Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In defence of modern-day spirituality

Somewhere deep down, I sometimes do feel the anxiety of approaching middle age. But the occasional self-portrait, though, seen through a vain lens of self-approval seems almost to disprove any progression in the passage of time.
Living in these times of deep dissatisfaction one can’t help but wonder about the act of judgment. You have first impressions come about as if a cloud opens on an otherwise severely overcast day. You step into the void of understanding and even concupiscence, and then accept things as they are. But there, at the back of the mind, there is a foreboding of a time to come when an event is but bound to occur. So, one can see an approaching stand-off, by experience, and still not fathom how it is to come about and secretly relish its non-occurrence.
Concurrently, if one is put in a certain position - that of determining the collective future experiences of a group of people - what inevitably follows, is introspection and a consciousness borne of a sense of responsibility i.e. if one is acting responsibly. But to determine the course of one’s own life… what is it but indecisiveness or a temptation to procrastinate or a growing dread at understanding whether you are consequential at all to the world at large. But if this reasoning applies to posturing in an audience then the matter is solved with little hesitancy. Are we scared of fulfilling a base expectancy of ourselves that came about sometime between adolescence and adulthood? This fear, if not disproved by other means, points to a sense of self that exists beyond the realm of the personal; an entity devoid of geographical and emotional boundary, something to look forward to and eventually beyond – a driving force, a haunting presence, a dissociated conductor. The corollary is certainly something to fear even more.
What is that sense of longing, remembrance and regret all locked into the rush of a wave of sentiment? It happens so often and sometimes so rarely that it always succeeds in disturbing the gentle pace of life. We are led on to a climax, an upliftment, a vindication… and then mediocrity and routine crash in and everything turns banal. If it was a question of absolutely enjoying every second of every minute of a life would art even begin to make sense?
Why are we so rocked by the hint of a possibility, the gentlest of waves, the most passive breeze? Are we collectively looking, searching and feeling for something every hour of every day, through success and failure, conquest and defeat?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Through the stained glass, darkly...

In support of the oft-repeated phrase;
‘Too many wars have been waged in the name of religion.’

And in consideration of the statement;
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

- In the introduction to ‘Contribution to Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right’ - Karl Marx, 1843.


If you visit the doctor for a certain ailment, the physician begins his/her examination by asking you a series of questions related to the discomfiture you are experiencing. There are a number of assumptions attached to the line of questioning, all aimed at deciding what the patient should actually be tested for, related to the ailment in question. This is because of the presumption that the patient has actually incurred an illness that is yet to be ascertained and which can only be determined upon further inquiry. If the symptoms point to a certain number of empirical factors commonly associated with a known medical condition and the subsequent tests confirm the suspicion, the appropriate medication and advice on the practical measures to be followed by the patient is meted out, and hospitalisation or a follow-up visit is scheduled. All this is due to the very nature of the medical profession; which is far from fool-proof wherein there are many subjective factors concomitant to the treatment of a certain illness based on the individual patient – as related to lifestyle choices, type of diet, genetic predispositions, geographical proximity to known sources of disease, etc.

Consider a hypothetical case wherein a person is a known user of the purest form of heroin known to man, and is entirely self-sufficient. Detailed studies point to the fact that heroin, as a base substance, possesses preservative qualities on the human physiology. The same studies also confirm that because the procurement of heroin is very difficult (leading inevitably to crime), and that the distribution of the substance is volatile and given to much dilution due to the economic factors involved, the life expectancy of a heroin user does not amount to as much as the average human lifespan. The studies further point to the sociological effects of the addictive properties of heroin; in that the user cannot function as a member of society simply because of his/her physical addiction.
Reverting to the medical profession in the hypothetical case of the self-sufficient user of ‘pure’ heroin, a doctor cannot diagnose this person as inherently in risk of anything significantly harmful, physiologically, based on the known effects that a non-life threatening dosage of undiluted heroin has on the human body. And the question of treatment, therefore, does not arise.

