Friday, January 26, 2007

Religion relieves the stress of modern, urban living

Indians 'turn to religion to cope with city life' By Peter Foster in New Delhi 2:40am GMT 26/01/2007 Indians are turning to religion to relieve the stress of modern, urban living a survey has shown.

Rite of passage: Sikhs attend a gurudwara in New Delhi
The survey, conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in New Delhi, contradicts the widely held belief that urban India's new-found prosperity would make society more materialistic.
Sanjay Kumar and Yogendra Yadav, two social scientist with CSDS, said the pressures of living in India's rapidly expanding cities were having the opposite effect.
"The stress of urban living pushes people to search for anchors in their lives," they wrote in the Hindustan Times, which commissioned the survey. "Since they cannot go back to their villages, they recreate a community through religion," they added.
Rural migrants flock to cities like Bombay and New Delhi at the rate of 500,000 a year, with the majority living in slums while eking out a perilous existence away from their families. "In the process, religion changes from a personal experience to something that is more public and congregational," Mr Kumar added, saying this explained the proliferation of public places of worship.

The survey, based on a random sample of 7,670 respondents, showed that religion permeates all aspects of life in India and 90 per cent of those asked thought religion was holding its own or increasing in importance.
Although visiting the garish shopping malls of the new India is a favourite pastime of the country's new middle class, almost two thirds of respondents said they also regularly visited a temple, mosque or gurudwara [Sikh temple]. More than half of those questioned said they prayed "regularly".
Many Indians also have a belief in fringe spirituality such as sun signs (50 per cent), numerology (42 per cent) and ghosts (46 per cent).
No Indian wedding can take place without a reading of the stars of the prospective bride and groom, with many marriages being called off if they are found to be incompatible.
India's forthcoming wedding of the year, between the Bollywood stars Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, has been dogged by rumours that Miss Rai's chart is "mangalik", or 'Mars bearing'.
According to Indian astrologers, the influence of Mars on the bride is potentially disastrous if the groom is not also "mangalik", leading to divorce, early death or a failure to bear children.
It has been reported that over the last few months the couple have been seen making visits to several temples and spiritual gurus in order to sort out their astrological differences.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Thrilling and baffling than anything dreamt up by poets

John Gribbin Astrophysicist and science writer
I cannot improve upon the comment of the American physicist Richard Feynman: "The most important information … is the atomic hypothesis … that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another."
Brian Davies Professor of mathematics at King's College London
Without doubt, the most important single scientific discovery ever made was the connection between electricity and magnetism. This was discov­ered by the 19th-century British physicist and chemist Michael Faraday, at the Royal Institution in London; and it was systematised by the 19th-century Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, at King's College London.
This discovery led directly to the electric motor and dynamo — the basis of all electrical power — and also to telephones, radio, television, and computers, upon all of which advanced civilisation now depends.
Dr Robert Maynard Senior medical officer at the UK Department of Health
The principle of refutation put forward by the philosopher Karl Popper, in his books The Logic of Scientific Discovery and Conjectures and Refutations, is my choice. Popper argued that scientific knowledge advanced most reliably by the development and refutation of hypotheses — much more reliably than by the accretion of evidence in support of theories.
He said you cannot prove that all swans are white by counting white swans, but you can prove that not all swans are white by counting one black swan. Popper's approach is now accepted, in principle, by many scientists. And yet much research is still based upon induction — upon the collection of facts to support our ideas. Erecting hypotheses that can be falsified, and designing experiments capable of doing so, is the hallmark of the true scientist. In fact, it distinguishes the scientist from the non-scientist.
Matt Ridley Founding chair of the International Centre for Life
Science is not a catalogue of facts, but a search for new mysteries. Science increases the store of wonder and mystery in the world; it does not erode it. The myth that science gets rid of mysteries, started by the Romantic poets, was well nailed by Albert Einstein —whose thought experiments about relativity are far more otherworldly, elusive, thrilling, and baffling than anything dreamt up by poets.
Isaac Newton showed us the mysteries of deep space, Charles Darwin showed us the mysteries of deep time, and Francis Crick and James D Watson showed us the mysteries of deep encoding. To get rid of those insights would be to reduce the world's stock of awe.
Thursday April 7, 2005 Guardian by rjon on Wed 24 Jan 2007 06:22 PM PST Permanent Link

