Wrong Expectations


This post might get me into trouble, I guess!

As my readers know well, I am a “liberal” in mindset, outlook and approach, but sometimes I have taken sides with conservatives when I feel the rational logic resides with them on a specific topic, though it has not been often. Everyone has a right to their own view, and everyone has a right to not support others’ views irrespective of the popularity or otherwise of such views.

I believe that liberal views promote an equitable society with a good balance, in general. However, I have always taken cognizance of the fact that conservatives have a certain hold on the richer, more well-to-do sections of the society which oftentimes get not only a seat at the table, but also get to make the rules of conformance in society. It is very true in a generally traditional, conservative and religious society.

Notwithstanding all the segmentation and fragmentation of societies the world over, there is one principle that I will never compromise on and that is, give equal opportunity to both sides (and to a third side, if that position exists!) so that arguments and counter-arguments can be heard and understood well. It is upto any individual to make his/her own conclusion, and it is also his or her prerogative to voice or not voice the same, in other words, you cannot force anyone publicly on a vote of conscience. This means tolerance and acceptance of contrarian views, though you may not agree with those views which could be anathema to your views. Tolerance and acceptance are not the same as acquiescence and agreement!

So, I read with interest the news coverage on U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s wife going back to work for a strict evangelical Catholic school in Virginia. I warned you, my readers, that this could get rather sensitive! Some mainstream newsmedia covered her decision to rejoin the school and teach there, due to the avowed principles of the school against the LGBTQ section of the society and its non-admittance rules against any member of that group. The school further states that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and so on and so forth.

Without going further into the individual person’s choice to be associated with such a school, notwithstanding the fact that she is the Second Lady of the U.S. Government as the wife of the Vice President, it is not up to any one else to pass judgement on her action or behaviour – simply because she has the individual right to do so and the freedom to follow her heart. There is no official government endorsement or support for her action.

Mike Pence condemned the attack on his wife’s decision to serve in the school and also the attack on “Christian education”. I am not sure what he meant and which media really attacked, but as a beneficiary of Christian education right from Kindergarten to High School, I can only say that without the dedication of Christian education system, many of us in India would not have succeeded in life, despite most of us belonging to the Hindu religion.

Coming back to this Virginia school, I totally and unequivocally disagree with their principles, but they exist in a free society and they have teachers and students enrolled. So, there is a section of society in the U.S. which agrees with those severe and incompatible restrictions, and endorses such a system of education. I can tell you however, that there is no such Christian school ever that existed in India!

Coming back to Mrs Pence’s decision, I respect her choice – both Mr and Mrs Pence are openly espousing the cause and rationale of Christian Evangelism, and there is nothing wrong with their position. They have an inalienable, constitutionally protected right to do so. We have to give equal importance to such positions which are not hidden from sight and are openly stated and defended. In this moralistic or religious clash, no one can claim to be right or wrong. Both sides could even be right!

My personal position, as I stated earlier in this post, is that I am not taking sides with any one philosophy, I am a liberalist with my own views on almost everything under the Sun, and I will not endorse any position if that is not compatible with rational logic. I am not a political person, neither am I a deeply religious person. I am not a Christian but appreciate the service that the Christian school system rendered for me. I try to learn about and appreciate other religions as a philosophical curiosity venture than anything else. I have more and enough blog posts on my blog site to justify what I am stating above!

In a nutshell, let us not have wrong expectations of people, however exalted or powerful they may be. It is not necessary to agree with their stated positions on any matter. We should have our own thoughts about anything which impacts global affairs. I thought that this purported attack by “media” organizations on Christian Evangelism and School system was something of relevance to dissect and understand. If such an attack has happened, that is also despicable because not all systems and people will toe a Supreme Court judgement – they make their own judgements which, if not illegal, should be tolerated in a free society. In effect, tolerance should work both ways, if you know what I mean. It cannot be unidirectional in terms of complete support to the affected part of society – what about taking a non-supportive, yet tolerant view of the incontrovertible fact that there are people who exist who espouse a totally contrarian view which they think is their right to believe in, espouse and endorse – publicly or privately. The response should not be violence, we have seen that such an unacceptable behaviour happens even in the U.S., and so often in third-world countries (I am deliberately not using the politically correct terminology of “developing countries” here!).

