Religion Demystified

Sunday, January 6, 2008


(Understanding Life’s Mysteries in terms of Latest Scientific Findings)



1. Origin of the Universe

Excitement of doing Science vs. authoritative statements. Big Bang and String theory with a blow-by-blow account of Origin of Universe.

2. What makes up the Matter in the Universe?
We know what is there on the earth. Is the whole universe like the earth?

3. ‘You Don’t Belong Here!’
On the origin of living beings; you come from distant stars and are older than Sun.

4. Nanrishih Kurute Kavyam
(Remembering Dr. Albert Einstein)

Talks about Dr. Eisntein’s Rishi-like life, work and thought

5. The True Nature of Man
Discusses the natural state of man and what it means to be truthful.

6. Hormones and Swings in Emotions

Though we desire to act in one way, why do we behave differently?

7. Three Myths

Our scriptures are not correct about Love, Non-violence and Man being supreme.

8. The Power of Thinking
“Thought” is a form of energy.

9. Pain, Suffering & Placebo
Swamis do cure our chronic illnesses.

10. Sex and the Brain
Do women need to read Vivekachudamani? Says that women are
by nature more balanced.

11. Ship of Theseus
When everything in you and around you is changing, how do you
know you are still “you?”

12. Experiencing Other’s Pain
Role of Mirror Neurons in sensing other’s mind and learning skills.
Explains ‘ empathy’.

13. Comfort, Happiness and Energy Dynamics
Provides a definition for comfort in terms of energy expended.

14. Prediction by Phone
Bayesian statistics help forecast future with sparse information.

15. Karma Theory and Perceptual Control
Points out the basic assumptions in Karma Theory and how they are not valid.

16. Effect of Meditation on Brain
Neuroscientific findings show functional and structural changes in brain with

17. The Four Outcomes
Assuming a Mind-Body duality (notionally at a functional level), what is Nirvana?

18. Pure Mind
Fun with optic and logic illusions. Shows what you see around is not
truly what you think you see.

19. The “Self” Within Us
“Self” is a mere concept for the processes coordinated by
several parts of the brain for autopreservation.

20. Disinfect Mind And Realize Truth
‘Memes’ are the replicators of ideas which infect mind. Ancient sages
knew the havoc memes could play as illustrated by the story of Lord
Vishnu advising Sage Gadhi to purify mind to be able to realize Brahman.

21. What You Think, That You Will Be!
The influence of Environment and Thought on Gene Expression

22. Reality “Out There” and Quantum Physics
Quantum Uncertainty, ‘Cat states’, Role of Perception in giving raise to observed Reality and Oneness.

23. We are All an Entangled Web
How everything is connected to everything else, EPR Paradox, Holographic World, Teleportation, All Info at one point, and Gaudapada’s Concept of ‘Nothing is ever Created’.

24. The Weird World of Small Things
Experiments leading to Quantum Theory, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, World as a Wave, Interpretations of Qunatum Physics, Concept of Many Worlds, Does Quantum Theory need a Revision?

25. Invisible Energy in Empty Space
Overwhelming Emptiness within Space and Atoms, Cosmological and Quantum Estimate of Energy of Empty Space, Cosmological Constant and Quantum Foam, Upanishadic Concepts.

26. Wakeful, Deep Sleep And Dream Worlds

27. Religion Demystified

Examines the development of religious thought from the latest concepts in Neuroscience, Physics, Anthropology, Cell and Molecular Biology etc.

28. Biology of Belief – The Missing Link Between Prarabdha and Free Will
Can we change the heritable characteristics through meditation and
thus affect the Sanchita Karma (stored effects)?

29. Infirmities in Karma Theory
The underpinning concepts of the effect of present action reaping rewards
at a future date are scientifically not valid.

30. Meditations on Advaita

Index of Words

PREFACE (draft)

"When we consider what religion is for mankind, and what science is, it is no exaggeration to say that the future course of history depends upon the decision of this generation as to the relations between them."

--- Mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead.

“I agree with Whitehead's assessment, but would add that in the main we have got the relations between science and religion badly wrong. What we need is a third way that can expose the core dimensions of science and religion, thereby leading to an appreciation of exactly where common ground can be found, and where the two rightly go their separate ways.”

--- Arthur Zajonc, Professor of Physics at Amherst College. (Author of Catching the Light and The Quantum Challenge).

This book of essays is more of a self-study. I do not arrogate myself to educating others. I do not also pretend to make any attempt to bridge science and spirituality, particularly if these two words are taken to mean two distinct turfs zealously protected by respective protagonists. Perhaps the book may represent a small step towards the third way suggested by Prof. A. Zajonc to look at the “core dimensions of science and religion.” Nevertheless, I feel that those who have similar interests as mine in exploring the world around us can start their journey from here. Whether science, spirituality or religion, the ultimate aim, as I see it, is to find what “truth” is and also to work towards “a happy human being at an individual level and a harmonious society at large.”

Thanks mainly to the encouragement from Dr. Plamen Gradinarov, Editor, Online Journals on Indology, I could present my views to a wider audience. I am indebted to Respected Shri Karmayogi, Founder President of Mother's International Society and Mr. S. Menon, Editor, Consecration for providing me an opportunity to contribute regularly an article in almost all the issues. Those articles are updated and are put together here at one place.

My first article was Religion Demystified. A couple of short write ups have their origin in it. I do not claim to prove nor do I wish to propagate any specific viewpoint. My attempt is more of a review of where we are in our scientific understanding.

Philosophers and scientists had debated on “hard” vs. soft problems in the scientific investigation of “Consciousness”, a debate kicked of by Prof. David Chalmers. The problem that Dr. Chalmers holds hard is, in my opinion, not unique to studies on consciousness. Fundamental “Why?” questions remain HARD in any field. Questions like “What exactly is Life”, Why Life, or Why Universe, Purpose of Evolution, "Why dependence on Food (which breeds violence) or oxygen for the very existence of life" are some of the examples. Perhaps they may not be satisfactorily answered in the near future. That gives a reason for visiting the thought processes of ancient seers and sages and what they found especially because human brain and mind appear to have not essentially changed much in the last few millennia.

Curious educated adults with some general background in science will find the varied topics discussed here interesting and will hopefully appreciate what the state of science is with respect to them. Thanks to internet, any topic of their specific interest can be further pursued if desired, using the subject matter or the names of scientists actively researching that field as referred to in the text.

Hyderabad Vemuri Ramesam
Jan 2008

Index of Words

(Names of Scientists whose work is referred to in the text)

Beauregard, M.
Beecher, H. K.
Benson, H.
Blackburn, E.
Blackmore, S.
Blakemore, S.-J.
Bohm, D.
Bohr, N.
Brodie, R.
Cahill, L.
Cairns, J.
Casimir, H.B.G.
Chalmers, D.
Chopra, D.
Cruikshank, D.
Cziko, C.
Davidson, R.
Davis, T.
Dawkins, R.
De Duve, C.
DeRubeis, R.
Dobson, J.
Einstein, A.
Evans, D.
Feynman, R.
Gabbard, G.O.
Gallese, V.
Gardenfors, P.
Goldberg, I.
Gradinarov, P.
Grant, G.
Greene, B.
Haisch, B.
Haldane, J. B. S.
Hameroff, S.
Higgo, J.
Hoyle, F.
Janssens, R.
Kandel, E.R.
Koch, C.
Krauss, L.
Lazar, S.
Leggett, A.J.
Leonard, W. R.
Levin, J. S.
Libet, B.
Lipton, B. H.
Lutz, A.
Marcy, G.
Marguils, L.
McCrone, J.
Musser. G.
Nathanielsz, P.
Newberg, A.
Nisbett, R.
Penrose, R.
Polzik, E.
Radin, D.
Ramachandran, V. S.
Ramsey, N.
Reiss, A.
Schrödinger, E.
Schwartz, J.
Searle, J.
Singer, T.
Smythies, J.
Sollerman, J.
Tegmark, M.
Tinetti, G.
Tsia, Li-Huei.
Wheeler, J.A.
Yuki, M.
Zeilinger, A.
Ziurys, L.
Zubieta, J-K.

1. Origin of the Universe

The universe with its vastness and variety, myriad dazzling galaxies and unfathomable skies has bewildered man from time immemorial. He wondered about its origins ever since intelligence dawned on him. The Taittiriyopanishad says, “In the beginning all this universe was nonexistent and unmanifest from which this manifest existence was born.” It adds, ‘Omithi Brahma prasaothi’ (With Om Brahma starts). Explaining, the Upanishad says, “Sokaamayata, bahusyaam, prajaayeya, spandena” (He / It thought: Proliferate, for creation, by vibration).

The current scientific thinking, no doubt, resonates some of these Upanishadic concepts. But scientific approach is basically different. Nothing is handed down in science as a final conclusion. Several observations are made, theories are developed, consequences are predicted, outcomes are verified, concepts killed and or remade. There could be disappointments, frustratingly long waits in crosschecking, or exhilarating excitement of a proven idea. Careers could be made or ruined. But there are all-round benefits. In the process of developing the scientific theories, unlike in religion, several technological fallouts accrue with useful gadgets and products that generally help the common man. After a gigantic effort of lakhs of scientists, millions of published research papers, thousands of PhDs awarded, and several Nobel prizes won, we now have some understanding on how the universe originated.

The distant stars and galaxies are receding from us at a fast pace. Indeed space itself is growing like an inflated balloon. We are in an expanding universe. In retrospect, going back in time, the universe must have been hotter, smaller and denser. An explosion took place about 13.7 billion years ago setting forth the universe on a path of expansion. Prof. Fred Hoyle derisively called this explosion “Big Bang”, since this idea contradicted his views. The name stuck. The “Big Bang” theory stayed. Hoyle’s ideas were dethroned. To date, it is the best bet that fits the observed data, offers a blow-by-blow account of the evolution of the universe (see the Box below) and makes reasonably verifiable predictions.

The Big Bang was not like a Diwali cracker exploding into empty space from a single spot. Each point everywhere in the whole universe was exploding creating space and time with it. It is incorrect to say that the universe in the beginning was tiny. The infinite universe, when compacted, still remains infinite. Expanding universe does not also mean that your house or city is expanding. One may visualize the galaxies (including our world) in expanding space as raisins on rising dough – the raisins stay the same; but the dough between any two raisins increase. (Some of these concepts are hard even for physicists to visualize. So do not despair if it is not clear at the first stroke). A point of interest to note here: Brahma is derived from Sanskrit root ‘Brih’ to spread out, to expand. The Vedic concept “brahmamayam jagat” means universe is filled with expansion. Could the all round expansion have been defined as Brahma?

Dr. G. Musser of Scientific American, wrote a year ago, “The big bang is best thought of not as a singular event but as an ongoing process, a gradual molding of order out of chaos. “ Initially the universe was a hot, dense ball of radiation. As the universe had expanded and cooled, quarks and antiquarks (smaller than subatomic particles) condensed. The familiar particles of matter, such as electrons and protons formed after a series of interactions between matter and radiation. “Over the ensuing eons, matter organized itself into bodies of increasingly large size: Stars, Subgalactic Scraps to Great Walls of Galaxies by gravitational agglomeration. Our solar system formed 9.2 billion years after the Big Bang. The sun has another five billion years of life to go. New galaxies and solar systems are still forming. The rate at which new galaxies are forming looks, however, to have slowed down as per the latest evidence.

The most important evidence for the Big Bang explosion comes from “Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB)” radiation. About 380,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe was a thousandth of its present size and the temperature was 3000°K (=2727°C). That was the moment of “Let there be light”! Light (photons) could for the first time scatter freely in space unhindered by interactions with matter. We can today detect that ancient glow as CMB.

To understand what CMB is, let us imagine a piece of iron heated by an ironsmith in his oven. The iron becomes hot and looks white. As it cools, it turns red and on further cooling becomes its dark self. This does not mean it stopped emitting heat. It continues to emit heat called infrared radiation. You can feel the warmth, but cannot see the heat. On further cooling, an afterglow continues to be emitted like CMB but can be measured only by special instruments. To give perspective in human terms we may say that if the Universe were a middle-aged person today, CMB corresponds to a snapshot of an embryo at 10 hours age.

Based on the Big Bang theory, the temperature of CMB at the present time can be calculated to be in the microwave range of 2.73°K. Latest satellite measurements in all directions of the universe precisely match the calculated temperature, conclusively proving the Big Bang Theory. Some popular science writers exalt CMB as “OM” (naada = sound) permeating the entire universe. You may be surprised that you are yourself watching this heavenly relic, CMB, all the time – in that annoying ‘snow’ on your TV channel!

The Big Bang theory, however, cannot explain the clumpy structure of the universe (large galactic masses separated by huge void spaces) or its shape (flat like a dosa (pancake) and not spherical like laddu (ball)). Cosmologists proposed a sudden inflationary burst preceding the Big Bang to explain these features. Recent astrophysical evidence is mounting in support of this concept.

But what was it that exploded in a bang? We don’t have a physics that can provide an answer. Einstein’s theory breaks down because it cannot look past the Big Bang. Quantum theory fails because what was there was too massive. We need New physics. It is a common experience of all of us that we scramble to an elevated ground in order to get a better look at something that we cannot see from where we stand. That is we move to a higher dimension for a better view. In physics too this strategy works. The laws of nature simplify when self-consistently expressed in higher dimensions. The disparate elements suddenly fall into cohesive oneness. For example, the magnetic and electric forces look different and act linearly (in one dimension). Their unity is apparent when an electromagnetic field in two dimensions is considered as was done by Faraday and Maxwell. Matter and energy stand apart in three dimensions. Einstein established their interchangeability in four dimensions. Kaluza unified Maxwell’s and Einstein’s equations considering five dimensions.

We need to likewise go for more dimensions in order to answer what was there before the Big Bang. The mathematics invented by Srinivasa Ramanujan help fix the required number of dimensions at 11 – ten of space and one of time! The highly mathematical M – theory provides a handle to deal with the physics of 11- dimensional space-time where the basic building block is a string. All fundamental particles that our matter is made up of (and hence all matter) are mere vibrations of these strings. (Recall Taittiriyopanishad’s cryptic statement, ‘spandena’!). The strings are a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter long. That is their minimum size. They cannot be reduced any further. If you apply any force to reduce them further, they rebound and become heavy. On the scale of strings, space-time suffers violent and rapid changes: as if forever being chopped up and reconnected. Thus the M-theory considers the Big Bang as not the ‘origin of the universe but simply as an outcome of a pre-existing state’. In other words, matter goes through cycles of compression and expansion, i.e. assimilation and creation.

We don’t know whether the strings really exist. The smallest particles so far produced in the laboratory are quarks and electrons, which though considered dimensionless, are billion billion times bigger than a string. Huge experimental setups are designed to verify string theory. Satellite borne astronomical observations are also planned. It will be quite some years to get the results.

The origin of the universe has been a fundamental question in philosophy, religion and science. The ancients contemplated over it. Modern science teases out the processes.

There is no final answer yet. New theories at the cutting edge level are emerging to tackle the question. With all this, we are talking only about 4 percent of the Universe! We do not have a means to know about the rest 96 percent. Prof. Haldane once remarked, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose”. But “the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is”, as Einstein said, “it is comprehensible.” So our probe continues on.

(From Various Sources)

[In the Table below Temperature is given in degrees Kelvin (273 deg K = Zero deg Centigrade).
The number 10 -43 means a very small fraction of a second. It is equal to one divided by ten 43 times.
In decimal notation it will be equal to 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 second.
1032 means a very large number equal to one multiplied by ten 32 times.
Other superscripts have a similar meaning.
Sec is seconds, Min is minutes, Yrs is years since the beginning.]


Earlier than
13.7 billion


Nothing is known about what was there or what it was like
whatever that was there.
We shall start here counting Time here as Zero (Tzero)

Tzero to 10 -43 Sec

Infinity to
1032 OK

The present day physics is inadequate to tell us about the
Properties of the universe. New theories are needed.
Matter and Energy were indistinguishable; the four forces
In Nature were unified into one. Possibly an 11-D
Universe breaks down and a 4-D universe is generated.
According to some scientists, there were branes
(membranes) whose collision gave raise to our universe
On one of the branes. Possibly tiny strings existed.

10-35 Sec

1028 OK

Some theories propose a sudden expansion (inflationary
Burst) to explain the clumpy nature of the universe (i.e.
vast empty spaces and clusters of galaxies). This
burst explains why our universe is more like a dosa
(pan cake) and not a Laddu (ball) in shape. Recent
Satellite data is supporting this theory.

10-11 Sec

1018 OK

The explosion described by the Big Bang Theory takes
Place at about this time. Radiation dominates.
Quarks – antiquarks form.

10-3 Sec

1014 OK

Protons and Neutrons (subatomic particles) form
from quarks.

1 Sec

1010 OK

Stable Nuclei of protons and neutrons form.

100 Sec to
3 Min

109 OK

Hydrogen, Helium and Lithium form.

1 Month

107 OK

Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) spectrum

10,000 Yrs

20,000 OK

More and more Matter is being created. Energies of
Radiation and Matter tend to be about the same.

380,000 Yrs

3,000 OK

Cosmic Microwave Radiation last scattering occurs.

1 Billion Yrs

Hydrogen gas is pulled together by gravity until the
force causes the gas to collapse and ignite through
hydrogen fusion to form the first stars. The stars
explode as Supernovae when there is an imbalance in
their gravitational and nuclear forces, spewing out heavier
elements into space.
Blackholes, various remnant stars form.

2 Billion Yrs

Galaxies begin to form.

9.2 Billion Yrs

Solar System forms. The Sun is 4.5 billion years old and
has approximately another five billion years of life.

13.7 Billion Yrs

This is our present. The age of the universe as given
here is the best estimate based on different methods.
It may be wrong by several hundred million years this way
or that. Galaxies and stars continue to form, collide,
explode or merge.

Over 150 systems like our Sun and
around 236 extra-solar planets are noticed till May 2007. One
planet (about one and half times bigger than earth)
around a red star in the Libra Constellation is
particularly expected to have liquid water and hence
possibly life.


Various living and nonliving objects surround us. Invisible to the eye is air. Up in the sky are stars and planets. All of this is matter. The matter that we can see, touch, smell and taste is composed of chemical elements. To date, 118 elements have been discovered. Hydrogen is the simplest element with one proton (positive charge) encircled by one electron (negative charge). Other elements have more protons and electrons.

The animate world is made up of mainly the elements oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. The rocks on the earth have oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc. Earth has a core of iron and nickel. The nearest heavenly body to us, the moon, has rocks that resemble the Deccan traps in India. The Mars has oxygen and iron bearing rocks similar to those in Orissa and Bihar. The Cassini probe showed in April 2005 that Titan, one of Saturn's moons has carbon and hydrogen. The eight planets in the Solar system (Pluto is not any more classified as a Planet as per the recent definition of Astronomers) have the same type of elements that occur on the earth, though the elements may be in different proportions on those planets. Dr. G. Tinetti and coworkers identified in July 2007 clear signs of water on planet HD 189733b located 63 light years away in the constellation Vulpecula. A rocky planet nearly four times the size of Earth was found orbiting the Red Dwarf Star Gliese 436 (about 30 light years away) with an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium. Astronomers from the University of California reported in 2007 that “the relative abundance of elements in the atmosphere of a white dwarf star known as GD 362 in Hercules Constellation (150 light years away from Earth) to be similar to those in our Earth-Moon system." A star (41 light years away from us) was found to have five planets and one of them is suspected to have liquid water like the earth as reported by Prof. G. Marcy in late 2007.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe. Next is helium. Oxygen occupies a distant third place. Hydrogen was formed when our universe came into existence about 13.7 billion years ago, ­an event called "The Big Bang". Helium and a little amount of lithium also formed at that time. The rest of the elements are built in stars by fusion. According to Dr. Robert Janssens of Argonne's Physics Division, “Every element in the universe has its origins in the stars and explosions that started billions of years ago and are still going on in stars today.” He further adds that "We've only seen half of the isotopes that we believe actually exist," and investigations are on to look for new ones because about 50 percent of the elements in the universe heavier than iron are created in this area of unstable isotopes.

The Solar System came into existence about 4.5 billion years ago from the remnants of previously existing stars that exploded spewing out the elements within them as dust into space.

Thus, you and I are made up of stardust of atoms, which originally formed millions of years ago somewhere in the galaxy. They were used and reused many times in various rocks, minerals, animals and plants before entering our bodies! It is quite possible that a carbon atom now sitting in your body could have once been in the gut of Yudhistir or even Rama!

Sun is one of the hundred billion stars within the Milky Way Galaxy. Milky Way Galaxy stretches 100,000 light years across. It, along with Andromeda Galaxy, the Magellanic Clouds, Triangulum and 20 other galaxies forms the Local Cluster. Several such Local Clusters form a Super Cluster. Ursa Major (Sapta Rishis), Coma Berenices, Leo and Virgo clusters are members of our Super Cluster. There are billions of Super Clusters in the visible Universe. The most distant object we could see would now be about 13.7 billion light-years away from us, the distance light could have traveled in the 13.7 billion years since the Big Bang. But because the universe is expanding, the current distance to the most distant object we can see is about three times farther, or 46 billion light-years.

Further, one has to remember that, as Professors C. H. Lineweaver and T. M. Davis say, "Observers living in the Andromeda Galaxy and beyond have their own observable universes that are different from but overlap with ours. Andromedans can see galaxies we cannot, simply by virtue of being slightly closer to them.” Thus the universe is too vast to conceive. But surprisingly, matter is still rare - there is about only one atom per 10 cubic meters of space!

Just as the earth is revolving around the Sun, the Solar System is revolving around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The Sun moves at 250 km per sec and takes 200 million years (a Galactic Year) to complete one orbit around the galaxy.

The Andromeda Galaxy is two million light years away and is moving towards the Milky Way at a speed of 100 km per sec. Such speeds and the gravitational pulls of the Galaxies within their local Clusters show that the mass of the visible stars in them is too inadequate to balance the dynamics. There has to be heavier matter but invisible to us at the outer fringes of the galaxies. The missing matter, named "Dark Matter", is calculated to be at least 22 per cent of the universe. Research on "Dark Matter” ranks among the hottest topics in modem physics. Dr H. Araujo writes, "Recent astrophysical data support the idea that Dark Matter may be made of as yet undetected weakly (W) interacting (I) massive (M) particles (P) or WIMPs. The WIMPs may be heavier than the largest stable atoms, and we think that they might float about in halos around galaxies, including our own."

The Universe has been expanding like an inflated balloon. In less than a minute, the universe increases its volume by a trillion cubic light-years. This expansion is going on defying gravity. The negative gravitational force seems to increase with distance. Present day laws of physics are inadequate to explain the nature of such a force. It is aptly named as "Dark Energy". This "Dark Energy" forms the bulk of the Universe, as much as 74 per cent. Some scientists postulated the existence of an all-pervading "Quintessence" (the fifth element, following the Greek philosophers) that exerts a negative pressure on galaxies.

Thus, we do not have much information about 96 per cent (22 % Dark Matter plus 74% Dark Energy) of what constitutes the Universe. Out of the balance of four per cent, more than three per cent is nonluminous matter like hydrogen and interstellar gas. So what we know and see around us as visible (luminous) matter is less than one per cent.

Still the story does not end here. The simplest of the atoms is hydrogen with a positive charge surrounded by a negative charge. There is no reason why a negative charge cannot be surrounded by a positive charge. Indeed a form of hydrogen does occur this way. The particle physicists have produced it in the lab. They call it ‘antihydrogen’. As a matter of fact, all matter can occur in its corresponding antimatter form. (May be there is one anti-Ramesam writing an anti-article and an anti-You reading it somewhere in the Universe!).

After the universe originated in the Bing Bang, matter and antimatter were created equally in the first few minutes when the universe was still hotter than a billion degrees centigrade. But matter and not antimatter predominates in the universe. Some of the recent theoretical and experimental work shows that antimatter could have disintegrated faster leaving slightly excess of matter. It is also possible that there are other universes existing with antimatter and a different physics. As photons and antiphotons are indistinguishable, we have no way to know if some of the light (photons) we notice is emitted by antimatter.

Physicists have described at subatomic particle level fermions, which occupy space and bosons, which give rise to force. Some physicists dealing with consciousness believe that consciousness is also a fundamental property of all matter. The ancient Greek philosophers considered the world to be made up of four elements – earth, water, fire and air. The Hindu sages thought of the world as an admixture of Pancha Bhutas (five elements) – earth, water, fire, air and space. Dr. P. Gradinarov described the sequence for the evolution of matter as per the methodological principles (tattvas) of Sankya Philosophy. The generation of matter as per the Sankhya Model is: Satva - Rajas - Tamas (trigunas) give rise to Tanmatras, which in turn produce Paramanu (atoms) which combine to form Sukshma and Sthula Bhutani (matter).

It is not clear what our ancient sages understood (if they did) about all the 118 elements, antimatter, Dark Matter and Dark Energy or fermions and bosons. However, Gita exhorts us to go beyond the three gunas ( Chapter II, Sloka 45) and the ritualistic life in order to understand the supreme Truth.


The ballet of twinkling stars on the humongous stage of clear night skies is a breathtaking sight that enchants and enthralls at the same time. You lose your ‘self’ watching that infinite symphony as if you found your long-lost cousins.

Man has tamed the earth. Carved comfortable niche for himself/herself. Brought heavenly designs down to earth. Still he looks up. Looks up with a sense of ‘unfulfilment’. A gnawing feeling of a “void” haunts as if something is being missed here. Do I really belong here on earth? Where have I come from?

I could go back to seven generations to Shri Vemuri Nagann (c.1750) who was my great, great… …..grandfather. May be in your case you may go back to the Mahabharata times. But that ancient person too was a child of his parents. Who was our ultimate ancestor?

We may start with the building blocks of our life -- genes, the long chains of a few compounds present in every cell of our body. Information about us (the number and type of proteins that make us what we are) is stored in genes and copied to the offspring. We can reach our ancestor tracing back genes. But the genes in you, I, the lowly worm in your garden, and the dog on your leash or the flower you adore your god with are all same! Occasional accidents in copying produce a variation or some times a new animal. Prof. De Duve, Nobel Laureate says, “There is now overwhelming evidence that all known living beings are descendants through evolution from a single ancestral form of life.”

Archea is the most ancestral form of life known. Some scientists say that Archea along with a few other microbes came out of another single ancestor. They call it the “Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA).” So LUCA, the creature with the simplest of gene expression, must have been OUR great grand ancestor. The question still raises – where did LUCA come from? Vyasa expressed in 16 words the origin of living beings (Bhagavad Gita – Chapter III, Slokas: 14-15). It’s too cryptic. Let us see what science says beginning at the very beginning.

The earth coalesced into shape along with other planets from hot, fast moving chunks of flotsam and jetsam while the sun gathered his mass from a huge cosmic cloud of gas and dust. That was about 4.5 billion year ago. Comets brought water to the earth. Life on earth could have begun and got obliterated more than once as the earth went through episodes of crustal melting and intense bombardment from space debris. The oldest rocks on earth are 4 billion years old. We have indicative evidence of life in rocks that are 3.85 billion years old. Fossil bacterial colonies are present in rocks that are 3.5 billion years old. But atmospheric oxygen appeared only from about 2.3 billion years ago, produced by the photosynthetic activity of Cyanobacteria. The initial oxygen burnt iron into its oxide resulting in the vast banded ironstone formations.

So the first life on earth was not breathing oxygen! Nor did it depend on Sun’s light. We have such queer creatures existing even today – near geothermal vents several miles below the ocean surface, in the Pacific, Atlantic. Green sulfur bacteria breathe hydrogen sulphide, live on chemical energy. They have for company at that depth eyeless shrimps, ghostly crabs, football-size clams, human-size tubeworms thriving at 370 OC! Archea too was such an organism loving extreme conditions. We, therefore, call them “Extremophiles”. Only difference is they call us Extremophiles!

Ingredients to form the basic constituents (amino acids) for life are available in interstellar space, deep-sea vents or pools on primitive earth’s surface. The Cassini Probe orbiting Saturn detected hydrocarbons on Hyperion (Satellite of Saturn). Hydrocarbons i.e. combinations of carbon and hydrogen atoms are found in comets, meteorites, and the dust in our galaxy," said Dale Cruikshank, a planetary scientist in July 2007. "These molecules, when embedded in ice and exposed to ultraviolet light, form new molecules of biological significance. This doesn't mean that we have found life, but it is a further indication that the basic chemistry needed for life is widespread in the universe." Scientists could synthesize organic compounds used by living things in laboratory simulating all the three environments. Where life did actually arise – your guess is as good as anybody’s, for arguments can be bolstered up equally on all sides. I present below my glib version.

