Curious Case of Karma Philosophy

Long ago, a wise man appeared in my hallucinated dream. His image was vague, but his voice was clear. He said “Beware of Karma. Your current life and its quality is the result of some of your earlier actions this life and the previous lives; your future will depend on the actions that you perform in this life”. This was my first introduction to the concept of Karma. While I had many questions about this definition, I subconsciously made peace with it. It made me God-fearing and helped to live a disciplined life. This also helped me to reason with many inconsistencies such as an unbalanced society – the differences between the rich and the poor, abled and the disabled. I had answers to many questions that a sane human wouldn’t have. My uncle once slipped while walking on the road and fell down. Seeing him disgruntled, I commented that he was being punished by Karma for some of his mistakes.

For the first time my interest in Karma was piqued by a story from Bhagavatam –

“A very long ago, there used to be a noble Brahmin. He was a good son, good husband and a good father. He lived a righteous life and performed his duties sincerely. He has the best life that his peers wish for. One fateful day while walking through a forest, he saw a prostitute romancing someone. As Karma would have it, he was smitten by her charms instantly, fell in love, and later married her by abandoning his own parents, wife and children. Out of dire need, he later became a thief, a liar, a drunkard, even a murderer. His whole life was ruined in complete contrast to his earlier life”

This story haunted me for the next few days. Was he predestined to be affected by a single event via his Karmic design? If my life too is already pre-written, where is the fun in living it?

As I brooded, the wise man appeared. I couldn’t see him clearly, but heard him say “the greatest gift to the human is free will. In the above story, the event was completely external with no relationship to the noble Brahmin. He could have ignored it, but he succumbed to his senses and chose the path of downfall. It was his freewill that was the culprit” and he added “by the way, your uncle fell down not because of his Karma, but because he didn’t use his mind while walking on the road”. This made sense and for the first time, Karma was contradicted by free will.

After reading my weekly astrology report on a website, I chanced upon a news – due to a doctor’s negligence a mother lost her life after giving birth to a child. The image of the bereaved husband holding his new born child struck to my mind. The dreams of a happy long life came to an end due to an unexpected accident. The child, oblivious of her loss, cried on perhaps out of hunger. She was going to miss many important things in her life – her mother’s hug, her lullabies, a greatest strength and most importantly, a lifetime opportunity of receiving unconditional love. What kind of morbid consolation can I get by linking this child’s deprivation with her Karma? I looked around for the wise man and found him in a corner. I gather from his hazy silhouette that he shrugged as if to suggest the world is a sad place anyway.

The concept of Karma went for a toss with the events of massive consequences such as natural calamities, tsunamis and the wars. For example, the World War II was a distinguished event in the recent history that caused grave repercussions, upheaval of geographic and economic conditions followed by massive exodus. Millions lost their lives. I expected the wise man to ask me to exclude such events from the scheme of Karma, but he said “Don’t look for reasons to all problems in this world. This universe is random at best, and many experts failed to understand it. Not every action that you perform will have a physical consequence. Some actions will have inherent mental reactions caused by positive or negative psyche of the event. For example, a murderer needn’t necessarily be punished by the police. The negative energy created in his mind will lead to subtle negative Karma leading towards his downfall. Do not try to understand it if it is too complex. To make it simple, let me give tell you the greatest mantra and the biggest secret that will solve all your problems – ‘Work sincerely and don’t expect results’. By denouncing selfish expectations, you will be impervious to all Karmic attachments, and you can still perform Karma (action) as it is your birth right”

As the wise man said this, his muzzy image started to become clear and he looked exactly like my conscience.

A day in my karmic life

“Carpe Diem: Seize the day”

7 AM: The alarm buzzed, but I was awake by then. My mind raced through the day’s tasks. I fought with my lethargy and dragged myself out of the bed, freshened up, and started Surya Namaskar. The first two rounds I was elevated, and the next two rounds I was exhausted. Pleased with my physical activity, I sat down to meditate. Half a minute into it, I remembered an important task to do once I reach office. Another half minute, I remembered that I was meditating. My son, still on the bed, whispered “Good Morning Daddy” and reached out for his iPad. My wife shouted from the kitchen “your coffee is getting cold”. I woke up enlightened, resolved to show better restrain while meditating henceforth.

“Work incessantly without expecting results”

1 PM: In office. Amidst work, emails and phone calls, my calendar buzzed reminding me of a meeting immediately. The calendar invite read “sorry for booking this meeting during lunch time – this is the only free slot available for everyone”. I heard another buzz, this time from my stomach that it’s hungry. I whatsapp’ed my colleagues that I won’t be joining them for lunch, and opened my lunch box to gulp few quick bites before rushing to the meeting room. I barged into the room saying “sorry I am late” and looked at the faces of half famished colleagues.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever”

3 PM: A quick training on ‘Agile process’, and I sat in the front of a packed meeting room. A colleague across the table was busy on his mobile phone, and still feigning curiosity on the subject. “Agile is not just a process” said the trainer “it is also a change in your thought process that warrants you to be flexible, nimble and open to any idea or change”. It all made sense, and I tried my best not to yawn.

