Category: Philosophy

Our Life is not Religious anymore


What kind of topic is that?

I have been thinking of what to write this weekend in my Blog, and I was deluged with a number of topics. In fact, there were so many topics, I just could not decide during the course of today on the specific topic which would be of interest to me. Yes, to me. After all, my Blog exists for the pure purpose of satisfying my writing and literary skills, and nothing else. If others read my Blog, that is fine, but that is not a pre-requisite for the existence of my Blog. I love writing and writing on a wide variety of topics which interest me. I am constantly on the prowl for issues which are of importance to me, and by extension, to other people! I am sure my readers see the relevance.

When I started my life, I was very religious and prayed everyday. My mom taught me that it is important to pray to God everyday, and especially to the Elephant God (Ganesha as we call Him in Hinduism) as he is the greatest remover of obstacles in one’s life.

So, I was religious for almost three decades. It was good, as I had some “hold” on the Hindu faith and God(s) in general, though I was not a big temple visitor. I believed in the power of one God and its influence for the good of mankind. I never asked God to grant me anything. In that sense, I was a man without “material” wishes. I knew that what I need for life has to come through my own hard work, and not because God decided to give me something by granting my wishes.

Since I was on my own from the age of 17 (my father died at that age of mine), I built my life on my own. People around me used to say that God always helped me, and at that time I believed in a power bigger than mine guiding my actions. I used to go to the temple near my house every week (and sometimes twice a week), and thought that it was the most appropriate thing to do. Since I had many critical responsibilities at a young age, it kind of helped me to think about God sometimes. I did very well in my studies, and in fulfilling my family responsibilities, by my sheer hard work. I declined to marry a rich girl as I thought I would be incompatible with my socialist views and adherence to a frugal philosophy in my life (several close friends of mine know about my life and behaviour during those formative years). I went against my mom’s wishes, and told her that I was not ready for the huge marriage commitment.

So, life went on, and slowly but surely I discovered myself.

It is very important for each one of us to “discover” ourselves.

I began to visualize my own contributions to my own life and to the lives of my siblings and immediate family circle. I understood that nothing would have happened had it not been for my vision and hard work. Yes, it was very very hard work at a very very young age. I sacrificed many things, which I would not have done if my father had been alive.

Slowly, I stepped away from blind faith.

Slowly, I stepped away from following others.

Slowly, I stepped away from the thought that God provided guidance and help.

Slowly, I became an agnostic.

I began to question everything in life.

I kept my views private. Only my wife knew about my thought processes. However, she remained and continues to remain a devout religious person, despite the influence of my own wandering thoughts and philosophy.

She always respects me for who I am. She never challenged me. She only pointed out what I was leaving on the table. Yes, of course, I was leaving several things on the table. My significant connections to a private circle of relatives. My strong connections to a religious community. My double standards when it came to very close relations, from who I have to partially hide my views (like my own mom). However, I knew how to keep my private views away from table top discussions, it was never my intention to offend anyone for their own beliefs or faiths.

So, it has gone on for the past 15 years or so……I am still strongly beholden to my own religious views. I think that religions have divided rather than unified mankind. I believe (I think it is true) that religious wars have killed millions of people around the world. I think religions provioke unnecessary tensions, wars and passions. I think we can do well without all this stuff, and direct our collective energies towards the betterment of humankind.

Some folks I know think that I am idealistice. I am not pragmatic. I am not a model human. I am not a person that falls in line. I am not a human being that understands how other humans work. And, so on and so forth.

The issue, of course, has always been the same – people have been endowed with enormous brain power. Why are they not using it for improving the livelihood of poor people? Why are they spending so much money on religions, temples, and faiths? Why are they allowing religions to be misunderstood and crucified by gurus who are no messengers of God? Why are they allowing rape, killings and house burnings of non-conforming folks (like in the latest example of Rohingya Muslims who are being driven out of Myanmar by practicing Buddhists, Buddhism being the most pacific religion of all)? Why are injustice and inequity not being called out by religious followers?

Well, my conclusion has been the same for the past 15 years. That is, God is a Socialist and never a Capitalist or a Communist. He wants us to help the poor. He wants us to share our wealth and savings. If He exists, He would insist that we cause no harm to others. He would emphasize the importance of Love and Peace.

