Monday, September 17, 2012

Towards Socially Impactful Art

The True Purpose of Art

The true goal of art is आत्मदर्शनम्‌, seeing the inner spirit in everything, and to express the inexpressible.

Above is a mind map summary of the article, "The National Value of Art" by Sri Aurobindo, first published in Karmayogin magazine in 1910. Also available for online browsing and download.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Defining Indian Culture

Recently, a group of us in Bangalore with diverse backgrounds, interests and talents (political, technical, artistic) got together to form a close-knit forum called 'manthana' मन्थन (ಮಂಥನೆ). The objective of this forum (as I understood) is "Glory through Grounding in Indian Culture". Specifically,
  • Celebrate pristine Indian culture or aarya samskriti (आर्य संस्कृतिः) and wisdom (भारतीय विज्ञानम्‌)
  • Boost self-esteem of Indians through deep awareness of India's unique heritage and its value.
  • Discover pathways to glory through firm grounding in indigenous Indian approach to life
  • Rekindle passion for living Indian values among the younger generation.
It is debatable whether glory comes through grounding in Indian culture. However, we'd like to start with that belief (or working hypothesis) and explore where it takes us.

There was confusion at the outset regarding what we mean by "our roots" and "Indian culture". Some questions:
Since India has been a melting pot of cultures for millenia now, which one can we call "our culture"? Wouldn't it sound "exclusive and fanatic" if we pick one as ours? People had very different ideas (legitimate indeed) of what we should do. Some ideas were: "doubt everything", "be all-inclusive in everything", "take religion out of the picture", "experience rather than analyze". etc.

I felt that it is important to clearly articulate what is understood by well-regarded individuals as culture, as Indian culture and Indian approach to life to set a common mental platform for addressing the above questions and make the discussion less nebulous.

I will attempt to do that in this post.

What is Culture (संस्कृति) ?

I found the following definition to be very precise and apt (in Hindi):

संस्कृति सत्य-निष्ठ जीवन मूल्य है |
In English:
Culture is a set of life values (cherished and practised) in tune with Truth (or one's perception of it).
Our personal and social conduct is an output and manifestation of our culture.

There is an excellent speech by Chanakya in the TV serial "Chanakya". He gives this speech during a period of utter confusion and low self-esteem in Pataliputra's Hindu society due to mass exodus to Buddhist culture due to its permissive morals, and the local ruler using them to silence the Hindu scholars' outcry over his oppressive rule.

Among several companies I worked for, NetApp talks a lot about preserving its culture as the most important for the organization. Its founder, Dave Hitz puts it neatly - our core values (trust, integrity ...) shape individual conduct, repeated conduct becomes a habit at individual level, and widespread habit in an organization essentially becomes its culture.
So one's culture is derived from one's view of the nature of the world and oneself. What we consider appropriate conduct for ourselves depends on our notion of what is the ultimate Reality of ourselves and the world. This notion of truth can come from
  1. direct perception through our organs of knowledge - senses plus our extrapolation of their data with intellect that we call Science, 
  2. a system of beliefs/hypotheses that we resonate with emotionally and take as truth, called our religion (not necessarily corroborated by 1).
  3. internalization of the perceptions of others whom we respect and follow.

What is Religion (मतम्‌) ?

Religion, according to ( dictionary is 
"a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith".
In that sense, one's perception of truth can be called one's religion. That belief or faith could have solidified out of long observation or internalization of outside ideas (1, 2 or 3 above).
So one can say that culture is influenced by religion.

Custom (सम्प्रदायः) vs. Culture (संस्कृतिः)

to be filled in ....