If you traveled around the country (before globalization and TV homogenized everything), you would see that the houses were typically made up of locally available material – whether tree leaves, sandstone, slates or granites. If life originated on earth, one would expect it to be made up of predominantly the chemical elements generally available on earth. Earth’s crust is mainly oxygen, iron, silicon, aluminum, and magnesium. Seawater contains chlorine, sodium, sulfur, calcium and potassium. In contrast, all living beings on earth or oceans mainly consist of four chemical elements: hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen. (The other elements – phosphorus, sodium, potassium, calcium, iron, etc. contribute less than one percent of mass). “The distribution of the elements in life on earth resembles the composition of the stars far more than that of the Earth itself.”

The main food synthesized and used by all living creatures on earth (whether the extremophiles or plants or us) is carbohydrates – combination of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Not silica, iron and other elements available in plenty on earth. In fact, you cannot digest by yourself the food you eat, had our non-oxygen-breathing ancestors been not lovingly helping you! Sitting in the dark, caustic/acidic oxygenless recesses of our stomach or intestines, they (acidophilus, lactobacillus, bifidus) help convert all that poison you eat to a usable form. Did Vyasa not say:

“Aham Vaiswanarobutwa,
Pachamyannam chaturvidha”

-- (Bhagawad-Gita, Chapter 15, Sloka 14)

Oxygen, as a matter of fact, was your and at any rate your ancestor’s enemy! Take your body, Deha. In Sanskrit, Dahyati iti Dehah – that which gets burnt away (oxidized). The body is not you. It’s only a protective shield that you have been using against oxygen. Actually you take antioxidants for your health. Stars burn Lithium and shine. Depressed people consume Lithium and shine.

“Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (Gen 3:19).” We come from cosmic dust. The house dust is mostly dead skin.

Prof. Lucy Ziurys of Arizona University reported in 2007 molecules of compounds that are needed for life fromVY Canis Majoris, an old star about 5,000 light years away. “The star already has blown away a large part of its atmosphere, creating its surrounding envelope that contains about twice as much oxygen as carbon.” She adds, "The origin of organic material on Earth -- the chemical compounds that make up you and me -- probably came from interstellar space. So one can say that life's origins really begin in chemistry around objects like VY Canis Majoris."

No wonder you feel déjà vu looking up. You don’t belong here on earth!


A.D 1898, 1899, 1900…… The years were rolling on to the next country. Newton’s Laws had stood good for nearly three centuries. They could accurately predict where a body would be found after a time if its current position and speed and directions of movement were given. Magnetism and electricity, heat and sound were reduced to equations that could be calculated for practical application. The equations were valid not only for any object on the earth but also applicable to the heavenly bodies – the nearby moon or the distant stars. Space with its three dimensions of length, width and breadth as well as time with its arrow were regarded as absolute since everyone experienced them the same way. The existence of atoms was still doubted; but everyone was certain that ether was all-pervading carrying light waves across space. Physicists were so smug with a feeling that everything to be known in Physics was already found out, but for, may be, a few loose ends. Physics was soon going to be a dead science, some even ventured to declare.

AD 1905. Month June. A young clerk in Patents office in Switzerland communicated a paper to the Journal Annalen der Physik. Max Planck who was himself a well-known physicist and the editor of the Journal realized that the accepted scientific order had been challenged by this unassuming paper. The author of that article was Albert Einstein. He demolished the absoluteness of space and time overthrowing Newton’s theories. He spelt the end of ether too. The theory of Special Relativity was born. The world of Physics was shaken. In the same year Dr. Einstein proved the existence of atoms, laid the foundation for Quantum Physics, and established the particle nature of light.

In any of these, he did not go by the traditional wisdom. He broke new vistas of thought. He did not accept the ‘smriti’ (knowledge banded down by communication). He listened to ‘sruti’ (his inner voice). As the Sanskrit adage in the title of this article says, those who are not Rishis can hardly break new thought. In this sense and also from the nature of his commitment to pacifism, freedom of thought and simplicity. Einstein can be described as a true Rishi unsurpassed to date in the world of Physics.

Einstein was born in 1879 in a small Jewish family in Germany. He passed away in 1955. Thus the year 2005 marks his 50th death anniversary and a century of Special Theory of Relativity. Even as a boy he was against falling in line with tradition and often liked to fly off freely in his thinking rather than conform to rigid controls. This attitude did not give him success in his school days, one of his professors calling him “lazy dog”. But the same professor later gave a mathematical interpretation of Einstein’s theory.

Einstein was not such an esoteric theoretician to be lost in the elegance of mathematical fantasy nor was he a laboratory man to be lost in the nuts and bolts of practical experiments missing the big picture. He was a thinking Physicist. He evolved his concepts through ‘thought experiments’. Sometimes he had difficulty in communicating the result of his vision and had to take the help of his friends for suitable mathematical expression. Einstein was unique in his prescience. "Seeing things no one else saw at the time.” As Prof Parker puts it, "It was almost as if he had a direct pipeline to what some call the mind of God". Even to date several of the predictions based on his theories are being tested and proved in laboratories across the world!

Einstein showed that Time was just another dimension like length, height and breadth within the overall four dimensional space-time. Right 'now' you may be reading this article, there is the sun outside your window, your spouse humming a tune from across your room. You may feel all these are happening ‘now’. But, in fact, the sun appearing in your window is as it was eight minutes ago (the time taken by light to travel from the sun to the earth), you saw your spouse across the room as he/she was a fraction of a fraction of a second ago (time taken by light to travel from your spouse to your eye) and so on. None of these incidents have really taken place at the same time, though you say all of them are happening “now”. It is also true that a list of events happening “now” in your perspective may not be the set of events taking place in the “now” of another observer, their nows slice through space-time at different angles.

Depending on the observer’s position, different sets of events may form the time lines within the four dimensional space-time. Einstein once said, “For we, convinced physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is an illusion, however persistent”. One may recall here the stories within stories within stories making a total mish-mash of the time sequence of events in the third chapter of Yogavaasishta. Perhaps Valmiki was hinting at the fallibility of the concepts of absolute time and space!

For an object moving at the speed of light, neither space nor time remains absolute. If people were to move at about 99.5 percent of light speed, their life expectancy would go up to 700 years. If an object is moving at about 98 percent the speed of light, then it would appear to a stationary observer as being 80 percent shorter than if it were at rest – that means that a 20 feet long car on ground will appear to be only four feet long when moving at the speed! The Special Theory of Relativity also says that “the combined speed of any object’s motion through space and its motion through time is always precisely equal to the speed of light.”

For a body (like photons), traveling at the speed of light through space will have no speed left for motion through time. Therefore, photons do not get old. They are always as fresh and young as they formed at the time of big bang (when the universe originated) because time stops at that speed. Photons are ever young and shiny, energetic and always on the move like Devas!

Einstein extended his Theory of Special Relativity to accelerated motion almost a decade later with further astounding consequences. The Theory of General Relativity was able to predict expanding universe, black holes, gravity waves, and helped define gravity which Newton could not do. As Prof Greene says, “Einstein’s work showed that concepts, such as space and time, which had previously seemed to be separate and absolute, are actually interwoven and relative. Einstein went on to show that other physical properties of the world are unexpectedly interwoven as well. His most famous equation E = mC2 provides one of the most important examples. In it, Einstein asserted that the energy (E) of an object and its mass (m) are not independent concepts”. Some of the scientists who were aware of the implication of this relation between mass and energy in the production of atomic weapons were concerned that Germany might develop the bomb and use it during the Second World War. In order to beat Germany in the game, they used the stature of Einstein to persuade President Roosevelt to launch the highly secretive research on atom bomb. But that step made Einstein later regret the research into atomic weapons. He believed in a world government as the way for lasting peace, echoing what our sages visualized as “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam”.

Einstein received the Nobel Prize in 1921 for his very first paper published in 1905 on his work on photoelectric effect establishing that light consisted of particles which itself was considered quite revolutionary. His other major contribution, namely, Quantum Theory was more of probabilistic nature than definitive like classical Physics. Yet, Quantum Theory proved to be highly accurate in describing the physics of small particles and a lot of younger Physicists like Heisenberg and Schrödinger were caught up with it and developed it further.

With constant questions and debates, he helped this branch of Physics to grow, though he himself remained uncomfortable and called it an incomplete theory. Still, he was the first to recommend Heisenberg and Schrödinger for the award of a Nobel. He received a paper from Satyendra Nath Bose of Calcutta in the early twenties. Though it had some mistakes, he corrected them, translated it into German and communicated it for publication. Later work based on these concepts helped Bose and Einstein to predict the occurrence of a new type of matter whose individual particles would lose all identity and the whole of it would behave as a single entity. It is known as Bose-Einstein condensate and its occurrence was proved only in the 1990s.

As Nazism was taking its root in Germany, he was amongst a handful of German scientists bold enough to sign a declaration for peace. When things became too uncomfortable for him, he moved to the United States in the early thirties. After the war, when he was requested to be the Head of State for the newly created Israel, he was magnanimous to decline and preferred to continue in physics. At that time his preoccupation was to bring in a unified theory of the four known forces in nature (gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear and weak nuclear forces). He also tried to reconcile the Quantum Theory (dealing with the very small) with Relativity (dealing with the very big), convinced that “God cannot play dice” referring to the statistical nature of the former. During his last years, he was left out by his scientific colleagues of the mainstream physics as they felt that it was a wasteful effort. He even lamented once that he had become too old like a museum piece good only for occasional exhibition. The prevailing knowledge of Physics was far inadequate for such unified theory at that time, though he was inwardly convinced that it had to happen.

Einstein was well known for his one-liners and wit and this made him quite savvy with the media. His disheveled hair, loose fitting attire and absent minded looks contributed no less to his image of an archetypical professor. After he moved to the United States, he was still viewed with some reserve by the government in involving him in the war effort, though many of his colleagues were active in defense science.

When finally a naval officer approached him for joining the war related Research, he used to joke that he was in the Navy without having to cut his hair! Einstein was a musician (violinist), lover of nature and a romantic. When he was a student, he loved and married, against his family’s wishes, a girl who was older than him, but separated later due to various reasons. After a few years, he married a widowed older cousin who took care of him when he was ill. She passed away shortly after they moved to the United States.

As Einstein said in 1932, “The real goal of my research has always been the simplification and unification of the system of theoretical physics.” Several decades after his death, his vision appears to be fructifying in terms of M-theory, dubbed the Magic Theory or Mother Theory or Mystery Theory, as a Theory of Everything (TOE), unifying the four forces in nature. A true unifier, a yogi in science!

(Written in 2005 - the Centenary Year of Special Theory of Relativity and the half-century since the passing away of Dr. A. Einstein)


Religious teachers exhort us to live pure, speak truth and be compassionate. But we often are bewildered at the ease with which people get away with lies, double talk, or feigned ignorance. Their pretentious demeanor, ostentatious deportment and hypocritical attitude leave us wondering if that's how life truly goes on. What really is the true nature of man?

Though human beings have learnt many survival techniques for self-preservation and self-perpetuation over the millennia of years, our life can exist only within a narrow range of internal and external parameters. For example, all the cells in our body require energy, which is supplied to them as glucose. "If too little glucose is present, the brain will be starved to death. A very high concentration of glucose in blood is also dangerous since it can cause thickening of capillaries and eventual death. So in healthy humans the level of blood sugar stays within quite narrow limits to 90 mg per 10 dl". Other variables we are sensitive to are body temperature, water and salt concentrations, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, pH levels etc. So left to itself, our body tends to maintain this natural state of equipoise so as not to upset this equilibrium. We make all efforts not to be thrown out of this balance.

Undoubtedly, telling lies is one of the defensive self-protecting mechanisms of an individual. However, society in its effort to codify the man-made concepts of truth/falsehood, legal/illegal, pure/impure and such dualities, artificially creates confusion and complicates the adjustment mechanisms.

The human goals and desires constantly interact with ambient local conditions. These interactions inevitably result in quite varied proximate behavioral patterns. The immediate behavior of a man is a consequence of the multiplicative effect of both the evolutionary and environmental aspects. For example: "A bride in a monogamous society usually provides a dowry to her husband's family, whereas in polygamous societies the man is expected to make a contribution to his future in-laws. These behaviors may seem quite distinct, but they are in fact two different solutions responding to the prevailing cultural variations but having a common genetic concern of obtaining a high-quality mate ensuring the survival and reproductive success of one's children."

One of the unique characteristics of human evolution is in the development of 'vision'. The eye has changed from being a mere gatherer of photo energy to a collector of information acquiring binocular and 3-D vision. As a result, human brain adopted techniques of information processing developing the techniques of planning and application of moral judgment. Our eye does not gather information continuously over a filed. It can obtain information as only broken snap-shots.

Fig. 1. Richard Gregory ~ puzzle picture

These saccades are quite rapid though. They last about 20 msec or so and that's why we are unaware of the breaks in-between. Our brain has, however, learnt the knack of filling in the gaps to give us a feel of continuous vision of a scene. For example, have a look at Fig.1. My 8-yr old grandson saw a cow drinking water. Many of us will see a Dalmatian dog. However, my 3-yr old grandson called it ‘just a blotch dirt'. Perhaps, he may be right! May be we are imagining things that were not actually there and giving a meaning to what we notice depending on our so called experience. Or read what is written in Fig.2. Have you read it correctly? Look again.

Fig.2. What we do not see!

So the brain has its own bag of tricks to maintain the body under all circumstance in a state of homeostasis – the scientific name for the method of maintaining the body within certain narrow range of physiological parameters. Irrespective of what we think we see or what meaning we attach to what is seen, the body acts upon WHATEVER THAT IS. Whatever that is, is actually there without having to need a name to it as "truth" or whatever. The body sees and perceives things as they are. To see things as they are IS OUR NATURAL DISPOSITION. Consequently, there are certain physiological responses that most of us undergo when we attempt to deceive another person by pretending to have seen differently from what the body has actually seen or perceived.

And that is the principle behind the Polygraph (Lie Detector) tests. These instruments do not detect lies. They can only detect whether a deceptive behavior is being displayed. When people lie, that is try to project differently from what is, the heart beat increases, blood pressure goes up, breathing rhythms change, and perspiration increases. Recent developments are going on to observe the changes in the brain itself through PET scans. This way even if the candidate tries to control some responses, the brain scan shows up if the person is lying.

In the matter of what is perceived, the right and left hemispheres of our brain behave differently. The right hemisphere glosses over minor detail to get the big picture whereas the left hemisphere goes into details and proceeds in logical steps. As a result, the facial expression too changes when a person is lying. The right hemisphere instructs the left side of the face one way while the left hemisphere tries to show fact on the right side of the face. One can see this difference famously in the twitch in the smile of Bill Clinton's photograph when he was deposing before the commission inquiring into his escapades with his secretary.

Many yoga practices have been developed to bring man back into "natural" state. But by nature, man speaks truth, the facts as they are. That is his true nature (dharma). In that position, there is nothing to fear. One does not have to imitate or copy somebody else to save oneself. He/she is stable at equilibrium and is in no danger; trying to change that poise of equilibrium is dangerous as it exposes him/her. No wonder, we have from Gita, "Swadharme nidhanam sreyah, paradharmo bhayavahah" (Chapter III, Sloka 35). It means, "better is death in one's own Dharma (nature); (imitating) the nature (Dharma) of another is fraught with danger".


All of us feel good or bad, experience likes or dislikes, get attracted or repelled, soak ourselves in enthusiasm or disgust. In other words, we all witness many such swings in emotions. Even when we know we should not exhibit these emotions, we seem unable to. What are these emotions and what controls them and why are they there if they are not wanted?
We do not know what life is or where from it came. But life-forms, the carriers of "life", evolved over millennia of years from a primitive organism to man as we know. At every stage of it, the creature has to ensure its own safety, security and comfort in order to perpetuate itself and carry forward "life". Emotions are one of the many tools that help the individual in his/her survival. They facilitate fast response of the body by arriving at a quick decision either to a hostile or to a favorable situation. Emotions also serve as a way of quick communication amongst the members of a species for collective effort in facing a perceived threat. New born babies too communicate using emotions (crying or smiling). In this sense emotions can be considered as precursors to language. No wonder, even today our communication is over 90 per cent non-verbal and linked to expressions connected with emotions.
There is a clear relationship between the type of hormone (a protein) that is produced in our body and the type of emotion felt by us. The hormones are secreted by the endocrine glands directly into the body organs. The endocrine system comprises gonads, adrenal gland, pancreas, thymus, parathyroid, thyroid, pineal and pituitary glands. The pituitary is the master controller. The instructions from it are carried by neurotransmitters across nerve connections called synapses. Some of the chemicals, which act as neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine. Testosterone, estrogen, androgen, insulin, oxytocin, thyroxin, somatotropin, glucocorticoids, etc are examples of hormones. In general, the level of the hormone reached in the blood provides a feedback to the pituitary for giving further instructions to the glands either to continue production of a hormone or to stop. The locations of the seven endocrine glands in the body correspond to the locations of the seven chakras identified in the Kundalini.
The hormones suited the primitive man, as the instinctual behavior pattern triggered by the emotions has evolved to enable him or her to suitably face a hazardous or favorable situation in the caveman age. The route followed by emotions provides a faster inferential short-circuit in responding to a situation than that of using our analytical ability. The most basic emotions are two, namely (a) fear and its derivatives and (b) love and its manifestations. Fear and its forms like anger, competitiveness, etc are produced by mainly adrenaline. Love is a lumped up term used by us to describe the feelings of lust, affection, attachment, sharing etc. Love as lust (with sexual urge) is generated by testosterone, love as affection by dopamine and love as attachment (friendship) by oxytocin produced by the pituitary. Studies at the University of Pisa, Italy showed that romance is akin to obsessive compulsive behavioral disorder with high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine and low levels of serotonin. The thymus near the heart functions during the growth phase of a child and later it becomes inactive.

High serotonin and norepinephrine levels were necessary for courageously facing an adverse situation in a focused way by a primitive man in living forests. But a behavior triggered by these is often dubbed in the present day society as aggressive. When a person is in euphoria, he has high levels of testosterone and the behavior becomes infectious too. The fire cracker euphoria after an Indo-Pak cricket match is an example. The testosterone levels go up not only in the players but in the viewers too!

The primitive man and woman used to attain puberty much later in age and they faced mortality too soon. Therefore, they had a narrow range of reproductive life period. In the modem age, puberty is coming much earlier. Even before the child is ready for reproduction, there is a sexual urge. Old age is too delayed because of improving medical and health care. These have contributed to increasing the effective span of reproductive age. Therefore, new problems are cropping up with respect to geriatric management and stabilization of population in relation to the bearing capacity of the resources.

As the body needs rest, melatonin is secreted. As we wake up, cortisones are secreted. The flight duty personnel or shift workers, for example, are required to perform at the same level of efficiency irrespective of their body chemistry. As per the natural body requirements when it needs rest, the body automatically produces melatonin. But because the person is on some critical professional duty, he/she has to keep awake and force the body to produce cortisone. This produces a conflict in their bodies. Disgust too has its origin as a survival tool to ensure an amicable environment for the growth and development of the individual so that he/she can avoid unwanted environments.

The hormones are not under our conscious control and are not really suitable to the present day living. The expected (required) behavioral norms of group living developed by the human beings are at variance with the hormone-induced emotions that were acquired for a life in the jungle. Our old (evolutionarily) brain keeps on producing them and keeps sending instructions to different organs. Therefore, the individual is in constant conflict with what the brain tells the organs to do and what our educated reasoning requires us to do.

A conflict of purpose induces unhappiness, sorrow and depression because of an imbalance in dopamine, serotonin, etc. Arjuna (as portrayed by Vyasa in the first chapter of Bhagvad Gita) faced a state of depression when there was a conflict in his mind. In order not only to attain a balanced state of mind free from conflict, but also to succeed as a group, there is a need to negate the effects of these hormones. Bhagvad Gita is a lesson in obtaining such an emotional maturity and balanced mind.


We take for granted many statements handed over to us by tradition. But should we? Here let us look at three such statements and find out.


We have evidence of microbial life of the simplest type from rocks as old as 3,500 million years. From then on, the organisms evolved into complex forms adopting a variety of survival mechanisms so that they can pass on their genes to their offspring before they are dead. There was an explosion of life forms around 550 million years ago. But at no time a particular species was important or a necessary condition for “Life."

Graptolites in the Silurian, a variety of fish in the Devonian and several reptiles towards the end of the Paleozoic Era (350 million years ago) reigned supreme in their respective periods but became extinct later. The dinosaurs ruled the earth as the unquestioned highest forms of life for about 160 million years. But at the end of Cretaceous (about 70 million years ago), all the dinosaurs disappeared, though life itself did not get extinguished. Life continued into other forms. The huge mammoths were everywhere on the earth till geologically Recent times (about a million years ago). But they exist no more.

In the long history of earth, there have been many examples of mass extinction of several animals and plants and evolution of new creatures. Today a human being appears to be the unquestioned ruler of the world blessed with a big cranial capacity and rich consciousness unsurpassed in the past. Whatever steps we may take, there is no sure way to say that the human being is going to be there on the earth for ever and ever. Nor can one say with any reason that the ultimate form into which life has evolved is Man. Nor does the earth look to be the only planet to support life. In early 2004, a planet in the Pegasus cluster was identified with carbon and oxygen escaping from it. Very recently a planet about one and half times the size of earth is supposed to be orbiting a red dwarf star in the Libra constellation sufficiently away from the star to be able to contain liquid water. There is a good possibility to expect life on this planet. The star is about 20 light years away from the earth.

Thus earth cannot claim carbon (and hence carbon based life) as unique. The movement of “Life” continues from one species to another. There does not appear to be an end to this movement and one cannot predict what form and shape the future creatures take. Therefore, Man is just one form of the species for "Life" to continue. The Homo sapiens may some day become expendable just as the dinosaurs were.


Nonviolence is an asset for the smooth living of a group of people. Otherwise, the group can destroy itself totally by inter and intra- group violence. But non-violence does not exist in nature. In fact, it's violence that is prevalent.

Every creature needs to eat to live. How does it secure its nutrition? Is it by love and nonviolence? No. It is by naked and even fierce exploitation of the weak. Watch how each of the prey tries to run away from its predator - whether it is a cruel chase of a bison by a pack of leopards in the wild or the silent chase of a roach by a lizard in a house. The run for its life by the prey is most pitiable. But there is no possibility of life to continue without this predator-prey "life and death" fight, which can hardly be described as nonviolent. Though vegetarianism apparently does not look so violent, it too causes its worries to the plants. Of course, we have bees living on the nectar from flowers and other forms of symbiotic life. But in the overall progressive tree of evolution, predator pyramid is the rule. The bees do consume bacteria as food and also they reached a "dead end" branch, millions of years ago. They are 'living fossils' in the evolutionary sense. Further, the very act of devouring something is destruction of whatever is.

Note also how our body manages to stay alive. We are bombarded by a variety of micro-organisms and viruses all the time when we are alive or dead. The body is not suddenly exposed to a new set of germs after our death. They have been there all the time. But a dead body rots so soon because of these microbes and germs. When we are alive, there is an incessant 'fight to kill' with them by our immunological mechanisms. It can hardly be described as nonviolence unless we give a limited definition to the word "nonviolence" keeping our well being only at the center of such a definition. When we die, our body loses this capacity to fight and soon the microbes and germs take over.


Love is preached to be cultivated and fear to be abhorred. (As used here, love includes all its other manifestations like mercy, kindness, forgiveness, affection, sharing, cooperation, etc. So also fear includes all its variations like anger, hatred, envy and revenge). But these two feelings have the same single and identical purpose of facilitating self-preservation and self-perpetuation. Fear helps in the self-­perpetuation and survival of the individual whereas love helps in the self-perpetuation of a group - family at one level or the whole species in a larger sense.
In the non-zero sum game of Prisoner's Dilemma, the economists demonstrate how cooperation (i.e. love or care for other's needs) rather than competition leads to the highest common good. Thus love in all its manifestations assures the highest common good and helps in the survival of a group as a whole. If love for one another amongst the members of a group, society, or clan is absent, that group would have annihilated itself by internal quarrels and fights. So-called altruism thus helps towards the propagation and perpetuation of the species at the cost of an individual who is motivated to sacrifice himself/herself invoking some ideals.


Our great ancient sages maintained that the whole universe is nothing but thought. It is truly an intriguing statement about the world around us. Until recently science had no way of understanding these words. But thanks to the accumulating research on brain and consciousness, we have some insight.

Brain is the seat for all thoughts. Our brain weighs about 1400 gm (less than 2 per cent of the body weight); but consumes 20 to 25 per cent of our daily intake of energy. There are 100 billion neurons and several billion glial cells in the brain. Each neuron has up to 10,000 connections giving rise to an enormous capacity to process information. Latest studies suggest that glial cells may be nearly as critical to thinking and learning as neurons are. There is a fallacy that we use only 10 per cent of our brain. It is not true. There is no fallow brain capacity lying waste.

The connections of the neurons are constantly modified throughout life. Some of the wrong connections or extra connections may result either in debility or uncommon skills for the individual. By mere pre-suggestion evoking a positive thought (placebo) or with diversion of attention, pain is not felt by an individual, though the signals of pain are still received in the brain.

The neuronal activity in the brain associated with thinking, learning, relaxing et cetera, produces electrical fields. An example of waves recorded by Electroencephalograph (EEG) is shown in Figure I. Scientists are now able to harness the energy of these waves to propel a wheelchair by a handicapped person by mere thought like “go straight”, “turn left”, “turn right”, Experiments at Armstrong Laboratory’s alternative control technology lab have unleashed the energy of brain waves, to command a flight simulator to roll left or right. Robotic arms were manipulated by macaque monkeys by mere thoughts to feed themselves without moving their own arms. Says Dr. A. Schwartz of Pittsburgh University, “Just by thinking about picking up and bringing the fruit to its mouth, the animal fed itself.”
Recently Prof. C. M. Higgins of Arizona University and his coworker exploited the electrical signals from a single neuron in the rice grain size brain of a moth to move a robot.

Figure 1. : Brain Waves

A group thinking together has more strength to influence an outcome. By their concentration, the group could achieve a specific picture to be produced by a computer out of many that could be randomly generated. Sports managers exploit this aspect of ‘group thinking’ to motivate their teams to win a game.

Prof. Gardenfors (a Swedish linguist) says in his book How Homo Became Sapiens (2003), "First came sensations, then attention, followed by emotions, memory, then thoughts, then planning, and later the self." Thoughts are the internal representations in our brain of the external world. Though organisms acquire new adaptation skills over millennia of years, they have to constantly face "here and now" dangers in their life. If they fail to meet the challenges posed by changing environmental and other ambient conditions within their life period, they become extinct.
Psychologist Plotkin referred to this as the "un­certain futures problem." An organism's chance of survival and reproduction would be improved if it could somehow solve the uncertain futures problem by changing its behavior to adapt to changes in the environment. The cortex (top layer' of the brain) is the place where a repre­sentation of the world is created. That allows the brain to use the representation of an object or a situation (as a thought) rather than the object or the situation itself and process the information in a remote/detached fashion. It is observed that thinking about an action and actually doing it appear to be almost the same. When people are asked to picture an object and then rotate it mentally, their brains act as if the object were actually turning in front of them as established by fMRI studies.

Continued stress in the brain or a feeling of utter desperation or even anticipation of such a condition can bring about permanent damage to the body. Extreme stress produces cortisol, which kills brain cells. A recent study at the University of Wisconsin showed that the negative and depressing thoughts produce activity in the right prefrontal cortex of the brain and cause reduced levels of antibodies. Positive happy thoughts produce activity in the left prefrontal cortex and cause higher levels of antibodies, which help the body in its resistance to infection. Dr. Peter Elias and his colleagues at the University of California, “have in late 2007 characterized a mechanistic link in mice between psychological stress and increased susceptibility to skin infections. Mice subjected to conditions of psychological stress were found to be more susceptible to group A Streptococcus. Psychological stress induced increased production of glucocorticoids and these caused a decrease in the secretion of vesicles that contain antimicrobial peptides.”

As remarked by Prof. Cziko in The Things We Do (2000), Darwinian evolution with the three major principles of overproduction, variation, and selection each play an essential role. Overproduction is evident in the production of excess thoughts; variation is achieved by the random recombination and mutation of several thoughts; and selection occurs as only those thoughts that ensure survival are retained as knowledge and passed onto the next generation.

