Submitted Date 07/25/2022

To the 'hundredth monkey'β€”potentially anyone from the mass of mankindβ€”

who can tilt the scales and save the world



Chapter 1. Man in Context

God gotten weary of Man! To let fall a tear for humanity Brooding on the brink

Risks, change and transformation The three 'I's of the human condition

Chigyogoisui β€” unity of knowledge and action Malaise of modern man

God and good men Narcissism and nihilism

The way forward β€” the way inward

Chapter 2. The Human Condition

The human in the universe

Harmonizing personal and collective identity Pleasure and pain

Man β€” a mixed blessing The rope and the snake

Dwanda-atheetha and the principle of polarity A thinking pigmy

Power, passion and love Moral foundation of mankind

Knowledge, ignorance and illusion The self and the razor's edge Human depravity

Evolution and culture Acceptance and tolerance Civilization and chemicalization Consumerism and its critics

Comparison, competition and convergence

Chapter 3. Of Human Baggage and Bondage

Bondage and liberation

Human activity and its toxic fall out Lives of quiet desperation

The quest for 'good governance' Earth and its false gods

Evil β€” be thou my good Money, sex, and power End, means and violence Seeds of self- destruction

Chapter 4. The Sacred, Secular and the Profane

The three strands

Religion, spirituality and science β€” the struggle for supremacy Transhumanism and technology

Limits of science, and the science of limits Innovation and integrity

Religion and its future Spiritualism and self-fulfillment Knowledge and desire

The Masters and the message

Cleansing consciousness and cultivating love

Chapter 5. From Mind to Heart β€” the Odyssey Within

Harmonizing the head and heart Man β€” 'a mental case' Harboring holistic heart

Restoring equilibrium in human consciousness Mastering the mind and harnessing the heart

Chapter 6. Contours of Consciousness Change

Consciousness β€” all there is Hallmark of human intelligence

Moral decadence and consciousness change

Chapter 7. Transformation and God

Three paths to human transformation The phenomenon humans call God Free will, fate, and surrender

Faith, divinity, and doubt

Transcendence, immanence, and indifference of god 'Critical mass' and the 'hundredth monkey' Transformation, nature, and science

Chapter 8. Models and Metaphors for Human Transformation

Lessons from the living world Human effort and divine dispensation An epitaph for mankind


To paraphrase Shakespeare, 'all is not well'; indeed 'something is rotten' in the state of humankind; and our time too appears 'out of joint'.

The world of today has much in common with the fictional Denmark of Hamletβ€” chaos, disorder, distrust, bloodletting, breakdown of the 'great chain of being', and collapse of the natural and moral order. Like Hamlet, the tormented prince we too wail inside our wounded minds: "To be or not to be: that is the question; whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? To die, to sleep; No more…" Those famous words have inspired a wealth of literature. German philosopher Schopenhauer summed up: "The essential purport of the world-famous monologue in Hamlet is, in condensed form, that our state is so wretched that complete non-existence would be decidedly preferable to it. Now if suicide actually offered us this, so that the alternative 'to be or not to be' lay before us in the full sense of the words, it could be chosen unconditionally as a highly desirable termination…"

The choiceβ€”transformation or terminationβ€”is more stark and real today than in that Shakespearean world. The thought of 'termination' is finding growing acceptance in the mainstream of mankind. Such is the daunting intractability of modern life that, for a growing number of people, the only way to 'terminate' a problem is to terminate life. Many are not even sure if they are already into 'posthumous existence', as the terminally ill Keats once described, a kind of life in the twilight zone, a kind of 'living dead'. Everyone is fleeing, running away, but few know what it is that they are escaping from; even less where they are headed to, or what they are looking for. Always in doubt about our true identity, our instinctive orientation, our distilled difference, we oscillate between the reality of our animal origin and our aspiration to be a 'god'. The medieval Persian poet Saadi wrote, "What a strange elixir is Man, he is a compound of the animal and the angel, moving towards the former makes him lower than the animals and by moving towards the latter he can surpass the angels". Trouble is, we want to be both, deathless like an angel and carefree like an animal.

And, while trying to emulate the angels, in our behavior we are inching towards a state of being 'lower than animals'.

Animal or angel, 'civilized brute' or simply human, we all struggle, in moments of 'quiet desperation', with questions such as 'Who in the world am I?' 'Why am I?', and 'What should I be?'. These are no longer philosophical questions to be pondered over in solititude; on how each of us faces themβ€”not necessarily find answersβ€”could hinge the fate of humankind. Clearly, we are in a time like no other in the history of the human species. Some even say that the primary reason we are out of sync with Nature is because we are the only species that operates on a different sense of 'time-frequency' than the rest of the biosphere. In their view, we need to return not only to the natural world but also to 'natural time' to lead a harmonious life. Man has always been a seeker, be it of liberation or salvation or Self- realization or the Elixir Vitae, eternal life. Man's yearning to know the meaning and mission of his being has spawned a wide spectrum of knowledge, from the esoteric to the occult, from the religious to the scientific. But with no breakthrough or beacon, and a good deal of confusion in the cranium, we wander in the wilderness of the wasteland, searching for a place where we can 'find' ourselves, a place where we need not be anyone or anything else, or where we can cease to be pretenders, which is what we are much of our life. Our highest good is tainted by our oversized ego. What has happened is that instead of embarking on the spiritual journey of self-discovery, we have become self-righteously self-destructive, always trying to find short cuts to pleasure, profit, and power, and trying to look for scapegoats for our own faults and failings.

What is new is that for the first time in the history of the earth, a single species, the human, has acquired the awesome power to chart the course of its own evolution and alter the course of practically all other species. And also to quicken what Jonathan Schell (The Fate of the Earth, 1982) calls 'the death of the earth'. The irony and tragedy is that with that kind of power man is perhaps the most miserable creature on earth; to borrow the words from the song Epitaph by the rock band King Crimson, 'every man is torn apart with nightmares and dreams' and no one cares 'as silence drowns the screams'. Many things have gone awry in our long march from the life of a hunter-gatherer to the post-modern man or posthumous man, and we can only speculate if it is all in tune with divine will or if it is purely a product of human will. Perhaps our greatest failing is that, despite our obvious interdependence, we have failed to imbibe a strong sense of species-hood, of solidarity, of respect for each other, of a shared destiny. Indeed, take away the capacity for interbreeding and reproduction, and we would hardly qualify as a 'species' in the way we relate to each other. But instead, what unites us all is a 'sense of victim-hood', the entrenched conviction that we are being wronged by our fellow-men, by our fate, and by the gods.

That state of mind, or rather of consciousness, warps our vision and distorts our behavior. Our actions contradict our own acumen, run against our own narrow self-interest. That we are dependent on Nature, that earth is our only home, is evident even to a school child, and yet we wage a suicidal war on the ecosystems and biosphere that sustain our life; and, to top it all, we feel that it is our God-given right. At this juncture in the 'life of life' on earth, the human is at once the prey and the predator: prey to his own mind and predator to everyone else. He is hands down the deadliest animal on the planet, feared by all and fearful of his own shadow. He is the greatest polluter of the planet. The Nobel prize winning chemist Paul Crutzen says that man now plays a 'central role in geology and ecology'. Whether it is still Earth or it has already become 'Eaarth', as environmentalist Bill McKibben calls it, clearly our planet is in peril. That humankind is unwilling to unequivocally accept this state of peril is itself a sure sign that we are in peril. To be fair, what we are doing to the planet we are doing no less to our own kind. Wanton wrongdoing, wickedness, intrigue, habitual humiliation and hurting of others, and reflexive violence have become inseparable from our daily life, possibly beyond our control. While the scriptures proclaim that we are essentially spiritual beings encased in a human body and awaiting liberation, in actuality, human beings have been reduced to unconnected brute empirical entities, each trying to outsmart the other to expand its own lebensraum, and fated to worshipping false gods and the 'good life', endless economic growth, and obscene opulence. While the scriptures say that "you shall not hate your brother in your heart', hatred is the overarching emotion today. It is behind family friction, conflicts with neighbors, national turmoil, ethnic strife, and religious antagonism. It is hatred that kills millions in acts of violence and vengeance; and it is hatred that has led to hundreds of millions of deaths in devastating wars throughout time.

Something seismic, something utterly mysterious has happened in the human spirit and psyche at the deepest levels, and equally mystifying is that we do not have the foggiest idea what it could possibly be. But on one sentiment and statement almost everyone concurs: we are in trouble. We are in trouble because all of our relationships begin and continue, not rooted in trust and love, but as forms of mutual exploitation, in the words of American poet

W.H. Auden, 'a mental or physical barter'. Every individual is in some sort of trouble; every relationship is in trouble; every institution is in trouble. Every day brings bad newsβ€” accident, destruction, massacre, soul-numbing violence. A little-noticed development is the radical, even revolutionary, change in the mindset of man towards morality and mortality. And that has completely altered every facet of human life; but it is so insidious and incremental, we can hardly notice it. We yearn to be moral, but almost compulsively we behave immorally; bad thoughts and things seduce us easily, and the good ones fail to appeal.

and we shun them as if prompted by an alien force. We want to conquer personal mortality, but we do everything possible to hasten the mortality of our species, among other things by poisoning and pillaging our very life support system. Even more perplexing is our attitude towards death. Normally the knowledge of the inevitability of an event affects how we spend the intervening time. But not with mortality. The impermanence of life makes no difference to the way we live; we manifest the same pettiness, backbiting, and malice. In a twisted sense, man has crossed the final frontier that for millenniums has been a spiritual goal, namely, the freedom from fear of evil and death. He has done this not by cleansing his soul and controlling his mind, but by lowering the threshold of evil, making it, in Hannah Arendt's phrase, banal, radical and seamlessly embedded into every aspect of his everyday life, indeed indistinguishable from everything human.

For many, too many people, life is harsh, brutal, unfair, and simply unbearable and untenableβ€”it takes too much to 'just live'; and too little to 'just die', and just be done with all their problems, passions, and prejudices. We assume that other people are the cause of our misery, the source of 'hell' on earth. Many have come to feel, as Walt Whitman, the great American poet, complained to his 'Boswell' Horace Traubel, that they are non grata, 'not welcome in the world'. Scriptures and sages might say what they mightβ€”death is chasing clothes; suffering cleanses; grief is a gift of God, and so onβ€”but the truth of the matter is that we have become at once a narcissistic and nihilistic species, individually and collectively.

Our self-love often takes the form of a craving for admiration and lack of empathy for others; and the noblest of human emotions, love, unreciprocated, turns into vengeful wrath and a murderous weapon. Such are the plethora of paradoxes, perplexities, inexplicabilities, injustices, inequities, illusions, and delusions of the human form of life, and so intertwined is suffering with our earthly lot that, despite our scriptural and scientific claims to superiority and suzerainty over the rest of life on this planet, one wonders if human life is what other species are supposed to beβ€”reborn to 'suffer' for their sins in their earlier lives.

There are no more elevating principles, soaring ideals, and enriching ideas that inspire the young and the restless. Since there is nothing 'worth dying for', everything becomes worth killing for, including their own selves. The most virulent pandemics in the world are suicide and homicide, which really are the two sides of the same coin, if not the same side.

To paraphrase Dostoevsky, people kill, in their mind, not people but a 'principle'β€”religion, revenge, love, honor, property; nothing is too banal or silly or sacred to make one take away one's own or an other's life. Seemingly normal people are turning into sadistic and mass murderers. It is hard to tell if we are dying by murder or dying to murder. To paraphrase Shakespeare, we can well say "murder, thy name is man'.

Man has hopelessly lost his way somewhere in his struggle for survival and supremacy on earth. At the beginning of The Divine Comedy, Dante, who was then just turning thirty-five, wrote, "Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark; for the straightforward pathway had been lost. Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say what was this forest savage, rough, and stern; which in the very thought renews the fear…" (Henry Longfellow's translation). That was the year 1300. Most people of this century feel they too are stranded in the 'forest savage'. The tragic irony is that just when our power over Nature is at its zenith, our power over our own nature is at its lowest ebb. Yet there are some who predict that mankind is poised on the crest of its final evolution, the emergence of a new paradigm of global consciousness. They argue that the crisis that the world faces is the crisis of consciousness, and that everything elseβ€”whether it is financial or religious fanaticismβ€”is but its fall-out. And they sense signs of an emergent revolution in consciousness. For long, science has been dangling, before our greedy gaze, the carrot of making man an 'immortal superman' or a Neo-tech 'God-man' with, in Mark Hamilton's words, a 'slim and sexy body, superior intelligence, millionaire wealth, exceptional health and longevity'; and it is now being claimed that significant breakthroughs have been made in that direction, and that it could be a reality sooner than we dare to dream. In short, it is hoped that science will do what religion could not do: literally liberate man from the clutches of biology, from the limits and limitations of what 'being human' may be. But others fear that in trying to be a superhuman species and without fear of death and God, humanity will collapse from within, because our 'intelligence' or the 'inside of us' is not appropriate to exercise that kind of power.

Whatever the future has in store, there is a universal sense of unease, gloom, and doom in the world, a 'gut-feeling' that time is running out, and even faster, our legitimacy, ingenuity, and options to solve any of the pressing problems we face. And that some sort of a meltdown β€”monetary, ecological, strategic or something still unimaginableβ€”is round the corner. Often when we step aside and look at our lives and our experiences, we feel certain that in some mystical way it must be making sense, but we are beset with too many problems and too much chaos for us to ever get a handle on life. Our drifting existence finds comfort in gurus, guns, and gadgets. There are no guiding stars or shining symbols or enlightened anchors; everything that ever claimed to provide guidance has let us down. Religion is resurgent but vengeful; science is 'out of control', has an agenda of its own; and all models of governance at all levels have become irksome and oppressive, and we have yet to invent one that suits human nature. What Thomas Carlyle prophetically called 'dismal science', economicsβ€”which is production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services β€” dominates our lives, our consciousness, today. Of the two 'isms' that have injected economics into everyday life β€” Marxism and capitalism β€” the former never really lived and the latter, after having made man a money-making and money-spending machine, is now collapsing, unable to contain the greed and avarice it itself unleashed. No successor 'ism' is in sight and no one can tell where the blend of economics and emotions molded in the cauldron of the marketplace is leading man towards.

At a more fundamental level we must rethink what the rightful place of affluence is in human affairs. Clearly we cannot even envision a world without wealth. Even setting aside the point that not all wealth is monetary β€” it can be moral and spiritual too β€” it is worth noting that even the scriptures assign a role for wealth in life. One of the five purusharthas, the goals of human life, is the pursuit of artha ('wealth') but it must be carried out in a dharmic way, that is righteously, and a part of it must be shared with the needy. The Buddha said that we should not eat a single meal without sharing it. Judaism and Christianity extol charity and the latter, by equating service to the poor and the unwanted in society with service to God, became a missionary religion. The generous giving of alms (zakat) is one of the pillars of Islam; it even lays down that one should offer to charity, two and half percent of the wealth accumulated by him in a year. It is meant to be a way of purification of wealth β€” and of the mind of the giver too. In today's world, in which economic disparities are glaring and the very rich are the 'super-human', the obscenely opulent and the very poor are equally 'sub-human', whose bodies and life are crippled fo want of what economists call 'purchasing power'. Since nothing, absolutely nothing, is equal, either in Nature or in life, we must turn our effort towards equity and affirmative actions. And since money and wealth have come to be the measure of life and the primary source of inequity and injustice, we must find a way to create a more fair and reasonable playing field of economic opportunities and fulfillment.

And further, one does not have to be monetarily rich to give; the greatest giving is of one's self. Any future paradigm of social justice or spiritual growth must give a pride of place to sharing and giving.

Another overarching imperative is to properly channel the power of science-based technology. The fusion of technology with science has at once awesomely empowered and terminally enfeebled the human species; it has given man the destructive power to cripple earth itself; and it has crippled the human psyche too. Technology, as French philosopher Jacques Ellul puts it, has become a 'total phenomenon for civilization, the defining force of a new social order in which efficiency is no longer an option but a necessity imposed on all human activity'. Such is the sting of what Ellul called 'technological tyranny', that man is defenseless before every new technology and novelty that feeds on his foibles. The combination of economic 'determinism' and technological enslavement has affected the functioning of the human brain, and has put at risk our moral reasoning capacity and even our rational decision making. Whether it is the 'vulcanization' of the brain, as some call it, or the 'boosting' of brain power, designed to enhance its strength, sharpness, resilience, and versatility, the fact is that the kind of pulls, pressures, and temptations that modern man is now subjected to are so raw and novel that the human brain is unable to manage the very circumstances it has created.

At the end of the day, despite our ignorance about the essentials of life, delusions of our glory and grandeur and denials of our depravity, we all know what the 'trouble' is; we also know what has to be done. We just seem too paralyzed to do what we want to do and, what is more troubling, to not do what we hate to do. The 'why' of everything malevolent and 'why not' of what we want, haunt our lives. And the troubling thought keeps humming: is this the end or the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning? And can any of us or all of us make any difference? Are we innocent or ignorant, villains or victims? Are we playing our doomed parts ordained by the gods of remorseless fate, or are we thwarting the intent of God, inebriated as we are by our own 'god-like' powers of creation and destruction? Is nemesis finally catching up, forcing us to pay for our crimes, callousness, cruelty, selfishness, and sins? Adding immediacy to our disquiet and angst looms the Mayan prophecy of 21st December 2012. Opinions vary on what the date portends. Some say it is doomsday, the end of the world. Others say that more probably it will, in some way, force us to confront the truth that the human–planetary equation is out of balance, presaging a seminal shift in human consciousness, ending the era of psychological 'individuation' that began some 26,000 years ago. Instead of debating what a particular dawn of a day might portend, we should start participating and living in the moment, not fearing the future, and start purifying ourselves inside out, and embody in us genuine compassion. This is no time to try to fix things in our mind; it is the time to tune-in to our heart.

Our track record shows that mind-generated human intelligence has not managed well the paradoxes endemic to the human condition; and its increased reliance on machines like the computer as its own proxy has only worsened it. It has not found a way to harmonize the dwandas or the pairs of opposites that are inherent in nature and in life in general: pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow, virtue and vice, good and bad, success and failure, finite and infinite, and, above all, competition and cooperation. As a result, fault lines have developed between knowledge and knower, knowing and doing. Those who possess knowledge hardly have the right mindset, leading to wrong actions. And those who are 'hands-on' cannot see beyond the short term. Knowledge, like much else in the human world, is increasingly fractured. To carry any credibility or respect everyone today must get himself accepted as an 'expert' or a 'specialist'. From cooking to killing, we have people who advertize themselves as experts and specialists and sub-specialists, who often contradict and undermine each other, based on the same set of 'facts'. What we desperately need are 'specialist non-specialists' and 'global citizens', who look at a part in the context of the whole, and who view the world as one wholesome organism. And we must stop perceiving 'facts', 'proof' and 'truth' as interchangeable. The real 'fact', 'proof', and 'truth' is that we know nothing or nothing about 'knowing That by knowing which everything is known' as the Upanishad says. Such is the state of our 'factual' knowledge and insightful intelligence that the best brains in the business cannot even agree on the 'facts' of any problem that we confront. For example, on anthropogenic global warming (AGM), that is, global warming caused by human actions, some experts say that, contrary to what we are led to believe, the globe is actually cooling. We are at a loss to know how to react to the news that the past month β€” June, 2010 β€” was the hottest month ever recorded. Some say that human behavior is endangering earth; others say that the earth can take care of itself, with or without man. We cannot agree whether the nuclear weapon is a terrible weapon of war, or a gift of god to prevent war and to check on our appetite for mass murder. We cannot agree on any affirmation; we agree by elimination. This was the modus operandi that even the Upanishads adopted to explain the concept of Brahman β€” the famous double negative, neti, neti (not this, not this). Some modern thinkers too echo the Upanishadic line of thought, its point of departure. According to Karl Popper, we cannot conclusively affirm a hypothesis, but we can conclusively negate it. The human mind is more at ease at elimination, whether it is an idea or an individual. And it 'eliminates' any possible threats to its suffocating hold on the human consciousness. Man's search for another source of cognition or intelligence has also thus far failed.

All this angst leads us to a startling but obvious conclusion. The starting point for any candid and quiet introspection has to be the recognition, or confession, if you will, that the malaise and malady of man is, in the main, the mind itself. The human mind is the deadliest weapon in the world, not the nuclear or biological bomb. The theosophist Alexander Wilder said that 'the chief problem of life is man'. And man has become 'the problem' because the mind governs man. Malice, the visceral will and dark desire to wish ill of others sans self- gain, enslaves us and rules our mind. In fact, behind every crisis the world faces β€” be it broken homes or convulsive climate change, nuclear Armageddon or noxious neighborhoods, 'clash of civilizations' or ethnic savagery, random violence or rabid religiosity β€” it is the canker of malice, far more noxious and deeper than envy or jealousy, that is the undercurrent, the driving force. Our ceaseless search for another villain is a ruse of the mind itself.

Although the human mind has been called 'superior to everything born or begotten', it has also been described ironically as not only feeble and fickle but also mischievous and malicious, a refrain common to all scriptures. It has been called the 'greatest gift of God', as well as a crippling burden. While we yearn for 'peace of mind', what we give to others is a 'piece of our mind' when their actions do not fit in with the will of our mind. The mind brooks no delay or denial, contradiction or correction; it does not let us admit our mistakes or take responsibility; for all our omissions and commissions it placates us through the three 'E's β€” evasion, explanation, and excuse. The human mind is the force in the universe that makes the oppressor believe he is the oppressed; the controller think he is the controlled. It makes the nasty person think that he is nice, much like a tiger thinking it is a lamb. It wants to prevail, not participate; wants to control, not cooperate. It has not learned how to handle both dependency and dominance. It does not let us feel guilt or shame for hurting or humiliating others. The Buddha said, "All wrong-doing arises because of mind. If mind is transformed, can wrong-doing remain?" One of the most powerful tools man has is the 'tool of tools', the mind, and that is where we have gone terribly wrong. Whatever were the driving forces or stumbling blocks, we are unable to 'choose' well or wisely, both as individuals and as a species. Every choice in the end is mental, and the inherent attributes of the mind stick to the choices we make, or think we make. While pundits debate about 'the art of choosing' (Γ  la Sheena Iyengar) and improving our decision making capacity, the instrument chosen is the one that has got us into trouble in the first place β€” the mind itself. And those who say humankind is prematurely drifting towards apocalyptic disaster, as well as those who say we are headed towards the ultimate Utopia, are united on the means β€” the mind. Those who say that man is terminally adrift, rely on mind control, while the latter, who say that a great awakening is upwelling from the deepest depths of man, bank on boosting mind-power.

Although it is sometimes said, like in Vedanta, that the mind is the source of our bondage as well as of our liberation, what we actually experience is that that which is the problem cannot be the solution, as Einstein noted about human intelligence. It is this conundrum that has bedeviled man's attempt to master himself. Nothing seems right in our lives because, quite simply, the one thing that drives our actions and reactions, perceptions and prejudices and predispositions, is flawed: our intelligence. And our intelligence is flawed because its source of supply is the wrong one: the mind. We cannot change the 'mind-set', the innate character of the mind; but we can β€” and must β€” change the mindset, the 'view from within', to borrow the words from the Chilean philosopher Francisco Varela. What we can and must change are the assumptions, beliefs, dispositions that predetermine a person's responses to and interpretations of situations. At this pivotal point in human history, we must discard not only the dated paradigms but also the dated questions; we must dare to ask new questions.

These new questions must touch the very core of our being, and the thrust of our thought ought to be to understand how to awaken ourselves from our cosmic amnesia, and move into the embrace of the universal essence that underlies and pervades all life. Although it might seem a deficiency, man, unlike any other species, being borne incomplete, offers the potential to become radically different in the break between birth and death. That 'wet-clay' state, that very incompleteness, that lack of finality, makes radical transformation not only possible, but also enables man to be simultaneously a participant and a partner. It is in us to make the difference β€” positive or negative. Indeed, transformation is the meaning and mission β€” and measure β€” of human life. The problem is that we cannot truly change without giving up something; we cannot be transformed unless we terminate. But we have to remain the same in some way; and retain something we must, while being transformed. A caterpillar cannot become a butterfly if it wants to stay firmly on the ground. And the fact is that the butterfly is in situ; already in the creepy creature. It is not 'visible' before, in the words of Primo Levi, the 'mystery of metamorphosis', but the blueprint and the potential was always there and present. The trouble is that we do not know what is truly inside us; what is the nature of our 'self'. As a result, we do not know what to give up or terminate, and what to hold on to, and to let what we already are to manifest. In Vedantic terms, our true 'self' is the eternal Self, the divine essence, which is the 'butterfly', and it has always been there. The caterpillar is the idea of, or sole identification with, being only human; and that has to be liquefied and disintegrated through spiritual sadhana or practice. Then, the already present butterfly camouflaged by the illusion can emerge from the cocoon of consciousness and, as Robert Frost wrote, 'fly and all but sing'.

To evolve into a higher β€” and nobler β€” paradigm of life, to orchestrate our own 'mystery', we need to change the complex of controls, compass and coordinates, the thinking and the tools we have thus far used to reach this point in our evolution. We have to go to an altogether different dimension of life, to a higher cusp of consciousness. As the Czech philosopher Stanislav Grof noted, "A radical inner transformation and rise to a new level of consciousness might be the only real hope we have in the current global crisis brought on by the dominance of the Western mechanistic paradigm". It means changing, in Alexander Wilder's words, the 'potencies of man's interior being', the forces that drive and determine everything we think, feel, say, and do. It means that for any meaningful change in the content and character of the human condition, we need a new 'genre of inner identity', a complete break from almost everything we have come to accept, value, and cherish. The touchstone is that we must feel, instinctively and effortlessly, pain, not pleasure, at someone else's pain. That depth of empathy is clearly not possible without cathartic consciousness change, which, in turn, means that we must dethrone our brain/mind-driven intelligence from its pedestal and from where it dominates our lives. Consciousness and unconsciousness are relative states; states of wakefulness or somnolence. In truth, no one is fully conscious or fully unconscious, even in death. Even within a single life β€” from infancy to childhood to adolescence to youth to old age β€” we function in different states of consciousness or unconsciousness. What man has to strive for is to be 'awake', as the Buddha described himself when asked who he was. We must awaken the Buddha within, or allow the baby Buddha struggling to come out from the darkness of our 'womb'. Then everything and everyone will appear as different parts of the same universal body, and we will then cease to be a marauding menace on earth. Compassion will become our first impulse and response to every situation, provocation, and circumstance. And love will be reborn in the human world.

Even that kind of caring and compassionate consciousness change would not, and need not, make us all saints, mahatmas, or heroes, but it will empower and enable us to do differently the myriad things we do every day and all our lives, and, as American historian Howard Zinn said, "small acts, multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world". That kind of human effort has to show up not as a bunch of spectacular scientific breakthroughs, but in the myriad choices we make in our lives over the next few decades β€” from where and how we live, to what we eat, buy, and use, from how we generate and use energy, to how we discard and recycle our waste. Those choices and acts will determine whether man will hasten his own extinction or reach the plateau of a nobler planetary civilization. If he has to achieve the latter, man must go beyond both scriptures and science; for, the scriptures are intelligible only to the initiated, and science, as it is put into effect, is no longer a search for truth but a travesty of truth. We must go beyond brainpower and mind control, beyond even a new way of thinking; because thinking too is mental, and scripture too is filtered through the mind. We have to shift our focus from mind control to cleansing of the consciousness.

In sum, transform, or turn terminal, that is the defining choice before mankind at the turn of this millennium. But transformation has to be radically different from what science and technology are attempting through technologies like cryonics, nanotechnology, cloning, etc. With the kind of consciousness that man has, that kind of 'transformation' could be catastrophic. Conscience cannot save us; we need a cathartic consciousness change. We need a new source of 'intelligence', a new mode of cognition, far removed from the dominance of the brain/mind. The mind cannot be 'destroyed'; it cannot be 'overcome'; it cannot be 'controlled', as we, the humans of this age, at least, are exorted to do by scriptures and sages. It needs to be outflanked. The only way is to bring back our heart to the center stage of conscious intelligence, from its present 'fringe function' of a life-sustaining pump.

Fortunately, new research is reinforcing the ancient wisdom that the heart is an autonomous source of energy, memory, and intelligence, quite distinct from the brain-mind. Indeed, some eminent psychologists like Julian Jaynes have posited that the dominance of the mind over man dates barely three thousand years, and before that, both mind and heart played independent but complementary roles in human affairs. Something went wrong or maybe our survival demanded it; the mind became the master and the heart was reduced to a mere powerful muscle that kept us ticking. Long after sheer survival ceased to be the primary challenge for man, the human mind, having tasted and enjoyed absolute power, refuses to yield. As a result, the very tools we have so far relied upon β€” our unique ability to think, to analyze, to comprehend, to plan and prepare, to at once look back and ahead β€” have brought us to the edge of the abyss. With mind in control, we have not been able to harmonize or manage our passions, predispositions, and priorities, nor our thoughts, emotions, and impulses. Our genetic, ethnic, and cultural diversity has become a drag, not an asset. And we have messed up our equation with Nature and God. As the Worldwatch Institute noted (State of the World 1997), "In just a few centuries we have gone from living off nature's interest to depleting the natural capital that has accumulated over millions of years of evolution".

Biologist Edward O. Wilson (The Future of Life, 2002) said that what humanity is inflicting on itself and on earth is "the result of a mistake in capital investment". As for God, we have turned Him into a superintendent of the supermarket whose only function is to ensure instant home delivery of what we order, and when there is any demur or delay, we threaten to create a new, 'Tomorrow's God'.

But much as we might squirm and quibble, we cannot cut ourselves loose from either God or Nature. The historic human tendency has been to abuse Nature and ignore God when things go right, and to turn to them for help when things go wrong. The time has come yet again to turn to Nature, a kind of the return of the Prodigal Son. The living world of insects and animals is rich with models and paradigms of transformation, like the anthill, the beehive, and the butterfly. Even if it may seem an affront to our intelligence, imagination, and creativity, we must draw upon their 'experiences' to shape our own path. And if we do not, the metaphor of the 'lemming suicide' will most likely catch up. While human transformation and consciousness change have been the elusive age-old spiritual goals, the promise now lies in the fact that science is capable of joining forces. Recent discoveries in fields like quantum physics are prompting scientists to talk of hitherto taboo ideas like a single unifying force in the universe, and of a seamless existence and a soul. There is an air of fragrant optimism that, at last, science and spirit together can achieve what neither could do alone, and catapult man to perhaps the ultimate level of evolution. This arguably could be the greatest challenge man has ever faced. It is nothing less than to reconfigure human 'presence' on earth. So monumental and momentous is the task, that to seize this uncommon opportunity it will not suffice to have a handful of 'New Age' spiritualists or evangelical environmentalists or disparate 'civil society' initiatives. We need a coalition of 'critical mass' agents of change. What that magical number is, crossing which the momentum for transformational change becomes unstoppable, we do not know, but each of us must believe and behave as if we are that one extra person β€” the hundredth monkey, if you will β€” whose addition will catalyze species-scale consciousness connectivity.

In sketching on such a huge kaleidoscopic canvas, and not to lose one's way in the woods, it is imperative to have some clear points of reference. This book encompasses five principal ideas. One, it is a brutally candid and unflinching gaze at what ails the human condition; why we are such slaves of our senses, and why our behavior is so brazen and bizarre. It goes behind behavior and notes that behavior just does not burst out of nowhere; it incubates inside, nurtured by our thoughts. And thought, as the Indian sage Ramana Maharshi said, is the origin of sin. Two, it suggests that since we cannot alter the basic character of the mind, we should move to transform our mindset, that is, change the body of our assumptions, beliefs, and values that govern our lives. Three, it suggests that for any meaningful betterment of the human context of life on earth, what is needed is not simply a new way of understanding, but a change in the way we understand the way we understand, the way we think about the way we think, and that requires our finding a new source of cognition and intelligence, and that can only be the human heart. Four, only transformation through consciousness change could be the hope to avoid the sixth mass extinction that scientists are predicting, paving the way, in turn, to our premature posthumous existence. Five, and the most important idea, as the Bhagavad Gita exhorts, there is no greater dharma than swadharma. In life, every species, be it a plant or an ant or an animal, or even God, has a swadharma, and for the human, as the dominant form of life on earth, the swadharma must be to do God's work on earth: to sustain, synergize, and harmonize all life, human and non- human alike. That should be the ultimate aim of human transformation.

With these parameters serving as the framework, the book addresses a plethora of questions: What is our swadharma on earth, and how close or how far are we in tune with it? Has human culture and conduct brought man to the edge of extinction or to the launch pad of his final evolution? Why does man, who prides himself as the sole rational and spiritual being on this planet, behave so irrationally when it comes to issues that impact on the survival of his own species? Why is the human such a slave to his senses, and so prone to anger, malice, and violence, so addicted to sex, money, and power? Why is the human species at once so fratricidal and suicidal? Is evil endemic to the human condition or is it simply circumstantial? Is our goodness merely a matter of genes, just another form of selfishness? What should be done to make compassion and cooperation the reflexive response of the human condition, and take it away from the confines of kinship and friendship? What should we do to transform human diversity into an enriching asset, not a debilitating drag? If there is soon going to be a 'robot in every home', as Bill Gates predicts, what are the evolutionary implications? If medicine could cure the 'disease of death', as Richard Dawkins hopes it will, what kind of human society would that lead to? What should we do to break down, not build up, the barriers between people of race, religion, ethnicity, and nationality? What is so unique about the human species? Are we better than 'bugs and bacteria' simply because we have evolved a more complex neurobiology? What are the implications of the current thrust of scientific transformative effort to make man an 'immortal superman'? Without a corresponding consciousness change, would man become an intolerable menace on earth? If so, how could such a consciousness change be induced? Is the way the human mind receives, comprehends, and analyzes the dynamics that drive the human way of life intrinsically capable of coping with the looming threats to human existence like nuclear war and climate change? How could the human loosen himself from the grip of his own mind on consciousness, and activate the latent energy of his heart to counterbalance his mind? If man needs a fundamental transformation of the very meaning of 'being human', what agenda should he subscribe to?

To adequately address these intertwined questions, the book breaks up into eight chapters.

Chapter 1 offers a preview, a bird's-eye view of the book. It begins by setting the two basic parameters of this introspective inquiry at this turn of a millennium β€” why does man seem to be predisposed towards the immoral path, when being moral can give him all that he wants, and is God getting, in the Churchillian phrase, weary of mankind? The reality is that 'something seismic has happened at the very core of our being', which has changed our perceptions of the fundamentals and is blurring the boundaries between life and death. Man has become disillusioned, alienated, angry, at once narcissistic and nihilistic, and no longer lives in the 'natural milieu'; and the mind has become the monarch of man. The human condition has gone from being a 'paradoxical promise' to a 'perilous paradox'. We seem utterly β€” and fatefully β€” incapable of realizing that all humans share the same fate on a lone and crowded planet. The chapter goes on to discuss the dynamics of change and transformation, and notes that for the first time humanity confronts the kind of 'existential' risks it has never experienced before, and unlike the case with previous 'risks', it cannot learn from its mistakes. While change is inherent and constant, man is now 'making it happen', but in the wrong direction, focused on the body and driven solely by the power of technology.

Instead of consciousness change, he is attempting to become a superman; instead of spiritual transformation, he is aiming for physical immortality. An 'immortal superman' with the present consciousness would be an intolerable burden and menace to earth and Nature β€” and an affront to God. How Nature/God would react is not hard to guess β€” the scriptures have foretold the course of this most immoral age and how it will end. But if we can mend our ways and transform ourselves in the right direction, we might still get a reprieve and last longer than a century or two, as scientists like Martin Rees predict. What we do for the rest of this century could determine the fate and future of this human species β€” and of life on earth. That is the great challenge of this generation of human beings β€” and the 'point of departure' for the subsequent chapters.

Chapter 2 deals with the myriad aspects germane to 'being human', and the fall from paradoxical promise to perilous paradox. It puts the multiple identities of man in perspective. It begins with the fountainhead of all inquiry β€” Who am I? β€” and goes on to discuss a range of issues such as: human nature; human evolution or involution; the place of man in space and time; the debate about prehistoric man (god-like or ape-like); the dialectics of the real and unreal; greatness and goodness. It examines in some depth the question why man seems so predisposed to injustice, inequity, exploitation, hatred, and divisiveness. It gives particular attention to the contours and context of human behavior, and why and how it has become both suicidal and homicidal and a threat to life on earth. The chapter points out the growing toxicity in human life due to the alarming presence of chemicals in everything human, and the pollution of the living environment, potentially capable of transforming us into a 'mutant species'.

Chapter 3 begins by reviewing the gamut of subjects under the rubric of freedom and bondage β€” is man born free but chained through his culture, crippling his innate potential goodness, or is he too dangerous an animal to be let loose? What makes us aspire for salvation and be addicted to slavery? Bondage and inequality run through life, and most men, in Thoreau's words, lead lives of 'quiet desperation'. The state of the world reflects the state of a 'bonded man'; a symptom of the bondage is that good men seem to suffer and the bad seem to have all the luck. In that context, the chapter pays particular attention to the galloping 'banality' of personal, collective, and moral and economic evil, and our acceptance of that as the inevitable, if not necessary part of modern life, and to the attendant question "What is God 'doing about it'?" A plausible explanation explored here leads to the twin doctrines of karma and dharma. The author looks at the three kinds of karma, and examines the infiniteness of dharma, the subtleties of swadharma, one's own righteous path, and the yuga dharma, the moral way of this age. Among the topics the chapter covers are: the 'end of the world' scriptural scenarios and the 'gloom and doom' prophecies, the Hindu idea of avatars, direct divine incarnations, the last of which is due at the end of this age, the Kali Yuga; man's mindless (or maybe mindful) assault on Nature and its calamitous consequences; our inability to manage 'our aggregate existence', or the humane governance of human diversity; the complex of information-knowledge-ignorance, and the perils of assembling information without wisdom; the various aspects of 'external' and 'internal governance'; the paradox of a 'globalized globe' and of billions living lives of extreme poverty, alienation, and abandonment; the decline of the primacy of the Nation-State and its impact; the irony of our claiming to be a 'god' and constant comparison with animals; the rise of the 'economic man' and the decline of 'moral man'; the hold of power, sex, and control over the human mind; the vice-like grip of violence on the human mind and our growing insensitivity to human suffering; the human history of war-making and massacres, and horrors and genocides, and their colossal cost for the human conscience; man's indefatigable quest for immortality.

Chapter 4 delves deep into one of the most complex and increasingly important subjects of human thought, the two dominant strands in space and time β€” sacred and secular. In this setting, the chapter deals with the much-debated clash of religion and science, and describes the current state of both domains of knowledge, noting that the clash that is dissipating the human spirit is not between religion and science, but between one religion and another. Even though they are not in open conflict, religion and science have not worked out a way to work together, thus hampering both and diminishing overall human advancement.

Both work on separate agendas, religion deriving legitimacy through revelation, and science focused on its own glory. The chapter highlights some of the emerging trends in both science and religion, and their implications for the future of mankind. Religion, rather the way it is perceived and practiced, has become a major source of the very evil that it warns man to be wary of. The chapter goes on to argue that the greater danger stems from the fusion of technology with science, which has at once lethally empowered man as well as terminally enfeebled him. Technologies like nanotechnology and biotechnology are now trying to change not just the human environment, but the human organism itself. In a mood of disenchantment with both religion and science, many are turning to 'spirituality' as a way to be fully human. This chapter, towards the end, explores the ramifications of this trend and puts this in the context of the major thrust of this book β€” the need for spiritual transformation through mutation of consciousness, which is fundamentally different from the physical transformation through mutation of the body that science is attempting.

Chapter 5 focuses on the prerequisites for any meaningful change in human behavior through consciousness change. Consciousness remains, in many ways, the final frontier of human quest, an enigma wrapped in a riddle. We still do not know much about it, but we know enough to know that consciousness is the master key that can unlock many closed doors in the human condition and conduct. It is consciousness that separates one individual from another, the early humans from the modern man, one age from another, one species from another, and a baby from an adult. True transformation requires consciousness change. To get rid of all that ails us, to cleanse ourselves of all the toxins that we have accumulated, most of all our sense of separation and our entrenched ego, we need consciousness change. It is the content of our present consciousness that makes non-reciprocal love and spontaneous compassion so rare. It is this consciousness that warps our decision making, and prioritization and making of choices. All the afflictions and frailties of the brain/mind are attached to the consciousness, and in turn determine the nature of human behavior. To get rid of them, we need consciousness change. To contain the pandemics of suicide, homicide, fratricide, ecocide, and biocide, we need to attack them where they germinate and incubate β€” the consciousness. To make cooperation, not confrontation, altruism, not animosity, our natural and ordinary impulses, we need to change the very content of our consciousness.

Chapter 6 of the book elaborates perhaps the most important aspect: if consciousness change is to become a reality, it is imperative for the human consciousness to transit from mind-centeredness to heart-centeredness. It argues that despite consistently describing the mind as feeble, fickle, mischievous, and wayward, we have essentially become mental beings, and our behavior reflects that state. The central message is that for human behavior to change constructively our consciousness must change. And for consciousness to change, the grip of the mind must be eased, and for that to happen, the human heart has to be brought back, as a source of energy and intelligence, from the margins to the mainstream. 'A Path with Heart', borrowing the title of Jack Kornfield's book, has long been the spiritual path to salvation, and the scriptures, from the Upanishads to the Bible, have extolled the heart as the seat of the soul and the abode of God. It has also been said that the primary source of intelligence of prehistoric man was not in the head but in the heart, and earlier, even further down, below in the navel. Psychologists like Julian Jaynes say that till a few millenniums ago, human consciousness was 'bicameral', that is, it was powered by two kinds of intelligences, of the brain-mind and the heart-mind. All our troubles began when the heart regressed, and the mind virtually colonized the consciousness. The heart is the source of love, compassion, and much of what is good in the human personality. In what is described as frontier research, tools and techniques are being developed to re-energize heart intelligence. The truth of the matter is that our eyes can mislead, our ears can lead us astray, our mouth can betray us, and our mind can make us a monster, but our heart will always be faithful and unflinching in its integrity. The chapter suggests that restoring the heart to its rightful place ought to be at the top of the human agenda of this century, and offers a framework towards this end.

Chapter 7 addresses the central issue: what should man do to be fundamentally different from what he has become now, to remain essentially human and yet be post-human? To achieve that, man must shed the baggage of his post-industrial past, and acquire a new consciousness that is not exclusively mind-fixated, but constitutes a blend of two complementary intelligences β€” of the mind and of the heart. Transformation is neither new nor confined to human aspiration. Nature and life are nothing but transformations. Every passage from infancy through adolescence to youth, to old age and to death is transformation. We want something 'more', something different that lets us choose or discard what we like or dislike, like eternal youth and deathlessness. This section identifies and elaborates the two classical paths to transformation: the scientific and the spiritual, and suggests that we should lay out a new, the third, path: that of consciousness change and of the heart. A large part of this chapter goes into some detail about 'the phenomenon of God', covering a broad range of issues such as the scriptural view; the traditional mainstream scientific view that denies divine existence and role; the recent developments that are inducing some people to change their view; the different scenarios of the relationship of God and man; the dynamics of freewill, fate, and surrender; faith, divinity, and doubt; transcendence, immanence, and indifference of God The chapter closes with an examination of the triad of Transformation, Nature and Science.

The final Chapter 8 brings the 'story' to its climax. It looks at the living world for inspiration, metaphors, and models for human transformation. The living world has all the knowledge and know-how for man to attain the fullness of his potential. The section identifies three scenarios applicable to the human condition: the way of the ant and the bee; the way of the 'lemming suicide'; and the way of the caterpillar turning into a butterfly.

Clearly, we have much in common with the caterpillar, but we want to be the butterfly. Can man emulate this model, and if so, what could be the necessary elements? What could be the intermediate stage, the human equivalent of the 'pupa'? This chapter notes that there are alarming parallels between the 'suicidal' lemmings of the Arctic, and the present 'suicidal' human condition. And it argues that the kind of transformation that man must undergo, to ensure his own continued existence beyond a century or two, is impossible without a fundamental consciousness change, and that is virtually impossible without divine grace.

Man must combine two opposites: he must endeavor and struggle as if nothing is impossible for human will, and he must surrender to God as if He alone can save and steer man. But for God to extend His hand, we must create the right context and conditions here on earth. That is the privilege and opportunity for this generation of men and women. Can we measure up? At first sight, things look grim and gloomy. But some see hopeful signs, a resurgence, albeit sparse, of spirituality, of mysticism, of the emergence of a new paradigm of global consciousness. And science is breaking new ground through discoveries like that of a possible 'God-gene', and, most of all, the techniques to re-energize heart intelligence as a counterbalance to that of the mind. Individuals do matter, but for a species-scale transformation, the book posits, we must marshal a 'critical mass' and a coalition of forces. That is the challenge β€” and the choice.


On a personal note, I have a confession to offer: this book is a mystery to myself. How it came about, I do not know or remember. Purely factually, it is but a part of a much larger length of prose, running to over thousand five hundred pages, which I hope, God willing, will see the light of day sometime in the future. Nothing in my life fits in with the profile of an author of this book; there is no 'long foreground somewhere' to borrow the words of Emerson in his famous letter to Walt Whitman. My professional experience at first glance appears far removed, if not antithetical, to what the book encompasses. And, I am one of those who are truly troubled by the gathering dirt, decay, and drift in the human way of life, and who not only see misery and ask 'Why?', but also see promise in the rainbow and ask 'Why not? I have been a writer of sorts for much of my life, whether it was writing novels in my mother tongue (Telugu), writing for the United Nations, or publishing articles in reputed journals on a broad range of subjects. I have had the uncommon opportunity to live and work literally at every layer and level of human society, all the way from the grassroots to the global. One of God's gifts that I believe I possess is a natural ability to step aside and look at the different dimensions of the human condition, and discern what ails modern man, and offer some ideas on how to fix it. While living in the world, I can be an observer and a participant, an insider who can look from the outside, or an outsider who can cut through to the core. My association with the Indian Administrative Service (I.A.S.) and the International Civil Service (UN) gave me that rare chance to don those roles. But in the end, my real 'qualification' is that, to paraphrase Tennessee Williams, 'having found life unsatisfactory, I wanted to do the only thing I know: brood and write'.

Samuel Johnson once said that to write one book a man 'will turn over a half a library'. At least, judging by the voluminous notes and its kaleidoscopic coverage, this book came close to that. Disraeli said that the best way to get acquainted with a subject is to write about it, and, as E.M. Forster said, the only way to truly know what I think is to 'see what I say'. As much as the book is a journey of ideas and options on human transformation, it is also a personal voyage of self-discovery, to 'ascend' to the deepest depths of my heart, to feel, in Wordsworth's words, the 'breathings of my heart'. It is a means to save myself from 'tempered melancholy', said to be the central theme of the works of Joseph Conrad, or 'to withdraw myself from myself', as Byron puts it, and offer an utterance to my solitary soul.

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'. This book has been written in the spirit that 'mana seve madhava seva' (service to humanity is service to God), and if it triggers the tiniest tremor in the turbulent mindsets of a few of my fellow-men, then the long and exasperating travail behind this work would not go without leaving a trail behind. This book hopefully constitutes a humble offering to the Almighty, and any ripple effect it might cause in the ocean of global consciousness is a small service to make man a better being on earth. The opening to that offering is provided by Lord Krishna Himself, in the Bhagavad Gita: "Yat karoshi yad ashnasi; yaj juhoshi dadasi yat; yat tapas yasi kaunteya; tat kurushva mad-arpanam" (Chapter 9.27), which roughly translates as 'Whatever you do, eat, sacrifice, offer as gift, perform as austerity, O Kaunteya β€” do all this as dedication to Me'.

So, if nothing is too trivial or temporal to be a divine dedication, why not then a book… why not from a mere me?

Finally, we know that a book does not just happen. Apart from the actual author and the publisher, there are always unseen forces and invisible actors that facilitate the process and the product. Being invisible should not deny the right to be remembered; death should not annihilate deserved gratitude. In my case, I would be guilty of ingratitude β€” one of the Panchamahapapams, the five great sins β€” if I did not mention my beloved parents and siblings who gave me boundless love, without which any urge for creativity would have long been smothered. In terms of its content, it has been a singularly solitary effort, from conception to conclusion. Any creative effort is greatly influenced by the immediacy of the 'world' around, where just one element, just one person, can make all the difference. In my case, that 'one' has been my wife Nirmala, without whose critical support this labor would not have come to fruit. Coming to those who were more directly involved, I wish to take this opportunity to thank the language editors Kranthi Buddhiraju and S. Vijay Ramchander for their contributions. I would specially like to gratefully acknowledge the extraordinary commitment, diligence, and dedication of the latter. My assistant S.P. Babu Aradhya was also helpful in the preparation of the manuscript.

Bhimeswara Challa

July, 2010 Hyderabad


Chapter 1: Man in Context

God gotten weary of Man!

The turn of any millennium is always a time for thoughtfulness, a rugged moment for intrepid introspection, a hinge of history for an honest audit of human conduct, for a moral inventory of our presence on earth, a juncture for a steadfast look at a nebulous β€” and numinous β€” stage in the life of our blessed (and baffling) species. Although it is but a twinkle in the cosmic calendar and a trifling stretch in the geological calculus, a thousand years is a huge hiatus in human history and deserves a moment to pause and ponder. In the long, tempestuous tale of man's search for the substratum, his endeavors to understand the nature of the basic 'reality', the 'meaning of his being' and to bend fate, as it were, to his wanton whim and will, this is a period of pregnant profundity, the twilight of a dusky dawn. We are stranded between the crumbling past and a convulsive future, the ground underneath giving way, in our attempt to know why things are as they are. Whether we are simply the secular and stray descendants of a tiny cell of primordial protoplasm, or an arbitrary product guided by no objective value, or the special creation of an All-Wise and All-Merciful God and with a manifest mission that has somehow gone terribly awry, what the human presence has wrought on earth has come to a boil. We do not know what the future holds. Is it likely that a new species could evolve from Homo sapiens with improved or additional senses, with the ability to perceive and experience new dimensions, and with the capacity to develop a higher or different intelligence? Could it be that new species would manifest in a completely different form and shape with an entirely new life pattern?

In the 'magical' drama of the origin and evolution of life on earth, spread over a span of nearly four billion years, the present period is indeed a pivot without parallel when, as astronomer Martin Rees tells us, a lone species β€” the human, for now β€” has grasped the earth's future in its hands, casting on it a responsibility never before borne by any other species. In his book, Our Final Century (2004), Rees argues that humankind, with the devices it has on hand, is potentially the maker of its own demise and the demise of the cosmos. He says that "what happens here on Earth, in this century, could conceivably make the difference between a near eternity filled with ever more complex and subtle forms of life, and one filled with nothing but base matter." He adds that the odds are fewer than 50:50 that humans will survive till the end of this century; and brings the matter closer home β€” and heart β€” by reminding us that the decisions that man makes in the next few decades are possibly the most important that man has ever made.

Even if the time-frame is debatable, clearly we are poised at a pivotal point, and by the time this millennium passes and the year 3,000 CE arrives the human race would have either perished or would have become a radically different form of life on earth. Some astrobiologists calculate that the planet has already has begun the long process of devolving into a burned-out cinder, eventually to be swallowed by the sun. Whatever is the course of the future, it is becoming unmistakably obvious that we are in the middle of much more than a mere quantitative change in rates of growth, pace of application of technology, information explosion, or declining moral standards. While we talk of post-human as the next, perhaps the final, phase in evolution, the fact is that the base itself is eroded: we humans have already become other than only human for at least half a century, both in terms of our creative and destructive potential. With the result, we need new tools to govern our own behavior and new yardsticks on what or who a 'moral man' is or ought to be. We must bring into clearer focus what Scottish historian Adam Ferguson called in his essay History of Civil Society (1767) 'a principle for affection for mankind' and the conviction that "an individual is no more than a part of the whole that demands his regard"1.

The Socratic axiom that "an unexamined life is not worth living" is even more germane to the life and loves of a species that prides itself as the most 'intelligent' on this planet and that now has turned to be the most menacing mammal. Man, having largely succeeded in his labor to extricate himself from the rigors and limits inherent in the laws of Nature, has now shifted his greedy gaze towards the natural (or divine) determinants of earthly life β€” disability, decay, disease, and finally death. The other 'D'of human life is a congenital delusionary disorder. Deluded by his visions of anthropocentric grandeur, man is audaciously aiming at individual immortality, space colonization, and species-scale eternity, and has summoned science to his aid. For science, the defining driving force now on earth, has the primeval power to make things indistinguishably different from what they originally were, to transform their basic features, make them vanish and reappear as an altogether different substance β€” the attributes that hitherto God alone had. Man is now turning that 'transformational' power towards himself, trying to direct his own destiny. But unlike God's power, the power of science is, although awesome, still finite. And it can, in a trifle, like God, destroy not only incrementally but also exponentially.

The tantalizing prospect is this: can science be a tool not to hasten the passage of humankind into the dustbin of evolution, but rather be, as physicist Paul Davies (God and the New Physics, 1992), who in the past had denied divine possibility, put it, 'a surer path to God than religion'? And be a channel for the spiritual goal of self-discovery? For now, the copulation of man's greedy gaze and god-like power sets up the epic stage for a titanic struggle between human ambition and Nature's stoicism and divine forbearance. Most people have a 'gut feeling' that the world we have grown accustomed to is drawing to a rather messy end, and the Mayan apocalyptic date of 2012 is too close for comfort. There is erudite talk of a 'flat world' and of what really constitutes 'life', but it is the reality of living that has become flat without fizz, utilitarian sans idealism, a ritual devoid of the sense of the sacred, leaving a silent scream in the souls of sullen and stricken men. While the world is gluing electronically, it is fractured emotionally. Many seek solace through frenetic activity and seamless sensual pleasure through all kinds of devices and drugs, gurus and gadgets, religion and recreation, sermons and spiritualism.

And such is the extravagant extent of human rapacity, that life on earth is approaching or passing through, according to many experts, the sixth great wave of mass extinctions (the last, some 65 million years ago, was that of the dinosaurs). Scientists project that as much as 20 to 30 percent of species on earth could well vanish by the end of this century, triggered this time primarily by the predatory activity of a single biological species: the Homo sapiens. But it also means that, unlike the previous extinctions, we have the wherewithal to preempt or abort this one by the way we live each of our otherwise matter-of-fact lives. This could be the meaning β€” and the mission β€” we are all searching for. However much we might wish to lead prosaic lives of perfect peace and perpetual prosperity, this day and age is a moment with celestial import and doomsday odds. The gods of fate have cast us all a part to play sans the reassurance of rehearsal or reprieve; and in so doing, destiny has ceded a chunk of its own zealous domain. In everything we do in the immediacy of our lives, as individuals and as a collective unit, we must never let this central thought slip out of our mind.

1 Adam Ferguson. An Essay on the History of Civil Society. 1767. Accessed at:

Looking at man as he is and the world as it is, a clutch of questions grab us by our throat and brook no dillydally or shilly-shally, nor the proverbial 'Nelson's eye'. At this stage in the passage of the paradigm of life on earth, is the human, in the words of scientist Gordon Rodley, a 'monstrous, meaningless accident' and mankind fated to fail by the weight of its own frailty? Is Man's Fate β€” and what might befall him β€” just man's fate; does it matter for anyone else? And is God's choice only His preserve? At what point are we in God's watchful reckoning or Nature's forgiving indulgence? Are we mere puppets on a cosmic string or a blessed species blinded and brooding on the brink? Is man, in the words of the great Indian spiritual humanist Swami Vivekananda (Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 1893), "a tiny boat in a tempest, raised one moment on the foaming crest of a billow and dashed down into a yawning chasm the next, rolled to and fro at the mercy of his own good and bad actions, a powerless, helpless wreck, in an ever-raging, ever-rushing, uncompromising current of cause and effect, a little moth placed under the wheel of causation, which rolls on crushing everything in its way, and waits not for the widow's tears or the orphan's cry?"2 Is man, as the German philosopher and self-styled 'immoralist' Friedrich Nietzsche puts it, a mere condition to be overcome β€” for the good of the world? And is that 'overcoming' really to become extinguished, winging its way to a nobler species? At a time when the future seems grey and grim such questions seem increasingly pertinent. Such is our comprehensive incomprehension β€” or the lack of it β€” of what is happening around us that, while visualizing the world that awaits our grandchildren, we are puzzled if we should shudder or smile, feel scared or be elated. The great 19th century theosophist and occultist Helena Blavatsky wrote "Our age is a paradoxical anomaly. It is preeminently materialistic and as preeminently pietistic."3 That clash between the two, intensified over the last century, now threatens to blight our future. Clearly, so much in this world is so unfair, unjust and, one might even say, unforgivable that we are almost forced to give up trying to make sense of the 'why' of it. Often, the 'why not' seems more appropriate to the vagaries of life.

The scriptures might say 'it is all in the mind', and science might say that it is the undue agitation of some specific parts of the brain, but the daily reality is that we are confronted by perplexes that seem hopeless, vexed by ills and crushed by wrongs that we can barely perceive or prevent, forces we can scarcely comprehend or control. We often get a gnawing sense that we are surrounded by, in the words of William Wordsworth, "the fleet waters of a drowning world"4 and that, tormented, many feel they "have no rightful way to live."5 No rightful way to live and no place to escape to from the ruthless ritual of life. A huge chunk of humanity is afflicted with a sinking sense of visceral emptiness, a volcanic void deep inside and no help appears within reach from any quarter. Suffering, either 'deep, unspeakable ', in the words of George Eliot, or as chronic and low-grade, is what defines and unites much of mankind. The feeling that 'no one cares', or even that someone is inwardly gleeful at our suffering, causes disillusionment and bitterness, much like an inmate of a concentration camp who, on his release, discovers that no one awaited him or really missed him. But suffering, as the Buddha told us, is the central fact of human life and it is its denial that causes more suffering.

2 Swami Vivekananda's Address at the World's Parliament of Religions (1893, Chicago, USA). Accessed at:

3 H.P. Blavatsky. The Secret Doctrine. Volume 3. p.13. Accessed at:,The_HPBlavatsky.pdf

4 Cited in: Helen Vendler. A Powerful, Strong Torrent. The New York Review of Books, USA. 12 June 2008. p.64.

5 Cited in: Helen Vendler. A Powerful, Strong Torrent. The New York Review of Books, USA. 12 June 2008. p.64.

After thousands of years of contemplation, reflection, analysis, evocation, and spiritual seeking, of 'rationally' ruminating over the most profound problems of identity, life, and afterlife, and despite our greater understanding of the 'micro-behavior' of Nature, man still finds himself at war, within and without, nowhere near the shores of sanity, safety or stability, none the better or wiser for the effort. The real 'problem' we are trying to fix is us, all of us. What man does not understand, and cannot come to grips with, is his own 'behavior', rather his misbehavior; his deportment, rather his depravity. He seems more able to tame the turbulence of the elements but not the sway of his senses. And every man is in conflict with another man for material gain and divine favor. Whenever we try to free our lives from circumstances and constraints that hurt and limit us, we inevitably create others of the same or of a more abstruse order that shackle us tighter.

New knowledge reveals new mysteries. Every 'solution' seems to contain the seeds of another problem because both are filtered through the same sieve: the human mind. As a sequel we appear afloat and adrift, rootless and rudderless, not sure which path to tread or what to do for that mercurial and much-sought-after 'peace of mind'. Mindful that we are equally the children of the earth and the sky, the sun and the moon, air and water, dust and darkness, and that order in human affairs is intertwined with oneness of life, many a thoughtful person is searching for a symbiotic synergy between man and Nature, and between God and man, as a way to move forward. Restive but with reverence, they yearn to experience the ecstasy of resonance with the rhythms of empty space, to savor the silken whisper of fragrance of the wind and of the rumblings of the rafting rivulet as a way to the divine. Such wistfulness is also a part of a larger, and deeper, longing for self-transcendence, a hunger for a comforting shoulder, a quickening quest for 'meaning' that has endured all through history, cutting across all cultures and civilizations, myth, magic, and mythology.

Still, too many of us live in a fractured state of doubt, dismay, dread and denial, afraid of what the morning might bring to our kith and kin and what we might see in the mirror of our soul that might haunt us. Theories abound, but we really are unawake why so much of our existence is so disagreeable, distasteful, and destructive. We know a lot more of what matters in life than we are prepared to do what it takes to make it matter. We want to prevail; we want to succeed; we want to 'progress'. What we have achieved since the twentieth century is what British author F.J.P. Veale famously called 'advance to barbarism'; the savagery of a Genghis Khan'. What we do not want at any cost is being called a 'loser'.

Indeed the most unwelcome putdown, the dreaded name-calling, worse than being called a rogue or rascal, is the use of that 'L' word. We are getting tired not of evil but of being good, not of greed but of God. The cause, pundits tell us, is because our mental capacity for moral imagination or indignation, evolved through Darwinian 'natural selection', is not able to cope with the pressures and temptations of modern life. Man's very sense of the divine has increasingly become a reckless thought, propelling us to do things we would not otherwise do. Much of mankind, turning ancient wisdom upside down, has convinced itself that it does not pay to be caring, considerate and compassionate except to the shrinking circle of 'the near and dear'. Such is the state of 'quiet desperation', to borrow a phrase from Henry David Thoreau, that, exhausted with what existence entails we pine for a quick getaway to the safe shadow of a 'green mansion', to somehow end it all, no matter if it means suicide or homicide. The promise of our genius, the premise of our genus, is converted into a toxic peril.

The immediate task is to turn back that peril into a promise, even if it is paradoxical. We must explore how to become more fully human and still be saved from the fate of being merely human. Or put differently, inject humaneness into everything human. The challenge is prodigious and we must remember that out of any deep agony can spring enchanting ecstasy and that any in-depth inquiry, like any inquest, might show up surprises that might not always tally with the expected intent. Yet we must bring to bear the audacity of unvanquished courage and steel ourselves to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that might come our way. But the reckoning must be right, the coordinates correct and the goal crystal clear. And we must not fight shy of reviewing the most basic of all, our hallowed assumptions about the nature of reality, of human worth and human way of life. While there could be many intermediate stops on the journey, the finishing line has to be to "consciously reinvent the human as a dimension of the emergent universe"6 and evolve into a mode of being, a form of life, in which we are deeply able to feel in our bones a cascading compassion and responsibility for all of life. Nothing less would do either to save man or the world. We need a new 'moral fire' within to propel us to unveil a fuller and kinder model of human essence that brings man closer to another man and thus to God. That is the trembling task; this is the convulsive challenge and the chaste choice that lays before Man β€” the queerest creature of all on earth that walks on two legs, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton (The Everlasting Man, 1925).

So much of our life is a show and style, sound and fury, grounded on pride and pretence, vanity and venality, that if we were to go anywhere in our age-old aspiration to make life more luminous than the daily grind of drudgery and drift, we must be prepared to be more skeletal and more candid in our confessions about the true nature of our innermost thoughts, dark passions and deep feelings, and be prepared to explore the more obscure and frightening reaches of our souls. For what comes under the rubric of 'human way of life' has had its mixed moment on earth; and the moment is now to invent a new framework for and a frame of reference of living. It means letting go many things that have become almost 'living' parts of our organic life and which give us such a soothing sense of smug but sterile satisfaction. It also means, at once, to let go a huge chunk of us at the core, to renounce many trappings of modern life and to let something unknown, something still wrapped in the veils of virginity, to emerge from the womb of our being. We need to reappraise and reconfigure concepts like 'progress', 'success' and 'goodness', as we have come to instinctively understand them.

It is not to abandon or to turn the clock of history back. We need 'progress'; otherwise life becomes a zero-sum game. We need 'success'; otherwise we will lapse into inertia. The world needs 'good persons' if only to prove that human behavior is not beyond reform. But simply the status quo is untenable; it does no good to anyone, not to man or Nature or even to God. One of the little-noticed facts of evolution is that the environment of human habitation is changing so fast that it is outpacing the ability of the human organism to adapt. A new field of science called epigenetics is showing that the environment we are polluting and the lifestyle choices we routinely make, and our reflexive addictions to violence and to 'good life' can not only mar our lives but influence our very genetic code β€” and, ominously, that of the next generation (Why Genes Are Not Destiny; Time, 18 January 2010). In other words, our life is not the business of us alone; the way we go on with our daily activities, the myriad choices we make, whether volitionally or by default, carry consequences not only for us but for the very future survival and sustainability of the human race. If this 'finding' were further corroborated, it would cast on us an awesome responsibility, and to fulfill that we have to add a new dimension to how we spend every minute of our life.

6 Cited in: Susan Bridle. Comprehensive Compassion. An Interview with Brian Swimme. 2001. Accessed at:

While there is lot of levity and lasciviousness in contemporary life, there is also a simmering sentiment for an undefined 'something' lofty and elevating, a gnawing disquiet at what human life has come to be, burdened with a motley blend of helplessness and hope, apprehension and aspiration, of angst and anticipation. With all our incisive insights into how life began and the world works, human nature remains enigmatic, human personality problematic, human behavior erratic, and human destiny clouded. And man has become what one might describe as self-righteously self-destructive and guiltlessly, almost flippantly, murderous. Even more than God, man is the mystery wrapped in a riddle. The theosophist Alexander Wilder, a contemporary of Blavatsky, wrote that the problem of life is man. Ana Maria O'Neill, the Puerto Rican writer (Ethics for the Atomic Age, 1948) wrote that once man is put together, everything else will fall into place. The big question is, when is that 'once' going to be? Meanwhile, practically every institution man has 'put together' (with what Freeman Dyson calls 'ape-brain' and 'tool-making hands') β€” family to society, marriage to marketplace, City-State to Nation-State β€” has largely failed to measure up to its intent to make the whole more than the sum of the parts, and to provide us the space for self- fulfillment without impeding others. Human culture, which is what we assume strikingly distinguishes us from other species, has not found the modus operandi to harmonize the human, as a solitary being and a social being; and as a social being and a spiritual being. We are unable to harmonize externally because there is no harmony internally. The human mind is a good 'advocate' but a poor 'judge'; it is good at espousing causes, not at ensuring that that cause serves the overall good. As a result, to paraphrase H.G. Wells (Mind at the End of its Tether, 1945), a harsh queerness is coming into things human. So many horrific things happen with such banality and repetitiveness in our lives that our mind is benumbed. In our thirst for excitement and entertainment, the horrible breaks the tedium, the awful makes boredom more bearable and a day is deemed barren without an atrocity perpetrated by one of us. So much dirt, grime, and mildew has accumulated on the human slate, that we must wipe it crystal clear to even look at ourselves as we are, which means cleansing ourselves since we too are on the slate; indeed we are the slate, and the dirt and the chalk are nothing but us.

It is not only the individual that needs deep cleansing. Our collective soul needs it too. Our way of life has made human society into a conglomeration of competitive entities, each one trying to expand its 'sphere of influence' and power and control. That stems from our obsession with comparison. Nothing in life is valued for its own sake; but only in the context of someone else having it or not having it or wanting it. Man's much-flaunted faculties of freedom and freewill β€” 'the right to live as we wish' (Epictetus) β€” have not given him either security or stability, or freedom from fear. Indeed it is fear that frames much of our tenure on earth β€” fear of old age, of illness, of bereavement, of accident, of loss of livelihood, of the Grim Reaper's inexorable entry. We 'fear'β€” or 'favor' β€” many things not for their own sake but for their expected consequences. And, following the advice of the Italian philosopher Machiavelli to rulers, we would rather be feared than be loved, we are enthralled by the illusion of a mastered destiny but, as individuals, we are laid waste and haunted by the fear of the future.

Nor has the freedom of choice in our elevated awareness of 'good' and 'evil' β€” a special gift of God β€” helped us to lead moral lives that add value to other's lives. It is a harsh verdict, but our sense of the divine down the ages has not helped much, if any, in our moral progress. Nor has allegiance to theism or agnosticism or atheism made any difference. That is because we do not have in the deepest depths of our being what it takes to use that awareness wisely or to simply be able to see, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant noted, the good only in goodwill, or the bad only in actions, not as a person. Or, more ominously, as the Grand Inquisitor in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (1880) upbraids the returning Jesus, and thunders: are freedom and free choice too burdensome for humanity? They are burdensome because in bestowing us, by endowing us with them, God has pretty much turned himself, in Julian Huxley's phrase, into a smiling Cheshire cat, pretty much leaving us alone to fight our own inner battles.

And in choosing, we must discard something we cling to like our skin, like the belief in our irreplaceability and the invincibility of our intellect. Greedy as we are, we want choice without choosing; we want to feel the miraculous without miracle, order without authority, God without religion, or religion without revelation. However crushing free will is, all history tells us two things: that tyranny in the guise of security has not stilled the human spirit; and deep inside lurks a tyrant in every human. In that quandary, face to face with what free spirit, free speech and unfettered action have entailed, man today seems willing to experiment with anything that proffers to save him from himself, from euphoria-inducing drugs to 'sacred' self-annihilation. He talks of a 'spiritual' path as the way forward, but since that means giving up much of what he has become, he therefore contents himself with being a 'spiritual tourist' rather than a steadfast seeker.

Whether as a 'tourist' or an 'immigrant' or a 'seeker', what we really want is a future without worry and want. Although a much-used phrase, we are ambivalent about 'future': deep inside we cannot relate to that which is so hazy and we cannot, in our vision, go beyond our 'own world'. As for anything beyond that, be it humankind or the earth, even our imagination falters. That is why, despite an avalanche of scientific 'evidence', we cannot bring ourselves to believe that anything can truly endanger the earth. The present generation of mankind is going through a tumultuous period of apocalyptic danger and epochal opportunity, of abysmal moral decadence and seething spiritual renaissance. Bound and bare, naked in our vulnerability, we live; we wander in the wasteland of the wanton world, laden with meaningless chores and multiple 'duties'. But, as J.R.R. Tolkien said, not all who wander are lost; but we are lost, the present crop of men that inhabit the world. T.S. Eliot's description of the modern man as 'hollow man', as a stuffed man, appears apt at this juncture. In becoming modern or post-modern, the bedrock of which is 'rationality', man has discovered the world but lost himself in the labyrinths of life. An issue that has for long been the subject of animated debate is whether our moral capacity is contingent on reasoning or religion, intelligence or intuition. Many people simply assume that morality comes from God, crafted during creation or implanted in our mind by religion. Some say that our brain contains unconscious biases that explain our moral behavior. Some others have argued that reason is not enough and that we have to reckon with what Aristotle called akrasia, weakness of will, that knowing is not the same as doing. The human spirit has become 'helplessly cold', hopelessly led astray by avarice, ill-will and evil. Self-absorbed on this long trail, we have forgotten that the Spirit or the Self in all is one, that we are a part not only of a colossal cosmic context but also of an unimaginably bigger process of creation β€” and that we have a role and responsibility in that adventure.

The root cause is that the physiological state of man has shifted from an abundant reliance on the sacred and the supernatural, and intuition (sometimes described as 'spontaneous-cum-reflected judgment' or as direct vision or pure perception of Truth), to an almost absolute obeisance to logic, reason, and the laws of science, which we have come to view as emancipators and liberators of mankind. What has been called by the 20th century Russian-American philosopher Ayn Rand 'ethical egoism' and 'rational selfishness' has not created the harmonious human, nor has it allowed the spiritual side to surface. We have developed a mindset that disconnects many things that need to be connected; for example, passion and compassion, prayer and piety, conscience and conduct, belief and behavior, power and forbearance. One of the greatest intellectual and moral crises of our age, one with enormous practical implications, is the fact that most people simply do not believe that there are any universal principles of ethical conduct, or moral imperatives of right and wrong, or, if there are any such principles, that we can know them well enough to induce generic adherence. With growing skepticism about any ecumenical and theological basis to life, the only universal norm appears to be to contend and conspire against one another for 'comparative advantage' of the competitive crumbs of crass consumerism, for the remains of the ruins of a 'good life'. We want liberty and love, freedom and fortune, health and happiness β€” all of them more than someone or everyone else. None of them has any value in isolation from the opposite and from that of another person. Everything abominable is now honorable under the given circumstances; no atrocity is beyond human depravity; all legitimacy is contextual; and nothing is ruled out for personal gain or to seek divine favor; there are no more any moral or ethical thresholds that one trembles to cross. Human self- righteousness is rivaled only by human fallibility; unrighteousness by condescension; insensitivity by intolerance. And may we pause for a moment to ponder β€” more horror has been committed throughout human history by self-righteous men, religious or otherwise, than by men we condemn as 'evil'. Were there to be no more morrows for mankind and a monument erected in its melancholic memory, a large chunk of its dark side will be written dipped in the blood let loose by these men.

Unwilling or unable to own up our responsibility or face the consequences of our actions, we moan 'Oh, God!' and ask, 'what does He truly want from us?' And 'why does He not do something?' And then there are those like Winston Churchill, a man of war for much of his life, who, in the waning years of his eventful life, wondered, in his farewell speech to the House of Commons (1955), what would happen "if God wearied of mankind."7 In the great Indian epic Mahabharata, its chronicler, the sage Vyasa, himself deemed a divine amsa or a spark, asks a haunting question that goes to the heart of the human malaise, which echoes unanswered down the ages. He laments that no one listens to him when he espouses the importance of dharma (moral conduct), and asks, when man can get virtually everything he aspires in life β€” artha (wealth) and kama (all worldly wants) and moksha (final liberation) β€” through righteousness, "why then should any one fail to follow dharma?"8

It was not only sages like Vyasa who are not listened to. No one listens to anyone, and one of the crying needs of the hour is to be heard with sensitivity, not necessarily when one desperately needs help, but as a human soul yearning for attention. As the stoic Greek philosopher Epictetus said, 'Nature has given us two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak'. We speak with multiple mouths while being seemingly devoid of ears. We end up doing things we do not want to, manipulated as if by a malevolent force.

Apostle Paul, one of the greatest and earliest Christian missionaries and the author of several epistles incorporated into the New Testament, spoke, as it were, for all of mankind: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."9 The two questions or laments, Churchill's and Vyasa's, reinforced by the wrenching 'reflection' of St. Paul, are the central points of reference β€” the deepening moral decadence, the gap between belief and behavior, and the potential divine displeasure β€” that frame this introspective inquest.

7 Winston Churchill. Never Despair. 1955. Speech to the House of Commons, UK. 1 March 1955.

8 Immortal Words: an Anthology. 1963. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Bombay, India. Moral Law. p.142.

9 The Apostle Paul. Romans 7:15. Accessed at:

We may be barely cognizant of its contours but something utterly awesome, something seminal and seismic has happened β€” and is happening, even as we blink β€” at the very core of our being, and at the deepest depths of human consciousness. It relates to the most fundamental issues of birth, life, living, dying, and death. We can only surmise about the state of divine 'weariness' about man, but the fact is that man himself is getting weary of his own tenuous and tiresome existence, weary of the kind of things he has to do just to be counted among the living, weary of the pain, sorrow, and the loss of personal dignity that seem so irrevocably embedded in the ethos of contemporary life.

Perhaps we are already, without our knowing, in a state of collective 'posthumous life' as a prelude to a post-human future, a kind of 'living dead' trying to survive the materialistic apocalypse. We have 'controlled' birth to suit our convenience; we 'love' or hate life, without knowing what it means; we dread 'living' but still do everything possible to prolong that 'dread'; we detest death, yet deep inside, long for its embrace to make up for what we seem to miss in life. And yet paradoxically nothing for the human is as unsettling as dying. The irony and tragedy is that while man craves for certainties in life, he wants to change the only certainty, death. And this despite what the Scriptures tell us that death is similar to the transition from the dream state to the waking state or, as described in Tibetan Buddhism, waking 'from the dream state of having lived'. While we envy the gods for their immortality, the gods, it is said, envy our mortality. But we want to give up our only 'comparative advantage' and get prolonged misery in return.

But death, even after mastering man, is not 'living on its laurels'. It too, for want of a better word, is 'evolving' inside our consciousness in a way that defies our capacity for comprehension, our ability to put that 'development' in the perspective of the overall balance and continuum of life on earth. We seem infected with some kind of a 'death-wish disorder', which is to wish our own death by taking other people's lives and inviting a death sentence. We have no inkling if this urge is to escape from the agony and anguish of life or Nature's way of getting back at man for all the insults he has heaped upon it. The irony is that while we do everything possible β€” and seemingly impossible β€” to ward off death, we are now turning to death itself as the panacea for all our life's ills, to find redemption from the 'inhuman' world, to 'lighten' its crushing heaviness, and to settle earthly scores. It is through killing that we are trying to circumvent or overcome every human predicament: disappointment, disagreement, or unfulfilled demand.

Our mind has grasped that no one can touch us beyond death; that no human being, once dead, can do us any harm. Many are choosing to voluntarily leave the ranks of what Christopher Isherwood called 'the marvelous minority β€” the Living', and join the majority

β€” the Dead. So reflexive has this 'disorder' become that it is almost impossible to anticipate what one should not say or do to another person to ensure that it will not provoke suicide or homicide or, increasingly, a cocktail of the two. Death in that sense is not snuffing out a life; it is simply 'problem-solving'. Human self-centeredness and malevolence have become so pervasive that self-destruction and suicide as a source of permanent settlement to life's temporary problems seems to have attained 'criticality' in our lifetime, and suicide has become "nothing short of a pandemic of global proportions"10. It seems far deeper than a desperate cry for help or a fevered response to the growing, almost intolerable, stress and strain of modern life; it seems to have something to do with a still unknown, mysterious evolutionary imperative.

10 Mass Suicide. A Holology Special Report written by Freydis. Accessed at:

More and more people across the spectrum of gender, age, ethnicity and religion have come to believe that the only dignified way to cope with pain, grief, suffering, sorrow and even pedestrian disappointment is not by erasing the cause but by removing themselves from the very world that creates the 'cause'. Murder is not lagging all that far behind; our reluctance to kill β€” for revenge, profit, release from stress, pleasure, fun, or gain β€” has dramatically faded and we are ever inventing new 'rational reasons' to eliminate each other. What is shocking is not the numbers of those who kill themselves and/or kill others, but the utter ordinariness of the triggers and casualness of causes; it seems as if everything and anything man is capable of thinking, feeling and doing can result in one of the two or even both. Fundamentally they are seen, rationally and emotionally, as an 'honorable' option in problem-solving and conflict-resolution. The boundaries between murder and martyrdom, suicide and salvation are blurring, leaving us with no yardstick for any moral judgment. Mass murder is getting justified as a 'just war' and mass suicide, which is what our assault on biodiversity amounts to, is legitimized as the 'price of progress.'

While much attention is focused on the politically or religiously motivated 'suicide terrorism', the more important point that the human mind itself has become a tool of terror, whose epiphany is self-destruction, as a way to cope with the inanities and inequities of modern life, is largely lost sight of. While we tend to think of terror as a tool of the 'terrorist' or of the State or something like blowing up a bus or a plane, the fact of the matter is that it is much closer home; indeed we are the home; almost everyone is a perpetrator and a victim.

Terror is a weapon of the mind; the aim is dominance, power, and control, and there is hardly anyone who does not utilize them to the detriment of someone else. Someone or the other is terrified of us; and we are terrified of someone or the other. Our growing propensity to embrace death as a refuge from life's indignities and insecurities signifies not only a profound and lethal transformation in the internal psychological balance of the human persona, it raises the chilling question if we, in so doing, are somehow furthering a mysterious cosmic cause, a divine purpose. Could it be a way to maintain a kind of life- balance on earth? Clearly something so basic and causal to life β€” and creation β€” cannot 'just happen' without evolutionary implications.

What we do know, though, is that the human personality, perhaps more than ever before, is now driven by what goes on inside its head. The human mind, with a dimension of depth matchless in the universe, is the predominant force in the human consciousness as well as the epicenter of all the torment and turmoil in the world. It is a temperate habitat for some of our most virulent and violent passions, our darkest desires. Worse, too often, what we desire, far from being autonomous, is in the context of what another person desires of the same object. If two persons want something, the third wants, and the fourth, and so on; it then spreads like an infection. In that sense, desire is an imitation, an infection. It is a triangular equation β€” the subject, the object, and the desire to be. As RenΓ© Girard noted, 'all desire is a desire to be'. That leads to conflict and confrontation, unleashing other desires.

While we talk of a multitude of freedoms and liberations, we ignore the most basic of them all: emancipation of the mind or rather, of consciousness from the grip of the mind. We talk of change but sidestep the most fundamental of all changes: that of consciousness. The expression 'sick and tired of life' is far more commonplace than being 'in love with life', regardless of age, race, religion, gender or culture. Human ambition has long struggled to make some objective sense of the human subject, not merely the sensory or thinking subject, but the feeling, living human persona. That struggle only deepened as man fashioned a culture, a society, and a way of life distinct from his fellow animals, a self-professed distinctness that has become a moral cover for inflicting soul-stirring cruelty on animals. As Chesterton said, the more we look at man as an animal, the less he will look like one. It is so ingrained now, that life as we know it is almost unthinkable if that distinction is erased. It is a reckoning that, some day, will come, for all mankind. At its deepest depth, the malaise of man stems from, in the words of the philosopher Owen Barfield (Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, 1965), our "inveterate habit of experiencing matter devoid of spirit, and consequently of conceiving spirit as less real, and finally as altogether unreal."11 Bewildered by the 'real of the real' and the 'unreal of the unreal', that 'habit' has turned into a tumor of hate.

Stanford professor and author of Science and Human Transformation (1997), William Tiller wrote: "we have to recognize that there is a metastasized cancer in the body of man. If humankind is to survive, we have to deal with that metastasized cancer. We have to cut out the parts that need to be cut out, in a surgical way. We have to heal the parts that can't be cut out."12 We cannot harbor hatred in our hearts and expect the world to exist in rhythmic harmony. As for our nexus with Nature, to paraphrase the Scottish poet Robert Burns (To A Mouse, 1786), man's dominion has broken Nature's social union, severely testing Nature's renowned resilience. We have forgotten that to be 'controlled', Nature must be obeyed, as pointed out by Francis Bacon, acclaimed as the 'father of science'. The price of 'defiant control' can be exacting. We cannot make crooked choices and hope that baneful consequences will pass us by in innocence. We cannot keep doing the same thing over and over again and just hope that the next time things will be different.

Topping the inventory of our angst is the problem of β€” and with β€” God. Our relationship with God, by far the most important of all, and the only one that is not inherently constrictive, is dysfunctional; all the things we do in the 'name of God' just do not add up; if any, they negate each other; a kind of a zero-sum game. He is on everyone's lips but in no one's heart; His utility, a perpetual parachute; our devotion, a cry of desperation.

Globalization, it has been said, is good for the gods and there are more places of worship, for example in India, than schools or hospitals. Yet, most people feel 'let down' or 'forsaken' by God as if He is beholden and bound to us. Adding a new dimension to our search for God, science is looking for a 'God gene' (VMAT2) that predisposes us to believe in God, and a 'particle' in physics β€” what physicist Leon Lederman called the 'God particle' β€” which, so they tell us, transforms the intangible into the tangible and makes life possible.