Have a great weekend, and more to come from me during the next day or so,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th January 2019

Secular Experience Indonesia


I am currently on a family vacation in Yogyakarta (also called as Jogjakarta) in Central Java region of Indonesia. As my readers should be aware, Indonesia is a secular country though most of its citizens are Muslims; as a tourist guide put it to us, it is a moderate Islamic country with acceptance of other religions and full respect for those people who follow other religions. This is the result of a very long and rich history of tolerance, and also the fact that Indonesia was strongly influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism before it eventually adopted Islam. I am not a historian, neither am I a religious studies specialist, and I am writing all this based on my understanding and interactions with people who I meet when I travel.

This means that most Indonesians were Hindus and then Buddhists before they became Muslims. That explains their moderate views on religion, though most are practicing Muslims. Christianity has also has had some influence on Indonesians. Most Indonesians are soft-spoken and polite, with a deference to almost everyone and especially to foreigners.

At one point in time, Yogyakarta was the capital of Indonesia, and there is even a Presidential Palace here – we passed by it on our way to see the Royal Kraton Palace, or the Sultan’s abode. There is not much industrial activity in Yogyakarta, the economy seems to be centred around tourism and other service industries.

There are two key temple zones around Yogyakarta – one is the Prambanan Temple which is a very large Hindu temple, with individual temples dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. There are hundreds of other smaller temples in the Prambanan temple zone. It was damaged considerably during a big earthquake which occurred in 2006, with its epicentre at Yogyakarta. The main temple has been restored with significant effort after the earthquake. The architectural design of the temple complex has obviously been influenced heavily by Indian Hindu temple construction, but the ingenuity of Prambanan construction comes due to the interlocking stones which prevents them from sliding down in case of any disturbances. The stones were gathered from the rivers which carried volcanic ash from the nearby volcanoes. During the restoration, concrete has been poured to solidify the structure. Amazing indeed.

Some pictures from the Prambanan temple as below:

We also visited the world famous Borobudur Buddhist Temple. At both temples (Prambanan and Borobudur), there were hundreds of school children streaming in, because December has school holidays in Indonesia. There were not many foreigners, my guide told me that most Europeans visit in July and August, and further November to March is a rainy period. Luckily we were spared from the rains so far when we visited the two temples, though it drizzled this morning quite heavily for a short while.

Borobudur is all about Buddha. I have always been impressed about Buddhist philosophy, though I may not agree with Siddhartha for abandoning his wife Maya and their only child, when Siddhartha left his family to get into meditation. Though Buddhism has many variants itself, the ideas pertaining to samsara, karma and nirvana are easily articulated and understood. Some of the ideas are in the pictures below:

Pictures from Borobudur Temple as below:

Overall, the visit to these two temples has been enlightening and revealing: the historic influence of India on Indonesia and several other countries such as Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc., in South East Asia cannot be underestimated.

More coverage on my Indonesian vacation will follow, in the meanwhile, enjoy your weekend folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th December 2018

Money is the Religion of Choice


One of my esteemed friends mentioned this catch phrase during our get-together party today on some special occasion, and it rung a bell in me.

I have blogged about the negative influence of religions in general on humanity. Of course, there is some positive impact of religions as well, but the continuing negative aspects overwhelm anything positive. Even today, hundreds of people are getting killed or imprisoned around the world due to some religious differences between themselves and the perpetrators.

But, let us put that argument behind us for a moment.

