. Had it been otherwise, the world would have been a different place.
Rationality in broad terms is to hold ourselves answerable to the relentless rigor
of logic and evidence, even when it is uncomfortable to do so. When we are
rational, we try to avoid our natural biases and preferences, like paying heed
only to evidence that supports our preferred options or selfish interests. We have
long claimed uniqueness on both fronts. Morality is about the character of our
actions and how they affect other people. Being moral is to shift the focus of
concern from the self to another, not to do to others what you wouldn't want
done to you. And to always factor in the larger cause and common good. Neither
being rational or irrational is a sufficient test of human character. Our boast has
long been that 'other creatures may have wings or claws or sharper eyes, but
none… have this unique power of reason, not even a weak or low variety of it.
We alone have science, morality, and philosophy, and through them wisdom,
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for we alone are rational'.72 But science itself also says that "There are inherent
limits to logic that can't be resolved, and they bedevil our minds too".73 And
we associate 'reason' with 'reasonableness'. But as Bernard Shaw rued, "The
reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man adapts the
world to himself. All progress depends upon the unreasonable man. All my life
I have refused to be reasonable". Adapting the world to yourself 'swimming
upstream' can be stimulating and challenging, but then has very little to do with
being unrighteous.
While this has been the general refrain, there have always been doubters
and dissenters even among philosophers and men with high reasoning capabilities.
David Hume, for one, held that 'reason is wholly inert, and cannot by itself
alone move us to action, as it would have to do if it were to be truly practical'.
Bertrand Russell minced no words and stated, "Man is a rational animal. So at
least we have been told. Throughout a long life I have searched diligently for
evidence in favor of this statement. So far, I have not had the good fortune to
come across it".74 Hume also wrote, 'Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of
the passions'—we might add senses. If that were so, how can that be 'rational'?
It means that practical reason alone cannot give rise to moral motivation; that
we don't and cannot always act reasonably or logically. Emotions can get the
better of us and override logic. The fact also is that our senses do not alert
us automatically about what is good for us or evil, what furthers our life or
endangers it, what goals we should pursue and what means will achieve them,
on what values our life becomes better, what course of action it requires. This
means we do not have in situ capacities to be either purely rational or wholly
moral. Most of the time we fall, so to speak, between the two stools, unwilling
to choose, and often ending up with the worst of both. Deep within we are not
sure what really and actually we are, living lives 'rationally', by the exercise of
our logical and reasoning faculties, which means purely brain-driven or morally,
which means where necessary to deny one's own interests and to struggle, to live
a life of service, sharing, and usefulness to someone or the other most of the time.
But such a life of seva or service must be faithful to the principles of justness and
fairness. Stealing, for example, is also a kind of 'sharing' but it is not considered
moral. But we have someone like Saint Thomas Aquinas telling us that "It is not
theft, properly speaking, to take secretly and use another's property in a case of
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extreme need: because that which he takes for the support of his life becomes
his own property by reason of that need". That sounds 'moral' but the devil, as
they say, is in the detail. Considering that almost everyone has some 'extreme
need' sometime or the other, how and who should determine? Even if we bring
the 'extreme' down to the 'basic' like food, shelter and clean water what kind
of food or roof over the head is an entitlement, the absence of which becomes
an 'extreme need'? But the spirit of Aquinas' statement is sound; which is that
while a society is governed normally by settled norms it is morally permissible to
violate them at times of dire need and in extreme circumstances.
Much as we might squirm and wiggle, even a cursory glance at the human
cannot but fail to tell us that we are both selfish and self-destructive, if we are
not otherwise restrained and influenced. Even we do not know, as 'intelligent'
individuals, how we will react if tempted or provoked beyond an invisible
threshold. If we are 'rational', we would not have, for example, the climate crisis,
nor would we have, just to make some more money, polluted and poisoned the
air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. If we are 'naturally' moral
we would not have had sadists and mass murderers like Elizabeth Bathory (the
inspiration for Dracula), Talat Pasha (architect of the Armenian massacre), Attila
the Hun, Genghis Khan, Caligula, Ivan the Terrible, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin,
Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and so on. They were human; had the same body and
brain and heart, crafted from the same timbre, made of the same flesh, blood
and bone; capable of similar emotions and feelings. It is because evil is banal.
And there are no moral conundrums or revulsions, and what concerns us is
legal correctness, not moral character. It is because human nature is 'ordinarily'
obnoxious and inordinately irrational, that human behavior is so unpredictable
and so revolting and man so ungovernable. Philosopher Immanuel Kant argued
that it might well be possible to govern a society of devils if they were rational
and clear about their long-term self-interest. The point is that we are not 'devils'
(at least not all the time) nor are we 'angels'; nor dogs or dolphins; elephants or
eagles. It takes us away from the right path to human fulfillment for us to try to
describe, depict and define him by any single attribute or predisposition. That
is why the human is so fascinating and frustrating, and even frightening. We are
all a bit and blend of everything—divine, diabolic, rational, whimsical, intuitive,
intelligent, noble, moral, immoral, evil. Everything that is in the cosmos we
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have within each of us. In the words of Rudolf Steiner, "For what lies inside
the human being is the whole spiritual cosmos in condensed form. In our inner
organism we have an image of the entire cosmos".
How, when, and what comes out and becomes behavior even the gods
can't tell. It hinges heavily on the state of the war within. What we, humans,
try to do is to bring rationality and morality closer, try to be 'rationally moral'
and 'morally rational' in making decisions and choices. In fact, there are some
who posit that we all have reason to be moral if, and only if, we live in a society
whose moral order is in fairly satisfactory shape, because being in it offers a good
chance as every member can have of leading a life that comes as close as possible
to a good life according to their (internally flawless) conception of it. One way of
facilitating this is to bring about a kind of entente between our two independent
but interconnected 'intelligences': of the head and of the heart. We must bear
in mind that in the war within these two are in opposing camps but we need
them both. Our rationality comes from the head and morality from the heart.
It is wise to keep in mind what Nietzsche said, "One ought to hold on to one's
heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too". We take the
'heart' for granted; we worry about our head, the brain. All that we want is that
the heart should keep ticking. We want to be 'brainy', which means to be more
'intelligent'. We don't say more 'hearty'. Our brain is amazing; so is the heart.
Our 'heady-intelligence' is so intelligent that it is not good enough to even let us
know where we are headed as a species: early extinction or spreading itself out
into the solar system. But it is good enough to constantly invent new ways to
divide and decimate each other, and make man a 'wolf to his fellow man'. The
tragedy is that man is nothing but mind, and mind is the principal problem.
Instead of addressing this problem we struggle with the problems created by the
mind. And the way to address is to dilute, if not erase, its grip and hold on the
human consciousness. That 'way', that source is also within each of us, a part of
what constitutes the human package, in our heart. Contrary to what we usually
assume, the human heart is not only an awesomely powerful pump but also
a tremendous source of energy and intelligence. Every day you are alive, your
heart creates enough energy to power a truck for 20 miles of driving. Your
heart pumps blood to almost all of your cells, quite a feat considering there are
about 75 trillion of them. During a normal life span, the heart will pump about
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1.5 million barrels of blood, enough to fill about 200 train tank cars. The first
heart, a tiny group of cells, begins to beat as early as when a pregnancy is in its
fourth week. Humans form an emotional brain long before a rational one, and
a beating heart before either. Heart intelligence is really the source of emotional
intelligence. The heart has its own independent complex nervous system known
as the 'brain in the heart'. Its 'intelligence' is independent of, but constantly
in communication with, the brain, and the source of much that is good about
us. Heart intelligence is the flow of awareness, understanding and intuition we
experience when the mind and emotions are brought into coherent alignment
with the heart. Antoine de Sainte-ExupĂŠry said, "It is only with the heart that
one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye". It validates the idea
that people can be smart in a way that doesn't have anything to do with IQ
scores.
What we should worry about is not only how to avoid a 'heart attack',
but equally how to make our hearts rule our lives, or at least have a greater say in
what goes on inside us. For, as Blaise Pascal said, "the heart has its reasons which
reason knows not". And as an extension it implies that if we can learn to listen
to those 'reasons', or rumblings, we can become less confrontational and more
caring in making choices in our lives. However new research is indicating that
intelligence and intuition are heightened when we learn to listen more deeply to
our own heart. It's through learning how to decipher messages we receive from
our heart that we gain the keen perception needed to effectively manage our
emotions in the midst of life's challenges. The more we learn to listen to and
follow our heart intelligence, the more educated, balanced and coherent our
emotions become. Without the guiding influence of the heart, we easily fall prey
to reactive emotions such as insecurity, anger, fear, and blame as well as other
energy-draining reactions and behaviors. Such 'wisdom' can be now validated
or legitimized by emerging science, but mystics have always known that true
intelligence is a blending of head and heart, of thought and feeling. Our heart
needs the help of our head to generate and act on more skillful emotions. Our
head needs our heart to remind us that what's really important in life is putting
an end to suffering. 'Intelligence' has to be holistic and the next phase of human
evolution must include this dimension. Then alone can we live as 'we are one
another' and be able not to 'stop at our skin'.
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Restoring the Heart to Its Rightful Place
Looking at all the unsettling and unsavory things happening in the world, a
growing number of people have come to believe that, as Steve Grand75 puts it,
"there is a strong possibility that we've got everything horribly wrong". They are
beginning to see more clearly than before when the 'wrong' began. It began with
the virtual monopoly of intellect in orchestrating our lives and the sidelining of
our intuitive heart intelligence, or as some call it, 'heart's consciousness'. The
heart is now emerging as a key to a better human future. The beginning is to
shed the sense that the heart is simply a superb hydraulic pump that pushes
blood through the arteries, capillaries, and veins to deliver oxygen and nutrientrich
blood, and evacuate waste products to and from the tissues of the body.
Recent research indicates that it is not merely a pump and that our heart is 'more
intelligent than the brain'. It means that those feelings we have are 'intelligent'
feelings and that strengthens the fact of all of us having inherent psychic abilities
and intuition. If we could shed our brain-fixation and tap more of our 'heart
intelligence' we might make more headway. Contrary to what we now assume,
the 'organ of intellect' was not always known to be the brain. In fact, for long,
there were two competing views regarding where the intellect is in the body:
the brain or the heart. Even Aristotle argued for a cardiocentric (heart-centered)
model, that the heart is in fact the primary organ of intelligence. In this, he
differed from his teacher Plato, who subscribed to the encephalocentric (braincentered)
model, and posited that the "eyes, ears, tongue, hands, and feet act
in accordance with the discernment of the brain". It is the heart, not the brain,
which is the major energetic organ of organization and integration of the human
body, and the physical and spiritual energy link up in the inner heart.76 Our
heart, in fact, has its own nervous system where the neurons are connected
differently and more elaborately than elsewhere in the body, and while they are
capable of detecting circulating chemicals sent from the brain and other organs,
they operate independently in their own right. Having its own mini-brain is the
reason why heart transplants work, given the fact that severed nerve connections
do not reconnect in a different body. Furthermore, this elaborate nervous center
in the heart has more functions than simply regulating the electrical activities of
the heart to keep it pumping. It is interesting to note that while the heart can
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be influenced by messages sent from the brain, it doesn't necessarily obey them
all the time. Furthermore, the heart's mini-brain can send its own signals to the
brain and exercise its influence on it. Charlie Chaplin, who wrote a beautiful
poem on turning seventy77 which, inter alia, said "When I started loving
myself I recognized, that my thinking can make me miserable and sick. When I
requested for my heart forces, my mind got an important partner. Today, I call
this connection heart wisdom". And lest we forget, "connections are made with
the heart, not the tongue"—nor with the mind.
"Perhaps the heart path represents a different way of interacting with the
world than our current brain-dominated approach, a path many of us might
want to explore and one that is based on sensing the energy that resonates
within everyone, than always trying to master and control things, people and the
cosmos".78 We have to review our ideas of intention, intelligence and intuition.
The French philosopher Henri Bergson, for example, posited that intuition is
deeper than intellect, and said that the next human quality to develop is intuition.
The theosophist Annie Besant brought in the spiritual dimension and said that
intellect has to be "subordinated to the higher spiritual quality, which realizes
the unity in diversity and therefore comes to realize the divine Self in man. That
is the next step forward, looking at consciousness". 79 And that way we could
accelerate both 'consciousness-change' and 'contextual change'. Sri Aurobindo
declared that for "man to come face to face with the realization of all that has
remained his dream and his aspiration through the ages, [he must] emerge into a
higher stage of consciousness". Such a higher stage of consciousness has to be in a
state of better balance between mind and heart, between brain-based intelligence
and heart-intelligence.
"Cardio-energy not only maintains the very interactive cellular structures
of the body, but interacts with other hearts and energy systems as well, creating
an ever-increasing unity of ever more complex systems of energies which are
constantly in communication and interaction with each other. Therefore, it is
the individual heart which receives from outside itself, sources of information its
related mind organ cannot access on its own, and in turn, transmits information
to other hearts multiplied exponentially by the countless sources of cardio-L
energy which contribute to its own 'wisdom'. In so doing, the individual heart
becomes a microcosm of the larger macrocosm of cardio-energy of which it is a
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part, and to which it contributes, thus, in a most significant manner, participating
in the creation of its own reality. This notion of the 'wisdom of the heart', not
only in the sense of what the heart knows and intuits, but also from where and
to where its wisdom travels, and with what effect, is a central theme in Kabbala
and Hasidism".80
It is also suggested that "it would be a serious mistake to view congestive
heart failure and its treatment merely from the materialist perspective of physical
organ dysfunction. Rather, such ailments of the heart must also be understood
within the context of the heart's very own L energy and therefore, and most
importantly, from the perspective of the heart's own energetic and spiritual effects
upon itself ". Some like Rabbi Nachman "speak not only of the role of the heart
in terms of one's own health, but also that, the good thoughts in the heart are the
good inclination, through which good deeds and attributes are revealed. This is
a formation for good. Thus, when a person thinks good thoughts, he purifies the
Space of Creation".81
If we can manage to harmonize the three independent but interconnected
intelligences that we have—mental (IQ or left brain), emotional (EQ, or, right
brain), and heart (HQ)—then, only then, can we change what and how we think
and feel. Without such change, our behavior will not change and we will not win
the war within. Only by that harmonization can we truly improve the quality of
decision-making. Only then can we "foster a new level of understanding of the
phenomena of life in the biological sciences, and enable physicians to rediscover
the human being which, all too often, many feel they have lost".82
Conclusion
The question why humans kill one another so needlessly has tormented the minds
of philosophers, sociologists, and psychologists. Why is peaceful, amicable,
and constructive conflict resolution so difficult in daily life? Why has diversity,
instead of enriching, become so divisive and destructive? Will we be ever able
to make sense of human behavior and truly understand the human condition?
Are we innately violent, as Thomas Hobbes hypothesized in the 1650s, or is our
bearing and mien influenced more by nature, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau theorized
a century later? Can we ever become truly moral beings?
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While we will never have clear answers because there are no clear answers,
one thing is clear. As Carl Jung said, "wholeness for humans depends on their
ability to own their own shadow". The 'shadow' we have to own is 'the black
box inside of humans they can't go near'. The box contains all that we don't
want to own, even admit: violence, cruelty, sadism, hate, bigotry, etc. That many
saints and mahatmas have confessed to these failings should only enhance, not
diminish their saintliness. We have long lived with the agony of the good vs
evil affliction and how to resolve it. The great philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev
wrote, "There is a deadly pain in the very distinction of good and evil, of the
valuable and the worthless. We cannot rest in the thought that that distinction is
ultimate… we cannot bear to be faced forever with the distinction between good
and evil" (The Destiny of Man, 1931). What we have not sufficiently recognized is
that our behavior, whether we do good or evil depends on what happens 'within'
our consciousness, which in turn is in a state of war between these very forces:
good and evil. Although recent studies do suggest that there are "good grounds
for believing that we are intrinsically more violent than the average mammal",
we should not forget that we are also, on the other extreme, equally capable of
supreme sacrifice and highest altruism. Fact is that if there is evil within, there is
goodness too. Along with 'selfish' genes we are also hard-wired for empathy and
compassion. That is why we are also the most complex form of life on earth. Our
range of emotions are far wider and most exist as pairs of opposites, love and
hate, cruelty and compassion, indifference and empathy, malice and altruism,
etc. Our consciousness is also more evolved and that makes it more of a player in
our lives than of other species. The result is that co-existence of 'pairs of opposites'
in our consciousness turns into conflict, and conflict into a confrontation, and
confrontation into a no-holds-barred war between two sets of forces, dharma
(righteousness) and adharma (wickedness). And this War is all that matters, all
there is to do. To 'win' the war, rather, more to the point, help the forces of
good to prevail in this war, we have to do good in our daily life, helping and not
hurting, and by ensuring that whatever gets into our body through our senses
is wholesome for the forces of righteousness. In other words, the war within
can be 'won' by leading a virtuous or dharmic life. But the conundrum is that
to lead such a life we have to 'win' the war within. It is a two-way process and
we have to work on both fronts at the same time. Internally we must learn how
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to enhance the role of the heart intelligence and externally by performing our
actions and activities in the spirit of what the Bhagavad Gita calls nishkama
karma, to do one's actions without expectation of any reward. Expectation not
only causes disappointment, but also colors and corrupts the action and the
result. Freed from self-interest, our actions automatically become righteous. In
turn, they become suitable to serve as 'feed' for the forces of goodness. In short,
the doctrine of nishkama karma not only sanitizes our external life but also helps
us to 'win' the war within.