While some are worried about the experiment going horribly awry, the more important question is how it might influence the great battle between good and evil. Not simply with the divine, our relationship with fellow humans too is in tatters. With all our 'culture' and structures of cohabitation we do not 'relate' to each other in any sense of synergy. We 'interpret' each other, not always by or of the person directly affected. Someone 'interprets' something β€” scripture, statute, law, language, word, even behavior β€” and someone else loses liberty and life, indicted and incarcerated, and is subjected to pain and suffering. Indeed much of the interpersonal strife and social and religious violence stems from intermediation and interpretation, from being 'processed' and 'packaged', made suitable for our ingestion and intelligence.

Our breathtaking diversity, the tapestry of our plurality, has become an orchestra out of tune, a debilitating drag on human ripening. We are unable to preserve specificity and at the same time, subordinate it to overriding unity. In the event, the fulfillment of every individual aspiration is chipping away at generic good, and the interests of the smaller unit β€”individual, family, community, nation β€” has come to overshadow that of the larger and bigger unit of humankind. Starved of any sense of significance, many people deem their lives as drudgery devoid of delight, feel abandoned and not wanted. Deep in their hearts they believe that, in the words of the Czech playwright Vaclav Havel, their lot is a 'diabolical trap set by destiny'. Maybe we too are like the mythical Greek King Sisyphus, condemned to an eternity of labor and turmoil for our unspecified but ubiquitous crimes against the gods! And it will possibly end only when we cleanse and transform ourselves inside out.

11 Owen Barfield. Introducing Rudolf Steiner. Accessed at:

12 Cited in: The Conscious Creation of a New Paradigm. Interview with Dr. William A. Tiller. The Spirit of Ma'at. Vol.2, No.8. Accessed at:

Almost everyone is discontented and disenchanted; as a reflex and rebound, everyone wants more of everything beyond what one can either use or consume; or even discard because, we fear, someone else might use it! Bitten by the bug of 'ownership' all the way from another person to another planet, possessing more than he needs, acquiring more than he can keep, coveting what another person has or might want, such are the symptoms of modern man's malaise. Even death is no cure; we want to leave behind memories, memorials and property for progeny. Everyone wants to grab the 'good things of life' without doing any good to anyone. Dangling between nihilism and narcissism, between the fluid and the fixed, between free will and fate, between the longing for certainties and the inevitability of change, man today is meandering, caught in the web of what Goethe called the 'maddening maze'.

As Oscar Wilde quipped, the only temptation we cannot resist is temptation. We want to be rescued without getting lost, liberated without surrendering and sharing without sacrifice. Muddled in our mind, we stand in our own shadow and wail why it is dark. We seem overpowered by our ravenous maw and restless groin, and nothing gives greater pleasure than satiating the two. In our confusion about our real identity and irreplaceable essence, unable to transcend from the plateau of the individual to the platform of the universal, we try to label all that we cannot conceive as 'mystic' and in so doing, as the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard noted, we negate ourselves.

In the scriptural context, individual identity is a beguiling chimera and the only authenticity is divinity within every being and in everything. To borrow the words from a George Harrison lyric, we hide behind a wall of illusion; never glimpse the Truth; then it is far too late (Within you, without you, The Beatles, 1967). But we behave as if the only truth is physical, and divinity, at best, is effervescent but external, to be envisioned, not experienced. And 'culture', which includes the sacred, the secular and the profane in human thought, the signature of our social identity, some pundits predict, will soon replace ideology and economics as the new battlefield of barbarity and bloodletting. But that, truthfully, should not be too upsetting; for, to paraphrase Anna Akhmatova 'it loves blood; the human appetite'.

That 'appetite' will forever be a part of our lust for life and we do not have within us what it takes to quench it. But what is already clear is that the compass and coordinates that man has so far relied upon to navigate the ocean of earthly life β€” family, religion, country, tradition, and values β€” are no longer apt for the human condition to find its full utterance. The line between religious and sacrilegious is thinning and we seem to be, even against our will, sliding down the moral slope. But we, as individuals, behave as if we have nothing to do with what awaits the species, that we owe nothing because we got nothing; and in any case, we mutter to ourselves, 'what can we do?'

That nonchalance and insensitivity comes from another paradox of human life. Man is, in the idiom of the French Nobel writer Alexis Carrel, both 'unity' and 'multiplicity' and the apparent tension between the two dimensions torments life. While multiplicity, diversity, and duality are the order in the cosmos, the principles of uniformity and linear continuity have been the dominant human intellectual aspirations. While our mission on earth is to harmonize dwanda or dualism, we strive to eliminate one of the two. That creates all our problems, for, as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad points out, it is only through duality that we can relate to or understand each other. We can live with turmoil and terror, mayhem, and massacres in the world, but not any convulsion that disturbs the tenor and temper of our daily lives, much less any radical revisions in the style and substance, the content and character of our prosaic existence. What matters to us is not eternity or the fate of the world; it is the time and place of our daily presence. While the nature of Nature is turbulence and creative chaos, we crave for the stability of a stone, a life without worry or work, a ripple-less river, a wave- less ocean. While conflict is endemic to life, instead of turning it into creative force, we try to erase it. Yet chance and happenstance, fate and fortune β€” not choice and calibration β€” envelop our daily lives. It is the inherent unpredictability of individual lives that mocks at us. Roman philosopher and poet Horace (Odes, I.9.13) wrote, Quid sit futurum cras, fuge quaerere β€” do not ask what tomorrow brings. Indeed much as we might like it, knowing the future could be terrible; if it is rosy we will be complacent and stop striving, and if it is bleak we will go to pieces and even stop working, thinking it is of no use in any case. We lead such charmed lives that if even a few of the myriad things that happened in our lives had not happened or happened differently, we would almost be a different people. We crave for comprehensive predictability and uneventful gradualism, and smooth progression through life, but we do know that everything can crumble by an unexpected event, an illness, a death, an accident. The best one can do, as another Roman philosopher, Cicero, advised, is to hope for the best, plan for the worst, and endure whatever shall be.

The problem is not only the fickleness of the future. It is also that we really do not know how a particular human personality develops, or predict how any one of us will react to a particular circumstance, provocation or seduction. Random happenings far removed from the immediacy of our lives β€” wars, famines, climatic changes, accidents β€” could turn our lives upside down. We want to 'choose' and 'control' everything in every circumstance, from what we eat to whom we mate, what we buy to how we die. The unexpected, the unintended, the unpredictable, the chaotic are constants in our lives. No matter how much we want to orchestrate events, too often the result seems to depend on essentially independent factors that exist outside the context of the process under way. If the result is favorable, we call it good fortune; and if it is unwelcome, it becomes ill luck. Fate seems to delight in thwarting our carefully crafted designs to lead lives of perfect order, tranquility, peace, and prosperity. We want to fool fortune but we end up, in Shakespeare's phrase, as a 'fortune's fool'. Fate, it has been said, is beyond the control of gods and goddesses; it is the raw power of Nature that controls the ebb and flow of cosmic energy. Some say it hides in the deep cosmos; and some insist that it is in the depths of our subconscious.

The fact of the matter is that we seem at the mercy of so many factors and forces, pulls and passions, compulsions and constraints, that we cannot recognize the difference between what we do and what we have to do, much less what we could and what we ought to do. As Edwin Arnold (The Light of Asia, 1879) hauntingly puts it, "we are the voices of the wandering wind; which moan for rest and rest can never find; Lo! as the wind is, so is mortal life; a moan, a sigh, a sob, a storm, a strife."13 We want to go home, after losing our way on the moot of life, but we do not know where and what our home is, and end up like the child in Emily BrontΓ«'s Wuthering Heights (1847), peering through the window on a stormy night and crying "Let me in, let me in!". We do not know what accounts for time's unidirectional flow, and if there are truly any 'times' save the present 'time'.

13 Edwin Arnold. The Light of Asia. 1974. The Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Chennai, India. Book III, p.33.

In the Katha Upanishad, the Hindu God of Death Yama asks Nachiketa, the embodiment of the eternal seeker: "What are a billion years compared to eternity? Not even a glimmer. Why, then, do we scramble after such short-lived earthly goals, goals that even if attained, prove to be worthless since they vanish away so quickly?"14 Why, indeed! Perhaps we scramble after such earthly goals because they are the only ones our senses can grasp, our mind can relate to, and because they give the appearance of giving 'pleasure'. Vedanta says that everything in life is merely appearance; the world we experience is not the same as the atomic, physical universe. It is the mind that causes this delusion. It has become almost impossible to perceive which is the more dominant force β€” our mind, or our sensory sensations, or something still unknown. As a result, we seem almost pathologically powerless to alter our behavior even when we know that such behavior can be catastrophic. While we can see fairly clearly the probable consequences of our actions, we seem incapable of injecting those factors into our daily decisions. Our inexplicable paralysis to act upon the growing menace of violence so visible, and the corrosive coarseness of our conscience make us wonder if man has incurred the Cassandra Curse: 'we simply will not believe anyone will believe us' and so we refuse to believe ourselves, or believe that we can change our behavior. So we hibernate but hope; drift but dream of glory and greatness..

To let fall a tear for humanity

Dreams and destiny have their own dynamics, but, to paraphrase Shakespeare, (Henry VIII) this is a testing time in the life of our species β€” a time that bears a weighty and serious brow, full of scenes to draw the eye to flow, to let fall a tear. As a lyric goes, 'a simple tear within itself is the key that holds the secret to our humanity'. But few among us can spare a 'tear' for humanity because we do not innately and effortlessly feel connected to the amorphous entity of humanity. Although in the deepest and lonely depths of our hearts, the ultimate mystery of our existence rankles, there are many who find no problem in believing that human species surely is doomed, but that somehow they themselves would be saved! In the myriad things that constitute the mosaic of life, the most important things, the ones that cause most misery, have roots so simple, so obvious, and so familiar that we pass them by with barely a glance.

They escape our attention because they are too close or too deep; right in front of us and inside us; resulting in our losing our way between the casual and the primal, the immediate and the important, the event and the eventuality. We find it hard to realize that the earth is not the lifeless ground under our feet, open to endless exploitation, a bottomless sink for the industrial civilization. We are increasingly incapable of perceiving her as the Mother, who carries us on her back, who steadies us when we stumble, and forgives us for all the indignities we heap on her. Most people do not care what happens to earth's plant and other animal species; they do not even care about their own species. Unconcerned about the consequences, we are depleting our natural stocks β€” water, hydrocarbons, forests, fish, rivers, and arable land β€” without a thought to recycling or replenishing. It is becoming clearer as every day passes that a warped understanding of the biosphere, the global ecological system that integrates all forms of life on earth, has much to do with the perilous state of the world. If we continue to contaminate the bed we sleep on, one day we will choke on our own waste. As the American ecotheologian Thomas Berry puts it, we have some sort of moral sense about suicide, homicide and genocide, but not of biocide, the killing of life supporting systems and ravaging of the earth itself.

14 Swami Nirmalananda Giri. Commentary on the Katha Upanishad. From the Unreal to the Real: Eternal Values. Spiritual Writings, Atma Jyoti Ashram. Accessed at:

At its very epicenter, the point where the seismic rupture begins, the issue boils down to this solitary truth: all through the labyrinthine path of evolution and despite our strong social predisposition, we have not managed to acquire any enduring sense of what we might call species-hood, the sense that we have something vital at stake, above all else, in the well- being of another person. We hardly give any weight simply because the 'thing' we are dealing with is not an ant or animal or angel but one of our own kind, made up of the same body, blood, brain, and nervous system. We have never managed to truly believe that we have a shared destiny on a crowded planet, and that coming together is better than standing apart, that another person's misfortune can be of no profit to us.

Instead, what we have is 'victimhood': everyone, even a scamp, thinks that he is a quarry, a stoic sufferer. It is a state of mind in which we don the garb of a champion of the oppressed while trampling on the down-and-out, dissociate ourselves from any responsibility for what happens to us or done by us. We do not seem to be accountable to anyone, feeling morally right in whatever we do, and we expect unquestioned sympathy for all the wrongs, real or imaginary, done to us. There are many fringe benefits of victimhood; and in the contemporary culture, new rewards are continuously being discovered. There are many villains out there but the real 'villain' lurks inside us: to divert our own minds, we simply look for an external enemy. Man has always viewed himself both as a master and a martyr, a chosen being and a scapegoat, and the mix comes out in myriad ways in everyday life.

Our long trail of evolution seems to have loaded us with some very hoary and many unsavory predispositions and traits, a hangover of the struggle for the survival of the fittest; of our hunter-gatherer past when having those 'negatives' conferred a reproductive and combative advantage over other species. Some biologists and anthropologists speculate that humans may well have a 'rape gene' or a 'killer gene', with strong roots in evolution tucked away in some corner of our consciousness. That does not deter us from laying claim to constitutional 'perfection', which shows up in such expressions as man is 'almost perfect', 'near perfect', 'potentially perfect'. We also say that the human has limitless potential, leaving the question unanswered as how something perfect can still have so much unfulfilled potential. To borrow a phrase from the American philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr, our eternal 'pilgrimage to perfection' will go on until we learn to turn that pilgrimage inwards.

Life is a stream of 'disharmonies', capable of no perfect way; no ideal 'perfection' in organic life can exist; no 'perfect' dieting, no 'perfect' mating no 'perfect' bliss, no 'perfect' conduct or character β€” and no idyllic human society. A partial being cannot be perfect; an unfinished product cannot be a masterpiece. From the biological point of view, individually we are a series of involuntary 'experiments' on the part of an imperfect species towards an uncertain end. Neither scripture nor spirituality, or even science, can change that truth, even if man becomes 'immortal', which some scientists like Ray Kurzweil say is as close as twenty years! We have not found a way to connect man as an autonomous unit of life (born apart, living separately, and dying alone), and as mutually enriching members of a common species with an indissolubly shared destiny. One of the claims that we often make for our greatness as a species is our capacity to conceive and create what we call 'civilization' and there is no attribute we cherish more than 'being civilized'. It is innate to every 'civilization' to lose its vision, vitality and inner energy and fall into a state more sordid than that of the savages. The world today, borrowing a phrase from D.H. Lawrence, is like "Augean stables with metallic filth". Lest it be forgotten, monstrosities like Nazism, as Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman reminds us, was not caused by the suspension of civilization, but were products of civilization. He argues that civilization, instead of making us moral, overcomes morality. We often think of 'being moral' or a 'good person' in negative terms; not violating a rule, law, canon or a code of the state or scripture.

More fundamentally, the essence of morality or goodness ought to be how we act with regard to other living beings, what we do to lighten the load of another person; whether we are able, even momentarily, to bring back a smile on a somber face. We humans are bred to believe that civilization is what separates modern society from our primitive past, and 'being civilized' is the highest acme of being human. What we actually experience, and what we call 'civilization' is, in its bare bones, a life suffused with the three 'C's β€” comfort, convenience and control β€” in hot pursuit of the three 'P's β€” pleasure, profit, and power. Such is their corrosive effect and corrupting influence that, as the American astronomer Carl Sagan noted, it makes us "wonder whether civilizations like ours rush inevitably into self-destruction."15

We are 'civilized', but find it difficult to be spontaneously 'civil' to each other. The paradox is that a particular society might have all the outward trappings of civilization, with great achievements in fields such as the arts and architecture, but its people pursue moral decadence as the mark of being civilized. Rome was a great civilization, but the Romans β€” behaving in the belief that they were the elite of the world and that enjoying the 'good things of life' was their earned right β€” were far from 'civilized', in the true sense of the word. In fact that was why Rome, like almost all others, collapsed; and some historians are saying that our modern civilization is showing the same star-crossed symptoms of decadence and arrogance. Philosopher Adam Ferguson wrote that "not only the individual advances from infancy to manhood, but the species itself from rudeness to civilization."16 If not being rude is the standard, it is anyone's surmise how many in the contemporary world are 'civilized'. If 'being civilized' is treating others with respect and, as Robert Frost wrote, acceptance of eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity, then most of us are uncivilized. And if treating Nature with civility is the test, then the or even the primitive was clearly more civilized.

Without the slightest trepidation we assume that the modern man is the most civilized.

The only 'evidence' for this plaint premise is that we have no evidence that other civilized forms, perhaps even more culturally and technological advanced than ours, ever existed. Evidence is elastic, expansive. And while there is widespread scientific acceptance that man came from a simian, there are many scholars and theosophists and occultists who say that there is a high probability that civilizations far greater than ours thrived in our ancient past, and that men then were not ape-like but 'god-like', both in body and spirit. That might explain why some, if not all, of the profoundest of insights, philosophies, and revelations that human genius has given birth to, were of hoary antiquity. They could not have been the imaginations or hallucinations of 'advanced apes' or brawny barbarians. With all our great achievements in the arts and the sciences, contemporary civilization almost seems chronically incapable of producing men and women of high imagination and soaring spirituality. It might be partly because our heroes and role models, the ones we admire and want to emulate, are men of muscle, women of bodily beauty, sportspersons and movie stars. Almost like a self- fulfilling prophecy, we lament that ours is an age of mediocrity, mechanization, and moral laxity. And such men prefer to go with the flow of the time.

15 Carl Sagan. Who Speaks for Earth? Transcript from the final program in the Cosmos television series first shown in 1980 on the Public Broadcasting System, USA. Accessed at:

16 Adam Ferguson. An Essay on the History of Civil Society. 1767. Part First. Of the General Characteristics of Human Nature. Section I. Accessed at:

That 'flow' that man is floating in is closely identified with the emergence of the machine as inseparably intertwined with human life. Man today is perhaps more 'mechanized' than 'civilized', and there is almost nothing man can any longer do now with bare hands β€” from cooking to cleansing, eating to entertainment, walking to 'making love'. That mechanization is not confined to gadgets and appliances for use by or as supplement to the human hand; it is far deeper and extensive. Even more disturbing, there are predictions that machines with human-like intelligence might even outnumber carbon-based life forms, and that eventually humankind and machinery will fuse into one, something similar to what futurist Ray Kurzweil in his book The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999) called a 'Spiritual Machine', although one wonders why he chose to call them 'spiritual' when they are the very antithesis of what we normally understand as spiritual. Even if we discount the 'spiritual' aspect, there is no doubt that advances in artificial intelligence will profoundly impact on human consciousness and blur the boundary between machine and man. The scientific air is already thick with talk of human chip implants to improve our memory by enabling us to search our own memories like any other computer search engine. Of all the uncertainties that we face, perhaps the greatest and the most baffling is how technology is going to affect human nature.

The tragedy is that, though technology has given us the infrastructure for a heterogeneous but harmonized humanity and a platform for transforming competitive, national societies into an enlightened planetary civilization β€” instant communications, intermixing of people β€” the reality is that more walls are being built between man and man, and that humankind is more fractured and fractious than ever before. Ensconced behind walls, we communicate with each other through the mediation of technology. Technology is also the medium for man and his desires β€” what we desire and how we get what we desire. The Upanishads tell us that desires are so thickly overlaid with dark clouds that they prevent us from seeing what they really are. Desires are our most primal motivator and mediator; they are our destiny. We cannot run away from them, we can only turn them around and make them agents of change. St. Augustine said that we wonder at the 'wonders of Nature' but pass by ourselves without even wondering about ourselves, the wonder of wonders.

Whether we are actually a 'wonder' in any positive sense is another matter. But that is only just one of the plethora of paradoxes, ironies, asymmetries, and contrasts that underlie the human condition. The paradox that has bedeviled human life most of all is that man is part of Nature and yet has demonstrated the ability to transcend Nature; but in so doing he has disturbed the equilibrium and balance of Nature. Another paradox is that he is ephemeral and finite, and yet a spark of the eternal and Infinite dwells in him, while he spends all his life unaware and unmindful of it. Man has long labored under the tension between the subjective (I am) and the objective (it is), and between being an autonomous individual and the reality of his desperate dependence. No one could be quite sure what any human being would do or would not at any given point of time or at different times. We have no clue as to what makes us behave the way we do. Evolution itself is paradoxical, so is life. But paradox is not necessarily negative or always inimical; it could be positive, a powerful engine of creativity and innovation. However, the way it has matured and impacts human life, it has turned into a mortal peril. It has been said by saints and philosophers alike that in creating man, God has given him the unique power to fashion himself into whatever he wants, power to degrade himself into the lowest forms of life, or rise up, with intellect and discriminating capacity, to the highest forms, beyond the realm of the human.

Another anomaly that mocks at human capacity for rational thought is mankind's eternal search for eternal life, while inventing every day new ways to shorten each other's lives. Much of his life is spent in erecting barriers to death, and at the same time man embraces death for as many reasons as his intellect can conceive. While man dreams of immortality β€” which he misconstrues as making the material physical body (or rather the body bolstered by machine) perpetual on earth and to transport it to other worlds β€” what he gets, as a verse in the Upanishads puts it, is 'death after death'. While all life is subject to decay and dissolution, he craves for illusory continuity. And all through life, he suffers in varying degrees of intensity until the dreaded hour strikes, none the wiser as to where he came from, why he has to die, and where he is heading to. In the Mahabharata (Santi Parva), it is said that there is only one foe of man, and not another; that foe is identifiable with ignorance. In ignorance man enters this world, in ignorance he exists, and in ignorance he exits. We are ignorant if birth is a blessing or a curse, if a baby is a better 'human' than an adult; and if death is deliverance or a prelude to punishment, and how best to use the interval; whether to make merry while the money lasts, or do penance for the sins of our species while the body is decaying. We know neither how to live and let live, nor how to die in dignity.

Indeed we live as if we will never die, and die as if we never lived. We exult at the dawn of spring, unmindful of the fact that as the seasons smile our life ebbs.

At the core of our unrest and quest is self-definition; the yen for identity is timeless, and now, topical, it is both defining and destabilizing the ebb and flow of our life. Every color of collective identity β€” ethnicity, race, age, language, gender, and nationality β€” has become a 'bone of contention', a reason for rancor, a headwater of hate and a backwater of blood. So much blood has been spilt on earth through human actions for millenniums, to discern, to protect, and further one's place under the sun and one's particularity as a person and as a people, that it is a mystery why earth has not turned red and all crop beetroot. While Hitler was an extreme example, all of us are ruthless when it comes to lebensraum, 'living space, land and resources'. Distinctiveness has come to mean divisiveness. All life, and individual identity and personal worth and value have come to be negation, not being another person, not belonging to another faith or nation and so on. Negation can, in spiritual terms lead to the Upanishadic maxim neti, neti ('not this, not this') as a way to define the core of our soul, or it can become, as it has in the contemporary world, a springboard to selfishness.

We must draw a distinction between 'Non-Being' and 'not being'. The former is a state of ontological differentiation between two beings; the latter is a state of assertion by exclusion, denial of any other identity. The Buddha said enlightenment is the ending of identification. It is in fact an echo of the central theme of an ancient spiritual text, Ashtavakra Gita, which some scholars think is as lofty and topical as the more famous Bhagavad Gita: If you detach the body and rest in intelligence you will at once be happy, peaceful, and free from bondage.17 Some other translators use the word 'consciousness' instead of intelligence. An ancient Hindu text says that the jiva (individual soul) and Shiva (God) are one; when in bondage it is jiva, and jiva freed from bondage is Shiva. And when Shiva as jiva leaves the body, it becomes a sava (corpse).

Most of the time, we are a blend of all three, jiva, Shiva, and sava. What we do in daily life is fight the demons of different identities, personal, social, spiritual, obligatory, each at war with another, camouflaging our true essence, the Shiva inside, and draining all spiritual and psychic energy. We are all human collectively but, as the psychologist Carl Jung noted, each of us carries his own life-form β€” an indeterminable form which cannot be superseded by any other. The much-advertised process of 'globalization' has shrunk geography but widened the chasm between man and man, by making human interfacing optional to human existence. The evaporation of the historic delineations of territorial boundaries has not done anything to make the world a safer or a better place. The world is electronically interconnected, but humanity has never been more emotionally disconnected than at the morrow of this millennium.

17 Swami Nityaswarupananda (tr.). Ashtavakra Gita. 2001. Sri Ramanasramam. Tiruvannamalai, India. Chapter 1. p.5.

Emotion, it has been said, has a vital spiritual function and is the language of the soul. Indeed, as Jung noted, emotion is the chief source of 'becoming conscious' and there can be no true transformation without an emotional undercurrent. Our muddled state of mind about our primary identity has also marginalized the most important human attribute, which philosophers like the Italian Renaissance mystic Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola have called the 'Dignity of Man'. While earlier our common interests were primary, now our private interests have become predominant. The best that we can internally mobilize towards another person is empathy, not a sense of sharing. That feeling of being separate has led to a feeling of superiority. That attitude over time has become a reflexive habit, a kind of cancerous response. It is not as though our identity of separateness is a modern phenomenon or a malaise of modernity. Our vision gets astigmatic and does not allow us to see the real as real, and the unreal as unreal. We think we live because we think we exist; we view the world as the actual because that is all what our senses can experience. But we 'experience' the experiences over and over, yet we become none the wiser or better. It defies logic; why, with our 'unique' reasoning and discriminatory capacity, we so often fail to build on our experiences.

The fact is that there is a fundamental disparity between the way we perceive the world, including our own experience in it, and the way things actually are. What is qualitatively different is that while earlier such a distorted vision of identity did not allow us to clearly see the spiritual path, it is now identified with existential nihilism. We prefer the cosmetic to content, appearance to essence, image to idea, and the symbol to that which it symbolizes. And, in moments of searing solitude, we echo Thomas Carlyle's plaintive cry (Sartor Resartus, 1831), "But whence? O Heaven, whither? Sense knows not; Faith knows not; only that it is through Mystery to Mystery, from God and to God."

Brooding on the brink

And, compounding that wistful wail, our tangled and rancorous relation between faith and reason, belief and behavior has brought us to the edge of the abyss of annihilation. We lack the nerve to leap forward or lurch backwards. We are poised between a dying world and a world groping to be born. Sandwiched, appropriating the words of the father of science fiction H.G. Wells, a growing number feel that "there is no way out or round or through the impasse". In fact, such was Wells' sense of exasperation about the state of the human condition that, towards the end of his life, he wrote a book titled Mind at the End of its Tether (1945), in which he argued that it might not be such a bad idea if the human species were to be replaced by another species. Yet the great irony, and tragedy, is that, more than any generation before us, we, the bunch or cluster of humans of our time, command the resources for self-realization and species-upliftment. Man's very strengths and blessings β€” his ability to juxtapose and judge, extrapolate and analyze, put two and two together and make twenty- two, and his awareness of his past and the future β€” have, instead of erasing the sense of 'being separate' and the feeling of 'being different', become his terminal vulnerabilities.

The metaphor of a narrow abyss cleaving the face of the earth down to its core has long been used by theologians as well as philosophers and poets. John Milton wrote hauntingly in his classic poem Paradise Lost (1667) "O spirit… and with mighty wings outspread; Dove-like sat'st brooding on the vast abyss."18 Man is afraid to leap forward and is fearful of going back, ceaselessly calling, shouting over shadows (and no one seems to he feels utterly helpless, afflicted with searing sorrow and ceaseless suffering. The problem is that the very things that give us joy also give us sorrow, the things that give us happiness also bring unhappiness. Man's fate resembles that of the rat on the wheel, the cheese always out of reach; man's fate is akin to that of a dreamer waking up and seeing on a stormy night a crying face on the window pane, kind of his own, only to wonder why. His realms of perception, appearance and manifestation seem ill-equipped to comprehend the true certitude of his predicament and pain, misery, and misfortune. Most people have enough empathy to sympathize with the misfortune of others, not enough fortitude to endure them own their own. All the sermons of the scriptures, words of wisdom, seem to be of no avail in empowering us through the passage of life.

18 John Milton. Paradise Lost. Book I, The Argument, p.182. The Poetical Works of John Milton. Edited by H.C. Beeching. 1944. Oxford University Press, London.,

We are alive on default mode, by the power of habit, waiting for the delivery of death. We must take risks we did not even dare to tread on before. The analogy of the abyss is also invoked by Nietzsche in describing the inherent dangers in the human quest for perfection. In his work Thus Spake Zarathustra (Prologue), he wrote that "man is a rope stretched between the beast and the Overman β€” a rope over an abyss". Nietzsche also wrote that "He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself"; and "if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you". It is not a lone dragon but several that man is fighting: anger, malice, violence, money, lust, and greed, and in harboring them we are becoming them. Of them all, malice, the secret feeling of enjoying the other's misfortune, what the Germans call schadenfreude, is the ticking time bomb hidden in the human breast. A candle, it has been said, loses nothing of its light by lighting another candle; malice makes us put out our candle to keep our neighbor out of the glow. And unless we find a way to find the abyss and exorcize it, we will tumble into the abyss ourselves.

In pushing man to the edge, the dominance of economics in the melting pot of life has much to do. Economics, an inexact science in the eye of economists, has made man an insecure and unhappy being. Our economic behavior is but symptomatic of our overall behavior. In the present global financial crisis, what we must bear in mind is not merely an outcome of flawed macroeconomic management, but our inability to factor in the role played by emotions and psychology in economic decision-making, what John Maynard Keynes curiously called 'animal spirits', and not by the 'weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities'. Money is the mania grandiose, the overpowering passion of mankind. At this juncture, a prerequisite for moksha for man is liberation from money's hypnotic hold. To put it into perspective, without such liberation there cannot be any spiritual growth or transformation. Money is more than an addiction, more than a vice, more than an emotional comfort. It is one of the few, maybe the only thing that is trouble in whichever way you touch it: having, not having, having too much or too little.

If somehow money suddenly collapses or becomes worthless, it is hard to imagine if human society will hold. It is a huge stretch of hope if man could then go back to the pristine pre-money days and happily live forever thereafter, without the problems money has brought. Probably, he will be disoriented, not knowing how to spend a single minute or how to relate to another human. As of now, as Scottish historian Niall Ferguson puts it, money is 'not a thing' but the most valued 'relationship'. It is even claimed that money, more than technology, is what empowered man to surmount, in Edward Gibbon's words, 'the grossest barbarism.' The wheel has turned full circle, and today the money that matters is not what you can touch, feel or possess but the 'invisible' money; more precisely, it is not what we own but what we owe to others β€” the debt β€” that drives the world. Indebtedness creates and causes fear and erodes freedom. Indebtedness has always been a part of human culture and human history, and it can not only be economic or monetary, but also moral and spiritual.

Nothing highlights morality β€” or rather the lack of it β€” more than our attitude towards money. Much of our muddled life is spent on 'making a living', which means making, maximizing, manipulating, and multiplying money. Yet money has a legitimate place in human aspiration. It is how we earn, keep and spend money that makes the difference. In our obsession with earning, we are unable to keep our faith; in our deadening desire to amass wealth, we are undermining our integrity. Money is an essential part of life's balance sheet; in the myriad givings and takings of life, money is central. And since, as it is said, the only things we take beyond life are what we give in life, how we handle money is crucial not only to the quality of life but also to the shape of our afterlife.

Risks, change and transformation

Human nature is so complex and convoluted, multi-layered and multi-centered, that for long, debate has raged if humanity is better off through unfettered individual actions. The premise being that the very need for mutual survival, what Adam Smith called 'invisible hand', will compel peaceful exchange, and temper and self-correct any social excesses. Judging by the present state of the world, and the state of 'capitalism', it is now increasingly clear that the earth is too finite and fragile, and the collective needs of humankind are so interwoven that they cannot be left entirely to the natural impulses of human beings. Essentially, human life is subject to two colliding forces: constancy and change. Constancy comes in the form of repetitiveness; till death strikes, every day we do all the things necessary to be alive β€” eat, defecate, sleep; in that sense every day is a life by itself. Although we do not want to, we take 'risks' every day as part of the sheer act of living. Every minute, we make some choice or the other, and every choice has a consequence, and any choice can lead to uncertain and unwelcome outcomes. The Greek philosopher Herodotus said that great deeds are usually wrought at great risk, but we want great rewards without any risk.

Still, as a species, humanity has always lived under the shadow of some crisis or the other, from ambushing predatory animals, to epidemics and plagues, to genocides and world wars. These were deeply traumatic events that left scalding scars on human consciousness; but they were still in their impact only ripples, some tiny, some big in the ocean of life. Our perception of risks, the attendant lure of reward and fear of failure, and our cognitive processes to confront them have been shaped by the fact that all the risks we have had to face until recent times were of four kinds: routine, calculated, acceptable, and endurable. What we face now are risks of a different genre, so unlike anything that mankind has seen, that we are even incapable of apprehending these so-called 'existential risks', whose threats are so grave that even a tiny probability is unacceptable, and whose occurrence could cause our own early extinction or cripple all intelligent life on earth. The 'normal' extinction of a mammalian species on earth is believed to take about ten million years. Homo sapiens can therefore expect to last another nine million years19, provided this 'hallowed' species does not act irresponsibly and self-destructively, provided it does not exercise its relatively new-found ability to manipulate the physical world towards a premature and apocalyptic end.

We are defenseless in our perception and preparedness because even our imagination cannot envision such risks, and our collective fear-response itself is ill-calibrated to that kind of peril. These risks are of a character for which the institutions we built, social norms we nurtured, and risk management tools we fashioned are ineffective, and indeed such instruments compound the very risks they are supposed to surmount.

19 Richard Lewontin. The Wars Over Evolution. The New York Review of Books, USA. 20 October 2005. p.52.

Let us also not forget that every risk offers an opportunity; they are two sides of the same coin. Existential risks offer evolutionary possibilities that might otherwise take much longer time to mature, or pose dangers that might well lead to our own premature passage. Cognizant that the world faces enormous risks that require concerted and coherent actions, the world is groping for ways to cope with them.

Consistent with our penchant to create an institution when we face any crisis, an independent organization called the International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) was established in 2003, whose objective is to help understand and manage emerging global risks. The fate of this too is likely to be no different from that of many others. Institutions are useful as they provide a process and a platform to address an issue but their efficacy and effectiveness depend on their human infrastructure. What is needed is a fundamental change in our mental and psychological faculties of risk perception, risk analysis, and risk aversion, so that every individual action contributes to meeting and mitigating the enormous challenges that humanity faces. Most of them, like climate change β€” perhaps the greatest crisis the world faces β€” are caused or aggravated by isolated human actions fuelled by different priorities, and their solution also lies in a basal change not only in what we do, but also how we do the ordinary things of life. There is enough evidence in human history, particularly in the past century, for us to recognize and take very seriously the fact that, as the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski puts it, the Devil is part of our experience; it has found a cozy corner in our consciousness. And it does seem that the seed of the divine innate in us, designed to come to fruition and make man a god, is drying up, with the devil virtually standing unchallenged. And if evil exists in the world so that with the faculty of free will we can abjure it in favor of goodness, as Jewish mysticism hypothesized, we have belied that divine expectation by making evil our 'natural' choice.

But perhaps the greatest 'risk' humanity faces stems from a source embedded deep within: our consciousness and the way it has come to be. Although we are not conscious of it, our consciousness is the casualty of our culture and civilization. It is consciousness that makes us what and who we are, and differentiates us from other living beings. Almost everything we associate with human society β€” religion, education, recreation, money, market, the way we care for our very young and very old β€” is corruptive. Our 'way of life' has not found a way to stay connected with the divine within and still enable us to do our daily duties, the essence that is held in our scriptures and spiritualism. In practical terms, such a profoundly conscious approach, the essence of the scriptures and ancient wisdom, would mean putting the other person, his needs, his wants, and even his weaknesses, ahead of us, no matter what the circumstance β€” at once the easiest and the most difficult thing to do in real life.

Such is the stubborn strength of our mind-centered and malice-soaked consciousness that it has remained almost impervious to the preachings of the scriptures and the teachings of prophets like the Buddha, Christ, Mahavira, and Zoroaster. It is our consciousness that stands between them and us. Their very name evokes reverence in us but something holds us back from practicing what they exhorted us to do; and that is our consciousness. Periodically, we pay homage to them, and then, without even the slightest feeling of inconsistency or incompatibility, continue to plod on with our pettiness, perfidy, pride, vanity, malice, and malevolence; always trying to put someone else down with a disparaging word or a dismissive gesture, always trying to exploit every discomfiture to our selfish advantage, and leaving no stone unturned to throw stones at the weak and the vulnerable. What propels us is that very consciousness. The demon in us often shows up while dealing with the defenseless; we flaunt our manhood and valor against those who are dependent on us and who cannot retaliate; that demon is our mind-centered consciousness. Furthermore, we tend to think that we are responsible only for what we do, not for what we say. It is a trick that the mind plays on us. We must remember that whatever we say β€” in anger or in an inebriated state β€” is what is already inside us. The mouth is simply another gate and, as Publilius Syrus, the 1st century Latin writer of maxims had put it, speech is the 'mirror of the soul'; a projection of our personality. Words matter as much as deeds, if not more, because we are more garrulous than functional, and a wounding word is sharper than a physical blow. We are all snared with the words of our mouths, and our words can cut to the core of another person's self-esteem. The boneless tongue can be more deadly than the slithering snake. The word of man, as the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes noted, is too frail to be truthful but strong enough to be deadly. And as Louise Hay says, if we are to be responsible for our lives, we have got to be responsible for our mouths (The Power Is Within You, 1991). The toxic burden that the earth carries comes more from the noxious mouth than by the vicious hand. As a Yiddish saying goes, words should be weighed, not counted. If our mind is the invisible enemy, our mouth is the visible one.

Whether it is the hand or the mouth, words or deeds, the fountainhead is the mind. Whatever was the place of the mind in human consciousness in our prehistoric past, it has now assumed unchallenged ascendency. Despite occasional attempts to control it, it has steadfastly refused to yield its primacy and has 'successfully' fought off the forces of love, goodness, and compassion. As the American social philosopher William Thompson puts it, "for the first time in human evolution, the individual life is long enough and the cultural transformation swift enough for the individual mind to be a constituent player in the global transformation of human culture"20 β€” and, one might add, of human destiny. The paradox is that it is the mind that has created the mess we want to get out of, and it is again the mind that is supposed to save us.

The enduring dilemma is that, as Albert Einstein cautioned us, the intelligence that caused the problem cannot solve it. For example, we assume that our intelligence, a mental capacity that encompasses many abilities, such as to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn, evolved for our survival and for the exploitation of resources in the service of growing populations. But for that 'intelligence' we would not be where we are now. But that very intelligence is ill-suited to the living context in which man's foe is not another predatory species, or harsh Nature, but another man with the same kind of intelligence. Our material world is a mental world; our technological world is mental; our whole existence is mental. In short, our reason β€” which the Indian sage Sri Aurobindo called the 'Governor of Life' (The Human Cycle, 1949) β€” is the Rubicon that we must cross; but we cannot cross it because that very reason itself tells us that if we do cross it, we know not where to go. We want to rise like a Phoenix without burning ourselves and our nest. We are caught in a classic Catch-22 conundrum, a kind of 'double bind': what we must do, we cannot do, because, to do what we must, we have to do what we cannot do.

The 'inner world' of our consciousness is what shapes our beliefs and limits and leverages our experiences of life. Until we set this 'world' in order, our visions of a 'new world order', of a 'just human society' will remain as they have been all through the ages: utilitarian. Every day, we journey externally but not move even an inch in a whole lifetime on the 'inner journey'. A journey that, as the Upanishads describe, is from the phenomenal world of existential ignorance to spiritual Self-realization, or simply from the 'self' to the 'Self'. It is the same journey from the state of being 'unenlightened' to 'enlightened' in Western philosophy, symbolized in Plato's celebrated allegory of the cave, or the Myth of the Cave. The trouble is that the mind transforms or rather tarnishes everything it touches. Its sense of reality is highly circumscribed, like that of the humans in the 'cave', chained all their lives, facing a blank wall, seeing only projections on the wall of shadows of things. Scientists like Arthur Eddington say that we visualize theories about life and the Universe which are shaped in our own image and patterned after the forms of our own minds. But we are still not quite sure what the mind is in relation to our brain and consciousness, or of its origin or its real role; but the mind does seem to have acquired the avatar of a rogue elephant on the rampage.

20 William Irwin Thompson. Popular Quotations. Accessed at:

For the record, let us recapitulate, how, for something so synonymous with man, the scriptures have described the mind: mischievous, monkey-like, feeble, fickle, frivolous, spiteful, wayward, wind-like, and so forth. In this conception, the mind is the storehouse of all the negative drives or thoughts. It has been said that every thought creates certain vibrations around us and becomes a prayer, and that every prayer is answered. If a thought is negative and gets answered as a prayer, then our prayers cancel each other's effects. The fact is that we have not managed to be either tidy or thoughtful in our thoughts, and our emotions rarely have compassion in the default mode. If malice is the most pernicious of human attributes, the mind is the mother of malice. And, for whatever reasons one could surmise, the mind seems to have reasoned out its options and come to the conclusion that if being nasty gets all the nice things, why be nice at all? If being rude and crude makes another person obey your command, why take the trouble to be civil? If humiliating another person takes you on a high, why be humble? If insulting someone makes you feel great about yourself, why fight that temptation? If violence (which is not necessarily or only physical harm) is a shortcut to success and survival, why tread the arduous path of persuasion and peace? And if someone stands between me and my want, the mind reasons, what is wrong in removing the obstacle, whatever be the means? Our mind wants to succeed in every circumstance; in effect to be a 'complete power' beyond all imagination. The irony is that we fear our inadequacies; what we should fear is our power.

In the Hindu scripture Srimad Bhagavad Gita, it is written that our senses and their gods are under the control of the mind, described as the invincible enemy of an irresistible force, which sets the wheel of samsara (the living world) in motion, and that anyone who brings the mind under control is the 'God of gods'.21 From antiquity to modernity, we have been at it, to turn ourselves into such 'Gods'. Apart from the fact that much of human interfacing is to impose one's will on another's mind, mind-control is now the ultimate tool of conquest and terror. The fear of one's own mind being broken down and then reshaped to someone else's specification and requirement haunts many people. It is the absolute invasion of privacy; a process through which one seeks to control not only how another person acts but how he thinks and feels. Increasingly it is the favorite of tyrants, cult leaders and state surveillance agencies and 'secret services'.

In a more subtle sense, such mind-control is the objective and thrust of the information, communication, and entertainment infrastructure that underpins modern life. While what man needs is cathartic cleansing and consciousness change, what he is aiming at is 'brainwashing'. Although the term is of recent vintage (1950), coined by the American journalist Edward Hunter (from the Chinese hsi nao, literally 'wash brain'), the attempt itself is timeless. In fact, it is what much of human interfacing is all about, to externally subvert and undermine the autonomy of another individual's own thinking and choices, to bend the other's will to our own at its very source β€” the mind β€” through persuasion, manipulation or coercion. Force, intimidation and coercion will always have their attraction to those who have the means to bring them to bear. Their use in human affairs is timeless, but what has made this a mortal danger to mankind is the tool of technology. We are told that the technology is already out there with which one can hack straight into our brain, to confine us to an electromagnetic field that cocoons and conditions our every thought, to, in effect, erase our life's memories and substitute them with a new, false set…

21 Swami Sivananda. Sarva Gita Sara. 1999. The Divine Life Society Publications. P.O. Shivanandanagar, Himalayas, Uttar Pradesh, India. pp.173–174.

We have learnt by now that it is foolhardy to dismiss such predictions as science- fiction. In fact, the greater danger perhaps is not what such actions seek to do to us, or with us, but what unexpectedly could emerge and transform us into beings that even ardent technophiles would not want to be. One of the lessons of human history is that the impact of any kind of knowledge depends on who the knower is. The same knowledge could yield different results if applied by different people. Piety, purity, or the lack of them, has a vital bearing on the delivery. And man has unfailingly shown that he misinterprets or misuses every kind of knowledge or power he has access to. The scriptures are a case in point; the ease and dexterity with which we make a mockery of them is appalling; and our unquenchable thirst for scientific power will fare no better with the kind of consciousness we have. That over one-third of mankind is still denied the basic needs of a dignified life is a stark reminder of our ability to misuse or misdirect every kind of power. That we keep on amassing weapons of mass destruction, nuclear and biological, capable of killing us many times over is another.

Knowledge development, according to evolutionary epistemology, is supposed to be the direct extension of evolutionary development, but somewhere down the line they got disconnected. What evolution has made us to be was not what Nature intended; nor what we want to be. We have focused on knowledge, not the knower. Innate in each of us is an embryonic empathy that struggles to blossom from the deepest depths of our being but the wages of evolution weigh it down. In truth, notwithstanding our claims of having mastered the universe and mapped the genome and unlocked the secrets of life, we have not made much, if any, headway in the four fundamental directions of knowledge β€” knowledge of self, knowledge of God, knowledge of the world as it really is, and knowledge of afterlife. There has always been tension between our knowledge of how to get the best out of life and a good afterlife. But the knowledge experts reassure us that we are in the throes of a 'knowledge value revolution', of a post-modern knowledge society, which will usher in a glorious future for mankind, and make the world a better place.

The spiritual dimension of our 'being', which the scriptures and the saints say is our true essence, is twisted so much in practice that it is hard to distinguish a truly spiritual seeker and a crafty charlatan. There are more 'brands' of spiritualism than perhaps of soaps in a supermarket, and the 'consumer' is clueless about how to separate the fake from the real. In the Mahabharata, while describing the ongoing Kali Yuga, the Dark Age, it was presciently written that men of our age will have the capacity "to fool the world that man's insatiable appetite for wealth and power was really a spiritual quest."22 The Dalai Lama says that the essence of spiritualism is in our attitude towards 'others'. If we are callous, condescending and casual to their distress, then we are not spiritual. Our fuzziness about spirituality extends to other critical areas like love and hate, which have always shared an uneasy relationship and now seem seamless. For any of that to truly and substantially change, we need systemic transformation, a complete change in perspective, goals, and priorities. In the Mahabharata (Santi Parva; Section IX), King Yudhisthira, remorseful that he was instrumental in unknowingly slaying his own elder brother Karna in the battle at Kurukshetra, tells his younger brother Arjuna (who was actually the killer), that he would go off into the forests divesting himself of desire and wrath, and turning his gaze inwards and casting off pride of soul and body. In that single sentence, Yudhisthira expresses the thrust of the direction of the desirable human transformation β€” to control, if not abjure, desire, wrath, and pride, and to 'gaze inwards'. The phrase 'transformation', more often 'change', is one of the most frequently used expressions in human communication. The irony is that we still behave with the intent that, as the French saying goes, 'plus Γ§a change, plus c'est la mΓͺme chose' (the more things change, the more they are the same). After all, we are dealing with humans and human nature, and these are hard nuts to crack. Like much else in life, we want to 'control' change too; apply it selectively on our own terms. Even time we want to be able to pass selectively. What Einstein said about relativity β€” when you are with a pretty girl, an hour seems like a minute, and when you sit on a hot stove for a minute it is longer than an hour β€” applies equally to all life. We want to bend time, space, and fortune to our resolve randomly and relatively. We want choice over what we want to change and what should be stable. We dream of soaring to new heights, but are addicted to the comfort of the ground.

22 N.S. Rajaram. Nostradamus and Beyond: Visions of Yuga-Sandhi. 2002. Rupa & Co. New Delhi, India. p.73

The underlying premise of human transformation is that man has not attained his full potential, and that, through a still indeterminate process, man can become a radically different β€” and better β€” being than he is, and do things he only dreams of doing. On the other hand, the transformation that scriptures like the Upanishads envisaged is the inner transformation, in the midst of outward conformity and continuity. A good chunk of our life is spent tiptoeing through the minefield of sensual, moral, monetary, and ethical temptations and trespasses, always struggling to hold ourselves back from doing what we want to do, fearful of committing a crime or a sin. For only we, humans can commit either of them. We hesitate, not because they are bad but for fear of the aftermath. Animals cannot because their intent is innocence. For example, animals kill for food and survival; man murders for game, gain, and power. Wisdom is not only how knowledge is used, but also knowledge not used with the power to use. Perhaps the greatest of all temptations is to keep shut some doors that science and technology open for us. The kind of transformation currently underway is technological, focused on the physical, raising profound questions about its sustainability and implications. While there is little doubt about the potential power of science, the question is: can man be trusted to marshal it for the common good? Chances are that unless we latch on to it for 'moral progress' β€” shift the focus from what science could do, to what it should and ought to do β€” it might lead to making man a greater menace than he already is. In spiritual terms, transformation means awakening, awareness, growth, and renewal; indeed it is the ultimate evolutionary step that the spirit can take; the birthright and basic duty of every living creature. In this view, the meaning and mission of life itself is transformation; it is to do God's work on earth, which, in the contemporary context, is to see that the ability of the earth to sustain human life is not destroyed by human conduct, and to treat every person we encounter as someone whom God wants to help through us. Put another way, without conscious effort to overcome the weaknesses inherent in the 'animal inside man', man is no different from other animals; if at all, he is far worse. Humans, it is said, are a unique kind of amphibians β€” half spirit and half animal. As spirits, they belong to the eternal world, but as animals, they inhabit the earth. Spiritual progress is to transcend the animal half. This offers an opportunity to become β€” or evolve into β€” someone radically different between birth and death. It means that man alone has in him what it takes to transcend his lineage, environment, and consciousness, and to become a Christ or a Buddha β€” but also to become a Ted Bundy or a Charles Manson. A Sufi poet noted that Nature has taken a million years to make man, but we have only a lifetime to become more than man. Of all the generations, at least over the past ten thousand years, our generation, and the one to come after us, have the uncommon opportunity to be the orchestrator of such alchemy of the human condition. For what has always been on the fringes of human endeavor β€” the preserve of saints and sages β€” is today moving into the mainstream of human aspiration. Unable to cope with the modern-day strains and stress-related problems, transformation is being sought as a solution to life's problems and as a tool for personal development at the expense of psychological, much less spiritual, development. Humans have always dreamed of states of existence different from the ones that they are in, in their everyday lives; they yearn to become the best they could be. We have the rare capacity to conceptualize our existence independent of any external or transcendental authority, and thus to transform the attendant conditions in full cognizance of the historical potential and evolutionary implications of such a transformation. How we pursue transformation, consciously or subconsciously, physically or spiritually, intellectually or intuitively, are the questions that apply to every individual.

Behind any significant, not symbolic, transformation there has to be deep disaffection, if not disgust, with the status quo. The gut-wrenching feeling of dissatisfaction with our mental state and physical constraints has been the starting point and the main motivating factor for sacred as well as secular scholasticism. Transformation, most thinkers, including James Redfield, author of The Celestine Prophecy (1993), consensually agree, begins with an overpowering restlessness, a sense of gnawing discontent. If restlessness can be converted into a quest, and if that quest becomes an inward journey, it can lead to a moment of blinding insight, a riveting revelation. It can pave the way to what the Upanishads call self-realization, to that split-second parting of the mind's veil of cosmic ignorance, which was what the Buddha experienced in his transformation. From ancient mythologies to modern pop culture, humans have created myriad images of transformations of the body and mind into apparitions that allow them to interact with the world. In practical terms, when people say that they are for change, as American poet Maya Angelou puts it, they mean exchange β€” exchange of our misery for another's good fortune. Change, as the clichΓ© goes, is the only constant in Creation and pervades all shapes and phases of life. It can be fast or slow; or infect like a pandemic.

Change is at once a truism and true, a platitude and profound, self-evident and elusive. It can be straight or serpentine, casual or cataclysmic, but it is inexorable. It is synonymous with surprise, often the unwelcome kind, the result of multiple small changes that accumulate and, at some ungodly hour, burst out when we are least on guard.

At the general level, opinions differ about whether the so-called human condition, which broadly encompasses all the experience of being alive as human, has changed or requires change. Our ambivalence about change is a huge complicating factor in the design of our future. While on the one hand we cherish the status quo, on the other hand, we routinely adapt to change perhaps more rapidly than any other species. According to Fyodor Dostoevsky, the human is the creature that can adapt to anything. Our reflexive adaptability helps us to survive; but it also makes us prone to accept injustice and exploitation. Change of any lasting kind is inherently unsettling and entails suffering and sacrifice that is not evenly spread or shared. And it often brings conflict and tension, not only between different socioeconomic groups but also between generations. From a species perspective, the fact of the matter is that the human way of life is changing the very premise of human life. But that is happening inadvertently, without an awareness of who or what we are. The Indian philosopher and spiritual guru Jiddu Krishnamurti said that the key to transformation is to understand who we are and through that understanding undergo transformation. Sri Aurobindo said that transformation need not only be moving from matter to spirit, but also spirit moving into matter, which is to evolve into a higher species. The classic dilemma is, whether we should 'let it happen' or 'make it happen'; to sail with the current or against the wind β€” in practical terms, should one be a 'passive observer' or 'an active partner'. In truth, man never had the luxury of benign inaction; and if ever, it is long passΓ©. Man, more than ever before, is a principal player, if not a choreographer, in the epic play of his own transformation. But, the trouble is we are actually doing the worst we possibly can: by not 'letting it happen' (letting Nature deal with us), and 'making it happen' in the wrong way. At once enfeebled and emboldened by technology, which is now primarily driven by its own momentum, man now can do things not intended in his origin; in that sense, he is changing the world without inducing in himself the kind of changes that are necessary to manage that change. As Fritz Schumacher (Small is Beautiful, 1973) noted, while Nature is self-balancing, self-adjusting, and self-cleansing, technology is not.

With all its self-sustaining power, the march of technology would still have been manageable. It is the virtual merger of prehistoric technology (which is as old as man) with modern science (which is barely three or four centuries old) that has brought forward the peril. The fusion of science with technology has telescoped the time lag between invention and application, fundamentally altering every event and experience from the womb to the tomb. And indeed even the role of the womb; it is said that in the past few decades over 300,000 babies have been conceived in vitro, outside the mother's womb.23 As for the tomb, quite apart from its growing price tag, we would want to put it away for good if we only could, and, like in the fairy tale, live forever. The virtuosity of modern technology has also, as noted by Kierkegaard, created masks behind which humans hide from one another.

Technology gives man the fantasy of invincibility and in that state, he imagines himself to be the master of manifest destiny, the future a chunk of virgin clay in a sculptor's hands. We are now in the throes of four concurrent revolutions β€” computer, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and quantum mechanics β€” each of which is powerful enough to turn the world topsy-turvy. When it comes to science-driven technology, we do not know how to harness it without becoming a 'horse', how to use a tool without becoming its tool. Karl Marx once wrote that the production of too many useful things renders too many people useless, and those 'useless' people can use those 'useful things' for destructive purposes. His vision of 'communism' might be in tatters, but his perception of human nature endures.

Equally troublesome is the historicity that technology has altered the very ambience in which human character incubates through adolescence, which is a critical twilight zone between childhood and adulthood when major physical, biological, psychological, and mental changes occur. Today's adolescents, psychologist Daniel Goleman tells us, are "unintended victims of economic and technological progress" and "spend more time than ever in human history alone, staring at a video monitor."24 In future, the effect of technology-suffused human life could be to change, as a part of natural selection, the very genetic makeup of the human organism, putting our own genetic future into our hands. As if that is not scary enough, scientists like Freeman Dyson (Our Biotech Future; NYRB; 19 July 2007) are saying that the 'Darwinian interlude' that lasted three billion years might be over, and that the earth could be back to horizontal transfer of genes, blurring the boundaries between species. In what we might call pre-ancient times, we are told, horizontal gene transfer β€” the sharing of genes between unrelated species β€” was prevalent and separate species did not exist. It means that sometime in the future, the inhabitants of earth might be hybrids of different species, half man half dog, for instance. While that contingency is clearly a long while away, it is being predicted that in the very near term, say in the next thirty years, "newborn children could have children, and 100-year-olds could have children."25 What a prospect! With religious knowledge not making any new advances, science is replacing religion as the primary human response to the trauma of meaningless life and pointless death. As a rebound, we want to make God mortal and man immortal! On the other hand, there are those who say that in that very twisted quest we could turn out to be a clone of Jonathan Swift's Struldbrugs, who do not die but continue aging, and who are legally as 'good as dead' as soon as they complete eighty years. The real risk is that in our thirst for the superhuman, we might end up as subhuman, or may be more 'modern man' than we would like to be.

23 Pierre Baldi. The Shattered Self: The End of Natural Evolution. 2002. The MIT Press. USA. p.42.

24 Daniel Goleman. Emotional Intelligence. Accessed at:

But we must first shed the shibboleths that shroud our vision of ourselves, the illusion of our solitary splendor and the inevitability of our indispensability. Blinded by our vanity, we are like Hans Christian Andersen's emperor, having 'nothing on at all' but smugly feeling fully clothed. With every passing day, both our 'uniqueness' and indispensability are crumbling. Perhaps the only thing that is truly unique about us is that we cook our food, which, in fact some evolutionary biologists say, is what spurred the evolution from ape to man! Once and for all we must shed our claim of exclusivity, the illusion of human exceptionalism, that we are divinely favored over all others. That does not negate the doctrine of inherent divinity, that everything created is a personalized expression or extension of the Creator; it is about how we externalize it; it is about how we treat the 'other divinity'.

Many other creatures have sharper sense organs than we have, and seem to coexist more peacefully than we do. As a gross body, we are no 'big deal' either. Big deal or no deal, it is the body that beguiles us, bothers us. It is the body that grows; from an average weight of about 4 kg to anywhere around 120 kg; from a length of about 50 cm to anywhere between 150 cm to 210 cm. But in its very growth, there is also the regression that we call ageing. We do not know why we cannot 'grow' young, but that is when trouble starts and the body, the true love of our life, loses its luster and we even start loathing it. The uncertainty of the known holds us back to the body. But something is changing. Man is finding causes and reasons to put something else β€” religion, revenge, relief from pain or from the pressures of being 'successful' β€” ahead of clinging to the body. There are other animals beside the human on earth whose physical frame is larger, heavier, stronger and even more beautiful, maybe even smarter. When it comes to questions of life and death, they do not seem to be as tormented as we humans.

In broad biological terms, we are bipedal primates that belong to the mammalian species, Homo sapiens, and the human of today, of about 150,000 years vintage, is termed Homo sapiens. By the time the human reaches adulthood, the body will consist of 100 trillion cells, the basic unit of life, 206 bones, 600 muscles, and 22 internal organs. What distinguishes man from other animals is the brain that is capable of abstract reasoning, thinking and deduction, the ability to make the whole more than the sum of its parts.

Sometimes man is also called a 'Machiavellian primate', "referring to our ability to 'read minds' in order to predict other peoples' behavior and outsmart them."26 We are also Machiavellian in another sense, in our tireless effort to prevail over another person regardless of means or morality. That one-upmanship, the compulsive urge to pull someone down and get on top, is wholly human. The belief that animals cannot do what we can, that they are incapable of thinking rationally, to feel pain, to plan, to weigh options, and sacrifice, has been at the core of our moral calculus. New research is demonstrating that the 'moral intelligence' difference between humans and other animals is one of degree, rather than kind. The recent book Wild Justice (2009) by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce elaborates this point. It is now being said that there is a high probability that even that the premise that the human is the only rational animal may not be true, and that, at the least, some primates like the chimpanzees could have "human qualities including the ability to feel fear and happiness, create tools, use languages, remember the past, and plan for the future."27 But then, that rationale misses a central point. It assumes that if we are somehow convinced that if only we can be sure that an animal feels pain, we will desist from inflicting it. It is not true with animals; as it is not with other humans. Hurting someone β€” man or beast β€” has never been much of a deterrent, least of all at this time of moral relativism. The worst features of human behavior have nothing to do with our animal roots; they are wholly human. Zoologists like Desmond Morris (The Human Zoo, 1969) suggest that we are more 'wild' in our urban environment than wild animals in the jungle, and that the phrase 'human zoo' is more appropriate than 'concrete jungle'. Nothing any animal has done to another animal in the jungle can be compared with what man has done to another man in the civilized world. Some like Paul Wapner even argue that we would be better off if we 'cultivate wildness' in our cities, homes and within our own selves as way to live in harmony with Nature.

25 Motherhood is Possible at 100. The Deccan Chronicle. Hyderabad, India. 18 July 2008. p.20.

26 V.S. Ramachandran. Mirror Neurons and Imitation Learning as the Driving Force Behind "the Great Leap Forward" in Human Evolution. Edge: The Third Culture. Accessed at :

The three 'I's of the human condition

Whether living in a human zoo or in a warped world, what we most often manifest in life, more than love or hate or faith, are the toxic triad of indifference, intolerance, and injustice. While we all want, at a certain level of awareness, to be good, decent, and caring, what we actualize in the vortex of daily life are these three. Of them, indifference seems relatively benign but it is the one that is most deleterious. That is because our mind does not let indifference come in the way of our feeling good about ourselves: either it is the suffering of a neighbor, or the travails of the 'bottom billion', to borrow a phrase from Paul Collier. The ever-escalating horrors we see in the world are but a reflection of the growing number of 'good' indifferent people. Bernard Shaw called it the essence of inhumanity. Manifested as an unfeeling passivity, apathetic ataraxia in the face of need or suffering of another person, few are guiltless. As the Nobel laureate, author, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, indifference is tempting, even seductive, the all-embracing opposite of every human value that pervades the human universe and reduces the other to an abstraction. Indifference is more than not extending a helping hand to those in distress; it is a state of non-existence, virtual non-being. The worst of people's trials and troubles do not in the least affect the tenor and tempo, the pulse and beat of our languid lives. Ignorance is bliss but knowledge does not impel us to pause. The moral of our mindset is that nothing is sinful that which we do not know; the narrower the arc of our 'knowledge', the less accountable we are.

The second 'leg' of the triad is intolerance, which is but an acute extension of indifference. Even tolerance is an extension of indifference. The French philosopher Voltaire answers his own question "What is tolerance?" by saying that "it is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly β€” that is the first law of nature."28 Intolerance has also been described as an expression of violence. Bernard Shaw said that all improvement in human affairs is grounded on tolerance. To tolerate means to bear or to endure, as it were, a lesser nuisance; acceptance comes from the recognition that there are no absolutes in life and every one is a speck of the divine.

27 Now Chimpanzees Might Get the Rights Reserved for Humans. The Deccan Chronicle. Hyderabad, India. 15 July 2008. p.15.

Intolerance manifests in numerous contexts β€” social, economic, religious. Since no two things are entirely equal in life, the scope for intolerance exists in almost every relationship. Intolerance leads to the loss of discriminatory capacity and ultimately to violence. It is the chief source of negative energy on earth. While we routinely β€” and stridently β€” proclaim that creativity comes from the clash of opinions, what we truly like is, as the phrase goes, to embed ourselves in 'the reassuring womb of an echo chamber'. The first step to combat intolerance, as the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper puts it, is to "claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant".29 And it has to be addressed from many fronts, starting with education from the earliest phase. Today, by the time a child comes out of the kindergarten, intolerance would already have taken root in him; what is instilled in a child's mind is that the burden of life is to compete, to prevail, to be a winner, and that mindset inevitably produces intolerance.

The third leg of toxicity that consumes much of life is injustice, which is often the visible face of intolerance. For Alexander Hamilton, the first duty of society is justice; and for Benjamin Disraeli, justice is truth in action. On both counts, human society has failed. Much of our life is spent in the shadow of what William Lane, an Australian social reformer characterized in his work Creed of Humanity (1890) as 'the savage brutal competition which drives us to tear each other's flesh', and which makes man an embodiment of merciless malevolence. Competition can be constructive or destructive and the latter seems more suited to the human mind. Competition, like conflict, is inherent in the living world, but it is only in the case of the human that it comes in the way of coexistence and cooperation. Only humans have not fathomed a way because we alone do not know what 'enough' is. In the Mahabharata, it is written that "contentment is the highest heaven; contentment is the highest bliss. There is nothing nobler than contentment."30 That is one thing that eludes the human mind, while discontentment manifests in many ways.

The malevolent mix in the morass of life manifests itself in many ways, most of all as anger. Modern man is, above all, an angry creature. Anger excludes none and afflicts everyone β€” young and old, rich and poor, male and female. Logically, since the historic human is now living longer, healthier and more prosperous (at least some sections of humanity) than ever before, that should have made mankind happier and harmonious. But what we have is the opposite. Anger comes often from fear, and it was designed to help during times of mortal danger. But the triggers have changed, have been trivialized and the anger response has remained and got entrenched. Sometimes, we are even angry that we have to share our living space with other creatures. Perhaps, the explanation is that there is some chemistry to anger, and our growing intolerance, irritability, and rage perhaps is fuelled by our ingesting, inhaling, and imbibing mindboggling varieties of chemicals in our daily life.

Almost everything we put into our body and brain is toxic. Chemicals are affecting β€” and infecting β€” not only our external environment but also our internal balance. The smallest things, arising out of unfulfilled desire and disobeyed demands tend to throw us off balance into frenzied fury and violent temper. We are in such a state of human hostility, that any denial of a demand can become a death sentence, and a rebuff or reprimand can lead to an acid attack and, if one can grab a gun, to mass murder. Other triggers are the coexistence of obscene opulence and dehumanizing poverty, and displacements of discriminated populations and enforced abdication of homes and homeland.

28 Voltaire. The Quote Quotations about Prejudice. Accessed at:

29 Karl Popper. All the Best Quotes. Intolerance Quotes. Accessed at:

30 The Mahabharata. Book 12: Santi Parva: Rajadharmanusasana Parva: Section XXI. Accessed at:

The toxic effects of anger have long been recognized. In Buddhism, anger is the foremost obstacle to bodhichitta β€” enlightenment of the being. The Buddha told one of his disciples, "Manjushri, what we call anger destroys all of the virtue accumulated in one hundred kalpas [periodic manifestations and dissolutions of universes that go on eternally]."31 In the Bible, it is said "But now ye also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication, out of your mouth." (Colossians, 3:8) The Prophet Muhammad said "do not be angry and furious."32 The Buddha even said "you will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger."33 In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says that the three gates of hell are anger, lust, and avarice, and further singles out anger and says "From anger proceedeth delusion; from delusion, confused memory; from confused memory, the destruction of buddhi (reason); from destruction of buddhi, man perishes".

According to the theory of karma, if you generate an intense karma through anger, you will delay experiencing the results of your virtue simply because the intensity of your anger is greater than the intensity of your virtue. The sage Narada, while urging the rishi Valmiki to write the epic Ramayana, describes the qualities of Lord Rama, and mentions krodh-jeet, the conquest of anger, as one of them. Such is its hold over human frailty, that anger is included as one of the seven deadly sins β€” the cardinal sins β€” in early Christianity. Yet none of this has made any dent in the armor of our anger. Anger seems to serve several purposes: it offers us an alibi, it releases our pent-up emotions and frustrations; it gives a sense of control; it makes us feel good, and superior to the recipient of our anger. We give vent to our anger at home, on the street, at work, at play and even in a place of worship. It is a passion that causes more harm to the one who exhibits it than to the one who receives it. And anger is not always an aberration or a wayward emotion; it is also a kind of 'lie-detector test'. Often, it is through anger that what is within us is blurted out, and our raw cogitation and feelings come out spontaneously. The words that we utter when we are angry are not, as we like to think, what we do not mean, but what, deep inside ourselves, we want them to mean.

Chigyogoisui β€” unity of knowledge and action

The 'human way of life' is marked by man's almost insatiable thirst to know, which is to infer more than what appears to be, a trait that distinguishes him from his fellow animals. It was because we were able to go beyond the limit of 'need to know' that we have been able to fashion a way of life so different from any other. At the same time we are paralyzed by our inability to act with the knowledge we have. In scriptures like the Quran, it is said that one of the manifestations of God is as a conveyor of knowledge. But it is also said that no one can live without action, karma in Sanskrit. How to harmonize knowledge and action and devotion β€” jnana, karma and bhakti β€” is one of the main messages of the Bhagavad Gita. The Upanishads say that a life of bare knowledge or of bare activity are alike, and are fraught with evil. How to synthesize and harmonize them is the practical question. Adding to the quandary, the Advaita Vedanta differentiates five kinds of knowledge: prattaksa (gained by the senses); anumana (gained by inference); upamana (gained by analogy); arthapati (gained by superimposition of known knowledge on apparent knowledge); and agama (gained from sacred texts like the Vedas). The highest knowledge is Self-knowledge, what the Upanishads call 'Self-realization'. The human faculties of observation, deliberation, and discrimination, viveka in Sanskrit, have been crucial for human survival. They are needed because everything in life is 'mixed-up' and we need to 'discriminate' and decide. But they have fallen short of being able to discriminate the ephemeral from the permanent, the perishable from the imperishable, the pleasurable (preyas in Sanskrit) from the beneficial (sreyas). We rely on our intellect (buddhi) to do so, opening a wide crack between knowledge and wise action.

31 Bardor Tulku Rinpoche. Why We should Give up Anger. 2005. Densal, Issue 1703. June 2005. Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. Accessed at:

32 Anger and Islam. Is Anger Lawful Or Not? Accessed at:

33 The Buddha. Accessed at:

Man's struggle to comprehend, so to speak, the 'meaning of his meaning', the purpose of his presence, his relation to the cosmos, and to move from the shadow of death to the sanctuary of immortality, has over time crystallized as the three strands of religion, philosophy, and science β€” or the spiritual, metaphysical, and material. And man's almost pathological paralysis to harmonize the 'triad of thought' has greatly hampered human endeavor to find a way to mold into a better being. And religion, or rather the way it impacts, long identified with the best of human behavior, looms large in that respect, fast becoming a central issue of our time. Perhaps, when the dismal tale of the premature passage of the human species is written, it might well record that the most lethal β€” and tragic β€” aspect of human life has been our star-crossed equation with what we claim to be God's own direct word: religion. It has acquired what physicist Steven Weinberg calls 'deadly certitude' that makes a zealot truly believe that cold-blooded killing is doing God's work. Not only does it claim monopoly with God, our sense of morality and even our wanting to be 'good' is intertwined with religion.

What we do and how we do as religious practice has societal and planetary implications. Further, as Robert Wright argues, religion too, like an organism, changes in response to changing social conditions in the real world (The Evolution of God, 2009).

Religion is no longer a means to 'true worship of true God', or to tame our passions or cleanse and transform ourselves through prayer and piety. Religious fervor has become a kind of frenzy, a major source of dissension and discord in human affairs and seems to stoke our darkest desires. Man seems ready to set aside every other identity, and willing to sacrifice every other relationship, rationale, norm or value or code of conduct, to respond to his religious impulse, which is increasingly being perceived as fighting an implied threat from another religion.

It is ironic that the murderous ire of religious righteousness is not directed against atheists who openly ridicule or denounce God, but against those whose faith in and devotion for God is no less but who say that their vision of divinity differs. Prayer, which is supposed to make the one who prays a better being, has become a passport to conduct that violates every scriptural injunction. Like much else with man, it has opened a chasm between precept and practice. Every religion prescribes a certain personal and communal code of conduct.

Islam, for example, claims to be the divinely inspired complete way of life. One of the mahavakyas in Hinduism proclaims not virtual but actual divinity of every human being. The risk lies in their misinterpretation and selective adaptation, which can easily slip into reckless religious bigotry, obliterating or obscuring the divine and unleashing the devil inside. If, as some researchers say, there is in all of us a genetic urge to worship, called God-gene or God- particle, then it has, mixed with malice, mutated.

Instead of acting as a balm on frayed nerves, religious thought is adding 'holy' fuel to the human fire, and religious anger is now a major springboard for violence, aggression, and mayhem on earth. We are face to face with what Sri Aurobindo called "Ignorant human confusion of religion with a particular creed, sect, cult, religious society or church", and as a consequence, we have to accept the bitter truth about "the historic insufficiency of religion as a guide and control of human society."34 These are prophetic words and the world today is a testimony to Sri Aurobindo's prescience. The spirit of true religion β€” piety and purity, compassion and oneness of all β€” is compromised by self-righteousness and the driving desire for competitive gain. Some skeptics go to the extent of saying that it has offered to man the perfect pretext for the dance of the devil on earth, a 'sacred' cover for our awful behavior.

The question as to how this kind of religious fervor will mature and come to fruition in the decades to come might depend to a large extent on the history of this troubled century. While for long, it was expected that the clash between 'godly' religion and 'godless' science would be the major source of global instability, it is the fight between different religions that is at the root of much of the violence in the world. The fact is that the supposed clash of faith and reason has never evoked the kind of raw wrath and dark emotions that inter-religious conflict ignites, when a zealot believes that his religion is 'in danger'. The dilemma we face is that we cannot live with the way religion shapes our lives, nor can we do without it. And we seem powerless to make any religious difference to either pursuit.

But if we think that we can escape the grip of religion and embrace science, the truth is that science fares no better as a force of stability in human affairs. The problem is that empirical science validates itself by claiming that its assertions are based on measurements of physical reality, which is far from vindicated. Furthermore, it has ignored the moral difference between what we could do and what we ought to do, and that some doors are best left unopened, and, if opened, one should not cross the threshold. Without a spiritual dimension or self-abnegation, scientific practice in its barest essence, is trying to liberate man from his biological base, the consequences of which could be such that human intelligence is incapable of even imagining. It could make the human ego β€” the one that separates the 'I' from 'we', and the 'we' from 'God' β€” stronger, not weaker, and our sense of individual identity more entrenched and hedonistic.

The human species has been wondrously creative but, tragically, our creativity about things has always been at the expense of the deeper knowledge about the basics of life. We seem fated to strive for liberation without knowing the source of our bondage. Furthermore, even what we need to know to be 'competitively successful' in life has become so vast and demanding, that there is little urge or energy left to know, knowing which, as the Upanishads say, nothing else need be known. Every calling, every avocation β€” of a doctor or lawyer or a housewife β€” is all-devouring, shutting out all other windows of the world, transforming every one into a 'specialist', if not a 'super-specialist'. Knowledge itself has fractured our personality. The Vedas proclaim that all knowledge is in each of us and the 'knower' within awakens and brings it to the front of knowledge. They also say that a life of either bare contemplation or of bare action alike is fraught with evil. The Japanese use a phrase called chigyogoisui, meaning 'unity of knowledge and action'. Just as a bird cannot fly with only one wing, knowledge becomes meaningful only if it is combined with rightful action. Human intellect has a tendency to rapidly absorb and adapt the wrong kind of knowledge for.

34 Sri Aurobindo. The Human Cycle. 3rd edition. 1999. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publications. Pondicherry, India. p.176.

destructive purposes, and becomes lethargic, if not paralyzed, when it comes to the right kind or constructive knowledge.

The American author Edgar Allan Poe, dubbed as the master of the macabre, wrote that human creativity will have no appreciable effect upon humanity, and that "man is now more active β€” not more happy, nor more wise than he was 6,000 years ago."35 Poe also wrote that "there are moments when, even to the sober eye of Reason, the world of our sad Humanity may assume the semblance of a Hell."36 Aldous Huxley even wondered if our world is another planet's hell. The one difference could be that our world is full of gadgets, avowedly to make our lives better, but in fact are perhaps meant to enfeeble us, a sort of punishment for sins on the home planet. At least, Yama, the Lord of Death and Hell, will not turn God into another gadget, as we have done, a ubiquitous bell-boy at man's beck and call. When that 'boy' does not respond promptly to every jingling of the bell, we chastise him for not 'doing his duty'. Many things that man wants might be denied to him, but what is not taken away is the power of choice in the direst of circumstances. Viktor Frankl, recalling those fellow inmates of Nazi concentration camps who gave away their last piece of bread to others, wrote in his classic book Man's Search for Meaning (1946) that "they may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms β€” to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."37

Whether or not we know the meaning of it, one of the most common phrases associated with life is 'meaninglessness', or 'absurd' as Albert Camus termed it. In one sense, it is a state of the mind; and in another, of the moment. A good meal can give meaningfulness to life and a bad stomach, meaninglessness; a bereavement can make life look absurd, and a birth can make it fulfilling. In fact, it is the apparent 'meaninglessness' that gives practical meaning to life; for if there is 'meaning' that we can effortlessly fathom, then there is no search, no 'inner trail' and no 'inner reward' β€” and no good or God. In our 'meaninglessness', many turn to God and, as Pope Benedict XIV put it, if God is laid aside, then all our hopes, big and small, rest on nothing. Meaningful or meaningless, belief and behavior are disconnected. We see this disharmony and dislocation throughout the behavior processes of mankind, in political, economic, and social and religious disorders.

We may believe in many things, but when it comes to 'doing', we are governed primarily by the perception of self-interest and of self-righteousness. It springs from the instinctive sense that what we are doing is good for us and therefore must be good for everyone else. We do not know whether we should be thankful or regretful that all our beliefs do not become deeds. And we do not know why certain beliefs become behavior and others do not, and why certain people's behavior is so bizarre. It seems to have little to do with nature or nurture, upbringing or ambience. The psychologist Carl Jung said that the important thing is to know or not to know, not to believe or not to believe. But if 'knowing' does not become action or becomes wrong action, then perhaps ignorance is bliss.

But with the bunch of beliefs we harbor we want to 'govern' God. In today's world, the phrase 'God-fearing' is taking a wholly new and menacing meaning: the tables are turned and God must fear us, based on what we are doing to His other creations and to His credibility, calling Him redundant and toothless. We want to 'create' tomorrow's God, tailored to our precise specifics. And despite the fact that much of mankind formally affirms its abiding faith in God, there are more 'devout' people than decent people, more 'conscientious' people than compassionate people, even more 'god-men' than godly men in the world. As a result, our passionate personality has eclipsed our compassionate companion.

35 Mind Power. The Deccan Chronicle. Hyderabad, India. 7 January 2008. p.6

36 Cited in: Laura Moncur. Edgar Allen Poe's Birthday, 19 January 1809. Accessed at:

37 Cited in: Wikipedia. Man's Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl. 1946. Accessed at:'s_Search_for_Meaning.

To lead a wholesome life, man needs both passion and compassion in the right mix, and each has a place and a time to manifest. But the key to human transformation is to make compassion a reflexive reaction, not a labored or reciprocal response; and passion should reinforce compassion. We must distinguish also the difference between co-dependence, which is largely based on reciprocity, and compassion, which is an unconditional commitment, and whose reward is in itself, a kind of self-enrichment. Passion or compassion, it is what we generally refer to as culture β€” broadly defined as the full range of learned human behavioral patterns β€” that colors almost everything we perceive, think, and do. And to change human condition, we must change human culture. Some see the current planetary crisis as a transition within the larger perspective of human social evolution.

It is also now being hypothesized that the process of natural selection can act on human culture as well as on our genes, and that the cultural traits affecting survival and reproduction evolve at a different rate than other cultural attributes. We now read about 'cultural engineering', which really is manipulation of the thought processes of the individual to not-so-'freely' choose what someone else 'freely' wishes us to choose. Our culture and consciousness are so far removed from genuine and authentic compassion, that a radical redesigning of the human culture becomes indispensable. The seeds of compassion must be sown in consciousness in the cradle. It has been said that by the time a child reaches the fifth year, almost up to 80 percent of its brain is developed, and much of the predispositions and its basic character and values are molded. BahΓ‘'u'llΓ‘h, the Persian founder of the BahΓ‘'Γ­ Faith, taught that each human being is "a mine rich in gems", unknown even to the owner, let alone to others, and inexhaustible in its affluence. Life in this world, according to him, is like the life of a child in the womb of its mother: the moral, intellectual, and spiritual powers that a human being develops here, with the help of God, will be the 'limbs' and 'organs' needed for the soul's progress in the worlds beyond this world. Paradoxically, we are prepared to do anything for our children, even give our lives, but do little about the environment in which they grow their 'limbs' and 'organs' in the world. Consciously or subconsciously, in the name of upbringing, we try to make them our own mirror images, which means that the future generation inherits the same mindset as ours, and more likely an even more corrupted consciousness.

Neither culture nor civilization has made any difference to the central realities of life. For many people, indeed for the vast majority, suffering and sorrow, bereavement and grief appear to underlie much of mundane life. Pain or suffering is one of the most studied subjects, embracing a wide range of disciplines and fields. Much of the thrust of the scriptures and of the teachings of prophets and mystics and sages are about how to deal with suffering.

A new academic discipline on the study of infliction of suffering, called panetics has come into being, and an International Society for Panetics was founded in 1991. But the end, or even the beginning of the end, is nowhere in sight; indeed, the more one tries to shed suffering the more it sticks. And modern man seems more susceptible to suffering, and it is the root of the turmoil and terror in the world. Most people spend enormous energy to avoid suffering in their own lives and in the lives of those they cherish. We tend to view God's goodness from the prism of our own suffering. We spiritually suffer, primarily because we are unable to share our prosperity and others' adversity, our hopes and others' pain. Sharing is the antidote for suffering. In other words, it is sharing, or rather, not sharing, that is the 'trouble'; not suffering. In his book The Search for the Miraculous (1947), the Russian philosopher P.D. Ouspensky says that without sacrifice nothing can be achieved in life, and that a man will give up anything but not suffering.

But, some say the ways to mitigate and manage suffering are as commonplace as suffering itself, if only we do not try to avoid it like the plague. The deaf-blind American author Helen Keller said that "the world is full of suffering; it is also full of overcoming it."38 The way to overcome suffering is also very simple: not to impose suffering on others. And even more, alleviate a tiny fraction of the other's agony, for the pleasure that that person gets, more than matches our suffering. Many saints have brought on themselves others' suffering. We pray to God to relieve us of our grief but, it has also been said, grief itself is a gift of God; it cleanses and purifies, and allows us to feel the pain of others.

Loaded with pain and suffering, life seems pointless, but we cannot also see any 'point' beyond life, and therefore we 'linger', for lack of a 'known choice'. The problem is that the three dimensions of human life β€” physical, intellectual, and spiritual β€” run on parallel tracks, very often, in most lives, without any intersections; and the physical runs ahead of the intellectual, and the intellectual ahead of the spiritual. The same signature, intelligence, that allows us to plan, hope, imagine, give substance to God, and to hypothesize, to work, worry, and worship, and anticipate outcomes, has become the stumbling block to real change. And it has failed to bring about both conceptual and operational rapprochement and reconciliation within the triad of human knowledge β€” religion (revealed) philosophy (speculative), and science (deductive). Each claims exclusive legitimacy and, like a jealous spouse, brooks no erosion of its monopoly.

The other 'triad' that underlies all human action β€” perception, analysis, response, whose locus is the brain β€”, has rarely led man to the right choices in life. The problem is that we identify 'intelligence' with IQ (intellectual intelligence), which is really our cerebral power to acquire, apply, and absorb knowledge, while sidelining our EQ (emotional intelligence) and SQ (spiritual intelligence). The SQ is a concept pioneered by authors Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall in their book SQ - Spiritual Intelligence: the Ultimate Intelligence (2004). The neglect of EQ, and even more, of SQ has led to the distortion of human personality, priorities, and predispositions. It has made us confuse the world we see, the 'world' we are within, as the world as it is, and we have lost our internal moorings, and the natural attributes of EQ and SQ have slipped into comatose slumber. What comes out is what is within. If we hate someone it means there is hate inside us. Indeed, we cannot even observe externally that which we are incapable of conceiving internally. While what we need is congruence and confluence, what we have is (despite some recent attempts to induce greater harmony between all branches of knowledge) conflict and confusion. Underlying all this restlessness and angst is the basic question: is the human form of life designed and entitled to know all? Is the knowledge we want to know, present but hidden in Nature, waiting to be fathomed and discovered, as scientists like Stephen Hawking and Steven Weinberg contend? Or is it, as scientists like Freeman Dyson argue, some of the secrets of Nature might well be beyond mathematical formulas, beyond the natural capacity of the human mind? Will we be forever, as Isaac Newton wrote towards the end of his life, be consigned to the fate of a boy finding a 'smoother pebble' or a 'prettier shell' on the seashore, while the great ocean of Truth lay undiscovered?

