The Rime and the Mariner (VI)

Mi amiga

I kinda want this to be the penultimate mail in this series. You ask why? Ah-kay, we’re going to talk about this in this letter anyway.

We have talked a little bit about the historical roots of Indian culture, a bit about our languages, and a little about ancient Indian literature, and their relations to spirituality. I have been wanting to talk about a few schools of Indian philosophy, but I haven’t been able to sublimate it on paper. And my time is running out. This letter will have to do it.

I have seen that you include astrology in your personal discipline. This is very interesting. I am a person who doesn’t believe in astrology, – in fact, it is safe to say that I don’t even have respect for it. You’d understand if you had grown up in India, – astrology is such a booming business for swindlers over here that any straight-thinking person develops a distaste for it early in life. Superstition has plagued India for centuries, and spiritual leaders have tried for centuries to cure the country of this problem, – but no one has really succeeded.

But this astrology I have grown up disliking (hating, actually; it really sucks people dry over here, preying on their insecurity and gullibility), – this is not exactly the same thing as the astrology you believe in. They are akin in principle, but still very different beasts, in more ways than one. I couldn’t have been your friend if it hadn’t been so. I’ve been thinking about this carefully – it’s really pretty interesting. I had told you I’d be learning things over our correspondence, remember? – and I had said it’d be learning for me, even if no one actively engages in ‘teaching.’ That’s what happened here.

One way your astrology and our astrology differ is the history behind them and the rules they follow. You follow what’s called the Western school of astrology, which comes down from the Greeks – Ptolemy was one of the first. What we have here is the Indian school of astrology (nowadays it is called ‘Vedic astrology,’ but this name is a neologism that came into existence only 40-50 years back; the Vedic people themselves didn’t ever use the phrase ‘Vedic astrology.’) The Indian school of astrology – or jyotisha, if you go by the Sanskrit name – is a pretty complicated thing to explain. It is even more complicated when you try to criticize it. You see, Indian astrology is inextricably tangled up with Indian astronomy.

If you walk into any respectable Western university and look for the department of astronomy, you’re going to find it in the physics wing. In the West – and indeed in the entire modern world – astronomy is a branch of physics that is concerned with space and objects in space, and all the other things that relate to them. This subject has no relation whatsoever to astrology. If you try to discuss astrology with an astronomer, they will probably tell you that you are speaking to the wrong person. – This is because, in modern science, astronomy has developed independently as a solid, experimental, and rational discipline since the days of Copernicus and Galileo. At the cost of their liberty and their lives, these people bought us an understanding of how the universe works. With Newton, we discovered gravity, and a few long centuries later, Einstein came along… and we knew relativity. Astronomy grew up entirely on a diet of reasoning and experimental verification. In other words, it is classified as a ‘true science.’

Astrology, on the other hand, has continued on a separate path. Today, no one would mix up the two. They are as different as apples and oranges.

In Indian history, however, it is different. Researchers in ancient India did not have the advantages of modern equipment; they based their work on human observation and mathematics. So, early forms of star-studying in India are a combination of both astronomy and astrology. Actually, reverse that statement: both Indian astronomy and Indian astrology have been products of early forms of star-studying in India.

The most prominent astronomer from ancient India is a scientist named Aryabhata. He was a profound thinker and mathematician, who had worked extensively on arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, continued fractions, quadratic equations… you get the idea. He also proposed the theory that the earth rotates about its axis daily, refuting the then-prevailing view that the earth stood still while the sky rotated.

Now, this is what makes history so interesting: one of the earliest giants in Indian astrology is Varahamihira, a polymath who also left contributions in many other fields apart from jyotisha. And Varahamihira and Aryabhata were contemporaries.

There are speculations about the relationship between them. Great mutual respect notwithstanding, it is theorized that the two experts disagreed on a number of points, – which is pretty natural if you think about the fact that they were literally inventing the science of astro-nomy/logy back then in their works. Anyway, – the more you examine Indian astronomy and Indian astrology, the more you understand that the two fields have been built upon the same foundation. There’s a lot in common, and it is not always easy to tell where astronomy ends and astrology begins. Indian astronomy never made it to full maturity, and today, you cannot use it to function in the modern world. Indian astrology, however, has survived. In what form – I have told you already.