Example: Prevalent World Culture

If our truth perception is that (a) we are conscious material beings with intellect but inherently distinct from each other and (b) happiness comes from satisfaction of desires at physical, emotional and intellectual levels, then individual enjoyment (regardless of the others) - survival of the fittest - is the ultimate way of nature and hence a legitimate value to live by. An amendment to that value after French revolution is the triple value of liberty, equality and fraternity - all men are created equal, and individual's freedom to pursue happiness is inviolable. This is the new "religion" called humanity मानवत्वम्‌. Still, the underlying truth perception stays the same - that we are distinct intellectual beings jostling to satisfy individual self-interests while adjusting to others'. Some corollaries:
  • What we perceive from senses + intellect is the only truth (more an unconfirmed belief than proven fact) and hence a sound basis for forming our values.
  • Happiness comes from satisfying one's physical, emotional, intellectual being. Hence self-interest is the prime motive for any action, which cannot happen otherwise. Though people talk about social upliftment, it is inherently at odds with this truth perception, and hence hasn't been effective in the long-term.
  • Marriage as an institution is at odds with this truth perception as it goes against happiness through physical interchange. We're seeing broken marriages and social chaos as a result of unloved children.
  • Fraternity value conflicts with this truth perception and hence conveniently ignored, resulting in all sorts of exploitation in the world today. Fraternity means brotherhood, or perception of oneness with other beings.  Oneness means experiencing pleasure/pain of others as one's own, and is the basis of social equality, sacrifice. Since that oneness is not experienced from senses+intellect currently, it is felt as unreal and remains just a slogan.

The Truth Perception Underlying Indian Culture

The fundamental truth perception underlying Indian culture is that man (in fact, everything) is much more than a body+life+mind complex. At our inmost core, we are all utterly one being (called Naaraayana नारायणः - the Universal Man) that has become many for the joy of varied self-experience. However, in our current stage of evolution, it self-limits its manifestations (jiivas जीवाः) in a mind+life+body cage separated in consciousness from the universal self and others जीवाः  by a mental smoke screen inside and physical separation outside. The true enjoyer, i.e., me, is the jiva or soul, and the mind+life+body are merely my outer organs. I can perceive my oneness with "others" to the extent I break the smoke screen through Yoga maarga. This breakage and uniting with my true core consciousness awakens me to my native infinite power over nature and illimitable bliss, which is true happiness - the goal of this play of Life.

However, as long as I perceive myself as a mind working in a body, enjoyment of its petty joys and sorrows keeps me away from rending my smoke screen and perpetuates the limitation. This is the main rationale for not running after intellectual+emotional+physical preferences too much. The biggest delusion (that of the atheist) is to think that there is nothing behind the smoke screen - a perfect recipe to slow down evolution. It gets thicker due to mental agitations caused by immersion in the lower enjoyments. Also, mere intellectual understanding won't break the screen.

Everybody can lecture on this topic nowadays because so many books are available to read the theory in Vedanta books. It is in vain until it turns into experience.

How it translates into Indian culture is the crux and where India's unique contribution to the future of the world comes from. Being born in a Hindu social environment and getting steeped in its culture uniquely positions one for this journey due to the long orientation of the psyche of the race to this truth over millenia. However, this is not to say that the door is closed for others. It's just that we have the first mover advantage, if utilized.

What is Pristine Indian Culture?

Indian Culture is based on the above truth perception which is a massive superset of the current truth perception of man as merely an intellectual being shut off from others. This truth perception changes our approach to everything - our life values, our art, our approach to happiness, our social organization.

One who lives according to this truth is the true Aryan (literally, noble person), and he/she can come from any race. Arya Samskriti is living with this perception that one is the soul beyond mind, and one with all others utterly, and also striving after experience of this truth in life.

Now some corollaries:
  • Lasting happiness comes from satisfying the inmost soul, not its three outer layers (mind, life, body). This applies to music, literature and other art forms. Art that expresses the inmost soul of things yields the most happiness.
  • "Doubting Everything" should include doubting one's own intellectual conclusions about things, since intellect is not the ultimate judge of truth.
  • God exists and is nothing but your inmost soul sitting behind the mental smoke screen. Bhakti is aspiration for experiencing one's own highest self as a real sentient being, rejection of lower movements through utter calmness, and surrender of whatever fruits of one's action to the wisdom of the inner self without reservation.
  • Religion is nothing but action out of implicit faith and aspiration that gradually takes one towards actual experience by helping one avoid the snares of pure intellect, which can circle forever in self-made grooves away from truth.
  • Living for a principle (as opposed to satisfying one's desires/preferences) helps overcome the mental smoke screen by quieting the lower three layers and breaking the screen to unite with one's higher faculties. Likewise, marriage is not merely for physical enjoyment but is a training ground to practise love, sacrifice and oneness with others, overcoming outer differences.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Power of Intuition and its Development