I am not going to follow any religion because I was born into one, or because I was directed into another, or I was forced into one. Man and Woman have the power to think, conceptualize, contribute and improve the society. That effort is not going to happen because God asked us to do that. It happens because WE want to do that. We look out for one another. We realize the importance of LIFE. We conclude that all lives are equal and same.

So, my life is no longer religious. My life is going to be human. Just going to temples is not going to absolve us of our irresponsibility and collective darkness. The LIGHT is within us. It is up to us to discover and light it.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

21st October 2017

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Wisdom – knowledge, experience or age?


What is “wisdom”?

There is a simple definition – without any attribution, I think that wisdom is one’s ability to reach intelligent conclusions on any problem statement, with a combination of judgement, insight, experience and knowledge that one has accumulated over the years. Of course, there should be ample common sense, a keen understanding of the issues on hand, an analytical mind, et al.

However, wisdom is not just knowledge only. Neither is it just experience. And, I don’t believe that wisdom accrues based on age – meaning it is not necessarily true that wisdom is directly proportional to just age. The older one is, the wiser he becomes – this is not true, while it may be true in exceptional individuals who combine other factors to become a sort of sage with head filled with abundant wisdom.

It is also not true that young people are waiting to gain wisdom. There have been thousands of stories of young individuals who are far wiser for their age, and have even built companies at a rather tender age, and running their business with financial and technical acumen, not seen even in much older folks.

So, wisdom has a qualitative edge to it which is sometimes inherent in the individual. Experience does add significant value to people, and helps to generate an insight into problem resolution. Knowledge is important, but much less important than experience and judgement. We find older folks (like me for instance) are more judgemental (not a good thing), more critical (not a bad thing), and less wise when it comes to seeing new things in a new light, or even existing things in a new light. Being judgemental is not a good thing, but having a good judgement is a good thing. Hope you understand the difference. Being negative does not add to one’s wisdom either. We can be critical, but cannot be negative.

Increasingly, we find that young folks between the ages of 10 and 30 are playing in the world with wisdom that did not exist in us when we were their age. So, we need to understand that the context, ecosystem, and social development have progressed in an exponential manner just in the last two decades, which has produced wisdom in many young people.

Why did this not increase wisdom in the older people?

Interesting question. My answer may not satisfy the older folks, however.

As we age, we set our minds on things which we believe are unchangeable. What are these things? Integrity, Honesty, Affection, Commitment, Focus, Dedication, Determination, Achievement-orientation, and a lot of ego. We think and believe that in essence, we are innately good people, and we can do nothing wrong. At least, nothing wrong that could affect other people. Nothing wrong in the moral, spiritual, religious, or intellectual spheres.

In other words, we get fixated on things which are important and critical to us.

We also do not update ourselves to stay in sync with the fast evolving human ecosystem, and we dismiss most of it as not relevant to achieving what we had achieved in our working lives. We continue to live in our own space, not really accepting what our children are doing while they are growing up. This means that mentally and intellectually, we stay disconnected, though we yearn for a complete sync.

It does not take more than 30 seconds to put your right hand on your heart and feel if what I am saying is true or complete hogwash.

I truly believe that though I have kept myself technologically updated, in my mind I am still the same old guy from wherever I came from. Nothing much has changed in my mind, though I do certain things not compatible with my heritage like eating non-vegetarian foods and sending ugly WhatsApp messages, etc., We all have to make an inventory of things that have changed in ourselves from the time we started going to primary school.

When I am still the same old guy, how am I going to change myself? Can I ever change? Can I challenge myself? What should I do to generate “new” wisdom in myself?

I have not finished. I am just at the ground floor of this rather interesting and challenging topic. This blog post came about because I met one of my mentors (who really thinks I am a rebel in most things I do) this evening, and he suggested that I should start analyzing the subject of wisdom vs. age……….that set me thinking.

Wine has been banned at home for some 10 days, so my brain is a bit challenged to think more at the end of my Saturday. However, don’t you guys think this is a good and relevant topic for all of us?