To sum up, to 'win' this war, we need to adopt the following nine-point
agenda: (1) recognize, at the level of our collective awareness, that there is a whole
world within; (2) recognize that the most consequential and the most important
of all wars is taking place in that world; (3) recognize that all our current problems
and hopes and dreams for our future hinge on how the war wages and its ebbs
and flows; (4) recognize that although invisible and inaccessible we must find a
way to intervene in this war and help the 'good wolf '; (5) recognize that the only
tangible way to do so is by changing our mindset and our behavior; (6) recognize
that for that we need the twin changes: consciousness-change and contextualchange;
(7) recognize that our comatose heart-intelligence has to be awakened
in our consciousness as part of such a change; (8) recognize that to bring about
the required change in our context of life, we have to follow the spirit of the
doctrine of nishkama karma in our daily life; (9) recognize that given the way
and extent the triad of the 'three Ms'—morality, money and mortality—shadows
and dominates our lives, our particular attention has to be bestowed on these
subjects.

283
Chapter 3
Money—Maya, Mara, and Moksha—All-in-One
Money, Homo economicus, and Homo consumens
Money's precise moment of birth might be diffused and difficult to pinpoint, but its might is unmistakable. For, might itself is a problem in the human mind, not a perk, but it is many times multiplied by money. It is at once a master key and a magic wand, the ultimate illusion (maya), the ultimate temptation (mara) and the ultimate liberator (moksha). Money is at the center of the mindset that asks, 'if everything has a price, does nothing have a value?' The hold of money over our mind is formidable; nothing else comes even close. Other than malice, it is money that separates us from other animals. Mind with money is a man-eater; and without it is a toothless tiger. Recent research has shown that thinking about money undermines our sense of social connectedness. Obscene opulence adds social isolation to what is described as the psychological solipsism of power. Whether or not money can buy everything, the fact is, as Emerson said, it costs too much. Money sugarcoats everything, including murder; in fact, it has become a major incentive for killing. Money rides roughshod over sex, qualms, restraints, or relationships. Some experts are beginning to see a link between inequality and rates of homicide, and find that inequality predicts homicide rates "better than any other variable"1 and the perception that it can, makes money matter the most. Money too is at the heart of the crisis of morality. There is a general belief that all money tends to corrupt, and that absolute money corrupts absolutely. And that it has destroyed all vestige of civic virtue. And there is much truth in that. While money inherently is value-neutral, it is also true that it takes lot of effort to be moral in handling money at all levels and stages. It is very difficult not to be unfair, unjust and not deny someone else's due, if not legally, ethically. And that has become far more extensive and invasive in modern times. The point of departure is this: the world has transited from a modus vivendi where most of humanity had no need of money at all, to a modus operandi in which
much of mankind struggles to survive on extremely small amounts of money. This 'transition' has profoundly altered the role and place of money in human life.
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The moral perils of being rich were made clear in many scriptures. The Book of
James warns the rich: "The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your
fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears
of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.
Money is now the median and measure of success, fame, and fortune. Whether
or not money can buy happiness—a subject on which many have said much—it
certainly has much to do with our acute anxiety, high levels of stress and the ratrace,
a metaphor for our modern life of Sisyphean struggle without satisfaction,
sometimes described as the 'dog-eats-dog' culture.2 And money is the fulcrum of
the 'market economy', which philosopher Michael Sandal says has turned into
'market society'. The dynamics of this 'society 'are seriously distorted, resulting
in intolerable injustice. As a recent Oxfam report shows, in several countries,
wage inequality has increased and the share of labor compensation in GDP has
declined because profits have increased more rapidly than wages. While the
income share of the top 1% has grown substantially, many others have not shared
in the goodies of economic growth. And much of decision-making, personal to
businesses and national—is now economic and the result is money crowds out
motility in our everyday life. The use of money as the primary, often the only,
measure of success puts enormous pressure on even those who are not directly
involved to toe the party line, to echo the chorus.
Money is the one thing having which nothing else is needed and not
having which everything else is valueless and vain. There is almost nothing man
does these days without the shadow of money looming over. Its hold on man
now is vice-like and vicious. For reasons still unclear, money seems to draw
out of us some of our worst traits like greed, envy, jealousy, and malice. Some
say money corrupts; others, that it is man who corrupts money. Some argue
that money is only "a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods
produced and men able to produce them, and therefore it is neither virtue nor
evil". Some say that it is the instrument of the strong to exploit the weak; others
say that it offers a chance to become strong by virtue of intellectual exercise and
effort. Some say it exacerbates inequality and unfairness; others, that it gives
inherent value and worth. Essentially, it is money that separates the so-called
'one-percent'—the ultra-rich—and the rest. It is money that could keep you
healthier and live longer, even become immortal. Money is power in its barest
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sense. The British historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle 'described its power in
the following words: "Whoso has sixpence is sovereign (to the length of sixpence)
over all men; commands cooks to feed him, philosophers to teach him, kings to
mount guard over him,—to the length of sixpence".3 But what is indisputable
is that money's essential character has changed from exchange to enrichment,
from a means to obtain the basic needs of life, to itself becoming an end. And,
perhaps above all, it has turned man essentially into a consumer, which has bred
a culture of instant gratification and one-upmanship. There is lot of money to
be made on 'body-upgradation', the latest fashion-statement. We are being sold
on the need to upgrade all parts of ourselves, all at once, including parts that we
did not previously know needed upgrading. According to one estimate, the socalled
self-improvement industry rakes in ten billion dollars a year. Money is the
most pressing moral issue now. If we can handle money well, and do not allow it
to mess with our mind, much of the rancor, friction, and violence in the world
will become manageable. Everyone thinks that to make or earn money to feed a
family, for example, nothing is bad or immoral, even cold-blooded murder. For
instance, according to police in New Delhi, India, anybody can be a contract
killer, including a mother of seven, a science graduate, and a property dealer. How
desperate they are and for how little they are willing to do such a terrible deed is
indicated by the fact that the money in question, for the 'killing contract' was a
mere Rs.49,000 (less than $1,000). For some others, hired-killing is a moral short
cut to get rich, a snapshot of collapsing social norms and value of life. In other
words, both the need and lure of money can trigger a mercenary and murderous
response in us; if we can get it right with money, everything else will fall into
place. With the rise of Homo economicus as the primary human persona, the
emblem and analogue of human values, everything else, even health, has taken
a back seat. Recently, the Director General of the World Health Organization
warned the world that putting economic interests over public health is leading
the world towards three gradual health disasters: climate change, the failure of
more and more antibiotic drugs, and the increase in so-called lifestyle diseases
caused by poor diet and exercise. And with the advent of industrial production as
the primary way to multiply money, the utility of every man, woman, and child
to society, became how much he or she spent as a consumer, what economists call
'potential purchasing power'. Economics, materialism, and money have become
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synonymous. We value our material life more than our moral life. As a result,
today's politics, which is a means to acquire power, is dominated by economics.
In 'democratic societies', the political power obtained through periodic elections
is often financed by rich donors who want their pound of say in what the elected
do later. Even the so-called charitable organizations, in some affluent societies,
are supported by what is called "dark money"—unlimited donations obtained by
nonprofit organizations and spent on influencing elections, without disclosing
the identity of the donors.
And much of the way we entertain and amuse ourselves, and almost all of
sport, is about big, if not dark money. From Homo economicus, we have turned
into what Erich Fromm called Homo consumens—a total consumer in a paradise
conceived as an infinite warehouse, "where everyone can buy something new
every day, buy everything he wants and even a little more than the one next door
to him but transfigures us into an empty cipher—anxious, passive, profoundly
discontented and bored".4 That gnawing feeling of deep 'discontent' is spreading
to all human inventions and institutions that have been painstakingly built up
and which hold humanity together—family, community, marriage, markets,
traditions, state, religion, etc., foundationally altering our social and moral life.
Whether it is Homo economicus or Homo consumens, the bedrock of the identity
is money. What we give value to is how much money we earn regardless of how
much we are left with to do things that give us comfort, convenience and control
over other people. As the Chinese statesman Deng Xiaoping famously said "It
doesn't matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice". We don't care
who the ruler is, what system of governance it is, or what 'ism' it follows. All that
we want is to have plenty of money in our bulging pockets to get all the material
goodies we see on the screen and on the shopping malls. It increasingly appears
that ethical behavior and efficient markets are rarely compatible, a point implicit
in what Adam Smith said in The Wealth of Nations (1776): "It is not from the
benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner,
but from their regard to their own interest". With all the euphoria surrounding
'free markets', which really is an oxymoron, there is a growing sense as articulated
by thinkers like Harvard's Michael Sandel that markets alone cannot define a
just society, that there are moral limits to markets. The fact is that markets "do
not just produce what we really want, they also produce what we want according
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287
to our monkey-on-the-shoulder tastes".5 Well, we know what a monkey does
whether it is on the back or the shoulder, or in the mind!
The difference lies in a mix of 'more' and 'less'. In earlier days people
led simpler lives, with limited wants and with more of a moral mindset. That
made people generally 'more' hesitant to appease the monkey' in, or on, them.
And then their reach was limited to the local store and they were 'less' subject
to temptations like seductive ads on TV. And those who had 'more' money
did not feel the need to buy 'more' things. Earlier, wealth was finite, primarily
spread and exchanged, and having it in excess was considered sinful. Generosity
and charity were associated with wealth earned through righteous means and
through swadharma, doing one's own dharma. People were generally open about
their wealth and worth but they did not flaunt it. Now people are more open
about their sex lives than about their wealth. The hypnotic effect of money and
wealth was foretold in the scriptures in the context of describing the effects of the
Kali Yuga, the most immoral of all ages. They describe the effect and attraction
of money in these terms: "Men will devote themselves to earning money; the
richest will hold power. Wealth alone will be considered the sign of a man's good
birth, proper behavior and fine qualities. Property alone will confer rank; wealth
will be the only source of devotion.
The fundamental transformation came when the mind married money, as
it were; when money was turned into a major fault line in human life—the divisive
line between the 'haves' and 'have-nots'. It came into being, as Aristotle noted,
when the various necessities of human life could not be easily carried about and
people agreed to employ in their dealings something that was intrinsically useful
and easily applicable to the activities of life, like iron or silver. The value of the
metal was first measured by weight and later, to avoid the trouble of weighing and
to make its value obvious at sight, kings and governments devised coin money.
It has come a long way since. Its primary purpose of exchange was sidelined
and money became a symbol of social status and a major means for separation,
discrimination, and exploitation. But unlike in a barter economy where savings
and investment were very difficult, modern money—paper currency and the
bank note—opened the doors to economic growth. By itself, paper money has
no value; it rests on trust and it offers fluidity, flexibility and, for the creative
mind, opportunities for speculation, savings and investment. Of all the things
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in the world, it became the most sought after possession: to obtain, protect and
keep money, people go to extraordinary lengths. They plan and scheme and use
every subterfuge; they steal and kill for it; they expend more time, energy, and
effort for its sake than for any other purpose. Much of a person's life consists of
no more than earning, saving, and spending money; and the remainder of his life
is spent caring, tending, and preserving the possessions purchased. No sacrifice,
no relationship or human bond is spared when it comes to making money. Alan
Greenspan, a former chairman of the American Federal Reserve Board quotes
a friend as saying 'I understand the history of money. When I get some, it is
soon history'. With it, man is a monarch; without it, subhuman. With money
in abundance, man can overcome 'natural' or inherited limitations; but without
it, one can scarcely obtain what is needed to be wholly human. Ironically, man
cannot do with or without money. Just as man has evolved, so has the character
and color of money. Moderation and the middle path have given way to gluttony
and greed. There are those who have come to believe that striving for inner
balance and tranquility will erode their competitive ability, who see a dichotomy
between being wise and worldly-wise.
Epiphany of Modern Man—Money
Somerset Maugham famously said, "Money is like a sixth sense without which
you cannot make a complete use of the other five". Voltaire put it differently
when he said that when it is a question of money, everybody is of the same
religion. Thomas Jefferson said that money, not morality is the principle of
commercial nations.
Cicero said that endless money forms the sinews of war. Indeed violence,
warfare and wealth are intimately connected. Men are violent for money and
money makes violence possible. Money is both the tool and purpose of violence.
Money is a principal factor in most of suicides and homicides, not only among
the poor and poorer regions of the world but also in affluent societies, Glyn
Davies in his A History of Money from Ancient Times to the Present Day writes
that 'ever since the invention of coins, monetary and military history have been
interconnected to a degree that is both depressing and surprising.' He even
paraphrases Clausewitz's famous dictum and refers to war as the continuation
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of monetary policy by other means, quoting 18th-century William Davenant:
"Nowadays that prince who can best find money to pay his army is surest of
success". Davies concludes that the military ratchet was the most important
single influence in raising prices and reducing the value of money in the past
1,000 years, and for most of that time, debasement was the most common, but
not the only way, of strengthening the 'sinews of war'. Whether it is making love
or war, some mavericks say that "we are evolving unto a society with much in
common with that of insects: ants, termites, hornets, etc. Something analogous
to social behavior makes us swarm in towns and cities like ants in their dark
colonies". The instinct that compels us to behave like that, the theory continues,
is money, which is "to us what genes are to ants", and which "will govern human
evolution in the future more than DNA". Selfish economics rather than selfish
genes govern human evolution; in the richer nations, "we are no longer evolving
according to the principles of natural selection", and "we have swapped our lifegiving
queen for cash", and the root of all evil. The human race has greedily sold
its soul to the Devil. There is little doubt that money, much like technology, has
had a transformational effect on the human condition. By empowering man to
acquire convenience, comfort and gadgets for every need, money, together with
technology, has made man a 'soft species' and eroded considerably the strength
and resilience of the human organism. And technology is also raising moneymade
moral issues. For example, who should a driverless car choose to kill in
order to save its passengers: a money-less man in rags or an executive in a business
suit? How should we program for such an eventuality?
The very fact that our desires often transgress the bounds of biology or
balance of life on earth, and that our social life goes beyond the demands of sheer
survival, requires a medium to harmonize and optimize the diverse capacities
of human society and makes synergy socially possible. That was the origin of
what we call 'money', initially designed as a medium of exchange of products,
services, and talents, facilitating human interfacing, an input into the making
of an orderly, if not an egalitarian, society. The transformation of money from
what it was intended into what it has become—our all-consuming passion—
is perhaps the single most destabilizing development in human history; it has
created not only a 'new class', but even a new breed of men. Money is more
than the coin, paper or plastic to acquire goods and services. Money is linked to
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complex emotions, feelings and behaviors. It has a huge influence on what we
call 'quality of life' and on the pursuit of the three Cs and Ps that consume much
of human life—comfort, convenience, and control; pleasure, profit, and power.
Mind and Money
The mind invented money but, in turn, is enslaved by its own invention. The
mind views and relates to the entire world of life through the prism, and prison,
of money. Money is broadly defined as 'any marketable good or token trusted
by a society to be used as a store of value, a medium of exchange, and a unit
of account'. In A History of Money, Davies defines it as anything that is widely
used for making payments and accounting for debts and credits. Money has
been called many things by many wise and 'otherwise' men: like muck, not
good unless spread (Francis Bacon); like manure, which spreads around does
a lot of good, but piled up in one place, stinks like hell (Clint Murchison Jr);
the most important thing in life (Bernard Shaw); equally important to those
who have it and who don't (Galbraith); one of the great inventions of mankind
(Alan Greenspan); and a myriad more. Since prehistoric times all sorts of things
have been used as money and Davies lists some of these: amber, beads, cowries,
drums, eggs, feathers, gongs, hoes, ivory, jade, kettles, leather, mats, nails,
oxen, pigs, quartz, rice, salt, thimbles, umiacs, vodka, wampums, yarns, and
zappozats (decorated axes). Davies says that money did not have a single origin
but developed independently in many different parts of the world.