The other difference between your astrology and what we have here is something more specific and personal. I am talking about the fact that you follow astrology as a personal discipline, not as something to be imposed on others. You would sincerely believe in the effects of Saturn on your life, but I doubt you’d go all out to convince me and get me to believe in it as well. From what I have understood, you don’t impose your belief. That’s a very important detail right there. In contrast, you would definitely force me to take a Tetvac injection if I cut myself on a rusty nail.

In one case you’d insist that I listen to you, in the other, you’d leave it to my personal choice. That’s where the difference lies.

When I first realized you follow astrology, my initial reaction was, ‘Ah dang it. Why did she have to be one of them.

Then I gave it more thought. I saw how your whole attitude about it was very non-impositional, and I began to relax my mind a little bit. I asked myself, ‘Okay, my problem with her is that she believes in something irrational, right? So what are some of the irrational things I believe in?’

Turns out, I have my own pet beliefs too. I like to identify as a rationalist, someone who is strict about keeping a scientific attitude about everything. Despite that, I have some things about myself. I have habits and notions that are not exactly rational. They are born out of my whims and idiosyncrasies. They are a matter of imagination for me, and I keep these things to myself.

For example, I would, sometimes, talk to a tree. Not necessarily aloud, often it would be an inner dialogue. Now that’s irrational. I know trees don’t talk. Talking has as much to do with trees as photosynthesis has to do with me. – But I do talk to a tree once in a while, anyway.

To take an example from the other end of the spectrum – I believe in the goodness of people. For example, right now I am writing to you because I believe you are a good person. This is not necessarily a rational thought. Human beings have proved themselves over and over and over to be the most selfish and cruel species in the world. We have millions of examples that prove the untrustworthiness and badness of human beings a million times over. And speaking of individual human beings, I have been ill-fated enough to meet a good number of white-collar thugs at various stages in my life. So, based on both historical proof and personal experience, I shouldn’t believe in human goodness. – But I do. And I know it doesn’t make much sense. – Yes, it may be a nice thing to do, it may be a noble thing to do, but it is not a rational thing to do. It’s irrational. I cannot justify it with logic.

I have been naming my things since school. Back in 2000, I remember, my hostel-mates used to be curious about what names I’d given to my trunk, my brush, my lunchbox, my mirror, and so on. And as recently as May 2020, I have named three persons I’ve adopted as my neighbours: three potted plants.

So, I thought, am not I just as irrational as she? – I really should allow her her own irrationalities, if I allow myself mine.

‘But I don’t try to tell people that all these things are actually rational. I keep it to myself. It’s a personal indulgence.’ – Well, okay, so Elizabeth is involved in promoting astrology as a lifestyle discipline. Okay. But the way she is now, there’s nothing coming out of her that might mean any harm to anyone else. She’s not using astrology as a tool to aggressively further her own interests, – whatever she is doing, she is doing out a desire to help. Let her do it.

And about being rational – I know too many people who are perfectly rational who are horrible persons. Oh no, they don’t believe in astrology. Big fucking deal. I’m not going to bomb my friendship with this decent person here just because she doesn’t share my opinion about this thing. Maybe she can help people with it, even if I don’t admit it’s real existence. Maybe it helps as a self-hypnotic, self-disciplinary method. I don’t know. She believes in it, and if she can use her faith to serve other people, more power to her. Our difference is a difference of opinion, not a difference in morality.

And in thinking so, I arrived at a point I missed in my previous letter: the matter of reality as perceived by Indian schools of thought. In specific, I had wanted to share a little-known fact about Buddha. You see, Buddha didn’t believe in God.

When Buddha was asked about God, he merely said that he could neither confirm it nor deny it. And he added that the question of God’s existence is entirely irrelevant to the issues he’s concerned about. He said that his project was to discover the roots of human suffering, and the solution to this suffering. If one would properly follow the rules he’d discovered, one could arrive at the solution and escape suffering. God was not needed in this equation.