Let us exchange notes and discuss.

Have a great weekend.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd September 2017

Charlie’s Counsel


I met with an old friend of mine yesterday who worked with me in Singapore many years ago. He is from the Philippines and was visiting Singapore on business. He is some 7 years younger to me, but is wiser than me and I should say, more broad-minded. I always try to meet up with him whenever he visits Singapore, and has been the beneficiary of his counsel on many matters of life.

He thinks highly of me as well, and shares his views on business and life with me. We know each others’ families, and I have stayed with him in Manila during one of my trips. My views on the Philippines is largely shaped by his commentary on his country.

Yesterday’s meeting was no different. It was a real pleasure to catch up, and the meeting veered towards substantive life issues. Charlie has been impacted by his father’s recent demise. He also described the cancer plaguing one of our mutual friends in the U.S. He mentioned that life is fragile and we all need to do things which we enjoy right away without any undue delay. No procrastination. Spend more time with your family and friends. Do not have regrets.

He asked me a rhetorical question – “is the world going to miss you tomorrow morning if you are gone today”, and the answer was a firm “No”. The world will move on with its business, and a small group of family members and close friends will probably shed tears and express remorse and grief, and that would be all. Things will get back to normal and even close family and friends will move on in life, except for occasional remembrances.

It is kind of difficult to understand and digest this aspect of life. What can we then do today that would impact folks around us? How can people feel the positive impact of anyone in their lives? We are not talking here about the great historical figures who built nations (like Mahatma Gandhi, or Lee Kuan Yew), or who discovered scientific breakthroughs (like Albert Einstein, or Thomas Edison), or the first astronaut who flew around the earth (Yuri Gagarin), et al. Many of these people have had strong impact in the manner in which nations and lives have developed during the 20th Century, and there are hundred of such figures whose names can easily be recalled. But, how about yours? Will anyone outside your immediate circle recall your positive contributions to society? Will anyone even remember us?

If a person has led a good life, causing no harm to others, always wanting to help others especially the downtrodden, and tries to contribute to society in some positive manner, it is not necessary that he or she should be famous with an easily recallable name. The small positive contribution will be recognised by the society. However, the most important effect is that his or her children carry on the same principles in their respective lives, and inculcate similar philosophies in their immediate circles. A small group of people will surely recall how good a person was during his or her lifetime. And, that should be enough.

Coming back to Charlie, he was gazing beyond me yesterday and thinking seriously about the fragility of human life. I told him that I completely synchronise with him on his line of thinking, and suggested that we should spend more time together discussing these aspects of life. It is critical to decipher when one becomes happy, and most of us do not ask ourselves that question – “what makes us truly happy?”. Think about it for a couple of minutes and you will see that the answer is quite complex. There are many happy things that you can do, there are things that you can do which makes others happy, but what exactly that you do that makes you very happy? Think about it.

May be sailing in the sunset with your life partner will make you very happy, or celebrating the arrival of your first grand-son or grand-daughter will make you very happy. But do you become very happy when you receive a huge sales commission or you sell a share for a big profit?

What are you going to do with that money?

We still live on 3 simple meals a day, and our wants are minimal (at least for most of us). One does not need to have huge amount of money unless one wants to donate to charity and help people of Syria, Rwanda, Angola, and other very poor countries.

So, it is time to ruminate your position in the circus of life and whether you are playing it well, not just for your own benefit but for others’ as well. Are people around you happy about you? What are you doing today to positively contribute to the mood at home, or to society at large?

A lot to think for the weekend, I guess.

Have a good one.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th July 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campus Protests and Free Speech


You might have followed media coverage of campus protests against conservative speakers in prestigeous U.S. universities like University of California Berkeley. This is an important development in the annals of free speeach and freedom of expression in university campuses and society in general.