38 Helen Keller. Accessed at:

Malaise of modern man

We might not be privy to the ways and wiles of Nature. What we well know, at the practical level, is that the sinister shadow of evil β€” lurking in the dark recesses of our consciousness and waiting for a vulnerable moment to emerge β€” is now unbridled, no longer content to be the lukewarm absence of the good, or the occasional subversion of virtue. It is not contingent or an ugly aberration; we are not even sure which 'virtue' leads to virtuous conduct. Why evil men do what they do has been the matter of long-standing philosophical debate: is it out of ignorance that they do what they do (as Socrates believed), or do evil men do what they do while knowing fully well what is morally right? The fact is that most people do know; in fact, they do evil not because it is 'good', but because they think it is 'good' for them β€” it makes them rich or powerful, or gives the means of pleasure. While what attracts an individual to evil is multilayered and complex, the fact is that in the modern world, evil is so alive and stark, monstrous and mundane, that everyday life is nearly unimaginable without coming face to face with it. And often, far too often for our comfort, that face is our own in the mirror, the projection of our own personality. Human evil has an ancient pedigree. In the Bible (Genesis, 6.5) it is said: The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on earth, and He saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. It has grown from banal to brazen, from moral turpitude to mindless terror. It has its own sturdy legs to straddle upon, unapologetic and proud, even boastful β€” almost a human calling, a whole new discipline, independent of the person, cause, and event. Some even choose to be evil for its own sadistic sake, without any direct link to any expected advantage β€” it seems so much more 'fun' than any other 'game'. Menacingly, its dark shadow crashes into every corner, conversation, and conclave, every place of work or worship. While we look for it in some dastardly deed or deviant act, the melancholy truth is that evil is embedded in myriad ways in 'normal', if not respectable, life. The connecting thread is the impulse to cause pain, misery, and distress to another person, or even kill or maim him, which could be as casual as avenging an insult to 'God', or in self-righteousness against a deliberate slight or dismissive gesture.

And what has been called the 'unremarkable face of unspeakable evil' is not confined to the criminal realm or to the minds of men like Caligula, Genghis Khan, Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot; nor is it necessarily unlawful. Although a common phrase, there is no such thing as inhumanness where evil is concerned. We are all human, even if we or some of us do horrible things. The mind of a monster β€” or a Mahatma β€” has defied all our attempts to unravel. Judging from the way the world reacted and acted to symbols of horror, from Auschwitz to Armenia, from Bosnia to Darfur, it is hard to 'rationally' imagine what it takes to rouse the moral outrage of humankind or to ensure that such horrors do not recur. Equally, it is hard to even speculate what is the nadir below which man will not descend in depravity. Evil-doers do not just commit acts that do grievous harm to others; they even choose to behave subsequently in a manner that deliberately aggravates the harm. Faith or belief has never been a barrier or impervious screen to evil. While we bemoan evil and condemn evil people, the bitter truth is that most of the evil in the world is caused by people who believe they are good people. The evil they yield does not negate their 'goodness'.

While evil is the visible face of what ails man, the mainspring of what ails man is rooted in his instinctive sense of superiority, if not sacredness, called anthropocentrism, blamed by environmentalists as being at the root of the ecological crisis. Too often, our view of what is good for the universe is what is good for us; what is virtue is what is valuable to the human race; indeed, history itself is a history of our own kind, always man at the epicenter. And at the end, man always sees himself as the master, mover and shaker, the valorous, victor or victim, utterly oblivious to his cosmic insignificance. Our 'history' is but a chronicle of barbarity that has nothing to do with beasts. The so-called anthropic principle proposes that 'the universe must have those properties which allow life to develop within it at some stage in its evolution', which could imply that our universe has been 'fine tuned' by an intelligence external to human life. In short, this view holds that the cosmos is old enough and big enough to have already evolved a carbon-based formula of life. The building blocks of life, it suggests, are not produced on earth but in the cosmos, in the stars, underlining the interconnectivity of the universe.

The other view posits that mankind is an insignificant or fortuitous accident lost in the immensity of the cosmos or, in the words of physicist Steven Weinberg, a farcical event in the chain of accidents. The earth itself is a blue dot in the Milky Way; our sun just one among millions of other suns of a small galaxy, which, again, is just one among hundreds of millions of them. We think of ourselves as natives of the earth but some scientists even say that we might actually be extraterrestrials and that life actually came from some other planet. Even if we assume that 'intelligent' life is confined to this planet, the sweep of the history of life on earth is far grander and greater than that of the rise of man as a pre-eminent species on Earth. The cosmic eye has seen meteorites the size of Manhattan hitting the earth, continental drifts and breakups, dramatic changes in climate, the opening and closing of corridors of intercontinental migration, and the wholesale extinction of species, some of which were far more resilient and stronger, though not brainier, than man. Our faculties of conscious awareness, thinking, information analysis and application and prioritization have been so myopic that we have repeatedly refused to heed the warnings of looming nonlinearities and the telltale rumblings. But the far greater and more imminent threat to both earth and man at this juncture may not be a menacing meteorite, or even convulsive climate change, but malice in the mind; it may not be a continental drift but technology run amok; it may not be an invasion from Mars but the corrosion stemming from within man's consciousness.

There is a growing disconnection between our cognitive ability and social conduct, knowing and doing, precept and practice. The gap between ignorance and awareness is easier to fill than the gap that yawns between what we know and what we do. It is now widely accepted that we are governed not by a single seamless brain but by several parts of the brain β€” or even several 'brains' β€” which are both interconnected as well as autonomous, and the interplay of these entities determines our behavior. Therefore, like the universe which is now being termed multiverse, our brain too is not a 'uni-brain' but a 'multi-brain'. The part of the brain that deals with acquiring and storing knowledge seems to be poorly connected with those parts that relate to action. It is a congenital deficiency of the human species, and with the knowledge revolution β€” or more accurately the information revolution β€” that is sweeping the world, that 'deficiency' has become a serious drag on human betterment.

Modern science claims to have created a 'global brain' but it has no say in how that 'brain' functions. If its working remains as disorderly as our personal brain, it could turn into a 'global drain.' The booming belief in God has had little bearing on our 'global brain'; if any, it seems to embolden our individual brains to be more callous and cruel. And secularism, which is considered to be synonymous with 'being progressive', has come to erode much of the traditional territory of the sacred.

God and good men

In both secular and sacred thought, we have a far better idea about evil and evil-doers than, ironically, of goodness and good men. Someone, probably English crime writer P.D. James, remarked that we would be better off if we learnt to behave like 'good animals' and less like 'gods'. Since, according to science we are essentially 'animals' β€” the human animal β€” what remains to be learnt is 'goodness'. Most people want to be 'good' and also be 'good at', but the world of 'goodness' is such a maze that they often lose their way. Wanting to be 'good' we often end up doing 'bad'. The irony is that we claim we will do anything to be good except doing good to someone else. Still, such is our longing for 'good' that if only someone can make a 'goodness pill' the sales of it will break all precedents. Its attraction lies not only in that we do not have to rack our brains wondering what is good and what is bad but, even more, it bridges the yawning chasm of our lives β€” knowing what is the right thing to do and not being able to do that. Since no such pill yet exists, we have to struggle with questions of theology, moral philosophy, and practical life. Is goodness synonymous with being virtuous? Should we be good for 'goodness sake', or for God, or for our own self-respect? Is it personal rectitude or public morality? Is it what we do or how we do? What is the litmus test? In raising such questions, we assume that in the human world there is a sharp line between 'good people' and 'bad people', and 'good things' and 'bad things'. And that if we do 'bad' we are 'bad', and if we do 'good' we are 'good'. In reality, we often find that we can do 'bad' deeds and remain 'good' men, and do 'good' deeds and not necessarily be 'good' men. An assumption is that to be 'good' or to do 'good' we must do something heroic and extraordinary, and sacrifice something. Too often we downplay the power of unlabored affection, a tender touch, a toothy smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around, and are the true signatures of goodness. And too often we look for grand gestures like generosity and charity. We tend to think it is okay to give a withering look if we can follow it up with an act of kindness like giving alms. And we behave as if we have a 'right to be rude' if the other person happens to be a subordinate or a dependent.

We cannot think about goodness for two minutes without the thought of God cropping up. The question is not about goodness of God β€” that we just assume β€” but about God's role in ensuring our goodness. Does God really like good men or is it that because they are good, He wants to test how good they really are? And how does He judge goodness? It is a part of anthropocentrism to believe that God's job is to keep us good, and that if we fall prey to evil, He has implicitly failed or forsaken us? And when we are at a dead end, we turn to the question of all questions β€” what is the matter with God? The pervasive indignity, injustice, and cruelty in the world have led many observers to ask why God allows the 'innocent' to suffer and the 'evil' to triumph. In the Karma theory, it may be noted, the 'innocent' may be the 'evil' ones in another life and their suffering a way to pay for their papa or sins. When one unspeakable horror is brazenly followed by another, more unspeakable or unthinkable horror, without let up or hindrance β€” Holocaust, Gulag, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur β€” the troubling thought does cross our minds if such things on such scale, particularly those triggered by religious rivalry, could happen without some sort of divine imprimatur.

Or is man a creature whose evolution has gone so awfully awry that even God cannot set it right? Some say Hitler's Holocaust or Stalin's Gulags happened on earth, not because of human viciousness but because of what has been dubbed, in the words of Martin Buber (1952), as "eclipse of the light of heaven, eclipse of God."39 It is not just that modern men, due to their absorption in technology and material progress, have become incapable of hearing God's voice. The timeless question is why does God allow 'good men' to fail in life and fall in sin? Human history, mythology, and sacred texts are full of gods, 'good men', spiritual leaders and many others who succumbed to temptation. In the Bible, David, dear to God, committed adultery with another man's wife, got her pregnant, then had her husband murdered to cover up the affair.

39 Cited in: Maurice S. Friedman. Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue. Accessed at: http://www.religion-

Man is frail in flesh, mind, and spirit. Why does not God make us stronger and impervious to temptation? God Himself might have chosen, looking at what man has wrought on earth, to stay still and silent in our age and time. The Hindus however explain this as the inevitable symptoms of the Kali Yuga. According to the Hindu concept of cyclical time, we are living in the evil age of Kali Yuga, which is said to have started more than 3,000 years ago, and expected to last another 432,000 earth years. It was at the beginning of the Kali Yuga that King Yudhistira, in the great epic Mahabharata, who asked the immortal sage Markandeya, "When morality and virtue come to an end, what will remain?"40 We know what 'remains', now and here, but why must it be that way? Are we required to be 'bad' simply because we are born in this yuga? Who benefits from human misery? Is everyone born in this age of hardened sinners doing their final 'time' on this hell of a planet? What cosmic cause is served if we are forced to do things we do not want to do, but are unable not to do? Bereft of any answers suitable to our intellectual intelligence, we again turn to God, but He remains an inscrutable Sphinx. It raises the question, in the words of one of the characters in Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian (1985) "If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind, would he not have done so by now?"41 In other words, does our decadence have a divine sanction? Some theologians skirt around the torment and argue that God's designs are not for us to discern, that He is not answerable to anyone, nor is He in any kind of moral bondage to man. Some say that events like the Holocaust and the Gulag are God's punishments, but does it mean that people like Hitler and Stalin were God's chosen people? and that they and their henchmen were, so to speak, 'doing God's work'?

If God is faultless and horrific things keep happening, and the 'evil'-doers seem to go scot free, then how does one make sense of it all? The answer is startlingly simple β€” just extend the time frame beyond birth and death. One must look at life as a continuum that stretches over multiple lives in myriad motifs, in each of which we carry forward both the good and the bad we do, and what we call 'quality of life' and suffering are but a reflection of these actions; a sort of perpetual collection of dues and payback of debts; and in so doing, we again continue to do both good and bad things, and the cycle continues. Our spouses, children, kinsmen β€” indeed every arrangement of human relationship β€” act as agents of happiness or the reverse, depending upon one's past acts.

Only in the human condition does a single person, or at most a handful, can make a difference between clinging to life and embracing death. The Bible gives a good deal of attention to the reality of suffering. It does not regard it as an illusion as some religions and sects do, nor deal with it superficially. One of its larger books, the Book of Job, is given solely to this question. In orthodox Christianity, there is no salvation sans suffering. While all religions deal with suffering, it is the Hindu and Buddhist karma theory that, on the face of it, appears to be the most plausible explanation for all that seems so incomprehensible, unfair, and unjust in life. It is also the one that 'explains' why our fates and fortunes fluctuate so widely. In the karmic perspective, it is through suffering that one transforms oneself β€” the more intense the suffering, the faster the transformation, a kind of fast-track penance or payback for previous papas or sins. In the Mahabharata (Anushasana Parva), it is said that as light and shadow are related to each other, so are men related to karma through their own actions.

40 Kali Yuga. The Mahabharata. Vana Parva, Section CLXXXIX. Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli. Accessed at:

41 Cited in: Joyce Carol Oates. The Treasure of Comanche County. The New York Review of Books, USA. 20 October 2005.

And every action could be a springboard for suffering. Maybe, it is because of that that we seem to be almost unconsciously, or at a deeper level of consciousness, in search of suffering and are afraid to 'sacrifice' suffering. But that does not allow us to let off God from our troubles, frustrations, and failures of life.

Invoking divine 'callousness' as the cause, some revolutionary 'thinkers' like Neale Donald Walsch assert that "the God in whom you believe isn't real. The God in whom you believe is made up. It is a God you created out of thin air, having nothing to do with Ultimate Reality" and that, in any case God was, "never able to create a just society or a joyful harmonious civilization, to say nothing of a peaceful world."42 If God were to do all that, what is man supposed to do β€” exploit and kill, and find fault with God for not stopping us from doing that! According to this line of logic, God is not only the Creator but also a 'Capricious Director' of the world and we are all hopeless puppets dancing to his whimsical tunes. The basic premise that prompted the doctrine of the ineffectiveness or indifference of God is reflected in the comment of Arthur Koestler, the author of works like Darkness at Noon (1840): "God seems to have let the receiver off the hook, and time is running out."43 Or maybe He is calling, and man has left the receiver off the hook, or maybe the phone is ringing but the strident sounds, the maddening echoes of our civilization do not let us hear Him! In any case, how can we be sure that a 'New God' will fare any better? In fact, what we must worry about is not 'tomorrow's God' but about 'tomorrow's man' and what that means to the world.

Narcissism and nihilism

If 'today's man' is a harbinger, if he is a sign of things to come, then the world will become a more perilous place. Modern or post-modern man is constantly drawn towards two conflicting determinants, two extreme responses to reality: he is in love with himself; and he is compulsively self-destructive. We love and loath ourselves at the same time; suffused with both self-absorption and low self-esteem. Our narcissist personality is so precariously poised that we cannot tolerate even a hint of criticism and disagreement. Most narcissists are paranoid and view themselves as 'victims'. Narcissism, someone said, is 'conspicuous nihilism'. If man continues along the same behavioral path, tomorrow's man will be a more paradoxical and perilous being, putting both the species and the earth at greater risk.

Although we can feel the tremors in our bones and watch the birds flying in haste and beasts running in panic sensing mortal danger, we ignore the ominous signs of where man seems headed. We choose to turn the Nelson's Eye and pretend not to see the darkening clouds of what man has wrought on earth, what he has done to his own innate integrity. Like Janus, the Roman God of gates and doorways, we present two faces, one to look at ourselves and the other for the 'others', one face that shows our noble profile, and the other our meanness and cruelty. We seem to have lost our moorings and are not quite sure if life is inherently amoral and absurd and not worth all this bluster and bother.

The very instinct for 'survival', supposedly hardwired into all living beings, that is supposed to predispose us to fear death and abhor annihilation, the primary force behind evolutionary adaptation and conditioning, is no longer so sacrosanct or sharp. We still retain the cave man's survival reflexes, but it is not an absolute; other things, sometimes seemingly trivial and trite, can now override that instinct. As a result, man has become narcissistic and nihilistic, at once self-absorbed and self-destructive, a toxic brew that scalds everything it touches. In the garb of faith and passion, religion and revenge, life and death have become seamless; one can no longer easily identify which is the dominant passion at any given time and situation. We long for peace of mind but our lives are broken into a plurality of pieces; we dream of becoming better but we are bitter at our deepest core. We have, amongst us, many pious people who fervently believe that the shortest route to Paradise is through a bomb blast, no matter who happens to be its victim, even one's own mother. Wrath and revenge dominate the human mind. An ancient proverb, sometimes attributed to the Roman philosopher Euripides, says that those whom the gods want to destroy, they first make mad.

42 Neale D. Walsch. Tomorrow's God: Our Greatest Spiritual Challenge. 2004. Hodder Mobius. London, UK. pp.3-4.

43 Arthur Koestler. Accessed at:

That state comes ominously close to the current state of the human mind. 'Madness' comes uppermost to the mind when one looks at the contemporary scene.

If all this angst is the view through an earthly microscope, how would the vision be through a telescope from the skies? The first thing that any ET (extraterrestrial) out there will notice is our chronic or congenital inability, at some tangible level of our self-awareness, to recognize that we share a common fate on a crowded planet that is losing its life-supporting potential, consequent to human behavior. Indeed researchers like John Mack, the Pulitzer Prize winning author who investigated alien encounters and human abductions, say that the principal reason why aliens visit earth is to warn us that our cavalier tree-cutting, water- polluting, trash-dumping habits will have dire consequences if we do not change our ways.44 But we behave as if we are under some kind of a spell and refuse to hear or heed such warnings. The world's fundamental misfortune, according to Soren Kierkegaard "is the fact that with each great discovery... the human race is enveloped... in a miasma of thoughts, emotions, moods, even conclusions and intentions, which are nobody's, which belong to none and yet to all."45

We proclaim ourselves as 'rational' beings, capable of reasoned analysis and thinking through, but we behave in the most irrational and irresponsible way, even when it comes to issues pertaining to life and death. We have not learnt how to make 'rational decisions' that involve extreme risks, how to reach a 'common good' based on 'shared sacrifice'. Every act β€” even an impulse β€” is tantamount to making a decision, an outcome of mental processes leading to the selection of a course of action among several alternatives. Which means that for us to make any radical shift in the way we make choices and decisions, we must alter the dynamic and direction of our 'rational capacity', the principal faculty with which we navigate through life. We have to change what we consider as the desirable outcome of any event, situation or crisis. 'Rational' man may be, but that has not helped him to make sense of his own life. In the Hindu scripture Janaka Gita, this practical point is rammed home through rhetorical questions: 'In whatever objects faith was placed and the heart was set with love, all those have perished even while being seen. What then is good here on earth?' and 'In childhood, one is under the sway of ignorance. In youth, he is overpowered by women. The rest of his life is absorbed by worries of the family. What can this fool do at any time?'

44 Cited in: Editorial Reviews. Publishers Weekly. John E. Mack. Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters. 1999. Accessed at: Human-Transformation-Encounters/dp/0517705680

45 Cited in: Brian T. Prosser and Andrew Ward. University of Aberdeen. 2007. Kierkegaard's "Mystery Of Unrighteousness" In The Information Age. Accessed at:

46 Swami Sivananda. Sarva Gita Sara. 1999. The Divine Life Society Publications. P.O. Shivanandanagar, Himalayas, Uttar Pradesh, India. p.108.

Not much or nothing, in so far as his life is concerned. But in relation to life in general, man counts a great deal. But the root of the matter is, as Alexis Carrel puts it, "Most of the questions put to themselves by those who study human beings remain without answer. Immense regions of our inner world are still unknown."47

Vedanta says that the external world β€” the universe, the stars, the galaxies as well as our physical body β€” is mortal, and the inner world is immortal. The journey towards immortality has to be within; it is not to become a cyborg, with nanobots replacing internal organs, as scientists predict will be the wave or 'way' of the future, but to become primarily a spiritual being. When the shackled programmed consciousness finally opens up to the infinity of the mystery that has been hushed up until then, 'a person often finds himself drowning in limitless implausibility', to borrow the words of Jack Haas (The Way of Wonder: A Return to the Mystery of Ourselves, 2002). For, when the consciousness is finally distanced from all its previous assumptions, associations, ideas, and beliefs, it suddenly stands upon the brink of the chilling chasm. It is at this edge that some sink, some swim, some fall to perdition, and some learn to fly, not to the skies, but within. Barred from access to the universe within, most men meander aimlessly till death delivers deliverance.

The way forward β€” the way inward

'The way inward' β€” that is the greatest mystery, the tantalizing secret. Why is the meaning of our being so hidden? What divine purpose does it serve to keep us away from our own core? Why are we hypnotized into thinking that we are what we are not? We are supposed to be the only creatures who can imagine, but that has not helped us much in imaging who we are and what is the life-force that propels us. Some say that man is yet to be; as of now a possibility, a potentiality. Some others say that man is a relic, that he is living a posthumous existence. He daily discovers new planets like the earth, new galaxies and nascent stars, but cannot cross the frontier of his own skin. In a spiritual sense, both β€” the external and internal β€” are replicas of each other but we are somehow blinded in our vision of the inner world. The outer world is the phenomenal world, the world of mind and matter, of other people and the living environment. It is the world of action and reaction, belief and behavior. The 'inner world' or 'inner space' is the world of spirit, of our psyches, conscious and subconscious; beyond reason, beyond mind, beyond the reach of the five senses that are externally directed. The 'inner space' is where we make our choices and decisions. And for stability, peace, and harmony in the outer world, we need the same in the inner world. So, in order to access that 'innerscape' we must somehow find a way around or through our egotistical, self-righteous behavior, which views life as a game in which one man's gain or loss is balanced by the losses or gains of another. Whether it is the energy crisis or global warming, the 'problem' of population or looming 'water wars', the clash of religions or nuclear or biological terror, it all comes down to our perception of our place and role in the human community, and to our smug sense that none of them have any bearing on our personal lives, or strong enough to warrant any compromises with our cocoon of comfort. It is not a question of 'who is right'; it is one of 'what is right' and how to do the good we want to do. For that, we must move inwards, embark on a voyage within. The final frontier is the deepest depth within.

47 Cited in: Soil and Health Library, Social Criticism Library. Alexis Carrel. Man, The Unknown. 1935. Chapter I: The Need of a Better Knowledge of Man. p.1 Accessed at:

The ultimate conquest is the conquest of the six enemies within man's own consciousness: kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (avarice), moha (delusion), mada (pride), and matsarya (malice). No spiritual progress is possible without their containment. It is the inner jihad that everyone has to wage. For 'good governance' in the external world we must strive for what Margery Kempe, the English mystic, called 'spiritual self-governance'. The Buddha said that it is foolish to guard against misfortune from the external world if we leave the inner mind uncontrolled. What the human race needs is to fundamentally alter the processes that precede and propel and then burst out as behavior in the outer world. It means that we must bring to bear a new focus and a new balance deep inside the core of our consciousness. It means that we must take conscious charge of our spiritual evolution. Though our reflexive consciousness is ripe enough, the challenges we face are grave enough to impel us to do that.

We must realize that for us to manage change wisely, we need to change the forces that presently direct the 'change' in human life; we have to change the conductor as well as the orchestra. To change what we see, we must change how we see. The 'world,' for all practical purposes, in the words of Madame Blavatsky, is nothing but an individual 'living in his personal nature.' Every individual is both the irreducible minimum and the entirety of life. The change we need at this juncture has to be both 'vertical' (individually), and 'horizontal' (as a species). It has to be a shift not only in the way we comprehend the external world; it must go beyond or beneath that, a shift in the 'way we comprehend the way we comprehend', and in the way we 'relate with our relationships' and in our sense of priorities. Change cannot be always and wholly endogenous or in situ; we must create the necessary context, conditions, and the potential. We have been chanting the mantra of change or challenge for centuries without being clear of what it entails and its prerequisites. Change must be seen both as a process and as a means to human betterment, and to uplift the species to a higher level of consciousness. The transformation we must seek and strive towards ought to be, as sages like Sri Aurobindo have envisioned, to evolve ourselves into a de facto new species, a higher mode of life; to struggle to see, as the Bhagavad Gita exhorts, ourselves in all and all in ourselves; not so much to remake the world into an El Dorado but to remake ourselves into better beings, not to slay the demons of the nether world, but to exorcize those that lurk within and nibble at our soul.

If there is one message from our past, it is that individuals matter, but a stray sprinkling of disconnected deeds will not do; we must convert the gentle breeze from good men into a benign gale that sweeps across all hurdles, like a rising tide that lifts all boats. The critical point for species-scale change will come when the momentum for change becomes unstoppable and irreversible even by the original agents of that change, when a 'critical mass' of small changes tip the balance of a whole new way of life, what Malcolm Gladwell calls the 'tipping point'. It is the smallest number of awakened human beings whose collective conduct can initiate a significant shift in global consciousness. At some unspecified point, a single individual can make a collective difference. We must behave as if we are that one extra person who can tip the scales and turn individual motivation into a mass movement. This concept is sometimes referred to as 'memes', ideas that are spread by the behavior that they incubate in their hosts and become 'social or ethical epidemics'. We do know, but not how, a trivial incident or a tiny defiance or a small disquiet in some nondescript corner can become a global phenomenon and a universal norm. The process through which it spreads is unclear, but it can be both horizontal and vertical, encapsulated in a single generation. It has happened, though seldom, when a random idea or a strange habit suddenly acquires the characteristic of a pandemic disease and human behavior dramatically changes, driven by an invisible catalyst. Right now, we need that kind of 'positive pathogen', if you will, a 'white plague', a 'spiritual smallpox', that invades and infects humanity and breaks through the false sense of immunity we feel from the fate of the world. In the words of the theosophist and author Gottfried de Purucker (Man in Evolution, 1941), we must let the spiritual being play on the physical body as the master musician plays on a wondrous lute or harp.

The master key to unravel mankind's misery is to strive towards an altogether new insight into 'intelligence'. First, it is not a human monopoly; every harp of the orchestra of life on earth, including plants and trees have it, which is not necessarily inferior to the human. Second, it is not also the monopoly of the brain or the mind; it is in every cell in our body.

Third, the human heart is a tremendous storehouse of cells with memory, energy, and intelligence. Fourth, we must find a way to harness the other two intelligences, the emotional and spiritual. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad talks of the heart as 'the source of all things', the way to feel stillness. For reasons still unclear, the equilibrium between the two independent but intertwined sources of human cognitive capacity β€” mind and heart β€” got distorted, with one of them, the mind, becoming the monarch, and turning the heart simply into a powerful 'double' pump that backstops life, fundamentally changing the human personality and predispositions. While the mind became synonymous with the practical world of strength, logic, reason, and success, the heart came to be often associated with weakness, emotion, sentiment, compassion, and love. Frontier research is reinforcing ancient intuitive wisdom that the human heart is far more than what modern medicine has 'discovered', and that it is actually the key for the human to evolve any further. As Gary Zukav (The Seat of the Soul, 1989) says, we cannot find our soul with our mind; we must harness our heart.

We are like the fisherman in Oscar Wilde's beautiful story The Fisherman and His Soul (1891), a story about the power of love, described as better than wisdom and more precious than riches, and fairer than the feet of the daughters of men. The fisherman, rebuffed by the priest, goes to the marketplace to sell his soul to wed the mermaid, and says "Of what use is my soul to me? I cannot see it. I may not touch it. I do not know it". The merchants scoff and say, signaling the state of present-day man's mind, "Of what use is a man's soul to us?" and "Sell us thy body for a slave". For most of us our body is our identity, more real, and useful than the soul. We too long for 'love' but marginalize that which is the fountainhead of love: the heart. Tellingly, the Soul, in the same story, having been cast away without the heart, tells the fisherman that without the heart it learnt to do all the bad things and to 'love' them.

Elaine Matthews (Heartbeat of Intelligence, 2002) says that "as a species we have forgotten how to love. But love alone is not the key. The key is knowledge of heart intelligence."48 Love, flowing from the heart, can also act as a bridge between the head and the heart. The ancient Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, wrote that "Love is of all passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart and the senses."49 The Upanishads describe the heart as a 'cave' or a 'lotus' inside our consciousness, and as the favored abode of God. The blossoming of the 'lotus' is a metaphor often used in spiritual parlance. The lotus rises up from the mud of the swamp, grows through the murky waters, and blossoms into a pure white flower. The message from this is that we too can rise from the world of sin and senses, and attain spiritual illumination. The sage Ramakrishna Paramahamsa said 'Bring your own lotus to blossom; the bees will come of themselves'.

In his book Consilience (1998), Edward Wilson says that "in the quest for ultimate meaning, the transcendentalist route is much easier to follow.

48 Elaine Matthews. The Heartbeat of Intelligence. 2002. Writer's Showcase. New York, USA. p.109.

49 Lao Tzu. Heart Quotes. Accessed at:

That is why, even as empiricism is winning the mind, transcendentalism continues to win the heart."50 It does not mean sidelining the brain or suffocating the mind; it means that the brain--mind has to learn to work in harmony with the heart. Many are the instances in history when the non-physical dimension of the heart has guided men, at times of great peril and darkness. The Peruvian spiritual author, Carlos Castaneda said that while choosing any path, choose the one with a heart. And Jesus said that those that are pure in heart will see God. The unraveling of the Ultimate Truth, the truth behind appearances that blur our vision, is possible only through deep contemplation in the heart. John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher and essayist, acclaimed as one of the brainiest men of modern times with an IQ of 200, hit the nail on the head, when he said "No great improvements in the lot of mankind are possible until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought."51 To induce and orchestrate such a change, man needs both the cold reasoning and craftiness of the mind and the clemency and compassion of the heart. For some time, the mark of human excellence has been measured by the IQ (intelligence quotient); in the mid-1990s, psychologists like Daniel Goleman discovered the EQ (emotional quotient), with emphasis on feelings as the measure of human wholesomeness; and now, at the turn of the 21st century, it is the SQ (spiritual quotient), which is being extolled as the new dimension of human aspiration and intelligence. SQ, it is said, will enable inquiry into questions such as 'Who am I?', 'Why am I here?' and 'Whither am I headed?' It could metamorphose our personality and make us more 'naturally' compassionate.

The German atheist philosopher Schopenhauer said that universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality, and for that we must touch and tap the human heart. As the Indian mystic Osho puts it, "this is one of the mysteries: that the mind can speak, and knows nothing; and the heart knows everything, but cannot speak."52 According to him, the center of human personality has shifted first from the navel to the heart and then to the brain, with disastrous consequences. He says that, "In Patanjali's [the author of the famed Yoga sutras] days, the center of the human personality was not the brain; it was the heart. And before that, it was not even the heart. It was still lower, near the navel. The center has gone even further from the navel. Now, the center is the brain"53 Osho says that "a catharsis is needed because the heart is so suppressed, due to your brain which has taken over so much of your being that it dominates you. You have never laughed heartily; never done anything heartily. The brain always comes in to systematize; and the heart is suppressed."54 And that "If the heart is unburdened, then the center of consciousness is pushed still lower; it comes to the navel. The navel is the source of vitality, the seed source from which everything else comes."55 He concludes that "consciousness must be pushed down to the source, to the roots.

50 Edward O. Wilson. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. 1998. Alfred & Knopf. New York, USA. pp. 261-262.

51 Mind Power. The Deccan Chronicle. Hyderabad, India. p.6.

52 Osho. Mind is the Creation of Society; Heart Has No Logic. The Deccan Chronicle. Hyderabad, India. Sunday, 22 June 2008. II.

53 Osho. Shaking the Inner Snake Awake. The Psychology of the Esoteric. Accessed at:

54 Osho. Why "Osho Active Meditations"? The Psychology of the Esoteric, #4. Accessed at:

55 Osho. Shaking the Inner Snake Awake. The Psychology of the Esoteric. Accessed at:

Only then is there the possibility of transformation. The ultimate cannot be known through the brain because when you are functioning through the brain, you are in conflict with the roots."56 The psychologist Carl Jung said that 'there is an extraordinary distance from the head to the heart, a distance of ten, twenty, thirty years or a whole lifetime'.57 If man could move the center of his being back to the heart, if not the navel, then his whole personality will change and his whole attitude and frame of reference to the universe and towards his fellow travelers, other humans, will be as different as light from darkness.

The physical distance in the body, between the brain and the navel, is less than a foot but the spiritual space is an eon. The aim should be to first reach the intermediate halt, the heart, as the fulcrum of consciousness. Only then can we differentiate between the surreal and the real, the unknown and unreal, non-existence and existence, solitude and loneliness, and emptiness and nothingness. Most people feel that their lives are empty, and that feeling comes because they perceive themselves as a being in entirety, and view the universe from the prism of their pleasure. Emptiness leads to alienation, alienation to anger, and anger to hate and violence. It is this sense of emptiness that dwarfs and distorts life, and one must come to grips with it. But it is not 'emptiness' that is the problem; it is that our thoughts are of the wrong kind. It is the corrupt mind that causes misery; not an 'empty' mind. One of the most enchanting doctrines in Buddhism that deals with such issues is called sunyata in Sanskrit, or kong in Chinese. The Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna once said "For him to whom emptiness is clear, everything becomes clear; for him to whom emptiness is not clear, nothing becomes clear". It is also elaborated in the Sikh scripture Aad Guru Granth Sahib.

The doctrine of the void is a method of rejecting all attachments because things have no 'self'. 'Void' is not vacant. This positive concept of 'void' is often compared with the emptiness inside a vase or the music that comes from the emptiness of a drum. It is a state in which all polarity, all subject–object differentiation has ceased to exist. But in Mahayana Buddhism, in the sunyavadah doctrine, this is a positive concept. It posits that form is emptiness and emptiness is form, which signifies the absence of absoluteness of existence of anything. Once we recognize that all of us are at once autonomous and interwoven, a part and whole in the mosaic of creation, and that there can be no isolated transcendence, the essence and direction of spiritual transformation becomes clear.

Such a state or kind of consciousness is best described in the Isha Upanishad, in the famous peace invocation "Om purnamadah purnamidam purnaat purnamudachyate, purnasya purnamadaya purnamevaavashishyate."58 It is a crisp and profound verse, consisting of just one noun, two pronouns, three verbs and a particle for emphasis. It is roughly translated as: "That (pure consciousness, the Supreme Reality) is whole; this (the manifest universe of matter; of names and forms being illusions) is whole. This whole is projected from that whole. 'That' is the all encompassing, all-devouring Macrocosm, and 'This' is the infinitely diffused microcosm. When 'This' whole is taken away from That or merges with the whole, all that remains again is the whole. Although the Sanskrit word, the noun, purnat is loosely translated as 'whole' or sometimes as 'completely filled', 'infinite' or

56 Excerpted from: Osho. Shaking the Inner Snake Awake. The Psychology of the Esoteric. Reproduced in The Times of India. 24 April 2006. p.2.

57 Cited in: Annie B. Bond. Hindu Heart Consciousness: Integrating Thought and Feeling. Adapted from Christina Becker. The Heart of the Matter. 2004. (Chiron Publications). Accessed at:

58 Swami Gambhirananda (tr.). Isa Upanisad with the Commentary of Sankaracarya. Advaita Ashrama. 5 Delhi Entally Road, Calcutta, India. p.3.

'perfectly perfect', the import and essence is far more subtle. 'Fullness' can indicate a state of satiation and the word 'Completeness' can denote a state arrived through the path of the 'Sum of the parts'.

It is perhaps best described as a sublime state of sublime realization when the ultimate limitation, the individuality through which we limit the world, drops off from the consciousness; much like a snake sheds its skin. It is a state when the sense of limitation, as "Individuality" drops off, as a superfluous antiquity from one's consciousness. In stating that 'aham' and 'idam', 'this' and 'that' each are poornam (whole or complete), it is reminding us that though the two might appear bheda or different, they are in fact identical. Another analogy is that form is a wave invented by the ocean of consciousness to understand its own formlessness. What is eternal is the ocean, but without waves it is incoherent. The paradox is that what is eternal is formlessness, but without form it is expressionless.

What we consider in life to be important, the Upanishads never tire of reminding us, are the impermanent, ephemeral, and illusory, that the idea of the external is what limits us, that the Universe is within, the Creator and the created are the same, and that we are endowed with all the attributes of the Infinite. From the soaring perspective of the Upanishads, it is in the smallest particle of matter that the entire cosmos is reflected, and there is ultimately no unbridgeable gulf between the individual and the cosmos, jiva and Ishvara, microcosm and macrocosm, pindanda (world of the body) and brahmanda (world of cosmos). In short, we long to be that which we already are. It was a perspective that was later embraced by many philosophers like Leibnitz who proposed that the ultimate elements of the universe were individual beings that he called monads.

The ancient rishis of India and the saints and sages in our own time have demonstrated the ability to see the same patterns from the largest to the smallest scale, and intuitively recognized their interdependence and interchangeability. In one word, they were able to draw upon or invoke 'heart-centered' consciousness. At a point of time when human consciousness is called on to take an entirely new dimension, to effect a real transition, a seed surviving from the past is needed to shelter the tender germ of the future. What could that seed be? It cannot be the body or its sense organs or the mind; it could only be the heart. The seeds pregnant with all possibilities, the germs of all genres of life, have each one of us already inside them. And each one of us must give birth to a new sprout, a new species, the 'nobler man', the 'Infant Buddha'.

The question is not if we will be transformed. Transformation is a continuum, universal and pervasive. At one level, 'being alive' is being transformed. The passage from one phase to another phase β€” from infancy to adolescence, from adolescence to youth, from youth to old age, and finally to death β€” is transformation. At another, more profound, level, it is transformation that virtually alters everything that we have come to associate with 'being human', everything we call the human way of life, that lets us look at another life as an extension of our own. Some call the future human species Homo noeticus ('Enlightened Next'), which physically resembles Homo sapiens but has a "marked increase in consciousness." The scriptural transformation is spiritual, which is to transform the deepest aspects of the human spirit through self-knowledge and divine grace so that every thought, word and deed becomes a ripple in the universe of consciousness. Mainstream science, for long, has ignored the psychic and spiritual dimensions, focusing on only the physical.

Racking our brains, thinking about all these matters, we feel weary, exhausted and the mind tells us to 'forget all this; savor the pleasure of the moment and get on and go along'.

But something else whispers in the void, that is why we are human. Whenever we want to be the human future, the 'question' of God comes up. Does He really want us to be any different from what we are and what divine purpose does our decadence serve? How do we go forward and inward? Drawing upon Nature as the reservoir of all knowledge and the living world as the source of inspiration, there are essentially three parallels that point to the way of our probable future. First, the scientific way is to give man the choice to be a virtual immortal superman and transform the species into a superorganism, much like the 'social insects' like the ants and the bees. In spiritual terms, the soaring Upanishadic maxim of seeing the Self in all and all in the Self, comes close, in practice, to the idea of the human society turning into an ant colony. But the means are different. While the mandarins of science bank upon communication technologies like the World Wide Web and transcontinental travel, the spiritual hopeful draws upon divine devotion and intuitive intelligence. The second, the lemming way, refers to the Arctic rodents that, as the legend goes, commit mass suicide or tumble over the cliff, impelled by the pressures and pulls of their life. The third is the way of the caterpillar that becomes the beauteous butterfly. All three are possible archetypes; we possess the minimum elements needed; which way we go is a matter of moot. Clearly, the butterfly is most appealing, the rodent the least; and the ant seems so far removed from our present personality. The caterpillar ceases to be the creepy creature and soars into the sky as a Monarch butterfly. Likewise, we want to remain the same 'crafty' creature and still become a glistening, if greedy, 'god'.

In any scenario, what we need for real change is a minimum mass of humans who are prepared to turn their gaze inwards and since we do not know the nebulous number, everyone should behave as if he is that one person who would tilt the scales. Whether we do a 'butterfly' or go over the cliff like the legendary lemming depends on the myriad choices of daily life, which, in turn, depends on the character of our consciousness. Whichever way it is, it does seem that this generation of humans has the unique opportunity denied to all previous generations, to take humanity to a higher stratum of consciousness or accelerate its extinction. Scenarists like the eminent Australian microbiologist Frank Fenner are predicting that the 'end' could be within the next hundred years, kindled by overpopulation and 'unbridled consumption'. One should perhaps change the order and put our insatiable appetite for consumption (which reflects as an assault on Nature and leads to global warming and climate change) ahead of the 'problem of population'. It is human avarice and malice that is the 'mother' of all problems, not the number of humans alive on earth at any given point.

Grim and gloomy as the future might seem, the history of the human race shows that, given the proper context and state of consciousness, man is capable of surprising β€” and surpassing β€” himself. At this point in time, that surpassing has to be to overpower malice in his mind and make compassion compulsive. And our heart should come center stage. For, as the French playwright Jean Racine wrote, "A noble heart cannot suspect in others the pettiness and malice that it has never felt". If we cannot suspect we cannot see, and what we cannot see we cannot act upon. Although their numbers are meager and might constitute only a tiny fraction of mankind, there are apparently enough humans on earth who genuinely want to embark upon the path of compassion and self-discovery. According to occult belief, just as animal consciousness evolved into human consciousness, human consciousness must eventually progress towards God-consciousness and enter a spiritual kingdom with powers and knowledge undreamt of. The only route for human betterment β€” at this juncture, even for sheer survival β€” is to move up on the spiral of consciousness and transform the very 'nature of human reality', which then will empower us to see and relate with the Outer reality differently. An ancient Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu wrote that "pure consciousness transforms itself…" (Trimsatika). To make it 'pure' we must cleanse it of mind-dominance. That is the most formidable challenge man has ever faced β€” and failed. We need a new catalyst, a new trigger, which so far neither religion nor science was able to provide. Recent advances in the body of our knowledge like quantum physics concerning the interplay of consciousness and the physical world, indicate that instantaneous changes in widely separated systems can occur. That in a mysterious manner the separated particles remain in constant contact offers new hope that science and spirituality can join forces in consciousness-change and in furthering the cause of the 'manava dharma', the righteous duty of all humankind on earth. It could mean that the idea of oneness or poornam envelopes atoms and humans alike. And that, coupled with the re-energizing of heart intelligence, could jump-start human transformation.

Chapter 2: Human Condition β€” Paradox to Peril

The human in the universe

'Being human' β€” that is the magic mantra we chant to justify our condescension and cruelty over everyone else as far as we can see with the naked eye or telescope or microscope. That is what defines β€” and confines β€” our earthly existence. But 'being human' is also not being satisfied with 'being human'. As Albert Camus quipped, man is the only being that refuses to be what he is. And that is at once the promise and peril of man. The promise is that that 'refusal' can lead to self-analysis and salvation. The peril is that, unless guided properly, it can, in the words of D.H. Lawrence, make man 'the only animal in the world to fear'. The reason promise can so easily slip into peril is because we really do not know who we really are or ought to be. In the words of the Persian poet and philosopher Jalal ad-Din Rumi (The Essential Rumi, 1996), we wonder 'Where did I come from? What am I supposed to be doing? Who is it in my ear who hears my voice? Who says words with my mouth? Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?' Man has long wondered how and where he belongs in the grand scheme of the cosmos. Astronomers tell us that the earth is a tiny blue dot in the Milky Way, and our sun is just one among millions of other suns in our small galaxy, which is just one among hundreds of millions of galaxies in the universe where new suns and planets are constantly being formed. Would there be any point in having a universe if we humans were not here to observe it? When American historian Harry Elmer Barnes asserted that "Astronomically speaking, man is insignificant," George Coe, professor of religious education, replied, "Astronomically speaking, man is the astronomer." Significant or insignificant we might be in the universe, there is no denying that our lives are interwoven with the universe. As French astrophysicist Michael Casse reminds us, "When we drink a drop of water, we drink the Universe, because a molecule of water, the H2O, gathers in itself the hydrogen β€” a vestige of the initial explosion, the Big Bang β€” and the oxygen, produced in the furnace of the stars and exhaled by them". The particles that were composed at the beginning of the Universe, the atoms that were forged in the stars, the molecules that were constituted on earth or in another place… all that is also inside us". At the existential level, we still debate what 'being' is, and if 'non-being' is not 'being'; and if what we call 'living' is real or simply a 'dream within a dream'. Capturing our quandary, Shakespeare exclaimed in Hamlet 'To be or not to be'; and the French surrealist A. Rimbaud β€” who, in his teens, was dubbed by Victor Hugo as 'infant Shakespeare' β€” pronounced 'I am someone else'. The Greek playwright G. Xenopoulos (The Secret of Countess Valerena, 1904) satirized the problem with the words "If I wasn't the one I am, who would you like me to be?"59.

Whenever we think of 'getting' something or 'becoming' someone else, it always implies that what there is right now is somehow deviant or deficit, that "there is in 'me' something missing, and I have got to get some kind of experience or some kind of quality that is going to make me fulsome, and then, once I get it, it is going to be mine and I can keep it." The trouble is that most of us want to be someone else, but we cannot make up our minds who

59 G. Xenopoulos. The Secret of Countess Valerena. 1904. Accessed at: forum/greek-lyrics-translation /23789-first-sentences-an-isoun-allos.html

that someone ought to be, because we really want to be a 'super-being', indestructible and impervious to age and death, to 'time and tide'. That sets up the stage for our assault on Nature and approach to God. And we want to know if we are a lumpen mass living β€” as Karl Marx described the toiling peasants of France β€” like 'potatoes in a sack', or if we are divine beings with an ordained place in the universe? We may quibble and debate about what 'life' is but more practically, the question is: when interdependence of life on earth is so obvious, why do we experience ourselves, our thoughts, our feelings, our desires as something separate and stand-alone from the rest?

Spiritually, that quest for our essential identity is also the quest for God, and is symbolized by the Vedantic question 'Who am I?' That disarmingly simple but causal question, made famous by the 20th century saint of southern India, Ramana Maharshi, in the Tamil language as Nan yar, has come to capture the quintessence of man's spiritual aspiration. Ramana Maharshi said that that very query or thought will destroy all other thoughts and, like the stick used for stirring the burning fire, will itself be burnt, leading to self-realization. The British philosopher Derek Parfit (Reasons and Persons, 1984), who specializes on issues of individual identity, rationality, and ethics, put it starkly when he wrote that we are not what we believe ourselves to be, that actions and experiences are interconnected but ownerless. And that a human life comprises of a bundle of enmeshed mental states rolling like tumbleweed down the days and years, but with no one (nothing) at the center. All human knowledge, all human endeavors, the 'spur that makes man struggle with destiny' (Donald G. Mitchell), has been to overcome that which evolution has made us to be or accidentally pushed us into, biologically, psychologically or spiritually. We are the only species that is not content to be what it appears to be, that does not accept the state of its being, the condition of its existence. Man is also the one who is aware, at some level or depth, that he is more than what he has become. And that he is special, unique, indispensible and yet limited both by his body and mind. The cumulative effect of all these diverse forces, pulls, and pressures, has created a huge imbalance and dis-equilibrium that is at the epicenter of the turmoil in the human world. And the heart of man's predicament is his ignorance about his core identity as a living organism on earth, and about what his mission and mandate on this crowded planet is. As theosophist and occult master George Gurdjieff noted, 'identification' is one of our most terrible foes, and man is always in a state of identification; only the object of identification changes. Identity is both a tag and a gag. But if we do not know who we are, how can we 'become' what we want to be? How then can we have a goal or a destination or know our destiny or direct our effort? Without clarity about the starting point how can we reach the finishing line?

That ambiguity and perplexity has led to our obsession with 'I', animosity with 'Others' and ambivalence about 'We'. These are the most commonly used personal pronouns that occupy commanding heights in all human interactions. By the way we use these words, we understand and deal with our lives and the world at large. The word 'we' refers to something that concerns us as a group, a community, or a society. But behind the generic 'we' there is the 'I', and it makes or breaks the 'we'. For any serious spiritual search or inner change, one has to inquire into this ubiquitous 'I' behind the collective 'we' and 'they' or the 'others'. Unless we have a reasonably clear comprehension of the distinction and distances between 'I', 'We', and 'Others', we cannot make any tangible spiritual progress; nor can we truly coexist and complement each other. More so because, according to some developmental psychologists, the sense of separateness is not innate and a newborn does not have it until the age of three. Indeed, the primary reason why humans, on the one hand, plunder and poison the environment that sustains their life, and on the other hand, exploit, demean and deny dignity to fellow-men is one and the same β€” the denial of the same rights and respect (which they hold dear to themselves) to 'Others', who are often considered as a conglomerate comprising nonhuman forms of life, other species, other races, religions, nations, classes, and communities of all kinds. And unless we know what separates β€” an ocean or a valley, mountain or a meadow β€” how can we build a bridge across? Unless we know or understand the differences that define us β€” what is 'me' and who are 'you'β€” we can neither understand the mystery of the self and the lever of the cosmos, nor make diversity bind us, or keep our faith in each other. Unless we try not to annihilate the distance or change another person in our reckoning and change ourselves and accept 'others' as they are, the wondrous diversity of Nature will be a crippling burden in the voyage of life. In secular tradition, the cultivation of a personal identity is considered to be an appropriate value base in dealing with the uncertainties of life and to provide a sense of coherence and direction to our intellect and effort. That 'value base' is something to identify with, and all the things we have tried β€” relationships, religion, race, nationalism, society β€” have largely led us astray. One must draw a sharp line between 'I-centeredness' (or self-centeredness), and selfishness. While the former inquiry is a tool for introspection and self-abnegation, the latter is the external symbol of egotism, the main hurdle to spiritual growth, and the one that stands between man and God. Our essential affinity with divinity is what all scriptures affirm. The Hebrew Bible says 'Thus saith the Lord: Ye are gods and children of the Most High' (Psalm, 82:6). If we feel bereft of the gods, it is because we have forgotten our true identity. Are we then gods in eclipse, veiled by the divine maya? Or 'civilized brutes with hidden fangs'? Or simply simpletons, with an oversized ego, who do not even know what is good for them?

Only next to 'being human' is the phrase 'human way of life' the most commonly used expression. It is at once a euphemistic cover-up, an explanation, and an excuse for brazen human behavior. It means that with the 'human way' everything can be extinguished; anything 'human' supersedes everything non-human. Psychologists and scientists have long struggled to explain human behavior. One school of thought is that our common ancestry makes any difference between other animals and humans only quantitative, a question of degree, not kind. Some have tried to cast it in purely mechanistic and deterministic terms.

Some others have argued that non-humanistic processes of thought and knowledge cannot be equated with those of the human, that they cannot be explained, in the words of the American 'intellectual historian' Arthur Lovejoy, ' in terms of molecular displacements taking place under the skin'. The truth of the matter is that every behavior in any space and time is unto itself. Every human or every animal does not behave the same way. Even individually we do not 'behave' the same way all the time, and in every circumstance and relationship. And we cannot even predict how any of us will 'behave' in the face of a certain temptation or provocation. But all life, human or otherwise, in its essence is the same β€” a process of inexorable decay; even death is a 'rigid cold decay'. We equate decay with decadence and instead of using the inevitable as an opportunity to 'grow', we treat it as an implacable foe.

The human too is an animal, but human life differs dramatically from 'other' animal life. How that 'difference' makes a difference to the rest of life on earth and to the one that sustains life, Nature, is the question. Scientists tell us that the evolution of life on earth is not always through natural selection and survival of the fittest, that it is not necessarily and always 'progressive', or that it is not predictable and dotted with contingent and fortuitous events. In that perspective, where do we fit? Clearly, life did not manifest in the human composite just a geologic second ago, because evolutionary theory predicts that such an outcome is based on themes of progress and increasing neural complexity. According to this line of logic, humans arose, rather, as a fortuitous and contingent outcome of thousands of linked events β€” in Edgar Cayce's words, "from time to time, time to time, here a little, there a little, line upon line and line and line upon line" β€” any one of which could have occurred differently and sent history on an alternative pathway that would not have led to the advent of consciousness. There could have been hundreds, if not thousands, of eventualities that need not have led to the arrival of the human on earth. The broad scriptural wisdom is that the human manifest of life is very rare, that it comes after many, many millions of births, after many, many millions of years of rotation through different species of life. We have changed countless dresses as aquatic animals, perhaps as many fishes and aquatic animals as there are in all the seas, then we changed bodies as creepers, plants and trees for many, many years.

Then we changed our bodies in insect life, reptile life, and then we changed our bodies in hundreds of thousands of beasts before 'becoming human'. The purpose of human life, in this view, is God-realization. If intended as the launch pad for divine lift-off, the reality is that, despite millenniums of the continuum of life and thousands of succeeding generations, we remain firmly grounded, if not going underground.

Throughout history, the search for individual identity has been a focus of many great cultures and civilizations. We are groping to 'know' the essence or attribute (or set of attributes) that make us fundamentally what we are, and without which we lose our irreducible identity as a particular reflection of life on earth. It is through identity that we seek authenticity; without it we feel illegitimate. Our thirst for identity runs parallel with our need to form relationships of different sorts and intensity with other humans. All relationships are now under tremendous stress because we feel increasingly rootless and worthless, and we are unable to harmonize different parts with the whole; each thinks or behaves as if it is the whole and looks at other parts, at best, as irritants. By intent every relationship entails erosion of individual identity and autonomy and that creates problems. If relationships are to be enriching, not enfeebling, they must reflect and enhance who we really are, beyond any limited image of ourselves fathered by family, society, or our own minds. They need to be germinated on the whole of who we are, rather than on any single form, function, relationship or even feeling. This presents a tremendous challenge, for it means undertaking a journey in search of our deepest nature. Our nexus with someone we love can in fact be one of the best vehicles for that journey. When we view it this way, intimacy, or any connection with any other person, becomes an unfolding process of personal and spiritual development. Bika Reed, in her book on ancient Egyptian texts on spirituality, The Field of Transformations: A Quest for the Immortal Essence of Human Awareness (1986), writes that in the spiral of continuous self-creation, the inconceivable 'I' is the essence of life. It is based on the premise that, to paraphrase the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, the very purpose of human life is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being. But we pass through our life without the slightest awareness that everything we believe to be true is merely an opinion, an explanation, an excuse, or a misinterpretation; that we have swindled the grandiosity of being by conceptualizing within the context of limitedness; that we have persisted in the shallows of interpretation and shadows of learning, only because of an addictive vertigo of the heights of the unknown.

Caught in the coils of the things we need to do, physical, biological, material, we are forgetful of the whole of what we ought to be β€” to become fully 'human' we have to work our way to that whole. One of the theological, theoretical β€” and existential β€” aspects of life is how to harmonize the particularity of everyday life with the Advaitic (and Buddhist) insight that everything in life is void of any absolute identity or permanence. Everything is relative and transient but we have to act as if they are absolute and eternal. The great Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna wrote that nirvana (liberation) is simply samsara (worldly life) rightly experienced in the light of a proper understanding of the emptiness of all things.

Everything is instantly autonomous, yet mutually dependent; all things are in a state of permanent flux, inducing and undergoing transformations every minute and all around. Every individual is an example of the entirety of the human species. He is unique with his own peculiarities and is also a sample and specimen of humanity. Our ambivalence and fuzziness about our essential identity β€” our own and that of the world β€” is the root cause of suffering, and it arises from our tendency to think that all objects exist in the world as they appear to our perception, as independent entities. Although views might vary about what one should attempt to identify oneself with, without identity there is no action, and without action there is no creation. The Upanishads say that if we can see the 'self' (relative to self-identity) in the Self that is relative to Atman/Brahman (which is tantamount to perceiving the cause in the effect and the Creator in the creation), then we can relieve ourselves from the sorrow and suffering of samsara, the world of matter and mind. Man will then be able to subdue and pass over all evil, so that evil will not subdue and pass over him. The basic problem is that the modes of human cognition applicable to 'things', including ourselves, fail us when we raise the question of the essence of our integral identity, and the paradoxical promise innate to the human condition turns into mortal peril. Erich Fromm called man an anomaly, a freak of the universe, a creature set apart while being a part. A new theory is that we are all aliens sharing a cosmic ancestry, that human life started from outside our present planet, and was then brought here by a comet. We are not quite sure what it all amounts to. No one can be quite sure about other species but man, although immersed in the minutiae of mundane life, is a virtual hostage of his sense organs; eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and skin. Our knowledge of the outside depends on our physiological methods of perception, which are filtered through the five external openings. We rely exclusively on our senses to react, relate and comprehend, and yet if there is one lesson of life, it is that our eyes can lie, our ears can misinterpret, our skin is a captive of comfort and our mouth can be a menace. Nothing is as it smells or feels like. Expressions like 'I saw with my own eyes' or 'I heard it myself' to signify the truth might not always be what we believe it to be.

The complexity and the criticality of our true identity is such that the refrain 'know thyself' has been the clarion call from the Vedas to the Delphic Oracle, as a way not only to comprehend the meaning of our being, not only to be wise, as Socrates tirelessly preached, but also as a means to know or realize God. The Prophet Muhammad said that he who knows himself knows the Lord. But in one sense, the point of departure, so to speak, for knowing ourselves is to know that we know nothing; or even, as the FiresignTheatre album intones, 'Everything you know is wrong'. And that 'knowledge' or rather the absence of it, becomes the launch pad for understanding our true identity, which is inseparable from the greater identity. In its most elemental import, our sense of individual identity is dependent on our perception of who the rest of the humanity is, and on our perception of the one who is the only 'knower'. Compounding the confusion about the essence of our identity, we are circumscribed in 'real' life by a web of often conflicting identities as a parent, a child, a relative, a friend, a citizen, a worker, etc., and much of life-energy is used up in reconciling the responsibilities of these identities. Hovering over them all, and connected to our search for meaning, is our divine identity, which, the scriptures say, is our inherent identity. But such is the sway of scientific technology today that our 'digital' identity is obscuring our 'divine' identity.

Whether it is 'divine' or 'digital', or 'demonic', whether we are human beings having a spiritual experience or spiritual beings having a physical experience, what or whom we call 'Others' and our connectivity with that phenomenon constitutes inter-subjectivity and objectivity in the human world. We are that which we are not, or appear to be not β€” 'neti, neti' (not this, not this) as the Upanishads pronounce in relation to the Atman, the soul. In short, we have to eliminate the limitation of 'Others' to define and give value to our own lives. It gives us an opportunity to go beyond our own selfish selves, to put others' happiness ahead of our own. We are 'double-faced' about autonomy too. While most people cherish their autonomous living space, they have no qualms about appropriating or encroaching on the autonomy of others, and there are some who find comfort in the abdication of their own autonomy for survival or material gain. What Erich Fromm called 'individualized man' has not found a way to foster a spontaneous sense of solidarity with the mass of mankind. In the human world, 'each one of' is made up of 'parts' of other humans, and the interplay of these parts contributes to personal identity. In practice, however, we do not care much about 'other' human beings if they are not connected through another intermediary like family, religion, race, and country, much less try to acquire objective knowledge of what they truly want and need. Indeed, we often show scant consideration, utmost callousness and morbid cruelty towards them, and the best of us show no guilt or remorse, or fear divine disapproval. And we feel morally justified because they are not one of 'us'. The gulf between 'us' and 'them' is at the root of many wars and atrocities throughout history. We do not find it morally offensive to torture 'them' to keep ourselves 'safe'. The context in which a man who considers himself to be 'upright' and 'honest' will not commit or condone terrible things to other people is entirely debatable; it all depends on what is apparently at stake. As the famous Milgram Experiment' showed, during the trial of German Nazi criminals of the Second World War, most people can β€” in the name of 'obedience to authority' β€” become agents in a terribly destructive program or process, despite violating their deepest moral beliefs; in reality, they were 'saving their skins' or 'being plain patriotic'. The perpetrators were 'human' too and, as the 20th century Swiss-German philosopher Frithjof Schuon said "everything that is human is ours" β€” no exceptions, no 'but' or 'if' or 'however' or 'nevertheless'. The litany of human cruelty is so timeless that the mention of any single instance β€” genocide, methodical torture, organized rape, maiming of children for begging, or extraction of internal organs from persons who are still alive for sale β€” as the 'most horrific' would, so to speak, be 'unfair' to the others. Somewhere along the evolutionary path, callousness and cruelty got ingrained in our consciousness, and there are some like Friedrich Nietzsche who think that it is irretrievably locked together with many admirable human attributes and achievements. In other words, 'no cruelty, no creativity'β€” some sort of evolutionary 'package deal', the price humanity is paying for the transformation of man from a prey to a predator.

We have not found a way to appease our urge to 'belong' without eroding our essential identity, or to be socially 'useful' without chipping away at our innate integrity, the priceless ability to keep what is one's own, untarnished by any alien intrusion. In the modern world, that is what is at great risk, one's innate integrity. Integrity is more than honesty or even truthfulness; it is an inner sense of 'wholeness'; to be able to behave according to our beliefs, values, and principles. Truthfulness is telling the truth to others; integrity is telling the truth to one's own self. It has nothing to do with rules or law; it does not involve accountability to any external entity. It is the test of character. Too often our actions are expedient, necessary to avoid the consequences. Abraham Lincoln said that he had 'no policy'; he just tried to do his best each and every day. That 'best' was determined by his inner being, or inner voice, as Mahatma Gandhi called it. As the world shrinks into a 'global village' (a metaphor for global electronic connectivity coined by Marshall McLuhan) that village has come to be neither global in its reach β€” vast areas and populations of over a billion are left out β€” nor endowed with the coherence of a classical village. The greater reality is global divide in multiple ways. And as cultures both converge and clash, identity in diversity is becoming at once fluid and fixed, narrow and multifaceted, increasingly a fractious fault-line in human affairs. Historians like Samuel Huntington have talked of the impending 'clash of civilizations', that the future global order β€” and conflict β€” will be defined, not by ideology or economic divide, but by subjective cultural identity, which includes factors like language, religion, history, traditions. There are others like the Indian Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who demur and posit that identity is too multifaceted to be defined by any single factor, and what Sen calls 'choiceless singularity of human identity' could make the world more explosive.

Quite apart from the debate about the probable flammable factors for future wars, there is also growing hunger for a 'meaningful life' without necessarily knowing the 'meaning of life'. The mix of the two becomes a searing craving for a 'meaningful identity', which often becomes a monster of vitriolic nationalism, ravenous religiosity, or ethnic savagery. A growing number of people feel that if we cannot read the preface to birth and the postscript to death, why bother about what happens in between. Some predict that identity in its multiple manifests β€” personal, psychological, cultural, social and religious, ethnic β€” will be the defining issue of this century. That is because we do not harmonize; we negate the other identity. It means we will eliminate or emaciate each other in asserting one or the other of these identities.

Harmonizing personal and collective identity

Our perplexity about our personal primary allegiance is but a reflection of our confusion about our collective identity. From the perspective of the individual, the collective identity is a part of his or her personal identity. Sometimes, the sense of belonging to a particular group will be so strong that it will overwhelm other aspects of the person's personal identity. At other times the individual interest dwarfs the collective identity. To harmonize the individual and collective identities, we should first come to terms with our existential identity as a species and the particular essential characteristics that every unit of the entity must possess. Are we simply a 'special animal' -- 'made-over ape', as some call him β€” with a complex biochemical mechanism and with some rather rare abilities, some remarkable 'extras', derived from harnessing bipedalism, longer life span, and a bigger brain better than that of any other being? Or are we a special being created or evolved for furthering an altogether different cosmic cause? If it is the latter, why is it shrouded in such mystery? If we too are animals, does it also include the mind, beside the body? The practical shape and setup of our angst for knowing who we are and what we should do is hard to visualize. As individuals, the challenge is even more daunting because some are able to fuse or harmonize the different 'identities' like nationality, ethnicity, religion, language with relative ease, while others are torn asunder and turn violent. Human personality cannot be understood unless we look at man in totality, which includes his drive to know the meaning of his very being. The meaning of mankind, the 'proper study' in Alexander Pope's words, is Man, and the meaning of man is the measure of man, which is to discern the drives, forces and dialectics of human actions and reactions. And the meaning of man can only be measured in the milieu of the cosmos.

According to ancient Indian philosophy, both the individual and the universe are composed of panchabhutas, or the five primary elements β€” prithvi (earth), apa or jala (water), tejas or agni (fire), vayu (air), and akasha (ether). These elements are kept in a certain balance in the universe and in the body. Any radical variation in this balance results in natural disasters, and diseases in the body. In death, the five elements of the individual body unite with those of the cosmic body. The purpose of human birth is indeed to dissolve or merge or unite our identity as finite (and mortal) individuals with the infinity of the universe. The impediment is our ego, which manifests as our identity, and all spiritual practices are designed to overcome this obstacle.

Pleasure and pain

Man has been called everything, from a moron to a Mahatma, malicious to a meaning- seeking animal, but the connecting thread in modern life is a gnawing sense of meaninglessness, and to escape that abyss man plunges into the pursuit of what we casually call 'pleasure'. In the pursuit of pleasure he often encounters 'pain' and to escape from pain he seeks more pleasure from more sources. So, what is the essential character of pleasure? Is it yet another hangover from the cave days that, at best, should be ignored? Is it the 'ultimate object of all endeavor' or a Satanic temptation? Or a simple stimulation of the senses, something as simple as living, the creation of a neural miracle that makes life worthwhile?

Whatever it is, we somehow know it β€” we can smell it, taste it and feel it in our bones β€” and we want it in abundance, by hook or by crook, through drugs or through divine grace. And it has come to delineate what in the modern vocabulary is described as the 'quality of life', which really means plenty of everything and enjoyment, often at the expense of other people and Nature. And the pursuit of what we call 'happiness' in good measure hinges on it. The opposite or even the absence of pleasure, we presume, is pain, which is an unpleasant sensation that causes discomfort, distress, hurt, suffering, and agony. Pain is the central fact of life; the one thing we viscerally want to avoid and run away from. Elaine Scarry in her book The Body in Pain (1987), notes that pain is such a radically subjective, inexpressible, and incommunicable experience that it cannot be either denied or confirmed. Most people experience some kind of pain β€” physical, mental, and psychological β€” for much of their lives, and all life is a tireless attempt to avoid, escape, and alleviate pain. We instinctively identify sensuality and indulgence with pleasure, and deprivation or getting hurt or restraint, with pain. Our embrace of pleasure and abstinence from pain frames our daily struggle and earthly existence β€” not only ours but even that of animals; there is growing evidence that animals too can (and do) experience the same emotions, chipping away at one more of our citadels of 'uniqueness'. Although we abhor pain, some say that one of the things that angels envy in us humans is our ability to experience pain! Perhaps it is because only through pain can we know joy. Often, what gives immediate pleasure can cause long-term pain, and vice versa. Furthermore, not all pleasures or pains are the same, there could be 'good' pains and 'bad' pleasures, and our inability to grasp the sources of true pleasure and true pain is the cause of much of our unhappiness. In one sense, our control of life depends on our ability to use pain/pleasure, instead of having them use us. The scriptures say that to accept and treat both pain and pleasure with equanimity is the hallmark of a wise man, a sthithapragna, as such a person is called in the Bhagavad Gita.

The Vedas proclaim that 'separation is death; union with self is life'; and that "Ekatma sarvabhoota antaratma" (the one Atman is present in all beings). "Tarati sokam atmavith" (the knower of the Self overcomes sorrow), say the Upanishads. It is important to note the distinction between the 'self' as relating to one's own self and the Vedantic 'Self'. The Western concept of self-knowledge is symbolized by the ancient Greek aphorism inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: know thyself, which primarily is a search for truth, an intellectual process of knowing the meaning of man and of life. The Self-knowledge as described in the Vedas and Upanishads is a much broader theological concept and covers the relationship between man, self, and God. It is to intuitively know or rather 'realize' that there is no difference between the jivatman (the individual self), and the paramatman (the universal Self). The Mundaka Upanishad gives a sharp description of the individual self and the universal Self using the analogy of two birds of golden plumage perched on top of the same tree, which is the body (and by extension the universe), the former tasting the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree and the later calmly observing. The individual self, deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the divine Self, bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad. But when he recognizes the Supreme as his own true Self, and beholds His glory, he grieves no more. The implication is that we feel as if we are drowned, submerged, in the deadly ocean of samsara, in the continuum of birth, death, pain, and confusion. Adi Shankara points out that the individual is overwhelmed with confusion because it cannot understand what is really happening to it, and why. Just like a piece of driftwood on the swirling sea, the individual is lifted up and down, thrown onto the shore and then pulled back into the sea. Experiencing within its own being the presence of God β€” and thereby realizing that glory as his own β€” the individual becomes liberated from suffering and sorrow. Such knowledge erases the sense of separateness. It is consciousness that is the key to personal identity. We are the same person only to the extent that we are conscious of our past thoughts and actions, in the same way as we are conscious of our present thoughts and actions.

At a practical level, we have not discovered a moral modus vivendi to reconcile and harmonize life on three planes: (1) the complex of 'needs, wants and desires' that characterize the 'I' of one person with those of another 'I' of another person; (2) the reality that the birth, travails and death of one person are organically related to those of another person; and (3) the autonomy of human behavior with the cosmic maxim that the tiniest act, maybe even a stray thought, of every person has a collective ripple effect on human evolution. What binds us, above all, is ignorance centered somewhere about which we are utterly ignorant. Everything in Nature seems to limit us, like the law of gravity, like the organic nature of our being, and the wheel of birth, life and death, what is called the samsara- chakra in Sanskrit. Mired in ignorance about our true essence and subjected to forces over which we have absolutely no control, we meander meaninglessly in the pursuit of the phantoms of pleasure, profit, and power. We are pitch-forked into what we call life, or somnambulism as Thomas Carlyle called it, without our permission or previous experience, and we die without knowing about what is going to come next. We are all aware that death, defined as irreversible damage to the chemistry of life, like reproduction and metabolism, is an essential feature of life. The subconscious in man has not only an instinct for life but also an abhorrence of death, and for reasons we do not know, the dread of death is weakening in the face of the rigors of modern living and a heartless society. Battered and bruised, deprived of any hope of a future of their own making, death has come to be for many the 'only victory in life'. Vedanta, in a flash of intuitive brilliance, says that the way forward is the way within, that in knowing oneself, one gets to know who the 'others' are; and in knowing who or what we are not, we will also know the oneness of all. The 'I'-thought is the first to arise in the mind, and if this question is tirelessly pursued, all other thoughts will be extinguished, and finally the I-thought itself will meet the same fate, opening the door to self-dissolution and awakening of the non-dual Self. In the Upanishads, the essence of identity is approached through what we might call a 'sculptor's chisel': just as a sculpture emerges as one chips away at a stone, so does our true essence get revealed by eliminating what it is not: "I am not the five senses"; "I am not the sense-organs"; "I am not the gross body"; "I am not the mind" … "I am 'neti, neti' (not this, not this)". By exhausting everything, one is left with Nothing or Everything, the all-pervasive but visually invisible Brahman, the existence β€” consciousness

β€” bliss, as Indian lore has it. In the sense in which Ramana Maharshi expounded his philosophy, it is a step forward in the Advaita philosophic thought of non-dualism β€” it is no longer a question of the union or unity of the I-persona and God: there is no 'I' at all; everything and everyone, from the spider to snake to ape to man, they are all wholly and nothing but God; pure God. In other words, it is a giant leap beyond the Upanishadic maxim 'Aham brahmasmi' (I am Brahman or God). If there is no 'I', there can only be God. For man, more so for the modern man, to reach that certain shore of genuine experience of self- knowledge, which can reveal to him the true meaning of his existence, has been an uphill, almost impossible task. Thwarted in his thirst, mired in desolate despair, expectation turning into exasperation, liberation is dangling before man as a release from the burden of the body, to escape from the tedium of life. Man's agony comes from realizing that our carnal flesh refuses to respond to the requirements of divine dictum or the Law of Nature. Those things which we often despise, we find ourselves doing. Those things which we desire, we fail to do. As Paul describes his frustration in the Bible, with his mind he desires to serve God. He agrees with the Law of God and rejoices in it. He wants to do what is right, but his body will not respond. He watches, almost as a third party, as sin sends a signal to his body and as his body responds, he wails: "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24). To borrow the words from a Michael Jackson lyric, for many who see a rainbow all in black and feel a bad taste in the mouth through bitter tears, merging with God has come to mean all-round annihilation.

Man β€” a mixed blessing

From the first breath of the new born to the last breath before death, everything we do is grounded in the belief that we are the finest, the best, and the brightest on earth. While we are too close to action and too subjective as central characters in the terrestrial play, it is fair to presume that the presence or existence of the human 'habitation' on earth has been a mixed blessing. We never consider ourselves as 'co-habitants', but as the sole-habitants of the earth, if not the sovereign ones. In objective terms and in the context of what we are equipped with by Nature, we have never been able to fulfill our premise or measure up to our full potential. It was not widely off the mark when the American music band Death said, in the lyrics of their composition In Human Form (1993), that [the human form is] "an atrocity laced with greed; filled with evil intentions, ready to attack; dark emotions run through its veins; this creature in human form is out of control". But that dismal 'vision' is based on behavior.

Whatever was our origin, however we are made, and whatever brought us to the present pass, it is open to question if the earth would not have been better off had man never materialized. The scriptures, on the other hand, view the human form as a vehicle to transport the inhabitant to the realm of the divine. Science says a human being is the finest form there is β€” or could be β€” on this planet. The scriptures and science might be united in extolling the human as the pinnacle of the pyramid of life on earth, but there are vital differences in their views of life. While our ancient wisdom preaches the oneness of all life, moral conduct, spiritual growth, and God's grace as necessary in life, science says that the goal of human life is to sip the cup of life to the last drop, bolster the body, boost brainpower, yet remain human and be alive perpetually. According to science, there is nothing much left for man beyond the basics, biology, survival and reproduction, and eventually, as Bertrand Russell puts it, all the genius of Man and his achievements since his advent on earth are doomed to be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins. But that has not yet happened, nor has it deterred science from trying to make man, more precisely the body, immortal and impregnable. It is this epic battle that man is waging now. The human body is remarkably well designed, exquisitely engineered. In the words of the Italian Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola, there is nothing to be seen more wonderful than the image of man.

Michelangelo's 'David' and Leonardo da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa' reflect this image. But it is not the last word; and it is a perplexing paradox. The human is at once versatile and vulnerable; formidable and fragile, highly adaptive but liable to collapse anytime and become an easy prey. There is a Turkish proverb that says, "Man is harder than iron, stronger than stone, and more fragile than a rose". Most of our organs have a great deal of extra capacity or reserve: They can still function adequately even when damaged. But every single part or process, from the skin to the heart to the digestive system and the nervous system, is prone to disease or crippling disorder.

Despite great advances in epidemiology, we still do not know β€” or know very little

β€” of the relation between what we eat, drink, and breathe, and where we live, on the one hand, and our susceptibility to a certain disease, on the other hand; and why, in an identical environment, different people are differently susceptible. The human organism is not impervious or immune to germs, including parasites, bacteria, and viruses. In fact, we live in a world of germs and they are everywhere, in the air, food, water, plants, animals β€” and even inside us. Most of them are harmless, even beneficial, but some can cripple and kill. Despite the tremendous progress made by medicine to combat these foes, disease always seems to stay a step ahead. Of all the things that cause us pain and suffering, sometimes excruciating and unendurable, disease and disability are the foremost. They can rob a man of his dignity and desire for life, underscore both the power and the fragility of the human condition. Even saints were not immune to disease and death as was the case with Therese of Lisieux and Bernadette Soubirous, who suffered serious illnesses in their short lives. The Indian rishis, Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa agonizingly suffered due to cancer and succumbed to it. It is this very human body that finally falters and fails and many great lives came to an abrupt end, not for want of will, but because of the inability of the body to endure. The history of humanity would have been different had such people's bodies kept pace with their will. The length of life itself is measured by the durability of the body. What is the role and purpose of the body in its present journey on earth and in our spiritual quest to the final destination? We get mixed or conflicting messages from the scriptures. On the one hand, the human body is extolled as the very abode of God and as the vehicle for God-realization and, on the other hand, the illusion of body-identification is the root of all evil and the main obstacle to spiritual progress, the 'limiting adjunct to the Atman'. In one ancient Hindu text, the Uttara Gita, which is a part of Brahmanda Purana, it is written that the body is extremely impure and cannot be purified, while the Self (Atman) is ever pure and does not need purification.60 And again, on the one hand, we are asked not to run away from our worldly responsibilities and are told that renunciation is not abdication and, on the other hand, we read in the Upanishads that 'unless a man feels disgusted with the worlds to which his actions may bring him, and unless he believes firmly that the world beyond the reach of his actions can never be obtained by any actions however good, man cannot obtain moksha or mortal liberation.'61 The Kathopanishad says "The human body is the only chance where a person could receive liberation from the eternal bondage and the inflictions of maya. If you do not realize God before death overtakes you, it would be the greatest desire of your life and you will be suffering for uncountable lifetimes by taking birth in various species."62 A Hindu scripture says 'manav shareer ko tarsey dev'; meaning that gods (angelic beings) yearn for the human body. The Sikh scripture Gurbani, strikes the same note and says that human birth is a precious jewel and even the demi-gods long for this human body; among all the living species, only human beings are the most fit to be instructed about the nature of truth or the essence of divinity. It is because, while the gods may enjoy many enviable attributes, they cannot, as only humans can, make the final leap to God. It is an article of sublime faith in Hinduism that the real and sole purpose of human life is the realization of the Self or God and that the way to this realization is the only true religion. But as ages passed, this insight got superseded or superimposed by worldly desires. The Self, the self, and the senses all got mixed up. But the sacredness of the human body was never off the radar of human thought and belief.

The Indian spiritual teacher Swami Vivekananda who shook the World Parliament of Religions (1893), in Chicago, USA, with his imposing presence and eloquent mastery of Indian philosophy, said "The moment I have realized God sitting in the temple of every

60 Swami Sivananda. Sarva Gita Sara. 1999. The Divine Life Society Publications. P.O. Shivanandanagar, Himalayas, Uttar Pradesh, India. p.155.

61 R.D. Ranade. A Constructive Survey of Upanishadic Philosophy. 1968. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chowpatty, Bombay, India. pp.241-242.

62 The Vedic Foundation. Bhartiya Scriptures. Accessed at:

human body, the moment I stand in reverence before every human being and see God in him, that moment I am free from bondage, everything that binds vanishes, and I am free."63 While this is the mainstream view, Ramana Maharshi says "It is not true that birth as a man is necessarily the highest, and that one must attain realization only from being a man. Even an animal can attain Self-realization."64 All are the creations of God and while various vignettes of life have different traits, to say that one particular creature is superior and only that creature can reach God sounds illogical. But all scriptures do not share this view. The Bible says that God made all animals that walk on the earth (the sixth day), on the same day. He created man separately in His own image with the intent that man would have dominion over every other living thing on Earth (Genesis, 1:26-28). The Apostle Paul stated clearly that man is not an animal when he wrote "All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds" (1 Corinthians, 15:39).

Another important question that often crops up in theology is what we might call the connectivity of human destiny. Do we all inhabit separate bodies, live separately, die separately and any interfacing in between is only a social, not spiritual need? Are we responsible for our own behavior or also for that of others with whom we get connected?

Does every man pay for his own sins and reap the fruits of what he sows, or is there a collective spin-off, good and bad? In karmic terms, if karma is strictly individual, one pays or gets rewarded for one's actions through bad or good karma, carried over from birth to birth; or, if one's actions have any bearing on other's lives, at the level of family, community or country, they do result in a collective spin-off. El Morya, one of the founders of theosophy and Agni Yoga, who lived in the late 1800s, wrote thus "There are many combinations of personal, family, and national karma. One may ask if it is possible that an injustice committed against one person could affect a whole country. Indeed it can, especially since many who are involved with one another reincarnate in the same country. People acknowledge that physical characteristics are transmitted through generations; it is regrettable that they are not aware that karmic traits can also be transmitted."65 In other words, every individual deed has a species spin-off; it primarily affects that individual but also has a bearing on the lives of those around, the family, group or community, and on the whole of humanity. In varying degrees, every relationship in the world is an interplay of individual karmas; the more intimate a relationship, the more intertwined are the karmas. Personal karma, group karma and cosmic karma are combined. What the world is today, is the cumulative fallout of the collective karma of all the generations that have come and gone since the time of the first man. And more topically, every thought, word, and act of every individual is an input into the makeup of future generations. We are responsible for what we think because only at that level we exercise real choice. Reincarnation is not simply an endless succession of transmigrations from one body to another on this planet. There are also several worlds and more planes of existence than what we call life on earth. Together they constitute a complex web and constantly impact each other. Many things baffling in life such

63 Practical Vedanta. Ramakrishna - Vivekananda Center of New York, USA. Accessed at:

64 Ramana Maharshi. Readings in the Theory of Karma: Evolution from Lower Forms. Accessed at:

65 EI Morya On Karma and Reincarnation. El Morya from Agni Yoga Society. The Inner Life - Book 2 (1938)

– 304. Accessed at:

as the apparent triumph of evil and suffering of the virtuous, and questions such as why some people seem to have all the luck all the time become explainable, if not explained.

While life's journey might take us from planet to planet and from one form to another, on this planet at least the vehicle of experience remains the body. But the body is not all, or only what we see in the mirror. According to Hindu traditional belief, the body consists of five primary elements called the mahabhutas: earth, fire, water, air, and ether. And we are not a single 'body' but five, called the koshas, or sheaths. The Annamaya kosha covers the gross or physical body, the Pranamaya, Manomaya and Vijnanmaya koshas cover breath, mind, and intellect respectively. The highest, Anandmaya kosha is the sheath of bliss.66 The Bible says that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within us, which is co-equal with God.

Then again, the scriptures somewhat downgrade the body as a vehicle prone to sin and selfishness; and we are also exhorted to shed our body-consciousness and identification. These two visions β€” inherent holiness and captive of sinful senses β€” are so conflicting that human consciousness has not found a modus operandi of reconciliation. Since the 'holy' way is too complex and hazy, we tend to follow the sensual path, which does not require any effort. And that is trouble. The way we should view and relate to our body, and how we should steer its evolution, is an important issue in the context of transformation. Contrary to the conventional view that the human evolution has pretty much run its course, new research and findings indicate that we are still evolving. Some 700 regions of the human genome have been reshaped by natural selection during the past 5,000 to 15,000 years.67 And this discovery has enormous implications for the future. It is important because evolution is adaption to the environment, and the future man might genetically reflect the technological and gadget-suffused environment. Our domestication of high technology including biotechnology, that some experts predict will soon happen, could get under our skin; what is external now could be integral and internal in the future. How exactly we cannot tell, but how we live now will affect not only the lives, but also the bodies of future generations. Often, our body is the only visible reality, the only tangible experience. But that body too is not constant even during one's lifetime. In youth, it is our pride and joy, and in old age a drag, an embarrassment and even ridicule till death puts an end to its misery. The Buddhist scripture Dhammapada describes old age (jaravagga in Pali) in such terms as 'thoroughly worn out', 'putrid mass breaking up', 'a nest of diseases, perishable', 'ending in death'. Every day becomes a struggle to cope with its vulnerabilities and infirmities; its weight is the measure of our worth and health; its curves and contours, the symbol of self-esteem. Our battle with the body is what preoccupies most lives; it consumes much of our thinking space and absorbs much of our ingenuity. Nothing, not even death, is more dreaded in life than old age itself, which symbolizes just waiting for death, seeing death all around, and in the meantime being subjected to debility, decay, and disease. It is all very well to say that age is an issue of mind over matter, and if you do not mind it does not matter; but it matters because in ageing, man loses both his identity and dignity, and some kind of pain β€” physical or mental β€” becomes a constant. Science is now focusing on this and is promising that it will soon drastically curtail the duration of, if not eliminate, old age by extending youth and warding off death. Even if science succeeds in that attempt, the body still remains vulnerable to physical destruction.