Did I mention that there are branches of Hinduism where you’re not required to believe in God? In any case, there are hundreds of gods in Hinduism (I am going to brief you about some of them in my next mail.) But back in the day, even if you didn’t subscribe to a single one of these gods, it wasn’t going to be a problem. You could practice atheism and Hinduism at the same time. It was perfectly ‘inside the box.’

Buddha was an agnostic. Throughout his career, he maintained a rational contemplation and analysis of the truths of life. I have to discuss Buddha with my kids, on occasion. There’s an incident that’d show you just how rigorous the man could be in his pursuit of the truth.

A lady had lost her child. She was in shock, and out of grief she went to Buddha and begged him to bring her child back to life. She had heard that he had conquered mrityu – death itself. Everyone knew that Lord Buddha was nothing if not compassionate… wouldn’t he have mercy on a poor mother’s heart?

Buddha heard the lady, and told her he could indeed help her, provided she got him a crucial ingredient. She needed to bring him a fistful of mustard seeds – but she had to get it from a household that had not known Death. – The lady was desperate. She went out to the city and begged from door to door. There’s wasn’t a single house that fulfilled Buddha’s condition, as you can very well guess. At the end of the day, she came back to Buddha empty-handed.

But she didn’t require Buddha to restore her son to life anymore. She had understood. And Buddha knew that she had understood. ‘Grief and loss will always be there, you cannot undo it,’ he said. ‘If you want to escape suffering, you have to accept your loss and let the grief blow over you.’

Perhaps he was thinking of the sannyasi he had seen on the street all those years back, who could be touched by the troubles of life, but not tainted by them. Buddha himself had known suffering. He had transcended it by realizing that even though we cannot stop the world from hurting us, we can indeed disallow it from scarring us.

Did you notice how he taught the lesson to the lady? He did not give her a lecture. He did not give her a sermon. He simply made her go through an experiment, and let her deduce the rest. – That was the nature of his teaching. Analyzing a problem down to its finest parts, and developing the solution out of them.

This acutely rational nature of looking at things is still practiced by monks in Buddhist monasteries. I have read accounts of regular meets between scholars where they discuss (and intensely debate) questions from… any walk of life. Young scholars practice logical reasoning by participating in debates under the supervision of elder monks. ‘Define a pot.’ ‘A pot is something that holds water.’ ‘Well, you can hold water in your palms. Is that a pot?’ ‘No, it has to be inanimate.’ ‘I could hold water in my cap. Would my cap qualify as a pot?’ ….. and so on and on. The whole point of the exercise is to see the world without any prejudices, without any preconceived notions. Pure reason. Pure logic.

That said, the popular image of Buddhism now would probably have fallen short of Buddha’s expectations. Buddha, like he did not worship a god, did not want to be turned into a godman. He did not describe himself to be a special person and did not ask to be worshipped. If anything, he did the opposite. He said that ‘Buddha’ is a state; anyone who follows the right discipline would end up becoming a Buddha. Now that’s something hardcore. I don’t know about you, but thinking about this gives me serious DBZ vibes. I don’t think it’s an accident that stories like Dragonball and Avatar: The Last Airbender came out of Buddhist cultures. Although they are packaged in a Western wrapping of high-octane action, their core is still deeply Buddhist in ideology. Anyone who watches these series and pays close attention to the dialogue will understand this.

That is one way, – the way of no compromise, the hardest way of all, some might say. Most of us, on the other hand, are not capable enough to live our lives on a purely rational basis. We live immersed in a sea of irrationality. Love, trust, faith, hate, anger, shame. Our little weird quirks and oddities.

It is to accommodate for these differences of personality that Vedic philosophy had set up different styles of spiritual inquiry for different kinds of people. The best known of them are the four Yogas – the four paths, any one of which can lead a person to the Truth and Emancipation. These four paths are known as the Rāja yoga, the Jñana yoga, the Bhakti yoga, and the Karma yoga. I will not go into details on these, I have put some books on your list that will address them in detail.

I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, you know: the entire misunderstanding about scriptures… it comes from people misunderstanding how writing works. People do not understand how to read spiritual literature. They take metaphors and symbols to be literal objects. They read a line that is deeply philosophical and dense with imagery; and they think they should take it as literal truth. It’s the sun-worshipping story over and over. That monk who was doing the Surya-pranam knew very well that he is ‘speaking’ to a burning ball of helium and hydrogen. But that was no problem because he knew that the verses of his mantra are merely personifying the sun; they are not implying that there’s an actual celestial being up there. – The ordinary folks mix this up. They mix up levels of reality. They don’t understand that these books, these verses – they are using rhetoric to convey their messages.