“Life doesn’t just happen. It requires your participation”

7 PM: At home. I have put on the TV to watch the leading Indian news channel, and started pranayama.

Breathe in, Breathe out

“Daddy, phone” gleamed my son holding my ringing mobile phone with his tiny hands. That seemed to be a call from my offshore team. I raised my hand to show five fingers seeking five minutes.

Breath in, Breathe out

“Sambar” shouted my wife from the kitchen. That’s her eureka moment for what to prepare for dinner tonight. I raised my hand thumbs up showing my unanimous agreement.

Breath in, Breathe out

The news anchor on TV yelled with the most pertinent question that India wants to know – “Is the Indian PM’s degree certificate authentic”. A furious member of another political party interjected that it’s not.

Breath in, Breathe out

The TV channel nonchalantly scrolled a news at the bottom “Over 100 dead with heat waves across India. Water shortage across major cities”

My breathing became rapid. My heart rate would have been over 100.

“At the end of the day, your success depends on how well you sleep”

11 PM: My playful son kissed me good night as the warmth of the bed overwhelmed the pleasure of playing. He laid on the bed staring at the roof with only few seconds before falling asleep. He looked like a tranquil yogi, and I wondered if he was still thinking about who would win if Indominous-Rex and T-Rex were to get into a duel. I remembered my parents and heaved a sigh on how funny and vicious the life cycle is.

My wife spoke wisely and gave the sweetest advice before closing her eyes – “Don’t think much, and sleep well”.

I questioned myself as I reached out to the beckoning bed “what was the best achievement of the day”, and the answer came from deep within “it is yet to come, and that’s a good night sleep”

 

Our Flawed lives

My blood test reports have come, and I was summoned to see the doctor. Many test results were out of range. Hemoglobin should be 13, but mine’s only 11. The doctor smirked and asked me not to bother about these ‘out of range’ results, and these ranges are only for reference.

We have an appraisal system at work. The performances of the associates are measured and normalised to be fit in a bell curve with the major area of the curve (peak) representing count of ‘Average’ performing associates. This also indicates that the organization expects majority of the population to perform average. The associates on either side of the normalised distribution curve are either appreciated or admonished based on what side of the curve they belonged to.

NormalCuver
Normal distribution is widely used to represent random data of natural and social sciences

In an attempt to explain the standard normal distribution, our statistics lecturer gave us an example of heights of males in India. The average height of Indian male is 5.5 ft. So the major male population would fit in this height range between 5.3 and 5.7 ft. It doesn’t mean that the other minority representing lesser than 5.3 feet and greater than 5.7 feet do not belong to the society. They pretty much do, except that our minds are trained to see them with a difference.

What’s common to all the above said examples is the ‘range of values’ that we humans are measured against. It is wise to be in the reference ranges so as to not be questioned against.

Now, draw a bell curve among people across colour, creed, religion, ethnicity, practices and hobbies of the people. Think about those that do not belong to averages.

Life is created out of averages. There is a sublime democratic process through which we have trained and chosen our lives. We have to live life in a certain way – go to school, get a job, get married, bear kids, buy houses, create a socio-economic status, work hard towards material betterment of lives, and die peacefully. This gives a sense of settlement in lives, and we feel physically secured. Any minor aberration causes great discomfort, because we belong to the majority herd.

Now, let us further extrapolate this normalization to our emotions. Our emotions are automated too – we live to appease society, we are pleased when praised, we are angered easily, we fear for discomforts, we hate every other thing, and holler at every single disturbance in life.

We are the best hypocrites that the society can produce.

We know our emotions are momentary but we dwell a bit too much in them. We know worry doesn’t solve a problem but we worry much. We know that life is too short to stress, but we stress much in a day to day living. We know that ‘unconditional’ happiness is the best cure for many problems, but we seldom put that to use. We know that expectation is root cause of all misery, but we expect a lot. We know from the bottom of our hearts there is only God, but we create a divide. The only reason is that the society taught us to be in that way.

We have conquered earth and other planets, but can’t control our own mind and emotions. This assures me to believe that we are using our minds incorrectly. Just like we trace back a screwed-up stomach to some bad food eaten, the screwed up mind can be traced back to bad training imparted for centuries.

Somewhere in the normalization process, we seem to have forgotten the basics of human life and have created too many ‘unwarranted’ needs. We live in perspectives created by our society. Our minds are conditioned with these perspectives for centuries, decades and years. Any deviation will be seen blasphemous.

Much said in this context, let me call it a day. I am already stressed out and have to get a good night sleep for a respite from my flawed life.

Anarchy of Democracy – Freedom of Speech

One of my most vivid memories from school, in early 90s, was that of a political science class, in which the teacher explained about Democracy. He used Abraham Lincoln’s quote that “Democracy is by the people, of the people and for the people”. It looked relevant to its time when the teacher juxtaposed democracy with that of school’s class leader election and the rules that we together conceived in the best interest of all the pupils.

Democracy was taught to be a best form of governance given its people centric principles that also protects human rights of the citizens.