Today, scholars say that money's origin had little to do with trading, as
popularly believed, but arose in a social setting, possibly as a method of punishment.
Barter was probably the earliest form of human exchange when humans were
essentially hunter-gatherers, fishermen, and farmers. Stone Age man, according
to anthropological evidence, used precious metals as money. Silver was first used
as coins in Lydia (Iron-Age kingdom) or Turkey in 3 BCE. In Babylonia, a form
of rudimentary banking was prevalent. In 118 BCE, banknotes in the form of
leather money appeared in China and in 800 CE, printed paper currency also
appeared. According to Marco Polo, the Mongols adopted the bank note as 'legal
tender', i.e., it was a capital offense to refuse them as payment. Only in the 17th
century, did coinage become standardized and certified. Paper money, first in
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fiduciary form (which promises to pay specified amounts in gold and silver), and
later in its own right (where the paper did not promise payment in some other
form), became the mainstay of money in the late 18th and early 19th century. An
obsession is essentially a consuming desire, a compulsive craving; so compulsive
that it becomes the center of one's existence to the utter exclusion of all the rest;
it transports the obsessed to a different state of consciousness and to a different
moral mindset. While it could hamper and hinder regular life, through our
obsessions, we are often seeking redemption or relaxation. As the Buddha said,
if desire itself is the supreme disease, then obsession can eat our very vitals and
its cessation is itself nirvana, 'the stopping of becoming'. Some scholars interpret
nirvana as "letting go of clinging, hatred, and ignorance, and the full acceptance
of imperfection, impermanence, and interconnectedness". Some scholars say
that Buddhism tells us what nirvana delivers us from—suffering, dukha—but
not what it delivers us into. A Buddhist master and scholar, Nagarjuna, even
says that a desire for nirvana, as enlightenment, is itself an obstacle to nirvana.
He also makes a distinction between 'longing', which he says we could have, and
'desire', which he asks us to eschew. Longing, it is said, is about 'here and now';
and desire is a future state, what Jiddu Krishnamurti called 'future psychological
time'.6 In that state of obsessive desire we are no longer balanced; we do not
calculate profit or loss; we just do it because that is the only thing that matters.
Without the obsessed object or person, the whole world seems empty; and with
it, we do not need the world. Although most often viewed negatively, 'burning
obsession' is the driving force behind much of human creativity. In some,
obsession can turn into depression; but that very obsession-driven depression
can trigger great creativity.
The description of love in the Bible is the opposite of 'obsessive love'. It says
that "Love never gives up. Love cares for others more than for self. Love doesn't
want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, doesn't have a swelled head, doesn't
force itself on others, it isn't always "me first," doesn't fly off the handle, doesn't
keep score of the sins of others, doesn't revel when others grovel…"7 Sometimes
we hate someone we wish to love but cannot love; sometimes we do not even
know what the driving force behind our obsessions is. It is possible that there is
no single source or trigger but we cannot insulate such people from the world
around them, a world that sustains their life. The world now worships 'success'
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and scoffs at 'failure'; in fact, as David Brooks says, we fear 'failure' more than we
desire 'success'. Our deepest desire, the desire to love and be loved, is not immune
to the crippling 'fear of failure'. Our reason-centric, "post-modern" culture puts
emphasis on the hedonistic pursuit of happiness, freedom, individuality, and selfcenteredness.
It seeks contentment through achievement, enlightenment through
escapism. In this 'culture', 'failure' in love becomes the ultimate admission of
incompetence, an unbearable humiliation, a negation of one's right to be 'happy';
an intolerable insult to one's self-image. Unable to accept the humiliation or digest
the insult, the affected individual turns his revengeful ire onto the subject or object
of his 'obsession', and the world at large is held responsible.
While we might still primarily associate 'obsessive revenge' with 'failed
love', being 'obsessed' is almost universal. We are all obsessed at some point by
someone or something—a person, pet, movie star, a guru, a place, love, sex,
guns, sport, a TV show, a gadget… Some obsessions are hidden, we are afraid to
even admit them to ourselves; some, we never tire of dreaming of, whose very
existence makes life worth living, and any burden worth bearing. Obsession can
take different forms with different results to the obsessed and the affected. An
'obsession' with God has a different effect than one with a gadget, for example.
Positively, 'obsession' can make us focus more, or give us dogged determination.
Negatively, it could blur our moral vision and lead to great destruction. It has
been said that "passion is a positive obsession; obsession is a negative passion".
While there are myriad personal 'obsessions' that consume much of our life, as
a species too our evolution has been defined by the pursuit of many collective
obsessions. Some of these, in no particular order, are God, sex, body, wealth,
death, convenience, comfort, control, fame, food, clothes, shopping. And we are
obsessed with not only what we have—and do not have—but, even more, with
what others have and should not have. Among these, the three that are likely to
align the course of human destiny and the evolution of human consciousness are
the 'three Ms'—morality, money and mortality.
The Three 'M's
On all three fronts, we are in the throes of cathartic convulsion. We associate
human 'goodness' with 'morality', but on one thing most agree—the 'difficulty of
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being good'. Whether or not man is a 'moral animal', most agree that we are in a
state of moral free fall. Not a day passes without our hearing or reading news that
rudely reinforces this inference. Horrible things are happening so routinely and
repetitively in every part of the world, it makes us wonder whether man has gone
mad or evil has finally triumphed on earth and taken over man, the supposed
regent and agent of God. Now, no one can think and say even to himself "Evil
can't touch me; I am good and cannot be seduced or tempted or provoked to
do such things". We cannot, on the one hand, talk of unity and oneness of all,
and then wash our hands off others, who are just like any of us. We must bear
their cross too. As for the second M, we all know, and have been repeatedly
warned about, the corrupting influence of money on the human mind, yet are
unable to escape its clutches due to its pervasive and penetrating place in human
society. Tragically, it seems that money has got into the very make-up of man at
the most elemental level. How often have we seen a child clutching money and
calling it his 'pocket money' or simply 'my money'! An illustration of this point
comes from a letter written by a child to God which reads: "Dear God, If you
give me [a genie lamp like] Aladdin's, I will give you anything except my money
or my chess set.—Raphael".8 If a child, still enchantingly innocent, does not
want to exchange 'his' money even to God, that speaks greatly about both man
and money. It tells us that money is now not merely currency or a medium of
exchange; it is now part of our DNA; and integrally defines us. Angelic eternal
youth and immortality have long been the elusive human universal aspiration.
But in recent times, science has brought them into the realm of possibility with
consequences too unpredictable for human imagination. The question is, can
humans attain eternal youth and not destroy the planet? And, "can we avoid
the scale of human population growth that would turn us into a seething viral
infection on Earth's skin that completely destroys it? Or, more likely, us?"9 If
we do achieve outright physical immortality, then "earth will decide she's had
enough of us, and shrug us off—like the pesky little germs that we are".10
Not everything 'alive' in nature is mortal, although the few life forms
like bacteria that did not and still do not reproduce sexually can be considered
immortal, barring accidental death. So, we do have a 'precedent'. If 'primitive'
bacteria can, why not we, the most 'intelligent' and innovative life on earth? In
our tumultuous times, it is becoming increasingly difficult for laymen to decide
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how they should react to research on issues like human immortality. Money
has much to do with it. Firstly, money is flowing into attendant research at the
expense of far more important and urgent provision of basic needs for billions of
people. Second, the fruits of that research will not be equally accessible. It is being
openly said that by the year 2050, man can become technologically immortal
but only the rich will be able to afford it. In other words, it will be money which
will be the deciding factor on who has to die and who doesn't have to, money
being the deciding dice. That, in turn, could create one more source of tension,
friction, and divide, and it could easily reach the boiling point. Already many
are saying that the next apocalypse might be economic, not nuclear; that the
current grotesque global inequality—just eight men own the same wealth as the
poorest half of the world—is unsustainable and morally abhorrent. So offensive
to any semblance of justness, which is central to morality, that not overturning
it is tantamount to inciting evil? But secretly we all want to be, and hope we
will be, sooner than later, one of the one-percent and so we watch and wait for
our day. This along with the large privatizations has fueled the rise of wealth
inequality among individuals. By any reckoning, we are living in the times of
the ultra-rich, a second 'gilded age' in which a shimmering surface masks crony
capitalism, serious social problems, and crass corruption. While there can be no
perfect equality in any human institution or relationship in any walk of life, the
present situation in which a CEO earns more than 1000 times his employee
clearly violates every canon of fairness and fair play. But then, whose morality is
it anyway, of the master or slave, of the rich or poor The CEO thinks it is moral
because he has earned it by leading the company, and he has not cheated anyone.
The worker thinks it is obscene because the value of his work for the company
is much more than the glaring gap indicates. But perceptions are important and
there is growing groundswell that that we are at a flash point and, that sooner
than latter the non-rich will revolt and when that happens it could dwarf all
earlier revolutions in its intensity and destruction. Clearly the world needs a
new economy, radically different economy, which some call 'human economy,
designed for the 99%', but how to bring it into being without violence and
bloodshed is the moot point. The answer again is the same. We cannot transplant
it externally. The transformation must happen within. Which means winning
the war within.
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Another imponderable is the growing seamlessness between man and
machine and the gnawing sense that the world, perhaps even we, are better off
with machines running the world. If, for example, man and machine become
intelligently indistinguishable, which means that the human population gets
doubled or trebled in terms of brain power and behavior, what kind of world will
this result in? It is being predicted that by the year 2029 machines will pass the
Turing test, that is, they will be indistinguishable from human intelligence.11 Does
that constitute human progress or machines-coming-of-age? Does that pave the
way to the next step of human evolution or are we creating perhaps another kind
of life built on the ruins of human life? Since it affects us and our children's lives,
shouldn't we have some say in such matters? The project 2045 Initiative, funded
by Russian billionaire Dmitry Itskov, aims to create technologies enabling the
transfer of [an] individual's personality to a more advanced nonbiological carrier,
and extending life, including to the point of immortality. It envisages the mass
production of lifelike, low-cost avatars that can be uploaded with the contents of
the human brain, complete with the particulars of consciousness and personality.
Itskov's goal is to make "a digital copy of your mind in a nonbiological carrier;
a version of a fully sentient person that could live for hundreds or thousands
of years".12 Not a virtual but an actual 'human' immortality. Avatars, we are
reassured, can have sex as an artificial body can be designed to receive sensations.
Not only that, the project also aims to "actually save lives" and "to help the
disabled, to cure diseases, to create technology that will allow us in the future to
answer some existential questions". Such as, what is the brain? what is life? what
is consciousness? and, finally, what is the universe?
Money—Maya, Mara, and Moksha
The issue is not whether or not some sort of money is necessary for human life. It
is both necessary and noxious; it depends on how we earn it, how much we retain
of it, and how we disperse and dispose of it. Indeed the discovery or invention
of money has been described as arguably one of the greatest, on par with fire
and the wheel. All religions recognize the need for it, but they also warn us to be
wary of excessive attachment to it. On the one hand, they treat it as a blessing,
a blessing that God wants to bestow upon us in plentitude. On the other hand,
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they describe it as an obstacle to faith, and a mortal menace. At the same time,
scriptures also talk of 'spiritualized wealth', and of money as a 'divine tool'. The
key is to ensure that it flows in the right direction—without stagnating, or being
used for obscene ostentation—and that it is put to use as an instrument to lift
the lives of the impoverished millions dying for want of dignity.
Money that is made at the expense of others gets tainted, because it is
energetically used in an egocentric, selfish way. No money is too small to make
some life-saving difference to someone or the other. One of the purusharthas
(human aspirations) in Hindu philosophy is artha, or material wealth. Artha
means that which is an asset or that which is meaningful. Most important, it
must be acquired or possessed in a dharmic way, which also means not hurting
or harming others and not unjustly depriving others of what is their dharmic
due. The question is what the quest for money makes of us, and what it makes us
do. In its material sense, it provides the wherewithal to enable people, families,
institutions societies, and nations to have the basic material needs of life. Yet,
money and wealth can also offer humanity more than existential value. Rightly
conceived and understood, it can improve the human condition and even bring
joy, beauty, and leisure to life. Lack of money can impoverish life, enfeeble the
body, denude dignity, and make human life a living hell. On the other hand, if
wealth becomes an unprincipled obsession placed above our duties to God and
society, it becomes perverted and devoid of its power for the good. Money in
some form or the other has always been a legitimately important and moral factor
in human life. The Quran says "How excellent wealth is! Through it I protect
my honor and get closer to my Lord". The Bible does not call money the root of
evil; it is the love of it or obsession with it that leads to evil. What is new is the
preeminence of that very 'love' of, or obsession with money in human life, and
its emergence as almost the sole means to achieve all human aims, aspirations,
expectations—prosperity, well-being, security, control, comfort, power, fame, to
be good, even to acquire a good after-life. We can no longer ignore money in
any serious reflection of anything human—politics or philosophy, economics
or ecology, science or spiritualism, morality or evil, mortality or immortality.
The villain is not money, it is the mind. Technology, as a medium of the mind,
has accentuated the evil that the love of money can do. Only the rich can afford
life-extension technologies, at least in the short term. From pocket money to
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pensions, making a living to standard of living, savoring good life to the joys of
philanthropy, obscene opulence to abysmal poverty, conspicuous consumption
to pragmatism, it is all about money.
Money creates problems when we do not have it, and yet, even more
problems when we do have it. Money has become a major test of human
character. How we 'manage' when we do not have it, and how we 'behave' when
we have it, speaks a lot about our moral mettle. Money makes us both master and
slave. Our power over money is real only inasmuch as we are able to understand
its power over us. For centuries, if not millenniums, man has sought to digest
the essence of money. Philosophers and economists, statesmen, writers, even
poets, have written about money. It has been acclaimed and cursed; dreamed
of and disparaged. Money is capable of creating and destroying, of uniting and
dismembering. Like God, if we have money in our corner nothing and no one
else is needed; for we can 'get' everything else with it. It can be exhilarating,
intoxicating, magical, and mesmerizing. It can make people both partners and
parasites and can impact the fate of individuals and whole nations. Here comes
the unfortunate bit: what was meant as a medium of exchange has turned man
himself into a medium—to make money. Those who possess money are in fact
possessed by it, overcome by the passion to multiply it by any means and at any
cost. And this change, unless corrected, could destroy human society. The crisis
in the global financial system is but a symptom. The time has come to face up to
the fact that any agenda for human transformation must include how to change
the way money is perceived, generated, and utilized. A great virtue of money as
a commodity is that it simplifies and facilitates one of the greatest requisites of
spiritual life: sharing and giving. If money is properly shared and spread, there
would, for example, be no extreme poverty in the world. When it comes to
rousing our conscience, statistics have lost their sting and pinch. Yet they provide
useful insights. The World Bank says that at least 80% of humanity lives on less
than $10 a day. According to UNICEF, about 22,000 children die each day
due to poverty. And they die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth,
far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek
and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.
And, according to Oxfam, the surge of $762 billion in the wealth of the world's
2,043 billionaires, in the year 2017, was enough money to end 'global extreme
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poverty seven times over'.13 Another shocking statistic is that only 5% of all new
income from global growth trickles down to the poorest 60%. Grim and bad as
it might seem, it also offers a ray of hope. Never before did so many people need
so little to lead healthier lives, and never before could so few people do so much
for so many. Money's very concentration makes it easier to diffuse it in the right
direction, with the maximum effect. What is needed is consciousness-change in
these billionaires.
Try as we might, it is hard to understand money's grip and gravity; how
it came to be the building block of human happiness, the fulcrum around which
human life revolves. We can understand the lure of sex, or of power, or pursuit
of pleasure, or fear of death; all of which are somehow related to biology and
human nature. How could money grow to be such a sinister shadow under
which we spend all our brief time on earth and waste all our energy? It looks
as if money is the ultimate temptation to drag us down to our doom, to bring
to the surface our darkest instincts. Money plays the role of both Maya, the
Vedantic illusion—the euphoric feeling that with money we need nothing
else; and the Buddhist Mara—as it tempts us to follow the unrighteous path
to acquire, amass, and enjoy wealth. The truly intriguing, even exciting, thing
is that in this very area of darkness, it can be a source of liberating light. The
much-derided material wealth can also be a means for Moksha, not in the sense
of breaking an individual's cycle of birth and rebirth or death to death, but in
helping each other to break out of their cycle of misery and dehumanization.