There is an external reality, and there is an internal reality. The two are on separate planes, separate dimensions. The external reality is the same for you and me, it is common to all people and all things. The internal reality, however, is our own personal space. When a tree replies to something I say, it’s happening in my inner reality. When I find something charming, that evaluation is taking place in my inner reality. My belief in Batman as a personal source of inspiration – that’s a matter of my inner reality. This is why ‘beauty’ or ‘courage’ does not have physical units to measure them. You can measure symmetry, but you cannot measure beauty. Because symmetry is mathematical: it gets measured in the outer reality, but beauty is emotional: it gets measured in the inner reality.

I once told you that I consider myself a student of people who died many years ago. I know that I have never met them in the outer reality. I have never spoken to Jesus Christ or Oscar Wilde or Albert Einstein or Buddha. But in here, inside my head? – Here they are very much alive and present, right here and right now.

If you are a Potterhead, you’ll remember what Dumbledore said to Harry in the King’s Cross station, in The Deathly Hallows.

“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Are you thinking, ‘I thought you were going to tell me about Indian spirituality, not drone on about random musings of your own!’

Can’t help. To tell the truth, we’ve been discussing Indian spirituality all along.

All this talk about astrology reminds me. You know how everyone in the world these days goes on about ‘karma?’

I think you already know this, but I’ll still write and explain. ‘Karma’ is one of those Indian words that have been discovered by the west, and then adapted by India from English-speaking people, the result being that Indians now pronounce these words with a Western accent, which they should know to be incorrect. Another such word is ‘yoga.’ If you hear Sanskrit hymns or chantings, you’ll mark the correct pronunciation of these words – it’s slightly different from how they’re pronounced in English.

‘Yoga’ originally means ‘joining’ or ‘addition.’ It also has a spiritual meaning, which you know about and we’ve spoken about.

Modern languages like Bangla or Hindi has the word ‘yoga’ in them, in the original sense of joining or adding. When people say the word in that sense, in everyday conversation, they pronounce it normally, like it is supposed to be pronounced in their mother-tongue.

But when they use the word in the special sense, like ‘I wanna enroll in a yoga course,’ – they use the English (mis)pronunciation of the word. It’s like they don’t even realize they’re using the same damn word.

With ‘Karma’ it’s the same. When they say something like ‘Karma is a bitch,’ they use the English pronunciation of the word. But at other times?

The word ‘karma’ simply means ‘work.’ That’s it. There’s nothing else. That word is regularly used in Bangla and Hindi in the everyday sense, and people pronounce it in Bangla and Hindi all the time, in their respective accents. Only when they’re using it in the ‘spiritual’ sense…

The spiritual concept of ‘Karma’ is also not what people make it out to be.

The concept of karma, or work, is that we all enjoy the fruits of our own work. That fruit usually comes to us late. A lot late. As in, several lifetimes late, even. And in this equation, every single bit of every single thing we do counts. Every little insignificant thing. You cannot do some charity here and say, ‘I did some good karma.’ Well, you did, but you also did a thousand other varieties of karma during the day. Because you did a thousand other varieties of work during the day. That’s what ‘karma’ is – ‘work’.

That’s why the issue of rebirth or reincarnation arises. Because clearly, in this world, bad things do not always happen to bad people, and good things do not always happen to good people. Anyone can see that. So how do we solve this conundrum? If absolute assholes are regularly parading their success out there in the world, and really decent folks are suffering day in and day out, how do we make sense of it all? — Are we saying that all the poor people in the world are suffering because they are all horrible people who deserve to suffer? And all the privileged people are really the cream of humanity? — One would have to be nuts to take that idea seriously.

