Friday, February 6, 2009

A Spiritual View of the Recession and Economy

This is the first in a series of five notes on the economy from a spiritual point of view. Links to each subsequent note are given at the end of each preceding note

At various places in this blog I mentioned my strong belief in reincarnation. A question that has been asked often is – if humans are a result of reincarnation, how has the population of humans increased so drastically. There can be more than one source for that increase. First is the reduction of animals and insects on the planet that has taken place simultaneously. Another source is other similar planets. A third is souls that may have been waiting without bodies to be born at the right time. The state of humans really does vary from animal like to god-like on earth. The greatest variation can be seen in countries like India rather than a largely tribal African country or a well developed European one. At one time I use to be saddened and agitated at the near animal like behavior of some humans and human habitations. Many rural Indians still live in homes without a loo, using open spaces to do the necessary job, and this when private bathrooms were common in the same country some four thousand years ago( Indus Valley civilisation). It does not cost much to build a toilet and septic tank, provided one cared to. However I have reconciled to the sad state. This does not imply that one should not help others improve whenever an opportunity arises to do so. However this may be done in small steps only without much expectation. As regards what one might teach a human who lives poorly if the opportunity arose – it seems best to teach them the same sort of things as one would others who may be considered as highly evolved beings – shun violence, lies etc. in all its forms. However the most learning has to be directed inwards to one’s own self. There is something of an animal in all of us. Less developed souls may take to physical violence readily but other humans who have rejected that mode of behavior also resort to it at the level of speech and thought. To my mind a god-like human i.e. one who is ready to step out of human life into the next higher life form in the universe is one who has overcome jealousy, anger and lust. When I mention overcoming lust I do not imply overcoming sexual interests that are subservient to romantic love or a small part of it but sexual interests that are devoid of it i.e. purely physical. A far more common problem with humans is that of greed, and that too must be overcome before human attention can be directed to higher pursuits. Much human happiness lies elsewhere – in health, love, peace, freedom etc. that do not require money to acquire. In the ultimate analysis, humans need relatively little money for their most essential of material needs of food and shelter. True there are very many on earth that are deprived even of that. The problem is, as soon as a human is able to achieve the goal of basics he wants even more, so that usually it the most well off who appear to be the most greedy. My mind goes to rich corporate executives especially those in the banking industry with salaries in millions of dollars a month who appear to be agitated by a recent order of the US President, Barack Obama limiting the salary to half a million, if they belong to an organization that is being assisted by public money. Opponents to the move have said that this will lead to a loss of talent. To my mind any human who is greedy enough to be unsatisfied with a salary of half a million dollars (plus perks) cannot be mature or a talented but rather someone who will lead an economy into still greater distress. Such a person can not be mature enough to manage our money. He may have been mature at one time, but not any more. Greed blinds a human just as lust and anger does, rendering the wisest as imbeciles. All of us surely know instances of that from our own lives. The tragedy is that although there are safety valves to lust and anger that put a stop to it sooner rather than later there are no such safety valves to greed. Once it enters a psyche it takes an indefinitely long time to leave. In the ultimate analysis it is the cumulative effect of greed that has lead to the current economic down turn. This greed has not just been the greed of ordinary citizens but also that of persons at the helm in governments and private corporations. Over the past half a century greed appears to have grown faster than the economy in the most prosperous countries around the world. True to human nature - the greater the growth, the greater the increase of greed. The recession will end only when this greed has been knocked down to manageable levels, not before. There is no economic plan or stimulus that can restore prosperity that does not address the issue of human nature that eventually dictates how prosperous a nation is.

Part II of this article is here:


Vincent said...

Thanks Ashok for providing once again a rich mine of ideas worthy of being challenged.

1) Reincarnation. For this to be possible there must be a continuation of something corresponding to individuality which persists through the various births. It is easy to say it is the soul, or in Sanskrit I believe you would call it the atman. The first interesting thing is that if our succession of births begins with non-human incarnations then animals have souls just like human ones. But given what neuroscience has been discovering about brain functions, I wonder what part of the animal constitutes its individuality, to make it traceable from birth to birth? (My own belief is that reincarnation is an ancient idea which evaporates in the light of scientific enquiry, but I remain open to evidence.)

2) “god-like”. In order to say that a being is god-like, we need as it were a standard god, with whom we can compare attributes. But there is a difficulty. Different cultures have different ideas about gods. As far as I am aware but I am open to contrary evidence, gods are imagined entities.