Dr. Kornhuber and Dr. Libet found out in the seventies that two areas light up in the brain in a PET scan when you wiggle your finger. EEG poten­tial kicks a second to three-fourths of a sec­ond prior to your actual finger movement, even though your conscious intention of moving the finger by your 'self' coincides almost exactly with the wiggle of the finger. Such experimental re­sults throw a doubt on the conscious decision of your "self" as preceding the brain activity and led some scientists to ask enigmatically, "Do we think or Are we thought?"

Prof. Richard Dawkins coined the term "memes" in 1976 as those thoughts/concepts that persist selfishly in their own interest like the genes. The whole human culture can be seen as a vast new evolutionary process based on memes. Dr. Susan Blackmore in her book The Meme Machines (1999) talks of the human beings as machines that store, copy and recombine the memes and our "self" is nothing more than memes invading our brains. In her book, Consciousness (2004), she writes, "Selves are biological products just as spiders' webs are. Like spiders, it doesn't have to know what it is doing; it just does it."

If thoughts have power as demonstrated in the examples given above, and if they can perpetuate themselves invading our brains and create an illusory self as a complex of ‘memes’, can the world we see be real? Could it not be a mere illusion as our sages expressed it?


"It's a miracle. The holy ash given by the Great Baba cured my unbearable pain!”

"An affectionate touch and a wave of hand by MataSri; that’s all; my asthma is gone!"

"The Swami sprinkled holy water; and my colic cramps disappeared!'"

"The intense gaze of my Guru rid me of my chronic depression!'"

Very often we come across people making such excited statements and strange claims. They make us wonder if they could be true. It was exactly half a century ago that Dr H. K. Beecher of USA reported the "Placebo Effect", by which a third of the patients got better from a mere illusion of treatment. It has ever since intrigued scientists how a "placebo" - an inert pill not containing any medicine, but for the confidence and suggestion of the doctor can cure patients. A study in 1993 concluded that sometimes the effects of a placebo may go up to 70 per cent. During 1994 in Houston, even faked surgeries on the knee for arthritis relieved the patients from pain. Patients suffering pain after wisdom-tooth extraction got just as much relief from a fake application of ultrasound. Fifty-two percent of the colitis patients treated with placebo showed less inflammation in their intestines. There are a few controversies too regarding some of the placebo studies. Questions on the statistical rigor and possible biases because of the financial and other vested interests of drug firms and health administrators in some of those studies were also raised. However, placebos do seem to work. Drug companies now as a rule test the efficacy of a new drug against a placebo before marketing it.

It is not always known how the placebos work - whether it is the natural waxing and waning of the diseases or unknown remissions or because of the autosuggestion of the patient himself/herself. It also looks that the placebo effect does not interfere with the body's ability to sense pain but instead affects how the brain modulates its interpretation to the pain signals. Modern studies using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRl), PET scans of the brain's activity and neurochemistry are throwing new light on the effect of the placebos.

Psychology has a major role in the feeling of pain. Unless the brain pays attention, pain is not felt. A mother so very often diverts her child's attention with a toy or music when the child is crying with pain. There are some very painful procedures that have to be carried out on patients with severe burns. Such patients did not feel pain when their attention was diverted using virtual 3-D games, which the patients played while undergoing the procedures. Dr H. G. Hoffman who recently carried out the work says, "Human attention is like a spotlight, allowing us to select some information to process and to ignore everything else.”

At the University of Michigan an fMRI study was done on the brains of volunteers exposed to painful electric shocks. In some cases the researchers told participants (falsely) that a pain-relieving cream had been applied to their skin. When these subjects were given electric shocks, they reported less pain. Their fMRI pictures exhibited increased brain activity in the prefrontal cortex and decreased activity in pain-sensing regions like thalamus. Dr. V. S. Ramachandran neurologist of California describes the interesting case of a patient who laughs when pricked with a sharp needle. The patient feels the prick. Yet it tickles him rather than hurt. Dr Ramachandran also described the pain experienced by patients in a phantom limb that's not really there (removed surgically). He could study from such cases the information pathways of nerves that convey the sense of pain from the organ to the brain.
Recent advances in neurochemistry are offering further understanding about pain and pleasure circuits in the brain. Our ancients knew the pleasure inducing chemicals like marijuana, bhang and others. It is now known that our brain produces similar compounds to mitigate pain.

Mechoulam discovered in 1992 a fatty acid produced in the brain that mimics marijuana. He named it "anandamide" after the Sanskrit word ananda meaning "bliss."

Later more such chemicals were identified. Work with mice in Germany indicates that such chemicals help in ending bad feelings and pain triggered by memories. There is mounting evidence now that people suffering from depression respond well to a placebo.

Scientists from Israel showed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that the activity in the brains of a group of people watching the same scene is typically similar. We also know that there are mirror neurons in our brain. These neurons resonate in us the same feelings as others when we watch them. A recent study using brain scans showed that the prefrontal cortex can inhibit the passage of pain signals. Prefrontal cortex is the area of our higher brain functions. Meditation/relaxation influences its activity.

Endorphins are chemicals that reduce pain and give us a sense of pleasure. Exercise or some of the foods can produce them in our brain. From all these we can conclude that we definitely have in us some keys to control our pain and suffering.

Now we can see some convincing linkages between the above findings and the statements and claims of people mentioned at the beginning of this article. Sure enough, the holy water, the ash, the touch and an assuring word all work for our vexing chronic pains and problems of suffering possibly as placebos. The word placebo means: "' I shall please". These holy men are able to please and inspire us to help ourselves by producing necessary endorphins naturally within ourselves. As long as they can maintain their humility and not exploit the gullible, the holy men have a social value to that extent. That is ingrained in our Eastern tradition, a part of our rubric. We should 'remember, however, the placebos work in general in 30 to 40 per cent of the cases. Serious cases of illness do always require medical care.


Decades ago Swami Ranganathananda was giving an exposition on "Vivekachudamani” of Adi Sankara. When he came to the very second sloka (verse), he stumbled. It was tougher with the 4th and 5th slokas. The slokas say that being born a 'male' is a rare and special gift. He turned apologetic towards his female audience. He gave a long-winded explanation why Sankara had to say that. Today, if he were to lecture again, he need not! The female brain does differ from that of the male as the research findings of the last few years show. Vivekachudamani is for MEN only!

The saying that “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” is well-known. Dr John Gray, who authored the book with this title graphically, illustrated many humorous examples of the differences between male and female thinking. If you ask a simple question, say road directions, the lady may end up telling you how her child missed her way near the “forked tree” while she was once going in that direction whereas you a get a straight and to the point answer from her husband. Because of the difference in the size of the hippocampus (bigger in ladies), the females navigate with ‘landmarks’ whereas males do by ‘dead reckoning’ (spatial orientation). If you searched the vanity bag of your wife, you may find a veritable museum of pieces dating back to, God forbid, her high school days - nappies of her child or toffees for grandchildren, a medical chest and a broken lid for repair pending for the last six months. On the other had, the man may forget where he placed his keys and purse even five minutes ago. Your wife can easily cook while talking on the phone, keeping an eye on the child and answer your question on misplaced socks. You (males) are focused and can concentrate only on the one job on hand – reserving the best seats for the evening show. Research at Cambridge University found that even one-day old male and female babies too differ in their preferences. Girls like dolls and faces; boys prefer mechanistic things!

However, Prof. Larry Cahill says, "To date, no one has uncovered any evidence that anatomical disparities might render women incapable of achieving academic distinction in math, physics or engineering. And the brains of men and women have been shown to be quite clearly similar in many ways. Nevertheless, over the past decade investigators have documented an astonishing array of structural, chemical and functional variations in the brains of males and females.”

Scientists from Harvard University found that "parts of the frontal cortex, the seat of many higher cognitive functions, are bulkier in women than in men, as are parts of the limbic cortex, which is involved in emotional responses. In men, on the other hand, parts of the parietal cortex, which is involved in space perception, are bigger than in women, as is the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure that responds to emotionally arousing information - to anything that gets the heart pumping and the adrenaline flowing."

Note that the frontal cortex, the seat of higher executive and cognitive functions, is larger in women. They need not have to take lessons from Vivekachudamani (The Crest Jewel of Discrimination) to improve their cognitive functions. They have it by nature!! It is men that need it with an encouraging pat on the back!

All human beings are females when first conceived. (No wonder that our ancients placed Stree rupa – feminine form – at the head of creation). The fetus in the womb is in feminine form to start with, including the shape of its genitals. Only later differentiation changes the fetus as a male. We, humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes. One of the chromosomes is responsible for sex difference. The female has XX chromosome pair, each X coming from one parent. The male child has XY chromosome pair with the X from the mother and Y from the father. The Y chromosome from the father by itself does not guarantee that the fetus will be a boy. There are instances of persons with Y chromosome but ending up as a lady. This is because the secretion of testosterone hormone in the womb at the correct time in correct amounts brings out the sex difference, including the change in the genitals. A very recent study from Finland showed that in the case of a girl having a boy as twin, the girl is less likely to produce more children and exhibits more independent behavior. If the twins were both girls, such characteristics were absent. This is supposed to be because of the presence of testosterone hormone in the mother’s womb when the twin fetuses were growing, thus establishing once again the influence of testosterone hormone.

Even in handling stress, men and women differ. Research at the Arizona University showed that females can withstand chronic stress better than males, though in the short term, males produce serotonin faster and are less likely to be depressed quickly. Men and women respond to and remember emotional events differently. The right hemisphere amygdala is involved in men (and hence store a holistic picture) whereas the left hemisphere is involved with the women (and hence they have a memory for details). Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania measured the size of the orbitofrontal cortex, a region involved in regulating emotions, and compared it with the size of the amygdala, implicated more in producing emotional reactions. The investigators found that women possess a significantly larger orbitofrontal to ­amygdala ratio (OAR) than men do. Prof. Cahill speculates from these findings that women might on average prove more capable of controlling their emotional reactions. If you remember that the central teaching of Bhagavad-Gita is emotional control and attainment of a balanced mind, do the ladies need to learn Gita?

Dr. A. Lutz and other reported late last year that Buddhistic “Compassion Meditation” produced higher gamma oscillatory activity in the brain, particularly in the frontoparietal areas. Their studies indicated that mental training involved temporal integrative mechanisms and may induce short-term and long-term neural changes. So Ye, Men, practice meditation, read Vivekachudamani. Remember, Women are already blessed.


If you weigh 70 kgs, you have seven billion billion billion (7 followed by 27 zeros) atoms in you. They constitute hundred trillion different types of cells like the skin, blood, muscle, bone, hair etc. that make up your body. The cells are not fixed. They are in constant flux. Old ones die and new ones are made all the time. Each minute 350 million red blood cells get replaced with new ones. You get a new stomach lining every five days. Entire skin gets replaced every 4-5 weeks. Liver cells are recycled in six weeks. Even the solid looking skeleton is replaced once in three months. Things are no different in the brain. Dr. J. McCrone says, “The half-life of the protein filaments of a neuron is just ten minutes. The protein – packed zone that powers synaptic activity is replaced molecule for molecule, almost by the hour.” Each moment you breathe out, as Dr. Deepak Chopra puts it, “atoms of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen that just an instant before were locked up in solid matter in your body are vanishing into thin air.” By the end of a year, 98 percent of the atoms in your body will change. The child that you were is gone and dead long ago. In the midst of all this change, how do ‘you’ know you are “you”? Is there an identity that is independent of the ever-changing parts you can call “you”?

Let us imagine the case of a wooden ship. It is afloat and sailing. But over a period of time, the boards and all parts are gradually replaced until finally there is not a single board or screw left from the original ship. Is it now the same ship? You may think so because the ship is still on the seas and functioning. But consider this. Say, somebody follows your ship and gathers up meticulously all the discarded boards and parts. He constructs a ship out of them that contains all and only the parts of the ship that was originally launched, so that every single board in the second ship is identical with a board that was in the ship as originally launched. Which is the ship we originally started with? Is it the one that has the continuity of function and is still carrying you or is it the one that has continuity of having the original parts? Which one does an antique dealer value as the original? So which is really you – the continuously changing ‘you’ or the body of cells, which disappeared?

You may say that even if somebody assembled another person using all your discarded body cells, its not you because the reassembled person did not have an existence prior to assemblage. This argument does not hold water. Suppose you dismantle your bicycle into its parts and reassemble them at a distant place after transshipment. While the packed bicycle was under transit, it had no existence as a bicycle. Can we, therefore, claim the reassembled bike is different from the first one simply because it did not have an immediately preceding continuity of existence?

Invoking the memory of your past does not solve the problem either, for the argument becomes circular. As Prof. Searle said, “We cannot explain personal identity in terms of memory, because the memory in question presupposes the very identity that we are trying to explain.” It is like asking the culprit to give evidence. Further, are we not aware how reliable is our memory? We hardly remember in our thirties anything of our childhood. We remember nothing much in our sixties of what went on when we were thirty. Why go thus far, do you remember what you had for lunch and supper just a week ago? Did you not walk back out of a room simply because you forgot why you had entered it? The mind has its own bag of tricks and is hardly reliable for judgment.

To further confound matters: suppose you are teleported atom by atom to anther place. You disintegrate at the first place and the information on “You” is sent to a distant place where “you” get reassembled there. Are “you” still you? Or let us say that instead of disintegrating your original body, an exact of you is cloned in such a way that one cannot distinguish the two. Which is you, the copy or the original?

Heraclitus was a Greek philosopher slightly later than Buddha. Theseus was a Greek mythological hero who set sail in his ship to kill a monster. The “Ship of Theseus” is a version of Heraclitus puzzle on the question of identity. The ship we talked about in the beginning is his ship. The story shows that spatio-temporal continuity, persistence of parts, and / or memory, as the philosophers would say, are inadequate arguments for establishing one’s identity.

Though the USA has the highest trade deficit ($ 750 billion) today in the world, the greenback commands more confidence because of an image the USA carries. Our notion of persistence (and continuity) is woven like that economic web of illusion. We feel something has got to be there; but can hardly put our finger on it. Vyasa says that beyond all change, there is something all-pervading, unchanging, unmanifested and unthinkable (Bhagavad-Gita, 11, 25-26). Buddhists would say emptiness. Quantum physics indicates the existence of ‘boiling’ vacuum. Whatever it is, what we can see easily is that “life” continues in the constantly re-formed “us”. Even if someone cleverly reassembled us using our discarded cells, we do not know if the reassembled body would have life.

So it is not exactly ‘I’ that continues in my body. It is “life”! This brings us to another interesting point. I don’t have a different “type of life” in me from the “life” in you. “Life” itself is the same in all. However, what is “Life” and what exists beyond Life makes another story.


Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa had once to look on helplessly when a person was being whipped. Ramakrishna writhed in pain. Marks of the whiplash appeared on his back as though he himself had been beaten. Even today we hear of many such stories when venerable Sadhus experience physically the suffering of their devotees.
Neuroscientist Dr Blakemore writes about a 41 year old Ms C. “The sight of someone being touched made Ms C feel as if someone were touching her in the same place on her own body.” Ms C thought that was how it would be for everybody and never considered to be strange! Dr. Blakemore says, “Imaging studies showed that C’s touch-sensitive brain regions reacted more strongly to the sight of someone else being touched than those regions did in the normal subjects.”
We know how our own pain feels and how Swamis help us in getting some relief (See Essay 9. Pain, Suffering and Placebo). But how is it possible to experience another’s pain or touch?
Many of us feel the same emotion as an actor we identify with while watching a movie. As we watch an action in real life or on screen, we enact the same movements in our brain. This is called empathy. While empathizing, we imitate another person. In fact, this is the way we learn many skills, even language – simply by imitation. We all empathize, may be not to the same intensity as Sri Ramakrishna.
Empathy helps us to put ourselves in other person’s shoes – to feel and understand a situation from the other person’s perspective. Or, in other words, to read the other person’s mind and understand his intentions. Empathy has thus a survival value for us. “Empathy lights up the same parts of the brain” when one watches another person doing a thing or one does it by himself – whether it is just grabbing an object, eating or watching a movie. Dr. Singer of London demonstrated through functional magnetic imaging studies (fMRI) this phenomenon in case of pain. Her research showed “the similarity of the scans when pain was experienced by a group of ladies when they were themselves subjected to or when they watched others getting an electric shock.”
What happens in the brain when we empathize is being now understood by scientists through a narrow window. That window is “Mirror Neurons”. It’s not that Mirror Neurons explain everything. Nor the understanding of the way these neurons function is completely free from controversy or without debate amongst the experts. Yes, the mirror neurons appear to open up a path to tease out the mystery involved. Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, Director of California-based Center for Brain and Cognition hailed the discovery of Mirror Neurons as “as significant for psychology as DNA was for Biology.”
Mirror neurons were first noticed in macaque monkeys about a decade ago. A set of neurons in the premotor cortex “fired not only when the monkey performed an action, but also when the monkey saw the same action performed by someone else – whether it is grasping an object or eating.” This cluster of neurons mirrored even emotions and sensations. In the absence of these neurons, our brain (mind) would have only accumulated information as “lists” without an emotional relation to like the TV serial character, ‘Dr. Spock’. “We share with others not only the way they normally act or subjectively experience emotions and sensations, but also the neural circuits enabling those same actions, emotions and sensations: the mirror neuron systems,” says Dr. Gallese, one of the discoverers of the mirror neurons. Dr. Ramachandran feels that mirror neurons could have facilitated the occurrence of sudden spurts of growth in human culture. Fortuitous and unique discoveries – like fire, tool-making, language, math, art or other knowledge gained by a primitive human being could get transmitted from one to the other because of the mirror neurons. These neurons provide a virtual reality image in one’s own mind of what goes on in other’s mind. The mirror neurons help in “imitation learning”. So the system of these cells could contributes to the development of a ‘meme pool’.
Dr Gallese writes, “When I see the facial expression of someone else, and this perception leads me to experience that expression as a particular affective state, I do not accomplish this type of understanding through an argument by analogy. The other’s emotion is constituted, experienced and therefore directly understood by means of an embodied simulation producing a shared body state. It is the activation of a neural mechanism shared by the observer and the observed to enable direct experiential understanding.”
Recent work at the University at California led the scientists to ascribe autism in children to defective mirror neuron system. “Although the autistic children were able to perform a task, they had lower activation in a brain area containing mirror neurons, both when watching and imitating facial gestures” as compared to controls. Dr. Ramachandran suggests that damaged mirror neurons may also explain ‘anosognosia’ – a denial syndrome wherein the patient of, say, paralysis denies having been paralyzed. A psychopath’s inability to sense the pain of his victims may be due to faulty mirror neurons.
Israeli scientists achieved in 2004 the difficult task of scanning the brains of a group of people watching a movie. The brain-scans showed similar patterns in all the viewers in response to the scene being watched. This could offer clue to understand the phenomenon of ‘mass hysteria’ (banamati) experienced by women and youth from rural areas.
Can the mirror neurons cause the physical appearance of the injury marks by mere first person experience of observing a third person being injured as in the case of Sri Ramakrishna? One does not know. But one can hope that the mystique behind it may one day become clear.

13. Comfort, Happiness and Energy Dynamics

All of us want to be comfortable as well as physically and mentally happy. So we build machines to enhance comfort; invent clever short cuts in search of happiness. We designed an elaborate barter system having money at its center as surrogate for comfort. But what is comfort?
Anything we do requires energy - whether it is eating, walking, sleeping or talking. Our metabolism tells us how much energy we need daily. We derive our energy needs from the food we eat. Undoubtedly, we have to spend some energy even to obtain food from the environment. And that itself could be stressful many a time as there is no free lunch available.
All of us want a stress-free life. Any stress on the body disturbs its natural disposition and makes us uncomfortable because our body will then be forced to spend extra energy on some “processes like tissue growth and repair, chemical, osmotic, electrical, and mechanical internal work or external work that is necessary” to compensate or counter or adjust to that stress. The following illustration makes the point clear.
I feel comfortable in an air-conditioned carpeted room rather than standing in scorching sunlight because my body has to spend very little of its own energy in maintaining its temperature, fluid and electrolyte balance, etc. in an air-conditioned room unlike in the hot sun. I am comfortable for the same reason, if somebody else does my job, does the worrying for me, (for example if I have a chauffer-driven car rather than having to face the tension of driving through heavy disorderly traffic looking for street signs). Thus, expending less of our own energy gives us “comfort”!
Prof. Leonard, an authority in Anthropology, agrees with the above observation. In fact, he measured the energy requirements of people living in traditional settings and those living in urban parts of the industrialized world. He found from his studies that individuals living in “non-climate-controlled” conditions (e.g. Siberia, coastal Ecuador), expended about 15-20 percent more calories than people living in “temperature-controlled environments.”
Comfort can, therefore, be viewed as an indicator of body’s energy audit. The word ‘comfort’ is generally used for physical ease and ‘happiness’ for mental state. But “comfort” as defined here, in terms of energy expended, is comprehensive and extends to both physical and mental dimensions and so includes happiness. Intelligence too can be understood better on this basis. In terms of energy, intelligence can be defined as the ability to solve a problem expending the least amount of energy. The person who uses less energy is more intelligent.
Throughout human evolutionary history, man’s effort to maximize the energy obtained as compared to energy expended so that he/she would have a positive energy balance has been very much in evidence. Our ancestors, Australopithecus, started walking on two feet nearly four million years ago just to save energy on movement (locomotion). “Bipedal movement is more economical than quadrupedal locomotion at walking rates”, as was found out by researchers. Further, bipedalism left the hands free as a bonus. The free hands were then available for developing more energy-saving innovations like use of spears and stone tools for gathering food and taking care of children. Our ancestors, using their large brains and intelligence, could achieve economies in evolutionary time for adapting themselves “to a wide variety of novel circumstances” during migrations to new terrains. On its own, evolution through natural selection would have taken many more generations to bring about the same changes in our bodies to make them fit to survive in fast changing environments, writes Dr Price.
Man has also been constantly inventing many tactics for increasing the energy-value of food he consumes while trying to reduce overall input costs. “Cooking augmented the energy available in wild plant foods. With the advent of agriculture, human beings began to manipulate marginal plant species to increase their productivity, digestibility and nutritional content. This kind of tinkering continues to today, with new techniques like genetic modification of crop species, for gaining as much nutritional return from our food in as little volume and with as little physical effort as possible,” says Prof. Leonard. According to Prof Leonard, “The energy dynamics between organisms and their environments – that is, energy expended in relation to energy acquired – has important adaptive consequences for survival and reproduction.” From a strictly evolutionary standpoint, the procreation and propagation of a species is facilitated if we can spend less energy on our basic maintenance so that more energy could be allocated for offspring. Our body budgets available energy resources by apportioning them between maintenance and reproductive activities. Restricting an individual’s calorie intake by 30 to 40 percent is known to extend the life span. Drs Sinclair and Gaurente opine, “Calorie restriction is a biological stressor like natural food scarcity that induces a defensive response to boost the organism’s chances of survival.” Dr Fontana says we should eat less but eat a balanced diet to improve longevity. A recent study by the National Institute of Health, USA confirmed that calorie restriction does help in better health including less oxidative damage to the DNA – perhaps the reason for the elaborate rituals of fasting prescribed in many cultures!
Sun is the ultimate source of energy for all. We worship him as God. But we cannot draw energy directly from him, though we are “the most energy-using species.” Only a few creatures can directly capture and store sun’s radiation. These are called autotrophs. Plants are autotrophs. They developed efficient ways to fix carbon and release oxygen from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere using energy from sun’s light and water from ground. They store a portion of this energy as carbohydrates to conduct their own metabolic business. A vast majority of the other creatures depend on the stored energy of the autotrophs for their own energy needs. These are called heterotrophs. Man is a superb example of heterotrophs. Heterotrophs effectively and literally steal the energy processed and stored by the autotrophs.
No wonder, Vyasa asks us to at least express our gratefulness for the food we consume (i.e. the energy we steal); otherwise we are verily thieves, plain and simple (Bhagvad-Gita, Ch III, Sloka 12).


The other day, my nephew informed me excitedly about one Mr. Rao, who could foresee the future and give answers to our problems just with a call on the phone. Predictions by a mere phone call?
The fact of the matter is, all of us do that. Yes, all the time! If your spouse has gone to the office or market, you predict the time of her/his return. Even if you are not into buying a house, you can tell the approximate cost of a property in your area. You can advise your relative about the possibility of getting a reservation by a particular train, though you may not have traveled by all the trains leaving your town. From the looks of the signboard, you decide in a new place if you should walk into that hotel for food or not. These may sound trivial. But your mind is working basically on the same principle – an ability to predict an outcome with sparse information. Have you not come across the person who advises on investments – shares worth buying, which derby is good to bet? Did you not hear about the boy who could correctly anticipate questions for the exam, selectively prepare on those questions and pass with the best of grades? Laymen may know it as “gut feeling”; managers give it a fancy name: “Heuristic Approach.”
There is always a discernible pattern in the way things occur in nature. What we call as random also has a definite pattern fitted into a mathematical expression by Gauss! Whether you may win a lottery or not, whether it is head or trial on a throw of a coin and many other incidents in life follow this particular pattern. This is called the “Normal Distribution.”
There are other types of distribution also. “The number of cars that pass through a certain point on a road at rush hour; the number of typing mistakes your secretary makes in a page; the number of phone calls at a centre per minute; the number of road kill found per unit length of road” follow what is called Poisson distribution. The occurrence of wealthy people in India is a skewed distribution. The waiting time before you get a connection in a telephone queue is as per Power-law distribution. With what probability a specific event occurs can be calculated once we know which type of distribution it follows.
We constantly face changing situations and environments. This is called the Problem of Uncertainty Futures. Quick decisions have to be taken for survival without the luxury of having wads of data and information on the probability of occurrence of a given event. So we are forced to guess the outcome though we may not know the exact type of distribution of that event. What we may have at our disposal could at best be one or two pieces of prior instances. Our expectation of the future event has to be based on that limited knowledge. Fortunately, our brain has acquired that uncanny trick through evolution. If we do not put to use such coping mechanisms inherent in us, we tend to lose them through disuse. For example, a newly born kid can swim if dropped into a pool; but not after it has grown up. A domesticated animal cannot fight for food like its counterpart in the wild. It lost many of its natural responses because of the security provided by its keeper.
Thomas Bayes, an eighteenth century priest and mathematician in England studied the predictability of events based on one or two prior bits of information. Bayesian technique of prediction was quite popular for sometime. But statisticians pooh-poohed it. They insisted on more data to know how exactly an event occurs before they can predict the next outcome. Hence the marketing people ask for large amount of samples before they make their predictions on the success of a product in the market or on trends of change in population. The present day computer scientists are reviving the idea of Bayes. They want the computer to work like a human brain.
So psychologists got into the act. They feel that “Bayesian capacity to draw strong inferences from sparse data could be crucial to the way the mind perceives the world, plans actions, comprehends and learns language, reasons from correlation to causation, and even understands the goals and beliefs of other minds.” Dr Griffiths and Dr Tenenbaum tested to see how far our brain does and can make predictions correctly with one or two data points. How successfully can our minds guess “the way the world works – in essence, a hypothesis about reality.”
Participants in their research were asked to estimate the total likely earnings of a film giving them only one piece of information - amount earned in the first few days. They were also asked to guess the total length of term a congressman would serve given how long he had already served; the duration that a cake would take to bake given how long it had already been in the oven and so on. Indeed these are very diverse matters and follow a variety of distributions. But the participants successfully predicted correctly each time! This gave confidence for computer builders to design machines to take decisions based even on a sparse amount of information.
So could it be that Mr. Rao or the successful student guessing the exam paper or the person advising on investments activated that part of their brain which has a knack to predict a result based on one or two bits of information? But how did the human brain acquire this capability in the first place? Is it merely by trial and error through generations of evolution? Or has a super natural power bestowed this capacity to the brain in the beginning? Your own brain will answer this question using Bayesian technique based on one or two of its own prior experiences!