66 The Times of India, Hyderabad, India. 5 July 2008, p.14. To undergo the litmus test. Experience life after death. Soma Chakraverthy.

67 Nicholas Wade. Changing Regions of Genome Suggest Evolution is Still Occurring in Humans. 2006. The New York Times. Volume 126, Issue 9: Tuesday, 7 March 2006. Accessed at:

The rope and the snake

Whether it is the ravages of ageing or the dread of death, or even attachment to material things, they all come from our inability to sift and separate, distinguish and differentiate what Vedanta calls 'real' from the 'unreal', apparent from the actual. In most things we do, we just seem unable to see what needs to be seen, know what needs to be known or get things done in the right way at the right time. We cannot make up our minds, with all our powers of differentiation and discrimination, whether we are different or not different from the Ultimate Reality. Some say we are identical; some, that we are separate; and some others, that we are both identical and separate, different and non-different. If we are confused at such a fundamental level, then everything gets mixed up and life gets β€” or appears to get β€” drained of any meaning. That is why much of Vedanta grapples with this question. The doctrines of maya and avidya, for example, are meant to remove the cobwebs and mist that cloud our vision and comprehension. And despite all Vedantic explanation and illumination, man remains mired in his mind. Compounding the problem, we are also not clear where we are now poised in the grand scheme of Nature, on the canvas of the Cosmos. Many great thinkers have speculated that the human is not the last rung on the evolutionary ladder, not the ultimate product, and that it can β€” and should β€” evolve spiritually into a new species, a de facto divine life on earth, as different from man as man is from animal. For that, he must transcend the limitations of his body and mind, a body that is "more luminous and flexible and adaptable, entirely conscious and harmonious."68 Sri Aurobindo called that life "supramental existence". With the body and mind acting as impregnable barriers to all labor to touch his own soul, man has turned headlong into hedonist hubris and material prosperity. None of them are sought in their own right or for their own worth, but in comparison and competition to others. Our desires, even our devotion to God, are comparative, competitive β€” and even confrontational. We want to please β€” or appease β€” God 'more' than others to obtain earthly advantage. The legendary Hebrew King Solomon, known for his enormous wealth, power, and wisdom, wondered, towards the end of his life, how we should spend our brief time on earth and, after having ruled out the paths of pleasure, knowledge, wealth, and power, he said "Be happy and do good as long as you live. Whatever you do, do it with all the might you have, you never know when life might end" and "God will bring every deed into judgment including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil."69 More than 3,000 years since, and after the rise and fall of many empires and civilizations, that wisdom stands true. The bitter truth is that the world has never been short of wise men or words of wisdom, but it stands soaked from crust to core all through history with the toil and tears of the helpless and hopeless.

Human passions have always been stronger than the ability of human social personality to cope with them, and increasingly, they are in conflict with human priorities. Psychologists have long debated what constitutes 'personality' and why it differs so radically from individual to individual, even among siblings. Moreover, if we think we are stuck with our personalities, and there appears a possibility of changing them, the question remains: how and to what extent? The paradox is that while genetic inheritance of personality is an important factor, at least partially, some psychologists like Daniel Nettle (Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are, 2007),

68 Sri Aurobindo. Philosophy and Spiritualism of Sri Aurobindo. Supramental Existence. Accessed at:

69 Jerry Boone. Graduating from Life. 2008. The Times of India, Hyderabad, India. 27 July 2008. p.17.

maintain that parenting cannot have any measurable impact on a child's personality, and also that while our basic personalities do not change significantly after childhood, our behavior can. The question is, if genes cannot wholly account for the cluster of traits that add up to our personality, and if parenting is only a marginal input, then what 'makes up man' and the way an individual acts and reacts? The answer to that question takes us to theological theories like predetermination, fate, and karma. The goal of human life has been viewed scripturally as a process of personal development and liberation. At the same time, all religions emphasize that when it comes down to a choice between individual rights and even life and social good, one must choose according to the larger interest. Religions preach belief, virtuous conduct and piety, taqwa in Islam, as guiding principles, and together constitute a social ethical code of conduct. Man's planetary responsibility as khalifah, a vice-regent, is another important aspect particularly in the present context. Despite all that, there has always been a clash between our personal priorities and the common good. Even spirituality, contrary to its premise, has been deemed as self-development divorced from social responsibility. Although long viewed as a bridge between different religions and between science and religion, spiritual quest has become an expression of existential restlessness, a desperate cry for help, an escape from all moral ambivalence. It is so identified with religion that many who practice the essence of spirituality loathe to be called 'spiritual'. They do not see any need for any label; they are content to lead a life of service, simplicity, and compassion for the weak and vulnerable. But, for the so-called Generation X, like much else in modern life, spirituality too has become selective and another 'virtual', distinct from the real or actual. We choose what suits us and set aside what our senses do not like. There has always been a clash between what man can do and what he ought to do, and that gap has become wider than ever before. Our intellect, emotions, and feelings are increasingly at odds with the collective imperative. As a result, 'we sail in fragile vessels across a raging sea of uncertainty', terrified that the next tsunami might topple the 'vessel'. Whether we are beguiled by maya or the mind, we live in a world vastly varied from the one we think we live in, or the world we ought to be living in. We are caught in the black hole between the real and the unreal, what we experience and what that is.

That brings up one of the most profound theological, metaphysical, and philosophic questions: what really is the character of human experience? Since time immemorial, the question that tormented the minds of spiritualists, scholars and philosophers was about the true nature of our existence, the reality of the things and the objects of the world that we so painfully experience. What is real and what is unreal, actual and virtual, and how does one differentiate? After a lot of introspection and striving, they came to a conclusion that what is real should be 'permanent', 'eternal' and 'unchangeable'. Since everything in this world is changeable, transitory, and momentary, it cannot be 'real' in the true sense of the term. And if everything is unreal, can there be anything really 'real'? Is it a matter of 'knowing' or 'not knowing' that is a question of the limits of human comprehension? Or is it far deeper, that there isn't anything real in creation? A famous prayer, sometimes called the Abhyaaroha mantra, in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad begins with 'Asato ma sad gamaya', meaning 'Lead Thou me, from the Unreal to the Real'. The problem is that we confuse the unreal with non-existence; the universe is not unreal, but our perception of it is; the illusion is real.

Vedanta says that all our miseries come from our mistaking the vain appearance for the real, which is Brahman or God. Many analogies are offered to make the distinction intelligible to a lay mind. One of the most famous is the often-quoted example in the Upanishads, that of the 'rope and serpent', or rajju - sarpa - bhranti as it is called in Sanskrit. This analogy is employed to explain the delusion of daily life. It roughly means that in dim light where things cannot be perceived clearly (agnana, avidya or maya) even a piece of rope (rajju) can be mistaken to be a snake (sarpa), and one can actually experience all the emotions (fear, anxiety, etc.) associated with a snake. However, when bright light (gnana) is brought to bear, one will then see the rope clearly and all emotions associated with the non-existing snake will at once dissolve. The message is that the pangs of sorrow or the allure of happiness associated with worldly pleasures are because of our state of existential ignorance or the product of maya. But when one is exposed to knowledge of the real and the unreal, the samsarika delusions disappear and one will be able to perceive the real. The analogy assumes that the actuality is the rope and the illusion is the snake. But what if it is really a snake, which the world actually resembles, and the illusion the harmless rope? In one sense, it hardly matters; and in another it means everything. In his masterpiece Vivekachudamani, the great Adi Shankara says that one who is overpowered by ignorance mistakes a thing for what it is not; it is the absence of discrimination that causes one to mistake a snake for a rope, and great dangers overtake him when he seizes it through that wrong notion. Hence it is the mistaking of transitory things as real that constitutes bondage. Adi Shankara also says that only the man who discriminates between the real and the unreal, whose mind is turned away from the unreal, who possesses calmness and the allied virtues, and who is longing for liberation, is qualified to enquire after Brahman. Ramana Maharshi uses this allegory and says that the realization of the Self which is the substratum of human life will not be known unless the belief that the world is real is removed.

But the point is that, so long as we live in this world it is hard not to believe, even less to behave, that life is not real; it almost seems an insult to our intelligence. One would be tempted to say that if all that we experience in life β€” its triumphs and tragedies, ecstasy and suffering, highs and lows β€” are not real, then it does not really matter what is 'real'.

Vedantists try to get over the apparent impasse and say that the unreal is not the world per se but that the way it appears to be to our senses is not real. Does it mean that the earth is not what it seems? That man is not what he pretends to be? That a tragedy is a triumph and vice versa? That pain is pleasure and death is life? Then again, the concepts of absoluteness and relativeness and the dream state are introduced to explain the paradox. It means that even the real or unreal are not absolute; it is like the reality of what we see in the dream state. Whether it is mistaking a rope for a snake, or a snake for a rope, the villain is 'dim light', which induces the false inference and the consequent fear and loss of the power of discrimination.

That, in turn, is caused by our exclusive reliance on the six sensory organs β€” eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. The sense-organs, particularly the mind, dominate our consciousness and unless that 'domination' is greatly dimished, the 'dim light' cannot be brightened enough to differentiate the perceived and the actual. It is the filter of clouded consciousness that causes the confusion and suffering and misery.

Throughout history, from Babylon to Greece, India and China to Europe, the eternal symbol of the snake has been a constant in myth and mythology, culture and fable. Snakes were regularly regarded as guardians of the Underworld, or as messengers between the Upper and Lower worlds because they lived in cracks and holes in the ground. The Gorgons of Greek myth were snake-women (a common hybrid) whose gaze would turn flesh into stone. The Hindu God Vishnu, one of the Trimoorthis, is often portrayed as perched on Shesha, the giant multi-headed serpent. And in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, Shesha incarnates as Lakshmana and Balarama respectively, the brothers of Rama and Krishna (who are the incarnations of Vishnu). The Hindu God Subramanyaswami is worshipped in the shape of a serpent. Practically every god has an animal as a companion-vehicle: Ganesha has a mouse or rat; Vishnu has the giant eagle, Garuda; Shiva has the bull, Nandi, etc. The symbolism is meant to convey the message that the difference between gods and animals is not that wide.

In many tribal cultures, snakes are viewed as highly spiritual beings. John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost about the infernal serpent that, with guile, envy, and revenge, deceives the mother of mankind. Nagalok, the snake-people, are supposed to exist under the earth.

Contrary to the modern view of the serpent as slimy and treacherous, the snake is also associated strangely with wisdom because it ponders before it strikes, and it is able to revolve its head without moving its body and thus can see in all directions. It is a fascinating transforming process. In the Tantric Yoga, Kundalini, 'the coiled one' is the invisible storehouse of energy that yogis believe resides at the base of our spine, coiled just like a snake in the equally invisible energy center (chakra) called 'Muladhar', close to the coccyx. The unleashing of the immense power of the coiled serpent is the aim of many yogis and aspirants. One of the snake's most noticeable characteristics is the regular shedding of its outer skin including its eyecap as it grows. Once the skin is shed, the old inner layer becomes the new outer layer, and a new inner layer of skin begins to develop. It is a metaphor for how we shed old ways and habits as we grow into higher spiritual energy, symbolizing the process of death and rebirth. That the Upanishads, so rich with stories and symbols, chose this analogy to make such a seminal point is worthy of note. The snake evokes many emotions, sacred and slimy, awe and fear, beauty and ferocity; in this instance, it is used to illustrate the doctrine of superimposition, how an illusion becomes a reality.

We may use different analogies and myths to describe the innate secret power within, but the fact is that only a few people are able to see more than the immediate and realize how their lives are entangled with those of others. Even they fail to relate their actions or inactions to the fate of the species. The irony is that we value everything by comparison with others but we give little value to human connectivity. All life is but a ritual, biologically or socially required. Biology we are born with, and being social is what is needed to share the same earthy existence. Most creatures are 'social' in varying degrees, and man, in particular, has always been a social animal. Even our earliest ancestors, even with smaller brains than ours, had to be 'social' for sheer survival in the face of predatory animals and drastic climate shifts. But that has not made human society harmonious; we crave for company but also, even more for control. Perhaps in no other species is this one-to-one relationship as troubled and tenuous as in humans. With all our much-hyped powers of perception and seeing the big picture, we are somehow paralyzed from recognizing that, although our features and attributes may be different, we are but bits and pieces of a bigger whole. Our very cognitive process is a captive of the cycle of cause and effect, work and reward, and action and reciprocity. The doctrine of reciprocity has two facets: at one level, it is giving back what we receive; at another level, it is not doing to others that which we do not want others to do to us. The latter is one of the unifying principles in all religions, often called 'the golden rule'. When an emperor asked Confucius what should serve as a principle of conduct for life, he replied 'shu' β€” reciprocity. How deterministic is the doctrine of causality β€” or reciprocity β€” is debatable. The human mind views every circumstance and cause as a way to fulfill a desire. A famous verse in the Upanishads says 'You are what your deep, driving desire is; as your deep driving desire is, so is your will; as your will is, so is your deed; as your deed is, so is your destiny'. In Buddhism, desire, with action consequent upon desire, is the cause of rebirth, and nirvana is the cessation of rebirth. Deliverance from desire is the deliverance from the cycle of birth and death. Desire itself is not bad; it is selfish desire or malice that is bad.

At the root of desire is thought, and thought, as the scriptures say, is the most potent power in the cosmos. Every thought, positive or negative, seeks similar thoughts in the universe and coalesces into a formidable source of energy. A single stray thought of a single Paleolithic man might have had an influence in shaping man as he is today. A wise man once said "Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny." Whether or not language is the exclusive mode of communication of humans, it has significantly shaped human personality. It has two dimensions: talking and listening. Between the two, it is talking that is the preferred mode. Many scriptures and spiritualists emphasize the virtues of what in Buddhism is called 'the art of deep listening' as a way to overcome pain and suffering. It enables us to let go of any beliefs we have about the other person, and of our prejudices and past memories of him or her that inhibit our reaching out. Habit, which is defined as an acquired pattern of behavior that often occurs automatically, is pervasive in nature. As the American psychologist and philosopher William James says, "when we look at living creatures from an outward point of view, one of the first things that strike us is that they are bundles of habits"70. Habit shapes not only behavior but even conditions our nervous system and mode of thinking and because it is a 'reflex discharge' as James puts it, habit can greatly influence how we relate to another person. Everything in life β€” indeed life itself β€” is a habit; our daily chores are a habit; insulting can be a habit; so is 'being insulted'; exploitation and being exploited become a habit. Habit, over a period of time transforms into addiction. We cannot then help being nasty or cruel if we acquire that 'habit', and it becomes such a part of life that we cannot do without it, whether it is finding fault with, or humiliating or exploiting someone. It then becomes, as it were, our second nature. But then habit also offers hope; if only we can make 'being kind and caring' a habit, then we do not have to struggle to be good every day; it could become our 'reflexive response' to every provocation and temptation.

Dwanda-atheetha and the principle of polarity

The illusion of the rope being a snake or vice versa leads us to another, even grander, illusion of the 'pair of opposites'. In Nature, according to the Principle of Polarity, everything is dual; everything has its pair of opposites: like and unlike, love and hate. Opposites are identical in essence, but different in degree; extremes meet in a melting pot. Dwanda or duality is not some metaphysical or mystical mumbo jumbo. It is practical and pervasive in mundane life. We live in a world of duality β€” male and female, two chromosomes, two cerebral hemispheres, light and darkness, heat and cold, love and hate, good and bad, pleasure and pain, victory and defeat, profit and loss, happiness and misery, prosperity and poverty, life and death, etc. We recognize one of any two only if the other is also present. The ultimate state of consciousness is what Vedanta calls dwanda-atheetha, which is to go beyond the 'pairs of opposites'. The Principle of Polarity embodies the axiom that all manifested things have two sides β€” or two aspects or two poles β€” with manifold degrees between the two extremes. The bedrock of creation is that everything is dual: everything has poles; everything has its opposite; thesis and anti-thesis are identical in nature but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes are appearances. Spirit and matter are but two poles, and a major goal in spiritual life is to experience the 'harmony of opposites', which really is to treat the pair as one, or that 'the all' and 'the many' are One. Jalal ad-Din Rumi said that God creates the 'pair' so that we have two wings to fly, not one. There is no 'natural' equality or absoluteness in Nature, and that leads to relativity and contrariety, and gives the fallacious feeling that we can choose one and shut out the other. Yet, there is an underlying unity between the two contrasts. It is how we achieve that harmony that makes the difference between drudgery and dedication, misery and ecstasy. We call one end of the moral scale good and the other bad, or evil. A thing is 'less good' or 'more good', the "more" or "less" being regulated by the position on the scale.

The philosophy of the 'unity of opposites' has a long pedigree and has been the focus of a good chunk of scriptural and philosophic inquiry. The Jewish Kabbalah describes the

70 William James. Habit. 2003. Kessinger Publishing, USA. p.3.

Infinite God' as a 'unity of opposites', one that harmonizes within itself even those aspects of the cosmos that are antithetical to each other. The Chandogya Upanishad (7.24.1) says that the Infinite is immortal while the Finite is mortal. The Ultimate is non-dual, and any presence or awareness of duality makes the awareness finite. The Infinite is the fullest expression and manifestation of the Absolute Reality, Brahman. The doctrine of coincidentia oppositorum, the interpenetration, interdependence, and unification of opposites, has for long been one of the principal manifests of mystical (as opposed to empirical and philosophical) thought.

Mystical experiences can only be understood in terms that violate the 'principle of non- contradiction', which is at once of unification and going beyond both, dwanda-atheetha as it is called in Sanskrit. The premise is that presumed polarities in thought do not exclude one another but are actually necessary conditions for the assertion of their opposites. Not only mystics but even some scientists like the physicist Neils Bohr commented that superficial truths are those whose opposites are false, but that "deep truths" are such that their opposites are actually apparent contradictories. The Bhagavad Gita describes a karma yogi, among other things, as a person unmoved by pairs of opposites. Lord Krishna also says, while delineating Himself, that He is the compound called dwanda among all compounds. One of the essential attributes of a jivanmukta, the enlightened one who attains liberation while still remaining in the human body, is to transcend dwanda and to be in a state of non-duality. The word 'yoga' comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, meaning to join or unite. It is the union of all aspects of the individual: body, mind, and soul. Hence, yoga reunites all opposites β€” mind and body, stillness and movement, masculine and feminine β€” in order to bring about reconciliation between them. Chinese sages called this dynamic interplay of two extremes yin and yang β€” positive and negative β€” and have extended this principle to the function of daily life. The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus, among others, propounded this as a way to make sense of the phenomenal world. Such insight into the unity of things is itself a kind of transcendence, and is found in various mystical traditions. The idea occurs in the traditions of German mysticism and Buddhism, among others.

Perfection means to be complete, being so good that nothing else could be better. The opposite of perfection is imperfection, which is the condition of every living creature. Anger is an impairment to perfection ; malice is an impairment; greed is an impairment; obscene wealth is an impairment; leaving someone in distress is an impairment. We often confuse perfection with excellence by which we really mean efficiency, which is really to produce maximal returns with minimal effort. In one sense, there is perfection in the imperfection of the human being; and we should focus not on the perfection per se, but on managing the mediocrities in as perfect a manner as possible; not try to do extraordinary things but do ordinary things extraordinarily. The great, 'almost divine' Italian artist Michelangelo said that "the true work of art is but a shadow of divine perfection." In either sense of completeness or flawlessness, the human being is far from perfect. Our imperfection is not only physical and organic; it is equally, perhaps even more, mental and moral. Our bodies are good enough for us to exist as earthly beings. Even if we become bionic and have the strength of a superman and the agility of a cheetah, it would not make a difference to our imperfection. Even if we attain physical immortality (as science is trying to do through genetic mutations), we would still remain an unfinished product. Our minds and moral norms are not good enough for realizing our full potential and to share earthly space with other human beings or other life forms. It is really not very productive to debate whether morality is innate, or if it is simply a legal inconvenience or 'social lubricant' or religious rigmarole. The fact is even a monster wants to be 'moral'. Zygmunt Bauman says that we innately have what is called 'animal pity', which we feel when we see others suffering. If that were true, there is little doubt then that it has been smothered by the 'human culture', which we have so zealously nurtured over millenniums. What the mind has done is to make human culture so elastic and so specific that it lets us get away with the feeling that we are 'moral' while doing immoral things. Every human relationship and institution has created its own moral standard. Marriage has its own morality; so has market and so has property. And today, it seems that society's morality cannot keep up with technology. Indeed, that technology has eroded the moral dimension of every human institution from marriage to family to nationality, inappropriate to the technology-conditioned human personality. Yet, given the context of human life and the need for intensive human interfacing, without the restraint of morality β€” whatever may be its source or color β€” the full fury of human senses would tear us apart.

We should not blink or shy away from the fact that it is the 'fear' of society, of God, or of Hell that keeps us from succumbing to the allure of evil. We do not fear what it takes to be evil; we fear what might happen after evil is done. Swami Vivekananda said that if the law does not restrain us, we will all rob our neighbors' houses. Anonymity has its value but it is proximity that clouds our lives. The French philosopher of social sciences Rene Girard says that sometimes the most suitable victim is the neighbor. That is because the most tangible face of the opposite of the 'I', the 'Other', is the neighbor. That was why Jesus put the commandment 'Love thy neighbor as yourself' next only to love of God. 'Neighbor' here is not only the one living next door; it is all of humanity, which is but the creation of God. One cannot love God without loving His closest likeness. It simply means respecting others and treating their needs and desires as highly as we treat our own. Every great spiritual teacher has said that one cannot love God while being nasty to a fellow human, indeed to all life.

Evolution, culture, civilization, mind, heart, scripture or science, they all trickle down to one single thing: how do we treat and relate to others. When all is said and done, the bottom line is behavior and the true test of character is conduct. And we are also not quite sure what 'being moral' ought to be in terms of practical behavior. Perhaps one of the most cogent expositions on 'goodness' is contained in the Buddhist discourse Metta Sutta, also called the Suta of Loving Kindness. It contains, among other things, the following aphorisms. It begins with the words, "This is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness and who knows the path of peace", and the word 'skilled' gives the impression that goodness can be inculcated and cultivated. The 'good' are those who are "able and upright"; and "straight forward and gentle in speech; humble and not conceited; contented and easily satisfied; unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways; contented and calm; and wise and skilful; not proud and demanding in nature." The discourse further exhorts: "Let them not do the slightest thing that the wise would later reprove. Let none deceive another, or despise any living being in any state. Let none through anger or ill will wish harm upon another. Even as a mother protects her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings". The discourse ends with "the pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision, being freed from all sense-desires, is not born again in this world."71

Apart from 'goodness', humans suffer from a psychosis of 'greatness'. We talk of great men, great works, great civilizations and countries as the highest realm of human creativity. We use terms like greatness, genius, giftedness, charisma, goodness, godliness, icon and heroism without clear boundaries. All of them have meaning in relation to the opposite. Someone is great because the rest are deemed ordinary; someone is godly in comparison to the garden-type mortals, and someone is heroic when he performs an extraordinary act of courage or chivalry or magnanimity. While no two lives are equal, both in terms of their content and their legacy, and no life is too insignificant to make some

71 The Buddha's Words on Kindness (Metta Sutta). Accessed at: sutra.html

difference to other's lives, the fact also is that some men have changed the tide of history by their very presence on earth, and some others have left a trail of misery and destruction.

Loosely speaking, great men are those who leave their indelible, not necessarily positive, imprints on history; genius is one who through his cerebral strength creates something of timeless value or beauty or one with an IQ level higher than 140; giftedness is an intellectual, artistic or creative ability higher than the average; charisma is what one exudes that makes one person follow another even against his will; goodness is what is decent in man; godliness is the outward manifestation of the divine within; icon is one who is larger than life and whom we admire uncritically; heroism is an act of bravery beyond the call of duty or the bounds of self-preservation. Thomas Carlyle said that the history of what man has accomplished in this world is essentially the history of great men who have worked here.

Shakespeare famously wrote that "some are born great; some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them". On the question whether great men shape society (as Carlyle postulated) or society makes great men (as Herbert Spencer argued), we cannot come to any definitive conclusion; the safest solution is to opt for a mix of both. Some people show greatness by their mere existence and example; some simply by a seminal idea; some by their oratory eloquence; some by their writing or visual representation; some by capturing or controlling the levers of governance; and some through the barrel of a gun. And then the question is: what motivates or inspires a hero or a great man β€” personal gain or social purpose? On this too, opinions vary. The German philosopher Georg Hegel, for example, argued that a great man might be motivated by personal benefit and yet be serving a public purpose. Then again, all great men do not necessarily achieve 'greatness'. Many a 'great man' has lived and died anonymously. Chance, fate or luck or destiny plays a dominant role, whichever way one would wish to characterize the phenomenon. Increasingly, in the face of the ineluctable forces that are patently beyond any semblance of human control, the deeds of 'great men' seem to wither into transience, and they are shown up as all too human or nothing but human. And, in terms of the moral calculus, the Greek scholar Athenaeus wrote that goodness does not consist in greatness, but greatness consists in goodness. Samuel Johnson said that nothing is truly great which is not right.

Whatever might be the perils or subtleties of 'greatness', there is hardly anyone who does not dream of being or becoming 'great'. Some want to be great to wield power; some want to attain fame and fortune; some want to attract social esteem and recognition; some want to do 'good'; some just want to 'feel good'. At the same time, we often lament that the world of today is a world of mechanization and mediocrity, starved of great men and great leaders. Greatness is necessarily not goodness; in fact, more often than not, most great men, save prophets and saints, were morally flawed men, as Paul Johnson's book Intellectuals (1988), so scathingly shows. Someone said that it is the prerogative of great men to have great defects. The closer we get to great men, the clearer it dawns on us that they too are ordinary men. A deep disconnection often exists between public profundity and private profanity in the minds of many great men. Their soaring intellect and lofty idealism has often been powerless to withstand the temptation to take unfair advantage of the dependent and the defenseless. The general human propensity to mouth piety and platitudes, but act with malice and meanness does not spare even great men. That raises the central question 'what is the litmus test for greatness?' Is it 'being good', or is it something that is independent of one's personal behavior? Or is it the way one alleviates the other's pain and suffering? By normal standards of behavior, Hitler could be considered as having 'done the right thing' after all, as he married his mistress Eva Braun as a 'moral gesture' minutes before they committed suicide. He was a 'good' man in that relationship and in that instant. But he was evil personified in his public life. And then there are others who are publicly prudish and privately licentious. 'Great' men can be the catalysts of change or manipulators of minds. In either case, their legacy and impact lasts long after their death. It is also important to note that for great men to become great and for charismatic leaders to showcase their charisma, there has to be some sort of grave political, economic, social or spiritual context, wherein their potential followers or admirers find such leadership to be their sole hope, which is tantamount to suspending or abdicating their freedom and free will. In fact our relationship with great men highlights our ambivalent equation with freedom and free will. On the one hand, we value our freedom, but on the other hand, we crave for the authority of something or someone strong in whose name or cause we are willing to surrender that very freedom. Often, what we hesitate to give God we give to these men β€” total trust. And we let them β€” total strangers β€” exercise more control over our thoughts, feelings, and emotions than those whom we know and 'love'. Erich Fromm divides freedom into 'freedom from' (the process of becoming emancipated from the restrictions placed on humanity by other people or institutions), and 'freedom to' (the use of freedom to behave in ways that are constructive and respond to the genuine needs and wants of the free individual/society by creating a new system of social order).

In other words, what we are really comfortable with is not freedom to choose and to act with free will but to 'escape from' freedom, which is to escape from one's own self and to find comfort and security in the suffocating strength of another person. Deep in the human psyche lurks a desire to be subjected to authoritarianism, a desire to be absolved from the burden of decision-making. And in surrendering to a 'superior power', be it great men or God, we feel lofty, lifted and elated, freed from guilt for our foibles, and we surrender our right to know what is right and wrong. There is something in the human psyche that impels us to credit other human beings with sainthood or even godhood, and to willingly elevate the fallible to the status of infallibility, and to assume that another mind should be given headship over our mind. That enables great men to make you do things, for good or bad, that you would not otherwise think of doing or actually do. Generally, it was believed that charisma is something that you have or you do not have. Now, scientists say they have found the secret to this magical quality and that it can be learnt. And that charisma is, in a way, infectious. It is said that when you see someone else who is charismatic, you tend to mimic their mannerisms and their facial expressions without realizing it β€” and maybe also mimic their mental attributes, which offer both promise and peril. Promise lies in a few men motivating and inspiring many others to do things they would not otherwise do for the good of the world; and there is peril, too, because these very men can, with equal ease, make us do horrible things.

History has recorded for us that truly great men were in fact semi-divine like Jesus, the Buddha and Muhammad, and to grow to such a status, or to even come close, a spiritual foundation is necessary. Another ingredient is personal purity and transparent integrity. Emerson said that "if two or three persons should come with a high spiritual aim and with great powers, the world would fall into their hands like a ripe peach."72 Well, the fact that it has not quite happened that way does not negate the message. But it does signify how far down the moral slope the world has slipped.

The issue of what constitutes greatness, hitherto a scholarly question, now becomes practical, as science is promising to re-engineer the human persona through genetic manipulation, which raises the possibility of made-to-order greatness. Scientists claim to have identified genes like the spiritual gene, god-gene, etc. Would it be possible to implant 'greatness', and also goodness into the 'make-up' of posthuman man? We must bear in mind that greatness, like every other human attribute is a means to an end. That end is to contribute

72 P.D. Sharma. Immortal Quotations and Proverbs. 2003. Navneet Publications. Mumbai, India. p.23.

to the good of the world. Great men may mould history, but it is good men who, as Emerson puts it, make the earth wholesome. Goodness may be anonymous, but it does not go in vain; it is like fragrance; you can smell it, not see it; it lingers long after the flower withers. Like evil, goodness is not only an act but also a word and a thought. A kind word goes a long way. We commit more sins through 'word of mouth' than by direct deed. Perhaps, of all the organs in the human body, it is the mouth that is the most vital β€” and lethal. It is not only the primary point to ingest the food needed to keep us alive, but it is also the primary point of interaction with the external world. It is one of the very few organs with which we can exercise volitional choice β€” keep it open or shut; but more good happens when it is shut.

Human history would have been so different β€” and better β€” if only man knew how to use his mouth wisely. But even the mouth is only a mouthpiece. The master is the mind

A thinking pigmy

The operational arm of the mind is what we call 'intellect' or 'intelligence'. It is 'intelligence', the ability to draw inferences from what we perceive of the world around us, from abstract ideas and concepts and experiences, from our reasoning powers, that distinguishes us from fellow-animals. While it has helped us arrive and overcome some of the limitations of Nature, what is surprising is that intelligence has blinded us from doing what is truly good for us; it has accentuated inherent differences and has fashioned a culture and civilization which threaten the very survival of 'intelligent' life on earth. Our intelligence seems sufficient most times to know what is right, but not to empower and enable us to do right. And most of us do not use intelligence intelligently. The human race has now reached a stage where we need to revisit what that 'intelligence' has come to mean, and what price humanity has paid for letting it be the dominant force in human affairs. The irony is that although 'intelligence', which comes from a Latin verb 'intellegere', meaning 'to understand', we hardly understand anything worth understanding. We must revisit, at this juncture in the evolution of human consciousness, our reverence for reason, addiction to deductive empiricism, veneration for linear thinking, and skepticism of mysticism. One of the basic assumptions of 'being intelligent' is that we can separate facts from fear, and, given that knowledge, be rational and do the right thing β€” in other words, make us better persons. But in practice, our intelligence is a tool to prevail over others; and when we do not always succeed, it fans the flames of fear. Modern man has more fears that harass and haunt him than ever before, above all the fear of his fellow men and what they might do. Bertrand Russell said that conquering fear is the beginning of wisdom. The British spiritual writer Rodney Collin said that fear is the most powerful projection and a terrible force in the world, and that it is fear that is behind all the irrationality and chaotic emotions that dog mankind.73 Fear is the lever that moves much of life. It is the principal trigger for insecurity, aggression, and war. There is also a collective fear, which Bertrand Russell said breeds a herd instinct and leads to ferocity towards those outside the herd. But can Nature really afford a truly fearless man? It is fear that holds us back from crime and sin, and all fear is not all bad. Perhaps, the most formidable obstacle to human happiness, progress and transformation is our smug self- righteousness, our chronic, almost pathological ability to find everything wrong with others and nothing in ourselves, the mindset to make an exception of oneself, which has been called the greatest of all sins and the root of all evil. It should be sharply distinguished from self- esteem or self-respect. Jesus said that we notice the mole in our brother's eye and ignore the

73 Rodney Collin. The Mirror of Light. 1959. Vincent Stuart, London, UK. p.18.

blemish in our own eye. From any reckoning, this ought to be a time for serious stock-taking, a time to step aside and look inside, both as an individual and as a species. As Thomas Berry says, "we are not simply in another period of historical change or cultural modification such as these have taken place in past centuries in the human order. What is happening now is of a geological and biological order of magnitude. We are upsetting the entire earth system that, over some billions of years and through an endless sequence of groping, of trials and errors, has produced such a magnificent array of life forms, forms capable of seasonal self-renewal over vast periods of time."74

Man today, bristling with brittleness in body and mind, shorn of his spiritual essence and captive of what we might call 'militant rationality', is dreaming of immortality when his very reason for being, his very 'be all and end all', as Shakespeare puts it, is getting eroded. Modern man, called Homo sapien sapiens, is a relatively new phenomenon on the evolutionary scale, so new that it is almost a new form of life on earth. By his extreme dependency on technology, contemporary human has essentially become a terminally dependent being; and by living separately from the natural world, he has forfeited the love of Mother Earth; and by acquiring power that he is not equipped to handle wisely, he threatens his own existence. So, in a way, all traditional methods of 'treatment' have become inadequate. The whole human habitat is artificial now: the air, the water, society, and man's living conditions. Nothing is 'as-is-where-is' or natural any more. Everything is processed, polluted, and peddled. We pride ourselves for our capacity for calibrated and careful thought but we are in fact, a 'thinking pigmy' as Colin Wilson puts it in his book, The Outsider (1956). He wrote that "All men and women have these dangerous, unnamable impulses, yet they keep up a pretense, to themselves, to others; their respectability, their philosophy, their religion, are all attempts to gloss over, to make look civilized and rational something that is savage, unorganized, irrational."75 Most men are marginal men, fixated on the edges of life, not fully alive and not yet dead, paralyzed by personal preoccupations and terminally drained by the 'trivialities of everyday life', by the adjustments, and compromises, needed to share the same with other humans. At the very crux of human existence, everyone is the same, exalted or debased, self-absorbed being. Man acts sometimes as if he is immortal and at other times, as if there is no tomorrow. The terrible tragedy of man is that although he has been called a 'social animal' by philosophers like John Locke, yet he cannot stand another man's company for too long. Human personalities clash almost seamlessly, and yet what man has and aspires to have, has value relative to what others have or want to have, or do not have. In other words, modern man wants competition without competitors, a kind of 'absolute relativity'. If there were no one else around, man would either be insane or be a saint. He is wrapped in self-righteousness beyond the needs of self-belief and in self-pity; together, they rob him of one of the essential 'abilities' of the human condition: a sense of shame and guilt. He has an appetite only for greed, not guilt. And a man wholly devoid of guilt is more menacing than a man-eater. A guiltless person has to be a near-perfect being, and man is the epitome of imperfection.

Torture and terror, at the core of which is calculated and deliberate infliction of pain, are embedded in our history, and all civilizations that practiced them were privy in some way or the other. Torture and terror are both very old and very widespread.

74 Thomas Berry. Ethics and Ecology. (Harvard Lecture, 9 April 1996). Accessed at:

75 Cited in: Mark Titchner. Black Magic Mind War. 2003. Frieze Magazine, Issue 74, April 2003. Accessed at:

Man has used every available tool and technique for torture, just like insects such as bees, wasps, sheep ticks and assassin bugs (which first stab their prey and then inject a toxin that dissolves the tissue). To be terrified of somebody, you do not have to be tortured, at least in the physical sense. Today, we have a new category of sacred nihilists β€” the terrorists β€” who live in a state of absolute certitude that nothing is a crime or a sin in the cause of their conviction. On the other hand, once labeled as such, that person virtually ceases to be 'human' in the eye of the state and society, and unspeakable indignities and horrors are committed on their bodies to make them 'confess' and betray their collaborators. Assuming the cause to be good, it is based on the moral premise that to do evil today is ethically in order if we have some basis to hope that in the future, at the end of a long chain of causation and chance, something good will emerge.

Just as war is considered a 'preferred moral choice' by many 'honorable' people, torture too is justified, a 'necessary nuisance'. It finally comes down to numbers; that inhumanity is justified if those who suffer are fewer than those whose suffering it is supposed to preempt.

Almost every State indulges in torture as a means of intrusive interrogation and coercive confession, which, as Elaine Scarry in her work The Body in Pain (1985) explains, is to deconstruct the victim by separating the voice from the body, the person from his knowledge; to make the voice, disoriented by pain, speak as the torturer wishes. Pedestrian torture play makes us not to say what we want to say, or to refrain from doing things that we want to do, and to accept humiliation. Silence and conformity seem preferable or less painful than the consequences of resistance. The triggers for torture are many, ranging from 'just fun' to seeking 'truth', to protect the innocent, to abort evil, etc. But that, in a macabre sense, is the tangible or 'organized' torture, which is but the tip of the iceberg. Scholars have long debated what conditions and social contexts are more conducive to terror and torture, what kind of governance and legal system is likely to eliminate or greatly minimize them. Some even apprehend that terror and torture will be on the 'agenda of the future' and that "it is always possible to argue that contextual indicatives require terrorism and torture; it is always possible to say that praxis demands setting universalistic ethics aside; it is always possible to say that 'our' experience overrides any cross-historical or cross-cultural principles."76 The debate can go on but the fact of the matter is that 'when push comes to shove', few will hold back on the ground that torture is a moral transgression or violation of 'human rights'. That is part of being the beast we are. The ugly reality is that most people live in fear, if not 'terror', of someone (a spouse or a boss) or of something (like losing a job or of dying) or of what lurks in the dark corners of their conscience. To terrorize somebody or to accept being terrorized is not very difficult; the mind quickly adjusts to both situations and soon both become a habit. Terror is a way to exercise power, to control, which is one of the deepest and darkest human drives on par perhaps with sexuality.

Power, passion and love

The lust to exercise power is one of the basic human passions, and philosophers from Plato forward have agonized over its character and content. Why do we so compulsively want to dominate another person? Is it because we control so little of our own lives β€” our DNA structure, our parentage, the length of our life, even how we behave β€” that, as a kind of an inverse reflex, we want to control someone else? Or is it simply a symbol of our struggle for survival? Or does that have a deeper source: simply to be true to our nature? Whatever be the dynamic, power has been the dominant determinant throughout human antiquity and history.

76 Max L. Stackhouse. Torture, Terrorism and Theology: The Need for a Universal Ethic. The Christian Century, 8 October 1986. pp.861-863. Accessed at:

It was the lure of power β€” to become God β€” that enticed Eve to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree and fall prey to the wiles of the snake. In its essence, it is the desire to bend another person's will to our advantage, to rearrange reality, as it were, to be in congruence with our taste and temper. Simply put, we want power because we want to control. We want to control everything that we see and touch β€” other people, events, our neighborhood, Nature, God β€” everything other than our own selves. We want to control because we want to prevail, and we want to prevail because 'to prevail' over another person is one of the dominant human characteristics. Since everyone wants the same thing and wants to be, in Nietzsche's words, master over all space, it leads to confrontation and conflict. Human endeavor has always pursued two contrasting objectives: justice and power. The balance between the two defines, to a large extent, the quality of the human condition. For, justice without power is impotent, and power without justice is tyranny. The need for justice stems directly from the inequity inherent in human nature. Man cannot be trusted to be left alone with his raw passions, priorities and predispositions, without posing a threat to another man. Man is a passionate being and is capable of experiencing strong emotions, compelling feelings, enthusiasm, or scorching desire for something or someone. Well directed, passion can be a powerful positive force; without being passionate, man can achieve precious little.

But wrongly directed, it can be an awesome destructive power. How, why and when passion turns deadly is a question for psychologists and scientists. What we call 'culture' and 'civilization' are, as Aldous Huxley noted, arrangements to domesticate our passions and 'set them to do useful work'. Which means, the world is better off with man 'in a cage', or tied to a rope, the only question being the length of the rope. Since the people who 'set us to do' are also humans with passions, we end up carrying out actions triggered by the passions of powerful people.

Unlike animals, we cannot easily share living space. To cater to the needs of the needy and the wants of the vulnerable, we need social justice. To channel individual power we need a common or collective power. But we have not found any natural order or human habitat that ensures justice even while letting every man be his own master. In that sense, there has never been a 'just society' in human history; and no 'ism' β€” communism or socialism or capitalism or any kind of kingdom β€” has delivered the right mix of power and justice. And that makes power an imperative for greed and glory alike. Our modern Machiavellian world is nothing but a cauldron of craving for power. Power can be positive or negative, having regard to the nature of action (to induce or resist), to the type of action (violent or pacific) and to the intended outcome (to do good or to harm). Power can be physical, psychological, mental, moral or spiritual. Some kind of power is pervasive and is implicit in every human interaction. How we wield power is a true test of character. The way power is exercised depends not only on the nature of our own power, but also on the nature of powerlessness of the other person. Our irritation is often focused on the helpless; our insults on those whose position prevents them from insulting us back; and our anger directed at those who feel acceptance is less troublesome than retaliation. The test of character, Lincoln said, is not adversity, but the exercise of power. Power is of various kinds β€” spiritual, intellectual, artistic, political or social β€” but in any form it boils down to one thing; the ability to influence events and to dominate the lives of other people. We all have some power; no one β€” not even a beggar β€” is powerless. Powerlessness does not always mean not having power; it is a question of will; it is also being restrained (or not letting be restrained) from exercising the power; and the restraint is the fear of 'what might happen'. Whatever power one has, if one demurs from using it for whatever reason, he becomes powerless, if not helpless. Often, we paralyze ourselves, feeling or thinking that exercising power entails more effort and higher cost than submission. No one, not even a child or a slave, is wholly without power.

Stillness is power; silence is power. Often times, we become powerless because we cannot countenance the consequences of exercising power. We all experience this phenomenon, at some point or the other, in life; it has a bearing on who the other person is. Parents have power; children have it; spouses have it; friends have it; enemies have it; scientists have it; the State has it in abundance; and citizens have it. If true character is what we do when we think no one is watching us, real power is how we treat an other person who is in an unequal situation. The true test of character is not how we behave when we are powerless, but how we use power and how it affects other people.

Power and passion, or rather the way they are channeled, are also changing social values. In a world that scoffs at 'softness' and worships 'strength', such acts as lying, cheating, deviousness, and deception no longer elicit social reproach; they are just a part of what it takes to survive in today's world. And those who do not want to pay that price are choosing to quit, leaving behind a note that they are not mentally fit for this world. Why is falsity so ingrained in us? Are we 'natural-born' liars? While deception is not confined to humans and many animals resort to it to outwit a predator or a prey, human culture has made it a defining signature, the calling card of the human way of life. David Smith (Why We Lie, 2004) proposes that "we evolved with our conscious mind aware of only a fraction of what we think and feel, and that this occurred because we cannot lie without giving away clues that might give us away β€” the evolutionary answer to this dilemma is that our mind lies to our conscious selves, in order that we can, with all sincerity, lie to others." 77 We lie because we have so much to hide. As Denise Breton and Christopher Largent say in their book The Paradigm Conspiracy (1996), shackled with secrets we interact with each other, not heart to heart but lie to lie. And 'lying', which is not only being untruthful but also not acting on what we know, becomes comforting, a way not to face up to the inconvenient and the unpleasant. While deception developed as an evolutionary need, it remained entrenched within, because the mind, rather the unconscious mind, found it a convenient tool to prevent us from knowing the 'real reality' and to perpetuate its hold. Scriptures and saints, philosophers and pundits have exhorted mankind to cultivate what Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls the 'mind of love', which, he says, lies buried deep in our consciousness under many layers of forgetfulness and suffering β€” and one might add culture of combativeness and civilization of comfort and control. Love is a gift, of one's own self, the divine side of the 'noble savage', the 'civilized brute'. In Greek, 'love' is expressed in five distinct words: epithumia (desire– attraction), eros (longing–romance), storge (belonging–affection), phile (cherishing– friendship), and agape (selfless giving–Christian love). Of these, what seem to be uppermost are attraction and longing, and what have gone into recess are true friendship and selfless giving. And man's proprietary instinct, the sense of 'owning', has overwhelmed love.

The story of 'love', of its negative 'transformation', symbolizes the story β€” and tragedy β€” of man. Why, and how, has love gone bad, or mad, that is the question. As perhaps nothing else, love is the one emotion that can catapult man to the Everest of heights, but can also push him down into the darkest of depths. We need to narrow the gap between what we are capable of bestowing upon one person β€” the one we love or are in love with β€” and our attitude towards the rest of the humanity. What we are capable of is something like what Catherine said about Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (1847): "If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it".

77 David Livingstone Smith, Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind. 2004. St. Martin's Press, New York, USA. Accessed at : Deception-Unconscious/dp/0312310390/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top#reader_0312310390

Leaving nothing to chance she says "I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being". It is another matter that she chose not to marry to love and save him! Like Catherine, so many choose life over love, and mind over heart. While unrequited love has always been a scorching feeling, it evokes savagery today. While non-romantic, interpersonal love has always been a strong social bond, it is now conditioned by race, religion, and riches. We may sing 'love is all we need' but that cry gets no echo. Swami Vivekananda's panacea "one burning love, selfless"78 is what the world needs. In its absence, much of mankind is a wasteland and what we call 'love' is 'hyphenated' love: romantic-love, marital-love, parental-love, fraternal-love, patriotic-love, etc. We love the bond that connects, not the person. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the sage Yajnavalkya tells his wife Maitreyi that everything in the world is the love of the Self, not of the husband or wife or son or anything else. The Self here refers to the eternal Atman, the Self that Lord Krishna referred to when he said "I am the Self, seated in the hearts of all beings",79 not the transient body. It is essential for our spiritual journey to get some clarity on this point. What goes by in the name of love, interpersonal or impersonal, does not deter anything abominable anymore β€” murder, maiming or massacre; they are all explained away, if not justified, for the sake of love, in the name of love, and at the altar of love. The paradox lies in the fact that love, which has been glorified by scriptures and saints as the natural condition of man, is marked by an inability on our part to make it spontaneous to our way of life. On the other hand, judging by what goes on in the world, man loves to hate. And when man is 'in love', he is capable of superhuman sacrifice or subhuman savagery. The impulse to control, the push for possession, the rage for ownership, permeates love too. Just as we want to squeeze profit out of every possession, sacred or profane, we also want our love to be profitable, good, bad, or ugly. It is almost as if the human mind has come to the conclusion that to survive and to 'progress', love and what it entails β€” sacrifice, caring, compassion β€” are no longer appropriate; perhaps passΓ©. Being loved is the most sought after state but that is one thing most people feel deprived of. Love is at best reciprocal, often an exchange, part of a package. One cannot anymore be sure whether to fear or favor someone who 'loves' you; at least, one can be sure of what to expect of hate. Love can turn into hatred (failed love marriages) and hatred into 'love' (love of the captive towards their captors). Some like to put it differently: it is not that love becomes hate, but love leaves, and hate steps in, or the other way around. And it is possible to exhibit both towards the same person, albeit at different times and contexts. Man is capable of killing the very person he saves. Some, like the essayist William Hazlitt, said that hate, more than love, is a virtue, even a divine attribute, and that "love turns, with a little indulgence, to indifference or disgust; hatred alone is immortal."80 It all depends on what or whom or why we 'hate'. One thing is clear though: hatred in itself is a deeply and dangerously seductive thing which can more easily lead one into paths of self- destruction.

But there is lingering hope that humanity will be able to make 'selfless love' its primary impulse (not its habit of hatred), without the need for an epic struggle. Hope, also called elpis in Greek mythology, is a wonderful thing; it is, in Christian theology, one of the

78 Vedanta Network. Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of Boston, USA. Vivekananda's Quotes . Accessed at:

79 Annie Besant. Bhagavad-Gita. 10.20. 2003. The Theosophical Publishing House, India. p.145.

80 Cited in: Carl R. Trueman. Redeeming Hate. 2008. Issue Number 19, March 2008. Accessed at:

three virtues (faith, hope, and charity). But not everyone agrees. Nietzsche, for example, wrote that it is the most evil of all evils since it prolongs man's torment. Martin Luther King Jr. talked of finite disappointment and infinite hope. One can cultivate the 'habit of hope' and when that happens, life itself becomes hopeful. And hopeful people are usually positive people, and they exude love. With good fortune, we may still meet people, in whom this sublime energy, love, shines strongly, allowing us all to bask in its luminous light. The great saints and bodhisattvas completely emptied themselves of ego and transmitted such love. But their love, unlike ours, is unconditional and all embracing. Self-serving motives, self- righteousness, attachment, expectation of something in return, grabbing, egocentric attachment, being conditional, partial-heartedness, none of these have any place in love and, in practice, they completely block the artery of love. Placing ourselves first and at the center forecloses the possibility of feeling the thrill of love. But in a travesty befitting our time, the term 'love' is perhaps the most used, but what we actually do with that love is a travesty of what it ought to be.

We are lost somewhere in the melting pot of sacredness, sex, sin, love, marriage, monogamy, fidelity, pleasure, guilt, shame, religion, etc. For too many people, sex is something to satiate or a skill or a resource to be harnessed for survival or for worldly advancement. For them, sexuality is reduced to sex based on pleasure, hedonism, and permissiveness. Sexual relations then become short-lived, anonymous, and promiscuous β€” ones in which the partners can be interchanged to enhance the inventory of their experiences; their connection is confined to the satisfaction of their sexual appetites. The subject becomes only an object of pleasure. In times of war, sexuality also becomes a means to geopolitical ends. We have not really made up our minds about such carnal relationships β€” what such a relationship is intended to be in Nature, and what we ought to do with it to ensure a bright posthuman future. As things stand now, we are heading for a future in which sex for anything other than pure pleasure would be deemed anti-social. Women will be, it is claimed, liberated from being 'necessary, vulnerable vessels for the next generation'. In the epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), Milton wrote of Satan spying on the endearments of Adam and Eve, not yet fallen, and of seeing 'undelighted all delight'. Milton saw pure sex as a paradisal source of delight. That delight has become a prescription for pain, across all perquisites of success in life. Worse, the adage "Everything is fair in love and war", is a guiding principle in one's 'love' life. We cannot remove sex from all love, but love is as important for living as sex is for procreation. We cannot ignore the facts that while our spirit or soul is gender-neutral, our bodies are not; that turns creative energy into stress and tension. The tension comes from the paradox that while we exist in a sexed body, deep inside we are asexual. There is a theory that for a long time there was only one gender that later split into two, and since then it has been an endless attempt to become whole again. Since we cannot unite the two physically or erase our gender-specificity, we must do so energetically or spiritually, what has been called 'spiritual orgasm'. The problem is that while we are trying to reconcile the tension within our own sexed nature, we also find ourselves living in a culture that accentuates sexual tension.

Although biologically and spiritually no one is wholly male or female, being one β€” and not the other β€” becomes our overarching identity and obscures everything else, even our relationship with God, putting a drag on our spiritual progress. Uncontrollable or unresolved, sexual drive is swimming around in our subconscious, trying to find fulfillment in the physical world. The key is to merge that drive with love so that it is freed both from levity and guilt. The Indian mystic and 'guru' Osho says that "The proportion of your love is the proportion of your being".81 What we fail to recognize is that love is not an option but an imperative; it is not just what we intensely, even 'unbearably' feel towards someone else; it is vital for our own fullness. For love, we are not only giving but also growing; indeed it is through 'giving' that one 'grows'. But much of what is proffered as love is at best reciprocity, often grabbing, not giving. Love and hate are generally considered incompatible, if not mutually exclusive; where there is love, there can be no hate, so it is said. We can no longer take comfort in that cover. Hate is the shadow of love; hate and love coexist, even criss-cross and merge. What lies in a 'loving' relationship is a quid pro quo, duty, obligation, often retaliation when it is unreturned. Love is when you do not have to love, when and where there is no expectation. For hate to turn into love it takes a while, but love can turn into hate in a very short time. Love can turn into hate not only when it is unrequited but also by the coarseness of prolonged physical intimacy; indeed, one could even kill the one loved, not for any gross 'betrayal' but also because of the common pressures of cohabitation, as we read so often in the 'news'. For love, we need respect. Because familiarity breeds condescension, if not contempt, man has not found a way to manage either intimacy or isolation; either of which can lead to suicide or homicide. The intensity of passion or the pain of isolation simply changes color and character. And hate could turn into love Γ  la 'the Stockholm Syndrome'.

Human social life is a whirling web of relationships, in each of which one is required to share living or emotional space with other humans, with all the attendant ego clashes and adjustments. The duties and responsibilities entailed in each relationship are not always consistent with those of others, and that creates discord and tension, and we do not have the wisdom to harmonize them. Our union here with wives, husbands, kith and kin, and friends is like that of travelers at a roadside inn. In fact, just as the universe is really multiverse, as astronomers proclaim, we are all multi-beings, each being specific to a relationship. Without the authenticity of a relationship, we remain virtual non-beings. Even in a single relationship, the dynamics can dramatically change, and the 'balance of power' can shift, and the connecting thread can oscillate from caring to cruelty, from harmony to hatred. Prolonged intimacy between two humans has a very ambivalent effect on the human condition. In intimate relationships, we have no cover of culture and we transgress boundaries, permissible and impermissible, those that normally contain and channel human passions. It could either fuse two souls or rob their respect. It is in the context of such relationships that both the individuals' strengths and faults, and raw vulnerabilities and innate virtues can be highlighted, stripping them of the cover of civility and of the sanitization of culture. One of Dostoevsky's characters in his novel The Brothers Karamazov exposes the paradoxical nature of the human condition and says "I love mankind but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons". And then, he goes on to say "… I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for even two days". It is that chasm that we should bridge, between the abstract and the actual, between the impersonal and the intimate. Human society may never resemble the mythical Tibetan kingdom of Shambhala, the perfect place of peace and tranquility and happiness, in which all citizens are able to transmute aggression into love. The fact is, as Dostoevsky says, "Until one has indeed become brother of all, there will be no brotherhood. No science or self-interest will ever enable people to share their property and their rights among themselves without offense. Each will always think his share too small, and they will keep murmuring, they will envy and destroy one another". But what we can β€” and must β€” do is to insure that hate does not become an all-embracing or all-consuming passion within and distort the core human personality.

81 Cited in: Osho. Love Completely to Wave Final God Bye. The Deccan Chronicle, Hyderabad, India. 7 July 2008. p.II.

Moral foundation of mankind

For most people, though, the relentless daily grind, the sheer wear and tear of worldly existence ebbs away all passion and sensitivity. 'Life' for them is more a scream of pain than a song of pleasure, more a test of endurance than of enjoyment. That makes us a 'soft species', and in the natural world, only the strong and the resilient survive. But we are also a species armed to the teeth with horrendous weapons. Our addiction to comfort, convenience, control, and technological quick-fixes has so enfeebled the human organism that it has become an easy prey today to every passing vulture or virus. With the dramatic discoveries in genetic technology, we are told that it is not improbable that a tyrant, a fanatic or a desperate man can create a 'doomsday' virus with 100 percent mortality. The human species has not, since its advent on earth, devised a way to manage and reconcile interpersonal interests without conflict and violence. Nor has it discovered or innovated the way to 'god governance'. In fact, based on our track record, it does seem the human being is simply ungovernable. The successive modus operandi of governance have progressively made it worse, not better, raising the question if the human, with the kind of psychological personality he has developed, is simply ungovernable. The latest paradigm of human governance, the Nation-State, is perhaps the most ill-suited for conflict resolution, which has become the most pressing need of the hour. It is the worst form of governance because it is centralized; it is top down and distant. And 'nationalism', its ideological offspring, a sentiment or a form of culture, has been, for the past four centuries, the dominant political principle; and it has been responsible for more bloodshed than perhaps any other ideology in human history. Erich Fromm called it our form of incest, our idolatry, our insanity, and Einstein called it infantile disease, the measles of mankind. Along with the Nation-State and nationalism, another beguiling but corrosive concept has come into being, the 'national interest', which, it is implicitly accepted, overrides any universal principle or precept, and whose pursuance, whatever it entails, is the highest duty not only of the State but also its citizens. We judge all events, local to international, from a 'national' perspective, not a human or religious or moral perspective. A billion people deprived of the basic needs of daily food, drinking water, and stable shelter due to mass poverty is a failure of governance at all levels. So is the case with global warming and climate change, and the 'once-in-a-generation' natural disasters, which, it is said, devastate seven times more people than a war.82 In fact, archeologist David Keys posits that a global catastrophe was triggered by a single event, a volcanic eruption, in about 535 CE resulting in prolonged (up to three years) bad weather worldwide. The first calamity to follow the catastrophe was drought in some places, and massive floods, followed by famine worldwide and plague in certain parts of the world. That scenario looks eerily contemporary, if we replace the volcanic lava by melting glaciers and warming oceans. But we are paralyzed by doubt and passivity; we just hope such things will not reach us if it is really that bad. Constructed as we are, with the consciousness we have, the way things inside us churn, we are simply incapable of acting any other way.

Either as individuals or as communities or countries, we are just unable to put the larger interest ahead of the narrower interest. Our idea of moral imagination or indignation places no value or virtue in sacrificing a bit of the certain present for the uncertain future.

82 Brian Urquhart. The UN and the Race Against Death. 2008. The New York Review of Books. USA. 26 June 2008.

Deep inside, we feel that we owe as much or as little to those who are yet to be born as to those who are already dead. We are so smug in the cocoon of comfort and convenience that we are prepared to trade everything β€” even our future β€” for the perpetuation of that comfort and convenience. For, we simply cannot believe β€” indeed we are incapable of experiencing any such belief β€” that anything can really endanger the future, least of all the fruits of our (and our forefathers') struggle: our lifestyle.

The primary reason why nationalism and national interest have been so devastating is because it is implied and intellectually assumed that they are outside the rigor of morality, and all values and principles we hold dear as individuals do not apply when nationalism and national interest are invoked. As human innovations that draw power from human beings and are meant for human benefit, they cannot be immune from the normal human moral discipline. For, as Einstein wrote, "the most important human endeavor is striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to our lives."83 We cannot expect to bring back the moral imperative into our lives if we leave out our collective personality. Our moral duplicity with the State highlights a bigger problem. Our sense of morality, like our sense organs, is externally focused: we are moral and good; it is they who are not. Robert Stevenson captured our moral sophistry well when wrote that there is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the rest of us, that it behooves all of us not to talk about the rest of us.

The real problem with 'being bad' is not totally being bad, that is bad enough; it is not feeling bad by being bad and doing bad things. Long after the provocation or temptation, we feel no remorse or regret, shame or guilt; we lack the courage to admit even to our own conscience that we were wrong. All this is not just a question of individual ethics or personal fate. It leaves an imprint on our collective consciousness. Just as humans are changing the environment, and that environment in turn is fuelling human evolution, we can, by cultivating a compassionate consciousness and by creating a more moral milieu of living, change the direction of human evolution. Again and again, the spiritual journey hits the same roadblock: the gap and disconnection between what we know and what we do, what we profess and what we practice, what we can and what we ought to.

Many ancient prophecies have become fulfilled now and make interesting reading. The Mayans, whose Central American civilization, reputed as the most advanced in relation to time-space knowledge, prophesied that beginning from the year 1999, we will have 13 years to realize the changes in our conscious attitude to stray from the path of self-destruction and instead move on to a path that opens our consciousness to integrate us with all that exists.84 The Mayans believed that, having known the end of their cycle, mankind would prepare for what is to come in the future and it is because of this that they would have preserved the dominant species; the human race. According to them, "coming changes will permit us to make a quantum leap forward in the evolution of our consciousness to create a new civilization that would manifest great harmony and compassion to all humankind."85 And "seven years after the start of Katun, which is to say the year 1999, we would enter a time of darkness which would force us to confront our own conduct".

83 Working Minds. Quotations from Albert Einstein. Accessed at: http://www.working-

84 Mayan Prophecy 2012: Entering Our Galactic Day. Accessed at:

For the Mayans, "this is the time when mankind will enter 'The Sacred Hall of Mirrors', where we will look at ourselves and analyze our behaviors with ourselves, with others, with Nature and with the planet in which we live. A time in which all of humanity, by individual conscious decisions, decides to change and eliminate fear and lack of respect from all of our relationships."86

The Mayans were dead right about the target and the direction; perhaps not about the date. We need to look at ourselves and analyze our behavior, eliminate fear and restore respect, and the goal ought to be a quantum leap in the evolution of our consciousness. The external manifestation of our consciousness is our behavior, which is really how we externally project our desires, passions and emotions that affect the lives of other people.

There are two diametrically different paradigms of 'behavior' in human life: the behavior of others and our own behavior. Often, what we consider as obnoxious in the behavior of others, we are oblivious of it in our own selves; though we criticize the conduct that is repugnant in others, we fail to see it in our own conduct. Goethe said that behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image but do not see it themselves. The vehicle for behavior is the body; and the sarathi, the one at the controls, is the consciousness. Consciousness is what we are inside; behavior is what we are outside. And behavior has a huge bearing on how the human body will evolve in the future. As a matter of fact, human physiognomy has changed over evolution, a change that, significantly, has taken hardly one ten-thousandth of the total time span of life on earth. Primitive man was marked by a flattened skull of relatively small cranial capacity, a retreating forehead and chin, heavy, massive jaws, and a short, thick neck. Modern man, by contrast, has a typically near-vertical forehead, a domed occipital lobe, relatively large cranial capacity, a slender neck, jaws of reduced size, and a marked eminence of chin. This 'transformation' was the result of how the body and its faculties were harnessed for dedicated purposes. And that will happen in the future too. But science is focusing on reengineering the human body, leaving human behavior to human culture. Plastic surgery, prosthetics, robotics, electronic and digitized vocal chords, implants for hearing, chemicals to adjust and fine-tune brain functioning, genetics, and cloning organs are the current ways to augment and upgrade our physique.

At the same time we are soaking our body with a scary cocktail of chemicals. It is utterly amazing and shocking how resigned and reconciled we are about the poison we put into our bodies β€” 'pollution in people' β€” through chemicals in the food we eat, in the air we breathe and in the water we drink. Someone said that the human cadaver is so full of toxic chemicals that animals would not touch human meat. How thisgrowing menace of chemicals in our life will play out is uncertain. For example, if sex continues to be the obsessive passion for the brain and the body, independent of procreation, and if it continues to distort Nature's priorities, then Nature itself, as a defensive measure, might change the very act of sex to bring it back within the bounds of the original intent. What role computerization will play in human evolution is anybody's guess. One view is that computers offer one way towards overcoming the speed and capacity limitations of the human mind. It is assumed that a mental task reducible to a set of written rules can be reduced to a computer program, which leads to the euphoric expectation that practically any task the mind performs can be analyzed in detail and programmed. The virtuosity and speed of computers is galloping at a breathtaking speed. Computers with television cameras are learning to recognize faces and common objects by sight. Adding mechanized appendages to a computer empowers it to grasp, recognize, and manipulate objects, and to move through a cluttered environment. Some predict that soon, we will have computers with superhuman mental powers with superhuman speed. Even if we discount the hyperbole, the fact remains that computers and the Internet have fundamentally altered the way the human mind was used before. It is idle to think that it will not have any effect on the evolution of the species. Some keen observers of the human condition apprehend that, for example, if the majority of mankind wears spectacles, all children born maybe hundred years from now might be short-sighted at birth, as a mark of adapting to the living environment. And if we use computers and calculators more than the brain, then the future human brain will provide for that even at birth. The bottom line is that even if computers can substitute the current mental tasks, it is still the human mind which will decide what to do, with and to what capacity, and that will not change the way humans use the tools they have.

The basic tenet is that every trivial thought we entertain, and every menial act we do (or do not), will have a say in the mental and physical make-up of future generations. Mind- incubated malice, the withering will to wish ill of others sans self-gain, has come to infect a major part of human consciousness and that has made the human condition coarse and corrosive, divisive and destructive. The missing link, the fatal insufficiency, in the human condition is harmony, which Nature has in abundance. We often confuse equality with harmony. Indeed, if there is equality, there is no need for harmony. Nothing is more unnatural than equality; the challenge is to induce equity in inequality and harmony in heterogeneity. In trying to remove inequality that is intrinsic in Nature, we end up creating more inequity.

Marcus Aurelius said, "He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the Universe."87 The disharmony at the deepest layers of our being manifests externally in multiple ways, from broken homes to the clash of faiths, ethnic cleansing, virulent nationalism, religious zealotry, nuclear terror, and road rage. Few are satisfied with their own good; many want others to bite the dust. We are all prisoners of passions which are increasingly projected as prejudices. The end result is the warping and corruption of the myriad, often moral, choices that our transient lives entail. At the same time, we are also reassured that many behavioral tendencies could also be genetically fixed with the discoveries of specific genes that predispose a particular person in a certain direction. For instance, scientists say that they have discovered what they call a 'divorce gene', which means that in certain individuals, any stress in an intimate relationship might prompt them towards separation rather than reconciliation. Human behavior and responses to situations and experiences are far too complex and, according to some religions, the roots go back to the time even before birth. While, as the popular song Que sera sera goes, 'whatever will be, will be', and divisiveness and hatred, not compassion and love, have come to be the pervasive passions in the human way of life. Feelings of visceral dislike, a desire to annihilate the source of our unhappiness, or deeply felt loathing for something or someone, seem to occupy a lot of our psychic space. In addition, there are many who suffer from self-hatred, partly as a result of low self-esteem. This could be a hangover of our prehistoric or primal past in which survival depended on suspicion, and which became an instinct and got embedded in the brain, as a kind of protective programming. That instinct of distrust manifests as hatred when combined with other factors like insecurity, jealousy, and malice. The way to combat hatred is to cultivate love and compassion. At this point, it really does not matter if man is a 'Noble Savage' or a 'Civilized Brute' and we cannot be even sure who is being unfair to whom β€” man or beast. Edgar Allan Poe, in his book The Black Cat (1843), was merciless in writing that "there is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man "88"

87 Cited in: Care2 Share. Jonathan Huie Share book. Accessed at:

Knowledge, ignorance and illusion

We just want to know; no ifs or buts; either in daily life or in matters of greater import. That yen for knowing β€” to know why the stars shine, as Bertrand Russell phrased it, has been the primary driving force in every human adventure. Being curious might have killed the proverbial cat but man has come out clearly better off. Being nosy, wanting to know that we need not β€” and even should not β€” know, the human species has achieved much. To the extent that we can discern patterns and create cause/effect relationships, our unquenchable thirst to know enables us to better predict and manipulate the future. This trait had made us better hunters, to design and build tools, to control fire, and to develop agriculture. But it has also entailed a heavy price, starting right from his Biblical banishment from Paradise. While the differences between terms like data, information, knowledge, and wisdom are the stuff of punditry, it is 'wisdom' that man has long longed for. The great Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, when asked what he did, reportedly answered that he was simply a lover (philo) of wisdom (sophia). But anyone can tell that 'what we do know' about the true fundamentals is very little: what life itself is and ought to be; why one human is alive and another dead, not vice versa; and what awaits us thereafter. Is this all some somnambulistic sleep walking, a dream within a dream? Our knowledge is mostly about 'what'; very little of 'how'; and almost none of 'why'. The real knowledge that we do not have is the 'way we know what we know'; that is how β€” or why β€” we think we know, and the certainty that comes with it. And from certainty, an emotional state which some psychologists call our 'certainty-bias', comes intolerance and vanity. Voltaire said that doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. Doubt is unpleasant because we just do not know what to do, and that is deemed an affront to human intelligence; certainty is absurd because we know we cannot be certain of anything, and anything might happen to anyone, anytime.

Don Miguel Ruiz, the Mexican spiritual author of The Voice of Knowledge (2004) says that "so much of the knowledge in our minds is based on lies and superstitions that come from thousands of years ago. Humans create stories long before we are born, and we inherit those stories, we adopt them, and we live in those stories."89 The Irish poet T.S. Eliot wrote, "Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" 90

It might sound outrageous, but some say the kind of 'knowledge' that most people hanker after is worse than 'uncorrupted' or innocent ignorance. The Upanishads tells us that "into blind darkness enter they who worship ignorance; into darkness greater than that enter they who delight in knowledge."91 The Upanishads divide knowledge into higher and lower

88 Cited in: Laura Moncur. Edgar Allen Poe's Birthday, January 19, 1809. Accessed at:

89 Ascension Gateway, Famous Spiritual Quotes, Don Miguel Ruiz Quotes, Accessed at:

90 T.S. Eliot Quotes. Famous Poets and Poems. Accessed at : s eliot/quotes

91 Macrohistory and World Report. Changing Hinduism, Jains and Buddhists, to 500 CE. The Upanishads. Accessed at:

knowledge; paravidya, the higher knowledge, is the knowledge of the Self, the all-pervading force that is both inside and outside, everywhere and nowhere; aparavidya, the lower knowledge, is all the rest, in a breathtaking candor, including the knowledge of the Vedas itself. There is an arresting story in Hindu mythology about the great rishi Narada. Feeling restless, Narada, the most celebrated of all sages, immortal and ever present, approaches another great rishi Sanathkumara and asks him to relieve him of his deep distress.

Sanathkumara asks him to show what he does know and Narada enumerates his encyclopedic knowledge of all the sacred texts, and then says that what he knows is 'only words', not the knowledge of the Self, and because of that, he is afflicted with sorrow. It must be borne in mind that the 'Self' referred to here is different from the self in selfishness and self- righteousness. The Self in the present context is the Self of Self-realization or God- realization, at once the Atman and the Paramatman, the individual soul and the Supreme Soul. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the sage Yajnavalkya explains the ambit and the nature of the Self, to his wife Maitreyi. He tells her that the body is the abode of the Self, but that the Self itself is immortal, and that the Self is everything (the Infinite). In a famous passage, he says that it is only for the sake of that Self that everyone and everything in the world is dear and loved β€” husband, wife, children, wealth, etc; the Self, in its true nature, is one with the Supreme Self. Yajnavalkya further clarifies: "Verily, my dear Maitreyi, it is the Self that should be realized β€” should be heard, reflected on, and meditated upon. By the realization of the Self, my dear, through hearing, reflection and meditation, all this is known". According to this line of thought, the Self is the totality, the sum and substance of everything, the sole source, the origin and destination of the universe, the point of convergence of all reality. And the knowledge of the Self is the highest spiritual knowledge. The way to God and the quest for the Self is the purpose of human life; the highest state of consciousness. In practical life, we identify ourselves with the abode, not the indweller, and that, the scriptures say, is the root of the suffering and misery of life.

That ignorance, or illusion that obscures our vision, Vedanta calls avidya or maya (both are similar but not identical), which is again a part of the play of the divine. Vedanta states that maya shields the Truth or Brahman from the Self or Atman. The doctrine of maya, commonly attributed to Adi Shankara, but which actually has its roots in the Upanishads, is an important theological and metaphysical explanation to many baffling things in life, such as the source of suffering and why we are so incapable of comprehending, and remain oblivious of our true divine identity. It is a profound, subtle, almost mystical concept. The Shvetashvatara Upanishad clarifies: "Know Nature to be Maya and the great God to be the Lord of Maya". It cannot be comprehended through ordinary intellect or linear thinking. To understand, one must rise above that which we are trying to understand. Swami Vivekananda said "in maya we are born, in maya we exist and in maya we die". Maya, which literally means 'that which is not', proposes that the world of experience is merely an appearance in the background of the Brahman. It is maya that holds us captive to dwanda or duality; it is maya that obscures and obfuscates divinity. It is maya that distorts our inherent essence and also the one that mediates the relationship of the phenomenal world and the Supreme Force. Although it is now accepted as a key element of the Advaita philosophy, it was not unchallenged. Another great acharya or teacher, Ramanuja, who advocated the theory of Vishishtadvaita, raised questions such as: Is maya real or unreal? If real, how can it be only an appearance? If unreal, how can it be an upadhi or limitation on the indefinable and illimitable Brahman? If maya is another manifestation of the Brahman, what is the purpose in making the veil of ignorance so impenetrable? It would be highly erroneous to look at such questions as contradictions. They constitute an evolution of the basic idiom of Shankara, which, as we noted, emanates from the Upanishads. The real confusion comes from the assumption that maya means that the world itself is an illusion. What is implied, is that the world we see and live in is only 'relatively' real, not absolutely real; the illusion is the appearance, filtered through the mind, of it being distinct and separate from the Brahman. The underlying idea and the basic message is that the creator and the creation, the living world and the Almighty are not different, if not one and the same. Such understanding is supposed to lead to view all life as sanctified by a divine presence, as sacred, and should be treated no differently from God.

Just as there are different kinds of knowledge, there are also different kinds of ignorance. One way of categorization is ordinary ignorance (for example, not knowing tomorrow's weather), willful ignorance (knowing which creates more problems, and we therefore avoid that knowledge), and lastly, what some experts call 'higher ignorance' (the more we try to know about a particular matter, the more we realize how 'we can never know enough about it').92 The third kind of ignorance is what impels us to ponder over and fathom if we are just another species on earth or the exalted one; whatever, we are still bound by the boundary of an earthly life and by the state or level of our consciousness. Another related issue is the nexus between ignorance, knowledge, striving, craving and belief. Ignorance, as the adage goes, may be bliss because then you do not have to make choices. Knowledge, unless it is of the right kind, can become a burden and distort the choices. Striving is necessary just to live and the quality of that striving, carnal or spiritual, can make a difference to the content of life. It is craving that the scriptures condemn and that increases suffering, a maxim that is at the core of Buddhism. Craving is obsessive desire, the more you get the more you want. As for 'belief', everyone has to believe in something or the other; believing is not the same as 'believing in belief'. Belief is a structure, a system and is presumed to be without 'proof', and in the modern mind, proof is 'truth'. At the same time, there are many sworn 'rationalists' and scientists who admit that they believe in things beyond proof. The human mind confuses belief with belonging, and belonging with bonding; when you 'belong' to someone or something β€” religion, ideology, nation β€” exclusivity and monopoly come to the fore. The way to make religion more 'humane' is to rid it of its exclusivist monopoly, that if one owes allegiance to one religion, he or she is automatically excluded from the faith of another religion. We have not learnt how to bond with fellow humans without belonging.

Belief coupled with belonging becomes a dogma, a creed, and breeds a mindset of intolerance and 'otherness'. Bonding is solidarity, a sense of sharedness. Non-belonging is detachment, the central message given in scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita. Detachment enables you to do your personal righteous duty to fulfill your innate potential.

We must acknowledge that, although we are an integral part of Nature, we live not in the natural world, but in a man-made (or more accurately, brain-made) world. The tool of the brain is technology. The advent or onslaught of the 'Information Revolution' powered by miniaturized computerization, has dramatically altered the boundaries of life and liberated us from the bounds of the body. We can virtually be anywhere and experience every experience without actually being there, or being a subject of that sensation. The world is now called 'flat', and technologies like the Internet have drastically altered the rules and norms that have governed and circumscribed human interfacing for centuries. Information is exploding at such blinding pace that we face a huge problem of how to adjust our lives in this new landscape. Some see it as an opening to a Utopia, the human race finally functioning as interconnected parts of a 'superorganism'. Such a scenario seems to ignore that which truly separates us from other creatures, and the fact also is that information technology itself is not

92 Cited in: Pico Iyer. Holy Restlessness. [Review of the book "The Religious Case Against Belief" by James P.Carse]. The New York Review of Books. USA. 26 June 2008. p.37.

nascent but ancient. As Robert Darnton, the American cultural historian puts it, we have had "four fundamental changes in information technology since humans learned to speak": The first was learning to write around 4,000 BCE, which has been described as "the most important technological breakthrough in the history of humanity."93 It opened the way to the advent of books as a force in human affairs. The second was when the scroll was replaced by the codex, books with pages that one turned, and the page emerged as a unit of perception.

The third was when the invention of printing with movable type transformed the codex in the 1450s. The fourth was the great change brought about, sometime in the 1980s, by electronic communication through technologies like the Internet and the Web. Much of what was deemed, in fact, is now considered as inaccurate. The latest fundamental change is still unfolding, which is being called the dawn of the Information Age and so forth. The now- ubiquitous Blog, a contraction of the term Web Log, is a website through which individuals can 'stay in touch, with like-minded people'. More than a million blogs, according to one estimate, have cropped up in the last few years. While telephone, as someone said, took 'the voice out of the flesh', the cell phone has destroyed distance and reordered the dynamics of human relationships. For the first time in history, the relations between intimate partners lack clear guidelines, supportive family networks, a religious context, and a compelling social meaning. Technology has changed the dynamics of human equations. It has become the main mediator between human beings. What was once considered to be appropriate in human interfacing and as a way of showing affection and love, is now substituted by the sound of voice emanating from a machine. A mother's hug is replaced by cell-phonic talk. All this goes by the name of communications revolution, but as Soren Kierkegaard pointed out, all true communication is personal. In the very impersonal character of technological communications, some find virtue and validity. In the face-to-face interfacing, one is revealed by uncontrolled immediacy, and how we are and what we are becomes more important than what we have to say. But in mediums like the Internet, one can communicate what one wants to regardless of appearances and atmospherics. There are concerns about the emergence of one more divide β€” the digital one, and about its effects on human health. "Each change in technology has transformed the information landscape, and the speed-up has continued at such a rate as to seem both unstoppable and incomprehensible."94

'Being knowledgeable' was long considered as being intelligent. And the source of intelligence is the brain. Whatever the nuances are, the question is how all the information- cum-knowledge that we have impacts the human personality. As the American management 'guru' Peter Drucker puts it "So far, for 50 years, the information revolution has centered on data β€” their collection, storage, transmission, analysis, and presentation. It has focused on the 'T' in IT. The next information revolution asks: What is the meaning of information, and what is its purpose ?"95 The main existential problem of man has long been how to interact with another man, and that necessity is rapidly diminishing. When it comes to seeking answers to the fundamentals of life, the scriptures say that intellect or knowledge is of little use. But it is intellect and knowledge that we worship even as a way of life, and as a means to 'happiness', the mind-molded knowledge is of little use. As Bertrand Russell wrote in his

93 Robert Darnton. The Library in the New Age. 2008. The New York Review of Books, USA. 12 June 2008. p.72.

94 Robert Darnton. The Library in the New Age. 2008. The New York Review of Books. USA. 12 June 2008. p.1.

95 Peter Drucker. Knowledge Management, The Next Information Revolution. Accessed at:

essay Impact of Science on Society (1952), "unless man increases in wisdom as much as in knowledge, increase of knowledge will only be increase of sorrow."96 No one seriously questions that statement, but the trouble is our intelligence cannot functionally differentiate knowledge from wisdom. Albert Einstein wrote in his book Out Of My Later Years (1993), that 'we should take care not to make the intellect our God; it has of course powerful muscles, but no personality.' Indeed, there is an emerging branch of knowledge that the main, if not the sole, problem that hampers human harmony and further evolution is our intellect which we commonly identify with intelligence. Mahatma Gandhi said: "The human intellect delights in inventing specious arguments in order to support injustice itself."97 It is ingenious in making the illogical appear logical, cruelty as consideration, rudeness as necessity, and bad behavior as just response. The Kathopanishad compared the uncontrolled mind to the vicious horses of a chariot. The mind is a master at offering explanations and excuses for all acts of commission and omission, constantly offering excuses and making us feel 'good' about ourselves. It is not injustice alone that is justified, but also intolerance, cruelty, exploitation, genocide, slavery, tyranny, and oppression. Some form of systematic exploitation of labor β€” physical or sexual, being held against their will, being treated as the 'property' of another person, being deprived of the right to refuse to work or the right to leave, or to receive due compensation as a return for labor β€” has existed (and still exists) across cultures and civilizations and throughout history. That many great men like Thomas Jefferson felt no pangs of conscience in supporting and practicing slavery for life is symptomatic of the human mind. It was reported that by the year 1860 almost four million slaves were held by a population of just 15 million in the United States. And many of the 'slave-owners' could have been 'decent', 'god-fearing' human beings. Deliberately or subconsciously, we ignore the true nature of our actions through the three stratagems of evasion, explanation, and excuse. In the womb of the cosmos, it is thought that truly matters. The Irish poet T.S. Eliot wrote "Wait without thought; for you are not ready for thought: so the darkness shall be the light and the stillness, the dancing."98 But, for the mind, to be without thought is death; in darkness, we harbor dark desires and in stillness we scheme. For a candle to be useful in the darkness, it must be lit. Mired as we are in the physical world, we expand our life in the immediacy of instant gratification, ignoring the spiritual demands made on us. Devoid, or deprived, of Self- knowledge, we do not even try to better ourselves. Instead, we insidiously denude each other's dignity. 'Dignity' is a precious human right and as the Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius noted, there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life. And everyone is entitled to, allowed and enabled to live in dignity. And since we often deny it to others, as the Anglo-Jewish writer and the 'activist for the oppressed' Israel Zangwill said,99 our decision-making and our choices become skewed. The intellect that drives our lives, as Vedanta tells us, cannot distinguish appearance from reality, illusion from image. The conundrum is that the mind-driven intellect alone is not good enough to orchestrate human life, though we have come to depend upon it completely.

96 Cited in: Global Oneness, Science and Spirituality: Marrying Science And Spirituality. Accessed at:

97 M.K. Gandhi. Satyagraha in South-Africa. Accessed at:

98 J. Bottum. First Things. What T.S. Eliot Almost Believed. 1995. Accessed at:

99 P.D. Sharma. Immortal Quotations and Proverbs. 2003. Navneet Publications. Mumbai, India. p.67.

Isolation, in fact, can be deceptively dangerous. As Lewis Mumford, the American writer and historian of science and technology wrote, "one of the functions of intelligence is to take account of the dangers that come from trusting solely on intelligence"100 Well, it has not happened, and that makes up the story of our species and the challenge of our time. The challenge is to actualize that kind of intelligence rather than the one we have.