3) “animal-like”. You discuss human beings who at one end of the scale are animal-like as opposed to god-like. Of course this is a common metaphor, but we are trying to be scientific and/or spiritual here. We have already established that animals must have the same kind of soul as human otherwise that soul could not migrate from animal births to human births. Your examples of animal-like behaviour don’t have any match in the animal kingdom so far as I am aware. You mention the excretion habits of poor Indians, and you are frank in admitting that this used to distress you. I don’t know of any non-human animals who use septic tanks or the equivalent. Cats bury their excrement by kicking soil over it. Dogs don’t bother. Are cats therefore more evolved than dogs? I don’t think so. There is some evolutionary reason, I think (evolutionary in the Darwinian and not your spiritual sense) for the difference. I will research it on the Net later. In humans I strongly suspect that sanitary arrangements are no guide to the level of spiritual development. But then I don’t really believe there is anything in reality (as opposed to imagination) corresponding to spiritual development. I’m an agnostic on that matter.

4) “There is something of an animal in all of us.” As far as I am concerned we are 100% animal! The only difference is that we have an extra brain that allows us to reason abstractly and imagine things; which in turn leads to our built-in propensity for language and ability to see life in terms of meaning and spirituality. These are matters of opinion of course, but to say “there is something of an animal in all of us” seems to presuppose that human beings are somehow completely separate from the creatures from whom we have evolved.

5) “Greed”. You criticise what you call greed and associate it with acquisition of goods that are surplus to our needs; but this characteristic is something invented in the West as a method of “distributing wealth” - a phrase invented by Western economics. The current reluctance throughout the world to spend on unnecessary things is the reason why the recession will be hard to escape. Even in poor countries there is heavy dependence on export to rich countries and so when “greed” diminishes, the immediate result is worse poverty somewhere else. It’s not the fault of greedy individuals but of the systems into which the powerful have put their trust, providing incentives to encourage and almost force high consumption at every level. Until the “credit crunch”, there was huge encouragement and even pressure to borrow money in order to acquire a better house, car, appliances, holidays than one could afford. (I am speaking from my experience in England.) It worked like this. You need a job, so you join a company as a salesman, say, and are paid to sell mortgages, credit cards – or anything, regardless of the purchaser’s means. A large part of your salary depends on commission. You may not need to earn a great deal of commission, but you pursue it anyway because you need to fulfil your talents and you have been conditioned to be ambitious.

Of course the world is now waking up to the shakiness of the structures it has till now depended on. Some other model will need to be found, more dignified and suitable to the human animal’s inheritance. The improvement of the world’s economic situation does not demand that a large proportion of people take on the kind of lifestyle envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi. I am with you in preferring a simple life, but let’s see what comes out of the recession. It may instigate profound changes in human behaviour.

Vincent said...

I promised to research the dog/cat differences in excretory habits, and found this, which seems credible:

"In the wild, only secondary cats bury their waste to protect their trail from predators. The dominant feline will actually display his or her feces prominently. This sends a strong message of dominance. In the world of house cats, you are the dominant animal and the house cat chooses not to offend you. They will carefully bury their feces to eliminate interfering with what they perceive as the natural order."

ashok said...

Hello Vincent. Thanks for delving so deeply into this post.

As regards the terms

1. Soul
2. Reincarnation
3. God-like and Animal-like

These have been already explained in a response to your comment on the previous post – Gods and Humans. My response remains the same and there is little point in repeating it. However just to add a bit more even though it is somewhat of a repetition,

The soul has nothing to do with the brain and therefore neuroscience or any other physical or medical science cannot prove its absence or presence. The brain is a physical thing that only lasts a lifetime. It dies with the body. Modern science can only deal with the physical universe and therefore can know nothing of the soul. It is useless to try to do that. The idea can only evaporate if viewed through a science that is powerless to deal with a non-physical thing like soul or spirit.

The soul is the non-physical spiritual component of a living entity. Emotions and feelings arise because of it leading to the instinct of survival that is absent in machines and robots. The soul too has a copy of the memories in the brain, not just of this life but of others as well, that it carries with it to life after death of the physical body. The only equipment a human has to ascertain the presence of a soul is his or her own soul and through that some have perceived it. It is because our physical brain of previous lives died with earlier deaths that our present brain does not have those memories. However, the knowledge of previous births is recorded in the inner memory of the soul and one can access them and bring some of those into our present memories, if one learns to tap into those.

Just as your soul did not change from childhood to this age even though the body changed, the soul will not change with the change of this body. You had a very different body at the age of four but the soul was the same except that it is richer with more experiences since then.

There is no standard god. There are many different god types just as there are many different human types. Each type has its own different strengths and imperfections.

I will leave my further views on the economy and greed for another time.

ashok said...