What is Truth?
Text of a talk by Sri Sri Paramahamsa Yogananda at Encinitas SRF Temple, Feb 13, 1938
(Source: "Journey to Self-Realization", pp. 107-113)

Truth is a very ambiguous word; it is a delicate concept to explain. Everyone has convictions they swear to as truth. But among countless differing ideas, what is really true?

Truth is relative, and truth is absolute. It passes through many evolutions in the relative stages before it reaches the absolute state. For example, two people are discussing a business venture. One makes a proposal that is sure to bring success, and the other person makes a counterproposal that accomplishes the same goal but has additional advantages. But then a third person comes along and has an even better idea. Each method was "true" in its own right, but in a relative sense.

Truth is that Which Gives Permanent Happiness
In the absolute sense, anything that contradicts true happiness is untruth; and that which gives permanent happiness is truth. Permanent happiness refers not to the temporary thrill that comes with material success and pleasure, but to the joy found in the soul's attunement with God. By this standard, you can judge any action you perform as to its projected end result - whether or not that action will promote lasting happiness.

The ultimate truth is God, and God is the ultimate Truth. The universe is upheld by this Truth through the operation of the Lord's cosmic laws. These laws are basic truths that are eternal and not subject to man's manipulation. For instance, the absolute truth is that since God is templed in every creature, it is wrong to kill or to harm another. In the relative sense, however, the less of two evils may be to use force to protect the innocent from an evil person, or to kill a lower form of life to save a higher form of life. But to destroy anything just for the sake of killing is wrong. The universal law is unity through love, necessitating the practice of tolerance and amity. If you want to find truth, your thoughts and actions must be true - physically, morally, and spiritually in accord with the eternal divine principles.
Truth is the ultimate Substance. Let me first explain where the presence of that Substance is to be found. Everything is linked with Cosmic Intelligence - the tree, the sky, a bird, man. That link is called Substance, the essential nature of all phenomena. It is the connecting link that makes of all manifestations one Essence. This Substance or Truth is hidden; what you see are only phenomenal appearances arising out of Substance by the power of cosmic delusion, or maya.

The Three Ways of Arriving at Truth
Now, there are three ways of arriving at truth: through sense perception, through inference and through intuition.
If your sense perception is wrong, your inference is wrong. Looking at the horizon you may think there is a fire, because you see smoke, but as you approach the site, you find it was just a cloud of dust. In order to apprehend the truth of anything you depend on your sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch, plus the power of the mind. These, however, could not be ultimate proof of the truth, because of the senses lie, the mind will lie, and senses are extremely limited. Jesus therefore conveyed truth to the masses in parables "because they seeing see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand [Matthew 13:13, Bible].

The ears are tuned only to certain rates of vibration. The highest and lowest sounds your ears cannot catch. If the power of your hearing were sufficiently increased, you would hear the magnificent sound that the universe is making as it rolls along through space. Everything is in motion and that motion is accompanied by sound. Nothing is at rest, except in that transcendental sphere of Spirit where there is no vibration. Right within your body you can hear those vibratory sounds of creation, manifestations of the omnipresent Aum or Amen. But being of a higher rate of vibration, those finer sounds are audible only to your astral ear - the subtle power that provides the gross sense of hearing to your physical body.
Similarly, if the power of your eyes were increased, you would see all kinds of different lights. Your physical eyes show you only a very limited scope of light, but your spiritual (astral) eye sees the true nature of all things as images composed of God's creative light. Your whole body, which you perceive as solid flesh, is nothing but electromagnetic waves. Dr. Crile has shown that the brain of a dead calf, and also that of a dead human being, emanates a great amount of electric rays [Dr. George Washington Crile [1864-1943] was an army surgeon who devoted his career to discovering a better understanding of the phenomena of life. Unsatisfied by the conventional explanations then to be found in physiology and biochemistry, he established the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, where for twenty-two years he conducted biophysical research that led him to formulate in 1936 his "radio-electric" theory of the life processes.]. Ordinarily when you close your eyes, you see only darkness, but with spiritual development, you will see wondrous lights. The bible says: "The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not [John 1:5, Bible]. These are fundamental truths that you do not perceive because your senses are all tuned only to a limited range of certain gross vibrations.