The self and the razor's edge

Man has long speculated about his innate nature and wondered about his true relationship with God, and about what happens after his body crumbles and dissolves into dust. From Nachiketa of the Katha Upanishad to Larry Darrel in Somerset Maugham's novel The Razor's Edge (1944), many have wrestled with these issues. Incidentally, the title of Maugham's book comes from a verse in the Katha Upanishad "Get up! Wake up! Seek the guidance of an illumined teacher and realize the Self. Sharp like a razor's edge, the sages say, is the path, difficult to traverse." 101 Larry, for example, ruminates: "I want to make up my mind whether God is or God is not. I want to find out why evil exists, I want to know if I have an immortal soul or whether when I die, it is the end."102 We still do not know; probably never will, possibly because there are no answers, not even in Nature. Even the Buddha, who saw and perceived everything that human consciousness is capable of β€” and maybe even more β€”, chose not to answer questions concerning God. One gets a 'gut feeling' that we are passing through or passing into, or that something or someone is pushing us into an 'unknown unknown', as distinct from a 'known unknown' like death. The French Nobel Prize winning author Alexis Carrel wrote, "Mankind has made a gigantic effort to know itself. Although we possess the treasure of the observations accumulated by the scientists, the philosophers, the poets, and the great mystics of all times, we have grasped only certain aspects of ourselves. We do not apprehend man as a whole. We know him as composed of distinct parts. And even these parts are created by our methods. Each one of us is made up of a procession of phantoms, in the midst of which strides an unknowable reality."103 In its wanderings as an 'unknowable reality', the ship of mankind has entered virgin waters; the compass we have is malfunctioning and we see no dawn on the horizon. It is not the fate of the living, much less of the dead, that troubles many sensitive people like American cosmologist Brian Swimme, who says that he is haunted and terrified by what 'the unborn' are going to see when their time comes, say in a thousand years or so. Thousand years is too long even to be 'terrified'; there are many who think that humans have a 'window of opportunity' for a century or two at best.

Yet, we must continue to believe that there is a future, and that we do have some say in shaping it. As Soto Zen priest Shunryu Suzuki wrote, "As long as we have some definite idea about, or some hope in the future, we cannot really be serious with the moment that exists right now."104 And unless we are seriously aware of where we are, what we are and

100 P.D. Sharma. Immortal Quotations and Proverbs. 2003. Navneet Publications. Mumbai, India. p.35.

101 Cited in: Suma Varughese. Enlightenment - The End of Suffering. The Guru's Role. Life Positive. Eknath Easwaran. The Upanishads. Accessed at:

102 Cited in: Shirley Galloway. The Razor's Edge. 1994. Accessed at:

103 Alexis Carrel. Man the Unknown. 1938. Halcyon House, New York, USA. p.4.

104 Shunryu Suzuki. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. 2004. Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boston, USA. Part Three, Right Understanding. p.136.

what we want to be, we cannot make any difference. And unless one attempts to make some difference, life is not worth a bother. The next minute is as near or distant as the next millennium; and we can make a difference to the minute, but in so doing, we can change the millennium too. The future, because it is the future, might not fit neatly into our palm to be manipulated, but it might not also slip out altogether. The old adage 'hope for the best and prepare for the worst' is still the only way to get on with life. In fact, there can be no hope without despair and suffering; indeed, it is only when these seem intractable that we turn to hope. We turn to hope because we cannot accept that something we want is denied, and that something we crave for remains beyond our clutch. We feel entitled to fulfill our desires and dreams, and when the ground reality shows that the high probability is that they will elude our reach, we turn to hope and God. In Greek mythology, when Pandora opened her box, she let out all the evils except hope. Apparently, hope was first considered to be as vicious as all other evils. But on realizing that humanity without hope would be dysfunctional, Pandora revisited her box and let out hope too. In fact, some philosophers like Nietzsche have argued that it was a ruse played by the gods to make man suffer endlessly without escape; if hope was not given to him, they were afraid that man would call it quits and upset their cosmic play. It now seems that modern man has become wise to the ruse and that is why more and more people are choosing suicide, overcoming the obstacle of hope when their life, in their view, becomes not worth living. Many hover between 'hopelessly hopeful' and 'hopefully hopeless' conditions, never knowing how to balance, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "finite disappointment and infinite hope."

In terms of 'conscious compassion', the human, as he is currently perched, is perhaps at the very bottom of the ladder. Evil β€” the more monstrous the better β€” fascinates, indeed transfixes his attention. We fight dullness with vulgarity, boredom with prurience. We seem to be nonchalantly living up to Hannah Arendt's haunting phrase 'banality of evil' to the extent that we have 'normalized the unthinkable'; the horrendous has become the honored.

There is a growing breed of men who embrace the gospel of nihilism, who think that they can become 'overmen' by transcending both good and evil by turning away from both; in that attempt they become easy picking for evil. It is hard even for us to know for a fact how much of our inside is immaculately pure and how much is 'filthy right down to the guts'. Nietzsche is most often associated with nihilism. In Will to Power (notes 1883–1888), he writes, "Every belief, every considering something true, is necessarily false because there is simply no true world."105 For Nietzsche, there is no objective order or structure in the world except what we give it. The French philosopher Albert Camus wrote in his essay The Rebel (1951) how metaphysical collapse often ends in total negation and the victory of nihilism, characterized by profound hatred, pathological destruction, and incalculable death, which is pretty much what the world is today. He also wrote that the 'rebel' can never find peace; he knows what is good and, despite himself, does evil, which is pretty much what man is today.

The underlying reality of life is the body; it is the object and the subject, entity and experience, the medium through which we relate to the world outside. However much we might convince ourselves that we are not just physical bodies, we cannot disconnect ourselves from the sense that the reality is just three: that we are inside the body, and that there is a world outside, and that there is a Supreme Force. To relate to the last two we need the first. The much-venerated-yet-despised body is essential to reach our full potential; yet it is the limitation that weighs us down. Unless we get a grip over our bodies, we can do

105 Cited in: William McNeill and Karen S. Feldman (eds.). Continental Philosophy: An Anthology (Blackwell Philosophy Anthologies). 1998. Blackwell Publishers, USA. p.81.

nothing worthwhile in life. If the Self β€” which is both inside and outside, everywhere and nowhere β€” is the Primal Force, the moola karana in Sanskrit, then how does one connect and bridge with it? The inquiry about the Self or the Supreme Soul is the thrust of the Upanishads. In the Katha Upanishad, Yama, the very God of Death says that the Self is subtler than the subtlest and beyond all logic, that it is both immortal and indwelling and that "Bodies are said to die, but That which possesses the body is eternal."106 In a famous verse, the Upanishad compares the body to a chariot, the self to the owner of the chariot, the Atman or the individual soul to the charioteer, the mind to the reins, and the senses to the steeds. Our inability to differentiate the self from the body, the real from the unreal, is said to be the principal cause of the malaise that afflicts mankind.

That inability affects all aspects of life. Despite what scriptural axioms and religious tenets preach and prescribe, man has not been able to shift the spotlight from the stars to the soul, from craving to striving, from the struggle for sheer survival in an unfriendly world to the search for meaning beyond survival. There is a gnawing feeling that the two guiding stars of human history β€” religion and science β€” have had little bearing on the quality of the human condition. Religions, as Swami Vivekananda said, have become "lifeless mockeries."107 We live in a twisted world of galloping religiosity and accelerating evil. Some thoughtful people are saying that the human world is in a state of "desperate ferment of faith", of "holy restlessness" and in a "second Age of Faith."108 What 'being religious' has come to mean is, in fact, having a perverse effect on those who are truly religious. In these troubled times, many people traditionally would have liked to turn to religion for solace and guidance, but what they see is that much of that very turbulence and terror is inspired by one or another religion. The scriptures also indulge in a kind of 'double-speak' about the role of reason in the quest for meaning. On the one hand, they say that man must go beyond the bounds of reason, logic, deduction and deliberation, to know the answers to the essential questions of life. But on the other hand, they also say that, as the Buddha said on his death bed, "be a lamp unto yourself", and that no one's word, not even a prophet's, nor the words of any holy text, should be taken on faith as the Truth unless it satisfies our intellect, reason, and empirical testing. Theologians and pundits might explain the apparent contradiction, but it still further confuses the already bruised minds. When they want to take refuge under the wings of the other primary source of search for truth, science, what they discover is that much of science and its cousin technology have become an enfeebling search for comfort, convenience, and empowerment for mass murder with minimal effort. What modern technology has done is to make the manifestation of man's primal instincts of faith, fear, anger, rage, revenge and retribution more destructive, definitive and deadly. Murder is simply the 'natural' β€” and logical β€” culmination of human dissent and articulate individuality. Any minor or mundane human conflict or uncontrolled human passion and unfulfilled desire can now reach its climax in a killing β€” and with telling effect in terms of numbers; with one weapon, the human homicidal power multiplies manifold.

106 Swami Nirmalananda Giri. Commentary on the Katha Upanishad. The Immortal Self. Spiritual Writings, Atma Jyoti Ashram. Accessed at:

107 Cited in: Wikisource, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, by Swami Vivekananda, Volume 7, Accessed at: Swami_Vivekananda/Volume_7/Epistles_-_Third_Series/XXXVI_Miss_Noble

108 Cited in: Pico Iyer. Holy Restlessness. [Review of the book "The Religious Case Against Belief" by James P.Carse]. The New York Review of Books. USA. 26 June 2008. p.38.

Other than sex, most other human desires arise from money. In the world of money, there is little room for 'losers'. The weak, the dispossessed, the disadvantaged, and the marginalized lose out in the competitive culture of the free market. With growth and profits as the driving forces, it spawns conflict, impoverishment, and predatory exploitation of natural resources. With over a billion people starving or malnourished any discussions on matters of spiritual growth with them sounds hollow, if not hypocritical. Put simply and starkly, the continued human presence on earth is becoming a threat to continuance of life on earth. The state of man today is close to what the Shvetashvatara Upanishad described a long while ago: "Men may succeed in rolling up space like a piece of leather, yet they will not experience the end of their sorrows without realizing the luminous divine (truth within them)."109 Most lives today are robotic lives, responding to bodily needs, often unloved and unwanted, drifting from one 'comfort' to another, devoid of joy or Γ©lan or purpose. They live because they know nothing else. So much effort for so little gain is the sum of many lives.

Heart-centered intuition, which guided man for more than three-fourths of his existence on earth, has gone into recess, and mind-centered intelligence has taken over. The assumption is that 'intuition' has remained pristine, but it may also be that intuition too has been defiled.

Our spontaneity may have gone sour; we might not be able to count on our 'gut instinct' or heart-felt emotion to distinguish between right and wrong. As Stephen Bernhardt says, 'human beings no longer live in a natural environment; their environment is now a result of their own intellect.' According to Carlos Castaneda, while making choices in life we should choose the path of the heart. The intellect is a critical faculty, but it is severely conditioned, if not impaired in the search for meaning. Indeed, the mind itself is unable to harmonize its own inherent cognitive capabilities with those of the machine. Our mind-centered intellect has prevailed over the world outside and over every other living creature on earth, but has remained easy prey to our own prowling passions. Man is now a virtual hostage to his own mind. Everything 'human' is in a 'state of denial', as Jeremy Griffith terms it, or in disarray, drifting from birth to death, bereft of any intelligible purpose. 'Being alive' for most people is being in pain of some kind or the other, physical, psychological, or mental. Human consciousness itself is intellectually trapped and spiritually emaciated. It is driven by the mind, and the mind offers self-righteous reasoning to rationalize our every act of commission and omission, of bigotry and cruelty. Shame and remorse, among the basic requirements of human life, are in a state of exile. We may say that the world is corrupt, that mankind is crumbling, but we never question our own impeccable credentials as 'good', if not 'god- fearing' human beings. What the human needs most of all is reconciliation in his way of life, in the world of relationships; most of all within his own self. Man has acquired and accumulated knowledge to an awesome degree, but lost his wisdom somewhere in the sensory woods. And knowledge without wisdom is, as the scriptures say, the perfect recipe for ruin.

Such is the spell of egotism, which Thomas Carlyle called 'the source and summary of all faults and miseries', that everyone is for wisdom, and everyone thinks they alone are wise and others are 'otherwise'. Everyone condemns egotism but puts it squarely in someone else's court. Egotism has been called Nature's compensation for mediocrity; the main impediment to true greatness, lasting happiness, and to transformation..

109 Cited in: Swami Ranganathananda. Vedanta, Science and Religion. The Approach to Truth in Vedanta. 2010. IndiaTimes Spirituality. Accessed at 1089740,prtpage-1.cms

All religions condemn egotism, but it is necessary for any true achievement; all great men were egotistic but they directed it to the right goals.

All human endeavors are to control and conquer time, distance, disease, death, and most often, at the practical level, another human. The desire to control is a basic desire. We want to be 'in control' of our lives, our body, our mind β€” and everything of others. At this juncture, man is at once the predator and prey, the hunter and quarry; the defiler and defiled; the exploiter and the exploited. We perpetually bounce back and forth, and none of us can be sure, like Shylock in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice (1597), if, in the final analysis, we are the victims or the villains.

Despite his obvious vulnerabilities, man suffers from an illusion of invincibility and paranoia of persecution. The irony is that as a species, man is the conqueror; but as an individual, he perceives himself as the vanquished. As a species, man has made the world his own; but as an individual, he is a virtual slave of the system he has installed in his own world. The physical world is just another layer of knowledge; in reality, everyone lives in a unique mental world of one's own creation. Often, man is not conscious of what he is and what he is doing. As Brian Swimme says, "we refuse to grieve (for our ethical trespasses)" and we "are afraid that if we begin to grieve, we will become so overwhelmed, we'll become catatonic and useless."110 We cannot tell how long the Homo genre of life is programmed to endure on earth and who will then take over the reins of governance of the planet after we are gone. But it does appear that if the human species had not existed, Mother Earth would not have been any worse-off. And even worse, when we finally depart, it would take a long time for the planet to recover from the havoc inflicted on it by us humans.

Whenever we are carried away by our grandeur and glory, it would be useful to place the human in perspective on the grand canvas of the cosmos, where distance is measured in millions of light-years. There are billions of suns in our 'local' Milky Way galaxy, and billions of such galaxies tearing across the unimaginably vast expanse of space. On the other side, the microcosmic universe of the molecule, the atom, and the quark is equally staggering. Each breath we take contains a trillion atoms, and each atom is a complex universe by itself. Further, man's claim for terrestrial hegemony and legitimacy, let alone eternity, is fast wearing thin. His self-proclaimed privileged position as the most rational, intelligent, and enlightened species on earth can no longer stand any test of logic or intelligence. Bertrand Russell wryly remarked that he was searching all his life for evidence to support the premise that man is a rational animal. That very 'logic of rationality' points to a contrary conclusion: that man is not only the most complex but also the most irrational being on earth, and that perhaps, man might even be, in the words of the English dramatist W.S. Gilbert, 'Nature's sole mistake.'

Human depravity

Poised as we are, we are uncertain as to whom or what we should turn to as a guide: scriptures or science, intuition or intellect, God or gadgets. We must remember that today much of even non-violence is in the shadow of violence. It is negative in the sense that our non-violence is based on the fear of another's violence. Violent responses are often our natural instinctive responses. We cannot wholly wish away or slyly sidestep human violence

110 Cited in: Lauren de Boer. Science as Wisdom: The New Story as a Way Forward. Interview with Brian Swimme. 1997. Earth Light Magazine. Sample Articles and Reviews. Issue 26, Summer 1997. p.10-11, 15,

22. Accessed at:

that is often laced with malice. We have to accept the reality of its deep roots in the human psyche. Today, violence is the weapon of the strong and of the weak; of the oppressed and of the oppressor, and the preferred way to get along in the world. It has become commonplace to convince oneself that there is no escape from violence if one does not want to be a perpetual loser, that 'might is right'. Further the violence we are bothered about is what touches us personally; the rest is 'news' that titillates our attention, a secret sense of relief that we are not the victims and, even worse, someone else is. Violence is part of life; birth is violence, so is death. The animal world is not without its share of violence and cruelty. The irresistible instinct for survival plays a leading part in the perpetuation of violence among beasts too. But man alone kills for power, pleasure, and profit. In The Brothers Karamazov (1880), Dostoevsky asserts that no animal could ever be as cruel as man, so artfully, and so artistically cruel; we may add, on the morrow of the 21st century, 'so scientifically and so technologically' efficient. Man's violence directed at his own kind, as well as towards other species defies description, even reason. Like the origin of evil, the basis of the streak of the virulent in the human species, often tinged with wanton cruelty, is still a mystery. By violence, we often implicitly mean a dastardly act of murder, rape, or war. These are extreme and heinous, but human violence is far more subtle and pervasive: injustice is violence; ingratitude is violence; indifference is violence. The attraction to abuse the powerless, the lure to ridicule the defenseless, seems to act like a drug on the human personality. It is as if we are programmed never to let go an opportunity to humiliate or hurt another person if we know we can get away with it. Language and choice of words have a tremendous impact: it could be scooting or scalding, they convey what we think of ourselves and of each other. In some cases, violence stems from childhood deprivation, resulting in more violence in adulthood. Sometimes, human violence is a survival response to violence in nature. Some posit that it is 'learned behavior'; others say that it is an infectious disease endemic to certain environments and communities. Over the last decade or so, there are stories about genetic explanations for violence, about genes for such traits as 'ruthlessness' and 'murder'. Genes may have something to do with the propensity for violence, as they do for other character traits. Several well-regarded scientists including anthropologist Richard Wrangham and psychologist Steven Pinker have emphasized the evolutionary and genetic factors that trigger a person's consistent engagement in violence, despite cultural differences. But depravity need not spring from deprivation. The true nature of human 'depravity', whether we are basically good or evil, is an important theological concept. Whether depravity and sin are at the edge or center of our being is debatable. The 'doctrine of total depravity', which we are told is different from utter depravity, is a central tenet of Christianity, that humans live in 'captivity to the law of sin'. It posits that because of the Fall, all humans are 'enslaved in the service of sin' and that 'man cannot be justified before God by his own works'. Whether we are 'totally' or 'utterly' or 'partially' corrupted, the question is: are we in such a state that we cannot be saved without the special and direct divine intervention?

In the Hindu concept of cyclical (not linear) time, creation is now poised in the age of the Kali Yuga, at the end of which all creation will be destroyed, and then the world will go back to the beginning of the Age of Truth, Sathya Yuga. In the new cycle, the Sathya Yuga will be followed again by the Treta, Dwapara and Kali Yugas. What we witness in the world, closely, indeed eerily, corresponds with the predictions for the Kali Yuga. The Hindu epics like the Mahabharatha and Srimad Bhagavatham contain graphic descriptions of the degraded human condition in the Kali Yuga: this yuga will be "wedded to avarice and wrath and ignorance and lust, the right hand will deceive the left, and the left and the right will entertain animosities towards each other, desiring to take the other's life."111 In Srimad Bhagavatham, the sage Suka describes to King Parikshit the unfolding of the Age of Evil, Kali Yuga: "Thenceforth, day after day, by force of the all-powerful time, O king, righteousness, veracity, purity (of mind and body), forgiveness, compassion, length of life, bodily strength and keenness of memory will decline. In the Kali age, wealth alone will be the criterion of pedigree, morality and merit. Again, might will be the only factor determining righteousness and fairness. Personal liking will be the deciding factor in making the choice of a partner in life, and trickery alone will be the motive force in business dealings. Capability of affording sexual delight will be the (only) criterion of masculine or feminine excellence, and the sacred thread will be the only mark of Brahmanhood."112 And "filling one's belly will be the (only) end of human pursuit and audacity of speech will be the only criterion of veracity. Skill will consist in supporting one's family; virtuous deeds will be performed (only) with the object of gaining fame; and… in this way, the terrestrial globe will be overrun by wicked people…"113

The scriptures vividly describe the 'end of the world' scenario and what then will happen to the human species. The two common features are that the world as we know it will end, but the faithful will be saved. Most Western monotheistic religions have doctrines claiming that the 'chosen' or 'worthy' members of the one true religion will be 'spared' or 'delivered' from the coming judgment and wrath of God. They will be ushered into paradise either before, during, or afterwards, depending upon the end-time scenario to which they hold.114 Although every religion predicts the end of the world and the moral debauchery of mankind, according to some it will not be the first time. The Jewish Torah, for example, records a fateful moment in human history when mankind was truly on the brink of annihilation. It reads, "and God saw the Earth, and behold it was corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth. And "God said to Noah, 'the end of all flesh has come before Me, for the Earth is filled with robbery… and behold, I am about to destroy them'."115 It is almost universally acknowledged that corruption, in its broadest sense, is insidiously sapping the vital energy of our species, and robbery β€” in its widest sense of taking more than one's due from another person, or from society or from Nature β€” has become endemic to the human condition. What is corrupted at this juncture in the life of the human species is consciousness itself, and almost everyone is guilty of 'robbery', in its Biblical sense. The dark doings of the Kali Yuga, foretold so vividly and unerringly, are already apparent. The world seems single-minded in its devotion to 'normalizing the unthinkable' and the horrific is becoming commonplace. Unconditional, nonreciprocal, selfless love is the first casualty of this Age. No word is more abused, misused, and misapplied than 'love', which has dried up in almost every relationship. What is more regrettable is not really the 'death' of love but of compassion. Our passions, not compassion, rule us. We need both passion and compassion

111 Cited in: Understanding Hinduism. The Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Section CLXXXIX. Kisari Mohan Ganguli. Future History of the World. Kali Yuga. Accessed at:

112 Cited in: Understanding Hinduism. From Srimad Bhagavat Mahapurana. The Evils of Kaliyuga. Book 12, Discourse 2. Rendered into English by C.L. Goswami, M.A. Shastri. Accessed at:

113 Cited in: Understanding Hinduism. From Srimad Bhagavat Mahapurana. The Evils of Kaliyuga. Book 12, Discourse 2. Rendered into English by C.L. Goswami, M.A. Shastri. Accessed at:

114 Wikipedia. Eschatology. Accessed at:

115 Cited in: Rabbi Raymond Beyda. The Best Policy. Parshas Noach. Table Talk. Accessed at:

for a wholesome life. As HonorΓ© de Balzac said, all humanity is passion and without it all human endeavor will be ineffectual. And compassion is not mere kindness but, at a more fundamental level, as Thomas Morton said, is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all living beings. We must be passionate about compassion and inject our compassion into our passions. But what we tend to do is isolate the two and give free reign to our sensory passions.

The past hundred years, in particular, have triggered changes whose ambit and depth have few parallels, if any, in recorded history. Modern human beings have almost become a new 'sub-species', whose mode of living and thinking scarcely resemble that of even two generations ago. Man has become at once the most creative and destructive being on the planet, capable of giving and taking life with equal poise, virtually replicating, if not replacing Nature. In so doing, he has lost control over his imagination, and the boundary between what he can do and what he is capable of destroying has become blurred. Each day brings new and more horrific horrors, as if the perpetrators, no different from any one of us, are in some kind of a macabre competition. The lethal baggage is not only mass murder, torture and mutilation; it is creating a murderous mindset for the generations to come. The horrifying fact is not only that more than two million children have been killed in combat in the last decade, at the rate of some 500 per day116, but that they are also the killers. Peter Singer in his book Children at War (2005), notes that child soldiers, some not older than six years, are to be found in three-quarters of the current fifty or so conflicts. He reveals that in the Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front, 80 percent of the fighters were aged between seven and fourteen. It is pointed out that "not only have conflicts fought by children become easier to start, harder to end, messier, and with greater loss of life, but they are creating a brutalized and disaffected generation who are growing up knowing nothing but violence."117 Many of them do not know life without a gun, and some "sit and look at running water and just see blood, of course, if and when, they see any running water."118 This is one horror even the prophets of Kali Yuga did not and could not envision: mothers killing their children as a trade-off for sex, or children killing their fathers for 'suicide' compensation or to inherit their father's job; or teenagers getting rid of their new born by dropping them down the garbage chute. For some parents, in a terrible commentary of modern life, the fear of leaving their children alive in today's world has become more terrifying than the awful act of murdering them in cold blood β€” in their mind, it is an act of concern, compassion, and cascading love, not cruelty or callousness. They may all appear isolated (even reckless acts of some twisted or tortured minds), but they are still the acts of full-grown human beings, and what they do symbolizes the banal barbarity that the human culture is capable of. With the adult mind conquered or corrupted by evil, with child warriors growing into positions of prominence in society, and with technology offering an endless supply of easier ways of killing, the world yet to come looks truly terrifying. It is utterly mystifying how, among the millions of species on earth, it is the human β€” so well-tooled, so blessed, and with such reasoning power and so sharpened in the skills of survival β€” who has turned to be so vicious and violent. And this, especially when he does not need to be so for survival or for supremacy.

116 Peter Singer. Children at War. 2005. University of California Press, USA. Accessed at:

117 Cited in: Caroline Moorehead. The Warrior Children. 2005. [Review of the book "Children at War" by P.W. Singer]. The New York Review Books, USA. 1 December 2005. p.46.

118 Cited in: Caroline Moorehead. The Warrior Children. 2005. [Review of the book "Children at War" by P.W. Singer]. The New York Review Books, USA. 1 December 2005. p.46.

Evolution and culture

Perhaps, of all the attributes of which we are very proud of, none is greater than 'culture', a ubiquitous word, which in broad anthropological terms covers "the full range of learned human behavior patterns."119 That is 'human culture', the generic way man has organized his life and the way he relates to the universe. It is the sum total of all that man has experienced ever since his brain developed to the present dimension some 200,000 odd years ago, an experience that includes a motley mix, from tool-making to advanced technology, from sexual modes to social interfacing, from the way we make and eat food to the way we amuse and entertain ourselves. It is what we do in the name of 'culture' and its twin brother, 'civilization' that is causing the present planetary crisis. And we must remember that the way we address the problems that confront the world will affect not only our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren, but also possibly heavily influence the direction of human evolution. What is needed for any meaningful human betterment is nothing less than the transformation of human cultures, values, and priorities, from the individual to the society.

We should nurture what has been called a 'natural longing' to show respect and gratitude to those who deserve it, and repentance and reparation to those who wrong us. All religions extol the virtues of heart-felt repentance; it cleanses every sin and opens the way to God.

Ingratitude is one of the five great sins in Hinduism, and repentance is the second principle in the gospel of Christianity. Without gratitude and repentance, no radical change is possible in the content of the human condition. While we have attained virtual suzerainty on earth, we are "cut off from an intimate life-enhancing connection with the natural world, and we are undermining our biological support systems at an alarming rate."120 And that 'cut off' has also led to the paradox of great intellectual and scientific activity that has bestowed meaning and satisfaction, creativity and spirituality, on humans. The English antropologist Edward Tylor (Primitive Culture, 1871) defines culture as "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."121 In fact, a sizable part of human evolution has not been biological or neurological, but cultural, or as some would say, bio-cultural. It was culture, which included his tool-making capacity that allowed early man to subjugate and survive his predators. Culture affected the direction of human evolution by creating non-biological solutions to environmental challenges, thus potentially reducing the need to evolve genetic responses to the challenges. Some thinkers like the French biologist Jacques Monod say that evolution is a "series of chance events governed by necessity."122

119 Shana Pate. CliffsTestPrep Praxis II: Social Studies Content Knowledge Test (0081). Behavioral Science, Human Culture. Wiley Publishing, Inc. p.85.

120 Jay Earley. Social Evolution and the Planetary Crisis. Accessed at:

121 Cited in: What is Culture? Human Culture: an Introduction to the Characteristics of Culture and the Methods used by Anthropologists to Study It. Behavioral Sciences Department, Palomar College, San Marcos, California, USA. 2009. Accessed at:

122 Cited in: Miroslav Pecujlic, Gregory Blue and Anouar Abdel-Malek (eds.). Science and Technology in the Transformation of the World – Volume 1. Section III Biology, medicine and the future of mankind. The United Nations University. Accessed at:

Others like Motoro Kimura say that it is "a series of coincidences triggered off by coincidences."123 Some others say that it is "a sort of rectilinear predetermined process generated by a directing principle."124 And they raise a doubt whether evolution is only horizontal, refining and improving the existing condition, or it is also vertical, moving towards qualitatively superior forms of life. In other words, is the next stage of evolution, the posthuman future, going to throw up an 'improved man,' maybe devoid of malice and aided by machine, or can the human really evolve as a different genre and genus β€” a higher step in the ladder of life?

It was the adoption of farming that facilitated a break for man from the evolutionary path of animals, by generating what economists call a 'social surplus.' There are important milestones in human evolution, from standing erect to the design and development of tools, to the injection of science into technology which then became the most transformational event in evolution. Dwarfing all these is the acquisition or development of the mind by man. We will never be able to put a precise date in the last two million years, but whenever it was, or whatever was the process or trigger, it was the most decisive development since life started showing up on earth some six billion years ago. In Christianity, Adam was the 'first fully conscious, intelligent human' and it was his intelligence that was the cause of his fall and the foundation of the human condition. It was his mind that was seduced by the 'logic of Satan' that, contrary to what God told Adam and Eve, by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree of knowledge, man 'could be like God, knowing good and evil'. One wonders why knowing good and evil, which we normally consider a virtue, earned such terrible divine wrath and banishment. One 'explanation' is that by eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, they became aware of themselves as being separate from Nature while still being part of it, which was why they felt "naked" and "ashamed": they had evolved into human beings, conscious of themselves, their own mortality, and their powerlessness before the forces of Nature, and no longer united with the universe as they were in their instinctive, pre-human existence. It was, in John Milton's phrase, the 'mortal taste' of the forbidden fruit that brought death to the world! Milton also wrote "It was from out the rind of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into the world."125

The scriptural hypothesis is that man is at the pinnacle of creation, at least thus far. That full potential though is still veiled, and the purpose of life is to peel away the veils. In Vedanta, that veil is called maya, which itself is a manifestation of God, a kind of divine deception. Why God makes man potentially perfect and creates a barrier to his perfection is a theological question akin to that of why God creates or tolerates evil and the suffering of the innocents. Is creation some kind of a divine ploy or a hobby, as Greek mythology suggests? Or is it some kind of a trade-off for freedom and free will? According to another view, all that we find in the world is impermanent, and an imperfect representation, a fractured expression of the Perfect Being. In other words, human imperfection mirrors the imperfection of creation itself. If we are aware that everything in the world is both impermanent and

123 Cited in: Miroslav Pecujlic, Gregory Blue and Anouar Abdel-Malek (eds.). Science and Technology in the Transformation of the World – Volume 1. Section III Biology, medicine and the future of mankind. The United Nations University. Accessed at:

124 Cited in: Miroslav Pecujlic, Gregory Blue and Anouar Abdel-Malek (eds.). Science and Technology in the Transformation of the World – Volume 1. Section III Biology, medicine and the future of mankind. The United Nations University. Accessed at:

125 Cited in: Frank Kermode. Heroic Milton: Happy Birthday. 2009. [Review of the book "John Milton: Life, Work, and Thought" by Gordon Campbell and Thomas N. Corns. Oxford University Press. 488 pp.] New York Review of Books, USA. 26 February 2009. p.28.

imperfect, we would be able to savor the present. The philosopher Heraclitus said that one cannot bathe twice in the same river. The metaphor of river is often applied to life. Life flows, like a river, sometimes languidly in summer, sometimes like a swirling torrent in the monsoon, sometimes fertilizing, sometimes eroding, sometimes enriching, sometimes destroying; but it always makes a difference. And because everything in life is in motion and is both flawed and in flux, there is hope for betterment. Because, every condition is conditioned, there is scope for human effort. If everything is fixed and perfect, life becomes meaningless. In Zen philosophy, it is said that the most precious thing in life is uncertainty. Another school of thought believes that man is, by design, left unfinished, but with a thinking mind and a feeling heart, each with the capacity for remembrance, while the 'finishing' itself is left to man. That is the greatest challenge, the opportunity and the 'vote of confidence' in man, God's own prerogative being given to man. Even among evolutionists, there are differences regarding the inter-relationship of the individual organism and the species in evolution. Darwinism gave primacy to genetic mutations within the individual organism, but what has come to be called 'big-sociology', gives importance to the way an entire species is transformed, based on the principle that mutation is incorporated into a species systematically, not randomly, through natural selection. Some say that since species- evolution is not a steady and single climb, at any stage, humans at different stages of evolution can exist, just as chimpanzees are still around along with man. It is also being 'scientifically' speculated that a good chunk of humanity, particularly people living in affluent societies are no longer governed by the principles of natural selection and genetic mutation, virtually bringing evolution to a halt. Future generations, at least in these parts might not be any different from the present generation; if any, they might well regress, as they no longer have to fight just to stay alive, and their comfort and convenience might enfeeble them and take a heavy toll. The very expectation of long and healthy life and immunity from diseases might work against the evolutionary tool of natural selection.

Inferentially, it means the hope for human evolution rests on the impoverished people, who are now vulnerable to debilitating diseases living in the so-called Third World. Does it also mean that for the 'good' of humanity, they should continue to stay in the same condition of despair, deprivation and destitution! If so, should humanity be prepared to pay the price?

The discovery (in 2003) of the fossil remains of a tiny human-like species, on the Indonesian island of Flores (near Java), gives some credence to the theory that more than one 'human' species could have cohabited almost at the same time on earth. From these finds, it is being inferred that the ascent of man is not an evolutionary inevitability; descent is also possible, or at least there could exist around the same time more than one kind of 'human'. In fact, many paleontologists believe that anatomically modern humans might well have coexisted on earth with at least two other closely related kinds: Neanderthals, Homo erectus and dwarfed hominids. The Javanese dwarf, called Homo floresiensis, is really a miniature man, about a meter tall with "a brain not much bigger than an ape's."126 The inference scientists draw is jolting: this species, a mini human species, flourished as late as about 13,000 years ago, long after the Homo sapiens became the dominant species on earth, and possibly co-existed contemporaneously. That raises the strong possibility that, as the journal Scientific American puts it: "With Homo sapiens arriving in eastern Asia 35,000 years ago, and relic populations of Homo erectus possibly persisting on nearby Java, three human

126 Rewriting Human Prehistory. The Economist. UK. 30 October 2004. p.81.

species may have co-existed in this region not so long ago."127 The Java discovery raises the question if there could be circumstances which could trigger the advent of another 'spin-off' human species, and opens the matter of brain size and intelligence. The question is how could a brain, the size of a grapefruit, have engineered cognitive capacities comparable to those of the modern man? A simple answer may not satisfy our brain-dominated consciousness: they did not derive their intelligence principally or exclusively from the brain. What propelled them was 'heart intelligence', which is connected to but quite independent of the brain. This recent discovery is turning upside down our theory of collective cognitive development.

If it is probable that two strains of humans could co-exist, there could have been, in human history, a third strain β€” the 'superhuman species', existing simultaneously or before the advent of modern man, as occultists like Blavatsky long ago speculated. It was even said that the first few generations of humans might have had three eyes and four arms! It is an intriguing thought that maybe, just maybe, some still do have such extraordinary features, in some still undiscovered island, or in Shangri-La or Shambhala high up in the Himalayas! And maybe they exist on another planet. All this might seem speculative fantasies, but they underscore how little we know of our past and about 'out there'. More importantly, they cast a new light over the future course of evolution. Clearly, a thorough and simultaneous transformation in a species as diversified and disparate and self-centered as the Homo sapiens is a near impossibility without its total annihilation first. Is it then conceivable that a section of Homo sapiens could evolve into a 'higher species' β€” hopefully not the mental 'God-Man' of Mark Hamilton, but one with a more compassionate consciousness, an essentially spiritual being β€” while the rest stay the course and eventually become extinct, possibly by their own hand, or because they were unable to adapt to the changing environment, or because they stopped evolving as the critical factors necessary for evolution were absent?

It is this disconnection between 'perceiving and thinking', or between intelligence and intuition, or, as some like to put it, between the right and left brains, and between the heart and the brain/mind, and the consequent dominance of brain-based thinking and intelligence that has fueled the historic human civilization. We separate ourselves from our prehistoric predecessors, the so-called barbarians, by our concept of 'civilization.' That assumption bears some reflection. Civilization is the state of society in which its constituents, the human individuals, are able to satisfy their basic needs like warmth, food, shelter, and sex with very little effort, and feel so secure that they could do other things pertinent to the development of their mind and spirit. The assumption is that once people acquire a certain control over their material needs, they will divert their 'surplus' labor, time and energy, not for the purpose of furthering material aggrandizement, but for the pursuit of higher values and goals. In actuality, what has happened is that once man mastered his material life he has not stopped there but pursued the same goals that our 'barbarian' ancestors did. In the main, though, man no longer lives in the milieu of Nature but in a 'soul-less civilization', and he is dangerously dependent on technology, or as some call techno science, which could determine the drift of evolution. Evolutionists talk of 'moving target selection', 'arms race' and 'escalating spiral', to indicate that animals develop features necessary for survival, but the predators also develop the features necessary to catch and kill their prey for their own survival, and sometimes the spiral gathers inexorable momentum, spins out of control, and a species become extinct.

127 Kate Wong. Digging Deeper: Q&A with Peter Brown. Scientific American, USA. 27 October 2004. p.16. Accessed at:

We assiduously nurture the unassailable conviction that 'we are the best that there can be'. We are also taught to believe that primitive or prehistoric man, was an 'automatically reacting, unconscious' being, who lived by 'blind beliefs,' and led a robotic life, unaffected by reasoning. This premise has long been questioned by those who were on the fringe of organized belief systems. They argue that the human beings of earlier ages were not only physical giants but also that those civilizations were more 'civilized' in the sense of living in harmony with Nature and in resolving inter-personal conflicts. One pointer could be the epics of those ages like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata of India. Such epics are not only stories but also snapshots of that time. Often, the literature and crafts and arts of the times offer a peek into the state of the society of that time. The Egyptian pyramids, the frescoes of Ajanta in India, the Kailasantha temple of the Ellora Caves (carved out of a single rock that covers an area double the size of the Parthenon in Athens), the Temple of Delphi, the Nazca Lines in Peru, all speak of what the 'primitive people' were capable of. These people showed not only astonishing technical capacity but also awesome tenacity and commitment of a whole society over several generations, as many of these structures and art took centuries to finish. Human creativity cannot but depict contemporary lives and morals.

Acceptance and tolerance

In whatever way biologists might define the attributes of an 'intelligent primate', in practical terms, a tribe of such primates is a conglomeration of disparate and autonomous individuals, capable not only of social living and interbreeding but also of finding harmony in diversity and common ground for common good. Acceptance and tolerance are necessary qualities for coexistence and cooperation. It is one litmus test that the humankind has woefully and wholesomely has not measured up to. Maybe one could even say that it is the 'hallmark' of our culture. We have not really learnt what and when to accept, and when and what to tolerate. Sometimes we like the status quo, and sometimes we do not; sometimes we want to change, and sometimes we resist change. We tolerate things we should not tolerate, and are intolerant when we should be tolerant. In fact, all of human history and its attendant atrocities and horrors are but extensions of endemic non-acceptance and intolerance. The problem is not about doing what one wishes to do, but asking others to do what one wishes to do. There is nothing wrong with competition per se; it forces us to excel. We must distinguish between unity, which is desirable, indeed imperative, and uniformity, which is destructive. Another characteristic of the human mind is the pathological desire to possess: we want to possess everything we see, like, and touch β€” whether it is property or a person, a gadget or a garden β€” which incubates friction since someone else might want it even more. We are intolerant of sharing. When our time is finally up and our successor species has to write an epitaph on the tombstone of its predecessor race, it might well inscribe intolerance as the main cause of our premature passage. Whatever might be the immediate cause, intolerance is playing a major role in creating the conditions and in setting up the scenario. Practically, in every crisis that humanity has faced, intolerance has been the driving force. The classic silent-era film Intolerance: Love's Struggle Through the Ages (1916), chronicles mankind's intolerance during four different periods in human history like the Fall of Babylon; the crucifixion of Christ; the French Renaissance, the failure of the Edict of Toleration, and the resultant massacre; and modern America. One could add many more, triggered by cultural, economic, racial, and religious causes. In effect, intolerance in human affairs has been constant, continuous and universal, affecting individuals as much as communities, societies, and nations. The well-known British historian Paul Johnson says in his Modern Times (1983):

"The study of history suggests that the sum total of intolerance in society does not vary much. What changes is the object against which it is directed…"128 Intolerance has been called "the most socially acceptable form of egotism."129 It is the ugly outgrowth of the 'I'-ness that defines the human personality. The most visible face of the ego is intolerance. Our intelligence often manifests as strong opinions, beliefs and prejudices, but it gives no room for others to have the same. We search for information, not as an input to making choices, but to reinforce our prejudices. Emerson said "People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character."130 The fact is that truth or reality can rarely be seen from the prism of a lone person. And self-belief is not inimical to acceptance; it is self- righteousness. Intolerance is the reflex of an insecure person; according to British the occultist and writer Aleister Crowley, "Intolerance is evidence of impotence."131 Most people are intolerant in some way or the other but it is more in the mind, and remains passive. And it is not always negative: intolerance in the face of intolerance is good; intolerance to fight inequity and injustice is necessary. But most people show, not the 'good' intolerance but 'bad' intolerance. 'Aggressive intolerance' of all sorts β€” personal, professional, political, racial, ethnic, religious β€” has taken a firm root at the deepest level of our consciousness, and few, if any, are untouched by it. It is mainly responsible for much of what is wrong with the world today. And it, more than any other factor, bears a huge chunk of responsibility for the breakdown of all kinds of relationships as well as for the wrath, discrimination, violence and hatred that are suffocating the world today. We use double-standards to judge ourselves and others, oblivious to the foibles in us which we find and magnify in others. As the American 'self-help' guru Wayne Dyer (Your Erroneous Zones, 1976) says, when you judge another person you are defining him. The workbook of A Course in Miracles (published by the Foundation for Inner Peace), a book that Wikipedia describes as a "self-study curriculum (spiritual in nature) that sets forth an absolute non-dualistic metaphysics yet integrates (its definition of the principle of) forgiveness emphasizing its practical application in daily living" says "Today I will judge nothing that occurs". Anyone who has ever tried to put that into practice, knows how almost impossible it is to keep that promise. What is it about judgment that makes it so hard to let go of? "It is curious", Jesus says, "that an ability so debilitating would be so deeply cherished."132 We feel compelled to pronounce our judgment and to correct the errors of the world around us, an onerous, even distasteful task that drains our energy. Yet, ironically we do cherish it. We constantly choose to judge, and we find the idea of giving up judgment to be beyond ordinary human effort.

Whether it is evolutionary or environmental, innate or imbibed, we are all imperfect, but we have eyes only for the faults of others. We do not accept life; we do not accept ourselves; we do not accept others. We live in a state of denial, resistance, and rejection.

128 Cited in: Quotations Paul Johnson. [Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the Year 2000]. Accessed at:

129 Sidney J. Harris. BrainyQuote. Accessed at:

130 Ralph Waldo Emerson. BrainyQuote. Accessed at:

131 Aleister Crowley. BrainyQuote. Accessed at:

132 Cited in: Allen Watson. Why Do We Judge People? Circle of Atonement. Accessed at:

What most people yearn for is acceptance and a feeling of being wanted, just to be missed. We are overly indulgent towards intolerance, and impatient with diversity and difference of opinions. The Italian poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi, said: "No human trait deserves less tolerance in everyday life, and gets less, than intolerance."133 Acceptance is not condoning sin or ignoring injustice; it is simply to desist from compelling others to lead their lives in a particular way; it is to desist from judging others because no norm is foolproof if solely based on human intelligence, which is inherently imperfect. In the highest sense, acceptance is love, and intolerance is a manifestation of hate, and exploitation is the opposite of compassion. It stems from a culture that worships the winner and ridicules the loser, a culture that considers tolerance and success as incompatible. In common parlance, success often is another name for short-cut, a quick way to achieving an objective regardless of all scruples. Does it all mean that success and morality and spirituality are incompatible and irreconcilable? At first glance that does appear to be so, but a deeper look belies the premise. It depends on how we delineate the boundaries. There is an emerging new breed of 'success seekers' who believe that success can be sharing too, and not necessarily unscrupulous, who put people ahead of profit, personal fulfillment before material gain. But such seekers are too miniscule in number to tilt the social scales, or to make a difference to the human moral balance sheet.

Civilization and chemicalization

As a result of our obsession with 'success' in conjunction with another ubiquitous word 'progress', man no longer lives in the natural order. In that order, fruits ripen in their own time and in general, things mature in consonance with natural laws, and as a part of and as an input to the larger cause of life on earth. Human culture has sought to change that β€” to improve upon what Nature offers as food and medicine and to want a menu of choices more than what is naturally available. The main facilitators of that gratification are synthetic chemicals, and between them and toxicity there is only a thin line. We are told that more than 100,000 chemicals are already in the marketplace, and that about 1,000 new ones are being introduced every year. We have been made to believe that through chemicals, we can lead better lives, and that manufactured chemicals are no different from naturally occurring products. The path of 'progress' that modern man has embarked upon, which requires industrialization and processing of everything that Nature offers, has led to the 'chemicalization' of everything that goes into our body. As a result, we live in a 'chemicalized' milieu, the impact of which, scientists tell us, is "changing both the social and mating behaviors of a raft of species,"134 through what are called 'endocrine disruptors', which "potentially pose far greater threat to survival than, for example, falling sperm counts caused by higher chemical concentrations."135 In what we may call chemically afflicted societies, and increasingly universally, many people are plagued by mysterious neurological disorders that rarely, if ever, existed just a century ago. We have disorders with all kinds of complex sounding names like Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Lou Gehrig's disease,

133 Giacomo Leopardi. ThinkExist. Accessed at:

134 Andy Coghlan. Pollution Triggers Bizarre Behaviour in Animals. New Scientist. 3 September 2004. Accessed at: animals.html

135 Andy Coghlan. Pollution Triggers Bizarre Behaviour in Animals. New Scientist. 3 September 2004. Accessed at: animals.html

fibromyalgia and Alzheimer's disease, and so on. Many things we use to improve our 'quality of life' are loaded with chemicals, about which we know nothing, not to speak of their effect. Our body tissues themselves have become toxic because of our quality of life. One expert on toxins in food wrote that we are so contaminated that, had we been cannibals, our meat would be banned from human consumption. We are often reassured by the authorities and by the chemical industry with phrases such as 'no direct evidence', or with the argument that at 'low' levels those chemicals are either safe or pose 'low risk'. That may be the truth, but it is not the 'whole truth'. Each of the chemicals in question might qualify for such descriptions at that level in isolation, but together and with thousands of other chemicals we are exposed to every day in our civilized world and in urban settings, their cumulative effect might no longer be 'low risk', particularly for children. It could affect not only their health but also their behavior. Then there is a phenomenon called 'body burden', which is the effect of these cumulative chemicals inside the human body. Randall Fitzgerald, author of the book The Hundred-Year Lie (2006), on the prevalence of toxic chemicals says, "The problem here is that our bodies do not recognize these synthetic chemicals, most of which have been invented, patented and produced since World War II. Our livers, which are the main detoxifying organs of our bodies, do not recognize these synthetic chemicals, and as a result, do not metabolize them. Instead, the chemicals are either pushed off into the far reaches of the liver, to be stored, or sent into body fat and body organs to be stored. As these toxins accumulate, they begin to interact with each other."136 Fitzgerald says that we do not know the synergic effects of two or more chemicals in the human body and that chemical combination could increase toxicity and cause neurological damage. He warns us that we are becoming a mutant species, and cites the example of the fish and amphibian species in the lakes and in swamps becoming hermaphrodite and developing both male and female sex organs as a result of the toxic chemicals dumped into those water bodies. Fitzgerald adds that every day, we play what he calls a game of biological Russian roulette with our bodies, based on our food, medicine and environmental choices. Furthermore, there is now emerging evidence that chemicals in the environment can influence animal behavior drastically β€” can humans escape it? Maybe much of the malice and the violence in human behavior is chemically induced. We talk about 'substance abuse' and 'drug dependence' of the youth in affluent countries but not about our 'chemical dependence', which perhaps is at the root of all those dependences. We worry about 'cold-causing viruses' but are oblivious to the surge in human violence possibly influenced by the chemicals that we imbibe through our food, water and the air. Chemical pollution is far more deadly than atmospheric pollution, and it is possibly altering the processes that determine human personality and behavior. Man is addicted to chemicals because they offer what the human mind wants: comfort, convenience, instant gratification, and short-term security. In the long run, the combination of chemically weakened human bodies and toxic habitat could threaten human survival more than the specter of nuclear holocaust. In fact, some scientists say that one of the emerging frontiers of research is to find a way to keep the human alive and healthy in a much more toxic world.

But as someone said, we are actually not living longer but 'dying longer', kept alive longer through technology.

Unmindful of all these portents, man is waging a war on the very source that provides his life-supporting infrastructure. Human civilization is increasingly becoming noxious to

136 Cited in: Mike Adams. Interview with Randall Fitzgerald, author of The Hundred-Year Lie, on the Prevalence of Toxic Chemicals. NaturalNews. 21 June 2006. Accessed at:

Nature. Instead of being caretakers and custodians, we have become predators and exploiters. On the other hand, those who advocate the cause of Nature seem to imply that man must suffer so that Nature remains pristine. In the words of Peter Schwartz, "Human beings survive by reshaping nature to fulfill their needs. Every single step taken to advance beyond the cave β€” every rock fashioned into a tool, every square foot of barren earth made into productive cropland, every drop of crude petroleum transformed into fuel for cars and planes β€” constitutes an improvement in human life, achieved by altering our natural environment. The environmentalists' demand that Nature be protected against human 'encroachments' means, therefore, that man must be sacrificed in order to preserve Nature."137 'Conquest of Nature' is considered as the telltale sign of human civilization. But every power won over Nature, as the Irish essayist C.S. Lewis (The Abolition of Man, 1843) says, is a power over man as well; it could be directed against himself β€” a kind of a returning boomerang. It is true that man has come this far by harnessing Nature. The difference between the attitudes of pre- modern man and modern man is a state of mind, the desire to tap the magnanimity and munificence of Nature, and the thought of being a conqueror. It is the difference between a baby suckling at the mother's breast and a rapist ravaging the same breast. The home of human 'civilization', it is useful to remind ourselves, is Planet Earth. It is on the soil and sweat of the Earth that man created the infrastructure for his way of life, by harnessing its resources to cater to his comfort and convenience. Now, some scientists say that we are in serious 'erotological overshoot', that we might run out of both room and resources on earth as early as 2050,138 and that thankfully, we are now poised on the brink of an interplanetary civilization. But, let us come down to earth and remind ourselves that we have not created even a planetary civilization that treats the Earth as a holistic entity, and humanity as a coherent community. Alfred North Whitehead wrote that "Civilization is the victory of persuasion over force."139 On that account alone, what man has created never was 'civilization'. It is fear and force that have been the driving forces in human society from the earliest to modern times, more so now than ever before. The noted historian Arnold Toynbee wrote "to be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization."140 We have failed that test too. Technology has created a lot of leisure, at least in some parts of the human world, but our civilization has not found a way to fill that leisure wisely. If anything, it has fuelled avarice and violence. Furthermore, the current civilization is based on ownership and is built on fragmentation and fracturing of the earth; not only nation-states but even individuals behave as if they own a bit of the earth. Once you buy it, you can do what you want with it, subject only to the law of the land, not the law of Nature. The key concept is 'to afford', which means having enough money, preferably legitimate, by which you can acquire and use or misuse anything regardless of its effect on the planet. The Latin writer of maxims Publilius Syrus said that "we are born princes and the civilizing process makes us frogs."141

C.P. Snow (Two Cultures, 1959) said that "civilization is hideously fragile...there's not much

137 Cited in: Peter Schwartz. Man vs. Nature. Environmentalism. 1999. Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, Washington DC, USA. Sacramento Bee, 23 April 1999. Accessed at:

138 Mark Townsend and Jason Burke. Earth 'Will Expire by 2050'. The Observer. The Guardian, 7 July 2002. Accessed at:

139 P.D. Sharma. Immortal Quotations and Proverbs. 2003. Navneet Publications. Mumbai, India. p.21.

140 P.D. Sharma. Immortal Quotations and Proverbs. 2003. Navneet Publications. Mumbai, India. p.21

141 Publilius Syrus. The Quote Garden. Accessed at:

between us and the horrors underneath, just about a coat of varnish."142 Few people would stand up to the test of what we would or would not do if we knew we will be found out; fear is the fulcrum of human morality, of the law, of consequences, maybe even of God. Fear leads to intolerance; to aggression. Emerson predicted that the human race is likely to 'die of civilization'. Because civilization, as Aldous Huxley, one of the most perceptive of social scientists and the author of Brave New World (1932) said, is designed to domesticate human passions and set them to do useful work, the practical effect of which is a platform of material comfort, satiation of escalating wants, planned obsolescence, permanent playfulness and titillating entertainment, onslaught on nature and spiritual vacuity. We no longer wholly own our own attention and have forgotten how to be truly engaged. The means are science and technology, brain and brawn. The human mind is drawn more towards entertainment than enlightenment. As a chronicle of Hollywood history puts it "mankind has always recognized the importance of entertainment and its value in rebuilding the bodies and souls of human beings."143 Indeed human mind seems incapable of entertaining any thought or topic seriously without some entertainment, is unable to focus on anything without sensory pleasure. Modern man wants everything as entertainment; he wants to be 'amused'; it is more than a diversion or a means of spending leisure; it frames our life. It may be because life is so 'somber' and devoid of joy; being entertained lets us forget our sorrows, at least momentarily. As someone wryly remarked, it is moot if entertainment is killing our children, or or if killing children is entertaining the adults. The lines are blurred now between mass media, news, propaganda, information, entertainment, economy, exhilaration, industry, fantasy and morality. At any point, we cannot be sure which of them is dominant. And it shapes our life, and as the preponderant part of our living environment, it will have a huge bearing on the future human evolution. Anthony Robbins, the American self-help guru and writer says that "we aren't in an information age; we are in an entertainment age."144 It reflects both the stagnation and the shallowness of our mass culture. The celebrated 'political theorist' and Nazi refugee Hannah Arendt wrote, "Culture relates to objects and is a phenomenon of the world; entertainment relates to people and is a phenomenon of life."145 We are increasingly encircled and influenced by images: photography and cinema, but even more television, video and computers. Visual images are becoming so powerful that this surge in visual imagery has become "virtual reality". This, in turn, leads to manipulation of information and images portraying news. We tend to believe what we 'see' rather than what we hear or even read, but most people do not know how to "read" visual images, and this leads to misinterpretation and to simplistic identification with reality. It is a potent weapon for advertisement, which someone described as making us do what we do not want to do, and buy things we do not need. And it leads to wanton waste and addictive profligacy.

Consumerism and its critics

Our consumerist culture is perhaps the most wasteful user and the most inefficient manager of natural resources, land, and water. Our profligacy and callousness is mind-blogging; we take these resources for granted as we do the air we breathe.

142 C.P. Snow. The Quote Garden. Accessed at:

143 Geoffrey O'Brien. When Hollywood Dared. New York Review of Books, USA. 2-15 July 2009. p.6.

144 Anthony Robbins. ThinkExist. Accessed at:

145 Hannah Arendt. BrainyQuote. Accessed at:

It is based on the premise that waste is an inherent part of the process of 'progress' through which we get the things we want for good life and pleasure, the way to individual self-fulfillment. We routinely 'use' and 'use up', 'consume' and 'contaminate' the natural world. It is an ironic coincidence that 'consumption' in medicine was the popular name for tuberculosis (TB), and consumerism and TB carry the same connotation β€” using up, wasting, withering away, and destruction, in one case the body, and in the other, Nature. Misuse can be direct or indirect, excess use or wrong use, and it covers aspects like depletion of forests and freshwater resources. Although the world is worried about oil supplies, there are many who predict that 'water wars' will be the wars of the future. United Nations (UN) figures suggest that there are around 300 potential conflicts over water around the world, arising from squabbles over river borders and the drawing of water from shared lakes and aquifers. And according to the World Health Organization (WHO), "around one-sixth of the 6.1 billion people in the world lack access to improved sources of water, while 40 percent are without access to improved sanitation services,"146. Declining glacial freshwater flows in areas like the Tibetan plateau are said to affect about 500 million people in Asia and 250 million in China. As demand for water hits the limits of finite supply, potential conflicts are brewing between nations that share transboundary freshwater reserves. More than 50 countries in five continents might soon be caught up in water disputes unless they move quickly to establish agreements on how to share reservoirs, rivers, and underground water aquifers.

The moral behavior of man cannot measurably improve unless new rules and dialectics are brought to bear on the dynamics and social norms that govern economic theory and practice. Man's overbearing obsession with consumerism has to be done away with. As the lives of the super rich show, there are no limits to human extravagance or rapacity. It is the runaway consumption that is destroying the infrastructure for life on earth. We have to redefine economic morality. We must disconnect personal happiness from conspicuous consumption, and 'feel-good' feeling from the purchase of material possessions. Frugality has to become morality and respectable, if not hip. The moral distinction between needs and wants has to be restored. The almost obsessive focus on the economic side to the exclusion of other factors, perhaps more important pursuits, has introduced a major fracture in human life and has divided most of mankind into two antagonistic camps: the rich and the super rich, and as the American author Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby, 1925) famously said, "the rich are different from you and me."147 He explained how: "They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different."148 And Ernest Hemingway quipped "Yes, they have more money."149 They have more because others have less money; it is both absolute and comparative. While the evils of contemporary consumerism (which is but a function of our way of life) cannot be denied, one must not also overlook the fact that

146 Cited in: Agence France Presse. Water, the Looming Source of World Conflict. Global Policy Forum. 20 March 2001. Accessed at:

147 Cited in: Eddy Dow. The Rich Are Different. The New York Times Books. 13 November 1988. Accessed at:

148 Cited in: Matthew J. Bruccoli. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur. The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. 2002. The Drunkard's Holiday, 1925-1931. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, South Carolina, USA. p.228.

149 Cited in: PoemHunter. Quotations from Ernest Hemingway. Accessed at:

'consumption' (which is the purchase and usage of consumer goods) is necessary for lifting the lives of over a billion people from the trap of extreme poverty. The 'consumption' disparity is telling. It is reported that the richest 20 percent of the global population accounted for 75 percent of the total private consumption in the year 2005, and the poorest fifth just 1.5 percent. Aldous Huxley wrote that "the peace of the world has frequently been endangered in order that they (the rich and the powerful) might grow a little richer."150 Despite the tiresome and hypocritical campaigns to 'eradicate the scourge of poverty,' the divide between the dirty rich and the dirt poor, obscene opulence and grinding poverty, has never been sharper or wider than now. Often, abject poverty has been depicted variously as an economic issue, a social stigma, a political irritant, and a strategic time bomb. But in its barest essence, it is a moral affront. Poverty degrades man of dignity, the most basic of all human rights, and its persistence robs the other rights of any semblance of moral legitimacy. Obsessive concern about wealth or rather the lack of it, prevents the all round development of the human personality, and the poor and the rich alike lose their sensitivity and humaneness. Poverty and deliberate deprivation of the basic needs have a ripple effect and degrade the human condition. For a human being to bloom to his full potential and become a kinder and gentler being, he must nail down economics or wealth into its proper place and not let it completely control all levers of human life. Our patterns and models of consumption are so much a part of our lives, that to change them would require a massive cultural catharsis, not to mention traumatic economic dislocation. In one word, we must rethink what we associate with what we call 'progress'.

'Progress' in the words of Christopher Lasch, "rests on the belief that human wants are insatiable, that new wants appear as soon as the old ones are satisfied. And that steadily rising levels of comfort will lead to an indefinite expansion of the productive forces required to satisfy the revolution of rising expectations."151 Lasch begins his thought-provoking book, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics (1991), with a very pointed and pertinent question that touches the very core of the issue: "how does it happen that serious people continue to believe in progress, in the face of massive evidence that might have been expected to refute the idea of progress once and for all?"152 It is like the question 'why does man choose the path of evil when righteousness gets him everything he aspires for?' There is no easy answer. A possible explanation is that it is wholly rational, from the perspective to own, to possess, to accumulate, and to have something that others do not or cannot have. The fact is that "the dialectic of 'progress', however, which has the potential to end all suffering and misery in the human and non-human world, may also have the ability to usher in a new stone age on the wings of technology."153

The meteoric rise of the economic and material aspects of man has virtually snuffed out his spiritual faculty and contributed to the ever-mounting immorality in the world. Man is now accustomed to consistent economic growth, rising living standards and steady supply of

150 Cited in: Learn Peace, a Peace Pledge Union Project. Aldous Huxley. Ends and Means. Some Causes of War. Accessed at:

151 Christopher Lasch. The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics. 1991. W.W. Norton & Company Inc., New York, USA.

152 Christopher Lasch. The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics. W.W. Norton & Company Inc., New York, USA.

153 Deborah Butterfield. Toccata and Fugue: The Hegemony of the Eye/I and the Wisdom of the Ear. 1993. Trumpeter. Vol.10, No.3. Accessed at:

'affordable' consumer goods. It has necessitated the diversion and use of enormous social resources and human time and energy, inevitably at the cost of non-material pursuits. In the process, it has distorted human priorities and personality. The conventional wisdom holds that economics is holy; progress has gathered all the trappings of a religion, affluence is the passport to social esteem, greed is good, and the poor are a thorn in the flesh, at best a prick at the conscience β€” they are paying for their past sins or are plain lazy. Excessive focus on economic progress, which is another facet of 'fundamentalism' or 'extremism', has stoked the embers of evil in man. Conspicuous consumption, obscene opulence, callous inequity, wanton wealth and degrading poverty have become the hallmarks of the present society. And most wars have economic underpinnings. A major intellectual β€” and spiritual challenge β€” is to get away from this 'growth' model. In a recent book (Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New planet) environmentalist Bill McKibben argues that earth, which he calls Eaarth, can no longer support the economic growth model that has driven the world for 200 years, which is based on the premise that more is better and that the answer to any problem is another burst of economic expansion.

But we must remember that man's economic personality is an extension of his aggressive and avaricious personality. Waging war has become a habit; getting what he wants has become compulsive; disregard for means has become pathological; man has extended all these traits towards Nature. Some say that the real and perhaps the most decisive 'world war' ever is the one we are waging on Nature. This 'war' has led, among other things, to such a wide range of potentially catastrophic consequences that it is hard even to enumerate them: climate change and global warming; desertification; pollution of the biosphere; endangered biodiversity and species loss; and global water crisis. It is estimated that two billion people will face water shortages in 2025 β€” three billion, in all likelihood, by 2050. While water is illustrative, the larger issue is the balance between human activity and ecological sustainability, between inevitable depletion of natural resources and their conservation, renewal and regeneration.

The world does not have, in the absence of any global authority, the mechanism or means to settle intra-state and interstate problems and disputes, anything that requires a holistic view of the world. But at its core, the issue boils down to the human understanding of life and man's inability to instinctively grasp what is truly in his own interest. The world mirrors the triumph of the narrow over the larger interest β€” individual over family, family over the community, nation over the global community. When choices are to be made, it is the preeminence of the exclusive over the inclusive, a the part over the whole. This is contrary to the doctrine of dharma, which specifically says that where there is a conflict or choice between the dharmas enjoined upon individual groups and society and humanity, we must choose that which is in the interest of the larger or the greater number. It even condones narrower adharma for the larger good. We must learn that in complex systems we cannot do only one thing and that the impact of our decisions may surface in unexpected places. While dealing with terrestrial issues, at least in the short term, there is no gain without pain, and the question is, how does one apportion or ration the pain and sacrifice among nations and individuals? The trouble is that we seem to have got it all wrong about what 'sacrifice' is meant to be. We view sacrifice as something we give or give up, some pain or loss we voluntarily endure for the sake of someone else. Etymologically, the word sacrifice means 'to make sacred' or to be sanctified; through sacrifice, one burns out and purges oneself of sins. In Sanskrit, both the doctrines of yagna and tyaga denote sacrifice; while the first refers to a ritual sacrifice, which is complemented and completed by the latter, which refers to offerings at the existential level. Blood sacrifice, which is intentional killing, as a high human ideal for the common good of society, is extolled in most religious traditions, involving the sacrifice of animals or even one's own kin. It has been said that any inquiry into sacrifice is in fact a theory of religion in miniature, that sacrificial activity lies at the very roots of a true religion, and that understanding sacrifice is essential to understanding the religious impulse in human beings. In the Christian religion, it was by shedding his blood that Jesus sacrificed for humanity. The Bible says that "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image" (Genesis, 9:6). In the ancient Vedic thought, the act of creation itself emanated out of yagna, the rite of sacrifice. In the famous Purusha Sukta, the Purusha, the Supreme God, consumes himself in the act of creation, to create all the worlds and all life. The father–son motif of sacrifice is common to the three Abrahamic religions; it is also the source, albeit differently, of the Katha Upanishad. The ultimate offering is the most precious gift of God: life, one's own as well as of the 'others'.

Comparison, competition and convergence

That brings up one of the most baffling of human traits. It is the compulsive habit to constantly compare and differentiate oneself from the 'others' and to feel better because of such comparison. It involves not only other humans but also other species. It is hard to tell if it is a matter of insecurity or superiority, catholicity or arrogance. In isolation we are all selfless; when our actions have no affect on others, we are magnanimous. Our ego shows up only in company. Our arrogance is toothless if there is no one to direct it towards. Our comparison is competitive, and competition comparative. Without some sort of comparison, mental or physical, we do precious little either as an act of altruism or selfishness. Control is another extreme way of comparison, and selfishness is not doing what one wishes to do, derived from the dictates of our conscience, but in expecting others to do what we wish them to do. Our knowledge is comparative; our education is competitive; our prosperity is comparative and competitive (we want more); so is our misery and suffering (we do not want it). Everyone thinks that their misery is the most miserable and their suffering the most intolerable. Our sense of worth of anything is nothing if it is worthless for anyone else. The Irish dramatist, Oscar Wilde, famous for his often cutting witticisms, said, perhaps a bit too cynically but not without a grain of accuracy, that "there are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up."154 We do not know which evolutionary offshoot it was, man does not seem to find any worth, but only void in his own persona; it is only conjunction that appears to give substance to life; either we are better or worse; if neither, we are nothing. From comparison comes competition, and from competition comes conflict.

In Nature, nothing is absolute or equal, and that propels comparison and competition but not coexistence, it propels conflict but not harmony. Another facet of comparison or competition is imitation. Our desires arise from observing what others have. Aware of an absence within ourselves, we look to others to teach us what to value and who to be. And we desire to appropriate the other's possessions, loves and their very being to fill the void within; and it leads to frustration, rivalry, anger, and violence. That void is increasingly manifesting as comparison with regard to other fellow animals. While comparison with other humans can get contentious, with other species it seems relatively less risky β€” they cannot argue and contest. With regard to other species, the body of knowledge drawn from the scriptures and science is complex and confusing. One stream of thought β€” primarily religious β€” says that we are so unique that we are not 'animal' in any sense. Most major religions say that God directly and specially created humans, essentially and potentially both as sexual and spiritual beings.

154 Oscar Wilde. ThinkExist. Accessed at:

The Bible says that God created man in His own image and endowed him with the power to virtually mimic him. That particular maxim or rather license seems to have shaped our attitude and legitimized our casual, if not cruel disposition towards animals.

For long, it was the mainstream view that the human system of organizing knowledge is so distinct that human future development may not be controlled by the same principles as other animals. We differ in the use of advanced technology, use of controlled energy, use of clothes, use of sense-enhancements like glasses, telescopes or microscopes, advanced social organization, and advanced language. As science acquired more probing tools and techniques, much of the presumed uniqueness has withered. The last citadel of man is also crumbling, that is, man's ability to 'think'. Quite apart from the fact that we are not quite sure what 'thinking' really connotes, nor how that faculty might manifest differently in other creatures, researchers now even admit that other creatures may also think; only they do not β€” well, whatever it means β€” know that they think! And we deem it as an intolerable insult to be compared with lowly animals, least of all with irksome insects like ants. Apart from the fact that ants are far more antiquated than we are (1,000 million years), far more diversified (14,000 species and still counting), far more dispersed (every habitable habitat), and that they will certainly out-last us, some scholars and entomologists even call the ant a 'super organism' and ant civilization, 'the superior civilization'. Christine Kenneally writes, "In an advanced ant city, thousands of individuals work closely together to create a functioning colony in which there is a balance of cooperation and conflict. Some ant societies feature spectacular architecture and climate control. The most remarkable ant species have agriculture: they farm fungus and even domesticate other insects as livestock. In fact, at its height, ant civilization is remarkably like ours. A key contrast is that their society emerges from the hard-wired decision-making of thousands of efficient little biological robots, whereas ours is, at least partly, conscious and intentional. Despite this seemingly massive difference, it appears you can go a long way without a mind".155 Tim Flannery writes, "Parallels between the ants and ourselves are striking for the light they shed on the nature of everyday human experiences. Some ants get forced into low-status jobs and are prevented from becoming upwardly mobile by other members of the colony. Garbage dump workers, for example, are confined to their humble and dangerous task of removing rubbish from the nest by other ants who respond aggressively to the odors that linger on the garbage workers' bodies".156 Ants seem to have fused into a 'superorganism' and built a 'superior civilization' drawing on their instincts, not intelligence, drawing on their reflexes, not reason. The astonishing complexity of an ant colony and the way the ants, as members of the colony, seem to manage and take decisions stands in sharp contrast to the way we manage the human 'colony'.

Philosophers too have taken a crack at describing how peerless we are in creation. The German philosopher Schopenhauer, for example, said that "apart from man, no being wonders at its own existence".157 We ought to but rarely do. St. Augustine aptly said that we wonder at many things but pass by ourselves without wondering. Sri Aurobindo said that man

155 Christine Kenneally. Of Ants and Men: Compare the Two Civilizations, and Who Wins? 2008. [Review of the book 'The Superorganism: the Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies' by Bert Holldobler and E.O. Wilson.] Accessed at:

156 Tim Flannery. The Superior Civilization. 2009. [Review of the book 'The Superorganism: the Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies' by Bert Holldobler and E.O. Wilson.] New York Review of Books, USA. 26 February 2009. p.23.

157 Cited in: Elizabeth A. Pector. Lumina Dei:Lights of Accessed at:

alone lives in three modes of time, the past, present, and future simultaneously. His disciple Satprem said that we are unique because we, of all things, make mistakes whereas animals do not since they live instantly and intuitively. The more pertinent point is how all these attributes have impacted human personality and behavior in relation to those that do not supposedly have such attributes.

Yet our self-assumed but scripturally sanctioned singularity is at the center of human thought. That is also the basis of our morality and even spirituality. For example, in the Ramayana, when prince Rama kills Vali, the king of monkeys, while hiding behind a tree, and Vali questions the ethics of that act, Rama, himself the direct incarnation of God Vishnu, dismisses the point by saying that hunting an animal is the right of humans, particularly of the royalty. In the Bible and Quran, of course, God specifically anointed man as the lord of all other species. Man has forgotten the difference between a trustee and a tyrant. We have forgotten that to be a steward is to tend, to care, to protect, not to turn other species into trophies and guinea pigs. So, what really separates humans from other primates?

Genetically, though there is not much, the difference between chimps and us is said to be no more than 2 percent, probably only 1 percent. According to a recent study, "nearly 99 percent alike in genetic makeup, chimpanzees and humans might be even more similar were it not for what researchers call 'lifestyle' changes in the 6 million years that separate us from a common ancestor."158

A more recent scientific speculation is referred to as 'gene regulation': "Since most primates share at least 90 percent of the same genetic sequences, it is in the ways by which genes are activated, regulated, the patterns of their expression and ultimately how and when they play out throughout development, that drive forward most differences we see in primates."159

Our intellect, a product of our brain, is not what puts us in a distinctive category; other creatures also have a brain and some rudimentary discriminating capacity necessary for survival and sex. Finding that many things once viewed as exclusive to humans like culture, mind, reading, tool use, morality, emotions, personality are no longer only human, we clutch at things like, in the words of anthropologist Ian Tattersall, "the fundamental human urge to adorn and elaborate."160 There might be very few 'only human' capabilities, but in those 'common areas' humans certainly are special in the dexterity and ingenuity in their use. But perhaps it is not our strengths but our foibles and emotions, which have no discernible biological objective, that propel our purposes, desires, and passions, values and wants, which distinguish us from other species. What constitutes 'humanness' could be our experience of emotions like being in love and being able to jump into a river to save a drowning dog, and in the next minute, cut someone else's throat because that person rammed our car on the road. It may be an uncomfortable thought, but it could be that our negative traits like malice and murder are our unmistakable signatures. Finally, the impregnable barrier between other species and us is said to be our innate potential for God-realization that even angels are supposed to envy. Well, maybe yes; then again, maybe not.

158 Roger Segelken. What's in the 1% Difference Between Chimps and Humans (DNA). Medical News Today. 20 December 2003. Accessed at:

159 Gene Regulation, the Driving Force in Human Evolution. 13 August 2007. Accessed at:

160 Cited in: Therese Littleton. What's So Special About Being Human? Interview with Ian Tattersall, author of the book "Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness." Accessed at: http://www.human-

The scriptures say so, and our intellect is not capable of questioning them. But, as God's creations and children, how do we know that other species do not have their own ways to realize God? Swami Vivekananda, foremost among modern-day spiritualists, remarked that if a goat were to visualize God it would be as a goat β€” and perhaps the same would be the case if it were a dog. God Himself declared He will appear in the form, shape and size that His devotee aspires to. Incidentally, God actually did incarnate as an animal; the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, according to Hindu scriptures, included the incarnations as matsya (fish), koorma (tortoise), and varaha (boar). That particular manifestation was what was needed to save the world at that time. God did not think it was any different from his subsequent avatars, one of which was Narasimha, the half man and half lion, which again was needed to slay the demon king Hiranyakasipu. While God did not hesitate to identify himself with an animal, humans hesitate, based on the belief that we are inherently incomparable. Animals seem to be 'superior' in another respect. For example, it has often been said that "animals have a talent for bypassing the mind and going straight to the heart."161 And heart is a favorite habitat for God. Who knows, maybe other species, the lowly animals, may have more intuitive knowledge and divine interfacing than 'mighty' man.

There is another kind of impending 'singularity' that is being predicted β€” technological. When that happens, humans as they exist today will cease to be the top species on the planet, and the most intelligent. Computers will be many times smarter than men; we will be like children to them, and they, like gods to us. Eventually, computers will advance to the point where there is no difference between them and our current conception of an all- knowing and all-powerful God. Some evolutionary psychologists believe that, at this point in the life of life on planet Earth, natural evolution and natural selection are no longer in operation. As Harvard professor Steven Pinker puts it, "People, including me, would rather believe that significant human biological evolution stopped between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago, before the races diverged, which would ensure that racial and ethnic groups are biologically equivalent."162 Many think that in the future, artificial breeding and genetic engineering could have more say than natural selection. The mutations that are affecting the human condition now are, on the face of it, culture-centric and lately cyber-centric. This is the theme that is expanded in the book, Shattered Self: the End of Natural Evolution (2001), by Pierre Baldi. While that view has been widely shared, there are new trends that seem to dilute that premise. Recent news reports have flashed headlines of speedy human evolution with the implication that instead of becoming more alike, humans are becoming more different. It is reported that a comparison of the genomes of several different people groups showed that many genes appear to have recent mutations, and that the rate of mutation has sharply increased over the last 10,000 years.163 Does that, if further corroborated, have a message for the future? Is it possible that some humans could evolve into posthuman beings while the rest become posthumous? But one could also say that culture itself could have triggered such mutations. The field of cultural evolution is controversial because not all historians, social scientists or even biologists agree that cultural change can be understood in an evolutionary context. Some say that human beliefs and behaviors are too unpredictable, as faster-than-speeding-bullet

161 Cited in: Editorial Reviews From Publishers Weekly. [Review of the book "God's Messengers: What Animals Teach Us About the Divine" by Linda Anderson and Allen Anderson]. Accessed at :

162 Cited in: Kate Douglas. Are We Still Evolving? New Scientist Magazine. Issue 2542. UK. 11 March 2006.

163 Georgia Purdom. Human Evolution -- Faster Than a Speeding Bullet. Answers in Genesis. 30 January 2008. Accessed at:

it is also claimed that cultural revolution "has an arrow and a direction: towards greater complexity; towards higher civilization."164 There are others, though, like the economist Robert Fogel, who argues that the human species, during the past 300 years has undergone what he calls a "technophysio evolution" which is biological but not genetic, rapid, culturally transmitted, and not very stable, which has enabled the species to increase its average body size by over 50 percent and longevity by more than 100 percent since the year 1800, and to greatly increase the robustness and capacity of vital organ systems. He predicts a rosy future when the trends would continue and even accelerate, offering man large space and 'discretionary time' for pursuit of issues like "life's meaning and other matters of self- realization."165 Partially plausible it may be, but such analysis suffers from serious blemishes. First, the data and analysis are confined to a small part of the world, primarily the United States, and ignores the developing world, which has more than two-thirds of the world population. An unconscionably large number of human beings are hungry, malnourished, and susceptible to every passing infection; their bodies are shriveled and their brains paralyzed.

Second, Fogel does not take cognizance of the effect of the processed and chemicalized food we eat and the toxic air we breathe, of our crippling and addictive dependence on 'add-ons' and appliances on the human body. Just as we cannot isolate the future from the present, our way of life and the context we create for living cannot be separated from the way human race will evolve in the future.

Along with his enfeebled condition, man's relationship with other species and with Nature will increasingly play a major part in human future. We are not, and never were, alone on earth, and as a fragment of the totality of life we cannot, simply put, survive as a species without the rest of life on earth. The human species is, even if it is the most potent and powerful, one of many millions of manifestations of life on earth, many of which existed long before man appeared and probably, but for man, will continue long after he is gone. Predator and prey, wildlife and vegetation, play interconnected roles in preserving and sustaining life. No one has a clear idea about how many species existed and became extinct since life began on earth. Scientists have formally identified and named about 17 million species, but the number is yet to be discovered and it may range anywhere between 5 million to 100 million, of which about 30 million would be insects alone. Every species will become extinct at an appointed time, and humans are no exception. Some species like the humans may have the power, but not the mandate, to cause the extinction of another. Human behavior, more than any other factor, is now the greatest threat to life on earth and to the ecosystem of the earth. A recent research finding is one of those 'stories' we read and quickly pass on to more arresting items (like a triple murder, for example): namely, that man is responsible for the biggest extinction of wildlife since the extinction of the dinosaurs, with a 35 percent decrease in biodiversity over the past 35 years.166 Shorn of the scientific sophistry, it really means that man has murdered more than one-fourth of all other living creatures on earth in about half the life span of an affluent human being. There are those, the never-say-die optimists, who reassuringly say that death and extinction are part of nature, that 90 percent of all those

164 James B. Delong. The Arrow of Cultural Evolution. [Review of the book "Nonzero: the Logic of Human Destiny" by Robert Wright]. Amazon.Com Customer Reviews, 19 June 2000. Accessed at:

165 Cited in: William H. McNeill. Bigger and Better? 2004. [Review of the book "The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World" by Robert William Fogel]. The New York Review of Books, USA. 21 October 2004. p.61.

166 The Times of India, Hyderabad, India, 27 October 2008, p.16

species that ever lived are dead species, and that it is the way to make room for other life. In simpler terms, if we kill other species, it is no big deal; and if we kill ourselves, even lesser. There is nothing but death in Nature, and reaching the milestone of death is only a matter of time and effort. This is but one example of the nihilistic bent in the human way of life. What comes to mind is the question that recurs over and over again in any study of the human condition: why, with so much loaded in man's favor in the cosmos, and being able β€” alone he claims β€” to learn from his mistakes and to anticipate the consequences of his actions, is man's behavior so comprehensively irrational, so conspicuously irresponsible, so palpably against his own selfish self-interest?

Chapter 3: Of Human Baggage and Bondage

Bondage and liberation

The state of the human world reflects the state of a 'bonded being' bearing the baggage of a beast, bound by being human and aspiring to be a god. The duality or dwanda of 'bondage' and 'liberation' defines both the human condition and human aspiration. While we are not certain which is our natural condition β€” bondage or liberation β€” we, like Philip Carey of Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage (1915), expend much of our life to find 'some guide by which we could rule our conduct'. Not 'finding', we struggle to make sense by trial and error; we seek and search, twist and turn, and often find ourselves alone and adrift. And the more we strive and strain to free our spirit, the tighter the shackles become. Most people feel that they are entrapped in a cage, caught in a world not of their making, and carry a weight not of their choice and beyond bearing. And liberation β€” by whatever name it is called, moksha or nirvana or salvation β€” for them, is simply to be free (it does not matter how) from the pressures, pitfalls, perils, and frustrations of living with fellow men, and from pain and suffering. As for the weight they carry on their beaten backs, it is not only the weight of their own lives but the sum of over a million years of struggle for survival, to be 'civilized'. Whichever or whatever it might be, all human endeavor, spiritual or scientific, is to find a way to lighten that load, and even change the nature of the load. Because, while it makes no difference to a beast if it is burdened with sacred texts or scum, it makes β€” rather should make β€” a difference to man.

We want to escape, we want to be free, we want liberty, we long to lead our lives without pitfalls and pinpricks, we want deliverance β€” but we have no idea who or what is holding us back. The troubling thought that arises in this confusion is: have we got it all wrong, mistaking one for the other, and messing up our lives? The truth is that we want to overcome that which we do not know, and to achieve something we have no clue of. We have no inkling of how much of our 'bondage' is inborn, and how much of our 'baggage' is acquired; we are not even aware of their link to the motivating drives of human conduct. Nor do we know much about the mechanics of belief and behavior, and about the dynamics of the dispositions and deportment that shape our lives. Is the baggage 'culture' or civilization, or both, or is it really evolution? Is it religion or is it science that is the crushing pack on our back? Or are they all β€” baggage, bondage, and liberation β€” simply states of the fickle mind? Or are they byproducts of belief systems, the epicenter of which is the 'I' thought? We will probably never know, or know in a manner that stands the test of our intellect; but we 'being human' all that ambivalence and ambiguity only spurs us to speculate, search, seek, and agonize. That seeking and the frustration of not 'finding' affects our behavior.