So the only solution is this. If you see a good person suffering here and now, that means he had done something bad sometime in the past, in a previous birth. Now that sin is being balanced out by suffering. Only when he has atoned for all his accumulating sins (which may take several births), would he attain freedom from worldly bondage. He has to exhaust the fruits of all his bad ‘karma.’ And if there’s a villainous character living it up in the lap of prosperity? Then he must have been a really great person in a previous birth. He must have suffered nobly, or he must have done a lot of good. This good life is his belated reward. He does deserve it. He has good ‘karma.’

This is one way you can arrive at the Hindu and Buddhist concept of reincarnation or rebirth. For Hindus and Buddhists (and anyone who believes in reincarnation), a person is always going to come back, in whatever form it may be. They are going to come back again and again, after every circle of life and death, as long as their ‘karma’ is not evened out, and once that happens, the bonds of life and death fall off their souls, and they are free. They attain the state of Ultimate Liberation that Hindus call Moksha, and Buddhists call Nirvana.

Today in Indian social media, – any news of ‘death’ results in a torrent of ‘RIP’ comments and replies. Everyone starts ripping away… and they don’t always get the spelling right either. These people (who proclaim themselves to be devout Hindus) don’t know that RIP doesn’t apply to a dead Hindu. If you subscribe to Hinduism, then there’s no ‘resting in peace’ after you die. Your story just started on a new chapter.

On the other hand, you have the new-age pop notion of ‘instant karma.’ Someone does something mean, and immediately gets smacked by fate. The idea of ‘instant karma’ is a Western coinage. Ancient Indian beliefs don’t have ‘instant karma’ in their repertoire. How could they? Every single thing counts as karma. If ‘instant karma’ were a thing, people would continuously be getting instant prizes/punishments for every one of their actions all the time, non-stop.

You can see how rigorously logical ancient Indian thinking can be. No wonder people don’t go into it much. I mean, it’s very illumining, but it’s not for someone who prefers comfort over illumination.

But all the illumination in the world can still not save a person from being inhuman, as extended exposure to Indian spiritualists and monks will show you. There are many among the sadhus and sannyasis whose hearts have been so hardened by the rigor of asceticism and spirituality that they don’t even realize when they are being cruel. I remember an incident from college. I was with my father, and we were taking a walk by the hostel, when we saw a little kitten come up on the road. It looked thin, malnourished – almost on the verge of death. It was barely able to walk. – We were about to do something about it, maybe help it or feed it – we didn’t know yet. At that moment, a monk came up the road (he was the principal of our college), flanked by a couple of assistants. His eyes fell on us, and on the kitten, and he gave a superior laugh and said, ‘No use trying to save it; it is dying under the weight of its own deeds.’

Another time, a young monk killed a centipede (which was not doing anyone any harm), exclaiming – “Ah-ha, I have released this soul from a centipede-life.”

Steven Weinberg had put it best: ‘With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.’

I bet the men who shoot up people in the name of Dharmayuddh, Crusade or Jihad are dead sure that they are doing their victims a service. I bet that they see their actions as a form of religious tough love.

I would touch upon one person before drawing this to a close. His name is Charvaka.

Charvaka is a philosopher belonging to the Vedic age. His character is quasi-historical, i.e. – we are not sure if he’s a historical figure or a mythological one. In any case, there’s a whole school of philosophy named after him, and it is one of those branches of Indian philosophy that no one talks about.

No one talks about it, because it wouldn’t sell in the West.

Charvaka is an ancient school of materialism that was developed in India, under the influence of Charvaka and a few other philosophers. According to this school of thought, – direct perception, empiricism, and conditional inference are treated as proper sources of knowledge. The Charvaka school of thought employs philosophical skepticism in all its dealings; ritualism and supernaturalism have no place in it at all. One of the most popular corollaries of Charvaka thinking promotes the idea of “eat, drink, and be merry,” – something I imagine Westerners would be surprised to hear.

During the rise of Buddhism and Jainism (aided by contemporary politics), the Charvaka school of thought suffered a major setback. Much of the historical records related to this have been lost – and the reasons are not clear how. Some think that it was systematically erased from the records because of political reasons. We have conclusive proof that India used to have a thriving tradition of materialist philosophy, side by side with its well-developed tradition of spiritual philosophy. But we can’t find surviving documents. Hundreds of records of spiritual texts have survived. Almost nothing of the materialist texts.