Vincent you mentioned - Evolution in the spiritual sense not Darwinian - However there is not much of difference. Physical evolution is built on the template of spiritual evolution and closely follows it.

There is an analogy to many of the spiritual laws in the physical world. The law of karma is similar to Newtons Laws of motion etc.

Vincent said...

Ashok, I apologize for not taking into account your previous explanation of god/goddess, soul and animal.

It is the word "Science" in your title that has sustained me till now, hoping that there would be some means of testing or validating your beliefs.

But I fear I am wasting your time, especially if you have hopes that I will eventually come round to accepting those beliefs!

ashok said...

Dear Vincent, I have no desire to ask you to believe in anything. That sort of belief which comes from others is of little value especially when spiritual things are concerned. It has to be a result of ones own understanding to be a firm belief. I merely explain my own in response to your contentions.
Modern Science can help strengthen these beiefs but one cannot depend only on that for an understanding of the science of the soul. Modern science helps us to understand that all events that happen to physical bodies are a result of cause and effect based on the laws of science and therefore destined to happen in one particular way only.

Living beings possess something more than physical -the soul - so that they possess things like Awareness, consciousness and conscience, desire and aversions, love and hate, pain and pleasure, fear and fearlessness, freedom of choice and freedom from rigid destiny, etc. All such things would be absent if there was no soul and a living thing would be just robotic.

Humans are enamored of the external world and think of their bodies and brain as everything, not realising that this body is merely like a clothing for something much deeper, the soul that is immortal.

Your contentions however are great because they assist towards developing such an understanding

ashok said...

Vincent the first thing a scientific person realises is that everything being a result of cause and effect physical bodies are subject to a fixed destiny. However if the same scientific person realises that he has free will, the ability to make free choices from momemtn to moment he arrives at his own mystical components - the soul - that is beyond physical laws. Thus the greatest of scientists have been religious i.e holding beliefs beyond science.

Vincent said...

All right then I will continue to debate with you.

I still would like to know where the "science" comes in, but I am assuming it is a different kind of thing from what you call "modern science". It seems to me that this science is to use intuition, intellect and a certain mystical insight.

However it does acquire its own cultural flavour, as in your remark about gods, which fits well with the Hindu conception but clashes with monotheistic religions.

And when you mention analogies between Darwinian and spiritual evolution, or physical laws and karma; and make remarks on the soul validating itself and keeping a copy of the brain's memories---I can follow you in a certain fashion. That is to say, such ideas are not alien to me.

However, I find it important in my own process of discovery to observe such phenomena without interpretation; and so it is that I don't really have the evidence for past lives and so on.

I do not take a purely materialist stance either, but am interested to further my own understanding, as and when it happens through experience.

As you said yourself, it doesn't help much us to adopt beliefs based on the experience of others. I have some spiritual experience (who doesn't?) but it does not strongly point me in the direction of any clear answer relating to births, gods, soul and so on.

I'm drawn to a kind of animism in which my own soul finds recognition in other creatures: animals of all kinds, trees, inanimate objects whether natural or man-made - as well as my own kind. With fellow human beings I feel there is scope for huge confusion as we seek to express our sense of brotherhood in culturally-determined ways which are also steeped in prejudice and compromise. In that sense it is harder to feel within human society the unity that I feel in those parts of Nature which are uncorrupted by human intellect. It's a challenge to be taken up again and again, though.

ashok said...

Since you display within yourself a sense of unity with nature, that indicates a high level of spiritual evolution.

It is also correct that you do not feel that unity with other humans because of the corruptions of the intellect. However if you viewed humans as covered with this temporary corruption, you might feel a unity with their inner self, which after all is their essential nature.

The process of discovering oneself and one's own soul can begin with an imagination of how you are different from a highly advanced human like robot or robotic machine. To imagine the ultimate capabilities of such a robot would require a fair amount of knowledge of science. Then one can compare how such a robot would be different from oneself. The differences would indicate the presence of something more in life such as the capacity to love and hate, free will etc.

Do not get mislead by the apparent practices of Hindus hwo view god in many different forms. They all believe withouthe slighest of doubt that there is only one God of the universe. How can there be two if God is everything? It is a different matter that he can be approached through any finite part of the universe and in any form avialable in the universe. The various gods are such finite parts.

It is also quite useless to worry about reincarnation until you have come to accept an inner indestructible part of yourself - the soul. Questions of reincarnation or any other afterlife only arise after that.

Vincent said...

Your reply reassures me, Ashok. As to feeling unity with other human beings, I do, but as you say it is an affinity with their inner self and essential nature. One can in fact get into trouble in certain situations with this kind of insight, for it leads to a different kind of respect. In a hierarchical organization one is suspect for respecting the cleaner as much as one's own boss!