The scriptures deal with the subject from a loftier and larger perspective. The Upanishads say that ignorance of the Self (or Atman or Brahman) is the root of the bondage, and the knowledge of the Self is the final liberation. The birth and the death of an individual, the process of reincarnation, the urge for action propelled by desires and the compulsion to contain the consciousness within the four walls of one's own body β€” all these, according to the Chandogya Upanishad, are manifests of the bondage of the individual soul. Life is a prison-house, as it were, because of a very complicated type of nescience, or ignorance that envelops our mind-dominated consciousness. According to the Chandogya Upanishad, the first requisite for liberation is dispassion, an aversion to everything ephemeral or transitory, the outward symbol of which is the body. Smug sensory satisfaction and spiritual growth are antithetical. From this premise, the Upanishad goes on to say that every attachment is a type of bondage, and in the world of ceaseless action, liberation is the release from the fetters of desire and attachment, which is not passivity or empirical inactivity but detachment from the fruits of attachment. In the ancient Indian text, Ashtavakra Gita, it is said that bondage is when the mind longs for something, grieves for something, rejects something, clings on to something, is elated about something and dejected about something; and liberation is being detached from all those somethings. In this perspective, liberation relates to a panoply of 'bondages' rooted in our mind: from the cycle of birth, from suffering, and above all from our identification of ourselves with the physical body, the Annamaya-kosha as it is called in Sanskrit. Spiritual seekers have tried to attain liberation through the practices prescribed in the scriptures; and the modern-day messiahs have tried to attain it by using reason as the sole guide and scientific method as a road map. For a truly spiritual person, duality is bondage, and non-duality (which is described as 'one without a second') is liberation. In the Hindu scripture Yoga Vasistha, it is said that there is neither bondage nor liberation but only pure consciousness, which is another way of describing non-duality. The ultimate, final liberation is from the desire for liberation itself; the longing for liberation and to leave this earth forever, is yet another bondage. For a Vedantist, once we recognize that we are neither the doer nor the enjoyer or the sufferer but an instrument of God, liberation itself loses its luster. The fact is that our consciousness, and everything in the realm of thought, are completely conditioned, be it morality or God, bondage or liberation. Despite our longing for liberty and a life of freedom, it is in 'bondage' that we live and die; what we should strive for is not liberation but the right kind of bondage. Liberation might set us free, but in bondage, one could set others free or help lessen their burdens. Once a person takes birth, the life of that individual is constrained and carries a cross of some sort. But every chain or every cross is not necessarily bad β€” it is a matter of perception. Without any chain or a cross, a person would be like a feather that gets blown all over. A chain can be an anchor and a cross can be cleansing. What is only open to us is to experience and inculcate the 'right climate of conditioning' that lets our life not go in vain on this earth at this time. It has been said that one of the Buddhas, the Amitabha Buddha, refused nirvana or enlightenment for himself unless he was given the ability to bestow the same bliss on those who sought his refuge.

Impure consciousness, the one we have, is bondage we should seek liberation from, and the baggage we want to be unburdened from is the weight of evolution. In the state of existence we are in, these are all, like much else in life, selective states of mind; a sage or a yogi is free even in a prison, and a 'free' man can feel captive in the midst of his freedom. And more conformity is required in the 'free' world. In whatever state or condition one is in or aims at, the effort has to be liberation from the bondage of the ego, to rid oneself of the mental impurities and to be able to see things as they are (not as they seem to be), what is called vipassana in Buddhist thought.

In practical life, the combination β€” or intersection β€” of 'bondage' and 'baggage' externally reflects as behavior, which is the code word for the way we interact with the outside world. Human behavior is so often bizarre, so much outside the realm of 'reasonable probability', that it raises a more fundamental question β€” is man born free as an integral part of the natural milieu but become bound by his culture, crippling his innate potential for goodness? or is he 'naturally' too dangerous an animal to be let loose? The simple question

β€” why certain people act and react the way they do and certain others do not, or why the same person behaves differently at different times β€” has baffled the best of minds. The answer lies in the three states: knowledge, ignorance, and illusion (jnana, ajnana, and maya, in Sanskrit). Put differently, when we know what to do; when we do not know; and when we think we know. These three states envelop and circumscribe our lives and become behavior.

And by observing and decoding human behavior, we can gain the knowledge necessary to understand ourselves and others. We can learn how to show empathy and compassion towards fellow humans in distress. And we acquire the skills to influence and modify or moderate the behavior of 'friends and foes' alike for common good. Human behavior, at one level, is the result of attempts to satisfy certain needs. Some of these needs may be simple to understand and easy to identify, such as the need for food and water. There are also complex needs, such as the need for respect and acceptance, the need for survival, esteem, security, social bonding, self-fulfillment. At a deeper level, human behavior constitutes the visible face of the invisible within: human consciousness. It is the mirror that reflects our true nature.

One of the most baffling philosophical but also pragmatic questions is, what really is 'being human'? While there are several explanations, some labored, some facile, in broad terms it is what we do and how we do on earth, both as individuals and as a species. 'To behave' is a socially expected attribute; we say 'behave yourself', both as an advice and as an admonition. Although much is made out about 'being human' as the ultimate state of earthly existence, the real 'uniqueness' is about 'being an individual'. With so much in common, having more or less the same body, brain, and living environment, how can humans behave so divergently? Our behavior is more diversified than our bodies; our conduct more baffling than our appearances. No two siblings, not even identical twins, are really identical in their behavior. Research shows that twins do not turn out more alike if they are raised together than if they are raised apart. Nor do adoptive siblings. Each of us, even identical twins, is thus a unique individual, wholly human but different from all other humans. As one science report put it, "One twin might get cancer while the other is not susceptible, for example. Many identical twins clearly behave differently as they grow older, and some even grow to look less alike."167 The fact is, humans have more in common physically, despite the variations in size, color, and race. The cells of everybody, who are alive today, regardless of where or how they live, contain the same 100,000 or so genes. Collectively known as 'the human genome,' these genes contain all the information that makes us appear and function as humans rather than as members of some other species. But there are others who question this mainstream view that genes contain the codes that control life. For example, the British research scientist Susan Greenfield in her book The Private Life of the Brain (2000), says, "the reductionist genetic train of thought fuels the currently highly fashionable concept of a gene for this or that."168 According to her, "(1) emotion is the most basic form of consciousness; (2) minds develop as brains do, both as a species and as an individual starts to escape genetic programming in favor of personal experience-based learning; (3) the more you have of (1), at any moment, then the less you have of (2), and vice versa. The more the mind predominates over raw emotion, the deeper the consciousness"169.

In his book Why We Do It: Rethinking Sex and the Selfish Gene (2004), the American paleontologist Niles Eldredge presents a major refutation of the almighty status of genes in evolution and human behavior and says, "genes have been the dominant metaphor underlying explanations of all manner of human behavior, from the most basic and animalistic, like sex,

167 Cited in : Live Science, Health Identical Twins Not So Identical by Robert Roy Britt, LiveScience Senior Writer, 8 July 2005, Accessed at:

168 Susan Greenfield. The Private Life of the Brain: Emotions, Consciousness, and the Secret of the Self. 2000. John Wiley Publishers. New York, USA. p.9.

169 Susan Greenfield. The Private Life of the Brain: Emotions, Consciousness, and the Secret of the Self. 2000. John Wiley Publishers. New York, USA. p.181-182.

up to an including such esoteric as the practice of religion, the enjoyment of music, and the codification of laws and moral strictures… The media are besotted with genes… genes have for over half a century easily eclipsed the outside natural world as the primary driving force of evolution in the minds of many evolutionary biologists."170

It is in the manifestation of the mind that differences are more glaring than in the anatomy or physiognomy of human beings. The differences show up as irrational, even bizarre behavior that fits no pattern and defies every logic, even self interest. In Hinduism, it is said that karma works through the mind β€” buddhi karmaanusey β€” and makes us do things we are supposed to do, to redeem our prarabdha karma (the part of one's past karma, which is to bear fruit in the future). But in so doing we also acquire new karmic bondage. Language, perhaps the most advanced human attribute, is also a divider. It is said that "using language as a criterion, there are over 5,000 distinct human populations in the world…"171. Everyone's destiny is distinct, and why one sails through life with ease and why another, who is similarly nurtured and placed, faces stormy weather, no one can tell. Equally inexplicable is the behavior which is as disparate, diverse, and multilayered as the human race. Why certain people acquire certain personalities and their lives follow a certain course, as opposed to some others who follow a different path, is a question that defies any rational explanation.

The manner in which we 'behave' depends on the subject and the context; and embraces a wide variety of circumstances such as personal, professional, social, sexual, and so forth. It is almost as if our consciousness assumes different 'avatars' while dealing with different human beings or even with the same person in different settings. One could be abominable or endearing, compassionate or cruel, caring or indifferent. The same human being is capable of different personality transformations in different settings, almost as if he manifests himself as different individuals. If what matters in the final analysis is behavior, then we seem to have no credible clues to its brittleness. To say that a person 'means well', is of little value, and has no meaning, unless that person acts righteously. In actuality, what we 'mean' is what we do, with or without our connivance. The adage, 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' is apt. And that includes not only our conduct towards each other, but also towards the earth, and towards our cousins on earth. Behavior is not only what we physically do but also how we use the gift of language and the basic building block β€” thought. 'Bad' behavior is not only a stab in the back or a slap on the face, but also a stinging word or a cutting phrase; and 'good' behavior can be a silent hug or a soothing syntax. It is how we connect, or rather do not connect, to each other that has made mankind so fractious and fearful. It is our collective behavior that has led life on earth to the present perilous pass. We behave like a species impatient to meet its doom. The psychologist Havelock Ellis said, "The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago… had they happened to be

within the reach of predatory human hands."172 Without the benevolence of Nature, without the earth's bounty, we cannot live for a second; without biodiversity, which includes millions of other species, human life is unsustainable. Many things are inexplicable in human behavior; this dependence on Nature and on our co-species is one of them. What is our true nature? What is normal and what is abnormal? What is the set of characteristics that is natural and necessary to be human? Does it emphasize freedom or bondage, license or liberation?

170 Niles Eldredge. Why We Do It: Rethinking Sex and the Selfish Gene. 2004. W.W. Norton. New York, USA. p.15.

171 Cited in: Morrison Institute for population and resource studies, Human Genome Diversity Project, Summary Document, II Introduction to the Human Genome Diversity (HGD) Project, Accessed at:

172 Havelock Ellis. The Dance of Life. 1923. Cambridge, Massachusetts,USA. p.352.

Sages like Ramana Maharshi say that liberation is our real nature and the fact that we yearn for liberation shows that freedom from all bondage is innate in us. He said "One believes that there is bondage and therefore seeks liberation. But the fact is that there is no bondage but only liberation. Why call it by a name and seek it?".

Rousseau famously said, in the opening line of his work The Social Contract (1792), that "man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains". We do not know exactly what Rousseau meant, but his words probably refer to the corrupting influence of culture on our 'natural goodness'; and that God did not create society with all its inequities, but man did. To be 'born free' also implies that we are all born in equality. Both the assumptions are at best half truths. We may dream of freedom and equality, but the reality is that in bondage and in inequality we are born, and in bondage and in inequality we live, and there is no freedom or equality in what happens after we die. Nothing is equal in the death of a baby within twenty- four hours after it is born, and a person who lives for eighty years (400,000 babies die in a year, half of them in India alone, according to the charitable organization, Save the Child).

Man has not found a way to harmonize individual freedom and common good, and when he did attempt to do so, he tended to compromise on freedom. We have not achieved the 'social compact' that Rousseau envisioned. But bondage, like its opposite, freedom, is neutral; it is not necessarily good or bad; it hinges on how the mind perceives it and reacts to it. Bondage means acceptance and restraint, and they are not always bad. Every relationship is a kind of bondage; it inherently limits even a modicum of freedom. It is non-acceptance and disobedience that causes trouble. It is disobedience, of God, that, according to the Bible, sent man out of Paradise and created sin. It is our disregard of the laws of Nature that has created the environmental crisis. The often used expression 'security of the slave', to denote a false sense of security, is not always negative; it depends on who the master is, and what kind of slavery it is. We are all 'slaves' of some sort or the other, slave to a habit, good or bad; or slave to someone we love or hate. The scriptures urge us to surrender to God or a 'guru' and in that sublime state, to suspend all judgment. This is what happens in the temporal bondage too. But Rousseau was dead right when he said, "One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they". Indeed no one is a master or a slave for nothing, no one deserves either state; and that 'something' has little or nothing to do with what we are in this life. It is part of a continuum. The premise of culture is that man cannot be left to his appetites and desires, and neither Nature nor man trust an other man without chains. Basically what chains us or binds us is the mind, as Vedanta repeatedly says. A slave may be freer than the master, and a mother can be more in chains than the just-born β€” it is all a state of mind. The real bondage is our ego and the baggage is the byproduct of evolution, the foul fallout of our fight for survival over millions of years. We must recognize the awesome truth, as Laura van Dernoot Lipsky reminded us, that the kind of human activity which enabled us to survive is what is destroying us today.

Human activity and its toxic fallout

The scriptures say that once the world comes to an end with death, darkness, and decadence, like a bad dream, mankind β€” or rather whatever or whoever remains, the truly faithful and virtuous β€” will enjoy thousands of years of beatitude, prosperity, and rectitude. The Hindu scriptures say that at the close of the Kali Yuga, God will incarnate with the name Kalki (the tenth avatar) in the house of the high-souled Vishnuyasha, the foremost Brahmin (one who is most virtuous) in the village of Shambhala, the exact location of which is hazy, but is generally believed to be somewhere in Tibet. Lord Kalki will be the king of kings riding on the fleet-footed horse Devadatta. He will traverse the globe on that swift horse and, with his sword, he will exterminate tens of millions of evil men and restore dharma and usher in a new yuga. Some say that the next divine incarnation, the savior of the world, would be a female. In the book The Mystery of the Ages (1887) by Marie, Countess of Caithness, the following prediction appears: "It was generally considered, at the turn of the next century, that the next Divine incarnation was about to come to earth and would be female, the advent of divine wisdom, or Theo-Sophia, and that the present age would be the age of making known all that which has been kept secret from the beginning."173 Whether it is to be a masculine or a feminine avatar, his or her descent, it was foretold, will herald the beginning of another Krita or Satya Yuga, the Golden Age. As the great physicist Niels Bohr quipped: predictions are hard to make, especially about the future! But since, in Nature, change is the only constant and since everything comes back to where it begins, it would be 'logical' to hope that things, after getting worse, will become better and better till they become the best. For now, we must reckon with the present.

At the root of the turbulence and turmoil in the world is our choice to ignore the fact that in the grand scheme of Nature, the mighty man too is a biological being tightly dependent on the natural world, and he cannot be immune to the havoc he is afflicting on the natural ecosystems. As the American author Henry Thoreau of the classic Walden (1854), reminded us, "Nature is full of genius, full of divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand."174 That 'hand' can also take care of any human vagaries and vanities too. Bolstered, as it were, by Biblical and Quranic imprimatur, inebriated by the power and virtuosity of technology and seduced by visions of a 'good life', and perpetual 'progress', man is waging an undeclared 'war' on Nature, putting at peril the very biosphere that makes life possible on earth. Human activity is literally exterminating hundreds of species every day, which is euphemistically called loss of biodiversity. Eminent scientist E.O. Wilson says, "When we debase the global environment and extinguish the variety of life, we are dismantling a support system that is too complex to understand, let alone replace, in the

foreseeable future."175 Such a hypothesis is hotly and viciously denied by many other scientists. Those whose mantra is economic growth β€” prescribing it as a panacea for all human ills β€” characterize environmentalism as 'anti-human', based on the 'fear of change' and on the "fear of the outcome of human action."176 They offer as proof the environmentalists' "stand for animal rights and their opposition to animal use in medical research."177 In their extreme anthropocentric view, animals are solely meant to be hunted or eaten, and any cruelty, banal or bloodcurdling, is morally permissible if it is intended for human benefit. The anti-environmentalists even contend that laws such as the Endangered Species Act have proven to be a great hindrance to economic growth, and that the Kyoto Protocol, a UN treaty that seeks to impose limits on greenhouse emissions, is 'tantamount to murder'.178

173 Cited in: Mayan End Age 12-21-2012. Predictions about the Spiritual Mother. Accessed at:

174 Cited in: Odell Shepard (ed.). The Heart of Thoreau's Journals. 1961. Dover Publications. New York, USA. p.149.

175 Edward O. Wilson, In Search of Nature. Nature's Abundance: Is Humanity Suicidal? 1996. Island Press. USA. p.190.

176 Cited in: Wikipedia. Anti-environmentalism. Accessed at: environmentalism.

177 David Holcberg. The Environmental Evil. Capitalism Magazine. USA. 18 July 2000.

178 Alan Curuba. State of Fear by Michael Crichton: Exposing the Global Warming Sham. Capitalism Magazine. USA. 15 February 2005.

A 'concerned citizen' is completely confounded when he hears and reads such conflicting statements coming from 'eminent' people and 'reputed' scientists. Strangely and sadly, those who claim that Earth and Nature come first, and those who contend that man comes first, claim that their findings come from the same 'facts'. Indeed, the sterile 'debate' about environmentalism is symptomatic of what afflicts the human condition. It shows that human intellect and intelligence can believe in anything it wants to, and is quite capable of finding the 'facts' that are necessary to substantiate its 'belief'. All this only goes to show that both 'beliefs' and 'facts' are subjective and contextual, and that the human mind is quite capable of creating them at will. We must remember that there are always inevitable subjective aspects to objective information; even the most 'proved' facts do not necessarily exist, neither in the external world nor in our minds. One of the qualities that humans do not have is consistency; we are selective in everything we think, say, and do. We are selectively compassionate and callous, kind and cruel, pious and profane, and we find no irony or inconsistency in that. And it highlights the perils of human reasoning, and analytical and deductive capacities. In such matters, science can be of little help; we have to decide by our 'gut feeling' and 'good sense.' Whether one subscribes to 'exceptionalism' or 'environmentalism', it is foolish and suicidal to ignore the implications of human conduct on earth. Really, the core issue that is hardly debated is the rightful place of man in the natural order, his rights and responsibilities commensurate with the package of faculties that Nature has bestowed upon him.

Man may or may not be "the culmination of this grand experiment of Nature that we call life",179 or, as Vivekananda said, "man alone reaches the perfection of which gods themselves are ignorant".180 But what we do know is that human society has been unable to fashion a way to live our individual lives as members of a larger community of humanity, and to manage inequality (which is inherent in Nature and more pronounced in the human species) with equality. Our society has not been able to permit the privileged to retain their power while allowing the handicapped to grow out of their handicap. Nor has it been able to let the strong remain strong while helping the weak retain their dignity. Man cannot be trusted to be left in his natural milieu, to simply live unhindered and not become a 'risk factor' to another person. Mahatma Gandhi, with his usual directness and simplicity of expression, captured the essence of human governance when he said that 'it is man's privilege to be independent, it is equally his duty to be interdependent'. The bridge between dependence and interdependence is governance. To ensure the larger and longer good in human society we need governance; to modulate and manage individual ambitions in the context of the collective good, we need governance. There is one idea that has inspired generation after generation of humans but which has always remained, save perhaps in mythical times, a step-ahead of its realization: justness. Justness is more than justice, more than 'law and order', and more than security and stability. While justice is a function of the law, justness is beyond the law; one can be lawful and yet be unjust. One could dispense justice and yet deny justness. Justness, in short, is a state of harmony, of synergy.

179 Jeremy Griffith. Beyond the Human Condition. 1991. Introduction. The World Transformation Movement, Sydney, Australia.

180 Cited in: The Eternal Wisdom: Central Sayings of Great Sages of All Times. 1993. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publications. Pondicherry, India. p.80.

Man has self-awareness but lacks self-knowledge. He has become knowledgeable without knowing; he believes without belief. Other species may lack both knowledge and belief, but they intuitively perform their assigned tasks on earth, and in their very existence, they serve the cause of creation. It is only in the case of man, admittedly the most exalted of all life on earth, that the purpose is unknown to him. By any reckoning, we are living in an extraordinary moment in the history of human knowledge, and entrenched ideas about man, matter and Nature have been overturned with breathtaking virtuosity and velocity. But what the human intelligence will never know, what man is intended not to know, and what he knows or is allowed to know, is still the 'tip of the iceberg'. There are certain things that are 'known unknowns' like death, and 'unknown unknowns' like God, and the difference between the two is immense. Let us not forget that in the Bible it was man's attempt to know more than he was allowed to that led to his fall from Paradise. Through science, man is attempting to cross that cosmic barrier once again, and how Nature/God will react one can only surmise. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss and knowledge a burden. In life, some barriers are not to be crossed and some battles ought not to be won, and some answers are best left unearthed. On the other hand, it is man's ignorance of his true essence that is at the root of his malaise. That has been the centerpiece of all scriptural and spiritual quests, and increasingly, of late, the area of scientific pursuit too. The tangential question is as follows: if everything in Nature, even ignorance, is need-based, what role does human ignorance play in furthering Nature's agenda? Perhaps Nature knows something about us that we do not. It is man's non- comprehension of his meaning and essence that has made him such a suicidal and a destructive being.

Just as the death of one species gives birth to another species, new knowledge β€” while it solves or appears to solve some issues β€” brings in new mysteries. For example, our knowledge of our place in the cosmos itself is ever changing, chipping away at our insularity and claims of cosmic singularity. Scientists now say that the ordinary matter and energy that we know of constitute only 5 percent of the universe's total mass and energy, while 'dark matter' and 'dark energy' make up the unknown remainder. 'Advanced civilizations' in our galaxy are estimated to number 10,000 to nearly one million. Everything comes from and is a part of everything else. Even for a plant, soil and seed are needed. What baffles our intelligence is dubbed as an accident, a coincidence or synchronicity, or the way of fickle fate. Our intelligence is immense but also limited; we are not even aware, or we simply pretend to be unaware, that there are boundaries for everything in Nature. Astrophysicist Jayant Narlikar zeros in on the crux of the matter when he refers to the "inadequacy of the

human mind to understand the universe in its entirety."181 We have lost one of the essential requisites for spiritual growth, what is called upasana in Sanskrit, roughly translated as meditative contemplation. The irony is that, with all its inherent limitations, we have more knowledge of the beehive than of the dynamics of human behavior. We know more about the starry skies than of our own selves, despite repeated scriptural and Delphic exhortations 'to know thyself'. It has been said that 'He who knows himself knows God', and the Qu'ran says, 'We will show them our signs in the world and in themselves, that the truth may be manifest to them.' The Upanishads say that the knowledge of the Self is the highest knowledge, higher than the knowledge of the Vedas. Gandhi (My Religion, 1959) said, "There exists only one truth in the world and that is the knowledge of self. He, who knows

181 Jayant V. Narlikar. Man, Nature and the Universe. Prakrti: the Integral Vision, Vol. 5 (Man in Nature, edited by Baidyanath Saraswati). 1995. Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, India. Accessed at:

himself, knows God and all others. He who does not know himself does not know anything. In this world there exists one force, one freedom and one justice, and that force is that of ruling over oneself. In this world, there exists only one virtue, and that is the virtue of liking others as much as one likes oneself. In other words, we should look upon others as we look upon ourselves. All other questions are imaginary and non-existing."182 There are two things that are irrefutable in human existence: (1) what any human can do, good and bad, everyone else also can do; and (2) we can only offer what we have, and cannot see something in others that is not inside us. In other words, we cannot see evil in others if we do not have evil in our own selves. To the modern man, knowledge of the Self is no more than the knowledge of one's body and biology. In the spiritual context, however, it is the quest to answer questions such as 'who am I?', 'whence have I come?', 'where do I go after death?', and 'what is the true nature of reality?' At this point in human evolution, we are in a state of "knowing the world and forgetting oneself."183 That is the fateful paradox that has become the hallmark of human intelligence.

Every species eventually becomes extinct, paving the way to the birth of another, either emanating from it or independent of it; in a way, in its extinction, it preserves that mysterious thing we call 'Life'. Just as in the human, different species have different life spans. We could well have become extinct several times by now, and no one can predict for how long we would be around. We cannot even be sure β€” if we do not hasten our doom as we are determined to do now β€” how much more time we have as a species. Some say that man has been around for approximately two billion years and could well survive for billions of years more, if the logic of the advent and extinction of species were to apply to us. We must also remember that man came pretty close to extinction once, with the human population barely numbering 10,000, and the fact that we scraped through a crisis like that was probably due to what Stephen Hawking called the Mind of God, not due to a magic wand or serendipity. Purely based on record and rationale, we ought to have given way to a more 'humane' species long ago. We are not quite sure when. Within the next two hundred or two thousand years, the species Homo sapiens may undergo one more evolution. Natural selection is supposed to make organisms fit for their environment, but there could be some exceptions. The reason, scientists say, is that "the environment in which particular species live are themselves changing, and relative to the organisms, are usually getting worse."184 In other words, 'the human organism is not able to cope with the human behavior, which is getting worse. We do not and cannot know if we would be able to evolve into the stage of final evolution, the highest life form on earth'. Or if, in the attempt to attain that state, we will violate the laws of Nature to such an extent that we would destroy ourselves. Are the tremors and rumblings we hear with ever-growing intensity and frequency the echoes of the death dance of a dying species? Or are they the inevitable tribulations of a chaotic passage into the next tier of evolution? The fact is that man cannot stay much longer as he is. He has the opportunity that comes perhaps once in the lifetime of a species to turn transition into transcendence. Man is not what he 'thinks' himself to be; and no man is what he projects himself to be. Man must and will change, sooner than we think, with his cooperation or against his will. Change could be straight or serpentine, incremental or cataclysmic.

182 M.K. Gandhi. My Religion. (Bharatan Kumarappa, ed.). Navajivan Trust. Ahmedabad, India.

183 Cited in: Divine Wisdoms: Over the Horizon's Limit. Human Knowledge. 20 August 2007. Accessed at:

184 Richard Lewontin. The Wars Over Evolution. The New York Review of Books, USA. 20 October 2005. p.52.

Man is tampering with the equilibrium of Nature, poisoning the atmosphere, and triggering and compressing into the span of a single lifetime a change that normally takes place in a geological time-frame. Despite millenniums of intelligence and endeavor, man has not found a way to manage the constraints of conflict inherent in his condition. Even if we do not really know what the essence of life is, we must start to live, not linger in nothingness.

We have not found a way to being truly social beings, perpetrators as we are of endless conflicts involving individual aspirations, ethical demands, and social concerns. Given his obsession with minimizing if not eliminating effort, man has become the most dependent creature on earth. Without the prop of tools and technology, man is truly and totally helpless. It is slowly sinking into our psyche that war and violence, terror and torture are not malevolent aberrations or primitive irrational urges, but that they are "the near-inevitable

outcome of the dynamics of self-interested, rational social organisms."185 We tend to think that violence is anti-social, illegal, the work of the mad, malevolent, and marginalized. The reality is that much of the violence in the world is 'lawful'; indeed law sans violence is unthinkable as much as law only with violence, which becomes tyranny. In fact the State enjoys monopoly in the exercise of violence. Every institution created to manage human affairs, from the family to the sovereign State, has proved to be either inadequate or inappropriate. The human decision-making processes and capacities have singularly failed either to articulate or safeguard the irreducible human interests; what is good for the species is often not good for an individual. Above all, somewhere along the long path of evolution, we have lost our sense of a species, making man the only mortal enemy of man. And our defining difference, spirituality, is left behind with the scriptures. We are so much exposed to competition, conflict, aggression, and violence that the human condition and the mind itself are 'militarized.' At this moment in the history of life on earth, the grim reality is that what we call human culture, and the way man organizes his life and conducts himself in relation to 'others', have become a cause for grave cosmic concern.

The underlying premise is (1) that the human being is special and unique, and man's fate is a 'make or break' matter for Nature; and (2) that any impending human extinction is a catastrophe to be avoided at all costs. Both reflect an exclusive human perspective. It never occurs to us that perhaps we are just like any other creature that walks or crawls on earth, a mix of mind and matter, dust and DNA, carbon and consciousness. We might well have some special attributes, though the meaning of 'special' to us is rather flexible, but that does not necessarily make us indispensable. But the prevailing mindset is that we are unique and blessed, and therefore we ought to be eternal, and anything less is a colossal cosmic calamity! We know not what awaits man in the womb of time and therefore we should do whatever we can in our allotted time to further the glory of creation. In Sanskrit, it is interesting that the word kaala means both Time and Death. In the great Indian epic Mahabharata, it is said that Time is cooking all living beings in the giant cauldron of cosmic delusion β€” with the sun as the fire, day and night as the fuel, and months and seasons as the ladle to stir the brew. In a similar vein, Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius said, "Time is a flood, an impetuous torrent which drags with it all that is born. A thing has scarcely appeared when it is carried away; another has already passed; and this other will soon fall into the gulf."186 The human species too gets cooked and falls into the 'gulf'. The question is not how soon or far, but what imprints it will leave, on the sands of Time. And when the time comes, would man leave behind the earth and the universe in better shape or worse?

185 Steven Pinker. The Blank Slate: the Modern Denial of Human Nature. 2002. Penguin Books. New York, USA. p.329.

Lives of quiet desperation

Despite millions of years of evolution, millenniums of culture and centuries of civilization, we have failed the basic test of an enlightened, egalitarian community, namely, being able to interact with another human being without trying to denude his dignity and without trying to exploit him. And yet everyone in our present society, even the exploiter, the oppressor, or the tyrant, feels he is some kind of a 'fortune's fool', a puppet, a cat's paw, and feels others are taking unfair advantage of him. Human society has long agonized over where the 'problem' lay. Some have argued that the problem is with the innate human nature, and that once we 'fix it', all the problems of the world will wither away. And there have been others who posited that the crux of the matter is the structure of society and once that is set right β€” made more just, more egalitarian, less divided, fair β€” all problems that bother humanity would vanish. The English author John Wilmot, in his poem A Satire Against Reason and Mankind, called man "that vain animal who is so proud of being rational" and that "man differs more from man than man from beast."187 Man fears another man more than a man-eating tiger; the latter is somewhere in the jungles and it must find you, but man is everywhere. Once a tiger's belly is full it is harmless; but a man's avarice is limitless. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote that human nature emphasizes our animal nature, leaving each man to live independently of his fellow men, acting only in his own self-interest, without regard for others. This produces what Hobbes called the 'state of war,' a way of life that is certain to prove 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.' According to him, human beings are physical objects, "sophisticated machines, all of whose functions and activities can be described and explained in purely mechanistic terms".188 Hobbes also said that, "Everything we choose to do is strictly determined by this natural inclination to relieve the physical pressures that impinge upon our bodies. Human volition is nothing but the determination of the will by the strongest present desire."189 It is the satiation of desire of one kind or another that consumes much of life. We live through the body and die as the body. It is not the love of life but the

thought 'what else is there?' that keeps us going. Men are in a state, as the Spanish philosopher Ortega Gasset describes, of 'existential shipwreck', symbolized by a suicide note left behind by a 12-year-old Indian girl who begins with the agonized words: "I hate my life and so I do not want to live."190 Clearly, there is something horrible at the very core of the human condition. That sense of despair about the tragedy of the human condition has been

186 The Eternal Wisdom: Central Sayings of Great Sages of All Times. 1993. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publications. Pondicherry, India. p.483.

187 John Wilmot. A Satyre Against Mankind. Accessed at:

188 Cited in: Hobbes's Leviathan. Philosophy Pages: Britannica, Internet Guide Selection. Accessed at:

189 Cited in: Hobbes's Leviathan. Philosophy Pages: Britannica, Internet Guide Selection. Accessed at:

190 The Times of India. Hyderabad, India. 25 November 2007. p.10.

shared by many creative people. An interesting anecdote is revealed in a recent book about the life of Arthur Koestler by Michael Scammell, Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic (2009). In the year 1946, Koestler, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and a few others go for a night-out in Paris. Simone, standing on a bridge over the river Seine says she sees no reason why the two β€” she and Sartre β€” should not throw themselves into the river, and Sartre, although drunk, concurs. The absurdity of the human world comes home to many people regardless of the age or gender or eminence or intellect.

Not finding something to hold on to β€” something to stabilize themselves with, not able to manage pain and pleasure, success and suffering, and buffeted by listlessness and aimlessness β€” many people, great and ordinary, are clutching at every semblance of support, like a drowning man who makes no distinction between a straw and snake in a stormy sea when all hope is slipping away. Most people are not necessarily 'unhappy' but they lead a life of limited dimension. They have at best a lukewarm relationship with most other people and find no comfort or strength in their company. Increasingly, human connection is offering little joy or comfort, creating an emotional chasm between man and man. Most lives are devoid of what the French call joie de vivre, or 'the joy of living'; they do not even live up to what in Latin is called carpe diem, live for or seize the day. Many people, these days, have nothing to live for; as someone put it, 'they spend their entire life as if their best friend just died'. The classical cause, for the sake of one's children, is losing its sheen too. Unwilling to take chances, some parents who choose the macabre option of abrupt departure from this world β€” suicide β€” are even taking their children with them. It is not always that they are deprived of the good things of life β€” family, friends, a good job, even good health; but all that still leaves a deep sense of futility. Although this malaise is universal, everyone still feels that they are the 'chosen' ones, that their life is "a diabolical trap set for them by destiny", to paraphrase the words of VΓ‘clav Havel, the Czech playwright and an ex-President.191 Most drift because they have nowhere else to go; they live because they are born, they exist because there is nothing else to do. Human institutions and relationships of wife and husband, parent and child, teacher and pupil, and citizen and society are under severe strain, because every one of them requires some 'giving up'. But man is habituated or addicted to grab and greed rather than give and share. This is often illustrated by the story of a die-hard miser who accidentally falls into a ditch. When a passer-by tries to help and says 'give me your hand', the miser hesitates; but when the person says 'take my hand', the miser grabs it! The scripture says that the only thing we take beyond life is what we give, but most people remain moderate versions of the miser and 'take and take', without ever giving anything.

That 'take-give' equation is universal and underpins all human relationships. No relationship is built on equality nor nurtured on that basis. In Nature, there is equity, balance, harmony, but not equality. No two beings are born alike or endowed equally. That is the fundamental law of Nature. The aspiration for equality, lofty as it might appear, is the cause of social breakdown; what is absent in Nature cannot be present in humanity. Man wants to be at once an island and a continent, intimate and independent, autonomous and intertwined, and many 'temporal troubles' come from that tension. Technology, which has helped man not only to survive but also to prevail over all other species on earth, has placed man in a perilous state of 'double jeopardy'; it has induced debilitating dependence on gadgets and appliances;

191 VΓ‘clav Havel (President of the Czech Republic). Speech delivered at the Gala Evening 'VΓ‘clav Havel: The Playwright as President' at the City University of New York, Graduate Center, New York, USA. 20 September 2002. Accessed at:

and it has dangerously eroded the need for human interaction in daily life. A gadget is no longer a physical object; it is a 'service' that eliminates a physical activity. A computer and a car are not simply a mix and match of various components; their essence lies in the 'software'; that can be constantly upgraded, which means that more and more of what our brain and body could do are disabled from doing. While the degree and nature of technological addiction and human alienation may vary from society to society, and person to person, there is no doubt that it is a universal phenomenon, cutting across continents and cultures. The combined effect is to denude man of the 'human touch' and to make him more self-absorbed and less tolerant of others, creating the cult of the individual. Ironically, at the same time, man is, and more so now than ever before, a competitive species, competing for everything regardless of the need or the means, to such an extent that only with a wee bit of exaggeration did Bertrand Russell say, "If there were people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we would have Paradise in a few years."192

Henry Thoreau wrote in the essay titled 'Economy', in his work Walden (1854), "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."193 Things have worsened since the 19th century: desperation is not quiet, but vocal and violent. It has led to depression and destructiveness of the self and of others.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that increasingly many people who feel lonely, abandoned, and deprived are not only killing themselves but are also killing those whom they truly love, like their own children, the premise being that the loved ones would be better off dead than being alive in this world without them. The odd thing is that on the face of it and purely in logical terms, the human race has never had it so good. Man is unchallenged on earth; he has acquired awesome powers of creation and destruction. It is even claimed that man can duplicate himself. Yet, man is perhaps the unhappiest creature on earth with the pursuit of happiness as his primary preoccupation, and as his sacred right. Only a few manage to achieve it. It is because most people try to get what they do not have, rather than appreciate what they have. As Mahatma Gandhi said, it is because what we think, what we say, and what we do, are not in harmony. Man constantly seeks unbounded joy and endless happiness but whatever he does is a repudiation of both. It has been said in the scriptures that "immediately after the formation of a man's body, joys and grief's attach themselves to it.

Although there is a possibility of either of the two overtaking the person, yet whichever actually overtakes him quickly robs him of his reason like the wind driving away the gathering clouds."194 The Lebanese-American poet and mystic Khalil Gibran wrote that "your joy is your sorrow unmasked" and that "together they come [joy and sorrow], and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed."195 And Helen Keller, whose life was an epitome of suffering, pain, and courage of the rarest kind, wrote: "we could never learn to be brave and patient if there was only joy in the world."196 But then, joy is joy and is pleasant, and sorrow is sorrow and is unpleasant.

192 The Deccan Chronicle. Hyderabad, India. 30 October 2004. p.1.

193 Cited in: Origins of Sayings - The Mass of Men Lead Lives of Quiet Desperation. Accessed at: desperation.htm

194 Kisari Mohan Ganguli. The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa. 2008. Book 12. Part I, Section

XXVIII. BiblioBazaar. p.72.

195 Khalil Gibran. The Prophet. 2006. Jaico Publishing House. India. pp.36-37.

196 The Hindu. Hyderabad, India. 2 November 2004. p.2.

Both are states of the mind. Man is unhappy and desperate because he is ruled by his mind, and it is in the intrinsic character of the mind to be restless and avaricious, never satisfied with what it has. The mind of man looks upon another human being at best as a competitor, an arch rival, save a very few 'near and dear'.

Man has always feared anarchism, realizing that if everyone does what he wills to do, the brute might well triumph, and the weak, vulnerable and disadvantaged would suffer.

Governance, shorn of all its sophistry, is a process of decision-making and decision implementation, designed to allow diverse people with different abilities and handicaps to live in harmony and security. Because we are complex creatures with competing and colliding priorities, passions, prejudices, needs, and wants, and because we lead complex lives that call for constant 'give and take', and since human tendency is to take and not give, we need governance at every stage and level of life, governance that is both responsive and responsible, which reflects the tenor of its citizens and yet induces them to rise above themselves. In other words, we need external governance because we do not have internal governance, sometimes called 'spiritual governance', which is necessary for spiritual growth. Because we cannot contain or channel our thoughts, feelings, longings that could create social tensions, we need an agency that regulates our conduct and behavior, and curbs our tendency for avarice and aggression. Some thoughtful people say that such internal spiritual governance, while earlier necessary for individual salvation, is now necessary for species survival. For, as Andrew Harvey puts it, the "massacres of the past, though filled with every form of cruelty… did not menace all existence down to the last dolphin and mouse and fern. There has always been in the human psyche a tendency to rage against wisdom and its demands, but this tendency has escalated through technology and mind control to what can

only be called a genocide of wisdom."197 In the absence of some sort of inner awakening, some sort of spiritual renaissance, all our attempts to make governance capable of addressing global problems, and human conduct more contributory to planetary well-being, will only have marginal effect.

The quest for 'good governance'

We routinely use the word 'governance' to refer to an external power; as something that 'puts us in our place' through inducement, coercion or force. But true governance is equally internal. Something or the other, someone or the other, governs or tries to govern in human life. The Athenian politician and general, Themistocles said, "The Athenians govern the Greeks; I govern the Athenians; you, my wife, govern me; your son governs you."198 But it is the absence of internal governance that necessitates external governance. Since we seem incapable of self-governance, we need an extraneous authority to take 'good' decisions and to get them implemented. And since we seem inherently incapable of voluntarily controlling ourselves, we need an external power to perform that function for the common good. But since that 'external power' is also human, subject to the same frailty (not being able to control itself), the problem persists. Indeed, it can become worse unless that 'external control' is of the right kind. The dilemma of man is that some measure of 'governance' is inescapable in life but few, if any, humans have the wisdom necessary to govern others. Human society cannot exist without governance. The problem is that those who are good and worthy shun

197 Andrew Harvey. The Return of the Mother. 2001. Tarcher/Putnam. New York, USA. p.12.

198 Cited in: Robert Andrews. The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations. 1989. Columbia University Press, USA. p.113.

the process of governance; and the crafty and clever capture the levers of governance. The British-American author Thomas Paine phrased the dilemma well when he said that the best of governance is a necessary evil, and the worst intolerable. Plato wrote that "the punishment which the wise suffer, who refuse to take part in the government, is to live under the government of worse men."199 The dilemma endures. Every form of governance, from City- State to Nation-State, to the League of Nations to the United Nations, has failed to measure up to its intent and expectations. Mankind remains fragmented and fractured, and has not been able to create any collective institution that can truly project and pursue the human cause. And the human will remain in this state unless he himself changes and transforms from within. We must give serious thought to the question as to why human intellectual and creative capacity, which has been so productive in so many fields, has never been able to actualize Lincoln's elevating concept of 'government by the people, of the people and for the people', in which everyone can find avenues for full utterance of their inherent potential without exploiting anyone else. The problem is not with the institution; nor with the ingenuity or the lack of its founders; it is the mind of man that does not know how to govern or be governed.

Yet the thirst for 'good governance' is as old as human civilization, as old as the idea of utopia, where everyone lives in a society that enables every individual to rise to his full potential while also contributing to the common good. The air is thick with talk of 'good governance' and 'globalization'; but rarely in conjunction with each other. What the world needs is 'globalized good governance', a paradigm and a process at the global level, which lends itself suitably and sensitively to a truly planetary approach to planetary problems, and which empowers and enables an institution that is charged with that responsibility. The United Nations, as it is now structured and operates, cannot play that part. The truth of the matter is that the earth, as the heart and home of humankind, can no longer be sustained by a post-war fabricated international institutional framework like the United Nations and the World Bank. The main stumbling block is nationalism β€” which Einstein called 'the measles of mankind', and Erich Fromm, 'our form of incest, …our idolatry, …our insanity' β€” and our almost compulsive inability to put the world ahead of the nation, and the nation ahead of the individual. Few care to know what their governments do to others ostensibly for their sake. No inhumanity is too much if it is supposed to protect or further 'national interest'. And if a nation is in a 'state of war', declared or undeclared, then all bets are off on what it would not do; blowing up a hospital or bombing a nursery is called 'collateral damage'. The very code that governs 'being human' becomes inoperative, even unpatriotic. The phrase 'good governance' itself has become an oxymoron; governance has to be participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective, equitable, and inclusive. It is doubtful if we will ever find a paradigm that encompasses all those elements, at least in the present state of mind of humanity. Aldous Huxley summarized the human dilemma and wrote that "one of the many reasons for the bewildering and tragic character of human existence is the fact that social organization is at once necessary and fatal. Men are forever creating such organizations for their own convenience and forever finding themselves the victims of their home-made monsters."200 We continue to grope, and things are getting no better.

199 Plato. Historic Quotes and Proverbs Archive. Accessed at:

200 Aldous Huxley. Finest Accessed at: Organization-page-0.htm

There is almost a universal sense of dissatisfaction and disenchantment with the structure of governance, whether it is local or global, municipal or national. Some say we get the governance we deserve; others say it is our leaders who have failed us. The malaise is systemic, not institutional. Whether it is the leaders or the laymen, representatives or the represented, they all come from the same stock, human, and their behavior is a reflection of their position and placement. The bottom-line is the mind, which quickly adjusts to the context and tries to take full advantage to further its own agenda. The prevailing political paradigm, in many ways, perhaps the worst of the lot thus far, is the structure of a sovereign state. Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian political theorist said that "the state then is the most flagrant negation, the most cynical and complete negation of humanity"201. The State has almost displaced the world, even the universe, and the family, as the center of human attention and allegiance. The rulers of the modern 'militarized' State exercise more power and control over the citizens than in any other model of governance. Even Plato conceded that the rulers of the State are the only ones to have the privilege of lying. Of course they all do, and more than that, they have the privilege β€” and legitimacy β€” to wage war, murder, torture, lie and cheat, all in the name of 'just' governance and to 'protect' the lives and liberty of the people. A citizen is a subject and a supplicant, if not a slave of the State. National interest overrides human rights and morality is the first casualty. Next only to religion, it is the state-sponsored nationalistic fervor that contributes most to human killing.

Although only a few centuries old, the political model of Nation-State serious questions are being raised about its durability and its relevance to the so-called 'flat world' and to solve global problems that require global, not national, solutions. Some argue that it has already become a major source of discontent, division, and disarray in human affairs. Many think that its days are numbered, but no viable alternative is visible on the horizon. Sovereignty has become a straightjacket, shorthand for unquestioned and unaccountable authority, requiring implicit and total acceptance and obedience to its diktat. Not only does the modern State trample upon its citizens, but also the very logic of its survival often requires that it should be in a state of hostility with at least one other State, to compete for hegemony, resources, influence, and ideology. The doctrine of absolute State sovereignty has come to mean that the government of the day can do what it chooses to do with its subjects without any outside interference. The world has witnessed rulers like the communist leader Mao Zedong, who preferred to let 30 million of his country's citizens die in the years 1958- 1961 due to famine, rather than seek outside help, fearing 'loss of face' and 'erosion' of China's international standing. With rare, if any, exceptions, most of the ruling elites are those who do not believe or practice what was written about the ideal ruler more than three thousand years ago. In the famous Indian classic Arthasashtra, Kautilya writes, "In the happiness of his subjects lies his [the King's] happiness; in their welfare his welfare. He shall not consider as good only that which pleases him but treat as beneficial to him whatever pleases his subjects."202 The State has turned out to be a competitive body which believes that its own survival and strength depend not on its intrinsic worth, but on the demise and weakness of other states. Modern technology has given to the State awesome powers of surveillance, control, and subjugation of its citizens.

201 Mikhail Bakunin. Ethics: Morality of the State. Accessed at: anarchists/bakunin/writings/ethics_state.html

202 S.K. Agarwal. Towards Improving Governance. Kautilya on Governance, Self-Discipline, and Riches. 2008. Academic Foundation. New Delhi, India. p.22.

The wide disparities in the size, resources, and strength (economic and military) of States, have, among other things, skewed global resource utilization and decision-making. The emergence of the environment as an important global issue has added a new element. In earlier times, human beings largely lived in harmony with Nature, and there was no need for any institutional authority to enforce harmony. The absence of any effective global institutional authority today has pushed global interests to the back burner. What is urgently needed is the cooperation of the States, particularly the strongest ones, in protecting the environment, and thereby ensure the welfare of the unborn generations. The fact is that both individual and global interests are fast becoming casualties at the hands of the modern sovereign State.

The moot question is whether the world would move towards gigantism and centralization, Γ  la the English novelist George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), or shift gears towards a mix of strong grassroots and global governance. Man needs to move at once in two apparently opposing directions: proximate local governance, and institutionalized planetary governance. Many have dreamt of a world government but, given the human condition, it will remain largely a dream unless the mindset of man changes radically. The fact is that not only the States but even the 'citizens of the world' want a world government that is empowered to exercise the kind of powers that national governments currently exercise. Furthermore, one is not even sure if an executive global government would not turn into a kind of Orwellian 'Oceania' (a fictional state), a colossal coercive and possessive apparatus. That risk is always there, but it is debatable which portends a greater risk: the present paralysis and regression caused by the clash of 'national interests', or an imperfect but effective global government. A decade or two ago, one could make a persuasive case from both ends. But no longer now: none of the serious problems the world is now facing, from terrorism to climate change, can be seriously addressed with the status quo. The world needs a strong, truly international, not intergovernmental, organization to take care of the global issues, and to settle the plethora of inter-State and even intra-State problems without giving way to violence and war, and the resultant global catastrophe. As the perennial but abortive 'reform' of the United Nations demonstrates, no true change can occur because those whose consent and cooperation is required are the direct beneficiaries of the present intergovernmental power structure. In the absence of any strong global constituency at the grassroots level, there is no pressure for global governance from any quarter. Even at the national level, interpersonal governance has to be necessarily local. Power has to be proximate to be responsible and responsive. The power to raise revenues and cater to human needs must rest with the representative body closest to the people. The corridors of power have to be within easy reach for policy corrections. The ideal would be to return to the model of City-States and village republics as the principal political centers of governance. And what we now call country or State, would have only those powers and resources that are commensurate with its responsibilities at that level.

That is the only way we can solve the riddle posed by Paul ValΓ©ry, the French poet: "If the State is strong, it crushes us, if it is weak, we perish."203 Sovereignty should be with the people, and the bulk of governance should be at two levels: at the grassroots level, and at the global level. Proximate governance can be strong, representative, and responsible, and global governance can take care of global issues free from the shackles of intergovernmental, 'zero-sum' interplay. Many thoughtful people are of the view that we may be present at a historic time of decay and death of the modern State, but they lament that there is no acceptable successor model. The very technology that has empowered these Nation-States to become so powerful is inexorably weakening their monopoly of power.

203 Cited in: Robert Andrews. The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations. 1989. Columbia University Press. USA. p.253.

No one seems to be clear about how the fate of the 'nation-state' will play itself out, what more calamities and genocides are still in store, how long it will remain as the premier political principle, what will be its death blow. There is however mounting concern that it is fast losing its legitimacy, that it is increasingly becoming an oppressive instrument, even a prime source of immorality, and an impediment to global solutions to globalized problems… We believe and behave as though the State is as 'natural' to the human condition as a spouse: something to live with, whether we like it or not. The origin and purpose that made man embark on this process, namely the need for an external but representative authority to optimize the diversity in the human race for the larger good, has been forgotten. We cannot manage diversity through uniformity; logically that calls for diversity in structures and shades of sovereignty. Further, political, social, economic sovereignties need not be coterminous.

While the world is getting economically, electronically, and environmentally intertwined, politically it lies fractured and paralyzed. The State is the stumbling block; or more precisely national governments. There is hardly any thinking about this pivotal subject, be it at the intellectual level or the institutional level. The world today has no road map, no models, no uplifting vision, no new ideas. It is as if the human mind has run out of ideas; or perhaps the status quo seems to suit it. The guiding principles for political reform have to be ascending and proximate power; maximum power at the grassroots and global levels; and power, resources and responsibilities must go hand in hand at each layer of governance: local, national, and international.

Earth and its false gods

The underlying dictum for any new model of governance has to be the premise that human beings do not own the earth; they are no more than the caretakers and the custodians. The task of conservation, restoration, and rational use of the earth is vitally linked to the question "Who owns the Earth?" The health of the human being and the well-being of the earth are interrelated. It is unlikely that environmental degradation, about which there is heightened awareness now, will cease until the exploitation of the human being is alleviated. The pressures upon those who are themselves exploited, to exploit in turn each other and the environment is too great a temptation. The roots of warfare, causes of environmental exploitation, and the context of human degradation cannot be considered apart from each other; they are woven into the institutionalized fabric of the current state of the world. We cannot insure a safe and secure planet in a world of few masters and many slaves, obscene opulence, and abysmal deprivation. In reality, man has become the guard who robs the bank, the fence that devours the crop, the babysitter who throttles the baby. We are the 'false gods' that rule the earth. According to ancient civilizations and the more recent Gaia theory, the earth is not an inert terrain, replete with rocks and minerals and covered by topsoil, but a vibrant, living organism, as alive as a human being. Nothing in Nature, from an anthill to a snake pit, from the rainforest to a desert, is redundant, and the enforced absence of any of them leaves a void. It is a grand scheme that a million mother computers cannot recreate. A Native American proverb reminds us that "we do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."204 The burden of the parasitical and predatory man on the earth

204 Cited in: The Times of India. Hyderabad, India. 25 October 2004. p.2.

seems to have become just too much even for the resilient and forgiving earth. One of the few issues on which almost all pundits and think tanks, national policy makers and international organizations agree, is that human numbers on the earth are unsustainable. According to them, the most burdensome baggage we β€” and the earth β€” carry is our own selves, in terms of sheer human numbers; more precisely, the ones waiting to arrive on earth as humans. If we can shut the doors on them, the planet will be a paradise. There is a paradox here. On the one hand, the growing numbers of the most intelligent, productive, and the 'closest to God' species on a global scale is considered a threat to earthly stability, and on the other hand, the dwindling numbers of the lowly species, from tigers to insects, has become a matter of concern. We have projects and missions to save other species from extinction, but we do everything we can to hasten our extinction. We say that in some parts of the earth, like Japan and Europe, humans are too few, and in other parts, like South Asia, there are too many; the effort is to curtail human births in some parts and to increase in the other parts. So our 'rational' policy is three-fold: to save the tiger, which is a potential man-eater; offer incentives to produce more babies on one side, including through artificial means; and kill babies in the womb, if need be, to drastically reduce the population growth on the other side. And such is the poverty and travesty of our genius that we cannot think, let alone plan, globally and as one species. Our attitude towards the 'others' on earth is laid back, if not downright hostile; it is the other man we fear. The existence of species like insects is critical for continuance of life on earth; not that of our fellow humans. It is the humans who are expendable, not 'wild life'. The latest assault comes from some environmentalists like James Lovelock who say that the way to solve the problem of climate change is through population control, which is really pointing at the poorer parts of the world. While fewer humans on the earth is good for other reasons, as far as global warming (the chief cause of climate change) is concerned, it is the thinly populated rich countries that contribute many times over to the emission of greenhouse gases. Therefore even if the developing world freezes or rolls back its population, there will be no significant impact on problems such as global warming. Global warming and wealth are linked; even in developing countries it is the rich who are the guilty. In our culture, and even in our sense of moral equivalence, the governing principle of human behavior is 'affordability', not sustainability; the overriding thought seems to be: "if I can earn and pay for it, I can do anything". The very rich can, and the poor cannot, afford what it takes to warm the globe. It is the ultra-affluent who are trashing the planet, not the abysmally poor of say, Africa or Asia. The real baggage or burden is not the numbers; Nature will find a way to handle it in its own way. It is our behavior, more specifically our behavior towards Mother Nature.

Man's attitude towards Nature, without whose benevolence he would become extinct, instantly defies all logic and all intelligence. Does it have something to do with our roots?

Charles Darwin, at the close of his seminal book The Descent of Man (1871), rudely reminds us that whatever man may do and accomplish, he cannot get rid of what he called man's 'lowly origins.' Apart from the questionable qualification of 'lowly', could it be that since man cannot manage to get rid of his animal origin, he has subconsciously harbored a deep- rooted and ambivalent attitude towards animals? Incidentally, this happens to be another snapshot of the Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith's theory that he puts forth in his book, A Species in Denial (2003). The touchstone of a species' morality is how its members treat others, within and without the species, particularly the weaker ones. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote: "Two things fill me with constantly increasing admiration and awe, the longer and more earnestly I reflect on them: the starry heavens without and the moral law within."205 That 'within', is deeply vulnerable to situations, distractions, rewards, and penalties. Even to the best of us, being moral, like helping someone in obvious distress, is a matter of circumstance, effort and cost; if it is too inconvenient, too pricey, like missing a train or an important appointment, we will pass by pretending we did not really see or, hoping that someone else, less pressed or more compassionate, will stop to help; and if no one does, there is always comfort in the thought 'after all, such is life'. That 'moral flaw' manifests not only in man's dealings with other humans but also in his stance towards other species. Man may have some semblance of a right to mistreat other humans, but not other species. No species, however intelligent, deserves to prevail on earth if it treats other species as cruelly and callously as humans do. It is not killing as such that is heart-rending or abhorrent, but the needless pain and senseless suffering we inflict on animals. One does not have to be an ardent animal activist to shrink in shame at what men do to animals. Mark Twain summed it up well: "All creatures kill…man is the only one…. that kills in malice, the only one that kills for revenge".206 And for sport and profit as well. It is not that other animals never kill their kith and kin (e.g. polar bears kill baby seals for breakfast) but not very often and when they do, they do it for a good reason, for sheer survival. The human animal, on the other hand, kills all the time, and for reasons as wide as the human emotions from love to hate, from amusement to enrichment, from sport to profiteering, from ransom to revenge to religion.

Sometimes, killing is not even the primary purpose; the initial intent could be stealing or rape, but to abort identification, the killing becomes collateral, a calculated act of self- preservation. Science and technology have made killing easier and more methodical, and enable us to enact it on a mass scale with minimum effort. However, in truth and in all fairness, it is not science or technology or the merger of the two that is murderous; it is the human mind that is able to conceive and execute such deeds and still be 'in accord' with itself, and find explanations and excuses.

Man's last citadel of pride in 'not being an animal' β€” that he alone can think, plan, and create, and that animals behave instinctively, while he is clearly calculated and thoughtful in his behavior β€” is being chipped away. Animals too have minds of their own, they can communicate, show emotion, feel pain, and express grief and empathy. An article in the National Geographic magazine noted, "This is the larger lesson of animal cognitive

research. It humbles us. We are not alone in our ability to invent and plan..."207 It does not necessarily mean that we do not have more finely tuned faculties; it simply means that we have no monopoly over any particular capability among the species in Nature. The difference between humans and animals on the one side, and plants and trees on the other side, is also being whittled away by new research. Plants and trees may be permanently stationary, but they too can, as experiments have revealed, register pain and terror when they are about to be ripped apart. It is what some ancient faiths and societies had long believed; they showed reverence even in cutting trees and killing animals. It is amusing how much and how repeatedly man, who aspires to become God, compares himself with animals and chuckles in satisfaction at his conclusion that he fares better. We constantly hear the words 'animals cannot think'. Our mind is made up about the 'obvious': animals may think but they do not know that they think; they cannot feel pain; they do not have consciousness, which we do; animals simply live in the present, but we have a sense of the past and future, and so forth. Despite man's belief in his innate or proximate divinity, animals have become man's measure of his worth. If man cannot understand how his own brain functions, through psychology, autopsy or dissection, how can he decode what other species think or know what they do not know? For all we know, animals might be thinking that they are superior to humans!

205 Immanuel Kant. Philosophy Paradise. Famous Philosophy Quotes. Accessed at:

206 Mark Twain. Directory of Mark Twain's maxims, quotations, and various opinions.

Accessed at:

207 Virginia Morell. Animal Minds: Minds of their Own. National Geographic Magazine. USA. March 2008. p.33.

Scientists like Temple Grandin, author of the book, Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior (2005), tells us that humans and animals have the same neurons, but that we use them differently. The cells are the same. For example, it is reported that a mouse has 30,000 genes, with 99 percent of them having direct counterparts in humans. The author also argues that autism is a "kind of way station on the

road from animals to humans."208 The sensory powers of animals evolved in a manner suited to that species and necessary for survival in a hostile environment. One or an other animal, as noted before, can see better, hear better, and smell better than man. Dogs, for example, are known to sense the death of their masters thousands of miles away; they have what humans call extrasensory perception (ESP). In fact, it has been said that, initially, humans too had the kind of sensory sharpness and ESP that many animals have, and perhaps we would have continued to have such capabilities, had we not developed the ability to make tools and technology. Animals may live at the level of survival and subsistence, but that also means, unlike man, their mode of existence is need-based, not want-based. They may not have a sense of past and future; at least, that is what we think, but their mode of living is more farsighted and in harmony with Nature than that of modern man. Maybe they are more spiritual in the true sense of the term.

Among the myriad modes that man adopts to separate himself from the other species is the claim that he is a 'moral animal', which, incidentally, is the title of Robert Wright's book The Moral Animal (1994). Everything, from the scriptures to Darwin, asserts that it is morality that separates man from animals. Implicit in that belief is that we alone are 'naturally' capable of knowing what is moral and what is not. We like to believe it, but history does not bear it out. Even if we do have that 'capability', the fact that we so often fail to put it into effect makes us more culpable; which is worse than not having such capability at all. No animal, for instance, could have thought of mass extermination as the Final Solution; or massacre as a means of ethnic cleansing; or of 'genocidal rape', which is rape over extended periods to inflict intolerable shame and guilt, to traumatize and to forcibly impregnate the 'enemy' women. And how can we apply human standards of morality or evil to other species whose instincts, needs and rituals of life are different from those of man?

When a great white shark brutally forces a female into submission, it copulates with her, but it does not rape her. For animals, unlike humans, are not moral agents with moral duties to observe. Perhaps man was conceived and designed to be a moral animal, or perhaps morality grew out of survival or reproductive need, but we have by now lost that distinction by virtue of our conduct. Worse still, man has lost the moral discriminatory capacity to distinguish between the moral and the amoral. And if we do know what the moral choice is, we often feel helpless in going against it. For, we have come to believe that morality is a fool's choice in the kind of world we have fashioned through our own choices.

208 Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson. Animals In Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. 2005. Scribner. New York, USA. p.6.

Whether morality and, by extension, human behavior have genetic roots has been a subject of evolutionary psychology. Most people agree that being 'moral' is important not only for spiritual reasons but also for social reasons. But opinions, even among scholars, differ as to what 'being moral' means. To some, morality is not a simple choice between good and bad, white and black; one has to make choices between the shades and hues, and between different 'cocktails' of virtue and evil. It is true that there is no simple, single litmus test for morality; it is relative and subjective to time, place, and person. Factors like where, by whom, and when a certain action is performed determine whether that action is moral or not. If a soldier kills in a state of war, it is heroism; if the same person kills at home, even if in self-defense, it becomes a crime. We condone multiple sexual partners, but consider horizontal plurality (i.e., same-gender partners) both a sin and a crime. We cannot codify or shackle what 'being moral' means in the cauldron of samsara, the sensory world, in which so many colliding factors have to be balanced in deciding the right thing to do in a given context; in the end, it all boils down to a kind of an intuitive 'gut feeling'. One has to nurture and develop an almost visceral capacity to weigh and choose the right over wrong.Most of all, humans are bereft of a sense of affinity, bonding, and solidarity. Without some sort of a relationship, we might as well be another species. Hannah Arendt, author of The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and The Human Condition (1958), wrote that "men, not Man, live on the Earth, and inhabit the world."209 Man becomes 'men' through bonding, and in its absence, humankind remains a conglomeration of disparate individuals, not a cohesive community with shared values and a common destiny. Albert Schweitzer, winner of the Nobel Peace prize (1952) said, "The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings."210 Our bonding increasingly appears to be a bondage; and our solidarity, that of slaves. The Indian mystic Meher Baba said that bondage is not a meaningless episode in the passage of life, and to experience freedom one must experience being caged, just as a fish must come out even momentarily to understand the value of water. The Argentinean writer Jorge Borges summarized a Plutonian hypothesis: "Individuals and things exist in so far as they participate in the species that includes them, which is their permanent reality."211 At this point, we are only human because we have in its essentials the same body; one has to take a long pause to think of anything else that connects humans selected randomly. The air is thick with talk of globalization, interconnectivity, brotherhood and so on, but in practice we are torn farther apart from each other as ever before. We must realize, as the French writer Antoine de Saint ExupΓ©ry put it, "It is another of the miraculous things about mankind that there is no pain nor passion that does not radiate to the ends of the earth. Let a man in a garret but burn with enough intensity and he will set fire to the world."212 At the same time, the tragedy of the human condition is that the only pain or passion we feel in our consciousness is our own. To act any differently, we need a consciousness change.

209 Cited in: New World Encyclopedia. Hannah Arendt: Thought and Works. The Human Condition. Accessed at:

210 Albert Schweitzer. Accessed at:

211 Eliot Weinberger (ed.). Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Non-Fictions. 1999. Penguin Books. New York, USA. p.127.

212 Cited in: Antoine de Saint-ExupΓ©ry. Wikiquote. Wind, Sand and Stars (1939). Accessed at:Γ©ry

For human behavior to be any different from what it has come to be, we need a brand new mindset. This is not a new revelation or discovery. Prophets and saints have said the same. Consciousness is both plural and singular. It is the divine force underlying the cosmos, which, in Sanskrit is called mahat-tattva, the first of seven cosmic transformations, the primordial Universal Mind or Infinite Intellect. But it is also specific β€” or appears to be β€” to every species and every individual. The attempt to merge the individual consciousness into the cosmic consciousness, the jivatma into the paramatma, as it is described in the Upanishads, is the spiritual journey every individual must embark upon.

Consciousness is itself a storehouse of impressions or vasanas, carried over from previous lives. And the karmic latencies of those impressions, in turn, influence and condition our behavior. Our consciousness therefore is not only what we happen to have, but what we have earned or acquired, a reward as well as a retribution. The outward extension of consciousness, its practical manifestation is conduct, and the process of this transformation is still a perplexing puzzle. It is clear that for rightful conduct we need the right kind of perception, and for that we need right consciousness. The scriptures emphasize this point.

Jainism, for example, places great importance on right perception and says that conduct devoid of right perception and right knowledge is meaningless ritualism, and in the present context, dangerous empiricism. It defines rightful conduct as the absence of skepticism, renunciation of all possessions and avoidance of all sinful and materialistic endeavors. That might be too high a standard for this age and world. The bare minimum ought to be what is called the Golden Rule or principle, which has been variously formulated but which really is something like 'what you would not have done to yourself, do not do to another' and 'what you dislike, do not do to anyone'; and putting it more positively, 'whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them'. But even that seems a far cry from the current ebb and flow of modern life whose metaphor is 'I keep what I have and take what you have'.

Ironically, at the same time, as advances in technology have made it possible to undertake a detailed study of human genetic variation, humankind is moving towards intensive amalgamation through travel, trade, and immigration, and increasing inter-cultural and inter-race marriages and sexual unions. But the tragedy is that such coalition has not helped in building bridges across minds; nor has it fostered anything like a global culture.

The 'globalized' globe continues to be a fractured world. It may be electronically 'flat', but functionally it is full of potholes. The sorry state of our species is that man has lost the sense of participation in a common mission; his only 'mission' is to expand the frontiers of his personal 'world' regardless of the means; the only aim is never to stop 'getting rich'. We do not see the need or virtue in coming together; indeed no cause worthy of interlinking energies, and no gain in that pain. Philosophers like Plato have argued that 'love directs the bonds of human society.' That still remains lofty and desirable but the state of human emotions belies that. Our expectations are at someone else's expense; our desires are often injurious to fellow humans. Everyone yearns for happiness but actually courts unhappiness by unfavorably comparing oneself with others. Everyone wants happiness and good things in life without doing any good. Everyone wants to dodge the ill effects of evil while doing evil. Man asks 'Why me?' when it comes to change, and 'Why not me?' when it comes to sharing the spoils of the status quo. The phenomenal world is one but the mental worlds are as many as the number of humans on earth. What matters to most people in the real world are their kith and kin, their family and friends; the rest are at best a statistic, at worst, dispensable. Isaiah Berlin was quoted as having said "There are 567 people in the world and I know all of them."213 Everyone has a similar number. The wide disparity in the way we view the few, and the rest, is one of the triggers for what is wrong in the human world. We shower our attention, affection, and caring for a handful and ignore the rest, as if they are aliens that deserve only suspicion, not support. Human diversity is breathtakingly beautiful; it also hides many deficiencies and discrepancies that defy explanation or any excuse. The stark reality is that with all our blinding insights into the brain, biology, and behavioral psychology, we just do not have a clue about what makes a human, about what a human becomes, and about what divides the best and the rest, the wise man and the fool, the leaders and the followers. We certainly know a lot more about the mechanisms that underlie many cellular processes but very little about the psychic β€” or karmic β€” underpinning of human personality. We know that the machine has radically altered the human way of life, but what about the human organism? Does our future lie within our genes or in our technology? Are we the harbingers of the next dominant intelligence on earth, the machine or a mix of machine and man, the former being the preponderant partner? What effect will such an 'evolution' have on human behavior? One widespread view is that in the age of mediocrity and mechanization, what is required to be great or good has become a casualty of what Einstein termed as the 'worship of acquisitive success' by contemporary society. Such people argue that our addiction to the 'shortcuts and short terms' of our science-suffused culture aborts the birth of seminal ideas, of truly great works of art, architecture or literature, and that the sheer act of living in our competitive and daunting world denudes greatness. And that our ordinary lives are so exposed to the slew of irresistible sensory pleasures that it requires almost superhuman effort to withstand them and be prepared to pay the price of goodness. Einstein said in the year 1949 that the economic anarchy of the capitalistic society was the real source of evil.

213 Isaiah Berlin. A Letter on Human Nature. The New York Review of Books, USA. 23 September 2004. p.20.

Evil β€” be thou my good

Whether it is economic or environmental, social or religious, evil reigns unchallenged across the length and breadth of the human world. It manifests in multiple ways, like intolerance, discrimination, exploitation of the weak, calculated callousness, wickedness, and cruelty. But they all stem from the same source of supply β€” mind-controlled human consciousness. The phantom of evil keeps coming back over and over again because that is the centrality of human life. It is wholly human and has nothing to do with our animal antecedents. Evil is usually contrasted with good, which describes acts that are subjectively beneficial to the observer. In some religions, evil is an active force, often personified as an entity such as Satan (Christianity), Iblis (Islam), or Ahriman (Zoroastrianism). In Hinduism, it is generally believed that there is no 'problem of evil' as such because it is not deemed to be all that distinct from 'good', and is explained or explained away by doctrines like dwanda, maya, karma, reincarnation, which seek to elevate the believer above both 'good and evil'. The duality of 'good versus evil' is expressed, in some manner or another, by many cultures. But the real 'problem' that has haunted man down the ages and most of all today, is why we find it so difficult to be good and fall such easy prey to evil. It absolves no one; as Rene Descartes said, 'the greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as of the greatest virtues', and we have no idea what truly differentiates one from the other. Often it seems, as Arjuna pleaded with Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, we are propelled by a mysterious malign force. If that was the fate of Arjuna, the dearest friend of Krishna and an incarnation of Nara of the deity Nara-Narayana in the Dvapara Yuga, what about ordinary humans in this sinful Kali Yuga? First, we must understand the nature of the beast, and we must acknowledge that evil is not 'existential' or 'irrational' or 'circumstantial'. It is caused, or greatly accentuated, by the very faculty that we are so proud of: that of thought and feeling we experience as human beings. Evil is not 'good' masquerading behind a mask, and it cannot be alchemically altered into 'good' by tolerance or acceptance. Our state of mind parallels that of Milton's Satan (Paradise Lost; Book IV), whose motto was 'So farewell, Hope; and with Hope farewell, Fear; Farewell, Remorse! all Good to me is lost; Evil, be thou my Good…', Evil is rampant, pervasive but no one admits he is evil. We bemoan that the world is bereft of virtue, but, deep inside, we firmly believe that we are virtuous. And when evil cannot be wished away, we turn a Nelson's eye, and protest our ignorance and innocence. Moral philosophers have told us that indifference to evil is not only an endorsement of evil, but evil itself; there is not much difference between love of evil, and indifference to good or evil. That indifference is intellectualized, and is really an outcome of our being, as Aristotle said, 'a rational animal'. And that 'rationality' is what allows us to remain indifferent to the other's suffering while leading perfectly 'normal' lives, even 'moral' lives. Instead of being indifferent to the results of our actions, as exhorted by the Bhagavad Gita, we are indifferent to evil, and to the misery of our fellow species. And there is a moral difference between stoic indifference and selfish indifference. The doctrine of dharma also says that not performing one's swadharma, one's prescribed social obligation, is also evil. The very essence of the Gita is this. While etymologically, 'indifference' means 'no difference', operationally it makes a world of difference in the equation between 'good' and 'evil'. For a species that claims to have high emotional intelligence and innate spiritual intelligence, the degree and extent of lack of empathy for and bonding with fellow humans is stark and striking. While admittedly all our experiences are bodily experiences and nobody can experience the same experiences as any other, the fact is that we would rather be a slave than share, and rather be in bondage than bond with those outside the narrow but rapidly shrinking circle of 'humans we distinguish as family and friends'. That 'discrimination' leads to a huge chunk of humanity being left uncared for and abandoned. The best of us are indifferent to their plight, and that reduces us to an irrelevant, if not malicious, abstraction. Albert Einstein said that our task must be to widen the circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of Nature in its beauty. Helen Keller called the apathy of humans the worst of all evils. Mother Theresa said that the most terrible feeling in life is to feel unwanted and abandoned. Most people convince themselves that they are oppressed (or downpressed as Bob Marley would say) by the 'system,' but given a chance, they would have no qualms about sharing its spoils.'Modern man', intolerant and in the grip of greed, is perhaps the angriest creature on earth. Anger has become the defining signature of man, a reflexive and addictive reaction to frustration and unfulfilled desires, a show of power and control. It is an evil as toxic as hate. It manifests as rudeness, irritation, intemperate words, and hostility, and mars every relationship. Lord Krishna, in answer to the question of Arjuna as to what impels a man to "commit sin, reluctantly indeed… as if by force constrained",214 answers that it is "desire, it is wrath, begotten by the quality of action (rajas); all-consuming, all-polluting, know thou this is our foe on earth."215 We are so comfortable with and addicted to anger that we use it often as an alibi: 'I said it' or 'I did it in anger'. But anger, perhaps more than any other single thing, reflects the extant state of our mind, without the camouflage and the cover of culture. Without anger, there is no avarice, malice loses its sting, and violence becomes toothless. And malice, which is more pernicious than envy and jealousy, has managed to infect the human consciousness; that is why we have not been able to be the change we want to see in the world (as Gandhi exhorted us), nor the window through which we must see the world (as Bernard Shaw put it).

214 Annie Besant. The Bhagavad Gita. The Theosophical Publishing House. Adyar, Chennai, India. 3:36, 37. p.58.

215 Annie Besant. The Bhagavad Gita. The Theosophical Publishing House. Adyar, Chennai, India. 3:36. p.58.

The 'window' is soiled and hence the world is sullied; every one wallows in misery and self-pity, blaming the society, the system, steeped in self- righteousness. The cumulative effect of the 'toxic' threesome is to fundamentally, perhaps irreversibly, alter the quality of human presence on earth. The British political philosopher John Gray in his much-acclaimed book Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (2003), says that humans seem fated to wreck the balance of life on earth, and that they will be trampled on and tossed aside ruthlessly by heaven and earth, much like the straw dogs used as offerings in an ancient Chinese ritual. Nature will not stay forever the silent, stoic, and sullen sufferer.

One of the baffling and enduring paradoxes is how to reconcile the scriptural vision of man and his behavior. The scriptures talk of man's inherent divinity but the reality of human behavior is anything but divine. Man takes pride in his being a 'rational animal', which brings to mind what Bertrand Russell had to say about it: 'All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support that.' Man talks of human dignity and rights but leaves 'no stone unturned' to throw stones at the weak and the vulnerable. The worst part is that man never feels or thinks that he is wrong in his behavior. The world is full of people, to paraphrase Dostoevsky, who claim to love humanity, even die for humanity, but cannot stand the sight of another man for too long without breaking out into a brawl. What holds us back is the fear of social punishment and the prospect of hell after death. But that 'fear' seems to be faltering now, and man has come to believe that he can get away with both crime and sin, outsmart terrestrial law as well as divine justice.

Whether it is man's manifestation of anger, malice, and violence, or his obsessive attachment to sex and money, or the pernicious power of the State, they are all rooted in the human inability to resist the temptations of easy life and evil. Without temptation we are all saints, and all saints struggle with the temptations of the flesh, body, and the devil. Prophets, the noblest of us like Jesus and the Buddha, were tested by temptation by the Devil and by Mara respectively, in the cauldron of worldly life. If temptation means being induced, seduced, and manipulated to do things that seem to give comfort and pleasure but are morally wrong, then much of life is that. The Buddha, on the way to his enlightenment and in his encounter with Mara, identifies temptations as squadrons or 'hosts': the sense organs; boredom; hunger and thirst; craving; sloth and torpor; cowardice; uncertainty, malice coupled with obstinacy, gain, honor, fame; and self-praise and denigration of others. That is a pretty exhaustive but hybrid list of the ways through which we are 'tempted'. It is interesting that things like 'boredom' and 'uncertainty' are in that list. They are states of mind and, in the human world at least, the terminal 'tempter' is the mind itself. It is the mind that strokes the temptations of the body, tempts us to take the primrose path, the path of pleasure, preyas as the Upanishads call it, and offers endless explanations and excuses for all our transgressions and trespasses. Some scientists believe that our morality is hardwired into our brains, while others believe that the environment and people close to us help shape our thoughts and actions. But broadly most scientists agree that the struggle between doing good and doing evil resides in the brain. What is not known is if the parameters within which the brain works are a matter of biology or the environment. Some psychologists like Melanie Storry Chan say that our moral compass resides in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain just behind the forehead which is responsible for highly complex functioning such as empathy and the ability to make moral judgments. It has also been found that individuals who behave dishonestly exhibit increased activity in parts of the prefrontal cortex.

Whether or not man is naturally 'good' or 'unnaturally' bad has been debated since time immemorial. Prophets and saints and mahatmas have sought to distinguish between evil people and evil deeds; and inferentially between good people who do bad things and 'bad people' who do good deeds. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that no one is entirely good; he even said, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is, God" (Matthew, 19.17). Although interpretations vary on what he meant, the broad message is that only God is perfectly good. Were it not so, where is the place for evil to hide and flourish?

But modern man has settled the issue. In the 'matrix of his mind' there is no tangible incentive for 'goodness' at all; the mindset is 'if being bad gets all the 'good things of life', why tread the thankless path of good?' Yet no one, save perhaps a psychopath, wants to be 'evil'; he just wants some things and if, his mind reasons, that is what it takes to get them and prevail, he cannot be blamed. In other words, being bad is not his choice; it is a choice forced upon him by other people. Had Hitler got what he wanted β€” strategic supremacy over Europe β€” he perhaps would not have gone to war. After all, he did not actually; it was Britain that declared war on Germany. And he gained power 'democratically', and an entire nation and tens of millions of people idolized him. They did not think they were bad; they were just being patriotic! Most of all, they were all as 'human' as any of us, as Hannah Arendt reminds us. At the end of the day, we can all 'feel good' about our proclaimed proximity to God, about our 'unique' capacity to differentiate good and evil, and we can endlessly theorize about the duality of good and evil and whether evil is an event or a process. Yet, we cannot shut our eyes to its pervasiveness and predisposition in the human nature. We cannot run away from the unpleasant truth that evil lurks deep inside the human consciousness (where God too has a home), waiting to raise its hideous head at the slightest pretext or provocation.

Modern men are not the only ones baffled and bewitched by evil. The origin and stubborn persistence and pervasiveness of evil in human affairs have long been an enduring subject of theological and scholastic speculation down the ages. It is said in the Atharvaveda, one of the oldest of Hindu scriptures, "When the divine architect planned and fashioned the human form, all the evils and virtues entered the mortal frame and made it their home."216 Over time, virtues seem to have taken a lashing and are in hiding. Some religions tried to 'fix' the problem through a divinely revealed absolute code of conduct like the Ten Commandments of the ancient Hebrews. Some others created a web of shastras, or treatises, like the ones enunciated by Manu and Confucius. Some thinkers have tried to reason that human morality plays a role, not as an intrinsic, natural necessity, but as a social need. Those who espouse the utilitarian principle have tried to codify morality simply as 'the greatest good for the greatest numbers' and as 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' Implicitly, anything that contravenes this code is deemed evil. In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, the moral tenet 'Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you' (Mahabharata, 5:1517) sums up the concept of dharma. Vedanta says good and evil, like day and night, are inherent and are really a play of the mind. Charles Darwin, in his book The Descent of Man (1871), equated moral sense with conscience, and characterized it as a highly complex sentiment, composed of and evolved from social instinct, reason, self- interest, religious feelings, instruction, and habit. Whether it is natural or acquired, the foremost task is to re-ignite the embers of flickering morality in the human disposition. Evil is something we have to live with; eradicating evil is tantamount to eradicating goodness. But it ought not to be, and need not be, the dominant force in human affairs. We do not have to be so powerless to resist the urge to cause injury to others. There is nothing in our origin or evolution or our culture that explains or justifies the sway and sweep of 'pure' evil in contemporary life. It is not ordained that we should spend much of our limited lifespan trying to nag, nibble, and nullify each other.

216 Sacred Space. The Times of India. Hyderabad, India. 14 August 2004.

Evil has many manifestations, but the one we are concerned with is personal or moral evil. The raw truth of the human condition is that no one is fully free from all evil, whether it is endemic or exogenous. The French playwright and philosopher Octave Mirbeau wrote, "When one tears away the veils and shows them naked, people's souls give off such a

pungent smell of decay."217 There is much that goes on inside our bodies that we do not want to admit to our own conscience. That 'smell' is the byproduct of the way humans have organized their individual and collective lives anchored in individualism, the pregnant price of which goes by the maxims of 'progress' and 'problem solving'. Because we find it hard to share the fruit of our labor, our idea of overcoming any obstacle is elimination, of the situation or the individual. It has now come to such a pass that we are increasingly eliminating ourselves in the name of problem-solving, both as individuals and as a species.

To the age-old threats from microbes, biohazards, and pathogens, we can now add the pandemics of suicide and homicide. In the process, our creativity often ends up tampering with the laws of Nature, and we are not wise enough to manage the processes we initiate or invent. The result is that "In a universe of interconnection and interrelationship of all things, each alteration sets into motion unknown and sometimes unknowable consequences."218

The evil in man may have had much to do with the way the human species has evolved, but we are now ominously being told that its effect is not confined to humans. And evil could be a tool not for transformation but annihilation. Possible scenarios for a cataclysmic conclusion to the human tenure on earth need not be, as generally assumed, the result of a war or global warming or melting glaciers, or monster earthquakes or crashing Manhattan-sized meteorites. These are still possible or even probable, but it could also be far more insidious and internal, a virus within, the silent but catastrophic deterioration of the human condition. At the turn of this millennium, man is at once narcissistic and nihilistic. It has been said that those whom the gods want to destroy, they make them mad first. Human behavior is bizarre and goes beyond the bounds of self-interest and self-preservation, or even self-belief. The sage Vyasa, the celebrated author of the Mahabharata and many other sacred texts and several Puranas, when asked to sum it all up, said, "The act of greatest merit is to help others, and the greatest act of sin is to cause intentional injury to others."219 Today it requires more effort and will, not to commit that 'greatest sin' but to commit that 'act of greatest merit.' Motive is the real measure of man and in that perspective few are guiltless.What really bothers most theologians like St. Augustine and many 'god-loving' philosophers like Socrates is not the equation between man and evil, but between God and evil. It has been said that more people have abandoned their faith due to the existence of evil than due to any other reason. If God is good, Almighty and the Creator of everything, how can He create evil, and if He did, He is not all-good. But the confusion lies in extrapolating everything human to God, and in labeling God in terms of human good and human evil. Then again, is evil a 'thing', which, in the words of author Peter Kreeft is something like a "black cloud, or a dangerous storm, or a grimacing face, or dirt"?220 Or is evil simply the absence of good or a 'lesser good' than that desirable?