While it is hard to generalize, it is apparent that most people would choose money over almost anything else, including religion, in an increasingly commercial world. People wish to earn, or get money, for themselves and their families, given that life has become uncertain across several key parameters. Life long employment has disappeared almost everywhere, except may be in Japan. Keeping a well-paying job has increasingly become difficult, even in the IT industry, and certainly in the Financial industry, as Robotics and Artificial Intelligence come into the mainstream in these industries. Their impact is now being felt in many industries and avenues of human endeavour. Working people are getting impacted negatively, and those over the age of 40 are questioning their sustainability.

Given such a situation is fast emerging, it is no wonder that people want to save more money to handle the challenges of their future.

On the other hand, wealthy people want to make more money as it probably caters to their adrenaline rush needs, or just to keep proving to themselves that they can indeed make more money as and when they choose to do so. What does this extra money do except to fatten their banking accounts? Nothing. They are not going to take all their money to the graveyard.

The income inequality around the world, the kind of things that wealthy people flaunt around, the many things that working class people still do not have – all this and more drives the insatiable need for securing more money.

So, what is the religion of most people?

It is none other than money.

How about we fill up a government form with “Money” against the religion column?

Money, Money and Money.

Money drives peoples’ behaviour. It alters their behaviour. It forces them to err in their judgements. It prods them to take shortcuts. It sometimes pushes them to commit crimes.

Is that different from a regular religion?

No.

It is the same if you think carefully in terms of analogies. Religion does all of the above to normal people, and more. Religion also induces passion in people.

So Money is indeed, a religion.

It may not be for many people who would hate to replace or equate religion with money.

But, for many more people, Money has become a religion, and that is driving the demand for more money. That is driving more errors in judgements. That is damaging peoples’ reputations as we are witnessing recently (I am referring here to Carlos Ghosn of Nissan – Renault).

And, Greed knows no limits. It has no limits when it is used to fulfil peoples’ egos with desires.

Man’s desires have no bounds, as we all know.

Can a regular religion obliterate those desires and errors and mistakes and potential crimes?

Don’t bet on it.

It is not surprising most people have dual lives or dual personalities, if you know what I mean.

A businessman who is extremely greedy to make more money, even at the cost of his workers, could be extremely pious and religious. We have seen that behaviour time and again.

Hence, here is the unsavoury conclusion: Money is a Religion, and it more than qualifies to be one. The regular religions should take note! But I won’t be surprised if they know this already, as most religions are, in any case, money-making machinery which is well-oiled over the years. Money is, indeed, the oil for most religions.

Are you a convert to this “Money Religion”?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th November 2018

Hangzhou – an amazing destination


I spent the past few days in Hangzhou, the 4th largest metropolitan area of China, just an hour away from Shanghai by high-speed bullet train.

During my previous visit, I was not able to spend any time to see places of importance in Hangzhou, so I was determined to spend a day of personal time during last week’s trip.

As it has become the normal impact on any visitor, most major cities of China astound you with their modernity, infrastructure, lovely hotels, organized traffic and cleanliness. Hangzhou is no different. It is sleek and modern. It has relatively newer infrastructure with some gleaming new malls (I visited two of them). It is well-industrialized, and has a per-capita GDP of over USD 20K! It has good roads, and apparently well-managed traffic, but then Chinese drivers are as bad as Indian drivers in Indian roads, they cut across others and try to squeeze their way between two lanes, and quite rash in terms of speeding up.

Apart from the above, Hangzhou has a long rich history going back couple of thousand years. It has managed to integrate its historical past with its modern society, but I was not happy about the manner in which they are maintaining their old Buddhist temples. More about that later in this post.

I had time only to visit two important tourist destinations in Hangzhou: one was the West Lake, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site; the other was the stunning Lingyin Buddhist Temple & Monastery, also called “Temple of Soul’s Retreat”. Both places are so huge, it will be an injustice to write about the smallish experiences I had, but then I would like to share what little I did during just half-day of precious time!