The popular version of Karma Theory is that our present is the effect of our past actions. We reap the consequences of our current actions later, may be even in the next birth. The inexorable cause-effect relationship of karma is so much ingrained into our lives that we accept it at all levels, even at simple matters like missing a bus or spilt milk. (However, we do not invoke karma for things, which are under our control!) There are two implicit assumptions behind the Karma theory.
The first assumption is that we are helplessly subjected to the one-way action of cause and effect. That means us as human beings with all our evolutionary skills and survival tools at our command have no control and are placed at par with inanimate things. In order to understand clearly, let us take couple of examples. Iron filings get attracted to a magnet. The cause is magnetism. The effect is attraction. If a thin sheet of paper is placed in between the filings and the magnet, the filings are still drawn towards the magnet but get stuck to the paper instead of the magnet. But a Romeo attracted to a Juliet tries to reach Juliet even if a wall exists between them. He uses his intelligence to cross over the hindrance but does not stupidly end up sealing his lips against the wall like the iron filings sticking to the paper.
Similarly, an eagle diving for its prey in the waters constantly varies its flight path to catch the fish but does not hit just the water pool unlike an inanimate stone dropped from air. That, in essence, is the difference between animate and inanimate systems as expressed by William James in 1890. Dr. Cziko points out that living beings constantly change their behavior to control their perception of the environment so that the set goal could be reached. In other words, they have a fixed goal but variable means unlike the non-living things.
In the case of living things, the cause-effect model works as a closed system with a feedback loop because they work with a purpose. Purposeful behavior has a circular causation. Unlike non-living control systems that are controlled by the environment, a living system is controlled from within itself. This is in contradiction to the notion that our perceptions of the environment control our behavior. We vary our behavior to control perceived environmental consequences of those behaviors. This is called “Perceptual Control Theory”.
The goals and purposes may be nested, that is to say that there may be many lower level goals within the overall higher level purpose. Dr. Cziko observes further, “Humans vary their present behavior to obtain (or avoid) that which they want to obtain (or avoid). That is, rewards do not control behavior. Rather, behaviors are used to control rewards.” The circular causality is the characteristic of living systems, in which perception and behavior reciprocally and simultaneously influence each other. If we accept the one-way cause-effect view, it poses a question on the intelligence and purposefulness of human behavior either in the ‘here and now’ or in the long-term evolutionary perspective.
One may suggest that the karma theory has a regulatory role with promises of reward-punishment built into it in order to ensure an orderly society. But behavioral scientists found that such attempts to modify human behavior have failed. “What is clear is that the currently accepted one-way cause-effect model, successful in explaining much of the workings of the inanimate world, cannot account for the purposeful, goal-directed behavior by which living organisms control important aspects of their environment."
The second infirmity of the one-way cause-effect model of the Karma theory arises from the concept of time as an invariable unidirectional arrow. We as humans can visualize only three dimensions. Because of this inherent limitation, our mind provides an imaginary continuity to the events and thus helps us to see an extra dimension called TIME. If the mind does not interpose, there is no 'time' in the sense that we see it (as an arrow). When the mind is snubbed or stunned, as in an altered state of consciousness (say under anesthesia or when the mind faces sudden life-threatening situations), it loses all sense of time. Therefore, the arrow of time is only a mental imaginary construct and not an independent variable. Also notice that unlike different sensory organs we have to perceive different aspects of nature, there is no organ in us to perceive time. Only mind interprets change as time. Prof. Wheeler remarked that time was a book-keeper of change.

Theory of Relativity demolished the classical physics view of absolute space and time. Time is no more considered independent of space - as a separate, one-dimensional continuum, extend­ing infinitely in either direction. The current concepts of multiple universes being talked of in physics require us to understand time in a new perspective. In the words of Prof Tegmark, "Now you are in universe A, the one in which you are reading this sentence. Now you are in universe B, the one in which you are reading this other sentence. All possible states exist at every instant, so the passage of time may be in the eye of the beholder". So all events have occurred all at once! Then how is one to explain the present as the result of some past?

An interesting question that comes here is what is the very ultimate purpose or goal of “life”, if, as animate systems, our actions are governed by a "purpose". Biologists can hardly tell us the ultimate purpose or goal for evolution. It is in this sense blind. Our ancient Rishis, however, spelt out the purpose as liberation or salvation (which is another concept denied by thinkers like Mr. U.G. Krishnamurthy).


Meditation does have a profound effect not merely on the way our brain functions, but even on its physical structure!!
It’s a long haul from the era when science held that brain fixed in early childhood did not change to the present view that mental training can lead “to long-lasting changes” and “our brains form a million new connections every second.” The Dalai Lama’s invited address on “Neuroscience of Meditation” at the 35th conference of Society for Neuroscience in Washington epitomized this paradigm shift. It is not that the current research findings are undisputed. It’s also not that the disputants are above their own prejudices. But what is indisputable, however, is that neuroscience points to a conclusion, “that would be right at home”, in Dr Schwartz’s words, “in the canons of some of the Eastern Philosophies.”
The US government’s declaration of the nineties as “Decade of the Brain” helped kick start research into the uncharted fields of neuroscience. The Dalai Lama actively promoted scientific study of meditation for over a decade. Buddhism, with its dictum that “empirical evidence should triumph over scriptural authority in the investigation of reality, no matter how deeply venerated a scripture may be,” was helpful in this. Well respected neuroscientists are now no more averse to grappling issues like “what is self”, aided by modern advances in electronics and current developments in neuroscience.
Mahesh Yogi initiated scientific investigation into meditation about forty years ago. His group reported many down stream “benefits” of transcendental meditation. Some of the benefits are:
More widely distributed somatosensory stimuli across the cortex.
Higher mean EEG coherence over all brain areas
State of deep rest with reduced respiration rate and reduced basal skin conductance.
Reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Younger biological age.
Dr. Benson’s team at Harvard medical school studied Sikhs in meditation. Brain areas associated with attention, space-time concepts and executive control functions were more active during meditation. There was increased blood flow in the limbic system and brain stem that control automatic nervous system. Dr. Benson noted that relaxation exercises [akin to meditation] released “increasing amounts of nitric oxide which counters the negative effects of the stress hormone norepinephrine.” This results in remarkable calming of body. He also documented an unexplained phenomenon – the capacity of some Buddhist monks in meditation. They could dry icy, wet sheets on their naked bodies in near freezing temperatures!
Dr Newberg observed that, during peak moments of meditation, neurons in the posterior superior parietal lobe (responsible for spatial orientation) exhibited unusual activity. Work by Dr. Beauregard treating patients of spider phobia demonstrated “systematic changes in prefrontal cortex after cognitive-behavioral therapy” (what can be described as a sort of meditation).
Psychiatrist Dr. Schwartz designed a protocol that mimics Buddhist meditation techniques of “Mindful Attention” to treat patients of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He demonstrated, through progressive brain scans, a change in the metabolism of caudate nucleus and also changes in the circuitry of parts of brain when his four step therapy was fallowed by patients. He found that neuronal connections alter under the intentional activity of the mind establishing the plasticity of brain.
Dr. Davidson found that “long term Buddhist practitioners self-induced sustained gamma-band oscillations (40 Hz) and phase–synchrony (awareness and coordination) during meditation.” The data suggested that mental training through meditation involves temporal integrative mechanisms and could induce short-term and long- term neural changes.
Many research workers established that large areas of brain, particularly in left prefrontal cortex (just behind the left forehead) were active during meditation. This part of brain is responsible for positive emotions. Alpha waves in 8-13 Hz are produced in a meditative brain. A person’s peak performance (say in sports) and creative inspiration are associated with bursts of alpha waves. More alpha waves mean less anxiety, better immune system and hence better health.
Dr Nathanielsz narrates an interesting story of a stressed-out high-profile lady executive, Mrs. M. She was pregnant with her first child. Every method of relaxation, exercise or even medicines could not relieve her of her constant anxiety about pregnancy and the stress she had to handle at the job. The situation grew so critical that it threatened health of the fetus and a safe delivery. Dr Nathanielsz advised her to fallow a routine of quietly thinking for fifteen minutes every day about her baby to be born and how she wished the child should grow. This is, in fact, a meditation, without assigning a name. At the end of due period, Mrs. M gave birth to a healthy baby in a normal delivery!
Dr Beauregard’s preliminary work in Montreal on Carmelite nuns showed that a network of brain regions including those associated with emotion processing and the spatial representation of self were involved in deep meditative state. Dr. Lazarr recently reported her work on Buddhist “Insight meditation.” She found that meditation actually increased the thickness of the cortex in areas involved in attention and sensory processing, such as the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula. The changes in the brain were comparable to what happened in the case of accomplished musicians or athletes.
Some New Age Gurus mistakenly compare mystical experience with orgasm. Dr Newberg points out that the ecstasies of sex are primarily tactile sensations and involve hypothalamus. Experiences that lead to the intense unitary states in meditation depend upon higher cognitive structures in the prefrontal cortex and the parietal lobe.
Dr. Davidson feels that meditation could enhance the brain’s ability to modify maladaptive emotional responses like depression. A neurological term, “Self-directed Neuroplasticity”, describes the principle that focused training can systematically alter brain function in a useful manner. Some scientists hope even to “assisting spiritual transformations of individuals” from neurobiological knowledge. However, the Dalai Lama puts in perspective: “The purpose of meditation is not to cure physical ailments, but to free people from emotional suffering.”
[In this article, the word “Meditation” is used in a broad generic sense and not to any specific type of meditation.]


The Descartes' idea of body (or matter) - mind duality is not considered valid anymore by many neuroscientists. Mind is what the brain does - in essence the neuronal electrical activity. However, the word 'mind' itself requires a more precise definition. It is not yet known as to how the electrical firing that takes place in the neurons gives rise to "mind".

Yet mind, the only tool that is at our command for such an investigation acquires its knowledge from the inputs received through the five sensory organs. The bandwidth of these organs being very limited, mind too is constrained in its ability in comprehending many issues, which are beyond these bandwidths. Our ancient Rishis, in their quest to find the ultimate truth, used the term "mind" in a variety of meanings. Mind is divided into several levels (or parts). Some sages postulated states beyond what we normally perceive as "mind". Yet some others went to the extent of saying that other than mind there was nothing else, nor even creation (Gaudapada Karika on Mandukya Upanishad, 111-29)!

An attempt is made here to understand that state of mind where truth can be realized, at least intellectually, by constructing an approximate model assuming body-­mind duality somewhat on the lines of Gaudapada's Karika (commentary) on Mandukya Upanishad. The neuropsychological aspect does not, however, invalidate the model.

Broadly speaking, at an aggregate level, a human being can be viewed to be composed of two entities:

(i) An ensemble of all the sensory and action organs - collectively called “the Body”; and
(ii) An ensemble of all our knowledge, experience, memory, culture, thoughts, emotions, 'qualia'
- collectively called “the Mind.”

These two entities can be either in an active state (existent) or in rest (inert or non-existent) state. The two entities and the two states together can give rise to four outcomes.
The four outcomes are:

(a) Mind and body both active: Wakeful state.
(b) Mind active but body inactive: Dream state.
(c) Mind and body both inactive: Deep sleep, buddhistic satori, nirvikalpa samadhi, and finally death depending upon how inert or nonexistent, the condition of the entities is.
(d) Mind inactive or nonexistent or totally at rest, but body active: the state of nirvana or non-dualistic Brahmi state. In this state, life and its processes continue in the body but the mind and the ego are non-existent or totally inactive.

The four states appear to be mutually exclusive. That is to say that one cannot simultaneously be in two or more states. Just as one slips from a wakeful state to sleep and dream states without any effort, the fourth state too can be experienced without any particular effort.

The states of sleep or dream are not continuous throughout the sleeping time but are episodic (of about 90 minute’s duration). The fourth state too could be episodic. Only when we consciously try to attain a specific state that we lose it!

Each state is real on its own terms. Unless we posit an artificial reference extended from one state to the other for judgment, we cannot say that a specific state is real and the other is unreal. Each person experiences the state and lives in it by oneself. Just as it is impossible to prove sleep or dream state to the sleeping or dreaming individual by any external agent at the time of his actually sleeping or dreaming, it is also equally impossible for an external agent to demonstrate the fourth state. Vyasa, the great storyteller that he was, showed this very well in the eleventh chapter of Bhagavad Gita. The chatty, questioning, inquiring Arjuna was totally silent when he experienced the cosmic "Viswarupa" (i.e. when he was in the fourth state). Vyasa uses the technique of narrating the experience of Arjuna's state through the words of Sanjaya.

Can the body act when the mind is inert in the fourth state? We have the answer in the Bhagavad Gita. The actor in such a state remains satisfied with what comes of its own accord effortlessly. “Content with what comes to him, unaffected by the pairs of opposites, even-minded (non-reacting inert state), though acting, he is not bound (Bhagavad Gita IV - 22)". Such an action is inaction!

The sensory signals (visual, audio, etc.) inputted into the respective cortex of the brain take a few hundred milliseconds before they are interpreted to give rise to a meaningful understanding of what we see, hear, et cetera. In that fraction of a second, perception and other cognitive processes take place within the brain. If the signals through the sensory organs are received but if subsequent processing is eliminated by the thalamus, neocortex, et cetera, the sensory organs will be acting as mere peep-through windows.

No meaning is given to the signals by the self. Nor a spatial separation between the source of the signal and the "self' as a distinctly different receiver of the signal is felt. No distinction of ambient objects is experienced by the observer from the signals emanating from various objects. In this state obviously, only a Oneness exists between the signal receiver and the signal emitters without a line of distinction between different objects. Therefore, this state when the mind (and attendant neurophysiological processes) is absent may be the state of Nirvana. The person will have no distinguishing perception of identity and will be inseparable from all things around that makes One Great Whole. Could the absence of neurophysiological processes of cognition and giving meaning to what is perceived offer a definition of the state of Nirvana?


The world is not truly what it appears to be. Our mind deceives us into believing what we see. These are not some highly esoteric words of Vedanta. In fact, you do not need any philosophic wisdom to realize the illusion we live in.

The sensory perceptions we receive are given a meaning by our mind, which is a function of our brain. Our brain itself has evolved over millennia of years and in the process learnt innumerable survival techniques - tricks and short cuts for self-protection. In addition, social structure, language, culture etc. too contributed their own algorithms in giving a meaning to what we see. Thus our mind is highly stained and no more pristine. We notice everything through colored filters. Psychologists describe many of our beliefs and attitudes as such filters through which we view the world. Remove the crutches; we fail to recognize even something that we are very familiar. For example see Fig.1. You know it. But, it is presented from an altered perspective. What is it? An animal? Keep looking at it for a few minutes. If still not clear, read on.

Fig. 1. Fig. 2.

Vision is the most important sense. Does our eye show us reality? Look at Fig.2. Are all the horizontal lines of the same length? Or look at Fig.3. Which two divisions are longer? We judge wrongly because our eye is accustomed to make short cuts to perceive size. Take Fig. 4. Are there really any spots? There are light detecting cells in our eyes. The communication delays between these cells results in the shifting spots.

Fig. 3. Fig. 4.

As a survival mechanism, brain often supplies missing information and we feel we are seeing the whole truth. See Fig.5. Is there a triangle really between the three pacmen? Another good example of how the brain fills in missing information is when you see a placard like this: TO ET. If you find it in a window while walking on the road, you give one meaning. Suppose you find it on a closed door in a corridor, especially when you are under pressure to go, you supply a missing letter ‘I’ in between TO and LET and provide a different meaning. That’s how we take advantage of the background.

Fig. 5. Fig. 6.

But our brain may confuse too projecting the influence of the background onto the object or making faulty comparisons. Look at Fig.6. Is the circle in the center really distorted? Or notice the effect of offsets on the parallel lines in Fig.7. Our vision cannot tell us if something is concave or convex. Take Fig.8. Is it concave? Continue looking. At some point, it appears convex. What is the truth? Can you see it as both concave and convex at the same time?

Fig. 7 Fig. 8. .

Our brain imagines things depending on what we are familiar with. See the Fig.9. What do you see? A vase? Two faces? I say, neither. They are just two zigzag lines! And see Fig.10. Meaningless lines? No. It is a bent woman washing clothes with a bucket nearby. After I tell you this, the figure never again appears as meaningless lines to you. You can never again see the figure with the same innocence you did for the first time, once you learnt what the lines represent! If you have not yet figured out what it is, look again at Fig.1. Could you get it? Anyway, read on.

Fig. 9
Fig. 10

Your language, your culture, the way you are brought up, educated and trained will all influence your understanding what you perceive. Look at Fig.11. Out of the three pictures, a, b and c which two pictures are more related to one another? Most of us will say ‘a and c’. Reason? Both appear ready to kick the football. But some native Indonesians will answer as ‘a and b’. Their reason? When a ball is kicked it has to reach the goal. Psychologists say this difference shows the influence of language on the way one thinks. We can differentiate events temporally whereas they can do only spatially. The influence of culture becomes apparent when you look at Fig.12. Most of the analytically oriented western educated people will focus their sight on the central point - like the building – whereas orientalists will notice the background trees and beauty, as established by Prof. R. Nisbett. He observed, "East Asians are inclined to be holistic in their reasoning and perception. They focus more broadly on the field in which central objects are located, they attend to relationships and similarities among elements in the field, they are less concerned with categories and rules, and they rely on dialectical reasoning."

Fig. 11. Fig. 12.

The impact of cultural upbringing reflects also in understanding facial expressions and development of icons. The “Japanese people tend to look to the eyes for emotional cues, whereas Americans tend to look to the mouth.” The emoticons used in e-mail communications like L for happiness and L for sadness commonly used in the U.S.A. do not mean much to the Japanese. They would rather prefer (^_^) for happiness and (;_ ;) for sadness according to the research work done by Dr. Masaki Yuki, a behavioral scientist at Hokkaido University, Japan.

Having two eyes is definitely advantageous as it provides a depth to our vision and dimensionality. But this comes with a certain price. It can cause apparitions. Let us do an experiment to prove this. Hold your hands in front of you touching the tips of the index fingers, with the other fingers closed. Look past your fingers as if you are looking at something beyond. Now, slowly pull your fingers apart. Do you see a dangling oval piece of both fingers floating in between? You see this ghost because each eye has its own field of view.

The logic we use in comprehending things is also arbitrary and nothing absolute. We take it for granted many times and do not question. See the following sentences, all of which are fully correct grammatically and convey a meaning. But read together, they are meaningless.

All fish die.
Gandhi is dead.
So Gandhi was a fish.

Or take the arithmetic we use every day. We can divide all things into parts. What is it when you divide nothing by nothing? Or the squareroot of a negative number? We supply an arbitrary convention as answer.

As the Buddhist Monk, Steve Hagen says in his book, “Buddhism is Not What You Think”, (2003), “We all have conceptual habits such as these that help us make sense of the world. But these habits also limit us; they can throw us off, as they do with optical illusions. The habit of framing and encapsulating and viewing things in certain ways is conceptualizing. Thus, it is not just seeing but is rather, in sharp contrast to it…. The awakened see Reality as it is. They see that enlightenment is nothing more than not being deceived by the conceptual world each of us creates.” To get a feeling for how this works, look at Fig.13.

Fig. 13.

(Reproduced with the kind permission of Mr. Steve Hagen)

“Hold the figure about twelve inches from your face. Stare at the two dots at the top of the figure, and unfocus your eyes i.e. see as if you are looking at something behind the paper. Move the figure slightly until a third dot appears between the two. At this point, keep staring, but very slightly shift your vision downward until a three-dimensional image suddenly forms. This image cannot be seen through our common way of approaching things, yet it leaps from the page the moment we know how to look for it.” You suddenly realize what it is. Notice your feeling, as you perceive the reality. How lightened and relieved you feel. The earlier unease when you did not understand is gone now. The heart is lightened and you feel fulfilled. You smile at yourself. (Solutions for Fig.1 and Fig.13 are given at the end).

One needs a totally PURE mind without any cultural, linguistic, evolutionary stains to be able to see Reality with a capital R. Vyasa tells us “That in which all beings wake, is night to Self-seeing Muni (Bhagavad-Gita II, 69).” What a Muni sees with his unstained Pure Mind is invisible (dark) to us. What we see is not seen by the Muni.


Figure 1: Picture of Southern tip of India with part of Sri Lanka.

Figure 13: You will be able to get a 3-D view. The letters “PURE MIND” appear raised with a ring surrounding them.

19. “SELF” Within Us

“I know myself; but not my Self!
I know me; but not my “I”!

I am conscious of my self
Only when I am self-conscious.

xx xx xx

“Look inside to discover the Self”
That’s all the Guru’s offer of help.
Vedantins say “I” is a bundle of thought.
Neuroscientists say “I” is nought.

I, me and myself get lost in words galore
Of Science, Philosophy or Ancient Lore.”

(From “The Invisible Self”, by the author at

The above poem sums up the dilemma of self. Religion monopolized the word “Self” for centuries, eulogized and lifted it to ethereal heights or painted it with supernatural and supramental meaning. Buttressed by religion, we all believe in “self” to the extent that awareness of having a ‘self’ is regarded as a key element of being human.

We experience a sense of ‘self’ principally from our feeling of :

* Continuity (in time) – I was, I am, I will be; (‘self’ also acts as a continuing thread for my personality.)

* Coherence (in diversity) – I am still the same person in spite of my varied thoughts, memories, experiences etc.

* Embodiment (in ownership) – I have my body.

* Agency (in doership) – I decide to do; I have free will.

Every one of these aspects can, however, get disturbed either in case of damage to some part of brain or under controlled laboratory experiments. For example if right parietal cortex is tickled with an electrode, the person loses any sense of orientation and feels that he/she is floating near the ceiling watching his/her own body lying below! The person says “I have an out-of-the-body experience.”

Decades ago Prof. Libet showed that when we wiggled a finger, an electric pulse was generated not only in the motor cortex but also in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. This (pre-frontal) pulse occurred as much as three-fourths of a second earlier than our ‘conscious’ feel of deciding a movement like wiggling the finger. This means that “there's an initial area which prepares us to move the finger. Then the motor cortex executes the motor programs to make you wiggle the finger”. But our consciousness of decision-making (‘self’) coincides with the activity in the motor cortex. Under these circumstances can we claim that our self has “Doership”?

Our awareness of self sometimes gets switched off completely. It happens, for example, when the brain needs to concentrate hard on a tricky task, as found out by Dr. Goldberg and colleagues from the Weizmann Institute. “If there is a sudden danger, such as the appearance of a snake, it is not helpful to stand around wondering how one feels about the situation,” Goldberg points out. The brain’s ability to “switch off” the self may have evolved as a protective mechanism, he suggests. There are also some neurological cases when a person feels he has no self and believes he is dead. Or weirdly he may consider himself immortal and attempt to kill himself! This condition is known as Cotard’s syndrome. Does ‘self’ exist for one suffering from Cotard’s syndrome or for us when its awareness gets switched off?

Very recent studies using various advanced scanning techniques helped identify certain parts of the brain that give us a sense of “self.” These are the Medial Prefrontal Cortex (part of brain directly behind the eyes), Precuneus (located near top of the head) and Anterior Insula (located near about the ear). These areas may bind together all perceptions and memories that produce a sense of self in us. There may not be a single spot representing ‘self’ in our brain.

Some neuroscientists found that our right brain lights up more when we think of others and the left brain gets more active when we think of ourselves. However, we cannot with certainty say whether our brain processes information about ourselves differently from the way it processes information about others.

“Self” gives a distinct identity for oneself. According to Dr. Heatherton, a sense of self could have developed as an evolutionary mechanism for self-preservation to enable us to read the minds (intentions) of others. Dr. Lieberman finds that human beings are unique in having a well developed Medial Prefrontal Cortex with ‘spindle shaped neurons’ unlike other primates (apes etc). These neurons appear to have a role in processing ‘self-specific’ information. As the child grows to be an adult, another region of the brain that develops is precuneus responsible for autobiographical memories.

Having a self undoubtedly helps in self-protection. But too much of ‘indulgence in maintaining and enhancing a favorable view of one’s own ‘self’’ becomes Egotism. Recent experimental study jointly conducted at Carnegie Mellon and Florida State Universities showed that “egotism when threatened makes people particularly more prone to be entrapped in losing endeavors.” No wonder Hindu philosophy exhorts people to dissolve ego to have peaceful life!

Nueroscientific studies on self are undoubtedly in a nascent stage. If I ask you to show a house, you may readily point to a building. But if I strip apart the window, door, floor, roof and the wall, and ask you if any of these is the house, you will say that none of them are the house. Then where is the house? It is merely in your concept. House is a conceptual name for an assemblage of various components like the window etc. As neuroscience progresses, Self could be found out to be no more than a lumped up term (like house) for various mental processes. When once these processes are understood, we may realize that there is no unique individualized “self” within each of us (shades of Advaita!). Or it’s possible future discoveries may give an entirely new meaning to “SELF”. Once we understand self, we may hope to have treatment for the dreaded disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and Cotard’s syndrome.


Seldom can the body be sustained on unclean food and water. We become febrile, debilitated. The doctor diagnoses infection. He administers antibiotics or antiviral drugs to bring us back to our normal cheerful self. Infections to the heart or brain could prove more serious. But what most of us are not aware are the infections of the mind. Be aware you are already getting infected!

Ideas are thoughts. Thoughts spring from memory. Memory is a record of past events, experiences and knowledge. Therefore, all thoughts belong to the past. The mind we have is nothing but a bundle of thoughts and is useful for our survival. Mind functions through a center of identity. That center is “self.”

Modern Evolutionary Biologists are increasingly realizing that “thought” evolved its own survival tricks. Thoughts get replicated and passed on by ‘memes’ just like biological traits are propagated by ‘genes.’ A Meme is “an information pattern, held in an individual's memory and gets copied to another individual's memory” with variation and selection. Slogans, catchy tunes, many beliefs, religion, culture are examples for memes. So called “self” is also a meme!

Our mind plays tricks on us. It often forgets some things. Strangely it may also show things that were never seen previously by us. This is because somebody else’s experience infects our mind and we begin to believe that it was our own experience. Dr. Grant says, “An idea can parasitically infect your mind and alter your behavior.” It then causes you to tell your friends, “thus exposing them to the idea-virus.”

Thus Memes spread like viruses using human beings as carriers. In a way all our thoughts are infections. There is nothing like an original thought. If we free ourselves of thoughts, we automatically become free of mind. Zero-thought or Null-mind is highly acclaimed in Vedanta. It is the culmination for all spiritual practices. When thoughts are annulled, we attain pure, pristine Brahman state. “Thought watch” is the first step towards disinfecting mind, says Dr. Brodie.

The word ‘meme’ is only 30 years old (coined by Prof. Dawkins). But our sages recognized the havoc memes could play thousands of years ago. Maharshi Vasishta tells in Yogavaasishta the delightful story of how Sage Gadhi was confused and befuddled when his mind was infected by other’s experiences.

Gadhi was an orthodox Brahmin and renounced the world at a young age. He prayed to Lord Vishnu to grant him a boon so that he could witness Maya (illusion). The Lord granted him the wish. Days went by but nothing happened.

One day as Gadhi entered a pond and commenced his daily ablutions, he suddenly went blank; his body became frigid. His mind began to have strange experiences. He felt he was dead. He saw his relatives, his wife and children crying over his dead body. He was cremated. He was reborn in a hunter tribe and was named Katanja. He grew up killing animals and devouring their raw flesh. For some reason, Katanja deserted his family and went around roaming. During his wanderings he went to Keeradesa where the King just died and the Nobility was looking for a successor. Katanja was selected to be their king. He ruled well for eight years when his true nature of being a mere uneducated hunter tribesman got exposed. The citizens of Keera felt terribly ashamed for having served such an unworthy king. Some of the Nobility committed suicide. Learning about it, Katanja decided to end his life. He jumped into a burning pyre.

Just as the King jumped with a thud, Gadhi was jerked out of his stupor. Gadhi witnessed a span of over 80 years of his life within the few minutes he lost senses in the pond. He was surprised how a wife and kids could attend his funeral when he was not ever married. He deduced that it was merely a hallucination and forgot all about it.

One day a sage visited him. The visitor narrated in detail about how an unworthy hunter by name Katanja was crowned King of Keeradesa, what happened during his eight years of reign and how hundreds of humiliated citizens committed suicide. Gadhi was shocked. What he surmised was an imagination turned out to be real! Was he himself Katanja then? He probed the visitor with searching questions. The visitor’s replies matched exactly with his experience. Gadhi visited Keeradesa to check things personally. He could easily recognize the places and people. He questioned the villagers and looked at the evidence. He was left with no doubt that it was his own life and story! He couldn’t comprehend how physical evidence could exist if what he experienced in the pond was mere phantasm. He was unable to decipher whether his hallucination was real or imaginary.

He prayed Lord Vishnu to bestow clarity. A long, interesting and very illuminating conversation took place between them.

Lord Vishnu explained to Gadhi: “You happened to notice a hut put up by a hunter in a hamlet. It made a lasting impression on you. The impression was so strong that that hut of long lost time appeared right before you now. Staring at the hut, you claimed ownership to it. Thoughts and experiences of Katanja invaded your mind. They became your own experiences. You became Katanja.