217 Octave Mirbeau. The Quote Garden. Accessed at:

218 Cited in: Examining the Raw Truths of Life. The Trouble with Oneness: Individualism has its Own Kind of Blow-back, or Collateral Damage. 17 June 2008. Accessed at:

219 The Times of India. Hyderabad, India. 26 August 2004. p.2.

220 Peter Kreeft. The Problem of Evil. Accessed at:

In his monumental Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas found only two objections to the existence of God, and one of them was the problem of evil (the other was the apparent ability of natural science to explain everything in our experience without God). Carlos Steel, a researcher and a professor of ancient, medieval and renaissance philosophy, summarizes the Socratic view: "In the discussion on education in the Republic, Socrates lays down the principles which those who speak about the gods must follow if they want to avoid the errors of traditional mythology. The first typos of this rational theology is this: 'God is the cause, not of all things, but only of the good.' For 'God, being good, cannot be responsible for everything happening in our life, as is commonly believed, but only for a small part. For we have a far smaller share of good than of evil, and while God must be held to be the sole cause of good, we must look for some other factors than God as cause of the evil.'"221

What are those factors? As Steel puts it, God is not responsible for 'most things in human life', since most of them are evil. In this view, God is not the cause of evil, he only guarantees the inevitable decree of fate. In Hindu mythology too, even an avatar of God like Rama and Krishna sometimes say that a certain thing or a happening is the will of vidhata (Fate) and one has to accept it, opening the question who or which is the greater power: Fate or God. Or is it that God is Fate but not His spark, even in its most complete manifestation? The more problematic β€” and practical β€” question is: if He has nothing to do with evil or is powerless before it, can He have anything to do with fighting or eradicating evil? Implicitly, God becomes marginal in our lives. That directly contradicts the very doctrine of divine avatar, which is precisely to contain, if not eradicate, evil, and to restore dharma or righteousness to its rightful place. It means that there cannot be a world free either of evil or goodness; it is a question of balance, which again is sensitive to space and time. Another way of looking at good and evil could be in terms of what really is 'being human'. Two of the attributes of 'being human', according to common belief, are freedom and free will, whether God-given or innate to the human form of life, which together make man, unlike other species, a creature of choice. All his life, almost every minute, man is called upon to make choices. And he makes those choices with the intelligence derived primarily from the brain/mind. The nature of the intelligence determines the character of the choice, the quality of life. The kind of intelligence we have brought to bear on our choice-making, particularly in the last few millenniums, has been such that the choices were based on the criteria that yielded 'evil' in far greater proportion than goodness. The 'evil' choice gives, or rather gives the appearance of giving, what man wants. It is not 'evil' that man chooses, but the desires that goodness does not fulfill and evil seems to. The scriptures say that the root of evil is desire. The Hindu sacred texts also say that our unfulfilled desires follow us beyond death.

What is emphasized here is not desire, fulfilled or unfulfilled, but man's desire for the fruits of action. It is this that keeps the cycle rolling. The Maitreya Upanishad says that, "he who, being overcome by the bright or dark fruits of action, enters a good or an evil womb, so that his course is downward or upward and he wanders around, overcome by the pairs of opposites."222 Although the state of total desirelessness or desireless action, also called 'choice-less awareness' in Taoism, is extolled as pure bliss, at the practical level, it is really the choice of the wrong kind of desires that is at the root of evil. It is not really desire per se, but what we desire, that creates evil; another cause is the lust for what we call ironically the 'good things of life', necessary for 'good' living, like money and power at the expense of someone else.

221 Carlos Steel. Does Evil Have a Cause? Augustine's Perplexity and Thomas's Answer. 1994. The Review of Metaphysics. Vol. 48. pp.251-273.

222 Robert Ernest Hume (tr.). The Thirteen Principal Upanishads: Translated from the Sanskrit, with an Outline of the Philosophy of the Upanishads, and an Annotated Bibliography. 1921. Oxford University Press, London, UK. pp.417-418. Accessed at:

It is not even perhaps the 'good things' or 'good life' we want, but how we go about getting them. Even the scriptures legitimize acquiring money and fulfilling desires, but through righteousness. In the Hindu religion, artha, money or wealth, and kama, desire for worldly things, constitute two of the four purusharthas or goals of human life, but they have to be acquired through dharma, which, among other things, is righteous conduct. In short, to ensure that evil does not dominate our lives, we have to change the nature of our desires or rather the way we fulfill them. Evil will then lose its spread and sting. Indeed, none of this is new; it has been said for thousands of years. The point to remember is that the pursuit of desires through wrong means is not imposed by any external force; it is the product of our mind-driven intelligence. It therefore means that, so long as our human intelligence does not change, men will continue to choose the path of desire and evil.

Since nothing is redundant in Nature, or in God's creation, what is the cosmic end served by human evil? Is it the only way to remind us that 'goodness' exists, or does it serve some mysterious purpose? In Jewish mystical writings, evil is viewed as a necessity because without it, there would be no exercise of free will for choosing goodness over evil, and because it allows the infinite love, cascading goodness, and unconditional forgiveness of God to be demonstrated. That, in turn, raises other questions. Does God really need to demonstrate anything, does it mean that for God to get a chance to forgive, we must go on sinning? Evil is 'justified' in another way. In the Hindu doctrine of dwanda, everything in Nature comes as a mutually reinforcing pair of opposites: life and death, sunset and sunrise, darkness and light, joy and sorrow; and evil has to be there if we were to know goodness. At the same time, we are endowed with the discriminating capacity to distinguish between the 'opposites' and to make the right choice. On how we use that discriminating capacity hinges the choice we make, of good or evil. The Roman philosopher Cicero said that "the function of wisdom is to discriminate between good and evil." Well, we have a perfect alibi; we have never claimed we have wisdom and in any case it is not that we do not know what is evil. By equating evil with pain, some psychologists like the Danish psychologist Eric Erikson, have postulated that evil is necessary for human development. In modern life, evil is a sort of sidekick to aggressive individualism and our attempt to meddle with and manipulate everything to our advantage. In a universe of interdependence, every alteration triggers a chain reaction, whose end often ends up as evil. The cancerous philosophy of 'having more and bigger is better', more often than not in relation to what someone else has, creates the momentum for a mountain of evil. Our sense of 'feel good' about fame and fortune invariably, though not inevitably, marginalizes morality. Our abhorrence of any kind of 'failure', and veneration of 'success' or appearance of success, implicitly builds the infrastructure for evil. Our consumptive culture of comfort and consumerism, is not only consuming the earth bit by bit, but also breaking down the moral barriers inside us.

The 'problem of evil' as we commonly comprehend, makes us associate evil with noxious actions, bloodcurdling horrors and culpable inaction. But the evil that does the greatest harm, that is commonplace and is barely noticed and gives us the most pain, is the way we treat each other. That evil is rooted in our mind; as a Chinese Buddhist scripture says, "an evil thought is the most dangerous of all thieves."223

223 Cited in: The Eternal Wisdom: Central Sayings of Great Sages of All Times. 1993. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publications. Pondicherry, India. p.370.

The power of thought, for good or for bad, is enormous. It is the most powerful emitter of energy on earth. Perhaps more than evil actions, it is the sum total of evil thoughts that creates so much negative energy. And we think of evil in the context of others, not our own selves. The Indian saint poet Kabir wrote that he went in search of evil and found it nowhere, but when he looked into his own self, he discovered that no one was more evil than him. It requires a person like Kabir to be able to look inside one's own self. Sometimes, the world outside is compared to a mirror, reflecting our own image, our own character. But a mirror has to be clean to reflect the right image, and the mirror that obscures our vision is the mind. In a famous story in the Mahabharata, prince Yudhisthira (the righteous) and prince Duryodhana (the devious) were asked by their guru to look for an evil and a virtuous man respectively. Both, reflecting their nature returned empty handed. The moral is that we cannot see what is not inside us, evil or good, and the external can only be an extension of the internal. Some say that, like beauty, evil is only in the eye of the beholder. The perspectives of the perpetrator and the victim differ radically. The mind of the perpetrator justifies or greatly reduces the ill effect; and the mind of the victim magnifies or highlights the spin-off effects. One could say the same thing about 'good' too. The question really is not the 'why' of evil but how to handle it without being crushed by it. The simple solution is to get away from its way and do 'good' to as many people as one can and as many times as possible and in as many situations as it is feasible. The only obstacle to be able to do that is within the coils of our consciousness.

The sum and substance of the human way of life, so painstakingly fashioned over thousands of years, is increasingly yielding more evil than good. It is not, as often as it has been said, that man does not know, or even wants to do, what is good, but he often ends up doing what he does not want to do. The 'why' of this is one of the riddles of the human condition. The answer is what we might call the triple-E syndrome, the three 'E's being explanation, excuse, and evasion. It is these three 'E's that our mind pops up when our conscience pricks, and allows us, literally, to get away with murder or rape as a response to provocation. It has to be said, as Hannah Arendt reminded us, that cruelty, the deliberate infliction of pain (physical, mental or psychological) is not the monopoly of a beast or a barbarian. The human beast, perhaps, beats the rest. Even a visually blind man can sense what man has done and what he is capable of doing, but we are virtually 'blinded' by the three 'E's. It is a trick that the mind plays on us; it makes us believe that we have nothing to do beyond the narrow world of 'kith and kin', our near and dear. The mind even changes the fundamental character of what we do or say, and makes us believe that a cutting word is a sign of confidence, that a massacre is a means to 'feel safe', or that walking over a prostrate body in our path is the only way to go to the other side. Only a human mind can justify the virtual vaporization of tens of thousands of non-combatants in the course of a veritable war to get just one man 'dead or alive'. Only the human mind is consciously capable of justifying to itself the hacking of two people in love as 'killing for family honor', even when one of the two is one's own child. Only a human mind β€” ironically that of a gifted poet, Marguerite Duras β€” could make a person say that she was an alcoholic 'because she knew that God did not exist.'224 The mind can fool us, but not Nature. The American author Eric Hoffer (Reflections on the Human Condition, 1973) wrote that "Nature has no compassion. Nature accepts no excuses and the only punishment it knows is death."225

224 Edmund White. In Love with Duras. The New York Review of Books, USA. 26 June 2008. p.30.

225 Cited in: Eric Hoffer. Wikiquote. Reflections on the Human Condition (1973). Accessed at:

But what is the nature of Nature? More pertinently, what is the nexus between Nature and God? Some say that Nature is the visible visage of God, the major manifestation of divine revelation. And then there are those who worship Nature and see no reason for God, like many ancient cultures and some still extant traditional societies that venerate Nature as the direct divine manifestation. The other view is that it is another creation of God, like man himself, and the sole purpose of this creation is to provide the basis for the human way of life. Modern thought, influenced by science, adopts the latter approach, which is a major factor in the economic and environmental crisis that the world faces today. We want to 'control' and use and misuse Nature, as we would wish to do to another man.

We constantly invent new excuses for the horrors we commit in the name of control and our yearning for hegemony. For, let there be no equivocation, human horror is human horror; there are no parallels in Nature, not in the animal world, nor perhaps in Hell. When we read about the 12 million victims of Nazi and Soviet mass killing policies (during 1933- 1944),226 it is enough to make us sick in the stomach. But what about other, even more disturbing tales, such as that of Kamate, a 'survivor' of the civil war in Congo in the late 1990s: her husband was butchered in front of her eyes, and she was then raped after being forced to lie on top of the pile of her husband's body parts. Kamate passed out, but when she regained consciousness, she heard the screams of her two daughters being raped in the next room.227 Do such gory accounts shock us enough? Maybe momentarily, a wee bit. Some of us might feel 'horrified', but not enough to make any difference to our comfort level, or to our moral sense of who we are. But those rapists and murderers are also of the same species. Maybe in another context, they too are just like any of the rest of us.

And then, do numbers really matter? Why is 'mass killing' more heinous than any other killing? What is the 'acceptable' number, the threshold to shake us out of our stupor? Had Hitler ordered the killing of only a million or half a million Jews, would he have been less of a monster? Are the killings and rapes carried out by Allied troops and Soviet soldiers in Germany β€” or elsewhere β€” any less horrific because they were 'liberating' Europe (and Germany too) from the Nazis? The 'moral difference' is a many-fold extension between a soldier killing in 'war', declared or undeclared, with or without international imprimatur, and a citizen killing in a moment of rage, provoked or unprovoked.

At a more 'practical' level, every day's news seems to be more horrific than the horror of the previous day. Until it happens, even our darkest imagination cannot imagine such a thing; 'sacred cows' are becoming skeletons in the cupboard, tumbling one after another, be it a mother's lofty love, or family ties or bonds of friendship. And money seems to dilute, if not negate every other bonding. For many people, there is not much difference between killing and 'problem-solving' for getting what you think you deserve. All this raises the question: is there any biological and genetic basis to human savagery? If there can be a 'God-gene', why not a 'diabolic' gene? Now scientists say that they have identified what they call a 'hate circuit', which includes structures in the cortex and subcortex. Predictably, scientists disagree on how genes affect human behavior. British evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, 1976; The God Delusion, 2006) says we have a 'selfish gene' but denies the existence of a genetic link to human spirituality.

226 Timothy Snyder. Holocaust: the Ignored Reality. The New York Review of Books, USA. 16 July 2009. p.15.

227 Adam Hochschild. Rape of the Congo. The New York Review of Books, USA. 13 August 2009. p.18.

According to this hypothesis, the basic unit to be maintained through natural selection is not the individual, who is merely a disposable vehicle, or the group or the species, but the gene. American molecular biologist and author of the book The God Gene (2005), Dean Hamer, takes the opposite view and asserts that there is a genetic link to spirituality which is even inheritable. If one eventually proves the existence of a gene for 'selfishness' or for 'spirituality', could it be possible that there is something in the human make-up, a gene for 'savageness' that triggers the malevolence in man that erupts through a certain combination of coincidences and fusion of factors? Richard Dawkins espoused the theory of what he called memes, which are 'transmutable units of culture' and which in many ways are similar to genes but with important differences. Memes can mutate overnight, and are largely limited to humans as a possible explanation for the religious affiliations of humans and, maybe, even for the religious and other extensions of extremism.

Thus far, we have been safe in the citadel of our thoughts. What we think is our business, and no one else's; no intruders are allowed, and no one can penetrate our thoughts (at least so far). We think that anybody can think anything, even the most heinous things, and what matters is the deed. This is valid to an extent. One cannot be 'moral in the mind' and callous in his conduct; conversely, one could entertain evil thoughts and do good deeds, at least theoretically. It is true that action, not intent, is the bottom line. But action does not germinate in a vacuum. Khalil Gibran said: "A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle."228 He also exhorts us to apply the words of wisdom of the wise to daily life: 'Wisdom is not in words; wisdom is meaning within words.'

But thoughts that originate in the mind and emotions that come from the heart too have consequences, though unseen and unfelt. Like negative thoughts, negative emotions too can be destructive. It is not a new discovery. For instance, Buddhist tradition has long recognized the transforming power of emotions, and has long advocated the need for such information to be set at the heart of spiritual practice. A moral thought and a selfless feeling can have as great an effect as a moral word or a moral deed. Instead of facing up to the reality of our ambivalent condition and consciousness, we castigate religion, or science or technology, for man's present predicament. In other words, we continue to play the same blame-game we have been playing for long with disastrous consequences. And we still look for alibis and scapegoats. It is the ruse of the mind to evade and escape the responsibility for the misuse of science and technology, and for the systematic subversion of spirituality. Our predicament was foreseen by the sage Vyasa five thousand years ago, in his predictions of what our current age would entail: "The corruption of the spirit, the pursuit of material goals of wealth and power in the guise of spiritual seeking is the greatest evil of all. This will be the root of all misery in the Kali Age, the Age of Untruth."229

While evil is classically associated with personal, social, and sexual factors, a relatively recent but increasingly vicious factor is economic evil. Almost every traditional evil is laced with, even based on, matters of money. The fact is, nothing loosens us from the moorings of morality as expectations of economic gain; in some parts of the world, there are even reports of sons killing their own fathers to inherit their coveted jobs. Economic 'apartheid', deprivation, injustice, exploitation, asymmetry and disparity have become a major threat to global stability and to human progress. Concurrently, economic inequality rises, as the rich extract an unusually high share of global wealth.

228 Khalil Gibran. Accessed at:

229 N.S. Rajaram. Nostradamus and Beyond: Visions of Yuga-Sandhi. 2002. Rupa & Co. New Delhi, India. p.76.

When the rich get richer, the powerful get stronger. Perversely, the middle class is moved into the lower class. In this new 'physics of evil', prosperity does not trickle from the rich to the poor, but from the middle class in the wealthier countries to the rich in developing nations, resulting in a few new 'brown or black' billionaires joining the global plutocracy, the 'ruling class' of this century. The global economic 'gap' is not really between the North and the South, but between two types of obscenities β€” the very, very rich, and the very, very poor across the globe. But rich or poor, man has become a virtual economic 'slave', programmed to perform economic chores almost every waking hour. The mantra of modern man is economic growth, which puts goods ahead of people, and which is fuelled by consumptive consumerism, constant creation and fulfillment of material comforts and their planned obsolescence, and excessive use of natural resources. Our economic 'health' is more important than physical or mental or emotional health; it is the specter of economic 'meltdown' that haunts most people, even more than nuclear Armageddon. The so-called 'revolution of rising expectations' is economic, not spiritual, and the rich, even the 'very rich', are not exempt from it.

Human personality flowers when its different dimensions work in harmony, but when one of them β€” in this case, the economic dimension β€” overwhelms everything else, it distorts the total personality. That is exactly what has happened with the dominance of economics in modern human life; in other words, our whole consciousness is geared almost exclusively to the pursuit of earning, saving, spending money, and acquiring and 'enjoying' property. If humanity is to endure as a viable and harmonious entity, we must revisit the role of economics as the religion of modern man. Not only does economics overemphasize the material dimension of human life, it also diminishes the unity of humanity. Economics, even when man was less avaricious than now, has never been a unifying force; on the contrary, it has accentuated the unsavory human instincts. To give practical shape to the oneness of the human race as a viable species, we must put in place a drastic revision in economic thinking. We must get away from our entrenched belief that what we earn we can spend as we wish, subject only to the law of the land. Sometimes what we can economically 'afford', morally we cannot. There is a spiritual aspect too. No one could have captured the essence of the 'economic man' better than Adam Smith, the celebrated author of The Wealth of Nations (1776) and often hailed as the Father of Economics, when he wrote that, "this disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, … is… the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments".230 Smith also said: "All for ourselves and nothing for other people seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind."231 Human action has become virtually synonymous with economic activity; the workplace has become more of a 'nest' than home. Instead of being a means, it has become the end. Economic power is more concentrated in fewer countries and people than any other power, save perhaps technological. Economic management has become more difficult than political governance, and economic fortunes have become as volatile as the climate. Indeed, the failure of all experiments in 'good' governance can be attributed to the failure of economic public policy making, and not applying the principles of personal prudence to State policies.

230 Adam Smith. The Theory of Moral Sentiments; Or, An Essay Towards an Analysis of the Principles by Which Men Naturally Judge Concerning the Conduct and Character, First of Their Neighbours, and Afterwards of Themselves. 1853. Part I: Of Propriety. Chapter III. Henry G. Bohn. London, UK. p.84.

231 Cited in: Adam Smith. Wikiquote. The Wealth of Nations (1776). Book III, Chapter IV. Accessed at:

Economic deprivation and inequity are debilitating and divisive and widen the gap between man and man, perhaps more than any other single factor. This is not exactly a 'blinding insight'; it is ancient wisdom. The Greek historian and biographer Plutarch (Parallel Lives) wrote, "An imbalance between the rich and the poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics."232 And the great Plato himself wrote, in his classic The Republic, that "any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another…233 In another of his monumental works, The Laws, he said: "The form of law which I should propose… would be as follows: in a state which is desirous of being saved from the greatest of all plagues β€” not faction, but rather distraction β€” there should exist among the citizens neither extreme poverty nor, again, excessive wealth, for both are productive of both these evils."234 That 'evil' of excessive wealth, which has become immeasurably powerful and pungent since then, now threatens not only to rupture human society, but even to retard human evolution.

Economic evil is built into the very process that makes economic life virtually the same as human life. Since human worth is measured in economic terms, few can resist the temptation to amass and enhance their economic wealth regardless of the means and models. The most visible face of economic evil is extreme, 'absolute' poverty on a mass scale. It is 'absolute' because it denies the wherewithal to live as humans on earth. It is 'absolute' because persistent and prolonged deprivation of sufficient and suitable food so emaciates the body and the brain, that their consciousness itself ceases, as it were, to be human. In fact, economic evil is the biggest obstacle to the eradication of food poverty. It creates a 'comfort or acceptance' zone of existence and it becomes a habit from which one does not even want to escape. The trappings of that kind of existence simmer discomfort and resentment but also resistance to any real change, either in the surroundings or in the way of life or work. That is why, it is so difficult to 'relocate' or 'rehabilitate' those at the bottom of the ladder in the human society. In relative terms, everyone is 'poor', everyone is 'deprived' and everyone 'hungers' for something or the other. Such poverty, the famous American Harvard economist J.K. Galbraith called case poverty. Mass poverty, which is geographically concentrated in parts of Asia and much of Africa, is qualitatively different from the poverty in affluent societies, which is pretty localized and therefore does not change the character of the society as a whole. Further, prolonged starvation or malnutrition insidiously undermines the whole personality of the individual. If the 'very rich' are different Γ  la Fitzgerald, the 'very poor' are also very different even from the rest of us, the vast majority who do not fall in either of the 'very' categories. The lives of the extremely poor β€” usually defined as those who do not earn even a dollar a day to survive on, the bulk of whom are in rural areas β€” are not only an extension of economic evil but an indictment of the moral smugness of the rest of us. Our consciousness finds no 'problem.' It is part of life and such is the 'world'. Our mind offers the three 'E's β€” explanation, excuse, evasion β€” for this too; it 'passes the buck'; pleads both ignorance and innocence; and goes on the offensive and tells us that even the depressing picture drawn is too dismal and negative; and that 'prog ress' is being made through 'trickle down' economics but it takes time. Finally, we are told that the rich countries are suffering from 'aid fatigue', and the rest of the world from 'poverty fatigue', We are simply tired of hearing such nomenclature and grim statistics of global poverty. Given the time, every problem gets sorted but how it will be done is another matter.

232 Plutarch. Accessed at:

233 Plato. [Benjamin Jowett, tr.]. The Republic. Book IV. 2008. BiblioBazaar. p.153.

234 Plato. [Benjamin Jowett, Tr.]. The Laws. Book V. 2008. Forgotten Books. p.127.

No one can tell the future; so many dates, deadlines and targets have gone into the oblivion of history, but for now, mass poverty is a clear and present threat to global stability, to the environment and to any dreams of a world without war and violence. The tragedy is: it is so needless and calls for so little effort on a global scale. What we need are right public policies and a fraction of the resources expended on armaments.

One of the ironies of the duality of 'good versus evil' is that evil is committed by not just evil people. The callous actions of 'good men' could be more evil than those of 'bad men', that is, if we judge the 'evilness' of those actions by how long the effect lingers. In doing evil deeds, we do harm to other individuals while the dominance of evil in the world does harm to Nature itself. And 'good men' are often passive men and their lives do not add much to the battle with evil. Evil is embedded in what living entails, and has a multiplier effect; it devours everything around and becomes unstoppable. Often we condemn evil but fail to notice it in our own backyard. A 'withering look' or a word that hurts or humiliates another person is evil. Taking advantage of another person is evil; exploitation is evil. The reason we are tempted to put others down, compulsively correct them, and tell them that we are right and they are wrong, is that our ego mistakenly believes that by showing how someone else is wrong, we will feel better. In reality, however, if we pay attention to the way we feel after we put someone down, we will notice that we actually feel worse. Many other evils dot our daily lives: obscene opulence is evil; poverty is evil; discrimination is evil; bigotry is evil; anger on the weak is evil; malice is evil; and not fighting evil is evil. The American essayist Barry Lopez sketches the human dilemma well: "How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one's culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradictions were eliminated at once, life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light."235 Evil may seem entrenched in the human psyche but to be moral is not altogether alien to the human species. One part of us wants to be good and moral, but the other part says that that is too exacting and expensive. People are still trapped in the mishmash of moral ambivalence, mundane retribution and senseless jealousy. Great thinkers like Goethe and Dostoevsky said that there was no crime they could not think of, or could not have been committed by them. In essence, crime or sin is a transgression and everyone, sometime or the other transgresses; in that sense, it is natural to the human condition. Transgress we must. The question is, what boundaries; knowing which ones is at the core of human transformation. That, in turn, raises issues of 'good' and 'evil' and how to choose, not between one or the other, but between 'two goods' and 'two evils', or more often between a bevy of grays.

We need to ponder over the parallel processes of the rise of materialism and the ascendancy of overarching evil in the past two or three centuries. Assertive materialism fuelled human greed, created the culture of endless 'more', which inevitably made man bid adieu to the moral means that would not earn him the material comforts he yearned for.

Acceptance of evil has ceased to be exceptional; it is commonplace now, considered a necessary way of life. The general view is that in today's world, it is simply impossible to be moral in our personal or professional life.

235 Cited in: A Journey of Hope. A Fresh Start. Exploring news Vistas. Accessed at:

One should be careful not to fall into the mind's soothing trap: explain everything, including evil, and offer scapegoats. Because everything is morally ambivalent and every action has a cause and consequence and nothing occurs in a vacuum, it is always possible to 'explain away' everything by the liberal use of words like 'because' and 'but for'.

Materialism itself is a product of science, reason and mind. With all its faults, the mind has advanced knowledge and has improved the living conditions of millions of people. The problem is the longing attribute of the mind, the lust for more; it does not know when and what is enough, and it cannot balance and harmonize alternatives.

Most men have a tendency to distance themselves from other men when the latter fall into 'evil' ways, or 'get into trouble', as we say euphemistically. They adopt a 'holier-than- thou', 'touch-me-not' attitude and look down with disdain on the 'evil doers'. That again is a trick of the mind to obfuscate the reality. For one man who commits a heinous deed, there may be several others who pave the way. It does not matter how many or how few evil men are present in the world; whatever is their number, they are as human as the noblest among us and we cannot disown their thoughts and deeds. One cannot be quite sure that if one is placed in a similar circumstance, one would behave any differently. Even 'evil men' tend to think they are moral, and that they are simply doing a difficult job. Himmler, the Nazi Gestapo chief, for example, reportedly said, while referring to the extermination of Jews, 'Most of you must know what it means when a hundred corpses are lying side by side, or five hundred, or a thousand. To have stuck it out and at the same time remained decent fellows, that is what has made us so hard'.236 In other words, he felt he deserved understanding, sympathy and appreciation for implementing the Final Solution. We cannot lightly dismiss that state of mind. In different degrees and in different words, we all would entertain similar thoughts while committing or condoning evil.

We cannot on the one hand talk of the oneness of humanity, and on the other hand, distance ourselves from the 'evil ones', who can be any of us or all of us. That was the reason why Mahatma Gandhi said condemn the evil in man, not the evil man. The reason why Jesus said those who did not sin should cast the first stone. The fact is whatever evil or good any man is capable of, any other man is capable of too. The camouflage of culture can blur to some extent, but once that is removed under some provocation or temptation, the raw nature of our evil shows up. Every man is at once a potential murderer and a mahatma, often a blend of both, and how that blend becomes behavior is hard to grasp. If we want to bask in the reflected glory of good men, we have to equally bear the burden of the acts of bad men. Some scholars like Roel Sterckx even suggest that human morality affects animal behavior, and that the cultivation of virtue in human society was a condition for the spontaneous and orderly working of the animal world, and that changes in human society would spontaneously induce behavioral changes in the animal world.237 That means that human behavior and animal behavior are connected; perhaps the increased irritability and enhanced aggression in animals, like well-trained temple elephants suddenly turning into killers, could be a reflection of the depravity in the human world. This is an intriguing and potentially perilous line of thought.

236 Cited in: Jonathan Wallace. An Auschwitz Alphabet. What I Learned from Auschwitz. Accessed at:

237 Roel Sterckx. The Animal and the Daemon in Early China. 2002. State University of New York Press. Albany, USA. p.162.

The odds seem overwhelming. In the current state of the human condition, human fragilities appear to prevail over human strengths. We seem like straws in a storm, reeds in a stream, utterly powerless to control our senses yet powerful enough to play around with the stars. Scriptures, sayings, and teachings are like pebbles thrown into a swirling sea of senses and selfishness. Pettiness and nitpicking, negativity, vanity and spite continue to rule the waves.

Money, sex, and power

In any discourse or contemplation of the questions of good and evil, the triad of money, power, and sex invariably arise. They are the ways we affirm our anthropological and ontological affirmations as human beings. That is because man's primary drive is to minimize physical pain and maximize pleasure, and money, power, and sex are the three channels through which he can exercise that drive. While each has a distinct character and is legitimate to human life β€” even with the scriptures acknowledging it β€” their combination changes the nature of the compound. Although each of these is dealt with separately in different contexts β€” for example power in conjunction with passion and love β€” the thrust and the setting here is the melting pot of the triad. What has happened over the last century is the virtual 'merger' of the three forces, which has become a major complicating factor in our passage to the posthuman future. Even independently, almost nothing historical has happened, nor has any great man or civilization fallen, without any of these three factors playing a pivotal role. They leave a terrible trail of carnage: careers ended, families ripped apart, hearts broken, and human potential wasted.

Money, power, and sex have legitimate β€” and necessary β€” places in human life but each of them has been corrupted: money by greed, sex by lust, and power by monopoly.

Without some sort of medium like money, it will be impossible to harmonize and optimize collective skills, needs and resources. Without sex there can be no creation. And without power there can be no order. While it is a close call, money β€” rather our love of money β€” perhaps is the strongest attachment and affliction. It makes us immeasurably powerful. It is a sentiment well captured by Goethe's character Mephistopheles in the play Faust: "If for six stallions, I can pay, Aren't all their powers added to my store? I am a proper man and dash away, as if the legs I had were twenty-four!". Before the advent of 'money', man's 'natural' needs were taken care of naturally. After the advent of 'money', particularly paper money, man must have money to have access to things needed even for survival. And given the natures of mind and money, it did not stop there; it went all the way to making man a virtual vassal. Such is money's mastery over the human mind that, should God wish to save us, nothing else will work unless He enables and empowers us to wriggle out of its clasp. Or else, we need a brand new consciousness. Everything is fair not only in love and war β€” but even more in the matter of making money. But making money can also be virtuous if it helps in the upliftment of others. As a medium of exchange it can be a leveler. In Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged (1957), one of the heroes, Francisco d'Anconia, giving an oration on the meaning of money, says: "The words 'to make money' hold the essence of human morality."

Money and morality are linked because nothing else makes us take so many moral risks for its possession, retention, and aggrandizement. Because, as Karl Marx puts it in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, "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 mediates the existence of other people for me. For me it is the other person".238 Money begets money; in that sense as Marx puts it, it 'became pregnant'. The chief temptation of money lies in the fact that with it we can possess anything, and that 'anything' becomes part of us, like another brain or body, hand or leg. Even that 'I am' could be that which one can acquire with money. Most people, given a choice between money and 'the rest', will choose money; in any case, with money, the 'rest' is easy picking. The problems we face with money, dramatically brought home by the current global financial crisis, are rooted in the nature of money itself, being constitutents of its very design β€” and they will continue and intensify and implode until money itself and its place in our lives is transformed. That is because money makes money, it bears and seeks interest, and in fact is created in its own absence. Today, one does not have to have money, to have the money or the things we need money for. Everything 'human' is monetized, and there is virtually no 'capital' in circulation of any other kind β€” cultural, natural, social, or spiritual. Millenniums of money creation have left us with nothing else to show or sell. Every innate human skill and natural ability has been taken away from us and mortgaged to money. Every human relationship is now a virtual hostage to money. We depend on money for everything we need to live. Everything, even an individual's worth and value, is a matter of money. It is synonymous with happiness, joy, self-esteem, success β€” even survival. Money β€” or the lack of it β€” is a major trigger for suicides: the list goes all the way from debt-ridden farmers to school girls denied pocket-money. Indeed, life itself has become indistinguishable from money. Although some idealists dream of human society without any manner of money or property, somewhat on the lines of the Marxist maxim 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need', such a paradigm of human life has never existed and possibly never will; the mix of thoughts and emotions, needs and wants, passions and feelings did not evolve with that end in view. As the Irish social revolutionary William O'Brien once quipped, "when we truly discover love, capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be necessary."239 We have gone a step further β€” or deeper. We have debased love. We made sure Marxism was stillborn, and we know now that the much-trumpeted triumph of capitalism over socialism has not made the human condition any better. If any, it has widened the chasm between 'good life' and the 'goodness of life'. Two of the driving forces in the human mind are avarice and lust for power. Gluttony in what we eat and consume and the desire to dominate others frame our daily life. Much of the time and energy of life is swallowed by the wants of the economic man and the perennial consumer. The stranglehold of 'more' and 'money' on the human mind shows no signs of slackening.

With money as his mascot, man has stopped living in the 'living world', in harmony with other earthly inhabitants and with Nature; he feels he needs them no more. He has created a 'Nature' of his own and made it his link to his fellow humans. The English author Somerset Maugham, in his much acclaimed work Of Human Bondage (1915), wrote that "money is like a sixth sense β€” and you can't make use of the other five without it"240. It has become so pervasive and intrusive in human society that there is nothing that even the best of men β€” be it a saint, or a monk or a sadhu (ascetic) β€” can do without its touch or shadow.

More often than not, most of these men have been deeply scarred by its contact. If power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, as the American diplomat Henry Kissinger famously quipped, abundant wealth is the ultimate orgasm, an irresistible titillation. Those who do not have 'enough money' are branded as losers. The really rich automatically climb to the top of the social ladder, the powers-that-be hobnob with them; being seen in their company is a statement of having arrived. As long as two millenniums ago, the Chinese Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu said: "To have enough is good luck, to have more than enough is harmful. This is true of all things, but especially of money."241 'More money' is not just one of the many 'mores' in life; this 'more' causes mayhem, almost alters the very model of thinking, and also plays heavily on how we view people who have money or those who do not have it. With other 'passions' like food, sex, or power, a phase can come when we cannot 'take it' β€” or even enjoy it β€” anymore. When something in us says 'enough'. But we can never say that about money. Money was meant as a means, but it is now the end; the substitute has become the actual good. Since everyone cannot make everything, money was expected to help produce and exchange things we need for life β€” food, shelter, and the trappings of civilization. Today, it produces and exchanges itself and grows independently. Is the power of money but a reflection of the power of evil, or is it simply man's inherent inability to resist anything that gives immediate pleasure? Pleasure, in all its temporal dimensions as remembrance, experienced and anticipated, is a salient part of our mental life; it has a bearing on our spiritual quest. The Katha Upanishad says that human beings have to constantly make a choice between things that give permanent joy or immediate pleasure, and the tragedy is that we humans tend to invariably choose the path of immediate pleasure. There are many who think that what gives pleasure is what is 'good', and what gives pain is what is 'bad'.

238 Karl Marx. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 : The Power of Money. Accessed at:

239 Cited in : Gaiam Life: Stream of Consciousness. Accessed at: obrien/59940

240 Somerset Maugham. Money Quotes. Accessed at:

And money is the main means for all pleasures that can be obtained through satiating the senses. For, despite the frowning of the scriptures and the disapproval of saints, its grip over the human mind has never waned; if any, it has only become tighter. The Bible says that one cannot serve God and Mammon at the same time, but that is precisely what man has been trying to do, and has done, one must grudgingly concede, somewhat successfully. What matters is that we need money, we cannot do without it; it is simply a matter of social, even physical, survival. There is a prayer in the Bible that says: "...give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God." (Proverbs, 30:8-9)242

Someone quipped that to know what God thinks of money, look at those to whom he has given money! Well, it is hard to tell. And it was not always so. Aristotle said: "Money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term 'interest', which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of all modes of getting wealth, this is the most unnatural."243 And Voltaire said: "When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion."244 Few can match the opulence of our God-men, and very few are more ostentatiously religious than the rich. The philosopher Jacob Needleman, author of the book The New Religions (1970), believes that our obsession with money and compulsion for material wealth undercut personal authenticity. Money has changed the way one human.relates to another, and threatens to turn man into a virtual Homo economicus. Man the producer/consumer is gradually losing his 'capacity for communion' with his neighbors. A segregated fellow, insulated from community, corrupted by his concupiscence for material wealth. In a 2006 study, researchers at the Florida State University wrote: "As countries and cultures developed, money may have allowed people to acquire goods and services that enabled the pursuit of cherished goals, which in turn diminished reliance on friends and family."245 Money gives power and highlights inequalities. If man is the measure of everything, then money is the measure of man. Deborah Price, author of the book Money Magic (2003) says that "making, keeping, and enjoying money isn't just about investments, salaries, inheritances, or dividends… It's also about the games people play around money and their character type in relation to it"246. According to Price, "Just about every decision we make, and much of our personality, is formed in some way, shape or form by our beliefs around money."247 It equals sex as a source of the greatest joy, it equals power as an aphrodisiac, and it equals death as a source of the highest anxiety. The paradox is that, while a century or two ago, man was secretive about sex and more open about money, people today openly proclaim their sexual preferences and peccadilloes, but are silent about their wealth.While sexual satiation has its biological limitations, the desire for money is limitless.

241 P.D. Sharma. Immortal Quotations and Proverbs. 2003. Navneet Publications. Mumbai, India. p.88.

242 Cited in: Nigel Goh. Money, Sex and Power. Eagles VantagePoint. Accessed at:

243 Cited in: Philosophy Resource Center, George J. Irbe's Favorite Quotes from Aristotle on Selected Topics. Education and Living. The Radical Academy. Accessed at:

244 Voltaire. Voltaire Quotes. Accessed at:

Money's mesmerizing effect on the human mind is mind boggling, and neither reason nor psychoanalysis can adequately explain it. It is irrational and, in fact, ought to be an affront to intelligence; yet we are willing slaves. The human obsession with riches far exceeds the human need for artha (wealth) and kama (worldly gain). And it often collides with dharma or righteousness. In its pursuit, man brushes aside every other norm or need, restraint or constraint. It is an all-consuming passion, respects no relationship, and is capable of unleashing the darkest human instincts. No crime, fratricide, matricide, or patricide is exempt from its tentacles. No amount is too small to steal or kill for. The more one has it, the more he hungers for it. The greed for money overshadows every other greed. The irony is that money defeats the very purpose of having it; it gives neither security nor satisfaction, though the fact makes no dent in man's obsession. A moral man has to be liberated from the vice-like hold of wealth on him; but having money is not immoral. In fact, the Upanishads recognize money, artha, as one of the legitimate and righteous aspirations of man. Excessive money leads to obscene opulence, ostentatious lifestyle, reckless attitude and to a sense of being powerful and privileged.

Many hurdles impede man's spiritual progress, and one of the most formidable is the intoxicating incursion of money and materialism into the deepest layers of human consciousness. Can we turn them around and make them stepping stones to human progress? Some think it is possible. Jacob Needleman, for example believes that our long disinclination to grasp the emotional and spiritual effects of money on us lies at the heart of why we have come to know the price of everything, and the value of nothing, and that it could lead us to self-knowledge and turn out to be 'a tool for breaking out' of our mental prison.248 It is his thesis that in our time the principle of personal gain is embodied in the quest for money and that our obsession with money and compulsion for material wealth undercut personal integrity. Man has been called a 'moral animal,' 'thinking animal,' and 'social animal'. The presumption is that these are the attributes that animals do not have. Above all, man is an 'economic animal' or 'Homo economicus.' John Stuart Mill defined him as "a being who desires to possess wealth, and who is capable of judging of the comparative efficacy of means for obtaining that end"249. What has been called historical materialism or, in the words of Karl Marx, materialist conception of history, proposes that "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social being determines their consciousness."250 In this view, it is in man's economic incarnation that he becomes a productive person. It is how humans 'make the means to live' that shape their personalities and predispositions. It is the economic processes that delineate the Man--Nature relationship. Making money, saving money and spending money, often all at the same time, become the primary passion and preoccupation. Man's relationship with others is based primarily on their economic use to him, commodities that exist for his economic gain. It is to a large extent, this single-minded pursuit of his economic agenda that has dwarfed his spiritual persona.Obviously, human society being far more complex than that of the other species and our wants being almost limitless and multiple, some kind of money and some sort of economy are essential to bring order, and for making the human whole more than the sum of its parts. The question is really not if we need an economic life, but of what kind. The growing importance of the economic aspect of human life, and the attendant economic disparities and inequities within and among societies, raise moral questions. How should a person 'make a living'? How much of it can he use for his needs and wants? What is his obligation to help those less fortunate, who are unable to earn enough to lead a life of bare dignity? And how should he channel his help? Is a person morally entitled to spend as he likes so long as he conforms to the law of the land? How does one become eligible for the aid of other people or of the State? Is a person morally righteous or evil if he earns his wealth legally but does not help others, or does not help them proportionately? How does one morally view a person who illegally and immorally makes millions and spends much of it on charity? Given the so-called triumph of capitalism over socialism in the world and the thirst for spiritualism the world over, these are issues that deserve serious introspection. The American industrialist-philanthropist John D. Rockefeller said "When a man has accumulated a sum of money within the law, that is to say, in the legally correct way, the people no longer have any right to share in the earnings resulting from the accumulation."251 The 'philosophy' is, what I do with what I earn, accumulate and how I spend, if I am law abiding, is between me and my conscience. This is the refrain, not of the parasites of the society but of the 'honest' and 'honorable'; Rockefeller himself was prince among such people. That doctrine, seemingly flawless, has many loopholes: one, the law regulates only our minimal social obligation, not personal responsibility; two, there is a lot of moral space that is not covered by the State and society; and three, our conscience itself is slumbering and is corrupted by our 'winner-takes-all' culture.

245 Cited in: Jill Elish. The Florida State University News. Two Sides of the Same Coin: Money Spurs Changes for Better and Worse. Accessed at:

246 Cited in: Money Magic. New World Library. Accessed at:

247 Cited in: Frances Lefkowitz. Money Changes Everything: Exploring Your Attitudes Towards Money Can be the First Step in Making Personal and Global Transformations. CBS September 2004. Accessed at:

248 Cited in: Editorial Reviews. Publishers Weekly. Jacob Needleman. Money and the Meaning of Life. 1994. Accessed at:

249 Cited in: Mill on Political Economy: Collected Works Vol.II. Introduction by V.W. Balden. The Forum at the Online Library of Liberty, A Project of Liberty Fund. Accessed at:

250 Cited in: Karl Marx. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. 1859. Preface. Accessed at:

251 Cited in: Inequality.Org. CEOs and Business Leaders. Accessed at:

While money is the metaphor for modern man, sex is the signature of our civilization. We associate it with sin and shame, perhaps more than with anything else, and it is also a primary source of sensory pleasure. 'The subject of sex' Edward Carpenter wrote in 1896 at the beginning of his seminal work Love's Coming of Age, 'is difficult to deal with'. Several decades later, despite new tools and the emergence of a new scientific field, sexology, the subject has only become more complex and intractable; the fog over it has become more impenetrable. Whatever was the origin and original intent when it sprouted first, its relationship with the human is now double-faced: sex controls man, and it is also controlled by him through technology.

Human sexuality exists today in a sort of moral vacuum, a protean force and a source of pleasure and pain, agony and ecstasy, anxiety and affirmation, a reason for being, and an overpowering cause for killing. There is a battle for the future of sexuality, and how it emerges in the end, and the process leading to it, might have much to do with our own future. In our contemporary culture, people make money off sex, as well as use sex to make money. And use it as a means to acquire power, and use power as a means for sex. At the same time, extreme poverty can induce or seduce a person to trade sex for money. It is the hallmark of the affluent as well as of the extreme poor. The 'in between' β€” that is, those who do not have to sell sex to buy their basic necessities, but who need money to indulge in cosmetics and high-end consumer goods β€” do not make a living on sex, but use it sometimes to go higher on the social or professional ladder. The two are intertwined β€” 'Sex and Money' as they are called. According to one survey that appeared in the business magazine MarketWatch some years ago, 'the richer you are… the better sex you have', and that 'the majority of men and women credit their private wealth with achieving a better sex life'. In the survey, 'three- quarters of men cited more frequent sex and a greater variety of partners as the primary benefits of having wealth'.252 And then we have that special seductive something called 'sex appeal', which is the bedrock of the fashion, entertainment, and movie industries. The clichΓ© goes that, in the advertising and consumer industries, the fail-safe way to attract an audience and to sell is through the projection of sex. While it is socially acceptable to show 'sex appeal' and to use it to make money, it is deemed both a crime and a sin to actually 'sell sex'. We can, legally and even ethically, seduce and sell everything or anybody by the allure or use of sex, save sex itself. The premise is that sex is not a skill, or a product or a commodity. But the irony is, in our society where sex and money are intertwined, a direct trade-off between the two is socially, and in most countries, legally, prohibited. And then we have two other 'industries' that owe their existence to sex: prostitution and pornography. We may prefer to turn a Nelson's eye to it, but the rude reality is that sex has become so much a part of us β€” so much our way of life, so much of what we see, hear and read, occupying so much of our psychic space, and its shadow likely to extend so large on the human future β€” that we have to ask ourselves: are we true to God and His intent? What was the intent? God created a 'male' and a 'female' as opposed to two men or two women, to be, in the language of the Bible, fruitful and to multiply by 'becoming one flesh'. And to ensure that nothing man creates could rival that ecstasy, God formed the male and the female bodies. Much theological debate has focused on the question: does human sexuality strictly circumscribe to multiplication through procreation, or does it have a pleasurable purpose? Without built-in pleasure, God knew that man might shy away from sex and he made the union ecstatic, but he could not make every act automatic and instantaneous for begetting children. Therefore, sex became a source of both procreation and recreation, and pleasure is the incentive and insurance for multiplication.

252 Cited in: Thomas Kostigen. More Money, Better Sex. MSN Money. MarketWatch. 10 February 2007. Accessed at:

Scientists tell us that sexual reproduction appeared over a billion years ago, and it is amazing that it has survived and almost stayed the same for so long. When it came to man, the Greeks thought that a jealous God separated the sexes and dared them to find their other halves before they became infertile. As a sequel, a wag puts it: man spends nine months struggling to find a way out of the womb, and the rest of his life in search of another.

Although the dynamics of reproduction have somewhat changed due to technology, the different 'techniques' of mating have not changed (the Kama Sutra is still the standard book!), but the urge for sex has grown stronger, fuelled by the power of the visual image, and its grip over the human mind has become even tighter. Basically there are three broad views of sex in human affairs: Sexual Pragmatism treats sex as nothing more than just another appetite that is inevitable, an integral part of the pantheon of inherent human desires, no more despicable than our need to eat or breathe. And since you cannot stop it, 'just go with the flow' and allow yourself to go wherever the desire leads you to. In short, all sex is right if it is safe. From the perspective of Sexual Animalism, sex is an animal passion that lowers us; a necessary evil since it is the only way to procreate. This view loathes sexuality but tolerates it as a way to leave a legacy to our children. Sexual Romanticism sees sex as a creative self- expression, but repressed. It proposes that every human being is born with a healthy sexual desire, but it is twisted by the influence of society and its culture. Of the three, it is the first that has gained the upper hand in recent human history. In the minds of many people, sex is not only a 'basic desire' but, more importantly a desire that can be endlessly satiated with or without money and/or power. To top it, we can still 'make money' and acquire or augment power. With sex we have multiple choices β€” we can be either a superman or a supermodel, a plain Jane or a Cleopatra, young or old; we can get sex free or pay for it or earn from it; sex can be an instrument of power or of the powerless; it gives us ecstasy and entertainment like nothing else.

And then we have what has come to be called 'spiritual sex'. It has two dimensions: the seamy and the sacred. The seamy or the sordid dimension is its association with pseudo- religious 'gurus' and goons, who exploit the love and devotion of their followers for their personal gratification. While it has always been an occasional aberration, it has become far more frequent in recent times, for two reasons. One, in today's sexually charged culture, it is far more difficult for the people with some religious or spiritual authority to resist the temptation of trespass; it is too difficult to pass up the opportunity. Two, it reflects the sense of disquiet, desperation, and deprivation that mark millions of lives. So many are searching for something to help them overcome a problem, or simply find some solace, that when a charismatic 'spiritual master' comes along and offers some comfort, all taboos break down and offerings are made in flesh to a 'god'.

On the other hand, the sacred dimension of spiritual sex is timeless. It has been a long-held article of faith that sexuality is a potent source of energy, and that if it is controlled, channeled or harvested it could enable man to transcend the bounds of being human. It is believed that sexual energy can be channeled or redirected upward to develop our energy centers, as a way to our spiritual evolution (as, for example, in the Hindu chakra system that comprises seven fields of energy in the human body). Celibacy, enjoined upon priests, nuns and monks, is one way. There are also techniques of spiritual or sacred sex for couples, like karezza in the West and tantra in India. They are concerned with the conservation and transmutation of sexual energies for spiritual growth. Whichever way one looks at it, we are a sexually lost species. There is so much sexuality and so little satisfaction. Hundreds of books have been written β€” like the Kama Sutra β€” on how to achieve sexual ecstasy. We have experimented with numerous methods to find sexual peace (monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, casual sex, ceremonial sex, commercial sex, etc.), but lust remains at large, unvanquished, unquenched.

Having examined 'money' and 'sex', let us now look at the third constituent of the triad β€” power. Power closely connects the two, money and sex. Money is power and power is money. Sex is power, too, and power is sex. Power, which is the ability to control the surrounding environment (including individuals) is intrinsic to human nature; it is a means to prevail upon, to control and to subdue another life. Everyone wants to be powerful. No one wants to be weak and vulnerable. Power manifests as coercion, control, and authority. In George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), O'Brien, the main antagonist, makes several telling comments about 'power'. While describing the Party's vision of the future, he says (to Winston Smith, the protagonist): 'we are the priests of power' and 'power is in inflicting pain and humiliation'. O'Brien says that there will always be the 'intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler'. And he tells Winston to visualize the future as a boot trampling on a human face. That description aptly captures the grip of power on the human consciousness. Almost no one β€” be it a saint or sinner, or a spiritual or sensual or secular person β€” can deny having harbored, either consciously or unconsciously, a yen for power. As Friedrich Nietzsche chillingly captured the importance of power in human life: being 'good' is that which enhances the feeling of power, the will to power, and the power itself in man; and 'bad' is that which proceeds from weakness; and 'happiness' is the feeling that the power is increasing β€” and that resistance has been overcome. And what matters is not contentment, but more power; not peace at any price, but war; not virtue, but competence. And to top it all, the first principle of our humanism is that the weak and the unsuccessful should perish and, indeed, they even ought to be helped to perish. Human thirst for power entails, as described by Steven Lukes (Power: A Radical View, 1974), an imposition of internal constraints, and those vulnerable to it acquire beliefs that induce them to consent to domination by either coercive or persuasive means. We all know the power of power every minute of our lives. It is a shadow we cannot run away from because that is our shadow. How we exercise it β€” or submit to it β€” is the test of our character. No high marks on either count. The English historian Lord Acton famously said that 'power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely'; it is in the nature of power itself to seek unchallenged power. Bernard Loomer, the American theologian said, "The problem of power is as ancient as the age of man. The presence of power is manifest wherever two or more people are gathered together and have any kind of relationship. Its deeper and sometimes darker qualities emerge as soon as the omnipresent factor of inequality makes itself felt."253 Not only Scott Fitzgerald's 'very rich' but also the 'very powerful' belong to a different genre. The scent of power easily seduces most men. Abraham Lincoln said "Nearly all men can stand the test of adversity, but if you want to test a man's character,give him power."254 Why the human animal alone is so singularly single-minded and ruthlessly relentless about gaining dominance β€” physical, psychological or emotional β€” over another person defies comprehension. What deep-seated urge or sadistic instinct does that fulfill? How does humiliating another person, which dominance is all about, make one feel better or superior? Yet, power is also necessary to protect the weak and the vulnerable, and also for good governance. Man has long tried to find a balance between the two competing factors, but not very successfully, as history shows. Since the possession and retention of power often requires aggressiveness and unscrupulousness, those who wield power rarely happen to be the right kind. It is therefore a state of 'double jeopardy'; good men do not come to power, and power corrupts those who come to power.

253 Bernard Loomer. Two Conceptions of Power. 1976. [Process Studies, vol.6, no.1, Spring, pp.5-32]. Accessed at:

End, means, and violence

Whether it is pursuit of power, pleasure, or profit, we often face the ethical dilemma: does the end justify the means or do the means justify the end? And to what extent should we tolerate or embrace violence as a means to achieve a just end? What takes precedence in the crucible of life, with so many competing demands, desires, ambitions, temptations, and obligations, is the question. We get mixed messages from the scriptures. Our incapacity β€” both cognitive and emotional β€” to mingle, manage and marry them has impeded our search for our real identity and erupts as violence, which tends to spread like a virus. It is, in one sense, the daily dilemma that dogs us every step of the way. It has a bearing on our moral sense of right and wrong and on our modes of values and principles that determine our choices. Leon Trotsky tried to outflank the dichotomy and said that the end may justify the means so long as there is something that justifies the end, signaling the interconnectivity of the two. We often justify our actions as 'there is no other way', implying several things at the same time: that it is a matter of survival; that the end justifies the means, or that it is a lesser evil in our troubled times. That rationale or defense is proffered by almost everyone, from 'honorable' men to self-serving politicians. If what you want to achieve is 'good', does the manner in which you set out to achieve it matter? The dialectic of Means and Ends is of deep historical, ethical, and philosophical significance. If one cannot, as is often the reality, combine the two, which is more moral and more important β€” the Means or the End? Then again, the line between the end and the method is not as sharply drawn as we like to think; and often, an end is also a means, and a means is an end, from a different perspective. That is the quandary that crops up ever so often in the drama of life. We often know what we ought to do, but 'end up' doing the opposite for all kinds of reasons, most often because of fear or the lure of the consequences. Most of us agree on what we want in society: peace, justice, love, happiness; but we disagree on how to achieve them. Indeed, in a social fabric based on the supply-and-demand principle, all these are social products like any commodity, the excess of which might reduce their worth and value. Most people also agree that the plethora of problems the world faces have to be resolved or managed, but widely disagree on the ways this can be achieved, since inevitably there is a price to be paid, an inconvenience to be shared. Making someone else bear the entire burden β€” like making lifestyle changes and paying an economic price for a righteous global end, such as restoring the balance of Nature β€” is tantamount to adopting wrong means. Sometimes, the end justifies the means; at other times, the means become the measure of righteousness. That message comes loud and clear from the epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The debate about means and ends once again demonstrates that there are no absolutes in Nature, not even in regard to means and ends. The only 'relative absolute' is that the larger good always, whether it is a means or an end, must prevail over the smaller good, be it the means or the end.

254 Cited in: Ray Blunt. Leadership in the Crucible: the Paradox of Character and Power. Accessed at:

The human intellect, or whatever it is that churns inside us, that transforms data into decisions, contemplation into choices, and then comes out as actions and behavior, has not been able to balance and unify the often conflicting pulls and pressures, tensions and temptations, that are innate and incidental to human life, and to ensure that spontaneous individual lives and reflexive actions contribute to, not detract, the common good. What we have 'become' is not what we would like to become. The vital interests of the majority of people fall by the wayside on the human march, and the mainstream has often failed to ensure dignity to the dispossessed and to offer hope to the men on the margins. And that is where humankind has almost consistently gone wrong, culminating in the crises that the world faces today. Whatever goes on inside our consciousness that results in choosing a course of action that affects our lives and the lives of others, has more often than not fallen short of the action needed. We live in a world where so many people continue to make the same old decisions and repeatedly suffer the same kind of consequences. Our decisions often reflect our desires, and our desires reflect our 'sense of life' and the state of our consciousness. We rely almost exclusively on our cognitive processes, our 'rational' reasoning capacity, and that by itself has demonstrably been both inadequate and inappropriate. It is easier to go for an individual goal, but when it comes to the world at large, questions arise about equity and proportionality, about whose need is more pressing, and about who shares the costs and how β€” issues that the human mind is just not adequately equipped to resolve. The matter of 'ends and means' β€” which incidentally is the title of Aldous Huxley's book (1937) that deals with human behavior β€” is also a test of man distinguishing himself as a 'moral animal'; after all, for animals, the end is all that matters. Furthermore, the consequences of any action form the basis for a moral verdict on the action itself (consequentialism). And 'consequences' pertain not only to the desired end but also to the means. Someone said that results are what you expect, and consequences are what you get! The human tendency is to evade and to escape from unwelcome consequences But we cannot avoid the consequences of evading or escaping from consequences. We can dodge responsibilities, but we cannot avoid the consequences of dodging. This applies not only to individuals but also collectively to our species. In the case of individual consequences, they might well linger even after death, and for the species, they can snowball from generation to generation. 'Means' is an action a person engages in, with the intention of bringing about a certain result or an 'end.' The 'end' has initially only an ideal existence, and the resultant End, the actual outcome of the adopted Means, may be quite different from the abstract End for which the Means was adopted in the first place. Both Means and Ends are therefore processes which are in greater or lesser contradiction with one another throughout their development. They are intertwined but not interdependent. Ends do justify the means, and means justify the ends. Means refer to the existing conditions, while the end is the desirable state. That creates conflict and confronts us with a choice. Without 'adequate' tools or means, there can be no end, but the question is what is 'adequate', and perhaps even more importantly, what is 'appropriate' to get that adequacy. Means can also be divided into 'moral' means and 'mandatory' means; the latter refers to what the society or the law prescribes. The doctrine "The end justifies the means," often attributed to the famous or notorious Machiavelli, the author of the classic work Prince (1532), captures this school of thought. More accurately, Machiavelli made a sharp distinction between having good qualities that are unnecessary and even injurious, and appearing to have them, which is useful.

The 'conflict' between means and ends is nowhere more sharply etched in human affairs than on the issues of violence, war and peace. All three are implicit and embedded in Nature, but how they shape up and surface in the morass of life raises important questions. In a world suffused with chaos and hatred, it is 'logical' to ask if the quest for peace itself is morbid and suicidal, the sole preserve of philosophers, evangelists and utopians. Is the idea of peace a mistake, a red herring, to let our worst instincts go unchallenged? Can it ever be practiced as a primary value? If peace is the end, can violence and war be the means? Are we morally secured in being 'benignly' violent to curb or contain 'malignant' violence or to achieve a noble end? Can war of any kind be a means to peace of any ilk? Is any 'peace' better than any 'war'? Can we, for an instance, posit that 'peace' under Nazi occupation was better than the killing of 'innocent' German civilians? It has been said that only three species engage in 'war' β€” humans, chimpanzees, and ants. Among humans, fighting seems so natural, and warfare so pervasive and historically constant, that we are often tempted to attribute it to some innate predisposition for sadism and slaughter β€” a gene, perhaps, manifested as a murderous hormone. The earliest archeological evidence of war is from around 12,000 years ago, well before such innovations as capitalism and cities and at the very beginning of settled agricultural life. Sweeping through recorded history, one can find a predilection for warfare among hunter-gatherers, herding and farming people, industrial and even post-industrial societies, democracies, and dictatorships. But then, what is 'war' and what is peace? With changing dynamics of warfare and violence, that question has become more pertinent than ever. And it is nearer home than ever.

Peace has five dimensions: individual peace, family peace, peace in society, peace in the nation, and peace on the planet. They are like concentric circles with the individual consciousness at the center, which is, in other words, the inner sense of calm and serenity and soulfulness. Further, peace by itself and unto itself is sometimes of little value. What has been called 'positive peace' is part of a triad, the other two being justice and wholeness (or well- being). The other triad is peace-making, peacekeeping, and peace building. In a world that is full of chaos and hatred, violence and venality, some well-meaning 'pragmatists' are tempted to ask if the quest for peace itself is morbid and suicidal, best left to the labors and the levers of philosophers, evangelists and other such hopefuls.

Violent death is snatching more and more people every day, and it seems so random and so pointless. It is happening with increasing rapidity and randomness, and it raises the age-old question why violent, untimely death spares most of us, yet embraces some unlucky few, and what is it that separates the two. It is not death per se that is illogical or inexplicable; it is how it gobbles different people differently. It seems to delight in our discomfiture and in our being 'surprised' every time it comes home somewhere. There seems to be no 'rational' reason why someone we know is dead and why we are not. Neither genes, nor health nor habitat or circumstance can explain it. If death β€” why not, where, when and how β€” is beyond the play of what we do or do not do in daily life, and if it is not all senseless randomness, then why does it happen the way it happens? The ominous phrase 'wrong time, wrong place' seems scribbled all over our lives. Minutes and inches make a difference in death's fateful lottery. Destiny is a matter of 'detail'. But in every fated action, there is an element of human choice, and in every choice there is an unseen hand of fate. What we do not know are the points of intersection and conjunction. While many 'rationalists' might decry the idea of a deterministic fate, there are few who do not believe in luck, which someone said is 'probability personalized'. For many, good luck is what they have earned, and bad luck is an unfair and unjustified penalty. But they do not mind β€” and even welcome it β€” if 'bad luck' visits other people. While we might not end up where we want to be, it is not uncommon that we end up where we need to be. The Jewish Kabbalah teaches that God's drama plays out, right before our very own eyes. Every one of us is among God's cast of players. God's drama requires, like any play, villains, victims and heroes, bystanders, bit players, and active participants. No one plays the same part all the time. Not only what part we play but how we play it has a bearing on what roles we enact in future.

The real theater of war — and peace — is within us. While war has been generally viewed as barbarous, the scriptures also recognize that war can be just and even holy, cleansing and even necessary for a moral world, a dharma yudh, as it is called in Hinduism, and jihad in Islam. From time immemorial, from the Neolithic Age to the Modern Age, man has dreamed of peace, peace within and peace without; peace for the self and peace in the world. "War is peace" was one of the slogans on the façade of the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue) in George Orwell's dystopian book Nineteen Eighty-Four. A quarter-century after Orwell's imagined future has passed, the phrase sums up the state of the world and the mind of man in a number of ways. One does not really know which is the lesser or the greater evil: the charade of perpetual pseudo-peace, or the formal state of war. Every individual craves for 'peace of mind'. As long as man has been a conscious being, the battle cry for peace has been the constant refrain. Increasingly, that agonizing 'cry', that longing, is leading to suicide.

Many mantras in the Vedas end with a prayer for universal peace, rendered by the chant Om shanti, shanti, shanti. Some scholars say that the very word 'Islam' means peace. The often- used expression 'salaam' is 'peace be upon you'. Yet, we are living in a world that enjoys little, if any, peace. Everything human is soaked in violence; it has crept into every crevice of our consciousness. It has become virtually impossible to live without violence. Everyone is scarred by it, either as the perpetrator or as the victim, mostly a mix of both. Our heroes, our mythology, our epics, even many of our gods are examples of nonviolence and peace. Hatred, hostility, violence, and wars have become the dominant forces in shaping human history. As Huxley said in his essay Ends and Means, every road towards a better state of society is blocked, sooner or later β€” by war, by threats of war, by preparations for war. Opinions vary on the question whether war-making is purely a human passion, or if it has a solid base in Nature. One can argue from both ends, and it depends on what 'war' is in non-human terms. But one thing is incontrovertible: that man is unique, as Huxley says, in 'organizing the mass murder of his own species', particularly of its young and strong. And as pleasure-seeking creatures, we must admit that there is pleasure in destructiveness. Why do humans, of many affiliations, want or think that they are better off with war? This too has been much debated, and the causes and drives vary from giving a purpose to life, to enjoying the goodies from the lawlessness of war, to being an escape from boredom, the bitter fruit of nationalism, the interests of the military-industrial complex, political ambition of the 'new class', religious righteousness, etc. In Huxley's opinion, the only way to eliminate war is to abolish the arms industry. But these are all symptoms; the root of the trouble is the mind, and its offspring, human culture.

Not only men but even the gods have used violence to achieve the 'good' end. Down the ages, all rakshasas (demons) have been destroyed by the gods through violence, not through inducing repentance or submission or conversion. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna proclaims that God will come down to earth from time to time to 'destroy' evil-doers and to protect the righteous. That is because killing in that context is liberation. Like death being considered as the end of life, killing as a 'bad' action is also a human cultural attribute. There is a double standard we adopt about killing. We are trained to think that any death other than by disease or debilitation is 'killing', and that any human intervention in the 'process' of death is sinful and unethical. Yet, we do try desperately to ward death off, for example, when someone dear to us is in a critical medical condition, and we plead with the doctors to prolong the patient's life at any cost and by any means; but, since doctors too are human, this is tantamount to human intercession. In this line of thought, the right to bring to a closure the agony and ecstasy of life is not of the 'owner' of that life, but of the disease and the divine will. That 'right' is given by Nature to the bacteria, virus, fungus, or parasite, or to an out-of- control automobile, but not to the one who suffers the consequence. The logic is that, we have no hand in where and how and when we are born, and death should be regarded in similar terms. But we do not adopt the same logic in between; we do not wish to let Nature have much to do with how we live. It is relative peace, not perfect bliss, that man craves for, even if he himself is violent within. The real problem is three-fold: As the Buddha said, while peace comes from within, we seek it without. Instead of learning to cope with conflict, we try to eliminate it altogether. We methodically, and even painstakingly, create a culture of violence, and hope and expect that we β€” in particular, our young β€” remain untarnished.

As a result, every aspect of human life: personal, social, economic, political and religious, is marked by anger, acrimony, aggression, coercion, callousness and cruelty in thought, word, and deed. It manifests both in interpersonal interactions, and in international affairs β€” and in our attitude towards Nature. Whether it is climate change or a shattered marriage, the source is the same. The theater of terror is the mind. We cannot solve any problem unless we are able to tame, contain, and channel the rage within. The trouble comes when we try to exorcize it from the face of the earth, as if it is some kind of extraterrestrial force. On the contrary, it might well be only an earthly phenomenon. And like inequality, it would be futile to aim at the opposite, that of absolute nonviolence, perfect peace and a human world devoid of aggression. That would be a wasted effort, and can again do more harm than good. It does not mean that we should condone, encourage or abet the killers and rapists, and follow the adage 'if we cannot stop it, join the party'. Even if it is 'natural' and 'rational', it is not inevitable or universal; we can, as human beings, have the innate ability to go beyond biology and even Nature. What we need to do is to shift our focus from conflict elimination to conflict management or resolution, and transform our instinct for aggression into a force to fight for equity and justice. Nowadays, most adversarial groups seem incapable of negotiating peaceful consensus solutions to problems, especially with those that are perceived as even more stubbornly doctrinal than they really are. And we have to look at the scenario from a broader perspective of the species, not of aberrant individuals afflicted with a variety of psychological syndromes, or of even deviant ethnic and religious zealotry. For violence is not, as we instinctively assume, only murder or bodily injury; it can be 'body language; it could be gross insensitivity to the feelings of others.' We condemn violence as if it is some kind of an alien implant. On the other hand, it is innate and built into the very fabric of Nature. Violence also depends on the cause and the purpose behind it. What is the goal? What is the choice? What is the cost of nonviolence? These are some of the questions that need to be addressed. And then, there is what is called 'structural violence', which arises when essential social resources are unfairly distributed, forcing some to lead subhuman lives, in conditions of extreme poverty and disentitlement. Violence has always been the weapon of the oppressor or the conqueror, a means to impose will, and inflict physical or mental injury on another person. It resides in every individual like a volcano, dormant for much of life.

Why, when, and how the lava surfaces in some (and not in others) remains unclear. But violence is now the preferred choice of the oppressed and the disadvantaged too; they feel that it is the only way their voice can be heard, the only way to assert their rights and to get their due. Often, we refrain from violence only when we fear the greater violence of the 'other' party.

Although the contemporary human being might appear to be the most violent, the ancestry of human violence goes far back into antiquity. Alongside evolution, man has turned from a prey to a predator, the hunted to a hunter. What he had tried to fight, he has now become. With time, this transformation has only become more pervasive and lethal than ever before, because the tools available to man have become far more deadly. Today, no place or dimension of life is sacrosanct, be it a school or a street, home or workplace, dormitory or a dungeon, sexual or social, urban or rural. Violence is deemed as the short-cut to success, to be 'rich and famous'; no quarrel is too trivial, no cause too lofty. The scriptures are ambivalent about it: while they expressly sanction righteous violence, they leave key questions unanswered β€” who judges and determines which violence is righteous and which is not? As a result, religion and revenge are merging; one's own life is offered as a wager, as a worthy price for someone else's. The maxim that everything is fair in love and war is truer than ever before. And the common thread is violence, to 'violate' the dignity, integrity and self-respect of an individual or a country. In love, it is merely 'if I can't have you, no one else should'; in war, it is distilled violence. In love, it is the fear of loss of control, and in war, it is absolute control and conquest. While violence is integral to Nature and all species exhibit it in varying ways, human violence is clearly more vicious because it is often laced with loads of malice. And while physical violence is transparent and ugly, the wounding words of verbal violence leave more lasting scars and terribly wrenched souls. While gruesome killings get bigger headlines, it is the subtler and more insidious and incestuous forms of killing that tarnish every life. The wellspring of violence has been the subject of long-standing reflection β€” does violence have its root in biology or ecology? is it genetic or environmental? what combination of factors lead to aggressive behavior? The British historian Arnold Toynbee wrote: "There is a persistent vein of violence and cruelty in human nature. All human beings are responsible for man's inhumanity to man and we all need forgiveness because we know

that we are sinning against the light."255 Some say the villain is the male hormone testosterone, which is present even in women; others say that violence happens simply on the spur of the moment. There are some evolutionary psychologists like Randy Thornhill (A Natural History of Rape, 2000), who say that some of the things we abhor most, such as rape, might actually be adaptations from the Stone Age and which are now encoded in our genes. In other words, there could be a 'rape gene' lurking in some dark corner of the consciousness of many men!Although many scientists disagree on the roots of rape, the fact is that sexual violence now occupies a huge chunk of human violence, and it seems to reveal both an act of violence and an act of lust. Most human relationships have a streak of subtle violence, and this is responsible in no small measure to the coarsening of human life. Our darkest side often erupts in close relationships. It is a clash of egos, each trying to fulfill a desire at the expense of the other, each trying to take more from the other and give, if any, far less. There is probably no such thing as 'non-violence'; it is either 'soft violence' or 'hard violence'. Glaring at another person is soft violence; physically hitting him or her is hard violence. It is doubtful if there has ever been any human being who has led a truly non-violent life. The conundrum is that as a 'social animal', relationships that connect one human to another are integral to human life, but they also erode in different degrees the integrity of human individuality. Every relationship is both potentially synergetic and a restraint. The inability to strike the right balance between the two imperatives of identity and interdependence, intimacy and integrity, leads to intolerance and violence. We think of violence as an act of commission, something we do. We have singularly failed to harmonize the need to protect the autonomy of the human subject with the objective of human solidarity. We think it is all right if we directly do not do something bad. We are a species steeped in violence and we cannot evade or escape the collective responsibility. Much of our violence stems from the pursuit of money, power, and sex. But it is more than that.

255 Arnold Tonybee. Human Savagery Cracks Thin Veneer. Los Angeles Times. USA. Sunday, 6 September 1970.

Denying dignity is violence; extreme poverty is violence; injustice is violence; intolerance is violence; ill will is violence; evil thought is violence. Non-action in a good cause is violence. Their spin-off is more widespread and long lasting, and they do more damage to humanity than an individual aberration. It has been said that the only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. That is violence in itself.

Since time immemorial, man has been dreaming about a 'world without war' or peace without war, while at the same time waging war in every conceivable form of collectivity β€” family, tribe, city-state, kingdom, empire and sovereign state β€” and destroying every opportunity for enduring peace. But the one 'war' that we must fight (and often do not) is within; in the depths of our own mind and consciousness, between the divine and the demonic, which the Bhagavad Gita says, are innate in every human being. It is a truism that is true that the history of war is the history of humankind. The British historian Eric Hobsbawm calculates that 187 million people have died from wars in the last century. That is more than the total world population a thousand years ago β€” and about a tenth of the world's population at the beginning of the last 100 years.256 Experts have long debated if we are 'hardwired' for violence and war, or if it is merely an 'acquired addiction'. Whatever it is, and perhaps a mix of both, modern man has never lived in a world without war, whether his war was for class or caste, ethnic or civil, domestic or gender, religious or race. Technology and warfare have always been intimately connected from the earliest times. Writers like Quincy Wright say that technology has played the same role in modern wars as instinct played in animal warfare. From the 20th century onwards, war has become more menacing, more indiscriminate, more sophisticated, and more like a massacre, and entails more and more cruelty and suffering. What technology has done is to increase the lethal power of a single weapon exponentially, and to dramatically reduce the cumulative cost and make it 'affordable' to many more people and States than ever before. And man now has a weapon of war, the nuclear bomb, which is too terrible to use. How long it will stay that way is anybody's guess.

The apologists of war justify massacres and mass mutilation as a part of Nature, even necessary for its equilibrium, and not exclusive to humans. It bears some reflection and retrospective. One must draw a distinction between violence and war; all wars are violent but not all violence is war. The English poet Alfred Tennyson wrote of 'Nature red in tooth and claw'. But violence and being bloodthirsty is not warlike. Aldous Huxley addressed this issue in another manner: "Conflict is certainly common in the animal kingdom. But, with very rare exceptions, conflict is between isolated individuals. 'War' in the sense of conflict between armies exists among certain species of social insects. But it is significant that these insects do not make war on members of their own species, only on those of other species. Man is probably unique in making war on his own species."257 Be that as it may, and precisely because it is a singular human invention, war will never end. As Stanley Baldwin, three times prime minister of Britain, put it: "War would end if the dead could return."258 Should that ever happen, we will not be around to exchange notes, we cannot bet on that. And not many 'rational' men will agree with the Roman philosopher Cicero's words: "I prefer the most unfair peace to the most righteous war."259 For many, such an attitude would amount to cowardice, and shameful surrender to evil and rank selfishness. Waging war is a struggle for power, for territory; in its essence every war also involves a collision of egos, of rulers, of nations and of societies. According to the 'dualistic view', there exists a completely independent material sphere, given to violence, separate from and opposed to our essential spiritual side. But everything material is however only a symbol and sign, everything external is but a manifestation of the internal, everything coercive is also a free choice. We can make sense of war only with a monistic point of view, i.e., seeing in it the symbolism of what transpires within spiritual activity. We can fantasize that war happens in the heavens, within other planes of being, within the depths of dark spirits. Physical violence or murder is not something substantial in itself, as an independent reality β€” it is a sign of inward violence, committing evil within the spiritual activity. The nature of war, as a manifestation of material violence, is purely reflective, a sign, symptomatic, not something independent of our essence. War is not the source of evil, but rather a reflection in evil, the sign of the existence of inner evil and sickness in our consciousness. Humans have not found a way to create joy and happiness through service and surrender. The scriptures extol the transformative power of service and that should be the matter of self-training in daily life. If every act we do includes an element of service to someone else, man or God, it could be a potent cleanser of our consciousness. The theosophist Annie Besant said that every individual who happens to be with us at any particular moment is the person given to us by God to serve at that moment.he reminds us that that person could be the one that God wants to help through us. And in serving, we also surrender, and through surrender we can subdue our ego. By subduing our ego we attain a state fit for selfless service.

256 Cited in: Paul D'Amato. No More Blood for Oil: The Socialist Alternative to a System of Violence and Poverty. A World Without War. 17 January 2003. p.11. Accessed at:

257 Cited in: Peace Pledge Union: Working for Peace. The Case for Constructive Peace. Accessed at:

258 Cited in: Be a Hero for a Better World. Anti-War Quotes. Accessed at:

Without making any headway towards that goal of serving for the sake of service, not for the pleasure of serving, loving not for the sake of love but as an instrument of God, we will never be in harmony. Despite the Biblical exhortation to turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, and that no nation shall lift up swords against another nation, wars have been waged, and they have only been gaining in ferocity, brutality, and violence. The arms race among nations is getting more and more ferocious, and exponentially expensive.

Man believes that a weapon is power, and power means control and control leads to conquest. For example, since the end of the Second World War in 1945, when peace was supposedly restored in the world, it is estimated that 150 to 160 'wars' were waged around the world till the end of the century, killing an estimated 33 to 40 million people, including civilians.260 Our resource allocation is the real touchstone for our social priorities. Statistics reveal that the

world military expenditure in 2006 is estimated to have reached $1,204 billion in current dollars; this represents a 3.5 per cent increase in real terms since 2005, and a 37 per cent increase over the 10-year period since 1997. One single country, the United States of America, is responsible for about 80 per cent of the increase in 2005, and its military expenditure now accounts for almost half of the world's total. The need for diversion from military expenditure to programs focused on poverty eradication is the constant refrain in every 'economic' international declaration and 'plan of action'. But they remain just that β€” declarations and plans bereft of political will.

259 Cited in: Be a Hero for a Better World. Anti-War Quotes. Accessed at:

260 Alvin and Heidi Toffler. War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century. 1993. Little, Brown and Company. Boston, USA. p.13.

The reality is that man will never exhaust a cause for killing another human being and he will always look for more and more deadly weapons of mass destruction. And war offers the most legitimately lethal way of homicide with the greatest impact. War is pure violence; it is violence on a grand scale, when thousands die and murders are committed in the holy name of national honor; when unspeakable horrors are committed with the silent complicity of millions more, when every canon of 'civilized behavior' is sacrificed with a 'clear conscience' by the perpetrators. War is 'necrophilia,' 'pure sin, with its goals of hatred and destruction.' It bestows on some humans "the godlike power that comes with the license to kill with impunity."261 It is a time when "murder goes unpunished and is often rewarded."262 War offers a socially-sanctioned vehicle to unleash man's worst instincts and to fulfill his darkest desires. It is the most corrosive of human activity. The causes for war are as varied as the facets in the human personality. War has done much to dehumanize humanity and to coarsen the human condition. And it has provided man with a societal, if not moral, legitimacy for some of his lowest and basest instincts without the need for remorse or retribution or a sense of shame and guilt. If one wants to give free and full play to man's sadistic instincts, one simply needs to join one of the wars that rage around, declared or undeclared: civil wars, ethnic wars, economic wars, religious wars and often a mix of some or all of these. Many times, more people have been murdered or maimed in these conflicts than wars between States. For example, since the civil war broke out in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1998, 3.3 million people were reported to have perished by November 2002, many due to sickness and famine caused by the conflict. The Rwandan genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the 1990's itself claimed over 800,000 lives. Famine, caused by widespread shortage or non affordability of food, is a symptom of man's inability to share as well as his callousness towards Nature. Despite the undoubted economic gains enjoyed by humanity over the recent past, it is estimated that nearly 70 million people have died due to famine in the 20th century alone. And the recent killings of over 400,000 people in Darfur, Sudan is a reminder that nothing has changed and we, as a species, are addicted to killing each other, whether it is through war or a civil war, or ethnic cleansing or religious reprisal.

And if we somehow exhaust all of these options, we will invent new ones. How else can one explain the chilling fact that the world currently spends 11 times more money killing each other than trying to stop the innocent from dying? In another kind of 'war' caused by epidemics like AIDS, millions of people die and many more become orphaned β€” 40 million people by 2010 in Africa, according to the United Nations. It is a 'civil war' in those lands, but it is a 'moral war' for the rest of us, and we are failing; symptomatic of the state of human consciousness. The real 'famine' rages inside man, caused by chronic shortage of sensitivity, compassion and spirituality. Then again the cause and effect question comes up. Why does Nature/God heap catastrophe after catastrophe over a particular place and over a particular set of people? Does it have something to do with their 'collective karma'?

As if all this is not bad enough, there are the mercenaries, private armies, and adventurers who do it for the money or just for the thrill of it. And one has a deadly menu of place and kind to choose from. Every war is a horror, a legalized massacre. It is human invention to murder or maim in a twinkling, a mass of unknown men, women, and children. It is a quick fix to satiate our timeless thirst for blood. From the earliest times, man has had a singular fascination for blood, far before William Harvey's mid-17th century description of the circulation of blood. It came to be recognized as the life principle, long before it was scientifically established; and a feeling of fear, awe and reverence came to be attached to the shedding of blood. Blood rites and blood ceremonies were commonplace among our early ancestors. War offers us the maximum opportunity to spill maximal blood with minimum effort. In Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace (1869), Prince Andrei says that the object of warfare is murder. The Prussian military historian Carl von Clausewitz said that war by its basic nature war drives onwards to extremes. And, in the words of American writer Garry Wills, "raping, robbing of civilians and brutalizing and killing of prisoners in war are not anomalies."263 They are not aberrations, or the zealotry of perverted soldiers, or the dark deeds of desperate minions. Such atrocities are perpetrated not by barbarians or monsters but by ordinary people who are persuaded by war to think that the 'enemy' is a monster, at least not fully human. And maybe, the 'fun' they could not afford on the street, they could in a war. Totally inhuman acts are made acceptable by justifying them in the name of patriotism, national honor and self-defense. The former American President Jimmy Carter said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that war may be a necessary evil, but evil it still is and that does not change, and that we will not learn to live in peace by killing each other's children. One could even question the qualification, necessary. Like the concept of a 'just war'; a 'necessary war' is not only a questionable concept but also an obnoxious doctrine, like a 'necessary rape', and a 'just mutilation', and a 'right way' of maiming children. In the mind of the perpetrator, every war is 'just'.

261 Chris Hedges. On War. The New York Review of Books, USA. 16 December 2004. Accessed at:

262 Chris Hedges. On War. The New York Review of Books, USA. 16 December 2004. Accessed at:

The 'justness' and 'justification' come from our history, epics, mythologies, and scriptures. Indeed, war is 'holy' and every atrocity committed is automatically absolved of any human or divine censure. Killing in war is the highest human virtue and getting killed in a war is an assured path to heaven, in spite of whatever sins one might have committed in one's life. Victory sanctifies every moral obscenity. It is always the defeated that are hauled up for 'war crimes', never the victorious, who often go on to commit even more horrendous crimes. War is no different from genocide and mass murder sanctified by the State. War is evil not only because of what waging a war entails, but also because of what it leaves behind, and what follows in the vanquished land β€” starvation, suffering, social suffocation, and slow death. Before the modern era, wars were still seen as evil, but they were mainly between bands of professional warriors and those affected were the ones whose 'duty was to die and kill'. At least that is the story we would like to believe. But despite all the glory, romanticism and heroism attached to the classical wars, they were still gory and never confined to the combatants, as they left behind orphans, widows, and the wounded.

Although we may extol non-violence as one of the highest human virtues, it is strange that in most cultures and even in religion, mass murder and mutilation are glorified. Dying on the battlefield, the scripture says, is the surest and the shortest route to Heaven, even if the person was evil in life. In the epic Mahabharatha, an anecdote says that prince Yudhisthira was permitted to enter heaven in his own body (a privilege denied to his brothers and wife) because of his unblemished earthly conduct, notwithstanding the lie he uttered to facilitate the killing of his guru Dronacharya. But he is surprised to see his evil cousin Duryodhana in heaven and is told that Duryodhana was there because he 'died on the battlefield'. Death in combat is supposed to absolve a human of all his past villainies! It not only whitewashes 'civilian' sins but elevates the sinner to the pleasures of Paradise! Perhaps it applies not only to those who kill and die in wars but also to those who launch wars! What other incentive is needed for one to wage wars? But what qualifies a conflict to be called a 'war'? In the olden days, the battlefield was the only arena of war, and wars were often waged between sunrise and sunset and were confined to combatants of equal strength or skill. Now it is continuous, multi-fronted and not confined to combat. So, who qualifies to go to heaven? Today, there is intense competition among murderers; many 'suicide bombers' believe that the murder of innocents is a religious duty. Classics like Homer's Iliad that glorify wars, paint the terrible as beautiful and evil as honor. In this technological age, wars are fought with weapons that not only decimate the 'enemy', which includes anyone living in a particular place at a particular time, but also decapitate the environment, bring disability across generations, and turn fertile lands into arid forests. We have wars without warriors, battles without battlefields and soldiers who look like space travelers. A 'deserter' is a traitor but an 'escapee' is a hero. And victory or defeat is not decided on the arena of action but by the public perception, which is often manipulated by the media who in turn are manipulated by the ruling class.