It is so essential, its absence can cripple life to such a degree, that providing the
means to acquire it to the truly needy can become transformative and benefit the
'giver' more than the 'taker'. Although baneful in its effect on the mind, it can
also be a conduit for compassion. 'Blessed are those who have money; for they
have the power to make the everyday lives of so many so much better'. John D
Rockefeller, one of the richest and most philanthropic men of modern times,
expressed it aptly: "God gave me my money… I believe the power to make
money is a gift from God, to be developed and used to the best of our ability for
the good of mankind. Having been endowed with the gift I possess, I believe it
is my duty to make money and still more money and to use the money I make
for the good of my fellow man according to the dictates of my conscience".
This Rockefeller quote was described as a kind of partnership between God and
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299
Mammon. Mammon lords over the accumulating department, and God over
the giving and spending department. It also means that different rules govern the
two departments. Rockefeller himself was described as 'money mad, money mad,
sane in every other respect but money mad'.14 He didn't pay much heed to means
and morals while becoming very, very rich but channeled a good bit of it for
charity. How do we rate him as a 'moral man'? Was the world better off or worse
off with Rockefeller as he was, lock, stock, and barrel? The fundamental fact does
not change: wealth righteously earned and shared generously can help lift many
lives; wealth, ill-gotten and unshared, is corrosive. Although we tend to conflate
the two, wealth is not another name for money. Wealth is fundamental and is
the stuff we need to live: food, clothes, houses, gadgets, travel, land, and so on.
One can have wealth without having money. Wealth is as old as human
history. Far older, in fact; even ants have wealth. Money in its current dominating
form is but a comparatively recent invention. Leave alone money, making wealth
is not the only way to get rich. In fact, for a huge chunk of human history it was
not even the most common way. Until a few centuries ago, the main sources of
wealth were mines, slaves and serfs, land, and cattle, and the means to acquire
them were by inheritance, marriage, conquest, or confiscation. Money gives the
false feel of easy access to pleasure, power, and pelf. It makes us feel 'powerful'
and paves the path to possessing 'power'.
The Many Faces of Money
The baneful influence of money on humanity was foretold in Hindu scriptures like
the Mahabharata, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Ramayana. In Srimad Bhagavatam,
for example, Sage Suka says, "In the Kali Yuga, wealth alone will be the criterion
of pedigree, morality and merit". In the Mahabharata, Sage Markandeya tells
King Yudhishthira "… and wedded to avarice and wrath and ignorance and
lust, men will entertain animosities towards one another, desiring to take one
another's lives". While all that might have been true when money was not so
central to human life, it is no longer fully correct in today's society in which
money is irreplaceable and indispensable for orderly life. Indeed what was once
said about the mind can now be said about money. The mind, it was said, is the
cause of bondage but can also be the source of liberation. Money dominates
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human life so much that, while the love of it can be the source of evil, its extreme
absence can cripple life and deny dignity, an essential attribute of the human
condition. DH Lawrence wrote "money poisons you when you've got it and
starves you when you haven't".15 Bob Dylan crooned "while money doesn't talk,
it swears".16 But its hypnotic spell also contains a silver lining. It has, on the
one hand, deepened the ill effects of 'love of money'; no relationship, no moral
scruple, no sensitivity, is immune to its lure; no crime or sin is unthinkable. In
contemporary society, we have bestowed almost godly powers upon money, and
whilst money's necessity makes it irreplaceable and universal, it is its deification
that makes it a 'religion'. However in religious terms, 'money' and 'wealth' per se
are not always deemed bad or evil. In Hinduism, the consort of Lord Vishnu is
Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and money.17 The important point is that money
and wealth are viewed in a broader context than in pure monetary terms. They
are 'sacred' too and even God Vishnu needed wealth to get himself a wife on
earth and had to borrow it from Kubera, the God of wealth.
Apart from its magnetic lure, and because it is deemed so vital for human
life, money also attracts many superstitions. There are superstitions surrounding
every aspect of money, from getting it to saving it. Some rose from plain oldfashioned
common sense while others were rituals based on natural phenomena
that were seen to be omens, auspicious and ominous. There are even conflicting
superstitions, depending on the culture. In Argentina, finding money in the
street is considered extremely lucky. As long as you never spend it, it will bring
you more money. But in Trinidad and Tobago, finding money in the street could
bring evil spirits into your home. In some countries like Greece, it is believed that
money attracts money and so it is bad luck to completely empty one's pocket or
wallet. The ancient Greeks threw coins into their wells to keep them from going
dry. In Japan, snakes are viewed as symbols of prosperity and therefore purses
made with white snakeskin are popular. The ancient art of Feng Shui advocates
several practices to make money. In England, putting money in new clothes is
supposed to bring good luck. According to Mexican tradition, making a cross
on the floor after picking up 'found money' will bring even more money. In
some countries even bubbles in a cup of coffee or tea are associated with money;
elsewhere, if a bee lands on your hand it indicates wealth is on its way to you or
if you write with green ink, profits will flow from your hand.
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The impact of money goes beyond what we can do with it, what it can
buy or procure; it defines life itself, feeds our ego, vanity and viciousness. Money
breaks all moral barriers. We might serenade Ă  la The Beatles that 'money can't
buy me love', but the fact is it is so vital for life, it could even prompt some to
take lives in its name. There is almost no crime without a money trail; all crime is,
in the end, crime for gain—personal, national, or international. There is growing
recognition that controlling money flow is the key to controlling crime. On the
other hand, it also became an easily available instrument to better people's lives.
The good thing about money is that we do not need a lot of money to do good;
even small amounts, properly channeled, can make a significant difference. The
same amount can have a varied impact on different people; for some marginal,
and for some others life-saving. Properly channeled, money can be a powerful
'compassionate' conduit to alleviate pain, suffering, and misery in the world. It
can be a boon and a bane, a blessing or a curse, contingent on how we come to
possess it and spread it. One could even go the extent of saying that a person's
moral stature is more enhanced if he makes every effort to earn lots of money
righteously than if he chooses to eschew any contact with money, even if it were
possible. But it is moot if the choice is between earning money unrighteously
and using it righteously, or not making any effort to earn any money and not
spending any money to help others.
We may fitfully fantasize about transforming human society into a
Shambala or Shangri-La, an El Dorado or Utopia, but the crucial challenge before
man is to move from the mind-dominated mindset of 'money-mindedness'
towards a more just social order and 'spiritual alchemy', which, in the words
of Karen-Claire Voss, is "a form of illumination, a means of transmutation, a
method for experiencing levels of reality that are not ordinarily accessible, since
they exist beyond the level of everyday reality". It is to fundamentally alter the
coordinates that drive human consciousness. What becomes unmistakably clear,
as we struggle with the pressures, pitfalls, and pulls of modern life, is that the
Rubicon that man has to cross is reason itself, what TE Lawrence called 'thoughtriddled
nature' (Seven Pillars of Wisdom). The Sufi saint Jalal ad-Din Rumi said
that "it is reason that has destroyed the reputation of the intellect". It is with a
blend of inductive reasoning (from the specific to the general) and deductive
reasoning (from the general to the specific) that we think through, to deliberate,
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to deduct, to distinguish the real from the unreal, good from evil, to judge and
evaluate the ethical. But the conundrum is that 'reason' is not good enough to
reason about reason. It does not allow us to be 'reasonable'; it tries to exclude every
other source of 'thought'; it makes us feel so smug and sanctimonious, so humancentric.
For every moral trespass or callous act, it gives us a 'because' and prevents
us from learning from our own life. But at some level of conscious reflection we
all, even if grudgingly or fleetingly, admit that there are 'limits to reason' and that
we need, in the words of the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski18 a 'deeper
level of engagement with reality' to live life well and truly. But we do not know
what these limits are in actuality and since no other tool is on hand we stay
faithful to reason and live a life defined—and diminished—by it.
Reason has not even let us be clear-eyed and candid about where man is
currently positioned in his own evolution or as a being in the cosmos. Those that
are expected to exert the highest human intellect—the pundits, the experts, the
specialists—cannot agree among themselves about what is in store for the human
race. A case in point concerns the earth's atmosphere. Generally it is believed one
of the impending threats to human life on earth is 'global warming', that the
planet is dangerously getting hotter and hotter primarily due to human activity.
But there are other scholars who contest that the real danger is 'global cooling', not
global warming. For example, according to the geoscientist Shigenori Maruyama,
we are at the terminal point of the warm interglacial period, and the next glacial
age may start at any time, probably by the year 2025.19 With all our expertise,
insights and tools, if we cannot arrive at a consensus on such a life-threatening
issue, how can we take any corrective actions, which will need to be tailored to
the threat perception? Another example is the strategy for poverty reduction.
Some say that the way out is through sustained economic growth; others that it
is through dedicated direct targeted programs. Ironically, or tragically, both sides
on every contentious issue cite the same 'facts' yet come to completely different
conclusions! If the experts and specialists who have the necessary tools and skills
cannot come to a consensus, what are we—the novices—supposed to do to take
care of our common future?
We live in an age of specialization, super-specialization, and
miniaturization. We need specialized knowledge, but specialization should not
lead to generalization. We cannot view a human being only in terms of biology
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or geology or psychology. Man is too complex a being to be explained away in
any particular way. While there are many variations, broadly speaking, we are
presented with two diametrically contrasting scenarios. One view is that there
are those who see in the world, in the words of Viktor Frankl, 'nothing-butness'
20 (as distinct from nihilistic 'nothingness'), who find nothing right in the
modern world, and believe that our civilization will soon implode; that "humans
in our present form will cease to exist, replaced by other species quite unlike our
present selves. A beautiful doom, but doom for us nonetheless".21 Others take a
diametrically different view, insisting that ours is a better time than any other,
that we are on the launch pad of a planetary civilization, what Joseph Campbell
calls 'planetary mythology', an interplanetary habitation that will make man not
only immortal but also a true master of the universe. Then we have the theory
that whatever is happening is natural and pre-ordained and in that sense we
cannot help our behavior, selfish and destructive as it might be. While we play
our doomed parts, they tell us, stop 'beating your breast, and instead go with
the flow and try to extract as much juice and joy as you can squeeze while you
can. But what they forget is that it has also been said that precisely because
things are so 'bad' it is also possible to make a big difference through very little
effort. Because the world around is so dark, even a tiny candle lit or any small
good deed can light up a larger domain and touch more lives than ever before.
As Helena Blavatsky, cofounder of the Theosophical Society and author of the
classic The Secret Doctrine puts it, "Thus, by bearing all the manifold troubles
of this [Dark] Age and steadily triumphing, the object of [man's] efforts will
be more quickly realized, for, while the obstacles seem great, the powers to be
invoked can be reached more quickly". It is also said that the elusive goal of
God-realization, is easiest and fastest in this age by simply chanting the divinename,
nama sankirtana, as it is called in Sanskrit. It means that the very sweep
of immorality in present times can be turned into an opportunity to achieve
what man has long sought. It was said that the great Radha–Krishna devotee
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu often recited this verse from the Bhagavad Gita:22 "…
one who always keeps Your holy name on his tongue becomes greater than an
initiated brahmana. Although he may be born in a family of dog-eaters and may
therefore, by material calculation, be the lowest among men, he is still glorious.
This is the wonderful effect of chanting the holy name of the Lord. It is therefore
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concluded that one who chants the holy name of the Lord should be understood
to have performed all kinds of austerities and great sacrifices mentioned in the
Vedas. He has already taken his bath in all the holy places of pilgrimage, he has
studied all the Vedas, and he is actually an Aryan" (one who does not boast, but
is an actual devotee of God or one who is advanced in spiritual knowledge).
Righteous human conduct can be more productive than at any time in recent
human history. Science can also be a catalyst to dispel darkness. It has already rid
man of much age-old suffering associated with debility and disease.
Money—from Summum malum to Summum bonum
We all know that money is not only the most valued thing in the world, but
human life itself would not be possible without money. On the other hand,
although as the Greek philosopher Protagoras said—'Man is the measure of all
things: of the things that are, that they are, of the things that are not, that they
are not'—money certainly is the measure of everything human, and its 'nonexistence'
makes human life functionally meaningless. It, above everything else,
is responsible for the moral meltdown of man. We also know that for the sake of
'more' money there is nothing man will not do, no barriers he will not cross, no
relationship beyond sundering, no crime too heinous. But money, in essence, is
only a medium and a tool. It will, like a carriage, take us wherever we want to go,
but it will not replace man as the driver. It will give us the wherewithal to satisfy
our desires, but it will not create our desires. Money gives material shape to the
principle that men who wish to deal with one another, must deal by trade and
give value for value. When we accept money as a return for our effort, we do so
only on the assumption that we will be able to exchange it for the product of the
effort of others.
Money cannot purchase happiness nor can the lack of it lead to
unhappiness. It is also a question of degree. Daniel Goleman says, "The rich
may experience more pleasure than the poor but also require more pleasure to be
equally satisfied".23 It is the mind that makes the difference. As Ayn Rand puts
it in Atlas Shrugged (1957), "Money will always remain an effect and refuse to
replace you as the cause. Money is the product of virtue, but it will not give you
virtue and it will not redeem your vices". And, "Money is so noble a medium
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that it does not compete with guns and it does not make terms with brutality".
She goes on, "So long as men live together on earth and need means to deal
with one another—their only substitute, if they abandon money, is the muzzle
of a gun". It is the mind, not money, that calls the shots. It is the way the mind
manipulates money that is responsible for the ills ascribed to money, such as
the skewed distribution of wealth. For example, it has been reported that 'the
bottom half of the world's population owns the same as the richest 85 people
in the world'.24 The real problem is that money becomes baneful if it flows in
the wrong direction, from workers to nonworkers, from the poor to the rich,
from the creative to the noncreative. The reality is that the creators are often
impoverished and much of the money is held by the work of others, not their
own. Money itself would be good if it were our servant, not the master as it is for
most of us. Money itself would be a great social stabilizer if it represented goods,
labors, and creativity, but it does not.
But strange as it may seem, in this immoral age, money can be made
sacred too. It could become a potent moral tool and spiritual bridge. Contrary to
popular belief, money per se is not innately evil or dirty. It is the mind that matters.
Money can be anything: power, freedom, temptation, provocation, the root of
all evil, the sum of all blessings. If we use it for the right purpose, it is moral.
We must separate earning from spending; just because the money we possess is
lawfully earned does not mean we can spend it as we wish for our wants. We
must view money too, like morality and mortality, indeed like everything else
in the contemporary social context, which includes the stark reality of abysmal
poverty and awful living conditions of over a billion people. And money alone,
in whoever's hands it might be in, and however little or large, can alleviate, if
not erase poverty. And making money should not be seen simply as a zero-sum
game. We must revive the spirit of philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie, who
maintained that 'no man can become rich without himself enriching others'.
In this regard, the rich and poor are alike. The rich can do more but, no one
is too poor to help someone poorer or in greater need. Joseph Murphy says, "I
like money, I love it, I use it wisely, constructively, and judiciously. Money is
constantly circulating in life. I release it with joy, and it returns to me multiplied
in a wonderful way". For the rich to do more, we need to loosen the grip of what
is called 'lifestyle money', money we dispense with to conform and maintain
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our comparative style of living, and the attitudes, activities and habits that
come with it. Indeed much, if not most, of our money goes in that direction,
consumed by what is expected of us by the industry and advertisers. The need
to live up to our lifestyle leaves very little. For money to serve the social good,
we must free ourselves from the assumptions and expectations of a 'good life.
But then, some tricky issues crop up. For example, is it okay to rob a bank and
distribute the money to the poor? Is corruption justified if we give the money to
charity? What takes precedence, righteous earning or righteous sharing? Do ends
justify the means insofar as money is concerned? Buddhism lays stress on what
it calls 'Right Livelihood', which implies that we cannot work for or participate
in socially harmful activities. In any case, its very pervasive indispensability—
no one can live without any money—offers an opening. If morally earned and
properly channeled, it can make a life-or-death difference; it can lift the poor
from the margins of deprivation and destitution to a life of decency and dignity.
Through money, at this time in history, one could do more good to more people
than through most other means. In other words we now have a window of an
opportunity to transform money from summum malum (the greatest evil) to
summum bonum (the greatest good). If we can succeed in this effort, the world
will be transformed from what Thomas Hobbes called "bellum omnium contra
omnes, the state of 'war against all', of 'every man against every man', which is the
condition of current society, into a happier and harmonious place.
The source and the use of money demands the highest judgmental skills. It
has come to be unjust and exploitative because of the way we 'make it' and mobilize
it and marshal it. In the process, our negative passions come into play, like greed,
avarice, and malice. These have dominated our mind-driven consciousness and,
unless we change the composite of our consciousness, money cannot become
a force for good. The result is a human society aptly described by Ayn Rand:
"When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion—when
you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who
produce nothing—when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in
goods, but in favors—when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than
by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against
you—when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a selfsacrifice—
you may know that your society is doomed".25 But if we can somehow
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bring to bear on our personality our 'positive' passions like compassion, sharing,
sensitivity and justness, then money too can become a creative power. We must
also bear a central fact. It is that throughout our lives we do myriad things as
members of society, and, despite our best efforts, we can never be sure that what
we receive is proportionate to our effort and inputs, that our share is just and
that we are not living on someone else's labor, and that our rewards are not illgotten.