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Religion has ceased to integrate public life altogether

Seeking Christian interiority: an interview with Louis Dupre - Cover Story - Interview Christian Century, July 16, 1997 LOUIS DUPRE is T. Lawrason Riggs professor of the philosophy of religion at Yale University. A graduate of the University of Louvain in Belgium, he has received honorary doctorates from Loyola College, Sacred Heart University and Georgetown University as well as the Aquinas medal from the American Catholic Philosophical Association. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a foreign member of the Royal Academy of Belgium. Besides studies on Hegel, Marx and Kierkegaard, he has published works on religion (notably The Other Dimension: A Dubious Heritage and Transcendent Selfhood) and on modern culture (Passage to Modernity).
You have said that it's difficult to be Christian in our age. But hasn't it always been difficult to be a Christian? Why specifically is being a Christian difficult in our time?
Culture as a whole has become secular in a way that it has never been before. One may plausibly argue that the 18th century was the first non-Christian century. Most leading thinkers and artists, even if they were not opposed to Christianity, ceased to take their inspiration from it; secularization became dominant. Still, even at that time Western culture was so penetrated by Christian values and ideas that one might mistake entire passages of Voltaire or Diderot as having been written by believing Christians. Eighteenth-century culture was still steeped in a tradition that had been Christian since its beginning, and it was extremely difficult for these thinkers to free themselves from a language saturated with religion. The 19th century was different. It was an epoch marked by a virulent antitheistic campaign to clean the cultural slate of all Christian traces. Yet these attacks were the work of an elite; culture at large retained distinct remnants of its Christian roots.
Even today ties still exist between Christianity and culture in Europe and more so in the U.S. But on a more fundamental level the West appears to have said its definitive farewell to a Christian culture. Little of the old hostility remains. Our secular colleagues are happy to recognize the debt our civilization owes to the Christian faith to the extent that the faith, having been absorbed by culture itself, has become simply another cultural artifact. Christianity has become an historical factor subservient to a secular culture rather than functioning as the creative power it once was. The new attitude of benign atheism was, I think, prepared in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries by the three most prominent secularizers of the time, Marx, Freud and Nietzsche.
Why single them out? How did they differ from the earlier atheists you mention?
For Marx, Freud and Nietzsche, the idea of forcibly eradicating religion had become unnecessary. Religion for them was a passing symptom that was rapidly vanishing by itself. Already Marx had moved beyond the idea of atheism as a mere assertion of the unreality of God. For Marx. concentrating on atheism distracts us from the positive task of liberating humanity from social oppression. Lenin's active atheism, in which he used the state to try to destroy religion, is actually a fallback to earlier attitudes about religion. Freud admitted that no one can be forced not to believe. But as rational thought shows nothing in favor of religion and everything against it, to persist in a faith because no argument can decisively refute it is for Freud the sign of a lazy mind. Nietzsche preached a spiritual gospel, a new religion without God, beyond Christianity and atheism, that could still learn much from the old faiths.
Moving further in that direction, contemporary secular culture especially in its communications media, shows a surprising openness toward religion. But little suggests that this interest surpasses the purely horizontal cultural level. Culture itself has become the real religion of our time, and it has absorbed all other religion as a subordinate part of itself. It even offers some of the emotional benefits of religion, without exacting the high price faith demands. We have all become atheists, not in the hostile, antireligious sense of an earlier age, but in the sense that God no longer matters absolutely in our closed world, if God matters at all.
Why should the secularism of our time pose a more serious challenge to Christianity than the determined antitheism of the past?
Because religion in the 20th century has ceased to integrate public life altogether. By its very nature faith must integrate all other elements of life if it is to survive. Faith cannot simply remain one discrete part of life. My own writing about religion grew out of the fundamental question raised by the new situation: Is religion something that may or may not be very important to humans, or must it in some way integrate all other aspects of existence? I came to the conclusion that if it isn't somehow everything, it's nothing.
All societies, even the religious ones of the high Middle Ages or of Calvin's Geneva or of the Puritan pilgrims, distinguish between sacred and profane. But religion must in some way integrate the profane with the sacred. Obviously, Christianity no longer plays an integrating role in the life of modern societies. Certainly for most people in the West, especially in Western Europe, it has lost its creative, formative power. Christianity has become simply one element of civilization among many others, and by no means the most important. So here lies Christianity's present predicament. In the past religious integration was handed down by a tradition. But that tradition itself has lost its authority in the eyes of our contemporaries, including most believers.
What then ought the Christian to do to survive as a genuine religious believer?
I see no alternative but that he or she must now personally integrate what tradition did in the past. Nothing in culture today compels our contemporaries to embrace a religious faith. If they do, they alone are responsible for allowing their faith to incorporate all aspects of their existence. Hence the vital importance of a spiritual life.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sri Aurobindo, Vivekananda, Tagore and Gandhi