“You thought that your experience in the pond was a fantasy and personal to you. You believed your later experiences to be real. In fact your hallucination, the visit of a sage, your investigations in Keeradesa and the whole gamut of your experiences were one continuous illusion, also witnessed by many others. That’s why the villagers you interrogated could substantiate your experience.

You distinguish reality from dream experience based on two criteria. You think that space-time configuration in a dream do not correspond to actual space-time in reality. You also feel that what you experience in your dream is unique to yourself and others that appear in your dream cannot have the same experience. Both criteria are not infallible.

“Great Sage! Know the entire world to be no more than a panorama of illusory magic. Purify your mind first to understand this.”

Large groups of memes that are copied and passed on together are called co-adapted meme complexes or Memeplex. Vedanta considers world as Maya, a vast Memeplex. Let us disinfect our mind from memes and realize Truth.


Our genes know us like seeds know a plant. Genes instruct each cell of our body on how much and when to produce the 100,000 odd proteins that define what we are – in both behavior and looks. Our skin color, color of the eye or hair is decided by genes. It’s the genes that make you religious or alcoholic. If you are slow in studies, blame it on your gene. If you are irritable, yes, it’s a gene. Genes can cause diabetes or Alzheimer’s. Everyday a gene gets identified as reason for some disease or character in us.

We inherit our genes from our parents. We have no hand in it. So, we are nothing but mere helpless puppets controlled by genes. Hence, we should not be held responsible for any acts of omission and commission because it is the genes acting and not we. This argument totally contradicts the rationale of our penal system on culpability!

Obviously there is something more to it. For, consider this: Chimpanzees and we differ only by about one percent in our genes. We have only slightly more than twice the number of genes compared to what an earthworm has. By any means we, human beings, look and behave far different from these animals than what the mere number of genes would indicate.

Undoubtedly genes are in full control immediately after conception. But genes alone do not determine our health and well-being throughout our life. For example, identical twins possess exactly same genes. If only genes determine everything, one would expect identical twins to have exactly the same characteristics all through their lives. But this is not so. Though the twins might be “indistinguishable during the early years, they exhibit remarkable differences” with age. So what is important is not the presence of a gene but whether it gets switched on or not to produce a given protein. Nobel Laureate, Dr. Kandel says that environmental stimuli turn the genes on and off. One study in USA records that “In most cases, getting or avoiding a disease depends not just on genes but on things within your control, such as diet, exercise.” Hence environment has a major role in shaping us to be what we are.

Environment affects us even before we are born i.e. when we are still a fetus in our mother’s womb! Talking about the environment in which a fetus grows, Dr. Nathanielsz observes that “the physical, hormonal and even emotional interactions between a mother and her child in the womb have a concrete effect on that child’s physical and mental health”. Therefore, it is very important for mothers to have healthy nutrition, happy attitude and positive feelings so that the baby born will develop to be a happy individual. The way a child is brought up also impacts its character. Dr. Richards finds that proper nurturing of the offspring turns on the glucocorticoid gene which helps in handling stress. Not enough nurturing and grooming, the gene never gets turned on and the child grows to roil in uncontrolled emotions.

Epigenetics is the new Science that studies the influence of environment on genes. There are about 25,000 genes in us. Genes exist as stretches within a long chain of chemical molecules called DeoxyriboNucleic Acid (DNA). DNA occurs tightly coiled around protein spools in every cell of our body. Spool protein, coil tightness and neighboring DNA are three factors that help or hinder genes in their activity. These factors in turn are affected by chemicals in the environment. Environment thus exerts indirectly its influence on genes. Dr. Newberg found that certain odors in the environment caused characteristic emotional responses: lavender evoked feelings of relaxation and calm while acetic acid raised feelings of anger and disgust. (Reason enough to light incense sticks at the time of meditation!) Dr. Li-Huei Tsai’s work recently confirmed that enriched and stimulating environment helped the growth of new neuronal connections in brain, contributing to improved memory and learning capability. Dr. Kandel showed that learning alters nerve connections resulting in behavioral changes.

Dr. Lipton carries the environmental effect a step further - from physical to mental. He says, “DNA is controlled by energetic messages emanating from our positive and negative thoughts.” Much of latest research seems to support this view. Dr. Benson, Dr. Zubieta and many scientists found that positive thoughts induced release of more natural painkillers and dopamine in the brain. (Dopamine gives a sense of well-being). By conscientiously directed thought akin to meditation, Dr. Schwartz is able to successfully treat patients of chronic mental disorders.

Negative thoughts, on the other hand, damage the body. If we entertain images of disability and despair, body produces toxins and we do become sick! Dr. Blackburn and her team recently discovered that “chronic stress and even perception that life was stressful” affected every cell in the body. Cells lost their ability to replicate and turned old sooner! Dr. Davidson’s group at Wisconsin convincingly proved the effect of meditation on brain. These examples underline the importance of mental environment (our attitude and thinking) in triggering genes.

As thoughts can influence genetic dispensation, we better watch our thoughts. Upbringing, culture, peer pressures, social relationships etc. largely govern our thinking. Hence we should be discrete in our associations. We should look to those who can facilitate wholesome ‘thought environment’ conducive to negating genetic compulsions and lead us to happiness.

Sanchita karma is long-term accumulated storage of the effect of past actions. That’s the record the genes contain. It manifests 100 per cent at the time of conception and constitutes vasanas. Environmental interactions and thought processes initially in the mother’s womb and later in the world modify vasanas to produce Prarabdha, current sufferage. Freedom from the genetic dictate of birth-cycles (samsara) is Nirvana, a total burn out of vasanas. Satsangatya, scrupulously chosen high-quality environment that we associate with, strengthens our thought-processes in surpassing the genetic code. Maitri Upanishad declared long ago, “What a man thinks that he becomes: this is a mystery of Eternity.”




Is Mr. Menon there?

“Sure, he is.”

Is he not in London?

“Certainly not.”

Not in Hyderabad either?

“No! He is definitely here in Thrissur.”

Is he sleeping?

“What? Sleeping? No, he is very much awake.”

Mr. Menon’s Assistant, though a bit bewildered, sounded very confident in his replies. But I remained unconvinced. If the probability of Mr. Menon being in London is zero and his being present in Thrissur is 100%, there must be some probability of his being in Hyderabad in-between! Further his Assistant asserts that Mr. Menon is awake. How does he know Menon’s state so definitely without actually seeing him? Don’t think that I lost my wits or I am an over-the-top Vedantin.

Let me explain. Suppose you are lecturing to a roomful of people. How do you describe what the audience is doing? You will say that they are listening to your speech. Can you vouchsafe that every individual in the room without exception is surely listening to you? Honestly, you cannot. Some may be in sync with your lecture. But many others may have been wandering away in thoughts about – the crease in your dress, high tea at the end of the talk or the spat they had with their girl or something. What you can at the best say is that the group is in general listening to you.

So is the case with the trillions and trillions of cells and zillions of atoms and subatomic particles in our bodies. All of them are on constant move. They don’t sit idly at one place. Nobody can for certain say where a particle is at a given time. It can be anywhere in the universe. That’s the weird uncertain world that atomic and subatomic particles live in as Quantum Physics found out from experiments with electrons and particles of light called photons.

Now think of all the particles in Mr. Menon’s body. From Quantum Physics angle, they can’t all be at one place in his office. Hence his Assistant can only say that there is a high probability of finding Menon in his office, and there is some small probability of his existing in Hyderabad, or in London or on Moon or on Andromeda galaxy – all at the same time! This means that Menon exists as if smeared around the entire universe with a denser smear at Thrissur. Or alternately his Assistant can say that a longer lasting smear of Menon occurs at Thrissur.

If you come this far, let us examine his state. You think that what you observe ‘out there’ is reality independent of you. You consider yourself as an observer standing aloof having no role in deciding the state of the reality that you see. But it is not true. Let us imagine Menon is miniaturized to one particle instead of considering the zillions of particles in him. Quantum Physics tells that Menon could be both sleeping and awake at the same time. Not merely these two states. He could simultaneously be in a number of many other states. A specific state of his comes into being only if you observe him. You do not know where and in what state Menon is unless and until you actually see him!

Dr. Schrödinger who was himself responsible in developing Quantum Physics was also puzzled by this counterintuitive prediction. So he thought what’s true for particles should be true for cats. Thus evolved the famous thought experiment “Schrödinger’s Cat.” If a cat is put into a closed box with 50-50 chance of being hit by a poisonous molecule, will it be alive or dead? Well, the answer is that it exists in both states of being dead and alive at the same time. Only at the moment you look at it, it will get into one definite state – dead or alive! All this is not just mental acrobatics and theoretical jugglery. In December 2005, Physicists from Innsbruck did put eight calcium atoms in multiple states. “These atoms were each spinning clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time!” The atoms are lovingly said to be in ‘Cat State’ by Physicists.

So there is no reality until you perceive it. Reality assumes a firm form and state only after your perception. In other words, you are no more a distant observer but a participant in creating the reality that you notice! Does it imply that the moon does not exist until you look at her? That’s a doubt even celebrated scientists expressed! Arthur Koestler famously asked, “Whom does the mirror see when you do not look at it?”

Hence until we consciously observe, “whatever-that-is-there-around” could only be a fuzzy cloud of frantically swirling particles. How does that get reduced to the reality that we see? Quantum Physics has no unique answer for this question. There are a range of explanations. Some question if there is any reality at all. One view invokes Shri Aurabindo’s philosophy. A majority opinion says our consciousness (or measurement) plays a role in reducing the haze into the objects we see. This viewpoint strikes a chord in Vedantins.

Vedas hold that it is not possible to express in any concrete terms “whatever-that-is-there-around.” Its intrinsic qualities cannot be comprehended or expressed by us, because It becomes ‘the world’ the moment we are conscious of It. Vedas named It as “Brahman.” They attempt to convey a sense of Brahman by pointing out to three tentative qualities -- Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution -- which Brahman assumes when we observe It. Taittiriyopanishad declares that the world emerges from, is sustained by and absorbed into Brahman. Hence we may say ‘perception’ (because of which the world arises -- Otherwise, there is no world) activates the tentative attributes of Brahman. In the absence of sensorial perception, It stays as “whatever-that-is-there-around.” Sankara said it simply: “‘Thought’ is the creator of various things” (Aparokshanubhuti, Sloka 14).


Quantum Physics is the science of small particles. The strange and counter-intuitive phenomena it predicts often leave us stunned. It says that if two particles were together once, they never lose their connectedness even after they get separated. Each particle readjusts itself in response to any change in state of its counterpart which might be several millions of miles away. The readjustment is instantaneous and happens without any sort of messaging link between them. So if you met Menon once, you can never escape from getting affected by what happens to him, even if you run away to another galaxy!

Unconvincing? Do not blame yourself. Even Dr. Albert Einstein could not digest this sort of “spooky action at a distance” taking place. He, therefore, felt that Quantum Physics was an incomplete theory. He along with a couple of colleagues designed a thought experiment in 1935 to mock at the possibility of one particle being affected by a far away counterpart. It became famous as the “EPR Paradox.” It took 47 years to develop the paradox into a verifiable theorem and then conduct an actual experiment to test it. To everybody’s surprise, the test confirmed what Quantum Physics predicted. The idea that physically separated objects are really separate – got demolished!

From Einstein’s theory one can deduce that the entire universe was no more than a small point about 13.7 billion years ago. Everything was together in that single point. All the forces, chemical elements, stars and galaxies and you and me evolved from that point. Once together always together, says Quantum Physics. Therefore, all of us who evolved from that point continue to be interconnected affecting each other in unknown ways. There is no dodging the entangled web that we are.

Psychic abilities like remote viewing, premonition, clairvoyance etc. appear extra-ordinary. But they are “no longer rare human talents, divine gifts, or ‘powers’ that magically transcend ordinary physical boundaries. Instead, psi becomes an unavoidable consequence of living in an interconnected, entangled physical reality” holds Dr. Radin.

“Measuring a quantum property on one particle immediately affects the other, and this effect can be used to “teleport” information between pairs of entangled particles.”
Say I manipulate a few particles to be arranged in the shape of a particular object here. Because what we do to one particle here instantaneously affects its entangled particles somewhere else, it amounts to transferring information from where we are to that distant place instantaneously. So the manipulations done by me here in creating an object will be instantly transferred and exactly similar object gets created at the far off place. This is not a hypothetical argument. Physicists did successfully teleport quantum states for the first time in 1998. So far Quantum teleportation had been done between similar objects, say from light to light or one atom to another. But Dr. Polzik and colleagues in Denmark could “entangle photons with caesium atoms, transmit the light and then teleport properties of the photons on to equivalent properties in the caesium atoms” by a distance of half a meter in 2006. This may not sound great to us, but it is a very significant achievement from scientific angle towards teleporting larger objects.

Every particle being entangled with every other particle implies that each particle possesses full knowledge of all other particles. Expressed differently, it means that every point in the universe contains information about the whole universe. We find this incredible feature to be the characteristic of holograms. (You might have seen a hologram in the stickers that some manufacturers attach to their products.) “Any piece of a hologram, if illuminated with coherent light, provides an image of the entire hologram. The information of the whole is contained in each part.” Hence if you break a hologram, each piece still shows the total picture. A hologram becomes smaller “Wholes” and not smaller parts on breakage. Because of this reason, some physicists describe the universe as ‘holographic.’ The total is never lost by losing any parts!

Instantaneous transfer of secretly coded information exploiting the property of entanglement is being developed for facilitating financial and bank transactions over large distances across the globe. Recently USA and Japan collaborated in transferring encrypted information over telephone lines for a distance of 200 kilometers.

We can draw two conclusions from what we understand from Quantum Physics learnt thus far. One is that every particle is interconnected to every other particle. Second is that each particle exists as if it is smeared everywhere without a definite position unless it is observed. In other words, in an unobserved universe (i.e. in the absence of sensory perception), each particle is everywhere in the universe and is interconnected with every other. One way to understand this is to conceive of them all to be only ‘one’ and not many different particles. Expressed in cryptic Upanishad terminology, “it is ONE; there is no second.”

We have talked thus far about every point in space. Einstein’s Relativity theory says that time and space are not independent and absolute dimensions. The universe constitutes a four dimensional spacetime fabric. Extending the logic of interconnectivity of particles in three-dimensional space to four-dimensional spacetime, we can expect every point on different timelines to contain information of all points of all timelines. In other words, each point contains the whole universe of (our) past, present and future. This is completely incomprehensible from our day to day perspective and leads us to an astounding situation of entire past, present, future universe being at one point. If everything of everywhere and of all time periods exists at each point, it is tantamount to nothing being anywhere. Then what and where is creation? We are reminded of what Gaudapada declared: “The highest Truth is nothing is ever created” (Gaudapada Karika of Mandukya Upanishad, III, 48).


You are certain about the toothbrush being in the bathroom when you walk in there after a night’s sleep. You can definitely tell the time it takes to reach your office. That is all true. But the particles that constitute you or your toothbrush are not as predictable! Quantum Physics studies how tiny particles like electrons, protons, atoms that constitute everything behave. It sobers us down not to be so definite and deterministic. It comes out with mind-bending mathematics and concepts almost bordering Vedanta. Dr. Bohr, a giant among Quantum Physicists, famously said: "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it".

For all that, Quantum Physics is not an esoteric theory. It is derived from actual experiments. Dr. Evans writes:

“If we shoot a beam of electrons at a sheet of metal with a slit in it, a small number of electrons will pass through. The electrons that pass through form what looks like a shotgun blast pattern on a photographic film. If we repeat this experiment with two slits instead of one, we expect to see two shotgun blast patterns. Instead we find bands of alternating high and low hits of electrons. Such a pattern of alternating bands is called “Interference Pattern.” It is the characteristic pattern produced when two waves interact like ripples in a water pond when you pelt two stones. The electrons, which behaved as particles when passed through one slit behave as waves when they pass through two slits!

“It gets even more interesting when we slow down the rate of electrons until only one electron at a time passes through the slits. In this case we expect that there would be no interference pattern because there is no second electron when one was passing through the slits. Surprisingly, the electron behaves as if it is going through both slits and interacting with itself to form an interference pattern! It behaves as if it is a wave and also a particle at the same time! More confounding is the fact that this result is obtained only if we look at the photographic film where the electron ends up. But if we look to see which slit it passes through, then it only passes through the slit that we observe it in and does not produce any interference pattern!” If we do not check the path while an electron transverses from one point to another, it appears as though it has followed several or many paths to reach its destination raising the possibility that particle being present in multiple locations all at once during its transit.

These findings led physicists to develop wave theory of matter. “In this new view of the world, objects are represented by waves that extend throughout space, containing all possible outcomes of an observation - here, there, up or down, dead or alive.” Dr. Schrödinger came up with the math that correctly predicts the chances of finding that particle at any given point. Once you look at the particle, the 'wave' collapses into the single point at which the particle really is. Another peculiar character of particles is: we may know how fast one is moving but not where it exactly is; alternately we may know its correct position but not accurately its speed. This is called as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and puts a limit to what we can know. He cautioned us regarding the fallibility of our set concepts: “The idea of an objective real world whose smallest parts exist objectively in the same sense as stones or trees exist independently of whether we observe them is impossible.”

But then how is it that we still see objects? When do the particles in my toothbrush get the good behavior of staying as my toothbrush instead of running hither and thither? Quantum Physics has no explanation. Nevertheless, it revolutionized Physics in the twentieth century. It helped in the discovery of atomic energy, computers, lasers, satellite communication and so on. It gave the equations to calculate the outcome from an experiment. "Everyone agrees on how to use the equations of quantum theory to make accurate predictions. But there is no consensus on what it really means to have probability waves, nor on how a particle "chooses" which of its many possible futures to follow" says Prof. Greene.

However, there are several conjectures varying from spiritual to philosophical to mathematical, many of them unfalsifiable, to explain why is it that we see objects instead of fuzzy waves. Niels Bohr and a majority attribute it to our perception much akin to Advaita philosophy. Supporters of this view state that the neuronal processes in our brain obey quantum laws. Proponents of Many Worlds hypothesize that the universe splits every fraction of a second into several equally real universes each representing a different possible condition. “Billions of you are splitting off every fraction of a second into discrete universes. A 500-year-old you exists in some universes, whereas in others you died at birth” says Dr. Higgo explaining the implication of this theory. A variation of this concept gets support from believers in mythologies. For, Puranas refer to “an infinite number of universes each with its own gods, inhabitants and planets.” Dr. Bohm theorized that every particle is guided by a hidden wavefront bringing about an implicit order. Other suggestions keep emerging every now and then.

Some scientists think that the basic equations of Quantum Physics need to be modified to bridge the gap between the weird world of small particles and our day to day reality. Two Nobel winning Physicists, Dr. Leggett and Dr. Ramsey debated recently this question. Dr. Leggett said “Yes” and Dr. Ramsey said “No.” Austrian Physicist, Dr. Zeilinger said it all: “The (actual) world is even weirder than what quantum physics tells us." Dr. Einstein would certainly agree.


Universe is overwhelmingly empty. Up in the heavens, Galaxies are interspersed by huge empty spaces. Matter constitutes less than one percent of the universe -- about one atom in ten cubic meters of space. Within an atom too there is more empty space than substance. If an atom is magnified to the size of a football stadium, matter (nucleus) in it will be no bigger than a golf ball, the remaining space being just emptiness. However, many ancient Indian scriptures hold that there is energy aplenty in space. Physicists unhesitatingly agree. Evidence for energy in empty space comes both from Cosmology that deals with astronomical objects and Quantum Physics which studies subatomic particles.

Dr. Einstein postulated way back in 1917 the existence of energy in empty space. He said that energy in space counter balanced the effect of gravity and provided stability to universe. He called it “Cosmological Constant.” However, he withdrew later his postulation as a mistake when Astronomers found that the universe was not actually stable but expanding. The words of a seer like Einstein, even if said for a flawed reason, can hardly go wrong. For, Dr. A. Reiss and others found in 1998 that the universe was not only expanding, but expanding with an increasing pace. Astronomers then reverted to Cosmological Constant with doubled conviction invoking it as the cause for accelerated expansion of the universe. Further, Satellite studies in 2006 established that about 74 percent of the universe consisted of some invisible energy. A comprehensive study in 2007 by Dr. Jesper Sollerman and Dr. Tamara Davis of Copenhagen University convincingly established that Einstein’s Cosmological Constant is this invisible energy. Quantum Physics provides the raison d'être for the existence of energy in empty space.

According to Quantum Physics, there is always some probability of a subatomic particle appearing anywhere in the universe. But we can never know exactly for sure whether a particle is at a given place or not. It means that particles can keep popping up and vanishing anywhere all the time. Expressed crudely, matter gets created and annihilated everywhere perpetually, particularly when we consider unimaginably small dimensions of time and space (called Planck scales). Therefore, so called empty space would be actually seething with constant appearance and disappearance of particles at Planck scales. As Dr. J.A. Wheeler said, “Empty space is not empty. It is the seat of the most violent physics.” The violent fluctuations of pull-push give rise to energy to empty space. All this analysis is not idle speculation. In 1948 the amount of force that could possibly exist between two parallel plates due to such constant turmoil of particles was predicted. Fifty years later, technology necessary to verify the prediction in the lab became available. Laboratory results confirmed the predicted value. The force is termed Casimir force (nothing to do with our Kashmir but named after the original Dutch discoverer).

But can particles cross over huge amounts of solid matter to appear in empty space in the universe? Yes, says Quantum Physics. Small particles “can disappear at one point in space-time and instantly reappear elsewhere even passing through obstructions. This very unconventional and logic-boggling behavior is called Tunnel Effect.” Again it is not a fanciful mathematical probability. Real instruments like Scanning Tunneling Microscopes (STMs) are designed based on Tunneling Effect! STMs are extensively used to magnify materials to observe atoms in them. Thus quantum studies indicate that there can never be a true empty space and quantum fluctuations do impart a measurable force to space.

Precision in measurement is the pride of Physics professionals. So they went out measuring the energy in empty space. The measurements by Cosmologists and Quantum Physicists differed by several orders of magnitude. It is like one calling a thing to be of the size of a grain of sand while the other says it is as big as the Himalayas! An obvious embarrassment to Physicists. Prof. L. Krauss thinks it may take several decades to sort out the discrepancy.

Bhagavad-Gita (Ch 8; Verse 9) describes Brahman (Sanskrit root: brih to expand) to be smaller than the smallest, yet forms the substratum for all. Brahman is everywhere including us. These characteristics of being everywhere and expanding have an astounding resemblance to empty space energy. How is it then we do not feel this energy? Well, because we can sense things only in contrast to something else. You cannot see a white thing in white light. You cannot view the ocean if you yourself happen to be a drop of water within it. Yourself being the very same energy that is around, you are unable to perceive it.

Astrophysicist Prof. Haisch and colleagues established through their seminal work that matter obtains solidity (mass) because of resistance to movement from the invisible energy in space. That means solidity for matter is not intrinsic; it is an illusion. The illusory nature of matter becomes evident if we could ride a beam of light as observers. If we move at the speed of light, he points out, “All of space would shrink to a point, and all of time would collapse to an instant, because for a beam of light transmission from its point of origin to any point is instantaneous.” You will encounter no obstruction, no resistance, no solidity, no substance, no matter at that velocity! It’s just one whole without gap. From our perspective, light from Sun takes 8.5 seconds to reach us. For photon itself, the moment it originated in Sun, it is with us. There is no separating distance between Sun and us; it’s all Oneness only. Is that Oneness “Realization”? Was it something like a ride on a light beam for those who realized Supreme Truth? Dr. Einstein himself said that he arrived at the ground breaking Theory of Relativity by his imaginary ride over a light beam!


(To be included)