Many theories have been put forth by social scientists on how to ensure
fairness in distributing gains from social cooperation but none of them have
proved beyond leaks and misapplication. The simplest way is to constantly and
consciously make every effort in every context and situation to give more than
what we get, to always be on the lookout for even the most trivial opportunities
to help and heal and not let go any such openings, regardless of who the
recipient, or the occasion, might be. And the simple fact is that there is no other
way; nothing else works to give us a sense worthiness and fulfillment—and to
solve every problem the world faces—than giving, caring, empathy, compassion,
going beyond ourselves and our family, crossing out of our comfort zone to serve
others. Let God, not you, be the judge whether they deserve or not. Thank God
that He has given you the mind and means to give. That is His gift. The good
thing about giving is that you do not need to have anything; you have yourself
and that is more 'givable' than anything else. To love you need to give, but to
give, you do not need even love. We simply need to have a heart.
The Great Moral Issue of Our Age—Money Management
The medium of money and the act of 'making profit' sanitize any ill effects of
what goes on in an office or shop floor or boardroom. If we want to raise the
bar of morality in human society we must not exclude any place from moral
responsibility. Adding insult to injury, so to speak, the fact also is that most people
do not like, let alone enjoy, what they do to make money. In other words, they get
no joy in this world and are accountable in the afterworld. We must also address
what has come to be known as the 'doctrine of lesser evil', that sometimes we
have to deliberately choose an alternative that violates our own moral sensitivity
and do things against the grain, as the only other choice would be to condone
or allow something more horrible to happen. For example, suppose the state has
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in its custody a suspect who has information about a horrific act, and does not
reveal it despite cajoling and persuasion. Would the state be morally justified in
torturing him? While it is true that often choices are between different grays, not
between white and black or good and evil, we must not forget that the 'lesser evil'
is also evil and that we are morally culpable. It also underscores the truism that
there are no absolutes in nature, not even in morality. Each case has to be judged
on its own merit. We must constantly reconcile contradictions between concrete
contemporary conditions and absolute, non-historical, universal values. That can
only be done by an 'active subjective judgment'; by means of a 'monologue in
our mind' and a 'conversation in our consciousness'. All morality comes down to
that. That is why the key to everything is consciousness.
We want to live our lives without inconvenience, without discomfort and
without any pain, and we want good health and a good life. And, we have come
to believe that to have these, we need plenty of money. And for that no price is
too high, no sacrifice too sacred and no sacrilege too profane. Andrew Carnegie,
the American philanthropist and once dubbed one of the richest men in history,
said that the proper management of wealth was a great moral issue of our age,
that nothing debases more than the worship of money and that "a man who
dies rich dies disgraced". For many—too many people—money is a measure of
their identity and self-worth; it makes them feel powerful, on top of the world,
and conversely, its absence or limitation makes them feel impoverished, if not
existentially impotent. Nothing else matters more; nothing else gives us more
thrill and satisfaction, when one has it, and nothing causes more despair, when
one does not have it. Nothing else is ever enough, and nothing else casts a more
somber shadow over human life. Money can buy or get anything, so we say,
but there are exceptions too. Mata Hari, the famous female spy and seductress
during the First World War said that she would prefer to be the mistress of a poor
officer than of a rich banker! Was she then less money-minded and more moral?!
After all, she was just doing a job, a refrain that is a constant in modern life. All
our life is consumed by whatever it takes to get a job, to keep a job, not to lose
a job, to change a job. And we cover many moral omissions and transgressions
by saying 'I am just doing my job'. The principal reason to do a job is to make
money. A job lets us make money, which, in turn, lets us make a living, often at
the expense of making a life. We work, we study, and we live with money 'as the
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object'. Philosopher Alan Watts used to ask his students, "What would you like
to do if money were no object", and "How would you really enjoy spending your
life". The answers were to be poet, writer, painter, and so on. The tragedy is that
most people spend their life engaged in a professional activity that is not their
passion. And there is nothing more limiting and mentally more destructive than
doing things one does not like. But the greater question is that if money is no
longer an object, would we really spend the day in the sun with a pen or a brush
or a shovel? More likely, we would be sitting in front of a screen! Even if we do
not have to 'make' or earn money, money must still be spent, whatever we come
to have in any way. How we use, spend, share or spread money still remains as a
moral matter. What we need to do is to change the mindset.
A big chunk of contemporary human effort is to do what the ancient
Indian sage Yagnavalkya (in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad) told his wife
Maitreyi cannot be done: to buy immortality with money. Scott Fitzgerald
famously said,—'Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you
and me…' They are different not only because they have more money, which
enables them to live differently and live in 'refinement, utmost refinement, total
refinement' as Siddhartha Gautama described his life before his awakening, they
even think differently of death! They are different from the rest but they are also
different from each other in the way they see, gain, and use their wealth. Although
money has a corrosive effect on human consciousness, money can also make a
difference between a life of dignity and a life of indignity and degradation. Being
very poor can rob a person of what it takes to be human. And the very rich can
lift the very poor from that subhuman state. Not doing so can be as sinful as slow
murder. That is why all religions extol charity. Charity is not meant only for the
rich; it is sharing, and sharing can be done by everyone, even the poor because
there is always someone else richer and poorer than us. No one can become rich
only through solitary effort or that they are the most deserving of them all. For
the very process entails unequal and disproportionate effort. In that sense it is a
reasonable assumption to go by that no one is 'rich' because he has righteously
earned it and charity is not giving but giving back; it is paying back in money
what we borrowed in kind, as sweat and skill, time and energy of other people.
There have always been economic gaps, and some have had more money
than others, and men have always desired to live in the lap of luxury. Today, the gap
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between the rich and the poor is becoming wider and sharper than perhaps ever
before, which could become a major source of social tension. Human experience
over millenniums has shown that human ingenuity is far better at creating wealth
than sharing and distributing it. In 2011, The Economist magazine, usually an
ardent advocate of economic growth as the panacea for the ills of humankind,
identified this issue as a primary trigger for global instability. In its special report,
it noted that there are more high-net-worth-individuals and millionaires than
Australians in the world. About 1,000 billionaires happen to control one third
of global assets; the richest 1% of adults control 43% of the world's assets; the
wealthiest 10% have 83%, and the bottom 50% have only 2%. Those at the
bottom, particularly those at the 'bottom of the bottom', the absolute poor, the
marginalized, the downtrodden, the oppressed, are those who lead lives that deny
them the full biological human potential, and yet it is they who allow the rest
to lead 'human' lives. The leisure class and the mainstream mass and the middle
class, depend on the marginalized, for the goods and services that backstop
their luxury, leisure, entertainment, even to live in their opulent homes. The
growing gap between the leisure class and the working class has widened social
divisions. It has given rise to those, particularly in the rural areas, who are called
left-wing-extremists, who argue that those at the top are rank exploiters and
cruel predators and that only through violence would it be possible to endow,
enable and empower those at the bottom and restore a better economic balance
in human society. Their aim is to overthrow the tyranny of plutocracy and install
the reign of the proletariat. Because of the widening gap, on the one hand, and
because the poor are now able to actually see through the mass media how the
rich lead their lives at their expense, their creed is increasingly finding favor with
the rest of the 'bottom' in many countries. If money continues to play the same
deterministic role in human affairs, and the new class of the nouveau riche, which
includes national and transnational corporations, continues to control the levers
of economic and political power, there can be little doubt the economic divide of
the world could become a source of catastrophic conflict in this century.
There is another downside to this division. With sheer bodily survival
and subsistence consuming so much labor, effort, and time, the human has long
dreamed of leisure as the route to nirvana, allowing him to do more worthwhile
things that are good for his soul. We commonly identify affluence with luxury,
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luxury with leisure, leisure with entertainment, and entertainment as a way to
eclipse our misery. These days, nothing holds our attention except what comes to
us as entertainment. Entertainment is today's enlightenment. It gobbles up almost
all the time left after making a living, all the time released by traveling faster, and
working with, even being replaced by, a machine. For entertainment stimulates;
and without stimulation, our mind wanders away, looking for something more
juicy. We watch the news only if it is entertaining and graphic. A celebrity or
high-class murder is the perfect fix—in one go we have glamour, sex, violence,
and mystery. Earlier, people used to dread natural disasters as their lives and
homes would be in danger. Now, secure in the thought that we are insulated and
insured, the excitement begins the moment we hear of any impending storm or
cyclone; we are even inwardly disappointed if it passes by without event. The real
tragedy of human life is that we are at sea both in the state of work and at leisure;
in earning a livelihood and in enjoying leisure. The Mahabharata reminds us
that kala (time) cooks all beings. As life ebbs and every passing moment brings
us closer to death, the cosmic question crops up: after biology is done with, what
should a living being do with every waking minute of earthly life? Since nothing
is purposeless, what did nature intend when it created the human form of life?
The affluent have luxury but little leisure, and no time other than to make more
money and to keep it safe, not even the time to enjoy the luxury, let alone provide
food for the soul. They are not worried about their own growth; they want their
money to grow. While money appreciates, morality depreciates. Topmost on the
menu of what parents want to leave behind to their kids is money in its various
avatars. What we now have is a desire for the lap of luxury. The kind of things that
some want—and have—are outlandish and obscene, not only when compared to
the poor and deprived, but also in terms of what it means to the earth. Morality
apart, that kind of human life, albeit limited to a tiny minority of men, carries
not only serious economic implications but also potentially perilous ecological,
environmental, and civilizational consequences. In one sense, the milieu of their
lives is not human anymore. The rest are 'doubly-disadvantaged'—they do not
get to share the spoils, yet they pay the price. This leads to bitterness, hatred, and
violence. The irony, and tragedy, is that in our craving for the luxuries of life we
are compromising and corrupting the necessities of life. What the poet Edward
Young said of kingdoms applies equally to civilizations, and perhaps to species—
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on the soft bed of luxury most kingdoms have expired. That very perceptive
philosopher Thoreau also puts it well: "Most of the luxuries and many so-called
comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but are positive hindrances to the
elevation of mankind".
We can erode but not erase economic inequity, let alone inequality. We
cannot bridge the so-called development divide or eliminate the exhibition of
obscene opulence if we treat the issue only in economic or political terms. Even
conceding that perfect economic equality is impossible and that that inequality
is a part of diversity, the fact in its extreme forms has a pernicious effect on
societies, "eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, … encouraging excessive
consumption".26 And, that "for each of eleven different health and social
problems: physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment,
obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies,
and child well-being, outcomes are significantly worse in more unequal rich
countries".27 Inequality is bad both for the very rich and the poor, and for the
in-betweens. It is bad for the rich as it robs them of their capacity for empathy. It
is bad for the poor because their minimum material needs overwhelm everything
else, distorting their priorities and diminishing their human potential. But the
more important point is that, even if we want to, we do not have the means, or
the methods, by which we can justly apportion the fruits of any common labor
in any collective work. Let alone put to practice the Marxist maxim 'from each
according to his ability, to each according to his need'. It is also because the
nature and quality of labor of different constituent persons is so different that it
is not possible to objectively weigh their contributions; and if we cannot do that
how can we determine their 'fair bite' of the collective pie? But still no one can
say that a CEO getting 110 times more than an employee, at a time when money
is what matters most, is nothing but socially incendiary and morally repugnant.
Even if one practices the adage 'frugality is morality', the essential point
is that what we do with money—quantum being immaterial, and the poor not
excluded—and how we earn it and live with its tantalizing presence or paralyzing
absence, is the true test of morality. Money has also a critical bearing on man's
two other, in the words of Prof. Darshan Singh Maini, "cruel despoilers of life's
bounties and largesse":28 sex and power. And sex has a strange power over us.
It is a great leveler like death, and breaks through all barriers of gender, age,
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relationship, blood ties, position, and privilege. No one is an untouchable when
it comes to sex. A master would not even touch a slave or share a meal with
her, but is eager to engage her in the most intimate exchange and seduction. A
billionaire would not care to glance at a destitute, but if she is deemed 'desirable',
he would pay anything to buy her body. Where is the hypocrisy? Is this nature's
way to ensure that sex never gets outdated or outclassed by any other power or
temptation, including money? We have come to believe that with enough money
we can control everyone, buy anything and anyone, barter everything—from
virginity to maternity; from societal adulation to angelic immortality. In a sense,
wanting to be good and not wanting to be dead are natural desires; it is money
that makes man a monkey, makes him do things he would not otherwise be
tempted or possibly persuaded to do. And money accentuates the veneer of vanity
that clouds our vision. Although money has come to play a deterministic—
maybe even terminal—role in human affairs, its power of seduction has long
been recognized. The Panchatantra, the ancient Indian text long considered a
nitishastra or text book of wise conduct and good behavior, says, "money causes
pain in getting; in the keeping, stress and fretting; pain in loss, pain in spending;
damn the trouble never ending… money can only get what money can buy—not
happiness, not sleep; wisdom, etc."29 It also says that "No treasure equals charity;
content is perfect wealth; no gem compares with character; no wish fulfilled, with
health".30 The Bible says that, 'The love of money is the root of all evil.' Christ
elaborated, "It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle than for a rich man
to pass through the gates of heaven";31 and "If you want to be perfect, go and
sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor". And again, "No one
can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else
he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and
Mammon".32 It is not that all rich are evil; it is that money must be righteously
earned and it is that those with a lot of money are more likely to expend much of
their energies towards protecting their riches and their expansion.
Like much else that scriptures, prophets and sages have enjoined upon us,
these too have fallen on deaf ears. Instead of giving away, we want to grab, and
our appetite for acquisition is insatiable. We want to be perfect while still being
greedy and part with nothing for the marginalized. With matters of money,
earning, storing, saving, and spending have become the primary, if not sole,
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preoccupations for the best of men. Morality, we believe, exacts too heavy and
high a price; it becomes a burdensome bore, an obstacle to sipping the sweetness
of life, a needless needle in an already complicated life. Yet, despite their different
trajectories and governing dynamics, man has been able to maintain, until the
advent of modernity, some kind or semblance of balance between the triad of his
three deepest desires—to be moral, to make money, and to ease into immortality.
Each was able to hold its own and assert its own legitimacy, without inordinately
or improperly encroaching on the other's psychic space. Man's desire to be moral
did not stifle his desire to be materially well-off; his desire for material wellbeing,
in a large measure, was morally moderate; and his desire to be death-less
was not overly influenced by his moral or monetary standing. It is this balance or
symmetry that is now seriously disturbed and distorted. For men of this century,
moksha or liberation comes down to one thing: to be free from the hypnotic hold
of money and thus be able to share it. Put differently, without freedom from
money, or rather from the things that money lets us afford, no other freedom is
of much use on the spiritual path. Indeed it is becoming clearer every passing day
that the economic, environmental, and social problems of the world are, at their
very core, moral issues that need to be addressed at the micro level; not only at
the individual level, but even at the microcosmic level of the mundane chores of
daily life. At the root of morality is money. In one sense, we have made morality
mortal, and mortality amoral, and money the metaphor for man. The minimal
goal, the bench mark, so to speak, has to be that we must be able to lead full
and productive lives, work for a living, raise a family and savor the goodness of
life without worshipping wealth, exploiting each other, trying to cheat death,
exterminating other forms of life and ravaging nature. And in so doing, we must
let the Buddha inside the womb of each of us to come to life.
Money, it has also been said, has "the power to blind us even to our
better selves".33 Marx, in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844),
gives the dialectical and existential perspective. Among other things, he writes
that 'by possessing the property of buying everything, by possessing the property
of appropriating all objects, money is thus the object of eminent possession. The
universality of its property is the omnipotence of its being. It is therefore regarded
as omnipotent… Money is the procurer between man's need and the object,
between his life and his means of life. But that which mediates my life for me, also
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mediates the existence of other people for me. For me it is the other person'. He
calls money the 'distorting power both against the individual and against the bonds
of society, etc., which claim to be entities in themselves. It transforms fidelity into
infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, servant
into master, master into servant, idiocy into intelligence, and intelligence into
idiocy'. And again 'that which is for me the medium of money—that for which I
can pay (i.e., which money can buy)—that am I myself, the possessor of money.
