not-so-strange being a stranger

January 22, 2017 § 1 Comment

Being a stranger to self and others maybe the best thing I realised I could be to someone and to myself.
No, this is not coming out of helplessness that others ( and sometimes I) tend to leave me in but because this is the best way I can be of help to anyone and for self.

In the context of others, being a stranger is helpful because one behaves better with a stranger than one does with someone known. We ( at least most of us) are most empathetic towards the ones we don’t know about. We are least judgmental about them because we know nothing about them. No preconceived notions and no formed ideas as well. This makes us better listeners. That is how we understand people and make friends. Once we have made relations with friends and maybe found our lovers in the same way, why the sudden statements like, “I know you, you are not like this” or “I knew you, how can you be like this” starts cropping up. There is increased judgement and expectation. Why so? Judging and having expectations has never helped because a person faces a different situation everyday and nobody knows best how he/she will react. It is quite possible for the other to be as surprised at themselves as the other is, at a reaction to a situation. Judging self and the other will never help in this case.
When someone says ” I know” to my problem, it makes me think that “No, you don’t know because if you knew then maybe you wouldn’t have said this.” Making someone’s problem seem small or worthless not only reduces someone else’s worth for themselves but also makes the other feel judgmental about themselves. The problem might really be small but it has to be self-realised by that person. Denigrating someone will never help one see a situation or an issue in the way you want them to see it.

This brings me to being a stranger to self. Reasons are same. Since we think we know ourselves, any new reaction, new thought, a different kind of thought from usual makes us think about ourselves and tends to shake up our equilibrium or an established level. This brings rise to dissent and we start looking at ourselves critically instead of being a mere observer of our reactions without any opinions attached. Such a tendency ( which is in most of us-including myself) doesn’t help us learn about either ourselves or others. All it does is make us suppress my natural reaction which leads to further inner dispute. How is one supposed to arrive at a solution or learn anything in a state of turmoil.

All of the above points to a single thing-being non-judgmental. How can one achieve that. I wish I knew. What I do know is that a person reduces judging others when he/she ends up being in the same situation as theirs. But that is not a feasible solution to this.
Why does a person judge the other? That is the question to be looked at as it will lead to a lot more questions and will bring us to a few points about human nature which can be looked at.
Hoping to dig deeper into this.

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People (de)bugged

September 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

“I want to be old.” This thought having crossed my mind felt so alien to me that I had to see what gave birth to it. I was sitting at a public place and quietly observing everyone when there arrived two professors who must be aged somewhere between 55 and 60. They came, sat and were having a conversation. Something about their demeanor, physical movements, way of having a conversation was appealing. They were what is called ‘being relaxed’. Everything about them was ‘chilled out’. This made me think “I want to be old.” The feeling of being this reposed and calm was what I wanted. This was enhanced by the fact that at same place there were many more people, all of them of the same age as mine. The difference in the general style of behavior was too obvious to be missed.

As soon as I wanted to be old and so relaxed, I wondered why is it that I find only the old people being this calm and not someone of my age? Why is it that a person reaches this state only when he or she is no more young and when the body is not going to support as it did? Why is it that people reach this state only by compromising on their age and health? I see no one of our age being pacific. What is stopping us from being this way?

What is it about old age that brings this state of mind? After a little thought what I came to understand was that age is not the factor here. It is the experiences and the situation a person is in during old age. Old age means having fulfilled all the responsibilities, duties and faced all pressures that one has to or is made to undertake. Since that takes 50 odd years of one’s life to complete and get over with hence true relaxation and peace comes only after 50 years. This implies that the tasks that is imposed on a person to be completed are the ones leading to delayed attainment of peace that too so late into life that one cannot even sufficiently delve into it without the body deteriorating itself.