Mind over material HARSH NEOTIA
The Economic Times> The Sunday ET> As You Like It> SUNDAY, JANUARY 14, 2007 01:31:51 AM
Despite the travails of leading a life that puts tremendous pressure on my time, and in which the boundaries of the ‘personal’ keep getting infringed by the professional with every passing day, there are still some passions which I hold dear and pursue with great zeal. To state what excites me. What is it that I love doing just for its sake rather than to achieve some end?...the foremost thing that comes to my mind is reading. Though quite ironically, an excitement for the written word didn’t develop during my early childhood days. Till my late teens, encounters with books were mostly governed by academic necessities. It was only during my formative years in college that I began to widen this horizon. Without even realising, I got sucked into the magical and profound world of words, when these books opened in front of me.
I am fortunate to have been exposed to the writings and treatises of leading luminaries of Indian philosophical tradition and thought such as Aurobindo, Vivekananda, Tagore and Gandhi. These have been a source of inspiration and guidance and have helped me in maintaining a sense of belonging and right perspective amidst the hustle and bustle of corporate life.
Architecture is the other subject that I gradually developed an interest in during the last 15 to 20 years. My exposure to the discipline was initially more out of a professional requirement but over time that has changed into a general understanding and appreciation of architectural accomplishments. That is why architectural books are of special interest. Business biographies and also biographies of other people, particularly politicians, both national and international, have interested me a lot. While reading these biographies, one gets an insight into what goes on in the minds of these great achievers and how that eventually translates to success in real life. Once or twice a year I love to take a short break of four days just to read.
Fortunately, my wife, Madhu, is an equally avid follower of my passion. Funny though it may sound, but we often go on vacations to myriad holiday destinations for short breaks just to pamper ourselves with long uninterrupted reading sessions. Self reflection or contemplation are luxuries that I hardly get to indulge in when I am in Kolkata, Its possible to catch up a little on this front when I am travelling for business but that’s usually too erratic to satisfy my craving for it. That’s where some time off the usual routine to ensconce myself completely in the world of thoughts, values and tales acts as the perfect refuge.
I know I have just scrapped the surface of this enormous world and there is a lot more that I intend to explore in this journey. Any passion can be sustained on the long run only if it excites you every single time that you indulge in it, in the same way as it did when you first got a taste of its intoxicating pleasures. For me it is just the beginning and the passion would always emanate from being the wide eyed overawed kid every single time I flip the pages of a marvellous book. The author is the Chairman of Bengal Ambuja