First, I went to Lingyin Temple (it costs RMB 45 for an admission ticket or SGD 9). One thing you got to be prepared anywhere of tourist importance in China is the crowd. Even on a weekday, you will find thousands of people streaming in – not unlike India, but more in terms of numbers. Nobody speaks English, including the staff manning ticket counters, so you have to use sign language [I am always even more amazed with the huge growth of China’s economy given that the people struggle with any foreign languages, especially English, and still manage to sell all that they produce to the world!]. The only signs of Westernization are the KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks – which are all ubiquitous across China. But even at these outlets, no one speaks or understands English so use your fingers to point items on the menu!

The Temple and Monastery were established at the present location by an Indian monk in 4th Century AD (a very important contribution by India to China!!). I went around the temple and walked on stone slabs which were probably 1,500 years old. Lingyin Temple is considered as one of the top Buddhist temples in all of China, and so it is no wonder it continues to attract thousands of devotees from around China.

From the Temple, I went to the “Broken Bridge” across the West Lake (around 5 KMs cab ride), which is the Northern part of the West Lake. As I said, it is a beautiful part of Hangzhou, which has inspired monks and artists over many centuries. It was so pleasant to walk across this bridge – I decided to spend more time and walk for a couple of KMs to enjoy the fresh air and see the Lotus flowers floating on the lake along with some pretty swans as well. A nice walk, but it was bit foggy around 5 PM. My guess is that the fog will clear off towards the nightfall, and it would be a beautiful locale with lights all around the lake’s periphery. I should say it was an excellent walk!

It was a great experience, but I quickly became modern by walking into a Starbucks outlet across the street (difficult to cross, like it is in India) located in a nice two-storey house.

I believe I have not even scratched the surface of Hangzhou. To demonstrate how modern is Hangzhou, I thought it would be pertinent to show to you the walls of a modern restaurant in a glitzy mall that I went to for dinner. Make your own conclusions!!!

Let me also say one thing about Hangzhou that would be rather surprising: taxi fares and food are cheaper than Singapore, or even India. Definitely far cheaper than the Western world, for sure. I used the DIDI app for calling cab to the airport (and my friend did it for other locations) and it costed just RMB 100 (or SGD 20) for a distance of nearly 30 KMs in a new comfortable limousine (called “premier taxi” in the DIDI app). The DIDI app is similar to the OLA app in India or the GRAB app in Singapore, very convenient with reasonable fares, and it also has an in-built English to Mandarin translator!!!

Cheers, and Have a Great Weekend, Folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd September 2018

Child Abuse


I have been influenced by various religious philosophies over the years, but the maximum influence has come about from two – Hinduism and Christianity.

I will not dwell on Hindu Philosophy in this post, and instead focus on the major influence that Christian Philosophy has had on my upbringing.

Like many compatriots from India, I was educated in Jesuit educational institutions in India, which I hold in high regard for the values that they imparted to the students (most of who were not Christians, but Hindus and other religious minorities) and the quality of education that they delivered. My parents, like many other parents, did not send me to “localized” Hindu-focused educational institutions, but rather decided that Jesuit schools were better choices for their academic standing and values that they taught.

This, by no means, demean other excellent localized schools run by various religious denominations in India. There have always been a wide variety of good schools all across India. I am referring to a time line and a place in which it was determined that Christian schools were a better bet.

I am taking time to explain the rationale, as the Hindu ideology is a dominant influence in today’s India, and there are a number of people who would, without deep thinking, jump on to the Hindu bandwagon to the detriment of established institutions belonging to other religious denominations. Such a tendency is detrimental to social development and should not be encouraged by the government of the day.

Given this background, I am pained by the reported abuse of children by Catholic Clergy in Pennsylvania and other places. Such things happen with other religions as well, but the scale of abuse in Pennsylvania wherein thousands of young children were sexually molested by Clergy who were looked upon as saviours is simply shocking. It took a long while for a Cardinal in Australia to be brought to justice recently, and there were significant abuses in Chile, if I recall correctly.