Key questions to be asked in this context:

  • Is there real freedom of expression in society and specifically, in university campuses today?
  • What is free speech and what are the limits of free speech?
  • Why do students generally and largely consider themselves “liberal”? Why do students not respect the need for universities and societies to listen to “alternative” facts, theories, hypotheses, though propounded by conservatives who have equal rights for expressing their views?
  • Why do we militate against people with different views on social matters as compared to ours? Why can’t we treat all people normally?
  • Why do universities, generally considered the bastion of free speech, free thoughts and freedom of expression, tend to invite controversial speakers and then buckle to student protesters? Do they not have a responsibility to execute their plans to defend the above key tenets of academic life?
  • Why do Republicans (in this context, I am referring to legislators belonging to the Republican Party of U.S.) wish to legislate this aspect of campus life, allowing fiery speakers belonging to either liberals or conservatives into campus without any cancellations (like what has been happening a few times already in the recent past), but without due regard to university administration?
  • Why has almost everything polarized in U.S. society? Why can’t things be simpler? Where is the need to create several camps of thoughts in a university, except for mock debates?
  • And, so on and so forth

I believe it is critical to hear what opponents to your belief say in a public forum. If not for anything, it allows one to strategize for evolving a counter approach to the ideas propagated by powerful believers of opposing philosophy. It is the right thing to do. Impeding free speech by anyone is not the right way to operate in a true democracy. If this is not possible in the U.S., then one can assume that the U.S. is not a true democracy. Unfortunately, what happens in the U.S. is frequently copied in other countries. Or else, excuses will be used based on what has happened in the U.S. Such practices, while unhealthy, are inevitable due to the influence of the U.S. on world affairs.

Don’t we disagree with other people all the time? We must disagree respectfully, however. Sometimes, we do not say anything, or respond to provocations. Sometimes, we reserve the right to speak or respond in a civil manner. Sometimes, we congregate and evolve a uniform approach towards countering people who vocally drive a wedge in society for their own benefit.

However, violence is not an option at all. Attacking professors and guest speaker? A strict NO, NO. Our students should know better, they are not kids in primary school. The changed political landscape in the U.S. does not give permission to students to physically assault folks who have an opinion different from theirs. If such be the case, what is the difference between illiterates settling disputes by show of force, and educated elite doing the same in an open forum. Walking out of a convocation being addressed by Vice President of the U.S. is fine, but disrupting the convocation is not.

Students have to learn reality of life. In real life, one learns to respect others. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. When a co-passenger on a recent flight out of the U.S. asked me about what Asians think of President Trump, I told her what I think of him. I said I cannot talk for others, almost everyone seems to be enjoying the fun of a rather brash President. I uttered what I did on U.S. soil without any fear, because I believed in what I believe. She was a Democrat and might not have liked what I said about Trump and Hillary Clinton, but she did not shout at me or hit me! Civility and respect are the cornerstones of intellectual debates, and these cannot disappear from U.S. university campuses due to the outsized influence of extreme Left. Sometimes, the political Right may also be right.

Let us listen to all views before analysing and concluding. Academics should know this better than anyone else.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017

Europe under continuous attack


Europe needs and deserves a firm leadership against terrorist attacks which try to disrupt peaceful co-existence of the 28 countries in the European Union (EU).

Like any other association of nations, the very purpose Europe came together is for trade, employment and joint defense (against U.S.S.R. in the Sixties and Seventies). Similarities in cultural backgrounds help in all such associations, though a common religion plays a much less role. Europe has always been willing to take in immigrants from non-European countries, though various countries in the EU have their own restrictions. Some of them are very liberal, some of them are quite restrictive. Germany is an example of a generous nation, well-to-do people, who have accepted immigrants as long as these folks can adapt to the local culture and learn to speak the German language. The history of Europe is laden with wars and refugees, and crimes against humanity, so it is not surprising that the Europeans are more open than others to war refugees.

However, we will soon find out if Europeans remain tolerant to the vagaries of the refugee influx, especially from Syria and certain other Middle Eastern countries. France is a case in point. Paris has been diligently attacked by terrorists who do not like the French way of living. While it is easy to cast aspersions on a particular religion for these incidents (including the one last week), the French people will do well to recall that their freedom did not come easily – they had to fight for it every inch of the way in the Second World War with the help of the Allied Forces. They had to fight against Nazi occupation – they were refugees in their own country. It is critical to take stern actions today to defend French freedom, no doubt about it. However, it is rather easy to swing to the far right and attack the whole philosophy of Europe and the EU. What positive stuff can come out of it? Why would France try to isolate itself from the rest of Europe?