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Pure ideative mind in Plato, Kant, Descartes, Einstein

Re: Instruments of Knowledge and Post-Human Destinies
by RY Deshpande on Sat 30 Dec 2006 08:49 PM PST Profile Permanent Link
In the Synthesis of Yoga (pp. 841-61) Sri Aurobindo explains that the supermind is a superior instrumentation of the spirit and all the operations of our normal consciousness are its limited and inferior derivations. But this is a fulfilling power which does not reject the possibilities we possess; rather it uplifts them. When we organise our mental activity around it we enter into the world of pure ideative knowledge. At the higher level this ideative knowledge gets transformed into supramental thought, supramental vision, the supramental knowledge by identity, the true jñāna. This is knowledge of a superior kind than what is obtained from samyama in the Patanjali yoga.
Thus he writes elsewhere in the same book (p. 493): Vijnana “takes up our sense action and illumines it even in its ordinary field so that we get a true sense of things. But also it enables the mind-sense to have a direct perception of the inner as well as the outer phenomenon, to feel and receive or perceive, for instance, the thoughts, feelings, sensations, the nervous reactions of the object on which it is turned.” Then in the footnote he says: This power, according to Patanjali, comes by samyama on an object; but in the gnosis there is no need of samyama. “For this kind of perception is the natural action of the Vijnana.” And then p. 858: samyama, “a concentration, directing or dwelling of the consciousness, by which one can become aware of all that is in the object. But the necessity of concentration becomes slight or nil when the active oneness grows; the luminous consciousness of the object and its contents becomes more spontaneous, normal, facile.”
The thought-action of our mind is constituted of a triple motion: Habitual thought-mind basing its ideas upon the data given by the senses and by the surface experiences of the nervous and emotional being; the pragmatic idea-mind that lifts itself above life and acts creatively as a mediator between the idea and the life-power, between truth of life and truth of the idea; the pure ideative-mind lives in truth of the idea apart from any necessary dependence on its value for action and experience. Its preoccupation is with knowledge, its whole object to have the delight of ideation. This ideative-mind is the highest reach of the intellect acting for itself.
We could perhaps see some examples of the pure ideative mind in Plato, Kant, Descartes, Einstein; of the pragmatic idea-mind in Aristotle, Newton, Karl Marx, Rutherford, Niels Bohr of the recent years; there are plenty of people with the habitual thought-mind, with a kind of horse-sense, who are successful in life, like Henry Ford, Bill Gates, even fine academic theoreticians such as Adam Smith, Chomsky, Hawking, with most of the present-day professionals in various fields, including management gurus and Nobel scientists falling more or less in this category. But people like Tagore, Gandhi, Vivekananda, even Gorbachev, belong to another category where the touch of the higher mind climbing to the world of intuition is perceptibly active.
But our real difficulty is to combine these three movements of the intelligence, the movements of the habitual thought-mind, the pragmatic idea-mind, and the pure ideative-mind. Thus the pure ideative mentality of Einstein was absorbed in the construction of an abstract system for the hard physical world around us, and he was happy with it, his idea-system; in fact he considered it to be the crudeness of our mind to impose the condition of experimental verification if the idea is fundamentally logical and sound, intrinsically correct, that one should want to apply the test of experimental verification. For him internal consistency rather than observation was enough; he went even to the extent of saying that if an idea is genuine, then it must be also observationally correct. Bohr insisted on the empirical foundation. But this is a deep and harsh dichotomy which cannot be resolved by remaining in the world of thought alone. Perhaps it is here that the pragmatic idea-mind must prevail, keeping itself open to the other which might materialise in the course of long or short development, that it might acquire meaning or sense with the advance of human thought.
Until then any conclusion about human destinies based on such provisionality must be taken with great caution. It will be always subject to revision, lacking the certitude of a higher mode of knowledge. The truest certitude can come only from Vijnan. RYD