Man's body and mind have ever remained an enigma. The sometimes weak and sometimes strong human body or the sometimes happy and sometimes sad human mind, origin of life and matter itself and many related issues occupied the attention of the philosophers from time immemorial. Whether it was an inquiry for the ultimate "truth" or a search for "controlling" the nature, the basic and fundamental questions always defied solution.
In the ancient times the religious leaders monopolized the explanations for the puzzling phenomena of life. Religion occupied a central place in the life of a society. However, keeping in tune with the prevailing state of knowledge, special vocabulary and jargon was also evolved from time to time by various thinkers in order to offer a convincing explanation. Several words like love, happiness, and sin and inexplicable words like soul, atman, and nirvana acquired special meanings with an aura of not only holiness but also mystique around them. An attempt is made here in understanding religion and many such words firstly from a global perspective keeping the universe as a whole in mind and then from the perspective of an individual with all his/her compulsions, travails and tribulations at the center.
We all have desires. Any serious thinking person can identify 'desire' as the root cause of all misery. It is in general despised by religion. If 'desire' is such an unworthy thing, why is it that we have this tendency to desire? Why are we prone to desire something or the other? In the ultimate analysis, all types of desires converge towards basically two goals: (i) freedom and liberty -- freedom from all controls and liberty from all authority and (ii) mental and physical happiness -- where the physical and mental comfort is seamless, undiluted and infinite. The urge for freedom and happiness is inborn and wired into the human body and mind. Such an urge is driven by the genes in order to protect, preserve, propagate and perpetuate themselves.
The most conducive atmosphere for the continuity of genes exists when the organism enjoys freedom and comfort. Any constraint on the free movement or any discomfort to the organism restricts the chances of the genes in their reproduction (and hence perpetuation). This is true for all living things and not merely in the case of man. Therefore, man's desire to be free and comfortable arises from the fact that the genes get the best chance for their reproduction and continuity in that situation. Thus the body (and the organism) is merely a sheath and the real masters are the genes. Freedom from all fears and happiness where no want exists are the ideal mix for "Life" to perpetuate itself infinitely and indefinitely through the genes. And, therefore, man is propelled helplessly to pursue these twin quests for freedom and happiness, as he is also merely one of several carriers of "life".
2. LIFE PERPETUATES ITSELFLife is there everywhere not necessarily in an oxygen and carbon dependent form as familiar to us. Normally we are able to acknowledge the existence of Life only when it manifests in some form or shape that is recognized by us. Researchers found a couple of years ago evidence of life in the form of bacteria (Archaea) in subterranean caves in oxygen poor environments surviving on elements like iron, manganese and others having a distinct DNA capable of replication. The bacteria constantly reproduce themselves changing, in the process, the chemistry of the rock material on which their life depends and consequently the environment around.
Physics tells us that the universe originated around 14 billion years ago in a big bang from a point of singularity where the known physical laws fail. The latest theory in Physics, the M-theory with the concept of eleven dimensions, attempts to go beyond the big bang with the postulation of parallel universes in four dimensions. Thus all theories of creation and subsequent evolution expounded require an a priori assumption of an initial existence of some energy or matter. The perpetuation of life is then seen as a movement of an initial energy into various insentient and sentient forms. The initial energy may be strings, bosons, fermions for physicists or shakti for vedantins or God in most of the other monotheistic religions. The various sentient and insentient forms may be subatomic particles, atoms, molecules, viruses, bacteria, unicelled protozoa to bryoza to multicellular organisms or in other words the whole range of floral and faunal species. But no body - either religious stalwarts or scientific experts - could explain the very origin of life or its quality to perpetuate itself at zero time, though mechanisms of creation or evolution are offered to explain subsequent developments. This quality of Life to perpetuate itself surviving under all eventualities appears to be something that is in Nature. If what is present all around is visualized as life, Life itself can be viewed as a self-perpetuating movement from somewhere unknown to an unknown nowhere, replicating through a highly organized auto-cannibalizing and evolving forms, matter and species being merely incidental intermediaries in this movement.
3. CONSCIOUSNESSThough the word had been a taboo for a long time for scientists, research for the last decade or so has been able to provide an understanding of what is consciousness. Organisms evolved a variety of survival mechanisms so that they can pass on their genes to their offspring before they are dead. Consciousness also appears to be one such mechanism in this process of perpetuation and preservation. Mathematician Physicist Penrose and Anesthesiologist Hameroff in their theory on Orchestrated Objective Reduction indicate how the creatures could have attained consciousness sometime in the Cambrian Period (550 million years ago) resulting in an explosion of a variety of species. Prior to that period the neural structure and the number of neurons in their nervous system were perhaps not adequate to give rise to consciousness in the animals (proterozoa) through quantum reduction. Thus consciousness served as a useful mechanism for diversification of the species and also in ensuring a greater survival chance for the individual so that "Life" itself can continue. One should, however, note that, at no time a particular species was important or a necessary condition for "Life". Graptolites in the Silurian Period, a variety of fish in the Devonian Period and several reptiles towards the end of the Paleozoic Era reigned supreme in their respective periods but became extinct later. The dinosaurs ruled the earth as the unquestioned highest forms of species of life for about 160 million years (that is Triassic to Cretaceous Periods). But at the end of Cretaceous (about 70 million years ago), all the dinosaurs disappeared, though life itself did not get extinguished. It continued into other forms. The huge mammoths were everywhere on the earth till geologically Recent times (about a million years ago). But they exist no more. In the long history of the earth ever since its birth, there have been many examples of mass extinction of several species of animals and plants and evolution of new life forms. Today a human being appears to be the unquestioned ruler of the world blessed with a big cranial capacity and rich consciousness unsurpassed in the past. Whatever steps we may take in conserving the environment and preserving ourselves, there is no sure way to say that the human being is going to be there on the earth for ever and ever. Nor can one say with any reason that the ultimate form into which life has evolved is Man. There is no uniqueness associated with man. Nor does the earth look to be the only planet to support life. Over 400 extra solar planets have been discovered during the last decade. In January this year (2004) a planet in the Pegasus cluster was identified with carbon and oxygen escaping from it. Thus earth cannot claim for carbon (and hence carbon based life) as unique for us. It, therefore, looks that Life itself is not interested in the perpetual preservation of any species, let alone any specific individual. The movement of life continues from one species to another unendingly. There does not appear to be an end to this movement and one cannot predict what form and shape the future creatures take. Therefore, Man is just one form of the species for Life to continue. The Homo sapiens, notwithstanding their consciousness, may also become expendable just as the dinosaurs were.
4. ENERGY AUDITComfort and being comfortable are fallout of freedom and happiness. Comfort extends to both physical and mental well being. It has both physical and mental dimensions. It is not entirely mental only. I am comfortable if I have no external pressures of authority to comply with or if my own natural state of being is not threatened. Any force on the body causes discomfort, as the person has to spend energy to counter or adjust to that force. Or in other words, in order to feel comfortable, I should be free to be what I am. If we would like to analyze and understand comfort more precisely, we need a working definition and a measure for it so that proper formulations can be made for hypothesis and testing. How do we define comfort? Careful analysis shows that the less one expends one's own energy, the more comfortable one is. To wit: I am more comfortable in an air-conditioned carpeted room than standing in scorching sunlight because my body has to spend very little of its own energy in maintaining its temperature, fluid and electrolyte balance etc. in an air-conditioned room unlike in the hot sun. So also it is true that if some body else does my jobs, does the worrying for me, I am that much more comfortable (e.g. a chauffeur driven car rather than having to face the tension of driving through heavy disorderly traffic looking for street signs etc). One may feel that comfort and happiness are momentary. Even if they are momentary, what happens in that moment? When the body is getting adjusted to an altered ambient condition, what biological and biochemical processes are taking place within the body (internally and externally)? Any process of alteration or adjustment acting on the body implies effort and effort implies expending of energy (potential, kinetic, chemical, electrical etc.). In other words, the less the energy that is expended by me, whether it is a physical job or a mental one, the more comfortable I am. "The energy dynamic between organisms and their environments--that is, energy expended in relation to energy acquired -- has important adaptive consequences for survival and reproduction." Integrating this idea from the level of an individual to the level of all the species, the less the energy (that is all forms of resources) that is consumptively utilized (expended away), the greater is the comfort of the species. Comfort is thus an indicator of the energy audit. With minimal consumption of resources, higher comfort levels are achieved for the whole species. When a whole species is comfortable, then there are higher chances of its survival and self-propagation and self-perpetuation. With such a definition of comfort, Intelligent Quotient can also be better understood. Given a problem, perhaps all people may eventually process it and find a solution. But an intelligent individual will process faster consuming less energy (a fact shown by functional MRI scans of brain activity).
Psychologists, neuroscientists and religious teachers see a great difference between love and fear. (As used here, love includes all its other manifestations like mercy, kindness, forgiving, affection, sharing, cooperation etc. So also fear includes all its variations and forms like anger, hatred, revenge, competitivity etc.). But if we analyze deeply, it is not difficult to see that these two feelings are the same having an identical single purpose of facilitating self-preservation and self-perpetuation.
Fear helps in the self-perpetuation and survival of the individual whereas love helps in the self-perpetuation of a group - family at one level or the whole species in a larger sense. In the non-zero sum game of Prisoner's Dilemma, the economists demonstrate how cooperation (i.e. love or care for other's needs) rather than competition amongst the participants leads to the highest common good. Thus love in all its manifestations assures the highest common good for the creatures in the group and helps in the successful survival of a group as a whole. If love for one another amongst the members of a group, society, or clan is absent, that group would have annihilated itself by internal quarrels and fights. So called altruism (sacrifice by an individual for the greater good invoking the feelings of patriotism, family prestige, superior values and eternal love for a greater cause) helps towards the propagation and perpetuation of the species at the cost of an individual.
6. NONVIOLENCE IS A MYTHMany religious leaders exhort nonviolence to be cultivated as a desirable quality. Truly this is an asset for the smooth living of a group of people. Otherwise, the group can destroy itself totally by inter and intra-violence. But nonviolence is an unnatural trait. Non-violence does not exist in nature. In fact, it is violence, which is prevalent in nature. There is nothing like a violence-free living. It is an artificially cultivated virtue.
After all, every creature needs food to live. Unless it eats, there is no life in it, for it dies of starvation. How does it secure its nutrition? Is it by love and nonviolence? It is by naked and even fierce exploitation of the weak. Watch how each of the prey tries to run away from its predator -- whether it is a cruel chase of a bison by a pack of tigers in the wild or the silent chase of a roach by a lizard in a house. The run for its life by the prey is most pitiable. But there is no possibility of life to continue without this predator-prey "life and death" fight which can hardly be described as nonviolent. Vegetarianism, though apparently does not look so violent, it too causes its worries to the plants as some tests showed. Violence is part and parcel of the order of things as long as the predator pyramid is there in nature.
Note also how our body manages to stay alive. We are bombarded by a variety of microorganisms and viruses all the time when we are alive or dead. The body is not suddenly exposed to a new set of germs after our death. They have been there all the time. But a dead body rots so soon because of these microbes and germs. There is an incessant fight with them when we are alive, by our immunological mechanisms and white blood cells. It can hardly be described as nonviolence unless we give a limited definition to the word "nonviolence" keeping our well being only at the center of such a definition. When we die, our body loses this capacity to fight and soon the microbes and germs take over. It is our fight to kill the killing germs that makes us stay alive. Therefore, nonviolence in nature is a myth.
7. SOCIAL ORDER AND GODMan (or for that matter any creature) finds soon that he/she is very inadequate in facing the Life's momentum and natural forces alone all by himself/herself. It is easier to face stress when a person is backed by a group. Group living helps in not only better protection from predators but also in taking care of the young ones. Living as a group brings forth, however, the play of group behavioral dynamics. Management of conflict (exploitation, aggression) and leisure (boredom, loneliness) is very important for the success of group living. Resolution of conflicting individual interests and imposition of an accepted order in the society obviously become a necessity. This does not happen automatically because man inherently desires freedom from all authority as already discussed in Para 1 in the beginning. It then follows that these functions have to be assigned to an individual with unquestioned obedience to that individual's dicta by the rest of the society. Thus a center of authority comes into play. (This 'authority' itself will have an interest in its own self-preservation and perpetuation. But that forms another essay). Command and control are maintained through a system of reward and punishment, invoking, or in the name of, a higher authority. A hierarchical order for policing gets established in the society, the right to reward and punish being vested with the police. The seeds of religion get established the moment such a system of policing gets codified. I could see increasingly clearly that religion itself is such a code of governance for public good designed by great seers in the past. In stead of having an external enforcer of the regulations constantly monitoring the behavior of the individuals, self-regulation increases the total efficiency of the system. A Godhead is a policeman internalized within each individual to ensure, through self-regulation, a behavior that is in line with the designed objective of overall welfare, comfort and well-being of not only the individual, the whole society but also the total environment. For a person who lives and acts with concern for everything around, God is as unnecessary as the presence of a traffic constable for a disciplined and caring driver with a good sense of road etiquette that underpins itself on concern for other road users. In a situation of plenty and when a person does not have any pressing need to act, the resulting leisure needs to be managed so as not to fall into the trap of "boredom". Boredom, though may occasionally serve as a springboard for creativity, is usually detrimental for healthy living either at an individual level or at the level of the whole society. The idle energy has to be channeled into mass participatory activity in the group. Rituals and routines with promises of rewards both for the individual and the group can ward off 'boredom' and its unwanted consequences in a social organizational structure. This is another important function that religion deals with.After all, religion was at the back of governance in ancient social order, the objective of the governance having dual goals -- preservation of the individual at one level and preservation of the species itself and the environment at a larger level. Therefore, the everyday rules and regulations of life for individuals in the society were framed in the backdrop of a religious authority. No wonder, most of the religious codes and diktat preach love not only towards one another but also towards the environment because they are based on conservation of resources in a holistic manner in order to ensure longevity to the whole species. It is interesting to note in passing here that the most commonly worshipped Hindu Gods come from the stratum (Kshatriya) of the society that was vested with these "reward and punish" functions. Even Shiva (whose origins are said to be unknown) is married into the same stratum. It is also to be noted that it is very naive to say that only a particular type of religious method or any of the isms will ensure a permanent and all-pervading preservation of the society. To extend the traffic analogy, no one can argue that keeping left is superior to keeping right. What is important for smooth traffic flow is a commonly accepted rule for all the road users. And that becomes the religion for that society's preservation and perpetuation.
8. AGGREGATION AND DIFFERENCESAt the basic component level all houses are the same. They are all built with cement, sand, bricks etc. But as these elements are aggregated, different buildings as separate entities stand out. If all the houses are broken down to finer and finer elements and heaped, they become indistinguishable. So is the case with living things. If they are all broken down to gene level, all of them contain the same DNA material - ACGT (Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, and Thymine, a sort of sugars). Similarly, if all elements are broken down to subtler and subtler levels, we end up with the same electrons, protons etc which can further be broken down to various quarks, strings and so on. At that level, one can hardly distinguish a particle that has come from one element from another particle coming from a different element. Thus, aggregation seems to bring in differences. This becomes overly manifested with human beings too. Man from any country has basically the same worries and concerns. But when a group of individuals from one locality or language or customs gather, this aggregate becomes markedly distinguishable from another aggregate. Clanship, parochialism and many such features have their origin in this process of aggregation. At finer and subtler levels, there is an unquestionable oneness.
9. MATTERAll the known matter that we can see, touch, smell and taste is composed of, as per chemists, about 115 elements discovered to date and described by the Periodic Table where the elements are arranged with increasing atomic number. Hydrogen with the simplest structure of one proton and one electron is the most abundant element found in the universe. Our own earth has, in addition, oxygen, silicon, iron and aluminum as the most abundant elements. But the statistical tests performed on pairs of quasars and fast-moving supernovae, as well as studies of the abundance of galactic clusters in the universe, studies on the gravity of the heavenly bodies and the composition of interstellar material, as per astrophysicists, indicate much more missing material in the universe. The latest studies on the structure of the universe through the satellite born Hubble telescope and Chandra observatory coupled with many astronomical data lead us now to understand that the material as known to us comprises hardly about 4% of the total possible matter. It is estimated that there exists another 24% of matter in a way not known to our chemistry. It is called as 'dark matter'. Much of the universe (that is the balance of 78%) consists of some of form of energy, which is not understood by the physical laws known to man. Hence it is called as 'dark energy'. Thus all the matter that we understand is only a minor fraction of what is in the universe.The Upanishadic philosophical concepts attribute three qualities (gunas) to all that is known (or roughly matter). In a way all matter is made up of these three qualities. In other words, these are the three fundamental particles that the matter is composed of. These qualities are described as tamas, rajas and satva in increasing order of fineness. Tamas can be understood to represent the grossness or that property which gives rise to form or the dimensionality of space-time. Rajas is the quality that gives raise to movement or force. Satva is the quality that has so far no known equivalent in physics. It can be roughly translated as 'the sense of isness or beingness'. Physicists have described at subatomic particle level fermions, which occupy space and bosons, which give raise to force. Two fermions cannot occupy the same space and, therefore form bodies. Bosons do not require space and can pass through a body. Some of the Quantum physicists dealing with consciousness are tending to believe that consciousness is also a fundamental property of all matter yet not measured. All modern physical laws are developed to measure the other two properties viz. Space and Force only. There are no known physical laws to measure consciousness. Presently neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) are being developed. Chalmers, a professor at the UCLA, believes scientists will discover eventually that human consciousness is an irreducible quality of the universe, like space, mass or time. "Instead of trying to explain consciousness purely in terms of its physical processes, you should take it as a fundamental entity in its own right," he said.Speculatively speaking, if tamas can be correlated to fermions and rajas to bosons, physicists have yet to discover the fundamental "particles"(?) corresponding to satva. Perhaps consciousness may correspond to this satva. Thus then all known matter will be comprising these three fundamental qualities. Prayer and meditation are perhaps the techniques of manipulating the fundamental particles of consciousness, just as we can manipulate matter and force to our advantage using the known physical laws. The consciousness that the neural system in animals is endowed with (Para 3 above), manifests only after certain critical levels of neural mass are attained by the creatures as proposed by Penrose and Hameroff theory. The Bhagavad-Gita says that all the known is a result of the three gunas and urges man to be rid of them in order to attain a state that is beyond them. That is the state when man does not any more react or respond to the objects and environment around as a reaction to the stimuli but experiences an unseparating oneness, the fourth state (see Para 14 below). 10. EMOTIONS AND KUNDALINI
Emotions too are survival mechanisms. They help the body in arriving at fast decisions for action when life is faced with a hostile or favorable situation. Emotions also serve as a way of quick communication amongst the members of a species for collective effort in facing a perceived threat. In this sense emotions can be considered as precursors to language. The communication of a baby is essentially through a show of emotions (crying or smiling). No wonder that, even today, our communication is over 90% non-verbal (i.e. emotional including body language). The central hub for emotions is the amygdala (located deep inside the brain). The route from senses to amygdala to thalamus to muscles is much faster and provides an inferential short-circuit in responding to a situation than from senses to thalamus to cortex (using logical faculty) to muscles.
The most basic emotions are two namely (a) fear and its derivatives and (b) love and its manifestations. There are specific triggering mechanisms, pathways and feedback circuits in the production of the hormones giving rise to various emotions. The hormones are secreted by the endocrine glands directly into the body organs when signals are received from the brain through the neurotransmitters. The endocrine system of ductless glands functions autonomically. The different glands comprising the endocrine system are gonads, adrenal gland, pancreas, thymus, parathyroid, thyroid, pineal and pituitary glands. The pituitary is the master controller. The instructions from it are carried by neurotransmitters to the other glands. Some of the chemicals which act as neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine etc. Testosterone, estrogen, androgen, insulin, oxytocin, thyroxin, somatotropin, glucocorticoids etc are examples of hormones produced by the various glands on receiving instructions from the pituitary. In general, the levels of the hormone reached in the blood provide a feedback to the pituitary for giving further instructions to the glands either to continue production of a hormone or to stop. The locations of the various endocrine glands in the body correspond to the locations of the seven chakras identified in the Kundalini.
Fear and its forms like anger, competitivity etc. are produced by adrenaline. Love is a lumped up term used by us to the feelings of lust, affection, attachment, sharing etc. Love as lust (with sexual urge) is generated by testosterone; love as affection by dopamine and love as attachment (friendship) by oxyticin produced by the pituitary. Studies at the University of Pisa, Italy showed that romance is akin to obsessive compulsive behavioural disorder with high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine and low levels of serotonin. The thymus near the heart functions when the child is growing but later becomes inactive.
High serotonin and norepinephrine levels that were necessary for courageously facing an adverse situation with focus by a primitive man often mark the person in the present day as socially aggressive. When a person is in euphoria, he has high levels of testosterone and it becomes infectious too. [The fire cracker euphoria after an Indo-Pak cricket match is an example. The testosterone levels go up not only in the players but in the viewers too!]
Irrespective of the hormonal levels in the body of an individual, the society expects him/her to behave as per accepted norms at all times (say while performing duties in day shifts and night shifts). Our body is not suited for that. As the body needs rest, melatonin is secreted. As we wake up, cartisones are secreted. We are trying to change this in flight duty personnel, shift workers etc. demanding the same service irrespective of their body chemistry. This produces a conflict in their bodies. The brain tells something but the social response requires a different thing.The primitive man and woman had a narrow range of reproductive life with puberty coming up much later and mortality earlier than setting in of menopause. With modern age, puberty is coming much sooner. Even before the child is ready for reproduction, there is a sexual urge. Old age is too extending, thus increasing the effective span of reproductive age at the present times. Therefore, new problems are cropping up with respect to geriatric management and population stabilization.Obviously, these hormones which are not under our conscious control are not really suited to the present day living. Endocrinologists also tell us that much of the endocrine glandular system has no function for our existence now. But the brain keeps on producing the hormones just as it does with the antibodies and sends instructions for different organs. They suited the primitive man as the instinctual behavior pattern triggered by the hormones has evolved to enable him/her to face hazardous situations in the caveman age. The expected (required) behavioral norms of group living developed by the human being are at variance with the hormone-induced emotions. The individual is in constant conflict with what the brain tells the organs to do and what our logical reasoning requires us to do. A conflict of purpose induces unhappiness, sorrow and depression (because of an imbalance in dopamine, serotonin etc). Arjuna (as portrayed by Vyasa in the first chapter of Bhavadgita) faced such a state when there was a conflict in his mind. In order not only to attain a balanced state of mind free from conflict, but also to succeed as a group, there is a need to negate the effects of these hormones. As a pre-requisite to obtaining a composed mind, we are advised by our ancients to conquer the antah satrus (i.e. inner enemies like kama, krodha etc.). There appears to be a rough one-to-one correspondence of these unwanted arishadvarga emotions and the hormonal secretions of the glands. Though people may differ in the identification of the different glands corresponding to different chakras and the arishadvarga, a suggested scheme is given below subject to modification by experts:Kama Sexual urge Muladhara Gonads Krodha Anger, fear Svadhistana Adrenal glandLobha Greed Manipura PancreasMoha Infatuation Anahata ThymusMada Pride Visuddha Thyroid/parathyroidMatsarya Jealousy Ajna PinealSahasrara Pituitary
While it has been established that rigorous exercise helps in re-establishing the balance of dopamine and serotonin (say in times of depression), it is a mute point open for research if some breathing and other forms of exercises as advised by Kundalini yoga can help bring about a similar result.
The latest research findings indicate that you are what you are (in terms of your emotional personality) because of the hormonal balances when you were in your mother's womb. The fetus tries to optimize its survival capacity depending on the nutritional supplies and the various hormones available for it. In a condition of paucity of adequate nutrition, preference is given to the development of brain over some other parts of the body. As a result, the undernourished fetuses grow larger heads. In such a situation the fetus also learns to produce less insulin in order to save on burning of the carbohydrates. When the baby is born after the gestation period and faces a different nutritional environment as it grows (for example: excess availability of food), it may not be able to adjust so easily and therefore, becomes ill. The human being looks at disease as something to be avoided and blames his/her luck when afflicted. What has to be remembered is that disease is only a symptom of a natural process that is going on within the body organism. That natural process is also a tool that man is endowed with to help him/her in survival. When man is faced with a life-threatening situation, the built-in body mechanisms automatically produce the required defensive strategies. The most commonly experienced phenomenon is the production of adrenaline, which is often described as the 'fight or flight' hormone. The release of adrenaline is so triggered as to activate certain body muscles (for example, more blood supply for the calf muscle in the legs to facilitate fast running in case of flight) and reduce blood circulation to certain other tissues as per the needs of the situation. Such a concerted effort of the hormones in a focused way changes the otherwise equilibrium position of the organism. If the normal equilibrium position (homeostasis) can be described as "healthy', the shifted state may be called as "disease". Our bodies experience stress in an effort to bring it back to normalcy. Looked at this way, acting against the natural stress is counterproductive and harmful. However, continued stress, which is a response to a particular threat, can often tend to diminish resistance of the body to other forms of threats occurring at the same time because of the prioritization of body needs. Continued chronic stress or a feeling of desperate unsurmountability or even anticipation of such a condition can bring about permanent damage to the body. Excessive stress produces the chemical 'cortisol' which is known to kill the brain cells. Barring such continuous stress producing a condition known as Long Term Potentiation, disease can be seen as a readjustment technique for the survival of the species.Stress-induced hormonal changes in the body over several generations may go to the extent of affecting the genes, sometimes with beneficial results. Such genetic mutation will change the species for better survival. An interesting example in this context is a species of arctic frog, which becomes hard like a stone with freezing sub-zero temperatures. It has developed the ability to stop all its metabolic and other bodily functions to the extent of stopping its heart beat. With receding winter, as the waters thaw, gradually, the frog comes back live with the heart beating again. In the absence of such adaptability of the arctic frog, continued stress will result in immune deficiency and exposes the organism to more ill health.
Research is being done at several reputed institutes to evolve techniques to intervene and block the neurotransmitter pathways from the brain to the endocrine system in order to combat the ill effects of stress and anxiety. We tend to do what is pleasant depending on the brain's reward system. This is a complex circuit of neurons that evolved to make us feel flush after eating or sex -- things we need to do to survive and pass along our genes. A key component of the reward circuitry is the mesolimbic dopamine system, a set of nerve cells originating near the base of the brain, and send projections to target regions in the front of the brain. A recent study at the University of Wisconsin showed that the negative and depressing thoughts produce activity in the right prefrontal cortex of the brain and cause reduced levels of antibodies. Positive happy thoughts produce activity in the left prefrontal cortex and also higher levels of antibodies and therefore, more resistance to infection. This shows why positive and good thoughts are encouraged by religious preachers as a precept to be followed - they ensure a healthier society and therefore, better survival of the individual. The ceremonial underpinning behind important events in the life of an individual (like birth, marriage, and death) help bring about an emotional closure and get on with life rather being lost and be incapacitated psychologically.
11. PRAYER AND MEDITATION Man is endowed with an ability to think (that's what the brain does and that's what the mind constitutes) essentially as a tool for his/her survival. Having a memory, cognitive capabilities and feelings and emotions help to preserve one from dangers, to secure and store food, and to interact with the others in the group for better survival. Thus mind (sum of thoughts) is essentially a gift of nature to help one's own survival. However, man being weak in front of the natural and life forces (after all, we have already noted (Para 3 above) that Life is not interested in any individual species, let alone individual being), one has to mentally rehearse the threats and opportunities in order to ensure his/her survival. Worry is such a mechanism provided by the nature as believed by the psychologists. Therefore, it is naive when people advise that one should be free from worry! Worry helps in the preparedness to face a situation and hence need not be totally despised upon.At the same time, an agitated and disturbed mind is the last any one would like to have in stressful or difficult times. Prayer helps him/her in gathering all his mental faculties and go with a pointedly desired outcome. If one prays with such intense feeling and emotion with whole of his heart and body, it does help man to overcome the problem. Experiments conducted in UK and USA hospitals reported the beneficial results of prayers in curing patients of even serious diseases. Even remote prayers by well-wishers unknown to the patient had had salutary effects on the health of the sufferers. Meditation, unlike prayer, helps man in developing a sane and balanced mind, which does not run after trivial desires, and thus reducing his/her wasteful spending of energy. Having such a balanced mind through meditation in turn helps in reduced consumptive use of the natural resources. The Buddhist Monks of Tibet were observed to be able to raise the temperature of their bodies to the extent that they could dry cold wet towels spread on their bodies even in subzero temperatures because of their meditation techniques. There is as yet no known clear scientific explanation for this ability. However, it is observed that temperature in the fingertips of even persons uninitiated into meditation raised by about four to eight degrees Fahrenheit when they are under relaxed state. Even soothing music brought about the same result. Anxious state of the mind or ruckus music constricted the blood vessels in the fingers and brought about a lowering of temperature.
Both prayer and meditation capabilities are endowments a man is born with. This may be because of the fact that consciousness is also a fundamental quality like space-time and force (see Para 9). Prayer and meditation are the techniques of channeling this into enhancing self-confidence, which helps in one's own survival. The word confidence is derived from Latin 'con' meaning with and 'fidere' meaning faith. Thus self-confidence implies having an unwavering faith in one's own self to surmount a hurdle and many of us must have experienced how prayer and meditation are helpful in building up this confidence. Prayer and meditation also help in avoiding "boredom" (Para 7 above).
12. SIN, THOUGHT AND LIBERATIONIf an act, word or deed is termed as sin, it goes without saying that there is an opposite of it, which is not sinful and is a good desirable act, word or deed. This obviously will imply a comparison - either against one another or against a set standard, which in turn will mean that these are all relative statements. They have no intrinsic absoluteness about them. If there is a law that says that one should drive on the left side of the road, driving in the center or on the right side of the road is a sin. If the law says that you should keep right, well that is right and not sinful. There is nothing absolute or meritorious in either keeping to the right side of the road or to the left. Similarly, if a standard is set for the production of goods with certain specifications, it is not sinful if the produced goods conform to the standard. If the specifications get changed, the produced goods too should comply. Otherwise, it is a sin. But nature has never set any such laws except for a momentum of its own. All such laws sanctified by religion or otherwise are artificial and man-made in order to facilitate smooth social living. They are contextual and their relevance and very existence depend on an "authority" who prescribed the laws. The authority of law and order is obviously required for the day-to-day functioning of the society - like a license to drive, following traffic rules, avoid punishable offences. However, extending such concepts to issues beyond the world is a mere projection of the pure every-day-worldly issues into unrelated realms. Therefore, one has to appreciate that in naming some thing as sinful or otherwise depends on (i) the existence of a set standard (law, practice, and dictum) and (ii) a process of comparing of what has been done with reference to that set standard. In other words, measuring the relative separation between the standard and the actual fact. The relationship connecting any two statements, in fact, is an expression of the perceived relative separation of two or more distinct entities (events, statements etc.), the separation having been perceived by 'thought' either in time or space. The moment of a comparison, the moment of a separation evolves from conceptual models learned through experience, knowledge, tradition etc and stored in mind and a thought process of evaluation. But all such conceptual models and standards are artificial and imaginary. They are stored as images in the brain. All knowledge is nothing but stored knowledge of the past learning. Therefore, neither sin, which is a mere concept, nor its opposite, which is purely imaginary, does exist in nature. Vyasa clearly says through Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita that He neither dispenses sin or good to people, He being above all such matters. Hence sin or otherwise occurs only when a thought process begins. A desire to be free from all this sin and samsara (world which is seen as sinful) is a fanciful notion and nothing great to commend about. After all, even such a desire is a reflection of a thought process inculcated into the mind by the society describing the actual world we live in as despicable and an unknown and imaginary 'other' world as something desirable. There is no way of doing only the fancy no-sin-accruing-meritorious-acts. True Liberation is there when one is free from one's own thoughts. Quoting from Gita again, a true renouncer is one who has renounced even the seeds of thoughts (sankalpa). Such a person neither can hurt nor can be hurt.
13. TIME AND REBIRTHPhilosophers describe the world we live in as phenomenal or causal world. It is characterized by certain properties that we are familiar with. The properties are: the three-dimensional space with length, breadth and width; light and colors; sound; heat; pressure; and finally smell and taste. These are all the characteristics, which we recognize with our senses. We do not know if there are other properties than these, because these are the only things that we have capability to recognize with our built in sensory organs. Most of our sense is visionary as around 20% of the brain is occupied by visual cortex. As we all know, our sensory ability has certain defined range (bandwidth) beyond which we cannot recognize. Such of those properties, which fall beyond the limits of the range of our senses, have to be manipulated to be brought within the range of our senses so that we can understand. That is how we understand x-rays or the existence of bacteria. Thus our ability to understand our world is twice confounded, first by the limited number of our senses and second, their limited range. Another important limitation is not so commonly appreciated. It is that our senses can detect only when there is a contrast between the signal and the background. If there is no contrast, we cannot detect any thing. Our common association of good and bad, happiness and sadness, profit and loss etc., dualities has its origin in this basic inability of our sensory system. We habitually look at the edges and perceive things by comparison to something else. We cannot see anything absolute. If there is all only white light, we see nothing. If your face merges with the background without any difference in the reflected light, I just do not see you. We cleverly manipulate even the computer by the technique of edge enhancement in pattern recognition. All of us are familiar with another character of the world that we live in. It is the arrow of TIME. What is this arrow of time? Is it really there? How do we see it? Ours is a three dimensional world. That is to say that our eyes (and the associated stereovision, stereo sound) basically see the physical parameter of distance, viz., length in three directions. If we were only two-dimensional creatures, we would not have been able to see length, breadth and width all at once. We can see only two of the dimensions and the third has to be interpolated by incremental sections like in the Magnetic Resonance Imaging. That is to say that the extra dimension is seen in steps, one after another and NOT all the dimensions at once. As two-dimensional creatures, if we look at a chair, we see two sides of it and gradually build an image of the depth of the chair mentally, but seeing only a cross-sectional area of two dimensions at any given point. So it is the mind that intervenes to compensate for our two dimensional restriction.We have listed a few physical and chemical characteristics of the world we live in. We have various sense organs for their detection:
Physical parameters:
Light and colors - EyesDistance - EyesSound - EarsHeat - SkinPressure - Skin
Chemical parameters:
Taste - TongueSmell - Nose
Have you ever wondered what is that organ or tissue that we are built with to detect time? None I am afraid. Because of the inherent limitation of our three dimensional capability, our mind provides an imaginary continuity and helps us to see an extra dimension. We call that extra dimension as TIME. If the mind does not interpose, there is no 'time' in the sense that we see it (as an arrow) though it is a dimension. When the mind is snubbed or stunned, as in an altered state of consciousness (say under anesthesia) or when the mind faces sudden life-threatening situations, it loses all sense of time. The body is able to perform umpteen numbers of tasks in a sudden dangerous situation. Accomplishing so many tasks in such a short time at times of catastrophes is a wonder commonly experienced by all of us. When the mind gets snubbed, there is no sense of time that remains. Therefore, arrow of time is only a mental imaginary construct and not a fundamental property of the world we live in! As we see the world in progressive steps of three dimensions, the mind gives the connectivity by linking one cross section as emerging out of its predecessor, the first as the cause of the second. A cause and effect relationship is established and the mind is trained to interpret all events in this fashion. The continuation of cause - effect duo gets further amplified to cyclicity and even rebirth. If the mind does not provide this continuity, there is neither a cyclicity nor rebirth. All events have taken place all at once. We see three dimensions and a fourth by interpolation in the mind. The total brain has always been there, not the incremental sections of MRI scans in time. So also the total chair has always been there, not incremental sections of depth in time as visible to a two dimensional creature. Vyasa aptly described this in Bhagavad-Gita Chapter II sloka 26 when explaining the nature of the world. He provided a model: world as constantly being born and perished or like a waterfall where the water droplet that was there is not there any more, even though we still see a waterfall continuously. The human body is under constant change with death of existing cells and creation of new cells - whether it is the soft muscle, skin or the hard bone. The red blood cells are replaced at a rate of 350 million per minute. Our body gets replaced totally in less than a year. The child that you were, was long ago gone and dead; but it is the mind that says you are continuing. The mind provides us this illusion of continuity through the unidirectional 'time'. The astrophysicist, Prof. Dobson says that because of the illusory nature of our perception with our mind, we see certain fundamental properties of Nature differently than what they are actually. We see oneness as gravity, infiniteness as electricity and changelessness as inertia.
14. THE FOUR OUTCOMES AND NIRVANAThe current concepts of the neurophysiologists do not agree with the Descartesian idea of body-mind duality. Mind is understood to be what the brain does; though the word 'mind' itself requires a more precise definition. In order to understand the state of Nirvana, an approximate model can be constructed based on the body-mind duality somewhat on the lines of Gaudapada's karika (commentary) on Mandukya upanishad. The neurophysiological aspect does not, however, invalidate the model. Broadly speaking, in a layman's perspective at an aggregate level, a human being can be viewed to be composed of two entities: (i) An ensemble of all the sensory and action organs - viz. the body; and (ii) An ensemble of all our knowledge, experience, memory, culture, thoughts, emotions, 'qualia' - viz. the mind. These two entities can be either in an active state (existent) or in rest (inert or nonexistent) state. The two entities and the two states together can give raise to four outcomes. The four outcomes are: (a) Mind and body both entities active: this is wakeful state (our every day so called reality). (b) Mind active but body inactive: dream state. (c) Mind and body both inactive: deep sleep, buddhistic satori, nirvikalpa samadhi, and finally death depending upon how inert or nonexisting the condition of the entities is. And lastly the fourth outcome:(d) Mind inactive or nonexisting or totally at rest, but body active: the state of nirvana or advaitic (nondualistic) brahmi state. In this state life and its processes continue in the body but the mind and the ego at its center are non-existent or totally inactive. The four states are mutually exclusive. That is to say that one cannot simultaneously be in two or more states. You cannot sleep in a wakeful state nor can you be awake in a dream state. I am confident that all human beings experience the four states every day. Just as one slips from a wakeful state to sleep and dream states without any effort, the fourth state too is experienced without any particular effort. Again just as it is impossible to experience sleep or dream when one is awake, nor can it be proved by any external agent, it is also equally impossible to experience the fourth state in our wakeful state, nor can an external agent could demonstrate its occurrence. Each person experiences the state and lives in it by oneself. Vyasa, the great storyteller that he was, showed this very well in the eleventh chapter of Bhagavad-Gita. The chatty, questioning, inquiring Arjuna was totally silent when he experienced the cosmic "Viswarupa" in his fourth state. Vyasa uses the technique of narrating the experience of Arjuna's state through the words of Sanjaya as Arjuna himself was unable to communicate using his mind (for words and language) in that state. Arjuna was shown to speak again only after he was out of that state and came back to 'wakeful' state. I venture to speculate here that just as the states of sleep or dream are never continuous throughout the sleeping time but are episodic (of about 90 minutes duration), perhaps, the wakeful state too is episodic with lapses into the fourth state for fractions of time spans. Thus every body must have been experiencing all the four states effortlessly. Only when we consciously try to attain a specific state through an effort that we lose it! A question on how body can act when the mind is inert in the fourth state may be raised. We have the answer in the Bhagavadgita. Such an action is inaction when the mind with its judgmental attitude of the good versus bad, the happy vs. uncomfortable, hot vs. cold etc opposites is absent. The actor remains satisfied with what comes of its own accord. Vyasa states content with what comes to him without effort, unaffected by the pairs of opposites, even-minded (non-reacting inert state), though acting, he is not bound (Chapter IV, sloka 22)".
15. REALITY Each state is real on its own terms. Unless we posit an artificial reference extended from one state to the other for judgment, we cannot say that a specific state is real and the other is unreal. So also the pecking order imposed on the states is artificial and judgmental. One cannot set absolute order of superiority of one state over the other - for example: there is no rationale to assert that the religiously meditated state of mind (where mind itself does not exist - a zero-thought state or satori) is superior to wakeful state. The religious teachers recommend the pecking order with an interest in creating a stable orderly society for the perpetuation of the species as a whole and for conserving energy and minimizing consumptive use of resources.
16. NIRVANA AND NEAR ZERO ENERGY CONSUMPTIONIn the fourth 'outcome' discussed above, the body is active just for its survival expending minimum of resources (energy) and hence is ordained as the most desirable state to be in by the religious teachers. Because of the fact that minimum energy is spent for the survival and self-propagation, it is also the most comfortable state (Para 4 above) to be in when the body is living.
17. A NEUROPHYSIOLOGICAL DEFINITION OF NIRVANAAs we all know, the sensory signals inputted into the respective cortex of the brain take a few hundred milliseconds before they are interpreted to give raise to a meaningful understanding of what the signal is. In that fraction of a second, the memory and other cognitive processes take place within the brain, consuming energy. If the signals through the sensory organs are received but if subsequent processing is eliminated by the thalamus and prefrontal cortex etc., the sensory organs will be acting as mere peep-through windows. No meaning is given to the signals by the self (from the standpoint of an egocentric self-conscious mind). Nor a spatial separation between the source of the signal and the self as a distinctly different receiver of the signal is felt. (Because there is no more a feeler to have a memory and feeling). No distinction of ambient objects is experienced from the signals emanating from various objects. In this state obviously, only a oneness exists between the signal receiver and the signal emitters without a line of demarcation between different objects. Therefore, this state when the mind (and attendant neurophysiological processes) is absent (in its action of cognition and recognition giving raise to a meaning to the sensory signals and thereby bringing in a feeling of 'self' as a distinct onlooker of the objects and the surrounding universe), may be the state of Nirvana. Does the ABSENCE of neurophysiological processes of recognition and giving meaning to what is perceived offer a definition of the state of nirvana?
18. IN CONCLUSIONBoth religion and science are based on a spirit of query. However, there appears to be a sense of finality in religion - that's it and no need for questions attitude. Science on the other hand is a continuous probe, never ending questions, including why we question as expressed by Prof. Feynman - "I wonder why! I wonder why I wonder why!" However, science, when it becomes a dogma, ceases to be a science.The nineties were the Decade of the Brain. As a result, there is now a tremendous amount of functional MRI, PET and CAT scan data on the various states of brain, the pain and pleasure circuits, neurotransmitter receptors and blockers, NCC (neural correlates of consciousness) etc. Parallelly, the unified string theory in quantum physics with its eleven dimensional multiverse possibility is giving raise to a new physics. Both these developments are contributing to a better understanding of cognition, consciousness and mind.
With all this said and done, still some of the basic questions about Life, its origin, where it is contained before it originated etc are unanswered if no a priori assumptions are made or no authority is invoked. Our mind, the only tool that is at our command for such an investigation, acquires its knowledge from the inputs received through the five sensory organs. The bandwidth of these organs being very limited, the mind too is constrained in its ability in comprehending many issues, which are beyond these bandwidths. But in the fourth state when mind itself does not exist, all thoughts disappear and, therefore, all questions get dissolved, as basically all questions are also forms of thoughts. The mind is humbled and in that humility, the quest for an answer takes a different turn. Whatever has to happen had already happened, as the quantum physicists put it, soon after the big bang when the universe was still at Planck's dimensions [one divided by ten raised to the power of 43 second and one divided by ten raised to the power of 32 centimeter (10^-33 cm, i.e. the shortest possible length, and 10^-43 sec, i.e. the time it takes for a light beam to cross the Planck length, i.e. the shortest possible time tick)]. And all the events that happened or going to happen may not be in a unidimensional time frame but within an incomprehensible Big Bang and Big Crunch taking place simultaneously at once.
Collating information from different fields as linguistics, anthropology, hominid migrations, dietary influence and cranial development in primates, and combining with the latest developments in neurophysiology, I am more and more tempted to believe that an individual needs no God. It is the society (the compulsions of group living and the consequential behavioral dynamics - both within the group and without with the environment) that need a GOD. As a corollary, one may say that the state of living without being affected by the society and the ambient environment itself is moksha - moksha even from the requirement of a god!
Reverting to the two urges mentioned at the beginning of this essay, under these circumstances, the only choice we have is to free ourselves from the 'urge to be free'. We should just be happy riding along with the movement of events without any feeling or consciousness of a separate existence as an independent and distinct entity. We will have no distinguishing identity and will be unseparable with every thing around that makes the whole. After all, when we look at the man in front, we do not look at the nose, the eye, the ear, the chin, the beard, the body, the hands, the dress etc. Or measure the distances between various parts, their sizes. We just take all those components together as one whole and at once see a man. Can we not take the whole life, the world, the actions, the plants, animals, the houses, the roads, the ups, the downs, the darkness, the light - see the whole at once as ONE - that nameless, unlimited and wholesome thing - TAT?