Colonial powers such as France and the U.K. cannot escape their histoy. If there are millions of Muslims in France, that is the result of French invasion and occupation of North African countries several decades ago, may be a century ago. Clear-headed, rational thinking is called for when a government is dealing with all kinds of its citizens – they do not always come with the same colour, race, ethnicity or religion.

Nevertheless, Europe faces tough times ahead. Elections are a way for the far right to assert their extremist philosophies and gain governance after a long wait. That did not work in Austria and Denmark, and is unlikely to work in France. Germany, in my opinion, will remain centrist for quite some time, unless jobs disappear and crimes increase as a result of uncontrolled immigration.

The solution is to give law enforcement more powers as they are called to face and deal with militant elements of societies. Governments have to make it absolutely clear that cultures and philosophies would not be trampled upon in the name of giving big space to immigrants. Everyone has to live together peacefully, and the message has to go out loud and clear that if immigrants are not happy to adapt and accommodate, they should be free to return to where they came from. This message is critical and needs to be delivered by all types of political parties or governments. immigrants remain as guests of the welcoming host nations till they earn the right to become permanent residents or citizens and start a new way of life. Why should they want to replicate the lives that they lived in their respective repressive countries?

Europe remains a beacon of an elitist kind of democracy that other democratic nations can only aspire to become. It should not be split radically into segments which then cannot work together in the European Union. That would be disastrous for the future of this world.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd April 2017

Gurus not exempt from Law


Spiritual Gurus have long been a bane of many religions around the world.

Their (largely) negative impact has been felt severely in India for a very long time.

Some gurus have positive impact overall. One of them is Jaggi Vasudev, the other is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who runs the famous Art of Living (AOL) Foundation. There are thousands of others, but my simple view has always been that there is no need for an intermediary between God and I, or God and anyone else for that matter. Unfortunately, Hinduism, one of the most enduring religions of the world with over 800M followers, encourages the adoption of gurus to facilitate a communication with God. I do not agree with such a philosophy, though there are other major religions which follow similar philosophies, putting man over man. Humans look for a guide to help them navigate the world, and it is not at all a surprise that a Pope arises to guide Catholics, for example. The plethora of gurus in India does not follow any systematic approach, they crop up anywhere and everywhere where the gullible would fall at their feet and worship them. There are thousands of “magical” episodes when these human gurus have generated simply impossible manoeuvres which continue to fascinate their followers.

However, none of these “humans” are above the law of the land.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, his Art of Living Foundation, and his spokesman accuse the government and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for giving permission to conduct the World Culture Festival in March 2016, which has completely destroyed the river bed of the Yamuna River which most Hindus consider as a holy river. Sri Sri is a charismatic guru, who is close to powerful politicians and the wealthy folks of India, and so it would be interesting if the expert committee’s findings would indeed find their way to justice in the current dispute between the government/NGT and Sri Sri/AOL. I don’t think it was appropriate for Sri Sri to accuse the NGT and the government for having granted permission to him for conducting the Festival.

Where is accountability and humility on the part of the famed Sri Sri?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his AOL are not exempt from the law of the land, and have to abide by the rules and regulations. Being close to God does not exempt him from the rule of law. It would be interesting to see how his ardent followers react to the findings of the expert committee.

It is clear that spiritual gurus cannot run a government, a court or the environment. They should focus on God, not make Hinduism a circus philosophy. It is always good to hear some of the lectures of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but the wisdom of his speeches does not make him God. He is after all, an ordinary man, like all of us. If he commits a mistake, he has to pay for it. There cannot be an excuse. If a fine is levied (as it has been), then his organization has to pay it. Damage done to the Yamuna riverbed will take 10 years to fix, as per the expert committee. Who caused the damage? Not the government, nor the NGT. They merely granted permission, may be misguided, may be under some sort of pressure. But Art of Living Foundation and Sri Sri are entirely responsible for what happened. Who can contest this assertion?