The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money's properties
are my—the possessor's—properties and essential powers. Thus what I am and
am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. And further 'money
is the supreme good; therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the
trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest…'. Marx, citing
Shakespeare, calls money the 'visible divinity', that it has the ability to transform
all human and natural properties into their contraries; and that it is 'the common
whore, the common procurer of people and nations'. He then asks, "If money is
the bond binding me to human life, binding society to me, connecting me with
nature and man, is not money the bond of all bonds? Although Marx writes
intensely about money, albeit tinged with an implicit warning, perhaps the most
euphoric description of money comes from the pen of Ayn Rand, who writes,
in her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, that money is 'the barometer of a society's
virtue', 'the creation of the best power within you and your passkey to trade your
effort for the effort of the best among men'. Ayn Rand says that 'money rests on
the axiom that every man is the owner of the mind and his effort', that 'when
you accept money as payment for your effort, you do so only on the condition
that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others… your wallet
is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you, there are
men who will not default on that moral principle, which is the root of money'.
Further, according to her, 'Money demands of the recognition that men must
work for their own benefit, not for their own injury, for their gain, not their
loss—the recognition that they are not the beasts of burden, born to carry the
weight of your misery—that you must offer them values, not wounds—that the
common bond among men is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of
goods. Money demands that you sell not your weakness for men's stupidity, but
your talent for their reason…'. Rand says that 'money is the product of virtue,
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but it will not give you virtue and it will not redeem your vices'. She adds "but
money demands of you the highest virtues, if you wish to make it or keep it" and
proclaims that the proudest distinction of Americans is the coining of the phrase
'to make money', which she says 'holds the essence of human morality'. Rand
is breathtaking and makes one breathless too. If all that she says is true, man, at
least an American, must have become an angel by now, and the Western world,
at least America, a land fit for gods. That it hasn't happened nor is it likely to
should give us some food for thought.
That kind of 'thought' is articulated by those scholars and spiritualists
who have chronicled, what they call, the perils of money. The reality is that,
as the writer Louisa May Alcott put it, "money is the root of all evil, and yet
it is such a useful root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can
without potatoes". John Stuart Mill once said that money is a machinery for
doing quickly and commodiously, what would be done, though less quickly and
commodiously, without it. Metals have been used as money throughout history.
They became useful when the various necessities of life could not be effectively
carried out, and, as a result, societies agreed to deploy in their dealings with
each other something that is innately useful and easily applicable. The value
of the metal was in the beginning measured by weight, but, over time, rulers
or sovereigns put stamps upon it to avoid the headache of weighing it, and to
make the value recognizable on sight. While money always played an important
role in human civilization—metallic money was in use over 2,000 years before
the birth of Christ—its power increased enormously with the advent of paper
money in the late 18th century and since then man has not been the same. It
fuelled the contemporary culture of consumption and a mindset of materialism.
The arrival of electronic money and what is called e-commerce in the late 20th
century unhinged money from the constraints of space and time. Money has
transformed human personality more than any other single factor. It became
the sole criterion for judging a person's worth and success in life. The pervasive
influence—mostly negative—of money and materialism on human psychology
is well documented in a recent book called The High Price of Materialism by Tim
Kasser.34 Kasser offers a scientific explanation of how materialistic values affect
'our everyday happiness' but also makes the point that the effect is not only on
the psychological well-being of man but also on his physical health.
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Money, Body, and Brain
In today's world, the underscoring belief is that nothing and no one is without a
price tag, in cash or kind; nothing we can summon is beyond barter for pleasure
and progress. The driving force is money. A growing number are turning to their
bodies to earn extra money, or to make both ends meet, not as a last resort but
as an easy option. Today's utilitarian man argues: why must we exclude, as a
resource, the body that is the only thing we unquestionably own, and over which
no one else can lay a claim? If one can 'morally' and legally sell or mortgage our
brains to make a living, which is what much of what we call 'work' or doing a
'job' is, why can't we sell or put to use our own body and its parts to make a
living? In the age of 'marketing' for money, specific parts are marketed for cash.
For instance, in Japan, one advertising agency paid young women for thighvertising—
wearing a temporary product tattoo on the bare skin between the hem
of a short-skirt and the top of a knee-sock. Then, an enterprising young man
in America launched Lease Your Body, to entice good-looking people to 'lease'
space on their bodies to advertise and market commercial products. Of course,
there are innumerable other ways in which one could market his or her body
for a living—selling one's hair, sperm or eggs, breast milk, bone marrow and
blood, renting a womb, modeling naked, etc. We generally consider that some
of these practices, particularly prostitution, to 'make a living' as signs of moral
degeneration, but we are soft and silent when it comes to selling one's skills
and souls, talent and ingenuity for the sake of promoting armaments, alcohol,
cigarettes, and drugs. It means that the body is sacred and the brain is secular.
In fact, we can do more harm by lending or leasing our brain for the wrong
purposes than the body. Body vending primarily affects the individual whereas
brain misuse impacts on society itself. It is very difficult to inject morality into
this matrix. One could forcefully argue that there is nothing wrong, that the
individuals are only making use of whatever nature has endowed them with.
They are harming or hurting no one. If anyone 'suffers' it is only they, and society
cannot have double standards between brain and body. The critical ingredients
in whatever work we do are intent, sincerity, honesty, diligence and being useful
and helpful, not harmful.
After all, it is with the body that athletes and sportsmen earn money and
glory by being 'auctioned' to represent or play for the highest bidder in games
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such as cricket. Then again, if selling sex is the culprit, what about marrying
for money? Many sell their body, and arguably their soul and autonomy, in an
institution like marriage. It is also said that 'prostitution' is not simply selling
sex; it includes any action that compromises one's beliefs and values to obtain
another thing, whether money, security, or even a promotion. The other view can
be that all religions prohibit the use of sex for a living. This view holds that the
sex organ is not like any other organ, that sexual intimacy is of a different genre
than any other human interfacing, that commercial sex is often exploitative
and that, as it is associated with procreation, it is sacred. For long, experts have
debated why the human race is so aggressive, bloodthirsty and kill-happy. Is the
'villain' the gene, our hormones, or the environment? Why do we destroy that
which gives us shelter and which keeps us alive, the earth? Why do we starve
ourselves and build weapons that kill us all many times over? Are we diabolic, or
demented or deranged? Contrary to what one might infer from today's horrific
cruelty, massacres, and mayhem, the idea that humans are peaceable by nature
and corrupted by modern institution, has always found a voice in authors and
intellectuals. Take, for a small example, JosĂŠ Ortega Gasset ('War is not an instinct
but an invention'), Stephen Jay Gould ('Homo sapiens is not an evil or destructive
species'), and Ashley Montagu ('Biological studies lend support to the ethic of
universal brotherhood'). There are some scientists who say that, in the ultimate
test of altruism, "we are better at putting ourselves in other's shoes than we used
to be" and that we are actually more evil in the cause of antiquated morality (e.g.,
religious morality) than from "amoral predation and conquest".35
The principal reason why we cannot agree if we are 'morally' better or
worse-off is that we cannot agree on what human well-being is or ought to be,
and if there is anything we can all embrace as an all-weather 'moral truth'. And it
all depends on what we bring under the rubric of 'violence'. Although there is a
decline in the number of armed conflicts and resultant casualties in this century,
it should not lead us to obscure the bigger picture. We must remember that
'violence' is a multi-headed monster and manifests in multiple ways. The time
has come to broaden its ambit beyond the 'intentional use of physical force or
power, threatened or actual'; it must extend to mental, psychological, social, and
moral dimensions. We might not go as far as the Jain scripture that says that "all
sins like falsehood, theft, attachment and immorality are forms of violence which
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destroy the purity of the soul". But we must include several other forms of violence
besides the physical, and also acts of omission, indifference, intolerance, and
injustice. For example, violence by the word is far more insidious and degrading
of dignity than violence by hand. Hurting, humiliating and wounding other's
sensibilities and sensitivities, taking undue advantage of others' vulnerabilities
and helplessness, deliberately slighting, a cutting word and obscene opulence in
the midst of acute poverty are also forms of violence, more lasting than physical
harm. From this perspective the world today is more violent than ever before.
Indeed modern life is unlivable without some sort of 'violence'. Thomas Merton
wrote half a century ago that the "rush and pressure of modern life are a form,
perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence". That innate violence, in
the past five decades, has turned into 'infectious' violence. Today, to be violent
is the use of any kind of force intended to control or exert power over another
person to make him act in a manner contrary to his volition, and to hurt,
intimidate, inhibit or dominate another person. It may take various forms: an
action, spoken words, written words, humiliation, etc. The modern world is also
seething with 'collective' forms of violence like genocide, ethnic cleansing and
race riots. We have crafted a society that values, even worships, both work and
entertainment, and people use technology to switch off one form of 'being busy'
and switch on the other. This is a form of violence. It causes violence first of all
to the human persona and psyche, because we cannot either know or become our
true selves if we don't have periodic periods of reflection free from distraction.
Second, 'being busy' in both work and entertainment serves primarily material
purposes at the cost of moral and spiritual underpinnings. Our obsession with
corrosive consumerism is a form of violence; so is our relentless onslaught on
the earth's ecosystem. But we do not think, even the best among us, that we are
violent; it is insidious. We are all 'violent' in one form or the other but perhaps
the most violent of all is the very instrument—the State—which is meant to offer
security and safety to those who are victims of the more powerful and exploitative
among us. A monopoly over the legal use of violence is deemed a sine qua non
of the modern State. Violence and state power are inextricably intertwined, with
the state operating simultaneously as a limiting and restraining force and as a
perpetrator of systemic use of violence and force. To put it differently, a state
inflicts violence against another state and other organized groups (warfare), it
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can direct violence against its citizens (State violence) as a way to exercise control
and political power, or it can wield its monopoly of the legitimate use of force to
constrain or contain the use of violence within society in the name and guise of
maintaining public order.
Whether or not we are 'natural-born-noble savages', as Rousseau
described, we cannot ignore the unmistakable truth that the factors that
inseminate and impregnate violence—avarice, anger, animosity, selfrighteousness,
possessiveness, intolerance—are 'natural' to our psyche. We must
first acknowledge this insight. PD Ouspensky once wrote that "so long as a man
is not horrified at himself he knows nothing about himself ". It may be that
in today's world, a popular form of entertainment is no longer, like in 16thcentury
France, cat-burning, in which cats were hoisted in a sling and slowly
lowered into a fire, while people watched and cheered; but we still use dogs
for target practice. Slavery as a labor-saving device might be illegal but we still
have bonded labor. Most people see not much difference between entertainment
and enlightenment, sensory satisfaction and salvation. Rape is still a lascivious
part of the spoils of war; but it also is more intrusive and pervasive, touching
almost every human relationship—we now have things like date-rape; maritalrape;
child-rape; revenge-rape, gang-rape and incest-rape. And unlike in the past
when the casualties of war were confined largely to the battlefield, what we see
now, euphemistically called collateral damage, is the murder of civilians far away
from the actual arena of fighting, accounting for more killings and mutilations
than that of the actual combatants. Killing has always been integral to the
human psyche. It has always been viewed as the ultimate punishment, deterrent,
or manner of settling scores. Since Cain went nuts and killed Abel, there have
always been those humans who, for one reason or another, forcibly and violently
ended others' lives. The Roman Emperor Tiberius enjoyed throwing victims off
a cliff on the Mediterranean island of Capri. Gilles de Rais, a French knight and
ally of Joan of Arc during the Middle Ages, went crazy and ended up murdering
hundreds of children. Just a few decades later Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration
for Dracula, was killing people in Transylvania in numberless horrifying ways.
History is replete with mass murderers from Genghis Khan to Mao Zedong to
Pol Pot. And every war is mass murder. In every society, there are individuals
who feel an urge inside them to kill not only those they have a grudge against,
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but total strangers. What does it all mean? What has happened is that there has
been a seismic shift in the psychology of killing in the mind of man. Virtually
our entire civilization is built on killing and death—for fun, for pleasure, or
profit, and even (supposedly), "for God!" It is no longer the ultimate deterrent
or act of cruelty, or punishment. More and more people are associating killing,
the self or others, as an easy way to accomplish their life goals, to eliminate what
they fear, or as a facile 'problem solver'. And technology makes it easier; 'distant
killing' allows you to stay in comfort somewhere and take lives far away. Are such
people less or more guilty than one who fears for his life, real or illusory, and kills
a neighbor? We should also refocus our priorities of culpability and criminality
and bring to the forefront what are called social or 'white collar' crimes. Our
love affair with the miracle of the marketplace, and the resultant gross economic
injustice, is 'killing by emaciation' and deprives and devastates more people than
killing the old-fashioned way. Companies that advertise products known to be
slow killers are silent killers. There are those who adulterate food, air, and even
medicines for profit and de facto kill, cripple or endanger the health of more
people than mass murderers, but such people are often envied for their riches and
lifestyles. It may be time to revisit and rethink 'direct' killing.
It is noteworthy that, in Hindu mythology, God and his avatars never
hesitated to kill the 'evil' person, not only as a punishment for his evil deeds
but also on the premise that his continued 'existence' was not in the interest of
the world. One could even argue that if death is no 'big deal' as the scriptures
tell us—it is but another rite of passage of life—then why should killing, which
is another form of dying, be held so heinous? Even now, many societies allow
euthanasia, which is killing with consent. Today, killing is taking more mundane
but macabre forms, not very different from lying, cheating, and robbing. The
everyday happenings we read in our newspapers are hard to square up with
the premise that human violence is on the wane. It is of little comfort that the
occurrence of such horrible things was foretold in this age, the Kali Yuga, in the
epic Mahabharata: "In the dark age (of Kali), morality mixed with three parts of
sin liveth by the side of men". We have now rampage murders or spree killings:
a lone man, normal and nondescript, for no apparent reason, suddenly starts
killing total strangers or his own family members. Such killings have always been
a part of our horrific history, cutting across continents, race, religion, ethnicity,
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and economic and social status. While that is true, it would be a grievous folly
not to recognize their contemporary civilizational implications. For the new
breed of mass murderers, killing is just another way to assert their self-identity,
to vent their rage or grievance or redress an injury, perceived or real. In 1999,
two high school teenagers went on a killing spree at their school in Colorado,
USA. One of them, Eric Harris, apparently wrote in his notebook, "Humans
are as dispensable as fungus in a petri dish… I have a goal to destroy as much
as possible… I want to burn the world… no one should survive". It is easy to
dismiss such people as psychopaths, psychotics or sociopaths or simply as sadistic
human freaks. But they too are children of our time and temper, germinated and
incubated in the same melting pot of human culture.
The 'Good' That Money Can Do
In essence, and in its effect, money is power, the most powerful and potentially
polluting of all. If the power of money cannot be wished away, what do we do?
Should we use all our energy, attention and activism to curb and contain its role
and influence, or can we turn it around and use it as an instrument for doing
good, to help others in dire need, to use it as a social leveler ? Whether we like
it or not, we have to acknowledge money's magnetic hold on the human mind
and yet strive to see how to salvage some time and synergy for our spiritual
growth. We do not have to choose whether it is the 'root of evil' or 'necessary
evil', divine gift or devil's ploy—it may be all or none. We don't have to agree
with the assertion that "until and unless you discover that money is the root of
all good, you will ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the
tool by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of men".36
One of the more important questions is: in a world controlled by money, how
can we make or earn it dharmically, and spend and spread it bearing in mind that
much of what we come to have is more than our moral right? To make money
moral, it must flow in the right direction; it must be shared and spread. Is the
Robin Hood way, the moral way? That is, the redistribution of wealth, what most
governments are supposed to do under the cover of legality.
Money is now the measure, motive, metaphor, and means of everything
we do, desire and dream of in life. It is also a measure of self-worth and selfMoney—
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respect. As an ABBA lyric intones, 'Money, money, money; always sunny in a rich
man's world'.37 In the poor man's world, its lack is marked by the three deadly
'D's: desperation, deprivation, and death. In fact, there is no such thing as 'rich
man' or 'poor man'; every one is both richer and poorer than someone else. But
that doesn't change the fact that our fascination with wealth knows no bounds,
with some even being addicted to wealth. Some have confessed that earning
bulging bonuses running into millions of dollars causes something similar to
an alcohol or drug addiction, prompting rage and an uncontrollable desire for
more, risking to destroy themselves and their companies rather than be satisfied
with the millions or billions they already have. Money does indeed make the
world go round but most of us want the best of both; we don't want to be rich
and be the subject of envy, derision and disdain but, as Pablo Picasso quipped,
we want to 'live as a poor man with lots of money'. Although it is impossible
to define the rich, and although we want to have what the rich have, we don't
want to be 'different from you and me', which is how Scott Fitzgerald famously
described the very rich.38 As for living like the very poor, we would rather die. We
would rather be a Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who said, "No, not rich. I am a poor
man with money, which is not the same thing". What he implies is that he wants
to have his cake and eat it too; exercise power without responsibility. Money has
many functions, purposes and attractions. But it is most irresistible as power, in
its essence and in its effect.