There are only 2 phases of life when one truly feels serene-childhood and old age. Both are such phases where a person is not capable of doing anything with such peace. The only time when a person has the energy and enthusiasm to take action is during teens and middle age. But that phase is reserved by the people around them( or society) to impose certain tasks which are far from their natural state of being. Being forced with a certain set of responsibilities is not a person’s natural state of existence. There are two thoughts behind this-
1. Either a person is offered with a choice of taking those responsibilities. If that is the case then it is a matter of preference.
2. Or a person in forced to take up those responsibilities by stating them to be innate.

Now if the case were latter then why is it that a person is truly tranquil after he or she gets rid of those tasks? Any activity which is natural to a person’s existence or survival is not burden causing or tension-giving. Then why does one talk of attaining real peace only after one is done with these tasks, roles or responsibilities that one is forced to take in the name of necessity. Since when did anything other than living become a necessity. If a person undertakes a role or task out of choice, then it becomes a source of satisfaction and pleasure, not a consistent burden or a task to be completed and then taken a retirement after its fulfillment.

It is both funny and upsetting to see people being truly ‘relaxed and peaceful’ ( true words) after they are over with their set of duties and responsibilities but imposing exactly the same criteria and set of things-to-do on their children. If there wasn’t true happiness or calmness when they were doing those activities or fitting into roles which weren’t either natural to them or being chosen by them , then why is the same set of activities being imposed on the generation to follow. ‘Living with the society’ is usually given as an answer to this question.

What if the society is wrong?

What if people were never right?

What if initially,humanity took a wrong turn ?

 

Capitalism and Religion : Part 2

July 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

Having digressed into areas which should have been left untouched and finally coming to exploring the three essential constructs of religion-personalism, subsidiarity and solidarity, I will expound on these areas.

  1. Personalism
    All religions come with the idea of believing what you choose to, hence the various divisions among the same religion. No matter how much a particular subdivision tries to impose a particular interpretation of religion, every person has the liberty to choose their favourite ideas from it. Similar goes on in capitalism.  Each individual can choose to believe, own, follow and preach his/her version. Competition for dominion exists in both. My idea being better than yours. Enters marketing.The principle of personalism is based on human dignity and free will, which is modelled on ‘God’s’ likeness.
  2. Subsidiarity
    This directly begets from personalism. If a man has the right to choose his version of religion and give his own version as well, that makes him or her the authority on it. Implications are direct, there is a central power governing various aspects of that version or interpretation which is unique to it and will not be passed down to the followers as they have not understood the underlying basis behind such an interpretation. This leads to blind faith and following, in essence consumerism. The ‘want’ to consume because of appeal which ultimately becomes the ‘need’ to consume as the principle has not been understood. Thus subsidiarity is evident and its implications are major unless general intelligence and the principles are clearly explained and equally clearly understood.
  3. Solidarity
    Solidaire means to join together firmly. Ideal is to have solidarity on a voluntary basis, as a free, humanitarian option instead of being forced upon by religion. This is not a flaw with religion but with human nature itself. Solidarity, if it is not combined with voluntariness, embodies all the tensions between contrasting notions of justice that lie at the root of envy and hate. The notions of solidarity have remained to be particularly individual based instead of religion defining or expounding on them without being abstract or interpretable. There is no universal validity to universal issues like common good, common justice, common evil, or what helps the poor?

In the end, it is true that both capitalism and religion have been corrupted and disoriented. Anyone who wants to remove both of them has to offer an alternative which is more feasible and less corruptible than these two. Best among the worst. Universal religion or any fundamental is love, but it is not easily achieved and definitely not in the ways how we assume to find or ‘acquire’ it.

Capitalism and Religion- Introduction

June 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

As weird as this comparison felt to me when I heard this for the first time, I was forced to think on it. Having felt convinced on the first-time talk basis, I couldn’t let myself be influenced by someone’s words so easily unless I analysed it myself. This subject is a major challenge for me, and my preparations were an intellectual adventure of unforeseen proportions. I am neither an expert on moral theology or social philosophy nor Capitalism. But my curiosity got the better of me and led me to explore a comparison which arose out of an interview conversation.
When we compare capitalism and religion, a dictionary definition will suffice for direct correlation. But when we start with capitalism we discover, that there are very different approaches to the subject and that it can be defined in different ways. Maybe there is more than just one variety of capitalism. The same holds true for religion.