When I say that I want you to be safe from the poison of fundamentalism, this is what I mean – when you come to India, be wary of people who assert their own faith by denigrating the faith of others. You will see people like this in each and every religious camp over here. Don’t picture blunt, crude, ignorant people in your head when you read this. They’ll be wise, knowledgable persons with arresting personalities and excellent communicative skills. And indeed, there’s a lot to learn from some of them (if this works out, I might even try to introduce you to some.) But don’t give up the driver’s seat; that’s yours. If you let them do your thinking for you, they will.

There’s a funny story I want to tell you. It’s actually an example of this sickness I spoke about, but in this case, I found it rather funny.

I was visiting Bangladesh. The culture there is predominantly Muslim, but there is a strong Hindu strain as well (which is suppressed by political forces.) So, I was visiting this temple over there with my cousin, not for religious interests, but just to take a look. This is about seven years ago: I was a college student then. That day, I had a military cap on, and a check-patterned handkerchief tied around my neck; I also had a beard.

We went in, and there was the head office of the temple complex. A few monks were sitting at their desks, working on their computers. There was a chamber where the head monk sat, talking to a couple of devotees. We went in to see him. Then the fun began.

The head monk started talking to us. Soon, he was talking to me. He was telling me about the divine glory of the supreme lord: Krishna. “Krishna is the ultimate Lord,” he said, “There are many other deities, but He is the Absolute One.” I said, “But isn’t it up to the worshipper which form they want to relate to and worship?” The monk shook his head and said, “No no, it’s not so. Others are fine, but Krishna is at the top.”

Now, I was a student of Ramakrishna Mission – with nine years of schooling under my belt. I can hold my own in a spiritual discussion – as I told you, we were brought up on a campus that’s run by monks. But I did not disclose this to this monk talking to me now. Deliberately. He wouldn’t have dreamt of brainwashing me if he’d known I’m from Ramakrishna Mission (he would either have assumed that I’m already entrenched in a belief-system, or he’d have assumed I am immune to all of it). But he did not know. In fact, from my appearance, he had guessed that I was a Muslim. Or at the very least, a complete lout. ‘Winning me over’ would be a nice notch on his belt. – I listened to his babble for some time, and then he got on a call with some devotee about some donations, and I took my leave.

I was considering naming this organization here in the letter, but then I thought, let it be. There are dozens of such organizations here in India. This one is just the most successful of them all. I’ll tell you the name sometime later. They’re pretty famous in the U.S.

It is organizations and religious groups like this who have spread the myth that all Indians worship cows, or that Indian (Hindu, to be specific) cuisine is originally vegetarian. There are tons of historical and mythological proof that refute all these claims, but at the end of the day, public opinion is prone to demagoguery and histrionics, – not fact and sense and reason. These people have money and political backing on their side. They are winning the battle.

We are trying to win the war. These letters are one person’s attempt at voicing the truth about India. The unthinkable catholicity and complexity of India. The incredible diversity and plurality of India.

I think I’d better end this letter now.

My plan, in this series, was to give you an awareness of the heterogeneity of India’s philosophical heritage and spiritual traditions. I have tried to touch upon a few areas of special interest. It would be a fool’s errand to delineate the thing in its entirety in just a few letters. But I’ve tried to show you that when it comes to India, you have to explore a number of different strands. All of them equally important, and all interconnected to one another. You may pick and choose your favourite, but having a sense of the whole spectrum is healthy. It’d save you from the poison of fanaticism (something that’s coursing through India’s veins right now… changing her identity with every passing day.)

This series can never be properly complete. But I have to bring it to a close at some point. Even now, five different things are coming to my mind that I’d like to address in another long, detailed letter. – But I won’t. It will never end that way.

Now you have to pick up those old books. And I will be here to offer any help I can as you go through them.

I have already named A Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru as the book you should probably start with, followed by (or parallelly with) The Indian Epics Retold by R K Narayan. I’m going to recommend three other books for you. These are not all spiritual texts. But they are going to be a great help to you in knowing India. I won’t waste your time talking about who these authors are and why they are so damn important; ten minutes on the internet will tell you everything you need. Of course, you’ll need to read them in order to know them properly.