Money and the mind are made for each other; together they are playing
havoc on human life. Money and commerce have become the analogies through
which all our human experiences are mediated. In a 2010 survey in the USA,
some 77% of the youngest people polled said they are more concerned about
outliving their money in retirement than about death itself.39 The make-or-break
importance we attach to money was foreseen. In the Hindu scripture Srimad
Bhagavatam, it is written that 'a person will be judged unholy if he does not have
money, and hypocrisy will be accepted as virtue'. Whether or not it is the love, or
lack, of money that is at the root of evil, the reality is that we don't own money
anymore; money owns us. Money is the bedrock of materialism; the backbone
of capitalism; indeed, the essential to any economic 'ism'. It is the measure of
meaningfulness, of well-being, of good feeling; of health and happiness; but not
necessarily of goodness or of a virtuous life. Socrates said, "I tell you that virtue
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is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good
of man, public as well as private". Money has, left to its own genius, had a
baneful influence on morality. Possessing, earning, amassing, even spending it,
is so overpowering that anything that comes in its way is brushed aside. A study
revealed that "as a person's levels of wealth increase, their feelings of compassion
and empathy go down, and their feelings of entitlement, of deservingness, and
their ideology of self-interest increases…", and that wealthier individuals are
more likely to moralize greed and self-interest as favorable, less likely to be prosocial,
and more likely to cheat and break laws if it behooves them".40 The findings
of the study also revealed that 'People who make less are more generous… on
the larger scale'; 'rich people are more likely to ignore pedestrians'; and 'poverty
impedes cognitive function'.41 Another study indicates that 'more money makes
people act less human or, at least less humane'.42 As one writer put it, 'Money
can weaken even the firmest ethical backbone. Money sows the seeds of mistrust.
It ends friendships. Experiments have found that it encourages us to lie and
cheat'.43 'The simple idea of money changes the way we think—weakening every
other social bond'.44 As Marx remarked, "money, then, appears as the enemy of
man and social bonds that pretend to self-subsistence".
Everything in this life is a mixed bag; so is money. Its total identification
with modern life, its all-embracing scope, and the depth of its penetration
has made the power of money transformational. While its immense potential
to make man do horrible things has long been known, what is emerging is its
transformational potential to do good. Given how irreplaceable it has become,
money can make, if righteously earned and judiciously channeled, a decisive
difference between life and death, between destitution and dignity. It could be a
fairly accurate moral barometer of, in Ayn Rand's words, 'society's virtue'. This is
not a novel idea. A distinction on how money was earned and the purposes for
which it was utilized was a part of ancient Greek thought. Aristotle, for example,
distinguished between the making of money to satisfy real needs (which he
considered to be a virtuous activity) and the accumulation of money for its own
sake (which he considered to be a deleterious activity). If the essence of man is
morality, the purpose of mortality is to give meaning to life and increasingly,
for good or bad, that 'meaning' of meaning is coming close to how we share
each others' life, materially and spiritually. But the more basic question remains.
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Should we at all allow the make-or-break role money is playing in human life?
We can now 'buy' everything, including insurance for immortality, which, we
are told, is cheaper than normal insurance ($78 per month for a 'cryonics term
life insurance').45 We can obtain the rewards of morality by being altruistic
and donating money to noble causes. Perhaps even a passage to heaven. If
money is spent in a socially beneficial manner, can that be a substitute to care
and compassion, to what we consider as 'good behavior' and give us what in
Hinduism is called punya, the rewards of virtuous actions? On the other hand, if
money is used for wrong purposes or not properly shared, does it result in paapa,
the fruits of evil deeds? But is that right? Ideally no one should be enabled to have
more than what one needs, or left in a position to decide how to discretionally
dispose of the 'surplus', even if it is done philanthropically. But is that possible?
If society removes the allure of excess money, as wages, income, or as inheritance
and takes over the responsibility of providing a person's living needs, will anyone
work at all to their potential? One reason communism never had a chance as an
egalitarian experiment was this insuperable impediment. Inevitably, we are left
with the only imperfect alternative: to focus not in the direction of crushing or
curbing the earning capacity of individuals, but in the direction of equitable
distribution and social stimulants for sharing, altruism, and philanthropy.
We have to bring into our economic thinking the moral dimension. To be
moral, money must move from the affluent to the middle class, from the middle
class to the lower class. One way could be to inject what was once known as
georgism (also known as geoism and geonomics) which is an 'economic philosophy
holding that the economic value derived from natural resources and natural
opportunities should belong equally to all residents of a community, but that
people own the value they create'.46 That philosophy attracted great thinkers like
John Locke, Spinoza and Tolstoy. It relies 'on principles of land rights and public
finance which attempt to integrate economic efficiency with social justice'.47 It
is based on the premise that many of the problems that beset society, such as
poverty, inequality, and economic booms and busts, could be attributed to the
private ownership of the necessary resource, land. It is in this light that in Progress
and Poverty48 Henry George argued "We must make land common property" and
he drew a distinction between common and collective property. Such ideas are
worth a serious look at a time when there is heightened alarm about economic
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inequality, so starkly brought to light by the Oxfam report mentioned earlier:
the "world's richest 1 percent control half of global wealth". Those eight men
now own the same amount of wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the
poorest half of humanity. Such revelations might have sparked a revolt, if not
revolution, in our better, more moral times, but now we are too numbed even
to react.
And yet, we should not lose sight of our dream. The fulcrum of our
existence and life must be what Abu Ibn Tufayl's solitary character Hayy ibn
Yaqzan challenged himself to do: 'never allow himself to see any plant or animal
hurt, sick, encumbered, or in need without helping it if he could'.49 That is a
distant dream, but dream we must. Kant's formula to 'treat every [person] as a
spiritual means to thine own spiritual end and conversely' could also be a useful
point of reference. Our idea of morality must not be contained by personal
virtue; it should include what is known as the 'product's level of virtue'.50 Much
of our moral sense revolves around attributes such as loyalty, fidelity, honesty,
and truthfulness. They are important but often verge on exclusivity. They become
monopolistic; if you love someone you can't love anyone else. If you are loyal to
your country you are expected to hate another country. On the one hand, we say
that separateness has to be erased, that all of us are interlinked, that sharing is
important, and yet we want to possess, to monopolize everything and everyone.
And when we talk of society, it must include those who produce and market
goods and services and the vast apparatus of the State and Government. What
we face is not moral decline in the classical sense but a foundational crisis of
morality.
Killing Kids for Money
Spurred by his insatiable desire for money, man conceals within himself a sinister
'mass murderer', who does not directly kill with a knife or a bullet, but who
is capable of far greater damage to the human spirit and vitality. Such is this
murderer who deliberately, methodically, and single-mindedly pollutes, poisons,
and adulterates the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe; not
to make a living, but to make more money, to earn more profit. The reference,
obviously, is to the ever-increasing use of chemical agents in the foodstuffs we
consume. Fruits like mangoes are ripened with ammonia; vegetables are treated
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with carcinogenic pesticides; chicken and cattle are injected with overdoses of
antibiotics; fish is preserved with formaldehyde (the chemical used to embalm
corpses); spices are mixed with dung, sand, and saw dust… From fruits to
vegetables, from milk to sodas, from clarified butter to edible oils, from wheat
flour to pulses, from spices to sweets, even the medicines we take, chances are
that we are consuming products that are injurious to our health, in effect, slow
poison. Food that is supposed to give us nourishment has now become the source
of our enfeeblement and endangerment; so is the air we breathe and water we
drink. In some countries, what passes for milk, which school books describe as
complete food, contains high levels of urea, detergents, and cheap edible oil. For
the record, let it be said that no other species deliberately feeds its offspring food
that it knows is putrid. Only human beings would not hesitate to do anything for
profit, for money. The poison we put into everything we ingest is also consumed
by our children and grandchildren, which means that, for money, we don't mind
maiming or murdering the ones we profess to love the most, and for whom we
will sacrifice anything, and for whose sake we earn that very money.
Whose job is it to see such things don't happen? The 'rulers', of course.
But power is what motivates them to do nothing about it. The general public are
helpless as they have no alternatives to eating and drinking whatever is made
available in the marketplace. They are too much in love with the good life;
and while on other issues of far less import they organize, agitate, and manage
to change the perpetrating system, in this case they are apathetic, refusing to
believe and to decisively and collectively act. And while they are prepared to
pay exorbitant prices for luxuries and fine goods, in the case of food and water
they want affordable prices, forcing the producer to choose adulteration over
authenticity, poison over purity. So, everyone has a stake in this: the producers
profit and consumers enjoy lower prices. Everyone makes a 'ritual' protest but is
not prepared to fight or make any sacrifice; we are all both villains and victims. It
is like death: everyone thinks that they are somehow untouched and only others
will get affected. Yet another example of willful blindness of the consequences;
and blind faith in their personal invulnerability. These synthetic chemicals
contribute to subtle and gradual dysfunction in the human body. They not only
cause slow and more painful death to far more people than rampage killers, they
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also jeopardize their vitality because an enfeebled generation cannot but beget
more enfeebled, and endanger the next generation. Adulteration, like adultery, is
time-tested, is a very old practice for profit. But it used to be relatively innocuous,
like mixing water with milk, adding lower grade oil with more expensive oil, and
so on. Today, however, harmful chemicals are mixed with foodstuffs as a way to
spend less and to earn more. Then, it was cheating; now, it is mass murder or
'generational genocide'. Synthetic chemicals, or what Randall Fitzgerald (The
Hundred-Year Lie)51 calls 'chemical synergies', that is, the combinations of these
chemicals stored in our bodies, are major sources of mass murder or mutilation.
Modern man lives and dies in a cocoon of chemicals; almost everywhere he lives
and everything he inhales and intakes is laced with such synergies, which are
now embedded into the mainstream of the food chain and are integral to and
inseparable from leading what we have come to call 'civilized life'.
While chemicals are inherent in nature and are indispensable to life (water
is a chemical, and so is oxygen), synthetic chemicals have different effects and
are potentially toxic and carcinogenic. Prolonged and sustained exposure and
ingestion of toxic chemicals can not only affect our health and potentially 'disrupt
healthy neurological development in unintended ways'52 but through chemical
inheritance could be injurious to the health of humans yet to be born. Just as
the exposure three generations before reprograms the brain so it responds in a
different way to a life challenge, as suggested by recent research at the University
of Texas at Austin, so too would be our addictive appetite for the toxic chemical
soup. And environmental contamination might well leave a 'chemical signature'
on our genes and influence the DNA and genetic make up of our descendants
three generations later. Another study shows that "the old ideas that genes are
'set in stone' or that they alone determine development have been disproven".53
The same study also pointed out that the epigenetic changes that occur in the
fetus during pregnancy could be passed on to later generations, affecting the
health and welfare of children, grandchildren, and their descendants. We are also
told that "evidence is emerging that the environment triggers and even alters
DNA to serve purposes that transcend the individual".54 It means that what we
eat, drink, or breathe or the chemicals that get absorbed through our skin can
impact the brain and binaural development of our great, great-grandchildren.
While swearing by science, why do we ignore such scientific evidence and dire
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warnings about the toxic threat that exists within and around us; continuing
with our obsession with chemicals, not only making ourselves vulnerable to
diseases like cancer and mental illness but also putting on the block the lives
and sanity of generations to come? There seems to be an acknowledgment that
without chemicals our entire way of life will collapse, and since we cannot even
contemplate that, we will accept and accommodate, and pay any price, much
of which will be charged to the account of unborn humans. We might have
the right to choose cancer over chemicals, but do we have the moral right to
condemn future generations? To condemn them to being a 'mutant species'?
Our unrelenting onslaught on nature in the name of growth, progress,
and development is not only an ecological issue but also a moral matter. We treat
nature, more specifically Mother Earth, as at once a doorman, to be at our beck and
call, and as a dustbin, to dispose of the waste of our civilization. Whether man is
a noble savage—intrinsically peaceful but corrupted by culture—or a controlled
brute, whether he is a being made in the direct image of God or a microcosm
of the cosmos, the fact is that man is no longer what nature made him to be or
intended him to be. What the recklessness of human behavior underscores is
that the composite of the human prototype, as it matured or mutated over time,
is such that no man can be trusted enough to be left to the mercy of his own
mind or to the dialectic of his volitional choice-making. Cooperation is not the
natural mode of man's mind. Not even competition. Indeed, the mantra of man
is 'control'. Much of our life, it is this power we pursue. The power of power is
irresistible, even for the gods. The lure of arrogance is intoxicating. We all exercise
some power over something or someone all the time. Power is a fact of life but
how it impacts on our behavior is not beyond our power. Lord Acton famously
said "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are
almost always bad men". They are more likely to become bad because the blend
of absolute power and a brilliant mind is a heady mix. Even the most ordinary of
men tend to use power to dominate and impose their will over others, especially
those who lack power themselves. We want to control everything and everybody,
no matter if it is another individual or a nation or nature. Predispositions,
preferences, predilections—it is these that make up much of our behavior and
therefore cannot be given a free reign. Nor can any man be a real man or rise up
to his potential if he is hemmed in, hovered over, controlled and conditioned
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externally. The quest for balance, for harmony, to tame the savageness of man
and to make life on human earth softer and gentler, has been elusively timeless.
In the age of unbridled greedism, intemperate individualism, and galloping
globalization, that futile quest has turned into a ticking time bomb that threatens
to undo whatever man has achieved thus far. We have not been able to discover
or design the tools that help us to determine what we should do—or even should
want—in a manner that is morally compatible, a behavior that contributes to the
common good without compromising individual integrity and dignity. We have
not found a way to express our free will (which many say is an illusion in itself )
without affecting the freedom of others. Indeed, to be alive in any form of life,
not only human, is to affect another life in some way or the other just doing what
it takes to keep the body breathing. Only the dead are harmless to anyone. But is
death itself a cause for mourning, or celebration, or both? Is every parting a little
death, and death a longer parting? Even scriptures are ambivalent on this matter.
The ambivalence comes from ignorance about the true nature of either birth or
death. Essentially, our reaction to birth or death is personal; how it affects our
life, the loss, or gain that might ensue; it has little to do with what is good for
the dead or the living. Prophet Muhammad said that no one must wish for death
for any worldly affliction but if one must wish for it they must pray, "O, Lord;
keep me alive so long as life may be good for me; and cause me to die when it is
better for me so to do".
The mind created money to manipulate, if not to enslave, man. To
ensure that man will never become a true moral creature. The original functions
of money were both revolutionary in character and evolutionary in its utility.
Revolutionary, as man discovered that, through money, his excess energy of one
day can be used for another day or can be preserved over a length of time. It
became an evolutionary instrument in bringing men to act together and create
a social collective of economic energy. Money is a symbol of human energy. It
organizes that energy and its movement across the society in time and space. It
is created by the individual's trust in the other individual and in the collective.
But the mind has the power to make money 'good' if used for a good purpose,
and 'bad' if used wrongly. The fact is that our obsession with money has loosened
the strings that connect one human being to another. It incubates and induces
an intoxicating sense of independence, an arrogant euphoria of autonomy and
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makes us believe that if we have it in amplitude we become 'complete' and life
will be under control. From the earliest times, money in some form or another
has been central to organized living. Over millenniums, money has reflected the
changes in habitat of human society; but it also helped bring about these changes.
Increasingly, money shapes the foreign and economic policies of all governments.
There is little that man is not willing to compromise with—from virginity to
marital fidelity, friendship to patriotism, personal honor to professional probity—
for money. The dilemma is that with money we are subverted, and without it the
world will descend into chaotic disorder. The fact is that in spite of its antiquity
and ubiquity, its rightful place and proper management has eluded the ingenuity
of the human mind. It has become synonymous with pleasure, pride, and
power. Throughout history, the people who have had most power have almost
always been rich. It has developed into a principal means of human-to-human
interfacing, the glue that holds human society together. The economist Alfred
Marshall maintained that the history of money is synonymous with the history
of civilization. The smooth functioning of the money economy enables society
to raise its standard of living by increasing production and equitable distribution
through the medium of exchange. Money is central to the processes of production,
consumption, distribution, and purchasing power. It makes people believe that
they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume and the money
to pay for it. It is through money that we satiate our greed, avarice, and ambition.
Will Rogers sums it up well: Too many people spend money they haven't earned,
to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like.