Intuition: All-knowing Power of the Soul
So how are you going to find the truth, the reality that lies behind what the senses perceive? You cannot do it by your rationalizing mind, because your mind falls victim to the senses; it only infers about what the senses tell it. The mind therefore does not comprehend the infinite forces that are dancing all around. Only by the development of intuition can you know what is truth. Intuition is direct perception. It is the all-knowing pure comprehension of the soul.
You have an inkling of the nature of intuition through those unexplained feelings called hunches. A hunch is undeveloped intuition, something you know without the medium of the senses or inference, some truth that comes of itself. You may be sitting quietly, and for no reason you think of someone you haven't seen or had contact with for a long time; and then suddenly he arrives, or you hear from him. Now how did you know? It was through a momentary flash of intuition. That kind of spontaneous intuition all of you have had at some time.
Errors in judgement are a result of not having developed intuition. Most of you have had the feeling that you could be great, and do great things; but because you have lacked intuitive power, that potential has, for the most part, remained dormant. To progress and to avoid the misery of mistakes, you have to find what is the truth in everything. This is possible only if you develop your intuition. That is the practical truth of the matter. That is why I am asking you to cultivate and use intuitive power in everything. In your relationships with others, in your business, in your married life, in every part of your life, intuition is essential.
By not developing the faculty of intuition, you make wrong decisions, pick up the wrong business associates, and get caught up in wrong personal relationships. Since the judgement of your mind is conditioned by the information fed to it by the senses, if you senses become deluded you may think a person is wonderful without knowing what he truly is inside. You may think you have found your soul mate, so you enter into matrimony, and then end up in the divorce court. But intuition will never make such a mistake. It will not look at the magnetic power of the eyes or at the attractive face or personality of a person, but will feel and perceive accurately in the heart that that person is really like.
By the power of intuition, which I learned to develop from my guru, Sri Yukteswarji, I have never made a mistake about human nature. Intuition has been very helpful to me in that regard. But I do not try to see the wrong side of people; to help others I give them unconditional love, even when I know they may misuse my trust.
Many people, lacking intuition, put a lot of money into finantial prospects that do not produce anything, and consequently they lose everything. I have been successful in every decision I have made through intuitive power. It never fails.
As you develop, intuition comes as a certain feeling or a still voice. Because ladies are more receptive to feeling than are men, they usually have more intuition - except when they become emotional. Men are generally ruled more by reason than by feeling, but if they have fine inteligence balanced with feeling, that leads to intuition.

Through Intuition, Know the Purpose of Your Existence
If you use your intuition, you will know the very purpose for which you exist in this world, and when you find that, you find happiness. This earth is a stage, and God is the Stage Manager. If everyone insisted on being kings and queens, an unfolding drama would be impossible. The servant and the hero as well as the royalty must perform their parts well for the play to become successful. The villains are those who upset the righteous drama of the Lord. Those who choose such a role must pay dearly for their blundering disregard of divine direction. No matter what material position one possesses or fortune one has amassed, he cannot be called successful if it was gained by evil means. True happiness ispossible only if one plays his part rightly, and not otherwise. The one who is playing the millionaire, and the one who is playing the role of a small businessman - both are the same to God. On the last day, God shears every person of all posessions and titles. What you have acquired in your soul is all that you take with you.
Great men like Jesus know truth because of their intuitive power. They perceive not only through the eyes and the mind, but through intuition that is so developed that they know everything. Jesus, who lived such a pure life, knew he would nevertheless be betrayed and crucified. But he knew also he would be ultimately in the arms of immortal God. So are we all the children of God, sent here to play our part; it is not the part, but how we play it that concerns God. Never be discouraged when your role is difficult. When you will be through with your acting, you will be received as a child of God. Until then, you will not be wholly free.