What is also shocking is that the Pope did not proactively condemn these abuses vehemently in the first place. He let the court system to take its due course in Pennsylvania, instead of sacking and excommunicating all Clergymen who were found to be involved in child abuse practices. And, the court was vigorous in its attack on the Church in Pennsylvania, pointedly hitting at the coverups by the Church in all the child abuse scandals, over a period of 70 years!

Catholics apparently are losing their faith in the Papacy and his determination to hold his own folks to account – especially in such a sensitive area as child abuse. The faith had been misplaced it appears!

I just listened to the live CNN broadcast of the Pope’s visit to Ireland, and the Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, referring to the hurt of children who were abused and the families which were broken by the practices of the Clergy in his welcome speech – he is a bold person, other PMs would not have dared to bring up the issue right in front of the Pope seated on the dais. Not only that, Leo Varadkar is openly gay in the majority Catholic nation of Ireland, which also has the distinction of legalizing abortion a few months ago.

Times have changed.

The Catholic Church needs to find its feet and carefully wade through the abuse scandal, and re-establish it credentials with specific actions – not just with words such as “we are sorry for what happened”, and “we feel the guilt” and “we will repent for such abominable sins”.

The irony is that the Church runs lots of schools for young children around the world. Hopefully, there are no more scandals involving young children at a very impressionable age, who will be forced to carry the sexual abuse trauma all through their lives. There is a huge press coverage on the Pennsylvania abuse scandal only if you care to look up on the web. It is sickening, to say the least.

This blog post is not about accusing the Catholic Religion or Church or the Christian Philosophy. The religion is above all such infractions and sins, it maintains its stature like the other religions of the world. My gripe is only about the hugely negative impact that the scandal would have on peoples’ faith, not just the Catholics, but also non-Catholics who have come to depend on the quality of the academics in Christian educational institutions run mostly by Clergymen and more importantly, on the value systems that were always imparted in these fine schools and colleges.

I hope the Church would take cognizance of such serious concerns, and address the same in an open transparent manner to reduce the anxiety of parents. Of course, the Church has to do a lot more to retain Catholics who have been departing the faith, but that is their core job of running the religion and they have to do what they believe is right. As far as I am concerned, I do not depend on any “middlemen or middle ground” for my faith – I am on my own, as I had written in several posts in the past.

Time to heal the victims, and hope the Pope will do his job on this count, and not delay justice in the future – he should not listen to his own Cardinals who could be wrongly advising him not to apologize, or not to take drastic actions. Now is the time to heal, repent and more importantly, take aggressive actions against erring Clergymen who have turned traitors to the faith which brought them up to where they are in the Church hierarchy with huge trust reposed in them by Catholics and parents.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th August 2018

Jerusalem Visit #1


I visited Israel this week.

Here are some pics from my Jerusalem trip on the 6th August.

On the Highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The four Quarters dividing the Old City of Jerusalem: Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Moslem

Walking into the Old City of Jerusalem

A view of the Old City

The Temple Mount in the Moslem Quarter, fortified with solid gold by the King of Jordan

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter

A beautiful view of the Jerusalem skyline

Armenian Church

Holy Sepulchre Church

Inside the Church

Inside the Church

 

The Room of the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples

Room of the Last Supper

Another view of the room of the Last Supper

David’s Tomb, a holy place for the Jews

Inside the Old City

2,000 year old columns

Complete Columns from 2,300 years ago

This is a painting of life in the Byzantine era, around 300 AD (300 years after Christ)

Entrance to the Holy Sepulchre Church where Jesus was entombed by the Romans after his Crucifixion

Devotees praying and kissing the slab in which Jesus was laid down after his Crucifixion

The Orthodox Russian or Armenian area of Cruxifixion

The Catholic area of Crucifixion (just adjoining the above orthodox area)

The dome above the area of Crucifixion

The tomb of Jesus

T

The tomb of Jesus

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It was simply amazing feeling to visit Jerusalem. I cannot describe it adequately. Whatever be one’s religious belief or denomination, it gives a sense of agelessness to walk on the same ground in which so much of history has occurred. There is enough evidence in the Old City of Jerusalem to prove that the stones used and the architectural designs belonged to the age of over 2,000 ago. So much of history, so many conflicts, and so much of global attention………

I will publish more pics in the next installment.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

8th August 2018

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

 

Secular Life in Turmoil


I have written about secularism in the past.