263 Garry Wills. What is a Just War? The New York Review of Books, USA. 18 November 2004. p.32.

With the advent of advanced technologies, both the dynamics and the mechanics of war have changed and along with it the military balances in the world. Alvin and Heidi Toffler in their book War and Anti-War (1993) say, "the way we make war reflects the way we make wealth, and the way we make anti-war must reflect the way we make war. In the present technology- intensive wars, a soldier is called a 'system' and the uniform he wears is called Soldier Integrated Protective Suit (SIPS),"264 designed to kill without combat or being seen. The doctrine of modern war is not to fight but to blow up to bits any of the enemy's habitat, killing all life around, and destroying the infrastructure for a functioning society, and to decapitate, decimate and demoralize the rulers and the people of the 'enemy country' and force them to capitulate body and soul. It is a doctrine designed to maximize suffering, mutilation and murder, deliberately and diabolically. A prisoner of war is an economic commodity, dead or alive, a subject of sadism.Even assuming that violence and war may be necessary to fight abominable evil or intolerable injustice, and even perhaps to retain or reclaim one's dignity, human beings are morally afloat and emotionally underdeveloped to be able to tread the fine line between necessary and needless violence, egoistic bravado and cowardice from the perspective of human good. Those who plan and prosecute war do not have a divine shield or any moral exaltedness any more than anyone else. Often, they reflect the meaner side of the human spectrum which is needed to acquire power. Often they have the political power to unleash war but not the sagacity and the power to control its conduct and facilitate its conclusion. As a result, many wars go awry, triggering unanticipated damage, laconically, if not sarcastically, called 'collateral damage', which is the killing of tens of thousands of non- combatants. That, in turn, generates more enmity and animosity and adds to the cauldron of accumulated hatred in the world. In one sense, the worst part of war comes after the war. The dead are gone, mercifully, to a better place. It is the survivors, the victor and the vanquished and the soldier and the civilian alike, who bear the brunt of carrying the ravages for the rest of their lives. A man conditioned by the culture of war will carry the same culture into other walks of life and infect, like a virus, the society at large. The intoxication and thrill of destruction fill their days with wild adrenalin highs, which conjure up grotesque landscapes that are almost hallucinogenic..

264 Alvin and Heidi Toffler. War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century. 1993. Little, Brown and Company. Boston, USA. p.119.

They become 'killer gods,' accustomed to "killing, carrying out acts of slaughter, with no more forethought than they take to relieve themselves."265 The species-spin-off is that the essence of human condition gets further coarsened and corroded and the millions who are infected by the war in turn infect millions more every day, triggering a noxious ripple effect in the whole pond of humanity. In today's context, any war, of any type or scale, can escalate into a nuclear or biological Armageddon. The specter of nuclear war is well known, an integral part of almost every doomsday scenario; rather less widely known or discussed is biological warfare. But that seems to be as potentially real as a catastrophic nuclear war. Although some sort of rudimentary germ warfare dates back to at least 400 BCE, when Greek armies hurled arrows dipped in the blood of decomposed bodies, it was child's play compared to the havoc modern-day bacteriological and toxic weapons can cause. We are told that scientists have created mutant viruses and super-bugs (like vaccine- resistant smallpox) for germ warfare. If these pathogens are let loose in error or by design, they may kill billions, but that might not 'yet' lead to species extinction. It is feared that man might soon discover the means to create pathogens completely lethal to everyone, which could result in extinction. Humans, it is said, are almost genetic clones and therefore are much more susceptible than other species to this sort of attack.

Under the ruse of 'necessary evil' and 'national security,' it is the State that has become the greatest perpetrator of violence and evil in the world. The 'State', after all, is another institution and every institution interacts with the outside world through the medium of individual human beings and whatever strengths and fragilities humans can rub off on the institution. Although theoretically, the State is supposed to act on behalf of and be the guarantor of collective will, in truth, the effective link between the State and the citizen is law, which really is fear of force. To be governed by force is no different from being a captive. The classical argument in favor of the State is that its absence is anarchism and the tyranny of the strong and evil. The questionable doctrine of 'necessary evil' is applied. It means that the questionable state ethics are justified for 'greater good', and that although we may not like what State stands for, it must exist to attain a certain objective, which is collective security and justice. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her book On Violence (1970), power and violence, though they are distinct phenomena, usually appear together; when one rules absolutely, the other is absent and therefore, she says, to speak of non-violent power is actually redundant. On the contrary, State power is exercised preponderantly through the exclusivity of preventive and punitive power, backed by an elaborate infrastructure comprising of the army, the police, the paramilitary forces, the intelligence agencies and the bureaucracy. With all its lethal resources, the State has not been able to smother social violence. When the wrath of the people is truly roused, even awesome power becomes impotent. The State has become, instead of being a representative institution, a repressive institution.

Like almost every human institution, the State too is built on fear, doubt and distrust of human personality. Unless the very character of human aptitudes, inclinations and traits change, nothing can make a decisive difference. By State, we also assume a centralized trickle-down authority, in which our lives are micro-managed by strangers sitting in a far off place, ostensibly to protect us from our dark desires. Being aggressive has become part of being human and human inventiveness alone cannot erase it. The Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz in his book On Aggression (1963), argues in detail how "both animals and humans are equally endowed with aggressiveness" and that in the case of animals, "aggressive behavior ' does not lead to the defeat of the other power but becomes a bond of solidarity between the animals." As a result, "aggressive behavior functions to maintain order in the animal world".266 In contrast, when it comes to us humans, the outcome of aggression is usually the killing of the adversary, and even war, in certain circumstances. In other words, animal aggressiveness is without malice, and human aggressiveness is dripping with it. Steven Pinker argues that human violence cannot be understood without a thorough understanding of the mind. There are both biological and social causes of war and violence. Under certain provocations and promptings, man is capable of both violence and compassion, of waging war and peaceful conflict resolution. Some call human violence a 'testosterone surge', which is "somewhat of a shutdown of the brain which leads to a burst of energy that increases one's 'manliness' factor. The entire body experiences a takeover of pure, unbridled adrenaline.

265 Chris Hedges. On War. The New York Review of Books, USA. 16 December 2004. p.12.

Surely, this is a trait left over from our more primal ancestors, one that was probably helpful when saber-toothed tigers popped out from a bush."267 Whether it is testosterone or sheer survival, evolution or environment, the footprints of human violence are too indelible to be explained away.

Seeds of self-destruction

While one can debate about how 'original' human violence is, there is very little doubt about the fact that the way it has unraveled through human history has radically altered the character of human essence. We cannot get away from the stark truth that man is by far the most violent form of life on earth. Whichever way we differentiate one form of violence from another, and call it suicide or homicide, murder or martyrdom, genocide or ecocide, they all point to an uncontrollable urge to intentionally terminate one's life through self-directed injurious acts. Whether it is a byproduct of evolution or Nature's design to contain human delusions of cosmic grandeur, this trait appears deeply implanted in the human psyche. One could also speculate if this has got something to do with our pursuit of bodily indestructibility. If Nature decided to deny eternity to living beings and if human endeavor becomes a threat to that design, then destruction becomes a law of Nature, and the most environmentally economic destruction is self-destruction. Arthur Koestler (Darkness at Noon, 1940) said that mankind is afflicted with a mental disorder that drives us to self- destruction. It is akin to what the Japanese call seppuku or hara-kiri, collective 'stomach- cutting'. But perhaps we are being too hard on ourselves; maybe we are acting as a proxy to Nature and really doing its work by killing ourselves. Maybe this is all part of a grander story. Some thinkers like H.G. Wells have argued that there has been a seismic change in the conditions of the universe and that it signals the 'end of being'. And for that to actualize, man must perish. Perhaps that is why we feel no shame or remorse; on the contrary, we seem to enjoy β€” even relish β€” doing things that are palpably harmful for us. But it is not the exclusive preserve of psychologically dysfunctional people; it embraces the ordinary lot, not the stupid and the senseless, but the sober and the sane, not the thoughtless and the vengeful, but the intelligent and the astute. Now, there is no more any predictable or preventable 'pattern' for suicidal behavior; nor any clear psychiatric correlates.

266 Cited in: Miroslav Pecujlic, Gregory Blue and Anouar Abdel-Malek (eds.). Science and Technology in the Transformation of the World – Volume 1. Section III Biology, medicine and the future of mankind. 1982. The United Nations University. Accessed at:

267 David LeClaire. Building Bridges: Testosterone Surges! 1998. Issue 26 (of 43). Accessed at:

Soon, it could be the first impulse and response to any annoyance, difficulty or friction that disturbs and agitates our mind. It almost seems to be a major evolutionary or genetic mutation; the way 'natural selection' has come to operate as 'natural corrective elimination' to contain human rapacity. Evolution, some say, is a continuous process and that, contrary to earlier view, we are not the same as our ancestors, and that the pace of human evolution has actually hastened in modern times. And that we are likely to be very different a millennium or two from now, that is, if we are still around. Evolution itself is the product of two opposing forces, and in the instant case it could well be between self-preservation and self-destruction. Although the 'how' is unclear, the outcome of this could heavily influence the shape of the species. Seething with anger and alienation, afflicted with masochism or intoxicated with martyrdom, we do not seem to care what happens to us, and that includes others, even the near and dear.

Paradoxically, that runs parallel with our drive for earthly eternity and obsession with physical appearances and looking 'good'.

Theories are aplenty to explain this paradox, like the Freudian hypothesis that humans have an innate death drive that impels them to pursue their own downfall and death. What we should truly be worried about are not weapons of mass destruction, but about the seeds of self-destruction sprouting inside all of us. The latter is more likely to be the cause of human enfeeblement or extinction than the former. Our whole attitude towards each other and towards Nature is symptomatic. Mass destruction is but self-destruction on a mass scale. The volcano of human violence might be dormant or active, but it is there. And despite recent advances in human psychoanalysis and insights into our motivational drives, we know no means to predict or preempt its eruption. Unable to adjust to what we call technology-driven civilization, our instincts and emotions are showing up the only way they can: self-destructive behavior. And, as our technological power scales new heights and breaks through new frontiers, that pattern of behavior will only deepen and spread. Of all the manifestations of violence, none is more perplexing and tragic as self-destruction, the most prominent forms of which are suicide and homicide. Should there be some kind of observant intelligent beings 'out there' in the cosmos looking down at us, they must wonder 'why these silly puny beings on earth quarrel so much for so little and seem so determined to kill themselves?' But the tongue-in-cheek answer is "you are not 'human' and you do not know what being alive on earth requires." Other than the very meaning of life, perhaps the most enduring mystery is why humans, with so much pain, indignity and decay, not knowing what life is, cling so pathetically and pathologically to life. Much of life is a struggle between survival and suicide, giving life and taking life; and there is no way anyone can tell which of the two will triumph, or when, how and why. Is it the inertia of the known or the fear of the unknown? Is it the embrace of liberty or the rejection of freedom? Is it flight from the 'absurdity' of everyday life or willful exploration of the other world? Is it, as Chesterton said, a refusal to take an interest in existence or in the logical finale to rationality? Who has the inalienable right over his own life? And, finally, is there a divine or a devilish design behind the galloping increase and trivialization of suicide? Looking at the insidious spread and speed, and the all- encompassing nature of suicide, such questions crowd the mind. The French philosopher and Nobel writer Albert Camus said, "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy."268 Equally, one might say that another philosophical and metaphysical question, even greater than why so many choose self- termination, is why so many more choose to continue with life given the meaningless monstrosity, the painful ritual that living entails. Increasingly, the moral difference between those who choose death and those who choose to accept life is crumbling. Our emotions about death are now more mixed up than ever before. Self-destructiveness has always been a part of the human psyche; so is snuffing out someone else's life. Both are different forms of murder. Enforced death has always been an option. Concepts like chastity, family honor have always been viewed as more worthy than life. Some pain, physical and mental, has always been dreaded more than death and dying. Despite the visceral instinct for self-survival, the dark shadow of death appears, for a growing number of people, sunnier than the dark reality of daily life. The motives and triggers have broadened, from the most ridiculous to the most existential. What we now face is a toxic cocktail of suicide, murder, martyrdom, religion, and revenge. Some people are actually eager to blow themselves apart, but in the company of the greatest number of their 'enemies'. We read about people lining up in hundreds to be recruited and trained for this 'job'. We need to ponder deeply over this phenomenon. What is normal and routine for most people, for some mysterious reasons, suddenly becomes a matter of life and death, a banal insult or a setback becomes an intolerable affront for some. Instead of feeling guilty, more and more people feel murder is martyrdom. But martyrdom is not necessarily religious; those who kill and get killed are also called martyrs.

268 Albert Camus. QuoteDB. Accessed at:

The American writer and satirist Ambrose Bierce wrote that, "There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy."269 The character of killing and its morality is a function of the place and person; if it is the murder of an unknown man in war or under orders, it is honorable and patriotic; if it is at home even under threat to life or limb or to save another from murder, it is murder, sometimes deemed grave enough to attract the penalty of death by the law. While 'violent death' has always been a part of human life, suicides and homicides have become so commonplace and frequent in modern society that they are turning out to be as much a threat to human survival as nuclear war or climate change. The irony and tragedy is that just when we seem to 'have it all' β€” health, wealth, longevity, leisure, comfort, entertainment, fun (at least for a large number of people) and we should have every reason to live, many are choosing to 'end it all'. Maybe they do not think they have it all, or what they had was not what they wanted or the way they wanted it. And it is not the numbers that is striking as much as the range of reasons, practically covering every emotion, occasion, situation and interpersonal interaction inherent in life. Suicide runs parallel with life; often a step ahead for many. The damning verdict on human culture is that in search for a reason for being, for the raison d'Γͺtre of life, many are stumbling upon suicide as an option to what living entails. And unwilling to face up to its share of responsibility, society calls suicide a crime, and those who seek suicide, as weak or ill. Most religions condemn suicide but that has not deterred the millions who have committed suicide over the millennia. The American television talk-show host and satirist Bill Maher said, "Suicide is man's way of telling God 'you can't fire me β€” I quit'".270 Indeed, suicide is both a sin and a crime, an offence against both God and society; society deems it such a grave crime that abetment to it is also treated as an equally heinous kind of crime. The wrath of or the punitive power of the State has made no difference at all to those who prefer suicide. It raises a more fundamental question, articulated, among others by the Harvard Biologist, Edward Wilson in his essay Is Humanity Suicidal? (New York Times Magazine, 30 May 1993). Wilson calls the human species "an environmental abnormality", and wonders if "it is possible that intelligence in the wrong kind of species was foreordained to be a fatal combination for the biosphere", saying that our species retains hereditary traits that add greatly to our destructive impact. If the past is any guide, nearly a million people 'successfully' commit suicide every year, while anywhere from 10 to 20 million attempt suicide only to survive with indelible scars. According to the World Health Organization, there is a suicide every 40 seconds, one murder every 60 seconds, and one death in armed conflict every 100 seconds.271 And these figures have only risen over the past decade. Suicide is pretty rampant in many western countries, its number exceeding deaths by motor vehicle accidents, annually. What is truly staggering is not the number but the incredible triviality of the triggers: nothing is too casual, too commonplace or too silly or too sacred. Suicide has become the first and the foremost despondent response to stress and pain, increasingly the preferred solution to problems germane and inherent in the very process of the human way of life. Tragically, an alarming number of children, even before they turn into teenagers are ending their lives provoked by such 'normal' things like a parental reprimand, a peer's teasing, a teacher's scolding, a desire denied. Clearly, something more than the immediate event is at work in their thoughts, something that offsets the instinct for self- preservation, something that makes a person violently β€” and even painfully β€” extinguish the flame of his or her own life. It is not mere suffering that leads to suicide; had it been so, most of us would be dead before we turn thirty. It is not that the one who contemplates suicide has lost all taste for earthly life and its attendant allurements. Feelings of crushing hopelessness and helplessness, desperation, and inability to bear the loss have always been apparent factors provoking suicides. But what is now happening is a profound change in the dialectic of thought, especially in man's attitude towards death.

269 Ambrose Bierce. Accessed at: kinds_of_homicide-felonious-excusable/7017.html

270 Bill Maher. Bill Maher Quotes. Accessed at:

Love of life and desire for death can coexist, but they can seldom be identical. In his subconsciousness, man has a simmering volcano that is capable of persuading him to believe that death is sweet and liberating, a solution to all the tormenting contradictions of life, as a revenge against life, and as a retribution for the inequities of life. Some thinkers like Prof.Stanley Shostak say that like life, death too is evolving, and like life, death too is a facet of the underlying and ceaseless continuity. But what shape that 'evolution' will take is unclear, while it is clearly linked to human behavior. We might well end up as a sterile species with an indeterminate life span. Even about substantially increasing the life span, some experts like Jay Olshansky, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, say that the era of large increases in life expectancy may be nearing an end, and that, "there are no lifestyle changes, surgical procedures, vitamins, antioxidants, hormones or techniques of genetic engineering available today with the capacity to repeat the gains in life expectancy that were achieved in the twentieth century". Others disagree; according to them, what they call 'third-stage breakthroughs' will yield hitherto-unknown benefits leading to exponential leaps in wellness and longevity. So much of our moral sense and our values are drawn from our commitment to our progeny and the inevitability of death, should they disappear, man will have to rebuild the entire edifice of human society and redraw the borders of moral worth. Unless man becomes totally different from what he is now, the human form of life would become too heavy and too toxic a baggage for Nature to carry on its back. It will find other ways to cope with the menace, like turning the human mind into a murderous machine. Experts might quibble, but one cannot ignore the fact that man is now prepared to barter with death for many more things than ever before, from the most trivial to the most titanic, from the secular to the sacred. Killing, like evil, is now banal, well within the realm of probability, a temptation that man finds increasingly difficult to resist. And that impulse seems to get stronger with the increase in numbers, and strongest when the fate of the species is involved. For our 'good life', we are willing to embrace anyone else's death, even that of our children and grandchildren. How else can we explain our nonchalance towards climate change? One wonders if this has something to do with a twist somewhere in our age-old quest to transit from death to immortality β€” what the American 'Immortality Institute' calls 'conquering the blight of involuntary death'. Nature seems to have responded to this threat to its prerogative by inducing the human mind to impose 'involuntary' death on the non-volunteers. To counter the human thrust towards biological immortality, Nature is broadening the avenues of non- biological mortality. To derail man's dream to be 'God', it is stoking the passions of the beast within him. Evolutionary biologists say that death is not necessary for evolution and its sole function is to spread more quickly by early reproduction than by the longevity of the carrier. It means that if we are able to master the technology for unlimited self-repair of cells and organisms, then Nature would have no problems and there would not be any need for reproduction. On the other hand, some researchers tell us that "the death/birth cycle is part of the very DNA. Rather than overcome death, our challenge becomes to learn how to surrender with grace."272"

271 Cited in: Jaime Holguin. A Murder A Minute: WHO Report Says 1.6 Million People Met Premature Deaths In 2000. CBS News Health. 3 October 2002. Accessed at:

If mortality was imperative for evolution, given the state of morality now, what does that foretell about our future? Our blood-soaked history tells us that more than life and self- preservation, man is fascinated by death and self-destruction. He is always searching for new ways to inflict death. Personal suicide is only one manifestation. Through pollution of the water, air and food we depend on, we are actively participating in mass suicide and inter- generational suicide. While there are some people who resort to the extreme step by gulping down a dose of poison, like insecticide or cyanide, most of us commit 'slow suicide' in different ways. While direct suicide catches attention, the insidious one, though deadly, is invisible. The interaction between the consciousness and the subconscious within man is very complex, as noted by psychologists like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The dynamics of that complex interplay seems to be changing in a manner that we cannot comprehend. Nothing is more indicative of the fragility and frustration of modern life than the growing number of suicides; it underscores the inability of the human personality to internalize, to absorb, and to manage the myriad contradictions of what living entails. Suicide and homicide are the visible visages of that inability. Suicide for long has been considered as an unheard cry for help. That remains, but some experts say that there is more to it than that. According to psychologist Paul Joffe, "it's part of a longstanding dance with death, what's known in the psych biz as a 'suicide career'".273 The people who resort to suicide are not victims but masters of their own fate, people for whom the thought of suicide takes up long-term residence in the brain and for whom the risk of suicide does not fade after a threat or an attempt. Suicidal intent is less a natural response to distress than a virulent ideology. As Paul Joffe puts it: "They feel proud of the power to control their own fate. They feel superior to others in that they have this avenue of power that others don't." 274

According to this line of logic, although it might appear as an act of powerlessness and helplessness, suicide is another form of exercise of power, or to preempt the exercise of power. It is also a major symptom of the growing influence of violence in the human consciousness, the rumblings that precede the avalanche. This relates not only to collective suicide symbolized by our attitude to the environment, which is an agonizing story by itself, but to individual suicides chosen in the privacy of individual minds. On the one hand, man relentlessly pursues pleasure, and on the other hand, he embraces the 'ultimate pain': self- destruction, triggered by causes ranging from the casual to the sacred. He seeks to gain immortality by hook or by crook, but at the same time, he does not hesitate to volitionally shorten life, his own and of others. He dreads death above all; yet he does not shrink from embracing or inflicting death. As the American psychologist Karl Menninger put it: "It becomes increasingly evident that some of the destruction which curses the earth is self- destruction; the extraordinary propensity of the human being to join hands with external forces in an attack upon his own existence is one of the most remarkable of biological phenomena."275 While killing is routine in the animal kingdom, opinions differ if animals actually commit suicide. It is reported that altruism leading to death is fairly common and that some animals like dolphins and octopuses do take their own lives. But most experts say that animal suicides are instinctive, not reasoned; though they may go through the processes and do things that might cause death, they cannot conceive of their own death.

The twin killings β€” suicide and homicide β€” although distinct, are almost interchangeable. And although they have been a part of human history from the earliest man, they have never been so virulent and widespread as they are today. Traditionally, it has long been thought that these two are antagonistic expressions of human violence, either of which removes the motivating cause and makes the other unnecessary and even impossible. But that is changing, and a particularly alarming 'deathly' development is that of homicide followed by suicide of the perpetrator, which is occurring mainly in partnerships and families. It has now spread to ethnic and religious revenge and zealotry in the form of what are described as 'suicide bombers'. These people are blurring the boundary between suicide as 'auto- homicide', or murder of self, and homicide as murder of another. Both are acts of anger, frustration, alienation, and affirmation of one's identity, dignity, faith. Both are a defiance of the dictum of the sanctity of life, results of the breakdown of natural defenses that let us live and let others live. The equation or equivalence between the two forms of murder has long been debated by sociologists and psychologists, and if any, it has become more tangled and complex. No one is clear what portends, but clearly one's own life or another's life no longer means the same as before. Such an elemental change in the human mindset could not have occurred all on its own; raising the unnerving question if the growing human propensity for self-destruction serves a still mysterious cosmic purpose. Death and destruction play a central role in natural selection and in the equilibrium of Nature. But that is usually not by one's own hand or that of a fellow-species. If a person decides to kill and die at the same time then there is very little to preempt it. That is a new phenomenon in Nature and the killer becomes the most powerful person on earth, and he also becomes the arbiter of what we call 'collateral damage', which means he decides who else gets murdered. The murderer or the martyr (that is, in his mind) becomes the master, whose choice of time and place could mean life or death for others. Unless that mindset changes through consciousness change, this form of violence β€” homicidal suicide β€” could well become the apocalyptic pandemic of the future.

272 Lynne Forest. Dying to Live Again. The Times of India. Hyderabad, India. 6 July 2008. p.17.

273 Cited in: Hara Estroff Marano. Not Always a Cry for Help: Suicide May be an Attempt to Exercise Power and Control. Psychology Today. 6 May 2003. Accessed at:

274 Cited in: Hara Estroff Marano. Not Always a Cry for Help: Suicide May be an Attempt to Exercise Power and Control. Psychology Today. 6 May 2003. Accessed at:

275 Cited in: Nicole Jackman. The Brains of Violent Males: the Homicidal & Suicidal Brain. Biology Paper 202. 2003. Serendip. Accessed at:

In whatever form, death has always been at the epicenter of human creativity and consciousness. Arthur Koestler, who was also the founder of the 'voluntary euthanasia society' Exit, wrote before his own suicide: "If the word death were absent from our vocabulary, our great works of literature would have remained unwritten, pyramids and cathedrals would not exist, nor works of religious art, and all art is of religious or magic origin". While death has been a creative inspiration, overcoming death has also been an enduring human passion. And death by violence has been as integral as death by disease and decay. The epidemics of suicide and murder could well be the bitter harvest of our flouting the laws of Nature and of our relentless quest for earthly eternity. Franz Kafka wrote that without the continuous confidence in something indestructible within himself, man cannot live. The scriptures envision spiritual immortality, and science promises physical immortality. Science says now or never, each life is the only chance we have to savor life; the scriptures, on the other hand, assert that now and never are the same. To transcend from 'death to immortality' is part of a prayer at the beginning of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. And in the Katha Upanishad, it is said that those in whose hearts desire is dead and the knots of delusion are untied, become immortal. Nature has provided a sort of biological escape from death through intergenerational or genetic continuity, but what man seeks is individual immortality. We are not content any more with spiritual or symbolic immortality; we want actualized and instant immortality, which makes redundant the 'after-life immortality'. Since the body is made of organic matter which must decay and dissolve, and since life is designed, as Bernard Shaw puts it, 'like a flame that is always burning itself out', human attempt at bodily eternity, through such technologies as cryonics and stem cells, puts man on a collision course with Nature. It is no longer science fiction or fantasies of the rich to perpetuate themselves. People say that it is not only possible but inevitable, that death β€” the 'ultimate disability or disease' β€” will be surmounted technologically. Some researchers are talking about the possibility that a person who is identical to you in every way might be brought to life, a sort of technological reincarnation. The enticing, if scary scenario being sketched is eternal youth, indefinite life span and god-like power to create living beings from a single cell. The anomaly is that we might have a situation in which millions of people feel that whatever awaits after death is better than being alive in this world today, and the disturbing prospect of thousands of people paying large sums of money to come 'back from the dead'.

Future 'man', if science has its way, might well be like the images of the movie The Matrix (1999), in which the human has already become the raw material for the self-perpetuation of nano-tech machinery. As a species, we think we are the best there is on the earth, but as individuals most people think they are the underdogs, fighting unequal battles on unfair terms. Freud maintained that suicides and homicides are not opposites. Both are killings, the only difference being that homicide is directed against the external world, while suicide is aggression turned inwards. Karl Menninger posits that suicides are sometimes committed to forestall the committing of murder. Similarly, murder is often committed to avert suicide. No species can carry so much 'deadly weight' and toxic load for too long. The human species is ripe for an epochal transition, a revolutionary change, an evolutionary pole-vault; either it will evolve into a better, more moral being, or it will fade away into the black hole of time, one more species that once lived on the earth and had its day under the Sun. Perhaps we are too proximate to notice, but something truly profound, truly awesome, truly horrific, truly benumbing is happening to the human character and personality. Man's threshold of tolerance is fast narrowing; his stoicism in the face of pain and hardship, inconvenience and irritation, annoyance and humiliation, reprimands and insults is lowering day by day dramatically, making man increasingly suicidal and homicidal. It would almost seem as if the human mind is constantly on the lookout, not for reasons to live, but for excuses to cease.

And it has increasingly shed its inhibitions about taking another's life. The World Health Organization estimates that every year, more than a million people kill themselves, an increase of 60 percent worldwide in the past 45 years, which means that the cases of suicide far outnumber those of homicides that increased by 50 percent between 1985 and 1994. The truly troubling aspect is not the numbers or the percentage of increases, but that most of the victims quit when they were at their productive best, for reasons mostly trivial. The distinction between suicide and homicide, from a species point of view is immaterial: homicide is a form of suicide and vice versa. Nothing is too trivial or casual, flippant or funny for suicide; murder is holy revenge and suicide-murder is 'preparing to meet God.' Many people today increasingly feel cornered, and the only escape route seems to be to kill. In settling scores, men inflict suffering not only on the 'enemy', but on themselves too.

Mohammad Atta, who flew the airplane into the WTC Towers in New York on 11 September 2001, is supposed to have said: "if we do not fight we will suffer. If we do fight we will suffer, but so will they." The old rule of life that 'you don't take what you cannot give' is no longer a barrier to killing. Alarmingly, the individual, society and State increasingly consider killing as a hassle-free and less expensive option to sort out interpersonal and intra-societal discord, disputes and disaffection.

Alarmingly, ever-increasing numbers of people, finding no help among the living, want to join the dead. At their wit's end while facing life's intractable problems, they are telling themselves β€” and the world β€” 'enough is enough', there is a limit to every endurance; they just want to end it all, whatever it leads to. Success β€” which means the desire to get everything we want, when we want and how we want β€” has become the 'mantra' of self-worth. In human culture, for someone to succeed, another must lose or more importantly, should seem to lose, and when that person happens to be you, you feel you are at a dead end staring into the abyss of death. An eighteen-year-old poor boy in India, not 'faring well' in his studies, hanged himself in the classroom and left a note that said, "I am not a success. God has not helped me."276 Another relatively new breed of suicides is precipitated by the feeling of insufficiency, a feeling that 'this world is not for me'; for living is an exercise in futility. Despite strict religious strictures, suicide is rapidly spreading and has become the preferred exit route. Way back in August 1975, Time magazine carried a cover story that identified suicide as the third major claimant of the lives of young adults in North America, after car wrecks and homicides. In the quarter of a century since, it has become far worse having become as infectious as the common cold. Suicide is said to be steeply rising in Japan, and a recent report noted the dramatic increase in suicide in 'God's own country', the state of Kerala in India, much admired by economists for its high literacy rate and social safety net, and by sociologists because of its communal harmony.

The human mind, whether it is centered in the brain or elsewhere, has enabled and empowered man to become the virtual viceroy of the earth; the viceroy has become the monarch; the representative has dethroned the royalty. But the mind's power is still finite; and it has created a conundrum. Man has become a paradoxical being to whom everything is relative, selective and culture-sensitive, and situation-specific and steeped in self- gratification. Values are now tentative, not absolute and everything is possible and permissible under one or an other circumstance. Thus, we could have an honest thief and a tender murderer, a superstitious atheist, a kind tyrant, and a patriotic traitor. Then there are necessary evils, and just wars; even divine sanction is cited for the slaughter of millions. The human mind is the home of those negative passions which, when they manifest externally, become the primary sources of evil in the world. That evil often takes on the guise of separateness and self-righteousness, both of which come, as Vedanta tells us, from body- identification. Mortal life is tossed between the temptations of evil and the imperatives of morality, a theme that has been explored by many modern writers from Dostoevsky to Graham Greene; the latter wrote about "perfect evil walking the world where perfect good can never walk again."277 With 'perfect evil walking the world', man has lost his innocence as well as his integrity. In the process, he has crossed perhaps the most fateful of thresholds that allowed the species to survive thus far: love of life and fear of taking another life. The most virulent epidemics in the world are now almost 'senseless' suicides and mass murders, often fused into one. It is becoming increasingly difficult to anticipate how an apparently 'normal' person would react to a 'routine reprimand' or to a 'trivial dispute' or to a 'stressful situation'; it could easily lead to one of the two or even both. Nothing is too trivial for suicide and nothing is too sacred for murder. The epithet 'banal' used by Hannah Arendt to describe human evil applies equally now to killing. It is increasingly becoming a serious option to calm nerves, or to settle scores, be it with a spouse or with society, the preferred choice to cope with frustrations and tragedies of life and the pressures and stresses of competitive life. And 'collateral killing,' a euphemism for killing innocent people, is no longer only a deadly tool of terrorism; it has now gained legitimacy as an essential instrument of State policy, avowedly to protect 'national interest;' the doctrine is that to 'get' one 'wanted man,' it is okay if hundreds of innocents are butchered. Man is on a killing spree, killing of fellow men, of other species, of the environment. Wanton violence, the adoption of coercive tactics to control the will, the intellect, and the limbs of another, has become almost our primary response to weather the storm of life. And it is soaked in malice, which is what distinguishes human violence from other animals. It is invasion of a person's soul. We have come to accept many horrible things as 'necessary evils'. And war, death on the streets brought about by motorized contraptions, subhuman poverty, discrimination, exploitation, injustice and insensitivity as the price of 'progress' and the wages of individualism. And the sophistication of our butchery never stops. Even if we already have enough weaponry to kill every human being on earth ten times over, we will never stop making more weapons with even more murderous power. Because, even if we do not directly handle that power, we still feel vicariously 'powerful', and 'the military industrial complex,' the famous phrase of the American president Dwight Eisenhower, provides the framework for our lives. But all this is an anthropocentric perspective, as if our choice controls every event. It is an outlandish thought but maybe, just maybe, we are, by killing each other so effortlessly, compulsively and methodically, in a twisted way, doing Nature's work, namely containing the predatory and parasitic human way of life.

276 The Deccan Chronicle. Hyderabad, India, 3 November 2004. p.3.

277 Cited in: Matthew Price. Sinner Take All: Graham Greene's Damned Redemption. BookForum. Oct/Nov 2004. Accessed at:

Dialectics of dharma and karma

The human impulse for self-righteous self-destruction is both a symptom and a malaise. It comes primarily from our inability to codify our primary duty in a world of contrasts and contradictions, dwandas and dualities. Much of what we do is enjoined upon us by religion or society, by custom or culture, but buried deep in the human psyche is an abiding conviction that inexorable fate and evil forces, powerful and complex beyond our comprehension, pervade the human world. These forces now seem to have reached commanding heights of human life and have taken possession of all our faculties. The most horrendous things happen nonchalantly and in the name of 'necessary evil'. And we accept them all as 'just part of life'! Poised on a precipice, we are a flawed species languorously longing for its own early extinction, even secretly, if not sadistically, relishing that thought.

So many things seem so wrong, so many things seem so unfair, so many things seem so inexplicable, and so few real choices in actual life; it all seems so senseless and ruthlessly random. And the much-touted free will and freedom seem illusory. We grope for answers and just when we think there are plausible possibilities we suddenly realize that even more intractable questions are raising their head. Then we ask ourselves: what good is knowledge? Clearly what we actually see and experience in the world and in our lives we cannot accept or even condone, and yet we seem utterly ill-equipped within our own selves to redress any of the incongruities and inequities. If we completely confine the relationship between cause and effect to this world and to this life, it all seems so inept, so amateurish, so pointless and purposeless, so unintelligent and such a waste of energy. And yet we know that nothing in Nature conforms to any such adjectives. How does one reconcile to this dichotomy? Then a flash of lightning hits us. Perhaps the very premise is the real illusion. Why should life be limiting in time and space? What evidence do we have that it is so, that 'death' ends it all?

Can something as beautiful and self-generating as life come to a finality of complete closure? Such a line of thought directly leads us to the two of the most sophisticated theological and philosophical doctrines: of karma and dharma. As words they are ancient, but as ideas their life is even of timeless lineage. If one were to scan history from the mystical or occult point of view, one would trace the curve of cycles according to the rise and fall of the real understanding of karma and dharma. If we can truly understand their intent and essence and in particular their interplay, many questions that haunt our lives would melt away. If they are rightly interpreted and rightly applied, they can unlock many of life's secrets; a wrong comprehension and misapplication can lead to a person falling from the heaven of Spirit into the hell of matter.

Karma as a major doctrine that offers a rationale of life and death, originated in the Vedic system of thought, later expanded in the early Upanishads and in the Bhagavad Gita. In its elemental sense, karma is the physical, mental, and supramental system of neutral rebound, a kind of cosmic causality. Essentially, what it means is that the very being which one experiences on (as a human being in our case) is "governed by an immutable preservation of energy, vibe, and action."278 It implies that thoughts, words, and deeds in past lives inexorably affect one's current situation. Every individual is thus responsible for the tragedies and triumphs, bad luck and good luck, which are experienced in his current earthly life. It is vital to note that karma is not an instrument of the gods, or of a single God; it is rather the physical and spiritual 'physics' of being. Just as gravity "governs the motions of heavenly bodies and objects on the surface of the earth, karma governs the motions and happenings of life, both inanimate and animate, unconscious and conscious, in the cosmic realm."279 What is true of the individual is also true of societies. Though the words and concepts of karma and dharma are often used separately and each is a full-fledged doctrine, they make better sense if viewed in juxtaposition. Simply put, dharma is the subjective dimension of karma. The key to karma is dharma. Dharma is action, and action results in karma. By simply performing our various dharmas properly we can chip away at karma. Any dharmic activity cleanses bad karma and creates good karma. And through dharmic behavior one can get everything life has to offer, wealth and prosperity, and attain the final goal of life: not to be born again. Then we come to the ultimate dharmic question: why does anyone resort to adharmic actions? (that is, actions that are against dharma). Is it because adharma is man's 'natural' disposition? Or is it because of our lack of discriminating knowledge of dharma and adharma in the melting pot of life?

It is not that we lack scriptural guidance. Dharma is not only the connecting thread of all Hindu and Buddhist religious texts. There are, in addition, specific texts, dharma-sutras in Hinduism and Dhammapada in Buddhism. Among the texts inspired by the Vedas are the dharma-sutras, or the "manuals on dharma," which contain codes of conduct and rites as they were practiced in various Vedic schools. Their principal contents address the duties of people at different stages of life, or ashramas (student life, household life, retired life, and renounced life); dietary regulations; offenses and expiations; and the rights and duties of kings. They also discuss purification rites, funeral rituals, forms of hospitality, and daily oblations, and they even mention juridical matters. The Buddhist scripture Dhammapada consists of 423 verses in Pali uttered by the Buddha on hundreds of occasions for the benefit of a wide range of human beings. Together β€” dharma and karma β€” offer a structure of coherent thought, a practical platform for life, an explanation on why things are what they are and a way to live life fruitfully. What is true of the individual is also true of the species.

Karma is the causal context of life and after-life; and dharma is the cosmic order that underlies and underpins the universe.

The relationship and ratio between work and reward, effort and result is a much- debated question. The two are never simultaneous and that makes it impossible to ensure the outcome. The Bhagavad Gita says that without karma or action there is no life, but action and effort have to be for the right cause. Along with Nishkama karma (action without attachment to its fruits), one is also forbidden from performing three kinds of actions: Nishidha karma (prohibited actions), Kamya karma (desire-driven actions), and Abhichara karma (black magic). Since life is impossible without actions, human behavior must be circumscribed and circumspect, in accordance with a moral code of conduct, the centerpiece of which is this: do no harm to any living creature by thought, speech or deed, and dedicate all human effort to the divine. It is the sum and substance of spirituality that the Bhagavad Gita (2.47) preaches and touches the heart of human behavior. In the famous verse, "Karmanyeva adhikaraste ma phalesu kadachana", which many believe is the best practical scriptural maxim, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna β€” and through him tells all of humanity β€” "Seek to perform your duty; but lay not claim to its fruits". For a 'rational' mind it sounds unfair; why should someone else get the credit for what we have done or struggled for, and expended our effort and energy toward? Lord Krishna puts in perspective the question why so often, despite the best effort, the result is not what we desire and someone else benefits. It means that we are only given the chance to act, but not in framing the consequence. Some other time it may work the other way around β€” then we do not complain or even acknowledge that another person deserved better. Actions that are of a binding nature lose that nature when we do them with equanimity or evenness of mind through the help of pure reason. This principle, indeed, is one of the important tenets of Marxism: namely, from each according to his ability and to each according to the need. In the scriptural sense, the fruits belong to God, and in the economic sense the fruits belong to society, but in fact they are not different. And both β€” Marxism and the karmic message from God β€” have proved elusive because to put them into practice runs against the nature of the human mind. And it highlights the connection between dharma and karma. Dharma is really that karma by which one contributes to social good and to Self- realization. Adharma is any karma that impedes man's social obligations and his path towards spiritual growth. In all human affairs, there are efforts, and there are results, and the strength of the effort is the measure of the result. In tune with the human swabhava (nature), man generally plans to get the fruits of his work before he even starts any kind of work. The human mind is so endowed that it cannot think of any kind of work without remuneration or reward. In real life, we want reward without effort, and assume that more effort means more 'success' and that any effort is moral if that is our 'duty'. In this logic, a contract killer can say he is doing his 'duty' to his master, that he is being paid to do so and he has no selfish motive. A soldier kills as part of his 'duty' to his country. Buddhism gives particular attention to this aspect. In its eight-fold Noble Path are included Right Livelihood and Right Effort.

278 Karma. Accessed at:

279 Karma. Karma, Accessed at:

In short, karma is, in the famous American psychic Edgar Cayce's words, 'memory coming to consciousness', and of interconnectedness, not only of cause and effect but also of individuals and of the universe. It is the casualty of energy which sets up patterns that rule our entire life experience, a universal order to give coherence and management. Every thought, word and deed leaves a karmic imprint. Every action involves give and take, and that has a karmic effect. Karmic effect begins with our birth and with the family that we are born into. One is born into a family where conditions are conducive to give effect to one's karma and where one has significant give-and-take accounts with each member of the family, the most with those closest. According to the Spiritual Science Research Foundation, 27 percent of the 'give-and-take' account can be attributed to the spouse, 25 percent to parents 9 percent each to siblings, close friends, colleagues and to people in romantic relationships, and the balance 12 percent to 'others'.280 Percentages apart, it is obvious that the closer the intimate interactions, the greater will be the karmic fallout, both in terms of consuming past karma and acquiring new karma. A major tenet in the law of karma is that every positive deed generates a 'merit' while every negative deed generates a 'demerit' or a sin. Whenever one does a good deed to others, it is bound to give a positive return (in the form of some happiness), apart from a simple thank you from that person! Whenever one inflicts harm, it is bound to give a negative return in the form of sorrow in some form. It cannot be undone by a simple 'Sorry'! The law of karma is infallible. As an ancient Hindu text describes: "Your wealth will remain on earth, your cattle will remain in the stables, your wife will come till the entrance door, your relatives and friends will come till the cremation ground, your body will accompany you till the funeral pyre, but on the way beyond this life, only your karmas will accompany you". This applies to dharma as well. Throughout our lives, we are either settling an old account or creating a new one. If the account cannot be settled in this birth, as is the case most often, it is carried over to the next. We are not consciously aware of the give-and- take accounts generated in our previous births. Even the actions of others towards us are part of our karma and consequently, of their karma. For one person, it is a 'pay-out'; for the other,

280 Spiritual Science Research Foundation. Accessed at:

it is a 'pay-in', an incremental addition. What is immediately painful can be earned as a credit, and what gives immediate joy can be a debt incurred. And yet, no soul is given more than it can bear to carry β€” this is the paradoxical blessing hidden in the limitations of time and space. Our perspective on life changes if we perceive it from this perspective. That is why traditional Hindus welcome suffering as a faster way to reduce or redeem their accumulated sins.

One of the often-heard laments is that there is no justice, that the good suffer and the bad have all the luck. Rarely do we think about how unjust we are, making the good suffer and of the times we take pleasure in our own luck at the expense of someone more worthy. It is precisely this perception that the twin doctrines of karma and dharma address and offer a plausible rationale for. They do that primarily and simply by stretching the span beyond a single life, or a lone form of life, and a particular place in the cosmos. According to this theory, you are repaid by the same amount of pain or pleasure that you caused others with your original action. It also answers another question: what determines character? It says that every thought, word and deed produce what are called samskaras or tendencies or potencies, which cling to the astral body after death and are carried over from womb to womb.

Samskaras also recreate desires in the next birth automatically. For example, a person can experience the desire to steal although he is brought up in a good family and he himself would not understand why he experiences that desire. The Manu Sastra, the treatise containing the laws of Manu, says that "a man reaps the appropriate fruit of any act in a body

that has the qualities of the frame of mind in which he committed that act."281 The karmic law mandates that every human wish must be fulfilled, and it is this chain that binds man to the wheel of causation. The misfortunes of our lives, according to Indian thinkers, are but the results of our misdeeds; calamities are brought about by our sins. Every tiniest act of caring or dismal deed of shame leaves a trail behind, that stretches over millions of multiple lives. It is said that where and to whom we are born, and even every specific disease we suffer, from colic pain to cancer to leprosy to impotence, are all consequences of specific sins. We reap the rewards of good deeds and pay for bad deeds not only through our behavior, but also how others, particularly the kith and kin, behave towards us, and it works both ways. Karma comes into play only in company, not in absolute isolation. Indeed nowhere, being alive, can we be in solitude; other creatures will be around and our actions affect them and their actions affect us. The more intimate the relationship, the more intense is the karma we acquire as well as spend. Strong attachments and strong dislikes are carried forward through several lives. It shows that hatred shown towards or by others is also a part of our karmic payback, as well as theirs. If someone loves you more than you do or vice versa it is also part of karmic reversal. And this applies similarly to groups, communities and clusters of individuals. It is important to note that every action produces a two-fold effect: one, an impression on the mind which one carries when one dies; the second, it creates an impression on the world or on what is called Akashic records, a theosophical term which is a kind of universal all- inclusive filing system that records every thought, word, action, emotion and experience that has ever occurred in time and space, the story of every soul since the dawn of creation. It is also referred to as the collective unconscious or the collective subconscious, or Cosmic Mind, or the Book of Life in the Bible. Although every individual life is a product of one's own karma, it is still a part of the cosmic scheme, and it has a bearing on and influences the destiny of all life. No action is therefore in isolation either in its cause or in consequence.

281 Wendy Doniger and Brian K. Smith. The Laws of Manu. 1991. Penguin Classics. Penguin Books. London, UK. p.286.

In its intent it could be a consequence, and in its effect a cause. How a 'consequence' is carried out determines the nature of karma, good or bad. Because of the existence of the afflictions (klesah), of ignorance (avidya), egoism (asmita), attachment (raga), aversion (dvesa) and the clinging to life (abhinivesah), we amass and experience karmas. We produce karma in four ways: through thoughts, through words, through actions, and through the actions of others under our behest or connivance.

In the Hindu trilogy of karma, three entities β€” sanchita (the reservoir of all past lives' karmas); prarabdha (the portion being experienced in this life) and agami (the one we are acquiring in this life by the way we live) β€” have a more direct bearing on dharma. The karmas wait for an opening to come to the surface and to express themselves through klesah. One strong karma may call for a particular birth and body to express itself, and other closely related karmas will also be expressed or exhausted through it. Prarabdha first manifests in the circumstance of our birth β€” where, when and to whom β€” and once we expend it we die β€” not a minute sooner or later. That is the connecting thread through life. Our connections to other humans are ways through which we redeem and replenish our karma. This goes on until one attains Self-realization and ceases to create new karmas. We need to understand that we are simply living out our karmic destiny. Time is karma, the sages say. Everyone has a karmic map. We are often befuddled as to why someone acts a certain way, or lives a certain way; 'how could he?' we mutter. Perhaps that person is sharing the same thought about us.

Each of us is programmed with a certain nature, the quintessence of karma, the nature required for the fruition of prarabdha. In the Yoga-Sutra, the ancient Indian sage Patanjali tells us: "Because of virtuous and non-virtuous karma, there are [corresponding] pleasurable and painful consequences." The circumstances of our life are the coordinates for karma. But we have free will as to how we will deal with these, positively or negatively. If we choose to deal with these negatively, for example, in creating suffering for others, the reactions return to us in more intense or terrible forms. Dealing with circumstances patiently, creating happiness for others, neutralizes the karmic consequences gradually.

The karma that is of immediate concern to most people and which they would like to be relieved of by any plausible means is prarabdha, which is what one actually experiences in life, and it brings up the questions of both self-effort and God. Prarabdha karma is itself of three categories: ichha (personally desired), anichha (without desire) and parechha (due to others' desire). An often-debated, even practical, issue is the clash of prarabdha and free will. When a man fails to achieve his desired object, is there a way to find out whether the failure was due to prarabdha or due to the deficiency or incompetency of his effort? At what stage should a man stop his effort, when it is supposed to be useless because of his prarabdha? Swami Sivananda answered this question and said that though every experience is finally caused by prarabdha alone, its connection with one's consciousness constitutes an effort or a fresh deed. Effort is nothing but consciousness of action as related to oneself, whatever be the thing that prompts one to do that action. It is not the action as such but the manner in which it is executed that determines the nature of the result. Experiences which are forced upon oneself or which stem on their own accord without the personal will of the individual are the workings of prarabdha. But experiences which result from deliberate and conscious acts that have a pre-meditated background, show that it is a kriyamana karma (instant karma), though it may be sanctioned by the law of the prarabdha karma itself. An experience caused by mere prarabdha does not cause another fresh result but is exhausted thereby; but a kriyamana karma tends to produce a fresh experience in the future as it is attended by the sense of doership.282 Yet another view is that man by his own effort, doing punya (virtuous deeds) and prayaschita (penance), can at least mitigate prarabdha. An ancillary view is that only divine mercy can affect the effects of prarabdha. The third view is that it is human actions that caused karma and hence human effort is essential and only then would God help. Ramana Maharshi attempts to harmonize all three views: "A man might have performed much karma in the past births. A few of these will be chosen for this birth and he will have to enjoy their fruits in this birth. It is something like a slide show where the projectionist picks a few slides to be exhibited at a performance, the remaining slides being reserved for another performance… The different karmas are slides, karmas being the result of past experiences, and the mind is the projector. The projector must be destroyed so that there will be no further reflection and no further slides and no deaths."283 On the question of the projectionist he said, "Individuals have to suffer their karmas but Iswara [God] manages to make the best of their karmas for his purpose. God manipulates the fruits of karmas but he does not add or take away from it. The subconscious of man is a warehouse of good and bad karma. Iswara chooses from this warehouse what he sees will best suit the spiritual evolution at the time of each man, whether pleasant or painful. Thus, there is nothing arbitrary."284 Differentiating karma and karta (God), he said, "…Karta means Iswara. He is the one who distributes the fruits of actions to each person according to his karma. That means that he is the manifest Brahman. The real Brahman is unmanifest and without motion. It is only the manifest Brahman that is named as Iswara. He gives the fruit to each person according to his actions (karma)". Another modern-day sage Swami Mukhtananda says, "Kabir (the great poet-saint) says in this connection that on the sixth day after the birth of a child, when a special rite is performed, God himself comes down and decides the destiny of the child, and that cannot be altered."285 It means that God, at that time, transforms part of the sanchita into prarabdha. But the unanswered question is: on what basis and criteria?

Although it is popularly assumed that 'good deeds' yield good rewards and future 'good births', and that bad deeds yield 'bad births', the question arises as to how to reconcile it with the theory of non-dualism. How can one perform 'good' deeds or 'bad' deeds if there is no 'I'? The Advaitic philosopher Ramesh Balsekar explains: Good deeds happen through particular body-mind mechanisms and bad deeds happen through certain body-mind organisms. Both good deeds and bad deeds together form the functioning of Totality at that moment. It is only the human being who says, "good deeds, bad deeds". All are deeds performed, in this life and living by Consciousness, through body-mind organisms according to their natural characteristics.286 To acquire 'good' karma and to expend 'bad' karma, one must live in tune with dharma. Dharma is like a cosmic norm and if one goes against the norm, it can result in bad karma. The Hindu shastras say that it is dharma that holds the universe in balance and maintains the cosmic order. All acts must be judged on their effect, however minute or miniscule, from this paramount principle. There is no neutral act; every one impacts positively or negatively. At the same time, the dharmic effect of any act is also circumscribed by the social context of the perpetrator, by the vruthi, the duties assigned to the individual as an integral part of the social fabric. It is also said that one should ultimately even be detached from dharma and not cling too tightly to it. When the cosmic 'order' and 'balance' are seriously threatened through the ascendancy of evil, God incarnates on earth.

282 Sri Swami Sivananda. Prarabdha And Purushartha. September 1997. Accessed at:

283 Cited in: David Godman. Hinduism Articles: Karma and Destiny. The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Accessed at:

284 Cited in: David Godman. Hinduism Articles: Karma and Destiny. The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Accessed at:

285 Cited in: Swami Muktananda. Readings in the Theory of Karma: Prarabdha Karma. Accessed at:

286 Cited in: Ramesh S. Balsekar. Consciousness Speaks. Accessed at:

Dharma is the only friend that accompanies man beyond death. Dharma is the stable basis of every aspect of individual and collective life. A man's physical, intellectual, aesthetic, as well as spiritual well-being rests on the observance of dharma. Moral conduct sustains man's inner nature. Vedanta firmly emphasizes that the one secret to sound mental health is adherence to moral principles. The great rishis of ancient India like Adi Shankara and Vyasa have said that through dharma one can attain worldly wealth as well as final beatitude or moksha. Dharma affects the future according to the karma accumulated. Therefore, one's dharmic path in the next life is determined by their past karma. It is the collision of karmas that make a family, a community, what we call a country, and ultimately a particular generation of a particular species. In that sense, the package or baggage an individual carries contains not only a bit of his own sanchita but also a bit of the collective sanchita, of a group of souls somehow linked together over past lives. That is the 'missing link' in mass deaths, in war, or a flood, or an earthquake or an accident. The doctrine of dharma too applies to all these categories. In short, we have all created the causes that compel us to experience horrific results in some of our finite lives, 'putting' ourselves in a collective situation to experience the cumulative results and share the bitter fruits. There are many reasons beyond our knowing that could cause a particular group of people to come together at the 'right' time to experience horrendous events. We must find a way to cleanse our collective karma to be able to ascend to a higher plateau of consciousness. Cleansing and ascension require inner focus, not external searching. Practice of virtue and righteous conduct are also cleansers. In Buddhism, there are three types of virtue: first there is the virtue that is not embraced by either means or discernment, and this is called merely meritorious virtue. Then there is the virtue that is embraced by the discernment, that is realization of selflessness, and this is called virtue that is merely conducive to liberation. Finally, there is virtue that is embraced by both means and discernment, and this is called the virtue of the Mahayana.287 The third is considered the highest. 'Means' refers to compassion for all sentient beings, and 'discernment' to focus on full awakening. In the Indian epic Mahabharata, it is said that righteousness and its reverse arise from one's acts producing happiness or misery to others, and they both affect one's future life with respect to the happiness and misery enjoyed or endured therein.

The doctrine of dharma is also very subtle and complex, and there are so many dharmas, some situational and person-specific, and some universal and eternal, which makes it difficult to harmonize them. The axiom that dharma protects those that protect it is variously interpreted. And it is often used to justify adharmic actions. And that it is okay, for example, to slay an evil person through evil ways. And the two examples often cited in the Hindu epics are the killing of Vali while he was fighting his brother Sugriva, and the killing of the unarmed Karna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra by Arjuna, at the urging of his charioteer Lord Krishna himself who incarnated on earth to restore dharma. It means that both dharma and adharma, right and wrong, are contextual and contingent upon the greater good or lesser evil. The message is that one cannot protect adharma or evil through dharma or personal piety, and if anyone, however noble they might be and are actually practicing their own swadharma, they must be punished or sacrificed at the altar of the greater dharma or collective good. In a way, it means that the end justifies the means but it does not mean the converse. How to balance and blend the two is a daily conundrum. Almost all choices we make raise such questions. And we do not have the kind of 'intelligence' that is needed. It is not only a question of the nature of karmic action, or of ends and means, but also of the perpetrator. For example, it is dharmic for the State to kill even if it violates the law; an individual cannot. What a soldier or policeman can do in the call of duty, the same person cannot in a different setting. Some actions are dharmic or mandatory in marriage and are prohibited outside or even deemed a sin. Whether an act is dharmic or adharmic is also a matter of culture and context. Ravana even justified his abduction of Sita as dharmic according to the dharma of the rakshasas, the demons. Rama triumphed because his swadharma was more dharmic than Ravana's swadharma, which was based on coercion, force, and cruelty. As an aside, it is worth remembering that the wives of both Rama and Ravana are two of the five greatest Pativratas in the Hindu pantheon of chaste wives, and both were adherents of pativrata dharma, which demands total devotion to the husband and to regard him as God-incarnate. It is so powerful that even gods are powerless before this dharma. It is a clash of wills of two persons observant of the same dharma: Mandodari, the wife of Ravana, could not save her husband, while Sita β€” not really Rama β€” triumphed, not because she was superior but because the pativrata power of Mandodari was powerless in the face of Ravana's adharma. The only rule of thumb so to speak, in every dharmic dilemma is to look at it from the other person's perspective.

287 Cited in: Bardor Tulku Rinpoche. Why We should Give up Anger. 2005. Densal, Issue 1703. June 2005. Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. Accessed at:

The Buddha taught that one should live in a dharmic way that would produce no more karma while enduring whatever karmic reactions destiny brings. This, he said, would free one from further rebirth. The Buddha also said that understanding dharma is as difficult as catching a snake; if you do not do it properly it can kill you. Our intellect can be blurred and clouded by the power exerted upon it by the senses. Our senses are very potent, and their power is such that what they desire can produce an impact on the mind and the intellect to such an extent that the mind can think and the intellect can understand things only in terms of the senses. The Upanishads warn us against this fall, and offer the path of dharma to prevent the fall. There are many dharmas, specific to a person or time or a circumstance, but the one that is given particular importance is swadharma, which means the mode of life and duty that is natural to us and consistent with our social status. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna, in his exhortation to bear arms and fight even his own revered grandfather and guru, that it is better to do one's swadharma imperfectly rather than emulating paradharma, another person's dharma, and that doing the latter is against the very personal nature of our being. One of the major contributory causes to social unrest is that everyone neglects their own duty and tries to perform someone else's. The practical problem in this age and time is: what is swadharma and how does one decode swadharma? Modern life is a complex web and entails several, often conflicting duties and responsibilities (between personal and professional, religious and social, for instance), and it is very difficult to grasp where the 'balance of dharma' lies in a given context. To acquire that capacity, we must free ourselves from the toxic hold of ragas (attachments) and dweshas (hostility, avarice). If we can do that and align our karma or conduct to swadharma, life will become both meaningful and joyous.

The present age, the Kali Yuga in the Hindu cycle of eternal time, foretold as the most adharmic or immoral of all, has a silver lining. Because evil will be so pervasive and entrenched, the standards of 'being moral' also come down considerably, so that with minimum effort in the right direction, one can attain the same results as those that required Herculean effort in the earlier yugas. That which was achieved through contemplation in the Satya Yuga, through sacrifices in the Treta Yuga, and through worship of God in the Dvapara Yuga, may be attained through kirtana or loud chanting of God's name in this Kali Yuga or the Iron Age. In our sinful age, even a sincere desire to do good is good enough; just not doing harm can be deemed as virtuous. All of our desires and deeds are conditioned by the external world, which is not an ideal world. However romantic and idyllic it might be, we cannot exchange yugas or our lives with those of our ancestors. The nature and entitlements of every life are specific, and even the same person, if he were to relive in another yuga, cannot act the same. There is a story in the Mahabharata: When Bhima, one of the five 'righteous' Pandavas, the son of god Vayu (wind), meets Hanuman (also a son of Vayu, and who is the great so-called 'monkey-god' of another epic, Ramayana), Bhima asks his 'elder brother' to show him the gigantic form that he [Hanuman] had assumed in the Ramayana, while crossing the ocean in search of Sita, the abducted wife of Rama. Hanuman chuckles and says, 'that was in another yuga, and even I cannot recreate it…'

Chapter 4: The Sacred, the Secular, and the Profane

The three strands

To make some sense of his present malaise, and to find a way out of the labyrinths of life, to retain some sense of sanity in an increasingly inscrutable world, man searches for symbols and signposts, crutches and coordinates, searchlights and lodestars. However much we might demur and deny, none of us are truly comfortable with who we think we are or have become, and we are desperate to define ourselves in a better light. At the same time, and much as we may quibble and cavil at the world around us, we also know deep within that the world is but our own visible shadow, the external projection of the world within. This angst, this seeking, invariably draws us into the domain of the three strands β€” the sacred, the secular, and the profane β€” that drive the human thought. We tend to think that if we can manage to put a tag on an event or happening as one of those three then it would make our lives easier. We want to venerate the sacred, embrace the secular, and shun the profane. But such clarity eludes the human mind. The human mind has always instinctively viewed the sacred and profane or the holy and the desecrated as belonging to two distinct classes, as two worlds between which there can be nothing in common. Although, everything is God's creation or His representation, or so we like to say, the mental divide between the sacred and the sacrilegious, or the holy and the unholy, permeates every walk and circumstance in life. And that mental divide has led man to 'assign' sacredness to things around him: sacred space, sacred time, sacred name, sacred Nature, sacred texts, sacred ideals, sacred words, sacred music, sacred art, and sacred place. As a theological concept, Rudolf Otto (The Idea of the Holy, 1917) defined 'holy' as something that is 'non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self'. The 'sacred' is strewn all over, in every walk of life. The place of worship is a sacred space, and in many cultures, certain times are deemed holy or auspicious (for example, the concept of muhurta in Hinduism). Religious festivals are ritualized sacred events of mythical origins, and participating in them means stepping out of the ordinary time into a sacred time. There is even a holy hour of death in many religions. Truly religious or spiritual teachers and exponents are called holy, and their very proximity is deemed a blessing. The utterance or chanting of some words, like the mantras in Hinduism, or even the sounds of these words, it is believed, carry the power of a miracle. At a practical level, almost everyone has certain things 'sacred' or 'sacrosanct', which are not necessarily holy; which are so fundamental that they are non-negotiable; the expression 'sacred cow' [for the Hindus] symbolizes that spirit. Being 'secular' is a badge of being 'modern'. Broadly, it means not being overly or ostentatiously religious, but being tolerant to other faiths, and being prepared to share equal public space with all religions. Being 'secular' is sometimes used as a symbol of not being superstitious, and having a scientific temper. It is often applied to the institution of the State, in the sense that the instruments of the State do not support or promote any particular religion and of governance not being theocratic. And although we do not speak much about the word 'profane' except as an expression of vulgar language β€” as in 'profanity' β€” its place in human consciousness is no less native.

Something that is profane, then, would literally mean 'against the temple' or even 'far from the temple', where 'temple' refers to the method of worship, not to a structure or a building. In fact, the very origin of the word 'profane' is from its Latin 'in front of the temple' or 'outside the temple', referring to entities and structures not belonging to the Church. Though we view the sacred, the secular, and the profane as antithetical forces flowing from the way we practice religion or apply science and technology, the truth is that all three are independently intrinsic to human nature. Then we have something we pejoratively call 'superstition', thrown on the way. For some, sacred itself is superstition, and for some others, superstition is that which they do not like and others believe in. Just as a mirror reflects only what is in front of it, and just as we cannot throw up what is not already inside us, so it is with our actions and our thoughts, the feelings and emotions within. We cannot assume that the sacred is something endogenous and that the profane is exogenous; or that being secular is innate in our culture. Or dismiss as 'superstition' something that we cannot 'prove' or we cannot find 'evidence' for. All three β€” the sacred, the secular, and the profane β€” constantly crisscross and crosswalk in our consciousness, and we, being unable to harmonize them, create artificial walls at the most superficial level, which manifest in a variety of ways in our behavior. The 'balance of the blend of these three strands' shapes our psychic personality, defines our reflexive responses to life's vicissitudes. It is an important input to human transformation.

Somewhat simplistically, we think that what is not sacred must be secular, and what is not vulgar or profane must be holy, and what science cannot corroborate must be superstition. We view secular as something that is sacred sans superstition and practical without profanity. Just as there is profanity in the symbol of the sacred β€” religious behavior β€” there could be the sacred in the synonym for the vulgar β€” sex. That which incites hatred cannot be sacred and that which creates life, of the saint and the sinner alike, cannot be profane by itself.

Indeed, in the contemporary world, more profanity oozes out of religious zealotry than perhaps from any other single source, but, the faithful zealots themselves think they are doing their 'sacred' duty in committing those horrors. Few people in India would see anything profane in the dumping of human waste or religious refuse (or even toxic industrial effluent) into the 'sacred' River Ganges, which they literally worship as a goddess. It does seem that in the womb of the sacred lies the 'savage', and that with the halo of the holy around us there is no depth below which the human will not sink. The shield of the mind fired by the sacred is impervious to any sense of guilt. The 'sacred' as a concept is associated with mystical awe or rapture, the veneration of something larger than what the mind can live with. The secular is what the mind can confine and confide in confidence. Even space and time are divided into the sacred and the secular. A place of worship is sacred, and a place of gambling or prostitution is profane. Situations arise where the Sacred and the Profane go hand in hand, one more apparent duality that frames β€” and festers β€” our life, constantly challenging us to choose or to harmonize. For many Hindus, certain times of the day like the hours before the dawn (Brahma muhurta) are considered sacred, and certain other time periods in a day (Rahukala) are considered inauspicious. The same act performed at different times of the day is believed to yield different results, underscoring the idea that nothing in creation, space, and time is equal. In the Old Testament, God tells Moses not to come any closer and to remove his sandals as he is standing on the holy ground. For the best part of man's earthly existence, it was the sacred, the holy, the spiritual, the sublime, and the supernatural that were dominant in his life. Even though we tend to scoff, they played an important emotional part in seeing us through torrid times β€” and they still do for the believer as well as the rationalist.

At the most basic level, everything that a human does today is heavily influenced by three strands of knowledge that are embodied by and embedded in what we call religion, science and technology. At the practical level, the questions that confront us are: who is a truly religious person? who is a genuinely spiritual person? and, what is a scientific state of mind? The human consciousness harbors a bewildering array of thoughts, passions, prejudices, feelings, and emotions, and how they collide or combine and emerge through behavior has been an enduring enigma. These thoughts or rather the way they are applied, give shape to our behavior and cast their shadow on how we act and react in everyday life. Since all three β€” religion, science and technology β€” are governed by different inherent dynamics, they leave gaps and apparent inconsistencies in the totality of the circumstance of life. The relationships between science and religion on the one side, and science and technology on the other side, have been particular fields of inquiry ever since modern science became the preponderant force in human affairs. Such has been its transformative impact that predicting the shape of science fifty years from now is as hazardous as predicting the geopolitical landscape of the world. In one word, modern man will go wherever science will lead him. It has now become a crunch factor in any human endeavor to ensure that human destiny does not totally slip away from human hands. Every endeavor has β€” or proclaims to have β€” the same central objective, which is to better the human condition. But the players are governed by different dynamics, and are inherently multifaceted. Therefore, forging a lasting and mutually reinforcing relationship calls for a plurality of points of contact and cohabitation. But things have not been static also. The relationship between science and technology has been the most advanced. Technology has been a part of human endeavor long before science, and perhaps even before religion came aboard. Technology per se did not prevent humans to live in equilibrium with other species and Nature, but the focus on science substantially changed that. With the injection of science into technology, leading to their virtual fusion, man has become the unchallenged monarch on Earth. It has also fundamentally altered the tenor and quality of human life. The 'double-helix' of science and technology courts and feeds on man's inherent languor, his distaste for work and effort, and on his love for comfort and convenience, thus propelling him often to choose the wrong over the right.

The velocity of science-based technological change has run ahead of the ability of the human intellect to grasp, absorb, and adjust. Technology is letting us do things that once seemed like science fiction; from thoughtless navigation to limitless recollection, machines have made nearly every facet of our lives facile. But in doing so, they have also taken away skills that were once second-nature to the human. A growing concern is that technologies like the internet (and the general abundance of technology in our daily lives) may, in fact, be making us stupid β€” and that our dependency on technology will become so intense that, in the near future, our brain might lose even the meager cognitive power it now enjoys. Technological impact has another dimension. What used to take decades, if not centuries, from invention to application, has shrunk to a few years, leaving little or no time for assessing its implications and impact, often leading to a hasty and flawed decision making. Among the plethora of issues that confront mankind, one of them is the quality of 'scientific decision making', which is increasingly being shaped by the personal qualities of scientists. The irresistible appeal of 'techno-science' lies in the human mind's irresistible attraction to the three 'C's β€” comfort, convenience, and control.

When we even think of the sacred, religion instantly crops up. The shape, form, and direction of religious activity in the world has become another issue with overarching implications. Religion has been a huge factor in human life, but the way it impacts modern life raises the question if it is a relic from the wild wilderness of our prehistoric past, when nobody had the faintest idea what was going on, or if it is an adolescent attempt to meet our irrepressible need to know, or even perhaps, if it is a pure something that is perverted in practice by the human mind. With the human mind now crossing hitherto uncrossed thresholds of life and death, religious fervor or fundamentalism has become a 'sacred terror', as reflected by the title of a book by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon (The Age of Sacred Terror, 2002). It is this very sacred terror that seems to be offering an outlet for some of the darkest shadows lurking deep inside the human consciousness. Since religious zealotry is clothed in a divine garb β€” like in the battle cry Deus Vult ('God wills it') of the First Crusade, or Jihad in recent times β€” the hallucinating human mind, harboring malice and bolstered by real or illusionary religious victimization, has transformed the psychological profile of man and made him a ticking time bomb. Since no individual is a mental carbon copy of another, we do not know where the fuse is hidden, and when it is set to go off and with what effect. Religion can be and has been a powerful moral force, but also, when a 'believer' convinces himself that his religion is in peril or when any of its sanctified or sacred symbols β€” a pig or a cow, a statue or a forbidden picture β€” are parodied or defiled, the reach and the depth of the resultant 'holy slaughter' is awesome and awful. Whether or not religious terror is a perversion of the 'spirit' of every religion is beside the point, even pointless: the mind loves it, and who can stop the mind? It is said that there is never enough religion in the world to make people love one another, but just enough or plenty to make them hate one another. And that 'hate' can translate into horrendous behavior. And those who incite, encourage, revel, and rejoice in such 'sacred' terror are not freaks or sadists but ordinary folks. They are normal people who consider themselves to be 'god-fearing' and 'good' people, and religious leaders. They do not feel 'bad' or remorseful because they believe that they are doing 'God's work'. James Haught's book Holy Horrors (1990), gives a gory historical account of holy human depravity. The historical evidence shows that to 'appease', to 'please', to 'satiate', to 'beseech' God, man has not stopped at anything: nothing is sacrosanct, no sacrifice or sacrilege is unthinkable, nothing is too degrading or demeaning. Underscoring the point that the history of religion is a history of horror, Haught quotes the words of a Christian cleric who boasted, after one of the Crusades, that 'in the temple of Solomon, one rode in blood up to the knees and even to the bridles of horses'. And all that, in this view, was not barbaric; it was bolstered by the just and marvelous judgment of God! We cannot easily dismiss the current crop of zealots as another abominable aberration like the maniacs of the Middle Ages, or as expressions of localized lunacy of deranged or brainwashed bigots. They too are 'human', and that cause is religion; and every religion, every kind of faith, every culture has been privy to such horrors, which are not only bloodcurdling but even beyond our imagination. How can that which is deemed 'sacred' propel man to do such things to another human? Such is the sway and power of religion and science over the human mind that, tempting as it is, we cannot just leave them to their present motivation and momentum, and simply hope β€” like the character Wilkins Micawber in Charles Dickens's novel David Copperfield (1850), β€” that man will somehow muddle through the crises that he faces, and that religion will, in a flash of divine insight or revelation, loosen its venomous fangs, or that science, triggered by a moral angst of scientists, will become a healing balm. The catharsis must come from within.

Religion, spirituality, and science β€” the struggle for supremacy Instinctively, we associate 'sacred' with religion, spirituality and the divine, and 'secular' with 'morally neutral' things relating to the physical, worldly and material matter and science. After all that has happened in the name of religion, and after all that science has done to the human condition, it might be legitimate to ponder if anything that transpires under the signature of religion is any longer 'sacred', and if science (rather, what some scientists do for profit or power) is 'safe'. We need fundamental rethinking on both fronts to harness their potential and power for the good of mankind. What constitutes 'religion' has long been a matter of both sacred and secular thought. While there is no unanimity, what perhaps one can broadly agree is that it is a body of thought and knowledge that makes us do or follow β€” or not do or not follow β€” certain procedures, symbols, rituals, worship, etc., that are drawn from the scriptures, traditions, and beliefs, often with supernatural or transcendental underpinnings; and that religion influences, among other things, the way we relate to a Supreme, Higher power, or to a God, or to afterlife. It is sometimes used synonymously with 'faith' or a 'belief system'. Although most people identify religious impulses with God, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote that one of the distinctive traits of religious thought is the division of the world into two domains, one containing all that is sacred, and the other containing all that is profane. Durkheim emphasized the social nature of religious thought and even argued that the sacred/profane dichotomy was not equivalent to good/evil: the sacred could be good or evil, and the profane could be either as well. In common usage, the shorthand for sacred is scripture. While every religious person swears by the 'scriptures', what he usually implies are the sacred books of his holy religion, as opposed to the false, if not profane, writings on which all 'other' faiths are based. It is this 'double vision' about scriptures that causes most problems. Some interject another category into this context β€” the sinful, those things that the scriptures expressly prohibit. Leaving aside the sinful side, 'sacred' is associated with religion and God; 'secular' with rationality, temporality and science; and 'profane' with the vulgar and the obscene. And then we have this rather elusive domain called 'spirituality' or spiritualism, which in one sense distinguishes itself as being none of the above; not science, not technology, not religion. Spirituality or spiritualism concerns itself with the 'matters of the spirit'; it is the search to know our true selves, which is also to 'know God'. In some countries like the United States, spiritualism has been the fastest-growing 'religious group' in the last ten years, and this movement denies any particular religious denomination or practicing affiliation. That is in one way encouraging (followers can become better human beings), and in another way dangerous (they can fall prey to pseudo-spiritualists and nihilist cults).

Science works in the world of knowledge, which is human; spirituality operates in the field of the inner world, which is divine. Spirituality is said to be about faith; and science, about fact. But both seek answers to the same questions, such as 'what is life?' Neither science nor spirituality has clear answers yet, but they both claim that it does not negate the validity of their observations and results. The Austrian physicist Erwin SchrΓΆdinger in his celebrated work What is Life? (1944), addressed the question "how can the events in space and time which take place within the spatial boundary of a living organism be accounted for by physics and chemistry?" and his 'preliminary answer' was that the "obvious inability of present-day physics and chemistry to account for such events is no reason at all for doubting that they can be accounted for by those scientists". The same sense is shared by spiritualists. In the spiritual perspective, as described in all the great wisdom traditions, there are three levels of existence: physical, mental, and spiritual. Science has until recently (and barring some notable exceptions) denied the spiritual dimension. Even in regard to mental processes, science argued that they are simply biochemical processes germane to the brain itself. Hence, the only mode of knowing the real, it posited, was by observing the objective, physical world through sensory empiricism. But in the end, these are all metaphors intended to convey a sense of something or some idea that cannot be clearly defined. While the 'modern mind' looks at everything as an opposite of another, many indigenous cultures have had a more holistic view. They thought, felt and lived in unity with Nature β€” even in killing they were respectful. They had empiricism, and they had an intimate, profound, and sensitive relationship with Nature, in their beliefs, actions, and consequences. They emphasized kinship, interdependence, and reciprocity with Nature, as well as care, respect, and reverence for Nature.

Operationally, it is the practice of religion and the products of science that dominate our lives. But they are no longer independent of each other; the 'fruits' of technology are used in religious practices, and scientific inquiry draws upon the scriptures. And, despite predictions for over three centuries by social scientists about an impending dissolution of religion, that humans will outgrow their belief in the supernatural with the onslaught of modernism, religion is very much alive and kicking, even if one cannot vouchsafe for its robust health. It is now widely accepted that the 'theory of secularization' β€” which states that the unstoppable sweep of 'secular' modernization will hasten the 'death of religion' β€” is now passΓ©, and that the world now, to borrow a phrase from Peter L. Berger, one of the foremost advocates of the secularization theory, is as 'furiously religious' as at any time in history. It is even being said that the time has come 'to carry the secularization doctrine to the graveyard of failed theories, and there to whisper requiescat in pace [rest in peace]'288. There are those who argue that religious growth has occurred not because of any development in human capacities or divine grace, but because of a predisposition towards religious experience that was always innate but only gradually awakened. Coupled with a brooding sense of uneasiness and wrenching angst, religiosity has come to be seen as the 'Aladdin's Lamp', the rubbing of which helps us overcome all our travails. 'Secularization' might be in retreat, but not modernization powered by science and technology. The other tenet of secularization, separation of private belief and public behavior also has not worked. Religion is now more in the public domain than ever before. So much of our 'living space' is public that it is unrealistic to think that it can be isolated at home. The real problem is not religion's impact socially, but that we do not apply or practice what religions prescribe as desirable values in human behavior on the street or at the workplace. Religion is on the ascendancy, but religious values have been relegated to the background. We must remember that every religion reflects the place and time of its origin. In that sense, religious morality seems skewed for the present context. For example, it places too much emphasis on sexual behavior and not on social conduct. That has affected both social values and personal piety. Sex, more than any single thing, straddles the domain between the sacred and the profane. The mindset is that if we are sexually straight it is okay to be socially deviant. Sexual transgressions are more severely dealt with than social crimes. This imbalance has to be set right both for the sake of religion and society. For instance, adultery is both a crime and a sin, but adulteration, in most societies, is almost accepted or condoned as a part of economic life. This is, in fact, part of a larger problem which was incisively probed by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in his book Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study of Ethics and Politics (1932). Niebuhr dealt with the growing gap between our private and public personas, and argued that while we know a lot about how to apply morality to our individual existence, we know very little about how to apply it to our aggregate existence, whether as nations, organizations, or communities. Modern, science-based technology (techno-science, as some like to call it), arguably the defining intellectual venture of our age, has itself become what we may call 'secular' religion, and it promises to give us what 'sacred' religions promised but could not deliver β€” eternal life on earth. Techno-science has escalated the size and scope of human inventiveness to such a degree that everything is mass-scale, almost absolute and universal: production, consumption, culture, creativity β€” and extermination. And paradoxically, contrary to the incompatibility and tension that is supposed to exist between the sacred and the secular β€” religion and science β€” what we have instead is cohabitation between the two. Moreover, there is hostility and rage between religions and even within the same religion, between different denominations or sects. No jihadi or a religious fanatic targets any scientist, however much what the latter says and does violates the basic tenets of his religion. The fanatic targets only those who profess and practice another faith.

288 Rodney Stark. Secularization. R.I.P. 1999. Sociology of Religion: a Quarterly Review. 60(3). p.270.

The human mind is neither equipped nor trained to handle the avalanche of raw information on the one hand, and the disappearing distance between discovery and adaptation, creativity and adjustment, on the other. While it has without doubt enhanced the physical quality of life of the vast majority of humans (marginally for most and qualitatively for some others), science has also given birth to what M.D. Aeschliman calls 'murderous science', by which he refers to the role of modern science in atrocities like Nazi human experimentation, genocide, sterilization. Enhancement, that is the key concept that drives human ambition. We want to enhance everything β€” from body to brain β€” and move from 'noble stoicism' to distilled joy. And science dangles that primrose prospect. The fact is that science is not as clear-eyed or candid as we like to think. Time and again, one 'established' theory has been overtaken by another until that meets a similar fate, or it sometimes goes back to the beginning. Climate change and global warming are telling examples of our pathological β€” and pathetic β€” inability to grasp the import of the risks we face. It is mind- boggling but symptomatic of our state of mind that with possibly the very future of humanity and even life on earth at such clear and present danger, we still dither and debate. Our intellect cannot make up its mind if it is simply another natural vagary of the weather or if it presages an impending catastrophe. But such is the inebriating influence of science, that, in the words of a pioneering thinker in the field of science and religion, Denis Alexander, "the new atheists, as they have been dubbed by the media, those such as Dawkins, Atkins and Dennett, have declared their opposition to religion in the name of science, suggesting that science has all the answers that we need to know."289 Skepticism or downright hostility towards religion did not begin with these 'new atheists'. While technology and belief in a supernatural power were able to coexist, science from its very inception looked upon itself as the antithesis of faith, but that might be somewhat of an oversimplification, as many scientists have said. Despite the popular impression that scientists are hostile to faith, many celebrated scientists are believers in something that is beyond the control of human intelligence.

Contrary to popular perception, 'scientists' are not a homogenous lot, nor is one quite sure who qualifies to be called a 'scientist'. And the 'facts' and 'findings' of science, change constantly, and no particular scientific theory is cast in concrete or considered unassailable. Even 'scientific skepticism' is also science. Many branches of science like geology found no incompatibility with religious principles. Some even speculate that it might be possible that our studies in earth science may so improve our understanding as to permit geology to re- enforce religion, and might even help in codifying ethical rules of conduct. Many great scientists were 'believers' in its broadest sense. Isaac Newton, whose discovery of the laws of gravity reshaped our understanding of the universe, said: "This most beautiful system could only proceed from the dominion of an intelligent and powerful being."290

The British anthropologist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection along with Darwin, was an ardent advocate of spiritualism and wrote: "I am thankful I can see much to admire in all religions. To the mass of mankind religion of some kind is a necessity. But whether there be a God and whatever be His nature; whether we have an immortal soul or not, or whatever may be our state after death, I can have no fear of having to suffer for the study of nature and the search for truth…"291 And in the book What We Believe but Cannot Prove (2006), many scientists and 'rational thinkers' enumerate the kinds of things they believed, which we often ridicule as supernatural or superstitious.

289 Cited in: University of St. Andrews. News and Events. Has Science Made Religion Redundant? 26 February 2008. Accessed at:,19733,en.html

290 Cited in: Steven Swinford. I've Found God, Says Man Who Cracked the Genome. The Times. UK. 11 June 2006. Accessed at:

291 Cited in: Wikipedia. Alfred Russel Wallace: Spiritualism. Accessed at:

The title of the book reflects the opinions of scientists like Richard Dawkins, Freeman Dyson β€” "there are true mathematical statements that cannot be proved".292 The book quotes Dawkins as saying that "science proceeds by having hunches, by making guesses, by having hypotheses, sometimes inspired by poetic thoughts, by aesthetic thoughts even, and then science goes about trying to demonstrate it experimentally or observationally."293 That description hardly sounds 'scientific', and it raises the question, who is a 'scientist'? Is he some kind of a 'saint' in white robes laboring in a laboratory mindless of any material gain, or is he just another human being pursuing a profession, and morally β€” or materially β€” no different from others in that pursuit? Whoever he is or he is not, and whether or not he is to be held accountable for higher ethical norms, given the repercussions of his work, the fact that many 'scientists' feel that way is encouraging for the future, for forging a partnership between science and spirituality. If science accepts that there are forces beyond 'proof', and if spiritualists concede that empirical knowledge of the laws of Nature and of the universe could be an input to man's spiritual quest, that by itself is a huge step forward towards reconciliation between science and the spirit of religion. The American physician-geneticist Francis Collins, described the Human Genome Project (HGP) as the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God. In his book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (2006), Collins says that scientific discoveries are an 'opportunity to worship', and that he was an atheist in his early years, but later walking through the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, USA, he had an epiphany, a kind of divine inspiration, and came to the view that man could not be a moral animal without the aid of a God-endowed moral law. Collins also said, "One of the great tragedies of our time is this impression that has been created that science and religion have to be at war."294 The British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington wrote, "We have learnt that the exploration of the external world by the methods of the physical sciences leads not to a concrete reality but to a shadow world of symbols."295 And the Nobel physicist Max Planck, who is regarded as the father of modern quantum theory said that "science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of Nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of Nature, and, therefore, part of the mystery that we are trying to solve."296