Dictionary definitions

Capitalism : an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.
Religion :  a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.

Both concepts have no difference when carefully observed. Both are institutions governed by either an individual or a group of individuals. These definitions cause no mayhem. When has written word ever caused issues anyway.

Is Capitalism the root cause of all evil?

There is no such thing as “the” economy or capitalism as a monolithic concept.They are vitriolic constructs to prevent them from being further studied and understood ( whether to attack or support is a thing for further consideration).Money, as an institution exists, it is an ingenious invention, on a par with the wheel, language or writing. If someone describes it only as the source of all greed, then he must be able to offer functional alternatives.The state as an institution exists, also a human accomplishment (which is possibly overvalued, by the way). But an institution called “the economy” does not exist. Economy as a component of culture is a highly complex process by which needs are satisfied through exchange and division of labour. The notion that “the economy” or “the world economy” can be “manipulated” by a couple of superpowers, is based on a dangerously naïve overestimation of how controllable highly complex phenomena are. Shimmering through this belief is the expectation that all you need to do is replace these greedy powers with a reasonable, intelligent management crew , and presto! the planet would be saved and all evils vanquished.
My own approach to capitalism is that it is the essence of private property and open markets for products, finance and labour. Capitalism is what happens, when you open these opportunities by removing the institutional obstacles. Capitalism has not to be organized by a central political power. And Capitalism tends to globalisation but it creates absolutely no need for a global government.

Is Capitalism just the opposite of Socialism or are, — from a religious point of view — , both ideologies just the two materialistic and rationalist errors of the 19th century — not so far away one from each other? This is my answer: Capitalism is not an ideology, nor a dogma that is to be believed or not. Capitalism is just what happens in world that has invented or discovered money, credit and the division of labour, when you stop to intervene by governmental coercion.

It’s not a question of one ideology prevailing over another, nor is it a question of loyalty, but rather a question of empirical plausibility, whose answer is based on empirically verifiable facts and longer-term comparisons of orders. Which principle (“System” is too static to be used) leads to greater prosperity, also for the poor, and to greater progress in measurable criteria (infant mortality, life expectancy)? Which territorial authorities, using which regulatory models, have generated pressure to emigrate? And which have generated pressure to immigrate (voting with one’s feet)?

Capitalism and love

Majority assumption lead us to believe that capitalism and love are opposite concepts.  Do you believe in love? This question is probably the most important ( and most futile, as well) question of a person’s life as your happiness depends on the answer you find.
Similarly, do you believe in market? Answer to this depends on one’s capability, skills and talent. An extremely personal question challenging one’s ego.

Most people believe in love to be ‘happening’ all the time independent of how he/she is. But love is far from this. To gain love, one must deserve it. The issue today is in our criteria of becoming deserving of love. The way to deserve love is to give it not for the sake of any return but for the sake of loving itself. This is what each religion tries to achieve. While finding a common ground between the two ideas, I came across a quote by Aristotle “Unity and harmony among things and people who are different can be achieved only by maintaining their diversity and singularity.” Every religion has the following three aspects covered: Personalism, subsidiarity and solidarity. In the further posts, these 3 aspects will be further looked into.

Being raised a Hindu, I have maximum exposure to this religion. Hence my basis of comparison will be between Hinduism and Capitalism. But I can safely assume the following aspects to be applicable to all religions.

 

Punch and Judy, to their audience

June 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

by Theodore Melnechuk
Our puppets strings are hard to see,
So we perceive ourselves as free,
Convinced that no mere objects could
Behave in terms of bad and good.

To you, we mannequins seem less
than live, because our consciousness
is that of dummies, made to sit
on laps of gods and mouth their wit;

Are you, our transcendental gods,
likewise dangled from your rods,
and need, to show spontaneous charm,
some higher god’s inserted arm?