Again unfortunately, most of us are emotional, and wish to kick folks who do not conform to whatever is the general trend of belief or philosophy, in this case of Sri Sri. If there is a variation to that thinking, then the people who think differently would be termed as traitors to the cause. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

Time to think on environment, time to think about Yamuna River, which has recently been designated as a “legal person” by the courts of India.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar should apologize, desist from repeating such extravaganza, and indeed pay the INR 5 Crores fine. We should all respect the law.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd April 2017

Religions and Future Generations


My views on the unnecessary importance that we ascribe to religions in our lives and the extraordinary negative impact that the segregation of people is having on societies around the world are well established via this blog communication in the past. I have written about the destruction caused by religions over the centuries and how religions divide, rather than unite us.

While nothing much has changed in our societies with regard to the treatment of religions and the impact that the religions have on societies, it is now widely accepted that multiple religions with differing philosophies have succeeded in dividing people, and polarize their views about what is right and what is wrong. Strong indoctrination of religious principles which are not subject to debate and discussion, has further fomented these divisions. Only a few religions are pacific, the rest push for indoctrination of principles, adoption of basic tenets, and followership of the “cult” to the exclusion of all others.

Added to the above religious divisions forged by major religions, the caste system perpetrated in India (for example) has further deeply polarized the society. While the caste system in itself is deplorable, the adoption of non-economic criteria in stratifying a country’s population into haves and have-nots has worsened the deep divisions in society, and has led to the departure of meritocracy from running of the society and the country. India was accordingly set back by several decades when compared to caste-less societies such as Japan or China, which are much more homogeneous in population demographics and treatment of citizens.

We argue vigorously oftentimes that equal treatment should be meted out to equal votes from citizens. Such is not always the case even in developed countries. There are very few examples wherein countries do not even differentiate based on gender – these are the Nordic countries which have reached a very advanced state of development, not found even in the wealthiest and more developed nations such as the U.S., U.K., or Germany. The treatment that citizens usually receive in countries such as India is dependent on religion, caste, race, colour or gender. We tend to ignore such treatment from society in the hope that economic advancement will eventually obliterate such divisive tactics. I am not so sure.

While we have felt the acute impact of religious and caste divides in our current generation, somehow we have been able to navigate our way through not just one system, but multiple systems, during our lifetime. This may be because of the early experiences that many of us have had in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, which had made most of us rather matured for our time. The ability to navigate the world in an equitable and non-offensive manner, while keeping our heads firmly on our shoulders, has been a key characteristic of our generation who are now in our fifties.

But, what about the next generation and the one after it?

My worry is that the next generation who are in their teens and twenties are not yet experienced the way we were – probably they will never get our experience because they have grown up mostly outside India. The conditions are vastly different and meritocracy is the norm rather than the exception, and societies have matured rather aggressively towards equal and equitable treatment in a conscious way. This did not happen overnight of course, but took several decades of enlightened governance with the interests of citizens at heart.

However, as we move towards our twilight years, we need to be concerned about how our future generations will shape up and react to the world at large when it comes to the articifical divisions caused by religions. I always believed that we should set an active example, by following our own religion in a light manner (not with a lot of religiosity) without too many rituals which segregate us even from our own people (meaning other Indians in my case), and have an inquisitive mind on any subject matter thrown in front of us as an “accomplished” fact or a done deal. I wrote recently about thinking, and it is an extremely critical concept. If we do not think for ourselves and the world, then we would be doing what our ancestors had been doing over centuries without questioning their larger impact. If I am not considered as very religious, that is by my own design. I do not wish to be “special” in any category that divides me from others. I go to temples, but I also visit churches and mosques occasionally. We should look not for conformity, but for unity in what unites us all. I have communicated my thoughts to my family members, and sometimes to my close friends. I have not always received a positive sync, but I thought there indeed was a sense of appreciation on my thinking for myself. I do not of course, wish to indoctrinate anyone!

Coming to the conclusion, it is my earnest submission that people should look for similarities while maintaining their individuality. Non-conformance to a tenet or philosophy does not mean any kind of insult is proferred. Every individual has a right to his or her own thinking. It is most important to shape the thinking of future generations accordingly.

Let us all think! It is the most important thing to do today!!

Cheers, and Have a great weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th April 2017