A particular religion presumes on the spiritual health of an individual. What one believes to be the true faith is non-negotiable in many societies because the dangers one poses by not acquiescing to the faith practiced by the many can supposedly pose a threat to the spiritual health of the community as a whole. The common belief is that something must be wrong with someone who chooses not to be advised by the religion of his/her society and follows his/her own path towards the universal goal of ‘salvation’. Towards the cause of the ‘profession’ of a certain faith, the most benign theory put forward is that; the precepts of a faith must be taught to all those who haven’t been fortunate enough to receive its message of true grace. The common practice of the said religion must follow, therefore, in society.

Allegorically, this practice of the profession of a certain faith points to goals shared by the average heroin user, subject to the conditions of the junkie on the street. The junkie will naturally want to get others addicted to his/her own brand of street heroin because it would make the procurement of the substance much easier for himself/herself, so long as there is a captive market for it in a certain region.

An enlightened being (or the self-sufficient ‘pure’ heroin user), meanwhile, may not see it fit to profess his/her faith simply because he/she possesses it and is aware of its true value. He/she is comfortable in the ‘state of grace’ he/she has come by and is loath to want to impose it on others and trouble his/her own existence.

There is another specimen of humanity, of course - one who does not require heroin/religion for a sense of spirituality and is happy to live a life without conforming to the theory that there is something inherently wrong with his/her spiritual condition simply because of the absence of heroin/religion in his/her own life. But on this strange specimen, it is incumbent upon us that we remain silent.


'Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind'

[Title quotation from, 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' - (I, i, 234)]

There has been a tendency since the earliest recorded history of man's subjective travails upon this good earth to imagine an appropriated truth a base reality, as applied to one's own experience of life.

Buddhist theology has long taken this to be one of the standing foundations by which man deludes himself. On the theory of an extrapolated Godhead, they have this to say:
"Philosophers thus fall into the Platonic snare when they look upon a concept not merely as a substitute for a precept but as something in itself, revealing a permanent and eternal entity or structure. The result is the belief in an eternal subjective self or an immutable substance or both."
- From, 'Buddhist Thought and Ritual' by David J. Kalupahana.

As applied to the idea of romance and 'selfish' love, we do not need to leap over a massive gorge to explore this idea of delusion in human romantic relationships.
One falls in love as rigorously as a healthy human being falls into bed at the end of a long day; most times without warning, and occasionally by sub-conscious cultivation. In the earlier case, we assume all-encompassing beauty as naturally as we assume that we will get out of bed in the morning. This idea of beauty - in natural surroundings, smells, tastes, choices and indulgences lead us to appear negligent of things, at best, and so absent-minded that we are perceived idiotic to the rest of the world, at worst. But the pervasive idea, whatever the applied value of the benefit of hindsight in more experienced individuals, is that the feeling will hold - through fights, circumstance, distance and a 10.0 disturbance on the Richter scale. We invest something of ourselves at the beginning of a relationship that we require immediate returns from. And no God will stand in its way.

Seeing that the pervasiveness of this culture of gratification, emotional as well as physical, will abide no infarction, the natural hindrances in the pursuance of such an ideal are obvious; namely the actual facts of life which we have been privy to since we first were sent off to school by ourselves, but which mysteriously affects a disappearance when we are in 'love'.

My dubious contribution to this time-worn, bloodily horse-whipped discussion is the idea of culpable investiture: Can we not think ourselves contributing to the well-being of the person whose affections we have momentarily won, forgetting for a moment the immediate consequences of our own gratification? Can we suspend our blind belief in the idea of healthy consummation being the goal in a relationship, or the first instance in the pursuance of the goal, at the cost of a furtherance of a temporary substantiation of the myths we maintain about ourselves?
Is it possible to not be 'selfish' in love is what I'm asking, if 'selfishness' is at all a bad word, i.e.?