The first book is written by a man who is easily the most profound and radical thinker modern India has produced. His body of work is immense in size, but for now, I suggest you start with this collection of essays. –

This one is not actually a book, but a compilation of selected pieces by the author. You may have heard of him before: not only is he a giant in Indian history, he is also regarded as one of those people whose influence had a key role in making America what it is today. –

Finally, this book will give you an idea of some of the best things about a relatively modern India. It is written by one of our most iconic minds and one of the finest educators we have had. –

My next letter will be the last in this series, Elizabeth. In it, I will tell you briefly about a few major figures in Indian mythology, and the philosophical significance behind some of them.

So long, then. 🐛

4 thoughts on “The Rime and the Mariner (VI)

    • Eh, I liked the opening of the film but then from the moment she starts defending herself by saying ‘It’s just a thing to talk about,’ – it all goes south for me. That luxury of seeing astrology as just ‘something to talk about’ and ‘who gives a shit if its real’, – that might be true of privileged people who book cars on smartphones and enjoy pizza and wine and traveling. But I live in a country where most of the population is bloodsucked by a systematic, organized cult of astrologers who prey on real fears and real vulnerabilities and make a shitload of money off poor and middle-class people. In my reality, astrology is not a personal indulgence; it’s a social disease.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I do not have a question so I feel this comment could not have been a comment. But then I had to tell you this, this writing took 2 readings. You encapsulate so much in so simple words that I felt it was a lullaby. T

    Now that I am writing a question ( more of a statement) comes to my mind. I have also been taken aback by the misuse , abuse or the use of the idea of karma.

    While inaugurating a Cancer Hospital, a Minister once said people are here as per their Karma. Now this sounded problematic. Problematic due to a varied number of reason, the lack of common sense being the most important.

    But if I talk to people who believe in Karma or even if I too think as per the laws of Karma, the statement that people are suffering from cancer is the fruit of some past action can not be negated.

    So there has to be flaw in the very laws of Karma which looks very rational. Do you have something to say?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would say that we need to start by accepting – and even welcoming – the fact there is pain and suffering in the world. We need to embrace it, not merely tolerate it. We need to do it on many levels.

      We need to accept, on the cellular level, that we grow old and our body grows more susceptible to wear and tear as our years grow longer.

      We need to accept, on the individual organism level, that people die and they go away forever and people will always die and every single person we know or see will most definitely die and that death may come at any time, without warning.

      We need to accept, on a personal level, that we will suffer loss, betrayal, agony, and painful personal transformations in life.

      We need to accept, on a social level, that cultural trends will change and we will need to keep growing and adapting ourselves to keep up. Bhimsen Joshi himself had once said, “Music changes every ten years; every musician should keep this in mind.” But even our domestic, family ‘experts’ on music express very opposite views about how ‘these days music is going to ruin.’

      We need to accept, on a species level, that we live on a changing planet and we are entirely dependent on its changing mechanics for our survival. We can be wiped out all of a sudden, or a part of us may be wiped out, or we may be wiped out slowly over millennia – because every species is bound to go extinct.

      Once we learn how to ACCEPT this… then things will get a lot easier.

      If I believe in Karma, I will be able to think — These people are suffering because of their own karma. May it be that way, – may it be that they deserve to suffer – on some great cosmic scale. But that does not negate my duty to serve them. I have to do my duty independent of those factors, – because this constitutes MY Karma. Maybe that cancer patient is suffering today because he had murdered a child in his last life. But maybe that child had deserved to die because of HIS Karma from HIS previous birth? This chain has no end. – So I need to focus on my Karma (and do it without a desire for fruition, ‘Nishkama Karma’, as the Gita says.)

      If I don’t believe in Karma, I will be able to think — there is suffering in nature and it is perfectly natural, understandable. This child with Down’s Syndrome is a part of the natural pattern, genetic anomalies have always existed in every population, true. But the struggle for survival is also a natural fact. My service to this child, my extra effort for this child constitutes that effort on a species level. If I have a twisted ankle on my right foot, my left foot will take extra load to balance my body. That’s the organism level. On a social level, one weak individual has to be cared for by an able individual. Philanthropy, as it turns out, is Darwinian after all.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s