We seem to form a nested set,
With each the next one’s marionette,
Who, if you asked him, would insist,
that he’s the last ventriloquist.

काशी अविमुक्त

April 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

Varanasi is one of the major cities of Uttar Pradesh. A shabby city, mind you.
On the other hand Banaras is the only city of its kind in the world.
It does not conform to any standard of a city, per se. It is like any other 2nd tier city-potholed roads, traffic jams, and bad infrastructure. Name the flaws and you have them. But you don’t go to Varanasi for Varanasi. You go there for Banaras or Kashi.

This place has an ethereal quality lacking structural beauty. Lacking the luster of a city and seeming as if covered in dust of non-existent fervor, Banaras has an inherent stability, equilibrium though dynamic in nature. Dynamic because there is a movement beneath all that non-sensitiveness. The place never reaches its stable state. It is not supposed to either. Very true to its essence.

All the life and activity is visible in the old area of the city where the ghats are. This is the central area of attraction. The entire area is a maze of uncountable passages, seething with life and death alike, with the destination being any one of the supposed 100 ghats and the finality being the quintessential destination through the ultimate passage-Banaras. Many say there are more than 300 ghats. This doesn’t matter. The place is full of stories without a beginning or a confirmation. After all it is considered to be the oldest living city. Word of mouth has never been reliable or left untouched without a personal flavour.

I am not keen on describing the ghats or recounting various myths and stories. The oddities will be palpable as the ghats and the lanes are explored. The only way to experience them is to be there. What fascinated me most was the calmness of the place and the people. You are not expected to have an opinion there. For me this city is neither cheerful nor miserable. I felt neutrality and acceptance here. Usually at a place you are supposed to have an opinion about it or feel something about that place. There is an underlying imposing nature of that place. Rudrabhoomi rids one of judgment. You can feel nothing about this place and there is not a sense of conclusion within you. Only an observation. People have an opinion which they gladly tell you when asked but if you disagree they will agree with your point. No sense of assertiveness as well. Not that they lack conviction but they don’t care. This don’t care attitude with a constructive theme is what stood out for me. You are not termed as ‘cold, unemotional, uncaring, unsympathetic etc’ if you don’t possess an extreme sentiment. A live and let live attitude is pervasive here. I found this liberating. Another person found the same aspect extremely negative. In his words- “There is no spark in the city. Nobody is keen on life.”

This is the city of Lord Shiv, the eternal shakti (power) as she/he is called. This is the city where Hindus come to die and end their cycle of rebirth to attain complete freedom from karma or oneness with the ‘shakti’. This outlook is maintained in every local here and every devout who comes here. For the first time death did not overwhelm me in the customary modus operandi. The magnificence of death and its romanticism, more than its counterpart appealed to my core.
In the end, Banaras can be put like this – Place where people come to pray for tranquility after death, before and during life.

P.S.

  1. To really understand this, visit Kashi. This juxtaposition will be most evident when you see the lights of the evening prayers being lit to revere River Ganga as the life-giver at the Dashashwamedh/Rajendra Prasad Ghat and just 3-4 ghats down the line you see the never-ending funeral pyre of the expired ‘lit’ at the Manikarnika Ghat. The myth goes that the day there is no fire burning at Manikarnika, that day will be the end of the World. Another glaring contrast is the two-way queue from Manikarnika Ghat to the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir . It is infinite live or a complete cycle.
  2. The city has its share of orthodox rituals going on. I did not get a chance to see the darker side of the place hence that aspect is not covered here.

Sar Pass

June 19, 2015 § 9 Comments

Mountains hold different meaning for different people. Everyone is influenced in a different way. They are for everybody willing to climb and belong to no one in particular. However easy or tough is the climb, the satisfaction of reaching the top and being among or above the fellow peaks is worth every moment of trouble.