The most important aspect that I enjoy in a Democratic country is freedom of speech. I enjoy speaking out my personal opinions across various platforms. While I enjoy the right to speak, am fully aware that this freedom to express comes with great responsibility. Human being is pervert by birth, and what makes him/her ‘social’ is the conscience that filters on what to speak out and what not to.

It only takes a second or sentence to instigate any one. Given this, the freedom of speech is in great danger. Current generation has easy access to social media and can blurt out any momentary impression on any subject. The social media is served to me on a platter that I am tempted to take a bite and be part of the mob that pours trenchant criticism on anything that has to be perceived as a difference of opinion. Media is playing a huge role in creating this personal agony.

Let me take a recent example – Aamir Khan has made comments about intolerance on TV. On that day, I came home after a heavy schedule at office. My regular TV routine is to skim through news channels for some time, and then move on to entertainment channels while doing my evening chores at home. The news channels are full of Aamir Khan’s comments and the reactions on this subject from various parties. I had no interest in his personal opinion and was ready to move on to other news. But these channels do not stop from sensationalising as if it is a national problem. The heated debates did not wane off even after couple of days, and at the end of third day I am tempted to form an opinion of my own and had to express it on social media. An innocent mind of mine was filled with hatred at the end of third day. The most unfortunate anti-climax is that I have forgot this whole episode to move on to another hatred based fiasco based on yet another personal comment, thus falling prey to media.

An innocent view can be a random comment or culpable to sedition. The easy access to express myself has made me vulnerable, and the fact that I can’t resist from reaching out to my smart phone even in a short gap has further proved the point.

Getting back to my school class, if my teacher asks about those that are interested to give a speech, I will raise my hand to concede my indulgence in this very system of mockery of freedom.

Bahubali Review

**** Spoiler Alert ****

It has been a strange feeling throughout the months of June and July with Bahubali taking a front seat on all the social media platforms via the TV/YouTube interviews, Twitter feeds and Facebook posts.

As a preparation to see the movie, I deliberately attempted to learn as much about it through the above said mediums. The preparations include discerning the movie trailer scene by scene and correlating with behind the scenes that were available for quite some time. One such analysis include the prediction of a scene if it had a real back ground or mere overlays of CGI on the green screen backgrounds. These preparations helped me to succinctly judge the mastery of visual effects that were claimed to be top notch, and create my own opinion before and after watching the movie without being carried away by the storm of reviews.

The movie released and garnered appreciations from all the corners. Truth be told that I derived great pleasure with all the great reviews and the box office success that it claimed, especially in North India.

After watching the movie, I remembered back in 2005 when I have first seen the two volumes of “Kill Bill” and the visionary behind it in the name of Quentin Tarantino that had a big story which better be told in two volumes for its sheer size. He redefined the concept of character build up and the storytelling using visuals. There were always such great storytellers in India but fell short of explaining them in a grand scale using larger than life characters and visuals.

This movie is the biggest motion picture in India – hands down and no questions asked, though this cannot be compared with the likes of Lord of Rings in terms of visual grandeur and scale, arguably owing to the budget and reach of those Hollywood flicks. While reflecting on the movie, I came across multiple reviews with aspects not liked by reviewers and viewers, but I didn’t find any fault with them for my own reasons listed below –

  1. The avalanche escape looked very artificial, but I don’t complain as it takes huge effort and amount to recreate them especially given its triviality within the story
  2. The romance in the first half looked far-fetched, but I don’t complain given that they are to be shown during the character build of protagonist in order for us to root for him throughout
  3. The makeup of Devasena is a bit convoluted, but I pass that one
  4. The item song is ill-placed, but I enjoyed the visuals and gave me a break before gearing up for war that would demand every attention non-stop for the next half hour. Also this has set up a platform to show other provinces existed apart from Mahismathi

Strangely, none of the reviews talked about the inconsistency in the characters and the the partial success in depicting the war strategy on the screen.

1. The great characters of Sivagami, Kattappa and Amarendar Bahubali failed notice the nurturing ego in Bhallaladeva and the potential grave consequences of it

2. The kingdom of Mahismathi and the architecture of it didn’t change even after 25 years (you may want to ignore this one)

3. The greatness of the kingdoms is majorly defined by the wars waged and the strategies laid by the emperors that look beyond glaring perils with the loss of kin, people and economy. While the strategy of attack (and the execution of it) takes the greatest priority, there are other aspects to it such as preparation of ammunition, food and water for soldiers that dehydrate during long lasting wars.The demand to examine these details may look far-fetched but the attention to these details define the epic nature of a movie.

Now given that the leads here chose to use Trishula Vyuha strategy, I was intrigued to see how that is put to use and reap the benefits. But was surprised to see that there is no clear portrayal of it. The hand gestures by the lead characters to convey the action plan to the army throughout the war seemed repetitive for a varied set of actions performed. The motivational speech by Bahubali seemed out of place amidst the anger and chaos rendered through the war.

Nevertheless, these observations are not the reflections of its shortcomings and on the contrary, it filled my heart with joy to see the fictional story, characters, kingdom that were only defined in the text books (and the likes of Amar Chitra katha) to be unfolded on a large screen. This very attempt is hugely commendable and the result is for all of us to see.