ABSTRACT: Traditionally the Karmaphala (effect of actions) is classified as Sanchita (long-term storage), Prarabdha (current sufferage) and Agamika (future in-store). On one hand Bhagavad-Gita says that we are mere helpless puppets mounted on an ever-moving machine and our life is subject to an inevitable momentum. On the other hand our Upanishads and many other scriptures point to a way of escape (Nirvana) from the eternal churning Samsara. On one hand it is projected as if freewill has no basis and on the other, it is shown that relief from the worldly struggles are in our own hand. How does one reconcile this contradiction? What is the missing link between the current sufferage (prarabdha) and free will?
Biology tells us that we are what our genes are. But current research on how environment can influence the gene expression has given rise to the new science of Epigenetics. Prenatal research findings demonstrate the influence the environment present in the mother’s womb has on the fetus and the way the child’s mental and physical health get affected for life. The importance of caring, vibrant and stimulating environment in early childhood development has long been established. The effect meditation and firm self-confidence have on our health to the extent of even affecting the genes is being documented through collaborative research by neuroscientists, psychiatrists and meditation practitioners. Environmental factors including directed thinking appear to have an ability to modify the proteins that act as gates in activating or turning off the genes, thus controlling the gene expression. It is established that thought is a form of energy. Directed thought and meditation are shown to have demonstrable influence in changing the neural circuits in the brain overriding genetic disposition. Confident positive and intense thinking within a carefully orchestrated belief system (not blind dogma) appears to have the potential of bringing about a transformation in an individual superseding the genetic effects.
Genotype is perhaps comparable to Sanchita and Phenotype to Prarabdha. The Prarabdha is subject to constant modification depending on the environment. Individual’s thoughts, whether one is consciously aware or unaware, also effect the gene expression. By creating a facilitating and enabling environment (Satsangatya), it can be possible to alter the program in the genes to the extent that their self-perpetuating character is curbed. This can form the biological basis for ending samsara. One can have a healthy happy body and mental attitude and be not at the mercy of genetic dispensation.
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Prof. John Smythies, Director of Neurochemistry and Alternative Medicine at The Center for Brain and Cognition, UCSD, commented that I seem to be sympathetic to his cousin’s (Dawkins, 1989) idea of a ‘selfish gene’ in my article “Religion Demystified.” According to Prof. Margulis (2002), the unit capable of replication is a cell. She wryly remarked about Dawkins that a gene does not have a ‘self’ to be selfish. A gene is only a record of information. Irrespective of whether the replicator is a gene or cell, my argument there was about the survival mechanisms a given “packet of information” evolves to perpetuate itself. Based on the concept of a Meme proposed by Dawkins in 1976, Blackmore (1999) elaborated on the tendency of even ideas and thoughts in perpetuating themselves. Buddhists call self-perpetuation through cycles of transmigration as samsara. Breaking this eternal chain is Nirvana. I hope, in this essay, to examine from current biological knowledgebase if it is possible to outwit the program of self-perpetuation indelibly written in the replicating units and be freed from samsara.
The first question that comes is whether we can act with our own volition to liberate ourselves from the cycle of birth and death? Several parts of Bhagavad-Gita answer in the negative. By the Maya of the Supreme, we revolve like puppets mounted on a machine (Sloka 61, Ch XVIII); we are only an apparent cause and whatever has to happen has already happened (Sloka 33, Ch XI); because of the reason that Prakriti produced everything, the world goes round and round (Sloka 9-10, Ch IX); Prakriti performs all actions and only an egoistic fool thinks that “I am the actor” (Sloka 27, Ch III). Thus our hands appear to be tied down for any willful action.
But Seers, sages and visioneers from ancient to modern times have stressed the significance our thinking and a strong belief in what we think have in molding our character. For example:
“Let one, therefore, keep the mind pure, for what a man thinks that he becomes: this is a mystery of Eternity.” – Ch: 6, Maitri Upanishad.
“If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying ‘Thinking makes it so’ is true.” – Sloka 11, Chapter I, Ashtavakra Gita.
“The man who is attached to the Real becomes Real, through his one-pointed devotion. Just as the cockroach thinking intently on the Bhramara is transformed into a Bhramara.” –Sloka 358, Vivekachudamani.
“Really, it has been your thoughts that have made you feel alternately weak and strong. You have seen how your health has exactly followed your subconscious expectations. Thought is a force, even as electricity or gravitation. The human mind is a spark of the almighty consciousness of God. I could show you that whatever your powerful mind believes very intensely would instantly come to pass.” – Shri Lahari Mahasaya’s words as narrated by Shri Yukteswar, quoted in Yogananda (p: 118, 1946).
“There can be miracles, when you believeThough hope is frail, it's hard to killWho knows what miracles, you can achieve,When you believe, somehow you willYou will when you believe.”
- Sung by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (I) in the Movie, “Prince of Egypt” , 1998.
If everything is pre-ordained and pre-programmed in genes or whatever, it will lead one to a fatalistic state of mind. On the other hand, if one could alter people through a purposeful control of environment, society could not have reached the diversity that it enjoys today. Admittedly, both nature and nurture do play a role in making an individual what he/she is. Much has been written on this. Yet, there does seem to be something more.
Biology tells us that we are what our genes are. Our skin color, color of the eye and hair are decided based on the amount of protein melanin produced by the cells as per the genetic instructions. The stress we can take is dependent on the base levels of cortisol and our anger depends on the base levels of adrenalin that our cells are programmed for. The genes code all the 100,000 odd proteins that make up not only the structure of our body but also define the way our brain functions (hence our mental attitudes and personality). Everyday a gene is identified for a specific disease or character in our body. But if genes predecide everything, there will be nothing like a personal responsibility for the actions of the individual. Any action done by him/her would not be at his/her volitional discretion but could be totally attributed to the genes within him/her. This approach will offset the basis of all our legal jurisprudence. Society would have to pay the price for the actions of criminals and bear silently the afflictions caused by genetic disorders.
Nathanielsz (2001) says, there is a “gene myopia in our society: a belief that it is the genes alone that determined our health and well-being throughout our life.” The coded genetic information accumulated through the millennia of years of evolution is undoubtedly stored in the DNA. What appears to be more significant is the mechanism of gene expression rather than the presence or absence of a specific gene. Whether a particular gene expresses itself or not or how a protein can form through multiple pathways of instructions of several genes is being now understood. The view that mutations and recombinations in DNA determine the phenotypic traits is getting modified with the emerging science of Epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene function that occur without a change in the DNA sequence. It provides a handle to understand the mechanisms in phenotype transmission and development through gene activation and inactivation without necessarily changing the genes. Studies of protein synthesis reveal that epigenetic “dials” can create 2000 or more variations of protein from the same gene blue print. Epigenetics is serendipetitiously throwing light on the rationale of the ancient teachings which say that consciously directed thinking can bring about a change in our personality.
If only genes determine the mental and physical condition of a person, one would expect identical twins to have exactly the same characteristics throughout their lives. But this is not so. Fraga et al (2005) examined the global and locus-specific differences in DNA of a large cohort of monozygotic twins (those sharing a common genotype). Though the twins were “epigenetically indistinguishable during the early years of life, older twins exhibited remarkable differences in genomic distribution affecting their gene-expression portrait.” The authors also established that “these epigenetic markers were more distinct in the twins who were older, had different lifestyles, and had spent less of their lives together, underlining the significant role of environmental factors in translating a common genotype into a different phenotype.”
Prenatal research shows that it is not merely the post-birth environment that influences an individual. The environment within the mother’s womb too has very significant effect on the health and personality of an individual. After an elaborate study of the varying environment to which fetus are exposed, Nathanielsz (2001) even goes to the extent of saying that “there are no such people as identical twins,” - that is people identical in all respects because they share an identical genome. He boldly states, “Biomedical research over the past decades has conclusively determined that the physical, hormonal and even emotional interaction between a mother and the child in the womb has a concrete effect on that child’s physical and mental health for decades to come. This discovery is the single most important story to come from biomedical research since the determination of the structure of the gene.”
According to Nathanielsz, there are critical periods during prenatal development when the environment in the womb is more important than the genes on the health we enjoy throughout our life. “Chronic maternal stress during pregnancy – both emotional and physical – can interfere with how the fetus utilizes nutrients and can affect how well or poorly a child functions psychologically throughout life.” The mother’s cortisol levels during pregnancy have a significant influence on the child’s personality. “Several groups of researchers in a variety of laboratories throughout the world have shown that a fetus’s exposure to excessively high stress hormones will permanently alter the activity of critical components of the stress machinery later in life.” Developing embryo and fetus can be very sensitive to the toxic effects of even small amounts of unwanted, disruptive chemicals, which may virtually be harmless for adults.
An example of the mindset that is generally prevalent is the misconception that the formation of fingerprints is completely under genetic control. Nathanielsz clarifies that, “The specific pattern of fingerprint ridges that form is determined in large part by the extent of swelling in the finger pads at the precise time when fingerprints are forming, around the 10th week of development. When the prenatal environment is challenging, the fetus makes priority of getting blood to the brain, which also happens to push more blood into the developing finger pads, causing them to swell. So when the fetus is short of oxygen for any prolonged period around the time the fingerprints are forming, and blood flow to the brain and head becomes a priority, there will be more whorls formed than flat arches.” He observes that the embryo is in constant communication with the mother and vice versa through hormones and thus the mental state of the mother influences the later life of the baby irrespective of the genes. He writes, “Although our genes are indeed fixed at the moment of conception, the more complex the trait involved, the more the environment in the womb affects what our bodies do with those genes. Information from the environment around the fetus, in other words, helps determine which genes are switched on, which are switched off, and when these alterations in gene activity occur.”
Nathanielsz makes the important comment that “by taking information from the womb and the world beyond and building that information into the expanding and developing circuitry of his brain and body, your baby is learning and developing.….What we know is that a highly stressful pregnancy will influence the environment in which the fetus develops, and will mold stress circuits in his brain and body. These altered stress circuits may program your child’s brain so that he is less able to keep a lid on roiling emotions and more likely to let anger and frustration boil over when difficulties arise.”
Alterations in endocrinal system, brain development etc are well documented through several studies for the adults who had undergone traumatic experiences during childhood. On the basis of extensive genetic research, psychiatrists at the Washington University have determined that four aspects of temperament are 50 –60 % heritable. These characteristics manifest themselves early in life and involve preoccupational biases in perceptual memory and habit formation. The other 40-50 % of personality is determined by character variables like self-directedness, cooperativeness and self-transcendence. These dimensions of character are shaped by family influences, and mature in adulthood, influencing personal and social effectiveness.
Nobel Laureate, Dr. Kandel says, “One of the most interesting findings was that genes are actually being turned on -- they are not the invariant controllers of behavior, but, rather, they are being turned on and off by environmental stimuli, such as our interactions with other people.”
Gabbard (2000) surveyed the literature discussing the mutual influence of genes and environment from a psychiatric angle. He found that the brain responds to environmental influence through the alteration of gene expression. He holds, following Kandel, that learning process may produce alterations of gene expression. Preliminary evidence from other species (like crayfish, rhesus monkeys) indicates that even social cues available in the environment influences the way in which a specific neurotransmitter affects an organism. In crayfish, investigators identified a neuron whose response to the neurotransmitter serotonin differs dramatically depending on the animal’s social status! If the social status of the animal changes, the effect of serotonin also changes.
It is obvious from the above that our genetically inherited characters are influenced by the environmental conditions we are exposed to whether it is in our mother’s womb and later on in the world. Though the basic body structure, color of the skin etc are defined by the genes at the time of conception, what we are in our health and personality depend on the environment including our biosocial relationships in the world and how we perceive our own position relative to the world around.
Way back in 1988, the work of Dr. J. Cairns at Harvard revealed that organisms could change their genes to accommodate environmental alterations. However, much of the research effort for decades has gone towards genes as carriers of personality traits. Lipton, B.H., (2005) says, “Chromosomes proteins are turning out to play as crucial a role in heredity as DNA.” In the chromosome, the DNA forms the core, and the proteins cover the DNA like a sleeve. The activity of the gene is “controlled” by the presence or absence of the ensleeving proteins, which are in turn controlled by environmental signals.
Based on his work on the cloned endothelial cells that line the blood vessels, Dr. Lipton says that cells monitor their world closely and change their behavior based on the information they pick up from the environment. For example, cells cultured in the lab would gravitate toward nutrients but would retreat from noxious agents. The cell wall acts like a brain for the cell. The fundamental structure of the cell membrane is that of a semi-permeable barrier. There are two classes of integral membrane proteins - receptors and effectors within the cell wall. Receptor proteins, which are functionally equivalent to our sensory receptors, recognize signals and elements within the cells’ environment. Cell receptors recognize both chemical (food, hormones, toxins) and physical (electromagnetic) signals. Effector proteins are responsible for the cells structural and behavioral characteristics. This gives us a clue that careful control of the environment to which our body cells are exposed to, we may target a specific behavioral outcome: e.g. a pleasant incense smell may have a calming effect on the mind – like at the time of meditation. (In fact Newberg and others (2001) report that that certain odors can result in very specific emotional responses: lavender evokes feelings of relaxation and calm while acetic acid has been shown to trigger feelings of anger and disgust).
Meisler (2005) explains that turning on and off the genes is a major activity of all living cells. Francois Jacob and Jacque Monod found 50 years ago that sugars in the food supply turn on the genes required for their own digestion. In addition, when bacteria are transferred from a medium containing the sugar lactose to a medium without lactose, the bacteria turn off their lactose-metabolizing genes. Almost 10 percent of the genes in the human genome produce proteins that regulate the expression of other genes. One of the mechanisms of switching on a gene is through short chains of DNA sequences, known as enhancers, which recognize specific proteins and chemicals and get turned on in the presence of that molecule.
Thought originates in the brain as a result of neuronal firing. The constant hum of neural firing generates a measurable electromagnetic field. Conscious processing in the brain generates a field of 35-40 Hz usually called gamma activity. The lower ranges are alpha, beta, theta and delta. Efforts are already on to harness the “thought energy” for mechanical purposes. Experiments at Armstrong Laboratory’s Alternative Control Technology lab unleashed the energy of brain waves to command a flight simulator. Wheel chairs that can move and turn by simple thoughts of “Go right”, “Go left” are designed for handicapped persons. These examples clearly demonstrate that ‘thinking’ is a form of energy. Based on this Lipton (2005) answers the question: “How is it possible for the mind to override genetic programming?” He says, “Thoughts, the mind’s energy, directly influence how the physical brain controls the body’s physiology. Thought “energy” can activate or inhibit the production of proteins that affect the cell’s function via the mechanics of constructive and destructive influence.”
All beliefs are basically a thought. It may be our name or an experience, belief is something we have accepted and stored in memory. If the acceptance is unverified and blind, it is a dogma. A set of beliefs becomes a belief system. That such a system has remarkable influence on our bodily and mental health is being established through several studies from diverse fields.
The best-documented effect of belief is the Placebo Effect. It was over 50 years ago that Dr. H.K. Beecher reported the Placebo Effect, by which over a third of the patients get better by a mere illusion of treatment. This beneficial effect, according to Dr. Benson (1993) depends on (i) the belief of the person, (ii) the belief of the healer, and (iii) the positive and trusting relationship between the two. Dr. Benson says “belief – including the expectations for healing fostered by such belief – had the power to release significant quantities of the powerful dopamine neurotransmitter, which has been linked to feelings of well-being and happiness.” Zubieta (2005) did an experiment on volunteers with a belief in a pain killer (actually a placebo) administered by them. They compared the brain scans of pain-only phase with the pain-plus-placebo phase using positron emission tomography. They found that when the placebo was being administered, the brains released significantly more endorphins, the brain's natural painkillers. The placebo effect could possibly be linked to the belief the volunteers had in what was administered to them.
Negative beliefs (Nocebos) too work in a similar way but with negative effects. It is observed that when the body is fed with images of disability and despair, it accepts these limits as truthful and responds with impairment. “Drs. C. Butler and A. Steptoe studied in 1986 the effect of competing powers of suggestion on asthmatics at the University of London. They found that bronchial constriction was caused by belief and prevented by belief unrelated to any drug taken.” If the nocebo is stored unconsciously, the effect could be much more than the consciously wished for action. Dr. Lipton opines that once programmed into the subconscious mind, the nocebos control our biology for the rest of our lives…unless we can figure out a way to reprogram them. It is so because the subconscious mind can process 20 million environmental stimuli per sec vs. 40 by the conscious mind.
It is interesting to note that, “neurological research reveals that before we consciously color the world around us with our thinking and acquired beliefs, brain mechanisms mark our perceptions, forming opinions and assigning emotional values. Before we have even a chance to mull over the presence of a new sight or sound, regions of our brain react by assigning an initial but influential value to it. These automatic attitudes make us incapable of utter objectivity or neutrality.” According to Dr. Lipton, basic behavioral patterns, beliefs and attitudes we observe in our parents become “hard-wired” as synaptic pathways in our subconscious minds. “Subconscious mind takes over the moment our conscious mind is not paying attention. The conscious mind can think forward and backward in time while the subconscious is always operating in the present.” This emphasizes the need on our part to be ever vigilant and be in a state of constant awareness.
Dr. J. S. Levin reviewed in 1994 hundreds of epidemiologic studies to conclude that belief in a power lowers death rates and increases health. Dr. Benson observed that, “Practicing medicine and conducting medical research, I’ve learned that invoking beliefs is not only emotionally and spiritually soothing but vitally important to physical health.” Dr. Benson concludes that our brains often cannot distinguish external from internal “reality.” When you dream that you are being chased, your heart rate increases just as it would if you were really being chased. For your brain this is reality. Our brains are wired for beliefs and expectancies. When activated, the body can respond as it would if the belief were a reality.
We hardly need any evidence to say that out thoughts profoundly affect our body chemistry – whether it is anger or anxiety, pleasure or depression. What is important, however, is that conscious severing the prior thought also produces characteristic biological and molecular changes in the human body. “Relaxation exercises bring about a remarkable calming of body and brain as established from fMRI studies at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Calming response may cause the body to release increasing amounts of nitric oxide throughout the body. This nitric oxide in turn counters the negative effects of the stress hormone norepinephrine.” Dr. Benson (2003) feels that the whole nitric oxide mechanism may somehow be connected with what we think of as the “mind.”
Dr. Benson writes that, “The potentially destructive stress response typically occurs automatically when an outside stressor – such as pressure as work, fear, or anxiety – causes the body and brain to go on full alert. Animals and humans share this stress-response. The relaxation response (by “letting go”) is peculiarly human in that it tends to arise from a specific act of volition or a conscious relaxation strategy.” Placebo effect when combined with relaxation response magnifies the beneficial impact on health.
Current brain research is establishing that brain has tremendous plasticity. This is in contrast to the earlier view of the neuroscientists that the neural circuits, when once formed in childhood, do not change. “Even though we are born with a set of instructions and neurosignatures, our brains perpetually recruit new nerve cells and nerve-cell activation patterns to handle its daily inputs.”
With a treatment protocol that mimics Buddhist meditation technique of “Mindful Attention,” Schwartz (2003) could show through brain scans the changes that came about in the activity of parts of brain (particularly the caudate nucleus) when his four step therapy was followed by the patients of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He established the plasticity of brain to learn new things (change the neuronal connections) under the intentional activity of the mind. Dr. Schwartz says in Chapter X: “It seems that neuroscience has tiptoed up to a conclusion that would be right at home in the canon of some of the eastern philosophies: introspection, willed attention, subjective state – pick your favorite description of an internal mental state – can redraw the contours of the mind, and in so doing can rewire the circuits of the brain, for it is attention that makes neuroplasticity possible. The role of attention throws into stark relief the power of mind over brain, for it is a mental state (attention) that has the ability to direct neuroplasticity.”
Dr. Gabbard says that cognitive behavioral therapy (which tries to teach people how to change harmful thoughts and beliefs) appears to cause biological changes in people with panic and many other disorders. More recently, in 2005, Dr. R. DeRubeis of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues have conducted the largest clinical trial ever designed to compare talk therapy with chemical antidepressants. The result is that talking works as well as pills do and with reduced relapse rates.
Meditation practitioners claim that meditation is a mental training and a process of familiarization with one's own mental life leading to long-lasting changes in cognition and emotion. Dr. Benson’s team conducted several studies on the effect of Meditation on Buddhist monks and also Sikhs. They documented that the Buddhist monks during meditation could indeed dry icy, wet sheets on their naked bodies in temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. From fMRI studies at Harvard Medical School on Sikhs, they could see that the brain combined areas of quietude with cerebral activity during meditation. Those areas of the brain associated with attention, space-time concepts and executive control functions became active. They observed significantly increased blood flow in the limbic system and brain stem that control autonomic nervous system. But this increased activity actually resulted in lowering respiratory rate and heartbeat. Newberg and others (2001) showed that during peak moments of meditation neurons in the posterior superior parietal lobe exhibit unusual activity. This area of the brain has the primary job to orient the individual in physical space.
Lutz and others (2004) found “that long-term Buddhist practitioners self-induce sustained electroencephalographic high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations and phase-synchrony during meditation.” The data obtained by them suggest that mental training through meditation involves temporal integrative mechanisms and may induce short-term and long-term neural changes.
All the above examples of studies show the influence a meditative mind has on our brain. One could rise the question how the invisible mind could affect a physical brain. The dichotomy of mental and material has a historical reason at least in the west. That goes to the times of Descartes. Ever since he introduced the concept of Mind-body duality, the exact link between mind and body or the causal relation between the mental and physical remained an unsolved problem. Prof. Searle (2004) argues convincingly that this dilemma has arisen because of the terminology we are caught in. Mental and physical have been defined so as to be mutually exclusive. ‘Mental’ is defined as qualitative, subjective, first-personal and therefore, immaterial and indestructible. ‘Physical’ is defined as quantitative, objective, third-personal and therefore, material and destructible. He feels that once we revise the traditional categorization, “there is no problem in recognizing that the mental qua mental is physical qua physical.” According to him, it is a continuous spectrum from mental to physical as can be seen from functional properties.
Granted that genes are controlled by environment and genetic expression can be altered by thought through meditation techniques, a question still remains about the freedom we have in making a choice. In other words do we have free will? This is another of highly controversial issues. Literature abounds with a range of positions taken by scholars - from extreme determinism to total freedom and all hues in between.
Prof. Searle (2004) very ably and in an inimitable style expresses the problem of free will. In his words, “There is a special problem about free will because we have two absolutely irreconcilable convictions, each of which seems to be completely correct and, indeed, inescapable. The first is that every event that occurs in the world has antecedently sufficient causes. The sufficient causes of an event are those that, in a particular context, are sufficient to determine that that event will occur. Our second conviction, that we do in fact have free will, is based on certain experiences of making up our mind to do something and then doing it. It is part of our conscious experiences that we experience that causes of our decisions and actions, in the form of those reasons for those decisions and actions. … We do not know how free will exists in the brain, if it exists at all. We do not know why or how evolution has given us the unshakable conviction of free will. We do not, in short, know how it could possibly work. But we also know that the conviction of our own freedom is inescapable. We cannot act except under the presupposition of freedom.”
Dennet (2003) holds that Free will is “not only not eternal, it evolved, and it is still evolving.” According to him, it is a creation of human activity and beliefs like any other human creations.
Free will may be compared to the air we breathe. It is everywhere. It appears to be within the environment. To give a very crude example: When we exercise franchise, we feel we exercised our free will. When the results come out with landslide victories, psephologists talk of “waves” in favor of the winning candidate. That means our free will was apparently influenced by the environmental “wave” effect, though we are smug with our feeling of free will. In a philosophical way, this can be extended to say that the genes may also affect the environment and in turn get affected by it.
Whatever way it functions, we have a choice of freely willing a desired outcome through an orchestrated belief system of mutually reinforcing group of people and thus create an environment that can alter our gene expression. We may call such dedicated group of people as satsanga and associating oneself with that group as satsangatya. Through such an action, it seems biologically quite possible that one may curb the tendency of self-perpetuation programmed within the genes.
The sum total accumulated experience genetically coded and stored within the DNA is comparable to the Sanchita karma – the long-term effects of the survival efforts of a species. This is manifest 100 per cent in the genotype at the time of conception by the union of sperm and ovum. When once the embryo forms and the fetus is on a path of development through cell division, the genetic information gets constantly modified under the influence of the environment existing in the womb of the mother. Even after the baby is born and grows to be an adult, the expression of genetic characters is constantly subjected to the environmental influence. The phenotypic characters resulting from the environmental influence on the genotype can be compared to Prarabdha. Therefore, it is the environment that decides the prarabdha. The word environment as used here is wide and all-embracive. It refers not merely to the physical aspects but includes the mental state of the mother when the child is in its mother’s womb and the mental state of the individual and the persons with whom the individual interacts. Prenatal research findings and current developments in psychiatry and neuroscience attest to this fact.
Recent advances in the studies on brain have established its tremendous plasticity and learning as a mechanism through which the synaptic connections are altered. It has become evident that thought is a form of energy and concerted thoughts, like meditation, can reset neuronal connections in the brain. A group of mutually reinforcing individuals with an orchestrated thought process through a belief system can be called satsanga. Association with such a group (satsangatya) provides a facilitating environment to obtain a directed change overriding genetic program in an individual. Setting “no more self-perpetuation” as a goal, it is possible that one can neutralize the genetic program of self-perpetuation written in the genes in this life itself. Simple actions taken for the day-to-day sustenance of the body do not produce any lasting effects that will be written into the long-term memory of the genes. There is no karmaphala that accumulates from such actions.
I make no claim of originality in this write up. Many of the ideas quoted mostly in their own words are from experts in their respective fields of research. I am indebted to all the authors whose references I cited when possible and to those whom I could not cite. What I tried to do is to string the gems of ideas that I could glean into a garland and present it here. If there is any mis-representation, the fault is mine. I hope and trust you will be able to see the beauty of this garland and possibly improve it.
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Benson, H. with Stark, M., (1996), “Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief”, Scribner, NY, pp: 350.
Benson, H. and W. Proctor, (2003), “The Break-out Principle”, Scribner, NY, pp: 320.
Blackmore, S., (1999), “The Meme Machine”, OUP, pp: 264.
Dawkins, R., (1989), “The Selfish Gene”, OUP, pp: 352.
Dennet, D.C., (2003), “Freedom Evolves”, Viking, pp: 347.
Fraga, M. F. et al, (2005), “Epigenetic differences arise during the lifetime of monozygotic twins,” PNAS, vol. 102, no. 30, pp: 10604-10609, Published online.
Gabbard, G.O., (2000), “A neurobilogically informed perspective on psychotherapy”, British Jour. of Psychiatry, vol: 177, pp: 117-122.
Lipton, B.H., (2005), “The Biology of Belief”, Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles, Mountain of Love, Santa Rosa, CA, pp: 224.
Lutz, A., L. L. Greischar, N. B. Rawlings, M. Ricard, and R. J. Davidson, (2004), “Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice”, PNAS, 101, 16369-16373.
Margulis, L. and D. Sagan, “Acquiring Genomes: a theory of Origin of Species”, Basic Books, 2002, pp: 240.
Meisler, M., (2005), answer to the question “How do scientists turn genes on and off in living animals?”, Sci Amer, August, 2005.
Nathanielsz, P. with Vaughan, C., (2001), “The Prenatal Prescription”, HarperCollins, NY, pp: 218.
Newberg, A., D’Aquili, E., and Rause, V., (2001), “Why God Won’t Go Away”, Brain Science & The Biology of Belief, Ballantine Books, NY, pp:226.
Schwartz, J.M. and Bagley, S., (2003), “The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force”, Reagan Books, pp: 432.
Searle, J.R., (2004), “Mind, a brief introduction”, OUP, pp: 326.
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Yogananda, P., “The Autobiography of a Yogi”, (1946), Self-Realization Fellowship, LA, pp: 516.
Zubieta, J-K., J. A. Bueller, L. R. Jackson, D. J. Scott, Y. Xu, R. A. Koeppe, T. E. Nichols, and C. S. Stohler, (2005), “Placebo Effects Mediated by Endogenous Opioid Activity on µ-Opioid Receptors”, J. Neurosci., 25, 7754 - 7762.