Some of my previous blog posts are listed here:

Secularism under threat

The Debate on Secularism

Spirituality departing from the land of discovery

The rising intolerance

I am adding on to the above posts with some additional thoughts on a bright Sunday morning here in Singapore, as I gaze across the expanse of a water reservoir which is serene and calm. I am disturbed with the onset of these thoughts, so the calmness around me is surreal.

I believe no religion owns a country or a people, around the world. Religion is the creation of man and woman. For thousands of years, the religious faith of a group of people had provided to them a solid hold on their lives as well as guidance to lead their lives. Religions, unfortunately, had been the cause of wars between people and untold millions of deaths.

Religion is not a necessary prerequisite or condition for sustaining a faith on things which matter to you. It is nice to have a system of faith which is what a religion should provide to its followers. A religion cannot dictate what someone should do or should not do. Of course, these are my personal views (as always).

So, my point of view on secularism is rather simple – since no religion should own a sect of followers or people, no one religion can control a country. This surely and firmly applies to democracies (theocracies are not being discussed in this post as I have not understood their rationale for existence in this multi-religious, multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan world). This would mean that democracies should disown ALL religions, irrespective of the majority affiliation to any one religion.

What does this mean in practice? A Catholic country with majority of its people Catholics, cannot have Catholicism embodied in its constitution as the “state religion”, as long as it remains a secular democracy. The same applies to other religious denominations. Coming to the example of India, it is enshrined in the Constitution of India that India is a secular democracy, though over 85% of its population are Hindus who generally follow Hinduism as their religion. The founders of India did this with a clear purpose in mind – that India is a very diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious country even at the time of its Independence in 1947. A Hindu theocracy would have seriously impacted the emergence of a peaceful India as a nation-state.

Think about the wisdom of the founders and original thinkers of Indian Constitution. They were not ordinary folks, they were serious people who contributed to the formation of India. Were they wrong? Absolutely not.

The racism and the attendant violence that the U.S. witnesses every day is because the government and law enforcement are discriminating on colour of people and their ethnicity. European countries are having huge problems on absorbing new immigrants because their social integration into European societies has not been possible due to the differing customs and religious practices. India did not have many of these issues for several decades. In India, law enforcement did not shoot at people they do not like.

“Untouchables” – the class of people that Mahatma Gandhi tried hard to integrate into mainstream Indian society – are in a far better position today than at the beginning of the 20th Century. I would argue that they are in a better situation due to strong affirmative actions than the African-Americans in the U.S.

Given all this complexity in various large nations, the only solution is to maintain a religion-neutral, race-neutral, ethnicity-neutral, and colour-neutral system of governance and law enforcement. The argument that the majority religion is being neglected and more importance is being paid to minorities is not appropriate, as majority population can always elect a party that they want to run the government. Religious sects across a large country cannot easily integrate election voting, that is just a dream. Individual people vote according to their conscience mostly (at least the people who understand partisan politics which is dominant today everywhere in the world). Religion can never integrate a society, it can only disintegrate it.

So, in a nutshell, secularism is the only way forward for the world, at least for the democratic nations of the world. If a party or government is formed on theocratic principles, then that is doomed to fail in the medium term as the majority electorate would realize their folly in electing them in the first place. No religion can run a government, and no government can operate a people as though they are religious levers to be pulled up for convenience.

I am absolutely sure that many folks may not like what I am writing here, nevertheless I believe that it is very important to express one’s thoughts and discuss the same with folks who are interested in the global development of the world. Anger against a particular religion, majority people, or minority people is not going to solve any issue. Every one is equal in this world and secularism ensures that as far as religious faiths are concerned.

Have a wonderful weekend, and see you next weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th July 2018

 

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