Intuition Develops through Meditation
The only way to know and to live in truth is to develop the power of intuition. Then you will see that life has a meaning, and that no matter what you are doing the inner voice is guiding you. That voice has long been drowned in the mire of untrue thoughts. The surest way to liberate the expression of intuition is by meditation, early in the morning and before goig to bed at night. As you keep your engagements for business, and for everything else that you think of as important, so should you not forget about your engagement with God. You may think you are too busy, but suppose God were too busy to give you life? You would drop in your tracks! To keep your daily appointment with God you must reserve the time for Him. Meditate and pray deeply, and wait for His response. If you repeatedly call on Him joy and peace will strike your heart. When that comes, you know that you are communing with God. If you make the effort, you shall contact that Power. Give yourself that opportunity. You cannot succeed unless you try.
If you spend your life in constant excitement, you will never know true happiness. Live simply and take life more easily. Happiness lies in giving yourself time to think and to introspect. Be alone once in a while, and remain more in silence. If the radio is going all the time, or other stimuli are constantly bombarding the senses, it truly affects the nerves and creates nervousness.
And don't think so much about reforming others; reform yourself first. The greatest field of victory is your own home. If you are an angel at home, you can be an angel everywhere. The sweetness of your voice, the peace of your behavior, is needed in your own household more than anywhere else.

Attain the Power That Never Fails
When you contact God, intuitive perception of truth will guide you in everything you do. Seven years ago, I came in a housecar to this site overlooking the ocean [Encinitas, California, near Los Angeles] and said, "I feel there will be a great place here one day." and today we have here our temple and hermitage - the nucleus of an ideal center for God.
The purpose of this center is that it be a place where you can come to contact God, to experience God. Why not consciously attain that Power which never fails you? Realize that Power within yourself. Make it a habit to come here regularly. I don't want curiosity seekers. I am keeping my engagement with God, and I seek only those true devotees of God who will come here in these beautiful surroundings to recharge themselves in His power.
You will find that Power works in everything to make your life complete, you health vibrant with cosmic energy, and your mind keen with the focused clarity of concentration. You will realize that your sould is a receptacle of God's unfailing, ever-guiding truth and wisdom.
God is the Fountain of health, prosperity, wisdom, and eternal joy. We make our life complete by contact with God. Without Him, life is not complete. Give your attention to the Almighty Power that is giving you life and strength and wisdom. Pray that unceasing truth flow into your mind, unceasing strength flow into your body, and unceasing joy flow into your soul. Right behind the darkness of closed eyes are the wondrous forces of the universe, and all the great saints, and the endlessness of the Infinite. Meditate, and you will realize the omnipresent Absolute Truth and see Its mysterious workings in your life and in all the glories of creation. "Or Arjuna, understand that knowledge to be sattvic [pure truth] by which the one indesctructible Spirit is perceived in all beings, undivided in the divided [Bhagavad Gita Chapter 18, verse 20]."

Monday, January 2, 2012

SXS Quotient: Defining a metric for holistic success in life

When is one's life successful and fruitful? Having a clear definition and measurement of success helps us strive towards it by identifying and filling gaps. This definition should clearly point us towards concrete actions needed to improve. Ideally, the metric should be
  • simple and actionable, i.e., easy to understand and act upon.
  • measurable: i.e., numerical to gauge progress relative to oneself and others,
  • objective, i.e., not subject to widely different interpretations,
  • absolute, i.e., can stand by itself to interpretation,
  • comparable, i.e., amenable to ranking along an absolute scale, and
  • universal, i.e., applicable to a wide range of personalities in various walks of life.
  • authoritative, i.e., based on the opinions of well-regarded people.
Since this is a bit unrealistic, here is a proposed definition that serves the purpose of guiding a saadhak. This definition is based on my understanding of the Indian philosophical notion of success. Please feel free to comment.