As to reincarnation, I don't actively disbelieve it. the matter of belief as I must have said lots of times is something I try to do without.

ashok said...

Respecting the cleaner as much as the boss is the right attitude in my view. Organisational positions change from time to time.

I think it is quite all right not to think or consider reincarnation if one wishes not to. However it is worthwhile to ponder over the fact that we have a soul or not, something that survives death. Because if we did that some of our efforts will be better directed, as dicussed in one of my older posts - temporary homes for our souls - if i remember the title correctly. You will find it by scrolling down in the blog on the front page or the older posts if you cared to.

ashok said...

As I was referring you to older posts, another one, the very last one entitled " Spiritual Values from an Engineers point of View " is a lecture composed for scientists. If you get the time do go through since it does deal with the concepts from a scientific view as you have wished for.

If you make any comments on the older posts put them here because comments to old posts often go unnoticed.

Vincent said...

I have studied "temporary homes for our souls" and as usual find much to disagree with!

A year ago I moved from rented accommodation to a house of our own and confirm the sentiments in your first paragraph, that one does not invest much in the temporary home.

From there on, your post does not strike me as corresponding to reality as I know it; even though I did for 30 years follow a "spiritual practice" (one hour per day spent in meditation according to an ancient Indian tradition).

I have no sense of a soul temporarily housed in a body. It is certainly my nature to be soulful and that was what drew me to the spiritual practice in the first place, of course. But I have learned more since stopping that practice than ever I did in 30 years (which taught me a lot of patience and perseverance, and doubtless other things too).

My teacher endlessly went on about "our family relationships, wealth, property, and even name" as if we, his disciples, were still attached to all of that. We weren't.

We were however unbalanced, and some of us neglected to look after our "temporary accommodation".

Vincent said...

I've read your engineers' lecture and one sentence stood out.

"Animals are not capable of understanding spiritual concepts."

Well, Ashok, I consider myself an animal for I am brother to all animals and even to your ideas am reincarnated from animals.

But I don't think my spirituality is conditional upon understanding spiritual concepts, and, despite the religious or spiritual teachers through the ages, I don't consider that the understanding of concepts is a prerequisite for what we may call spiritual development.

Possibly the most saintly human being I have met was a woman aged 21 being cared for in the Mustardseed Community in Jamaica, a Catholic organisation dedicated to the lifelong care of abandoned babies with severe brain damage and other deformities.

Her body was approximately the size of a three year-old's; her limbs stick-like, the joints at crazy angles. She could not sit up, feed herself or even turn over unaided, so severe was the brain damage. Yet she had a presence and a silvery laughter that illuminated the place, and the hearts of her devoted carers. When I looked into her eyes, I felt small, as if I had no right to do it.

Some would consider it a curse to be so afflicted, but i saw that in her case at least it was a blessing because she had the unusual joy of doing no action at all in this life. She simply gave and received love.

ashok said...

Vincent, the best spiritual step you appear to have taken aside from many years of meditation is to have stepped out of a spiritual group. I think that most spiritual groups hamper the spiriual progress of many. I do not belong to any group myself. There is no need to.Perhaps it helps some but for me only that spiritual teacher is suitable who does not restrict his students to a group but rather lets them interact with many different groups and teachers as in a university where a student chooses his own courses learning from teachers areas he is interested in and needs instruction.and also lets the student go after a definite period of instruction.

A teacher who can keep a student for thirty years is just ridiculous. I am glad you got out when you did.

ashok said...

Yesterday, I was listening to a spiritual teacher from Bengal who does not go in for group creation I think. He said that spiritual teachers who claim to be God or some sort of very special agents of God on earth are frauds. He said they get discovered when they go for a Pee.

Hari Chand said...

In my view, the only difference between humans and animals is that Humans have evolved to utilise natural resources in a much better way to survive, else the goal for both animals and humans is the same-- 'Survival'. Since animals have not been able to evolve to sustain themselves beyond a limit (placed by time and space in nature) so their instinct is restricted by the external natural limits. Humans have overcome this limit by LEARNING (Not inheritance like in animal kingdom) certain Basic Natural Laws. Since human endeavor has overcome the natural limits, so their persuit for more and more resources for survival have also developed limitless--- what we now call as 'GREED, LUST and ANGER'. For that reason only, we term them as SINs. Sins they are as they thrive on the misery of other living beings. so humans tried to balance this limitless endeavor by other limitless endeavor--- 'LOVE, COMPASSION, CO-EXITANCE' which led us to see amongst ourselves 'JESUSs' and 'BUDDHAs' . If these limiless instincts are limited then we are back in animal kingdom and then they are neither SIN nor VIRTUE. So, I fail to understand the logic of reduction of animal life as the cause of increased human population (where almost 80% of humans of Earth live life worse than animals and that also because of rest of Humans). So, again I am not Birth as a result of Past Karmas like3 you have mentioned somewhere else in context of murder of a rich person). The life of this 80% humanity (this is only rough estimate) is made miserable not by reincarnation but by the rest of humans(I call them Parasites). For now this much only.

ashok said...