Navigating the world of the Nay-sayer

It is a constant source of frustration to me that the world is slowly evolving into a large, cheesy and sycophantic omelette. An evolution that is actively encouraged requires a measure of parsimony to allow the mechanics of the process to function, without the benefit of constructive criticism.

One goes down to the store and encounters characters loaded with suspicious proclivities, and the inevitably reprobate tête-à-tête follows – goading, painful, occasionally sarcastic; almost an invitation to violence.
One sees a person on the street – helpless, alone, in terribly obvious need - and the first instinct is to unconsciously retract from the horror of an imagined touch, and an equally unconscious plea to the heavens that the subject of your scorn would just go away.
One attends an interview of apparently mutual understanding on the terms and conditions of employment, but is never sure where he/she stands even after all the dialogue and hand-shaking and the smiles of infinite promise.

What exactly are we afraid of – that we are being lulled into a false sense of complacency by the natural act of interacting with a stranger? That if we let our guard down, we will be subject to the mercies of the God of ‘I-told-you-so-dumbass’? That we cannot, and should not, give in to the intuitive trust implicit in human discourse. That the world is for the wolves and that we shall not be the peasants in the game?
The best of luck to you with that approach. All I see in your future is a face lined with very many creases of thankless misgiving, and a body that shakes uncontrollably from lying with the bouncy whores of chronic scepticism.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On the dubious validity of personal procreation


There is a global body of research devoted to the study of the habits we have cultivated over time, in the nurturing of our young. Any and all scientific study related to the topic of the upbringing of our children appears almost instantaneously in the mainstream media because it is of constant relevance to our lives. In the modern world it is easy enough to see the mistakes we have made in this regard, proving emphatically evident if we subscribe to the minimum base life expectancy rates in most countries, that the most we can still do is hang our heads in shame and talk about destiny or God’s will. Whether we have been successful or not in the raising of our children is defined by the indisputable corroboration of the values laid down by society and economics that we have no option but to hold true. A progenitorial success is now defined - down to the last zero - by a cumulative dollar value and the goodwill gained from a life lived… and there is no disputing it, wherever we turn.
A typical case is when a couple have what is known as a love child… and then scramble to keep up with the times they have for so long neglected, or at least since they first achieved gainful employment, in a desperate attempt to be seen as good parents. (These days, we can only hope that such individuals are married if they both live in India.) The pros and cons of such a circumstance have been argued to the death by religious, social and pharmaceutical lobbyist-groups across the east and west and, as such, it is a lost cause to indulge it in a monologue such as this.
The alternate case is when the decision to have a child or children is actively made by both individuals involved in a strong and mutually beneficial relationship – A decision that is come about by the negation of the severe complexities and psychological skirmishes implicit in its educated enactment.
- Firstly, that a modern self-sufficient couple would not like to be seen as being in any way caste or community conscious… and if that was the case why didn’t they take advantage of the myriad adoption schemes involving poor luckless infants that have been abandoned at, or soon after, birth?
- Secondly, such a couple will need to hold to the belief that the world is becoming a better place. And where is the evidence of that in a world where terrorism, disease and market forces lay the best laid plans (of mice and men) to ruin, in the blink of an eye?

Imagine that we had children like there was no tomorrow - a statement that is, in and of itself, an impossibility - because we have to believe that there is going to be a future if we decide to invest something of ourselves in it. We are told in this country that it is a good thing we are so populous because the economic benefits of possessing a large young population outweigh the liabilities of a futuristic dread of scarcity and rationing we can see the beginnings of even today. This discussion, though, also belongs in a different argument – one that has already taken up the minds and hearts of the same theorists responsible for the long drawn out economic crisis we are now experiencing.

But the real question being asked here is whether pro-active decision-making does take place when children are born today… and whether decision-making as a concept related to procreation does still hold, in the same way it did to the earlier generation.