SXS Score (pronounced 'Success score')
There are three dimensions to holistic success along which we need to track ourselves, and strive to improve.
  1. Serenity - शान्ति
    • It can be measured as Anudvega = (100 - % time spent in udvega), 
    • where udvega = duhkha, illness, agitation, anger, boredom, depression, dissatisfaction and other negative conditions)
    • A measure of Ananda (आनन्द)
  2. EXcellence - शक्ति  = कर्मसु कौशलं
    • How much power and influence I have exercised over nature or its resources? What did I accomplish that I could not before? Proportion of my innate/acquired talent that I have visibly manifested. [This is not yet measurable, and needs to be refined]
    • A measure of chit (चित्‌), loosely translated as conscious energy.
  3. Social Enablement - श्रेयस or औदार्य
    • How many others' success (measured by SXS score) did I directly enable? What positive impact did I bring to someone (other than myself and my blood relatives)? A negative number indicates that I contributed to their SXS reduction. Here, `others' can include human as well as non-human beings.
    • A measure of सत्‌ or universal awareness. i.e., the spread of my circle of love - those whose pleasure and pain I feel as mine, expressed as a percentage of the world's population, or people per billion (ppb) :-)
The first two are personal aspects of success, while the third is the divine aspect. The first is an inner state that indicates how much I am enjoying my living - an indication of Ananda. The second indicates my manifested power, shakti, personal accomplishment. The third is the impact made on society.

Balanced success requires a high score on all three fronts.
Serenity ScoreExcellence ScoreSocial Enablement ScoreExample
lowlowlowA tamasic person who makes no difference to the society. The majority of the population.
highlowlowA tamasic person leading an unimpactful life. Many devotees of major cults.
highlowhighA dedicated social worker.
lowhighlow/negativeA rajasic asura - ambitious person who is destined to be burnt out very soon.
mid-highhighlowA rajo-tamasic typical ambitious achiever who leads a successful wealthy life, but is worthless to society at the end. A typical mid-level corporate professional.
highhighlowAll animals. They are always calm, do one thing very well, but cannot help others succeed.
lowlow/highhighA typical hero or role model nowadays, e.g., a successful entrepreneur. They create a major ripple, but cannot make any lasting beneficial impact on society.
highhighhighA pure sattwic worker - the true Aryan + yogin. Many Indian Swamijis and cult leaders.

Periodically, we should check ourselves along these dimensions to see how we are faring.

How to Improve our SXS Score
To improve on 1 (serenity), we need spiritual saadhana, a proper awareness (not mere knowledge) of man's psychological makeup, split between buddhi and manas, and control of manas.

To improve on 2 (excellence), we need 1 plus a constant struggle to push ourselves against our limit in both personal and corporate life - set a high personal/career goal for ourselves and achieve it - thereby boosting our self-confidence to achieve even more. In this process, we discover new capabilities within ourselves and acquire new skills that we never thought we had before. This gives us more and more joy, provided we do it in parallel to 1. Otherwise we will be burnt out quickly.

To improve on 3 (social enablement), we need to make it a habit to engage in some action that uses the skills we discovered/acquired in 2 above and (a) will not benefit us in the least, i.e., purely in a spirit of selfless service, and (b) may benefit someone other than our relatives. This is how we overcome ego and become truly sattwic.

3 brings to us a true sense of fulfilment and opens up huge reservoirs of energy that won't be available when we focus only on 2. We will soon become channels and dynamos of universal energy that is essential to bring any lasting improvement to society.

To learn more on how to improve your SXS score, read Intuition and its Development by Sri Sri Paramahamsa Yogananda.