Hari, you have a lot there to be dealt with just a single response but just a bit to begin with

1. I do not think too much should be made of the condition and birth so as to negate what we do later. We make a lot of our lives, happiness and misery as we go laong

2. regarding the purpose of life, it is not survival as per my understanding, that becomes meaningless once one believes in soul and rincarnation

3. regarding the gola/purpose of life there is another detailed post here

4. This last link also draws distinctions between different types of lives, animal, inscet, bacteria, humans, gods etc.

Hari Chand said...

Since I have no experience in the realm of re-birth and reincarnation, so I can not say much about it, I can only be alert about its misuse... which has been real scourge for Indian society.

Regarding purpose of life- Survival- I can only supplement this from what we observe in the manifest world:

1. Survival, in my view, is not limited to physical survival alone, of an individual, as can be observed for the process reproduction in animal kingdom.

2. When we consider this concept of survival in case of humans, it has manifested in numerous ways (I daresay limitless), and in all those ways, the goal for survival is also limitless. examples are- survival through one's principals- (like Yudhisthir's 'Dharma' in Yaksha-Yudhisthir dialogue) one's thoughts/dharma through one's succesors, through monuments, through artifacts, through other forms of art like music, drawing etc.
3. Creation of followers through different means like accumulation of wealth, politics, spirituality etc. is also a means of survival.
4. And again, all these means of survival are limitless, but when any such means leads to misery for other living beings, that means becomes SIN like accumulation of wealth through oppression, fraud etc.; Power struggle in politics. Even we see power struggle in the field of spirituality, which again leads to SIN. The only virtuous action/thing is which leads to well being of limitless living being (not only humans). This may not necessarily be a spiritual pursuit, like pursuit for preservation of natural resources without harm to living beings.

5. From Point 3 above, it can also be derived that an individual is not mere defined by its physical existence. Nor an individual is born quite distinct from others or from its surroundings. Like the Concept of Democracy or of Communism are also fighting for survival and are always in pursuit of taking more and more regions in their ambit. and in case of individuals like Buddha, Jesus or for that matter other Great Leaders were born to manifest the common pursuit of the society of the time, and that is why they were so readily taken up as leaders, and followed en-mass by the society of those times. Further, such leaders are born when society is faced with severe crisis, like in times of Buddha and Mahavira, the republic form of governance was under severe stress because of spread of monarchical form, which from its citadel in Magadha was swallowing up the republics. Again Bhakti Movement was born because of the struggle between local (Hindu) and new Islam cultures. Again in modern times it was the cultural struggle with Christianity which gave us so many leaders in almost all spheres. Here, my view is that an individual is a composite of its surroundings and hence the consciousness also needs to be composite. So, with this premise, even the criminal is not an isolated individual, rather a product of composite social consciousness, and hence society at large is responsible for producing criminals. A bit more on this composite consciousness- an individual's physical body is composed of numerous individual living cells (most of them capable of surviving on their own) but any damage or loss of these cells is felt by the composite individual as one, he/she is not even aware what those individual cells in his body are experiencing?

6. Last point- India has been unable to produce a single Pan Indian leader just because of fractured Indian consciousness - fractured by Caste, by regionalism, by language, by religion etc.

ashok said...

Hari you said:

"Since I have no experience in the realm of re-birth and reincarnation, so I can not say much about it, I can only be alert about its misuse... which has been real scourge for Indian society."

I presume what you mean by its misuse is its use to propagate the caste system by
1. saying that is why one is born of a certain caste. It is complete bull shit ( i do not have kinder words) because when a child is born it is not written on his forehead that he is of a certain caste
2. He does not have a certificate on his neck that says he will be his father's caste
3. it is not written in the sky, America or Japan that there is something called caste. it is a sick thing born out of the sick minds, or atleast the way it has been interpreted, and should be treated as such. Sorry for the strong language but I have no kinder words for it.

By the way all those things have nothing to do with reincarnation that has its own language do not link the two concepts anymore then you link the caste concept to the Sanskrit in which it was first written. Reincarnation has as little to do with caste concept as the Sanskrit language has.


Regarding the rest of you comment, I agree fully with what you have written. Appreciate your sharing these views