The extent to which money has come to dominate human life is such
that the way we think and relate with money is now a tool and touchstone to
find out who we really are at our core. What we do with money, and how we live
with money's pervasive presence, tells a lot about our values and essence. Money
is all there is—medium and measure; means and end; symbol and substance
of life. We love it (when we have it) and we hate it (when we don't). Somerset
Maugham quipped that money is like a sixth sense and you cannot make use of
the other five without it. Money is often perceived as a lifeless object separated
from people, in reality it is man-made, imbued with the collective spirit of the
living and the dead. It is also an 'instrument of collective memory'. Money has its
own character, in the sense of having particular attributes, especially moral and
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ethical, which differentiate a person, a group or a thing from another. Over time,
and more sharply in modern times, it has radically changed the personality of
man; but in so doing it changed its own character. In the humdrum of everyday
life we often find ourselves asking the question: how can we juxtapose money
and morality in the same sentence and not come face to face with an ethical
contradiction? As Osho put it, 'either you will be consumed by your desires
or you have to consume your desires'. While it is true that a wholly contented
man is a dead man, and that it is discontent that fuels creativity, it is also true
that it is avarice that turns man into a menace. Socrates said that one who is
not content with what he has is not likely to be content with what he would
like to have.
There have always been broad twin obsessions about money. Those who
are enslaved by it, and compulsively want to acquire and accumulate more and
more. Others who are equally enslaved in their ascetic abhorrence of money.
In both cases money is not a service to acquire the means for a material life;
the individual comes to be at the service of money. Preoccupation with money
becomes an end in itself rather than the means of achieving other goals in life.
The entire complex of money today is biased against ethical values because it was
developed to serve the interests of people who wanted greater power and wealth
for themselves. But, as many sages have told us, power that does no good to others
is pointless, and wealth unused might as well not exist. Money can both virtually
and actually buy, if not bring, happiness and long life; perhaps an insurance
for immortality. The Boswell quote of Samuel Johnson captures the spirit: all
other things being equal, he who is rich in a civilized society must be happier
than he who is poor. Jesus condemned money-changers and St. Augustine taught
that money must be controlled by what is right and wrong. Dante in his classic
poem The Inferno describes money-lenders wailing in the lowest forms of hell.
Islam forbids lending money with interest. But for the deprived, the want of
money turns the earth into hell. Without money we cannot have purchasing
power and without it we cannot have what we need, the goods and services,
to be alive. That is why Bernard Shaw said "the lack of money is the root of all
evil". It is not so much the lack of money which is the problem; the problem
is that without money we are denied things and services that are essential to, so
to speak, keeping the wolf at bay. Both love and lack of money are detrimental
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to the human spirit, and money, if properly channeled, can also be an input to
make human society more egalitarian and give a hand to those who are denied
dignity and the basic needs of humanity. Culturally, money has always been
viewed negatively as a corrupting influence; it still is, and indeed more than ever
before. But its very indispensability and overwhelming presence also offers a
unique opportunity to transform it into a potentially positive agent of change. It
can not only make man resort to unspeakable evil; it also offers more openings
to man to become a Good Samaritan, to make a difference to more lives than
ever before. No free man can afford the luxury of the Spartan disdain of money.
Money is too pervasive, too irreplaceable, and too intrusive in our lives to be
scoffed at; we must turn it around and make it a positive tool to materially alter
the lives of marginalized people.
Money, Poverty, and Morality
While pundits can debate what 'poverty' is—and below what income levels
one could be called 'poor'—what we should focus on is helping anyone or all
those who are in economic need of help. Obsession with money might be evil,
warping the human personality more than anything else in life. But human
life is virtually impossible without it, and its paucity can cripple life more than
anything else. With money we can feed the hungry, provide medicines for the
sick, and shelter for the homeless. This reality opens a door to do good through
the evil of money. Money is now what the Upanishads said about the mind;
it is the source of our bondage but it also, if properly channeled, could be the
route to our redemption. By giving money to those who need it, we can make a
greater difference to their lives than by giving anything else. The question that
arises is this: Is it morally okay to play Robin Hood, to rob the rich and give to
the poor? Does it make a moral difference how we earn the money if we spread
it properly in society? The Mahabharata gives an answer. Vidura, the erudite and
wise minister, tells his king: "O King Dhritarashtra, one should never think of
earning material wealth through wrong means like falsehood, bribery, corruption
or stealing, not to speak of practicing such evils. Wrongly earned money pollutes
its possessor to such an extent that all the activities done with such sinful wealth
result in harmful troubles. Even praiseworthy acts like charity and worship, and
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sacrifices done with such sinful income, produce undesirable results. No amount
of purification can set right the defects of ill-begotten wealth". The Bible55 says,
"Ill-gotten gains do not profit/But righteousness delivers from death; He who
profits illicitly troubles his own house/But he who sows righteousness gets a true
reward; Bread obtained by falsehood is sweet to a man/But afterward his mouth
will be filled with gravel; The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting
vapor, the pursuit of death". But if we are confronted with a choice between
ill-gotten wealth well spent, and well-earned wealth ill spent, how should we
choose? Does the critical importance of money in today's world sanitize how it
is earned if that money saves or gives dignity to other lives? In any event, how
money is allocated and utilized in the future, both individually and collectively,
will become a major moral matter. And the glaring fact is that our priorities
are pretty distorted. We are spending trillions of dollars on big-ticket items like
immortality, artificial intelligence and the Internet Of Things (IOT), and too
little on global health and sanitation. The other question is: what is ill-gotten
wealth? Does it concern only how we make money, or does it include how we
inherit it or how the one who gives us money for services rendered earns it? Is an
employee morally responsible for how his employer generates the money he gets?
In other words, are the means marginal in matters of money as long as the end
is worthy and socially relevant? Does tainted money become holy if offered to
the divine or for charity, and absolve them of the sin of acquiring illicit money,
or at least lessen the severity of sin? One can also argue that the larger good—
helping the needy who otherwise might be impoverished and incapacitated for
want of purchasing power—justifies or overshadows the lesser evil, money made
unethically, which could also tantamount to depriving others of what they might
have ethically earned.
A person who suffers from poverty might have been less sad, angry or
revengeful if poverty did not exist amidst plenty. The fact that poverty co-exists
with affluence has made its victims not only sad but also angry with the wider
sociopolitical power structure that determines the kind of life they lead. At the
same time, of all typologies of suffering, it is economic suffering that is also the
easiest to mitigate or eliminate. The existence of extreme poverty and luxurious
living and income disparities is not only unjust but also immoral. It is 'economic
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justice' that stands at the frontline of social justice. Elizabeth Ann Seton simplified
it: 'Live simply that others might simply live'.56 'Simply' means a life of simplicity,
frugality, and moderation, with a mindset that it enables others, less fortunate,
to live likewise. As the writer Stuart Wilde said, 'Poverty is restriction and as
such, it is the greatest injustice you can perpetrate upon yourself.' Economics
absorbs such a huge slice of our life that one must come to believe (to paraphrase
Martin Luther King Jr.) that economic injustice anywhere is a threat to human
dignity anywhere. Our instinctive tendency is to have little to do with things
that disturb us, banish them from our lives, homes, and even thoughts. Poverty
is also a problem of money: it is caused by lack of and maldistribution of money;
and it can be ameliorated by both a 'bottom-up' and 'trickle-down' approach,
by the empowerment of the poor and by public policies that transfer money
from the top to the bottom. The rich view the presence of the poor as a lawand-
order problem, a potential peril to their well-earned affluence and marketvalue
of their homes. The 'not-rich' and 'not-poor' are united in the view that
cohabitation with the poor means a problem of sanitation, public health, and
'bad company'. John Stuart Mill wrote way back in the 18th century that a
distinctive mark of the 'modern age' is the determination to put far away from
our sight anything ugly, disturbing, and disagreeable we find. That is one way not
to feel threatened, or not to feel any sense of shame or guilt; out of sight is out
of mind; out of mind is to be rid of culpability. The god-fearing, pious people
would rather leave the poor to God; who are we, they say, to intervene where He
does not? Global poverty is also a critical factor in good governance. Confucius
said "In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a
country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of ". When both
abject poverty and obscene opulence coexist and we go about our lives unruffled
and unfazed, as we all do, it is a clear indication that something is awfully 'out of
joint' in our consciousness.
We must bear in mind that the moral claims of the poor rest not only
on community membership, but on membership of the commonwealth of the
human species. We must bring back their presence into the social and spiritual
mainstream. We need daily reminders that such people exist, that they suffer
while we prosper, so that it might stoke the embers of a dying conscience. Being
the weaker and more vulnerable, their right to live, their right for public space,
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and their right to be protected from poverty and low purchasing power are
paramount. It is economic 'sharing' that ought to be at the vanguard of alleviating
suffering in the world. We have long debated the question of responsibility: are
the poor responsible for their condition, karmic or contemporary, or are we, the
rest, responsible for creating or condoning the conditions that created poverty?
What should the poor do, and what should we do? Such is the dominance of
money in human affairs and such is the depth of desperation and loss of dignity.
Economic marginalization can adversely affect the human psyche and erode selfworth.
The issue of alleviation of economic suffering must be at the top of the
global political and economic agenda, and of all human spiritual quest. While
the rich and super rich have to bear the lion's share, almost everyone (excepting
the very poor), can offer a helping hand through direct help or through support
to organizations and schemes designed to help them to climb out of the povertytrap.
In today's globalized world, almost anyone can help anyone, anywhere in
the world. While all this might appear like modernist humanitarianism, in fact
most religious traditions such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and
Confucianism exhort the same. Whether it is a question of 'economic justice' or
'social equity' or spiritual salvation, it all comes down to one issue: the indivisibility
of all life. Gandhi said that 'the whole gamut of man's activities… constitutes an
indivisible whole. You cannot divide life, social, economic, political and purely
religious, into watertight compartments'. For Gandhi, the poor were daridranarayana
(daridra means poor, and Narayana, God). Vivekananda said, "So long
as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every person a traitor who,
having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them". Our
current approach to poverty alleviation, as William Easterly writes, is 'based
on a technocratic illusion: the belief that poverty is a purely technical problem
amenable to such technical solutions as fertilizers, antibiotics, or nutritional
supplements'.57 To make any headway we must view the problem of inequity
and injustice as a virulent virus in human society.
Materialism, Market, and Morality
While we could afford the leisurely luxury of debate, discourse, and dissent on
these matters in earlier less turbulent times, with no necessity for immediate
Money—Maya, Mara, and Moksha
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action, what we now face is an altogether new context that calls for a different
approach and urgent action. As Steiner said, "Materialism has cast man into such
depths that a mighty concentration of forces is necessary to raise him again. He is
subject to illnesses of the nervous system which are veritable epidemics of the life
of the soul".58 Materialism—the premise that what matters is matter only and
what we perceive through the senses is the only reality—has undermined morality
and made us virtual captives of comfort, convenience, and consumerism. We just
want these three 'Cs' at any cost, by hook or crook, and we are ready to beg, borrow,
or steal, or even kill. What has so far been an endemic economic deficiency, an
obsessive irritant, a character flaw, a psychological outlet, has now become a
major theological concern and a planetary threat with cosmic consequences. And
it has become central to what has come to be called 'the modern way of life'.
As Paul Crutzen59 puts it, humankind, or rather human presence on earth, is
now playing a central role in biology and ecology. Whatever we wish to call our
planet earth (Bill McKibben prefers to call it Eaarth, signifying that our 'old'
earth is virtually dead), the damage we are doing to the planet is not merely an
environmental or economic issue; it is at its heart a moral issue. We cannot be
moral if we ravage and vandalize our own mother. Nor if we mindlessly burn
the building that we are inhabiting as tenants. As if this is not bad enough, man
is now venturing where no man has dared before: encroaching on the preserve
of gods and creating 'man-made' life. Creating artificial life might now be a
major goal of scientific creativity, but man has for long been living an artificial
life, eons away from what nature intended. So artificial and adulterated is the
modern human being that one might even say the 'old' human is dead and we
are almost a new species, far more malevolent than our 'predecessor'. So polluted
and chemicalized are we, some experts tell us, that there is a real possibility that
man-eaters might not find our toxin-sated bodies palatable anymore!
The earliest form of money that we are exposed to is pocket money.
Parents intend their children to learn the basics of money management, but this
soon becomes a slippery slope and a sense of entitlement gets embedded in their
psyche. Educational experts say that there has probably been no aspect of family
life that has been the cause of greater strain and stress than the problem of the
child and his money. The last thing a dying man is supposed to do is distribute
the wealth of a lifetime to his progeny by a will, so that, hopefully, they won't
The War Within—Between Good and Evil
338
kill each other fighting over it! Some even put away money for their funeral, lest
their kids short-change them and deny them their due. Life between birth and
death is spent under the shadow of money. Money has become the measure of
man. Philosophers like Seneca might have held that a great fortune is a great
slavery; but most men today would prefer that kind of slavery. Benjamin Franklin
might have said 'man does not possess wealth, wealth possesses him', but most
prefer being so possessed. Schopenhauer said, "Money is human happiness in
abstracto; consequently he who is no longer capable of happiness in concreto sets
his whole heart on money".60 Money and 'more' are synonymous. From a beggar
to a billionaire, the endless desire is to have more of money. Thomas Jefferson
said, "Money, not morality is the principle of commercial nations". Jean-Jacques
Rousseau described wealthy men even more harshly: "The rich are like ravening
wolves, who, having once tasted human flesh, henceforth desire and devour
only men".
Scriptures generally view money like flesh, as an impediment to spiritual
progress, and all saints have shown not only detachment but also disdain towards
money. The Hindu concept of artha or wealth emphasizes that money must
be earned, stored, and spent dharmically, i.e., through righteous means. Money
may be neutral in its nature but it is either good or bad in relation to how it is
generated, garnered, and expended. In that sense, money is energy; money is
power; and money is a form of life-energy (prana) contained in paper, coins,
silver, or traditionally and most importantly, in gold. The underlying philosophy
is that bad money can never do good deeds; nor can good money used wrongly
reap right results. Good money is righteous money, derived from a righteous
source, earned by helping, not hurting, people; by serving, not cheating, people;
by making people happy, not adding to their misery. Bad money does bad things;
it is money earned through the making or selling of harmful things like alcohol,
arms, cigarettes, and drugs, taking bribes, and taking more than one's legitimate
share. The 2,000-year-old spiritual classic Thirukkural, written in Tamil by the
South Indian saint Thiruvalluvar, distills the basic tenets of dharmic money:
"The worst poverty of worthy men is more worthwhile than the wildest wealth
amassed in wicked ways. What is gained by tears will go by tears. Though it begins
with loss, in the end goodness gives many good things. Protecting the country
by wrongly garnered wealth is like preserving water in an unbaked pot of clay.
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339
Riches acquired by mindful means, in a manner that harms no one, will bring
both piety and pleasure. Wealth acquired without compassion and love is to be
eschewed, not embraced. Finding delight in defrauding others yields the fruit
of undying suffering when those delights ripen.61 Even after two millenniums,
human ingenuity cannot do any better than this to codify a more moral way of
handling money.
Another equally ethical and morally progressive view of money is
advocated in Islam. Its perspective on banking and lending best symbolizes this
view. As one article put it, "for millions of Muslims, banks are institutions to be
avoided. Islam is a religion that keeps believers from the teller's window. Their
Islamic beliefs prevent them from dealings that involve usury or interest (riba)".
The Quran explicitly prohibits interest or riba on money lent. The Islamic view
of money is based on interesting principles: any predetermined payment over
and above the actual amount of principal is prohibited; contrary to modern
banking, the lender, the provider of capital, and the user of capital, the borrower,
must equally share in the profits or losses arising out of the enterprise, what
we call shareholders or stakeholders; uncertainty, risk, and speculation (gharar)
is also prohibited; and, perhaps the most important, capital or investments
should only support practices or products that are not forbidden or discouraged
by Islam.62 In the Katha Upanishad, when the young Nachiketa persists in
knowing what happens after death, a reluctant Yama, the Lord of Death, tries
all ways to dissuade the boy. Yama tries to 'bribe' him by offering unlimited
wealth (rather than reveal the secret of death)—'large estates, gold in abundance,
horses, elephants, etc.' When Nachiketa doesn't fall for the bait and persists,
Yama is finally pleased and tells him the secret that even the gods do not know.
Among the attributes of a moral conduct enjoined in the Quran is the teaching
that one should not squander wealth in wantonness. Whether it is the Katha
Upanishad, the Thirukkural or the Quran, the message is therefore the same.
Money should be earned and used only in permissible ways; money is not an
end but a moral means for moral ends, meant for communal good. In the Bible,
it is said that 'the love of money is the root of evil'; wisely channeled, it can root
out, at least out flank, evil'. Man cannot worship God and Mammon at the same
time. Brian Hathaway, in his article Money and the Kingdom of God says, "If the
overarching theme of Christ's message was the Kingdom of God, then the single
The War Within—Between Good and Evil