ABSTRACT: Karma theory is quite popular in many eastern religions and gaining coinage with some of the new age gurus. But it looks to be based more on the Newtonian concepts of action-reaction models and irreversibility of flow of time. Both these assumptions appear to be based on shaky premises. The work by behavior scientists, particularly Cziko (2000) applying Darwinian and Bernardian principles shows that living organism's output is not determined by environmental input as a one way cause – effect model. Living systems are characterized by circular causality. This means that perception and behavior reciprocally and simultaneously influence each other. The one way cause – effect view of karma theory negates the intelligence and purposefulness of human behavior either in the ‘here and now’ or in the long term evolutionary perspective. “What is clear is that the currently accepted one-way cause-effect model, successful in explaining much of the workings of the inanimate world, cannot account for the purposeful, goal-directed behavior by which living organisms control important aspects of their environment.”
The concepts from physics on multiverses, quantum theory and studies on the brain question the irreversible arrow of time as a dimension extending infinitely independent of space. Unless some new concepts develop to the contrary, reestablishing Newtonian view of the absolute nature of time and space, it is difficult to explain the present as the result of some past. In view of these findings, the validity of Karma theory needs to be re-examined.
1. INTRODUCTION: The Law of Karma enunciated by the Eastern Religions (particularly Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism) is generally well accepted and believed in by many. It has become quite popular even with New Age Gurus in the West (e.g. Zukav, 1990). Expressed in simple terms, Karma Theory says that our present is the effect of our past actions. We reap the consequences of our current actions later, may be even in the next birth. We, in many situations around us so often, encounter daily some effects that can be directly linked to some past causes. As an extension of such an experience, we tend to accept the karma theory without a question. Further, it quite often provides a comforting explanation to many of our imponderable experiences soothing a bruised ego and/or offering solace to our distressed souls.
The inexorable cause-effect relationship of karma is so much ingrained into the lives of the believers that they accept it at all levels, even at simple matters like missing a bus or spilt milk. However, we do not invoke karma for things which are under our control! May be because of this, in developed countries, where more things of daily life are under control, we do not find people so frequently alluding to their fate with their hand to the forehead (where the effects of karma are supposed to have been indelibly written down).
The Karma theory is based on two important implicit assumptions.
The first assumption is that we, human beings, are helplessly subjected to the one way action of cause and effect, just like the inanimate things that we see around us are. That means we humans, with all our evolutionary skills and survival tools at our command and the enormous information stored in our genes and brain, are no different from the inanimate things subjected to the Newtonian law of forces.
In order to understand clearly, let us take a couple of examples. Iron filings get attracted to a magnet. The cause is the magnet. The effect is the filings stick to the magnet. If a sheet of paper is placed in between the filings and the magnet, the filings are still drawn towards the magnet but get stuck to the paper instead of reaching the magnet. But a Romeo attracted to a Juliet tries to reach Juliet even if a wall exists between them. He uses his intelligence to cross over the hindrance but does not stupidly end up sealing his lips against the wall like the iron filings sticking to the paper. Unlike a stone dropped from air, an eagle diving for its prey in the waters does not hit just the water pool but constantly varies its flight path to catch the fish. That, in essence, is the difference between animate and inanimate systems as expressed by William James over a century ago (1890). Living beings constantly change their behavior to control their perception of the environment so that the set goal could be reached. In other words, they have a fixed goal but variable means unlike the inanimate things which follow a fixed path and end up with variable goals.
In the case of living things, the cause – effect model works as a closed system with a feedback loop. ‘Approaching living organisms as purposeful systems that behave in order to control their perceptions of the external environment provide a new perspective for understanding what, why, and how living things, including humans, do what they do.’ Purposeful behavior has a circular causation. Further, unlike non-living closed loop control systems (which are controlled by the environment), a living system is controlled from within itself. This is a direct reversal of the concept that our perceptions of the environment control our behavior. We vary our behavior to control perceived environmental consequences of those behaviors for a purpose. This is called “Perceptual Control Theory” (Cziko, 2000). The purposes and goals may be nested, that is to say that there may be many lower level goals within the overall higher level purpose.
One may suggest that the karma theory is more than just a cause – effect relationship. It has, for example, a regulatory role with promises of reward-punishment built into it to ensure an orderly society. But a very large amount of research work by behavioral scientists shows that attempts to modify human behavior by promises of rewards or threats of punishment have failed over time. Quoting from Cziko (2000), “It is not the provision of past rewards and punishment that influences behavior, but rather anticipation of future rewards and punishment. Public hangings can be quite effective in getting the population to think twice about performing acts that are punishable at the end of a rope (it is, of course, completely effective in preventing such actions in the future by the punished individual). Promises of future rewards can also increase the likelihood of certain activities (which is how most religions operate to modify the behavior of their adherents, not to mention the threat of hell as future punishment). The reason why rewards and punishment often appear to be effective in modifying or controlling another person’s behavior is not because their application in the past controls current behavior. Instead, humans vary their present behavior to obtain (or avoid) that which they want to obtain (or avoid). That is, rewards do not control behavior. Rather, behaviors are used to control rewards.”
The punishment-reward system may work for some time, though. But after certain point of time, it will lead to counter-control by the victims – a common example of such counter-control being strikes and satyagrahas. As noted by Cziko, “Another aspect of trying to use rewards to control behavior is often overlooked and may actually go a long way toward explaining why it is ineffective in the long term. For me to use reinforcement in an attempt to control your behavior, I must be able to control the resource that will serve as the reinforcement and make sure that you are in a state of deprivation. That is, I must make sure that you have less of the reinforcement than you want. I cannot use food as reinforcement if you are able to obtain all the food you want from other sources. Whereas such an arrangement may work well for a rat or pigeon that cannot question the fairness of such a situation, you as an intelligent adult human being will almost certainly find such a situation unfair, if not intolerable.” If the promised rewards are of a deferred type, deferred to some unknown, unknowable and unverifiable future like next birth, like in the Karma theory, the system is sure to fail the moment faith in the system is weakened.
Here a short digression on “Rebirth” is in order because Karma theory has an underpinning of rebirth for the remotely deferred effects of the actions done in the present life. Let us examine for whom or for what entity is rebirth possible.
Bhagavad-Gita is one of the basic trios (Prasthanatraya) of ancient Hindu thought. It is considered to be a summary of all the Upanishads. Chapter II of Bhagavad-Gita, in turn, is said to be a gist of all Gita. Going by Slokas 16 – 21 of Chapter II, we find that only two entities are projected in the discussion. One is ‘sat’ and the other is ‘asat’. Their respective attributives are also clearly spelt out in those slokas. Sat is existent. Sat is not born, does not die; not having been, it does not come about. It is unborn, ancient, eternal, changeless, indestructible, illimitable and so on. On the other hand, asat is non-existent, has forms and names, it is destroyed and has an end. It is impermanent and limited. No third element is postulated. So called Jiva (or Atman) is also Brahman (Sat). By the very nature of the description, there is no question of any birth, leave alone rebirth for “sat”. Asat having no existence and being impermanent cannot be reborn when it ends once. Then for what or whom is the rebirth possible? Unless we bring in a third hypothetical entity which can carry forward the deferred punishment-reward system or the balance sheet of karma and also postulate some continuing method of keeping its identity, it is not possible to have rebirth. All such hypothetical entities and associated postulations complicate the system and make it all the more doubtful.
The corresponding elements for sat and asat in the human beings are saririnah (the resident or owner of the bodies) and sarirah (the bodies). The saririnah, being sat is by definition free from birth or rebirth. If an entity representing sarirah (bodies) can at all possibly have rebirth, what part of sarirah could it be? The philogenetic evolutionary memory is preserved in the bodies as its genome. The physical and mental characteristics of a person that have a large limiting influence on the quality of actions (karma) of an individual (i.e. emotional nature, physical health or even issues like color of skin or eye) are dependent on his/her genes. The genes themselves are asat and they die when the person is dead. If some part of this individual has to carry forward the effects of his/her actions, it becomes necessary to some extent that a set of these genes should continue into his/her next life. How could the genes which end with the death of the person get carried on to the next birth? Even if we assume that the genetic material has been somehow carried, the person then has to be reborn into the same set of genes with the implication of inbreeding in the family. The theory of Rebirth hardly talks of any such genetic restrictions. In fact, some versions of the theory would even not restrict the scope of rebirth into any other form (including inanimate body).
The second infirmity of the one way cause – effect model of the Karma theory arises from the concept of time as a unidirectional arrow. Special relativity a century ago demolished the classical view of absolute space and time. Time is no more considered independent of space -- as a separate, one-dimensional continuum, extending infinitely in either direction. The latest developments in Physics throw further light on the fallibility of our concept of time.
Huw Price of the University of Sydney re-examined the issue recently in the context of quantum mechanics. He concludes that the idea that the past is not influenced by the future is an anthropocentric illusion, a "projection of our own temporal asymmetry". The reason why the things we do in the present do not seem to have altered the past, according to his complex argument, is that the past has already taken account of what we are doing!
Direct cosmological observations are leading the astrophysicists to the high probability of the existence of other universes. The string theory in eleven dimensions and the theory of multiple universes being talked of in physics require us to understand time in a new perspective. In the words of Prof. Tegmark, (2003), “now you are in universe A, the one in which you are reading this sentence. Now you are in universe B, the one in which you are reading this other sentence….. All possible states exist at every instant, so the passage of time may be in the eye of the beholder”. So all events have occurred all at once! As expressed by the Physicist Deutsch decades ago, the many universes are a collection of moments. “There is no such thing as ‘the flow of time’. Each ‘moment’ is a universe of the manyverse. Each moment exists forever; it does not flow from a previous moment to a following one. Time does not flow because time is simply a collection of universes. We exist in multiple versions, in universes called ‘moments’.”
Piero Scaruffi (2003) points out our fallacy on time illustratively thus. “What would happen if the Sun all of a sudden slowed down? People all over the planet would still think that a day is a day. Their unit of measurement would be different. They would be measuring something else, without knowing it. What would happen today if a galactic wave made all clocks slow down? We would still think that ten seconds are ten seconds. But the "new" ten seconds would not be what ten seconds used to be. So clocks do not measure Time, they just measure themselves. We take a motion that is the same all over the planet and use that to define something that we never really found in nature: Time.”
From neurophysiologic angle too, time appears to be a mental construct, an evolutionary tactic developed by our neural system to relate events/spaces by invoking continuity. Through millennia of years, we acquired several shortcuts to relate what is processed by the brain to our survival values in order to conserve our expending of energy (Ramesam, 2004). Let us take the example of our vision and how we link together through the sense of our vision disconnected 3-D space. As Ramachandran (2003) puts it, “the goal of vision is to do as little processing or computation as you need to do for the job on hand.” He adds, “Vision evolved mainly to discover objects and to defeat camouflage. You do not realize this when you look around and you see clearly defined objects. But imagine your primate ancestors scurrying up in the tree tops trying to detect a lion seen behind fluttering green leaves. The brain says – ‘what’s the likelihood that all these different yellow fragments are exactly the same yellow simply by chance? Zero. They must all belong to one object, so let me link them together, glue them together. And as soon as you glue them together, a signal gets sent to the limbic system, saying ‘Aha, there’s something object-like, Oh, my god, it’s a lion – let me out of here!’ So there’s an arousal and an attention which then titillates the limbic system, and you pay attention and you dodge the lion. And such Ahas are created, I maintain, at every stage in the visual hierarchy as partial object-like entities are discovered that draw your interest and attention.”
One could easily extend that such linkages get formed not merely in the 3-D space but in the 4-D space-time. As expressed by Ramesam (2004), “we as humans can visualize only three dimensions. Because of this inherent limitation, our mind provides an imaginary continuity to the events and thus helps us to see an extra dimension called TIME. If the mind does not interpose, there is no 'time' in the sense that we see it (as an arrow). When the mind is snubbed or stunned, as in an altered state of consciousness (say under anesthesia) or when the mind faces sudden life-threatening situations, it loses all sense of time. Therefore, arrow of time is only a mental imaginary construct and not an independent variable.”
Karma theory is quite popular in many eastern religions and gaining coinage with some of the new age gurus. But it looks to be based more on the Newtonian concepts of action-reaction models and irreversibility of flow of time. Both these assumptions appear to be based on shaky premises. The work by behavior scientists, particularly Cziko (2000) applying Darwinian and Bernardian principles shows that living organism's output is not determined by environmental input as a one way cause – effect model. Living systems are characterized by circular causality. This means that perception and behavior reciprocally and simultaneously influence each other. The one way cause – effect view of karma theory negates the intelligence and purposefulness of human behavior either in the ‘here and now’ or in the long term evolutionary perspective. “What is clear is that the currently accepted one-way cause-effect model, successful in explaining much of the workings of the inanimate world, cannot account for the purposeful, goal-directed behavior by which living organisms control important aspects of their environment.”
The concepts from physics on multiverses, quantum theory and studies on the brain question the irreversible arrow of time as a dimension extending infinitely independent of space. Unless some new concepts develop to the contrary, reestablishing Newtonian view of the absolute nature of time and space, it is difficult to explain the present as the result of some past. In view of these findings, the validity of Karma theory needs to be re-examined.
An interesting question that may be posed here is what is the ultimate purpose or goal of our behavior, if, as animate systems, our actions are governed by a “purpose”. Biologists can hardly tell us the ultimate purpose or goal for evolution. It is in this sense blind. Our ancient Rishis, however, spelt out the purpose as liberation or salvation which is a ‘concept’ denied by thinkers like Mr. U.G. Krishnamurthy (Naronha and Moorty, 1990.)
Acknowledgements: I am deeply indebted to many authors (and material available on the internet) from whose works I have quoted extensively in the development of my thoughts presented above.
Cziko, G., (2000), The Things We Do, Bradford Books, pp.302
James, William, (1890), The Principles of Psychology, quoted in Cziko, G.
Naronha, A.P.F. and Moorty, J.S.R.L.N., Editors, (1990), Thought is your Enemy, Sowmya Publishers, Bangalore, India (available online)
Ramachandran, V.S., (2003), The Emerging Mind, Lecture:3 The Artful Brain, Reith lectures, BBC.
Ramesam, V., (2004), Religion Demystified, e-Journal of available at:
Scaruffi, P., (2003), Thinking about Thought, Writers Club press, pp.656.
Tegmark, M., (2003), Parallel Universes, Scientific American Digital, May.
Zukav, G., (1990), The Seat of the Soul, Free Press, pp.256.

Comments Added on 09.01.2005 regarding the concepts of "Rebirth" as generally understood in layman's terms:
1. WHO PAYS FOR MY SINS?Let me say that I have sinned and there is not enough time left in this life of mine to reap the consequences. Therefore, I have to suffer the effects in my next birth. As per the Karma Theory, the balance of my karma is carried by a subtler entity as 'vasanas' to be transferred to my next life. Let us call this subtler entity as “A”. “A” is not ramesam, the physical body who committed the crime. “A” has not died with the death of ramesam and is not destroyed when the dead body of ramesam is burnt. Hence A is not ramesam. “A” is different and independent of ramesam. That much is easy to agree.Now to suffer the consequences, “A” has to transfer the balance sheet of 'vasanas' to some substratum. Let us say it landed on a beautiful table of a newly married couple who have, with all care and love, been keeping the table. The table reaps the consequences, gets deformed, despised, humiliatingly thrown away as pieces and destroyed. Now, “A’ is not the table. “A” does not get destroyed with the table as it was not destroyed with the physical ending of ramesam. Table is not that physical ramesam who committed the sins. But it paid for it. If the inanimate table looks odd, let us replace it with the embryo formed from the sperm and egg of the loving couple. Let us name it as “B” just to aid in our analysis. Now this “B” is not that ramesam. In fact, it has just as much relation to that ramesam as the table in our example had to ramesam. Once again, let us remember “A” is also different and independent of “B”. “A” is as removed from ramesam as from “B”. Then is it not as illogical for the physical body of “B” to pay for the sins of the physical body of ramesam as it was for the table? Why should the body of “B” go through the suffering of disease and destitution in this world for the wrongs of ramesam after his (ramesam’s) end? (Even if additional bodies of subtler levels like etheric, astral, mental etc. are invoked, the same logic holds good for the finer layers of “A” which may be likened to a “messenger particle” as physicists would have called).Does this not mean that others pay the consequences of my sins, immoral, unsocial acts? Is this the real moral behind the Karma Theory -- some one or other suffers the consequences of wrong doings in a society, so better everyone behave well.2. DOES NATURE WASTE RESOURCES?For the consequences of good and bad to be enjoyed or suffered in the next life, let us see how the natural resources get expended in order to do justice. Just for simplifying the arithmetic involved, let us assume an average life of an individual to be 60 years. (We may estimate the numbers for any other assumed age, but what is important is the concept here). A third of human life, on an average, is spent in sleep. That means we have 40 years of active life. Again, out of these forty years, a person spends at least 20 years of life after birth in learning things - right from how to sit, crawl, stand, walk, read, write, develop language and thinking abilities (because language has a great influence in our thinking as established by recent research work), social skills, etc. etc. That means another 20 years of life is gone in learning before an individual becomes independent to act in this world. Until then, he/she is under the care of parents or some guardians who have a vicarious responsibility for his/her actions.Thus forty years or two thirds of a new life is wasted in learning or relearning the same old skills, before a person gets independent eligibility to pay for the consequences of the good and bad done in a past life. Does Nature waste its resources in this way – providing just a 20 year span for paying the consequences and investing twice that period repeatedly in cycles of birth in order to make the individual ready to reap the consequences?




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