Sar Pass at 13800 ft in the Parvati Valley is one of the Himalayan treks I decided to undertake. It takes you to a height where you, even though being at the same height as the mountains around you , don’t feel a tinge of pride seeping in. The huge snow-capped eminence humbles you. They overwhelm you to an extent of making you speechless. Feelings cannot be described at that point. Sar Pass is not a tough trek. Hence some people may lack a sense of achievement after crossing it. But what everybody positively feels is the immense beauty that those mountains have to offer- The beauty of the Himalayas.

I did the Sar Pass trek with YHAI. Considering the fact that not everyone was a fast walker or had high stamina, the pace of the trek of almost every batch ( as per my information ) was from slow to medium. There are members of every age group which makes the trek a lot of fun and insightful. There are always people who walk extremely slow to the point of annoyance of fast walking members. There are a few members who are dying to have Maggi at every lunch point ( after the ban I don’t know whether YHAI will continue the association with Maggi or not). There are always people in the group that annoy somebody. Not a single one is in the best books of everyone. Some grudge or the other will always exist. But that is what a large group has to offer. How to cooperate, adjust and move ahead without or with least arguments is what these large groups teach. I was recently reading an article about why humans rule the Earth and not any other species. The sociologist had written that humans were insignificant when they had evolved but now they rule. The reason, according to him, was because of our species’ ability to cooperate, coordinate and imagine. He said that humans would be nothing when left alone but as a group we can do wonders. The large group definitely had that learning to offer.

Besides what humans could not teach me, the trek did. As mentioned before, the trek is not tough ( I am not a pro-trekker and neither I have a stamina that I can boast of) but it is lengthy. You have to walk a lot. Also with the guides not really helping you about how much distance left to cover ( you ask them now it is 3 kms, you ask them after 1 km, still 3 kms left), you have no option but to continue walking. Walk, walk and you will reach the camp. This long walk definitely did teach me to persevere ( in this regard at least). Not only persevere but also patience. I have ended up believing patience has no threshold. How much ever you may think that you have patience , go for a trek and your patience will just increase. Anyways these long walks also gave a few people pain in the knees,thighs, shoulders and back. But after reaching the camp all the pain goes away. The beauty of each place, whether it is raining or sunny is just inimitable. The best feeling while trekking is the height gain. At the base camp, we are at the bottom of the mountain. With every single day, we gained some height and reached a higher point on the mountain ranges. One day we were at the bottom. Our walks were accompanied by the Parvati river most of the times. The other day we had walked and climbed 2000 ft higher . Nearer to the sky. Nearer to the pinnacle. With each passing day we were moving into and above the clouds. We were sitting with the gloriously ( like a boss) gliding Himalayan Eagles. And finally at Sar Pass, we were above them . We were above the clouds, the eagles and very near to the Sun. Snow was all around us and we started going crazy. Snow angels and snow mans ( just a blob of irregularly shaped snow over another such shape of snow) could be seen. At the top after having fun, when you look around and soak into the beauty, then you realise the surroundings. The strong Sun, the cold air, the white mountains with golden crown of light shining over the fresh snow, the specks of browns and blacks of rocks in between the snow. All of this just enchant you and capture you in the scene. Everyone is in awe and wonder. Instead of me having conquered the mountain, the mountains have captured me. The respect that they command without asking for it and the strength that they possess has no bounds. Reaching the top is both empowering and humbling. Looking at the night skies lit with a blanket of stars you can not think but just feel the moment. You feel like you have achieved but have no vanity. Both the view and feeling is stunning. It is worth every pain that anybody would have endured.

The most important thing that you can learn from the entire journey of trekking , reaching the topmost point and then crossing Sar Pass is – You respect the mountain and the mountain respects you. The moment you get undisciplined, that moment it lets you go. Else it guides you to its zenith 🙂 Not only this but it also teaches you to live in the moment without any judgement, without any comment, without any complaint. Just live the present. Future depends on now.

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